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.

 

Illilouette to Bridalveil

IMG_5391 (1)

6/20/17

Last night I went to sleep early. I crawled into the tent at 7:30, intending to just nap a bit. I woke at 9:00 in the last of the twilight, and considered going to sit by my neighbors’ fire, which looked very inviting. A tame fire is a thing of beauty, that tugs at some fundamental aspect of being a human. But I fell asleep again, waking a few times in the night to admire the clear skies and bright stars slowly arcing overhead. Illilouette “Creek” was super-loud, and I had to make earplugs out of toilet paper to quiet it down so that I could sleep. It helped a little bit.

I was up at 5:00 AM and on the trail by 6:30. Some of my neighbors were up, and I talked with them a bit. They had been too cold to sleep, in their lightweight summer bags, unprepared for the precipitous temperature drop that happens in the night at this elevation. I felt bad for them, having experienced that discomfort last year with a defective sleeping pad and inferior bag. I was so very cozy last night, though, and was thankful that I had the right tools for the job.

IMG_5399

Soon the sun will be up. I enjoyed the cool and quiet of early morning on the trail.

The heat was brutal yesterday, and I wanted to get a headstart on it today. The trail was so quiet, the air so fresh. I saw a black bear come down the slope in front of me and cross the trail. It didn’t see me, and I crept along the trail trying for a photo as it roamed among the chaparral and fallen trees of the old burn area. Every time it showed itself, I wasn’t quite prepared. It finally looked up and saw me, which stopped it long enough for me to snap a picture, and then turned tail and skedaddled down the slope and disappeared.IMG_5395

IMG_5402

The creek I fell into yesterday, looking benign and innocent at the proper fording spot.

 

IMG_5404

The Illilouette starts to build up speed for its downward rush…

IMG_5405

…and plunges into the canyon.

I passed a trail-maintenance crew laboring away clearing the winter/spring overgrowth of the path. What incredible views they had for their work! I was also stopped by a ranger, who asked if I had had any run-ins with bears. I recounted my morning sighting. He said that there was a bear in the area that they had had lots of complaints about. Not my bear, who was suitably shy and foraging as a natural bear is wont to do, without human intervention.

IMG_5406

Coming around the corner, anticipating the view up the Merced River canyon.

IMG_5412

Vernal and Nevada Falls, plummeting out of Little Yosemite Valley behind Half Dome. I am so grateful that this landscape belongs to us all!

 

IMG_5426

The view across the valley to Yosemite Falls. Amidst the beauty, I can’t help but notice all of the dead and dying trees. One good winter of snowfall can’t make up for the effect of years of drought.

It was about 8:30 when I arrived at Glacier Point. My left hip and knee have been troublesome, with sciatic pain and accompanying weakness on that side. So I rested and waited for the store to open. It was supposed to open at 9:00, but finally they unlocked the doors at 9:20. I bought a small bag of potato chips, an orange, and a bottled coffee, just because I could. It was a delicious repast.

IMG_5423

Of course I had to stop for a portrait at Glacier Point!

I took off along the Pohono Trail, and in 1.5 miles I ditched my pack and made a short detour to Sentinel Dome. There were lots of day hikers up there admiring the views, and you could see the snow still lying heavily up in the high country to the north, east and south.

IMG_5427

Sentinel Dome

IMG_5428

Panorama of the high country from Sentinel Dome. Lots of snow, and I am grateful that I opted for lower elevation.

I continued along the trail, enjoying the scents of Jeffrey Pine and honeysuckle bush.

IMG_5446In the midst of such beauty, I am occasionally overcome with sorrow, thinking of my friend Phil Brown, who is in the process of dying as I walk in his beloved mountains. I wish he could be with me. Phil is a member of my chosen family, a wonderful artist and funny guy, approaching his death with dignity, humor and openness. It breaks my heart.

