During the past six months I kept up my routine of hiking within the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
As those weeks progressed into the winter season I noticed most of the canyons were covered with thick layers of green, while overshadowed by those towering healthy centennials that have changed to a golden brown.
This minimal color change is noticeable during the winter season but now, it appears almost the complete mountain has changed colors.
After four years of drought and the disastrous bark beetle infestation, these lush green mountains are displaying a frightful image of change. Pine and cedar trees that use to overshadow my pathway are now giving way to the sun.
Gone are those shadows that danced across those bare rock surfaces as the sun rotated across the sky. Gone are those ever changing shaded images on the trail, as I hiked from one canyon to another.
Even the mystery of those darkened areas in the distance that were concealed by green vegetation has now revealed itself, being exposed by the lack of tree cover.
I asked myself what caused this event? Was it something that we as a population subconsciously created, or is this just Mother Nature introducing another one of her cycles?
All I know is that the U.S. Forest Service has stated we have lost more than 90% of our natural ground cover in some areas. They also stated that so far we have lost more than 12.5 million trees in California.
If we continue to have these drought conditions for another two years, we will have passed the numbers set during our drought of 1975 through 1979, in which 14 million trees were lost.
For those of you who have been following my adventures since 2005, do you remember the trek from Chepo Saddle across the mountain to Willow Creek? This was a no-trail adventure.
This same area will be my target, but to preview a new series of remote canyons.
A few weeks ago I decided to attempt another off-trail adventure across the mountains above Bass Lake. Even with the snow level below my trekking route, the addition of carrying snowshoes was necessary.
Normally in those areas under the canopy of the forest, the snow depth was less than the exposed areas. This season, with the lack of tree cover, the snow depth remained constant, especially on the north face of each canyon.
I estimated three to four hours to complete this new adventure. But I was mistaken - my overall time was closer to five hours.
I was shocked to see many of those old growth trees have shed all their needles or are now beige in color.
One Incense Cedar Tree, with a girth more than five feet in diameter and its base scared from many previous forest fires, had finally succumbed to this recent drought. This is just one of many trees that have been victims along this remote mountain route.
Through the centuries these mountains have survived many changes. Two examples are those Yosemite fires during the 1990s. The A-Rock and Steamboat Fires took their toll on these mountain forests.
Almost 25 years have passed and these areas are showing signs of healing.
Those young saplings are now eight to 12 feet high. Two years after these events the wildflowers started blooming. Maybe this is how nature completes the cycles and allows new healthy growth?
We have memories of our deep green forests here in Madera County and hopefully one day those memories will once again become reality. Only time will tell. But as caretakers of this historical area, we have the responsibility of protecting the outcome of these natural cycles.
In the meantime there are thousands of acres of untouched mountain forests to enjoy. Let’s snap those photos and put down to pen those memorable moments and share them with others who also admire the beauty of our Mountain Area and Yosemite.
On March 22, 2016, Glen Dawson, the last of the historic mountaineers that first conquered the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains passed away.
He was born on June 3, 1912, in Pasadena, where he spent 103 years of his life. He was a California legendary mountain climber, mountaineer, antiquarian bookseller, publisher and environmentalist, and was honored with a life-time membership in the Sierra Club.
Many of his accomplishments were shared by his climbing buddies, Norman Clyde, Jules Eichorn, Francis Farquhar and Robert Underhill just to name a few early pioneers. He was also one of the few climbers to have a Minaret Peak named after him. He shares this honor with Clyde, Walter Peter Starr Jr, Eichorn, Charles Michael and Jack Riegelhuth.
If you are interested in Glen Dawson’s history or the accomplishments of his hiking buddies in our California mountains, check out Branches Book Store in Oakhurst.