Category Archives: Sierra Nevada

What A Yosemite Photographer Does in Winter

The winter of ‘16/’17 in the Sierra Nevada is shaping up to be quite impressive!  I wrote this blog (January 20th) from a house above Bishop, where constant snow was falling – perhaps a few inches an hour at times.  Mammoth, just north of here, at the time of this writing, had the most snow for any ski town in the entire West.  My friends and I waited out storms, dug out when there was a break, and managed to get some great xc skiing time between the big snow storms.

What A Yosemite Photographer Does in Winter

Winter in Yosemite is a time for slowing down and recuperation from the busy season.  That means vacation!  My January vacation started with the idea to xc ski at Mammoth for a few days.  Then, I threw in a few days at Death Valley – a place I haven’t been to for 27 years and would be a first as a photography trip.

I left Saturday, Jan. 14th in the rain.  I decided to just push through and drive all the way to Death Valley and got there about 9pm.

Usually, I plan my photography trips with much detail, but for a few reasons, I didn’t do that for Death Valley.  So, when I woke up at pre-dawn the next morning, I made the decision to head down to the spot that this land is most noted for – the lowest point in North America, Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level.  I got to Badwater just as the morning sun was beginning to hit Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range to the west.

Sunrise At Badwater

I walked out to the playa and took some photos of the interesting salt features on the ground there.

Salt Patterns on the Playa, Badwater

I was surprised to see a parking lot and established paths at Badwater.  When I was there during a college geology trip in 1989 or ’90, none of that infrastructure was there – it was just a pullout on the side of the road with a small sign!

After returning to my car and brewing a cup of coffee, I headed north back towards Furnace Creek.  I decided to make a stop at Natural Bridge.  I didn’t know this spot existed, so was up for some exploring!  Here’s a pic from that hike:

Natural Bridge

In the Afternoon, I headed up to Zabriski point for a nice afternoon hike.

Manly Beacon and Hills, Zabriski Point

Mesquite Sand Dunes

No doubt, my favorite time in Death Valley was visiting and photographing Mesquite Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells.  I woke up early Monday (Jan. 16) morning and drove out to the dunes parking lot.  I had done some recon the night before and saw that most of the close dunes, including the tallest ones, were demolished by tourist’s footprints and sand sledding escapades, so opted to walk a fair distance to more remote and untouched sand.  I’m glad I did!  What I discovered were dunes only touched by the wind.  Below are a few of my favorite photos from the session:

Sunrise Light on Dune #1


Sunrise Light on Dune #2


Dune, Patterns #1


Dune, Patterns #2


Black Sand Patterns


That afternoon was dedicated to going up Marble Canyon, northwest of Stovepipe Wells.  Without the planning, the outing felt very adventurous.  It ended up being mostly a great hike through a desolate, barren landscape, turning around at a landscape that was inspiring to my more geologic sensitivities:

Folded Strata, Marble Canyon


Phase 2:  Bishop CA

After an incredible shower and a fun dinner with ex-Yosemite-now-Death-Valley rangers, I headed north to Bishop to spend time with friends skiing in Mammoth.  After two days of incredible skate skiing, I awoke to over a foot of snow on Thursday (Jan. 19), so spent most of the day helping to dig out the house I stayed at, as well as the buried cars.  I spent some moments with the camera to photograph the surrounding landscape:

Sunset, Mt. Tom


Clearing Storm, White Mountain


Horses & Cottonwoods, Round Valley


Horse & Trees, Round Valley


The area surrounding Bishop CA reminded me so much of the Nepali Himalaya!  Truly inspiring landscape!!

Sunrise on the Eastern Sierra


Mt. Whitney, Lone Pine Peak & the Alabama Hills, from Lone Pine.  I had to do it…put my tripod where I thought Ansel did when he photographed his famous “Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine” in 1943.  The only difference between now and 1943 – almost no trees in the foreground and I have cows in my foreground; Ansel had horses!

As I finished wrapping up this blog post, I glanced up to look outside.  It was snowing pretty hard!  I’d be back outside to start shoveling snow again.  Perhaps that might sound displeasing, but I kinda looked forward to it.  Yah…I know…CRAZY!!

