Tioga Pass in winter

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanJanuary 19, 2012 

For many decades Tioga Pass is an area to forget visiting once December arrives due to heavy snowfall that closes the road. With that thought in mind, I opened the Internet and on my face book a friend sent me a video on someone driving over Tioga Pass. My first thought after watching that video was I'd sure would like to see Tioga and Tenaya Lakes in their frozen state.

The following morning was Sunday and with no commitments to delay this new adventure I picked up my hiking buddy Nancy Morgan at 8 a.m. and we proceeded into Yosemite National Park. Our agenda was to first photograph Tenaya Lake. Next Tuolumne Meadows, then over Tioga Pass to Tioga Lake.

Now Tenaya Lake is almost 91 miles from Oakhurst. Interesting how little snow has fallen this season. Even the higher peaks above 12,000 feet only have patches of snow on the north faces. The granite surfaces between 8,000 and 10,000 feet looked naked without their blanket of white. Looking closely under the trees and most shady areas, they had patches of snow from brief storms during the month of December.

What an enjoyable drive, not much traffic and all around us are the signs of winter without major snow. Those streams that follow or cross under the highway are frozen. At one bridge crossing, at eye level was a large frozen water fall. With the assistance of the morning sun, this rippled vertical sculpture created multiple reflections as we drove past its location. Yosemite Creek which was also frozen carved its path of ice as it maneuvered its way through the rocks and trees.

I didn't expect to see Tenaya Lake with ice skaters and many brave sport minded people walking across its gray blue surface. I looked at Nancy and remarked looks like their having too much fun. So we joined them and took a stroll on that cold slippery gray blue surface. We even borrowed two of the bystanders chairs and positioned them on the ice to relax and watch the skaters.

Now is when I wished I owned ice skates to rekindle those childhood memories living in Ohio skating on the neighborhood pond.

Tuolumne Meadows was another 10 miles east following Highway 120. This long meadow is always breath taking to drive through, but today with the lack of snow only the distant mountain views made this stop rewarding. Now to proceed over Tioga Pass and drop down to Tioga Lake and photograph another frozen mountain lake.

The east gate into Yosemite is located on the pass. Even at 10,000 feet the snow has melted on the exposed surfaces. But within the shelter of the pine trees, deep patches of snow still remain.

On our return we were in for a surprise as we passed Tenaya Lake. The numbers of people playing on the lake increased and one group set up two hockey goals. Did I hear someone say 'let the winter games begin.'

For decades Tioga Pass closes sometime in December because of the severe snow conditions and sometimes doesn't reopen until June. This winter season we are fortunate with very little precipitation and Tioga Pass is still open. Today we were part of those who took the time and enjoyed making history by walking or ice skating on the frozen surface of Tenaya Lake.

Depending on the weather, there may be time remaining to shake the dust off those ice skates hidden in your closet. Now grab your winter clothing and enjoy those precious moments to ice skate a high elevation lake.

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