Anyone who has ever driven to the Eastern Sierras from Southern California has enjoyed the sites so common along Highway 395. The desert turning from scrub brush to volcanic rock, the looming presence of Mt Whitney, the time warp that are the towns of Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine. These are all a integral part of the Eastern Sierra road trip. As is the omnipresent “Closed” sign that blinks along the highway announcing that there’s no way you’re getting into Yosemite during the winter. I’ve been driving US 395 for decades and I’ve never seen Tioga Pass open in January. Until last week.
With a love for the Eastern Sierras that dates to my childhood and a desire to ride the expansive terrain of Mammoth Mountain during the winter, I found myself with the opportunity of a lifetime. Skip a day of snowboarding (the snow was a mere fraction of previous years anyway) and visit Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows on a incredibly warm, winter day. It was glorious. With the exception of a relatively few people, the park was deserted. No cars were lining Tioga Pass awaiting entrance as is normal for summer months and the meadows were free from snow which made wondering around a breeze. The big draw was the chance to walk, skate or just enjoy frozen Tenaya Lake, though there were signs discouraging such behavior.
It’s a bummer that the snow hasn’t arrived, especially given that last year the region was buried in over 15 feet of the white stuff, but the chance to see the nation’s premier national park in January makes it all seek okay.
Better get up to Yosemite while you still can! From the one and only Howard Shecter on Wednesday (he of Mammoth Weather fame): “ The Dweebs are expecting this pattern to bring several feet of heavy wet base building snow between the 18th and the end of the month and into early February, based upon this mornings guidance.
Be sure to get up over Tioga Pass this week and snap some photos. Most likely, you will never be able to do that again in your lifetime, in the middle of January.”