Going Down, Down, Down

6/22/2017

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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

2 thoughts on “Going Down, Down, Down

  1. Thank you for sharing, even took me back to old times as a child experiencing Bear Families & Firefalls. Making hungry for another Sunday Brunch at the Awanee and afternoon nap in the meadow.

    Like

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