Illilouette to Bridalveil

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6/20/17

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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…and plunges into the canyon.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Sentinel Dome

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

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

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

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

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Rigging a line across one of the Fissures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:55 AM

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

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

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

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50 years ago this month!

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The Merced River at Happy Isles

6/19/17

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

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View from the first bridge, Merced River

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

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

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

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

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Nevada Falls again, without the human blocking the view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panorama along the Panoramic.

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

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

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Farther up the Illilouette, the creek raged below me.

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

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

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

Off to sleep early tonight.

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My comfy campsite beside the roaring Illilouette.

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Home, sweet home!

An Early-Season Walkabout

6/18/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A dry oasis in the flood.

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The view from outside my tent in the morning.

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

3:00 AM

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

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

Endless Winter

It has felt so good to have so much rain and snow in California this last winter, but I confess that i am growing increasingly anxious to get up to the high country again, and I know that it is pretty-much impassable until at least late June this year. I am not one who likes to ramble through too much snow (which for me is a pretty small amount). This last winter brought a record snowpack to the Sierra, dumping more snow than has been seen in over 100 years! Which, don’t get me wrong, is great for everything. The trees depend on the slow snow melt to water them through months of no precipitation. The rivers need the cleansing/scouring action of the Spring snowmelt to clean out algae and restore pristine salmon spawning beds. The Valley needs the flooding action of the rivers to replenish the soil. It’s all good. Except that I want to go to the mountains NOW!

I have been dreaming of mountains. Here’s a chorus that popped into my head recently:

When I close my eyes

I see the mountains rise around me—

Stark and wild above the timberline

And I find my place

When that immensity of space surrounds me—

One tiny spark in the forever flame of Time

Now, I know there are other places to go, and this agitation to be in my particular Holy Land is just a minor and inconsequential nag. There are closer, more accessible places of worship which I could stop in to at any time. So I thought I’d share some photos and stories from my recent month, mid-March to mid-April, in Ucross, Wyoming. Tom Rozum and I applied for an artists’ residency program, where we imagined ourselves hunkered down and rehearsing and working on a duo recording project. It didn’t turn out that way, because I caught the flu (or something) the first week, and it lingered on for most of the time we were there. Then, when I started to feel better, Tom started feeling bad. The best laid plans, and all that…

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On the way to Ucross, we passed through Thermopolis. I wanted to stop and soak, but alas, there was no time. I love a hand-painted sign!

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We were surprised to find an F-5 mandolin sign in Big Horn, WY. 

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Finally, the lights of Buffalo, WY, appeared ahead of us, after 20+ hours of driving. 15 more miles to go…

Before and after my illness, I managed to take some walks in the hills surrounding us, and to write one new song, which may or may not be any good. The hills have amazing rocks, petrified wood, and what they call “mud boulders”.

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The first walk I took was out to the teepee circles, that are located on a nice bluff with a commanding view of the confluence of two river valleys. I imagine that it would be a great place to camp while hunting the bison on their annual migration through there. The circles are difficult to see right off the bat, but once you see one, they all become clear. Most are probably about 18 feet across. The rocks were used to hold down the sides, I guess, and the same sites were used year after year, but it’s probably been about 150 years since they were last used.

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The view from the teepee circles, looking quite a bit more tame than it probably used to.

It was great watching the seasons change, seeing a beautiful undercoat of green slowly take over the dried brown grasses of last summer.

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We crossed Piney Creek every day on our way to dinner.

Mornings were frosty, and the frost persisted in the shadows until the sun finally hit it. Last year’s ash seed pods made a lacy curtain through which to view the river. With all the subtlety of Wyoming Spring, lichen stood out as being especially colorful.

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We were given bikes to ride around on. A great way to get to the trailheads.

The next outing was to a hill where Tom and I had been told we would see petrified wood. We hopped on our bikes and rode up the dirt road to the much smaller dirt road that wound up into the hills. Impassable for bikes, as the ground was still too wet.

Then we turned around and found this huge fallen tree. Or that’s what it looked like to us:

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The striations in the rocks were so pronounced.

The next day, I left on my own to find a fossil I had heard about. From the description of the area, I figured it might be in a boulder field about a mile from where we had hiked to see the petrified wood. I was told that there was a split boulder, and right on the exposed surface there was a big “maple” leaf. So okay. Off I went.

