Day 6, August 31, 2021

Farewell to the San Joaquin. I have had Jim Ringer’s masterpiece song, “Tramps and Hawkers,” stuck in my head all week as we crossed and recrossed this river.
Tome Rozum sings so beautifully!

We got up early today, around 6:00, and packed up so that we would have time for one last soak in the hot springs before we had to leave to catch the ferry at Florence Lake. This morning, our favorite soaking pool was already occupied by four young through-hikers by the time we got there. But they were about ready to leave, and invited us to join them, which we did. It’s fun hearing the stories of the trail. Some seem born to ramble, and some are definitely being dragged along. One couple had met on a backpacking trip led by the father of one of them, and I think they are in it for life. The other two met on the trail, and were just teamed up for the duration of the trek. A fiercely independent young woman who liked having a man around the house, just in case…

The forest floor
I love the junipers so much, I hate to say good-bye to them.

The dusty miles back to the ferry dock are starting to look very familiar to me, as I have hiked them six times now, I think. We met one of the Muir Trail Ranch crew returning on horseback, leading a mule carrying supplies back to the ranch. We stopped and chatted for awhile. I was very curious about how one makes reservations there these days, and whether they could arrange for a less-able-bodied person to ride in on horseback. The answer to the latter was yes, they do that all the time. The answer to the former was that the ranch is generally rented out to groups, and if you know a group, there are often accommodations available for one or two people extra within that group. I would love to come back with my partner, who would be hard-pressed to do the hike at this point. So if anyone reading this knows of a group that is making or has made reservations for 2022, I’d love to hear if there’s room to be included to piggyback on their stay. The other thing I thought about was actually forming a group and reserving the whole place for a week. Expensive, but idyllic. It would be a great place to have a music gathering! But of course I would need the more affluent to help sponsor the less affluent. That could work.

We walked through the dry meadows. I’d love to see what the view is like from the needle up on the hill!
We hate to say goodbye…
Modern art installation, courtesy of Ma Nature.

By the time we got to the ferry dock, we were hot and dusty, and took advantage of the free half hour or so to swim in the lake. How wonderful that felt! At first, it seemed too cold, and then after a few minutes I didn’t want to get out. The shallows over the smooth granite were almost warm. My skin felt completely alive.

Severely-depleted Florence Lake. We are still quite a ways from the shore, and you can clearly see the old waterline on the boulder in the foreground.

The ferry operator told us that as of midnight tonight, all national forests would be closed. Nobody can enter, so that firefighters and other personnel don’t have to worry about any more people who might need to get rescued from potential fires—or who might start them. There was one more hiker on the ferry with us, who was going to the Florence Lake store to meet a friend who was supposed to drive up from SF with his resupply, and join him on the trail for a week. The friend hadn’t arrived yet, and I overheard from a phone conversation that he hadn’t yet left SF. He HAD to get there by midnight, or the hiker wouldn’t get his supplies and his friend couldn’t join him. As it was, if they missed the last ferry of the day, they would have to hike around the lake, since after today there would be no more ferry service. I hope they managed to get together!

Looking back at the mountains.

The woman running the Florence Lake store (who was also the ferry operator) told us that she had to, on very short notice, close the store down for the season tomorrow. That meant shutting off the electricity, which meant that all of the frozen foods left behind would have to be thrown out. She gave us It’s It ice cream sandwiches (“a San Francisco tradition since 1928”), and offered us more. If only we had had a cooler! I discovered It’s Its when I was in my 20’s, and for years they were my very favorite treat. I don’t eat that stuff much anymore, and hadn’t had one in decades. It was sooooo delicious! Margaret and I were in post-hike ice cream heaven. Plus, the store dog was a real pleasure to hang out with. I wish I had taken some pictures of him. He never begged for food or even asked for attention. But he accepted pets, seemed to enjoy the company, and regarded me with deep soulful eyes.

Here’s what the ferry ride was like.

Margaret expertly drove the slow Kaiser Pass road out to the highway, and then we were zipping back down the mountains and foothills into the smoke-choked San Joaquin Valley. It feels good to be back home, with ocean breezes protecting us from the drifting smoke, but oh, how I miss being at 10,000 feet. Here’s hoping for a big snowpack leading to a late season in 2022. I’m planning the next excursion already. Thank you for sharing the trail with us!

Day 5, August 30, 2021

My phone says we have hiked 10 miles. The map says we have hiked 7. Hmmm…I choose to believe my phone.

Our dusty camp near the first San Joaquin bridge
The view from the bridge, as we start off in the morning.

We are at Blaney Hot Springs, across the San Joaquin from Muir Trail Ranch. For some reason, all the other backpackers are on the other side of the river, which is great for us. We have a spacious, beautiful campsite to ourselves, with nobody else anywhere nearby, a short walk from the springs. We sat for a long time in the hot springs and soaked. I have felt a little beat up, with my Morton’s neuroma making itself felt. Yesterday I dug a sliver out of the bottom of the dame foot—a remnant of the Grand Canyon raft trip last March. I stepped on a sharp shard of something or other on the first night of the 21-day trip. At the time, I got most of it out, but a little bit remained. It finally worked its way to the surface of my foot, five months later.

Our nicely-appointed campsite near Blaney Hot Springs

This morning’s hike was pleasant, but my knee was hurting and I was feeling sad about coming out of the high country. The outside world’s worries were starting to weigh on me again. We haven’t seen much wildlife on this trip. A doe, her two fawns from this year and her yearling daughter, and a fine buck. Chickarees, ground squirrels, chipmunks, jays, dippers, juncos, Clark’s nutcrackers, a few hawks, a marmot or two. It’s a quiet time of year and a fairly busy trail.

Another bridge, another view, early morning on the trail.

Today, at the Piute Creek bridge, we met Vanya. She is from Bulgaria, came to the US as a teenager, was homeless for awhile, and is now a cardiac surgery nurse. She has brought over her parents—for whom she is the primary caregiver—and several cousins who are all doing well. She was maybe in her late 40’s (it’s harder and harder for me to tell anyone’s age), warm and bubbly, full of energy. I asked if she sang any Bulgarian songs. She was surprised that anyone would ask her that, and with lots of apologies about not being much of a singer, she launched into a song, full of the Eastern ornamentation and the bold, committed vocal style. It was great!

This particular hot spring pool is perfect! Shoulder-deep, clean, and a just-right temperature.
Ahhhhh…we had this little pool to ourselves today.
The view from our pool. Not bad.

So dry! My skin is flaking away. The sky remains thankfully deep blue and smoke-free. At this lower elevation, we are surrounded by aspen and pine.

A short walk through the meadow the trail led us to a perfect little lake, just right for a dip after the hot springs.
Another view of the little lake.

I highly recommend Fernweh mushroom pot pie backpacking meals. They are really good. Well, I take one meal, open it up and add various other ingredients: home-dehydrated spinach, kale, kashi, and parmesan, and potato flakes. Then I extend it to two meals. Margaret brought delicious chicken broth, and my dehydrated miso is great, too. We are eating really well on this trip.

My knee kept me awake last night, even with three ibuprofen. The hot springs are helping a lot!

Margaret and I stopped to weigh our packs and get rid of a little garbage at the Muir Trail Ranch backpacker station. I haven’t been here since they moved it over from the main ranch yard. Makes more sense for the ranch to have it removed, but I liked being near the horses and snooping around the grounds (exactly why they moved it!). My pack weighs 20 pounds, after I removed about a pound of detritus picked up along the trail, including some wrecked footwear. Nice to be rid of it. I go into the wilderness and gather lost soles—my own personal Savior Complex.

