New snow: 1 inch
Total settled snow depth: 39 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 54°F (February 6)
Low temperature: 2°F (February 4)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The warm temperatures and high winds this week have dramatically changed the snow surface, and subsequently, the ski conditions. Any aspect that received a direct hit from the sun this week now has a sun crust on the surface, overlying the powder from the late January storm. At mid elevations, south aspects are nearing a corn cycle but there may not be a harvest before they melt back to bare ground or the snow reverts to colder temperatures. In the alpine zone, the winds have hammered most aspects, but you may get lucky and find pockets of soft snow. We were just blown away (no pun intended) to see how many areas along the Sierra Crest are completely devoid of snow a mere week after receiving ten feet of snow! But it all blew somewhere. Supportable “wind-board” was the best ski conditions we could find, and that suited us just fine. It certainly helps to have finely tuned skis in a year like this one. Ski conditions mimic the weather. If you don’t like them now, give it a minute (or a day) and they will change.
While participating in some wildlife surveys this week in the Tioga Pass region, we came across the windswept Great Sierra Mine. Just seeing the remnants of these operations really brings one back in time especially in winter when no one else is around and one can begin to feel how isolated these workers must have felt at times. A lot of these mines were located in extremely exposed terrain (both to weather and avalanches).
According to its National Register of Historic Places nomination, the Great Sierra Mine Historic Site preserves what was once a large mining operation in what is now Yosemite National Park. The Great Sierra Mine (also known as Dana Village) was originally established on Tioga Hill by the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company with the intention to work what was known as the Sheepherder Lode (silver). The Lode was first discovered in 1860 and then rediscovered in 1874, during which a young sheepherder and others staked claims in the area. After the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company purchased the claims in 1881, they built the mountaintop company town named Dana which included a post office. Living at 11,000 feet proved to be difficult, so soon after, miners relocated to “Bennettville,” near the northern base of Tioga Hill.
Originally the company sank two shafts as deep as 100 feet before work at the summit was halted when a new idea emerged to instead dig a tunnel through the side of the hill that would hopefully intersect two silver ledges. By 1884, 1,784 feet of tunnel had been dug and more than $300,000 spent when the Company went under and closed their operations. The claim changed hands several times and work resumed in 1933 with more modern equipment. After digging several hundred feet further into the tunnel without striking the Sheepherder Lode, this second attempt at finding silver ended.
The remains of 5 stone cabins, a wooden blacksmith shop, and a small stone powderhouse can be seen today.
As we skied around the old mine site we reflected on the history of the area and Yosemite National Park. We gave thanks to those who had the foresight to designate these public lands and set them aside for natural preservation and for the enjoyment of future generations.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.
The avalanche danger is low in the Tuolumne Meadows area. Although some weak layers persist deep in the snowpack, we have not seen any instability since the last storm cycle. Wilderness travelers should be prepared to make real time assessments of the avalanche hazard as the weather is dynamic this time of year as more snow is in the forecast.
There are some very hard snow surfaces out there presently and a “slide for life” is possible on steeper terrain. Anyone traveling in the alpine zone should carry an ice-axe and crampons to keep their options open and safe.
The birds were a bit more vocal this week. Even a pair of Townsend’s solitaires were singing a bit and chasing each other around among the junipers on Lembert Dome. Perhaps the dramatic swings in the weather and wind have confused some of the avian life. While on Tioga Pass yesterday, a flock of twenty Canada geese were headed north among the low clouds seemingly contradicting Punxsutawney Phil’s latest predictions.
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is closed for the 2020-2021 season.
Happy President’s Day Weekend!
Rob and Laura Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers