Day 8: Coming Down


I didn’t make any entry into my journal for this last day of our hike, but it is still vivid in my mind, and so here goes:

Early morning on the Tuolumne. A beautiful day!

Barbara and I popped out of our respective tents, fully dressed, at exactly the same time this morning, sometime near 6:00 AM. We seem to have synchronized our inner clocks perfectly.


Looking east and then west along the Tuolumne. In the immortal words of Jimmy Martin, “The thing about it was, it was perfect.”
A not-so-good selfie, but I have been told that people like to see people in photos. So here ya go.
One of the people who was a tiny dot on the top of one of my Tuolumne Falls photos from my last post took this photo of B and me at the bridge across the Tuolumne.
Just another gorgeous view along the banks of the T.

We ate our last helpings of oatmeal, drank our last cups of coffee (for B) and tea (for me), with the last of our powdered buttermilk. No snacks for today. We spread out our tents by the river on a lovely smooth clean expanse of granite to dry out after yesterday’s drenching. The wait forced us to enjoy our last campsite, as we slowly pack up our well-worn clothes, personal trash, and detritus picked up along the trail. Finally, the tents were dry, and we finished our packing and hit the trail. From here to the van, it’s mostly a pretty flat wander, mostly along the Tuolumne out to the parking lot, for about 5 miles or so. Easy-peasy!

Happy person!
We just smile a lot on these trips. That’s all. Just smile.
Early morning light in the meadows. We watched a very unconcerned doe and her two skittish fauns alongside the trail. We were too engrossed in watching to remember to take photos.
Unicorn and Cathedral Peaks again, in the distance.
This place is just soooo beautiful!

We had parked in the lot for the stables, so on the way back we took the turnoff to the stables. I kept waiting for the landmarks that I remembered from our hike out, and nothing looked very familiar. Then, suddenly, we were out of the trees and actually at the Tuolumne Meadows stable. Like everything else in Yosemite, it never opened this season, and it looked so desolate. We hadn’t been there before. I was briefly disoriented, until I spotted the parking lot off to the right, and the van sitting patiently waiting for our return.

Tuolumne Meadows stables are just empty tent frames. They never opened up this year.
I’d guess this is a tack room. With a long hitching post, and log steps to mount up with ease!

We tossed our very light packs into the van, and drove the short distance to the Tioga Pass Road bridge over the river. We took one last rinse-off in the bracing waters of the Tuolumne, and done our clean clothes. Heavenly!

Tioga Pass Road is spectacular, plunging over the smooth granite mountains and down the rubbly Nevada side to Mono Lake and Highway 395. I was too busy driving to take any photos. The air looked hazy, and Mono Lake faded out to invisible in the near distance. At 395, we turned left to the town of Lee Vining, hoping to find something to eat. The town is still pretty closed up, but there was a restaurant with an outdoor patio, and we donned our masks, sanitized our hands, and sat down to a fantastic late brunch. I had eggs over easy with hashbrown potatoes, salsa, and sourdough toast with marmalade. We shared a piece of cherry pie for dessert (too sweet for me). It was really incredible-tasting. When I backpacked in my teens, we always used to stop at the A&W drive-in in Tracy on our way back from the mountains and order root beer floats. That doesn’t appeal much to me anymore (at least, I don’t think it does. Maybe I should try one again…), but this food celebration had the same ritual feel to me.

Photo by Barbara Higbie

Having to deliver Barbara to the campsite on Highway 50 meant that we got to take the road over Monitor Pass. As long as I have lived and traveled in California, I had never yet been on this road. It’s so exciting for me to have a new road under my wheels, and this pass is a beauty! When we stopped up near the summit to take photos, we talked to two motorcycle riders who were enjoying the road, too. They told us that there was a fire east of Mono Lake that was causing the smoke in the air. And they mentioned the dry lightning storms of the night before last that set off over 300 fires around the Bay Area. So that’s what I smelled all the way up in the mountains. The nose knew. What will we be coming home to?

The Sawtooth Range, as seen from the other side, outside of Bridgeport, CA
The view from the Monitor Pass overlook. Blessed rain in the distance!
Looking east into Nevada.
Once over Monitor Pass, it was smooth sailing on through Markleeville and up and over to Highway 50, and eventually home.

Now I am back home, and California is on fire. Luckily, here in Berkeley, we are far from the actual blazes, but inundated with smoke. And friends, acquaintances, and strangers are being evacuated and losing everything to the flames. Poor California! We need our water, we need our snow, we need cold winters in the mountains. We need our rivers to flood the valley floor in the Springtime and replenish the groundwater. 

Barbara and I have been planning another hike, in Yosemite, for next week, but just this evening I got news that there s a fire very nearby. Maybe we will just stay home indoors. 

Wishing you well wherever you are.

Day 7, Mother Nature takes charge



Packed up and ready to go in the morning. Thank you, beautiful campsite!


This morning, I could have sworn that I detected a very faint scent of woodsmoke in the air as I sat here by the river. It came and went, and the sky was clear, so I forgot about it. But the afternoon lightning now is making me remember it. It’s a worrisome thing, these extra-dry conditions and fire from the sky.

We stopped three times to swim in the river. So incredibly refreshing every time. It was a hot and sweaty uphill climb all day, and the river seemed to get colder the higher we went. But every time, I was ready to start up again, with renewed energy


We left our camp in the early morning. I love the coolness and freshness of the trail before the sun is overhead.


We passed so many great swimming holes, but it was too early and not yet hot enough to want to plunge in.


Some swimming holes weren’t particularly accessible, though they beckoned mightily.


We walked through an area with huge old cedar trees growing beside the river.

The last three days, I have felt occasional hunger. At first, it felt good, but my energy is starting to flag (Barbara’s, too), and I blame some of that on the heat and the climb, and some on the lack of sufficient caloric intake. You live and learn…


As the day warmed, we gave in to temptation and stopped for our first swim. It was short, maybe more of a dunk and a paddle than an actual luxuriating swim, but it did the trick!


Looking back down the canyon from whence we came.


We skipped this one…


The day got hotter and hotter, and the trail wound up and up.

Tomorrow will be a quick 5-mile hike to the van, a dip in the T and a change of clothes, and we will hit the road over Tioga Pass to Highway 395. I need to drop B off at a family lake camp (which I am happy t do—I haven’t had a road trip in a long time).


Our first view of Waterwheel Falls.


Resting above Waterwheel Falls. In this tree, I saw the chickaree.


The view downriver from Waterwheel Falls.


This little guy/gal ignored us as it concentrated on whatever it was eating. The Douglas squirrels/chickarees are the cutest critters!


Th Tuolumne just before it plunges over Waterwheel Falls


We were joined by four hikers above the falls. I snapped this photo and then sent it to them, when I got cell service.



LeConte Falls. Right before we got here, I slipped on the trail and fell, cutting my elbow. We stopped here to doctor it up and wash my shirt. The amount of blood was awesome, and hardly hurt at all!


I got one mosquito bite, right on my forehead over my right eye. Not bad.


“Cloudy in the east, and it looks like rain” more and more as the day progresses.



At this point, I think we were at California Falls, but I can’t say for sure. The entire stretch of the Tuolumne looked like a waterfall, but maybe they are just classified as cataracts. In any case, this shelf had the most exquisite designs in the polished stone from millennia of Spring floodwaters.


See what I mean?



It takes precious little encouragement for wildflowers to grow.


Barbara is feeling good!

There haven’t been many people on the trail today, until we got near Glen Aulin. Then suddenly, here’s the outside world! Everyone is donning masks to pass us on the trail, and there are fewer friendly hikers. Just people hurrying past on some sort of mission or other. We fished out our masks and joined the parade.


This is really great trail-building all up the canyon. My deep gratitude to everyone who made that happen.


Looking back down the canyon, again.


And suddenly, we were alongside a typical Wisconsin canoeing river, except for those telltale cliffs.


I will miss these clean, bright granite expanses.

We enjoyed stops at Waterwheel Falls, LeConte Falls, California Falls, White Cascade, and Tuolumne Falls. They are spectacular, even this late in the season with a tiny fraction of their Spring flow.


Wait a minute…maybe THIS is California Falls?



When we got to Glen Aulin, we were greeted by a little soft, cooling rain. Lovely!


By the time we got to the bridge at Glen Aulin, the sky had cleared and we had stopped for another swim

IMG_53155:27 PM

We are in our tents above Tuolumne Falls, and the rain is coming down. We watched the storm approach for a long time, and it finally arrived. Thunder and lightning about ten miles away, but a really nice downpour. We had set up our tents and just finished dinner when it started.


Tuolumne Falls, and the approaching storm.


Looking east from our campsite right before dinner. Something is happening over there!

Shit! A lightning flash and immediate crack of thunder that made me jump and holler involuntarily. That’s close! But so far, nothing any closer, and no repeats of that surprise.

The sun is shining in under the storm. I had been thinking that the hot air coming up the canyon might keep the storm at bay. And it is, for everyone still down in the canyon. But we are up top at the end of it. Oh, well. A storm like this reminds me who is in charge. It’s really raining now.

Whoa! It’s hailing now! The stones are the size of large green peas, and it’s deafening inside the tent. I am so grateful for this little mobile home.


After the rain stopped, we emerged from our tents and explored the area.


Another beautiful campsite. No harm done by the rain.


I climbed a large smooth granite hill near our camp. The Tuolumne disappears over the lip of its namesake falls right here.


The afore-mentioned granite hill. It looks like a whale or an elephant.


View from the top.


My phone shows 11 miles hiked today, from 2 miles west of Return Creek to here above Glen Aulin. I don’t know how that is, as on the map it looks like it should have been 7 or 8 miles.

As the sun set on our penultimate day in the Sierra, the light kept changing and intensifying, causing me to take too many photos yet again.


One moment, the sky was heavy and gray…


…and the next, it was clear blue skies!



IMG_5344IMG_5345IMG_5348It’s off to bed now, and all I can think about tonight is tomorrow’s breakfast. And the chance to eat a big lunch somewhere on the road.

Day 6: The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne


3:30 PM


Watching the morning come.

I woke after a too-hot night at about 5:30 AM, to a beautiful clear sky. The clouds had vanished during the night, and I was able to lie comfortably and watch the stars. B said that in the middle of the night she heard a loud snuffing and sniffing outside her tent, right where her pack was. She didn’t hear any footsteps or other noise. She turned on her flashlight, and probably scared away whatever it was. I think it must have been a bear, having a look around. The Bear Vault wasn’t bothered, and everything in camp was as it had been when we retired to our tents.


