A Mountain of a Different Sort

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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.

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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.

Returning Home

October 11, 2016

I didn’t take notes of my last day of my solo walkabout. So I haven’t gotten around to writing anything about that day. But it feels incomplete for me to leave my last entry in bed at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. So I will recreate the last day for you, out of my ever-more-fuzzy memories. Here goes:

August 1, 2016

I awoke feeling refreshed from a comfy night’s sleep on an actual bed (though I did feel it was a bit too soft. I am like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to beds). I was all packed up and ready to hit the trail home when I came into the lodge for breakfast. I can’t remember what I had, but it wasn’t oatmeal. Of that, I am sure. Suitably caffeinated and ready for the 11-mile hike back out to my car, I started down the trail. After about a mile, I noticed that I was just grinning ear-to-ear, for no apparent reason. I was just, plainly and simply, happy. All alone, nobody to share it with, just damned happy!

This stretch of the High Sierra Trail is pretty tame: gentle ups and downs, with about equal parts of both. I was hoping to see Tony and Asenath again, and the outside World was starting to weigh on me. A week of no internet means that I have close to 1,000 emails to sift through. Ugh. It almost negates the beneficial effects of being away. But not quite! So I started out at a quick clip down the trail, stopping only for a water refill at Mehrtens Creek and a side trip a little ways down the canyon to check out something bright orange that appeared to be discarded. Turns out it was someone’s pack, and he was just returning to it from farther down the creek when I reached it.

It was a lovely warm day, and the wildflowers were everywhere. I only stopped a few times to snap photos, drink water, and feast on the now-ripe thimbleberries.

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I passed other westbound hikers, and a few groups just heading out on the trail (lucky ones). One was an all-women group from Modesto who make a yearly trip to Bearpaw. I was dressed in my hiking skirt, favorite (and not quite as dirty as it had been yesterday) shirt, Dirty Girl gaiters—essential what I had worn almost every day—and they commented that I look like I had just stepped out of an REI catalog (never mind the fact that my trekking poles, shirt, and hat were the only parts of my ensemble that I purchased there). It gave me an extra spring in my step for a half-mile or so to think that I actually looked somewhat “stylish.”IMG_3384

As I descended gently into the lower elevations, it seemed to me there were even more dead standing pines than on the way out a week ago. I found out later that this was probably true: once the beetles infest a drought-and-pollution-weakened tree, they can pretty-much finish it off in 24 hours. The air was full of smoke, which I blamed on Central Valley pollution. I found out later that it was mostly smoke from the Grouse Fire, which had started up while I was out in the backcountry and was burning not too far away. That made me feel a little better about it, in retrospect. At least it was “natural” causes, not factory farms and vehicle emissions.

About eight miles into my hike, I caught up with Asenath and Tony, and a couple from Danville we had met at Bearpaw. It felt good to have an enforced slow-down, taking up the rear of the group as we walked back toward the Sequoias and our waiting cars. Asenath told me about her family. She was one of 22 (I think that’s the correct number) siblings, born to her father’s three wives. Although there is not a tradition in Kenya of educating girls, her father had a policy of helping whoever of his children wanted to go to school, provided they got good grades. Asenath said this was very unusual in her community. And lucky for her.

We stopped for photos at the first Sequoias we encountered, where I had taken photos on the way out.IMG_3414

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It was a great feeling, having been out in the high country solo—though, of course, it wasn’t all that remote, or all that “solo,” for that matter. Still, I had plenty of solitude to feed my soul.

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Asenath posed next to the mileage sign. She and Tony had hiked 42 miles, to Kaweah Gap and back. I had gone a bit farther, with my side trips and foray into 9 Lakes Basin. According to my phone, I had hiked 58.93 miles in 6 days. Not bad. How I would have loved a swim in Hamilton Lake again before I got into my car! I said my goodbyes, got in my car, and started driving. I stopped at a store for a little shopping, and there wasn’t anything I wanted. So I went to the first Kaweah River crossing and immersed myself in the water to rinse off the trail dust and refresh myself for the long drive home. Thus ended my High Sierra solo walkabout, and most likely the last backpacking trip of the season. I am already longing to be back up there.

California is in such dire straits with the drought and the strain of so many people. My poor beloved state, which used to be green and golden has mostly turned a distressed gray-brown. They (the weather pundits) say that rain is expected this weekend (I’m back in October now), and that it will be the most rain we will have seen in six months. That’s not saying much… Please use water wisely wherever you are. I am planning on installing a rain catchment system for my parched yard, and am already bummed that I won’t have it in place to catch this weekend’s water.

