Sierra Wave

On my drive up to Tuolumne this afternoon, I witnessed the most spectacular Sierra Wave cloud display that I have yet beheld. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my addiction to clouds, and seeing a Sierra Wave is akin to a birder viewing a condor in the wild. Shad, my partner, said he had a full view of the wave across the mountain range when he drove home from Catheys Valley and I chided him for not having a camera. For the fascinating story behind this magnificent cloud, see my article

Twice when I have witnessed the wave, major fires were occurring in the park, and I now wonder if there is a relationship. I am working on an update of the book, Hot, Dry, Cold, Wet, and Windy: A Weather Primer for the National Parks of the Sierra Nevada with James Huning—I shall ask him about a connection.

Sierra Wave

I received an email from someone who had read my article on the amazing cloud formation called the Sierra Wave, and wanted to know the best time to sight one “in the wild.” (you can access the full article here). With all of my hiking and cloud watching, I have only been lucky enough to see the wave once, although smaller wind formed lenticular clouds frequently occur in the high country. The winter months provide the best conditions for wave formations, yet the cloud’s mighty crest can loom over the Sierras anytime of year. My sighting occurred in August, during an intense fire season, which had probably wreaked havoc on normal summer conditions. My best advice for a wave sighting: spend lots of time in the Sierras

Bob Kolbrener

"I have always responded to the grand, ephemeral gestures of Nature. Where there is lightning, fog or winter storm, I am alive with emotion. Through the teachings and inspiration of Ansel Adams I have been able to direct this energy to the making of exciting photographs." -- Bob Kolbrener

Ansel Adams' photographs have defined the Yosemite landscape for generations. Bob Kolbrener has refined that definition in his own black and white portraits of the park, paying tribute to his teacher yet achieving his own style that distinguishes the student from the teacher.

Being a weather buff, Bob first attracted my attention because of his fondness for photographing clouds and storms. When I wrote an article for the Yosemite Journal last year on the Sierra Wave, his was gracious enough to donate the use of his photograph of the cloud, the best image I have ever seen of the phenomena, to accompany the article. The photograph is now on display, with many of his other works, at the Ansel Adams Gallery.

I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Bob and his wife at a reception for his work at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley. Claudia, Ed, Glenn and the rest of the Ansel Adams staff always host a great reception, from bringing in talented artists to ensuring that the curry dip and good wine never runs out. Glenn also shares willingly his vast knowledge of all things photographic.

Besides being one of the nicest people I've ever met (along with his wife Sharon), Bob's photography is stunning. I'm going to employ the writer's over used defense here of saying words cannot describe his work. But truly, I'm not just being lazy. Words truly cannot capture the vibrancy of these images. A print of Bridalveil Falls appeared so lifelike that I imagined I felt droplets of spray on my face as I gazed at it. If you can't make a visit to the gallery, you can view Bob's work online at

Kuna Crest & Mono Pass

I keep returning to the Mono Pass area for hiking. I’ve been exploring the region from all directions, having hiked, over the years, Mt Dana and Gibbs and the Granite Divide in between, Parker Pass and Mt. Lewis, and the Mono Pass Trail itself. I decide to tackle the south-west region of the area, the Kuna Crest and it’s lakes.

WaveShad1.jpgSmoke from the fires on the east side still linger, but we notice a very peculiar cloud to our west. Being an amateur weather buff, I have Shad take photos of it from all angles. It’s a stratiform cloud, shaped by the winds shearing off the mountains. It’s shaped like a series of solid eights, in a wave formation, and has several different textures within.

Making it even more peculiar is the smoke clouds drifting around it. I know there is a phenomena called the Sierra Wave and I vow to consult the guidebook when I get home.

From the shoulder of Mammoth Peak, we ascend into the basin containing Kuna Lake. The crest hugs Kuna Lake tight in its basin and the gem-blue water reflects the sky above. The wind is a forcible presence here and I can see why we have stratiform clouds above. I hold onto Shad when a wave of wind roars into the basin that bends the tops of the trees. Then oddly enough it’s silent again. I joke about nor’easters, being from New England, but Shad, being from the Midwest, experienced tornadoes, so this is pretty tame stuff to him.

Next comes Bingaman Lake, smaller and not nestled so tightly in the cliffs. We find multiple animal tracks on its muddied shores: marmot, coyote and something unidentifiable. We follow its outlet down, hoping over monkey flower patches near the stream, and then veer east to explore Spillway Lake. No swimming today; it’s cloudy and breezy and we haven’t worked up enough of a sweat to make the cold water enticing.

From Spillway Lake we make our way back via the Parker Pass Trail. The strange cloud still looms overhead, its massive stillness unusual.