Watch weather on autumn hikes
As I drive toward Ebbetts Pass it is unseasonably warm. Highway 4 has just re-opened after being closed by snow three times in the last few weeks. With cooler unsettled weather in the long range forecast it’s likely that this route will close for the winter soon. I decide to head for the pass, check snow accumulations, and take a light stroll northbound to Dorothy Lake and beyond.
After negotiating the highway, which has a few damp spots but is completely devoid of snow, I park at a wide spot, cross the highway and head generally northwest on a dirt road, dogleg right and then turn left on a trail that climbs between volcanic outcroppings ahead.
It’s warm. I could have worn shorts. Winds are light out of the east which tells me that that the center of a high pressure system with its clockwise flow is to the north. Stronger cold easterlies with atmospheric instability might indicate a low has passed to the south. Such a condition is locally referred to as a Tonopah low; on the Atlantic coast it’s called a nor’easter. The sky is cavu, an aviation term meaning ceiling and visibility unlimited. You might also say it’s a nice day.
No snow here on these south faces. The grasses and scattered brush have turned golden in the thin fall light and the warm day following recent significant precipitation events give everything a pleasant rich smell. It’s the kind of day where you don’t want to go home.
In the saddle between the outcroppings, with its splendid 360 degree views, I see snow. Not on the trail but on shady northeast faces there are patchy 1 to 2 inch deposits. No tracks on this trail except mine. The recent moisture events cleaned the slate.
Descending a north face to Dorothy Lake the trail is wet, some rocks are covered with ice and about one-third of the lake is frozen over, not surprising considering the low teen temperatures of a couple days previous. The lake is also smaller than I’ve seen it, mute testament to a dry summer.
At lake level a pile of bear scat reminds me that I’m not as alone as I might think. No tracks though and all indications are that this bear passed this way a week ago or more.
Arcing around the east side of the small lake with perhaps a half mile behind me I stroll easily along the now granitic crest of the range heading generally northwest.
Continuing for another mile exploring right and left I see filtered views of Upper Kinney Lake below to the east. Resisting the temptation to descend I continue until the angle of the sun tells me that it’s about an hour and a half till sunset.
It’s prudent to be back at the car before the sun hits the horizon at this time of year. Dusk leads to hurry up behavior which can turn a good situation bad very quickly. Although I’m carrying the necessary survival gear spending the night here would be rather unpleasant.
Some might point out that I shouldn’t hike alone. But that’s the beauty of it, the solitude, the serenity, reconnecting not only with nature but with yourself. Besides, I’m allowed to hike alone.
Note: Rapidly changing weather, shorter days and cooler temperatures require extra preparation. Check the National Weather Service Reno forecast Web site before you set out.
Also, look for a winter safety sseminar on Feb 20 on Blue Lakes Road.
This event, geared for motorized and non-motorized recreationists, will focus on avalanche avoidance, hypothermia and trauma, the usual suspects in winter backcountry injuries and deaths.
Sponsored by Friends of Hope Valley under a grant from California State Parks OHV division, this all day seminar will feature local, state and federal agency participation as well as businesses and participants from the recreation community.