Also posted in Death Valley, Winter

STORM DAY 1: Not Much To Report

Just a quick update:

Went out to check on things before all the roads closed at 5pm this evening.

Stream Gauge, Phono Bridge, at 4pm, January 7th.  The white marker on the building is one of the gauges.  The other is next to the small tree in front of the station, just in the water.  The stream marker’s top height is 6.0 feet while the white marker on the building begins at 6.8 feet and tops out at 13.5 feet


Merced River Level at 4pm, January 7th. 4.5 feet

As seen in the photo and water graph for the Merced River above:  In the last 24 hours, the river has gone up about .8 feet; so, not much so far.  Notice, however that the predicted max. river height has gone up by two feet since this morning’s post.  That’s a little disconcerting.

There’s lots of water coming off the cliffs here!  Here’s a video I took of Yosemite Falls and what I’ll be calling Castle Cliffs Cascade.  I’m not sure if this cascade has a name, but I’ve never seen this much water in it – even during high spring runoff!

Yosemite Falls & Castle Cliffs Cascade, January 7th at 3pm from Kirk Keeler on Vimeo.

And last, but not least – Here’s what the satellite looked like at 5pm today over California.  Wow!  That’s a lot of water headed our way:

Satellite Image, 5pm PST, Westcoast

Unfortunately, I will no longer be able to drive around Yosemite Valley, but will post what pics and videos I can from Yosemite Village.

That’s it for now.  I’ll check back in tomorrow morning.




Also posted in Winter, Yosemite National Park

Waiting For The Storm

I woke up this morning (around 6am) to the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops hitting last year’s oak leaves on the ground outside my house.  The storm has begun!

In an effort to preempt difficulties of leaving Yosemite Valley due to possible flooding, the National Park Service put out a press release informing the public that Yosemite Valley would close to visitors at 5pm yesterday.  All roads leading into the valley are closed, however certain areas of Yosemite are still open for visitors, such as Hetch Hetchy Dam and the Merced and Tuolumne Groves of Sequoias.

All but ‘essential’ employees are to be gone from the valley later today.  I, along with two others, are remaining at The Ansel Adams Gallery as essential employees.  I will be helping any efforts to minimize damage to buildings here, as well as maintain security.  Gratefully, the president of the gallery installed a generator a few years ago for events like this – as a way to keep the gallery operating during the many power outages that occur in this outpost, far from generating stations.  Although we are officially closed, the generator might come in handy for the three of us, should the power go out.  Another concern with rising water is that the valley’s sewer pumping stations may have to be turned off to keep spilling of raw sewage to a bare minimum.  Sewer and water are expected to be turned off.  We could be living by bare-minimum means these next few days…perhaps longer!

All Eyes on The Gauge

As of this morning –

Here’s just a peek at what the National Weather Service predicts for the weather through Tuesday Night:

National Weather Service Forcast through Tuesday, Jan. 10th

Here’s also NOAA’s predition of the water level of the Merced River at Pohono Bridge:

Estimated river level at Phono Bridge through Wednesday, Jan. 11th

Lastly, here is a list of flood impacts (again by NOAA), measured in feet of water, to areas within Yosemite Valley:

Yesterday, I got the idea that I should go down to the gauging station at Pohono Bridge and take some photos of the station that all eyes will be glued to in the next days as the Merced River begins to rise.  Actually, I’ve never given the gauging station a second thought as I’ve driven passed it hundreds of times while entering the valley.  EVERYONE must pass by it if you arrive to Yosemite Valley via Hwy’s 120 or 140, because you are forced to drive over Pohono Bridge – fairly menial at first glance, but still a beautiful arching stone bridge.  The gauging station sits just upriver, on the south side of the river, from the bridge.

As I walked over to the gauge station, I immediately noticed the gauges on either side of the building, along with a small gauge in the river, right next to the station.  Here are some pics I took yesterday, around 3pm.

Here’s the small gauge in the water.  If you click on it, you’ll see the water level was just under 3.7 feet – a very harmless, calm Merced River yesterday:

This photo shows the gauge on the side of the station facing the river.  Because of my height, I was only able to show the gauge up to 12.3 feet.  12.5 feet, as stated by the flood impacts image above, is the beginning of both roads, Northside and Southside Drive, being flooded.

