A moonbow. I couldn’t believe it. I was staring at an actual moonbow! I stood awestruck in the rain and moonlight, halfway between my Jeep and my tent beneath the lava cliffs, a mute witness to the pale, ghostly arc of light that shimmered in the darkness at the foot of White Mountain. At my back, a half-moon shone through a break in the stormclouds, its light refracted by the raindrops falling above my head, creating the exceptionally rare image I saw hovering before me… an albino rainbow. All too soon, though, the drizzle diminished to nothing, and the moonbow dissolved away like a mirage.
With a sigh, I watched it go. Seeing the moonbow here in the Owens Valley helped diffuse my anxiety about what the storms were doing in the high reaches of the Sierras, where the precipitation was undoubtedly falling as snow. Once the massive storm front moved aside, I planned to begin a six-day trek into the John Muir Wilderness. But considering that the ranger station was receiving reports of four-foot snow drifts in the mountain passes, I expected the journey was not going to be as easy as I’d hoped.
Luckily, when the hike began, I was able to benefit from the bootprints of those escaping the wilderness over the previous two days. The route over Bishop Pass into the heart of the Sierras was not difficult to follow, though the first snowstorm of autumn had blanketed the trail and the mountains with a thick layer that was only just beginning to melt through. Thus, the “Range of Light” glistened even brighter than normal. The land beyond Bishop Pass was encircled by a palisade of white granite mountains that looked raw and unweathered, as if they had been violently thrust up through the crust of the earth only last week. In truth, the range was young by geologic standards; tectonic shifts had cracked the continent repeatedly over the last few million years, dropping nearby Death Valley below sea level and pushing the Sierras to heights above 14,000 feet.