The new backpackers’ station at Muir Trail Ranch. Not nearly as interesting as the old station. There’s a little store where you can purchase necessities, and through-hikers can mail their resupply buckets here. People were under the pop-up tents with the contents of their packs spread out on the tables and benches, sorting and repacking. There are some buckets on the porch with food and other supplies that people left behind, and anyone is welcome to take what they want. I still have two pair of then-new socks that someone left behind in 2014.
We lingered on the banks of the San Joaquin, cleaning up and basking in the changing light.

1:58 AM Sleep is hard to come by, but I don’t really mind. The stars are brilliant and the night is still. The river is murmuring in its rocky bed in the distance. This is the most comfortable I’ve felt in my tent. Must be the lower altitude, the flatness, the cool air, and time spent soaking in the hot springs. Such a beautiful unexpected spot. Just took three more ibuprofen and am hoping that they will lull me back to sleep soon.

Crescent moon is just coming up among the trees. I heard the owl far off as I drifted to sleep earlier. It could be one of the same ones we heard on our first night. We are not far downstream from there. Good night.

Day 4, August 29, 2021

Early morning on Evolution Lake
Sun just hits the escarpment towering above us.
Beside the tree to the right is our open-floor-plan kitchen. I hear my cup of tea calling.

Margaret and I enjoyed a beautiful, relaxed morning at Evolution Lake. We walked over to the outflow overlook again, just to admire the view. There was more smoke in the valley this morning, but we were blessed with clear skies. We broke camp and shouldered our packs at about 9:00 AM. I suggested that we drop our packs at the faint trail to Darwin Bench and go have a look-see. Margaret was all for it.

A little later.
Ta-da!
Looking west in the morning, we could see a layer of smoke lying heavy in the San Joaquin Valley.
One of the many creeks flowing from the Darwin Bench. More dippers! I really wish they were still called water ouzels.

It was so beautiful up there. You have to look pretty carefully to find the path at times, especially because everything is calling so loudly for you to come take a look. It’s easy to wander off the trail. Fields of Spring wildflowers were still in bloom, even this late in the season—lupines, mostly—and streams were flowing everywhere. It put me in mind of John Muir writing about the Sierra. He often referred to the mountains as fountains, because of how the water sprang from them. Even in this dry, dry season of a dry, dry year, there is water flowing. Good thing, since it is the drinking fountain for most of California.

The little path through a garden of lupine beside the singing creek led us onward and upward.
Looking back down the trail.

We spent a couple of hours enjoying the place, and almost talked ourselves into a swim in the frigid lakes. If the wind hadn’t been blowing, I believe we both would have immersed ourselves completely. If Barbara Higbie had been there, she would have done it! And then I would have to rise to the challenge. Lucky for me, she wasn’t there As it was, I settled for some good splashing and then lying in the sun for a bit.

Brrrrr!
There is something about being above 10,000 feet that just makes you want to keep climbing upward. I guess the light-headedness is intoxicating.
We caught this marmot by surprise, and it hunkered down and stayed still, hoping we wouldn’t see it.
It was refreshing to meet a marmot who was unaccustomed to handouts from humans, and didn’t boldly come begging!
We watched each other for a long time.
Looking at the backside of the ridge that ran along the east side of Evolution Lake. One of those peaks is Mt. Mendel.

After a bit, we walked back down and retrieved our packs. We hadn’t seen a human anywhere, since we turned off on the Darwin Bench trail. No evidence of camps, either. Margaret suggested that we camp near Evolution Creek, just above the steep set of switchbacks. I didn’t recall seeing any campsites around there, but it was such a beautiful spot, and I readily agreed to the plan.

Farewell to the High Country

We went, but there were no campsites anywhere, search though we did on both sides of the creek. So we ended up hiking all the way down to the San Joaquin, where we have set up camp before the first bridge. There’s lots of space and nice sites, but it all seems beaten-down, dusty and dirty, after our time on the granite slabs above. I hate to leave the high country, but this has been a very good visit. I am still feeling the lack of conditioning, and though I am grateful for what I have, I miss the 69-year-old me!

Lunch break on the trail. I harvested my neighbor’s orange tree, and dehydrated the slices. It’s an amazing burst of flavor! And so pretty!
McClure Meadow again.
We met this intrepid and very well-dressed hiker today.
Of course, she was in the National Park, where dogs are prohibited, but I think it’s questionable that she really even qualifies as a canine.

We hiked 12.2 miles today. More than I would have ideally wanted, but every step was so, so worth it! Tomorrow, we soak in the hot springs.

Day 3, August 28, 2021

I realized, in looking over yesterday’s entry, that I didn’t do much to describe the trail we have been on so far. Except for the first 4.5 miles, it is all part of the John Muir Trail, so not the most remote stretch you could find, by a long shot. But the majority of backpackers are going the same direction as us, north-to-south, or as the through-hikers say, “SoBo” (as opposed to NoBo). Still, we walk for hours on end without seeing anyone else. The first 4.5 miles of the trail are heavily trafficked by horses and four-wheel-drive trucks, bringing supplies into and out of Muir Trail Ranch. Then there’s about a mile of dusty trail before backpackers can even think about making camp. The first campsites we saw are lovely, shaded, flat, and near the river. But also, they were all taken when we arrived sometime around 5:30. A short walk away, through a narrow defile between granite ridges, we found a level, shaded campsite alongside the river, and didn’t see another human until we hit the trail the next day. Then, yesterday, we walked along a well-worn trail that ran about a quarter mile away from the banks of the San Joaquin until we came to the bridge across Piute Creek, at the junction with the Piute Pass trail. There is a beautiful swimming hole right there at the bridge, and of course we took advantage of the chance to cool off before continuing. From Piute Creek, the very rocky trail runs just above the steep banks of the San Joaquin, until it levels out and moves on into quiet spruce, fir, and pine forests. We crossed the river twice (on bridges), before we came to the Big Climb. The trail climbs with many switchbacks from about 8500 feet to 9200 feet, in the space of about a half mile. Then you come out at the mouth of Evolution Valley, and smooth sailing. That gets us to last night’s campsite, along the creek in the quiet woods.

The view from my tent in the morning.
Home, sweet home!

Today, we walked through McClure Meadow, which is a beautiful open park, with a meandering stream that flows slowly through the now-dry mostly-golden grasses. We stopped to talk with the ferry guys along the way, and met a young man from Santa Barbara who is a musician. I said I used to know quite a few musicians in that area, but they were mostly retired or moved away by now. But the first person he mentioned was Vince Semonsen, a friend and former river guide on the Tuolumne and Rogue rivers. Small world!

Skunk cabbage or Camas lilly? Of course, I was wrong…
Evolution Creek winds through McClure Meadow
A little higher up is Colby Meadow. I don’t know where one ends and the other begins.
Someone lost a shoe!
I think this might be a fossilized land shark.

It was a long day today. The climb out of Evolution Valley to Evolution Lake just about killed me! It was a slow slog through beauty, and I felt every muscle on every step. I remember it being kind-of tough in 2014, but nothing like this. But I also noticed that when I would rest, or be overtaken by young, hale backpackers, I only needed to casually mention my age to be called “bad ass.” It does the spirit good! Everyone out here is younger than me. I reminded myself of my former neighbor, Mrs. Sephus, who would start almost every conversation with “I’m 70-something years old. Of course, my husband, he’s younger than me. I walk downtown every day to the Blue and Gold Market.” To which my 20-something self could only reply, “You’re an inspiration!” It’s been a hard year for me to try and stay in shape, what with the knee injury, vein surgery, and carrying around all this worry about my family, and my voice issues. I am getting in touch with the fact that I am just plain exhausted. But I am so, so thankful to be here. Te weather is clear and dry. No smoke today at all.

