Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January in Little Yosemite Valley

Mild, dry conditions allowed an easy visit to spend a couple nights camped up in Little Yosemite Valley. Only in shady spots and north-facing slopes was there a bit of shallow (icy, packed) snow; the ground is otherwise bare at 1830m. Nights were below freezing, days became comfortable in shirt-sleeves. There were many interesting things about this trip.

First: there was almost no one in this most popular backpacking spot. The LYV campground has dozens of people in it every night during the Half Dome season; it was a strange delight to experience it when completely empty.

Second: there were tiny frazil ice deposits in several places below Nevada and Vernal Falls, but in Emerald Pool the accumulation was up to 2 meters thick and covered 3/4 of the pool. These flows are remnants of the cold spell around New Years.

Third: last summer's Meadow Fire has completely changed the character of LYV, leaving it open and bare, but for black trunks. The campground area is unburned but a few minutes walk beyond there is a different landscape that's going to be a hot, sunny stretch in the summer, all the way up through Lost Valley.

Fourth: the little-known logjam in LYV has burned. This jam is upriver of the campground area, consists of several hundred tree trunks that have blocked the Merced River for many decades. It's big enough that it stayed in place during the flood of 1997. The jam is still there but the fire must surely have affected its stability.

Fifth: Consistent with the absence of people, there were none of summer's Steller's Jays in LYV.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

June-uary Again

The autumn's nice sequence of storms has faded to a string of mild, dry weeks. Snow is patchy at 6000' and Badger Pass (or might we be changing it to Munroe Meadow?) Ski Area has just enough snow coverage for a little longer. The storms we had Oct-Dec had high snow lines and our snowpack is less than half of average. The Merced River is also running at about half of average flow. Yosemite Falls is looking good, but the watershed is now burning through what should be March-May runoff. The snow cone beneath Upper Falls is modest and shrinking. The Sierra's drought continues.

Waterfall buttercup is blooming profusely in its usual spots in the lower Merced Canyon. Parts of Scorpio and the Summer Triangle are visible in the pre-dawn skies over the Valley walls. Much media attention is being paid to climbers on the Dawn Wall these days as an extra tricky ascent of El Cap is about to conclude after 2.5 weeks.

The media had also been reporting on the ownership of the names of the park's commercial operations like Curry Village, Wawona Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, etc. It would seem odd to have to buy these names back or to change them. Alas, they're just hotels; they're not Yosemite. Though traditional, the labels on ephemeral infrastructure shouldn't matter too much in the long run. No one worries about the Stoneman House, Camp Lost Arrow or The Cosmopolitan any more and "The Ahwahnee" will not last forever. The real and enduring beauty of these mountains is a gift that can never be taken away.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pacific Bucket Arrives

An interesting wave of warm air came up the canyon this morning, ahead of this big storm. So far, just a bit of rain and snow in the park today, but we anticipate a serious pouring tonight. There were light flurries in Mariposa Grove around noon today, but more impressive was (the near absence of visitors and) the strong upslope wind. Sugar Pines bent more than the sequoias did, both species of giants looking like large ships riding out big swells at sea. Clouds move from the south, wind comes from the West.

Some of the media hype makes reference to an Ark Storm [sic] but that's not at all what this is. That term has nothing to do with a big boat; look up ARkStorm and prepare to be unnerved. When it comes (and it will) it's going to cause more damage and destruction than the biggest urban earthquake might. California (and the US) could not possibly be ready for an event like what happened in 1861-62 when infrastructure and population were a fraction of what they are today.

This storm will help add to our surface water and snowpack, but it's relatively warm; snow level may only drop as low as 6000'. We've had a decent sequence of fall storms (like 'normal') but the snow has remained high. The Merced River (and our waterfalls) bumped up to above average flow after last week's weather, but it's back down to half of average volume now.

As a measure of the season's warmth (plus its wetness), the Merced Canyon below the park boundary is nice and green, with several wildflowers in bloom, including cranesbill, Indian paintbrush, tarweed, gumplant, and Shepherd's purse. There's a big patch of fiddleneck flowering unusually early near the Ferguson Slide bridge (west end), and a patch of goldenrod blooming in the El Portal Fire burn scar up the Foresta Road above El Portal.

