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Amazing moonset

Sorry I didn’t get a photo. Maybe next time.

Today dawned cloudless, with snow thickly covering the surrounding mountains and hills. It was a full moon last night, and as I commuted into work (driving mostly into the west) I watched it slide behind the Sierra Nevada.

It was quite a sight. By chance, the moon, which was huge this morning, slipped behind the ridge just as the latter caught the first rays of the sun streaming over the Virginia Range. I was a glorious sight and would have made a spectacular photograph from the top of my street.

So for future reference, here are some of the conditions necessary to witness (and record) this wonderful phenomenon again:

Sunrise today was at 6:47am, while the moonset was at 7:03am. Obviously, the moon sets behind a different part of the mountains throughout the year, and the snow and cloudless sky certainly helped in the effect. And the full moon. Tomorrow the sunrise and moonset should correspond similarly to this morning, but it’s supposed to be stormy. We probably won’t even see the moon.

Hiking the Virginia Range in winter

Reno in the background

Saturday night we got about as much snow as I’ve seen fall overnight since I moved here. That night I told Ingrid I wanted to do a snow hike the next morning, no matter the weather (it was expected to continue snowing into the morning). There was a misunderstanding. She thought I meant drive up to the Mt Rose Summit at 8,900 feet on Mt Rose Highway to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, and so she started packing snowshoes, etc. But that wasn’t what I meant. The Mt Rose Highway was almost certainly closed Sunday morning, and it would have taken over an hour to get to the parking lot. No, I intended simply to walk to the top of our street and hike into the Virginia Range behind our house. No need to get into the car at all.

The plan was to hike 2½ miles to the top of the ridge (1,500 feet elevation gain). Normally I do this as part of loop hike of five or seven miles, but there’s a very treacherous bit to that hike that I didn’t want to attempt in the winter, so I decided on an up-and-back hike instead.

The night before was pretty stormy, with lots of wind as well as snow. I always worry about the wild horses when it storms like that, because unlike rabbits and coyotes, they have nowhere to hide from the wind and cold. We encountered a group of mustangs soon after we started:

Snow horses

I noticed they all had snow on their backs, although it had stopped snowing at least an hour or two before. That means their shaggy fur coats actually provide pretty good insulation, so that made me feel a little better.

Eventually the sun came out, though it stayed cold, and we enjoyed a fantastic hike through virgin snow with amazing views of the city as well as Storey County to the east.

Steep climb through drifts
Reno in winter
Looking east from the top

It is such a blessing to have all this just a short walk from our house.

More pics here.

Cold

It was about 14 degrees (F) when I left the house this morning at 6:15, which I think is as cold as it ever gets in Reno. That’s pretty cold if you are from SoCal or Florida, but compared to much of the rest of the country it’s not very cold at all.

So that’s all right then.

Last weekend’s snow is gone from most of the city, but our front lawn is on the north side of the house, so the snow lingers there, with a nightly accretion of coyote and quail tracks. It’s really wonderful.

BTW, one of the first things I learned about dealing with the cold: we have a big chain link gate at the entrance to our office parking lot that we share with two other businesses, and since I’m always the first one to arrive in the morning it’s my job to unlock the padlock that secures the gate. The first really cold morning we experienced after moving here I couldn’t open the lock, no matter what. It was frozen. So I had to park the car outside and walk around the building to get in.

Later in the day (after we finally got the gate open) I asked one of the other building tenants about this and she said it’s a common problem, all you have to do is hold the lock in your bare hand for about 45 seconds and it warms enough that it can be unlocked. And sure enough, it works just as she said, and that’s what I’ve been doing about a third of the mornings for the last three winters.

California fires = bad air in Reno

The smoke from the fires is making the air in Reno almost unbreathable. I didn’t go out at all this weekend.

Most of the smoke this last week has been from the Yosemite fire, but now the Carr Fire in Shasta County is contributing. I have whined in this space in previous years about how California fires make the Reno air smoky.

This is what Peavine Peak normally looks like from our house:

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This weekend it was invisible. So was Downtown, for that matter.

I am closer to the mountain here at the office:

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This morning I can barely see it.

Saturday and Sunday I saw the lovely Blood Moon setting; but this morning we also had a Blood Sun rising.

We’ve had our own fires. The Martin Fire was the largest fire in the country this month, at 435,569 acres, or 680 square miles, but it was far enough away from us that we didn’t see any smoke; and far enough away from everyone else that it didn’t make the news outside Nevada. There was a small fire right here in Hidden Valley on Thursday, and the Perry Fire is burning south of Pyramid Lake where Ingrid and I went shooting a month or two ago.

The images from the Carr Fire, like those from last October’s and December’s fires, are pretty alarming. It’s hard to imagine a fire just charging through built up areas like that. I’ve been wondering what you really need for that to happen. What kind of surrounding forest and brush does it take? I look around and I’m pretty sure we are safe here. We don’t have chaparral here on the eastern and northern sides of the valley, our hillsides are covered with grass. The grass burns readily, the hills east of Sparks seem to burn annually, but I don’t think the fires get hot enough to rage into the neighborhoods. I think perhaps the mustangs, widely regarded as pests, reduce the fire risk by keeping the grass cropped.