Young backpackers I met along the trail.
I recall that two of them were Margaritaville and Rascal, but I can’t remember the third one’s trail name, I’m sorry to say.

On the trail up to the lake, I stopped at a nondescript spot to take a little break, and said hello to a young man coming down the trail. He said I was close to the top now, and continued on his way. I watched him go down another couple of switchbacks, stop, and then turn around and come back up. He said he had missed the very faint turnoff to the Darwin Shelf, which happened to be right where I was sitting. He said he was camped up there, that it was beautiful, and was taking day hikes from there. He said that today, he had climbed up to the razor-thin ridge leading to Darwin Peak, and decided it was just too foolhardy to do on his own. Smart young fellow. I filed that information away, and continued the climb.

Evolution Lake, Darwin Peak and the ridge up to Mt Mendel
Home, sweet home, again!

Evolution Lake is beautiful! There is a broad open flatfish smooth granite bench along the bank, and that’s where we made our camp. We had to share it with three other people, but that was okay. I took a walk over to the outlet, where the creek plunges over a lip and down into the far reaches of the valley below. It was a perfect place to enjoy the sunset, and watch the fish jumping like crazy for some recent hatch, while the bats swooped above. Many of the fish flashed red in the low sun, and though I am woefully ignorant, I would guess they were cutthroat trout—and I’d probably be right.

Looking back from whence we came. That little comma of a meadow at the far end of the valley is where we were this morning, I think.
I had to resist getting sucked into this vortex!
Looking back at Evolution Lake, as the sun began to sink low.
The lip of the lake, looking down to the “secret park” at the top of Evolution Valley. I want to go there next time!
No place I’d rather be.
Ahhhhh…

The alpenglow was spectacular.

Immense jagged ridges hem in the lake

Because I hadn’t slept much the last couple of nights, I accepted the offer of an Ambien, a drug I had never tried before. I slept like the proverbial dead for four hours, and then staggered out of my tent to answer Nature’s call. Then I went back to my fitful sleep until morning. I don’t think I like that drug. I would much rather just be awake and aware of the incredible shifting night sky than to be knocked out like that.

The phone says we hiked 9.4 miles. My legs think it was more like 15.

The silver waterways turn gray, the darkness overtakes the day, and the Magic Light has gone away…

Day 2, August 27, 2021

Our first camp, after doing the wash. Almost time to gather everything up and get it all back in the packs, as soon as I finish my cup of tea.

Today is looking a little smokier than yesterday, but it’s still not bad. This morning, some hikers coming down from Evolution Valley said it was clear there, and they were right. I got very tired out today. We had meant to maybe hike as far as Evolution Lake, but stopped a few miles short of there, at the mouth of Evolution Valley. Our campsite is beautiful and quiet, though we saw lots of people on the trail. We are hidden behind a large granite outcropping not far from slow-moving Evolution Creek. We see nobody, and they don’t see us. The four men from the ferry kept leap-frogging with us all day. Luckily. They found Margaret’s credit card and return ferry ticket on the trail.

Our trail followed the San Joaquin up into the high country. There were some beautiful falls and swimming holes.
We saw very few really big trees still standing, but there were some mighty ones that had fallen. Without the trail crews, this one would have been quite the impediment to forward travel.

We have scrapped the Goddard Canyon plan for sure. We would need one more day to make it not be too much of a push. I am feeling good, in fact euphoric, being up here in the Sierra, but so very, very tired. Margaret is far more fit (well, I do have 10 years on her), and is making us some broth, which tastes delicious. As does almost all the food we brought. Flavors seem to explode in the mouth up here. Some highlights are my dried Damsun plums, from the backyard tree. They are like natural, organic Sweet Tarts!

We found out today that Richard, one of the four men sharing our route, is our neighbor. He lives perhaps two blocks from Margaret and four blocks from me! It always amazes me how many fellow Berkeleyans I run into up here in the mountains.

We stopped for a nice long lunch break where the trail leaves the San Joaquin and begins to climb steeply up to Evolution Valley. Here, Margaret poses nonchalantly alongside my big purchase of the year: a brand-new Bearikade bear canister. It has lightened our load considerably!

We stopped multiple times today for dips in the San Joaquin, and scrambled down to very beautiful Evolution Creek for more negative ions. There isn’t much water, but it is so invigorating and refreshing! The ford at Evolution Creek was only ankle-deep. I didn’t even bother to take my shoes off, but just splashed through. My hiking shoes, which are New Balance Minimus trail runners, dry remarkably quickly.

Looking back down the way we came, as we climb up to Evolution Canyon. I had been wanting to revisit this place since hiking the John Muir Trail in 2014. But I had forgotten what a slog it is to get up here! One step at a time…
We couldn’t resist dropping our packs and scrambling down to Evolution Creek, as it tumbles through its scoured granite bed.
Steep!
Ahhh…this was a good stop.
We indulged in a brief dip in this pool. That’s some cold water!
Toward the mouth of Evolution Valley, where the creek starts to level off, we took yet another break to cool our toes.
Made it over with nary a miss-step.
This part of Evolution Creek was so idyllic, winding among the sweet-smelling pines. The dippers hunted in the riffles, so intent on their work
that they didn’t even seem to notice us.

Well, it happened! I was sitting in my tent writing and sipping broth, and I managed to spill the broth on my clothes and the tent floor. Now I have more chores to do. And I KNEW I was taking a risk, bringing food into the tent. When will I learn to heed my own warnings?

The view upward from near our campsite. Tomorrow, those mountains will be a lot closer!

I had to move my tent about six feet over, to a much more level place. What looked perfect when I set up, ended up having a hump in the middle, so that no matter which way I faced, my head was downhill.

It is so quiet and peaceful here. The phone says we covered 8.7 miles and climbed 25 flights of stars. I am amazed at the difference in my conditioning that a year has made. I really am dragging, but thankful that my knee isn’t acting up. Sometimes, I think I can just burst out into song, but when I do, the voice is still not there. I hit walls and just can’t access much of my range. Doctors prescribe rest and patience, both of which are difficult for this patient.

Another early night to bed, after watching the bats feeding above the creek.

Alpenglow on the peaks. I am in my happy (albeit tired) place.

The Only Outing of 2021

When this year started, I had planned two excellent backpacking excursions, but had to cancel the July outing due to a knee injury (I was riding hills on a bike in Wyoming with a too-short seat and strained my knee). By the time August rolled around, I was definitely stir-crazy, and anxious to be up in the mountains. In my non-hiking life, things were going slow. I had had to cancel all my concerts after I lost my voice due to a viral infection in early July. I was in a deep funk, and couldn’t wait to spend a week just walking. Luckily, I had planned a trip with my friend and neighbor Margaret, and though we had to cancel the first two days of it due to canceled flights (for me) and smoke fears, we thought we’d take the plunge. We ended up spending 6 beautiful, clear days in Kings Canyon National Park and the John Muir Wilderness. Here’s how it went down.

Margaret closing up her pack, on the granite shore of Florence Lake. The boat on the upper right is our ferry.

