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Skating Tenaya Lake the day Tioga Pass close

January 20, 2012

Caelen McQuilkin looking for fish through the clear ice on Teyana Lake. Photo/Arya Degenhardt

 

We came down from the mountain today with the sound of the gate closing behind us.
 
The ice was still sweet, the lake was still broad and sunlit and crazy with the sound of children laughing and the fine, light sound of thin silver skate blades cutting spirals atop the frozen water.
 
But the wind was blowing fast and hard from the west, spinning across the mountains and trees and granite like a restless animal, tearing at our clothes and hair.
 
“Time to go,” it said. 
 
“Time to go.”
 
We got to the Tioga Pass gate just in time to miss being locked into Yosemite National Park, racing an incoming storm that would close the road.
It was a hard, hard thing to do.
 
For the past few months, ice has been king up here. With no snow since November, with freezing temperatures and clear and windless days, the ice at Tenaya Lake up near Olmsted Point has been arguably the best in the Sierra.
 
Spinning through the night under a full moon, peering through the clear, clear ice at fish, racing the sun in late afternoon, picnicking on the bare sand beaches in weather warm enough for shirtsleeves; this lake has held magic within its arms for many weeks.
 
At any given time, hundreds of people have been out here, some locals on skates, yes, but also many visitors from the Westside, just up from the flatlands to check things out.
 
Even on this day, in the face of the incoming storm, a child rides the ice sitting on top of an eight-inch-thick chunk of broken ice, pushed by her sister across the bright ice at blinding speeds. She crashes into another broken chunk and it shoots off like a hockey puck, skimming the lake until another child stops it and jumps on.
 
The child’s brother repeats the process and the two of them shoot north toward their parents.
 
Another child has a rope he swings over his head; a cowboy lassoing another chunk of ice like a balky cow. He walks proudly to the shore with his parents, the roped ice-cow following, then breaks down in tears when his dad tells him they can’t take it back to Fresno with them in the car.
 
At the other end of the lake, a family spins and twirls and falls down, over and over again, just for the fun of it. They don’t have ice skates on; they probably don’t even own any.
 
It doesn’t matter.
 
It’s magic just the same.
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