Archive for Tuolumne Meadows

What have I done? — Musings on a Winter Sierra Ski Tour, and Perhaps a Bit More.

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2014 by moosetracksca

“What have you done?” was the question posed upon our introduction.

It was not intended as a slight, or a look-down-your-nose sort of statement.

But it gave me pause, taken somewhat aback, wondering if I should defend myself and how I have dedicated my time.

 

“I didn’t believe you had done those things,” was another phrase heard from someone else soon thereafter.

And this time, I pulled up hard, wondered aloud why anyone might think me a liar,

A cheat,

A fraud.

 

And so I chewed on the phrase, ran the words across my tongue and lips, tasted the emotions dancing in my mouth.

Bitter, salty, sour,

And sweet.

 

WHAT have I done?

I have taken the landscapes for my home, matched the topography of the maps to what my eyes see before me,

Discovered the imbalance between the printed page and peering over an edge and thinking…

“Nope, that ain’t gunna go.”

I have watched the sky’s habits and moods from the most brilliant of blues, to the dusky greys of dawn, to counting the blanket of stars on a winter’s moonless night.

Pulled clouds between my fingers across the mountains.

Been blessed by rain, threatened by thunder, tickled by feathery flakes of snow.

I have hiked,

And skied,

And skated,

And snowshoed,

And climbed,

And fished,

And cooked,

And scrambled, and ambled, and rambled,

And lounged,

And napped,

And laughed…

Ohhhhh… the laughter.

 

I have cried for my own pains and fears, for the loss of friends and friendships; mourned my own shortcomings made so painfully obvious when my day’s efforts are reduced to “just get there” or the objective, whatever that may be, is elusive.

 

What HAVE I done?

None of this belongs to me, inasmuch as my holding a title, or deed.

Yet I pride myself in every tree, every slope, every boulder or crag,

Every babbling, bubbling, burbling brook that creeps through a meadow.

I see myself in the landscape: the soft and the hard; the light and the shadow; the windswept and the basin.

There are so many unknowns yet to explore, between the mountains and me.

What I have are my stories: of days pushing hard and others lying back; of challenges met and missed; of unspeakable beauty and unfathomable terror.

But all with lessons attached, and, once revealed, opening another door along my life path.

Life is flux and flow, creep and soar,

Letting the wind alternately beat you down and then lift you by the arms to carry the weight of your being and your burdens.

Even the mountains bend to the wills of time and weather.

 

What have done?

I have done nothing without the love, and support, and gifts of time and knowledge of so many others. I cannot claim to know what they saw, other than an eager pupil, sharing the love of challenge and high places. Without these teachers I would be floundering, lost before I even started, or worse:

Never having left the comforts of my home.

I integrated those lessons with those of the wild, with that which I think I know of myself,

And stepped away, even for short whiles, from the bluster of the “normal”.

Only to realize that, for me, these places on high are normal.

That wandering throughout the year, adapting methods and gear and techniques, is precisely what I should be doing, no matter where I happen to be.

 

What have I DONE?

There are no first ascents, or descents, within the societally accepted meaning of the words, in my nature.

Every trip and adventure is just that for me: a first.

Each step forth is into a new river, a new environment, and new sky and earth.

There is no “early” or “late” season, only this day, this hour, this moment.

I delve into opportunities to just be, a level of presence that exhausts because of the level of focus it demands.

 

And then, I let go completely…

Sink deep into my perch on a boulder resting in a sea of white,

Pull the thick blanket of winter silence over my shoulders,

Allow the hands of the wind to gently caress the single tear running down my face and then embrace me in warmth and acceptance.

 

For it is in that  moment that I am one with my own soul and that of the earth and the sky.

I have stood atop those peaks, called from the heights, scanned the horizon for the next adventure.

I have allowed myself to be confident, arrogant, terrified,

And at peace.

 

I listened to the wind as it roared and whispered; danced between flashes ripping the blackened sky.

Camped on high ridge lines and tucked behind copses of pines or in caves.

I wait, not always patiently, for the next lesson.

 

So,

The next time someone asks, “what have you done?”

I will know to take in a deep breath.

Crack a small smile.

Bring a light up to my eyes.

 

“Where would you like me to begin?”

