February 8, 2014
I’ve grown weary of hearing the meteorologists and agronomists and their ilk spout their predictable warnings that the rain and snow are but drops in the bucket (almost literally) and will not make a dent in the drought. Yes, we all know this, or at least I do. Relief has to start somewhere, right? More important is the relief to our Northern Californian collective psyche. Because of these recent and present storms, the snowpack will be less meager, skiers will be able to schuss down something besides manmade corduroy, and locally, hills will start to green. The above photo was taken Thursday morning as I drove to South Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area. Once I get east of Placerville, I begin my search for patches of snow along the roadside. The forecast called for light snow on Thursday with heavier amounts starting about mid-day on Friday and continuing through the weekend.
I encountered intermittent flurries as I approached Echo Summit and found the landscape blessedly changed from my previous trip three weeks ago. Once I ascended past 5,000′ I found that I had a goofy grin/smirk on my face that wouldn’t leave me. At the ‘Y’ (intersection of 50 & 89) I continued around the lake to the Eagle Falls Trailhead. Usually on my arrival, I plan a low impact hike/snowshoe adventure to allow myself to acclimate to the elevation. By the time I strapped my pack and snowshoes on, it was almost 1:00 p.m.
Once past the bridge that straddles Eagle Falls, there was excellent new snow the rest of the way up to Eagle Lake. Although I live in the moment and enjoy the experience of the day, my mind shoot forward to late spring/early summer when I’ll use this same trail to reach the backcountry wilds of the Velma Lake, Dicks Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail. With an August trip on the John Muir Trail (Yosemite to Mt. Whitney) still on my calendar, Desolation Wilderness will be my training ground in June & July. But this is a wonderful trail all year long. A hike up to Eagle Lake, while not challenging to most experienced hikers, is feasible for most people in half-way decent shape. On this trip, snowshoes weren’t an absolute necessity (microspikes probably would’ve sufficed).
Had I got an earlier start, and if there weren’t snow forecast for later in the day, it would’ve been tempting to continue past the Eagle Lake junction in the general direction of the Velmas. Instead I was content to enjoy my thermos of Peets coffee and bag of caramelitas (Whole Foods!) while the sun played peekaboo behind the clouds. I got back to my 4Runner just as the snow started to come down harder. It turns out the flurries of Thursday were just a tease. Every time I thought the blizzard was about to begin, it just as quickly eased and the sun came out. The real storm was coming on Friday.
On Friday I was planning on a Carson Pass hike, but when I read the forecast on Thursday night, which called for winter storm warning starting at noon, I realized that it might be prudent to head home early. I decided to just drive home through Carson Pass (highway 88). I stopped for some photos in Hope Valley near the West Fork of the Carson River. Again, the difference from three weeks ago was very welcome. There were still a few bare spots, but the meadows were blanketed in white. While the valley was still enjoying a mix of sun and cloud, the skies to the west toward the pass looked ominous. I thought that if the weather held off, I’d try a short jaunt to Frog Lake from the trailhead near the ranger station. But as I climbed towards 8,000′ caution got the better of me. The wind was howling and the roadway looked like a cauldron of dry ice as the loose snow was blown across. I stopped for a last photo at the Ranger Station then continued home. Once past Kirkwood, I ran into the brunt of the storm. The snow level was down to below 5,000′ and I drove through steady rain the rest of the way back to Oakland. Again with a smile on my face.