Day 1, August 26, 2021

Margaret and I left Berkeley at about 6:30 AM, heading off in the crepuscular light to drive to Florence Lake, about 6 hours south and east of home. Although I had played music at Margaret’s wedding some 20 years ago, we didn’t really know much about each other, so we chatted and filled each other in on our families and our histories. The sky was smoky and the land we drove through was incredibly parched and dry. We gasped at the devastation wrought by last year’s Creek Fire, and worried for the future of the Golden State. Arrived at Florence Lake at 1:30, after a long, slow drive over Kaiser Pass Road. It’s only 22 miles long, but took at least an hour and a half to navigate the potholes and hairpin turns. Purchased tickets for the ferry that would take us across the lake to the trailhead, and had time for a lovely swim beforehand.

Sharing our ferry ride was a group of four men, all probably in their early 50’s, three of whom gone to high school together. The four had been backpacking together every summer for 30 years. We had similar itineraries, to hike up alongside the San Joaquin River into Evolution Valley, and on up to Evolution Lake. We figured we would be leap-frogging each other for the next few days, anyway. Originally, I had wanted to hike up to Lake Wanda and then head overland to Goddard Canyon and back down to the San Joaquin. However, our shortened trip made that feel too ambitious for my one-and-only outing of the year. Better to take it easy and have no expectations.

The well-worn trail led through beautiful meadows up to Muir Trail Ranch. Much of the trail is traveled by horsed=s and heavy trucks, so is very dusty.
Still, it was beautiful, heading always slightly upward and closer to the heart of the Sierra.

” I have stayed at Muir Trail Ranch twice before, the first time being when I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2014 (see Day 12, Muir Trail Ranch, August 24, 2014″) and second time when my sister and I tried to do the same route that Margaret and I had planned, in 2016 (see “Day 5, Muir Trail Ranch, July 12, 2016”). That hike was aborted by forest fires. So the first part of the trip was very familiar to me. I recognized particular inclines and declines, meadows and streams, from years before, and it felt a little like coming home again. On our first night, Margaret and I ended up staying at the same camp that my sister Kristin and I had stayed at, alongside the San Joaquin just about a mile or so past Muir Trail Ranch. This is where we were attacked by a bat and forced to make a hasty retreat (see “Day 2, World on Fire, and a Bat Attack!”). Luckily, there were no attack bats present, though I assiduously avoided the tree where the bat’s roost had been.

Margaret brought too much food for the first night, and we had to eat it all because there was no extra room in the bear canister. I felt a little over-full, and very tired after all the driving, swimming, and hiking. We had a lovely dip (a splash, really) in the very low San Joaquin, rinsing off the sweat and dust. The river runs languid and cold here. I think there’s more algae than in previous years, but who knows? It’s a low-flow, warm year.

8:30 bedtime. My hip flexers are tired out. It was a hard and long first day, but I am so glad to be here! I have this feeling like my voice will return, which is welcome. The anguish of having lost the ability to sing has been weighing heavily on me this last month. I forgot to bring a book. Margaret brought her Kindle and crossword puzzles to do while the food rehydrates.

“I’m not superstitious, but I’ll knock on wood.” —Margaret Norman

Awake at midnight, I watched the waning gibbous moon climb through the Jeffrey pines, and listened to the owls calling each other: who whoooo who who, and the response a fourth higher. Sometimes they would overlap for a note or two, sounding like gentle ocarinas in the night.

Wandering down the forest path, we heard voices calling to each other. Eventually, a few people joined us on the trail. One had a guitar and sang us a little traveling music. Unexpected!

My phone says that we hiked 7.2 miles today. Not too bad for the first outing of the year, with a fully-loaded backpack. The Jeff pines welcome us with their butterscotch scent, the river burbles along, mumbling to itself, and my muscles are talking to me in a gentle tone, saying they will try their best but lease don’t push too hard. I am happy to wake often, see the slow circling of the stars, and drift off into sleep again.

The Heights

9/11/20

We couldn’t resist stopping once again at the coffee cart, and saying hello to our friends.

Up at 7:00 AM, for a breakfast of oatmeal and tea. My knee feels fine, so we decided to try to go to Johnson Lake from the Snake Creek Trailhead (the same trailhead where we started up the Shoshone Trail to the bristlecones on our first day), and go cross-country along the ridge to the bristlecone forest we enjoyed so much on Tuesday. We didn’t have any topographical maps of the area, but only the map on the park brochure. It showed a little dotted-line route— not a trail—along the ridge.

Aspens again. As I write this, a month later, I am imagining how they look now, in their gold and silver finery under that crystalline blue sky.
If you squint your eyes, you can see a very tiny Barbara way down that trail headed my way.
The trees are covered with graffiti from decades of travelers. Most is pretty crude, but this L. H. Larsen guy had a nice hand, back in 1939.
Resting in the shade on the way up the trail.
I was surprised to see an old-style trail marker. Everything else was so new!
Welcome to Johnson Mill

All the way to Johnson Lake, my knee felt fine. The trail wound through aspen groves and across sage-filled meadows and steep forests of spruce and pine up through Johnson Mill, an old tungsten mill that was active from 1908 to 1950. It boomed during World War One, and then barely survived after that, when the price of tungsten went down. Ruins of old log buildings and rusted metal machinery were scattered about, and the forest was actively reclaiming the area.

Read on, if you want a little more background.
Trees were reclaiming the old mill. They seem unstoppable, thankfully.
I can’t imagine the effort it took to fell these trees and build these structures. And now they are all slowly returning to the earth. If I were one of the laborers, I think I’d be pretty irritated.

At Johnson Lake, the trail went up steeply to a pass. After resting my legs in the freezing cold water for a bit, we started up. The top was gorgeous, with views of the backside of Wheeler Peak, Jeff Davis Peak, and Pyramid Peak looming right above us. We took off along the ridge, but at a particularly narrow place, I was stricken with a bout of vertigo. I had to sit down and close my eyes to let the jitters pass. I have experienced a healthy fear of heights all my life, but in recent years I really thought I had pretty-much overcome it, as long as my feet were on solid ground. But this just came on so strong, and I decided I couldn’t/shouldn’t go on. Plus, it began to look like it was much farther than we had anticipated, with scree slopes and drops of many thousands of feet to the basin floor on both sides. I hadn’t felt this kind of fear of heights since I was a kid, and occasionally since then (once on a very steep tram up a mountain in Switzerland: I had to exit the tram at the half-way stop and walk back down—which was actually really beautiful and just great). As we descended back down to the pass, we saw a lone hiker, who waved and then sat down to wait for us. Having not seen another soul all day so far, it was a pleasure to sit and talk. Even more so, since he turned out to be the superintendent of Death Valley National Park, off on a little vacation. Barbara mentioned how nice all the amenities at Great Basin are, and how we had imagined that it was the pork barrel project of some Congressperson. The Ranger, of course, knew all about it. We have former Senator Harry Reid to thank, though the web of water interests, Mormon cronies, Nevada and Utah ranchers, and hydrologists is an immensely tangled one. This talk with the ranger led me to read a long, three-part article from 2008 in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, which is really informative. Read it here. It sounds like “Chinatown” and the draining of the Owens Valley all over again. Meanwhile, I had made up my mind that if Ranger Mike had wanted to hike over to the bristlecones along the ridge, I would follow him. I was disappointed when he chose to go another direction.

