Run for the Hills
Chasing Winter Into The Sierra
There is a lot of road between Bend and Grant Grove Visitor Center at the northern terminus of Sequoia National Park. After hours of lodgepole lined south-trending Highway 97 I got my first glimpse of Mount Shasta welcoming me to California. At the town of Weed 97 melts into Interstate 5 and begins a steady drop into the mighty Central Valley. I could name the towns I passed through but it is more fitting for them to remain nameless. The Central Valley, for all its worth as a agricultural hotbed feeding the nation, has little worth for the traveler looking for scenery and wildlands. My favorite thing to do here is drive, fast and efficiently, all the while keeping my eye on the mountainous prize at the end of the mind-numbing concrete dreamland.
At Fresno I stop for gas and beer. I can see the Sierra crest now, lit up orange from the setting sun and hemmed by darkening forests. 180 is the Highway number now and it makes a circuitous easterly line across the oak woodland and up into the rugged Sierra foothills. I am approaching one of the last explored regions of lower 48. The highest peaks in the Sierra, many over 13,000 feet, are out ahead of me, far ahead of the beam of my headlights but magnetic and making themselves known in the dusk.
In the summer tourists from around the world flock here to stand humbly below regal giant Sequoias. They head straight for the General Sherman Tree, maybe see a black bear leap across the road in front of the family SUV, buy a couple “Squeeze Me S'More” T-shirts, and return to the sun-scorched valley below. In the winter, many roads are closed and those open require escorts along the narrow, snow-carved pathways. The tourist crowd is notably different in the winter. We all share the desire to meet the forest under the cover of snow, to slide into the woods rather than plod, and are chasing (whether knowingly or not) the comfortable loneliness that is held in the winter wilds.
In the morning it's another blue sky day in the Southern Sierras. It's the type of winter day that every snow bum greets with mixed emotions. When one is happily stuck for the weekend at 7500 feet at a comfortable and secluded mountain lodge (http://www.montecitosequoia.com) its hard not to grin as the sun begins to warm the firs and soften the snow, yet snow is what we want. Snow is why we bought skis in the first place – melting snow is fun but fresh snow is divine. Each evening I read the weather with contempt as I yearn for the 'storm of the season' to be predicted, yet each morning I happily apply sunscreen and squint at the brightness. Somewhere along the way I mistakenly taught myself I only like skiing powdery, fresh snow. Though, after some careful research (the methodology I will have to explain later) I find that all snow, when placed at an angle, punctuated by mighty old-growth California red fir and Jeffery pine, and ringed by granite domes and spires is pure enjoyment. Always.
- This article first published by On The Go-go