We expect a dynamic night and tomorrow, especially in the burned areas...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

With Thanks

A sequence of modest storms (almost feeling like 'normal') has brought a bit of moisture to the Sierra, and we expect more this weekend. The river has risen a bit, but it's still flowing at about a third of average volume. To everyone's delight, Yosemite Falls came back to life after three months of absence. Bridalveil picked up a little, but Sentinel Fall and Royal Arch Cascades just trickled.

The last of the Mariposa Grove trams have circled their routes and departed the park for good last week. The Grove will be accessible per the usual winter access (walk in when snowy, drive up if it's clear) but the park's restoration project which starts next spring will close off regular visitor access at least through all of next season. There are still plenty of big trees to go around, at Yosemite's Tuolumne and Merced Groves and the nearby USFS Nelder Grove. New access to Mariposa Grove should become available in 2016, which is also the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The short (by sequoia standards) closure should have the Grove healthy for many more NPS anniversaries.

Indian Summer has been beautiful, we have a new Research Librarian, Yosemite Falls pours again, snow covers Tioga Road, and a wintery storm is on the way; we have lots to make us grateful.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn Adjustments

Bit of rain in the park last evening. Foliage color in the Valley is quite nice now, with parts of Southside Drive being a bright corridor of yellow maples. Even the dogwoods are as much yellow as pink. Wherever you find it, Dogbane outshines everything in pure canary yellow.

Vernal Fall trickles and at the normally lowest flow of the year, the Merced is running about 1/3 of average for this date. Lessingia blooms can still be found, some Madea still in blossom at Cascades, and there's at least one azalea flowering at Yosemite Lodge. Varied thrushes have appeared early and are relatively numerous. Bucks are at their biggest and in their most aggressive season; give them respectful space. Climbers are all over El Cap, Washington's Column, etc. in this cooler period.

The high country had a dusting of snow a few weeks ago, but real winter seems to be a good ways off. November is projected to be dry (and December in the Sierra doesn't look to be especially wet at this point).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Range of Lightning

A double-handful of wildland fires have been ignited by several days of monsoonal storm cells over our part of the Sierra. All of the starts are in remote areas and will be allowed to proceed as nature intends for now.

The mid-summer moisture has been locally intense: Tioga Road was closed for a time on Tuesday so that runoff debris could be removed, while a few miles away, no rain fell at all. The volume in the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers has jumped from the localized downpours. The gauge at Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley went from 15% of average flow to about 70% of average.

It was quite a surprise to find that Yosemite Falls had returned from the dead yesterday morning. Transient petrichor changes the feeling of our forests from that of dusty late August, to that of another mountain range altogether. This precipitation temporarily alleviates a sense of drought, but our mountains are still quite dry (and flammable).

Flowers look great at 7-9000' now: Senecio, lupine, Aster, Pentstemon, Epilobium, Delphinium and more are adding color to the quiet aridity.

There have been a few instances of oak branch drop in the past few weeks, wherein a healthy-seeming oak loses a large live branch suddenly. Watch the skies....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tioga Open All Year

Of course, Tioga Road is closed to vehicles through the winter, but visitors are using it all through the snowy season on skis and snowshoes. The high country isn't closed, it's just inaccessible to an invention that wasn't allowed into the park until 1913. The route opens to cars tomorrow, predictably early due to the unusually light snowpack. Here's what the Sierra high country looked like after fresh snow late last week.

Several of us witnessed a 2-minute avalanche of snow sluicing to the bottom of Tenaya Canyon from Clouds Rest yesterday.

While Yosemite Falls looks might hearty at the moment, the river is running below average again, and some observers believe that we've already passed peak runoff, several weeks early. Sentinel Creek is just now trickling as far as Southside Drive, and Ribbon Creek flows nicely to the river. Wosky Pond has a tiny bit of water in it. Eagle Creek and all channels of Indian Creek are dry at Valley level.

In the Valley, dogwoods are glorious right now, Senecio is in bloom already. Mule deer bucks have new antlers starting to grow. Snowplants have been up for weeks and are abundant in Mariposa Grove now.

Western Tanagers arrived in the Valley last week and are adding to the incessant soundtrack of spring. In addition to public birdwalks from the Yosemite Art Center 3 days a week, the Conservancy has a suite of truly terrific birding field seminars spread through the year; valuable for beginners or veterans.

The park is making big plans for celebrating the 150th anniversary of its federal protection on June 30; even Galen Clark is planning to attend. He'll be at LeConte Lodge to start their season of great presentations this Friday night.