Laurie

A Change in Accommodations

7/31/2016

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The thimbleberries, which weren’t ripe when I passed them five days ago, are now starting to ripen nicely. I stopped to graze often along the trail.

Some backstory is due at this point. Today, I am checking in to Bearpaw High Sierra Camp for one night. One of the reasons I originally decided to do this hike was that I figured that if I booked two nights at this incredible camp, I would be able to get Tom to backpack there with me, and he would have a chance to experience the High Country with minimal pressure to his previously injured hip and knee. In order to get a reservation, you have to call or go online on January 2, when the yearly reservations open. I did that this year, or so I thought. Turns out that I reserved two nights at Sequoia High Sierra Camp rather than Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. I didn’t realize my mistake until months later, when I was working on planning the hike in and read that you could drive to within a mile of the camp. That CAN’T be right, I thought! Turns out it wasn’t. Tom and I ended up spending two great nights at Sequoia and hiking in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, and Tom realized that his hip and knee weren’t very happy even with that amount of hiking. But that’s a whole ‘mother story. Back to the here and now: while I was feeling distraught about my error, I went online to see if there were any openings at Bearpaw, and found a cancellation for one night, July 31. I grabbed it, thinking I would share the night with someone, and would figure it out later. I never found that person (though I know you’re out there!), and began really liking the idea of a solo sojourn into the wilderness, with the last night spent at Bearpaw. So that’s what happened. Now back to the day.

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Lovely azaleas!

I slept late, and didn’t get up until about 6:30 AM or so. I had a very leisurely breakfast, and spent a few hours cleaning and drying my tent and sleeping pad. Turns out the Sea To Summit pad was truly defective, and I will be returning it to REI. As the day warmed, I swam in the lake, taking advantage of the far side of the little island to strip and keep hidden from any prying eyes. So luxurious! For some reason, on this Sunday morning, Asenath, Tony and I are the only campers at this most perfect lake! It’s so peaceful. I love the feeling of the smooth granite under my bare feet. It reminds me of childhood summers spent at the Twain Harte lake, which featured a huge glassy expanse of granite in place of a sandy beach. very nostalgic!

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Sierra daisies

With all the chores done, and after a final dip in the lake, it’s time to head down to Bearpaw. Asenath and Tony plan on stopping in for a beer on the deck on their way, and we made plans to meet there. A beer on a Sunday afternoon in the mountains sounds pretty great right now.

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The spot where the trail to Elizabeth Pass meets the High Sierra Trail. I have about a mile and a half to go to camp. Easy day.

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Looking back up toward whence I had come, I can see where the trail winds now, but only because I know where to look.

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Heading back toward the lowlands and the smoke and pollution. I was actually relieved to hear that much of the pollution today was caused by the Grouse Fire burning not too far away. Weird that that should make me feel better…I guess woodsmoke seems less poisonous than whatever noxious chemicals our vehicles emit.

It was a beautiful walk down the trail to High Sierra Camp. The engineering is remarkable. My hat is off to those intrepid trail builders in the 1930’s, who must have had quite the scramble on these cliff sides, finding a place wide enough to even widen into a trail! I got to the camp at about 2:00 PM, and had my choice of tent cabins. I chose the one that the host said was the most popular, perched right on the edge of the cliff. I hate to be so mainstream, but it is a spectacular setting and I couldn’t pass it up. I took a shower, initially with my shirt on in order to more easily wash it as well as me, and I enjoyed watching the seemingly inexhaustible amount of dust and grit swirl down the drain. It wasn’t inexhaustible, of course, and I emerged lighter in both weight and color.

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The view inside my tent cabin. Clean sheets, towels, washcloths, and a mirror. Uh-oh…

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The view outside my tent cabin. Not bad.

I asked the hosts whether either Asenath or Tony could share my dinner, since after all it had been prepaid based on two people. They said that was fine, and that the other person could purchase dinner for fairly reasonable fee (considering the remoteness of the camp: everything has to be carried in on mule-back over a 12-mile trail). I munched on a fantastic brownie, drank icy lemonade, perused the excellent little library of reference books, and studied up on the sphinx moth and the wildflowers I had encountered. I identified meadow lotus, bindweed, hummingbird trumpet, rabbitbrush, thimbleberries (yum!), mountain misery, ranger’s buttons, cow parsnip, pussy paws, and mustang clover from a great book, “Wildflowers of the Coast and Sierra,” by Edith Clements. Now if I can only retain it all for next time…

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Arnica

When I came back to the porch, there were Tony and Asenath, enjoying their beers. We had a great visit, and I suggested that one of them utilize the shower (as I had paid for two). Tony did that, and I visited with Asenath, sitting in the shade of a gorgeous old oak on the smooth granite in front of my cabin. They stayed for dinner, and we enjoyed visiting with the other guests, all of whom had hiked in 12 miles to get there, and were leaving in the morning. It’s funny–they all seem to have done what I had done and had grabbed a cancellation. We were so happy to be there, the weather was gorgeous, and food plentiful and delicious. It’s pretty expensive for my budget, but I highly recommend the place. One of the workers there referred to me as a “trail angel” for including Tony and Asenath in my good fortune. I beamed a little inside, feeling so good that I was in a  position to be generous.

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Our dinner table at Bearpaw (photo courtesy of Asenath)

Toward the end of the meal, I looked across at the cliffs facing us on the other side of the Kaweah River gorge, and exclaimed at the perfect shadow of what looked like a little fat kid in a hat, with something sticking out of his back pocket. Everyone saw it, though some people saw him as facing the other direction. Just then the cook walked in and said, “Oh, you’ve seen ol’ Double-Dick!” Sure enough, with that descriptive moniker it was easy to see this weird guy with two protuberances in just the right place. Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me…you’ll have to hike in and see it for yourself.

After dinner, my friends went farther down the trail to camp, and I went to my cabin to enjoy my cushy surroundings and write about the day. Tomorrow, after what I suspect will be an excellent and large breakfast, I will hit the trail and hike back to Crescent Meadow and my car, and drive back home. I hated leaving the high Sierra, but now that I am headed in a homeward direction, I am feeling the pressures of the outside world bearing down on me, and the need to get back and take care of a million things. One of which is what to do about my car. Yes, folks, I was one of those people who bought on of the so-called “clean” diesel VW TDI’s. I am so angry at that company! I had previously loved my car, and expected it would be the last fossil-fuel vehicle I would own. Now I need to replace it, and say goodbye forever to the lovely handling, oomph, and mileage that thing had going for it. Nearly 50 miles/gallon combined with race-car road-hugging is hard to give up. Apparently, it was too good to be true. Good night.

Today’s mileage: 5.97 miles, and 40 flights of stairs climbed.

 

9 Lakes Basin

9 Lakes Basin

7/30/2016

I was up at 6:00 AM, and took care of packing for the day hike and closing up the tent. It’s nice to pack light! By 7:30 AM, I was up at Kaweah Gap. On the way up, I stopped to look a stag whose antlers were gilded by the morning sun. Tried to take photos, but of course they were out of focus. I was trying not to move much so I wouldn’t scare him away.

IMG_3274IMG_3276It’s a beautiful clear, cloudless day. I saw a flock of birds break from the lodgepole pines in the shade below and then spiral upwards into the sun. They circled and then dispersed around the basin. Two landed on a boulder close by me, and I was able to identify them as juncos. I didn’t know that flocks nested/roosted close together at night. Now I do.

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One of the little mini terraced gardens on the trail to Kaweah Gap.

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I took off cross-country into 9 Lakes Basin

Sitting among the lodgepoles in 9 Lakes Basin, I see a little nuthatch calling and climbing up and down among the boughs.

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In amongst the lodgepoles, I wanted to take portraits of each one.

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9 Lakes Basin is pretty barren, when it comes to vegetation over 6 inches high. But under 6 inches, it is teeming with life.

I saw a tiny hummingbird or a huge bug harvesting nectar from the salvia growing along the trail. About 1.5″ long. The wings didn’t seem large enough in comparison to the body for a hummer. Also, it had two antennae sprouting from its head. A moth? Slight flash of magenta on the wings. The body looks striped. The face looks bird-like. It never sat still so I couldn’t observe better than just a blur. It continued working its way through every blossom, but as some point seemed to become aware of me. It flew around my legs and took off. NOTE: I found out later that it was a white-lined sphinx moth. Wow! The field guide I consulted said it flies during the day (unlike other moths) and acts like a hummingbird. Here’s a link to photos and more information.

IMG_3287I spent hours hiking around 9 Lakes Basin. There are no trails, so I tried to keep to the rocks whenever possible and not tread on the tender plants. I imagined if I went missing, they would hunt for me with dogs. They wouldn’t find any footprints. I wondered if anyone would comment on my careful path. I found myself on a shelf of slick granite, and considered climbing along a very tiny ledge to continue. Thought again and decided on the more prudent path of backtracking and descending along a different plane. After all, I am alone out here. I already slipped once on the granite yesterday. I navigated by sighting on one wind-blasted lodgepole and heading toward it, then finding another and heading toward that one.

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This tree, one of my landmarks, looked like it was casually relaxing against a nice smooth boulder.

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The clouds were ever-changing toward the east, alternately threatening rain and then suddenly clearing up.

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Here, I’m looking northward toward Triple Divide, which is named for the Kern, Kings and Kaweah rivers. 9 Lakes Basin drains to the Kern. 

I only spent time at two of the nine lakes for which this basin is named. Too cold for even a ceremonial dip (for me, in any case).

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But my feet enjoyed it!

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It’s easy to tell which way the prevailing winds come from in this area. They funnel up the valley from Arroyo Grande, and all the trees bend away.

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I almost took a dip in the creek running from the high lake, but used the excuse of too many bugs (there really weren’t that many) and too-cool air to dissuade me.

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Eagle Scout Peak rises above 9 Lakes Basin

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Even with all this grass growing, it’s pretty easy to find a route from rock to rock, to avoid trampling the growing stuff. Sun and shadows are so bold!

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Just me and my knees back at Kaweah Gap.

After my hours of solitude, I returned to Kaweah Gap, and decided to sit there and enjoy the view until someone came along the trail for me to talk to. In no time at all, a handsome 30-something man appeared and asked, “May we join you?” Of course! This is how I met Tony and his hiking companion, Asenath. She is a gorgeous Kenyan woman who is spending 33 days touring national parks all over the West, from Glacier through Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon to Sequoia and on to Yosemite, mostly solo except for this one little stint with Tony. What a great trip! We instantly fell into that camaraderie that sometime happens on the trail, where like minds meet, all overcome with a common sense of awe for our surroundings. They had taken a day hike up from Hamilton, and shortly they headed back down. But not before Asenath took a couple of photos of me against the backdrop of the Gap.

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There are so many little chores to do all the time, to keep all my items together and working. But even so, when they are all taken care of–the water is filtered, the tent is up, sleeping pad inflated, sleeping bag ready should I feel a nap coming on, cookware properly stowed, shirt and socks washed out–still, there are hours and hours of daylight left. What to do? Pack up and hike back to Hamilton Lake, where at least there are trees under which to shelter. Too much sun up here. My legs started getting burned, and there’s not a bit a shade. Plus, I will have a shorter hike back to Bearpaw tomorrow (more on that later).

IMG_3321 These little guys are Ranger’s Buttons. A great name for the button-sized blooms.

 

On the trail back down, the golden chinquapin was so thick in places that it scratched my legs at every step. I didn’t remember it being so overgrown on the hike up. So many flowers! The scent of pennyroyal and some sort of sage-y stuff  with clusters of tightly-packed white flowers cleansed my soul.

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A marmot posed for photos. At first, I thought I’d have to be quick to get a photo before it ran off, but it just came closer and closer, looking for a handout.

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I set up my phone camera on my trekking poles to get a photo of me in the little tunnel.

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Looking down at Hamilton Lake on the way back down. The lighting difference between morning and late afternoon gives the view an entirely new feel.

On the trail back down from Precipice to Hamilton, I met a number of hikers heading up. A boy scout troop was on their way to climb Eagle Scout Peak. I met a lots of hikers of various ethnic origins–-an all-American mix of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Latino, African and European. So interesting! Everyone is out here, sweating together for the same thing: a chance to feel  wonder and connectedness to our beautiful Earth. Or that’s what I imagine, anyway…

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I love the junipers! That’s some good-looking fiddleback figure in the wood.

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Peeking through a juniper’s boughs down to the intense blue of Hamilton Lake.

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Bye-bye, Precipice Lake and Eagle Scout Peak!

Back down at Hamilton, I lucked out and got a great campsite, overlooking the lake and Tony and Asenath’s campsite. It was good to break up the hike, as my knees started hurting a bit today. I took a long swim in Hamilton, which feels perfect temperature-wise after having experienced the chill of Precipice. Mmmm!

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My campsite, private and flat. What more could you ask for? A view? Got that, too.

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These beautiful junipers formed the backdrop to my tent site.

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The view from my campsite, looking down at Tony and Asenath’s camp.

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As the sun sank, the peaks came alive with lovely pink light.

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I forgot to mention my mileage for the last couple of days. Yesterday was a light day: 7.48 miles and–WHOA–80 flights of stairs. I guess that is quite a climb from Hamilton to Precipice. Today I climbed 58 flights of stairs and hiked 10.71 miles, but who’s counting? Time to sleep.

