A Snowless Solstice

19-20 Dec 2006 - by Steve Eckert

It was the first patch of good weather in a while, I had a new 0 degree sleeping bag I wanted to test, and no one else seemed to be free mid-week... so I chose an easy destination and got out one day before the big storm hit. Oh, but first, heading out of the Bay Area on 580 a huge sheet of metal was somehow dropped or lifted up in front of me: It was airborne when I first saw it, and there were no brakelights ahead of me. Crumpled both front fenders, slashed the front bumper, took the passenger side mirror off, and scraped the top and all along the side of my car, but didn't break any glass or take out any vital systems! Good thing I wasn't on a motorcycle.

So I get to Hope Valley a bit later than planned, and it was already 0F. Uh, that's the rating of my new bag. But I'll survive. Only by morning it was -10F, matching the coldest I've encountered in the Sierra. I considered bailing out, but figured maybe it was just Hope Valley that was cold. (That turned out to be right, my next night over by Burnside Lake was 20 degrees warmer.)

This story is all out of order because it's not much of a story otherwise. I slogged up the road, which surprisingly had some bare patches and never more than a foot or so of snow cover. The max snow thickness was around 8500', below that it had apparently melted and above that it had apparently blown off. Not too far from the trailhead all the old tracks stopped, and my tracks remained untouched for two days. Not counting coyote tracks. They put up a good chorus at one point, couldn't tell if it was happy or angry.

I was making such good time I thought about following the trail all the way to Grover Hot Springs. I saw sporadic blazes below Burnside Lake, but couldn't see any trail headed down the cliffs. At this elevation the snow didn't even cover the bushes but there was ice on the rocks under the skiff of fresh snow. I turned back. An early camp near some cool trees east of Burnside left me time to dry things out and discover a cell phone signal and STILL get 12 hours sleep before dawn. A cool tree near camp:

Hawkins Peak from the South Shoulder:

A short backpack up to the saddle marked JCT on the map below, and I switched to a day pack for the jaunt to the peak. I followed the 4WD road just to avoid brush, then went straight up the south face of the peak under the huge solar panels. I'm not sure the summit is a healthy place to be with all that humming equipment and antennas, but there sure is a swell view!

On a more snowy day, I think the traverse to Pickett and down to Sorensens would round out a better trip. On this day, I chose to avoid cross-country snowless bush-whacking on the day before the winter solstice.

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