This final image just shows that this building is indeed a ‘stream gauging’ station:

As I stood by this station, looking at the river level at under 3.7 feet yesterday, it was hard for me to fathom the river being 6 feet over my head for the beginning of flooding, much less the projected 16.1 feet the river might get to (over 10 feet above me!).

For now, all the remaining essential employees, myself included, will be waiting with anticipation as this winter rain storm unleashes the relentless pitter-patter of rain drops.  It’s my hope that this storm is colder than what’s predicted, and that the majority of precipitation falls as snow in the backcountry, thus holding back much of the water and lowering the water level in the Merced.

I’ll check back in as things progress.



Also posted in Winter, Yosemite National Park

A Visit to the Ice Cone

Wintertime in Yosemite can be quite a transformational experience! Sometimes overnight, the Valley’s evergreens, oaks and cliffs go from shades of green, grey, and brown to a familiar light tone – white. Late-2015 saw the white stuff come in November; about normal for the Sierra Nevada. Since then, I have experienced two rather large snow storms in Yosemite Valley; one on Christmas eve, as I was leaving the park to be with family. The other occurred just a few days ago. Both storms dropped about a foot each after they were done. Perhaps years ago, this would be the normal Winter pattern, but with 4-plus years of a California drought – that brought with it a decidedly LACK of precipitation – the site of comparatively so much snow has brought much elation to this photographer’s heart!

Along with the snow and sometimes single-digit temps., a wintertime visitor has returned to the park. Like Snow Geese from the north, you can almost set your watch to the arrival of this frozen guest at the base of Upper Yosemite Fall. If there exists a throne at the cataract’s foot, Upper Yosemite Fall’s king of that throne is decidedly the Ice Cone. And the frozen King has arrived!


The Ice Cone King & Half Dome

The Ice Cone King & Half Dome

As any good servant of the Ice Cone King would do, I hiked up to the base of Upper Yosemite Falls last week to pay my respects.  With a lull between two major Winter storms, the day seemed warm enough to safely make the ascent up the steep switchbacks to Oh My Gosh Point – the spot where one is confronted with the 1000-foot vertical torrent. Attached to my boots were a pair of Yak Trax foot traction devices, just to add a bit of sure-footedness, should I step on a slick patch of ice or snow.

Most of the switchbacks were snow and ice free. It started to get a bit dicey at Oh My Gosh, so the Yak Trax were welcome! I passed a few parties who not only didn’t have traction devices, but weren’t even wearing winter footwear. I actually marveled at their tenacity to climb up the slick, icy trail with their obvious handicap and decidedly dangerous choice. It reminded me slightly of John Krakauer’s ill-fated Everest climbing trip to get to the top at any cost. Being that I heard no rescue helicoptors that day, I’m guessing they achieved their goal or decided to turn back if it got too dangerous.

I got to the spot on the trail where I deviated slightly. After some mild bushwhacking, I arrived at my perch atop some talus and set up the tripod. The warmth of the day (about 10am at this point) had dislodged a fair amount of the mist-ice that forms on either side of Upper Yosemite Falls – a product of the sub-freezing temps and constant mist off the waterfall that collects as ice on the cliff face during the night. Despite that, pieces were continuing to fall as I started photographing. Below are a series of photos from that session:

Close-up of the top of the Ice Cone

Close-up of the top of the Ice Cone and Upper Yosemite Falls


Close-up of icicles, Upper Yosemite Falls

Close-up of icicles, Upper Yosemite Falls

After several exposures and different comp’s, I packed up the SLR and brought out my Pre-Cambrian Era iPhone 4, brought up the camera app and switched to video mode. I sat still with the phone hand-stabilized on my tripod, waiting; hoping for a moment when a piece of ice would break loose and hurtle toward the cone. As luck would have it, a few pieces did dislodge and were captured by my mobile relic. Below are two videos of that session.  The first is just of the waterfall and the second is of a piece of ice falling and hitting the ice cone:

Upper Yosemite Falls, Near Oh My Gosh! Point from Kirk Keeler on Vimeo.


Falling Ice, Upper Yosemite Falls from Kirk Keeler on Vimeo.