A couple more Phil Brown tribute photos:

IMG_5173IMG_5172I love this river. Everywhere I look, sights remind me of Phil Brown and his paintings and pastels of the South Fork of the Yuba. I miss having him in my life, but he left beautiful work behind, and that’s something. By all accounts, he was a beloved teacher, who showed his students how to see rather than just look at their subjects.

My flashlight—a new, fancy, light rechargeable one—died last night and of course I had forgotten the charging cord, which was tucked neatly into the pocket of the solar charger we didn’t bring because a friend of B’s loaned us a better, lighter one with a battery pack. It’s so hard to keep all the bits and pieces together. It’s a new moon, so only starlight at night, which is okay by me. I miss reading by flashlight, but not so much as I thought I might. There is lots to busy my mind, and also lots of emptiness to be enjoyed and savored.


I don’t know…the way these logs were laid out just didn’t seem “natural” to me. I like to think it was the framework of an Ahwahnechee lodge.


We walked along beside the river much of the time, and as the day grew hotter, the water beckoned louder and louder.



“Amber tresses” of tree.

It was a splendid hike to this camp today, though a bit too hot for my liking. We are in the heart of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, and it is magnificent. It took us awhile to get here because we had to stop and swim a couple of times. We are both hungry today. Our allotted portions of food haven’t changed, but we think that the lower altitude makes one hungrier. We have enough food for the trip, but certainly not much, if any, extra. I think I skimped on my snack portions,  overcompensating for the last trip, when I had nuts and fruit left over.

Leading up to this outing, I had dehydrated Damson plums from my backyard trees, and pears and apples from my mom’s backyard. Also parsley and parmesan for the dinners and my big experiment—miso. All turned out great, I have to say. And the soaked and dried almonds are especially delicious.



After about 4 miles alongside the river, we started up over the bypass for Muir Gorge, a particularly steep and narrow portion of the Tuolumne. I hated to part from the banks of the T, even for a few miles.


These trails are works of art. Wait…have I made that observation before?


More rocks in clear green water. Can’t get enough!



This oak started growing out from under this boulder quite awhile ago.


Manzanita is a great sculptor!

We are about 1.5 or 2 miles west of Return Creek, which was our intended destination, but this site is so pretty and shady. Just downstream is a beautiful-looking swimming hole which is calling to me.


Looking westward, back down the canyon.


We leave the river below us, but only for a few miles.


I am constantly amazed, and comforted, by how tiny we are in the world!


Register Creek, as dry as can be.


Looking down into Muir Gorge. See that saddle to the left of the left-side hump? That’s where the trail will take us (I think…).


If I had seen this scene in a Japanese painting, I would have said that it was completely exaggerated and out-of-proportion, but here it is in real life.


The tiny piece of shade offered at high noon by this venerable old juniper at the highest point of the Muir Gorge bypass was most welcome.


And now we head down toward the river again.


The dry bed of Cathedral Creek, across the river from our campsite.


The trail plunged down into the trees again. 


This area had been burned, but not so badly that the majority of the tall trees were lost. The woodland had an open, expansive feel about it. It reminded me of Joaquin Miller’s writings in “Life Amongst the Modoc,” about their use of controlled fires to keep lines of sight open for hunting and such.


Looks like someone had a dinner party here!


One more climb into the granite…


…back down to the trees…


…and back to the river again. We didn’t stop to swim here, and now I am regretting it. That’s an Olympic-sized swimming hole!

We set up our tents and took naps for about an hour or so. B is still napping.


It was a little buggy there, among the trees, but not bad at all.

Our campsite is in a stand of cedar and oak. A fire came through here some years ago, and there are a few tall cedars standing dead. None right by camp, but close enough to hit it if one chanced to fall while we’re here. That’s a scary thought, after having been at a river camp on the Tuolumne a few years ago, when a seemingly healthy and huge old oak, laden with acorns and leaves, fell down in the middle of the night. If anyone other than the quick-witted, athletic river guides had been sleeping under it, I am sure that someone would have died. Or if any of them had been in a tent. They had just enough time to wake and run before it came crashing down, after a loud cracking sound. I have been leery of trees ever since.

IMG_5222Later: The swimming hole did not disappoint. We swam, cooled down, and then sat for a long time watching the changing silver-to-aluminum-to-iron-to-gold lighting on the slick, steep granite. I apologize for the following photos. I took them all within a half hour of each other. This was the view downriver from our swimming hole. The light was just changing all the time, and when I went to choose one for this post, I couldn’t decide. But there are probably 6 more that I did NOT include…

IMG_5227IMG_5228IMG_5229IMG_5236IMG_5233IMG_5242IMG_5240Occasional very distant thunder comes to us from the higher mountains. But I don’t think there’s a chance we will get any rain down here.

Today, my phone shows 10.4 miles and 50 floors climbed. It feels like it. We saw two men headed our way on the trail this morning, and two passed us going the other direction. We saw a group of young backpackers at a campsite we passed, but haven’t seen another soul on the trail today. It’s a change, here in the backcountry, to not see any Europeans this year. Usually, they are in the majority, or at least fifty percent, once you get away from the paved roads.

I’m hungry! What’s for dinner, Babz?



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.

Day 4 Goin’ Down, Down, Down…


IMG_5019IMG_5022IMG_5020IMG_5024IMG_50236:00 AM  I woke up to a stupendous dawn—brilliant red clouds above Petit and Regulation Peaks. Rushed out to get photos, and then it was gone.


There’s something poignant, or creepy, about this live tree being embraced by the dead. “I am always with you, my darling.”

It started raining last night at about 2:30 AM. A strange, light rain that sounded like dry pine needles falling on my tent. When I got up to check it out, the tent was dry to the touch. A rain that gives no moisture.

IMG_5032IMG_5036IMG_5033IMG_5034Now the clouds are turning pearly with the sun just hitting their eastern sides. Very Italian Renaissance. I had a restless sleep last night. Too dry, and for some reason, even though my tent site seemed level, I kept inching off the sleeping pads.


Volunteer Peak and Rodgers Lake, from the south side.


The granite “boat ramp” across the lake is where Barbara and I sat yesterday, when we first arrived at Rodgers Lake.

IMG_5041IMG_5042IMG_5043After breakfast, I took off to explore, and ended up walking around the lake. It was challenging. No trail, and a few boulder fields to navigate.  It was great to see the changing light as the sun cleared the ridgeline. Barbara and I had decided that we didn’t need to leave this idyllic place until afternoon. Today, we plan a fairly short hike, all downhill. Much of the way around the lake, I was thinking, “If it gets more difficult, I can always turn around,” but then it looked like I was over halfway around, and I committed to keep going. For the first part of my circumnavigation, B and I communicated via yodels (I had taught her how to yodel on our last trek, and she was an excellent student), but after awhile I was too far away.



Near our campsite, I was stopped in my tracks by this weathered fallen tree.


The south side of the lake is a jumble of slides.


A piebald crazy quilt of rock.


The view from the east end of the lake.

IMG_5052I met up with B back around at our first resting place of yesterday, and we walked back to our rock and took a swim. It took a long time to commit to the water, as it’s pretty cold. But we’ve definitely been in colder water. I feel so wonderfully alive!


Neal Lake, under the escarpment of West Peak


On the shore of Neal Lake.

5:30 PM

The only people we saw today were a pair of rangers out patrolling. We startled them at Neal Lake (they weren’t expecting people). It was fun to talk with them. He had been a ranger for eight years, stationed at Tuolumne Meadows, and she was assigned to the toll booth at Tioga Pass. They asked us whether we had a bear canister, and we said yes, we had one, and that we were out for eight days. He said, “You can’t carry eight days’-worth of food for two people in one Bear Vault.” We insisted that we could. More on that point later…


I think B was influenced by meeting up with the rangers.


Rodgers Meadows


The stream which should meander through the meadow is dry, dry, dry…


Farewell to the high country! I feel better knowing that we will end the hike up high again, in Tuolumne Meadows.



After Rodgers Canyon, we began to get vistas, and we could see where we were headed.

We are camped near the junction for the Pate Valley and Pleasant Valley trails. It’s a very hot day, and there is no shade in camp. No water. The streams shown on the map are all dry, except for one tiny trickle, for which we have to compete with the bees. But it would be another four miles to Pate Valley, and we’d rather not push it and just stay here.


Something new on the landscape: groves of aspen.


Looking west toward Rancheria Mountain and Pleasant Valley…


…and down toward Pate Valley

Just now, passing our campsite, we have seen a group of eight people hiking together, and also two young men, all hiking for four days (starting at Hetch Hetchy and ending in Tuolumne Meadows, where we started) and covering more ground than us, with much heavier packs. I don’t know…I would rather do without than carry all that stuff. My back has been really bothering me today. Everyone reported bears. We had seen plenty of sign (lots of scat), but no actual bears. Up here, they are timid black bears, and more likely to run away than cause any trouble (unless you threatened a cub somehow). We had walked a little further down the trail to where the map shows that we cross the creek, as we were on a search for water. The stream wasn’t even a trickle, just a few bee-filled puddles. But it was so much cooler down there than at our camp, that we just laid down on the trail and enjoyed the shade, the slight breeze, and the rattle of aspen leaves, which sounded like water. 


Our only shade in camp.

Our campsite is on a sage-y shelf of volcanic rock amid the granite, out of the trees and bugs. There’s a large granite boulder setting in the middle of it, with mortar holes attesting to the fact that people have found it to be a good place to stay for hundreds of years—if not thousands. In a wet year, or a formerly “normal” year, the stream would have flowed nearby, through a stand of aspen.


Evidence that our camp has been a popular spot for a long time.

We hiked back up to the stream where we had gotten water earlier, and it had completely stopped running by 6:00 PM. jUst puddles, but larger than below. We managed to salvage some water for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Tomorrow will be an easy day, down to Pate Valley, and our first chance at more water.  Then the Grand Canyon! The evening is totally clear, without a cloud anywhere. The sun has just set, at 7:30, behind Rancheria Mountain. It is too hot for my bag. I read to B about Konrad Lorenz’s observations of the mating habits of Siamese fighting fish and cichlids. Very interesting! And so very human. Or maybe we are just fishy.

Because of my morning hike around the lake, my mileage today was about 12 miles. We descended from 9,500′ at Rodgers Lake to 7,780′ at our camp. Tomorrow, we will be at the low point of 4,380′.

