The North Rim

July 13, 2017

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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.

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Looking across the Valley to Half Dome

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The view of Clouds Rest

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The creek looks pretty small from this view.

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

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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

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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.

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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

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

The Longest Day

6/21/2017

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Much of the contents of my pack, waiting to be organized and packed for another day.

I just realized that today is the Summer Solstice. So I will have my full share of a good thing! The sun is just clearing the ridgeline, so I can dry the underside of the tent before I pack up and head down the trail. It’s really buggy here, and I look forward to getting to a higher elevation. I’m getting bitten through my woolen leggings that I put on this morning to fight the chill. I am using my bug net over my beanie while I write. It probably looks kind-of silly, but whatever works…

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The astonishing snow plant! “…the free-thinking radical of wildflower society, eschewing photosynthesis altogether in favor of a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi.” Yosemite hikes.com

I was up at 6:30 AM, and puttered around the camp until 9:00, when I finally hit the road.  As the day warmed, the mosquitos dissipated (thank you!). I saw a fat timber rattler cross the trail ahead of me, and watched as it slithered off into the chaparral.

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That’s some good camouflage. Can you see it? Just left of the trail.

IMG_5472Dewey Point is gorgeous! I spent a couple of hours there soaking it all in. Struck up a conversation with a young German man out for a day hike. He’s traveling the US and Canada until October, when his visa expires and he flies back to Germany. He has been working in Canada for a few years, and saving up money, planning for this trip. He’ll be hitting almost all of the western National Parks, mostly sleeping in his used Toyota van. For the second half of his trip, he will be joined by his mom. Awww. Tomorrow, he plans to hike up Yosemite Falls. I envy him the freedom and the strength of his youth.

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I prevailed upon a hiker to take my picture at Dewey Point.

I was spell-bound, watching two lizards in what appeared to be territorial dispute at Dewey Point. They kept circling, head to tail, keeping just out of striking distance of each other. But every once in awhile, one would lunge at the neck of the other and bite. Then they would continue their wary circling, pausing for push-ups once in awhile. Finally, one chased the other away, and he turned and went back under his rock. War is everywhere.IMG_5463

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This is some precipitous country!

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Looking northwest

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This little guy looked like he was carved out of jade. Please excuse the lousy photo!

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Way too early in the year to munch on wild currants.

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Bridal veil Falls, far below but clearly audible in the mountain quiet.

Farther along, I spent a little while at Crocker Point, another beauty. I couldn’t say which of these places was my favorite. Each is gives a different outlook over the valley. Now, I am at Stanford Point. From here, you can see all the way up the valley, and hear Bridalveil Falls crashing down into the depths below. The farther I go, the fewer people are on the trail. Midweek, it’s pretty sparsely populated. There are fallen trees everywhere over the path, which I have to walk around or clamber over. The trail crews haven’t gotten this far yet this year. As I was leaving, a young man running full speed passed me, on his way to the point. I watched as he got there, stopped for a few minutes, and then turned around and flew past me back the way he had come. He was on a mission, for sure! In contrast, I feel like I am dragging today. I can barely make myself walk at my standard mile-eating pace. I hear a siren coming from the valley floor. Civilization is not far away, but I feel totally alone. Sitting on the edge, I am getting the willies. Every time I look down, I get a jolt of vertigo. I may have to move…

IMG_5473IMG_5488I stopped at a little creek crossing for a bandanna bath. It was so refreshing, but it didn’t make me walk any faster. Ribbon Falls is full and beautiful across the valley. The water breaks up and turns to mist after the first 1,000 feet of fall.

I got a little blister on my left foot. Is this part of my left-side problem– hip, knee, and now foot? I doctored it, drained it, cleaned it with an alcohol wipe and applied a nice covering of Moleskin, the hiker’s friend It should be fine, now.

