Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Canebrake Creek Area (Susan)

Bird Lists:

The Sierra Club’s announcement grabbed our attention: 

Pictographs near Canebreak Rd: 2. Pt 6352, 1 mi W of saddle S of Lamont Mdw, 800 ft gain; 2.4 mi RT: and 3. Quartz Tower, 1.9 mi W of Lamont Mdw on Long Valley Rd, elev 5550 ft, 190 ft gain, .4 mi RT) A "Threefer" for February! We will explore to find the pictographs just W of the Canebrake Road.  Several colorful examples can be found among the boulders on an easy hike from the road.  We will then hike to the lunch spot, Pt 6352, with a fine view of Canebreak Flat.  This spot has the feel of a much visited "lookout."  After lunch, we will hike to the Quartz Tower, a spectacular single monolith of white quartz. This will be an easy day so y'all come! 

How could we refuse?  While they were all short little jaunts, we had put in about 9 miles by the end of the day.

We started by looking for “the birthing stone.”  Since we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, or where it was, we wandered.  Bob found a lovely collection of grinding holes, but that was the best we could do.

Acorn grinding holes
Then we went to see the pictographs.  We found a rock with a few indistinct graphs, and then a beautiful panel.  Very nice.

Native American Pictographs

Up the road a bit further and off we went to Peak 6352, which leaves the Lamont trailhead parking area, but goes in the opposite direction.  Lamont Peak has a trail that goes straight up, and then you turn around and go straight down.  The Peak 6352 trail was made by cows.  They seem to have more sense than the humans that created the Lamont Peak trail, so we meandered up the easiest path available and eventually made it to the top.  It was a fine spot to have lunch with views in all directions.

Summit of Peak 6532

Southwest view to Piute and Breakenridge Mountains, Canebrake Creek, and Kern River Valley

View east to Lamont Peak
Northwest to Domeland Wilderness and Kern Plateau

Birds are starting to sing and we were serenaded by Bewick’s Wrens, California Thrashers, and Mountain Quail.  We also had a Western Bluebird carrying nesting material, and a fly by Golden Eagle.

We finished the day by heading up to a quartz tower.  We had viewed it across the valley on our way down from Peak 6352, now we walked the short trail to have a close up view.  From across the valley it was a small shining white spot.  Up close, it was a big shining white column.  Interesting geology and a fine way to end a beautiful day.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Minaret Vista and Deadman Pass

Map Track

Bird Lists:

Mono County

Madera County

Walking the ski run
One of our favorite places to be in all the Sierra is the headwaters of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, including the Minarets and Ritter Range. To visit in a single day in winter limits the possibilities, and there is no better view of this area than Minaret Summit near the Mammoth Mountain ski resort. We set our sights on the summit and then a traverse of the San Joaquin Mountain ridge out to Deadman Pass. Walking this ridge also aligns with the county line between Mono and Madera, so birds for multiple county lists are always a possibility!

We started the trek at the Mammoth Mountain Lodge, proceeding past the giant skier tram, making our way to the snow covered and groomed summer road up to Minaret Vista.  We would have to share this space with skiers for half a mile. Reaching the summit we found a well buried entrance station for Devils Postpile.

The entrance station to Devils Postpile is well buried

From this point on it is nothing but spectacular views into the San Joaquin River drainage. The views included the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and many other sights. As we traveled the ridge the views just kept improving. Along the way we kicked up a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches that flew across the line and into Madera County, making County Birder Susan very happy. The only unfortunate aspect of this snowshoe is that the area is also open to snowmobiles. We were lucky that there were only a few that roared by during our adventure. The advantage to having snowmobiles out there is they pack down deep fluffy snow making snowshoe traveling much easier. Still, we'd rather break trail than listen to those things... 

We stopped short of the steep decent down to Deadman Pass and had lunch. It was a much quicker return trip, mostly down hill, and we had plenty of time to stop and admire the amazing views. The weather treated us well, relatively warm and only occasionally breezy if you got too close to the ridge line.  Another amazing day!

First view of the Minarets and Ritter Range
Panorama of the range
Snowmobile tracks with Mammoth Mountain beyond
North to San Joaquin Mountain
There were some steep climbs traveling along the ridge
South down the San Joaquin River
Minarets, Mt. Ritter, and Banner Peak (L-R)

Wide view of entire Ritter Range
Mammoth Mountain with all its crazy Yo-Yo skiers and snowboarders

Closer now to San Joaquin Mountain (R) with Donohue Peak beyond

Interesting lines in the wind sculpted snow
The Minarets over windswept snow

A wind swept ridge that holds no snow

One more wide view
Susan with the Glass and White Mountains to the east far beyond
Headwaters of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River

Deadman Pass below, with San Joaquin Mountain beyond

Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak stand tall over the river headwaters
A wide view from our turn-around spot showing it all
Far to the east - Inyo Craters and Glass Mountains

Andrews Mountain

Bird List

Snow covered Andrews mountain in the distance
Once more into the Inyo mountains for some hiking. While snowshoeing is fun, it is difficult to keep in PCT trail shape unless we get in enough dirt hiking miles. With all the recent snow we wanted to find an interesting hike at lower elevation. After two successful and enjoyable hikes in the Inyo's in recent weeks, we decided to try again. This time our objective was to hike south from the Death Valley road out of Big Pine, toward Andrews Mountain, until we got a feel for the snow at higher elevations. From the maps we saw the possibility of connecting two jeep roads, with some cross country, creating a big loop - if the snow would let us. We started the loop clockwise, which would later become evident as a very lucky and wise choice.

We started off generally southwest on the Squaw Flat jeep road, entering an interesting canyon with pinyon and juniper. Right away we started seeing birds, with a nice sized group of Pinon Jays and a pair of Juniper Titmice. Steadily climbing we eventually reached the ridge line that forms the east shoulder of Andrews Mountain. The snow looked heavy on the north side of Andrews so we circled to the south side, dropping into a lovely sagebrush meadow.

Excellent views of the Sierra crest almost immediately
Pinyon Pine roots exposed by erosion
Hiking up canyon toward the ridge
Sierra Crest across the Owens Valley from the ridge
North view with White Mountain on the left horizon
Old mine entrances
Hiking across the sagebrush meadow
Southeast side of Andrews Mountain is mostly snow free
The sagebrush meadow with Andrews Mountain
We worked our way west across the sagebrush meadow and found Andrews Mountain to be virtually snow free from this approach. To the top! This approach was steep, with plenty of talus to keep it very interesting. It was worth the effort, lunch views from the top were outstanding! The best "wildlife" sighting from the summit was the ladybugs - there were hundreds, if not thousands! They were very active on this beautiful spring-like day. Apparently the top of mountains is where some of these beetles go to hang out in winter. Who knew? 

Talus approach
Hikin' Bill puttin' in the effort!
Talus slogging
East from the top toward Death Valley and Nevada. The sagebrush meadow we came up from is in the center.
View west to the Sierra Crest
Northwest to the Owens Valley and beyond
Thanks to Hikin' Bill for grabbing the summit snapshot
Susan admiring the view
West panorama
Survey marker on the summit
Squaw and Waucoba Peaks to the southeast
Overwintering Ladybugs
There were hundreds of Ladybugs out on this fine day
They were litteraly everywhere we looked!
Evidence of human activity on the summit, but extensive internet searching didn't turn up a reason.  

Andrews Mountain from the west side descent
After lunch we continued down the west shoulder of the slope, connecting with an old mining road that would lead us to our car. Once on the true north side of the mountain we found the snow - and lots of it. We had to slog through deep accumulation and drifts, often up to two plus feet in the very shaded areas. Luckily it was down hill and only caused some aggravation and very wet feet. We were so happy to NOT have climbed that slope in the snow. An hour or so later we were below snow line and hammered out the last few miles to the car. We saw many more groups of Pinyon Jay as we descended, including one flock of well over 100. We eBirded 230 for the day, but that was likely a conservative low number. They were everywhere! Overall it was an extremely enjoyable day, with outstanding views throughout. 

Snow slogging