Saturday, February 25, 2012

The winter that wasn't and other ramblings

What a difference a year makes!  Last year, there was so much snow that just figuring out where to put it was a challenge.  I didn't have to work out; just shoveling tons of snow kept me in shape and I lost 5 pounds. For a while, I couldn't take the dogs out because of avalanche hazard and just not being able to move my truck.

This year we've had one good storm that dumped close to 20 inches followed by three days of almost 50 degree temperatures.  And there have been 3 or 4 stormlettes of 2-6 inches.  That's it.  Mammoth, the local ski resort, 40 miles north has done a little better but not much.  I like to run the dogs on the groomed snowmobile trails up by Mammoth.  There are almost 200 miles of trails and while some of them have more snowmobile traffic than I like, it is almost always possible to find a trail that we can run on.  This year the groomer went out for half a day and quit, saying he was getting down to dirt and would wait for the next good storm which unfortunately hasn't occurred yet. There are some isolated (and short) sections that have reasonable coverage but it is hard to justify the 80 mile round trip to get up there.

My plans this year were to get the dogs up to 25-30 mile runs.  There's one 20 mile loop we've done parts of from either end and I was really hoping to be able to do the whole distance this year.  I had some snow camps planned with them, and some mid-distance races.  I was hoping to get confident enough to move from 6 to 8 dog teams. 

We've done one local run this year that wasn't much fun with icy, crunchy snow, hooks that weren't holding and crazy dogs.  All our other local training has been on dirt and not for any real distance as the good dirt roads have had either a few inches of icy snow, or a treacherous mix of dirt and ice. 

So, I did what any reasonably driven person would do.  I drove 1200 miles north with 9 dogs to a race in Priest Lake, Idaho.  I had a great time running the dogs in the 6 and 4 dog sprints, saw friends, met nice people, and had lots of fun.  Here we are at the start of the six dog race.:
 Don't the dogs look happy?

I drove home hoping for a change in the weather and so far no luck with that. So I'll be leaving in a week and a half for another race in Idaho, this time at Stanley. 

It's not that I really love races.  To me, the races are just a focal point for what I really love - getting out with the dogs.  I love being out there in the woods with only the sound of the runners on the snow.  I love the silence and the solitude.  I love watching the dogs run and seeing them look back at me with silly grins on their faces.  Or that question - really? You want us to go up this hill? Yes I say and off they go.  And stopping for a break and having them dive in snowbanks and roll over making doggy snow angels.  Yep, that's why I do this.  It isn't about races, though it isn't that I don't want to go to races and be competitive.  It is just that races are just punctuation in long stories of running just for the joy of it.

It is like climbing for me.  I've done a number of incredible climbs in which I haven't made it to the summit but the experience was still extraordinary.  I have a favorite moment on a climb of Mt. Baker in Washington.  We left camp in the middle of the night (the traditional and safe alpine start) on a clear night with a full moon.  We didn't need headlamps in the bright moonlight and at some point, I turned and looked out and could see the moonlight shining on the water of the straits off the coast and to the islands beyond.  I did summit Mt. Baker but I mostly remember that view in the moonlight.   

I'm still hoping for some March snow, however the long-range forecast models aren't too encouraging.  It has been warm so we can probably do some longer dirt runs pretty soon but they just aren't the same as running on snow.

Yes, it was the winter that wasn't. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring in the eastern Sierra

Well, as I sit down to write this post on spring, it is snowing heavily outside!  That is part of spring at 8,500' in the mountains.

I've done some drives and short hikes to some nearby places and wanted to share them.  We now have both snow and flowers depending on just where you are. We have a little patches of snow left here in Aspendell but it is mostly gone now.
Aspendell from the North Lake Rd

Starting down lower, Bishop Creek is flowing and the aspens are starting to leaf out at the 7000 foot level. 

At this level, desert peach and bitterbrush are blooming.  Desert peach is very fragrant. Bitterbrush is one of the deer's favorite winter foods. 
Desert peach


I also took a trip down to an area south of Big Pine that burned a few years ago. Last year, this area was covered with all kinds of wild flowers. This year, despite much rain over the winter, there weren't many.  I think timing of the rain is often the determining factor.  There was, though, quite a bit of lupin.

Up the road from town is Lake Sabrina, a favorite summer fishing lake.  This lake has a dam and in the fall, quite a bit of water is released.  Here's what it looks like now.

Now that fishing season is open in the high country, fisherfolk have been up here drilling holes in the ice.  As the spring runoff starts, this lake will fill up and I imagine by late June, water will be flowing over the spillway.  All the rock piles seen in this photo will then be underwater.

The willows here in town are already leaving out, but I did find some pussy willows up higher.

There is a lot of snow in the high country (and it is supposed to snow for the next four days!).  When it does finally get warm, there will be a lot of runoff probably well into July.  I expect lots of flowers and mosquitoes!

And finally, my post wouldn't be complete without some spring babies!  This ranch, off Highway 395 has 5 baby horses.  I caught three of them here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The BIG Storm

It's taken me a few days to get to this because I've been spending so much time moving snow around and helping my neighbor as well. 

The storm started on Friday, December 17th and ended on Monday, the 20th with another day of snow on Wednesday.  Our total snowfall was over 80 inches.  The first couple of feet were very heavy and wet, and the rest was lighter.  I really love snow, but this was an overwhelming amount of it.  My dog yard was filled and I had to dig trenches for the kennels and remove feet of snow from the chicken wire covers. 

 My garage and driveway were inundated and despite multiple attempts to keep my truck reasonably clear, I woke up on Sunday to this:

The antenna on the left is all I could see of my truck!

 Some wonderful friends came up from Bishop to help me dig out and by the end of the day, we found my truck.

