Day 8, Back to “civilization”

7/28/2020

Barbara and I were up and leaving camp by about 8:30 AM. from here, the trail rises to Timber Gap in aa little over two miles, with an elevation gain of 2,500′. I felt really good and strong, and the pack was, of course, the lightest it’s been the whole trip, since we ate all the food except for today’s snacks. That’s one of the ironies of the trail: when you start out, you are in the worst shape and carrying the heaviest load. As you get stronger, the load lightens. Wish it could be the other way around!

IMG_4797The trail, through lodgepole and sugar pine and various other spruces and the like, led through meadows alive with flowers and butterflies. There were little white ones, orange ones, and on the way down some of those beautiful tiny Sierra blues. Chickadees sang “‘Bye, Laurie” to me as we walked past. Stopping to rest at one point, we watched a whole family of marmots waddling among the rocks. Chipmunks and ground squirrels ran hither and yon. It was a beautiful morning!

IMG_4801

Ranger’s Buttons (don’t you love that name?)

IMG_4799

IMG_4805

The perfect garden path.

There were occasional views across the Middle Kaweah River Valley to Little Blue Dome, Morro Rock, and glimpses of the High Sierra Trail.

 

IMG_4807The last bunch of switchbacks to Timber Gap were a little daunting—more psychologically than physically—because I couldn’t tell where we were headed. I’d think I’d see the Gap ahead of us, but then the trail would make an abrupt turn and I’d have to rethink where we were going to reach the top.  And then suddenly, there we were at 9,500′, and it was all downhill from there. True to the name, Timber Gap is pretty heavily wooded, so not much in the way of views.

The last leg of the trip was a breeze. My legs felt positively bionic, and i definitely had regained my stride. Feels so good!

IMG_4808

It looks very Alpen, coming down to Mineral King, but wilder.

IMG_4813

I can see the van!

Coming around one bend, I was surprised to see a Douglas squirrel nearly at my feet. It looked like something right out of a Japanese Manga magazine, with huge eyes, tufts on its ears, a perfect question mark of a tail curled over its back. Its’s definitely the prettiest member of the squirrel family I have ever seen. I had this feeling that i had seen one before in my rambles, but honestly couldn’t say whether it was only because I have read about them and seen their pictures so often. I knew it immediately. It foraged under a tree for awhile, and then ran up onto a branch to munch whatever it had found. My heart leapt for joy. I tried to take photos, but of course they were completely inadequate. So I stole one off the internet.

 

douglas squirrel

IMG_4812

This is the best I could do…

Back at the van, the unwrapping process was straightforward and without mishap. There was a big puddle of water on the tarp from the thunderstorms. I could hear the stream rushing just out of sight from the parking lot, and suggested we take one last rinse-off before ewe changed our clothes and started the long drive home. Now, that was a GOOD  IDEA!

 

IMG_4814Driving out on Mineral King Road, we passed through Atwell Mills, and were awestruck, and saddened, by the size of the Sequoia stumps everywhere. Then, farther down the road, we looked back the way we had come, and could see Sawtooth Peak and the beginning of our hike.

IMG_4815

IMG_4816

Add two feet all the way around, to account for the bark. That was a Big Tree!

Farther still, we stopped in Three Rivers for ice cream. The best I ever had!

Then it was back on Highway 99 and a quick trip back up north to home. I confess, it was good to get home, just in time to harvest the last of the plums, and to see my loved ones again, but I am already ready to hit the trail again. Thank you for traveling with me.IMG_4830

Barbara just sent me some more photos from our trip to share, so here they are. Enjoy!

IMG_4831

Whoa! A Sugar Pine cone. I  am standing in mountain misery, FYI.  It’s a very pungent, resinous ground cover. I thought that it was Scotch broom I was smelling at Val’s Cabin, but no. This is it.

IMG_4835

Standing on the edge of Precipice Lake

IMG_4834

Overlooking the Middle Kaweah Valley, facing east toward Hamilton Lakes. Tiny peak in the background is Eagle Scout Peak, which rises above Precipice Lake.

IMG_4836

One last view of Kaweah Gap.

IMG_4833

Nature left a piece of Art at our Granite Creek campsite.

Day 7, Redwood Meadow

7/27/2020

Dogwood

Spent dogwood blossoms lined our path this morning.

I had a rough night’s sleep. It was too hot for my bag, and I couldn’t get comfy. I went to bed at 8:30 PM, and woke at 9:30 to beautiful half-moon light on the bright granite, and again at 1:30 to a black sky full of incredible stars, and then tossed and turned until 6:30. Now it’s almost 9:00 AM, and we are ready to leave camp. I am still worried about that group of 10. Where would they even have done their business here, in this narrow granite defile, without defiling the entire place?

 

California Coneflowers3:50 PM

We arrived at the trail junction with Black Rock Pass, and made camp. The weather is ideal, the river water is cold but something far short of icy, and there is ample shade. The hike today was steep, and passing through Redwood Meadow was extremely emotional—like visiting a former concentration camp. That strip of trees that John muir wrote about is nearly completely gone. In most places, there are just a few skinny survivors. They look so alone, and I am sure they are missing their family members, who stood beside them for 1000+ years.  In their sense of time, the holocaust was yesterday, a mere 100 years ago. Humans. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the trees, or what it feels like now, to live with such a gaping would still fresh in their memories.

IMG_4765

IMG_4767

Fallen giants snaked through the woods

IMG_4764

IMG_4762

B took a moment to commune with one of the fire-scarred survivors.

IMG_4772

Looking up from inside the tree.

IMG_4773

We reminisced about “My Side of the Mountain”

IMG_4771

Incredible fire-retardant bark of Sequoiadendron Giganteum.

Tomorrow will be a big day, over Timber Gap and into Mineral King, where we will unwrap the van, change our clothes, and drive home.Already, the outside world and all I have to do is starting to weigh on me.

 

IMG_4777

Sugar pine cones! They are soooo big!

IMG_4783

Every creek has its own lush strip of jungle growing beside it.

IMG_4780

IMG_4779

As the trail wound through the folds of the mountainsides, we occasionally came across small stands of Sequoias. Even these skinny young ones towered above the pines.

IMG_4786

Our concession to our loved ones was a Garmin In-Reach, just in case. B sent a prewritten message saying “We are stopping or starting. All is well. Sending love.” It was often difficult to get any reception at all. I had heard that holding the car remote next to one’s head intensifies the strength of the signal, so B tried it with the Garmin. It worked!

This camp area at the trail junction to Black Rock Pass, is very popular (though there are only 5 of us camped here tonight). The bear box is completely filled with someone’s gear and extra food, which is starting to rot and stink. Apparently, some guy came through with an 80-pound pack (that’s what we were told, anyway), and decided to unload stuff before trying to go over the pass. He isn’t coming back for it, as he’s doing the loop hike back out over Sawtooth Pass. What an idiot. They really should make people take a class before they are allowed to come out here and desecrate their surroundings. Am I being elitist? I don’t think so. I pity the poor ranger who has to come clean it all up and haul it out.

At 7:30, the bugs drove me into my tent. Always more buggy under the trees. Hopefully, I’ll have a good night’s sleep tonight. We visited for a long time this afternoon with a 21-year-old engineering and social justice student at Cal Poly, hiking by herself and a little lonesome for company, I think. Claire is smart, funny, and ready to engineer a new reality! It makes me hopeful for the future to meet people like her.

IMG_4787

Our camp at the crossroads. Barbara said, “I don’t think I would design my living room with that giant log poking through the middle of it!”

IMG_4788

Squeezing water, one of our ever-present chores of the trail.

IMG_4791

The beautiful creek by our campsite. Perfect for rinsing off the sweat and dust of the trail.

9.2 miles today, 62 floors climbed. I’m tired and a little wrung out from the emotional hits of the day. There always comes a time, on these trips, when I feel stripped of my every-day defenses. I welcome it and dread it, both. Today was that day.

 

Day 6,The road more or less traveled

7/26/2020

IMG_4722I slept really well! Woke up at about 4:30, and then slept again until 6:30. The day is clear and perfect. The sun hit our camp after a couple of hours. We have the morning to laze around, dry out our clothes, take a swim, and then hike down to Bearpaw Meadows. I am so sad to leave the high country, but the silver lining is being able to sleep again. I guess…IMG_4724

IMG_4728IMG_4735IMG_4727IMG_47297:00 pm

It’s been an eventful day. This morning, while entering the lake for a swim, Barbara slipped and fell. She caught herself with her left hand, which tweaked her wrist pretty badly. We had just enough first aid tape to tape the wrist, and she says it feels a lot better. So we got to use our first aid supplies! Two kinds of tape, and the little knife.

IMG_4737

The view from the bridge over Middle Kaweah River

IMG_4734

Looking down Middle Kaweah Valley. The High Sierra Trail (on right side) is a masterpiece of trail engineering.

IMG_4726

Pearly Everlasting (love that name!) and Paintbrush

IMG_4733

Looking up toward Elizabeth Pass.

Absolutely stunning views along the High Sierra Trail! I was thinking all the way to Bearpaw that I would ask if there are any cancellations for the High Sierra Camp there, so that I could bring Tom out here to see this incredible place. But when we arrived, the High Sierra Camp was just wooden skeleton buildings. Turns out that it never opened last year because it was such a big snow year, and this year  it didn’t open because of COVID-19. So another little dream bites the dust.

IMG_4731

IMG_4730

We were too late for the thimbleberries this year.

IMG_4736

The scent of horsemint woke up our slumbering senses.

IMG_4742

IMG_4744

We are soon to be at the bottom of this valley, crossing over the river coming from Hamilton Lake, and then the creek leading from the backside of Eagle Scout Peak. Farewell to the High Country!

B and I spent awhile talking to the ranger at Bearpaw. She thought we should move on to Granite Creek, which is still quite a ways down the trail. As we left Bearpaw, we left the popular High Sierra Trail and started down a trail that I think nobody had walked yet today. It was such a quiet, shady, peaceful trail, down, down, and down to the lowest elevation on our trip. That’s where we are now, and it’s idyllic. Or it was, until a group of 10 hikers showed up and said they were supposed to camp there. There was obviously not enough room for 10 people, let alone 12, counting us. We were puzzling what to do, and decided we’d move on to help make room for them (even though there was no water for miles in our direction). The leader said no, they would go on to Middle Kaweah River, about 1.5 miles farther down the trail, since they couldn’t all fit there anyway. The group seemed so ill-equipped for such a long day. It was their first day out, and they had already hiked from Mineral King over Timber Gap and through Redwood Meadows, where the ranger told them there wasn’t any water and they needed to move on to Granite Creek. That’s a 12-mile first day, with at least one person carrying a 45-pound pack. Barbara referred to then as the Donner Party. I felt very guilty for having this spacious (for two people) campsite. And yet, relieved, because we were tuckered out.

IMG_4748

The deserted campgrounds at Bearpaw Meadows

We had stopped at Bearpaw Meadows backpacking camp for our hot meal earlier in the day. It was really strange, as the entire campground was totally deserted. We were the only ones there. At one point, as I started to stretch out on a log for a rest, I heard a rustling and looked up to see a young black bear hurrying through the meadow, probably on the heels of his mom, who was somewhere ahead in the trees.

IMG_4749We descended from Bearpaw through beautiful oak and madrone forests, down to 6100′ elevation. Such a change of scenery! We were enthralled, rather than being disappointed, as I had anticipated upon leaving the high country. Tomorrow morning, we will be in a Sequoia grove, which we are really looking forward to. I had just been reading about John Muir’s trek to this area to document the Sequoia groves. He said that there was a wide swath of the trees, from a mile to three miles wide, stretching all the way from what is now Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park down through the very area we are in now. He had written his dispatch from the Middle Kaweah River, which we had just crossed a couple of hours ago. All along the trail, I was imagining coming around a bend and seeing the giant broccoli tops of Sequoias rising before us. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe tomorrow.

IMG_4750

Middle Kaweah River

Today, we immersed ourselves in every body of water we crossed: the Middle Kaweah,  Eagle Scout Creek, and Granite Creek. Every time, we were completely alone, and so we dunked au naturel. I’m so glad those ten people didn’t happen by any of those times. We seem to be blessed with good timing. Nothing wakes up one’s senses and refreshes one like a dip in a cold mountain river! 

IMG_4751

A clear, cold hot-tub-sized pool in Eagle Scout Creek called to us. We had to answer the call.

