Almost a week ago, the first snow finally blanketed our surrounding mountains. Now is the time to open the closet door and shake the dust off our snowshoes and skis, as winter sports are about to begin in and around Yosemite National Park.
The snow level has dropped to 5,000 feet, so Badger Pass and a few of the surrounding trails are available for us to work out those muscles that were forgotten during the summer months.
Just before the south entrance gate into Yosemite National Park, on the right is the area known as Snow Play. This is an ideal area to begin the season by following the abandoned forest road toward the back gate into Mariposa Grove. At this location, if you choose to backtrack to the Snow Play Area, the round trip will mark almost three miles of a wilderness adventure.
If you feel like continuing on this seldom-used road beyond the green gate, be observant and look for the markers placed in the trees decades ago by the park service.
Once at Mariposa Grove, turn west and hike through the big trees to the visitor’s center. Follow the main road that will conclude at the south entrance into the park. Place a vehicle at both trail locations for your shuttle after this five-hour adventure.
A few years ago, Clem Bingham and I used snowshoes on this route. Here is our story.
In the winter of 2008 snow had accumulated to almost three feet at the Snow Play location. We spent over an hour of snowshoeing before arriving at the back gate. Only the top rail of this green steel forestry gate was exposed above the snow surface. Roughly 100 yards beyond the gate, attached to a seasoned pine tree, was the first snow marker. These markers were displayed every 50 yards offering a distinct visual route toward Mariposa Grove.
One unexpected obstacle was walls of snow descending to the creek’s icy surface meant some creativity was needed. Sliding down was not the major problem. Climbing up the opposite side would take some planning.
Snowshoes can serve many purposes, such as a shovel to carve out steps to climb above the creek. A few snow drifts were taller than 8 feet, but our snowshoes floated us above these natural obstacles.
After two hours of forging a new trail through virgin snow, the welcome sight of lone ski tracks gave us security of knowing we completed the path to Mariposa Grove.
As we trudged closer to the main road, we met a few cross country skiers attempting the loop through Mariposa Grove. We were all excited exchanging information on the day’s personal adventures.
Within the hour, we arrived at Yosemite’s south entrance which completed our adventure. It was nearly five hours of snowshoeing the back roads and cross-country trails in and outside the park boundary. Yosemite has many trails and each will challenge your skills. After four years of drought, I’m looking forward to enjoying our winter sports once again.