Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Trio of Peaks

From the window of our spare room, we can look to the west and see the rising sun highlighting the peaks standing guard over June Lake. We are in the period called the “shoulder season” by the local businesses – the time between summer fishing and winter skiing. The weather has been mild, an Indian summer with warm days and above-freezing nights. In past years, storms have brought significant snow by now, but this year it is a bit delayed. That is fine by us, since it has provided the opportunity to explore our surroundings and climb those sun-touched peaks outside our window.

In the winter, we have often looked towards Mt Wood (12,657’) from the June Mtn Ski Area. Its east flank gets covered with what seems an endless expanse of snow, smooth and uninterrupted by cliffs or boulders. In its current un-blanketed state, it is multihued in grays and reds. To reach the top would be too long for day hike, so packed our backpacks with our warmest sleeping bags for an overnight excursion. We camped near Alger Lakes (10,600’). The sun sets by 6:00 pm, so following dinner we were snug in our tent doing crossword puzzles until it was time to sleep. The next morning we packed a lunch and hiked to Koip Peak Pass, then cross-country along the ridge to the summit of Mt Wood. Along the ridge is Parker Peak (12,850’), higher than Mt Wood, but not positioned as well for views. The top photo was taken from our lunch spot on the top of Mt Wood, looking north with Grant Lake on the right and Mono Lake in distance.

Our next goal, a few days later, was Carson Peak (10,909’). This massive chunk of rock is a prominent landmark visible for just about anywhere in the canyon where June Lake resides. It was a long day hike from the Rush Creek trailhead, 15 miles roundtrip. We waited until 9 am to get started, since our thermometer read 27 degrees when we rolled out of bed. By the time we reached the summit, it had warmed up significantly, with hardly a breath of wind. The views in all directions were outstanding, as you can see from this video. The second photo is looking west into the Ansel Adams Wilderness and towards Yosemite National Park. The reservoir in the foreground is Gem Lake, with Waugh Lake in the distance. The concrete dam was built in 1917, an engineering marvel in its time. Flows from Waugh Lake, Gem Lake, and Agnew Lake still produce electricity used by many of the communities in and around June Lake.

The last peak in the series was San Joaquin Mtn (11,600’). Our hike to this peak started from our front door, where we took the trail to Yost Meadow. We then hiked cross-country up the steep gully to the peak’s east shoulder and eventually to the summit. The view was somewhat obscured by smoke from a fire burning to the south, somewhere in the Kings Canyon area. With binoculars we could see the plumes rising from the bottom of the canyon. We could also see Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, with a dusting of snow from the storm a couple of weeks ago, as well as a wide, white band down the middle of their main run where man-made snow has been spread in anticipation of opening day on November 9th. The third photo is looking northeast – the ski runs of June Mtn Ski Area cut through the forest are visible in the upper right portion of the image. The town of June Lake, as well as June Lake and half of Gull Lake are towards the upper left of the photo. The steep, multi-colored metamorphic rocks in the foreground comprise what is called “The Negatives”. This is a popular backcountry ski run, which John has on his list of future descents – I would consider it under perfect conditions.

The bottom photo is Yost Meadow, brown in the late-season dryness. The pyramid-shaped Mt Dana with a streak of snow can be seen in the distance. An idyllic place for a rest on our way home.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

First Snow

We have become real weather geeks. We have an indoor/outdoor thermometer that records the diurnal temperature highs and lows. One of us checks it first thing in the morning to see how cold it is outside. A weather radio sits on the kitchen widow sill, and John listens to the forecast as he prepares our morning oatmeal. John verifies the forecast by checking out the satellite images on the Internet. And the local radio station broadcasts the weather analysis and forecast by Howard Sheckter, a local real estate agent and weatherman who provides a forecast that is not dumbed down. All this information so we can plan our outdoor activities with no surprises.

October 10th brought us our first snow. We didn’t need any of our nifty weather tools to verify this fact – we just had to look out the window. The temperature outside was just above freezing, so the snow did not stick on the ground and melted quickly. But it came down steadily throughout the day. We stayed warm and cozy inside. Every once in a while one of us would look outside, and verify that, yes, it is snowing.

It has since snowed again (on October 17), this time leaving an inch or so on the ground. We weren’t around, since our predictive tools told us it would be a nasty weather day. We traveled to Reno for a day of shopping. That night when we returned, and after the weather passed, it dropped down to 24 degrees, our lowest low so far.

Winter is on its way, and you can be sure we will know it when it gets here!

Monday, October 9, 2006

Moving to Paradise

It has been a week since we moved all our worldly possessions from Southern California to June Lake. It is so beautiful here – the crisp fall air, the golden light of the sunrise on the peaks, or the brilliant hues of the autumn aspen. Despite the chaos of moving and unpacking, I am sometimes overwhelmed with a feeling of pure joy to be living what has been our dream for many years. We celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary in our new home on October 4th, working from dawn to dark unpacking. Not a day has gone by that we have not looked at each other in amazement on how lucky we are.

The journey started from our 10’ by 15’ storage unit in Hemet. We had to drive 30 miles to Moreno Valley that morning to pick up the Budget rental truck – it turned out to be almost $600 cheaper than U-Haul, with just the added inconvenience of more distant pickup and drop off points. The temperatures in Hemet were peaking in the low 100’s for the several days we stayed with my parents in their mobile home. Moving day was only a bit cooler, but by the time we loaded the truck and were ready to leave we were dusty and sweaty. After a quick shower, we were on the road by 3 pm, John at the wheel of the 14-footer, and me following in the smaller red truck.

Our plan was to camp halfway, and we pulled into the Fossil Falls campground by 8:30 pm. A front was moving through, pelting us with some rain overnight, but the next morning was crisp with just a few remnant puffy clouds. After a quick breakfast (top photo), we continued our journey north.

By noon we were on the June Lake Loop road, covering the last couple of miles along the shore of June Lake itself (second photo). The last two places we lived were second floor units, and lucky for us, this one is, too. The rest of the afternoon was spent moving boxes and furniture upstairs. Our friend Charles, who lives in Mammoth, came to help (thank goodness), and soon much of the floor space was covered by boxes (third photo). By dark all was unloaded, and we dug out some cans of chili and our camping cook pots, and ate our first meal together.

Anxious as we were to unpack, we had to make a six-hour round trip drive to Ridgecrest to drop off the rental truck. But the day after (our anniversary!) was our day to unpack. It has been quite a challenge to fit all our STUFF in the apartment – it is two bedrooms, but the rooms are small. It is a very nice place – only 10 years old, with modern cabinets, double-paned windows, and ample storage, of which we used every inch. We did significant “purging” – old t-shirts, unused gear, and odd kitchen tools were set aside for donation to the local thrift shop. Entire boxes with notes from college were tossed.

By the end of the week we were (more or less) settled. We decided to do a hike from our front door via the Yost Meadow trail. It traverses the slope to the south of town, offering spectacular views of the village of June Lake and the chain of lakes. The bottom photo is looking northwest, and if you find the yellow arrow in the bottom right corner, that is our new home. Paradise, indeed.

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