Next stop was Taft Point and The Fissures. These fissures are narrow clefts in the granite which plunge 2000 feet straight down to the valley floor. There were young people there “highlining” across the fissures. This is something I had never seen, but which appears to be quite popular. They rig slack lines across the fissures, and then walk across them. I spoke to one highliner who insisted that it was quite safe, as they all wore safety harnesses. Still, it scared me to just watch (and yet I couldn’t turn my eyes away).

IMG_5433

Rigging a line across one of the Fissures

IMG_5437

I watched a guy freeze up on this line. He had to sit down and scoot back to safety. Hmmm…I wonder why…

I got a nice campsite along Bridalveil Creek, the closest to Glacier Point that backpackers are allowed to camp. It was occupied when I arrived, but by the time I had finished washing up, the guys had left and I snagged it.

IMG_5438

The bridge at Bridalveil. No camping allowed on the east side.

IMG_5443I love washing up after such a hot and dusty day. The creek water (snowmelt) is super-cold but refreshing. Rinsing out my socks, gaiters, shirt, and gloves is a chore I really enjoy. And I cherish the fleeting taste of salt as I (quickly) submerge my head in the water.

IMG_5440It was 2:00 PM when I arrived here, a nice early day. Map mileage shows somewhere around 9.5 miles, but my phone mileage shows 15.4 miles, 28,783 steps, and 76 floors climbed. I am tired!

IMG_5448A party of 15 just arrived, all young teenagers. They said they hoped they wouldn’t be too noisy. I couldn’t hear them at their campsite, but can certainly hear them whooping and hollering down by the creek. I am feeling guilty that I have the best, flattest and most expansive campsite in the area all to myself. I could rent out the extra room. Or just give it away. I feel sort-of lonesome, and wish I had brought a book (one of the other things I forgot) There are still a couple of hours to kill before I can reasonably go to bed, as it’s only 6:30 now.

It suddenly got buggy (mosquitos) at around 7:30, and drove me into my tent where I am writing about the day. I didn’t want to put bug dope on. I think it’s the Summer Solstice eve today, so nightfall is a long ways off. It’s nice and comfy in here, and soon I’ll be asleep. My limbs ache. The left hip and knee are not too bad, but I notice they are not right. I took ibuprofen, which will probably knock me out sooner than later.

2:55 AM

I just had a funny dream about someone I know (no names here) freaking out and maybe  even starting a war because people didn’t learn the “right” harmony parts to Jean Ritchie’s “Now is the Cool of the Day.” I had spent much of the day thinking about this song, and working out harmony parts in my head, wishing I had three other people to work it out with, so the dream is based in fact.

The Milky Way is directly overhead. Trees are all around, so star-gazing opportunities are limited. It’s a beautiful night, cool and quiet, aside from Bridalveil Creek, which of course won’t shut up. My ears can’t stop listening to it. Tomorrow I’ll visit Dewey Point, Crocker Point, and Stanford Point. The captains of financial industry (except Dewey…who is he?)*

*editor’s note: I just looked this up, and Dewey point is named for Admiral George Dewey, of the US Navy (December 26, 1837 – January 16, 1917). He was a war hero, and in later life a horseback-riding pal of Teddy Roosevelt. Hence the naming of the point for him. It’s all who you know.

IMG_5449

 

50 years ago this month!

IMG_5343

The Merced River at Happy Isles

6/19/17

It’s about 6:00 PM. I have a nice, flat, sandy campsite by Illilouette Creek, which is more like a raging river. It is really full, running fast and furious and rising. I started out this morning by about 7:00 AM I think, stopped at the car to get my forgotten toiletries, and started the uphill climb. I realized today that it is the month of my 50th anniversary of the first time that I hiked up the Mist Trail alongside Vernal and Nevada Falls. That time, I was 16 years old and on my way to camp in Little Yosemite Valley and from there up to Half Dome, with my sister Kristin and friend Mike McCarthy. That was my first backpacking trip, and I was completely exhausted and had no stamina. And on that trip, I received a valuable piece of information from a man who I remember as looking like the quintessential Sierra Club member of the time, wearing green and khaki, with a red backpack and big hiking boots. He was probably in his 40’s and to this 16-year-old looked really old. He stopped and said, “Always take two steps where one will do,” meaning small steady steps on a climb are less wearing on the legs than trying to pull oneself up big steps. I have found this to be absolutely true over the years, and thank him, wherever he is, for having taken the time to stop and teach a novice. On this ascent, I just steadily trudged up the trail, and felt pretty good about it. Somewhere, I have a photo that Mike took of the younger me, sitting on a rock beside the trail, looking utterly wasted. I’ll have to hunt it up and post it.

