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.

 

9 Lakes Basin

9 Lakes Basin

7/30/2016

I was up at 6:00 AM, and took care of packing for the day hike and closing up the tent. It’s nice to pack light! By 7:30 AM, I was up at Kaweah Gap. On the way up, I stopped to look a stag whose antlers were gilded by the morning sun. Tried to take photos, but of course they were out of focus. I was trying not to move much so I wouldn’t scare him away.

IMG_3274IMG_3276It’s a beautiful clear, cloudless day. I saw a flock of birds break from the lodgepole pines in the shade below and then spiral upwards into the sun. They circled and then dispersed around the basin. Two landed on a boulder close by me, and I was able to identify them as juncos. I didn’t know that flocks nested/roosted close together at night. Now I do.

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One of the little mini terraced gardens on the trail to Kaweah Gap.

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I took off cross-country into 9 Lakes Basin

Sitting among the lodgepoles in 9 Lakes Basin, I see a little nuthatch calling and climbing up and down among the boughs.

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In amongst the lodgepoles, I wanted to take portraits of each one.

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9 Lakes Basin is pretty barren, when it comes to vegetation over 6 inches high. But under 6 inches, it is teeming with life.

I saw a tiny hummingbird or a huge bug harvesting nectar from the salvia growing along the trail. About 1.5″ long. The wings didn’t seem large enough in comparison to the body for a hummer. Also, it had two antennae sprouting from its head. A moth? Slight flash of magenta on the wings. The body looks striped. The face looks bird-like. It never sat still so I couldn’t observe better than just a blur. It continued working its way through every blossom, but as some point seemed to become aware of me. It flew around my legs and took off. NOTE: I found out later that it was a white-lined sphinx moth. Wow! The field guide I consulted said it flies during the day (unlike other moths) and acts like a hummingbird. Here’s a link to photos and more information.

IMG_3287I spent hours hiking around 9 Lakes Basin. There are no trails, so I tried to keep to the rocks whenever possible and not tread on the tender plants. I imagined if I went missing, they would hunt for me with dogs. They wouldn’t find any footprints. I wondered if anyone would comment on my careful path. I found myself on a shelf of slick granite, and considered climbing along a very tiny ledge to continue. Thought again and decided on the more prudent path of backtracking and descending along a different plane. After all, I am alone out here. I already slipped once on the granite yesterday. I navigated by sighting on one wind-blasted lodgepole and heading toward it, then finding another and heading toward that one.

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This tree, one of my landmarks, looked like it was casually relaxing against a nice smooth boulder.

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The clouds were ever-changing toward the east, alternately threatening rain and then suddenly clearing up.

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Here, I’m looking northward toward Triple Divide, which is named for the Kern, Kings and Kaweah rivers. 9 Lakes Basin drains to the Kern. 

I only spent time at two of the nine lakes for which this basin is named. Too cold for even a ceremonial dip (for me, in any case).

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But my feet enjoyed it!

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It’s easy to tell which way the prevailing winds come from in this area. They funnel up the valley from Arroyo Grande, and all the trees bend away.

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I almost took a dip in the creek running from the high lake, but used the excuse of too many bugs (there really weren’t that many) and too-cool air to dissuade me.

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Eagle Scout Peak rises above 9 Lakes Basin

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Even with all this grass growing, it’s pretty easy to find a route from rock to rock, to avoid trampling the growing stuff. Sun and shadows are so bold!

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Just me and my knees back at Kaweah Gap.

After my hours of solitude, I returned to Kaweah Gap, and decided to sit there and enjoy the view until someone came along the trail for me to talk to. In no time at all, a handsome 30-something man appeared and asked, “May we join you?” Of course! This is how I met Tony and his hiking companion, Asenath. She is a gorgeous Kenyan woman who is spending 33 days touring national parks all over the West, from Glacier through Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon to Sequoia and on to Yosemite, mostly solo except for this one little stint with Tony. What a great trip! We instantly fell into that camaraderie that sometime happens on the trail, where like minds meet, all overcome with a common sense of awe for our surroundings. They had taken a day hike up from Hamilton, and shortly they headed back down. But not before Asenath took a couple of photos of me against the backdrop of the Gap.