We arrived at Johnson Lake. That water is cold!
This photo doesn’t give you any idea of how high and steep that ridge is above us.
As we start climbing, maybe you can get the sense of it…
Great views down to the former Lake Bonneville and Utah.
And still we kept climbing.
We finally reached the saddle, and left the trail to try our hands at the cross-country route to the Bristlecone Forest.
That’s Wheeler Peak on the left, and Jeff Davis Peak on the right. B and I renamed it Angela Davis Peak. Do you think the powers that be would go for that?
We start up cross-country toward to ridgeline.
Here’s the ridge we would have had to navigate, with no trail. In retrospect, looking at this photo, it seems like it would have been so easy. In reality, it scared the s**t out of me.
Looking down the other side of the ridge.
Barbara took this photo of me, walking back down to the pass. One of those little black specks is Ranger Mike sitting and waiting for us.

As our Ranger acquaintance left, a couple we had met yesterday at Kerouac’s showed up and we chatted with them awhile. Our solitary day suddenly became very social, sitting in the rocky saddle between the peaks without a tree in sight. Then the long steep downhill back to the trailhead. Stunningly beautiful weather—just warm enough, with clear blue skies and a light breeze. Perfect hiking weather. My knee did well, until the last couple of miles, and even then it was okay. I just had to be careful about how and where I placed my feet, and use my right leg for any big steps down.

Sun-baked bones of long-dead tree people.
Heading back down, through the aspens and conifers, on a different trail.
This late in the season, most of the color comes not from blossoms, but from the various stages of dying foliage.
We could see over to Mt Washington, and the hillside we climbed on our first day up to the bristlecones. I was sure we could get there from the ridge, but alas, it will have to wait for the next expedition.
I recognize this place! We are almost back to the trailhead.

One of the drawbacks of this place is that the water is so cold, and there aren’t any places to get into to swim, anyway. B and I are both missing the refreshing dips of the Sierra, and are feeling really grubby most of the time. So we stopped at a campsite along Snake Creek for a good private rinse in the water. Bracing and restorative. We put on clean clothes (it’s a different experience to have a van full of extra things, rather than a backpack full of only the essentials), and went to Kerouac’s for dinner again. Sorry, no food photos today…

The bar at Kerouac’s. I especially like that little sign that announces COOKIES!

I tried to convince Barbara that we should stay over another day, but duty was calling from California, and I resigned myself to the fact that tomorrow we would pack up and drive 10 hours back to the hell which is California now. My poor beautiful state!

After dinner at Kerouac’s, we caught up with the news from the home fronts. Poor California is burning up, while we are breathing clear air and will soon be gazing at a million stars.

13.4 miles, 237 flights of stairs climbed today. I am so thankful, in spite of my knee and other mishaps, for this opportunity to explore this magical place. I will come back, and I will find a way to hike along that damn ridge from the bristlecones to the Johnson Lake trail. And I am going to order a topographical map of the area. Gotta visit before Las Vegas drains all the groundwater, kills off the greasewood, and makes it a dustbowl up here.

A Good Day

9/10/20

Chamisa in the morning light is a beautiful sight.

I slept so well last night! It was decidedly warmer, and every time I had to get up was a treat—first the brilliance of the stars against the inky blackness, and then the waning half moon lighting up the forest around us. I stayed in bed until 7:30. Woke hungry and refreshed. Oatmeal and tea for breakfast, and then a hike from camp down to Grey Cliffs and up Pole Canyon to Timber Trail, and back to camp. 8.3 miles of a gentle trail through piñon and juniper and then aspen and Engelmann and mixed conifers. Meadows and clumps of sage, winding through thickets of wild roses (all long through blooming and fruiting), past stands of rugged mountain mahogany. And everywhere the brilliant gold blooming chamisa. My knee is letting me know it’s there, but nothing like yesterday.

The trail down to the Grey Cliffs led through aspen gardens, alive with butterflies and wet with dew in the crisp morning air.
This area has lots of pictographs, but they are in unmarked locations. We saw a few, in a sheltered rock overhang, the red paint mostly obscured by many years of campfires below them These cliffs look like likely places to find more, but I’ll save that search for the next visit..
Barbara communes with the aspens along the trail.
The Pole Canyon trail wandered alongside meadows and through forests.
So many slender aspens, growing in an old fire zone. We could see old, decaying burnt stumps of pines scattered among them.
The Timber Trail led up and over a little pass, giving us views down Pole Canyon and the surrounding forests.
Who lives there?
The landscape is a far cry from the glory of the Sierra, but it has its own beauty and scale, contrasts and soaring views.
The summit of the Timber Trail, at around 9,000′, looking back from whence we came.
Looking ahead, we could see the peaks and the high country above us. But we aren’t going there today…waah!
B standing on the bridge over Baker Creek, almost back to our camp.

Now, at noon, we are back at camp and B is working on my leg again. I forgot to mention that she did this yesterday, too. She has a great touch, and strong piano-playing hands, and has really helped in the rapid healing of my injury. Lucky me!

A chipmunk joined us for lunch at our campground. We didn’t feed it (not intentionally, anyway)

We saw only one person on the trail, and when we got to the trailhead, we met two young women and a man about to take off with their backpacks. We talked for awhile, and they said they had planned on hiking up to Young Lakes in Yosemite (very close to where we had been planning on going), but the apocalyptic smoke drove them out here, same as us. They also said that they had received a message from the Park Service cancelling their permit because of the smoke and fire. From Marin County, so close by us in that sense, too.

Baker Creek. This area is so dry, it is always a thrill to see the water flowing, especially so late in the summer. It’s amazing to me that there is enough rain and snow on the peaks to keep these streams running all year long!
All the trail markers, parking lots, and pit toilets are in perfect shape. Your tax dollars at work.

8:00 PM

After a lunch of crackers and peanut butter, rooibos tea, and dried fruit, Barbara and I had a nice little mid-day siesta. So pleasant. About 2:00 PM, we headed to the Wheeler Peak parking lot for a recommended 3.2-mile hike to Stella Lake. It’s one of the few fairly level paths in the park, because I am still babying my knee. It did fine until the way down, almost to the van. Suddenly, it started hurting a lot and I was trying not to limp. Then it was down the winding road to Baker, and a side trip to the Baker archeological site. In 1994, they uncovered a Fremont Culture large camp or small city on the site of a former creek (it had been re-channeled by white settlers for farming, and now was dry). The Fremonts had a large five-story building, surrounded by lots of adobe homes, and farmed corn, squash, and beans, as well as hunting for meat (elk, deer, and whatever else) in about 1200AD. The entire archeological dig is now just an expanse of sagebrush flatlands, and there really isn’t much to see there now, for the untrained eye.

The trail up to Stella Lake went through miles of aspen groves. So beautiful in the slanting afternoon light.
Through a break in the aspens, we caught views of Wheeler Peak. We had intended to take a day to hike up to the summit, but my knee changed our plans.
Stella Lake. Too cold to swim. And maybe too shallow and mucky.
more aspens…
The road from Wheeler Peak trailhead down to Baker is about 20 miles of lots of turns. Here, we were able to see where we are going.
Kerouac’s. Apparently, Jack Kerouac stopped in Baker at some point.

Then it was off to Kerouac’s for an amazing dinner. I have never passed through Baker when this restaurant has been open, and it was a real treat! It’s open Thursday-Sunday in the summer months. We had pizza with pesto and zucchini and fried Brussels sprouts. B had a couple of beers and I had a couple of glasses of a very good Sangiovese. This is a whole new backcountry experience for me, and not my usual sort of blog entry.