IMG_5344

View from the first bridge, Merced River

IMG_5347

Looking back down the Merced, from below Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail.

IMG_5348

Thundering Vernal Falls, looking like a painting through the mist.

IMG_5349

Looking up through the trees, on the aptly-named Mist Trail. It was warm enough that the cooling mist was quite welcome.

IMG_5353

Nevada Falls, which claimed my lovely little pocket knife two years ago. I still miss it.

IMG_5355

Nevada Falls again, without the human blocking the view.

IMG_5356

Finally, the top of Nevada Falls, where the Merced was overflowing its banks. I don’t think we needed fences and signs to warn us of the dangers.

IMG_5359

The top of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap, where I stopped to dry my feet and have lunch. It was bustling with day hikers, and there was a happy, festive mood.

IMG_5361

This guy wanted me to share my lunch. I didn’t.

I passed a couple heading up the Mist Trail who were planning on camping on Illilouette Creek as well. Miles farther along, at Illilouette bridge on the Panoramic Trail, where I had stopped for a little nap, they caught up with me. The man said he thought I was like a little rabbit hopping up the trail past them. That was then, though, and this rabbit was pretty tired out by the time I had reached the bridge.

IMG_5368

A swallowtail takes advantage of the many blooming azaleas along the trail. There were so many wildflowers everywhere!

IMG_5369

Looking back toward Nevada Falls from the Panoramic Trail, with the back of Half Dome on the left.

IMG_5370

Across the valley, you could hear the thundering of Yosemite Falls. There were lots of dead and dying trees this year, the result of a perfect storm caused by years of drought and a beetle infestation. I heard a forester say that he expected a nearly 100% loss of pines between 5,000 and 7,000 feet elevation in the next few years.

IMG_5371

Panorama along the Panoramic.

I passed the couple again on the way up the creek. When I got to a stream crossing, I stopped to figure out the best way to proceed. The stream was basically a boulder field with water running through it—very rough and steep. I went upstream a bit to see if there was a better way to cross, but it only got worse. So back I went to the original spot. I had just decided to go for it, figuring the water would only be maybe up to my thighs for a short while, and had taken my shoes off to keep them dry and go barefoot, when the couple showed up at the same place. I showed them the route I was planning on taking, and then shoved off into the stream, stepping carefully and taking my time on the slick rocks. Unfortunately, I slipped and in very, very slow motion fell backwards into the water, trying to stop my fall with my trekking poles and very nearly succeeding. I recovered quickly, and was up again and through to the other side. From there, I could see a little further downstream where the creek widened out and crossed a flat, ankle-deep gravel bar. Damn! That was obviously where I should have crossed. I felt like an idiot, especially because those people were watching me the whole time. The only consolation for my soaked pride was that they hadn’t seen the crossing, either. I pointed it out to them, and the woman crossed easily, The man took off his big hiking boots, and not wanting them to get wet, decided to throw them one at a time to his partner. The first one caught on a finger, though, and the throw went wild. The shoe arced spinning into the air and came down nearly mid-stream. The woman clambered after it, grabbing it just before it was swept into the Illilouette where it would have been lost. So much for keeping the boots dry! The second throw whizzed past my head while I was putting my shoes back on, and bounced off my pack. No harm done. He walked across uneventfully and put on his one wet and one dry boot. I took off again up the trail, through an old burn area that was coming back nicely, with lots of low currant bushes and chinquapin. The trail wound up away from the Illilouette, with beautiful views of river canyon and the swirling green waters. I walked off the trail after awhile to explore a ledge which I thought might have a good campsite. But there were so many fallen trees, and so many still standing, that it felt sort-of spooky and unsafe in there. And I kept thinking I heard voices, but couldn’t see any people. I decided to get back up to the trail and keep walking.