More clouds are approaching from the north side of the valley. Coming my way like a slow-motion invasion. I may get a storm!IMG_5490

Somewhere past Stanford Point, I have found a perfect sandy campsite off the trail, hidden by the chinquapin, very near the canyon rim. I am watching the storm clouds form over the peaks. The wind is picking up, blowing them toward me slowly, slowly, and I hear distant thunder. I suppose in a couple of hours could get a storm here. At 6:30 it isn’t yet to the far side of the valley, but over by Half Dome it is looking very dark and menacing. Brilliant blue skies behind me, and at least two more hours of sun. This day stretches on and on.IMG_5483

IMG_5484I walked back to the last stream (Meadow Brook?) I had crossed, and went a little ways upstream of the trail to bathe. There was a perfect little pool down a steep bank, clear of sediment but with the water stained the color of weak tea by the tannic leaves. I washed off the salty sweat, rinsed out my hair and clothes, and walked the half mile back to camp in flip flops. I hung my wet clothes in a tree and tried to nap. That didn’t work. I ran out o storage space on my phone and started madly deleting old photos and apps so that I can still take more pictures. Every moment the light changes, and I want to capture some of it.

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All cleaned up!

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IMG_5508IMG_5513IMG_5494Woodpeckers, robins, ruffed grouse, mountain chickadees (“Hey, Laurie”), and suddenly a little Merlin streaking past.

I am determined to stay up until sunset at least, but if it starts raining I’ll go to ground.

Granite rocks still warm from the sun. I lay back to look at the clouds, but it was too deep, too blue and white, too huge to comprehend, and I had to sit back up, dizzy from the immensity of it all.

7:15. The storm has suddenly dissipated. It’s as if hitting the far edge of the valley did it in, and the clouds just evaporated. Everything is sunny and unthreatening. Now I realize how much I was actually looking forward to the excitement of riding out a storm in a good tent. Darn!

IMG_5493IMG_5491IMG_5522IMG_5514Sunset at 8:25: the mosquitos are out in force! I have donned two pair of pants, gloves, hat, mosquito net, socks, and shoes. But they still seem to get me. Into the tent to escape.

IMG_5523IMG_5529IMG_5525I am so sad tonight. Thinking of “all my long-lost friends and lovers,” as Rosalie Sorrels sang. Phil, I am going to miss you when you’re gone. Tom Size, there is still such a sharp pain when I think of you. Sarah, Charles D, Charles S…I realize most of my lost friends are men. My women friends are mostly still here.

10:30 PM Woke up with itching legs. I guess I got a lot of bites before I suited up. Luckily, there is hydrocortisone cream in the first-aid kit. It’s still very warm at this lower elevation at 11:00. I wish it would get cold so that my bag would be useful. Hot, hot, hot… My flashlight quit, but no worries. The solar lantern is still going strong. That’s a nice piece of light-weight equipment. Starry skies! Finally, my phone agrees with my map, and shows I have hiked a scant 9.5 miles today. I forgot that my hip and knee were hurting.

 

Illilouette to Bridalveil

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6/20/17

Last night I went to sleep early. I crawled into the tent at 7:30, intending to just nap a bit. I woke at 9:00 in the last of the twilight, and considered going to sit by my neighbors’ fire, which looked very inviting. A tame fire is a thing of beauty, that tugs at some fundamental aspect of being a human. But I fell asleep again, waking a few times in the night to admire the clear skies and bright stars slowly arcing overhead. Illilouette “Creek” was super-loud, and I had to make earplugs out of toilet paper to quiet it down so that I could sleep. It helped a little bit.

I was up at 5:00 AM and on the trail by 6:30. Some of my neighbors were up, and I talked with them a bit. They had been too cold to sleep, in their lightweight summer bags, unprepared for the precipitous temperature drop that happens in the night at this elevation. I felt bad for them, having experienced that discomfort last year with a defective sleeping pad and inferior bag. I was so very cozy last night, though, and was thankful that I had the right tools for the job.

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Soon the sun will be up. I enjoyed the cool and quiet of early morning on the trail.

