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View Full Version : Accessibility to the Eastern Sierras in Jan



dietcookie
13-Dec-2006, 01:51
Planning on driving up and down the 395 from jan 12-16..I'd like to shoot, Alabama Hills, Bristlecone Forest, Mono Lake, Convict Lake, Lundy Lake...and anything else I can find on a map...perhaps Whitney Portal but I doubt it. Will I be able to get to most of these locations in a 4x4 with Chains? Any actual locked gates I should worry about? And last but not least, cool camping spots and other locations I should shoot? I'd like to drive between Lone Pine and a little north of Mono Lake. I've gone backpacking and camping here plenty of times, just haven't had a chance to actually go out to shoot for the sake of shooting, so any suggestions are welcome! :D

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2006, 03:41
I doubt that Convict Lake, Lundy Lake or the Bristlecones would be accessible without skis (or a dog sled) That pass North of Mono Lake is often closed in the winter. The desert OTOH should be just fine--check out Death Valley while you're at it and for mountain scenery Mammoth and June Lake should be glorious, decked out in that white stuff.

Keith S. Walklet
13-Dec-2006, 08:17
John,

To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of during nasty storms, 395 north of Mono Lake remains open in the winter. That is the common route for folks headed from Yosemite to get to Mono Lake in the winter. Admittedly, it is a long way that time of year to head west and north over Highway 50 or 80 and then south again on 395 from Reno to Mono Lake, but comparativly shorter than the southern route down around Bakersfield and north. The pass I believe you are referring to is the vista from the top of Conway Summit (just north of Mono Lake), which is superb, especially with a foggy Mono Lake basin.

dietcookie
13-Dec-2006, 08:57
John - I've never had skis before but maybe I can rent a pair for the time i'm out there. June lake is pretty nice, I just wanted to avoid the more touristy areas.

Jim Galli
13-Dec-2006, 09:29
Just depends on the year. I've shot in the Bristlecones on January 6th one year and it was dry as a bone. Still the gate will be locked just past the main visitor parking lot, but that leaves plenty of good access below. You could have 3 feet of new snow then, or you could have zip.

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2006, 09:32
Kieth,

You're correct about 395 being kept open in the winter, but I wanted dietcookie to be aware that sometimes it can be closed for fairly long times after winter storms. Checking with Caltrans is always a good idea---so is carrying a shovel, a sleeping bag and chains (even in a 4wd with snow tires)

dietcookie,

I don't want to discourage you from learning how to ski, but if thats not the purpose of your trip it is going to take away time from photography. You might enjoy checking out alternatives at Mammoth and June Lake. You can ride gondolas up to the top where many resorts have observation decks (and hot chocolate!) and you can find snowmobile concessions (Mammoth even has dog sleds IIRC) and snowshoe rentals. I think that during winter you can even drive to the end of the road to the hot springs at Mammoth (I forgot the name, its located near the pack station between the ski resort and Devil's Postpile) which should offer plenty of photo ops. The Tioga Pass resort is open in the winter but it is a ski-in (or rather ski-up) situation. You might contact the owners and tell them what you want to do see if they'll let you hitch a ride on a snowmobile when they bring in the groceries--but that would be a long shot (no pun intended)

It sounds like a fun trip--stay safe!

Keith S. Walklet
13-Dec-2006, 09:36
Check out Jim Stimson's website (just add .com to his name) for inspiration. He lives in Crowley Lake and has truly lyrical images of the east side and Mono Lake, year-round. And if the road is open, you might consider a trip to Eureka Dunes.

dietcookie
13-Dec-2006, 10:29
Jim - From the gate, good photo ops around or gotta do some exploring? I'll have to get a pair of snowshoes for this trip it seems.

John - Mammoth sounds awesome, I might have to swing by there for a day, possibly get a room for the last night. I'm going with two buddies and we are planning on pitching a tent a different place for every night, roughin it..slightly.

Keith - I'll check out the website when my boss isn't behind me! And Eureka Dunes sounds wonderful, I should swing by Death Valley.


So i'm going to need to get Snowshoes and most likely some sort of gameplan of locations I'd like to goto and backup locations. Any more suggestions on where to go would most definitely be appreciated!

Jim Galli
13-Dec-2006, 11:12
Jim - From the gate, good photo ops around or gotta do some exploring? I'll have to get a pair of snowshoes for this trip it seems.

Most of the BC photos you've seen are done this side of the locked gate.

The back road into DV from the Big Pine side past the dunes....is a bitch. Not too bad out to the dunes and back, but from there down to Scotty's is some of earths most challenging washboard. Miles of it.

dietcookie
13-Dec-2006, 11:17
Most of the BC photos you've seen are done this side of the locked gate.

The back road into DV from the Big Pine side past the dunes....is a bitch. Not too bad out to the dunes and back, but from there down to Scotty's is some of earths most challenging washboard. Miles of it.

My plan was to get up before the sunrise, shoot...explore/hang out/get a beer/coffee then shoot before sunset...I'll probably shoot Alabama hills in the morning for one day and use the rest of the day to scout locations/hike in the BC area for photos, does that sound reasonable? I've never been.

Think my Tacoma 4x4 can handle the washes?

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2006, 11:26
Theres a Motel 6 in Mammoth (and a Shakey's Pizzaria) You can usually rent snow shoes in most 'snow towns' I say this because the snow shoes you'll need for carrying around a load will be different from most of the recreational snowshoes you'll see being sold (your postholes will just be bigger if you use the wrong kind of snowshoes) At least rent until you find what works best for you. Since you're familiar with the area you probably already know about Schaatz bakery (it tastes even better in the Winter!) If you get down to Death Valley, you might ask the rangers for directions to the legendary "wild celery" canyon (I've never been able to track it down) and of course Devil's Racetrack

dietcookie
13-Dec-2006, 12:05
Theres a Motel 6 in Mammoth (and a Shakey's Pizzaria) You can usually rent snow shoes in most 'snow towns' I say this because the snow shoes you'll need for carrying around a load will be different from most of the recreational snowshoes you'll see being sold (your postholes will just be bigger if you use the wrong kind of snowshoes) At least rent until you find what works best for you. Since you're familiar with the area you probably already know about Schaatz bakery (it tastes even better in the Winter!) If you get down to Death Valley, you might ask the rangers for directions to the legendary "wild celery" canyon (I've never been able to track it down) and of course Devil's Racetrack

I'll call around for snow shoe rentals in the next week or so, probably a better idea than buying them in a pinch. I have never graced my tastebuds with Schatz in the winter, I look foward to that!

The Wild Celery Canyon does seem legendary, I can't seem to find a single thing on it.

Jeff Conrad
13-Dec-2006, 19:17
I'll second Jim's comment about the road from Big Pine to DV. Although the road usually is quite passable (I've made it in a passenger car with 5 1/2 inches ground clearance), the road is rough. The portion that leads to the Eureka Dunes isn't quite as rough as the remainder, and as I recall, only about the last 20 miles are unpaved.

Although Conway and Deadman summits (on U.S. 395, north and south of Lee Vining) occasionally close, in my experience, the closures have been fairly brief (perhaps I've been lucky).

White Mountain Rd. (to BC) usually is closed this time of year, but you need to check when you get near there (e.g., Bishop). Even if the gate to Patriarch Grove is closed, there's plenty in Schulman Grove.

You may or may not be able to reach Lundy Lake; they don't plow the road past the residential area just off 395. More likely than not, the road to Convict Lake will be open. The north part of the June Lakes Loop may be closed for the season, but any closures on the south part will be temporary.

SR 120 east of U.S. 395 and the road to Mono Lake South Tufa Area are open all year; unless there has been some maintenance in the last couple of months, there is a very nasty pothole at the end of the paved portion of the road to the parking lot (keep to the other side and you'll be fine).

The roads into the Alabama Hills sometimes get snow, but usually remain passable.

You can get information about state and U.S. highways from the Caltrans highway information number: 1-800-427-7623. For others, you'll need to inquire locally.

John Kasaian
13-Dec-2006, 22:37
I learned about the wild celery canyon from researching a popular syndicate column in the 1930s and 40's written by Fr John Crowely for whom Crowely Lake was named. IIRC, in the early 'oughts some old miner finally struck it rich but elected to stay in his miner's shack. The one luxury he wanted was fresh celery so (having lots of $$$) he built an irrigation system and planted a garden. A flash flood later washed everything away and the miner drowned but the celery began growing wild and at least until the mid-1940s was still growing wild according to eye witnesses (it was also pretty snakey)

The stuff of legends.

Turner Reich
14-Dec-2006, 05:25
From I5 what pass is best to get to Owens Valley? I went from LV to Yosemite and Tioga pass is a bear, literally. Is there a pass further south?

tr

John Kasaian
14-Dec-2006, 08:41
Hahaha! Bear (snort) good one! Heh-heh.

There is a pass above Lake Isabella that you can access from I think Delano on the western side and follows the Kern River (as in "I'll Never Swim Kern RIver Again"---Willie Nelson? or was it Buck Owens?) I don't know if its open all year. I took it years ago. IIRC it won't take you into the classic Sierra granite/white pine stuff and it was as twisted as a five foot snake in a two foot culvert but was pretty densely forested (so it smelled nice)

What didn't you like about Tioga Pass? Were you driving a motorhome?
I'd think the fastest route from the Western side would be through Tehachepi (sp? I'm on my first cup o' joe) just watch out for those (smokey) bears!