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There are so many little chores to do all the time, to keep all my items together and working. But even so, when they are all taken care of–the water is filtered, the tent is up, sleeping pad inflated, sleeping bag ready should I feel a nap coming on, cookware properly stowed, shirt and socks washed out–still, there are hours and hours of daylight left. What to do? Pack up and hike back to Hamilton Lake, where at least there are trees under which to shelter. Too much sun up here. My legs started getting burned, and there’s not a bit a shade. Plus, I will have a shorter hike back to Bearpaw tomorrow (more on that later).

IMG_3321 These little guys are Ranger’s Buttons. A great name for the button-sized blooms.

 

On the trail back down, the golden chinquapin was so thick in places that it scratched my legs at every step. I didn’t remember it being so overgrown on the hike up. So many flowers! The scent of pennyroyal and some sort of sage-y stuff  with clusters of tightly-packed white flowers cleansed my soul.

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A marmot posed for photos. At first, I thought I’d have to be quick to get a photo before it ran off, but it just came closer and closer, looking for a handout.

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I set up my phone camera on my trekking poles to get a photo of me in the little tunnel.

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Looking down at Hamilton Lake on the way back down. The lighting difference between morning and late afternoon gives the view an entirely new feel.

On the trail back down from Precipice to Hamilton, I met a number of hikers heading up. A boy scout troop was on their way to climb Eagle Scout Peak. I met a lots of hikers of various ethnic origins–-an all-American mix of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Latino, African and European. So interesting! Everyone is out here, sweating together for the same thing: a chance to feel  wonder and connectedness to our beautiful Earth. Or that’s what I imagine, anyway…

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I love the junipers! That’s some good-looking fiddleback figure in the wood.

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Peeking through a juniper’s boughs down to the intense blue of Hamilton Lake.

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Bye-bye, Precipice Lake and Eagle Scout Peak!

Back down at Hamilton, I lucked out and got a great campsite, overlooking the lake and Tony and Asenath’s campsite. It was good to break up the hike, as my knees started hurting a bit today. I took a long swim in Hamilton, which feels perfect temperature-wise after having experienced the chill of Precipice. Mmmm!

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My campsite, private and flat. What more could you ask for? A view? Got that, too.

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These beautiful junipers formed the backdrop to my tent site.

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The view from my campsite, looking down at Tony and Asenath’s camp.

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As the sun sank, the peaks came alive with lovely pink light.

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I forgot to mention my mileage for the last couple of days. Yesterday was a light day: 7.48 miles and–WHOA–80 flights of stairs. I guess that is quite a climb from Hamilton to Precipice. Today I climbed 58 flights of stairs and hiked 10.71 miles, but who’s counting? Time to sleep.

Precipice Lake

7/29/2016

Up at 5:45 AM. I took a Benadryl and a Zyrtec last night, because the deer fly and other bites from Mehrten Creek were driving me bananas. I slept heavily, and woke up tremendously thirsty. But well-rested. I have been struggling with my defective air mattress every night, but last night I somehow managed to fill it and get the valve sealed before the air leaked out. Ahhh!

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Looking back at the Hamilton Lake camping area, I hit the switchbacks to Precipice.

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Katy comes up the trail behind me. She was going fast to beat the sun on the switchbacks (we both did).

I hit the trail shortly after 7:00 for the climb to Precipice Lake. I was dreading it, as everyone was talking about how brutal it was. Only 2.5 miles, but these guys were saying it was harder than the climb up to Hamilton Lake. But Katy and I cruised up there in under two hours, leap-frogging each other all the way up. Katy said that a guy told her that only the most in-shape boy scouts can manage it in two hours. Well, all right, then!

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The sun crept over the peaks, where we were headed.

Sunlight kissed the Valhalla heights.

Sunlight kissed the Valhalla heights.