The heat was brutal yesterday, and I wanted to get a headstart on it today. The trail was so quiet, the air so fresh. I saw a black bear come down the slope in front of me and cross the trail. It didn’t see me, and I crept along the trail trying for a photo as it roamed among the chaparral and fallen trees of the old burn area. Every time it showed itself, I wasn’t quite prepared. It finally looked up and saw me, which stopped it long enough for me to snap a picture, and then turned tail and skedaddled down the slope and disappeared.IMG_5395

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The creek I fell into yesterday, looking benign and innocent at the proper fording spot.

 

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The Illilouette starts to build up speed for its downward rush…

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…and plunges into the canyon.

I passed a trail-maintenance crew laboring away clearing the winter/spring overgrowth of the path. What incredible views they had for their work! I was also stopped by a ranger, who asked if I had had any run-ins with bears. I recounted my morning sighting. He said that there was a bear in the area that they had had lots of complaints about. Not my bear, who was suitably shy and foraging as a natural bear is wont to do, without human intervention.

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Coming around the corner, anticipating the view up the Merced River canyon.

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Vernal and Nevada Falls, plummeting out of Little Yosemite Valley behind Half Dome. I am so grateful that this landscape belongs to us all!

 

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The view across the valley to Yosemite Falls. Amidst the beauty, I can’t help but notice all of the dead and dying trees. One good winter of snowfall can’t make up for the effect of years of drought.

It was about 8:30 when I arrived at Glacier Point. My left hip and knee have been troublesome, with sciatic pain and accompanying weakness on that side. So I rested and waited for the store to open. It was supposed to open at 9:00, but finally they unlocked the doors at 9:20. I bought a small bag of potato chips, an orange, and a bottled coffee, just because I could. It was a delicious repast.

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Of course I had to stop for a portrait at Glacier Point!

I took off along the Pohono Trail, and in 1.5 miles I ditched my pack and made a short detour to Sentinel Dome. There were lots of day hikers up there admiring the views, and you could see the snow still lying heavily up in the high country to the north, east and south.

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Sentinel Dome

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Panorama of the high country from Sentinel Dome. Lots of snow, and I am grateful that I opted for lower elevation.

I continued along the trail, enjoying the scents of Jeffrey Pine and honeysuckle bush.

IMG_5446In the midst of such beauty, I am occasionally overcome with sorrow, thinking of my friend Phil Brown, who is in the process of dying as I walk in his beloved mountains. I wish he could be with me. Phil is a member of my chosen family, a wonderful artist and funny guy, approaching his death with dignity, humor and openness. It breaks my heart.

Next stop was Taft Point and The Fissures. These fissures are narrow clefts in the granite which plunge 2000 feet straight down to the valley floor. There were young people there “highlining” across the fissures. This is something I had never seen, but which appears to be quite popular. They rig slack lines across the fissures, and then walk across them. I spoke to one highliner who insisted that it was quite safe, as they all wore safety harnesses. Still, it scared me to just watch (and yet I couldn’t turn my eyes away).

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Rigging a line across one of the Fissures

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I watched a guy freeze up on this line. He had to sit down and scoot back to safety. Hmmm…I wonder why…

I got a nice campsite along Bridalveil Creek, the closest to Glacier Point that backpackers are allowed to camp. It was occupied when I arrived, but by the time I had finished washing up, the guys had left and I snagged it.

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The bridge at Bridalveil. No camping allowed on the east side.

IMG_5443I love washing up after such a hot and dusty day. The creek water (snowmelt) is super-cold but refreshing. Rinsing out my socks, gaiters, shirt, and gloves is a chore I really enjoy. And I cherish the fleeting taste of salt as I (quickly) submerge my head in the water.

IMG_5440It was 2:00 PM when I arrived here, a nice early day. Map mileage shows somewhere around 9.5 miles, but my phone mileage shows 15.4 miles, 28,783 steps, and 76 floors climbed. I am tired!

