Yosemite Nature Notes – Ski Yosemite

I always love Yosemite Nature Notes when they come out. The footage is beautiful and the stories are often informative. But this episode is particularly special to me… I was invited to be in it!

I feel like I have more to say about how much I love Yosemite’s winter season… but so much of it is beautifully captured in the video and gracefully expressed by Virgia and Josh and others in the video, that I think I’ll just let it speak for itself.

Thank you so much to Steve Bumgardner for allowing me to be a part of the production!

Enjoying the Rain

Lower Yosemite Fall
Lower Yosemite Fall is back in action!

It started raining today before dawn and rained steadily throughout the day. I’d made plans with one of the coolest people around to catch up over lunch, and wondered how that was going to go. On a sunny day, we’d head out to the river, or someplace like that, but with the weather, I worried she might prefer to stay inside. I was eager to get out and explore, but it’s also nice just to catch up, so I was also prepared to find a dry spot.

I shouldn’t have doubted. When I posed the question, she immediately suggested a walk. In addition to rain jackets and umbrellas, I pulled out my new rain kilt, R borrowed a trash bag skirt, and we headed out into the pouring rain. I don’t know what the fashionistas would have to say, but I thought we looked pretty cool.

rainy day fashion
Rainy day fashion with R. Pictures courtesy R Santiago

In Yosemite, never let the rain keep you inside. We had an incredible walk. Not only were the normal falls rushing again, but there were dozens of ephemeral falls cascading down the cliffs that I had never seen before. Plus, the clouds highlight cliffs in ways that make the familiar magical. I didn’t do a good job of capturing it on camera, but my memories will make me smile for a long time.

The cliffs near Yosemite Falls are magical in the rain.
The cliffs near Yosemite Falls are magical in the rain. Do you see the giant ephemeral fall in the picture on the right?

The rain started out warm, but then the snow line dropped and we could see snow on the higher cliffs peeking out through the clouds. In the office, we had been checking in on the snow falling up at Badger Pass all day via the webcam. I could also keep half an eye on our house in Yosemite West thanks to Bloomsky (You can see a picture of that at the bottom of the Yosemite Forecast site.)

Last week, I was out in the rain with another friend, and her toddler, splashing through puddles and laughing at little kid antics. That was pretty awesome too.

playing in puddles
Relearning how much fun it is to splash in puddles from this little guy.

People visiting the park are often disappointed when it rains during their trip. Little do they know that these are the times that the serious photographers jump excitedly into their vehicles to drive up to the park. The dramatic clouds and lighting show Yosemite off at her best. Plus, sometimes it’s just plain fun to splash around.

Adaptive Climbing

Whee! During their lunch break Mark, Nate and Scott let me try out the adaptive climbing set up they had rigged for the Rock 'n Roll Yosemite group.
Whee! During their lunch break Mark, Nate and Scott let me try out the adaptive climbing set up they had rigged for the Rock ‘n Roll Yosemite group.

The Rock ‘n Roll Yosemite group, organized by Access Leisure  has traveled to Yosemite each year for the last 8 years to explore Yosemite by hand bike and do a bit of rock climbing. It was so cool to see them go out and get it, whether it was biking the Valley Loop to see the sights, or challenging themselves with some rock climbing, it emphasizes to me how accessible Yosemite can be.

I’m ascending here with a 3:1 pulley system, making it easier for me to make progress by giving me a mechanical advantage. I didn’t have much trouble when doing this in the best case scenario – free hanging, short pitch – not to extrapolate to the longer routes that people have done on El Cap. Those ascents are inspiring and humbling.

Most of the others in my group also used the 3:1 pulley, but one of the things that Mark Wellman emphasized was how important it is to customize for each individual to maximize their strengths and give them the best experiences. One super fit and athletic woman ascended without any mechanical advantage, sprinting to the top by cranking dozens of full on pull-ups to get to the top. Rawr! It was so inspiring to see that go. And then, another guy was able to use an ascender attached to his foot and another for his hand to make the best use of his right arm and right leg.