Precipice Lake

7/29/2016

Up at 5:45 AM. I took a Benadryl and a Zyrtec last night, because the deer fly and other bites from Mehrten Creek were driving me bananas. I slept heavily, and woke up tremendously thirsty. But well-rested. I have been struggling with my defective air mattress every night, but last night I somehow managed to fill it and get the valve sealed before the air leaked out. Ahhh!

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Looking back at the Hamilton Lake camping area, I hit the switchbacks to Precipice.

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Katy comes up the trail behind me. She was going fast to beat the sun on the switchbacks (we both did).

I hit the trail shortly after 7:00 for the climb to Precipice Lake. I was dreading it, as everyone was talking about how brutal it was. Only 2.5 miles, but these guys were saying it was harder than the climb up to Hamilton Lake. But Katy and I cruised up there in under two hours, leap-frogging each other all the way up. Katy said that a guy told her that only the most in-shape boy scouts can manage it in two hours. Well, all right, then!

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The sun crept over the peaks, where we were headed.

Sunlight kissed the Valhalla heights.

Sunlight kissed the Valhalla heights.

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Looking down a seep to Hamilton Lake far below. Dizzying vertical drops!

There are wildflowers everywhere! Angelica, seep-spring arnica, golden aster, sierra daisy, golden yarrow, black-eyed Susans, western wallflowers, snakeweed, shooting stars, alpine columbine, ranger’s buttons, mountain pennyroyal, pussypaws, paintbrush,to name a few. Katy knew the names of quite a few. Every time the trail crossed a small waterway, the cleansing scent of pennyroyal would rise up to greet me.

The trail is engineered to snake along tiny ledges on the steep cliffs above Hamilton. In this area, there was a canyon wren singing, magnifying his voice in the narrow canyon. And this really cool little tunnel! I am full of gratitude and admiration for the trail builders of the 1930's who made this trek possible for us flatlanders.

The trail is engineered to snake along tiny ledges on the steep cliffs above Hamilton. In this area, there was a canyon wren singing, magnifying his voice in the narrow canyon. And this really cool little tunnel! I am full of gratitude and admiration for the trail builders of the 1930’s who made this trek possible for us flatlanders.

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This is the little lake before Precipice. There's still a lot of climbing to do to get to Precipice. I didn't know what to expect, and considered just camping here instead of continuing. I decided against it, and am glad I did.

This is the little lake before Precipice. There’s still a lot of climbing to do to get to Precipice. I didn’t know what to expect, and considered just camping here instead of continuing. I decided against it, and am glad I did.

From Precipice, you look out at the backs of the peaks that Barbara Higbie and I saw from Elizabeth Pass. I dropped my pack and took a swim. It was cold, but really refreshing. My skin tingled and I felt so alive.

Precipice Lake at last!

Precipice Lake at last!

the outflow from Precipice, looking out at Copper Mine Peak (on the right), near Elizabeth Pass.

The outflow from Precipice, looking out at Copper Mine Peak (on the right), near Elizabeth Pass.

Looking down on Valhalla from Precipice.

Looking down on Valhalla from Precipice.

Katy was continuing on over Kaweah Gap to a campsite down the other side. I decided to walk with her up to the Gap and take a look-see. Such a perfectly beautiful trail, ascending through three little perfect terraced wildflower gardens above the treeline. The view was great, and I just wanted to keep going on down the other side. I hung out there for awhile and saw Katy off. The wind started picking up and getting colder. I hadn’t brought any other layers of clothing with me from Precipice, and just a handful of trail mix to eat. It threatened rain and spit a few drops. I’ll come back up tomorrow.

I couldn't stop taking photos of Precipice. This is taken from the middle of the outflowing stream, looking back at the lake.

I couldn’t stop taking photos of Precipice. This is taken from the middle of the outflowing stream, looking back at the lake.

Here comes Katy, arriving at Precipice.

Here comes Katy, arriving at Precipice.

9 Lakes Basin, from Kaweah Gap, looks so enticing and wild! Tomorrow I will explore it.

9 Lakes Basin, from Kaweah Gap, looks so enticing and wild! Tomorrow I will explore it.

Another view into 9 Lakes Basin from Kaweah Gap.

Another view into 9 Lakes Basin from Kaweah Gap.

Looking down into the valley, into which the High Sierra Trail descends. All those people hiking to Mt Whitney get to walk through this lovely vale.

Looking down into the valley, into which the High Sierra Trail descends. All those people hiking to Mt Whitney get to walk through this lovely vale. But every step down means another two up somewhere farther along.