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Looking down a seep to Hamilton Lake far below. Dizzying vertical drops!

There are wildflowers everywhere! Angelica, seep-spring arnica, golden aster, sierra daisy, golden yarrow, black-eyed Susans, western wallflowers, snakeweed, shooting stars, alpine columbine, ranger’s buttons, mountain pennyroyal, pussypaws, paintbrush,to name a few. Katy knew the names of quite a few. Every time the trail crossed a small waterway, the cleansing scent of pennyroyal would rise up to greet me.

The trail is engineered to snake along tiny ledges on the steep cliffs above Hamilton. In this area, there was a canyon wren singing, magnifying his voice in the narrow canyon. And this really cool little tunnel! I am full of gratitude and admiration for the trail builders of the 1930's who made this trek possible for us flatlanders.

The trail is engineered to snake along tiny ledges on the steep cliffs above Hamilton. In this area, there was a canyon wren singing, magnifying his voice in the narrow canyon. And this really cool little tunnel! I am full of gratitude and admiration for the trail builders of the 1930’s who made this trek possible for us flatlanders.

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This is the little lake before Precipice. There's still a lot of climbing to do to get to Precipice. I didn't know what to expect, and considered just camping here instead of continuing. I decided against it, and am glad I did.

This is the little lake before Precipice. There’s still a lot of climbing to do to get to Precipice. I didn’t know what to expect, and considered just camping here instead of continuing. I decided against it, and am glad I did.

From Precipice, you look out at the backs of the peaks that Barbara Higbie and I saw from Elizabeth Pass. I dropped my pack and took a swim. It was cold, but really refreshing. My skin tingled and I felt so alive.

Precipice Lake at last!

Precipice Lake at last!

the outflow from Precipice, looking out at Copper Mine Peak (on the right), near Elizabeth Pass.

The outflow from Precipice, looking out at Copper Mine Peak (on the right), near Elizabeth Pass.

Looking down on Valhalla from Precipice.

Looking down on Valhalla from Precipice.

Katy was continuing on over Kaweah Gap to a campsite down the other side. I decided to walk with her up to the Gap and take a look-see. Such a perfectly beautiful trail, ascending through three little perfect terraced wildflower gardens above the treeline. The view was great, and I just wanted to keep going on down the other side. I hung out there for awhile and saw Katy off. The wind started picking up and getting colder. I hadn’t brought any other layers of clothing with me from Precipice, and just a handful of trail mix to eat. It threatened rain and spit a few drops. I’ll come back up tomorrow.

I couldn't stop taking photos of Precipice. This is taken from the middle of the outflowing stream, looking back at the lake.

I couldn’t stop taking photos of Precipice. This is taken from the middle of the outflowing stream, looking back at the lake.

Here comes Katy, arriving at Precipice.

Here comes Katy, arriving at Precipice.

9 Lakes Basin, from Kaweah Gap, looks so enticing and wild! Tomorrow I will explore it.

9 Lakes Basin, from Kaweah Gap, looks so enticing and wild! Tomorrow I will explore it.

Another view into 9 Lakes Basin from Kaweah Gap.

Another view into 9 Lakes Basin from Kaweah Gap.

Looking down into the valley, into which the High Sierra Trail descends. All those people hiking to Mt Whitney get to walk through this lovely vale.

Looking down into the valley, into which the High Sierra Trail descends. All those people hiking to Mt Whitney get to walk through this lovely vale. But every step down means another two up somewhere farther along.

Eagle Scout Peak rises nearly vertically from Precipice Lake. I met a couple of boy scout groups who were intending to climb that peak. Apparently, there's a trail up the backside, but when you get to the top, there are just these little boulders to stand on. It gives me vertigo to imagine being up there.

Eagle Scout Peak rises nearly vertically from Precipice Lake. I met a couple of boy scout groups who were intending to climb that peak. Apparently, there’s a trail up the backside, but when you get to the top, there are just these little boulders to stand on. It gives me vertigo to imagine being up there. This is the view of Eagle Scout Peak from Kaweah Gap.