Meanwhile, Paradox Sports just finished up an interview with Katie Couric. (part 2) (They say she’s planning to come to Yosemite with them this fall!) and is getting ready to release an Adaptive How To Climbing Guide. So many awesome things happening in the world. It’s cool to be in touch with people doing such amazing things.

First Skate Ski of the Season

I wish I had stopped to take a picture. Really. But sometimes, you’re having so much fun doing what you’re doing, that you just don’t want to stop and dig the camera out… even if you had it stashed in a convenient pocket to do just that.

Skiing was Great

The Cross Country Center at Badger pass opened this weekend, and Tom and I wandered up to see what the skiing was like. The previous storm dropped about 12 inches, meaning that the road had a decent coverage, but there wasn’t enough on the hill for the lift-served area to open. In some ways that was fine with me. I was excited to get a nice aerobic workout in.

The connector trail from the parking lot to the road wasn’t groomed, so we put our striding skis on, but then turned back when we realized that the road itself was freshly groomed, and changed to our skate skis.

With all of the fresh snow, the skating was slow enough that we skated most of the downhills, but firm enough to be fun. We went out past the Bridalveil Creek bridge and up to just before the next section where it starts downhill again. I was feeling surprisingly tired from the P90X workouts I’ve been doing lately, and decided that was a good place to turn around. Tom went a little further and then caught me on the long climb back up to Summit Meadow.

I’m looking forward to more of that!

Watch that Last Turn

We had just pulled out of the Badger Pass parking area, and were getting ready to make the left turn onto Badger Pass road when we caught sight of a green Subaru driving entirely too fast for the conditions. Sure enough, although the driver turned the wheel, his car kept going straight, careening wide into our lane. Fortunately, Tom managed to slow down just enough and the Subaru smacked hard into the snow bank just in front of us. I suppose it’s a no-harm-no-foul sort of situation. We backed up to give him space to back out of the snow bank and he pulled himself clear, wheels spinning and sliding across the ice. I thought at one point he was going to hit us after all and Tom muttered that someone needed to learn to drive in the snow.

Naturally, the guy was very apologetic. He hadn’t had any other issues with handling on the way up, and was surprised to lose control so spectacularly and completely.

That’s the second time we’ve almost been hit at that intersection. The first time was also due to someone trying to take that corner way too fast. That car had chains on the front wheels, and as the front end of the car turned the corner, the back side whipped around into our lane, pulling the rest of the car with it.

It’s a tough corner. During the summer, as you’re driving up, Glacier Point Road actually takes a slight left bend there, and it looks like a hard right turn into the Badger Pass parking lot – the kind of turn you’d want to slow down for. In the winter, the road beyond the parking area isn’t plowed, and if you aren’t paying attention, it might look like just another right turn in the road. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not realize how steep the turn is. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not notice that as you continue up the Badger Pass road, it gets more snowy and more icy as you gain elevation.

My point is – pay attention. I love running into friends at Badger Pass, but not like that.

Where did Summer go?

Summer disappeared in a haze of off-set weekend schedules with Ranger Tom, too much work, and unrivaled weekend Valley traffic. It seems we were only just thawing out from our ‘snowpocalypse‘, and now we’ve had our first winter storm of the season. Tom hasn’t even really stopped skiing… he’s managed to get some ski time in every month this year.

On the plus side was the discovery of road biking, cool days, misc. writing projects (not here) and learning about meditation. I completed a 10-day silent meditation retreat and came out feeling invincible – or as another meditator said ‘like I could dodge bullets in the Matrix’.

I finished up a volunteering stint with NPS interpretation at the Visitor’s Center, and am excited to explore new opportunities for a mid-week opportunity to volunteer to help with youth education in the park. With the few short hours I am willing to spare each week, I expect I won’t be able to get as much face-time with the youth as I might like, but it will feel good to have contributed in some small way. Volunteering, by the way, is amazing. Even within the context of a small place like Yosemite, there are so many opportunities to see different perspectives and learn new things.

The rental business has been busy and fun. It’s interesting to meet the people that come from all over to stay with us for a short time, and be part of their vacation. And this year we’ve had so much help from Donald and Sarah who’ve made it easy to do the work part.

