Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go

An Eastern Sierra Adventure

The Mountains Call
Last weekend my grandson David and I heeded that call in John Muir's quote, packed up my little 1988 Toyota motorhome known as "Minnie Winnie" and headed south from Reno on US 395. The route parallels the steep east front of the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the Great Basin deserts to the east. This is probably one of the more spectacular highways in the world - it is certainly a favorite drive of mine.

The desert of the Great Basin on the east side of the Sierra Nevada
Our destination was the glacier-carved canyon of Bishop Creek west of the town of Bishop. I'd been hoping to photograph some fall color, but the web site of a local resort was not encouraging. "You've missed it" was the disappointing information it provided. Well, no matter - fall can be lovely even when the leaves are on the ground and scattered colorfully over the granite boulders of those Sierra canyons, and besides, the fun would really be just getting out on another adventure with my grandson.

Grandson David
I'm fortunate to have seven children and thirteen or so grandchildren. Always one of the most enjoyable aspects of parenthood to me has been the availability of companions (victims?) to share adventures great and small, and David and I have shared several. During our drive down 395we reminisced about our adventures in computing a couple of decades earlier, with him on my lap as we explored the world of Myst.

The magic of the Eastern Sierra is in the contrasts - elevations that vary by many thousands of feet in just a short distance, with the corresponding change from desert to alpine plants during a short drive. And so after a last stop for a few groceries to fill in the gaps in our larder we were slowly climbing from desert sage outside of Bishop at about 4,200 foot elevation to crawl at low gear through the summer home community of Aspendell at 8,500 feet and its surrounding pines and colorful aspen forest. And the leaves were not only still hanging onto the trees, but spectacularly so.

A couple of miles above Aspendell and just below Lake Sabrina and nestled into aspens alongside Bishop Creek we found a snug campsite just the right fit for Minnie Winnie. It was dark and cooling off by the time we sat down for a grilled steak salad. The warmth of Minnie Winnie's bunks beckoned, but first we headed out for a look at the night sky. So we climbed the glacial moraine next to our camp to gape at the countless stars and the bright swath of the milky way directly over our heads, and wonder at the fact that the sun is one of billions of stars in our galaxy, and that our galaxy is one of billions of other galaxies in the universe. In between wondering and feeling small I set up a tripod with my big Nikon on it and played with combinations of ISO and f/stops to eke the best resolution from my limited photographic gear. But those bunks in Minnie Winnie soon called to us. David loaned me a fleece-lined "beanie" to warm my nearly bald head. Good thing, because I just had to keep the little window at the head of my bunk open to let in the sound of the creek.
Aspen along Bishop Creek below Lake Sabrina

Minnie Winnie in her campsite in the romantically-named campground, "Upper Intake2"
Billions and billions - the Milky Way glows over our campground
Bishop Creek
The next day we enjoyed a leisurely morning. Well, some of us did. I crawled out in the early chilly dark trying not to wake David.  I gathered clunky camera gear to attempt to capture the dawn light on the Sierra peaks. That didn't work out, but it's always a nice experience to be out at that unusual hour in such a beautiful area, although I craved a toothbrush and coffee. Down by the creek I managed to capture the rushing water and some aspen in the soft, pre-dawn light.

With the sun well up we made some Krusteze blueberry pancakes and fried eggs on the Coleman stove, made some lunches, and finally parked near the Lake Sabrina outleat at the trailhead for Blue Lake about 11 am. Definitely a leisurely start to soak up what was turning into a beautiful day.

By noon we were well on the way, heading ever upward on a beautiful trail apparently built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's, from the lovely stonework steps and buttresses. The trail begins with a gradual inclining traverse parallel to Lake Sabrina. Once opposite the west end of the lake the trail begins to seriously gain elevation with switchbacks through some lodgepole pine woods, around a ridge, then more switchbacks up and out of a spectacular gorge just below Blue Lake.

David waited with kind patience for his grandpa, as I puffed and paused my way up. As a flatlander, living down at about 1,000 feet, the thin air was definitely an issue for me, but by taking it slowly and pausing every other switchback or so, I was never so uncomfortable as to not be able to enjoy the spectacular alpine scenery and the ambient scents and sounds. Birdsong was frequently present, especially in the more wooded areas, and the spicy aroma of warm sunlight on the pines and a bit of horse manure made a classical Sierra trail ambient mix.
The sculpting effect of glaciation events which began about 2.5 million years ago and last occurred just 15,000 years ago is evident from the distant views of classical U-shaped valleys and cirques, and up close as in this slope of polished and striated granite.
While the views on the way up were spectacular, the sweetest was the first view of the lake as we topped out alongside its outlet creek. Rugged pines growing from fissures in the granite reflected in the outlet pools and framed the lake, which was indeed blue, and the alpine peaks beyond. The 2-1/2 mile and 1,300 foot climb had taken us about four hours, what with all of my pauses to puff and photograph, so it was getting to be late afternoon and clouds were beginning to form. Nevertheless we gave ourselves about an hour to rest, explore, and generally just absorb the scene before heading back down again. Back in camp we talked about returning in the spring to spend more time; explore around a bit. Although the thought of backpacking up all those switchbacks is a bit daunting, I'll bet the mountains will call.
Blue Lake


1 comment:

  1. Very beautiful! Thank you for sharing your trip. Those photos make me homesick for the West. For now I enjoy the virtual visits.