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Looking up to Mt Stewart. I thank Col. George Stewart for helping to give this park to us the people.

Looking up to Mt Stewart. I thank Col. George Stewart for helping to give this park to us the people.

Heading back down the trail, I can finally fit all of Precipice Lake in one shot.

Heading back down the trail, I can finally fit all of Precipice Lake in one shot, with Eagle Scout Peak rising above.

Beautiful granite striped with water seeps from snow melt. Water is everywhere up here at this point in time, but i'm sure there's not as much as there used to be.

Beautiful granite striped with water seeps from snow melt. Water is everywhere up here at this point in time, but i’m sure there’s not as much as there used to be.

Katy saw a pika on the way up the trail. I only saw a marmot. Darn. Flycatchers are flitting all over the place, buzzing to each other. When I got back to Precipice, I watched an American dipper (nee water ouzel) work its way around a portion of the lakeshore, diving under the water, swimming on the surface like a duck, and then running out onto a rock to do its little dipper dance. They are the coolest birds! I sat as still as I could while it worked its way towards me. At about 15 feet away, it must have sensed me, and abruptly flew back up the shoreline. When I heard the call, before I saw it, the name “dipper” floated into my brain. My conscious mind didn’t realize that I know their call. Its nice to know that I recognize it. Though I couldn’t describe it.

My little tent site above Precipice. Up here, one is usually sleeping on hard granite. So a sleeping pad that won't stay inflated is a real problem. Grrrr.

My little tent site above Precipice. Up here, one is usually sleeping on hard granite. So a sleeping pad that won’t stay inflated is a real problem. Grrrr.

The view from inside.

The view from inside.

I couldn't stop gazing at the Elizabeth Pass area, remembering being up there in the stormy weather a year ago. It's quite different this year.

I couldn’t stop gazing at the Elizabeth Pass area, remembering being up there in the stormy weather a year ago. It’s quite different this year.

Yet another view toward Copper Mine Peak and Elizabeth Pass. Somehow, the trail finds a way around and through these incredible glacier-scoured expanses.

Yet another view toward Copper Mine Peak and Elizabeth Pass.

Yesterday, I saw a rescue helicopter bringing someone down over Kaweah Gap, maybe headed to a hospital in Fresno. Today I saw it headed out again over the Gap. Really close. I thought they were going to rescue someone else, and I would see them on the return flight, but I never did. Maybe they are stationed over on the other side somewhere. It made me think about how easy it would be to get oneself in a compromised position out here. On the way back down the trail from the Gap to Precipice, I slipped on a slick granite slab and skinned my arm. Somebody call the ‘copters! Oh, wait…there’s absolutely nobody else up here.

The wind is blowing, keeping it cool. No shade to be had almost anywhere. I fixed lunch, and then napped in my tent for a half hour. I have a view of Elizabeth Pass from my tent site. That is so exciting to me. I can start to put together a mental map of the mountains around here. A family of five hikers from Fresno came up the trail.  They come to the mountains almost every weekend, and every year they do a long hike.  They are hiking to Mt Whitney this year, which is what most of the people I meet on the trail are doing. They ask me where I’m headed, and I say I’m just on a walkabout. No particular destination. Just enjoying the mountains. Though I am happy to be by myself, I realize that I DO like running into these other people and spending a few minutes with them. I like having someone to share the experience with. I met another woman, hiking solo to Mt Whitney. She had started out with a friend who turned back because of a knee problem. I feel so lucky that I can just be up here and walk relatively pain-free. Everyone (the hiker family and the solo woman) are taking dips in the lake. I had to, too. It feels so great!

Oh, the water!

Oh, the water!

Photographic proof that I got in the lake!

Photographic proof that I got in the lake.

Looking over the precipice to the lower lake.

Looking over the precipice to the lower lake.

I ate my mid-afternoon snack, and felt like I wish the sun would go down so that I could go to bed. But there are hours and hours of the day left. I am spending it trying to hide from the sun.