IMG_4754

Looking downstream from the bridge over Granite Creek. It looks like an amazing swimming hole down there at the end of the chute, but there’s certainly no easy way to get there!

IMG_4755

IMG_4756

Our snug campsite at Granite Creek

IMG_4757B had a nose bleed in the middle of last night, while I slept the sleep of the dead. She was up dealing with that, and I guess finally got it under control. She said the inside of her tent looked like a murder scene. Poor thing! This evening, something stung my torso, and I momentarily imagined that I would get some sort of allergic reaction, but luckily I didn’t. It hurt like hell, though. Because we thought that someone else might want to show up  and share our camp, we placed our tents as close to each other as possible. I am so worried about that group.

My phone tells me we hiked 10.8 miles today. I hope I can sleep tonight.

 

Day 5, Kaweah Gap, Precipice and Hamilton Lakes

July 25, 2020

IMG_4628

Early, early morning. Well, it just goes to show—even  though I had the most perfect tent site, I experienced the worst night of no sleep. I just couldn’t get comfy, where I should have slept like the proverbial rock. I attribute it to the 11,000′ elevation. I think my heart kept me awake working harder than usual to process oxygen. But the blush of pink dawn is in the sky over Kaweah Gap, and the chickadees are singing in the foxtails. The sky is without the blemish or beauty mark of a cloud. I’m hungry and want my tea.IMG_4629

IMG_4603

Rock Fringe growing where it should, among the rocks. While B slept, I wandered in the growing light and snapped photos.

IMG_4617

Foxtail pine “in bloom”

IMG_4632

IMG_4631

What do you think? Black and white or color?

IMG_4630

The rest of the tree. It was a giant, for the altitude!

IMG_4820

The “perfect,” sleepless campsite. For some reason, I don’t seem to be very bothered by the lack of sleep. No morning grogginess.

4:00 PM

We had a great stroll out of 9 Lakes Basin and stopped on Kaweah Gap to enjoy the views and try to take some selfies with the timer on my phone. For some reason, it wouldn’t work (which may have had something to do with my not donning glasses to see what was actually going on on that little screen).IMG_4633IMG_4645IMG_4661IMG_4675

Then down to Precipice Lake, where we sat awestruck/gob-smacked and in wonder at the beauty. We stopped on the way down to make up a verse to “Little Birdie” and make a little video of it, which looks terrible, but sounds reasonable.

IMG_4685IMG_4684

IMG_4688

Those colors are real and not enhanced! The water was cold, but B was indomitable. This time, I sat out the swim opportunity.

Up on the Gap, we saw a Sphinx moth buzz past us. We saw one yesterday, too, while stopping to talk with Donald. He thought it was a hummingbird. They are amazing-looking critters, and the only place I have ever seen one is right up there at Kaweah Gap. They flit and hover like hummers from flower to flower and drink nectar with their long tongues, which look as straight as a hummingbird’s beak. The last time I was up here, one flew all around my ankles, maybe attracted to my brightly-colored Dirty Girl gaiters, and gave me a good chance to study it. At Precipice Lake, we were surprised by a water shrew running under the  water at Barbara’s feet. It’s the largest of the shrew family, and seemed quite at home under the surface. On the walk today, we also saw lots of dark, nearly onyx-colored lizards, one of which flashed its indigo sides and belly at me. Lower down, there were lizards that looked like Zuni or Hopi jewelry, speckled with turquoise down their backs.

IMG_4690IMG_4701IMG_4699IMG_4697

IMG_4695

The trail down from Precipice to Hamilton Lake is really beautiful, snaking along steep, glacier-polished granite an sometimes wandering through little hanging gardens of wildflowers.

IMG_4696

We found good tent sites, and took a lovely swim in Lake Hamilton. It was fantastic, the warmest water so far, so we could actually enjoy it and stay in longer. We rinsed out our clothes, set up our tents, made a meal, and as the meals were rehydrating, it began to rain. This gave me a chance to don my rain pants and jacket, which  I hadn’t used so far on the trip.  I LOVE it when everything I bring gets used! As a further example of this, I was able to repair my pack with two lengths of used dental floss yesterday. Today, the other side got wonky, which required two more lengths of floss. Yay! It’s the little things out here which bring delight. We sat in the drizzle and ate one of the best meals we’ve had: Berkeley Bowl black bean soup mix with dehydrated okra, spinach, carrots, rice and parmesan cheese (I dehydrate parmesan at home. Yum!). It was yummy. We followed it up with a Luna bar for dessert.

IMG_4703IMG_4704

IMG_4707

Valhalla looms above us in the gathering weather.

Just as dinner ended, it began to rain in earnest, so we retreated to our tents. I am enjoying hearing the distant thunder and listening to the steady drizzle on the tent. It’s a very pleasant temperature. My phone shows that we have traveled 8.5 miles  today. I suppose that’s possible, but it didn’t feel like it, since it was mostly downhill (for a change).

4:30

Now we are having a good, steady downpour—so welcome to these parched lands. We are snug and content.

Today, while walking up to the pit toilet (Hamilton Lake is too popular to NOT have one), we saw a doe nursing her two fauns. They butted their heads, pulled on her teats, and wagged their tails just like little lambs.

IMG_4710By 6:30, the rain had stopped, and the sky was clearing. We sat on the smooth granite dome which makes the lake’s  beach, and drank rooibos tea and split a granola bar, while we watched the light change on Eagle Scout Peak and Valhalla, and the ever-changing reflections on the lake water.

IMG_4713IMG_4720IMG_4719The place has filled up with campers. I count a dozen tents, where there used to be maybe four. The beach is full of socially-distanced little bubbles, taking selfies and yakking away. B recently returned from Wisconsin, and brought back a joke: The toothbrush was invented in Adams County, WI. We know this, because if it had been invented anywhere else, it would have been called a “teethbrush.” I am giddy, and will laugh at almost anything.

LiveforeverIMG_4708Now it’s 8:45, and almost “backpackers’ midnight,” and time to seek sleep. Good night.

 

 

Day 4, Nine Lakes Basin

7/24/2020

8:45 am

We had a nice, leisurely morning at Big Arroyo. My cup of tea tastes so good—warm, soothing and it perks one up. We had a major stove mishap this morning, and I think I have pretty-much destroyed my little Soto stove. I had bought it used from a guy in Alaska for $15 some years ago, and it has always worked perfectly. This morning, though, I failed to notice that it had come partly unscrewed from the gas canister. So when I went to light it, it started a fire at the base and mostly melted the trigger that lights it before I could put it out. Now the stove won’t light on its own anymore. Luckily, we carry a couple of Bic lighters (one of which seems to have quit working), and we can still have our hot beverages and meals. Whew.

IMG_4529

You can’t really see the rock-lined depression from the photo, but to my eyes, it was pretty obvious.

I found an old Native American storage pit near the old cabin here. It’s basically a depression in the ground lined with rocks, which had originally had a cover of some sort. Out in the woods around here, there is a horrid mess of tiny pieces of old toilet paper and stuff careless humans have left behind. I really don’t understand how one can walk so many miles in beauty to get here, and then trash the place!

IMG_4531

Big Arroyo log cabin.

I washed off my dusty tent (it’s like a car—runs better when it’s clean) and am waiting for it to dry in the sun before we pack up.

Nine Lakes Basin, later in the day…

IMG_4548

We set up camp at 2:00 PM among the foxtail pines. It’s breathtakingly  beautiful—and at 10,000′, it’s breathtaking anyway. We met Donald, a fellow from Berkeley today on the trail, who knows this area very well. He said, “Go up into the trees, and you’ll find a great campsite, and you’ll think you can’t do better. But just a little bit further on, and toward the waterfall, there’s an even better one.” It was just as he said, though we shied away from the first campsite anyway because of its position on the ridge. It seemed like it could possibly be in another wind tunnel. This new camp even has a piece of old wood with “WELCOME HOME” carved into it. It is secluded, sheltered,  near a great water source, and out of the path of the strongest winds. There are views up to Kaweah Gap and down Big Arroyo, and massive cliffs with a cascade pouring down from the upper basin. I am tired and happy.

IMG_4555On the way up Big Arroyo today, we hiked for awhile alongside the creek. It was absolutely beautiful, and we didn’t see anyone for hours on end. Then, when we stopped so that I could fix my pack (more on that later), B went off to pee. As she squatted, she happened to glance up, and noticed a man some distance away with binoculars trained on her. Pretty funny, in all that emptiness!

IMG_4532

A morning stroll down a garden path. So civilized!

Sierra Lillies

Sierra Lilies dream alongside to stream

IMG_4534

We are surrounded by rocky domes and spires.

IMG_4537Over the past year, I have been walking a lot with someone with serious health issues, and it has been work to slow my pace to his. Now I am feeling like I can’t find my old rhythm. Maybe it’s age-related, maybe I just lost it somewhere. I am hoping that on this trip, I can find that beat of my feet on the trail again. But I am so grateful to be able to get out here. I thank my lucky stars!IMG_4543IMG_4544

IMG_4542

One of the things I love about hiking with Barbara is that we almost never pass a body of water without stopping to get wet. I think we spur each other on that way. And it always feels soooo good! This little river was too cold to fully immerse ourselves in.

B is reading a book on the power of prayer, which includes this great quote from Arthur Eddington (astronomer, physicist, philosopher of science): “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” I really feel that out here.

IMG_4553

Horseshoe Lake, 9 Lakes Basin

IMG_4557

Barbara puttering about in the kitchen.

5:45 pm: It’s raining, and we are sheltering in our tents. We timed it perfectly—just got back from a hike into the upper reaches of 9 Lakes Basin. We could see the storm brewing on the other side of Lion Rock, and most likely going strong at Tamarack Lake and over Elizabeth and Colby Passes.IMG_4554IMG_4550IMG_4561IMG_4559

IMG_4560

From the first fluffy white cloud to appear, to a full-blown thunderstorm with rain and hail…

We wandered upward along granite shelves, picking our way from lake to lake and stopping to admire the views and approaching clouds. Stopped for a swim in one of the lakes, which didn’t seem to have an inlet and so was warmer (less cold) than some of the others. I just started to write that it would hav been better if the sun were hotter, but damn! It was perfect! The rocks were warm, for drying off.

IMG_4565IMG_4567IMG_4573Everywhere we walked there were tiny flowers. It was impossible not to occasionally crush them underfoot. The horsemint and pennyroyal scented the air and woke our senses.

IMG_4584IMG_4582

IMG_4581

We hurried to lower ground as the storm threatened. Thunder, lightning, and big ol’ raindrops, reminding us of our trek over Elizabeth Pass, where the storm is sitting now.

IMG_4585

IMG_4586

I wanted to take this log home with me, for a backyard sculpture.

Now it’s hailing a little, as we shelter in our tents, just to remind us that Nature will have her say, and throw at us anything she wants at any time.

A little while later, it had stopped raining, and B called me out of my tent to watch the sunset. Glorious!

IMG_4614

Kaweah Gap

IMG_4625

IMG_4622

Kaweah Gap a little later. Good night.

Day 3, Big and Little 5 Lakes, and Big Arroyo

7/23/2020

IMG_4479This morning, after a good night’s sleep, Barbara and I awake refreshed and pretty-much recovered, feeling full of energy for the day. We packed up and hit the trail up to Big 5 Lakes. It’s a beautiful uphill trail through golden chinquapins shining in the morning sun, manzanita and oaks, changing to pines and juniper as we ascended. It looked like a series of mountain gardens, with views of rocky crags and peaks every whichaway.

IMG_4486

Miranda leads us up the trail to Big 5 Lakes

There were very few people on the trails today. We met up with Miranda, who walks faster than us. We took each other’s photos at the first of Big 5 Lakes, and then she pressed on to explore the other lakes, while we stayed to the trail to Little 5 and on north. Miranda is hiking the very-popular loop trail over Black Rock Pass (which we hear is very steep and grueling and long—as opposed to Sawtooth Pass, which is steep and grueling and short).

IMG_4483

The first of the Big 5’s

IMG_4485

So pleasant, walking along the lakeshores, in and out of the trees.

IMG_4492

I could stare at the water forever.

IMG_4490

Black Kaweah rises above us across the arroyo. The first of Little 5 Lakes appears below us.

IMG_4489

We send blessings to the trail crews!

