The lingering ice has been a particular problem in Yosemite National Park, where officials last week announced the shutdown of the famed High Sierra camps — only the third time in a century that the scenic back-country sites have been declared off-limits for the entire summer because of thick snow.
Gediman said reservations for this year at the remote shelters will be honored next summer when, presumably, there won’t be as much snow on the ground.
The High Sierra camps are five tent villages arranged in a loop, each about a day’s journey apart, similar to the hut-to-hut systems in the towering Alps of Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France. They range from the big Merced Lake camp at 7,150 feet to the Vogelsang camp perched on a mountainside 10,300 feet above sea level.
The other camps, which provide sleeping accommodations and showers, are May Lake, near Mount Hoffman; White Wolf, which was originally part of a mining camp; and Glen Aulin, on the Tuolumne River. They have been hugely popular with guests, including backpackers, horseback riders and celebrities, since the first one opened in 1916.
Photographer Ansel Adams was partial to them, as was former first lady Laura Bush, who visited three of the High Sierra camps in 2001 with friends and a Secret Service detail.
The camps can be reached only on foot or by horse and mule pack trains. Everything arrives this way, including filet mignon and, sometimes, birthday cakes. The five camps together can accommodate 203 people a night, and reservations are handled through a lottery held every November.
The problem, Gediman said, is that pack trains have not been able to get to the camps to set up tent cabins and other facilities. Now, there isn’t time to get everything up and running before September, when the camps normally close.
The Yosemite high country isn’t the only place still shrouded in white. Heaping piles of snow are also blocking access to some campsites in Tahoe National Forest, Desolation Wilderness, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Plumas National Forest and Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
In many places, camp operators are hustling to dig out and restore access. At the city of Berkeley’s Echo Lake Camp, in South Lake Tahoe, winter and spring storms damaged 37 of the 45 cabins while burying the site in 15 feet of snow. Workers could not get in to fix anything until early June, when the road leading to the camp was finally cleared.
“The damage to the tent cabins is significant and there is also damage to the pool fence, stage and observation deck,” said Scott Ferris, Berkeley’s parks and recreation director. “This is the worst snow year we’ve had in, I believe, 100 years. It has definitely been tough and it continues to be difficult because there is still a fair amount of snow on the ground.”
Those who forge ahead with their camping plans should expect wet, icy conditions, Ferris said.
“It’ll just be a High Sierra experience,” he said.
Despite the occasional ice coating, tents and sleeping bags are still likely to be abundant in the mountains this summer. Plenty of campsites are open, according to park rangers, and although the Yosemite high camps will be closed, the store, gas station and lodge at Tuolumne Meadows should open once Tioga Pass is cleared, hopefully in the next few weeks, Gediman said.
“People have been very understanding about it,” he said, “because they are aware of the kind of winter we’ve had.”
Photo credit: Lance Iversen, San Francisco Chronicle
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