My First Winter in the Sierra

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Fall in the June Lake Loop….so long ago…..

I don’t know when winter officially begins and ends around here. What I do know is that fall was here a long time ago, with all it’s pretty colors of aspen glittering all around. Then there was the snow and cold and more snow and cold and it’s still snowing and cold and my normally sunny-springy birthday is less than a week away. Listen, I moved to southern California to escape winter, not gonna lie. I don’t like it. But I haven’t had a winter in the Sierra mountains and this was alleged to be ahhhhhmazing. People come from all over the world to recreate in Mammoth or June Lake, to cross-country ski, snowboard, sled, snowmobile, snowshoe, snowmen sculpt, toboggan with dogs, to catch snowflakes on their tongues and think it’s just so cool, to wonder ‘do I need to put tire chains on my tires’ and ‘what the hell are tire chains anyways’…Well, was it ahhhhhhmazing? It was? Sorta I guess? Sometimes…

The view from my warm little apartment was definitely amazing and watching the snow fall was becoming my new favorite thing. Gull Lake froze for a bit, long enough for me to regularly see some coyotes walk across.

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Frozen Gull Lake (backyard) with June Mountain in the background somewhere

 

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Snowshoeing in Lundy Canyon

Oh snowshoeing… I want to love you but just wished I had cross-country skis on my feet instead. It’s a good work out yes, but I want to glide around and not hear that dreaded crunching noise every time I move. By moonlight it is a bit more interesting and watching the moon rise over the Minarets in Mammoth was pretty epic.

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On our way to the Minaret Vista with a bunch of luna-tics for the full moon rise.

June Mountain – Then there was snowboarding for the first time with my surprisingly patient boyfriend on a powder day during a storm. It was the most fun I’ve had in forevers. The snow was so soft that I didn’t mind falling the hundred times that I did. I didn’t want to stop, despite being starved and dehydrated and sore, it’s so addicting.

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Not sure if I laid in the snow more or actually snowboarded but WHO CARES! So fun!

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June Lake – I guess Sierra cement is a thing and when my favorite snow happens, the kind that sticks to every branch like marshmallow, that is it. It happens more that you’d think and this made me happy. Then suddenly, it’s gone. It’s so sunny here all the time that sticky snow just doesn’t last long.

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June Lake through the marshmallow trees
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The road I wished I lived on

Hwy 395 – I bought us some sleds for Christmas and didn’t remember how painful sledding can be. I guess the last time I’d done this was ages ago in high-school and mostly remembered when I’d sled down Meineke Hill in my backyard in the Chicago suburbs, back when I wore a snowsuit and moon-boot looking things on my feet. People sled right off Hwy 395 on a random hill and during a storm Richie and I went out to this rando-hill and got some air off the pre-made ramps people built out of snow. Ow. But it was still so much fun.

Death Valley – Then it was time to be in “summer” and defrost. Tara, my favorite glamper, and crew headed out to Death Valley for this SUPER BLOOM that everyone has been going ape shit over. The Valley got an obscene amount of rain recently, so much so that Scotty’s Castle is washed away and roads were turned to rivers at one point. This bloom was happening because of this and apparently it is the first one in a long-ass time. Death Valley is the biggest National Park we have here in the lower 48, yet there were so many people everywhere bumbling around like brain-starved zombies and campsites were hard to find, unless you settled for a RV parking lot. Um, no. Not us glampers. Tara got up at the butt crack of dawn to fight people for a site if she had to but didn’t, thankfully, and scored us two sites as the campers were packing up to leave. The bloom is a subtle thing in most spots, a small field of yellow here, a few white flowers there but upon closer inspection, there were pink flowers with tiny red bugs crawling all over and even a slew of caterpillars trying not to get noticed.

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Beautiful Badwater Basin, before the storm
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SUPER BLOOM! on the Willow Creek Canyon trail that has a waterfall at the end.
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Don’t look at me! Turn away!

Yes, we had some weather issues and our tents almost blew away even with boulders inside of them for weight. But there was a consolation rainbow. We made up for it with a campfire fire on the last night and had formal attired pie iron baking contest (I won main course) with funky-flames and a light-writing cock-and-balls-photo-shoot. (Tara, where are those pics?!)

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Our pie iron creations, sizzling over the fire
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Cock-n-balls! Sorta? (photo by Tara)

I really don’t know if it’s still winter at this point in my story but I went snowboarding again when Todd visited in March and it was not fun. This is when I discovered why people say there are ‘no friends on powder days’… because this time was not a powder day and it sucked. The snow was hard, fast and hurt like hell when I fell.

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Grinning and bearing it on the tip top of June Mountain

Mono Lake (my workplace) – The next day we went on an epic adventure, starting with the Black Point Fissures of Mono Lake. This is my third time trying to find these damn things… the first time I got assaulted by no-see-ums (awful gnats that you can’t see but feel biting through to your skull!) and the second time it got dark before I even found a semblance of a crack and had to turn back before I couldn’t find the car. The fissures are one of the many mysteries of Mono Lake and we don’t tell visitors about them much because they are tricky to get to and we want to keep them safe. Black Point is a volcano that erupted 13,000 or so years ago, deep underneath Mono’s salty, alkaline waters. These cracks formed on the surface of the volcano and now that the water shrunk down, you can walk through them, jump over them and lick their salty walls (sorry not sorry I’m weird).

So was winter ahhhhhmazing? Epic? There were some dark moments personally and I worked too much and discovered that having 3 jobs is just plain stupid. Plus, the mountain-town initiation rite of putting tire chains on during a storm sucks so hard. But I did embrace winter, maybe not a bear-hug embrace but there was a gentle squeeze. By the third time I went up June Mountain, I finally learned how to connect my turns (can’t get off a ski-lift without falling but…). Snowshoeing and sledding were loud and painful but super fun. Driving alongside the Eastern Sierra is never ugly and Sierra cement is real nice too. Seeing all the snowmen pop up around town, after a storm is adorable. I’m already prepping for summer though and excited to be healthy again and ready to backpack and bag some peaks. I have 3 national park campgrounds booked for the summer and more visitors coming. I’m going backpacking for my birthday with my man and dude dog too. Life is good, still cold but good.

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6 thoughts on “My First Winter in the Sierra

  1. Jenny – sounds like an amazing time and so happy that you can enjoy it with “your man.” I am so happy that you are happy! Have a wonderful birthday. Enjoy every minute of it!! (I am sure you will!).

    Al

  2. Looks amazing, but I’m happy to experience a Sierra winter vicariously through you (I am sorta curious about snowboarding though, which I’ve never tried). Where are you camping this summer? I want camping!

    1. Sequoia Kings Canyon, Lassen and Yosemite! You are invited to all my camping trips. Grandfathered-claused in. I’ll send you the details/dates.

  3. So neat to read this. It reminds me of my first winter in the Sierra. I can’t wait to read how your 2nd Winter on the Eastside goes!

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