Eagle Scout Peak rises nearly vertically from Precipice Lake. I met a couple of boy scout groups who were intending to climb that peak. Apparently, there's a trail up the backside, but when you get to the top, there are just these little boulders to stand on. It gives me vertigo to imagine being up there.

Eagle Scout Peak rises nearly vertically from Precipice Lake. I met a couple of boy scout groups who were intending to climb that peak. Apparently, there’s a trail up the backside, but when you get to the top, there are just these little boulders to stand on. It gives me vertigo to imagine being up there. This is the view of Eagle Scout Peak from Kaweah Gap.

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Looking up to Mt Stewart. I thank Col. George Stewart for helping to give this park to us the people.

Looking up to Mt Stewart. I thank Col. George Stewart for helping to give this park to us the people.

Heading back down the trail, I can finally fit all of Precipice Lake in one shot.

Heading back down the trail, I can finally fit all of Precipice Lake in one shot, with Eagle Scout Peak rising above.

Beautiful granite striped with water seeps from snow melt. Water is everywhere up here at this point in time, but i'm sure there's not as much as there used to be.

Beautiful granite striped with water seeps from snow melt. Water is everywhere up here at this point in time, but i’m sure there’s not as much as there used to be.

Katy saw a pika on the way up the trail. I only saw a marmot. Darn. Flycatchers are flitting all over the place, buzzing to each other. When I got back to Precipice, I watched an American dipper (nee water ouzel) work its way around a portion of the lakeshore, diving under the water, swimming on the surface like a duck, and then running out onto a rock to do its little dipper dance. They are the coolest birds! I sat as still as I could while it worked its way towards me. At about 15 feet away, it must have sensed me, and abruptly flew back up the shoreline. When I heard the call, before I saw it, the name “dipper” floated into my brain. My conscious mind didn’t realize that I know their call. Its nice to know that I recognize it. Though I couldn’t describe it.

My little tent site above Precipice. Up here, one is usually sleeping on hard granite. So a sleeping pad that won't stay inflated is a real problem. Grrrr.

My little tent site above Precipice. Up here, one is usually sleeping on hard granite. So a sleeping pad that won’t stay inflated is a real problem. Grrrr.

The view from inside.

The view from inside.

I couldn't stop gazing at the Elizabeth Pass area, remembering being up there in the stormy weather a year ago. It's quite different this year.

I couldn’t stop gazing at the Elizabeth Pass area, remembering being up there in the stormy weather a year ago. It’s quite different this year.

Yet another view toward Copper Mine Peak and Elizabeth Pass. Somehow, the trail finds a way around and through these incredible glacier-scoured expanses.

Yet another view toward Copper Mine Peak and Elizabeth Pass.

Yesterday, I saw a rescue helicopter bringing someone down over Kaweah Gap, maybe headed to a hospital in Fresno. Today I saw it headed out again over the Gap. Really close. I thought they were going to rescue someone else, and I would see them on the return flight, but I never did. Maybe they are stationed over on the other side somewhere. It made me think about how easy it would be to get oneself in a compromised position out here. On the way back down the trail from the Gap to Precipice, I slipped on a slick granite slab and skinned my arm. Somebody call the ‘copters! Oh, wait…there’s absolutely nobody else up here.

The wind is blowing, keeping it cool. No shade to be had almost anywhere. I fixed lunch, and then napped in my tent for a half hour. I have a view of Elizabeth Pass from my tent site. That is so exciting to me. I can start to put together a mental map of the mountains around here. A family of five hikers from Fresno came up the trail.  They come to the mountains almost every weekend, and every year they do a long hike.  They are hiking to Mt Whitney this year, which is what most of the people I meet on the trail are doing. They ask me where I’m headed, and I say I’m just on a walkabout. No particular destination. Just enjoying the mountains. Though I am happy to be by myself, I realize that I DO like running into these other people and spending a few minutes with them. I like having someone to share the experience with. I met another woman, hiking solo to Mt Whitney. She had started out with a friend who turned back because of a knee problem. I feel so lucky that I can just be up here and walk relatively pain-free. Everyone (the hiker family and the solo woman) are taking dips in the lake. I had to, too. It feels so great!

Oh, the water!

Oh, the water!

Photographic proof that I got in the lake!

Photographic proof that I got in the lake.

Looking over the precipice to the lower lake.

Looking over the precipice to the lower lake.

I ate my mid-afternoon snack, and felt like I wish the sun would go down so that I could go to bed. But there are hours and hours of the day left. I am spending it trying to hide from the sun.

I didn’t write any more today, and can’t remember how I passed the hours until bedtime. Just being. Oh, yeah…and taking pictures in the ever-changing light.

