It has been a long time since I have written anything in my High Sierra Rambles blog. Some of that time, of course, could be attributed to winter, when I generally avoid the mountains. I am not a snow person, having gotten a rough start at snow camping and snowshoeing on a high school trip to the Donner Pass area. It involved getting the flu and shivering for two days in a wet sleeping bag, which led to a mild case of frostbite which affected my toes for a few decades. But enough about that. I like the look and the smell of snow, and I love that it is what makes California stay as green as it does late into the season in the high country. But another thing that has been keeping me from writing is that so often when I am in the mountains, I am thinking of home these days, and worrying that I am not there. As some of you readers may be aware, my long-time partner in music and life, Tom Rozum, is dealing with Parkinson’s. It has already taken away his ability to play music, and much of his joy. Now it has progressed to the point where it is not easy to get around or do simple things like dress himself. Left to his own devices, it can take five minutes or more to get his shirt on. If I assist, it takes a few seconds. This is help I willingly give. But it means that I am not as free as I once was to go off on a ramble. So each trip feels even more precious and important than the last, knowing that I may not be able to do this much longer. And at 72, I am thankfully still strong and supple and can still glory in the uphill struggle posed by a faint, rocky trail. But for how much longer? Who can say? I never take the granite for granted.
I wanted to finally let all of this out of my heart a bit, in order to be able to write my blog more freely and openly. I hope that you, dear companion, don’t feel overly-burdened by what is making me feel a little lighter. And so with this as a backdrop, here is a little tale of a hike that Barbara Higbie and I took in August in Yosemite National Park.
August 8, 2022
Barbara and I got together to gather our equipment at my house at about 2:30 in the afternoon. About an hour later, we were riding the first wave of rush hour traffic out east: 580, 205, 5, 120, 99, 120. The highway numbers are so familiar to me that I don’t really think them anymore. I just point the van and go.
At 6:00, we found ourselves in Groveland, sharing a combination plate and a beer each at Cucina Michoacana. Then it was back on the road to our camping site off of Cherry Lake Road. It’s a handy place, quiet and lonesome, up a dirt road to the top of a hill. The sunset was beautiful and quiet, except for the crickets chirping incessantly almost all night long. I woke many times to watch the gibbous, nearly-full moon cross the sky, and to watch the stars in their slow procession. The sky was clear, and the night was warm. We had been so afraid of fires canceling our trip, but so far, it looks gorgeous.
August 9, 2022
Morning came early, at 5:30 for me. I woke B up at 6:00 and we packed up and drove to Camp Mather for breakfast and coffee at the Evergreen Lodge. For so many years, I made the pilgrimage up here to the Strawberry Music Festival, and I love seeing the little cabins, the dusty grounds, and tall pines under which so much great music was made and enjoyed. And there are so many memories tied to that place—ranging from ecstatic joy to deep heartbreak, and everything in between, from probably 1982 until the Rim Fire of 2013 caused the festival to have to change locations. Generations of kids raised at the festival now have families of their own. Barbara and I lingered, taking advantage of the wifi to check email for the last time and to just savor the place. Then it was on to Big Oak Flat, where we stopped to claim our permit. The ranger was so beautiful, clear-eyed, and fit that I think I momentarily fell in love. She told us we could change our permit to start at White Wolf, instead of hiking in at Lukens Lake, to hike the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and then circle back on the south side up into Ten Lakes Basin. This meant that we didn’t have to hike as fast or as far, since the Lukens Lake trailhead required us to backtrack for the first day.
B and I had hiked up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne before, circling down into it from the north, and we had been so enamored of the Pate Valley area and the river itself, that we wanted to visit it again. The hike from White Wolf into Pate Valley is a long, long downhill, and it was hot and dry! We each, at separate times, hit a little wall of exhaustion. When the trail leveled out alongside the river, the tiredness caught up to me, and I had to drop my pack and stretch out my waffle pad to rest for awhile. We were right above what looked to be a good swimming hole, but I couldn’t muster the energy to scramble down the steep bank to allow the water to invigorate me again. I just lay there, looking up at the cedar and lodgepole pine surrounding me, waiting for the urge to move to re-enter my body.
Today, the trail crew—the CCC—were working on the steep trail from White Wolf. Hard, good work. As I came upon the first of them, he said, “You are the first person to ever set foot on this step,” pointing to his handiwork under my descending shoe. By the end of the season, who knows how many other feet will have stepped there?
All the way down the White Wolf trail, we saw only one group of three people: a father and his son and daughter. They had huge packs and the dad didn’t look like he was going to make it. We passed them, and never saw them again. I spent a little bit of my energy worrying about them. When we got the Pate Valley, we could see a number of tents in the main campground, and passed the sprawling CCC camp just at dinnertime. The smells made me suddenly very hungry.
B thought that she had a little pebble in her shoe. She ignored it all day long, and it became a very painful blister, which dogged her for the rest of the trip. But then finally there we were, at our swimming hole by the grinding rock. The big slab of granite has at least 20 mortar holes. An overhanging bench sported a row of pestles, ready for the people to come along and put them to use. Someone had added to the pestles we had lined up in 2020, and some of the stones were of questionable shapes to be really useful, but it proved that we weren’t the only people to have discovered this hidden gem of a spot. A swim in the water made me new again, and all the tiredness and frustration of the long downhill slog floated off of me like so much trail dust.
Tramping down the trail, I was imagining the gatherings that must have taken place in Pate Valley, with Miwok, Paiute, and Mono people from both sides of the Sierra converging here for late summer harvest. I was wondering if they used this steep trail, and then I realized that of course they wouldn’t. They would have been camped all the way up the Hetch Hetchy Valley, fishing for salmon, gathering acorns and seeds, drying the fish on racks in the meadows, trading fish and acorns for obsidian from the eastern side of the mountains. No need to take this steep trail when you could saunter up through the valley. Off to the west, we caught glimpses of Hetch Hetchy, now a big reservoir with a wide bathtub ring in the near-white granite. So much has been lost here. But if the dam were removed, I think that the valley would begin to regrow in no time. That would be a sight to see!
We headed for our campsite of 2020, in a clearing near the Tuolumne, tucked away behind a barrier of young pines growing close together. We left the main trail on a little footpath and wound our way past the remains of stone-lined storage pits and threading our way through the pines to the campsite, only to find it occupied! But we found a nice place a little farther upriver. It was all good. This is, after all, in Yosemite National Park, and we are bound to see other folks on these well-trodden trails.
We ate, washed out our sweaty clothes and cleaned our filthy feet. There’s a lot of fine dust on that White Wolf trail. We doctored Barbara’s blister, and then it was time for early bed.
Elevation at White Wolf: 7875 feet
elevation at Pate Valley: 4380 feet
Miles traveled: 11.8 (longer than I’d like on the first day out)
So many times today, and every day spent in the Sierra, I see things I would love to share with Tom. I regret that we never backpacked together. He would love it here.