CALAVERAS BIG TREES
 

There was no snow where I grew up.

Beijing China … 2am inspiration.

The first time I saw snow I giggled like a tweenager. I was in my 20s.

The second time I saw snow, I was 30 and visiting Russia. The snowflakes were the size of a 20cent piece (or a US quarter). I stood in wonder for 15 minutes catching and examining as many flakes as I could before Courtney told me to ‘stop looking like a tourist’.

Fifteen (or so) years later and I’m still in-awe of snow.

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So, when our vacation in the heart of the Sierra Nevada happened to coincide with one of the largest snow-falls of recent Californian history - I was ecstatic! How lucky were we? Breaking 20 year records, the Squaw Valley reported it’s snow bank at 246 inches high (or 20 feet tall). It was a childhood dream of mine to visit Narnia and this was beginning to feel pretty close.

Every morning I awoke and made myself a cup of coffee, pulled out my journal and stepped outside to absorb the beauty surrounding me. It was -7 degrees Celsius out there. My coffee turned from delightfully warm to undrinkably cold within minutes. Undeterred, I’d stay outside counting squirrels through the icicles until I physically couldn’t cope any longer. Eventually I’d return to the warm indoors, stomping the snow from my slippers and remaking my coffee. It became a morning ritual.

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The highlight of our weekend though, was a random decision to explore the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It had been snowing lightly all night and the snow was fresh and crisp under our feet. Short of practical snow-hiking gear, we thought we’d stick close to the trails. We didn’t! Within minutes the number of people on the beaten track had us feeling crowded, so we decided to leave it behind and attempt to make the summit. Our map said it was a marked path, only a few miles uphill with a stunning vista across the valley. ‘It will be a challenging walk in the snow’, we thought ‘but worth it!’ So off we went.

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We all giggled as we walked past. “Um, yep. Good luck with that!”

We all giggled as we walked past. “Um, yep. Good luck with that!”

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The snow was falling lightly overhead. The moss and icicles, lakes and snow-covered signposts were beautiful and glorious. We took lots of photos. I lost myself in my imagination and I don’t think I was alone. I caught more than one of my children nattering to themselves, looking ahead in awe and attacking each other with a random snowball. We stopped and made snow-angels. Urged on by the beauty surrounding us, we kept climbing the hill. ‘Just imagine the view from the top’ we told ourselves. Onward we marched until we ran out of signposts, which as it turned out, also marked the spot where no snowplow could reach. We had hit the snow pack…

Having run out of compacted snow to walk on, I started sinking to my knees within minutes. Each step was an exercise in weight training as I would drag my hiking boot, laden with natures slushy, out of a wet quicksand-ish hole. My kids (9, 12 and 14) were like Legolas the elf, skipping across the snow pack, barely a care in the world. My husband, with his size 12 feet, didn’t seem to sink either. Me - I had the perfect foot to weight ratio to sink on every step. I was exhausted within minutes.

We hit the snow pack

Then, thinking it best to escape the deep snow and find our way out of the snow pack, we took a detour down the hill. We almost got lost. Well actually we did get a teeny bit lost. We were looking for a specific car park, our gateway to marked footpaths and plowed accessibility. It couldn’t be far away could it. We walked this way, that way, and back again. We were at the bottom of the hill as it turned out, less than 3 meters away, pacing back and forth along its bank. Convinced that my son was about to plunge to his death in icy cold water, I panicked as he strode out onto a “lake”. Only, the lake was no lake at all! Not frozen water but ice-covered bitumen. He found it … but just as well I had that map!

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3 hours later we staggered into the Park Gift Office - wet, dirty, exhausted but exhilarated. “Sorry” I said. “We got a bit lost. We thought we’d try to make the summit.”

“Yes” said a surprised by smiling counter assistant. “Not many people go that far this time of year!“

It was only 3.5 miles …