Now, we are at the Big Arroyo campground, where our trail meets up with the High Sierra Trail, which runs from Crescent Meadows in Sequoia NP to the top of Mt Whitney. I expect to see lots of serious mile-eating hikers on their way to the mountaintop, to cross this feat off their to-do list. The sun just went behind Mt Lippincott at 6:30 pm. We have the campsite to ourselves!

IMG_4525

Mt Lippincott

Washed up in the creek. Such a good feeling after so much work. I love the chore of rinsing off the day’s dust and sweat. My hips hurt from the pack and the climbing. Our high point today was about 10,800′, and now we are at 9500′ There’s weather threatening over the Kaweahs, and it’s getting very cold. Last night, things froze. I wish I had taken photo of my socks standing straight up and stiff as boards in the morning, and my bandanna, which I could hold upright from a corner. It looked great, sparkling with frost.

All day, we were treated with views of the Kaweahs: Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Red Kaweah and and Kaweah Peak. I remember them well from the other side, while hiking the John Muir Trail. They looked like fairy castles in the distance then, and now they look like mighty crumbling fortresses close-up.

IMG_4514

Leaving the lowest of the Little 5 Lakes behind.

IMG_4511

IMG_4510

Black and Red Kaweahs, and Kaweah Peak guided our journey all day.

It was such a pleasure to have the place to ourselves this afternoon. We ate today’s hot meal at one of the Little 5 Lakes, just a ways off the trail out of the wind and in the shade. So funny! The sun is so hot and the shade is so cool, that’s it’s hard to find the right place to be just right.

IMG_4501

A fallen giant, and a still-standing trail ant.

IMG_4526

“Oh, give to me a winding stream, it must not be too wide…”

IMG_4521

Looking and feeling much better after a good clean-up in the stream.

IMG_4524

Barbara makes sure that there are no nutrients left on the wrapper.

IMG_4523

The Big Arroyo campsite. Lovely!

IMG_4520Now, at Big Arroyo, we have been invaded by a group of about 7 men, all hiking to Mt Whitney. They are a little noisy, and their cam is a little close, but oh well. I’m glad to see people enjoying themselves out here. B and I made some rooibos tea and I read to her the notes from a couple of our previous trips, which happen to be in this same journal. I hope I don’t run out of room in it this trip!

Today’s hike was about 10 miles. Between Big 5 Lakes and Big Arroyo, we wandered through lush hanging gardens on the steep mountainside, with lupines sporting leaves bigger than my hands. Almost jungly-feeling in some spots. Mosquitos not bad, but they do prefer those damp areas, so we didn’t dawdle there.

The menacing clouds of a few hours ago seem to have just evaporated away. It’ll be a good night on level ground (I hope). Tomorrow: Nine Lakes Basin!

Day 2, Sawtooth Pass and Lost Canyon

July 22, 2020

IMG_4478Barbara and I set up camp at the foot of Lost Canyon, among the lodgepoles next to Lost Canyon Creek, where we join the trail north to Big 5 Lakes. We wanted to go farther, but we were exhausted. Last night’s camp turned out to be in a wind tunnel, and the tents were so noisy, flapping in the wind, and close to collapsing all night long. We were on a hard-packed mostly granite area, and had used rocks instead of stakes to put our tents up. It was tough. The wind blew the rocks around, and they weren’t little ones! We both got up (not “”woke up”) at 5:30, and hit the Sawtooth Pass trail by 7ish. It was only 1.2 miles to the top, but it took 1.5 hours to get there. Looking back, I would love to have another chance to find the “right” trail! The way was braided with dozens of different paths, and it was impossible to stay on whatever the best one might have been. Lots of walking through granite sand and gravel on steep slopes, where you take one step forward and slide halfway back. Later in the day, we ran across a fellow who said he has a friend who has hiked over Sawtooth Pass five times, and had never taken the same trail twice.

IMG_4454

We set out long before the sun had cleared the ridge, which helped with the climb.

IMG_4451

Even when she’s miserable, Barbara finds reason to smile. And why not? Just look around.

IMG_4450

Looking out into the San Joaquin Valley at the smog, and smoke from the Coalinga Fire. Glad to be above it all!

IMG_4456

The last push for the top of the pass.

It was incredible scenery. Lost Canyon Creek is gorgeous—classic high Sierra scenery. Then we entered a lodgepole pine forest as we got into lower elevations. There are great views across to Mt Whitney, which felt surprisingly nostalgic for me, thinking back on my John Muir Trail trip.

Wildflowers everywhere! And as we rested among the trees, we were visited by a varied thrush. He didn’t sing, but he looked beautiful. And a dipper bounced up and down on the rocks in the creek.

We think we brought too much food AGAIN! Or maybe we just don’t want to carry it. I recovered from altitude sickness, and feel pretty good today, just very weary, but so alive.

IMG_4462

Sawtooth Peak, up close and personal.

IMG_4461

Looking down towards Columbine Lake from the pass.

IMG_4458

Columbine lake, with Mt Whitney in the far distance. It’s that left-leaning bump a little to the left of center. The highest point in the continental USA.

There aren’t many people out here, but everyone on the trail is so nice. B’s phone says we hiked 9.2 miles. Mine says 7.5. Yesterday, hers said 6.5 miles, and mine said 4.9. I choose to believe hers.

IMG_4475

Looking down into Lost Canyon. Whitney straight ahead.

dancing trees

IMG_4474

Even in death, the trees can’t stop dancing!

I had a bonehead/too-tired accident today, while trying to adjust the contents of my pack while on a slick mirror-smooth granite slab, and my little Soto stove got away from me and rolled into a stream. I had to jump in to rescue it. Now, at dinnertime, it won’t light. Finally got it going, with the help of a Bic lighter and a little patience.

IMG_4476

Looking back up toward aptly-named Sawtooth Peak.

IMG_4468

Columbine Lake panorama

We had a socially-distanced dinner party with a young woman named Miranda, a location scout for movies in Los Angeles and excellent photographer, exchanging stories about hiking the JMT and sharing tips on trail gear. Miranda is very up on the latest gizmos! We had met yesterday at Monarch Lake (where she was lucky enough to snag a campsite out of the wind).

Now it’s 9:30 pm. I went to bed to read at about 6:45, and fell into a deep sleep. I woke as the sun was hitting the peaks with pink alpenglow. Fell asleep again, and now the stars are snagged in the lodgepole all around the camp. It’s so beautiful. A cool, perfect, quiet night. So much needed after last night’s hell. Even B, who never complains, said “It was terrible!”

7.9 miles. Not much, but plenty for sure.

An 8-Day Wander Through Wonder in SEKI

July 21, 2020, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

This day, Barbara Higbie (sometimes referred to here as “B”) and I began a trip that i have wanted to do for a few years. First, I wanted to revisit the Nine Lakes Basin, which I first saw in 2017, on a solo hike. Second, I wanted to show B the magnificent country that we only glimpsed from our hike over Elizabeth Pass in 2016. And third, I just wanted to drive the Mineral King Road, a long dead-end mostly-paved path up the mountains to our jumping-off point. I love a new road under my wheels!

On the afternoon of July 20, B and I headed south the Fresno, and set up camp in the garden of our dear friend and mentor Pat Wolk. It’s about a 4-hour drive from Berkeley, and would give us a really good head-start for today’s hike. On the way down, we stopped for gas in Visalia, and people were not very good about wearing masks, so we kept our distance. The guy in front of me in line for the cashier was slow to leave, chatting up the pretty (masked) cashier, and wearing his mask around his Adam’s apple. He regaled her with such salient observations as, “Friends are just people who are getting ready to screw you over.” Happily, the cashier did not look impressed.

IMG_4416

A granite spillway on Mineral King Road. Almost to the mountains!!!

We couldn’t sleep much (traffic noise from Herndon Ave all night), so we got an early start. By 6:30 AM we were on the road to Mineral King. The distance was something like 80 miles, and it took almost three hours! The road from Three Rivers to the trailhead took most of the time, as the average seed was about 10 mph. It wound up into the mountains from the foothills, and eventually entered Sequoia National Park, weaving past huge sequoia stumps around Atwell Mills and a scattering of spared middle-sized sequoia giants.

IMG_4421

Sequoiadendron Giganteum, somehow spared by the axe and saw.

At the trailhead, we had to wrap the van in a huge tarp, in order to keep the marmots out of the engine compartment. Seems they like to chew on electrical wiring. I wonder if it might really be a plot to try and keep people from coming here—just one more thing to contend with. We were up for the challenge, though. And a nice man (Steve) offered to help us. Barbara immediately said “YES!” I don’t think I would have been so quick to accept help, but of course I was glad to have it, and he knew the ropes of tying up a car.

IMG_4427

We posed for a picture in front of the freshly-wrapped van, ready to start the hike.

IMG_4429

Looking down on the Mineral King parking lot. Lots of climbing today!IMG_4435

I think it was about 10:00 AM when we started up the trail to Monarch Lakes, our first destination. It was only about a 5-mile hike, but it really took everything out of me. Altitude sickness hit me hard, and I was just dragging myself along the trail most of the way. When we arrived, I was dizzy, nauseated, and my hips were aching with lactic acid buildup in the muscles. No matter how much I gulped, I couldn’t get enough air or water. It was so hard. But so beautiful.IMG_4437

Lupine leaves

Lupine leaves and shadows

IMG_4439

Lower Monarch Lake, home sweet home for the night.

 

I dragged around camp, setting it up, while B fetched water and squeezed it through the purifier for me (much of our daily downtime is spent squeezing). Then I took a dip in Lower Monarch, and rinsed my salty hiking clothes, and began to feel quite a bit better. The lake wasn’t too cold, but I felt too punky to swim much. Tomorrow will be one of our most difficult days, hiking up and over Sawtooth Pass. On the way up to the lake today, we stopped to talk to a man on the trail. He said, “Let me give you a piece of advice. Do not go up Sawtooth Pass. Do not ever go up Sawtooth Pass.” You see, it’s very steep, and there is no real trail most of the way. There are myriad “trails” which people have tried, climbing through the granitic gravel, and it’s hard to ascertain which way to go. I was told, “Stay left as if you were going to Granite Pass (who the heck knows where that is?), and then cut right to the top of Sawtooth.” Okay.

IMG_4440

Our camp at lower Monarch Lake. Turns out we set up in a wind tunnel, but it was turned off at the time and we didn’t know it.

Disappointed to not be able to see the comet Neowise. I felt for sure we’d have a good view, but the mountains formed a solid barrier to the north. Maybe better luck  tomorrow.

IMG_4447A marmot ate a hole in B’s pack, when she left it unattended for a few minutes. We need to keep everything in our tents tonight, and keep a close eye on our belongings. They will chew on anything salty or if they smell food.

I have been trying to eliminate plastic from my life, so we are experimenting with biodegradable, compostable food bags. It doesn’t work. They are way too delicate for the abuse they get on the trail, and this is only the first day! I think maybe I need to sew cloth bags, which will probably add weight to my back.

We started at 7800′ elevation, and ended today at 10, 371′. It was a hellish day for me physically, but now we are in the Sierra! Good night.

IMG_4443

Alpenglow on the peaks, as seen from inside my tent.

 

Day 4, Hoover Wilderness 2019

July 29, 2019, 5:49 AM

It’s been a long cold night in a dripping tent. Well, I wasn’t cold, except when a tendril of outside air would find its way into my bag, which wasn’t often.

I’ve spent too many hours prone, but  don’t want to get up, or read much, or listen to anything. I find myself thinking about my duets album, which I’ve been working on—or off and on—for awhile now. I have one more song to record, and yesterday it came to me exactly what it should be and with whom. It’s been 30 years since I recorded “Old Friend,” on my “Love Chooses You” album. It’s definitely time to do it again, as a duet with Kathy Kallick! I’m so excited by the idea, which came to me in a flash on the last leg of yesterday’s walk.

Last night, after the rains, it was cold and clear. Stars bright as could be, and so many! The Milky Way was winding across the sky, and I saw a couple of meteors.IMG_0915

Whoa! The tent is frozen! The water droplets from the rain turned to ice in the night.

I got up and took a walk in the crepuscular light to the top of our granite pile, to watch the sun hit the snowy peaks and slowly light the pine and juniper, crawling across the valley to our campsite. Barbara is still sleeping, maybe. I didn’t want to wake her.IMG_0926IMG_0929IMG_0931IMG_0921IMG_0917IMG_0936

I came back down as the sun came up, maybe an hour or so later. Our camp is still in deep shade, and B is up and walking around. She was glad to see me, thought maybe I had gone missing. I should have left a note.