Day 3 Matterhorn Canyon to Rodgers Lake



Matterhorn Canyon

4:00 PM  Matterhorn Canyon supplied me with a great night’s sleep. I slept uninterrupted from 8:00 until 1:00 AM, which for a woman of my age is damn good. Then I was so comfy and snug, I didn’t budge until 6:00 AM. We hit the trail at 8:00, expecting the worse up to Benson Pass, but it was like a stroll in the park. And what a park it is! The trail led up a canyon, with granite walls rising thousands of feet above us on either side. the weather was ideal, full of fresh sweet mountain air, cool in the shade and warm in the sun. The trail was empty of people until we got to Wilson Creek, and we saw all sorts of birds and flowers, and a magnificently unconcerned 12-point buck who studied us from across the swale. Eventually, he got bored and went back to eating.


Climbing out of Matterhorn Canyon


Up into the morning sun. 


Bless the trail builders! This one is really artfully constructed.


The canyon walls rose above us


Climbing up from Matterhorn Canyon, we passed through lush forests of fir and ferns.


As we got higher, things got drier.



Above Wilson Creek, we passed through a sunlit meadow.


Such a Japanese-garden esthetic!


Looking back down the trail. 


Trees and other vegetation thinned as we worked our way up to the pass.

Today was as easy as yesterday was hard. We topped Benson Pass by 10:30, and took some time out for a snack and to just enjoy being. Then Smedberg Lake by 11:30.

We heard and saw Clark’s Nutcrackers up on Benson Pass. I have certainly heard enough of them on this trip, but they have always been distant, and these were the first close-up sightings. They are such garrulous critters, and their talking is one of the sounds I look forward to. Makes me know I have arrived!


Looking forward to Volunteer Peak. We will walk around the right-side base of the peak and turn left to climb up and over the shoulder to Rodgers Lake.



I considered turning this clockwise, because it looks just like a human torso, but decided against it. The geologists would probably object. But look at those nice legs!



We walked through little gardens all the way down the path.


We walked across an ancient lakebed, which is slowly becoming a desert.



The fractured granite piles look like the remnants of an ancient stone city.


Barbara heads out across the old lakebed.

Sorry! I couldn’t stop taking photos today. Bear with me, please.


Smedberg Lake was cold and windy. It would have been a great time for a swim, had the weather cooperated.


Filling a water bottle in the lake.


Black and white or color? It hardly made any difference.


The trails are so artful!

IMG_4970IMG_4971IMG_4972After descending Benson Pass, we started seeing people, and counted 20 on the trail today, but there hasn’t been a soul since we took the trail less traveled. There were many long-distance hikers, from Bend and Ashland, OR, and Shasta, and who knows where else. One guy had been hiking for six weeks. He said he had hiked the entire PCT a few years ago, and now he’s just going slow, stopping to fish and enjoy the scenery, actually experiencing the places he raced through before, and resupplying every 75 miles. We asked him if he ate the fish he caught, and he said no, most of the time it was catch-and-release. Then he educated us about the difference in flavor between brook and rainbow trout. I had no idea. Apparently, rainbow is much more “fishy” tasting (I guess that means brook trout must taste like chicken).


We took the left-hand trail.

I prefer a trail like this, where the grass can still grow on it—fewer feet stomping it down. The Pacific Crest Trail was nice, manicured and well-traveled. But I am glad to be turning away from it.


Finally reached the top of the little saddle over to Rodgers Lake.


Barbara showed up a couple of minutes later. The sense of distance (which you can’t really get from these iPhone photos) is pretty heady up here!



Looking at the backside of Volunteer Peak. I had considered scrambling up it, earlier in the day, but I don’t feel the drive to do that anymore. Amazing how a few miles on the trail will wear off the edges…


And ahead of us, what’s over the rise?


Pretty Ranger’s Buttons.


Whoa! It’s Rodgers Lake!


Skunk cabbage meadows lined the trail.


A little vernal pool caught the reflection of Regulation Peak behind it..


We got down to the lake, and stopped to rest for awhile on a granite slab. I love this wide strip of quartz in the middle of this boulder.



It helps to stretch.


Barbara looks happy, as usual.

Now we’re at Rodgers Lake, so of course I can’t get the Jimmie Rodgers song, “Away Out On The Mountain” out of my head. It is so, so, so stunning here.



The views from our granite slab, to the left and the right. Rodgers Lake is huge!



And the views from our preferred smooth rock on the lee side of the lake.

The weather is changing. We could be in for some cold or a storm. We shall see. We met a young woman from Berkeley hiking solo, a gardener named Sequoia. Afterwards, I wondered if that was her “real” name, or a trail name. And what is real, anyway? Met another guy named Megaphone, who really enjoyed talking.


View of the lake from below our campsite. So nice to just sit an be.


Of course, sitting is all very fine and good. But I needed to explore what might be over the hill. Turns out, it’s tomorrow’s first destination: Neal Lake


See the rock in the foreground of the previous photo? Well, it has a crack through it, and inside the crack grows the most beautiful chartreuse lichen.

We have set up camp not too far from the lake, in the leeward side, anticipating some weather blowing in with the wind. It is so very pleasant here. Today was Barbara’s hard day, while I was “the Kid,” effortlessly climbing the ridges. Tomorrow starts our two days of downhill to Pate Valley, and then up the Tuolumne.



I think this lodgepole wishes it were a Joshua tree. It just looks so Mojave to me.


My tent site.


Evening comes to the high country.


Every moment, the light changes.

IMG_5014For some reason, my back is extremely sore today, right in the spot where I fractured two vertebrae in our 1994 car wreck. I am very, very pleased to find out that Barbara gives a great back massage! It helped me so much. Grateful for those strong piano hands!


Alpenglow, as seen from my tent. I was too tuckered out to want to get up and actually get a good shot of it, justifying my immobility by saying it’d be gone by the time I got up (it wouldn’t have been…).

13 miles, and 63 floors climbed, according to my phone. A beautiful day!

Day 2 Virginia Canyon and Matterhorn Canyon



Brrr! At 6:00 AM, Cold Canyon lives up to its name.

IMG_4892IMG_4895A grueling day! I had a bad night of very little sleep, though I was rewarded by the sight of a long, bright meteorite streaking across the velvety black moon-free sky during one of my awake and out-of-the-tent moments. I couldn’t get comfortable, and it was cold (unless I hunkered down in the bag). We camped in Cold Canyon, just past Cold Mountain, and it is aptly named. I got up at 6:00 AM to the meadow covered in frost and a low white mist just below us. Then, when the sun finally hit, the ground sparkled like diamond dust. It was very dewy last night, and we had to wait for the tents to dry before we could pack up.


Here comes the sun!

Today was mostly unrelentingly uphill, except for the steep, unrelenting downhill into Virginia and Matterhorn Canyons. We went up to lodgepole and down to to red fir and back up to lodgepole and then to red fir numerous times.


Looking down into Virginia Canyon. Somewhere down there is our water source, after 7 miles of dryness (if you don’t count rain and frost).


We were greeted by a dipper running through the granite puddles when we got to Return Creek, at the bottom of Virginia Canyon.


Fantastic fungi!

When we finally got to Miller Lake, a brief swim saved me. I had really been hitting rock bottom energy-wise, and B had given me a couple of magnesium capsules, which were supposed to help with oxygen absorption in the blood but instead mostly messed with my intestines. Ugh! Meanwhile, Barbara was just chugging along nice and steady, and I was thinking to myself, “So this is what 70 feels like. I don’t like it,” but throughout it all, the landscape was spectacular. I didn’t take many photos, as I was too busy just keeping going. I took to referring to B in my mind as “The Kid.”


The Kid


Peek-a-boo views of distant ridges.


The graceful mountain hemlocks were everywhere.

We met one lone young man, hiking from Sonora Pass to Mt Whitney, who told us about the incredible thunderstorm he had been in the night before. It sounded like B’s and my night below Elizabeth Pass. Scary! Briefly met another couple who were on their 320th trail mile. They had that look of wild ecstasy in their eyes. And when we got to Matterhorn Canyon, we met a young woman standing alone in the meadow waving her wet socks around her head. She was hiking with someone else, who we didn’t see. And that was it for the day. This is the Pacific Crest Trail, and I had expected it to be much busier. Thankful that it wasn’t.


Miller Lake showed up just in time. I thought we’d never get there. A brief dip in the cold water brought me back to myself. It would have been longer but for the unrelenting wind. Cold! Clark’s Nutcrackers made a racket from the far side of the lake.

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The trail leads on, with a sharp right turn away from Miller Lake to the lip of Matterhorn Canyon.

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The Sawtooth Range, and Matterhorn Peak! Now it’s down, down, down to the canyon floor.



The very steep switchback trail down to Matterhorn Canyon didn’t allow for any panoramic views, but the lighting among the trees was soft and golden.

Now, at the mouth of Matterhorn Canyon, we have a lovely campsite, with a beautiful stream nearby and lots of very unafraid large deer. They know that they are living in Paradise. We rinsed out our clothes and set up camp. Barbara walked over to an area she didn’t think she had been in before, and found one if the Wright socks that she had recently bought two pair of.. She said, “Oh, I must have dropped my other!”, and searched unsuccessfully all over the camp area, until she finally realized that all her socks were, in fact, accounted for. She was wearing one pair, and had the other in among her washing. She just happened to find a stray sock, same color, size and make, that someone else had lost! We now use it for our potholder. If you lost a sock in Matterhorn Canyon, I have it. Drop me a line.


Matterhorn Canyon, our own private Yosemite Valley.


Our granite bathtubs at camp. Cold water!


A camp visitor. We have to make sure that any sweaty clothing is not available for the salt-loving critters to munch on.


We didn’t have any fires, but used the former fire ring as our kitchen.

I have been struggling all trip so far with my drinking apparati. Since I lost the water bottle clip (I think it got accidentally “recycled” at home), I have been trying to figure out how to either attach my bottle somewhere that I can reach it more easily than the side pocket of my pack, or rig up a bladder-type apparatus to my pack, which isn’t made for such a thing (a disadvantage to the stripped-down very light pack I have). Today, I decided that my Macgyvered “fix” is much more trouble than it’s worth. Plus, I miss being able to gulp water straight from the bottle. Now, though, my water bottle has a hole drilled into the middle of the cap, so I need to be very careful when I set it down, that it doesn’t spill. And in dry places, ants seem to like to crawl inside.

It was a hard, hard day. Tomorrow will be equally difficult, if not harder. I’m going to sleep early, probably by 8:00 PM.

13.3 miles. Good night.

Northern Yosemite and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne—8 days of up and down.



