Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fresh Powder

It was snowing when we were up on the rim which later became a light rain as we descended down the trail to the valley again. We woke up on Saturday to find that the drizzling rain that came in late Friday continued on into the late night, and had deposited 3 inches of fresh powder on the valley floor by sun up, and about 3 feet of the stuff fell up at the higher elevations. We had plans to meet up with Sue’s brother Dave and his wife Diane to go snowshoeing up at Badger Pass later, but rising early, we still had plenty of time for a morning walk along the Merced River in the virgin snow. Hardly anyone was around at that hour and it was a really fantastic eye-opener to stroll around and savor the stillness, quiet, and freshness of the new morning. We walked the meadow trails leaving the only (human) footprints, and followed along the river admiring the textures, sounds, colors, and shimmering ice crystals. We had a really nice time before rushing off to meet the others. Click here to see the photos from our morning constitutional in the valley.

Up at Badger Pass there was a light snow falling as we headed out to hike to Dewey Point in snowshoes. All the cars that had been left in the parking lot overnight were basically buried in snow by now, and weren’t going anywhere without a lot of digging. There was a giant snow blower working to keep the rest of the lot clear. Glacier Point Road beyond Badger is usually manicured for cross country skiers, so it was quite a bit easier, but once off onto the trail, the powder was soft and deep. There must have been 5 to 6 feet of hard pack with about 3 foot of fresh new snow. We found ourselves breaking trail along the previously well traveled cross country route # 14 to Dewey Point. These winter-only routes really do not exist except in deep snow. In the summer this area is a swampy meadow with seasonal streams which you probably wouldn’t want to mess with. In some places I found myself sinking in half way up to my knees even in snowshoes with six inch extensions fastened on. It was a lot of fun, but also exhausting, and we took turns leading. The whole area was resplendent in fresh virgin powder so deep that many of the tree limbs seemed to be at their breaking point. If you would reach out with a trekking pole and give a light tap on a snow-covered tree branch, the snow would fall off in clumps, and the branch would immediately spring up into a new location like a catapult. The sky was grey, and there was some misty fog in the air. The snow kept falling most of the morning, but with so much exertion it really didn’t seen cold at all. I had brought more layers than I really needed. I was only using one thin warmth layer with my rain layer over that. The soft powder was perfect temptation for snowball fights, but we all refrained in order to make sure we kept our gloves and clothing as dry as possible. There were a lot more skiers on the trail than those in snowshoes, and they were mostly faster, so they wound up breaking trail for us. But snowshoes need a wider track. It’s not the same kind of workout that you get doing normal hiking. The deep powder creates some resistance to lifting your feet forward, so it’s like going uphill even on fairly level terrain. You are using your musculature in different ways, with a completely different gait. On the road they try to create different “lanes” for skis than for snowshoes, but on the trail it’s all the same track. When we arrived at Dewey Point it seemed like we had gone a lot more distance, but it was really only a few miles. The views here are normally great but on this trip the fog and clouds really limited what we could see. We waited around for awhile, and it would clear a little and then the fog would drift back to show only a grey abyss. We did a loop hike using route #18 to return. By that time the route was well broken in by other snowshoe hikers, so it was actually easier even though there was some uphill. The ridge route gave us some uphill along the way, and would have provided some nice view opportunities except for the cloudy skies. I would really like to do this route in clear weather some time. Sue and I had a really great time and returned to our room while Dave and Diane departed for home.

Click here to see photos from the snowshoe trip.
Added: Click here to see Dave's pictures on

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