It turned out that nearly every rock on the hillside was split open, and so I decided to methodically walk the area back and forth across the boulder field, starting at the top. It was an excellent way to get to know the area. I saw lots of little cottontail rabbits, crevices containing raptors’ nests, a lot of petrified wood, places where cattle obviously liked to shelter, and some really fascinating rock formations.

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Is that the cross-section of a tree embedded in this boulder? Looks like it could be.

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A close-up of the edge of the “bark” sure looks like it could be a tree to me.

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Way at the top of the hill was a swirly line of rock covered with the most vibrant lichen display!

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I continued to search every exposed face of every rock on the hillside. This one seemed promising to me, and very strange, and maybe another giant tree part.

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Finally, when I was almost to the end of the last row of boulders,  found myself standing on the lower part of a nicely sliced rock. Nothing to see here, until I turned around, and BAM! there it was, about as big as my hand and just as plain as can be.

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As soon as I saw the one, I began to see more.

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How many can you see here? At least four, and some pieces.

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And on the other side of the split rock, there were the other sides of the leaves.

All in all, a very satisfying hike, with many happy surprises. More later. Even with the health issues, and the disappointment of not being able to do what we set out to do, there were so many wonderful small adventures in the Wyoming hills. I will post more photos later.

A Mountain of a Different Sort

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Tom Size    October 10, 1959-October 30, 2016

I am toiling up a mountain of grief these days, dealing with and processing the illness and death of my friend and musical collaborator, Tom Size. I had the great good fortune to begin working with him in 1992, when he engineered my album, True Stories. A former engineer at Fantasy Records in Berkeley, he had just recently started recording at his home studio in Pacheco, CA. I will always be grateful to Mike Marshall for bringing me there. I loved the flow of the work with him, the way nothing ever had to be said twice (or sometimes even once), the way he was always one step ahead of me and always, always listening so intently–not just to the recording mechanical aspects of the music, but to the emotional impact as well.

img_2666img_3899-1 I met and loved his four-legged companions Roger, Rosie, Red, Roxie, and a couple of others whose names have faded (except for the indubitable fact that they started with an “R”). Here are a couple of photos of Roxie, relaxing on the lawn and with her favorite item (a ball). She was found when she was a few weeks old, thrown away in a dumpster. Tom took her in and she grew into one of the happiest, most loving and trusting dogs I have ever met.

 

Tom and I worked together for 24 years on over 30 projects, from reel-to-reel through ADAT tapes to digital platforms of many iterations. Always he was learning, embracing the new, listening, listening, listening. He was a real gearhead, and always had the latest gadget, and he loved sharing what they could do. Very unlike me, who finds what she likes and then just sticks with it until forced to change.

Here is a list of albums that I worked on with Tom, either as artist or producer, not in any particular order:

True Stories (Rounder 0300)

Steve Edmunds Lonesome on the Ground

Erica Wheeler  The Harvest (Signature Sounds)

with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel (Rounder 0340)

Laurie Lewis and Her Bluegrass Pals (Rounder 0461)

Seeing Things (Rounder 0428)

Earth and Sky (Rounder 0400)

Blossoms (Spruce and Maple SMM2005)

Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple SMM2006)

Steam and Steel (Spruce and Maple SMM2007)

Deidre McCalla Playing For Keeps (MaidenRock 3050)

David Thom That Old Familiar (Swollen Records SW 1016)

Nell Robinson Loango

Ray Bierl Any Place I Hang My Hat

Wendy Burch Steel Open Wings (Dragon Fly Bridge Music)

with Tom Rozum Winter’s Grace (Spruce and Maple SMM2003)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands Live (Spruce and Maple SMM2004)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Hazel and Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple SMM1013)

Alice Gerrard Bittersweet (Spruce and Maple SMM1008)

The T Sisters Kindred Lines (Spruce and Maple SMM1010)

Birdsong (Spruce and Maple SMM2002)

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Golden West (High Tone HCD8194)

with Tom Rozum Guest House (High Tone HCD8167)

Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman We Made it Home (Maker/Mender Records MM1002)

One Evening in May (Spruce and Maple SMM1009)

Tom Rozum Jubilee (Dog Boy Records)

Peter McLaughlin Cliffs of Vermilion (Dog Boy Records)

with Kathy Kallick Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray (Spruce and Maple SMM1012)

Kristin’s Story (Spruce and Maple SMM2001)

Susie Glaze Green Kentucky Blues

Charles Sawtelle Music From Rancho DeVille (Acoustic Disc ACD-44)

In addition, there were many one-song projects, overdubs, and guest spots on other albums recorded there.