Yummm!

The young owners of Kerouac’s are from Manhattan. On a trip to GBNP 7 years ago, they fell in love with the area, and happened to see a place for sale, and bought it. They run a 3-room year-round motel (The Stargazer Inn) and the restaurant, which is open seasonally. It’s a great scene. COVID-19 precautions were in full swing, everyone wore masks, the servers were behind plexiglass, and we sat outside socially-distanced at picnic tables and along the porch on stools. We were waited on by the people who had made our espressos at the coffee hut down the street. We chatted with folks from San Mateo and Colorado and then came back to our little camp. Heard in a phone call home that the AQI in Berkeley is over 300. We are so lucky! Clear blue skies and cool weather.

They are anywhere the action is.
Some 20 years ago, on a previous trip to GBNP, I spent a couple of nights at this lonesome motel.

Midnight:

I woke up when I think I heard a branch break, thinking of the crackling of fire. There are no campfires permitted here anywhere, and this evening while strolling around the campgrounds, we saw a fire at one of the sites. It was in a fire ring, and people were tending it. But just now I woke up panicked about wildfire and imagining that it had escaped the ring and was burning the forest. So scary. I’m too awake now to go back to sleep for awhile.

Critters have been pretty hard to see here, except for the nonchalant deer and the few brazen chipmunks. But we did see that ringtail, and a beautiful big owl, so we know they are out there. Today on the Timber Trail we saw elk prints, and today at dusk a fine big buck. And of course, we have heard lots of Clark’s nutcrackers and various little birds flitting through the trees. I wish I could identify them all.

Today’s mileage shows as 11.8. Not bad for a gimpy knee.

One last aspen forest, before I sign off for the night.

Day 2: Recovery

9/9/20, 9:30 AM

Going nowhere fast today!

Well, last night was hell. When I lay down, my legs started cramping—I guess from the nearly 16 miles of hiking yesterday, which might have been overdoing it for the first day. I rubbed them, tried to quiet them, and drank water, but the only thing that worked was to get up and walk (requiring unzipping the bag, grabbing my parka from the sleeping bag stuff sack which I use as a pillow, finding my shoes, donning my balaclava and gloves). Walking calmed the legs. More ibuprofen and lots of water. Try again to sleep. The night was crystal-clear and the temperature hovered around 29 degrees F.

As soon as I lay down again, the same thing! Got up and walked as the waning gibbous moon was rising and washing out the stars. The road was white in the moonlight, and I cast a long black shadow. As I turned back down to the tent, my knee went crazy again. I decided maybe I should try sleeping in the van, in a seated position. That worked like a charm for my legs, but not for being able to sleep. Ugh. I keep lots of blankets in the car, and wrapped my legs well, but couldn’t get the rest of me warm enough. Back out into the cold to the tent to grab my sleeping bag and back to the van to try again. That at least kept me warm enough, but sleep evaded me.

Finally, at 3:00 AM, I decided to try lying in the tent again. This time, the legs cooperated more or less, and I slept fitfully until 7:30 AM.

My knee is pretty painful, so we drove up the road to the Wheeler Peak trailhead and Bristlecone Campground (closed for the season). B is hiking to the bristlecones and I am hanging out in the van resting my knee. Not what I had planned, but it is fine. Maybe in an hour I’ll walk around some. I’ve been up here a few times in the past to visit the bristlecones and the glacier, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

A glimpse of the remains of the glacier, nestled in the crook of Wheeler Peak

Now, at 10:30, I have combed and braided my hair (not an easy task after yesterday’s hike and the night in my balaclava cap), taken two more ibuprofen, and laid out my waffle pad in the back of the van. Too cold to nap outside—for me, anyway. Lying down for a try at another bout of sleep, beautiful sleep. Aspens surround me, their leaves talking in the breeze. We are at 10,000 feet on what was once an island in Lake Bonneville. It’s quiet, calm and warm in the van.

I slept like a rock for two hours, and woke only minutes before Barbara returned from her hike to the bristlecones and the glacier—or rather the remains of the once-mighty one. Now it’s just a dusty patch of year-round snow and ice, tucked up against the cliffside of Wheeler Peak. Did I mention that on yesterday’s epic hike, we saw nobody else all day long? We were all alone in that area of the park. Today, we are at the most popular spot, and there are lots of hikers, motorcyclists, tourists of all stripe milling about up here.

I took the ADA trail through the Engelmann spruce, limber pine, and aspen. Read all the informational displays and was thankful that my knee seemed to be doing okay on flat ground. At least there’s that (and that’s a lot!).

I learned lots of little factoids from the ADA trail plaques.
This trail wasn’t here the last time I was up here.
Great Basin NP is really an island! So fascinating!
I was so thankful for this little flat trail today, after my knee issues. I love that it makes at least a little of this area accessible to so many more people.
And here’s Lehman Creek, which runs year-round and waters the ranch lands below.
After reading the display about forest fires and the progression of regrowth of trees on my ADA path walk, it was easy to see the mountainside as a patchwork of various burn areas over decades, and centuries, of lightning fires.

On the way back down to our campsite, we detoured to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. The caves are closed this year. I had toured them decades earlier, long before they were a part of a non-existent park, when they were one of the roadside attractions along Hwy 50. I mostly remember that they had colored lights trained on various stalagmite and stalactite “features,” which bore names like “Madonna and Child,” and such. I’m sure it’s not so hokey now that it’s part of a national park! The cafe at the Visitor Center was a revelation, and I had a delicious, fresh salad and B had world-class chili.

Did I tell you that on our arrival to the park, we saw a ringtail cross the dirt road in front of us? So cool! It was gone in a flash, of course. They are also known as miner’s cats and ringtail or civet cats, though they are members of the raccoon family.

There’s really not much more to tell about today. We went back to the coffee stand in the morning, and met two dogs who sort-of run the town of Baker. We found out about good hikes for tomorrow.

The chihuahua is the ringleader of this two-member gang, who terrorize the inhabitants of Baker for handouts. Barbara befriended them with treats, and they became our instant best friends.
Sculpture in downtown Baker.
We stopped at the ranching exhibit, midway between our campsite and Baker. Didn’t learn much of anything, but enjoyed the silhouette art.
And of course we had to take advantage of this photo op in a nearby field of sagebrush.

We had each bought beers at the cafe—a Great Basin Wild Horse Ale for me and an Icky IPA for Barbara (named for the Nevada state fossil, the ichthyosaurus). We sat comfortably in the van parked at our campsite and drank. Not the trip we had planned in any way, but full of incredible beauty, and clear smokeless skies. Forecast low tonight will be 32 degrees F. Warming up!

I walked 1 mile today.

Escape from the Fire

9/8/2020

After our last backpacking trip in Yosemite, I wanted to head right back up to the high country, for another backpacking trip. So I applied for a permit to go to Ten Lakes Basin, a relatively short hike up from Tioga Pass Road. I had an idea that Barbara and I could practice our off-trail skills and I could practice my compass-reading. Plus, this late in the season, swimming would be great in the lakes! We were stoked, and had our packs all ready to go two days in advance of leaving. But California was on fire, and the smoke blanketed the state. It was looking really bad, though the AQI still showed clear air in the Sierra. Yesterday morning, I called the ranger station in Tuolumne Meadows and talked to a ranger, who, after a lengthy discussion, said that he would not recommend coming up. He said hikers had started leaving the high country due to the smoke. We were crushed, so I spent some time on the computer looking for another place we could go, out of the smoke and where we could still get a permit, if needed. There was nowhere in the whole state.

