Visiting the Sierra in winter is a study in patience and preparation. Sections of the road were open and dry, with only the mountains cloaked in snow to indicate winter’s true conditions. But other times, that snow marched right down the mountain, clambering right up to the windows of our car as it inched through a canyon formed by ice.
Sometimes, the skies were blue, wide open and optimistic. Other times, the clouds closed in, pressing closer and closer to the ground until blurring into the horizon. Visibility was fine and then visibility was zero, then okay, then not okay.
We might’ve spent a good portion of the crawling drive reciting the Lord’s Prayer while ice formed on the windshield. We made it through, though, out of the pass and into the Round Valley, where we took a random turnout onto a random road just grateful to be able to see again.
Other pre-dawn adventures were frigid—waiting for the sun to light up the Sierra, wind slicing straight to the bone. And even then, only the faintest blush of alpenglow bloomed on those mountains, the ones closest to us, as their towering brethren waited behind a murky cloud cover.
The best early morning adventures, however, occurred in the steam of the hot springs. 140 degree water at its source, it flows (and cools) on its serpentine path till it meets several campsites and tiled or redwood tubs at a perfect 100-ish degrees. They say it’s some of the purest water in the world, and who am I to argue?
It was worth the planning, worth the plotting, worth the preparation.