Getting into my garage was a major endeavor since the snow was almost half way up the door.

The county was not plowing due to concerns about avalanches (they advised us to leave!) so the 6 families in our neighborhood who live here full time were stuck.  They eventually sent a front loader up to plow a single lane but by the time they showed up it was dark and they left a huge and rock hard berm at the foot of our driveways.  I was concerned about the avalanche hazard and while my house was engineered to withstand an avalanche, my dog yard was exposed.  So I brought all the dogs in. It was crazy, but with a few in crates and some baby gates up to keep them out of some rooms, we managed.  About that time, the power went out and I had to hook a small generator up to keep my pellet stove and one light going.  Eventually the generator ran out of gas and I couldn't face a trip to the garage for more.  So I laid a futon out on the floor, got warm blankets and pillows and told the dogs it was time to go to sleep.  And all of these dogs, most of whom have never spent a night in the house, curled up all around me on the futon and we went to sleep.  It was very sweet and very warm!  The power came back on in the middle of the night so I could turn the stove back on.

The snowfall started to decrease Monday evening, and at one point when I let a dog out about midnight, I could briefly see the eclipsing moon through some thin clouds.  Tuesday was clear and then it snowed again Wednesday.  We now have the amount of snowfall that we usually get by mid-February.  We have now had a few days of sun, the avalanche hazard has decreased, and we have the driveway dug out, and moats inside the dog yard fences so they can't jump out. 

Tomorrow I finally am taking dogs out sledding and I think I'm going to really love all this snow!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Transitioning from Fall to Winter

Winter is arriving here a little earlier than usual.  We've had significant snowfall and temperatures falling to single digits at night.  Usually this comes in December which is typically our coldest month.  We often get heavy snowfall in late December followed by a couple of weeks of high pressure and warmer temperatures in early January.  Skiers up at Mammoth, about 40 miles north, love this, but sometimes we can see our December snows melt away to almost nothing during this time. Mammoth sits apart on the Sierra crest and due to this geography tends to get about twice as much snow as we do just a few miles east of the crest. 

Gary and I went snowshoeing this weekend.  We left the house and walked up to North Lake, which at 9200 feet, is about 700 feet above us.  As we started up, snow began falling.  Up at the lake, we did need to put our snowshoes on and we had a nice hike up to the North Lake campground.
Gary headed toward the campground

 I run dogs on a cart up here in the fall.  There is great snow up here now - almost a foot - and if I could get my sled up to the lake I'd love to run the dogs here in the winter too.  Unfortunately, the road that takes us up here is windblown and south facing so it is often snow free even when there is a lot of snow elsewhere.  

North Lake is a favorite for fall color photographers who show up by the hundreds in September.  They are very nice however quite oblivious to what is going on around them as they stand in the middle of the road with their cameras and tripods.  We almost took a few out when we were carting here in the fall.  Here's a then and now look at a often photographed site above the lake:

September 2010
November 2010
Dog training:  I started running the dogs with a cart in September. We started with short distances and have been building up ever since.  I can't increase distances too quickly partly because we have limited trails we can use that are cool enough and these aren't too long.  We started out with 2 miles and we're up to about 5-6 now for the younger dogs.  The older dogs are at 4 miles.  With the early arrival of winter, our usual trails are now covered with a few inches of snow - too much for the cart and nowhere near enough for the sled.  I lost a team last year when I tried to take the sled out on insufficient snow.  The hook didn't hold when I turned them around and off they went without me.  I can laugh now at the memory of running after them in the twilight with down feathers flying all around me.  My jacket was ripped when I tried unsuccessfully to grab the snow hook as they went by.  At the time though, I was very alarmed at what could happen to a loose team and was relieved when I caught up to them and they were all okay.  Now I'm happy to wait for a bit more snow!

In the last few days I have taken them to some longer trails that are now cold enough to run on.  Yesterday we ran in the Buttermilks, a favorite bouldering area for local climbers. 
We're looking at Mt. Tom, 13,658'.  These roads wind for miles and are more challenging as they trend uphill toward the mountains.  I'm hoping to get the teams up to 8 miles on dirt before we transition to snow.  My goal in this early training is to build strength and stamina.  Then when we transition to the much lighter sled on snow, we can start working on speed.  I use an Arctis cart ( which weighs about 80 lbs for our dirt training.  Sometimes I add an additional 40 to 80 lbs for the stronger team. 

That's it for now.  Next week, I'll start introducing the team!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winter arrives in the Sierra Nevada

We've gotten our first major storm of the season in the last two days.  So far, about 18 inches has fallen and it is still snowing. We live in the eastern Sierra Nevada at 8500 feet and winter can get pretty serious!  This is a pretty early storm, though and I had to scramble to put gardening tools and other things away before it arrived.  Otherwise they could be buried until spring.

 Here's our house.  The big wall is for avalanche protection.  We have a canyon above us that avalanches infrequently (last time in 1987), but the county decided to require new buildings to have protection and this is ours. We are the only people in our little town that have had to adhere to these requirements so far. 

Usually the first warning of a big storm is the arrival of hundreds of rosy finches.  They live up in the high country and only come down lower when the snow covers up all their food.  We've had bird watchers come from all over to see them.  I participated in a bird count one year and it just happened to be on the day they arrived.  I could tell that the Audubon Society did not believe my numbers!
 They haven't shown up so far but I expect them soon.  They stay all winter and then one day in the spring, they take off to go back to the high country. 

The snow is very light and powdery so we won't be going out on the sled just yet.  It needs to be consolidated enough to hold a snow hook.  And it has snowed on all the dirt roads we usually cart on so for now the dogs will have to be happy playing in the snow in the dog yard.