Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Storms -> Rock falls

I know I promised acoustic ice blogging, but that will come in a minute. FINALLY, FINALLY it snowed. A lot. Many inches of rain down here, snow at 4000', and the Tioga Road closed due to snow on January 18th (although, it didn't snow until the 20th). And precipitation brings rock falls. We responded to one small event on the Hetch Hetchy road on Friday afternoon, but the really big event happened on Sunday night. A boulder the size of a house slid off the top of a cliff, bulldozed dozens of trees over, and removed a large chunk of the Big Oak Flat road. This road is the main route into Yosemite Valley from the SF Bay area - I've driven past here 100 times. Here's a shot of the boulder (at the bottom).

They called Greg, and Greg called me, so we went to have a look. We start from across the canyon and found that the best view was from a Wawona Tunnel portal, to see the source area (on top). There were clear bulldozed trees on the top and the bottom of the cliff, but it looks like the boulder cleared the large cliff entirely. Then we went over to the rock fall and had a look at the debris. Mostly we are assessing where the rock fall came from and whether more rocks are likely to come down in the near future. An inexact science... but we use our best educated judgement. In general, we don't want workers sent in there if there is a large instability, which does not look to be the case for this rock fall. Here's the road:

The workers started clearing the road today and may have a single lane running soon, although fixing the road will likely take months. There are many people who rely on that road and will be happy when it is fixed. In fact, one of our coworkers is bunking at our apartment since she lives on the other side of the road, and cannot get home easily. Here's a shot of some roadwork:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amazing Alpine Ice: Tenaya Lake!

The winter of 2011-2012 is one of the driest on record out here in California. A few snowflakes fell in October and perhaps even a bit in November, but through mid-January, it hasn't snowed! The Tioga Road, through Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows (8600') and over Tioga Pass (9943') was still open on President's Day weekend, when normally it closes in November!!! These unusual conditions opened up a variety of rare opportunities to visit alpine areas in the middle of winter, and in particular, to enjoy the glassy ice that formed to many inches of thickness on alpine lakes and rivers. As many of you know, the lake ice emitted many low frequency whale-like booms, mid-frequency cable twangs (or, laser guns), and high frequency cracking noises each day: those will be the subject of the next blog post. THIS blog post is about the ice and silliness that ensued!!!

The main attraction was Tenaya Lake - here's a gigapan by Kurt!

Well, it wasn't *technically* illegal!

So I went skating!

The ice bubbles were awesome (photo by Kurt)

and by Phil:

And people were having a GREAT time!!!
There were bowling balls:

And dogs towing people:

And chair sailing (I sailed all the way across the lake!)

And hockey games, pogo sticks, large kites, bbqs and tables and chairs, skateboards...

And awesome sunsets and moonrises too:
Photo by Kurt:

Photo by Kelly:

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I'm a little behind on the blog, and I apologize, but I've finally got some time to edit pictures and have FINALLY finished my thesis, so here goes:

I invited a few friends from Berkeley over for Thanksgiving weekend. A few more crashed last second, and we had a party! Large photo sets can be found here and here.

The weekend started with a bouldering sesh with James and Phil. Actually, James took many (most?) of these photos as he is an aspiring photographer.

Weds PM saw the arrival of several people, and we all decided to go on a morning hike before the feast preparations to the Ribbon Falls amphitheater. There is no trail up there, just a bushwack up to this large cylindrically shaped hole in the side of the cliff, carved by Ribbon Falls. You can lay on your back and look up at the hole in the rock:

There are great views of Middle Cathedral and Bridelveil Falls:

Kurt, of course, took some panoramic photos:

People scrambled around:

Then we hiked down, and found a fun boulder to climb:

Then we went home for Thanksgiving DINNER!
The table was set:

Pots were stirred and the turkey guarded:

People started drinking:

I think this is hot chocolate:

Some people were very puzzled:

Finally we ATE:

The next day we went climbing again, and enjoyed the fall weather:

Happy Holidays!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sal's Taco Night

You know you're in a little town when

a) everybody waves

b) the main source of information is the post office bulletin board (not even free WiFi!!!)


c) the major social event is the TACO TRUCK that rolls in from Mariposa every two weeks!!!!

I'm not kidding.