Then I had a brilliant idea, to drive 9+ hours to Great Basin National Park! This little-visited gem is on the border of Nevada and Utah, on US Highway 50 (The Loneliest Highway). It didn’t take much to talk Barbara into it, when she realized it was either go there or nowhere. And a long drive for a road warrior musician is no big deal, unless there’s a sound check and a gig at the end of it. I LOVE this place. Long before it became a National Park, it always held a magic spell on me. There is a place on the highway where you can glimpse the cliffside of Wheeler Peak, which reminded me of Blueland, from The Dragons of Blueland, which I read when I was 7. I always imagined there was something special up there, and when, in the 1980’s, I drove by and saw it had become a new National Park, I immediately started exploring it. It IS magical! An island rising up in the middle of the big dry lake which is the Great Basin, crowned with 4,000-year-old bristlecone pines and year-round springs running down to the desert surrounding it.

Driving over the Sierra, the smoke was horrendous, and even worse in Reno. We left home at about 12:45 PM yesterday, and arrived here in the dark at about 10:30, found a campsite at the Baker Creek campground (3+ miles up a dusty washboard dirt road), set up our tents and went to sleep. A crazy powerful wind started up at some point, and woke us and kept us awake most of the remainder of the night. The ground was too hard to drive tent stakes, so we used rocks, which got dragged about by the wind and collapsed our tents. But we awoke in pretty good moods, and walked around the campgrounds looking for a more sheltered site. We decided to visit the Visitor Center and make a plan for the five days which stretched before us.

IMG_5412

IMG_5413IMG_5415IMG_5417IMG_5414

Okay. I admit, I am being stymied by the new WordPress program. I can’t figure out how to add captions to some of the photos. So here are the captions I would have attached, had I been able to, for the above photos:

  1. Barbara standing at the Shoshone trailhead. This park has such great new infrastructure. We kept wondering who made a deal with whom to make it all happen. Not that we don’t love it, mind you!
  2. Mt. Washington, straight ahead and up.
  3. Looking back down the trail, and across at the white granite escarpment of Granite Peak.
  4. I honestly can’t remember which direction I was looking for this shot, or the next one. I was just in awe of the expanse of space around us.

We stopped at the little coffee trailer in Baker, on our way to the Visitor Center, and were really impressed by the quality of the espresso. After studying the maps, we decided to hike up the Shoshone Trail to the bristlecone forest on the ridge.It took about a 45-minute drive up a dirt road to get to the beautiful new trailhead (opened in 2017, I think). It was a steady climb up through aspen, spruce and pine to Mt. Washington and the first bristlecones. Then we wandered along the ridge toward Pyramid Peak, through a wonderland of healthy bristlecones and limber pines of all ages.

Up in the high country!

IMG_5427IMG_5426IMG_5425

All the while, a storm seemed to be brewing up by Wheeler Peak, and deep grey skies were quickly approaching us.

Stormy weather approaching. Wheeler Peak is obscured by cloud. Pyramid Peak rises in the distance.
Approaching the summit of Mt Washington, we were met with ominous clouds.
Hello, darkness!

We reached an elevation of 11,775′, and the trail was very difficult to follow. I thought it skirted a peak, so I took off over the scree—you could see that others had gone that way, but maybe they were mountain goats instead of humans. It was rough going and slow. After a while of wandering up and down the slope, I cut back up to the ridge and hollered to Barbara to join me. Suddenly, we were surrounded by more bristlecones, growing out of the gravelly granite. The more exposed to the elements the trees are, the longer they live, as the dry winds keep them from rotting, for thousands of years. That is something to ponder. I mean, what does a 4,000-year-old being think about, minute-to-minute? We must seem like so many ants to them.

IMG_5423IMG_5437IMG_5436IMG_5435

I found a sign, which said, “Bristlecone forest. Please stay on trail.” Immediately after the sign, we lost the trail completely in the hard rubble, but we figured it must just follow the ridgeline.

We really wanted to stay on the trail, but there was none to be found. Which was, at the same time, really great and as the day wore on a little disturbing.

The wind at the top was incredibly powerful, and I confess I was worried that I would be blown off and over the edge, where we could see down 4,000′ or so to the basin floor. I walked crablike, using my trekking poles on the left side to push me away from the edge.

The wind wanted to send me flying over the edge, or so I thought…

Finally, we saw a trail heading down a draw where we thought we needed to go. It was, by this time, 4:30, and I feared we might run out of sunlight before we got back to the van. We happily left the windy ridge, following the fainter and fainter trail until we lost it. Rather than return to the windy ridge, we decided to bushwhack down the drainage, which we could see fro the ridge would eventually get us in the vicinity of the van. So for the next two hours, we chased the light, going as fast as possible in the right direction, over and under fallen trees and crossing and recrossing the creek. B and I both began to tire, and and I got anxious (because I always feel that if there’s an accident it’ll be my fault for getting us in the situation), though the beauty never failed us. Occasionally, we would hit about 50 yards of an actual trail, probably left over from native Americans or early white settlers, or just a popular animal path through the tangled woods. It always brightened my spirits, but then it would disappear under a windfall or into the creek. When we finally hit the actual, groomed, modern trail, around 6:30, we were ecstatic and exhausted, but nearly danced down the final stretch to the van. Though we were never in danger of getting lost for long (we knew we had to follow the stream down and it would eventually lead us to the road, if not the trailhead), the terrain was really rough, and if anything had happened, it would have been very difficult to get help. I only stopped once for photos in the woods.

Fallen trees everywhere were the biggest obstacle to our progress down the mountainside. It is amazing to me that in this incredibly arid land, streams continue to run year-round from these heights.

IMG_5478IMG_5473

A couple more bristlecones for your viewing pleasure. Each one seemed to want its portrait taken.

Somewhere along the way, my left knee began to give me pain, and by the time we got to the van, it was stiff and didn’t want to bend. We got back to our new (out-of-the-wind) camp at about 8:00, and rehydrated our dinner while we set up our tents. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Walking down to the tent site from the van, I suddenly got a shooting pain in my knee, and hobbled the rest of the way. Took two ibuprofen and bedded down. A cold, cold night, but happily the wind was still. And the most beautiful dark sky with way, way too many stars. The Milky Way flowing right overhead. Saturn and Jupiter shining bright. I wish I could take a picture of that!

15.2 miles, 312 floors climbed. Good night.

Day 8: Coming Down

8/18/2020

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:

IMG_5350
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.

IMG_5353

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

8/17/2020

IMG_5249

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

IMG_5246

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

IMG_5251

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

IMG_5253

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

IMG_5250

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

IMG_5252

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…

IMG_5256

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!

IMG_5263

Looking back down the canyon from whence we came.

IMG_5259

We skipped this one…

IMG_5261

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).

IMG_5265

Our first view of Waterwheel Falls.

IMG_5272

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

IMG_5273

The view downriver from Waterwheel Falls.

IMG_5268

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

IMG_5270

Th Tuolumne just before it plunges over Waterwheel Falls

IMG_5274

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

IMG_5275

IMG_5276

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!

IMG_5281

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

IMG_5282

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

IMG_5284

IMG_5289

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.

IMG_5293

See what I mean?

IMG_5294IMG_5297

IMG_5296

It takes precious little encouragement for wildflowers to grow.

IMG_5291

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.

IMG_5300

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

IMG_5302

Looking back down the canyon, again.