The view from our campsite in the Stanislaus National Forest

Barbara Higbie and I left Berkeley yesterday afternoon, at about 2:00. We packed up the van and double-checked everything. All good! We caught the first wave of rush-hour traffic leaving town, and inched along toward Tracy. After that, the roads cleared, and as we hit Highway 120, I saw the billboard for Bass World, one mile up the road. Suddenly it came to me: I’d forgotten my trekking poles. Those are invaluable things on these outings, really helping with both uphills and downs for the knees and hips. So we pulled off the road, walked through the 100-degree heat and into the over-the-top Disneyesque shopping experience, past the fish tank with a couple of good-sized sturgeons swimming lazily around, under and alongside the waterfall and past the stuffed wolves, coyotes, mountain goats and elk, to the hiking department. $40 later, we were out of there and on down the road.

We stopped at La Michoacana in Groveland for a shared plate of enchiladas, rice and beans, eaten in their very pleasant outdoor area, and then headed up the highway to Cherry Lake Road. We were too late to get into the backpackers’ campsite at Hetch Hetchy, so we figured we’d just pull off the road in the Stanislaus National Forest somewhere. This was an area that burned in the Rim Fire of 2013, and there were still standing dead trees, but so much life coming back! The shrubs and bushes were full of wildflowers and insects and the air was full of birds. There were lots of young trees. I don’t know if they were planted or whether they are just coming back naturally. In either case, it was nice to see. We drove up a dirt road out of sight of the paved road, and set up camp.


Thunderstorms in the distance, and is that snow still on the mountains? Or the sunlight glinting off bare expanses of granite?

I confess to being pretty nervous when it comes to camping at places that one can drive to. It seems far more dangerous to me than camping where one has to make an effort to get there. But the air was sweet and full of the sound of a million or more crickets, the evening warm, and no signs of recent humans. There were cattle grazing not too far away, and I briefly imagined a stampede in the middle of the night crashing into my tent, before I fell asleep.


Sunset, August 10th

By about 7:30 this morning, we were packed up and back on the road. It had been a long time since I had taken this road, so I ended up taking a wrong turn and followed the road down to Cherry Lake and the dead end at the Kirkwood trailhead. Interesting! There’s a California Conservation Corps headquarters down there, and those guys in their trucks act like they own the roads. Kind-of scary to meet a convoy barreling down around a curve and taking up most of both sides of the road. Luckily, there was a turnout right there, and we took shelter and they thundered past. Then back up the canyon and on in to Camp Mather, the site of so many ecstatic years of the Strawberry Music Festival. We stopped at the Evergreen Lodge for coffee, a cookie and an orange, and then drove on to Yosemite. So exciting, driving into the park!



The Tuolumne meanders through its meadow. Johnson, Unicorn and Cathedral Peaks, and Medlicott Dome in the distance.


Ahhh! The scoured granite expanses! And rain in the future.



The Tuolumne drops into the top of its Grand Canyon.



Tuolumne Falls

We got on the trail at 10:00 AM, and it was astoundingly beautiful, walking along the Tuolumne River as it winds through Tuolumne Meadows, then past Tuolumne Falls and White Cascade, where we stopped in Glen Aulin. That camp is closed this year, but the backpackers’ camp is open. We pondered whether to stop there for the night, but decided it was too early and there were too many people. We rested, had our hot meal at about 1:00, and loaded up with water, as a ranger had told us that there was none to be found between Glen Aulin and Virginia Canyon, some 7 miles distance. We  figure we’d make a dry camp somewhere in  between the two. Now it’s almost 6:00 PM and we have set up camp at the edge of a beautiful meadow in Cold Canyon, just below Elbow Hill. On the way here, it rained a bit (just enough for us to pull out our rain gear, walk for about 20 minutes, and then take it off again). The skies are clearing and it’s starting to get cold as I sit here.



Beautiful new bridges over the Tuolumne. The old ones were washed out in Spring floods a few years ago.


Dressed for the weather.

There is nobody around here, and we are totally on our own. So far, this trip is more than I had hoped for, for scenery, aloneness and weather. And we just got word over the Garmin In-Reach that Biden picked Kamala Harris for his running mate. Exciting news! She is one smart, capable person.



The trail suddenly opened up into a long meadow through Cold Canyon, as the weather cleared.

8:00 PM: No water anywhere. The meandering stream in the meadow is mostly bone-dry, with the occasional tiny stagnant puddle every mile or so. I fear that this may be the case for much of this trip, as the year has been particularly dry and last winter’s snowfall was pretty sparse. 150 years ago, John Muir said, “Every mountain is a fountain,” and I am afraid that may not be the case these days. I’m not used to not being able to wash up before bed. My feet are filthy, but I’ve managed to clean them pretty well with a face wipe. I can’t imagine putting them in my clean sleeping socks otherwise.


Home, sweet home.


Our little tent city in Cold Canyon


Happy me!

There was nobody on the trail from Glen Aulin to here. Three young men did pass us about an hour ago, headed the opposite direction. I have been reading chapters from Konrad Lorenz’s book, “King Solomon’s Ring,” out loud to B. His engaging stories about animal and human behavior, mixed with lots of interesting biological facts, is so enjoyable for both of us. Kudos to Marjorie Kerr Wilson for a beautiful job of translating it from the original German. Such a good read. I had last read it over 40 years ago, and figured it was time to revisit it. Plus, it is a very lightweight paperback, and every ounce counts. Also on this trip, I brought my old Kuhl hiking shirt, which I wore on the John Muir Trail in 2014 (and many subsequent hikes since). It is so worn-out, but I like it better than any other hiking shirt I have had, including ones from the same company. And of course, because it is so great, they don’t make them anymore…

The phone shows 10.8 miles today. Not bad for the first day!

Day 8, Back to “civilization”


Barbara and I were up and leaving camp by about 8:30 AM. from here, the trail rises to Timber Gap in aa little over two miles, with an elevation gain of 2,500′. I felt really good and strong, and the pack was, of course, the lightest it’s been the whole trip, since we ate all the food except for today’s snacks. That’s one of the ironies of the trail: when you start out, you are in the worst shape and carrying the heaviest load. As you get stronger, the load lightens. Wish it could be the other way around!

IMG_4797The trail, through lodgepole and sugar pine and various other spruces and the like, led through meadows alive with flowers and butterflies. There were little white ones, orange ones, and on the way down some of those beautiful tiny Sierra blues. Chickadees sang “‘Bye, Laurie” to me as we walked past. Stopping to rest at one point, we watched a whole family of marmots waddling among the rocks. Chipmunks and ground squirrels ran hither and yon. It was a beautiful morning!


Ranger’s Buttons (don’t you love that name?)



The perfect garden path.

There were occasional views across the Middle Kaweah River Valley to Little Blue Dome, Morro Rock, and glimpses of the High Sierra Trail.


IMG_4807The last bunch of switchbacks to Timber Gap were a little daunting—more psychologically than physically—because I couldn’t tell where we were headed. I’d think I’d see the Gap ahead of us, but then the trail would make an abrupt turn and I’d have to rethink where we were going to reach the top.  And then suddenly, there we were at 9,500′, and it was all downhill from there. True to the name, Timber Gap is pretty heavily wooded, so not much in the way of views.

The last leg of the trip was a breeze. My legs felt positively bionic, and i definitely had regained my stride. Feels so good!


It looks very Alpen, coming down to Mineral King, but wilder.


I can see the van!

Coming around one bend, I was surprised to see a Douglas squirrel nearly at my feet. It looked like something right out of a Japanese Manga magazine, with huge eyes, tufts on its ears, a perfect question mark of a tail curled over its back. Its’s definitely the prettiest member of the squirrel family I have ever seen. I had this feeling that i had seen one before in my rambles, but honestly couldn’t say whether it was only because I have read about them and seen their pictures so often. I knew it immediately. It foraged under a tree for awhile, and then ran up onto a branch to munch whatever it had found. My heart leapt for joy. I tried to take photos, but of course they were completely inadequate. So I stole one off the internet.


douglas squirrel


This is the best I could do…

Back at the van, the unwrapping process was straightforward and without mishap. There was a big puddle of water on the tarp from the thunderstorms. I could hear the stream rushing just out of sight from the parking lot, and suggested we take one last rinse-off before ewe changed our clothes and started the long drive home. Now, that was a GOOD  IDEA!


IMG_4814Driving out on Mineral King Road, we passed through Atwell Mills, and were awestruck, and saddened, by the size of the Sequoia stumps everywhere. Then, farther down the road, we looked back the way we had come, and could see Sawtooth Peak and the beginning of our hike.



Add two feet all the way around, to account for the bark. That was a Big Tree!

Farther still, we stopped in Three Rivers for ice cream. The best I ever had!

Then it was back on Highway 99 and a quick trip back up north to home. I confess, it was good to get home, just in time to harvest the last of the plums, and to see my loved ones again, but I am already ready to hit the trail again. Thank you for traveling with me.IMG_4830

Barbara just sent me some more photos from our trip to share, so here they are. Enjoy!


Whoa! A Sugar Pine cone. I  am standing in mountain misery, FYI.  It’s a very pungent, resinous ground cover. I thought that it was Scotch broom I was smelling at Val’s Cabin, but no. This is it.


Standing on the edge of Precipice Lake


Overlooking the Middle Kaweah Valley, facing east toward Hamilton Lakes. Tiny peak in the background is Eagle Scout Peak, which rises above Precipice Lake.


One last view of Kaweah Gap.


Nature left a piece of Art at our Granite Creek campsite.

Day 7, Redwood Meadow



Spent dogwood blossoms lined our path this morning.

I had a rough night’s sleep. It was too hot for my bag, and I couldn’t get comfy. I went to bed at 8:30 PM, and woke at 9:30 to beautiful half-moon light on the bright granite, and again at 1:30 to a black sky full of incredible stars, and then tossed and turned until 6:30. Now it’s almost 9:00 AM, and we are ready to leave camp. I am still worried about that group of 10. Where would they even have done their business here, in this narrow granite defile, without defiling the entire place?


California Coneflowers3:50 PM

We arrived at the trail junction with Black Rock Pass, and made camp. The weather is ideal, the river water is cold but something far short of icy, and there is ample shade. The hike today was steep, and passing through Redwood Meadow was extremely emotional—like visiting a former concentration camp. That strip of trees that John muir wrote about is nearly completely gone. In most places, there are just a few skinny survivors. They look so alone, and I am sure they are missing their family members, who stood beside them for 1000+ years.  In their sense of time, the holocaust was yesterday, a mere 100 years ago. Humans. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the trees, or what it feels like now, to live with such a gaping would still fresh in their memories.