I was pretty impressed by the sound of these rather small impacts to the ice cone! In the past, I have seen very large pieces come off the cliff (standing in Cook’s Meadow) and, when hitting the cone, make a rather loud, concussive sound that rippled through much of the 7-mile stretch of the Valley – a sound akin to rock fall I’ve heard and seen. Perhaps because of my close proximity to the ice cone, the ice hitting the cone this morning was pretty loud.  I felt safe at my perch, but wondered what would happen if one of the large pieces of ice came down.  Perhaps an experience for another day!

After taking the videos, I just sat and reveled in the moment, hanging out about a hundred yards or so from the Ice Cone King.  I love Winter in Yosemite and am so glad we are having a bona-fide one this year!  I hope to go back up and visit the Ice Cone King a few more times before Spring comes and the King leaves.

Also posted in Winter, Yosemite National Park

A Trip Back to a Yosemite Glacier

August rolled in last month, seeing an end to the wonderful monsoonal weather we experienced in Yosemite in July. Most days were clear, warm and dusty – pretty typical for August in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Falls has become what the locals call ‘Yosemite Wall’; water has ceased to careen over the 2,425 foot cliff that separates Yosemite Creek from the rim of the Valley to the floor. This, as well, is pretty normal. What isn’t normal is the trickle of Bridalveil Fall. Three seasons of below-average precipitation have put a damper on this typically perennial waterfall.

When August comes, people who work in the park usually set their sights on being at higher elevations – to beat both the heat and the crowds. Shauna and I planned our August getaway to Yosemite’s highest point – Mount Lyell and the Lyell Glacier. If you read my blog from two years ago, you would know that I visited there as part of a group of volunteers headed by park geologist Greg Stock and Colorado University geologist, Bob Anderson. If you haven’t read that series, click here to learn why we were up there.

Shauna and I planned a simpler trip – to enjoy the area and, for Shauna, to experience it for her first time! I, of course, brought the camera, hoping to capture some nice scenics, as well as document, in photos, the current state of the Lyell Glacier.

The hike from Tuolumne Meadows to base camp is roughly 12 – 13 miles. Shauna and I refer to the first 9 miles as a “slog” – a somewhat endearing term for the mile after mile of flat, straight, and mostly sandy trail that one travels to get to the Lyell Glacier. Along the way, we hiked next to the meandering Tuolumne River, which offered us many opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the Lyell Canyon and stop for a break to rest and enjoy the sound of water cascading on granite. After a few hours, the slog ended and the climbing began! The first mile or so was switchbacks. Then, we veered off the Pacific Crest Trail / John Muir Trail “highway” and went without a trail the remainder of the way. After a few more steep climbs, we reached our base camp – a lake that is part of the Maclure Creek drainage, below the pyramid-shaped Simmons Peak. It is a classic high-altitude Sierra scene:  Clear-water lakes, shrunken pines, lofty, glacier-sculpted mountains, and barren, exposed metamorphic and intrusive-igneous rock. The picture below, taken in 2012, shows the lake we camped at, along with the landscape I described above.

Lake in the Maclure Creek drainage, below Simmons Peak

Lake in the Maclure Creek drainage, below Simmons Peak

After finding protected ground under some stunted pines, we set up our camp and made dinner. Shortly after we finished eating, the light show began! Below is a photograph taken from our first night.

Sierra Wave Cloud over Kuna Crest and Donahue Pass

Sierra Wave Cloud over Kuna Crest and Donahue Pass

The next day, after a breakfast of fresh-ground coffee, oatmeal and miso soup (Yes…I think the combo goes quite well together for camping!), we dawned our packs, with ice axes and crampons attached, and set our sights on the granitic slabs above us that would bring us to the base of the Lyell Glacier. At this point, we left behind the trees and entered into a moonscape of rock and high-altitude flora and fauna that are well-adapted to the harsh conditions of life above 10,000 feet. Along the way we met several of the creatures that thrive in this environment, including a Yellow-bellied Marmot taking in the nice view.

A Yellow-bellied Marmot takes in the view across the Lyell and Maclure drainages to the Kuna Crest

A Yellow-bellied Marmot takes in the view across the Lyell and Maclure drainages to the Kuna Crest.  Photo courtesy of Shauna Potocky

We also came across several pair of White-tailed Ptarmigans – high altitude relatives of the Grouse. One pair had some chicks! Here’s a video Shauna made of the first pair we encountered:

After reaching the top of the slabs, the land changed once again, to the talus-laden moonscape mentioned above, with several teal-colored tarns (high alpine lakes with glacial-powdered dirt on the lake bottom).