IMG_5372

Illilouette “Creek” in flood stage. I’m thankful for a bridge!

IMG_5386

Farther up the Illilouette, the creek raged below me.

IMG_5384

A last view of Half Dome before the trail winds out of sight.

Finally, I came to the designated camp sites along the river, and after searching about for a nice flat spot away from other people, I opted for the far end of the same sandy beach where a group of 7 people were camped. Easy access to the water, big flat granite boulders for drying my clothes after I rinsed out the sweat and dust of the day, and they seemed like a nice group, who left me alone.

It had been a pretty busy on the Panoramic Trail, and very busy on the Mist Trail. but when I turned off to go up Illilouette, I didn’t see anyone else on the trail, other than the couple. And now here I was away off in the “wilderness” next to a bunch of friends and family from southern California. It was a hard day. The map showed 9.5 miles, but my phone listed 15.7 miles. It felt much more like the latter, especially for the first day out, following a less-than-restful night’s sleep. Originally, I had intended to take a trail that cut over at a diagonal from near the top of Nevada Falls. It would have cut miles  off of the day, but would have required crossing Illilouette Creek to get to my first camping spot. I had been advised to go around and cross by the bridge, and I’m glad that I did. The Illilouette was huge and wild, and I doubt that I would have been able to cross safely, or even that I would have tried once I saw it. In the evening, at my campsite, though, I noticed a deer across the river. I turned back and continued to set up my camp, and the next time I looked up, that deer was on MY side of the river! Braver and stronger than me!

Off to sleep early tonight.

IMG_5388

My comfy campsite beside the roaring Illilouette.

IMG_5390

Home, sweet home!

An Early-Season Walkabout

6/18/17

IMG_5340

Yosemite Falls, which a Valley bus driver proudly announced was the 5th highest waterfall in the world, reflected in the flooded valley floor. I looked it up, and it’s actually 20th on the list. But some of the others have very little volume, so maybe his list went by volume as well.

For my first outing of 2017, I had planned on a round-trip hike that would take in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in June. I wanted to go early-ish in the season, to see all the waterfalls at their most glorious and wild. But as Fortune would have it, following this year’s record snowfall in the Sierra, the trails were still impassable in mid-June. Bridges had been wiped out by the floods, the Tioga Pass road had only been open a couple of days, and it was just not going to happen. So I cast about for some way to get into the Sierra without having to brave the very dangerous creek crossings and late-season snowy conditions. After consulting guide books and my personal oracles, I decided to visit Yosemite Valley, and hike the south side of the valley, starting at Happy Isles, going up past Vernal and Nevada Falls , along the Panoramic Trail to Glacier Point, and then continuing along the south rim to Wawona Tunnel and down through the Valley and back to the car. The advantage, for me, was that the trails would be clear of snow and for my first outing of the year, I wouldn’t be so alone.

IMG_5277

Just one of the puzzling sights at this year’s bluegrass festival.

IMG_5285

The week before, I had gotten the opportunity to hang out with one of my heroes, the great Alice Gerrard, at the California bluegrass Association’s Fathers’ Day Bluegrass Festival.

IMG_5290

Sunsets were gorgeous, especially when adding my very musical friend Luke “Nandi” Forrest, to the shot.

I arrived in Yosemite Valley, straight from the Fathers Day Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, after driving the winding Highway 49 through the sere landscape of the California foothills.

IMG_5319

Enroute to Yosemite, I watched the thunderclouds mass over the Sierra in the late afternoon.