Fallen giants snaked through the woods



B took a moment to commune with one of the fire-scarred survivors.


Looking up from inside the tree.


We reminisced about “My Side of the Mountain”


Incredible fire-retardant bark of Sequoiadendron Giganteum.

Tomorrow will be a big day, over Timber Gap and into Mineral King, where we will unwrap the van, change our clothes, and drive home.Already, the outside world and all I have to do is starting to weigh on me.



Sugar pine cones! They are soooo big!


Every creek has its own lush strip of jungle growing beside it.



As the trail wound through the folds of the mountainsides, we occasionally came across small stands of Sequoias. Even these skinny young ones towered above the pines.


Our concession to our loved ones was a Garmin In-Reach, just in case. B sent a prewritten message saying “We are stopping or starting. All is well. Sending love.” It was often difficult to get any reception at all. I had heard that holding the car remote next to one’s head intensifies the strength of the signal, so B tried it with the Garmin. It worked!

This camp area at the trail junction to Black Rock Pass, is very popular (though there are only 5 of us camped here tonight). The bear box is completely filled with someone’s gear and extra food, which is starting to rot and stink. Apparently, some guy came through with an 80-pound pack (that’s what we were told, anyway), and decided to unload stuff before trying to go over the pass. He isn’t coming back for it, as he’s doing the loop hike back out over Sawtooth Pass. What an idiot. They really should make people take a class before they are allowed to come out here and desecrate their surroundings. Am I being elitist? I don’t think so. I pity the poor ranger who has to come clean it all up and haul it out.

At 7:30, the bugs drove me into my tent. Always more buggy under the trees. Hopefully, I’ll have a good night’s sleep tonight. We visited for a long time this afternoon with a 21-year-old engineering and social justice student at Cal Poly, hiking by herself and a little lonesome for company, I think. Claire is smart, funny, and ready to engineer a new reality! It makes me hopeful for the future to meet people like her.


Our camp at the crossroads. Barbara said, “I don’t think I would design my living room with that giant log poking through the middle of it!”


Squeezing water, one of our ever-present chores of the trail.


The beautiful creek by our campsite. Perfect for rinsing off the sweat and dust of the trail.

9.2 miles today, 62 floors climbed. I’m tired and a little wrung out from the emotional hits of the day. There always comes a time, on these trips, when I feel stripped of my every-day defenses. I welcome it and dread it, both. Today was that day.


Day 6,The road more or less traveled


IMG_4722I slept really well! Woke up at about 4:30, and then slept again until 6:30. The day is clear and perfect. The sun hit our camp after a couple of hours. We have the morning to laze around, dry out our clothes, take a swim, and then hike down to Bearpaw Meadows. I am so sad to leave the high country, but the silver lining is being able to sleep again. I guess…IMG_4724

IMG_4728IMG_4735IMG_4727IMG_47297:00 pm

It’s been an eventful day. This morning, while entering the lake for a swim, Barbara slipped and fell. She caught herself with her left hand, which tweaked her wrist pretty badly. We had just enough first aid tape to tape the wrist, and she says it feels a lot better. So we got to use our first aid supplies! Two kinds of tape, and the little knife.


The view from the bridge over Middle Kaweah River


Looking down Middle Kaweah Valley. The High Sierra Trail (on right side) is a masterpiece of trail engineering.


Pearly Everlasting (love that name!) and Paintbrush


Looking up toward Elizabeth Pass.

Absolutely stunning views along the High Sierra Trail! I was thinking all the way to Bearpaw that I would ask if there are any cancellations for the High Sierra Camp there, so that I could bring Tom out here to see this incredible place. But when we arrived, the High Sierra Camp was just wooden skeleton buildings. Turns out that it never opened last year because it was such a big snow year, and this year  it didn’t open because of COVID-19. So another little dream bites the dust.



We were too late for the thimbleberries this year.


The scent of horsemint woke up our slumbering senses.



We are soon to be at the bottom of this valley, crossing over the river coming from Hamilton Lake, and then the creek leading from the backside of Eagle Scout Peak. Farewell to the High Country!

B and I spent awhile talking to the ranger at Bearpaw. She thought we should move on to Granite Creek, which is still quite a ways down the trail. As we left Bearpaw, we left the popular High Sierra Trail and started down a trail that I think nobody had walked yet today. It was such a quiet, shady, peaceful trail, down, down, and down to the lowest elevation on our trip. That’s where we are now, and it’s idyllic. Or it was, until a group of 10 hikers showed up and said they were supposed to camp there. There was obviously not enough room for 10 people, let alone 12, counting us. We were puzzling what to do, and decided we’d move on to help make room for them (even though there was no water for miles in our direction). The leader said no, they would go on to Middle Kaweah River, about 1.5 miles farther down the trail, since they couldn’t all fit there anyway. The group seemed so ill-equipped for such a long day. It was their first day out, and they had already hiked from Mineral King over Timber Gap and through Redwood Meadows, where the ranger told them there wasn’t any water and they needed to move on to Granite Creek. That’s a 12-mile first day, with at least one person carrying a 45-pound pack. Barbara referred to then as the Donner Party. I felt very guilty for having this spacious (for two people) campsite. And yet, relieved, because we were tuckered out.


The deserted campgrounds at Bearpaw Meadows

We had stopped at Bearpaw Meadows backpacking camp for our hot meal earlier in the day. It was really strange, as the entire campground was totally deserted. We were the only ones there. At one point, as I started to stretch out on a log for a rest, I heard a rustling and looked up to see a young black bear hurrying through the meadow, probably on the heels of his mom, who was somewhere ahead in the trees.

IMG_4749We descended from Bearpaw through beautiful oak and madrone forests, down to 6100′ elevation. Such a change of scenery! We were enthralled, rather than being disappointed, as I had anticipated upon leaving the high country. Tomorrow morning, we will be in a Sequoia grove, which we are really looking forward to. I had just been reading about John Muir’s trek to this area to document the Sequoia groves. He said that there was a wide swath of the trees, from a mile to three miles wide, stretching all the way from what is now Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park down through the very area we are in now. He had written his dispatch from the Middle Kaweah River, which we had just crossed a couple of hours ago. All along the trail, I was imagining coming around a bend and seeing the giant broccoli tops of Sequoias rising before us. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe tomorrow.


Middle Kaweah River

Today, we immersed ourselves in every body of water we crossed: the Middle Kaweah,  Eagle Scout Creek, and Granite Creek. Every time, we were completely alone, and so we dunked au naturel. I’m so glad those ten people didn’t happen by any of those times. We seem to be blessed with good timing. Nothing wakes up one’s senses and refreshes one like a dip in a cold mountain river! 


A clear, cold hot-tub-sized pool in Eagle Scout Creek called to us. We had to answer the call.


Looking downstream from the bridge over Granite Creek. It looks like an amazing swimming hole down there at the end of the chute, but there’s certainly no easy way to get there!



Our snug campsite at Granite Creek

IMG_4757B had a nose bleed in the middle of last night, while I slept the sleep of the dead. She was up dealing with that, and I guess finally got it under control. She said the inside of her tent looked like a murder scene. Poor thing! This evening, something stung my torso, and I momentarily imagined that I would get some sort of allergic reaction, but luckily I didn’t. It hurt like hell, though. Because we thought that someone else might want to show up  and share our camp, we placed our tents as close to each other as possible. I am so worried about that group.

My phone tells me we hiked 10.8 miles today. I hope I can sleep tonight.


Day 5, Kaweah Gap, Precipice and Hamilton Lakes

July 25, 2020


Early, early morning. Well, it just goes to show—even  though I had the most perfect tent site, I experienced the worst night of no sleep. I just couldn’t get comfy, where I should have slept like the proverbial rock. I attribute it to the 11,000′ elevation. I think my heart kept me awake working harder than usual to process oxygen. But the blush of pink dawn is in the sky over Kaweah Gap, and the chickadees are singing in the foxtails. The sky is without the blemish or beauty mark of a cloud. I’m hungry and want my tea.IMG_4629


Rock Fringe growing where it should, among the rocks. While B slept, I wandered in the growing light and snapped photos.


Foxtail pine “in bloom”



What do you think? Black and white or color?


The rest of the tree. It was a giant, for the altitude!


The “perfect,” sleepless campsite. For some reason, I don’t seem to be very bothered by the lack of sleep. No morning grogginess.

4:00 PM

We had a great stroll out of 9 Lakes Basin and stopped on Kaweah Gap to enjoy the views and try to take some selfies with the timer on my phone. For some reason, it wouldn’t work (which may have had something to do with my not donning glasses to see what was actually going on on that little screen).IMG_4633IMG_4645IMG_4661IMG_4675

Then down to Precipice Lake, where we sat awestruck/gob-smacked and in wonder at the beauty. We stopped on the way down to make up a verse to “Little Birdie” and make a little video of it, which looks terrible, but sounds reasonable.



Those colors are real and not enhanced! The water was cold, but B was indomitable. This time, I sat out the swim opportunity.

Up on the Gap, we saw a Sphinx moth buzz past us. We saw one yesterday, too, while stopping to talk with Donald. He thought it was a hummingbird. They are amazing-looking critters, and the only place I have ever seen one is right up there at Kaweah Gap. They flit and hover like hummers from flower to flower and drink nectar with their long tongues, which look as straight as a hummingbird’s beak. The last time I was up here, one flew all around my ankles, maybe attracted to my brightly-colored Dirty Girl gaiters, and gave me a good chance to study it. At Precipice Lake, we were surprised by a water shrew running under the  water at Barbara’s feet. It’s the largest of the shrew family, and seemed quite at home under the surface. On the walk today, we also saw lots of dark, nearly onyx-colored lizards, one of which flashed its indigo sides and belly at me. Lower down, there were lizards that looked like Zuni or Hopi jewelry, speckled with turquoise down their backs.



The trail down from Precipice to Hamilton Lake is really beautiful, snaking along steep, glacier-polished granite an sometimes wandering through little hanging gardens of wildflowers.


We found good tent sites, and took a lovely swim in Lake Hamilton. It was fantastic, the warmest water so far, so we could actually enjoy it and stay in longer. We rinsed out our clothes, set up our tents, made a meal, and as the meals were rehydrating, it began to rain. This gave me a chance to don my rain pants and jacket, which  I hadn’t used so far on the trip.  I LOVE it when everything I bring gets used! As a further example of this, I was able to repair my pack with two lengths of used dental floss yesterday. Today, the other side got wonky, which required two more lengths of floss. Yay! It’s the little things out here which bring delight. We sat in the drizzle and ate one of the best meals we’ve had: Berkeley Bowl black bean soup mix with dehydrated okra, spinach, carrots, rice and parmesan cheese (I dehydrate parmesan at home. Yum!). It was yummy. We followed it up with a Luna bar for dessert.



