This story begins on the drive back from the Bay Area on New Years Day after a fun weekend there. As day darkened to dusk along I-80, Matt texted to ask if I'd be keen for a last-minute trip to Yosemite the next day. This premise was made possible by Tioga Pass being uncharacteristically open; it's not maintained after the first big snow, but that hasn't happened (!), so it's clear and dry. If Tioga's open, it's under 3 hours from Reno to Yosemite, but an easy 5-6 if Tioga's closed. Unfortunately, Ethel had to work the next day, but I was off, and the promise of an unfettered photo mission was too much to pass up.
Unpacking from the previous trip entirely out of the question, I departed Reno at an ungodly hour for Matt's house after flinging all available camera gear into the car, and we were in Yosemite by daybreak. We spent a couple hours exploring some of Matt's favorite little spots near the top of Tioga, and then we continued down into Tuolumne Meadows.
Tenaya Lake (and all the others) were frozen solid, the result of many cold and clear weeks prior. Still cold from the night when we arrived, we were intrigued but not totally surprised to find some people ice skating. What we weren't prepared for, however, were the short-sleeved throngs that would emerge as the day warmed. At any given time after the sun emerged, there were a couple hundred people recreating on the lake.
Usually, with a huge snowpack and Tioga Pass closed, the only way into the glorious Tuolumne high country is a 15+ mile ski, an effort that's undertaken by some, but certainly not easy access. Seeing this terrain in January without the snowpack and with trivial access is literally unheard of.
Domes large and small
Our early start had given us the luxury of time, so we spent the day meandering back and forth through the area. We left Tenaya for a while and headed back just over Tioga Pass to check out the wildly frozen outlet of Ellery Lake. While a spectacular sight, this icefall was guarded by a stiff wind that kept us from venturing too near any of the really good vantage points. The landing would not have been a fun one.
Happy to have avoided certain death at the icefall, we headed back through Tuolumne to hang out at Tenaya for sunset. Along the way, we saw our only wildlife of the day. The 'yote wasn't too interested in letting me get close to him, adeptly sauntering away at the same pace I approached. Perhaps chasing him with a 500mm lens wasn't the best way to ensure my stealth...
Back to Tenaya well in advance of sunset, I spent a good long while totally freaking out on making photos of bubbles in the ice. Sounds mundane, but just you wait...
Matt was set up on the lake with his digital camera, his 4x5, and his 8x10. Somehow, I felt like he'd be covering most of the angles down there, so I headed for higher ground and scurried up a nearby peak. Some heavy clouds had moved in, and we both thought we were gonna get skunked on light. I was so convinced that I started hiking back down when a faint beam of red light hit me in the chest, and I got treated to about 5 minutes of exquisite colors that really only appear in high country like this. The gap between the clouds and the horizon was so narrow that it was a very rapidly evolving show, over far too soon. Worth the hike!
The view east
The view west
After a solid 10 hours of uninterrupted photo mission, we slunk back to Reno after acquisition of some tasty Monoritos in Lee Vining. All in all, it was a super long and interesting weekend on many counts, and absolutely worth the lack of rest. Who'da thunk we'd be able to cruise Tuolumne via Tioga Pass in January!
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