Last Thursday’s fire in Hidden Valley, which I don’t think was even given a name, just left a big black patch on a grassy hill. The homes less than 100 feet below the fire are newer ones, with tile roofs and stucco walls. Unless surrounded by heavy trees and brush, which they aren’t because they are so new, such buildings seem to be invulnerable to a nearby grass fire. While my own home is older, and the homes below mine on the hill are older yet, with lots of mature trees and other plantings, the homes above us are newer, clad in tile and stucco and with very few trees or shrubbery. I don’t see a fire getting much traction here, aside from burning up the hillside, which would be sad, but the annual east Sparks examples show that the burned areas grow right back the next year. The fires might even rejuvenate them.

The hills to the south and west are a different story: they are heavily forested, and fires are a real scary threat there. I wouldn’t want to live in the Galena Creek area, for example, as beautiful as it is (and we did look at homes down there).

Peavine in winter

Too cold up in the Sierra Nevada for skiing or snowshoeing, so took a drive up Peavine:

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Mule deer by the road:

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Reno:

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Our house is actually visible in that pic, at center left, in the hills.

The cool little bench where I want to go camping, but haven’t yet done so. Yesterday I learned you don’t want to be up there on a windy night:

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As far as we went, about a half mile from the top:

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We ran into a couple up there who got their pick-up stuck in in three feet of snow. They said someone from “Hill’s Angels” was coming to pull them out. I reckoned that was a good time to turn around, though the road further up didn’t look that bad. Some yuppies in an Acura were driving around up there. This week I’m buying a tow strap to keep in the Suburban.

First cross country skiing of the season!

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Sadly, conditions were mostly crap. We got a little snow on Monday and Wednesday, but I guess most of it blew away by yesterday leaving a mostly icy surface with pockets of powder. Also, we only went 2½ miles before Bella was completely exhausted (she slept all afternoon). She’s not really very old but she is definitely slowing down and I can’t bring her everywhere if I want to get a good day of physical activity in (I was thinking about getting up early this morning and doing my first winter ascent of Mt Rose without Ingrid or Bella, but it’s way too windy up there right now; next weekend it’s not going to get above freezing, and I don’t think I’m ready for that, either. I’ll have to do it some other time).

Until Friday we’d planned to get Zuly up there for her first time on skis, but she begged off at the last minute. It’s just as well, because I’m sure she would have had a lot of trouble with the crappy conditions.

Tahoe Meadows again

Moar snowshoeing:

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Last week I downloaded an Android app called Gaia GPS. It’s a GPS mapping app, sort of like a smartphone substitute for a dedicated GPS unit. It has a lot of good reviews. I downloaded a similar app soon after I bought the phone and it was crap, but that was almost three years ago. This Gaia GPS app is really pretty good.

I don’t know how well it works if you are out of cell phone coverage area, but I have Verizon and anyway we weren’t that far from civilization so I had good coverage all day yesterday. With Gaia GPS you don’t need to carry a map. It has a built-in compass and you can also use it to lay out routes. I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in the summer, since I typically follow trails everywhere, but for snowshoeing cross-country it’s great. We used it to route-find over a hill into the Tahoe Meadows area and to check our relationship to the Ophir Creek trail which we were interested in following for a while. At the same time I was recording the hike to a GPX file I could load onto a Caltopo map:

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It was only a 3.6 mile hike, but it was fun. I wouldn’t mind doing a similar hike on skis. We’d have a little trouble getting down that hill in the center of the map, but probably could traverse more widely and get down that way. But the rest of the hike would be great on skis. And easier. If we had skis (and we left the dog at home), we could have got much further down the Ophir Creek trail.

I’ve always liked the idea of collecting GPX tracks, partly so that I could follow in the winter tracks I made during the summer. About ten years ago I bought a GPS unit and it really didn’t work very well for this. The antenna wasn’t very powerful and it had a hard time seeing the satellites through my body when it was in a pocket, so the tracks looked like shit. And it was difficult to use in any case.

The Gaia GPS app had no difficulty maintaining a very accurate track of our hike. Now I honestly don’t know whether smartphones really use the GPS satellites or if they simulate GPS by triangulating from multiple cell towers. I had always assumed it was the latter, since for GPS to work as well as it does the smart phone would have to have a very sensitive GPS antenna, because while cell phone towers are no more than a few miles away, GPS satellites are hundreds of miles away. So I figured the GPS wouldn’t work if you had bad cell coverage. But I don’t know. For now, hiking around not far from the highway and not far from Lake Tahoe, the Gaia GPS app seems to work very well indeed.