IMG_0939 I found this beauty nestled among the boulders. If I had the time, I would do portraits of all the junipers! Each one is so distinctive and full of character.

Breakfast was delayed by a frozen bear vault, which neither of us could open. Finally was able to wrangle it open with the help of a little stove warmth. Now we are waiting for the sun to do its job and dry the tents before we pack up. And the solar charger is doing its thing with my phone/camera. It’ll be another beautiful day!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

9:00 PM

Now back home in Berkeley, I can fill in the rest of the day.  We hiked to the trailhead at Leavitt Meadows, leaving around 9:30 AM, and didn’t see a soul until we hereabout a half mile out from Lane Lake. There we saw a young couple from San Luis Obispo out for the day. He was tall, blond, sunburned, and barefoot. A young, indestructible demigod. Ah, youth!IMG_5393

IMG_0953

Two  different moods of the Walker River

At Lane Lake, we were ready for a swim, but our chosen beach was taken over by a backpacking father and his three small kids. He showed us a 50-mile loop that he loved in Hover Wilderness. It starts and ends with a hot spring, which is a fantastic plus in my book. We have to check it out!IMG_5410IMG_0959

The day is hot and the trail is dusty. At the other side of the lake, we took to the water for a much-needed pick-me-up swim. Watched the crawdads and reveled in the cold, clear water under the blue sky. Lots of people with kids and dogs around the lakes on this Saturday. I’m so glad we got out mid-week. It was perfect trip.

The last couple of miles along the edge of Leavitt Meadows is exposed to the fun mid-day sun, and the trail is sandy and empty of people. Beautiful, but we were hot and tired and it felt like a slog. Often, parts of many trails feel like slogs, and I’m happy to endure them because that’s how you get out there.

IMG_0961

I imagine at some point in its history, Leavitt Meadows looked more like Piute Meadows. It’s just a little farther removed from its glacial past.

IMG_0965IMG_0969IMG_0971 The contrast from the east to the west always startles me. As we look toward Nevada, the hills/mountains become giant piles of volcanic rubble.

IMG_0949

A view of the back of my backpack: a little journal, a copy of John Muir’s “The Mountains of California”, gloves, windbreaker, flashlight. If you look closely, you can see the hole that a marmot chewed in the webbing, sewn together with dental floss. Gotta make do with what you have. I no longer leave snacks under the webbing.

On the drive home, we stopped at Kennedy Meadows for Fritos and lemonade (yum!). It was perfect. The place was crawling with PCT hikers looking somewhat stunned, wandering around the aisles of the store fingering various items. We sat outside near where they were all gathered swapping stories from the trail. All these young people trying to put in the miles and accomplish a task. I much prefer to wander. 

We learned, via a posted article at the store, that in 1947 the Marines from the Mountain Warfare Training Center just over the pass accidentally burned down Kennedy Meadows during one of their exercises. Oops. Not supposed to do that.

Postscript, 7/6/2020: It has been a real treat for me to revisit this hike. As it turns out, it was the only time that entire year that I got away for a backpacking trip. This year, I am making up for that with two planned week-long trips and who knows what other spontaneous outings. It is the silver lining to this strange year of no work and a wide-open schedule. I feel so lucky that, in my 70th year, I can still do this. So I will continue until I can’t. One foot in front of the other, watching the world unfold.IMG_0975


 

Day 3, Hoover Wilderness 2019

6/28/2019, 3:30 PM

I was up at 7:00 AM, after another on-and-off sleep. I woke at 1:00 AM to see the amazing stars and to settle in to a podcast for an hour. I realized that something was wrong with my sleeping bag, and came to the conclusion that it was inside-out! I kept feeling a draft along the zipper, because the baffle didn’t keep it covered. It was much warmer the other way ’round!

We had a leisurely morning and set off up the trail just carrying water, lunch, the first aid kit and some extra clothes.IMG_0901

IMG_0903

I thank the WPA and Conservation Corps for these amazing paths through this high country Eden

IMG_5389

IMG_0874

IMG_5349

Big trees up here! And amazing trail crews.

IMG_0880IMG_5350

IMG_0882

We encounter our first snow on the trail!

Upper Piute Meadows slowly opened up in front of us. The trail sometimes cut through the higher reaches of the meadow, which were waterlogged and loving it. Impossible to keep the shoes/feet dry, but that was okay by me. It was a classic mountain meadow, formerly a glacier lake that slowly filled in with silt. So beautiful, with water everywhere.

IMG_5352IMG_5360IMG_5356IMG_0888Barbara lost her mosquito net somewhere on the trail, and I thought we should go back and find it, but we decided not to, and just kept going. We forded lots of little creeks and got wet in soaking meadows. I took off my shoes to ford Long Canyon Creek, which was big! It was rushing fast, but really only up to the knees.IMG_0904IMG_0905

IMG_0906

I know we look like twins in our nearly identical hiking clothes, but this is Barbara.

I feel so lucky!

I started making up verses to a walking song, with nods to John Muir:

Every time I get the blues,

I put-on my walking shoes

 And I find a trail, for I’ve determined

that going out is coming’ inIMG_5385

Lunch was a bit of a disappointment: turns out that dried hummus gets moldy really fast. Good to know for the future!

IMG_5366

We hiked up Kirkwood Creek to a nice overlook, and then turned back toward our camp. The sky was starting to look ominous.

IMG_0899IMG_5365IMG_0897

4:15 PM, back at our campsite again.IMG_5392

IMG_0912

The old soul juniper near our campsite. The overcast skies finally cooperated, and I was able to capture a reasonably good portrait.

IMG_0910

Barbara’s tent

IMG_0908

My tent. These are both Tarp Tents, made in Nevada City, CA. A really great, very lightweight design!

The weather is turning cold—the sky is flat gray, with deeper gray in the distance toward Nevada.

We are camped, for the second night, in the same place, among grantees slabs and sparse lodgepole and juniper. Little tufts of grass grow in the decomposed granite sand. We walked through gardens today of little, sweet-smelling phlox. I love that the blossoms turn from white to purple after they have been pollinated. The correlation to virginal brides dressed in white and “fallen women” in purple is just too obvious, making me realize that humans have been observing, and being a part of, the natural world for a long, long time.

The West Walker River is to the northwest of us, running through a steep granite chasm. On the other side is a nice quick stream (the one I fell into yesterday). It’s getting colder by the hour. It could rain, or bring snow to the high peaks. We can look down the valley at the volcanic peaks of the eastern Sierra and up the valley to the granite heights.

6:15 PM

I am in my tent inside my sleeping bag while a biting cold rain is pouring down. By 7:00, it’s over and the birds are singing again, but I have no desire to get out of this bag. Maybe another podcast is in my future…

9.9 miles, 26 floors, 23,219 steps—more or less.

 

Day 2, Hoover Wilderness 2019

June 27, 6:13 AMIMG_0835

A river of wind has been running above our heads through the pines all night long, strong and steady. Every once in a while, a current breaks loose and slaps my tent around. The day looks perfectly clear and beautiful, but I am loathe to leave my warm bag and begin the chores of backpacking: the morning ablutions in cold water, the filtering of water for breakfast oatmeal and hot beverage, followed by the packing up of sleeping bag, pad, and finally tent, and the repacking of the pack. Invariably, I will be almost finished with packing, when I realize that I need some other item that is, of course, at the bottom of the pack already. Blergh.

On this trip my typical cup of morning tea has been replaced by a hot cup of cacao, which I was loving at home. It’s good on the trail, but at home I lace it with sri racha, which I don’t have with me, and that makes all the difference. Next trip, it’ll be back to tea.

Our path wandered through an aspen grove, and an explanatory sign informed us that these trees were used as sort-of message boards by the mostly-Basque shepherds who used to spend the summers with their flocks of sheep in these mountains. John Muir spent his first summer in the Sierra as a shepherd, with a flock of over 2,000 sheep. He fell in love with the mountains, and became a vociferous opponent to the practice of herding, as he saw first-hand the damage it did to the land. There haven’t been sheep in these parts for a long time.

6:07 PM—83 floors, 8.8 miles and 21,530 steps laterIMG_5322

IMG_5320

Roosevelt Lake

We are somewhere on a rocky outcropping above meadows and streams and mosquitos. It’s sunny, with a cool breeze. There were lots of little stream crossings today, visits to beautiful Roosevelt and Lane Lakes, and almost no people.

IMG_0870

The edge of a little no-name lake along the trail. So green and lush…and probably a mosquito nursery.

IMG_0868

Barbara and I stopped on the trail for a nice chat with two English sisters, Helen and Stephanie, who were a long ways from home, and backpacking together. They were able to give us the lowdown on some of the stream crossings. We did well, until the last one, when I slipped and got both feet (and socks and shoes) wet to the ankles. I hike in New Balance Minimus trail runners, though, so they dry rather quickly and there is no chafing to speak of.

The entirety of this hike runs along the east side of the Walker River. Many of the hikes in this area require fording the river, which is what I was trying to avoid when I planned the route. Here’s what it looks like, a good part of the way.IMG_0846IMG_0841IMG_0848

IMG_5334

There are areas where I would consider a crossing, but it might require swimming. Best to avoid it altogether, though the west side looked so inviting!

In the afternoon, we left the main trail and hiked up Long Canyon, looking for a place to camp. But it was too steep, with nary a level place anywhere to pitch a single tent, let alone two. So we stopped and took our time preparing our hot meal, and had a lovely nap under a beautiful old juniper.IMG_0858IMG_0856 2

Once rested, we decided to head back down to the main trail again and push on to Piute Meadows. We came to a big stream crossing, with no chance of staying dry, and Barbara said she didn’t want to do it. It did look daunting, very swift though not particularly deep. Clearly, the trail continued beyond the crossing. So we decided to double back.

IMG_0850

Barbara is the happiest camper!

The mosquitos got a bit much, so we reversed direction again to higher ground, and finally found a home for the night, on a high hump of glacier-smoothed granite not far off the trail but very secluded, with a few picturesque junipers and a view down to the river and up to surrounding peaks. It was our own little Shangri-La. I have found a perfect boulder backrest and am watching the day slowly fade while I scribble away.IMG_0862IMG_0866IMG_5337IMG_0864

IMG_0868

Pussy paws! Now I know we’re getting up there!

We met four of a group of nine men who had just spent five days camping. They had their equipment brought in by pack horses, and just had to carry little knapsacks with snacks and cameras. It really sounded idyllic, until we saw where they were camped among the pines and mosquitos. I’d have hated that part of it! Aside from these four and the English sisters, we ran into three people we had met in the parking lot yesterday, and that was it for human interaction.

IMG_0860

Tomorrow, we will go exploring and leave our packs behind. Piute Meadows, here we come!

It looks like some clouds are closing in, but they don’t appear to be menacing.

Hoover Wilderness, June 2019

On June 26, 2019, Barbara Higbie and I left Berkeley at 8:30 AM and drove against the heavy commute traffic out to CA Hwy 120 and across the Central Valley. Then we hit Hwy 108 over Sonora Pass. We stopped at the overlook above Donnell Reservoir, which dams the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. It was at capacity from recent snowmelt.

IMG_0767IMG_0769IMG_5282IMG_0765We expected to see more snow, as the winter of 2018-2019 gave the Sierra 160% of average snowfall for the year. But there wasn’t much to speak of until over 9000 feet—then, it lay in thick drifts across the north-facing slopes.

IMG_0777IMG_0792

Because of the heavy snowfall, and this relatively early-in-the-year hike, I had searched maps and trekking books for a fairly high-altitude hike that would help us avoid any major stream crossings, which are raging with snowmelt. Neither Barbara nor I had been to the Hoover Wilderness, which is nestled between northern Yosemite and Tahoe on the eastern Sierra slope.

IMG_0794

IMG_0795

Gearing up to leave the vehicle. For this trailhead, you just show up, write your name and car license number in a book, and say vaguely where you are headed and when you’ll be back.

We took the trail toward Roosevelt Lake, but then decided to go to Secret Lake (who can resist a name like that?) instead today. Views of the barren mountains of the eastern Sierra are gorgeous. The wind comes in occasional strong gusts, so we have to make sure our hats are tightly attached to our heads.

