Serendipity and the season begins

Where: finally experiencing a summer atmosphere at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

A couple weeks ago, I received a very intriguing email. Luka wrote that she had been following my blog for years, and was in the Bishop area for a few days. She was in the market for a summer job, and by chance, would the Resort need another set of hands? As luck would have it, we did need exactly one more person, and Luka is the newest crew member.

Luka originally hails from Vermont (that’s a total of two people from that state working here right now) but she’s made her home in Portland for the past 20 years. She’s a part-time van dweller, and has driven cross-country for many summers to work at a produce market in Massachusetts. A change in ownership at the market meant that she was on the lookout for another summer gig, and she liked my descriptions of life at a small family business. She’s closer to our age than the rest of the crew, and we have a lot in common that makes for interesting conversation, so we’re really enjoying having her here. We share one of our days off with her, and we’re looking forward to some hiking and eating adventures with someone else!

With all the runoff coming from the melting snow, there are some particularly stunning waterfalls running right now. When we were in the June Lake Loop a few weeks ago, we noticed that the regularly placid Horsetail Falls was practically a Niagara Falls. Last week, we took the hike that leads past the falls for a better look. We managed to get about halfway up the trail when we encountered a stream crossing that would normally be super easy, with a metal beam in place to walk across and keep your feet dry. Now, though, the creek is battering the beam, washing over it furiously, and just 10 feet downstream is a 100 foot drop off to go over if you slip. I cried uncle, and we instead sat by the creek, watching scampering salamanders and enjoying the big falls across the valley.

Rock Creek Lake continues to be high as well, and our gangplank to the docks is still underwater. The other morning, the canyon was completely still, and gorgeous for some photography. From a distance, the lake didn’t look too high, but when you get up close, the pathway to the docks just looks like a ghost figure.

In past years, this has just been a dry field:

Summer is definitely here for the Resort, with all the campgrounds open, and the trailhead finally accessible. Last weekend, we featured our first happy hour of the season, on Friday from 3-5, and had big crowds for the event. It was the first day that was really long and busy, and Brock and I were totally bushed when we finished the day at 7:30. It’s a short season up here, but it’s intense!

Even in the midst of lots of work, the crew got together for an evening game of wiffleball this week. Amy, the owner, is a huge devotee of the game, and tries to organize a couple games every year. We use pieces of firewood for bases, and most of the plays are interrupted by the dogs interfering with the ball. But, I never laugh so hard as I do at the shenanigans that come up from this simple entertainment!

A pretty good looking bunch of goobers:

Provided we make it through the weekend (the 4th already, can you believe it!), we’ll see you next week!

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Summer Solstice Photo Extravaganza

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

In a stunning reversal of weeks past, this last week was suddenly, unmistakably, and completely SUMMER. After the dusting of snow we got last week, we immediately shot up in the 60s and 70s, and flirted with 80 a couple days. Meanwhile, Bishop has been in the 105 range, and just a little further south has been seeing 110. (And Death Valley hit 124 this week!) The aspens are fully leafed out, the pine trees are pumping out pollen, and the bugs are acting out Cole Porter lyrics. Summer was taking a long siesta, but she’s awake and ready for action!

Even though it’s super warm at elevations below 8000 feet, there’s still too much snow in the alpine zones where we’d like to be hiking. I’ve been studying day hikes and drives options in the lower areas, trying to find something that would meet in the temperate middle. Thanks to a great little publication put out by the Mono County Tourism Board, we have a long list of possible destinations nearby. Our inaugural outing was to Bald Mountain Lookout, in the dense Jeffery and Lodgepole forests between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake. We parked about a mile and a half down from the top and hiked up the rest of the way.  I had no idea that it would be such a premiere viewpoint. We could see 75 miles of the spine of the Sierra, all the way from Crowley Lake up north to Mono Lake.

The log cabin up top is now used as a warming hut for skiers in winter, but was originally built for the Civilian Public Service, which was an option for conscientious objectors during WWII.

A bit rustic, but just fine for winter camping:

We rounded out the day with a trip around the June Lake Loop, stopping for a meal and a cider at a match made in heaven: June Lake Brewery and Ohana’s Food Truck in their parking lot.

Warmer temperatures also mean the start of the Polar Bear Cub Club “meetings”. In years past, there was a group of guys working at the resort who always jumped into the lake at 5:30am on Wednesday mornings, and they called themselves the Polar Bear Club. For those who prefer their freezing cold water at a more civilized time, there’s the Polar Bear Cub Club, which meets on Wednesday evenings for a plunge. Since the lake was finally free of ice, it seemed like the right time to get things going. Four of us were veteran jumpers, and we enticed 3 of the newcomers to try it out. I remember the first time I jumped in, and how debilitating the cold water was to my whole system. Apparently, you build up some kind of tolerance to the situation, because this time was not too bad. I didn’t want to swim across the lake, but I also didn’t fear that I was going to stop breathing!

As a five year veteran of the Resort, Casey was first in.  The rocks I’m standing on are usually a couple feet above the water line:

Proof that JJ and I got in:

Cheering on Annie, for her first time plunge:

Time for a hot shower:

You’d never know it was only about 40 degrees!:

According to a state avalanche scientist that the owner talked to, we are currently experiencing peak runoff.  They said we could continue to see the same level of water for quite some time, but that it shouldn’t get any worse.  Customers who want to rent a boat get a stern warning, because they have to wade through waist deep water to walk on the gangplank to the floating docks.  The lake is way above both the outlet tube and also the overflow tubes, and we really hope the prediction is accurate–we don’t want it to get any higher!

