Grover Hot Springs and the road home

Grover Hot Springs and the road home

June 30, 2019

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

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

JULY 19, 2018

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


Our campsite, Grover Hot Springs State Park.

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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



…or practice yoga.



A perfect bathtub!


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

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


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

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

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


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


Where rock and wood become one.



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



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


All Who Wander…

July 18, 2018

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


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


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


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

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


Too much smoke!

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



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


Bear scat.

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

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


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


Whoa! An actual trail marker!


Looks like it needs to be dug out.


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

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



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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Losing the Trail

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

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


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

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


Purple monkeyflower grew in profusion.


Alpine Lilies hugged the bank of the creek in Jefferson Canyon


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

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


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

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


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

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



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



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




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





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


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



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


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

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



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



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


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


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

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


A natural jigsaw puzzle near or camp.


still life


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

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


Our camp, nestled among the boulders.


Every tree was worthy of a portrait.


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


A perfect bonsai and cushion buckwheat


Barbara glowing in the magic light.


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

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


Today was 9.1 miles.

The Mokelumne Wilderness



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

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


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

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


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

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


Barbara pauses in a field of flowers


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

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


Rich tea-stained water.

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


Danger! Leeches!


Still, it was beautiful in its way…

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

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


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

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


The North Rim

July 13, 2017


The incredible snowplant!

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

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


Looking across the Valley to Half Dome


The view of Clouds Rest


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

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


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


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


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


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

IMG_5704 2

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

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


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


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

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

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


The creek looks pretty small from this view.


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


Katie on the bridge across Yosemite Creek.

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


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



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


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

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


Finally! A place to just sit!

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

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

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


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

July, Katie, and Yosemite

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

July 12, 2017

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


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

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

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


Skunk cabbage was sprouting everywhere in the saturated ground.

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


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



This little guy was hoping for a handout.

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


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

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


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

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

Going Down, Down, Down

Going Down, Down, Down


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.



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.


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


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.


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


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