I spent Martin Luther King weekend in Yosemite National Park. I’ve always wanted to see the park in the winter, and I decided to challenge myself by learning some cold-weather camping skills. I’ve never camped in snow.
I picked a spot in Camp 4. It’s known as a rock climbers’ camp and is very crowded in the summer. On this winter weekend, I wasn’t completely alone, but it wasn’t hard to find my own campsite. Upper Pines Campground is also open in the winter, but I read somewhere online that the restrooms over there aren’t heated in winter and the ones in Camp 4 are. (Not true, at least not anymore. I met a couple of guys with a spot at Upper Pines and they confirmed there’s heat over there too.)
Yosemite Valley is at a high enough altitude to see occasional snow in the winter and freezing temperatures at night. It’s also low enough for the midday heat to start melting any snow and ice that accumulated overnight. So basically that means there’s ice. Everywhere.
Lots of it.
I spent a few minutes chipping away at the picnic bench to remove about 6 inches of snow and ice so I’d have a place to sit down. And the tent was pitched on a bed of icy snow. The lowest nighttime temp I saw was 25 degrees.
I can confirm that your comfort level doing this kind of camping depends on a lot more than just the temperature rating of your bag. I have the North Face Cat’s Meow, which is a 20 degree bag, but I couldn’t rely on it to keep me warm all by itself. I had to pay a lot of attention to tent flaps and ventilation, clothing, eating well…I learned a lot in just four days and was able to feel pretty cozy by the end of the trip. I have my eye on a warmer bag though. One of these days.
On Sunday I joined a group snowshoe hike to Dewey Point from Badger Pass. What a blast! There’s tons to do at Badger Pass…downhill and nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing. Very kid and family-friendly. And the view from Dewey Point in winter is thrilling. If I can get my snow camping and backpacking skills up, I’d like to continue from Dewey to Glacier Point. (That trip requires you to camp at or near Dewey Point…brrr.)
I also got to skate at the rink at Curry Village. Interesting piece of Yosemite trivia: a committee representing Yosemite put in a bid for the 1932 Winter Olympics, and the rink was built in anticipation of this. (They were not picked by the Olympic Committee in the end.) Sadly, I hear that the ice rink may not be around much longer, as they are planning to shut down some non-essential services in order to devote resources to protecting the Merced River, which may be given Wild and Scenic River status. I’m all for protecting the few wild rivers remaining, but man will I be sad to see skating go. Nowhere else can you skate in the great outdoors beneath magnificent rock walls like those in Yosemite Valley.
After skating, I went to the Curry Village Lounge to for a bit of knitting. Yosemite has, I think, the highest number of cozy knitting spots per capita than anywhere else in the Continental US. (I haven’t been to Alaska yet.) The Curry Village Lounge has a fireplace and a very comfy couch. And this sign:
There’s even a portrait of Mary Curry hanging next to the fireplace, looking stern. I like to think it was she who originally enforced the “no-drying of mittens and socks” policy, perhaps out of her distaste for the smell that wet wool gives off as it warms. This warning was posted at every fireplace I saw in Yosemite.
They ended up closing the lounge early so I had to move on.
Mos def no drying of mittens or socks at any of the fireplaces at the Ahwahnee Hotel either, but man…what a great spot to knit. I thought I’d sit and knit for just an hour or so but completely lost track of time. The Ahwahnee bar serves hot chocolate and spiced cider, and stronger drinks if that’s what you’re looking for. They make something called El Capitan which I hear is very potent, but I don’t drink alcohol so I’ll take their word for it.
Something about it being so cold outside and so warm and relaxing next to the fire makes for great conversation. I met a bunch of really good people while I sat and knitted away on a scarf for my sister, including a couple from New Zealand who are travelling the US by RV for a month. There was Martha, the knitter, and her husband…they have a place in Carbondale, CO, and since I’m from Colorado too we traded stories from back home. And Bobbi and her mom from wine country…Bobbi’s a skater too, and her mom was visiting Yosemite for the first time. All good people, and I wished them all well.
Going home on Tuesday was a bummer…I always feel like I’m getting my heart ripped out as I leave the Valley. Just before Northside Drive exits the valley, I got one last chance for a self-pic.
To console myself on the way home to LA, I stopped by Unraveled, a new yarn store in Oakhurst. Oakhurst is about 11 miles south of Yosemite. Unraveled has been open since the spring of 2012, and it’s a great little shop., definitely worth a stop if you are anywhere near Oakhurst. Babette (the owner) is really nice and has big plans for the fiber scene in the Sierra area.
Babette told me there’s also a yarn mill in town (!) and that I should go see it, and so I did. I met Kate, the owner of the mill, and she insisted I take a tour. I’ve never seen yarn being made before.
I was completely geeky about it.
Mill Creek Fiber Works specializes in alpaca. Kate has one of the few mills in the area that can process 100% alpaca fiber. Despite being in the middle of processing an order, Kate gave me a VIP tour of the mill, showing me every step of the process of creating yarn from an unprocessed fleece.
I of course bought yarn too.
I’m supposed to be knitting from stash in 2013 so let’s overlook this.
All in all it was another amazing weekend in the Sierras and my heart is full. As I prepare to post this, I wonder if it seems somewhat lonely to other people, that I go on trips like this by myself. I just don’t know many people who share my passions and interests when it comes to the outdoors, and the ones that do were busy or not into the snow thing. (Understandable.)
In the end, I think it’s important to do the things you love, even if it means doing them alone. You have to go where your heart feels at home, and when you get to that place, wherever it is, you might find you’re the only one there. Don’t sweat it.