mono basin – the recap

so, let’s set aside the zombies for a bit (mmrmmph…brains…braaaains) and i’ll recap the awesome weekend i had playing around in the mono basin. if you remember back to last october when i switched jobs, you’ll recall that i headed up to mono lake and bodie to have a chance at solitude. check the photophile links and you’ll see the photos of the area, sans snow. well, knowing that mono, since it is a dead lake and has a very high alkaline level, doesn’t freeze during the winter, i thought it’d be fun to spend some time kayaking on it.
the timing was perfect, too. the week that i had planned to go, i had the flu and had to scrap the plans. good thing, too, since the weather was nice. who wants sunny weather when you’re doing stuff in the outdoors? heh! so, i headed up early on friday morning, with a forecast of temperatures in the teens and snow all weekend. awesome.
i stopped in bishop on the way and knocked out a seven mile run along the 395. i figured i’d head back down to bishop for all my runs for the weekend, since the elevation was only a little over 4000′ vs. the near 8000′ elevation at mono. shortly after leaving bishop at about noon, it started snowing. quickly the conditions on the roads worsened and just past mammoth i had to put chains on. as i was setting up the first tire, a guy pulled up behind me, got out and asked, “do you know anything about chains? i haven’t been in the snow in 40 years and i don’t know how to use these things!”. poor guy lives out in palm springs and was on his way to reno to visit his son for the first time. so, i finished up my tires and put his chains on for him, carefully explaining how his cable chains worked. he tried to give me money for helping him, but i told him that the amazing hip doesn’t work for money. he stared strangely at me as he drove off into the storm.
when i finally got up to mono, the snow had stopped, so i poked around navy beach (one of the only launch points on the lake) for a bit to take some photos and then headed to lee vining to talk with some of the locals for a bit. by the time i got back to town, the snow was coming down pretty heavy again. as i stood there, chatting with one of the gas station operators, i looked at the ‘vacancy’ sign on the hotel across the street and thought, “when is doing something epic just for the sake of doing something epic, and when is it truly for fun?”. i made the decision to get a room, rather than set up my tent in the driving snow.
up early the next morning, i realized that it had really dumped overnight and to head back down to bishop meant putting chains on again, so i decided to do my long run along mono, and just take it easy to deal with the altitude. well, let me tell you, when you’re doing a long run at 8,000′, there is no taking it easy. even running slow, my heart rate was up around where it sits when i’m running marathon pace. i was okay for the first 10 mile loop (i canned the speed work i was supposed to do when i couldn’t catch my breath at a 7min pace), but when i headed out on the second 10 mile loop the wind picked up and it was really tough going. the temp without the wind was sitting at 12, and although it was beautiful and sunny out, that wind really sucked the energy out of me. when i hit 15, i was ready to call it a day, but i was still five miles out from where i’d parked. when i hit 16, i thumbed a ride up to the road intersection that was two miles from my car and trudged the final two to make it 18 for the day.
i thought i would have been toast for the rest of the day, what with the exertion, but actually, i recovered quite well and actually felt good enough to do some playing on the water. so, i headed down to navy beach to put the kayak in the water for a while. it was still beautiful and sunny out, with a storm sitting over the mountains to the south and west. the wind was pretty fierce and had the water really choppy, but i had a great couple hours of paddling around, visiting all the same tufas from the october trip. i snapped a bunch of pictures, paddled quietly through all the formations, just soaking in the beauty of it all.
that comes in stark contrast to what sunday held. i woke up to find that the storm had dumped more snow overnight, and it was snowing pretty steadily. i got up before sunrise, hoping to catch some great dawn photos, but the clouds were so thick and low that visibility was only a couple hundred meters. i decided to head down to navy beach again and paddle for a while in the snow. the lake was super serene when i got there. the water was calm and the snow muted all sound. i popped the kayak in the water and headed out to my favorite group of tufas a little under a mile from shore. the water was so calm that i was able to get right in between the spires and check them out up close. i turned to look toward the south tufa formation, but couldn’t see it due to the clouds…then i looked toward shore and it was hidden by clouds, too. oops…lost at sea.
i pulled out the compass, paddle in the direction i knew the south formation to be and eventually it began to emerge out of the storm. i paddle around, shooting some more photos to contrast the previous day’s shots and then headed back to the beach. it was a very spooky, but cool experience. it was awesome to know that i was probably the only living thing around. no life in the lake, no visitors on the shore and most smart animals all hidden away to wait out the storm. it was the solitude that had eluded me on the october trip, given to me on a snowy platter. the silent paddling was a great way to end the weekend, and it’s a memory that i won’t soon forget.

16 thoughts on “mono basin – the recap

  1. Oh man! That sounds amazing! Especialy the “silent paddling” part. I can picture it. Oh what is it like to hear nothing at all!!?? I can only imagine!
    See you Thursday.

  2. You are such a good photographer . . . I love the picture where you can see the tip of the kayak you are sitting in . . . so cool.

  3. great pics and what a great weekend…. only i’m disappointed that you didn’t use the tent. i guess that’s what happens when you get old.

  4. That sounds so fun! And looks beautiful. This may be a stupid question, but what state is this place in, California or Nevada?
    Nice of you to help that guy too.

  5. ‘nip,
    it’s right on the border of california/nevada on the ca side. a couple miles up the 395, though, and you’re in nv. mono sits right at the bottom of tioga pass, which is the eastern entrance to yosemite, via toulome meadows.
    just so you know, i keep getting bounce backs when i try to respond to your comments via email.

  6. Johnny and I are ooh-ing and ahh-ing. Gorgeous!
    (and I don’t know that Ash has ever played soccer with zombies, but he has woken himself up by laughing :p)

  7. WOW, what a great weekend you had. In years past, I spent a fair amount of time in monasteries and convents on a quest for solitude. I will never forget the first time that I heard THE silence. I crave it still.
    Also, what an amazing photographer you are! Do you do anything commercially? If so, please send me an e-mail. I’m very into b&w photography at the moment and I’m looking for new prints.

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