Sal's Taco night is a BIG DEAL, and it is literally the only time when you can buy your dinner in town (twice a month). The truck parks outside the community center, which sports a nice set of picnic tables, an outdoor stage, and Christmas lights. Tonight, a small winter storm is rolling on, so mostly, we were indoors, where there was a local band playing on the indoor stage. I ordered a burrito outside at the truck and a beer indoors at the bar set up by the Yosemite Employee Association. There was a bicycle stand, tool, and help from the community
bike lending program. I knew basically none of the hundred or so people milling about, so I spent a bit of time petting dogs and helping (new friend) Kate fix one of the bicycles. I spotted my officemate Nanette, and met a few more folks from her, made some new random friends, talked to 2 neighbors that I recognized and somebody from yoga class, and ended the evening chatting with a couple of officemates who arrived late. In all, it was quite a fun evening, somewhat milder than the summer Taco Nights (I'm told), but more lively than the winter Taco Nights to come, since there is a mass exodus happening tomorrow. Yep, the trail crews were in full beer-drinking force, celebrating and lamenting the end of their employment. These are the guys (and gals!) that wake up at 5:30 am to hike and haul rock around all summer. I know because they live upstairs from me and I hear them leave every morning. Speaking of... they're all up and partying now up there! Not sure I'll get any sleep tonight. I suppose that's okay, they deserve it.

Some more things I realized: a lot of folks working here grew up really, really close by, which, for some reason, surprised me. And secondly... there are several seasonal people who are hanging around as volunteers for the winter, performing important duties while not being paid. Something about that unsettles me: maybe it is because I came from a defense contracting background, where... well, it was the opposite situation (chew on that), and I know that we contractors spent more money in a week in a single research project than scientists here spend in a year, and the scientists here are scrambling for bits of money here and there. The contrast is really striking, having been in both places, and as a taxpayer and citizen of the world, I don't like it. Despite the lack of funding, they still manage to churn out some (really!) interesting science here, but a little more money would really go a long way. I'm not really here to provide political commentary... that is just a striking observation.

I'm on my way to making some new friends here. Not that I'm lonely... Booty has been up every weekend, and Kent and Mike were both here, and I've been enjoying the company of colleagues in the office and in the field. I've even been climbing recently, you know, to check out some tension cracks on the a future Open Book. But those are all stories for another day... for now, I leave you with a recent photo of Booty enjoying a morning on my porch and me at Olmstead Point after the last climbing day in Tuolumne.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Any day I get paid to hike is a good day.

It only took a week: one week after arriving here and I was scheming to get out... out of the office and into the park. I turn to my boss (Greg) "Hey, what do you think if I work four 9-hour days, then cut out a half day early once a week so I can go hiking?" Greg looks at me and says,"Actually, I think hiking is a great use of your work time, anytime." "Really?" "Yes! It is part of our job to know the park, to get out and look around!" We tossed around some ideas before settling on 13,053' Mt. Dana.

The start of my hike:

So the very next day I took off for Mt. Dana, up on Tuolumne at the top of Tioga Pass. A mountain I had always been aware of, but never had managed to hike. The tallest mountain in Yosemite National Park. Best to do it now, while the weather was stable and warm, before the snows close the road ... and cover all the interesting rocks! I arrived at the trailhead at noon (after a morning meeting and driving), and set off on the steep but technically easy route.

Perfectly camouflaged - so much for safety orange while hiking alone:

As it turns out... Dana is quite interesting geologically. A palette of different colors and textures in the rocks speaking of ancient volcanos and deformation.

So many interesting rocks that I had a convenient excuse to stop, oh, every 50 feet to take pictures and examine the rocks. No, it wasn't because I was totally out of breath from the high altitude and thesis-induced low fitness level.

I made it to the top, took some victory pics...

Pika above 12000' building a winter nest - only other critter around!

Yea, so Dana is NOT made up of granite. Dana is actually much older - hundreds of millions of year - and made up of remnents of old volcanic rocks that were cooked a bit with the granite pluton bubbled up. Metamorphosed brecciated tuffs, basaltic/rhyolitic lavas, green epidote bands...

Check out the fracture pattern on the next one! Funny thing was, I was in the YV visitor center a couple days before and learning about how arrowheads were cut... very similar! The strike the arrowheads and cleave off pieces. This looks pretty similar.

This too:

More interesting fractures, these speak of ancient earth stresses.

As do these!

I was also totally checking out the Dana Couloir, the Solstice Couloir, and the Third Pillar (which is waaaaayyy across the summit plateau on the other side of Glacier Canyon!)

Top of Dana Coulouir:

Top of the Third Pillar, with fancy lense:

Glacier Canyon:

And all the scenery around Lyell Glacier.

I have more pics here... Mt Dana Album