(human interest italics by Cristy Bird)
It was because Sequoia National Park did not start to rent snowshoes until Thanksgiving that Cristy and I climbed W. Big Pine on New Year's Day. On December 31st, getting off to a 10 am start, we backpacked up the long dirt road from Santa Barbara Canyon on slick, sticky mud. As we gained altitude, snow patches formed a welcome carpet over the mud, and eventually came to dominate the route. Several sets of tracks, including those of a lone horse (!), showed we were not the first to have ventured over the snow from a week before. Indeed, we met a solitary backpacker making his way out as we approached the Santa Barbara Potrero junction. Some endless wet and muddy time later we passed the Madulce trail junction, and here finally parted from all the tracks of horse and people, who had apparently made their way up from the Madulce trail. Motivated by a 'cool' breeze, we continued down the road to reach the Alamar Guard Station camp spot by late afternoon. The most impressive of the numerous animal tracks were those of a bear, which had made a detour to inspect the picnic table and fireplace stove/grill. We set up camp on a bed of dry pine needles. A nearby snow patch obviated the need to haul water all the way from Bear camp, although did lead to some crunchy tree/bush fragments spicing our drinks and meals. Rather to our surprise, overnight temperatures did not plummet unduly (unlike Sequoia), indeed, we did not even get any ice forming in a water bottle left outside the tent. New Year's Day was alternately dazzlingly sunny and darkened by patchy thin clouds. We donned our daypacks and snowshoes, and plodded over crackling snow all the way out to W. Big Pine. The usual impressive views were enhanced by the stark, snowy landscape. We found the 'endangered feces' rock (Condor droppings?) and benchmark but not the register can - perhaps it was lurking under a snow patch? On the return trek I made the side trip up to Big Pine, while Cristy chose to head straight back to camp (and hot tea). Big Pine's register can was safe and sound on top of its rock. Monday, we packed up and made our way back over to Chokecherry Spring. From here, we donned daypacks, and followed the tortuous route up the muddy steep gully and slope, across the knee-deep snow-covered meadow, slowly over treacherous wet rocky bits, through the sodden brush maze (actually route finding was relatively easy along the well-cleared path), and eventually up the final slope to the slippery, wet summit of Samon. The two halves of the register can were lying apart several feet below the summit, with blank register pages scattered around. The largest single rain-melted wad of pages looked like they'd been chewed on by some critter!? We ate our lunch food instead. We made good time on the return, following our footsteps through the snow, but still had the interminable road to hike to our car. We ended up backpacking over an hour in pitch darkness down the last portion of the road - the last mile before reaching the canyon floor was particularly memorable, as the mud had become even stickier than before. We didn't have time to do Madulce on this trip, which we'll approach from Madulce Canyon on some future occasion, no doubt. And the connection to Sequoia? Well, the weekend before Thanksgiving we went up to enjoy the giant trees in two feet of new snow. I had taken my pair of snowshoes, and we planned to rent a pair for Cristy to use. Unfortunately, none were to be available to rent until Thanksgiving. As a result, I gave Cristy a pair of snowshoes for Christmas, and so over New Year we had to go somewhere to make good use of them!