Kuna Lake, live frogs, dead toad, and hailstorms

Kuna Lake (photo by Beth Pratt)Sierra Nevada weather is known for summers filled with blue, sunny skies and long intervals between storms. I hiked the entire John Muir Trail (210 miles) without having to use my rain gear and barely saw a cumulus cloud in the sky.

Recently, the weather has felt more akin to the Rocky Mountains, where thunderstorms build and release daily. In the past month, I've had two downpours at my home at 3,000 feet in the morning, which in August truly is akin to water in this Mediterranean climate desert. And while hiking up to Kuna Lake last week, a storm system blanketed the entire region. After the intolerable heat wave we recently suffered through, being pelted by hail and soaked by rain all afternoon was a welcome experience!

In my twenty years in the Sierra, I hike so often under clear blue skies that the colors of the full forces storm lent a different character to the landscape. This wasn't just a passing thunderstorm and the sky used its artistry of water and light to paint a subdued but sublime portrait of the alpine terrain. The Kuna Crest is a delightful hike, filled with cerulean blue lakes encircled by high granite cliffs.  The rich grey tones of the storm intensified the scene (“Ansel Adams’ed it” if I can coin a phrase) and wandering clouds decorated my usual companions of Mammoth Peak, Mt Dana and Mt Gibbs.

Mt Dana with storm clouds (photo by Beth Pratt)

The Kuna Crest begins at Mammoth Peak in Tuolumne Meadows, and has a namesake peak, lake and glacier along its path. Kuna roughly translates from a Shoshonean word meaning fire or firewood. I love wandering along the crest from lake to lake. On this hike, my friend and I just explored Kuna Lake given the threat of lightning, but a full jaunt on the crest reveals other gems like Bingaman and Helen Lakes, as well as views of Kuna and Koip Peaks and glaciers.

As always, I also searched for frogs and encountered several Pacific chorus frogs, although many seasonal ponds were already dry (indeed the entire landscape was more reminiscent of a fall one—it is really bone dry in the mountains this year).  My friend Michelle also spotted a dead Yosemite toad by a creek. A mysterious death, the toad did not appear to be injured, simply dehydrated. The likely culprit is the deadly and devastating chytrid fungus, which is threatening amphibians in Yosemite and across the globe with extinction. Other cool wildlife sightings include a friendly deer, a white-tailed jackrabbit, and some very fresh bear scat.

Pacific chorus frog on Kuna Crest (photo by Beth Pratt)White tailed jackrabbit (photo by Beth Pratt)

Dead Yosemite toad (photo by Beth Pratt)Friendly mule deer (photo by Beth Pratt)