For several years I had a tradition of visiting Yosemite during my days off following Christmas. With the availability of a family cabin near Lassen, I that tradition went by the wayside. But this year I got the Yosemite bug, and decided that it would be a good time to go again. Usually, a December visit to Yosemite would center around winter activities… skiing, snowshoeing, etc. However, with the unseasonably dry weather we’ve experienced in California this year, it was more like spring than winter. In fact, the Tioga Road, which usually has about twenty feet of snow on it this time of year, is still open all the way up to Tioga Pass.
My daughter Abbey expressed an interest in going with me, so a couple of days after Christmas, we threw our camping gear into the Subaru, and headed for the mountains. Abbey had never seen the Hetch-Hetchy area of Yosemite before, so we decided to swing out there on the way to the valley. Alas, when we got to Hetch-Hetchy Road, the gate was locked, and a sign indicated that it was closed for that day due to maintenance (contrary to the information on the park website and entrance station signage). We were a little irritated, but drove back and continued on into the valley.
It was a sunny and beautiful day, and we got settled into our campsite at Upper Pines, and then headed over to the visitors center to figure out a hike for the next day. After conferring with a ranger about conditions on the Tioga Road, we decided we would hike the North Dome trail up to Indian Rock. After a yummy dinner of pasta and pesto, we crawled into our sleeping bags for a chilly night’s sleep.
Next morning, we headed up to the Tioga Road. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to drive past Crane Flat in December. But this is no ordinary year, and the Tioga Road was open all the way to Lee Vining. Road conditions were excellent, and we easily made it to the Porcupine Creek trailhead to begin our hike. In general, trail conditions are pretty good. Occasional patches of hard snow and ice provided the odd challenge, but mostly the hiking is on dirt. there were two frozen creek crossings, but they were frozen deep enough to hold even my weight! We had a great day hiking, and after a steep climb on a lateral trail, reached Indian Rock, our destination for the day. We had a tasty picnic lunch, and relaxed a bit, before heading back to the car for a total of six miles or so of hiking.
Abbey had never been on the Tioga before, so we drove further east to check out Olmstead Point and completely frozen-over Tenaya Lake. With this super cold but dry winter, Tenaya Lake has become the most popular ice skating destination in the Easter Sierra! It was getting dark and cold, so we headed back to the valley, witnessing a stunning sunset during the drive back. We both crawled into our sleeping bags for a great night’s sleep.
Friday… and it’s time to head home from our too-short holiday. We’d been assured that the Hetch-Hetchy Road was open, so we swung out there to check it out on the way back to Sacramento. All in all, a great trip, with some awesome scenery and time spent with my daughter.