My milestone birthday came and went, and I’m planning a 5th boulder day party to celebrate and also to remember some of the people that helped me out so much back then. It’s not just the summer that’s flashed by – the last 5 years have disappeared like magic. If I think about it – the last decade or two has too.

Ski to the Mariposa Grove

Tom and Bruce on the NFS trail to the Mariposa Grove
Tom and Bruce on the NFS trail to the Mariposa Grove

Sometimes it’s easy to get focused on the great things to do inside the park, and as a matter of fact, there are a lot of great things to do inside the park, but there are some great things just outside the park too. With Badger Pass Ski Area closed for the season, a small group of us thought we’d ski up the Mariposa Grove road and visit the giant sequoias. Fortunately, the road the the grove had been recently plowed in preparation for getting the road open to the public, so when we got there, there wasn’t really anything to ski on. Disappointed, we opted for an instantly improvised Plan B, which turned out to be so much better than Plan A.

The transfer station just outside the park boundary isn’t a very auspicious trailhead, but there were several families there picnicking in the parking lot and playing on the snowbanks. We snapped on our XC skis and headed straight off into the woods guided by Tom’s unerring sense for fun, and it wasn’t long before we run right into blazes that looked suspiciously like trail markers along a nice wide road/trail, and then even trail signs with faded lettering and icons of XC skiers. Goal!

Giant Sugar Pine just inside the Park
Giant Sugar Pine just inside the Park

Now, we’d planned to ski the Mariposa Grove road, so we hadn’t brought a map or compass, but Bruce had this crazy idea that there was a road that cut over to the Giant Sequoias. Still, as we wound our way along this perfect little ski trail, we decided that we were probably going in exactly the wrong direction. Then, as we approached our third set of trail signs, Tom, who had been the most convinced of us all that we were NOT going to see the big trees said, “Now, this is the sign that will say that it’s 1.5 miles to the Mariposa Grove.” And. It. Did!

After just a little more skiing, we skied over the still half-buried gate marking the park boundary, and come across one of the most amazing sugar pines I’ve seen. (We haven’t been to the Rockefeller Grove yet, where the biggest of the big sugar pines are supposed to stand, but these were pretty amazing.)

Stream crossing
Stream crossing

A sense of anticipation drove us on. I couldn’t wait to see those sequoias, and then just as we started feeling like we were getting close, a fast running creek blocked our way. Tom sure-footed and confident immediately found a way across, but both Bruce and I vetoed the crossing as being too sketchy, and we decided to ski upstream for a little while to see if we could find anything more reassuring. The next opportunity was an fat downed log lying across the creek. In the summer time this would have been an easy crossing, but with snow piled high on the log, the footing seemed less certain, more slippery and more likely to collapse or do other unexpected things. Also, it was high enough that I imagined a tumble before a head first splash into the freezing water below. Tom forged the way – kicking his feet carefully to test the snow beneath him. Bruce bravely carried his skis across, but I asked Tom to carry mine so I could focus on my footing. It went just fine. Easy even.

Once that hurdle was crossed, we headed off again with excitement until we crested a small ridge and popped out just across the road from the Grizzly Giant. We had lunch, shared the view of the trees with a few people who’d walked up the road from the parking lot, and then even though there really is no place like the upper grove in winter, opted to ski back down our trail to continue the rest of our day, celebrating the whole while our extraordinary luck that the main road to the grove had been plowed.

Tom with the Grizzly Giant in the background
Tom with the Grizzly Giant in the background

A New Season

First dusting of snow in Yosemite West
It’s a cold almost-November day, 40 deg and raining, and everywhere I looked this morning, there were photographers, with their big cameras on tripods set up next to the road, wearing their rain gear and happily snapping away. Serious photographers are a unique bunch here – it’s like they bloom when the skies turns dark and cloudy, the rain starts to fall, and other people are grousing about the awful weather. But it’s easy to understand why. The clouds and fog skirting the big cliffs make them seem that much more majestic and mysterious. And no one, not even Ansel Adams, has seen just exactly this play between the clouds and the light. Heaven.

