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Back from Yosemite high country — snowstorm!

High Sierra fall color? To wit: “white”!

I’m back from Yosemite. My return was delayed a day because of the closure of highways 120 and 108 from a major snowstorm.

Saturday was a challenging day: violent winds which ripped leaves off many Aspen trees (so much for color), and unusually cool temperatures for early October. Going to bed Saturday night with clear skies, I never would have guessed what Sunday morning would look like.

I had hoped for snow, but my High State of being happy with whatever I got was rewarded in spades: an absolutely awesome October snowstorm, with up to 10" of puffy, dry and cold snow, not “Sierra cement” — delivered in near white-out conditions at times, with brief outbursts of faint blue and sunlight, only to be followed by more snow. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement, though shooting under such conditions is a serious challenge.

Shown below is the view towards Tioga Pass. Buildings and quonset huts at Tioga Pass Resort (highly recommended) are visible. TPR closed for the season today.

Sunday October 4, 2009 snowstorm near Tioga Pass
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 85/1.4 Planar

At times, visibility was very low, and at 10,000' near Saddlebag Lake, my tire tracks (the only ones) were mostly obliterated in 30 minutes, with big chunky gobs of powder wafting down. Fortunately, I had by sheer luck arrived with snow tires, so I enjoyed driving around in up to 10" of fresh snow! I know it was at least 10", because my Cayenne has 10.75" clearance in high mode, and the snow was being scraped along.

Winter wonderland with blue-sky interlude
Saddlebag Lake (near Yosemite)
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 21/2.8 Distagon

The storm brought snow as low as about 4000 feet, while the Mono Lake area stayed largely clear of the fray.

Up Lee Vining Canyon
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF 85/1.4 Planar

Off topic sidebar — the Porsche Cayenne with the advanced offroad package (rear+front differential, transverse lock, skid plates, etc) I’ll wager has no rival in production SUVs for offroad capability (Jeep, Land Rover, Mercedes, etc can’t compare— I checked ’em all out and owned a Jeep Grand Cherokee for 10 years). Well, I'm excluding turds like the Hummer. Except for an economically difficult 2008 where I was car-less for 9 months, I’m speaking from 5 years of beat-it-up usage in places like Death Valley, through water, deep sand, miles of mud, snow, steep grades, really nasty sharp rocks, etc. I’m probably the only person in CA who would subject such a vehicle to such things. But that’s what it was made for, too bad Porsche has started pimping the 2009 models — stick to 2006 - 2008 so you can (also) run 18" wheels for offroad use.

Winter on October 5!
f8 @ 1/160 sec, ISO 200; 2009-10-04 07:52:11
NIKON D3X + 0.0 mm f/0.0 @ 20mm

[low-res image for bot]

With 22" of wading depth and 10.75" clearance (real clearance, across the entire undercarriage) and electro-smarts for all of the differentials and goodies, you can get yourself in trouble — there are limits. But the last time I was in Death Valley during a good storm, all the Jeep Wrangler guys were bummed-out and parked while I was driving through 3 miles of mud near Stovepipe Wells. Another time I drove across a rain-swollen Amargosa river near badwater (I measured 18" deep, which is a lot for that river!). Poor Jeep guys got stuck and would not try again. To be clear, the Cayenne is too big for rock-crawling and narrow spaces and gnarly offroad stuff like the Rubicon trail — that's not where I’m at. I’m talking snow/mud/sand/loose rock, fording water; I want to get to places to shoot.

I had to look through every dealership’s inventory in the country to find my used Cayenne; only 1 in 200 or so have the offroad package; that’s why I drove from Colorado last May, after negotiating a killer deal for one with 26K miles. Be sure to get Certified Pre-Owned for a 7 year/100K warranty. You also need a set of 18" wheels with the Pirelli Scorpion A/T tires.

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