In stark contrast, the Valley floor was flooded with Spring snow melt and rain, and the waterfalls were all pumping as I’d never seen them before!IMG_5334

I had picked up my backcountry permit just inside the park, and was told that I would need to hike the long way around to the backpackers’ campground, as there was flooding on the main entrance. Truly! The water was about up to my knees and it was impossible to see where the path might be. Off to the left, I saw a small group of backpacking tents, and I thought that might be the place I was looking for. There was one young man there, and I engaged him in conversation. It turned out that the tents belonged to a group of college researchers who were spending the summer studying recycling and waste in national parks. He pointed the way to the backpackers camp, but before I hit the water again, I asked if they might have room for one more little tent at their camp. He said, “Of course!” So I was able to save myself more wading and possibly getting lost, pitched my tent and made myself at home. I eventually met all four: Bo, Jeremiah, Montana and Mary. They were spending a month in Yosemite, followed by a month in Grand Tetons, and a month in Denali, working for the Leave No Trace Institute. Nice summer job!

IMG_5342

A dry oasis in the flood.

IMG_5341

The view from outside my tent in the morning.

I seem to have forgotten a number of important items: baking soda (for brushing teeth), dental floss, and my handy-dandy spork a cross between a spoon and a fork, which saves carrying both, but is less effective than either). Luckily, I think they are in the car, and it is parked near the trailhead. My gas canister was nearly empty. The stove lit and burned for a few seconds before it went out. Luckily, I had another full one. More bad planning, and I am relieved that the car is close by. I also forgot my water shoes, so I guess I will either be fording creeks in my hiking shoes or barefoot. Most likely the latter. That worked today, wading to camp.

3:00 AM

For some reason, my right shoulder is hurting, as is my left hip. I think it’s from apprehension about the trip. The river is rising and very loud! Keeping me awake. Part of me wonders whether I will be flooded out of my tent before morning.

My mind is flooded with worries that I have been trying to keep at bay in the daylight hours. I am hoping that this solo saunter through the mountains will give me time to turn things over in my mind, and maybe hit on some plan of action. Or if not, at least give me some breathing room by myself. It doesn’t bode well, though, that I am not sleeping…

Endless Winter

It has felt so good to have so much rain and snow in California this last winter, but I confess that i am growing increasingly anxious to get up to the high country again, and I know that it is pretty-much impassable until at least late June this year. I am not one who likes to ramble through too much snow (which for me is a pretty small amount). This last winter brought a record snowpack to the Sierra, dumping more snow than has been seen in over 100 years! Which, don’t get me wrong, is great for everything. The trees depend on the slow snow melt to water them through months of no precipitation. The rivers need the cleansing/scouring action of the Spring snowmelt to clean out algae and restore pristine salmon spawning beds. The Valley needs the flooding action of the rivers to replenish the soil. It’s all good. Except that I want to go to the mountains NOW!

I have been dreaming of mountains. Here’s a chorus that popped into my head recently:

When I close my eyes

I see the mountains rise around me—

Stark and wild above the timberline

And I find my place

When that immensity of space surrounds me—

One tiny spark in the forever flame of Time

Now, I know there are other places to go, and this agitation to be in my particular Holy Land is just a minor and inconsequential nag. There are closer, more accessible places of worship which I could stop in to at any time. So I thought I’d share some photos and stories from my recent month, mid-March to mid-April, in Ucross, Wyoming. Tom Rozum and I applied for an artists’ residency program, where we imagined ourselves hunkered down and rehearsing and working on a duo recording project. It didn’t turn out that way, because I caught the flu (or something) the first week, and it lingered on for most of the time we were there. Then, when I started to feel better, Tom started feeling bad. The best laid plans, and all that…

IMG_4772

On the way to Ucross, we passed through Thermopolis. I wanted to stop and soak, but alas, there was no time. I love a hand-painted sign!

IMG_4773

We were surprised to find an F-5 mandolin sign in Big Horn, WY. 

IMG_4779

Finally, the lights of Buffalo, WY, appeared ahead of us, after 20+ hours of driving. 15 more miles to go…

Before and after my illness, I managed to take some walks in the hills surrounding us, and to write one new song, which may or may not be any good. The hills have amazing rocks, petrified wood, and what they call “mud boulders”.