 

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On the Trail of the Bighorn: Mt. Lewis (Jan 3-5)

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2014 by moosetracksca

The air barely moved at Tioga Pass as I stabbed my skis and poles into the drift. The Beast leaned up against my truck’s wheel well, waiting patiently for me to heave to and stumble in my boots towards what little snow covered the road. I had to smile up at Gaylor Peak, then over to Mt. Dana and Gibbs, and I shook my head at the sad view of their rocky slopes. The sun blazed in the early afternoon as I glided down to the Mono Pass trailhead, the fallen giants lay quiet between patches of white and brown.

Laura came into view twenty minutes after I arrived, her pack swollen and taller than she. “It’s mostly down,” she insisted, but I liked this idea of travelling with another woman loaded down as heavily as I.  Her touring rig slid easily down from the parking lot, while I pushed each step. Too late, I realized that the snow wasn’t sliding under my skis and skins, but instead was sticking, turning the skin track into a boot track. At the creek, I stopped to try and wring the skins out and wax them, but I was now part of the “Mountain Relocation Team”, where I would haul snow from the flats to higher elevations, whether I liked it or not.

Laura pulled ahead while I wallowed a bit, the skis too heavy to even kick against a tree to clear the snow. “It’ll just make me stronger!” I yelled ahead, and she laughed as she logged another sighting of porcupine tracks. There were signs of all sorts of wildlife, actually: marten, birds large and small, rabbit, even bear. I wondered if the lair was anywhere close. At dusk, Laura looped back a bit after spotting a flat bit of open ground in the trees, but I wasn’t done yet. I would prefer a view of some sort, having done the work, after all. We trudged another half mile to the clearing and meadow where the Mono and Parker Pass trails split. I found a clear spot on the lee of a great whitebark pine, and we quickly got to work setting up camp.

On an overhanging branch, I hung a new light I had received for Christmas, and our site became perfectly lit. Extinguishing our headlamps, we sat and laughed over stoves as we melted the meager snow and boiled water for dinner. There was red wine, a little tequila, tortellini and bacon-spinach pesto, and cookies for dessert. Under the Cheshire cat moon, we caught each other up on the fall activities, as well as how she and Rob had settled into Tuolumne. The air was still as we crawled into our bags, and the moon set behind the Kuna Crest. In the absolute dark, the stars were almost three-dimensional, reaching down to the earth; the Milky Way stained the northern sky. I drifted off watching Orion do his cartwheels to the south.

We awoke early, but were none too keen to spring from the lofty down cocoons behind the whitebark. Ice crusted the rim of my bag from my breathing. The sun was teasing the eastern faces of Koip and Kuna when we finally sat up and lit stoves for breakfast and coffee. Shadows of Dana and Gibbs reflected in the orange atmosphere across Tuolumne Meadows. Laura called in to Rob to give him a rough itinerary of the day, and we crossed the meadow to gain the ridge towards Parker Pass.

We ran out of snow atop the ridge looking across to Spillway and Helen Lakes, and both took stock of the pass to Lost Lakes, so sadly half-covered in this meager winter. At the top of the ridge, we racked our skis for ¼ mile before trading out our ski boots for trail runners. Stashing our skis and boots on a sun-soaked slab, we hiked up the rocks to the ridgeline, gazed back down into Bloody Canyon and to Mono Pass. I looked up to Laura, and was about to call out when she squatted and waved her arms at me, motioning for quiet. Twirling her hands about her head, she silently and emphatically mouthed, “BIGHORN.” My breath caught as I stepped to her, and I pulled out my little camera as quickly and quietly as I could. Not two hundred yards ahead on the ridge was a huge ram, solid and proud, out for a daily stroll, soaking in the sights.

Laura and I exchanged giant smiles, high-fives, mini-dances of happiness, and pulled up our shots to compare as we walked across the ridge. The ram had really not taken much notice, and had calmly walked around the corner. Excited, we followed the ridge to the great overlook, straining to see any sign of the ram, even with her binoculars. Laura whooped a bit, but I took her lead and bellowed out a call. “Great: harassing the sheep, now?” she smiled at me. But I turned to look a mile distant to the summit of Mt. Lewis, and up popped the rounded rack! So, we had a tour guide!