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Tom with the T Sisters and me, 2014          l-r: Erika, Rachel, Tom, Chloe, me

At the impressionable age of 14, I was smitten by the bare-bones, no-frills music of Doc Watson. For Tom, at the same age, it was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Tom’s personal taste in music ran decidedly more to the complex, modern, electric, and metal than mine, but his ear was just as attuned to a fine pre-war Martin as to a Strat, to a mandolin chop as to a full drum set.

On the rare occasions when we were lucky enough to have Tom run the sound at concerts, it was a revelation in how smooth a sound check could be. And he helped out in so many other ways, always checking in to see that everything was good both onstage and backstage.

There was never any artifice in Tom’s dealings with me (or probably any of the other lucky enough to work with him). We had disagreements on occasion, and I always did want the banjo up louder in the mix than he did. But he always tried to understand and give me what I asked for, and together we worked and grew. When I started recording at home, Tom was remarkably generous with his knowledge. I could always call him and he would talk me through my various (usually operator-error) problems. Through his discerning ears, I developed mine, and I feel gratified to know that I influenced his art at the mixing console, too. He was a good man, a fine soul, and exceptional human being. It’s so hard to know that he is dead at the young age of 57. For 23 of the 24 years I knew him, he virtually crackled with vitality, with that great thick bush of reddish hair barely under control. He loved to sail, loved the natural world, loved his garden and the sun. The sun did him in, in the form of melanoma. He was beautiful and I loved him and will miss him always.

Dave Meniketti of Y & T posted a beautiful tribute to Tom on Tom’s gofundme page.                Read it here

Read more about Tom’s background and accomplishments on his website.

Returning Home

October 11, 2016

I didn’t take notes of my last day of my solo walkabout. So I haven’t gotten around to writing anything about that day. But it feels incomplete for me to leave my last entry in bed at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. So I will recreate the last day for you, out of my ever-more-fuzzy memories. Here goes:

August 1, 2016

I awoke feeling refreshed from a comfy night’s sleep on an actual bed (though I did feel it was a bit too soft. I am like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to beds). I was all packed up and ready to hit the trail home when I came into the lodge for breakfast. I can’t remember what I had, but it wasn’t oatmeal. Of that, I am sure. Suitably caffeinated and ready for the 11-mile hike back out to my car, I started down the trail. After about a mile, I noticed that I was just grinning ear-to-ear, for no apparent reason. I was just, plainly and simply, happy. All alone, nobody to share it with, just damned happy!

This stretch of the High Sierra Trail is pretty tame: gentle ups and downs, with about equal parts of both. I was hoping to see Tony and Asenath again, and the outside World was starting to weigh on me. A week of no internet means that I have close to 1,000 emails to sift through. Ugh. It almost negates the beneficial effects of being away. But not quite! So I started out at a quick clip down the trail, stopping only for a water refill at Mehrtens Creek and a side trip a little ways down the canyon to check out something bright orange that appeared to be discarded. Turns out it was someone’s pack, and he was just returning to it from farther down the creek when I reached it.

It was a lovely warm day, and the wildflowers were everywhere. I only stopped a few times to snap photos, drink water, and feast on the now-ripe thimbleberries.

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I passed other westbound hikers, and a few groups just heading out on the trail (lucky ones). One was an all-women group from Modesto who make a yearly trip to Bearpaw. I was dressed in my hiking skirt, favorite (and not quite as dirty as it had been yesterday) shirt, Dirty Girl gaiters—essential what I had worn almost every day—and they commented that I look like I had just stepped out of an REI catalog (never mind the fact that my trekking poles, shirt, and hat were the only parts of my ensemble that I purchased there). It gave me an extra spring in my step for a half-mile or so to think that I actually looked somewhat “stylish.”IMG_3384

As I descended gently into the lower elevations, it seemed to me there were even more dead standing pines than on the way out a week ago. I found out later that this was probably true: once the beetles infest a drought-and-pollution-weakened tree, they can pretty-much finish it off in 24 hours. The air was full of smoke, which I blamed on Central Valley pollution. I found out later that it was mostly smoke from the Grouse Fire, which had started up while I was out in the backcountry and was burning not too far away. That made me feel a little better about it, in retrospect. At least it was “natural” causes, not factory farms and vehicle emissions.