Valhalla looms above us in the gathering weather.

Just as dinner ended, it began to rain in earnest, so we retreated to our tents. I am enjoying hearing the distant thunder and listening to the steady drizzle on the tent. It’s a very pleasant temperature. My phone shows that we have traveled 8.5 miles  today. I suppose that’s possible, but it didn’t feel like it, since it was mostly downhill (for a change).


Now we are having a good, steady downpour—so welcome to these parched lands. We are snug and content.

Today, while walking up to the pit toilet (Hamilton Lake is too popular to NOT have one), we saw a doe nursing her two fauns. They butted their heads, pulled on her teats, and wagged their tails just like little lambs.

IMG_4710By 6:30, the rain had stopped, and the sky was clearing. We sat on the smooth granite dome which makes the lake’s  beach, and drank rooibos tea and split a granola bar, while we watched the light change on Eagle Scout Peak and Valhalla, and the ever-changing reflections on the lake water.

IMG_4713IMG_4720IMG_4719The place has filled up with campers. I count a dozen tents, where there used to be maybe four. The beach is full of socially-distanced little bubbles, taking selfies and yakking away. B recently returned from Wisconsin, and brought back a joke: The toothbrush was invented in Adams County, WI. We know this, because if it had been invented anywhere else, it would have been called a “teethbrush.” I am giddy, and will laugh at almost anything.

LiveforeverIMG_4708Now it’s 8:45, and almost “backpackers’ midnight,” and time to seek sleep. Good night.



Day 4, Nine Lakes Basin


8:45 am

We had a nice, leisurely morning at Big Arroyo. My cup of tea tastes so good—warm, soothing and it perks one up. We had a major stove mishap this morning, and I think I have pretty-much destroyed my little Soto stove. I had bought it used from a guy in Alaska for $15 some years ago, and it has always worked perfectly. This morning, though, I failed to notice that it had come partly unscrewed from the gas canister. So when I went to light it, it started a fire at the base and mostly melted the trigger that lights it before I could put it out. Now the stove won’t light on its own anymore. Luckily, we carry a couple of Bic lighters (one of which seems to have quit working), and we can still have our hot beverages and meals. Whew.


You can’t really see the rock-lined depression from the photo, but to my eyes, it was pretty obvious.

I found an old Native American storage pit near the old cabin here. It’s basically a depression in the ground lined with rocks, which had originally had a cover of some sort. Out in the woods around here, there is a horrid mess of tiny pieces of old toilet paper and stuff careless humans have left behind. I really don’t understand how one can walk so many miles in beauty to get here, and then trash the place!


Big Arroyo log cabin.

I washed off my dusty tent (it’s like a car—runs better when it’s clean) and am waiting for it to dry in the sun before we pack up.

Nine Lakes Basin, later in the day…


We set up camp at 2:00 PM among the foxtail pines. It’s breathtakingly  beautiful—and at 10,000′, it’s breathtaking anyway. We met Donald, a fellow from Berkeley today on the trail, who knows this area very well. He said, “Go up into the trees, and you’ll find a great campsite, and you’ll think you can’t do better. But just a little bit further on, and toward the waterfall, there’s an even better one.” It was just as he said, though we shied away from the first campsite anyway because of its position on the ridge. It seemed like it could possibly be in another wind tunnel. This new camp even has a piece of old wood with “WELCOME HOME” carved into it. It is secluded, sheltered,  near a great water source, and out of the path of the strongest winds. There are views up to Kaweah Gap and down Big Arroyo, and massive cliffs with a cascade pouring down from the upper basin. I am tired and happy.

IMG_4555On the way up Big Arroyo today, we hiked for awhile alongside the creek. It was absolutely beautiful, and we didn’t see anyone for hours on end. Then, when we stopped so that I could fix my pack (more on that later), B went off to pee. As she squatted, she happened to glance up, and noticed a man some distance away with binoculars trained on her. Pretty funny, in all that emptiness!


A morning stroll down a garden path. So civilized!

Sierra Lillies

Sierra Lilies dream alongside to stream


We are surrounded by rocky domes and spires.

IMG_4537Over the past year, I have been walking a lot with someone with serious health issues, and it has been work to slow my pace to his. Now I am feeling like I can’t find my old rhythm. Maybe it’s age-related, maybe I just lost it somewhere. I am hoping that on this trip, I can find that beat of my feet on the trail again. But I am so grateful to be able to get out here. I thank my lucky stars!IMG_4543IMG_4544


One of the things I love about hiking with Barbara is that we almost never pass a body of water without stopping to get wet. I think we spur each other on that way. And it always feels soooo good! This little river was too cold to fully immerse ourselves in.

B is reading a book on the power of prayer, which includes this great quote from Arthur Eddington (astronomer, physicist, philosopher of science): “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” I really feel that out here.


Horseshoe Lake, 9 Lakes Basin


Barbara puttering about in the kitchen.

5:45 pm: It’s raining, and we are sheltering in our tents. We timed it perfectly—just got back from a hike into the upper reaches of 9 Lakes Basin. We could see the storm brewing on the other side of Lion Rock, and most likely going strong at Tamarack Lake and over Elizabeth and Colby Passes.IMG_4554IMG_4550IMG_4561IMG_4559


From the first fluffy white cloud to appear, to a full-blown thunderstorm with rain and hail…

We wandered upward along granite shelves, picking our way from lake to lake and stopping to admire the views and approaching clouds. Stopped for a swim in one of the lakes, which didn’t seem to have an inlet and so was warmer (less cold) than some of the others. I just started to write that it would hav been better if the sun were hotter, but damn! It was perfect! The rocks were warm, for drying off.

IMG_4565IMG_4567IMG_4573Everywhere we walked there were tiny flowers. It was impossible not to occasionally crush them underfoot. The horsemint and pennyroyal scented the air and woke our senses.



We hurried to lower ground as the storm threatened. Thunder, lightning, and big ol’ raindrops, reminding us of our trek over Elizabeth Pass, where the storm is sitting now.



I wanted to take this log home with me, for a backyard sculpture.

Now it’s hailing a little, as we shelter in our tents, just to remind us that Nature will have her say, and throw at us anything she wants at any time.

A little while later, it had stopped raining, and B called me out of my tent to watch the sunset. Glorious!


Kaweah Gap



Kaweah Gap a little later. Good night.

Day 3, Big and Little 5 Lakes, and Big Arroyo


IMG_4479This morning, after a good night’s sleep, Barbara and I awake refreshed and pretty-much recovered, feeling full of energy for the day. We packed up and hit the trail up to Big 5 Lakes. It’s a beautiful uphill trail through golden chinquapins shining in the morning sun, manzanita and oaks, changing to pines and juniper as we ascended. It looked like a series of mountain gardens, with views of rocky crags and peaks every whichaway.


Miranda leads us up the trail to Big 5 Lakes

There were very few people on the trails today. We met up with Miranda, who walks faster than us. We took each other’s photos at the first of Big 5 Lakes, and then she pressed on to explore the other lakes, while we stayed to the trail to Little 5 and on north. Miranda is hiking the very-popular loop trail over Black Rock Pass (which we hear is very steep and grueling and long—as opposed to Sawtooth Pass, which is steep and grueling and short).


The first of the Big 5’s


So pleasant, walking along the lakeshores, in and out of the trees.


I could stare at the water forever.


Black Kaweah rises above us across the arroyo. The first of Little 5 Lakes appears below us.


We send blessings to the trail crews!

Now, we are at the Big Arroyo campground, where our trail meets up with the High Sierra Trail, which runs from Crescent Meadows in Sequoia NP to the top of Mt Whitney. I expect to see lots of serious mile-eating hikers on their way to the mountaintop, to cross this feat off their to-do list. The sun just went behind Mt Lippincott at 6:30 pm. We have the campsite to ourselves!


Mt Lippincott

Washed up in the creek. Such a good feeling after so much work. I love the chore of rinsing off the day’s dust and sweat. My hips hurt from the pack and the climbing. Our high point today was about 10,800′, and now we are at 9500′ There’s weather threatening over the Kaweahs, and it’s getting very cold. Last night, things froze. I wish I had taken photo of my socks standing straight up and stiff as boards in the morning, and my bandanna, which I could hold upright from a corner. It looked great, sparkling with frost.

All day, we were treated with views of the Kaweahs: Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Red Kaweah and and Kaweah Peak. I remember them well from the other side, while hiking the John Muir Trail. They looked like fairy castles in the distance then, and now they look like mighty crumbling fortresses close-up.


Leaving the lowest of the Little 5 Lakes behind.



Black and Red Kaweahs, and Kaweah Peak guided our journey all day.

It was such a pleasure to have the place to ourselves this afternoon. We ate today’s hot meal at one of the Little 5 Lakes, just a ways off the trail out of the wind and in the shade. So funny! The sun is so hot and the shade is so cool, that’s it’s hard to find the right place to be just right.


A fallen giant, and a still-standing trail ant.


“Oh, give to me a winding stream, it must not be too wide…”


Looking and feeling much better after a good clean-up in the stream.


Barbara makes sure that there are no nutrients left on the wrapper.


The Big Arroyo campsite. Lovely!

IMG_4520Now, at Big Arroyo, we have been invaded by a group of about 7 men, all hiking to Mt Whitney. They are a little noisy, and their cam is a little close, but oh well. I’m glad to see people enjoying themselves out here. B and I made some rooibos tea and I read to her the notes from a couple of our previous trips, which happen to be in this same journal. I hope I don’t run out of room in it this trip!

Today’s hike was about 10 miles. Between Big 5 Lakes and Big Arroyo, we wandered through lush hanging gardens on the steep mountainside, with lupines sporting leaves bigger than my hands. Almost jungly-feeling in some spots. Mosquitos not bad, but they do prefer those damp areas, so we didn’t dawdle there.

The menacing clouds of a few hours ago seem to have just evaporated away. It’ll be a good night on level ground (I hope). Tomorrow: Nine Lakes Basin!