Two other things I was worried about was battery usage and phone memory. I thought maintaining a track would use up the battery and the track itself would take up a lot of storage. But I had no problem with either (it was a short track, and a GPX track is nothing more than a text file, a list of coordinates, easily compressed). So clearly this works well for day hikes; I’m not sure I would want to depend on it for overnights and longer hikes.

Packing up after lunch:

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Ingrid got herself some snowshoes

Ingrid got herself some snowshoes, so we went for a walk around the Mt Rose Campground, on the south side of the highway from the Mt Rose trailhead parking lot (there was new snow up there on Saturday).

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Just beyond that toilet at upper left is the Mt Rose Ski Area, lots of folks skiing and snowboarding down.

Man, I love snowshoes. Such freedom,

Tahoe Rim Trail winter death march

We hiked what I call the Galena Creek Waterfall Loop. This is where you start at the Mt Rose Summit trailhead and instead of taking the Tahoe Rim Trail to the waterfall, you cut west to connect with the Relay Ridge utility road and take it a few miles up to Third Creek Pond, then catch the trail north up to the Galena Creek watershed. Then you hike down from the top of the waterfall to connect with the Tahoe Rim Trail and take that back to the car. It’s between five and six miles and I first did this hike in September.

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Ingrid gave me shoeshows for Christmas, and we brought them up with us to try them out. We figured if the snow got really deep Ingrid could wear them and I’d just power through postholing. But since it hasn’t snowed in a couple weeks, we didn’t think there would be much deep snow, we assumed it would be pretty hard from freeze/thaw cycles. Boy, we still have a lot to learn about this place.

We got a very late start because we had to deal with my mother first. I forgot to bring a map (again), so once we left the road we were sort of on our own. I had assumed that by this time there would be lots of boot and ski tracks guiding us from the road to the waterfall, but I was sure wrong about that. Fortunately, by now I have a pretty good idea of how the land lies, so we were able to make it down to the waterfall. The snow was deep and we traded the showshoes. Poor Bella had a rough time in the deep snow.

By the time we got to the waterfall, the entire east facing ridge was in shadow and I was starting to get worried, not so much about me and Ingrid as about Bella, who seemed to be getting exhausted and maybe cold. We experienced another miscalculation that slowed us down: since the waterfall trail is so popular in the summer (it’s really a mob scene on weekends), I assumed there would be an easy to follow trail back to the car through the snow, but we found only a few sets of boot tracks around the waterfall. So routefinding back to the main trail was tricky and it was very slow and miserable going (since we had only one set of snowshoes between us). Of course, we did find our way before too long and Bella, bless her, seemed to get a second wind.

We got back to the car 30 minutes before it got dark. Fumbling through the snow in the dark really would have sucked.

Lessons learned:

  • Get an early start.
  • Carry a map.
  • Always carry snowshoes, no matter how good the trail is near the trailhead.
  • While the showshoes were about right for me, they were too big for Ingrid, so she needs to get smaller ones.

My feet got a little damp and were numb by the time we got to the waterfall, but other than that I felt fine in a thin polypropylene undershirt, wool shirt, polypropylene long underwear and jeans, plus two pairs of wool socks. I wore glove liners for most of the hike. Ingrid was comfortable too. I carry warm clothing and accessories, and would have been fine (though not happy) if I had to spend the night out there.

Bella was probably okay as long as she kept moving, but we could tell her feet hurt by the middle of the hike. We carry dog booties, but deploy them only in emergencies, especially in the snow, since I think they would keep her feet damp and cold. We also carry a sweater and a sort of insulated windbreaker for her, but again she probably doesn’t need anything in these kinds of temperatures as long as she’s moving and there’s no significant wind. I’m not sure she would have survived a night on the mountain without shelter.

Once we were home and snug we forgot about how miserable much of the hike was and we agreed it was a fine winter adventure.

Tubing on the Truckee

Yesterday Ingrid and Zuly and I went tubing on the Truckee. Two runs from Crissie Caughlin Park to Idelwild Park in Reno.

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There were even rapids n shit:

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My camera battery died after that. We’ll go back, it was fun. I’d like to start higher on the river and end downtown, for a much longer run. Gotta find a good place to park the cars downtown.

I’m a little concerned about how clean the water really is. There are a couple of sewage treatment plants upstream of where we were tubing, but I worry mostly about all the untreated sewage that gets into the river thanks to all the homeless camping alongside it. Also, all surface runoff from the Reno/Sparks area ends up in the Truckee.

. . . which means it eventually ends up in Pyramid Lake, where we hope to do some camping and kayaking in a couple weeks. I’m going to do some research before then to see whether Pyramid is actually safe to swim in.

Happily, most of the homeless are well downriver of where we tube.

But that doesn’t help you if you swim in Pyramid Lake.

Bella drinks from the Truckee almost every day and she doesn’t seem to have a problem.

Years ago we were told there were lakes around here from which it was inadvisable to take fish for eating, but I don’t remember which ones they were talking about. I think a bigger problem in Nevada than shit in the water is stuff from mine tailings.

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