IMG_5303

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

IMG_5306

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.

IMG_5299

Wait a minute…maybe THIS is California Falls?

IMG_5307

IMG_5309

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

IMG_5312

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.

IMG_5317

Tuolumne Falls, and the approaching storm.

IMG_5320

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.

IMG_5324

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

IMG_5341

Another beautiful campsite. No harm done by the rain.

IMG_5329

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

IMG_5331

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

IMG_5333

View from the top.

IMG_5339

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.

IMG_5324

One moment, the sky was heavy and gray…

IMG_5321

…and the next, it was clear blue skies!

IMG_5337

IMG_5342

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

8/16/2020

3:30 PM

IMG_5169

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.

IMG_5175

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.

IMG_5170

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.

IMG_5183

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

IMG_5176

IMG_5171

“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.

IMG_5177IMG_5178IMG_5179

IMG_5181

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.

IMG_5184

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

IMG_5191

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

IMG_5190

IMG_5188

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

IMG_5187

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.

IMG_5201

Looking westward, back down the canyon.

IMG_5186

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

IMG_5202

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

IMG_5200

Register Creek, as dry as can be.

IMG_5198

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…).

IMG_5206

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.

IMG_5209

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.

IMG_5207

And now we head down toward the river again.

IMG_5208

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

IMG_5210

The trail plunged down into the trees again. 

IMG_5216

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.

IMG_5215

Looks like someone had a dinner party here!

IMG_5211

One more climb into the granite…

IMG_5213

…back down to the trees…

IMG_5214

…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.

IMG_5248

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

8/15/20

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!

IMG_5079

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.

IMG_5080

Somebody’s breakfast

IMG_5081

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

IMG_5082

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.

IMG_5083

Looking down into the Pate Valley

IMG_5084

IMG_5087

The oak woodlands.

IMG_5088

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

IMG_5090

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.

IMG_5093

I see this as a silk bodice with lace ruffles.

IMG_5096

IMG_5095

The ground is so dry. But so beautiful.

IMG_5094

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

IMG_5100

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.

IMG_5101

I love being able to see what landscape lies ahead.

IMG_5098

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.

IMG_5105

IMG_5104

Down there somewhere among the conifers is the river!

IMG_5112

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.

IMG_5115

The awesome swimming hole at the mortar rock.

IMG_5117

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

IMG_5118

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

IMG_5119

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.

IMG_5124

A few of the many, many grinding holes.

IMG_5125

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.

IMG_5114IMG_5154

IMG_5139

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.

IMG_5121

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.

IMG_5126

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

IMG_5135

Our secluded campsite.

IMG_5166

Evening comes

IMG_5163

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…

8/14/20

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.

IMG_5028

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.

IMG_5039

Volunteer Peak and Rodgers Lake, from the south side.

IMG_5040

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.

IMG_5037

IMG_5038

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

IMG_5044

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

IMG_5047

A piebald crazy quilt of rock.

IMG_5046

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!

IMG_5057

Neal Lake, under the escarpment of West Peak

IMG_5059

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…

IMG_5060

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

IMG_5061

Rodgers Meadows

IMG_5062

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

IMG_5063

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

IMG_5066IMG_5068

IMG_5069

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.

IMG_5072

Something new on the landscape: groves of aspen.

IMG_5074

Looking west toward Rancheria Mountain and Pleasant Valley…

IMG_5075

…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. 

IMG_5078

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.

IMG_5077

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

8/13/20

IMG_4930

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.

IMG_4934

Climbing out of Matterhorn Canyon

IMG_4936

Up into the morning sun. 

IMG_4937

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

IMG_4938

The canyon walls rose above us

IMG_4932

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

IMG_4939

As we got higher, things got drier.

IMG_4933

IMG_4945

Above Wilson Creek, we passed through a sunlit meadow.

IMG_4946

Such a Japanese-garden esthetic!

IMG_4947

Looking back down the trail. 

IMG_4948

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!

IMG_4950

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.

IMG_4952

IMG_4954

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!

IMG_4953IMG_4943

IMG_4941

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

IMG_4955

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

IMG_4957

IMG_4959

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

IMG_4956

Barbara heads out across the old lakebed.

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

IMG_4962

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

IMG_4964

Filling a water bottle in the lake.

IMG_4967

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

IMG_4968

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).

IMG_4974

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.

IMG_4978

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

IMG_4979

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!

IMG_4982

IMG_4981

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…

IMG_4976

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

IMG_4983

Pretty Ranger’s Buttons.

IMG_4984

Whoa! It’s Rodgers Lake!

IMG_4985

Skunk cabbage meadows lined the trail.

IMG_4986

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

IMG_4989

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.

IMG_4993

IMG_4995

It helps to stretch.

IMG_4997

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.

IMG_4991

IMG_4992

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

IMG_4998IMG_5002

IMG_4999

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.

IMG_5004

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

IMG_5005

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

IMG_5007

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.

IMG_5010

IMG_5008

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

IMG_5011

My tent site.

IMG_5009

Evening comes to the high country.

IMG_5015

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!

IMG_5017

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

8/12/20

IMG_4891

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.

IMG_4899

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.

IMG_4901

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).

IMG_4903

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

IMG_4902

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.”

IMG_4905

The Kid

IMG_4908

Peek-a-boo views of distant ridges.

IMG_4907

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.

IMG_4909

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.

IMG_4910 2

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

IMG_4912 2IMG_4915 3

IMG_4916 2

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

IMG_4918

IMG_4919

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.

IMG_4921

Matterhorn Canyon, our own private Yosemite Valley.

IMG_4929

Our granite bathtubs at camp. Cold water!

IMG_4928

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

IMG_4922

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.

8/11/20

IMG_4867

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.

IMG_4866

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.

IMG_4868

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!

IMG_4871

IMG_4874

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

IMG_4877

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

IMG_4878

IMG_4880

The Tuolumne drops into the top of its Grand Canyon.

IMG_4882IMG_4883

IMG_4884

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.

IMG_4870

IMG_4879

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

IMG_4885

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.

IMG_4886

IMG_4887

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.

IMG_4888

Home, sweet home.

IMG_4889

Our little tent city in Cold Canyon

IMG_4890

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”

7/28/2020

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!

IMG_4801

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

IMG_4799

IMG_4805

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!

IMG_4808

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

IMG_4813

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

IMG_4812

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.

IMG_4815

IMG_4816

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!

IMG_4831

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.

IMG_4835

Standing on the edge of Precipice Lake

IMG_4834

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

IMG_4836

One last view of Kaweah Gap.

IMG_4833

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

Day 7, Redwood Meadow

7/27/2020

Dogwood

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.

IMG_4765

IMG_4767

Fallen giants snaked through the woods

IMG_4764

IMG_4762

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

IMG_4772

Looking up from inside the tree.

IMG_4773

We reminisced about “My Side of the Mountain”

IMG_4771

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.

 

IMG_4777

Sugar pine cones! They are soooo big!

IMG_4783

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

IMG_4780

IMG_4779

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.

IMG_4786

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.

IMG_4787

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!”

IMG_4788

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

IMG_4791

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

7/26/2020

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.

IMG_4737

The view from the bridge over Middle Kaweah River

IMG_4734

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

IMG_4726

Pearly Everlasting (love that name!) and Paintbrush

IMG_4733

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.

IMG_4731

IMG_4730

We were too late for the thimbleberries this year.

IMG_4736

The scent of horsemint woke up our slumbering senses.

IMG_4742