Twenty-three degrees at sunrise this morning. Not warm – invigorating is probably the term that puts the best spin on it, although it’s also probably most accurate – when your breath is the first thing you see after opening your eyes in the morning it makes you feel just a bit more alive. I walked around Mono Lake and snapped photos for about an hour after sunrise before continuing south along the Eastern Sierra. The Sierras rise gently from the west but drop abruptly on the eastern side, so I was looking straight up at snow-covered 13,000 foot peaks as the road descended from 8,000 feet down to 4,000 feet.
After an early lunch in Mammoth I moved on to the Owens Valley, passed a few more lakes, some incredible mountains, and a herd of about fifty elk before turning off the highway and heading up an interesting-looking but rough dirt road that eventually led to the Taboose Pass trailhead. I had no plans of going all the way up to the pass, which I imagine must be an ordeal similar to what Frodo and Sam undertook to get into Mordor. Instead I went only a short way, but given that any trail around here heads more-or-less straight up it was tiring enough, and after returning I’m now camped out for the night with a forecast for an evening low of twenty degrees, guaranteeing that my breath will again be my first sight in the morning. Luckily an additional advantage of the cold air is that, combined with the lack of city lights, the stars stand out prominently, so in addition to struggling to keep my core temperature above freezing I’ll also be gazing at the depths of the Milky Way as I head to sleep.