About eight miles into my hike, I caught up with Asenath and Tony, and a couple from Danville we had met at Bearpaw. It felt good to have an enforced slow-down, taking up the rear of the group as we walked back toward the Sequoias and our waiting cars. Asenath told me about her family. She was one of 22 (I think that’s the correct number) siblings, born to her father’s three wives. Although there is not a tradition in Kenya of educating girls, her father had a policy of helping whoever of his children wanted to go to school, provided they got good grades. Asenath said this was very unusual in her community. And lucky for her.

We stopped for photos at the first Sequoias we encountered, where I had taken photos on the way out.IMG_3414

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It was a great feeling, having been out in the high country solo—though, of course, it wasn’t all that remote, or all that “solo,” for that matter. Still, I had plenty of solitude to feed my soul.

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Asenath posed next to the mileage sign. She and Tony had hiked 42 miles, to Kaweah Gap and back. I had gone a bit farther, with my side trips and foray into 9 Lakes Basin. According to my phone, I had hiked 58.93 miles in 6 days. Not bad. How I would have loved a swim in Hamilton Lake again before I got into my car! I said my goodbyes, got in my car, and started driving. I stopped at a store for a little shopping, and there wasn’t anything I wanted. So I went to the first Kaweah River crossing and immersed myself in the water to rinse off the trail dust and refresh myself for the long drive home. Thus ended my High Sierra solo walkabout, and most likely the last backpacking trip of the season. I am already longing to be back up there.

California is in such dire straits with the drought and the strain of so many people. My poor beloved state, which used to be green and golden has mostly turned a distressed gray-brown. They (the weather pundits) say that rain is expected this weekend (I’m back in October now), and that it will be the most rain we will have seen in six months. That’s not saying much… Please use water wisely wherever you are. I am planning on installing a rain catchment system for my parched yard, and am already bummed that I won’t have it in place to catch this weekend’s water.

Laurie

A Change in Accommodations

7/31/2016

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The thimbleberries, which weren’t ripe when I passed them five days ago, are now starting to ripen nicely. I stopped to graze often along the trail.

Some backstory is due at this point. Today, I am checking in to Bearpaw High Sierra Camp for one night. One of the reasons I originally decided to do this hike was that I figured that if I booked two nights at this incredible camp, I would be able to get Tom to backpack there with me, and he would have a chance to experience the High Country with minimal pressure to his previously injured hip and knee. In order to get a reservation, you have to call or go online on January 2, when the yearly reservations open. I did that this year, or so I thought. Turns out that I reserved two nights at Sequoia High Sierra Camp rather than Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. I didn’t realize my mistake until months later, when I was working on planning the hike in and read that you could drive to within a mile of the camp. That CAN’T be right, I thought! Turns out it wasn’t. Tom and I ended up spending two great nights at Sequoia and hiking in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, and Tom realized that his hip and knee weren’t very happy even with that amount of hiking. But that’s a whole ‘mother story. Back to the here and now: while I was feeling distraught about my error, I went online to see if there were any openings at Bearpaw, and found a cancellation for one night, July 31. I grabbed it, thinking I would share the night with someone, and would figure it out later. I never found that person (though I know you’re out there!), and began really liking the idea of a solo sojourn into the wilderness, with the last night spent at Bearpaw. So that’s what happened. Now back to the day.

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Lovely azaleas!

I slept late, and didn’t get up until about 6:30 AM or so. I had a very leisurely breakfast, and spent a few hours cleaning and drying my tent and sleeping pad. Turns out the Sea To Summit pad was truly defective, and I will be returning it to REI. As the day warmed, I swam in the lake, taking advantage of the far side of the little island to strip and keep hidden from any prying eyes. So luxurious! For some reason, on this Sunday morning, Asenath, Tony and I are the only campers at this most perfect lake! It’s so peaceful. I love the feeling of the smooth granite under my bare feet. It reminds me of childhood summers spent at the Twain Harte lake, which featured a huge glassy expanse of granite in place of a sandy beach. very nostalgic!

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Sierra daisies

With all the chores done, and after a final dip in the lake, it’s time to head down to Bearpaw. Asenath and Tony plan on stopping in for a beer on the deck on their way, and we made plans to meet there. A beer on a Sunday afternoon in the mountains sounds pretty great right now.