IMG_0799IMG_0807IMG_0806IMG_0805IMG_5301IMG_0801

Notice the outpost in the valley on this little video? That is the United States Marine Corps Mountain WarfareTraining Center! I didn’t know there was such a thing. It brings the modern outside world into our little backpacking reverie in an unsettling way.

Arriving at Secret Lake there are two other groups sharing the area. We decide to rest, and cook our hot meal of the day, and see where the afternoon would take us. Turns out, not far. We opted for staying put and making camp sometime around 4:00 PM. It’s been a long-enough day.

IMG_0816

IMG_0818Good tent sites. The other two groups had moved on, and this beautiful lake nestled amid Jeffrey pine and juniper is all ours. We decided to walk around the lake, and stopped for a swim. The water is cold, but not as cold as last week’s Yuba River swims!

IMG_0822IMG_0824

IMG_0830

Flowers are everywhere: vermilion penstemon, Mariposa lilies, paintbrush, lupines, tiny white and purple flowers, wild irises. I feel so lucky to be able to do this! Only four hours from home, and the mountains are ours!

Mountain Chickadees calling, “Hey, Laurie!”, Clark’s Nutcrackers calling to each other, crawdads and fish in the lake, the occasional jay commenting on our presence. The  wind sounds like a freeway rushing by in the treetops, but down on ground level, it is amazingly calm. The sky is a deep clear blue, with a cloud or two around the edges. It’ll be a cold, dark night full of stars, but right now, I am sitting in the sun, where it’s breezy and open.

A long, slow evening and an early bed. Good night, Barbara. Good night, trees. Good night, critters seen and unseen. We walked a short 5.2 miles, and climbed the equivalent of  83 floors. Feels good to be out in the wide world in my cozy tent, and prone in a warm bag.

 

Grover Hot Springs and the road home

Grover Hot Springs and the road home

June 30, 2019

I just returned from my first backpack trip of the year, and am anxious to write about it while it’s still fresh in my mind. But I realize that I never wrote about my last day of last year’s trip. So here we go, back in history to July 19. 2018!

As you may recall, Barbara Higbie and I were in Markleeville, after having gotten smoked out of our backpacking trip in the Mokelumne Wilderness by the big fire near Yosemite. We had stayed overnight at a little motel in town, and are just waking up from a blissful night’s sleep in clean sheets after having showered and removed the dust and grime of the trail.

JULY 19, 2018

We ate breakfast at the Alps Diner, and I ordered the most excellent “Breakfast Bowl” of eggs, little yellow potatoes, sausage, cheese and salsa. When it arrived, I couldn’t imagine eating the whole thing, but I plowed right through it. We checked out at around 10:00 AM, and headed to the campgrounds and hot springs at Grover Hot Springs. The campground is beautiful, clean and well-kept. Very well-run state park. It became a park in 1959. Barbara and I checked in and chose a campsite nicely situated away from other sites, and not far from the creek.

IMG_7850

Our campsite, Grover Hot Springs State Park.

Then we checked out the hot springs. It turned out that it’s a favorite with Sacramento’s Ukrainian community. Many people speaking Ukrainian or Russian (I can’t tell the difference), very old to very young, families with babies, teenagers, and grandparents. A woman I spoke to said that they come every year and find the waters to be very healing.IMG_7922

IMG_7924

The hot and cold pools at Grove Hot Springs. So nice!

Hot cold hot cold hot cold relax. Barbara and I then went back to our campsite to set up (it’s like a hotel, with a check-in time, though we could choose our “room” in advance). I felt drugged by the heat, which reached 107 in the sun that day. So I spread out my pad in the shade and napped. Then we cooled off in town with a visit to the Alpine County Museum and one-room schoolhouse. This place used to be a town of 4,000, but now is more like 250. The tall stands of pines were cut down to furnish fuel for the silver mines, and when the timber was gone, the town was, too.

IMG_7858

A painting of Mt Hood by Markleeville’s most famous artist, Walt Monroe. He was recognized as a young child as a gifted artist, and his painting and sketches are on exhibit at the Alpine County Historical Society Museum.

IMG_7852

It was nice and cool in the museum, and there was lots of interest to read and look at.

At around 4:30, w returned to our camp and hiked the 1.5 miles to the waterfall. It was very beautiful, especially climbing up the rocks to the upper pool. We were the only ones there. It was such a magical place!IMG_7860

IMG_7864

Before we discovered the upper pool, we cooled ourselves in the creek the best we could.

IMG_7891

The upper pool was big! One could do (short) laps, if one were so inclined…

IMG_7904

IMG_7885

…or practice yoga.

IMG_7902

IMG_7916

A perfect bathtub!

IMG_7918

The walk from the creek to the hot springs led across a beautiful open meadow. You can see the hot springs buildings in the distance.

Then it was back to the hot springs for a final hot cold hot cold dip, which was disappointing after the creek. The place was filled with even more Ukrainians, and it was pleasurable to just let the language flow over and around me, not understanding a word that was being said. Then at 7:00 PM we attended the evening’s entertainment: a ranger talk on the Grover family. We were the only two people there. The ranger who gave the talk was very knowledgeable and an inspiration. He walked with the aid of crutches, probably he had polio as a child. But he had backpacked all over the Sierra, usually hiking about seven miles/day. He had really powerful arms and shoulders. He said the  Park was bought by the State of California in 1959 for the price of $62,000. Now, that was taxpayer money well-spent!IMG_7926IMG_7928

IMG_7931

One of the giant old stumps left behind from the days of logging.

We were in bed by about 9:30 or 10:00 PM. It was a day full of surprises. I remember waking up probably around 11:00 PM to the sound of crackling fire, and I freaked out, thinking the forest was alight in all that heat and dryness. I was relieved to find that the neighboring campsite had been occupied, and the inhabitants had a big fire going in their metal oil-drum fire pit. Whew. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the wrong thing to do in those circumstances.

The following morning, we set off for home, stopping first at Lower Blue Lake (a PG&E reservoir) for a swim, and just to check it out, and then taking a short hike at Carson Pass.IMG_7935

IMG_7945

At Carson Pass, we hiked north along the PCT for a little ways, and then took off up the hill through the junipers to see the view.

IMG_7941

Where rock and wood become one.

IMG_7939

IMG_1542

The view from the top of the barren volcanic hill we climbed was spectacular. We could see for miles in all directions.

IMG_7956

 

We drove home through the Delta, to escape the horrendous traffic on I-80. It was the perfect end to a fabulous last day of our trek.

 

All Who Wander…

July 18, 2018

Wide awake at 5:00 AM, and up and puttering around camp. Took a walk up the granite slabs, enjoying birdsong and first light. Way smokier than yesterday! I can barely see the volcanic spires that were so clear yesterday. IMG_7776IMG_7780

IMG_7778

Early morning light on the granite was too gorgeous not to try to capture.

IMG_7788

One last photo of my tent before ewe pack up. I love this little guy! A DW Moment Tarp Tent, made in Nevada City, CA.

IMG_7792

Barbara consented to take the obligatory annual photo of me, naked, in tree pose, on this outcropping. And no, I will not post the results here (or anywhere).

Barbara slept in, until 7:00 or so, and we finally got going sometime around 8:30, after our lovely breakfast of oatmeal and dried blueberries and bananas and a cup of coffee, adjusting our packs, and stopping at the lake to refill our water bottles.

IMG_7810

Too much smoke!

IMG_7814From the east side of the lake, I thought it would be easy to just walk back through the trees and intersect the trail up to our north, but of course we missed it, and spend about a half hour poking around in the wrong direction looking for something that was slightly more than a deer path. We retraced our steps and found it. Such a big relief, every time that happens! It was marked with a cairn every once in a while, which really helped. I made a mental note of how sure I had been that we were going in the right direction, when actually we were 90 degrees off from it. Belief in infallibility is a real weakness. The first part of the trail is a pretty steep climb, and then we hit the meadows where we once again lost our way amid the flowers and dense growths of skunk cabbage. Lots of wandering in Beauty. One time, looking down, we found a beautiful fresh bear paw print in the mud of a little stream. Never did see who it belonged to.

IMG_1440

IMG_7825

Trails were hard to find in the meadows, and we hated to step on the flowers.

IMG_7815

Bear scat.

We finally located the trail up around the right shoulder of the volcanic cliffs, and found our way to the Underwood Valley. The glacial valley stretched down below us, a bowlful of smoke. We rested under a juniper and thought about what to do next. We had been intending to spend the day in that valley, which has a year-round stream, and just enjoy the water running over the smooth granite slabs, but it looked decidedly unhealthy to try and breathe that air. I thought that if we hiked back out to the van, we could escape the smoke by heading east over Ebbetts Pass, and possibly explore the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness or one of the other closer places on the map. So we decided to escape the smoke, which seemed to be getting thicker as the day progressed. I am disappointed that we didn’t take any photos of the “view” into Underwood Valley! I guess my inner journalist was turned off.

IMG_7822And so we once again headed back to the bear paw meadow, to find the trail back up to the saddle we had crossed over the day before, and from there back over to Wheeler Lake. Retracing our steps was, of course, easier, and we stayed on the trail more often than not. I found that I have a pretty good eye for remembering the contours of the land and individual trees.

IMG_7816

This portion of the trail was actually much more obvious than much of it.

IMG_7819

Whoa! An actual trail marker!

IMG_7820

Looks like it needs to be dug out.

IMG_7826

We stopped to enjoy the view up at 8500 feet. Very different from the previous day.

Now, at 4:00, we are at Wheeler Lake again, back at the little cold stream that feeds it. Here we stopped again to refresh ourselves in the water, rinse off the dust and sweat, and boil water for a hot meal. The stream noise blocks out any cowbells. We considered spending the night there, but decided to just push on and get out of the thickening smoke. This ended up being the right decision, as every mile we went closer to the start, the sky cleared a bit more.

IMG_7831

IMG_7834

So quiet and peaceful in the forest, except for the damn biting flies.

The trail from Wheeler Lake seemed longer and hotter and quite a bit buggier in the forest than it had been coming in a couple of days ago. The deer flies feasted on my legs, but they are so slow that I sent quite a few to their graves—and felt good about it. I really don’t like to hike with long pants on, and I paid the price for my stubbornness, with a good share of red welts and itching.

IMG_7828

These red firs were huge, but they look spindly in this photo. You’l have to take my word for it.

IMG_7836

About a mile out from Highway 4, Barbara checked her phone and answered texts while I treated a blister on one of my toes. First blister I have gotten in many a year.

We finally got back to the van at around 6:30 or 7:00, exhausted, hot and bug-bitten, and I had a nagging cough from the smoky air. But the sky was much clearer, and it looked like we had made the right decision. Looking at the map, the closest campsite was at a place called Mosquito Lakes. Something about that didn’t appeal to us (though it looked beautiful as we drove past). Barbara suggested that we drive over Ebbetts Pass to see what there was to see, and we checked out the campsites in Pacific Valley. We were both so beat and a little beat-up from our 14-mile trek that day, and, spoiled by our three days of solitude, that we didn’t want to camp cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of strangers. Then we had the great idea (or rather Barbara did) to drive to Markleeville and get a motel room.  And oh, the anticipation of a shower! We were so hot, tired and dirty.

IMG_7838

The view going over Ebbetts Pass was spectacular, and the skies were definitely clearer. The road is about 1.5 lanes wide, with no dividing line. Beautiful!

Arrived in Markleeville at about 8:00 PM, and it was completely closed up. There were people sitting in chairs along the road, and they were very helpful in telling us that there were no vacancies in town, and anyway Ron had just left in his red truck, and he was the only one who could have helped us. Luckily, as they were talking to Barbara, I spotted a young tattooed and barefoot man standing in front of an establishment with a sign that read “J. Marklee Provisions and Lodging.” I asked him if there were any rooms available, and he said, “I don’t know. I’ll look.” I followed him down the row of rooms while he opened each door, glanced inside, and closed it again. Hmmm. He turned and asked, “One bed or two?” I said two, and he said, “come back in a half hour and we will have one ready for you.” Great! Barbara asked, “What if the room isn’t any good?” and the young man responded, “Oh, they are terrible!” Turned out that the room was really comfy, with good beds, nice sheets, squeeky-clean bathroom, and a killer shower.

