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Back From Mountains Unexpectedly Early Due to Forest Fires

Well, three forest fires canceled the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Double Century, which I was hoping to win (placed 2nd in 2012). I was feeling strong, having timed perfectly a peak in fitness and rest, feeling robust after a few prior weak weeks. After five previous double centuries this year, and months of hard training (cycling). And never had I so rapidly acclimated to altitude, not even bothered by 14,232 feet elevation after only 48 hours acclimatization. It’s a major bummer for my season (my 2nd most important event), but a canceled double century is far better than the hapless Markleeville residents told pack belongings and be ready to evacuate from the fire.

Thunderstorms are predicted this weekend—the entire Sierra could be ablaze this month. It’s likely to be a record fire year after two years of extreme drought, and this is only June. Thunderstorm season is now just beginning: lightning strikes are causing more fires than ever before (fire numbers not clear here, number of fires vs burned area and so on)*. The Washington Fire:

The Washington Fire, located 3 miles south of Markleeville, California has burned 17,622 acres and is 29 percent contained. The primary objective of suppression efforts remains the protection of the community of Markleeville. Thunderstorms are forecasted that could bring stronger winds and lightning, which could hamper firefighter’s efforts.

* In general, most wildfires are started by people (various sources state this as a generality), but given the lightning prone Sierra Nevada and dry conditions, it’s not at all self evident that that general principle applies. I have personally observed many post-storm lightning fires burning in the Sierra at night, from the White Mountains.

For photographers, I’d suggest avoiding the Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley and White Mountains areas for a while. Unless you’re looking for hazy orange sunsets. The more western portions of Yosemite National Park had little or no smoke (I drove through), but that could change overnight and day by day. The wind patterns are sending smoke east of Mono Lake and the White Mountains, then driving smoke south and east of the White Mountains, then west into the Sierra (I could see this happen from my perch high in the Whites), creating a huge polluted area but so far leaving more western areas unmolested. South-easterly winds were generating some thunderstorms as I left, with a spattering of rain that will do little to suppress lightning-strike fires unless more moisture comes.

Then today while descending the gnarly upper Silver Canyon (the road is in the worst shape in years), a rock punched a hole into one of my A/T tires, right through the thickest part of the tread and puncturing right through the belts. I limped it back to Bishop using the on-board air compressor to inflate it every five minutes (it was losing about 1 PSI per minute). The tire was patched but had sidewall damage, so I had the tire patched and a tube installed; no suitable replacement tire of proper diameter was available and it was a Friday. Then I drove 6 hours home. Tire to be replaced of course. Quite a day. I’m going to have to lug along a full spare I guess—an awkward bulk, but this is my 2nd ruined tire in Silver Canyon for two years running.

Anyway, the entire Eastern Sierra / Owens Valley / White Mountains areas polluted by smoke that made photography yesterday and today a hopeless situation, so I headed home today as per above. But not before shooting a bunch of material earlier in the week, so I’ll be publishing various soon.

Barcroft observatory dome near White Mountain Peak
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