Snow.

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Storm clouds over Mt. Tom and other local peaks, early December.

It’s snowing in the Sierra Nevada. Every few days a storm blows in from the Pacific—warm, wet, tropical air mixing with colder air barreling down from the Gulf of Alaska—and depending on the whim of the jet stream, slams into some point along the Cascades or the Sierra.

We’ve pulled the skis out of storage: dusted off spiderwebs and bits of grass, adjusted bindings, smeared hot wax onto neglected ski bases. Gear inventories, not done for a few years, have led to new purchases. Replacing 10-year old avalanche beacons for new ones with improved technology. Ordering a new helmet for peace of mind while tree skiing. Springing for new, lighter-weight bindings. Signing up for an advanced avalanche and snow science course. Building slope maps. And remembering the minutiae, the ins and outs of efficient packing, correct clothing layers, ski touring, hazard assessment and route selection. Learning to deal with cold again.

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Mini tour up South Lake Road near Bishop.

The snowpack is a little thin yet. We’re still skiing on snowy, closed roads and will need at least several feet of white stuff to cover the giant talus and huge logs that present no mountain navigation hazard in summer. But it’s coming, with each new storm that heads our way.

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Or you can just open a can.

It’s a Christmas gift we hope will keep on giving.

Cheers!

Big Sur: More Ocean, Fewer People

Oxalis loves the deep shade of the redwood forest.

Oxalis loves the deep shade of the redwood forest.

We spent Memorial Day weekend over on the Central Coast of California, checking out some of the rugged coastline south of Monterey. We found a number of trails that wound through forested canyons and up onto ridges.

Many these trails are on the steep side, but we were rewarded for our efforts by a lack of other walkers, expansive ocean views once the morning fog burned off, and a complete-surprise sighting of a couple of wild California Condors. [No condor photos; we were too busy gaping once we realized they were not turkey vultures!]

The upper Salmon Creek Trail near Punta Gorda was somewhat overgrown ...

The upper Salmon Creek Trail near Punta Gorda was somewhat overgrown …

... but we managed to get through chemise thickets and avoid most of the poison oak, for nice views from the Crest Ridge Road at the top.

… but we managed to get through chemise thickets and avoid most of the poison oak, for nice views from the Crest Ridge Road at the top.

Heading back down Salmon Creek. Yes, there really is a trail through this!

Heading back down Salmon Creek. Yes, there really is a trail through this. One can experience firsthand the effects of more precipitation as compared to the Eastern Sierra.

Expansive ocean and Sprinter views.

Expansive ocean and Sprinter views (see it?).

We camped for free up on the Nacimiento Road, along with 100 of our closest friends. Apparently using the many pullouts on this road for ad-hoc parking/camping is a Thing. But the road is 16 miles long so there appears to be room for all.

We camped for free up on the Nacimiento Road in Los Padres National Forest, along with 100 of our closest friends. Apparently using the many pullouts on this road for ad-hoc parking/camping is a Thing. But the road is 16 miles long so there appears to be room for all.

Alta Vista, a Big Sur Landmark

A random assortment of flowers, bamboo, prickly pear, and other succulents grew at the site. It was a tiny, wild, botanical garden.

A random assortment of flowers, bamboo, prickly pear, and other succulents grew at the site. It was a tiny, wild, botanical garden.

At the top of one of the ridges above the Burns State Park trailhead, we found a smallish, unmarked side trail that we decided to follow. It wound steeply further up the ridge and ended at the stone ruins of … a house! A nearby plaque explained:

Situated on a ridge above Partington Creek, this homestead site was patented in 1932 and named Alta Vista by Alfhild and Gustave Overstrom, who constructed a cabin, barn and cold storage cellar overlooking the Big Sur coast. In 1981, Alta Vista was purchased by Jeff Norman, a noted Big Sur historian and naturalist, who lived on the property for many years until his death in 2007. The cabin, barn and cold storage cellar were destroyed in the Basin Complex Fire of 2008, leaving the foundations that still remain on the site. With support form its members, Save the Redwoods League acquired Alta Vista from Jeff Norman’s estate in 2010 for addition to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Homestead foundation. This ridgetop location boasts stunning views of Big Sur when the fog is not present. But we enjoyed the cool and mist.

Homestead foundation. This ridgetop location boasts stunning views of Big Sur when the fog is not present. But the fog made for better photographing, and we had the site to ourselves.

Old pottery at the homestead.

Old pottery at the homestead.

After visiting the homestead site, we headed further out the small trail system on to the Tanbark Trail, which drops 3 miles back down into the Partington Creek drainage. The fog continued to provide nice, filtered light for photographing the forest. We ran into a few people along this trail who asked us how close they were to “the top” or “the house.” We thought it was amusing that so many people seemed to know about this place we’d never heard of, and whose access trail was unmarked, steep, and brushy.

The namesake tanbarks (tanoaks), which grow along with the redwoods in this part of the forest.

The namesake tanbarks (tanoaks) that grow along with the redwoods in this part of the forest.

Handy fallen-redwood bridge.

Handy fallen-redwood bridge.

Coming back down the Waters Trail in the afternoon, with magnificent coastal views.

Coming back down the Waters Trail in the afternoon, with magnificent coastal views.

Grassy-meadow switchbacks and blue water.

Grassy-meadow switchbacks and blue water.

A lovely spot for a sit-down. Further down the ridge, we spotted a pair of soaring, wild condors.

A lovely spot for a sit-down. To cap off a great day, we spotted a pair of soaring condors! There are only about 35 in the recovering Big Sur flock, so it was a huge surprise to actually see wild birds.