Winter traverse of the High Sierra

Zach slippin along on day 2 of the Sierra traverse

Zach slippin’ along on day 2 of the Sierra traverse

With all of the recent polar vortex talk, it could be easy to conclude that winter, glaciers and climate as we know it are here to stay. Well, out here in California, my good friend Zach and I just crossed the Sierra Nevada. In sneakers. In two and a half days in the heart of “winter.” California, if you haven’t heard, is in a ridiculous drought right now.

Zach and I were excited at the prospect of this unique trip and a chance to visit some of California’s threatened glaciers in winter. Borrowing from the light is right, alpine-style ethic, we stripped down to the bare essentials and rock hopped, plunge-stepped, and slipped along icy trail from the Eastern Sierra to Yosemite Valley.

Zach and I shouldered our packs near June Lake on the east side of the Sierra.

Zach and I shouldered our packs near June Lake on the east side of the Sierra.

Looking back down to the eastern Sierra

Looking back down to the eastern Sierra

The east side of the Sierra is steep. These old tramway tracks gave us a chance to warm up in a hurry!

The east side of the Sierra is steep. These old tramway tracks gave us a chance to warm up in a hurry!

Banner (L) and Ritter (R) dominate the skyline near Mammoth Lakes

Banner (L) and Ritter (R) dominate the skyline near Mammoth Lakes

IMG_0802

Vastness near Donohue Pass, the first of three passes on our traverse

Vastness near Donohue Pass, the first of three passes on our traverse

Zach surveys the landscape from our first camp. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite and home to the Sierra's second largest glacier, is beyond.

Zach surveys the landscape from our first camp. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite and home to the Sierra’s second largest glacier, is beyond.

It wasn't always a cakewalk. It was often easier to stick to the more technical rock than to deal with the uncertainty of snow-covered boulders.

It wasn’t always a cakewalk. I often found it easier to stick to the more technical rock than to deal with the uncertainty of snow-covered boulders.

This section of snow covered boulders was treacherous. Fortunately, a snapped trekking pole was our only casualty.

This section of snow covered boulders was treacherous. Fortunately, a snapped trekking pole was our only casualty.

IMG_0850

Zach pulls a move on the ascent to our second of three passes

IMG_0843

I survey the scene from our second pass. Tuolumne Meadows is deep in the background.

I survey the scene from our second pass. Tuolumne Meadows is deep in the background.

Finally some easy terrain! The low point on the skyline was our highpoint.

Finally some easy terrain! The low point on the skyline was our highpoint.

Hiking down spectacular glacial polish in the Yosemite high country. Our last 25 miles or so were downhill.

Hiking down spectacular glacial polish in the Yosemite high country. Our last 25 miles or so were downhill.

Half Dome comes into view. Merced Lake was our second bivy spot.

Half Dome comes into view. Merced Lake was our second bivy spot.

Basketball-sized boulders of ice provided an interesting road block for us.

Basketball-sized boulders of ice provided an interesting road block for us.

Zach emerges from a naked plunge into the iced-over Merced River.

Zach emerges from a naked plunge into the iced-over Merced River.

Such a pleasure to be on a trail with dry shoes--thanks Zach for building a great fire on the 2nd night so we could dry our stuff.

Such a pleasure to be on a trail with dry shoes–thanks Zach for building a great fire on the 2nd night so we could dry our stuff.

Magnificent Half Dome. The trail was a complete ice rink for miles on end. We slipped and slid our way down to the Mist Trail.

Magnificent Half Dome. The trail was a complete ice rink for miles on end. We slipped and slid our way down to the Mist Trail.

Nevada Falls was an icy trickle.

Nevada Falls was an icy trickle.

The last couple miles were a joy. Here we share a moment by Vernal Falls.

The last couple miles were a joy. Here we share a moment by Vernal Falls.

Zach crosses Happy Isles Bridge, marking our finish line

Zach crosses Happy Isles Bridge, marking our finish line

WHY DID WE EVEN BOTHER CROSSING THE SIERRA? We'd been talking about what we'd order at the Curry Village Pizza Deck for days.

WHY DID WE EVEN BOTHER CROSSING THE SIERRA? We’d been talking about what we’d order at the Curry Village Pizza Deck for days.

Thanks to Brad and Matt for dropping us off in style, and Seanan for the unlikely encounter in Yosemite and company on the way home!

IMG_0966

2 thoughts on “Winter traverse of the High Sierra

  1. Josh

    Wow! I knew California didn’t have a lot of snow right now, but this is pretty ridiculous. There was WAY more snow when I hiked the JMT in late July back in 2010.

    Keep posting. I love following your adventures.

    Reply
  2. Seanan

    Hair, Zach, great to meet you, thanks for sharing pics of your adventure hike, fantastic pics and landscape.
    Seanan

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.