IMG_4781

The first walk I took was out to the teepee circles, that are located on a nice bluff with a commanding view of the confluence of two river valleys. I imagine that it would be a great place to camp while hunting the bison on their annual migration through there. The circles are difficult to see right off the bat, but once you see one, they all become clear. Most are probably about 18 feet across. The rocks were used to hold down the sides, I guess, and the same sites were used year after year, but it’s probably been about 150 years since they were last used.

IMG_4784

The view from the teepee circles, looking quite a bit more tame than it probably used to.

It was great watching the seasons change, seeing a beautiful undercoat of green slowly take over the dried brown grasses of last summer.

IMG_4801

We crossed Piney Creek every day on our way to dinner.

Mornings were frosty, and the frost persisted in the shadows until the sun finally hit it. Last year’s ash seed pods made a lacy curtain through which to view the river. With all the subtlety of Wyoming Spring, lichen stood out as being especially colorful.

IMG_4819

We were given bikes to ride around on. A great way to get to the trailheads.

The next outing was to a hill where Tom and I had been told we would see petrified wood. We hopped on our bikes and rode up the dirt road to the much smaller dirt road that wound up into the hills. Impassable for bikes, as the ground was still too wet.

Then we turned around and found this huge fallen tree. Or that’s what it looked like to us:

IMG_4824

IMG_4839

The striations in the rocks were so pronounced.

The next day, I left on my own to find a fossil I had heard about. From the description of the area, I figured it might be in a boulder field about a mile from where we had hiked to see the petrified wood. I was told that there was a split boulder, and right on the exposed surface there was a big “maple” leaf. So okay. Off I went.

It turned out that nearly every rock on the hillside was split open, and so I decided to methodically walk the area back and forth across the boulder field, starting at the top. It was an excellent way to get to know the area. I saw lots of little cottontail rabbits, crevices containing raptors’ nests, a lot of petrified wood, places where cattle obviously liked to shelter, and some really fascinating rock formations.

IMG_4845

IMG_4847

Is that the cross-section of a tree embedded in this boulder? Looks like it could be.

IMG_4851

A close-up of the edge of the “bark” sure looks like it could be a tree to me.

IMG_4855

Way at the top of the hill was a swirly line of rock covered with the most vibrant lichen display!

IMG_4860

I continued to search every exposed face of every rock on the hillside. This one seemed promising to me, and very strange, and maybe another giant tree part.

IMG_4888

Finally, when I was almost to the end of the last row of boulders,  found myself standing on the lower part of a nicely sliced rock. Nothing to see here, until I turned around, and BAM! there it was, about as big as my hand and just as plain as can be.

IMG_4891

As soon as I saw the one, I began to see more.

IMG_4894

How many can you see here? At least four, and some pieces.

IMG_4898

And on the other side of the split rock, there were the other sides of the leaves.

All in all, a very satisfying hike, with many happy surprises. More later. Even with the health issues, and the disappointment of not being able to do what we set out to do, there were so many wonderful small adventures in the Wyoming hills. I will post more photos later.

A Mountain of a Different Sort

tom-size_b-w

Tom Size    October 10, 1959-October 30, 2016

I am toiling up a mountain of grief these days, dealing with and processing the illness and death of my friend and musical collaborator, Tom Size. I had the great good fortune to begin working with him in 1992, when he engineered my album, True Stories. A former engineer at Fantasy Records in Berkeley, he had just recently started recording at his home studio in Pacheco, CA. I will always be grateful to Mike Marshall for bringing me there. I loved the flow of the work with him, the way nothing ever had to be said twice (or sometimes even once), the way he was always one step ahead of me and always, always listening so intently–not just to the recording mechanical aspects of the music, but to the emotional impact as well.

img_2666img_3899-1 I met and loved his four-legged companions Roger, Rosie, Red, Roxie, and a couple of others whose names have faded (except for the indubitable fact that they started with an “R”). Here are a couple of photos of Roxie, relaxing on the lawn and with her favorite item (a ball). She was found when she was a few weeks old, thrown away in a dumpster. Tom took her in and she grew into one of the happiest, most loving and trusting dogs I have ever met.

