Posted by: GeekHiker | February 25, 2008

Yosemite In Winter Trip Day 3: Plans Change

The Plan.

This trip had one. Most of my trips have a general itinerary (“we’ve got to be there by such-and-so time because we have a campsite reserved”) but beyond that, I usually try to keep things a bit more free flowing. Oregon (“oh, hey, that looks interesting, let’s stop”) was the perfect example of this.

The Yosemite trip had a plan though: we were all signed up for a four day program through the Badger Pass Ski Area.

The itinerary was simple:

Day 1: Learn to cross-country ski
Day 2: Cross country tour around Badger Pass
Day 3: Ski out to Glacier Point Ski Hut
Day 4: Return from the Ski Hut

And so it was with high hopes that we awoke bright and early on Monday morning, scraped the ice off the windows of the truck and, with the other car in our group trailing, headed into the park.

Where we were promptly stopped by road construction. Seems they decided to rebuild half (literally half) of the road in the dead of winter.

After the entrance station, there was a brief stop to put on chains. Now, as a lowlander, I’ve never done this before. Neither had JaG. And haunting me were stories of how pricy repairs can be should a set of tire chains become wrapped around the axle.

So, with some nervousness and experimentation, we put the chains on the rear wheels, I put it into 4 wheel drive, and we drove forward 1/10 of a mile. Then I stopped to inspect the chains again.

This would become habit throughout the trip.

Turning onto Highway 41, we headed up the snowy road under bright blue skies.

Day 03 - Looking West From Hwy 41

Looking west from Highway 41 over the Sierra foothills

At only 30 mph, it took about an hour to get to the turn off to the Glacier Point Road, where we round a ranger sitting, informing us that the road was closed. They were supposed to be bringing in a plow from Wawona that day.

Our first day of skiing clearly canceled, we turned around and headed back down the hill, the drive rewarding us with our first view of the valley draped in snow.

Day 03 - Driving down hwy 41

Driving down Highway 41 towards Yosemite Valley

I’ve been to Yosemite in February before, but on that trip there was no snow on the valley floor, only in the high country. So seeing the whole park draped in winter snow was a fantastic new experience. Of course, we all had to stop at Tunnel View and admire.

Day 03 - Tunnel View

Snow covered Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

JaG and I split from the others, went back out of the park to grab my camera, and headed back in. Only this time, we were stopped by the construction…for a full half hour, and were therefore late for a rendezvous with the others.

So, I took some pictures while waiting:

Day 03 - Snowy Tree Highway 140

Snowy tree along Highway 140 park entrance road

Day 03 - Ice Trees

Icy trees above the road along the valley rim

When we did finally arrive at the village, we passed by the others in our group (a bit unhappy at our being an hour late) who were heading off to do other activities, so JaG and I picked up lunch and stopped at the visitor center.

We then headed over behind the visitor center to the cemetery, quiet and hushed with two feet of snow on top of it.

Day 03 - Cemetery 01

In the Yosemite Valley Cemetery

Not sure what to do but eager to explore the valley on our unexpectedly free day, we took the shuttle bus over to Happy Isles, deeply covered in snow. Much hilarity ensued as we and a another group of travelers set off, sans snow shoes or skis or anything remotely intelligent for heading into deep fluffy snow, and walked trudged up along the river.

Day 03 - Happy Isles - Merced River & Bridge

Merced River and bridge to island at Happy Isles

Day 03 - Happy Isles - Washington Column

Washington Column and the Merced River from Happy Isles

Day 03 - Happy Isles - Glacier Point Apron

Looking up at Glacier Point from Happy Isles

By this time the clouds were starting to move in, dropping the temperature by a chilling 20 degrees or so, so we grabbed the shuttle back to the village and picked up the truck, then headed over for the Lodge at Yosemite Falls.

We had earlier in the afternoon decided to take the chains off, but with a cold night settling in and a bit of concern about black ice, we decided to put the chains back on. While doing so, I noticed out of the corner of my eye some orange light in the gray clouds, so we quickly headed to the nearby meadow to catch the last rays of sunlight on Washington Column.

Day 03 - Sunset on Washington Column

Sunset light on Washington Column, Half Dome hidden in the clouds

Returning to the Lodge, we rejoined our companions for dinner. Several inquiries at the tour desk resulted in no firm answer as to whether or not Badger Pass would be open the next day. We did, however, discover that those at Glacier Point from the weekend trip had not yet been able to return.

With what little knowledge we had, we decided to start slightly later the next day, after the entrance station had opened. The theory was that we would be able to get information from the rangers at the station as to the current road status to the ski resort, and plan our day from there.

Well fed (with dessert, natch), we returned to the hotel, relaxed for a bit with some cider, and promptly crashed for the night.


  1. It seems that you got both the sunset light and the fire. Jag’s picture features the fire but there is smoke preventing the viewer from seeing the sky.

  2. you captured some really gorgeous sights in your photos… looks like a truly amazing place!

  3. The Tunnel View pictures my favorite. I’ve only been to Yosemite twice – July and September – and I’ve never seen it in the snow. I think I’ve missed out. I did see Sequoia in the snow which was awesome.

    I used chains when I went to Sequoia. I hadn’t heard about the dangers 0f wrapping around the axle so I never worried about them – ignorance is bliss.

  4. There wasn’t a fire, was there? (How could there be a fire with all of that snow? I am hoping it was just Alpenglow…now I am worried about my favorite valley.)

  5. Gany – Not quite, Hadley has it right below. No fire, just the light of sunset punching through the low clouds.

    charlotte – Thanks, you should add it to your life-list (if you have one, that is)

    Homer-Dog – Hey, there’s still lots of winters yet to come. Ignorance certainly would have been bliss, except I know my luck.

    Hadley – Nope, no fire, all quiet, cold and (as it melted) quite wet…

  6. Incredible.

  7. Aaron – Indeed. We thought that throughout the trip, actually…

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