Friday, August 24, 2012

Tuolumne Meadows 
 Part 2 – Excursion notes

A sample of notes written during odd moments during our two weeks in upper Yosemite high country

Judy on the trail to Conness
Sitting by the evening campfire it begins casually enough as I examine a topographic map, 
Ah! That lake looks about about right...
Good high elevation, no formal trail, manageable distance
It should work fine to just traverse the elevation line... with a bit of climbing
Next day we are off early...
We walk together until lunch, then I leave my wife Judy with a good book (as she likes to do) on the high alpine shores of Conness Lake.

Glaciers can be differentiated from snow packs by the crack which forms in the summer at the top of the ice - this indicated how much movement has taken place since the last snowfall 

This is what I enjoy most!
Making my way across unmarked terraine...
Dealing with situations as they arise
Cliffs and rock walls to climb or travel around
Scrambling over large talus blocks  (rock fragments at the foot of a cliff) and smaller scree (Loose rock debris on a slope.)
I am now well above 11,000 – so I must adjust for breathing if I am to reach my goal.
After hours of rock scrambling - There it is!  
A fine glaciated bowl located in a white granite cirque (A 3 sided bowl- that forms at the head of a mountain glacier)
What a pristine alpine lake!, punctuated with glacerial erratic rocks 
A waterfall is coming off the glacier
And the lake appears slightly cloudy due to glaceriel erosion sediment
Great cumulus clouds drift by –
Alternating chill breeze and roasting susn
I am sitting here, now, opposite the water fall on a great granitic slab
Like a giant marmot – looking over my world

Lake has translucent quality due to ground glacial rock that has been carried into the lake
Massive North Peak is looming to my right, the glaciers of Mt. Conness to my left.
It is a huge empty space, full of minute details
It is silent except for the chirps and whistles of marmots and pika,
the wind in the rocks, sounds of falling water,
an occasional bird call, and the sound of my own breathing

Marmot - seen at near Tioga Pass

Pika - seen near Helen Lake - note rounded ears, long wiskers, short stubby tail
2, Today we set our sights on Shamrock lake over 11k feet
Our bodies are now becoming adapting to the elevation – so oxygen is less a problem
The basin of Shamrock is ice carved to leave behind large islands and peninsulas extending into the lake
Geologically interesting - this is the original rock of the Sierras - older darker colored metamorphic rock - with many signs of folding and quartz intrusions.
We can see quite a sharp demarkation where the newer younger granite was thrust up through this mass...
I suspect that is is the most beautiful meeting of water, stone, and ice that I have ever seen!
The lake margin is rugged with steep rock walls.  it is a challenge to work around them if I want to walk the lakes  perimeter

In the summer it seems that there is falling water everywhere - although this year was dryer than most
After lunch - Judy reads – I explore with only my whims to guide me
A few patches of white bark pine – seldom over 15 feet high are interspersed with small flowery meadows
But mostly it is rock – rock bearing the signs of its glaceral past
By early afternoon great white cumulus clouds drift overhead
There is a gentle cool breeze today
The trail that I followed on my way around Shamrock Lake
But what’s this?
In the midst of my revere I hear a loud jet engine
No- its not a plane – its thunder
A dense dark cloud on the horizon is expanding rapidly
There!– that’s lightening
And its moving rapidly toward me
Shamrock lake is amazing with the glacially gouged basin and high alpine conditions
Quick – what do I remember about High Sierra summer lightning storms
“If you feel the fibers of your body stand on end – you are becoming charged with static electricity – quick lie on the ground to discharge”  -
OK that didnt happen to me today.
I recall: "Summer storms are often brief."
Now sure how Judy was responding to the lightning I hurried back to where she was reading
We decided that it made sense to go to a lower elevation and wait.
Rain starts to fall – light at first – then heavier
We spot a thick grove of White Bark Pines – with a comfortable space inside.
Here we get temporary protection
Susprise! - I have never seen a cloud expand so quickly and move so quickly!!
Now the thunder is directly overhead
Blasts in rapid succession
After an hour the rain diminshed – 
More dark clouds coming – so we move on
Then 1/3 inch flat pieces of hail begin to pelt us
We trudge on through rocky country with no protection – hands become numb with cold
Then just as suddenly -the sun comes out and we feel like whimps for turning back
You never know about mountain storms.  They are notoriously unpredictable – and can turn deadly

Last November 150-200 MPH winds ripped up hundreds of the largest trees!  

Outflow from Conness into Steelhead lake
3.  From the lower lip of the summer snow field
clear melt water emerges
Flowing and gurgling its way over rocks and pebbles
More ice melts in other locations to combine into a flowing stream
The water music is fine!
On its way down from the highlands, more water joins in
water sounds become more intense in our ears

Trail ( to right ) around waterfall on our way to the Conness Basin
Mossy patches rife with summer flowers grow along the margins 
(even now late in the season)
Reds, yellows, purple... not large flowers but intense colors - attract pollinators
The stream emerges into a vast marshy meadow at the higher end of the lake
Here water finds peace – it becomes tranquil – 
I miss the sound

The only bear that we encountered on this trip...

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