As we drove into town, I was pleased and surprised to see a sign for Grover Hot Springs, just 6 miles up the road from town. So Barbara and I decided to drive up and check it out while the room was being readied. I forgot to mention that earlier that day, when we were deciding where to go, I had suggested finding some hot springs and just relaxing in the healing waters. And here they were! Grover Hot Springs State Park was purchased by the State of California in 1959, to help struggling Alpine County attract some tourist dollars. It’s a beautiful place, with a lovely campground. We decided right then that we would spend the next day at the hot springs and stay at the campground.

IMG_7842

Here is the trash we collected along the trail: heavy foil, a mylar balloon, the remnants of a regular balloon with pink ribbon, a Starbuck’s bag, broken glass, and the remains of a shoe.

IMG_7967

The trail was long and dusty. Barbara documented her feet before her shower.

Back at the motel, we started thinking how nice it would be to have a cold beer. But of course, the town was closed up. We pooled our few dollars, and decided to ask a couple of men we saw grilling dinner if we could perhaps buy a couple of beers from them. They appeared to be like likely suspects, but first, Barbara said she would ask the motel people. The woman making our beds told us that some other group had left a case of Fat Tire in the communal fridge, and we were welcome to as much as we wanted. Hallelujah! We sat out under a big cottonwood in the evening’s fading light drinking some of the most delicious beer I have ever encountered. Then showers. And checking email. Egad. The world is burning up in every way.

I slept well, though something bit my big toe and the itching kept me awake until I remembered to take a benadryl from our first aid kit. Then I passed out.

14 miles, 29 flights of stairs, according to my iPhone.

Losing the Trail

Today, according to the hiking book, we should be away from people. Boy, is that the truth! There is no sign of anyone, except for the remains of a mylar birthday balloon blown in from who knows where, a metallic Starbuck’s bag, and a large piece of tin. We packed the trash into Barbara’s pack.

IMG_7675Leaving Wheeler Lake, we found a beautiful cold stream, and spent awhile there  filtering and filling our water bottles in the cool shade.

IMG_7677

There was a large flock of Canada geese at Wheeler Lake. When we first arrived, we mistook their vocalizations for dogs barking, and assumed there were humans nearby. Not so.

We started up over to Frog Lake, and missed the trail turnoff, so we hiked a couple of miles down Jefferson Canyon toward the Mokelumne River. We figured out that we had missed the trail, but thought maybe we would just keep going, and spend some time at the river. The mosquitos got thicker the lower we went, and the slow and vicious deer flies started biting, so we turned around and headed for higher ground. It’s nice to wander without a real agenda.

IMG_7693

Purple monkeyflower grew in profusion.

IMG_7687

Alpine Lilies hugged the bank of the creek in Jefferson Canyon

IMG_7684

I don’t know what this little fern-like plant is, but it was so sweet and tender-looking that I had to snap a picture. What is it?

We found the trail, and had to be constantly vigilant to stay on it. We lost it a few times under fallen trees and in lush meadows where the vegetation grew much faster than lonesome travelers could beat it down. Barbara and I are good travel companions. She has more stamina than she did two years ago, and I have less, which evens us out somewhat. I love that she is so wiling to be in the moment and go wherever. And I’m so glad to be away from the cows!

IMG_7682

Termites were hard at work clearing the forest of fallen trees.

Today, I practiced my map reading and compass skills, and luckily found the right path every time, though there were some stretches of cross-country while we looked for the very faint trail. I felt so relieved every time it reappeared, even though I was pretty certain of our direction and the map. Some of the streams shown on the map were already dried up, which made things feel iffier. I find that my eye is sharper, and more able to catch the faint deer prints, broken twigs and bent blades of grass that sometimes are the only trail markers.

IMG_7701

The view northwards from the saddle. The high point didn’t have a name, so we called it      Mount Lewigbie. May as well..

The trail led up and over a saddle at 8550 ft, in a funny area of mixed volcanic rock and glacial granite. It was wonderful resting under the windswept lodgepole pines at the top of the World.

IMG_7703

 

Finally, after more losing of the trail, we arrived at Frog Lake. I don’t know what I was expecting—probably something more alpine-looking than it turned out to be. It is a lovely lake surrounded by forest and meadow. The stream feeding it was dried up, and we had to get our water from the lake itself. It’s full of lily pads and very pretty, but after yesterday’s run-in with leeches I didn’t want to risk immersing myself. We settled for rinsing the day’s salt and grime at the water’s sandy edge.

 

IMG_7705

The volcanic rock and lichens were so colorful, compared to the smooth granite nearby.

IMG_7707

 

IMG_7715

A little stunted and gnarled ponderosa pine curved itself into a very comfy seat.

 

 

 

IMG_7699

Mariposa Lilies shared the shade of the lodgepole pine with us.

img_77051.jpg

The volcanic rock and lichens were so colorful, compared to the smooth granite nearby.

IMG_7707

IMG_7715

A little stunted and gnarled ponderosa pine curved itself into a very comfy seat.

IMG_7709

Volcanoes and glaciers formed this place. And probably earthquakes, too.

Finally, after more losing of the trail, we arrived at Frog Lake. I don’t know what I was expecting—probably something more alpine-looking than it turned out to be. It is a lovely lake surrounded by forest and meadow. The stream feeding it was dried up, and we had to get our water from the lake itself. It’s full of lily pads and very pretty, but after yesterday’s run-in with leeches we didn’t want to risk immersing ourselves. We settled for rinsing off the day’s salt and grime at the water’s sandy edge.

IMG_7729

IMG_7721

IMG_7725I decided to explore a bit to find us a campsite, and I’m really glad I did. On the far side of the lake, there was a long granite ridge, and nestled among the boulders was a real gem of a site, with views down the valley and up to the volcanic spires which we had seen on our left as we crossed the saddle, at about 8000 ft. We set up camp at about 3:30 and had a mid afternoon dinner.IMG_7730

IMG_7731

IMG_7732

The well-dressed backpacker, ready for dinner with titanium spork in hand

IMG_7735

Volcanic spires and granite slabs, the view from our campsite.

IMG_7734

The glacier-polished granite shone brightly in the magic light of late afternoon.

I was really tired, and thinking of bed by 6:00. But it was way too sunny and beautiful out to retreat to my tent. Smoke started to blow in from the Yosemite fire, but it appeared to be high up, and we couldn’t smell it. The wildflower fields continue to amaze us, with lupine and aster joined by vetch, mariposa lilies, shooting stars, columbines, penstemon, and a myriad of flowers whose names I don’t know.

IMG_7746

A natural jigsaw puzzle near or camp.

IMG_7744

still life

IMG_7742

The only other humanoid for miles around kept watch over our camp.

IMG_7764I am feeling much more comfortable with the map and compass now. For some reason, though we get no phone signal, Barbara’s iPhone is still able to find us on Google Maps. That seems rather sinister to me, but it does really help to have another point of reference to corroborate my semi-educated guesses. We walk in Beauty.

IMG_7740

Our camp, nestled among the boulders.

IMG_7738

Every tree was worthy of a portrait.

IMG_7756

It’s a hard life for plants in this environment.

IMG_7754

A perfect bonsai and cushion buckwheat

IMG_7748

Barbara glowing in the magic light.

IMG_7768IMG_7766IMG_7758

Barbara brought a small book by Thich Nhat Hanh on being present and practicing the Buddhist principle of “aimlessness.” She ripped it in half, so that we could both read it. Today, we managed to do that a lot Every day up here, without an agenda other than to keep to a very loose itinerary, keeps me very much in the moment.

We made ourselves stay up long enough to watch the sun’s fiery orange ball sink out of sight into the smoky Central Valley. Then it was off to sleep by about 8:30. I woke several times in the night to star-gaze from the comfort of my bag, watching the slow drift of the Milky Way snake across the sky. So beautiful and clear!

 

Today was 9.1 miles.

The Mokelumne Wilderness

MORE COWBELL!

IMG_7665

A dragonfly checked out my toes at Wheeler Lake. I reached for my camera, but s/he flew off.       I waited, and after a couple of minutes, s/he returned.

On July 16, Barbara Higbie and I took off for what we expected would be a 5-day backpacking trip in the Mokelumne Wilderness, in the Sierra north of Highway 4, west of Ebbetts Pass. I had purchased an older guide book at a bookstore in Oakland for $1, and the itinerary for the area seemed promising. I was interested in seeing the area that furnishes 90% of our East Bay drinking water, for one thing, and the descriptions of the mix of volcanic and glacial terrain sounded visually promising. I had purchased a topographical map of the area from mytopo.com, so that I could plot our trek. I love maps!

IMG_7987

Orange highlighter marked our travels, starting from Hwy 4 on the lower right side.

Barbara and I got together and planned out our meals, snacks, and so forth. I had been dehydrating nectarines, peaches, and blueberries, and my latest delicious find for the trail: parmesan cheese. You can get rid of 75% of the weight, and have a wonderful and welcome addition to boring trail food! We divided up packets of fruit and nuts for munchies during the day, and took packets of almond butter and crackers and a few bars for lunches. Our favorite hot meal ended up being something I had thrown together, with dehydrated  black beans from the Berkeley Bowl bulk foods section, mixed with dehydrated brown rice, carrots, spinach, and kale that I had purchased online. Throw a little of that parmesan on it, and it was delicious! Breakfast was a mix of oats and toasted amaranth flakes with protein powder and dried whole milk, with dehydrated blueberries and bananas. I’d say we ate well, except for one suspect dinner that we couldn’t force ourselves to eat. We ended up burying it somewhere in the woods. Barbara had gotten her hands on a book on ultralight backpacking, and wanted to use the suggested food amounts from there. Turns out that we don’t eat nearly as much as the guy who wrote the book (who was hiking 20 miles/day). I pointed that out before we left, and we cut our rations down somewhat, but were still left with too much food to carry for five days. Next time, I’ll probably pack too little to make up for it.

IMG_7983

Dehydrated fruits and cheese, plus nuts and milk, getting ready for the trail.

I started out to pick up Barbara before 7:00 AM on July 16, after having spent the last three days on the road with the Right Hands, playing in Winters, Santa Cruz and Rohnert Park. I was working with a sleep deficit and was pretty tuckered out by the run, but also psychically energized by the great audiences and terrific band. Of course, half-way to Babz’s house, I had to turn back because i had forgotten things that at the time seemed really important: my balaclava for cold weather and extra velcro to affix our gaiters to our shoes. After a slow start, we made it to the Sandy Meadow trailhead shortly after noon, on a clear, warm day. Left the van in the dirt parking lot, and took off up the trail. The first thing that greeted us was a large swath of Mariposa lilies —the most I’ve ever seen in one place. A good omen. Then huge meadows of lupine and purple mountain aster. We met a woman and her Jack Russell terrier out for a walk as we started up the trail, and then didn’t see another human for the rest of the hike.

IMG_7681

Barbara pauses in a field of flowers

IMG_7671

The little mountain hemlock. They rarely get bigger than about 6 feet tall.

We walked through red fir and lodgepole forests scattered with little mountain hemlocks (John Muir’s favorite tree). The new sage-green growth on the tips of the branches were so full of of life, silently singing, “Look at me! Look at me!” And how could you not? We heard a hermit thrush singing somewhere off in the woods. The trail was relatively gentle, but still kicked my tired butt. It was only that, though—standard tiredness—and really I had nothing to complain about. The streams were a rich brown from the tannins in the duff.

IMG_7653

Rich tea-stained water.

We arrived at Wheeler Lake, and were surprised to hear, out in the lush, swampy meadow surrounding the lake on two sides, the sounds of cowbells. It felt like we had walked into Switzerland accidentally. At least at first it wasn’t so annoying. The cattle were on the far side of the lake. We found a nice campsite among the granite boulders above the trail, and set up camp and had an early dinner. Afterwards, we decided to wash off the dust and sweat in the lake, and take a swim. The lake was surprisingly warm, and the bottom was squishy with decaying plant matter (and probably cow dung). Nevertheless, we got in it, and it felt great, until I suddenly remembered reading about leeches in warm mountain lakes. We swam fast to shore, and in fact I had two of the little suckers trying to attach themselves to my leg. Ugh! Barbara had been spared. It is obvious to me that the lake could use a little less fertilizer in the form of cow poop. I doubt there is a fish that could survive in it at this point.

IMG_7659

Danger! Leeches!

