This page covers a lengthy period of time, spent poking around the higher altitudes of the Sierra Mountains from various angles. After we left Death Valley, we went to somewhere called Lone Pine, in the eastern fringes of California. From there we could hike painlessly in to the mountains, setting off from a car park at 10,000 feet somewhere called Cottonwood Lakes. From there, a short drive north took us to the Tuolumne Meadows, in the east of Yosemite National Park, and more high country. I say a 'short drive' - just the two hundred miles of so. And the practical reason for the trip is that it's the nearest place to actually cross the mountains, so that we could then drive a couple of hundred miles down the west of the mountains to Kings Canyon National Park, where we saw yet more of the Sierra.
So what are these mountains like. There are obviously lots of them, the full range runs for three hundred miles. They include the highest US mountain outside Alaska - Mount Whitney - as well as countless other peaks of 14,000 feet or more. The whole range is made of granite, which resists erosion spectacularly well, creating dramatic rough-edged spires that shoot out of the surrounding forests. So, at 2-5,000 feet, you have chapparal (grotty shrubs). Then the forest kicks in, rising to 10,000 feet, and containing all manner of beautiful pine trees, not to mention a large and fast-growing population of bears. At 10,000 feet, as the trees peter out, you enter the high country.
This is a land of beautiful grassy meadows, shimmering alpine lakes, and plenty of bare granite. It's a land that gives you the feeling of immense space, distant horizons, and a feeling of being quite alone. In fact these are entirely reasonable feelings, given that they reflect the reality of the situation pretty precisely.
The practicalities are slightly bizarre, if only because the weather is more than a little capricious. In other years the pass through the mountains might have been snowbound by the time we arrived, so erring on the safe side, the high altitude national park campsites close at the end of September. Fortunately the state facilities just outside the park are run by people made of sterner stuff, so we stayed there. One of the pictures at the right shows the "wintry" conditions.
Details for those who've been there, we hiked one day into the Cottonwood Lakes, a couple of days around Tuolumne Meadows (including the ascent of two large and sheer granite domes) and then one day from "Road's End" in King's Canyon. And it was all lovely and peaceful, and a very pleasant change from the heat and barrenness of Death Valley.
One other thing. On the way up, we spent a pleasant day at somewhere called "Mono Lake", a rather beautiful lake that nestles east of the mountains. See the sand tufa picture at right.
(click thumbnails for a larger picture) |
Sand tufas in Mono Lake