After careful navigation through the talus field, we got to the toe of the Lyell Glacier about midday. Next, Shauna was able to put on her new crampons and with the aid of her new ice axe, was on the ice in little time. Here’s a few pics of her inaugural voyage on high-alpine ice:

Shauna looks above her at the expanse of the once-active Lyell Glacier

Shauna looks above her at the expanse of the once-active Lyell Glacier


Shauna, getting comfortable with an ice axe and crampons. The Lyell talus field is behind her, with the Lyell Canyon in the far distance (dark triangle-patch of trees).

After exploring on the ice, making videos, taking pictures, and eating a little lunch, we took off the gear, loaded the packs, and followed our path back down to base camp in time to dine and have yet another incredible sunset to gaze at and photograph.

Sunset Clouds over the Kuna Crest

Sunset Clouds over the Kuna Crest


Sunset Clouds, Maclure Peak

Sunset Clouds, Maclure Peak

Current State of the Lyell Glacier

As stated above, part of this trip was to observe the Lyell Glacier – or ice field, depending on how you’d like to call it – and to see if there was any visible changes due to the melting of ice from two years of little snow and an ever-warming climate. Technically, it is no longer a glacier, due to the discovery of its stagnancy by park geologist Greg Stock during the 2012 trips. I was curious to discover if I could see any visible changes since September 2012 – when the snow was melted and only bare ice was showing. Below are pictures taken in approximately the same place (within a few hundred feet). The tarn is the same one in both photos.

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Lyell Glacier, from the Northern-most tarn, September 2012

Lyell Glacier, from the Northern-most tarn, September 2012

Lyell Glacier, just above the northern tarn, August 30th, 2014

Lyell Glacier, just above the northern tarn, August 30th, 2014

Here’s my observations: The right flank of the glacier is smaller in the most current photo – meaning, there’s more rubble exposed in the gully to the right of the glacier. There is also a patch of rock that is more prevalent in the upper left region of the glacier. Lastly, the glacier, in general has a more deflated, or flatter, appearance in the upper middle region. I propose that this ‘ice field’ has melted considerably in the last two years. While Shauna and I didn’t go up to inspect the patch of rock, I suspect that is bedrock. It could also be a sizable rock fall from the Lyell Peak’s headwall that spread out in that area, so I can’t say for certain. I only base my theory on the fact that there’s a smaller rock patch in the same location in the September 2012 picture. The deflation looks pretty clear to me.

My theories will be put to the test. Greg Stock and co-founder of the Alpine of the Americas Project, Jonathan Byers (also on the 2012 project) are headed up this month to do surveys and take pictures to do a more precise analysis of this disappearing, stagnant “glacier”.


On a whole, Shauna and I really enjoyed our high-country trip. I was especially happy to see Shauna’s first responses on the ice! I’m also happy that we both got to experience this ice before it leaves us – a sad but true statement; a microcosm of a much larger issue – the disappearing of many of the worlds glaciers due to human-caused climate change.

Also posted in Yosemite National Park

Horsetail Fall May Not Deliver in 2013

Horsetail Fall, February 12, 2013, 5:29 pm

Horsetail Fall, February 12, 2013, 5:29 pm, from the Southside Drive view.

I was out last night guiding some folks around Yosemite Valley.  They wanted to finish their session at a place to photograph Horsetail Fall.  Although not in the prime light window of February 16 – 23, if there’s sunlight and enough water, the fall can be pretty amazing in the days preceding the optimum window.

As seen from my photo above, there was simply not enough water in Horsetail Falls to put on a show last night.  In fact, I’ll say there was no water in the fall.  You can click on the image above to see the larger version.  The light colored rock in the right edge of the light is Horsetail Fall.  However, Horsetail is nothing more than a wet streak on the east face of El Capitan.