IMG_7661

Still, it was beautiful in its way…

At 6:30, there were, thankfully, still no mosquitos, but the cowbells started getting louder and louder. The cattle were working themselves over to our side, eating as they went. The bells must really drive them crazy in some way. There is no way they can move without the damn things ringing! There were 16 head of cattle, big and fat and feasting incessantly on the rich grasses.

Wheeler Lake is bound on three sides by tall, rugged volcanic cliffs. It looked like we must be inside some ancient caldera.

IMG_7643

Today, I read the compass backwards and told Barbara that South was North. I need to brush up on my skills!

We were in our tents by about 8:30, and even with the cowbells I slept like just another log in the forest. My phone tells me we walked 6.5 miles. My body is trying to tell me it’s more like 10.

 

The North Rim

July 13, 2017

IMG_5695

The incredible snowplant!

Katie and I were on the road back to Yosemite by 6:45 AM. We finally discovered that the reason there isn’t any information online for the Tuolumne Hikers Shuttle is that the Tuolumne Meadows structures sustained so much winter damage that they aren’t running shuttles up there. So much snow! So we drove to the Porcupine Creek trailhead on Tioga Pass Road to hike to North Dome, then along the North Rim to Yosemite Falls and down to the Valley floor in time to meet the one and only bus back up to the trailhead and the car. It was scheduled to leave to Visitors’ Center at 5:00 PM.

By 9:30 AM, we were on the trail. The weather was absolutely perfect! I had hiked this trail on my 50th birthday (16+ years ago), and remembered it as having  truly great vistas.

IMG_5696

Looking across the Valley to Half Dome

IMG_5697

The view of Clouds Rest

IMG_5698

Katie and me, stopping for a rest and the view before we head down to North Dome

Unlike the previous day, the first part of today’s hike was populated by happy duos and groups bound for the first scenic overlook and North Dome. An easy hike through forests, across creeks (I took off my shoes and waded across, while Katie took a circuitous route somewhere upstream to avoid that while I waited), and up gentle slopes led us to the first views of Half Dome across the Valley, and of the vast expanse of slick glacier-scoured granite rising up to Clouds Rest.

IMG_5702

The last bit of the trail down to North Dome is somewhat of a scramble at times, and then when you reach the saddle the trail branches in every direction leading up to the summit. It’s just wide-open stone, with very little vegetation, just a scraggly lodgepole pine hanging on here and there in a crevice. There is something about being out in all this grandeur that I think leads people to speak quietly, like being in a cathedral. Though there were lots of groups scattered across North Dome’s bald pate, it was calm and peaceful. I fought my vertigo to sit as close to the edge as I dared, among the roots and in the shade of a weather-beaten pine. We rested and just enjoyed to views for probably a little to long.

IMG_5709

I can’t imagine a place I would rather be!

IMG_5707

Katie consults the map, and we decide we had better get a move on.

IMG_5706

Next time: Clouds Rest! I’ve never hiked up there before.

IMG_5704 2

Look at how that cloud imitates the rocky outcropping on the skyline! Did the wind blowing across the rock sculpt that cloud?

As we bid farewell to North Dome, and headed west along the north rim of Yosemite Valley, the crowds dissipated, and we seemed to be the only people on the trail. It led for awhile through an old burned area, where the blackened trees stood stark in the brilliant mountain light.

IMG_5719

I wondered if this were the area that I had noticed being over-ripe for burning back in 2000. There was so much built-up branch and fallen-tree litter on the forest floor, that it scared me back then. I could imagine the devastation wrought by all that fuel catching fire. These trees couldn’t withstand the intensity of the resultant conflagration.

IMG_5720

A view into the Valley, and across to Half Dome.

Judging by the miles left to hike, Katie and I kept up a good, steady pace along the North Rim trail, and to the top of spectacular Yosemite Falls, still running full this year from the enormous winter snowpack.

As we approached the Yosemite Falls, we started to see lots more people, who had hiked up from the Valley floor.

IMG_5724

The creek looks pretty small from this view.

IMG_5726

When you add people, you can see that it’s not that little!

IMG_5727

Katie on the bridge across Yosemite Creek.

As the day wore on, we realized that it was going to be a very tight connection to catch the bus back to the car. So we picked up our pace, and didn’t stop for miles and miles. We were counting on the trail being about 12 miles, but it ended up being quite a bit more than that. So we spent the last few hours rushing, tuckered out and barely stopping except to snap a few photos. The day was hot, it was dusty, and all I wanted to do was laze around and enjoy myself up there!

IMG_5728

The first view back up to Yosemite Falls. The water thundered down to the Valley, thankfully spraying the trail on occasion with a gentle, cool mist.

IMG_5729

IMG_5732

The trail had been changed since I was last on it. At one point, I saw the old trail leading off to the left, and we debated whether to take it or not. It looked sort-of closed off and I worried that we would run into some obstruction that we wouldn’t be able to get around if we left the mail trail. This turned out to possibly be a mistake, as the new trail wound much further west and added miles to the trail (though it was a much easier grade).

IMG_5733

The hours and miles seemed to crawl by, as we hurried on to catch the bus. I am a pretty fast hiker, generally passing people on the trail and swinging along quite comfortably. These last few hours, though, I was really trying to push myself. It was reminiscent of the day on the John Muir Trail that I got separated from Betty and tried to catch her (without the emotional component: see Day 5, August 17, for that story). Finally, we hit the valley floor, and realized we were still about a mile from the bus stop at 4:40PM. We ended up doubling our pace, right when I was bonking. I was ready to give up and try hitch-hiking back to the car, but Katie proved her mettle, and led me on along the paved road. No stopping for photos. No stopping to refill water bottles. No stopping to eat anything that required stopping in order to be eaten. Tired and dusty, we walked as fast as we could through the throngs of sightseers, kids on bikes, and inadvertently bombing visitors’ souvenir photos as we barrelled through.

We arrived at the bus stop about 5 minutes before the bus. I was completely fried. My iPhone showed that we had hiked 16.8 miles that day.

IMG_5737

Finally! A place to just sit!

I have never felt so happy to be in a vehicle, I think. It meant that I was forced to just sit there and rest. By the time we returned to Yosemite bug Resort, we were somewhat recovered, but cured of hiking for a day. So we took it easy the next morning and lazed around until checkout, and then lazed around some more at the spa. On the way home, we went through Mariposa and stopped for breakfast at the Sugar Pine Cafe. It’s interesting going to a restaurant with a dedicated restaurant worker like Katie. She has a different and much more nuanced POV for all that is going on around us. We sat at the counter, and watched the highly efficient cooks and waitstaff doing their jobs with care and precision. And the food was great.

I can’t help but feel a little irritated at the maps for understating the mileage, and thereby throwing our timing off, so that the last few hours were more-or-less a blur for me. Still, it was an incredible, breathtakingly beautiful hike, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, and take more time. Maybe camp out somewhere on the North Rim, and just “be” for some precious hours. And next time, I am going to forsake the new trail and explore that old one along Yosemite Creek. I found it on some old maps, and it cuts off quite a bit of trail.

This ended Katie’s and my adventure for 2017. This year (2018), Katie will be hiking the John Muir Trail, and if I’m lucky, I’ll find a time that coincides with her schedule so that I can resupply her along the way.

IMG_5735

A sudden wind whipped up Yosemite Falls, no doubt refreshing some happy hikers along the trail.

July, Katie, and Yosemite

Here it is, getting on toward the end of May, 2018, and I am hankering for the High Country. Still a bit early for me to venture up into the High Sierra. So I have decided to take a little vacation in my mind by revisiting a couple of days of hiking last summer. Here is Day 1 for your reading enjoyment.

July 12, 2017

IMG_5657I woke at 5:45 AM and was out the door by 6:30, riding with my friend Katie Renz up to the May Lake trailhead in Yosemite. Katie and I had met the previous summer, hiking on the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park. She was on her way to Mt Whitney, and I was just wandering and enjoying a certain aimlessness. Since then, we had been planning a backpacking trip for this time period, expecting to be able to hike above the treeline somewhere.But with the enormous snowpack, the high country was still too impassable and many creeks too dangerous to ford. So in lieu of the backpacking trip, we had opted for a couple of day hikes, staying at night at the Yosemite Bug Resort, where I was cashing in on a comped two nights’ stay to make up for a water problem during the Yosemite Songwriting Retreat the previous Summer.

IMG_5659

We stopped in Groveland at the venerable Iron Door for breakfast, which seemed to take forever. No, it actually did take nearly forever. So frustrating to be slowed down so near to our destination. When the food did come, it was pretty good, I have to say. Finally, we were climbing up Hwy 120 and into the park.

I had picked a loop trail that I hoped would let us avoid the snow, which in mid-July still lay deep in the high country. The first couple of miles from Tioga Pass Road up to May Lake were easy and mostly clear of snow. The lake, however, was a different story. It was still mostly frozen, and drifts lay deep under the shade of the firs and pines. There were a few other people scattered about the lakeshore, enjoying the clear day and sun. After a pleasant rest at the lake, we spent about an hour, or so it seemed, trying to track the trail through the snow. We finally located it, and for awhile the trail was clear and dry, and the day seemed like it would be an easy stroll from then on. We met only one other person on the trail all day, headed the opposite direction, and he remarked in an irritated tone on the amount of snow further along. He didn’t like it. Nor do I.IMG_5660

IMG_5662IMG_5663There were gorgeous views of the Murphys Creek drainage, and beyond to the high peaks. The next few miles were perfect hiking: deepest azure cloudless summer skies and expanses of polished granite. Everything I love about the Sierra. Katie and I were good hiking companions, well-matched speed and endurance-wise, and equally and alternately quiet and talkative.

IMG_5665

Skunk cabbage was sprouting everywhere in the saturated ground.

IMG_5673IMG_5675We came to a stream crossing where the water sluiced across slick, glassy granite. I liked to keep my phone/camera in a zippered pocket just above the knee of my pants, where it was easy to access. I had just stepped out of the creek and onto the dry trail when I felt a strange slithering, and my phone dropped to the ground out of the bottom of the pocket. The seam had just come unraveled. I spent a few moments feeling grateful for the timing of the accident. A moment earlier, and it would have landed in the stream, and possibly have been swept downstream before I could retrieve it. It might not have killed it, but it probably would have been the end of photos that day…

IMG_5677

We took a short detour off the trail to Raisin Lake, a little gem that is reputed to be a great place to swim, later in the season. IMG_5678Those trees don’t look like they could be hiding so much snow!

IMG_5680

IMG_5683

This little guy was hoping for a handout.

As soon as we came off the exposed East-facing side of the valley and were in among the trees, we hit huge drifts over the trail, which required that we were constantly searching on the frozen crust for scuff-marks and signs of the trail, which was somewhere beneath us, under four-to-six-feet of the darned white stuff. Bits of the trail showed themselves on occasion, usually streaming with runoff. So we alternately slid on the snow and splashed through the water and tried to avoid the worst of the mud.IMG_5685

IMG_5687

As we had to watch our step constantly on the slick snow, I didn’t take many photos. That often happens when I’m busy working, and then afterwards I am always disappointed that there is no photographic evidence.

At the top of the valley, we headed east for a bit before we turned sound along the west-facing slope, and eventually returned to Tioga Pass Road, a good 9 miles later. With so much snow, it was more than I had anticipated doing the first day, but I only have myself to blame. I think Katie would have been happy turning back at May Lake.

IMG_5691IMG_5693

We finally completed our little loop, and happily exhausted returned to the car. Then we had a long drive back to our lodging at Yosemite Bug. No mishaps, except that we got pulled over for speeding (going 35 in a 25mph zone) through what turned out to be a bear crossing area. Oops! Luckily, no ticket and no mishaps with the wildlife. We paid assiduous attention to all the signs after that.

Got back to the lodge just in time for dinner, but with not much of an appetite after all that work. Neither of us could finish our dinners. Now we are in our beds and I am finishing up these notes before I hit the pillow. Tomorrow: a hike that I have taken before, from Tioga Pass Road to the Yosemite Valley floor via North Dome and Yosemite Falls. Stay tuned.

Going Down, Down, Down

Going Down, Down, Down

6/22/2017

Confession: I never did get around to writing anything in my journal for the last day of this little backpacking trip. But looking at the photos and writing about the previous days brings many memories flooding back. So this entry will be based on recollections.