Early in the week, the water was a lot lower and the gangplank was accessible:

It’s a cold swim to our boats:

The day use area right by the lake is not quite ready for business:

And the road to the trailhead is probably also a way from opening:

The trailhead itself is still really covered in snow:

Up for next week: we hike to a huge waterfall and we get a new, vandwelling co-worker who learned about the Resort from my blog!

Fire and Ice

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

It’s a blessing and a curse to live at very high altitude, just above a desert valley. This juxtaposition means that we sometimes have the opportunity to experience one hell of a temperature spread, and often in a pretty short span of time. The past week was one of those instances, where we went down to the valley and sweltered in 97 degrees, and then we woke up to 18 and snow at the resort yesterday. It’s like living in several seasons at once!

Last weekend, we drove south to Big Pine, the next town below Bishop, to spend the day with a lady we used to work with at the Resort. For the last decade, Patty was in charge of cleaning cabins, and only decided to give it up this year as a septuagenarian. She’s a spunky, independent woman who still heads out on long alpine hikes and practices yoga. She was a lot of fun to work with and we were missing her!

To the west of Big Pine is a gradual canyon that’s already snow-free, and has some great hiking along a normally gentle creek that’s now a ranging torrent. With the huge amount of runoff right now, it was like walking next to Niagara Falls, with waterfalls cascading in whitewater that made us a little nervous to cross the bridges over them! We hiked until we hit snow about 3.5 miles in, and then enjoyed a stream-side picnic at the trailhead.

Patty was known for her love of all kinds of boardgames, so a day with her would not be complete without a little competition. She had us over to her house, a charming vintage trailer on land she shares with a friend, and we sat out in the shade of huge trees to tussle over a few rounds of Monopoly Deal. (Which is our new obsession, BTW, and a game you should really check out!) Her land is a verdant oasis with tons of plants, flowers and trees, and a couple creeks running nearby, but she’s barely above the valley floor, and hence, the 97 degrees. We had a lot of fun, but we were completely wiped out by the heat by the time we headed home!

Yesterday was a complete contrast, and we woke up to a blanket of snow and frozen puddles everywhere. All the concrete walkways were like a skating rink, with a thin layer of ice covered in fluffy snow, and it was dangerous going. The low of 18 meant that the mosquito-harboring areas froze pretty solid, but it also made us worry for the fresh buds on the aspen trees. By afternoon, the sun was back out and everything was melted, even though it only got into the 40s. This weekend is supposed to be a real heat wave, and there’s talk that we’ll get up to the low 70s!

More crew members arrived this week, and we almost have our full contingent. I recruited Annie last year, when she came in to the Resort for her family’s annual jaunt to the Sierra. She had a great personality and big smile, so I asked what her plans were for Summer 2017! Brock, Nathan and Daniel are a trio of friends from Illinois, and I’ve been kidding that their arrival really tips the balance of the Resort towards the East Coast. It’s good that everyone is arriving, because the workload should really pick up in the next week, as most of our cabins are rented, and the nice weather should lure families up for some temperate climate recreation.

Here’s some scenes from the not-too-cold and not-too-hot middle of the week:

Finally spring right beside us!:

The last little iceberg on the lake:

A harbinger of allergies to come:

All along Rock Creek Road are new waterfalls:

Your teaser for next week is the fact that I promised I would jump into the lake on Thursday.  Provided I don’t die of hypothermia, I’ll have some good picture from that poorly thought out decision!

Water, water everywhere!

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

I’m not sure how there is any water left anywhere else in the country, because it seems like all the water in the world is currently coming down from the mountains around us. Jim and Sue, the owners of the resort, recently did a snow survey on Piute Pass, just southwest of Bishop, and found some pretty impressive data. The snowpack was at 10 feet deep, and held the equivalent of 6 ½ feet of rain. If the high points around us are similar, there is an awful lot of moisture that’s yet to melt. There are new streams and waterfalls everywhere, and the lake is rising. The resort is not in any danger of high waters, but one of the campgrounds in the canyon is being closed because of flooding. It’s like Waterworld around here!

Behold the beauty of the parking lot cum stream bed:

JJ and I finally walked around the lake for the first time this season. It’s mostly clear of ice, but all the forested areas around it are full of deep snow. The campground on the backside is a long way from opening; campsites are either still under a couple feet of snow, or part of a huge delta of cold, fast-flowing water. Even if all the snow melts, I doubt the campground can open until the backcountry finishes shedding most of its snow and the runoff decreases. The patterns of melting ice did make some enchanting views of the lake, and it was fun to go all the way around and see nary another soul!

Who’s ready for a picnic?:

Rising lake eating the snow:

I love how the reflection of the mountain makes this look like a waterfall:

All this snow and water is really affecting the resort. Because the campgrounds and hiking trails are closed, we’re not getting nearly as many customers as usual. This weekend was the first of the season for the cafe, and we had only a handful of customers. Early June is normally a slower time, at least until schools get out across the state, but this year is markedly different from past years. It still feels like the pre-season, and not at all like the start of the summer!

First day of the cafe crew picture:

This will be a short one, because I’m really tired from getting up at “meow-o-clock” lately.  See, little Soupy just loves going outside while at the resort.  It’s probably her favorite place in the whole world.  The issue is, she starts begging to go out as soon as there’s the barest hint of daylight.  And being on the eastern edge of a time zone, that bit of light begins at about 4:30am.  So, in addition to my usual not sleeping from 2-4 am, Soupy is waking us up just after I’ve fallen back asleep.  I’ve been up from 2 am onwards a couple times recently thanks to her protests.  Good thing she’s cute, or she’d be in for it!

Stay tuned next week for tales of our first hiking adventure of the season!