“THE trail we were on is at the treeline, 8 or 9 thousand feet. Most of the time it’s buried under 6 to 10 feet of snow, so not too many people get up their until late spring or early summer… First people in are rangers who maintain the trail by removing tree falls or routing around avalanches.”
So began a recent email from James Mayeau telling me about a hike up to Round Top Lake with Larry Fields. They were returning to get some photographs of the White Bark Pine Trees… remember Mr Fields told us about them in the Sierra Nevada Range of California along with that lesson on climate change?
Anyway following is the official account from Mr Mayeau:
“GUIDED by an experienced hiker with an encyclopaedic familiarity of the trails of the central Sierra Nevada, we made the assent to the headwater of the American River.
The trail was fairly well-maintained. A few of the tree trunks had “i”-shaped trail markers–called blazes–on them. These served as historical reminders of the Wild West days, when the trail itself was considerably less distinct.
Still there were a couple iffy places where a novice could get lost taking the wrong line at the fork in the road.
We passed an abandoned gold mine attended by the skeleton of a model T, and spare engine block, with the wheels knocked off and a rear hub adapted to power the sluce box.
I’m guessing the enterprise folded circa 1910-20. How the miners got the car up here is a head scratcher. If they drove, then the T was one hell of an SUV.
Leaving the mine we immediately faced the problem of fording the river. One, two, three steps… done. Thanks to some handy stepping stones. Where I live you need a trestle bridge to do it.
The walk was a steady grade with switchbacks snaking up the side of a gradual rise. It didn’t feel like climbing really.
Whitebark Pines overlap with the ranges of other high-altitude conifers. These include Western White Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Mountain Hemlock, and Red Fir.
We cruised over a rise, and there it was!
Round Top Lake surrounded by a semi circle of Whitebark on the North, and a semi circle of glacial cirque on the South. There were only Whitebark Pines, the kings of the mountain.
Although the trip took an hour or more it seemed shorter because we were met by a trickle of hikers coming down as we went up. Everyone was cordial, happy to be there, passing small-talk and banter.
More photographs http://picasaweb.google.com/JamesMayeau/RoundTopLake#
More about whitebark pines http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/cone-bearing_trees/white-bark_pine.html
Part 1 http://jennifermarohasy.com/blog/2009/08/white-bark-pine-trees-a-note-on-climate-change-from-larry-fields/
Larry Fields says
We also saw some small, year-round snowfields to the South of Roundtop Lake. These were sheltered from the sun by a glacial cirque. Walking around on one of them was a welcome contrast to the valley heat that we’d just driven out of.
We do have some real glaciers in California: the Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park, and some larger ones on Mt. Shasta, a sleeping volcano with some sulfur vents near the top.
Dennis Webb says
Great story and photographs. Thanks for sharing your hike with us. It puts the earlier information from Larry into more context.
James Mayeau says
Don’t believe a word Larry says.
I saw GLACIERS!
How could it be snow? It wasn’t even cold out.
Glaciers – G_L_A_C_I_E_R_S_!
Alright – they were glacierettes.
BUT that’s as far as I’ll go.
spangled drongo says
James and Larry,
Looks like beautiful country and weather for hiking. Much wildlife up there?
The way those White Bark Pines grow looks similar to the Antarctic Beech.
Louis Hissink says
Considering everything, that was really good. I remember when I was a callow youth spending Christmas holidays at Thredbo (1956-1964) with the family in the Snowy Mountains. Three families were involved, (all Dutch immigrants after WWII), and tradition was that we would leave Thredbo (Mothers and children) and climb Mount Crackenback and hike to Mt Kosiusku. One of the fathers would be delegated to drive from Thredbo via Jindabyne to Mt Kos to pick up the mothers and drive them home. We children would then hike back to Thredbo, and either hike down Mt Crackenback or take the ski lift down.
Mt Kos then always had snow on it, and in the middle of summer! I still recall my paternal grandparents visting from Holland and disbelieving that we had snow in summer. My father sampled some of the snow and kept it in a thermos flask to show his parents.
In those times you could drive to the top of Mt Kos. These days the Eco-police force you to walk, and hence anyone who can’t walk the distance can’t experience being on top of Australia’s highest hill. (It’s not a mountain like the Rockies).
What interests me these days is working out what causes ice to precipitate in these places – temperature because of high altitude, or are other factors in play, factors of the electrical kind.
Consider hailstones for example – how are they formed in the atmosphere? I can’t accept that they are suspended overhead waiting for an opportune moment to descend. I wonder if they are the result of some hitherto unexplained plasma effect of electric currents passing through water saturated atmosphere causing mini-Z-Pinch effects. If so, then how would one design an experiment to test this.
Enough of personal memories, great post!
Larry Fields says
I don’t usually see much wildlife up there. Of the birds, there are supposed to be Clark’s Nutcrackers, but I wouldn’t recognize one if it bit me. There are also marmots, aka woodchucks and groundhogs. They’re fat 10-kg rodents that make homes for themselves in rock piles. There are undoubtedly migratory deer as well.
To compensate for the slim pickens in wildlife, the Carson Pass area has some of the most spectacular wildflower displays in all of the Northern Sierras. You can see them in all of their splendor from July through early August.
Ron Pike says
Hi Larry and James,
Really appreciated your hiking story of the high Sierras, as it brought back wonderful memories of the trully spiritual awe my wife and I experienced during a trip through Yosemity National Park a few years ago.
We also went and did the walk around Round Top Lake.
Whenever I am in that area or the Rockies, I am struck by the total contrast between those environments and the older mountain environment of Australia. Yet marvel at the similarity of experience of magesty and spirituallity.
Somehow nearer my God to thee.
Agree about the Glacierettes.
James Mayeau says
Thank you Mr Pike.
Here’s a better view of Larry standing on the ice.
Can you see him? He’s that little fella standing way up at the top.
It was a fun trip. The lake temperature was 64 degrees and ambient air temp was 74. Sorry I never have gotten the hang of converting the feets and meters.
I have to agree with Grandma Hissink. It was a mild shock to find snow on the mountain this late in the summer. I’ll never bother with the stuff in winter again. It’s much more agreeable walking around in it without a jacket and mittens.
Louis – mini Z pinch?
Isn’t that what you do to check if someone is awake?
John F. Pittman says
There is this youtube purporting to be a interveiw between a newsie and a politico about the end of a boat falling off and an oil spill. I beleive Jennifer had it on here one time.
My question is, was that a spoof interveiw or was it real? Thanks in advance. They are using it as “how not to do an interveiw” in environmental safety at my daughter’s work.
James Mayeau says
Larry, I don’t think we gave AL nearly as much heartburn as Mike Hammer just did.
John Pittman, you try the search engine? Jen is pretty good about labeling. Try oil spill.
Larry Fields says
I agree, Michael hit a home run. Barry’s article was pretty good too.