Day 2, Sawtooth Pass and Lost Canyon

July 22, 2020

IMG_4478Barbara and I set up camp at the foot of Lost Canyon, among the lodgepoles next to Lost Canyon Creek, where we join the trail north to Big 5 Lakes. We wanted to go farther, but we were exhausted. Last night’s camp turned out to be in a wind tunnel, and the tents were so noisy, flapping in the wind, and close to collapsing all night long. We were on a hard-packed mostly granite area, and had used rocks instead of stakes to put our tents up. It was tough. The wind blew the rocks around, and they weren’t little ones! We both got up (not “”woke up”) at 5:30, and hit the Sawtooth Pass trail by 7ish. It was only 1.2 miles to the top, but it took 1.5 hours to get there. Looking back, I would love to have another chance to find the “right” trail! The way was braided with dozens of different paths, and it was impossible to stay on whatever the best one might have been. Lots of walking through granite sand and gravel on steep slopes, where you take one step forward and slide halfway back. Later in the day, we ran across a fellow who said he has a friend who has hiked over Sawtooth Pass five times, and had never taken the same trail twice.


We set out long before the sun had cleared the ridge, which helped with the climb.


Even when she’s miserable, Barbara finds reason to smile. And why not? Just look around.


Looking out into the San Joaquin Valley at the smog, and smoke from the Coalinga Fire. Glad to be above it all!


The last push for the top of the pass.

It was incredible scenery. Lost Canyon Creek is gorgeous—classic high Sierra scenery. Then we entered a lodgepole pine forest as we got into lower elevations. There are great views across to Mt Whitney, which felt surprisingly nostalgic for me, thinking back on my John Muir Trail trip.

Wildflowers everywhere! And as we rested among the trees, we were visited by a varied thrush. He didn’t sing, but he looked beautiful. And a dipper bounced up and down on the rocks in the creek.

We think we brought too much food AGAIN! Or maybe we just don’t want to carry it. I recovered from altitude sickness, and feel pretty good today, just very weary, but so alive.


Sawtooth Peak, up close and personal.


Looking down towards Columbine Lake from the pass.


Columbine lake, with Mt Whitney in the far distance. It’s that left-leaning bump a little to the left of center. The highest point in the continental USA.

There aren’t many people out here, but everyone on the trail is so nice. B’s phone says we hiked 9.2 miles. Mine says 7.5. Yesterday, hers said 6.5 miles, and mine said 4.9. I choose to believe hers.


Looking down into Lost Canyon. Whitney straight ahead.

dancing trees


Even in death, the trees can’t stop dancing!

I had a bonehead/too-tired accident today, while trying to adjust the contents of my pack while on a slick mirror-smooth granite slab, and my little Soto stove got away from me and rolled into a stream. I had to jump in to rescue it. Now, at dinnertime, it won’t light. Finally got it going, with the help of a Bic lighter and a little patience.


Looking back up toward aptly-named Sawtooth Peak.


Columbine Lake panorama

We had a socially-distanced dinner party with a young woman named Miranda, a location scout for movies in Los Angeles and excellent photographer, exchanging stories about hiking the JMT and sharing tips on trail gear. Miranda is very up on the latest gizmos! We had met yesterday at Monarch Lake (where she was lucky enough to snag a campsite out of the wind).

Now it’s 9:30 pm. I went to bed to read at about 6:45, and fell into a deep sleep. I woke as the sun was hitting the peaks with pink alpenglow. Fell asleep again, and now the stars are snagged in the lodgepole all around the camp. It’s so beautiful. A cool, perfect, quiet night. So much needed after last night’s hell. Even B, who never complains, said “It was terrible!”

7.9 miles. Not much, but plenty for sure.

An 8-Day Wander Through Wonder in SEKI

July 21, 2020, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

This day, Barbara Higbie (sometimes referred to here as “B”) and I began a trip that i have wanted to do for a few years. First, I wanted to revisit the Nine Lakes Basin, which I first saw in 2017, on a solo hike. Second, I wanted to show B the magnificent country that we only glimpsed from our hike over Elizabeth Pass in 2016. And third, I just wanted to drive the Mineral King Road, a long dead-end mostly-paved path up the mountains to our jumping-off point. I love a new road under my wheels!

On the afternoon of July 20, B and I headed south the Fresno, and set up camp in the garden of our dear friend and mentor Pat Wolk. It’s about a 4-hour drive from Berkeley, and would give us a really good head-start for today’s hike. On the way down, we stopped for gas in Visalia, and people were not very good about wearing masks, so we kept our distance. The guy in front of me in line for the cashier was slow to leave, chatting up the pretty (masked) cashier, and wearing his mask around his Adam’s apple. He regaled her with such salient observations as, “Friends are just people who are getting ready to screw you over.” Happily, the cashier did not look impressed.


A granite spillway on Mineral King Road. Almost to the mountains!!!

We couldn’t sleep much (traffic noise from Herndon Ave all night), so we got an early start. By 6:30 AM we were on the road to Mineral King. The distance was something like 80 miles, and it took almost three hours! The road from Three Rivers to the trailhead took most of the time, as the average seed was about 10 mph. It wound up into the mountains from the foothills, and eventually entered Sequoia National Park, weaving past huge sequoia stumps around Atwell Mills and a scattering of spared middle-sized sequoia giants.


Sequoiadendron Giganteum, somehow spared by the axe and saw.

At the trailhead, we had to wrap the van in a huge tarp, in order to keep the marmots out of the engine compartment. Seems they like to chew on electrical wiring. I wonder if it might really be a plot to try and keep people from coming here—just one more thing to contend with. We were up for the challenge, though. And a nice man (Steve) offered to help us. Barbara immediately said “YES!” I don’t think I would have been so quick to accept help, but of course I was glad to have it, and he knew the ropes of tying up a car.


We posed for a picture in front of the freshly-wrapped van, ready to start the hike.


Looking down on the Mineral King parking lot. Lots of climbing today!IMG_4435

I think it was about 10:00 AM when we started up the trail to Monarch Lakes, our first destination. It was only about a 5-mile hike, but it really took everything out of me. Altitude sickness hit me hard, and I was just dragging myself along the trail most of the way. When we arrived, I was dizzy, nauseated, and my hips were aching with lactic acid buildup in the muscles. No matter how much I gulped, I couldn’t get enough air or water. It was so hard. But so beautiful.IMG_4437

Lupine leaves

Lupine leaves and shadows


Lower Monarch Lake, home sweet home for the night.


I dragged around camp, setting it up, while B fetched water and squeezed it through the purifier for me (much of our daily downtime is spent squeezing). Then I took a dip in Lower Monarch, and rinsed my salty hiking clothes, and began to feel quite a bit better. The lake wasn’t too cold, but I felt too punky to swim much. Tomorrow will be one of our most difficult days, hiking up and over Sawtooth Pass. On the way up to the lake today, we stopped to talk to a man on the trail. He said, “Let me give you a piece of advice. Do not go up Sawtooth Pass. Do not ever go up Sawtooth Pass.” You see, it’s very steep, and there is no real trail most of the way. There are myriad “trails” which people have tried, climbing through the granitic gravel, and it’s hard to ascertain which way to go. I was told, “Stay left as if you were going to Granite Pass (who the heck knows where that is?), and then cut right to the top of Sawtooth.” Okay.


Our camp at lower Monarch Lake. Turns out we set up in a wind tunnel, but it was turned off at the time and we didn’t know it.

Disappointed to not be able to see the comet Neowise. I felt for sure we’d have a good view, but the mountains formed a solid barrier to the north. Maybe better luck  tomorrow.

IMG_4447A marmot ate a hole in B’s pack, when she left it unattended for a few minutes. We need to keep everything in our tents tonight, and keep a close eye on our belongings. They will chew on anything salty or if they smell food.

I have been trying to eliminate plastic from my life, so we are experimenting with biodegradable, compostable food bags. It doesn’t work. They are way too delicate for the abuse they get on the trail, and this is only the first day! I think maybe I need to sew cloth bags, which will probably add weight to my back.

We started at 7800′ elevation, and ended today at 10, 371′. It was a hellish day for me physically, but now we are in the Sierra! Good night.


Alpenglow on the peaks, as seen from inside my tent.


Day 4, Hoover Wilderness 2019

July 29, 2019, 5:49 AM

It’s been a long cold night in a dripping tent. Well, I wasn’t cold, except when a tendril of outside air would find its way into my bag, which wasn’t often.

I’ve spent too many hours prone, but  don’t want to get up, or read much, or listen to anything. I find myself thinking about my duets album, which I’ve been working on—or off and on—for awhile now. I have one more song to record, and yesterday it came to me exactly what it should be and with whom. It’s been 30 years since I recorded “Old Friend,” on my “Love Chooses You” album. It’s definitely time to do it again, as a duet with Kathy Kallick! I’m so excited by the idea, which came to me in a flash on the last leg of yesterday’s walk.

Last night, after the rains, it was cold and clear. Stars bright as could be, and so many! The Milky Way was winding across the sky, and I saw a couple of meteors.IMG_0915

Whoa! The tent is frozen! The water droplets from the rain turned to ice in the night.

I got up and took a walk in the crepuscular light to the top of our granite pile, to watch the sun hit the snowy peaks and slowly light the pine and juniper, crawling across the valley to our campsite. Barbara is still sleeping, maybe. I didn’t want to wake her.IMG_0926IMG_0929IMG_0931IMG_0921IMG_0917IMG_0936

I came back down as the sun came up, maybe an hour or so later. Our camp is still in deep shade, and B is up and walking around. She was glad to see me, thought maybe I had gone missing. I should have left a note.

IMG_0939 I found this beauty nestled among the boulders. If I had the time, I would do portraits of all the junipers! Each one is so distinctive and full of character.

Breakfast was delayed by a frozen bear vault, which neither of us could open. Finally was able to wrangle it open with the help of a little stove warmth. Now we are waiting for the sun to do its job and dry the tents before we pack up. And the solar charger is doing its thing with my phone/camera. It’ll be another beautiful day!

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9:00 PM

Now back home in Berkeley, I can fill in the rest of the day.  We hiked to the trailhead at Leavitt Meadows, leaving around 9:30 AM, and didn’t see a soul until we hereabout a half mile out from Lane Lake. There we saw a young couple from San Luis Obispo out for the day. He was tall, blond, sunburned, and barefoot. A young, indestructible demigod. Ah, youth!IMG_5393


Two  different moods of the Walker River

At Lane Lake, we were ready for a swim, but our chosen beach was taken over by a backpacking father and his three small kids. He showed us a 50-mile loop that he loved in Hover Wilderness. It starts and ends with a hot spring, which is a fantastic plus in my book. We have to check it out!IMG_5410IMG_0959

The day is hot and the trail is dusty. At the other side of the lake, we took to the water for a much-needed pick-me-up swim. Watched the crawdads and reveled in the cold, clear water under the blue sky. Lots of people with kids and dogs around the lakes on this Saturday. I’m so glad we got out mid-week. It was perfect trip.