My own morning’s photographic exploits were more modest, and more furtive. There was a tiny dusting of snow at the top of our neighborhood this morning, hanging in the changing leaves along the side of the road, and I stopped to snap a photo out of my car window. (The visitors might stop randomly in the middle of the road for deer or bear, but me, I stopped for a couple of snowflakes. I need to remember to be more patient when others see something photogenic. But, for the record, I did check behind me to make sure I wasn’t on a blind corner, took only 2 quick snapshots and was moving again before anyone else came up behind me.) Snow on the ground. Ski season is coming up fast.

Over breakfast, I read Tom’s copy of TUNA News, by a nordic ski group out of Utah. Lord knows why we get their publication – something Tom did at some point. There is new ski gear in the catalogs we receive daily in the mail, and I’m contemplating new AT boots to go with the big plans I’m making for this ski season. I’m always excited about snow, but this year I’m preparing for long weekends in the high country, in Tahoe, or if I’m really ambitious, over on the East Side. October 22nd was my 4th Boulder Day, and it seems like a long time, but I finally feel like I’m in the position to get back into ski shape. The first few years after the boulder event, I just didn’t feel like I could take the pounding, and last year there were so many house projects that we didn’t seem to be able to find the time. This year, everything is coming together.

I’m now on day 20 of my new fitness program, and already starting to see some results. I’ve lost some weight overall – just a couple of pounds – but between fat loss and muscle gain, I can see some significant differences in the way that my body looks, and those pants that were getting too small are starting to feel comfortable again. Most importantly, I’m feeling stronger than I have in a long time. Years. Long enough that I’d forgotten what it was like, and what it’s like, is good.

The program I’m on is only 30 days long, and so I’m shopping for a new program. I checked out the Mountain Athlete program because, that seems pretty sport-specific. Lots of functional movement and sport-specific exercise. Tom mentioned a guy named Eric Cressey who is well-known for building strength. Tom also thinks that between us, we know enough that I could probably design something good for me without spending a bunch of money – which is certainly true – but for some reason, I work out a lot harder when I’m on someone else’s program. So, I’m still shopping (and taking recommendations if anyone has them), but committed to finding something in the next few weeks.

A serious program might have to wait until after our vacation to Hawaii though. Can you believe it? After years of planning mountain vacations and family vacations, Tom and I are finally headed to the beach, just the two of us. Running on the beach, surfing?, hiking near Haleakala, exploring the Road to Hana, resting, reading, and relaxing. I’m looking forward to the change of pace.

The other new season that is just around the corner is NaNoWriMo. Last year, not only did I finish the challenge of writing 50K words during the month, not only did I enjoy spending hours typing up a story that no one will ever read, I also managed to learn something in the process. Naturally, I’m excited to do it again this year. November is only two days away.

Lots of new things starting for me. New season. New fitness level. New commitment to play. New exercise program. New NaNoWriMo challenge. Life is good.

I went Rock Climbing!

Yesterday, after work Tom and I tromped out to a short piece of rock, roped up and went rock climbing. I tried to remember the last time I did this… last summer maybe, on the East Side somewhere? It’s been a long time.

Surprisingly, the mental rust was more noticeable than either my recovering shoulder or even my general lack of fitness. Tom laughed that it wasn’t the muscle memory for climbing so much as trying to remember if the red piece was bigger or smaller than the yellow piece, and was glad that concern for my shoulder had kept him from suggesting something more difficult. Once upon a time, this is the kind of terrain that Tom and I used to cover in what we jokingly referred to as “big swimming motions”. Now, certain sections made me nervous enough to not only pause, but to ask for a tighter rope. We ran into a friend there, who was getting in a quick free-solo at the end of the day. It took us longer to do a single pitch and rap than it took him to climb the entire route and walk down.

On the plus side, my shoulder didn’t seem to mind the climbing, and isn’t even sore today. Afterward my hands had the intoxicating aroma of chalk and ropes and climbing shoes that I associate with so many good times. That short pitch was just a reminder of how much fun I’ve had rock climbing in the past, and an invitation to do more over the course of the summer.

Hey. We should do that again soon.

