Monday, February 11, 2013

High above the highway aisle

Beat made some more adjustments to his sled and wanted to get in one more round of testing before we head to Alaska on Feb. 22. His available time was limited this weekend, so we opted for the most convenient route — another overnight trek to Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. Our trip away from our warm beds was less than 36 hours, including driving time. But even the utilitarian nature of the trip resulted in some remarkable scenery. I'm not sure Yosemite National Park has the ability to disappoint.

Although I have to be honest — I'm just about over the activity of hiking on the Glacier Point ski trail. The next morning we figured out that off-trail snow conditions were ideal — about four inches of new powder on top of hardened sun crust — so we spent more time trekking through the woods. Wending through pine trees atop soft powder, although slower, was considerably more fun than the groomed road. I'll have to keep that in mind should I find another chance to go snowshoeing in Yosemite. Still, the 10-mile trek up the mountain took us into an ethereal fog, quiet and cool with temperatures in the low 20s and dropping.

Beat's sled and pack/harness system hangs from a frosty Jeffery Pine. I also took the opportunity to try out my own sled system — a cute three-foot "baby sled" that Beat constructed for me from the same ultra high molecular weight Polyethylene that he used to build his Nome sled. I had my -40 sleeping bag and pad, a big down coat, spare clothing, headlamp, snowshoes, and about 2,500 calories in food — enough for a comfy winter overnight minus the tent and stove/fuel that Beat was carrying. This sled was crazy light, and glided and tracked well on both the groomed trail and off trail. I hardly noticed it dragging behind me except on steeper climbs. I think I'll use this system in the Homer Epic 100K, and it will also be great for overnight treks in the Chugach Mountains (hoping to do at least a couple.)

 Shortly after we arrived on top of Sentinel Dome, the fog began to break up.

 Steve works his way up the final pitch to Sentinel Dome. The altitude made this climb a real lung-buster. Heading straight from the Bay area to 8,000 feet in a single day tends to get to me, too.
 
The fog continued to break apart as the sun set, erupting into a stream of golden light above the Yosemite Valley. 

I was still wandering around the dome checking out the Ansel Adams trees, all beautiful works of art born of rough and rugged lives.

As the light show flickered through the more protected trees below.

The view to the east, with the last wisps of crimson sunlight stretched across the high peaks of the Sierras.


Sentinel Dome is one of the most spectacular spots I've had the pleasure of spending a night. I spent long, satisfying moments looking out across the expanse and humming ethereal music to myself, like "Holocene" by Bon Iver: "At once, I knew I was not magnificent. High above the highway aisle, jagged vacance, thick with ice. I could see for miles and miles and miles ... "


After sunset, temperatures dropped into the low teens with a brisk breeze. Even though I brought a warmer down coat with me for this trip, I couldn't manage to keep my feet and legs warm without moving. In any winter activity, the transition from moving to not moving is the hardest part, but necessary for activities like cooking, melting snow, and watching stars. I need to spend more time learning how to manage the camping aspect of winter camping (as opposed to the ultra-racing, just-keep-moving-until-I'm-done strategy.) I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities in Alaska next month.
 
The fog had completely cleared out by morning, revealing all of the granite walls and waterfalls we'd missed seeing the night before.

Our morning off-road ventures took us to Taft Point, which we learned upon approach is the sharp edge of a 2,000-foot sheer cliff. There was a cute little guardrail on the corner of the wall, and this is about as close as either of us could get with our similar levels of vertigo. Even that position was enough to feel a dizzy buzz from the exposure.

The view over the edge. Eeks.

We spent the first two hours of Sunday morning wending through moss-covered trees. Beat was more than satisfied with version three of his sled, which he has named "Crooky" because of a slightly crooked warp to the plastic that happened when he bent it into shape with heating strips. I posted his nearly finalized Nome gear list at my Half Past Done blog. I realized this week I need to work on finalizing my Alaska gear list. I can't believe how close it's all becoming.