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The spot where the trail to Elizabeth Pass meets the High Sierra Trail. I have about a mile and a half to go to camp. Easy day.

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Looking back up toward whence I had come, I can see where the trail winds now, but only because I know where to look.

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Heading back toward the lowlands and the smoke and pollution. I was actually relieved to hear that much of the pollution today was caused by the Grouse Fire burning not too far away. Weird that that should make me feel better…I guess woodsmoke seems less poisonous than whatever noxious chemicals our vehicles emit.

It was a beautiful walk down the trail to High Sierra Camp. The engineering is remarkable. My hat is off to those intrepid trail builders in the 1930’s, who must have had quite the scramble on these cliff sides, finding a place wide enough to even widen into a trail! I got to the camp at about 2:00 PM, and had my choice of tent cabins. I chose the one that the host said was the most popular, perched right on the edge of the cliff. I hate to be so mainstream, but it is a spectacular setting and I couldn’t pass it up. I took a shower, initially with my shirt on in order to more easily wash it as well as me, and I enjoyed watching the seemingly inexhaustible amount of dust and grit swirl down the drain. It wasn’t inexhaustible, of course, and I emerged lighter in both weight and color.

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The view inside my tent cabin. Clean sheets, towels, washcloths, and a mirror. Uh-oh…

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The view outside my tent cabin. Not bad.

I asked the hosts whether either Asenath or Tony could share my dinner, since after all it had been prepaid based on two people. They said that was fine, and that the other person could purchase dinner for fairly reasonable fee (considering the remoteness of the camp: everything has to be carried in on mule-back over a 12-mile trail). I munched on a fantastic brownie, drank icy lemonade, perused the excellent little library of reference books, and studied up on the sphinx moth and the wildflowers I had encountered. I identified meadow lotus, bindweed, hummingbird trumpet, rabbitbrush, thimbleberries (yum!), mountain misery, ranger’s buttons, cow parsnip, pussy paws, and mustang clover from a great book, “Wildflowers of the Coast and Sierra,” by Edith Clements. Now if I can only retain it all for next time…

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Arnica

When I came back to the porch, there were Tony and Asenath, enjoying their beers. We had a great visit, and I suggested that one of them utilize the shower (as I had paid for two). Tony did that, and I visited with Asenath, sitting in the shade of a gorgeous old oak on the smooth granite in front of my cabin. They stayed for dinner, and we enjoyed visiting with the other guests, all of whom had hiked in 12 miles to get there, and were leaving in the morning. It’s funny–they all seem to have done what I had done and had grabbed a cancellation. We were so happy to be there, the weather was gorgeous, and food plentiful and delicious. It’s pretty expensive for my budget, but I highly recommend the place. One of the workers there referred to me as a “trail angel” for including Tony and Asenath in my good fortune. I beamed a little inside, feeling so good that I was in a  position to be generous.

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Our dinner table at Bearpaw (photo courtesy of Asenath)

Toward the end of the meal, I looked across at the cliffs facing us on the other side of the Kaweah River gorge, and exclaimed at the perfect shadow of what looked like a little fat kid in a hat, with something sticking out of his back pocket. Everyone saw it, though some people saw him as facing the other direction. Just then the cook walked in and said, “Oh, you’ve seen ol’ Double-Dick!” Sure enough, with that descriptive moniker it was easy to see this weird guy with two protuberances in just the right place. Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me…you’ll have to hike in and see it for yourself.

After dinner, my friends went farther down the trail to camp, and I went to my cabin to enjoy my cushy surroundings and write about the day. Tomorrow, after what I suspect will be an excellent and large breakfast, I will hit the trail and hike back to Crescent Meadow and my car, and drive back home. I hated leaving the high Sierra, but now that I am headed in a homeward direction, I am feeling the pressures of the outside world bearing down on me, and the need to get back and take care of a million things. One of which is what to do about my car. Yes, folks, I was one of those people who bought on of the so-called “clean” diesel VW TDI’s. I am so angry at that company! I had previously loved my car, and expected it would be the last fossil-fuel vehicle I would own. Now I need to replace it, and say goodbye forever to the lovely handling, oomph, and mileage that thing had going for it. Nearly 50 miles/gallon combined with race-car road-hugging is hard to give up. Apparently, it was too good to be true. Good night.

Today’s mileage: 5.97 miles, and 40 flights of stairs climbed.