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Panorama shot of my surroundings.

Panorama shot of my surroundings.

Shadow play 1.

Shadow play 1.

Shadow play 2

Shadow play 2.

Shadow play 3.

Shadow play 3.

The sun hits the cliffs of Precipice.

The sun hits the cliffs of Precipice.

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Sunset (finally).

Sunset (finally).

Last of the sunlight on the peaks above Precipice.

Last of the sunlight on the peaks above Precipice.

Up, Up, Up to Hamilton Lake

7/28/16

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Leaving the lowlands behind

A punishing day. It started out really nice: up at 5:30 AM and packed up and on the trail by 6:30, hoping to beat the sun for a few hours. At about 9:00 I found myself at Bearpaw, about halfway through the day’s hiking, in terms of mileage. The first few hours of the day, I had the trail to myself. I was the first hiker out, breaking through spider silk stretched across the trail. It felt good!

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The trail cuts across occasional little streams.

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At Bucks Creek bridge, I was plunged back into shade for the climb to Bearpaw Meadow. That worked out well!

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I couldn’t believe the colors on this guy! He looked exactly like one of those touristy artworks that you find all over the Southwest, with turquoise inlaid all down his back.

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Looking east up the Kaweah River canyon toward Lake Hamilton, where I am bound.

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Looking up toward where I know the trail winds. I couldn’t see it ahead of me, but when I came back down and looked behind me, it was easy to spot. You have to know what you’re looking for.

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View from the bridge above Lone Pine Creek. This is near the junction of the Elizabeth Pass trail and the High Sierra Trail, so from now on, I have a new road under my wheels.

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I took advantage of the scant shade along the climb up to Hamilton Lake. I’m thankful for these scrubby live oaks that manage to grow on these exposed south facing cliffs. Thank you, little tree!

The last 2.5 miles of the trail up to Hamilton Lake were very steep and hot. I started to feel physically ill, and took the last mile very slowly.

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Eventually, I got some welcome, albeit temporary, cloud cover, and the views were fantastic!

 

I heard a canyon wren last evening, at Mehrten Creek. That’s a song that always lifts my spirits! Heard it again this morning as I was packing up. I was the only camper on Mehrten last night. There were lots meteors. I was lucky enough to poke my head out of my tent at one point just in time to see a big one that came straight down and exploded in a brief but huge-looking flash of white light toward the east. The crescent moon rose at about 3:00 AM and chased the stars away.

I saw hummingbirds, a white-headed woodpecker, a sooty grouse, flocks of juncos, a couple of nuthatches, and I heard a mountain chickadee calling, “Here kitty, here kitty.” Oh, and the ever-present stellar jays yelling through the woods.

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I saw this lake on my map, and thought maybe I would stay there, rather than at Hamilton, but I see it’s inaccessible, with nary a level few feet for pitching a tent. I was disappointed, because I thought when I got here my hike for the day would be done.

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The peaks of so-called Valhalla rise above me. Stunning!

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A closer shot of that stair-step broken granite. I feel so insignificant, surrounded by this ancient (though in geological terms, fairly young) landscape.

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And still the trail leads upward…

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That little lake is nestled right below this photo, where this caption is. Couldn’t fit it all in the picture.

Here at Hamilton Lake, it’s crowded with campers, and I found a spot to pitch my tent close by a 37-year-old woman who is hiking solo to Mt Whitney. She told me that she was about to accept a very good job at the SF botanical gardens, but just decided against it because she wanted to have the freedom to hike whenever she wanted. So she kept her waitress job. She’s got her priorities straight. I can’t believe the size of her pack! It looks really heavy! I silently thank Betty Wheeler for being such a stickler about weight on our JMT hike. It got me off on the right foot in understanding that less is truly more when you have to carry it all on your back.

Hamilton Lake, at long last!

Hamilton Lake, at long last! Too big for one photo, so here are numerous ones. The constantly-changing light was captivating.

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Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

3:00 PM and I’m already making dinner.

5:00 PM Big windstorm! I had to help secure my neighbor’s tent, which seemed on the verge of flying away. There’s thunder and lightening up higher in the mountains, maybe right at Precipice Lake, where I’m bound tomorrow. I hope it blows through and is gone. Here comes the rain! It’s not cold, but crazy windy. Exciting (as long as we don’t blow away). My tent stayed put, but is full of dry dusty sand, because I didn’t think to close one of the flaps in the excitement while I helped my neighbor.

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Suddenly little whitecaps appeared on the lake and the sky over the peaks became one big plum-colored bruise.