IMG_5448A party of 15 just arrived, all young teenagers. They said they hoped they wouldn’t be too noisy. I couldn’t hear them at their campsite, but can certainly hear them whooping and hollering down by the creek. I am feeling guilty that I have the best, flattest and most expansive campsite in the area all to myself. I could rent out the extra room. Or just give it away. I feel sort-of lonesome, and wish I had brought a book (one of the other things I forgot) There are still a couple of hours to kill before I can reasonably go to bed, as it’s only 6:30 now.

It suddenly got buggy (mosquitos) at around 7:30, and drove me into my tent where I am writing about the day. I didn’t want to put bug dope on. I think it’s the Summer Solstice eve today, so nightfall is a long ways off. It’s nice and comfy in here, and soon I’ll be asleep. My limbs ache. The left hip and knee are not too bad, but I notice they are not right. I took ibuprofen, which will probably knock me out sooner than later.

2:55 AM

I just had a funny dream about someone I know (no names here) freaking out and maybe  even starting a war because people didn’t learn the “right” harmony parts to Jean Ritchie’s “Now is the Cool of the Day.” I had spent much of the day thinking about this song, and working out harmony parts in my head, wishing I had three other people to work it out with, so the dream is based in fact.

The Milky Way is directly overhead. Trees are all around, so star-gazing opportunities are limited. It’s a beautiful night, cool and quiet, aside from Bridalveil Creek, which of course won’t shut up. My ears can’t stop listening to it. Tomorrow I’ll visit Dewey Point, Crocker Point, and Stanford Point. The captains of financial industry (except Dewey…who is he?)*

*editor’s note: I just looked this up, and Dewey point is named for Admiral George Dewey, of the US Navy (December 26, 1837 – January 16, 1917). He was a war hero, and in later life a horseback-riding pal of Teddy Roosevelt. Hence the naming of the point for him. It’s all who you know.

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50 years ago this month!

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The Merced River at Happy Isles

6/19/17

It’s about 6:00 PM. I have a nice, flat, sandy campsite by Illilouette Creek, which is more like a raging river. It is really full, running fast and furious and rising. I started out this morning by about 7:00 AM I think, stopped at the car to get my forgotten toiletries, and started the uphill climb. I realized today that it is the month of my 50th anniversary of the first time that I hiked up the Mist Trail alongside Vernal and Nevada Falls. That time, I was 16 years old and on my way to camp in Little Yosemite Valley and from there up to Half Dome, with my sister Kristin and friend Mike McCarthy. That was my first backpacking trip, and I was completely exhausted and had no stamina. And on that trip, I received a valuable piece of information from a man who I remember as looking like the quintessential Sierra Club member of the time, wearing green and khaki, with a red backpack and big hiking boots. He was probably in his 40’s and to this 16-year-old looked really old. He stopped and said, “Always take two steps where one will do,” meaning small steady steps on a climb are less wearing on the legs than trying to pull oneself up big steps. I have found this to be absolutely true over the years, and thank him, wherever he is, for having taken the time to stop and teach a novice. On this ascent, I just steadily trudged up the trail, and felt pretty good about it. Somewhere, I have a photo that Mike took of the younger me, sitting on a rock beside the trail, looking utterly wasted. I’ll have to hunt it up and post it.

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View from the first bridge, Merced River

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Looking back down the Merced, from below Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail.

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Thundering Vernal Falls, looking like a painting through the mist.

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Looking up through the trees, on the aptly-named Mist Trail. It was warm enough that the cooling mist was quite welcome.

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Nevada Falls, which claimed my lovely little pocket knife two years ago. I still miss it.

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Nevada Falls again, without the human blocking the view.

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Finally, the top of Nevada Falls, where the Merced was overflowing its banks. I don’t think we needed fences and signs to warn us of the dangers.

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The top of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap, where I stopped to dry my feet and have lunch. It was bustling with day hikers, and there was a happy, festive mood.

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This guy wanted me to share my lunch. I didn’t.

I passed a couple heading up the Mist Trail who were planning on camping on Illilouette Creek as well. Miles farther along, at Illilouette bridge on the Panoramic Trail, where I had stopped for a little nap, they caught up with me. The man said he thought I was like a little rabbit hopping up the trail past them. That was then, though, and this rabbit was pretty tired out by the time I had reached the bridge.