 

Tom and I worked together for 24 years on over 30 projects, from reel-to-reel through ADAT tapes to digital platforms of many iterations. Always he was learning, embracing the new, listening, listening, listening. He was a real gearhead, and always had the latest gadget, and he loved sharing what they could do. Very unlike me, who finds what she likes and then just sticks with it until forced to change.

Here is a list of albums that I worked on with Tom, either as artist or producer, not in any particular order:

True Stories (Rounder 0300)

Steve Edmunds Lonesome on the Ground

Erica Wheeler  The Harvest (Signature Sounds)

with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel (Rounder 0340)

Laurie Lewis and Her Bluegrass Pals (Rounder 0461)

Seeing Things (Rounder 0428)

Earth and Sky (Rounder 0400)

Blossoms (Spruce and Maple SMM2005)

Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple SMM2006)

Steam and Steel (Spruce and Maple SMM2007)

Deidre McCalla Playing For Keeps (MaidenRock 3050)

David Thom That Old Familiar (Swollen Records SW 1016)

Nell Robinson Loango

Ray Bierl Any Place I Hang My Hat

Wendy Burch Steel Open Wings (Dragon Fly Bridge Music)

with Tom Rozum Winter’s Grace (Spruce and Maple SMM2003)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands Live (Spruce and Maple SMM2004)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Hazel and Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple SMM1013)

Alice Gerrard Bittersweet (Spruce and Maple SMM1008)

The T Sisters Kindred Lines (Spruce and Maple SMM1010)

Birdsong (Spruce and Maple SMM2002)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Golden West (High Tone HCD8194)

with Tom Rozum Guest House (High Tone HCD8167)

Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman We Made it Home (Maker/Mender Records MM1002)

One Evening in May (Spruce and Maple SMM1009)

Tom Rozum Jubilee (Dog Boy Records)

Peter McLaughlin Cliffs of Vermilion (Dog Boy Records)

with Kathy Kallick Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray (Spruce and Maple SMM1012)

Kristin’s Story (Spruce and Maple SMM2001)

Susie Glaze Green Kentucky Blues

Charles Sawtelle Music From Rancho DeVille (Acoustic Disc ACD-44)

In addition, there were many one-song projects, overdubs, and guest spots on other albums recorded there.

05-2016d

Tom with the T Sisters and me, 2014          l-r: Erika, Rachel, Tom, Chloe, me

At the impressionable age of 14, I was smitten by the bare-bones, no-frills music of Doc Watson. For Tom, at the same age, it was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Tom’s personal taste in music ran decidedly more to the complex, modern, electric, and metal than mine, but his ear was just as attuned to a fine pre-war Martin as to a Strat, to a mandolin chop as to a full drum set.

On the rare occasions when we were lucky enough to have Tom run the sound at concerts, it was a revelation in how smooth a sound check could be. And he helped out in so many other ways, always checking in to see that everything was good both onstage and backstage.

There was never any artifice in Tom’s dealings with me (or probably any of the other lucky enough to work with him). We had disagreements on occasion, and I always did want the banjo up louder in the mix than he did. But he always tried to understand and give me what I asked for, and together we worked and grew. When I started recording at home, Tom was remarkably generous with his knowledge. I could always call him and he would talk me through my various (usually operator-error) problems. Through his discerning ears, I developed mine, and I feel gratified to know that I influenced his art at the mixing console, too. He was a good man, a fine soul, and exceptional human being. It’s so hard to know that he is dead at the young age of 57. For 23 of the 24 years I knew him, he virtually crackled with vitality, with that great thick bush of reddish hair barely under control. He loved to sail, loved the natural world, loved his garden and the sun. The sun did him in, in the form of melanoma. He was beautiful and I loved him and will miss him always.

Dave Meniketti of Y & T posted a beautiful tribute to Tom on Tom’s gofundme page.                Read it here

Read more about Tom’s background and accomplishments on his website.