Turner Reich
14-Dec-2006, 10:07
Yep, it was in my truck towing a trailer at 3 in the morning pitch black and the end of November. When I got to Yosemite the sign said pay on the way out, as though they weren't expecting anyone. I enjoyed it for the challenge and hours of Roy Orbison and my wife telling me to slow down. It was unbearable. I would love to drive it in the daylight. I was luck to have gotten gas or it would have been white knuckled to boot.

My mom was friends with Buck Owens when they were young. He was smart and saved his money and became quite wealthy. Now to make some mornig coffee!

Jeff Conrad
14-Dec-2006, 10:59
The "best" pass depends, of course, on where you are on I5. In the summer, there are many options: Donner Pass (I 80), Echo Pass (US 50), Carson Pass (SR 88), Ebbetts Pass (SR 4), Sonora Pass (SR 108), Sherman Pass (Forest Service roads from a bit north of Kernville), and Walker Pass (SR 178, accessible either via SR 155 through Delano or SR 178 through Bakersfield), and Tehachapi Summit (SR 58). If Tioga Pass would be your shortest route, most of the others (except for Sonora) would be quite circuitous. However, if you find Tioga a bear, I think you'd like Sonora even less.

In the winter, Ebbetts, Sonora, Tioga, and Sherman are closed, so most folks in Northern California choose between Carson and Walker. Assuming that "Owens valley" means Lone Pine to Bishop, the route via Carson is slightly shorter, but that via Walker may be slightly faster. Because of its elevation (5250 ft), Walker seldom closes. The route via Delano and Glennville is a bit shorter than that through Bakersfield, but it crosses Greenhorn Summit (6102 ft), which sometimes closes and often has chain requirements.

dietcookie
14-Dec-2006, 14:52
Great info everyone!! Very much appreciated. If you guys can think of any other spots between Lone Pine and Bridgeport, i'm all ears. And I totally dig 4x4ing so the more desolate and remote the better. Hopefully the weather won't be bad, i'm hoping to come back with a number of decent shots.

Forrest Atkins
14-Dec-2006, 16:19
If you haven't already, check out the book "Sierra Nevada Byways" by Tony Huegel. Contains lots of off road drives in the area. If you like ghost towns, try the Ghost Town loop that will end at Bodie Historical park.

dietcookie
28-Dec-2006, 13:16
Keep in mind I have only gone up to Mt. Whitney during the winter, I called the ranger station and the guy there said, "The road is closed but most people just drive past it anyways" That was enough for me. I camped at the portal with a couple buddies and hiked around.

So I just called the office and asked about camping at the campsites that are deemed closed for the winter and got a very frim, "They are closed, you will get a ticket from CHP etc etc.." Any ideas on camping? I'll pick up the Sierra Byways book and I can camp on some of the 4x4 roads for a couple nights, but can I snowshoe to Convict Lake and other areas and camp or is that a no no?

Ralph Barker
28-Dec-2006, 21:54
I'm not sure that I'd venture into a closed area of the Sierra during winter. While one might not get caught and cited, if trouble arises, it's big trouble, as there's nobody around to help. Plus, being there illegally, they might well charge you, or your survivors, for the search and rescue costs.

John Kasaian
28-Dec-2006, 23:07
The sierras can get terrible storms---I've been in them. The snow is extremely dense (sierra cement) and I've seen it collapse buildings so I'd be concerned about what it can do to a tent. Unless you have a nice stable high pressure area overhead thats going to stay around for awhile I'd avoid overnight x-c trips where you'd sleep out.

Then there are avalanche areas which are fairly common on the Eastern slopes. In some ski areas it wasn't uncommon to wake to the report of 105mms after a big storm.

If you want camp in the snow your best bet is to check with the rangers and ask for suggestions. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the seasonal help but the rangers you'll meet in the off season are the real deal and know what they're talking about--listen to them :)

dietcookie
29-Dec-2006, 11:16
I'll definitely will heed that advice. And for open campgrounds, which is the best to stay thatís closest to everyone's favorite section of the Alabama Hills? I've never ventured there, but on the way to Whitney Portal I remember seeing some great stuff.

John Kasaian
29-Dec-2006, 16:25
If you make it north to Mammoth you might inquire about camping at the hot springs below Devil's Postpile. I believe they keep the road open in the winter but I don't know what the camping situation is like since I haven't camped there in the wintertime (its too far from Shakey's Pizzaria!)