Snow Creek to Mount Watkins

… and breathe…

Between a Sisyphusean marketing workload with DNC, a conversion optimization class that operates heavily on the you’ll-get-out-what-you-put-in principle, volunteer activities at the Valley Visitor Center for a full day once every other week, a frozen shoulder that seems to be adamant about remaining stuck, and house construction (Tom’s been going nuts, and we now have flooring down in most of the house, and appliances waiting for installation, it’s very exciting), it’s been a long couple of months between the last post and this one.

Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting closer. Two weeks ago, Tom and I met up with our friend Shauna, and skied out to the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias. Neither Tom nor I had ever been there before but it’s close to Shauna’s new house, and it was a perfect day and a great chance to explore. Last week, I got out for a quick walk on the Hites Cove trail to look at the wildflowers. And with those two activities as the sum total of my exercise for the last month, today Tom and I hiked up the Snow Creek trail to Mt Watkins and back. Our agreed-upon turn-around time left me a few hundred yards short of the summit, but I have Tom’s pictures from the top as inspiration for the next trip.

The skiing was brilliant and beautiful, the weather perfect, and it just feels fantastic to really get out and DO something for a whole day that doesn’t involve my computer.

It was about 11 miles round trip, with nearly 4500 feet of elevation gain, and I am bone tired and fully expect to be hobbling and sore tomorrow, but I am ever so happy. I’ll try to post some pictures soon.

Fall Foliage in VT

Flowers by a barn at Trapps Family Lodge
Flowers by a barn at Trapps Family Lodge
After 14 years together, Tom and I finally went to visit Tom’s parents in VT for a week during fall foliage season. Foliage season in VT is a little like the Holiday season in other towns – the hotels fill up and are charging peak rates, there’re a million people running around with cameras, snapping shots of pumpkins and other squashes, sheaves of wheat, and of course the colorful leaves.

When I asked Tom what he remembered of foliage season in VT, he said that he mostly remembered October as being rainy and grey. Sure enough, it rained every single day that we were there. Fortunately, the clouds broke enough on a couple of days that I was able to get out and see what the wash of color looked like in the sun. It was amazing.

The Sierra gets color too. I’d say that we are near peak now – several weeks after the VT foliage passed its prime. The gullies fill with gold, and here and there a bright yellow big leaf maple, or a rosy dogwood, flashes in the sunshine. Le Conte gully, in particular, is full of these small bushes that turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. Stavast has a painting called Golden Armada, and I’m convinced that these are Golden Armada bushes, whatever those are. One of my rescuers recently told me that when they airlifted me out of Le Conte Gully three years ago, the rotor from the helicopter picked up a tornado of golden leaves, rising up into the air around me. Would have been cool to see.

More foliage at Trapps
More foliage at Trapps
But VT really fills with color – so much so that sometimes it seemed like my eyes were attracted to the small contrasting bit of green among all the reds, oranges, and yellows. There are more deciduous trees and fewer conifers than here, and more mountainous terrain than my home state of MN, all of which combines to create a scene really worth traveling for. We took a hike down near Waterbury Reservoir, taking in the scenery and being impressed with the people who once made a living in that steep and rocky soil. The Ricker family cemetery was particularly impressive, with three generations of Rickers, marked with headstones like the one for Phoebe Ricker who lived to be over a hundred. They must have been a hearty crew, although the nearby headstones for an infant and two other young children speaks to how tough living there really was.

Stowe Church
Stowe Church
Of course, the other reason to travel to VT, in any season, is the chance to visit with Tom’s family. Tom’s parents were wonderful and welcoming hosts. Denis rescued us in the middle of the night when our delayed flight meant that we arrived after the car rental desk had closed for the evening. We had a dinner with him, his family, and Steve C. one evening while we were there. Tracy, Ron and Julia drove up just to have some lunch with us. Julia’s list of 101 things to do before she graduates from high school, inspired me to try to come up with a bucket list too. I’m still working on it. Dinner with Steve and Mary is always a pleasure, and we’re hoping to see more of them on this coast now that Andrew is out here.

As always, vacation is just a bit too short. The day our departure flight was scheduled was to be the first sunny day that week, and we missed out on getting to sail in a race with Denis aboard his J-24. It’s not that I don’t love Yosemite, and being in the Sierra, but vacation is always good.