Day 5: Pate Valley and the Mighty T


I slept really well last night. Seems to be an every-other-night occurrence. I saw another shooting star as I happened to be awake and gazing at the night sky. Jupiter has been so incredibly bright every night!


It doesn’t take much water up here to create a garden.

Barbara and I were up and on the trail by 7:30 (very early for us), and hiking down into the oak and madrone and Jeffrey pines. We stopped now and again to put our noses into the cracks of the bark and breathe deeply of the sweet butterscotch scent of them. So delicious.


Somebody’s breakfast


Parts of the trail are so dry, that the greenest part is the lichen.


I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a little lake down there. It’s on the map, but not on the trail, but I had a yen to visit it. I was guessing there might be a faint track that we could take. But we never found it. There was one place where I guessed that we could have gotten to it with a minimum of scrambling, but that will have to wait for the next trip.


Looking down into the Pate Valley



The oak woodlands.


As we descend, the granite takes on a darker aspect.


There is precious little left of this tree, after the fire came through. Or maybe it was a lightning strike, and burned from the inside out.


I see this as a silk bodice with lace ruffles.



The ground is so dry. But so beautiful.


Bear scat. I guess they’ve been eating manzanita berries.


It was really exciting when we rounded the bend and could see up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Once we hit the bottom of the canyon, we turn left.


I love being able to see what landscape lies ahead.


The walls of the canyon rise up thousands of feet above the river.

Now we’re at the Tuolumne, in a secluded spot. I was frustrated, first by seeing and hearing Piute Creek and imagining that our trail would lead us there, and then realizing that it did not. And then by walking through the woods within sound of the Tuolumne, but being unable to see it or figure out how/where to bushwhack through the woods to get to it. Finally, I spotted a faint trail off to the right, and suggested we take it. It led to a clearing with remnants of old Native American (Central Sierra Miwok) storage pits, and we followed an even fainter path through the trees to another clearing and then to the river. Now we are at the T, in a secluded spot. We haven’t seen another soul yet today, though it’s high noon. We took a swim, rinsed out our clothes, replenished our water supply, and now we are waiting for the clothes too dry. The sun is fierce, but the shade is cool and the water is bracing.



Down there somewhere among the conifers is the river!


At last! The water is so precious, in this sere landscape.

The river and its rocks remind me of my longtime friend and Yuba River artist, Phil Brown. He died of pancreatic cancer a couple of yeas ago, and I can’t stop my mind from constantly saying, “Oh Phil would love this!” or  “I wish Phil were here to see this place,” or “I have to tell Phil about this!” I just searched online for a website or some place that I could share his art with you, but there are so many artists named Phil Brown, and so little of his art is online. Mostly, it’s in private homes around Northern California. But some of it looks remarkably like this:

IMG_5110IMG_5109IMG_5107After a good rest by the river, we walked back the way we had come and farther, past the trail junction, to the Pate Valley campgrounds. Just before the bridge, I noticed a large granite rock and a deep backwater pool, where the main river whisked by to the right. I left the trail to check it out. There were at least twenty grinding holes in the smooth, flat rock, in rows spaced about four feet apart from each other. It was so easy to imagine how the women would have sat across from each other in the rows, working away grinding acorns into flour and most likely gossiping. And when the day got too hot, there was the swimming pool. Under an overhang, on a natural shelf, I saw the grinding stones. We pulled them out and looked, feeling how the smooth stones fit our hands. We found a few that had fallen off the ledge, and replaced them with the others. Apparently, this was a large, seasonal village, all along the river. I imagine that Paiute from the eastern Sierra would come over and trade with the Miwok, and people looked for partners outside of their family group. There would have been a lot to gossip about, probably.


The awesome swimming hole at the mortar rock.


Looking back upriver at the swimming hole (to the left) and the main stream (right).


This bridge at Pate Valley campsite was washed out in 2018, and just rebuilt. It’s beautiful!


The view from the bridge.

No doubt about it, this was hard, repetitive work that had to be done in order for tribes to have enough to eat. But the workplace is certainly beautiful and peaceful. The water, separated from the main Tuolumne flow, is a little warmer than the main river, and the pool is very deep. It is a fantastic place to swim, maybe as good or better than most swimming holes in my long river-swimming history.


A few of the many, many grinding holes.


The tools were neatly tucked away under the ledge.

IMG_5134Now we’re back at the campsite, which is hot, hot, hot. Very little shade, as this area had burned sometime between 1990 and 2009 (according to the Yosemite fire history map). Many young trees were growing up in the middle of the faint path we had followed to get here, but they aren’t offering much shade yet. I am sitting in the shade of the few big trees left standing along the river, waiting for the heat to dissipate some. It may be a long wait. It is storming upriver somewhere. We can hear the thunder and see the dark skies to the east, but I think this heat will drive the clouds away from us. There is certainly evidence that people have camped here before us: a t-shirt, some underwear, a hair tie—all of which we packed up to take away with us.



This is the life!

Today, I am hungry. I have eaten breakfast, all my snacks, and am waiting for a reasonable dinner time. It feels pretty good, to have that slight gnawing in my belly, but I am realizing that maybe the ranger at Neal Lake was right: we haven’t brought quite enough food with us this time. Oh, well. We certainly won’t starve.

After our dinner, we walked back up to the swimming hole. Still nobody else there, even though we saw other hikers in the afternoon, and people were camped not too far away from it. It seems that most backpackers are particularly uncurious about what lies just off the trail—in this case, in plain view behind a thin veil of oaks. We saw people walk past on the trail without so much as a glance in our direction. That’s good, for us and for this magic place.


Giving a human scale to the swimming hole. This water was cool enough to be plenty refreshing, and just warm enough that you could actually enjoy a good swim or just hang out in the water without the teeth starting to chatter. Looks like a fish just jumped out there.

IMG_5133It is so sad to imagine all the tools and the grinding holes, just waiting for the next year, when they will be taken up and utilized again. But the next year never comes.


Waiting for hands to make use of them again, the tools sleep under their ledge.


Our secluded campsite.


Evening comes


The last of the sun lights up the canyon walls

Dinner tonight was Berkeley Bowl black bean soup mix, with dehydrated rice, okra, carrots, red pepper flakes, cumin, parmesan, and chicken. Delicious! We are good cooks.

10.6 miles today, and since it was all downhill, the phone tells me we have climbed one flight of stairs. Good night.

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