I can’t remember how the morning began, but I know that it featured oatmeal and a cup of tea, and a conservative use of water, as there was no water source at my campsite. Thankfully, the mosquitos had gone to ground in the relative cool of dawn, but I didn’t want to tarry too much. This was the day that I would return to the Yosemite Valley floor, get in my car, and drive home. Usually the last day of a hike is accompanied by a certain amount of restlessness, as I anticipate re-entry.

The trail from my last campsite is all downhill, and into dry forests with very few views across the valley and still, warm air. The more insular, less glorious part of the trip. And the most buggy. So I didn’t stop to photograph very often.

IMG_5534As I descended, it occurred to me that I was entering the biome where I might see Sequoiadendron Giganteum, the mountain redwoods. No sooner had I thought that, than I turned a corner and was suddenly in a small grove of relatively young beautiful, tall, straight trees (the area had been logged maybe 100 years ago or more, and there were no giants left), with late-season dogwood still in bloom in the darkness. Azaleas blossomed everywhere, and the air held a cool dampness that the rest of the route had lacked. John Muir wrote about how the Sequoia  root structure conserved water for everything else around them, and created their own environment, separate from the forest around them. That difference was palpable.

IMG_5530IMG_5533

IMG_5531

The redwoods appeared much darker than this, but I lightened it up so that the surroundings are visible. Perhaps somewhere in the middle is most realistic…

As I descended, and the day warmed, the mosquitos started becoming more and more active. I was suitably suited up, and while they sort-of drove me crazy with their incessant humming around me, I didn’t get bitten much.

It was hours before I saw the first people on the trail, day hikers coming up from the Wawona Tunnel parking lot, and completely unsuited (pardon the pun) for the bugs. A woman was wearing a tank top, and was totally miserable. I gave them my bug dope, which I hadn’t used. They were ecstatic.

IMG_5536I emerged from the forest at Old Inspiration Point, which showed the wear and tear of countless admirers over the last 100 years. The park had closed it due to overuse. It was beautiful, and I stopped to rest in the quiet and relative unbugginess of the open air. After I had proceeded down the trail a few hundred yards, my knee started hurting and I realized I had left my trekking poles behind at the lookout. Damn! I backtracked, retrieved them, and started down again. The trail had become very dry, dusty and rock-strewn, and eventually joined what used to be the old paved road. There was no sign of anyone else having walked on it for a long time, and it was littered with fallen trees, and destroyed by landslides in the gullies. This part of the trail/road wasn’t even shown in my Yosemite hiking book.

IMG_5537At one point, as I approached a small stream, I surprised a male quail, who actually quailed at the sight of me. It was fantastic. I don’t know which came first, the verb or the bird, but it was wonderful to see. He squatted down, ducking his head, and turned tail and ran. It was like a cartoon reaction.

A little later down the trail, I was surprised by a female quail, who put on a Sarah Bernhardt-quality performance of being mortally wounded, dragging her wings in circles in the dirt and peeping pitifully as I allowed her to lead me away from her chicks (which I didn’t see). When she got to what she deemed to be a safe distance, she stepped off the stage, straightened up and shook out her feathers, and walked stiffly, head held high, into the wings, with my cries of “Brava” ringing in her ears.

IMG_5540

The shady, north-facing wall was home to lots of moss and ferns.

IMG_5538

It’s difficult to get a good shot, looking into the sun.

IMG_5539The last portion of the descent paralleled the new road at a little way up the hill, and I could hear the buses and cars whooshing past. I reached level ground near Bridalveil Falls parking lot, and started looking for a shuttle stop. I didn’t want to walk into the parking lot, though, and so missed that stop completely. I continued walking along the road east through the valley. The Merced River overflowed its banks to the left. Tourists were snapping photos and posing for selfies everywhere.

IMG_5542

Ahh, civilization at last!

There was something about trudging along by the road that really got me in touch with my tiredness, so I decided that I would try to hitchhike and make the return to my car pass a little more quickly. But nobody would pick me up, and eventually I gave up and decided I would just keep walking. The trail left the road and meandered along the low slopes to the south of the valley, with the cars passing constantly off to the left. For all the movement on the roads, the trail was deserted. I finally met up with a couple of hikers and asked where the closest shuttle stop was. They directed me, and in a little while I was sitting on the curb waiting for the next bus. It arrived crowded, and my pack, poles, and I squeezed in to a seat beside a woman. I worried that I was maybe a bit rough-looking and possibly rank-smelling for civilization, but my seat mate reassured me that I wasn’t offending her, anyway.

After winding through the valley, stopping at the crowded Visitor’s Center and the various lodging areas, I exited the shuttle near Happy Isles and returned to my car. First things first: I gathered a towel, some clean clothes, and my toiletries and went in search of a shower. At a nearby campsite, I asked some elderly men where I might find a place. They knew everything, and directed me to go either to the swimming pool or try sneaking into Camp Curry. I opted for the latter, found the women’s shower house and, all the while  worried that someone would report me for trespassing, gave myself over to the joys of getting clean. I donned a sun dress, dried my hair with the hand dryers, and gathered up my sweaty, soiled clothing in my damp towel. It felt so good!

I can’t remember much about the drive home, but it was probably uneventful, hot, and with the sun in my eyes as I drove west. I recall hitting the fog in Oakland and being refreshingly chilled by the time I got home. Bless the marine layer! My phone showed a shortish walk for the day of 7.7 miles. I am so grateful for the time alone, walking in Beauty. I feel more able to come to grips with loss and to see the the Big Picture all around me. I appreciate all the mundane camping chores: filtering water, cooking (which generally consists of boiling water) and washing up, eating simply, setting up and taking down the tent, packing and unpacking, tending to the occasional hang nail or blister. Once home, it was time to deal with an overwhelming avalanche of email messages and “urgent” matters. Everybody, just take a step back and breathe!IMG_5424

IMG_6300

50 years ago, on the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park. Photo by Mike McCarthy

The Longest Day

6/21/2017

IMG_5450

Much of the contents of my pack, waiting to be organized and packed for another day.

I just realized that today is the Summer Solstice. So I will have my full share of a good thing! The sun is just clearing the ridgeline, so I can dry the underside of the tent before I pack up and head down the trail. It’s really buggy here, and I look forward to getting to a higher elevation. I’m getting bitten through my woolen leggings that I put on this morning to fight the chill. I am using my bug net over my beanie while I write. It probably looks kind-of silly, but whatever works…

IMG_5455

The astonishing snow plant! “…the free-thinking radical of wildflower society, eschewing photosynthesis altogether in favor of a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi.” Yosemite hikes.com

I was up at 6:30 AM, and puttered around the camp until 9:00, when I finally hit the road.  As the day warmed, the mosquitos dissipated (thank you!). I saw a fat timber rattler cross the trail ahead of me, and watched as it slithered off into the chaparral.

IMG_5475

That’s some good camouflage. Can you see it? Just left of the trail.

IMG_5472Dewey Point is gorgeous! I spent a couple of hours there soaking it all in. Struck up a conversation with a young German man out for a day hike. He’s traveling the US and Canada until October, when his visa expires and he flies back to Germany. He has been working in Canada for a few years, and saving up money, planning for this trip. He’ll be hitting almost all of the western National Parks, mostly sleeping in his used Toyota van. For the second half of his trip, he will be joined by his mom. Awww. Tomorrow, he plans to hike up Yosemite Falls. I envy him the freedom and the strength of his youth.

IMG_5471

I prevailed upon a hiker to take my picture at Dewey Point.

I was spell-bound, watching two lizards in what appeared to be territorial dispute at Dewey Point. They kept circling, head to tail, keeping just out of striking distance of each other. But every once in awhile, one would lunge at the neck of the other and bite. Then they would continue their wary circling, pausing for push-ups once in awhile. Finally, one chased the other away, and he turned and went back under his rock. War is everywhere.IMG_5463

IMG_5466

This is some precipitous country!

IMG_5459

Looking northwest

IMG_5481

This little guy looked like he was carved out of jade. Please excuse the lousy photo!

IMG_5480

Way too early in the year to munch on wild currants.

IMG_5474

Bridal veil Falls, far below but clearly audible in the mountain quiet.

Farther along, I spent a little while at Crocker Point, another beauty. I couldn’t say which of these places was my favorite. Each is gives a different outlook over the valley. Now, I am at Stanford Point. From here, you can see all the way up the valley, and hear Bridalveil Falls crashing down into the depths below. The farther I go, the fewer people are on the trail. Midweek, it’s pretty sparsely populated. There are fallen trees everywhere over the path, which I have to walk around or clamber over. The trail crews haven’t gotten this far yet this year. As I was leaving, a young man running full speed passed me, on his way to the point. I watched as he got there, stopped for a few minutes, and then turned around and flew past me back the way he had come. He was on a mission, for sure! In contrast, I feel like I am dragging today. I can barely make myself walk at my standard mile-eating pace. I hear a siren coming from the valley floor. Civilization is not far away, but I feel totally alone. Sitting on the edge, I am getting the willies. Every time I look down, I get a jolt of vertigo. I may have to move…

IMG_5473IMG_5488I stopped at a little creek crossing for a bandanna bath. It was so refreshing, but it didn’t make me walk any faster. Ribbon Falls is full and beautiful across the valley. The water breaks up and turns to mist after the first 1,000 feet of fall.

I got a little blister on my left foot. Is this part of my left-side problem– hip, knee, and now foot? I doctored it, drained it, cleaned it with an alcohol wipe and applied a nice covering of Moleskin, the hiker’s friend It should be fine, now.

More clouds are approaching from the north side of the valley. Coming my way like a slow-motion invasion. I may get a storm!IMG_5490

Somewhere past Stanford Point, I have found a perfect sandy campsite off the trail, hidden by the chinquapin, very near the canyon rim. I am watching the storm clouds form over the peaks. The wind is picking up, blowing them toward me slowly, slowly, and I hear distant thunder. I suppose in a couple of hours could get a storm here. At 6:30 it isn’t yet to the far side of the valley, but over by Half Dome it is looking very dark and menacing. Brilliant blue skies behind me, and at least two more hours of sun. This day stretches on and on.IMG_5483

IMG_5484I walked back to the last stream (Meadow Brook?) I had crossed, and went a little ways upstream of the trail to bathe. There was a perfect little pool down a steep bank, clear of sediment but with the water stained the color of weak tea by the tannic leaves. I washed off the salty sweat, rinsed out my hair and clothes, and walked the half mile back to camp in flip flops. I hung my wet clothes in a tree and tried to nap. That didn’t work. I ran out o storage space on my phone and started madly deleting old photos and apps so that I can still take more pictures. Every moment the light changes, and I want to capture some of it.

IMG_5489

All cleaned up!

IMG_5510

IMG_5508IMG_5513IMG_5494Woodpeckers, robins, ruffed grouse, mountain chickadees (“Hey, Laurie”), and suddenly a little Merlin streaking past.

I am determined to stay up until sunset at least, but if it starts raining I’ll go to ground.

Granite rocks still warm from the sun. I lay back to look at the clouds, but it was too deep, too blue and white, too huge to comprehend, and I had to sit back up, dizzy from the immensity of it all.

7:15. The storm has suddenly dissipated. It’s as if hitting the far edge of the valley did it in, and the clouds just evaporated. Everything is sunny and unthreatening. Now I realize how much I was actually looking forward to the excitement of riding out a storm in a good tent. Darn!

IMG_5493IMG_5491IMG_5522IMG_5514Sunset at 8:25: the mosquitos are out in force! I have donned two pair of pants, gloves, hat, mosquito net, socks, and shoes. But they still seem to get me. Into the tent to escape.

IMG_5523IMG_5529IMG_5525I am so sad tonight. Thinking of “all my long-lost friends and lovers,” as Rosalie Sorrels sang. Phil, I am going to miss you when you’re gone. Tom Size, there is still such a sharp pain when I think of you. Sarah, Charles D, Charles S…I realize most of my lost friends are men. My women friends are mostly still here.

10:30 PM Woke up with itching legs. I guess I got a lot of bites before I suited up. Luckily, there is hydrocortisone cream in the first-aid kit. It’s still very warm at this lower elevation at 11:00. I wish it would get cold so that my bag would be useful. Hot, hot, hot… My flashlight quit, but no worries. The solar lantern is still going strong. That’s a nice piece of light-weight equipment. Starry skies! Finally, my phone agrees with my map, and shows I have hiked a scant 9.5 miles today. I forgot that my hip and knee were hurting.