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A swallowtail takes advantage of the many blooming azaleas along the trail. There were so many wildflowers everywhere!

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Looking back toward Nevada Falls from the Panoramic Trail, with the back of Half Dome on the left.

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Across the valley, you could hear the thundering of Yosemite Falls. There were lots of dead and dying trees this year, the result of a perfect storm caused by years of drought and a beetle infestation. I heard a forester say that he expected a nearly 100% loss of pines between 5,000 and 7,000 feet elevation in the next few years.

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Panorama along the Panoramic.

I passed the couple again on the way up the creek. When I got to a stream crossing, I stopped to figure out the best way to proceed. The stream was basically a boulder field with water running through it—very rough and steep. I went upstream a bit to see if there was a better way to cross, but it only got worse. So back I went to the original spot. I had just decided to go for it, figuring the water would only be maybe up to my thighs for a short while, and had taken my shoes off to keep them dry and go barefoot, when the couple showed up at the same place. I showed them the route I was planning on taking, and then shoved off into the stream, stepping carefully and taking my time on the slick rocks. Unfortunately, I slipped and in very, very slow motion fell backwards into the water, trying to stop my fall with my trekking poles and very nearly succeeding. I recovered quickly, and was up again and through to the other side. From there, I could see a little further downstream where the creek widened out and crossed a flat, ankle-deep gravel bar. Damn! That was obviously where I should have crossed. I felt like an idiot, especially because those people were watching me the whole time. The only consolation for my soaked pride was that they hadn’t seen the crossing, either. I pointed it out to them, and the woman crossed easily, The man took off his big hiking boots, and not wanting them to get wet, decided to throw them one at a time to his partner. The first one caught on a finger, though, and the throw went wild. The shoe arced spinning into the air and came down nearly mid-stream. The woman clambered after it, grabbing it just before it was swept into the Illilouette where it would have been lost. So much for keeping the boots dry! The second throw whizzed past my head while I was putting my shoes back on, and bounced off my pack. No harm done. He walked across uneventfully and put on his one wet and one dry boot. I took off again up the trail, through an old burn area that was coming back nicely, with lots of low currant bushes and chinquapin. The trail wound up away from the Illilouette, with beautiful views of river canyon and the swirling green waters. I walked off the trail after awhile to explore a ledge which I thought might have a good campsite. But there were so many fallen trees, and so many still standing, that it felt sort-of spooky and unsafe in there. And I kept thinking I heard voices, but couldn’t see any people. I decided to get back up to the trail and keep walking.

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Illilouette “Creek” in flood stage. I’m thankful for a bridge!

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Farther up the Illilouette, the creek raged below me.

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A last view of Half Dome before the trail winds out of sight.

Finally, I came to the designated camp sites along the river, and after searching about for a nice flat spot away from other people, I opted for the far end of the same sandy beach where a group of 7 people were camped. Easy access to the water, big flat granite boulders for drying my clothes after I rinsed out the sweat and dust of the day, and they seemed like a nice group, who left me alone.

It had been a pretty busy on the Panoramic Trail, and very busy on the Mist Trail. but when I turned off to go up Illilouette, I didn’t see anyone else on the trail, other than the couple. And now here I was away off in the “wilderness” next to a bunch of friends and family from southern California. It was a hard day. The map showed 9.5 miles, but my phone listed 15.7 miles. It felt much more like the latter, especially for the first day out, following a less-than-restful night’s sleep. Originally, I had intended to take a trail that cut over at a diagonal from near the top of Nevada Falls. It would have cut miles  off of the day, but would have required crossing Illilouette Creek to get to my first camping spot. I had been advised to go around and cross by the bridge, and I’m glad that I did. The Illilouette was huge and wild, and I doubt that I would have been able to cross safely, or even that I would have tried once I saw it. In the evening, at my campsite, though, I noticed a deer across the river. I turned back and continued to set up my camp, and the next time I looked up, that deer was on MY side of the river! Braver and stronger than me!