I retreated into my tent, and took a little video of of how it felt in there. I was cozy, but the wind was whippin’!

IMG_31827:15 and I’m in my tent. The sun is back out, and Katy, my neighbor, is just finishing dinner. My phone informs me that today I climbed 51 flights of stairs and hiked 13.52 miles. I’m ready to snooze. I can hear the various groups of campers chatting away around me, and fear they will keep me awake (spoiler alert: they didn’t).

Day 1, High Sierra Trail

7/27/2016

It’s almost 5:00 AM, and I am awake after a fitful night’s sleep. Driving here yesterday, I got super-sleepy around 4:30 PM, and stopped for a pick-me-up. I picked up a cold Blue Bottle New Orleans coffee, in a little half-pint container, and it was both incredibly delicious and effective, but too late in the day for a lightweight like me. Altitude didn’t help, either. But that’s fine–an early start and I’ll be assured of getting the itinerary I want for my wilderness permit.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I heard a branch fall from a tree nearby and hit the ground hard. I imagined it falling on a tent, but I didn’t hear any screams, so I drifted back to my semi-sleep state. It was a good reminder to look around for those sorts of dangers before pitching a tent.

1:50 PM Mehrten Creek

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Crescent Meadow, shining in the morning sun as I start my trek.

I had a forced leisurely morning. I couldn’t get my permit until about 8:00 AM. Cost was $15, and I’m good to go. I ate a breakfast tea and a breakfast burrito at the Lodgepole market, and then drove down to Wuksachi Lodge to send my itinerary to Tom, so that someone would know where and when to start looking for me, should anything happen. There was super-slow internet there, and it took mealiest an hour to log on and send the message. Then back to Crescent Meadow and the start of the High Sierra Trail. It was nearly 10:00 AM by the time I got going. Hot, smoggy, so many dead trees. Out here, I am always aware of the life and death all around me all the time. Lately, it seems like Death is getting the upper hand. Poor trees!

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I balanced my iPhone on my trekking poles, which I leaned up against a tree, to take this photo with the timer. The sequoias are amazing! I’ll be leaving them behind for the rest of this hike, as I climb to higher elevations.

At every little stream crossing, there were dozens of little monarch-colored California Tortoiseshell butterflies that flew up at my approach. I tried to take a photo of one with the wings open, but they were so fast, and uncooperative. Finally, I found a wounded one lying on the trail, and managed to get a photo.

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I saw 9 people on the trail all day. I was really dragging today, wondering why I “like” doing this. My pack is heavy, though I don’t think I’m carrying anything extra. I plodded along, looking out at the visibly brown air below me, feeling hot and cranky. My right shoulder is burning, my hips are hurting. Taking time to adjust my pack straps gives a certain amount of relief.

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Looking back toward the way I had come. That’s Morro Rock on the right side.

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The air is clearing up, but I am still walking past many dying trees.

At Mehrten Creek, I rinsed the trail dust off, washed the sweat from my clothes, and now what? It’s early afternoon, still hot, and I am alone with my tent on a ledge above the creek. The deer flies are really getting to me! Luckily, they are super-slow and I can take some satisfaction in lessening the population by one every time I get bitten. I want a nap, though, and will have to cover up for it.

5:00 PM

It’s clouding over, it’s very buggy, and I am tired. I got ready for bed and got in the tent to get away from the bugs. It started raining as soon as I got in! Just little gentle drops, but it sounds lovely! Didn’t last very long, though.

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Afternoon thundershowers gather over the mountains. Today, it’s stormy where I’m headed. What will tomorrow bring?

 

I have made a decision to boycott all Nestlé products (again), after learning that the company is pumping groundwater from our national forests to bottle and sell. This is the people’s water! I know that nobody reads my blog to get preached to about this sort of stuff, but there’s a lot to this story. You can read all about it here. There are many, many other reasons to boycott this company, but I generally don’t buy any of these products anyway. Here’s a list of Nestlé’s water brands, followed by a list of their other products:

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7:00 PM

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My little home on the trail.

I just woke up from my nap. It looks nice outside. I emerged from the tent, ate some salmon and crackers, and inhaled a tiny piece of fish. I just spent about 20 minutes coughing and wheezing, trying to get it dislodged. I finally feel better, but I wonder what might have happened if I had needed a Heimlich maneuver out here all by myself. Luckily, I don’t need to find out. Now it’s 8:00, and I think I am going to go to bed for real this time. My phone tells me I hiked 8.82 miles today, and climbed 31 flights of stairs. Not too bad. No wonder I’m tuckered out!