The NOAA seven day forecast doesn’t look favorable for Horsetail Fall.  Here’s the data through February 19, most of the optimal window for the fall:

NOAA forecast for Yosemite Valley, February 13-19

NOAA forecast for Yosemite Valley, February 13-19

There is no precipitation in site.  Visual observation of snow on the top of El Capitan gives me some hope though.  Melting snow is typically what feeds water into Horsetail Fall.  There is still snow on top of El Capitan.  Notice in the forecast that we will see temperatures rising to almost 60 degrees this weekend.  The warmer temperature could melt enough snow to revive the fall in the optimum window.  It’s really hard to know at this point until this weekend.

Let’s hope for increased water this weekend and a beautiful orange to red fall to fall down the east face of El Capitan!


Also posted in Yosemite National Park Tagged , , , , , |

Stop. Look Big. Yell. Bear safety that really works.

Adolescent Bears in Oak Tree, Yosemite National Park

Adolescent Bears in an Oak Tree, Yosemite National Park

I love trail running!  Since my move to Yosemite in 2010, I get to run in one of the most beautiful, scenic mountain ranges in the world.  Not only does Yosemite National Park offer many trails, but the National Forest surrounding the park offers equal prospects for trail running – most times without the crowds that I encounter in Yosemite Valley during the summer season.  The National Forest also offers opportunities to encounter wildlife not tamed by over four million visitors that now visit Yosemite each year.  With solo wilderness backcountry trail running, there is a responsibility of protecting oneself in the event of an encounter with large animals such as mountain lions and bears.

Recently, my girlfriend Shauna introduced me to an amazing grove of sequoias near her house.   The Nelder Grove is just outside the southern entrance to Yosemite and is managed by the US National Forest Service.  It has quickly become one of my favorite places to photograph, cross-bike ride, and trail run.  It has a short loop trail with several amazing sequoias, including the Bull Buck Tree – one of the largest sequoias in the grove.  A longer, three-plus mile trail takes one up to a smaller grove at the top of a ridge and is more secluded than the loop.

The Bull-Buck sequoia tree in winter 2012

The Bull Buck sequoia tree in December 2012

Back in July, I decided to do my first solo trail run on the longer trail to try and beat the triple-digit heat occurring in Oakhurst; hoping the shaded trail and higher elevation (5000’ – 6000’) would bring some relief.  This proved to be true when I emerged from my car at the trailhead.  After some stretching, I took off on the trail – headed for the upper sequoia grove.  I quickly noticed the silence and solitude offered by being on this trail – on a weekend in the middle of the summer.  It didn’t take long before I was enjoying my run, getting into a rhythmic groove as I was reaching the first mile.

Suddenly, from my right side, my silence and solitude quickly vanished with a lumbering noise approaching me; a mostly breathy “rah, rah, rah, rah!!”.  I looked to my right and on the uphill side of the trail, running right toward me, was a rather large mama black bear with two cubs in tow.  The cubs quickly jumped and scaled up the nearest pine while mom continued her charge right at me.

This was one of those moments that I knew was a possibility yet, had never actually prepared for really happening – a mama bear with cubs, protecting her young by charging at a perceived threat.  I’ve read many times about what to do in this situation:  Stop, make yourself look as big as possible, and make as loud a noise as possible, and if there’s anything to throw, pick it up and throw it at the bear.

My first instinct was to run faster.  With something 300 – 500 pounds faced squarely upon you, threatening harm, wouldn’t you?  I resisted that instinct and stopped.  I looked around for something to pick up and throw.  Nothing was nearby me unless I ran to get it – probably not a good idea with a sprinting bear coming at me.  So, I got past my fear, looked directly at the approaching bear, put my arms over my head to look big, and began to roar as loud as I possibly could.  Mind you; this was all happening in the span of about 5 seconds.

There was a moment after I started, mama bear still charging me, where I thought, “This might be it.  This creature might cause some pretty bad damage to me…or worse!”  I kept up with the roaring and with less than ten feet to spare, the bear stopped at the top of the uphill berm of the trail – looking right at me with her ears straight up, eyes intently looking into mine.

This bear was wild.  Not like any bears I’ve seen in Yosemite Valley.  First, it didn’t have the tell-tale ear tag that nearly all bears in Yosemite Valley have.