Off to sleep early tonight.

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My comfy campsite beside the roaring Illilouette.

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Home, sweet home!

An Early-Season Walkabout

6/18/17

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Yosemite Falls, which a Valley bus driver proudly announced was the 5th highest waterfall in the world, reflected in the flooded valley floor. I looked it up, and it’s actually 20th on the list. But some of the others have very little volume, so maybe his list went by volume as well.

For my first outing of 2017, I had planned on a round-trip hike that would take in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in June. I wanted to go early-ish in the season, to see all the waterfalls at their most glorious and wild. But as Fortune would have it, following this year’s record snowfall in the Sierra, the trails were still impassable in mid-June. Bridges had been wiped out by the floods, the Tioga Pass road had only been open a couple of days, and it was just not going to happen. So I cast about for some way to get into the Sierra without having to brave the very dangerous creek crossings and late-season snowy conditions. After consulting guide books and my personal oracles, I decided to visit Yosemite Valley, and hike the south side of the valley, starting at Happy Isles, going up past Vernal and Nevada Falls , along the Panoramic Trail to Glacier Point, and then continuing along the south rim to Wawona Tunnel and down through the Valley and back to the car. The advantage, for me, was that the trails would be clear of snow and for my first outing of the year, I wouldn’t be so alone.

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Just one of the puzzling sights at this year’s bluegrass festival.

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The week before, I had gotten the opportunity to hang out with one of my heroes, the great Alice Gerrard, at the California bluegrass Association’s Fathers’ Day Bluegrass Festival.

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Sunsets were gorgeous, especially when adding my very musical friend Luke “Nandi” Forrest, to the shot.

I arrived in Yosemite Valley, straight from the Fathers Day Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, after driving the winding Highway 49 through the sere landscape of the California foothills.

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Enroute to Yosemite, I watched the thunderclouds mass over the Sierra in the late afternoon.

In stark contrast, the Valley floor was flooded with Spring snow melt and rain, and the waterfalls were all pumping as I’d never seen them before!IMG_5334

I had picked up my backcountry permit just inside the park, and was told that I would need to hike the long way around to the backpackers’ campground, as there was flooding on the main entrance. Truly! The water was about up to my knees and it was impossible to see where the path might be. Off to the left, I saw a small group of backpacking tents, and I thought that might be the place I was looking for. There was one young man there, and I engaged him in conversation. It turned out that the tents belonged to a group of college researchers who were spending the summer studying recycling and waste in national parks. He pointed the way to the backpackers camp, but before I hit the water again, I asked if they might have room for one more little tent at their camp. He said, “Of course!” So I was able to save myself more wading and possibly getting lost, pitched my tent and made myself at home. I eventually met all four: Bo, Jeremiah, Montana and Mary. They were spending a month in Yosemite, followed by a month in Grand Tetons, and a month in Denali, working for the Leave No Trace Institute. Nice summer job!

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A dry oasis in the flood.

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The view from outside my tent in the morning.

I seem to have forgotten a number of important items: baking soda (for brushing teeth), dental floss, and my handy-dandy spork a cross between a spoon and a fork, which saves carrying both, but is less effective than either). Luckily, I think they are in the car, and it is parked near the trailhead. My gas canister was nearly empty. The stove lit and burned for a few seconds before it went out. Luckily, I had another full one. More bad planning, and I am relieved that the car is close by. I also forgot my water shoes, so I guess I will either be fording creeks in my hiking shoes or barefoot. Most likely the latter. That worked today, wading to camp.

3:00 AM

For some reason, my right shoulder is hurting, as is my left hip. I think it’s from apprehension about the trip. The river is rising and very loud! Keeping me awake. Part of me wonders whether I will be flooded out of my tent before morning.

My mind is flooded with worries that I have been trying to keep at bay in the daylight hours. I am hoping that this solo saunter through the mountains will give me time to turn things over in my mind, and maybe hit on some plan of action. Or if not, at least give me some breathing room by myself. It doesn’t bode well, though, that I am not sleeping…