It took another 30 minutes to finally make the summit of Mt. Lewis, in trail runners, short-sleeve shirts, dripping sweat from our ball caps. The air was clear; a light breeze breathed its chill onto our necks. But the view was epic! The switchers to Koip Peak pass were devoid of snow, the snowfield shining blue and barren in the sun. I wondered aloud if the Alger Lakes might be skate-able. After eating lunch, and having a few more pulls of wine, we strode back down the easy, rocky slope and traversed back to our skis. The snow below wasn’t great, but at least we could claim about ten turns each in the facets.

The wind had picked up during our descent, and we were glad to have the tent that night, even though it meant being “in” for over 12 hours. Laura’s radio faltered, so by early morning she was packed and ready to go, eager to get in touch with Rob. I lingered in the morning dark, waiting for the sun as I sipped coffee and munched oatmeal. My toes screamed at being shoved into cold ski boots, but the downhill work quickly warmed me through. I passed through the silent forest, played tag with the sun as it rose around each corner. I couldn’t help but hum along with the wind in the trees as I slid across the lower meadows.

The road climbed from the trailhead, and opened to look across the lower slopes of Mt. Dana once again. I red stop sign just before the pass glowed against the white ground, blue sky, and dark trees. Leaning into each step, I found a rhythm.

Not a bad way to start the year. Image

Trippin’ the Tuolumne Light Fantastic

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , on February 21, 2013 by moosetracksca

Our boots dried in front of the stove at Ferdinand’s Hut as we munched fresh sourdough and pesto pasta. The huge pot marked “snow melt only” held its slanted perch above the fire as we three laughed into the night. Stories of adventures and people and weather and our own histories poured forth without hesitation or pause. Outside, the air was perfectly still, stars twinkling in defiance of the bright moon. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and exhaled warmth down under the collar. Along with my friends from high places, I watched the dry logs sparkle and crack behind the glass and iron, and we toasted the beginning of yet another walk.

Clouds brushed the sky at sunrise, the orb creeping around the southern shoulder of Mt. Dana, her slopes weathered and wind-scoured. Snow-filled chutes on her western face sliced into the forest of the meadows below. Under my skis, the steeper slopes leading to Gaylor Peak were firm and slick, the crust occasionally giving way as I traversed back to the skin track Rob and Laura laid down. From the saddle, they peered back at me as I slid above the rise, knowing smiles on their faces as I gasped to see the morning light bathing the Cathedral Range above the lake and meadow below. I could feel a blanket of contentment rest gently upon my shoulders. “Where do you want to go?” Rob asked.

“I don’t care,” my breathless reply.

Laura and I criss-crossed the slope, hunting for threads of snow tying the white patchwork together. The air was heavy with juniper in the late morning warmth. After Rob caught us up, I peeled left, drawn to the opening in the trees and spying clean granite. On the northeastern ridge, I halted in my tracks at the expanse below. Dense pine forest carpeted the borders of the Meadows and the slopes leading to the spires to the south, the great faces to the north. When I had started my snow experiences, my mother had asked me, “When do I get to see Tuolumne in winter?” Happy tears brimmed in the sunlight, and it was all I could do not to whoop and dance on the edge. Through my eyes, I was making my mom’s wish come true.

After eating lunch at the Soda Springs, I walked alone through the center of the meadow as Rob and Laura hoofed back to check on our neighbors staying the hut for the weekend. The afternoon sun spread long, needled shadows across the polished surfaces, thin ice glinting as I passed. The river whispered across small open sections, polishing the rocks below. Each gliding step thudded through the crust, the only sound other than my boots squeaking. Catching them up, we three climbed Puppy Dome, across from the ranger station, a perfect vantage for feeling the final caress of the day’s light as Mts. Dana and Gibbs caught fire behind the curtain of pines. Skiing through the best snow of the day, I hollered as I caught air off a log, my friends turning to laugh and shout with me.

The climb was slow and steady for eight miles along the road, my skis finding purchase on the offset skin track. It was silent save for the swish of the skins on the snow and my breathing, steady and solid as I found a happy pace. “What the hell have you got in here?” seemed to be Rob’s new phrase for me as he inspected my pack. From the top of the first hill, just beyond Little Blue Slide and past the 9000 foot sign, I stopped in the trees to listen to the breeze, closed my eyes to the sun, and let it wash over me. With the same knowing smile that Rob and Laura had given me a few days before, I looked back over my shoulder one more time at Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks.

I wasn’t going home: I was already there.

From the luckiest girl in the world:

Climb Hard. Be Safe.

-L