Secondly, most Yosemite bears have become accustomed to people and vehicles, and do not seem to be as affected by human presence.  I remember once seeing a mother bear and two cubs walking towards me to El Capitan Meadow one evening.  Just before crossing Northside Drive to get into the meadow proper, cars began to stop, people getting out of their cars in the middle of the road to photograph or video these bears – creating what Yosemite locals call a ‘bear jam’.    This was my first witness to the rather normal summer event.  I noticed mama bear quickly turned her cubs around and headed back into the forested region near the base of El Capitan.  I felt no fear from my photographic position in the meadow – a position that the three bears were aiming for.  I think I knew they’d turn back, so continued with my evening shoot.

Many times I’ve witnessed Yosemite bears crossing roads, innocuously turning logs in the forest, running through North Pines campground being chased by a camper who’s yelling, “Go Bear…Go!”.  I’ve come to view these large mammals as mostly harmless; certainly appearing to not be interested in taking a bite out of or swatting any humans with their ginormous paws and sharp claws.

But this was different.  Standing eye to eye with this bear was humbling.  She could have ripped me to shreds if she wanted.  I was utterly defenseless, except for my wits.  I looked her square in the eyes and roared like I’ve never done before; like I was going to rip her to shreds if she came closer (at least that was the role I was playing).

It worked!  She turned around and ran back to where she came from, her cubs coming down from their safe trees and running behind her.  She continued to run until about 100 yards from me where she turned, looked at me, and then continued to lumber away.  Let me remind you – I was still yelling.

Weirdly enough, perhaps with a bit of “I beat her”, I continued up the trail with my run, running a few seconds faster than previously; mostly from adrenaline and less from fear of bears.  Since my run was not a loop, I had to revisit the place of the incident.  As I ran past, I made several loud grunt noises; as if to state that I was back and to not mess with me.  This was clearly an attempt at putting myself at ease, as I did NOT want to have another charging bear face-off.  Luckily, this time it was just me on the trail with a handful of gray squirrels and chipmunks scrambling up trees nearby.

I learned two valuable lessons from my bear encounter.  First, all the preparation for the remote possibility of an encounter with mountain lions and bears is very much worth the effort.  Second, and most importantly, believing in myself enough to stand my ground in the face of imminent danger was a life lesson that mama bear indirectly gave to me.  There might be times in my future where a challenging event may come again.  I believe that this encounter has prepared me and will help remind me to stand my ground and be completely present with whatever situation I am presented with.  Being confident in the face of adversity is a life lesson we all must learn and five hundred pounds of charging, life-threatening, female-protecting bear energy reminded me of this.  Thank you mama bear!!

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Early Signs of Fall Color on the East Side

Layers of Aspens, Green Creek, Eastern Sierra, October 2011

Shauna, her dog Roo, and myself went to check out the progress of fall color on the east side this weekend.  It was a great weekend with excellent weather.  Traveling along the Tioga Pass Road (Hwy. 120), we noticed a fair amount of people still visiting Yosemite’s high country – something that neither of us has seen in the past.  Usually, the high country has slowed some, but maybe with all this great weather, people are still trying to get that last backpack trip, or climb in, before it starts getting cold.

I wanted to show Shauna the June Lake Loop because she hadn’t been there yet.  As we drove around, early signs of fall in the aspens are showing.  Mostly, there is a slight yellowing to the leaves at this point, but there were a few trees in full fall color.  Sorry- didn’t get pics of that.

We then headed north to Lundy Canyon.  Similar Aspen conditions exist here, with the exception of one fairly large grouping of trees turning color up an eastern Sierra slope near Hwy. 395.  It’s been my experience that higher altitude aspens turn before the lower ones and I’ve seen them turn in mid to late September in the past.

Fall Color & Lundy Falls, Lundy Canyon, October 2011

It was fairly cold during the night at Lundy Creek Campground, but not freezing.  Theories suggest that really cold temps help to turn the leaves.  If that’s the case, it may be a couple more weeks before full color happens (perhaps 1st week of October – earlier than usual).  I’ll be returning in a few weeks in hopes of an early fall on the east side!

Kirk’s disclaimer:  I’m new at this prediction stuff, so in no way am I responsible for mis-predicting fall color.  Think of me as you would a weather person…  Check other east side fall color sites as October gets closer for more recent observations.  I’ll certainly update my blog the next time I’m on the east side!

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