The last couple of miles along the edge of Leavitt Meadows is exposed to the fun mid-day sun, and the trail is sandy and empty of people. Beautiful, but we were hot and tired and it felt like a slog. Often, parts of many trails feel like slogs, and I’m happy to endure them because that’s how you get out there.


I imagine at some point in its history, Leavitt Meadows looked more like Piute Meadows. It’s just a little farther removed from its glacial past.

IMG_0965IMG_0969IMG_0971 The contrast from the east to the west always startles me. As we look toward Nevada, the hills/mountains become giant piles of volcanic rubble.


A view of the back of my backpack: a little journal, a copy of John Muir’s “The Mountains of California”, gloves, windbreaker, flashlight. If you look closely, you can see the hole that a marmot chewed in the webbing, sewn together with dental floss. Gotta make do with what you have. I no longer leave snacks under the webbing.

On the drive home, we stopped at Kennedy Meadows for Fritos and lemonade (yum!). It was perfect. The place was crawling with PCT hikers looking somewhat stunned, wandering around the aisles of the store fingering various items. We sat outside near where they were all gathered swapping stories from the trail. All these young people trying to put in the miles and accomplish a task. I much prefer to wander. 

We learned, via a posted article at the store, that in 1947 the Marines from the Mountain Warfare Training Center just over the pass accidentally burned down Kennedy Meadows during one of their exercises. Oops. Not supposed to do that.

Postscript, 7/6/2020: It has been a real treat for me to revisit this hike. As it turns out, it was the only time that entire year that I got away for a backpacking trip. This year, I am making up for that with two planned week-long trips and who knows what other spontaneous outings. It is the silver lining to this strange year of no work and a wide-open schedule. I feel so lucky that, in my 70th year, I can still do this. So I will continue until I can’t. One foot in front of the other, watching the world unfold.IMG_0975


Day 3, Hoover Wilderness 2019

6/28/2019, 3:30 PM

I was up at 7:00 AM, after another on-and-off sleep. I woke at 1:00 AM to see the amazing stars and to settle in to a podcast for an hour. I realized that something was wrong with my sleeping bag, and came to the conclusion that it was inside-out! I kept feeling a draft along the zipper, because the baffle didn’t keep it covered. It was much warmer the other way ’round!

We had a leisurely morning and set off up the trail just carrying water, lunch, the first aid kit and some extra clothes.IMG_0901


I thank the WPA and Conservation Corps for these amazing paths through this high country Eden




Big trees up here! And amazing trail crews.



We encounter our first snow on the trail!

Upper Piute Meadows slowly opened up in front of us. The trail sometimes cut through the higher reaches of the meadow, which were waterlogged and loving it. Impossible to keep the shoes/feet dry, but that was okay by me. It was a classic mountain meadow, formerly a glacier lake that slowly filled in with silt. So beautiful, with water everywhere.

IMG_5352IMG_5360IMG_5356IMG_0888Barbara lost her mosquito net somewhere on the trail, and I thought we should go back and find it, but we decided not to, and just kept going. We forded lots of little creeks and got wet in soaking meadows. I took off my shoes to ford Long Canyon Creek, which was big! It was rushing fast, but really only up to the knees.IMG_0904IMG_0905


I know we look like twins in our nearly identical hiking clothes, but this is Barbara.

I feel so lucky!

I started making up verses to a walking song, with nods to John Muir:

Every time I get the blues,

I put-on my walking shoes

 And I find a trail, for I’ve determined

that going out is coming’ inIMG_5385

Lunch was a bit of a disappointment: turns out that dried hummus gets moldy really fast. Good to know for the future!


We hiked up Kirkwood Creek to a nice overlook, and then turned back toward our camp. The sky was starting to look ominous.


4:15 PM, back at our campsite again.IMG_5392


The old soul juniper near our campsite. The overcast skies finally cooperated, and I was able to capture a reasonably good portrait.


Barbara’s tent


My tent. These are both Tarp Tents, made in Nevada City, CA. A really great, very lightweight design!

The weather is turning cold—the sky is flat gray, with deeper gray in the distance toward Nevada.

We are camped, for the second night, in the same place, among grantees slabs and sparse lodgepole and juniper. Little tufts of grass grow in the decomposed granite sand. We walked through gardens today of little, sweet-smelling phlox. I love that the blossoms turn from white to purple after they have been pollinated. The correlation to virginal brides dressed in white and “fallen women” in purple is just too obvious, making me realize that humans have been observing, and being a part of, the natural world for a long, long time.

The West Walker River is to the northwest of us, running through a steep granite chasm. On the other side is a nice quick stream (the one I fell into yesterday). It’s getting colder by the hour. It could rain, or bring snow to the high peaks. We can look down the valley at the volcanic peaks of the eastern Sierra and up the valley to the granite heights.

6:15 PM

I am in my tent inside my sleeping bag while a biting cold rain is pouring down. By 7:00, it’s over and the birds are singing again, but I have no desire to get out of this bag. Maybe another podcast is in my future…

9.9 miles, 26 floors, 23,219 steps—more or less.


Day 2, Hoover Wilderness 2019

June 27, 6:13 AMIMG_0835

A river of wind has been running above our heads through the pines all night long, strong and steady. Every once in a while, a current breaks loose and slaps my tent around. The day looks perfectly clear and beautiful, but I am loathe to leave my warm bag and begin the chores of backpacking: the morning ablutions in cold water, the filtering of water for breakfast oatmeal and hot beverage, followed by the packing up of sleeping bag, pad, and finally tent, and the repacking of the pack. Invariably, I will be almost finished with packing, when I realize that I need some other item that is, of course, at the bottom of the pack already. Blergh.

On this trip my typical cup of morning tea has been replaced by a hot cup of cacao, which I was loving at home. It’s good on the trail, but at home I lace it with sri racha, which I don’t have with me, and that makes all the difference. Next trip, it’ll be back to tea.

Our path wandered through an aspen grove, and an explanatory sign informed us that these trees were used as sort-of message boards by the mostly-Basque shepherds who used to spend the summers with their flocks of sheep in these mountains. John Muir spent his first summer in the Sierra as a shepherd, with a flock of over 2,000 sheep. He fell in love with the mountains, and became a vociferous opponent to the practice of herding, as he saw first-hand the damage it did to the land. There haven’t been sheep in these parts for a long time.

6:07 PM—83 floors, 8.8 miles and 21,530 steps laterIMG_5322


Roosevelt Lake

We are somewhere on a rocky outcropping above meadows and streams and mosquitos. It’s sunny, with a cool breeze. There were lots of little stream crossings today, visits to beautiful Roosevelt and Lane Lakes, and almost no people.


The edge of a little no-name lake along the trail. So green and lush…and probably a mosquito nursery.


Barbara and I stopped on the trail for a nice chat with two English sisters, Helen and Stephanie, who were a long ways from home, and backpacking together. They were able to give us the lowdown on some of the stream crossings. We did well, until the last one, when I slipped and got both feet (and socks and shoes) wet to the ankles. I hike in New Balance Minimus trail runners, though, so they dry rather quickly and there is no chafing to speak of.

The entirety of this hike runs along the east side of the Walker River. Many of the hikes in this area require fording the river, which is what I was trying to avoid when I planned the route. Here’s what it looks like, a good part of the way.IMG_0846IMG_0841IMG_0848


There are areas where I would consider a crossing, but it might require swimming. Best to avoid it altogether, though the west side looked so inviting!

In the afternoon, we left the main trail and hiked up Long Canyon, looking for a place to camp. But it was too steep, with nary a level place anywhere to pitch a single tent, let alone two. So we stopped and took our time preparing our hot meal, and had a lovely nap under a beautiful old juniper.IMG_0858IMG_0856 2

Once rested, we decided to head back down to the main trail again and push on to Piute Meadows. We came to a big stream crossing, with no chance of staying dry, and Barbara said she didn’t want to do it. It did look daunting, very swift though not particularly deep. Clearly, the trail continued beyond the crossing. So we decided to double back.


Barbara is the happiest camper!

The mosquitos got a bit much, so we reversed direction again to higher ground, and finally found a home for the night, on a high hump of glacier-smoothed granite not far off the trail but very secluded, with a few picturesque junipers and a view down to the river and up to surrounding peaks. It was our own little Shangri-La. I have found a perfect boulder backrest and am watching the day slowly fade while I scribble away.IMG_0862IMG_0866IMG_5337IMG_0864


Pussy paws! Now I know we’re getting up there!

We met four of a group of nine men who had just spent five days camping. They had their equipment brought in by pack horses, and just had to carry little knapsacks with snacks and cameras. It really sounded idyllic, until we saw where they were camped among the pines and mosquitos. I’d have hated that part of it! Aside from these four and the English sisters, we ran into three people we had met in the parking lot yesterday, and that was it for human interaction.


Tomorrow, we will go exploring and leave our packs behind. Piute Meadows, here we come!

It looks like some clouds are closing in, but they don’t appear to be menacing.

Hoover Wilderness, June 2019

On June 26, 2019, Barbara Higbie and I left Berkeley at 8:30 AM and drove against the heavy commute traffic out to CA Hwy 120 and across the Central Valley. Then we hit Hwy 108 over Sonora Pass. We stopped at the overlook above Donnell Reservoir, which dams the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. It was at capacity from recent snowmelt.

IMG_0767IMG_0769IMG_5282IMG_0765We expected to see more snow, as the winter of 2018-2019 gave the Sierra 160% of average snowfall for the year. But there wasn’t much to speak of until over 9000 feet—then, it lay in thick drifts across the north-facing slopes.


Because of the heavy snowfall, and this relatively early-in-the-year hike, I had searched maps and trekking books for a fairly high-altitude hike that would help us avoid any major stream crossings, which are raging with snowmelt. Neither Barbara nor I had been to the Hoover Wilderness, which is nestled between northern Yosemite and Tahoe on the eastern Sierra slope.



Gearing up to leave the vehicle. For this trailhead, you just show up, write your name and car license number in a book, and say vaguely where you are headed and when you’ll be back.

We took the trail toward Roosevelt Lake, but then decided to go to Secret Lake (who can resist a name like that?) instead today. Views of the barren mountains of the eastern Sierra are gorgeous. The wind comes in occasional strong gusts, so we have to make sure our hats are tightly attached to our heads.