Sunday, 16 August 2015

Mono Lake - 31st July 2015

I had an unexpected opportunity to get a short kayaking trip in during our recent family holiday to the U.S. We were travelling up from Las Vegas, via Death Valley then up the Owen's Valley to enter Yosemite over the Tioga pass.

I've been to Mono Lake a few times before, and we planned to stop there again this trip. While having a pizza in Lone Pine, we noticed a leaflet advertising kayak trips on Mono Lake. We thought this would be a different way to see the lake and with the benefit of a guide we might learn something too.

So for the first time ever, I managed to get the whole family into kayaks! Nancy, being the least experienced, was put in a double with me in the back. The boys had their own sea kayaks.

We brought the Manchester weather with us, so despite California having a severe drought, we set off in light rain. Given the fact that the day before we had been in 110 degrees F, this was actually quite pleasant.

Mono Lake is 6378 feet (1946 meters) above sea level, so it is also the highest I've kayaked. With no exit stream/river to drain it, Mono Lake's level only reduces through evaporation. This causes concentration of minerals and makes the lake extremely saline - with a pH of 10, it is 3 times saltier than the ocean.

Streams bubbling into the lake carrying minerals have built tufa towers that now protrude above the surface of the lake (the lake is lower than its natural level due to feeder streams having been diverted as water supplies. This diversion has now stopped, and the lake has partly recovered to a higher level again). These tufa towers are one of the main sights of the lake, and soon after launching we were paddling in amongst them.

The lake does not support fish, but instead has a massive population of Brine Shrimp and Alkali Flies. These flies are so abundant that they were a source of protein for the indigenous 'indian' people, and a derivative of their name for the flies gives Mono Lake its name. The shrimp and flies support a wide range of bird species and we saw many gulls, waders and a couple of pairs of Osprey nesting on top of tufa towers. (Strangely, the Ospreys nest here despite the lack of fish, and fly off elsewhere to feed).

After paddling through the tufa towers and then giving a wide berth to the nesting Ospreys we carried on down the lakeshore to a beach were we met another group and we stopped for a rest and a bite to eat. One of our guides read an entertaining description of the lake written by Mark Twain, Once suitably refreshed we retraced our steps back to Naval Beach where we had launched.

Throughout our paddle we were told about the natural history of the lake and the local geology by our excellent guide. If you are passing that way and fancy a paddle, their can be contact information is on their Caldera Kayaks website. The standard tour that we did is only a few miles and a couple of hours paddling - suitable for novices.