I didn’t write any more today, and can’t remember how I passed the hours until bedtime. Just being. Oh, yeah…and taking pictures in the ever-changing light.

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Panorama shot of my surroundings.

Panorama shot of my surroundings.

Shadow play 1.

Shadow play 1.

Shadow play 2

Shadow play 2.

Shadow play 3.

Shadow play 3.

The sun hits the cliffs of Precipice.

The sun hits the cliffs of Precipice.

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Sunset (finally).

Sunset (finally).

Last of the sunlight on the peaks above Precipice.

Last of the sunlight on the peaks above Precipice.

Up, Up, Up to Hamilton Lake

7/28/16

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Leaving the lowlands behind

A punishing day. It started out really nice: up at 5:30 AM and packed up and on the trail by 6:30, hoping to beat the sun for a few hours. At about 9:00 I found myself at Bearpaw, about halfway through the day’s hiking, in terms of mileage. The first few hours of the day, I had the trail to myself. I was the first hiker out, breaking through spider silk stretched across the trail. It felt good!

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The trail cuts across occasional little streams.

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At Bucks Creek bridge, I was plunged back into shade for the climb to Bearpaw Meadow. That worked out well!

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I couldn’t believe the colors on this guy! He looked exactly like one of those touristy artworks that you find all over the Southwest, with turquoise inlaid all down his back.

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Looking east up the Kaweah River canyon toward Lake Hamilton, where I am bound.

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Looking up toward where I know the trail winds. I couldn’t see it ahead of me, but when I came back down and looked behind me, it was easy to spot. You have to know what you’re looking for.

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View from the bridge above Lone Pine Creek. This is near the junction of the Elizabeth Pass trail and the High Sierra Trail, so from now on, I have a new road under my wheels.

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I took advantage of the scant shade along the climb up to Hamilton Lake. I’m thankful for these scrubby live oaks that manage to grow on these exposed south facing cliffs. Thank you, little tree!

The last 2.5 miles of the trail up to Hamilton Lake were very steep and hot. I started to feel physically ill, and took the last mile very slowly.

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Eventually, I got some welcome, albeit temporary, cloud cover, and the views were fantastic!

 

I heard a canyon wren last evening, at Mehrten Creek. That’s a song that always lifts my spirits! Heard it again this morning as I was packing up. I was the only camper on Mehrten last night. There were lots meteors. I was lucky enough to poke my head out of my tent at one point just in time to see a big one that came straight down and exploded in a brief but huge-looking flash of white light toward the east. The crescent moon rose at about 3:00 AM and chased the stars away.

I saw hummingbirds, a white-headed woodpecker, a sooty grouse, flocks of juncos, a couple of nuthatches, and I heard a mountain chickadee calling, “Here kitty, here kitty.” Oh, and the ever-present stellar jays yelling through the woods.

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I saw this lake on my map, and thought maybe I would stay there, rather than at Hamilton, but I see it’s inaccessible, with nary a level few feet for pitching a tent. I was disappointed, because I thought when I got here my hike for the day would be done.

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The peaks of so-called Valhalla rise above me. Stunning!

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A closer shot of that stair-step broken granite. I feel so insignificant, surrounded by this ancient (though in geological terms, fairly young) landscape.

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And still the trail leads upward…

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That little lake is nestled right below this photo, where this caption is. Couldn’t fit it all in the picture.

Here at Hamilton Lake, it’s crowded with campers, and I found a spot to pitch my tent close by a 37-year-old woman who is hiking solo to Mt Whitney. She told me that she was about to accept a very good job at the SF botanical gardens, but just decided against it because she wanted to have the freedom to hike whenever she wanted. So she kept her waitress job. She’s got her priorities straight. I can’t believe the size of her pack! It looks really heavy! I silently thank Betty Wheeler for being such a stickler about weight on our JMT hike. It got me off on the right foot in understanding that less is truly more when you have to carry it all on your back.

Hamilton Lake, at long last!

Hamilton Lake, at long last! Too big for one photo, so here are numerous ones. The constantly-changing light was captivating.

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Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

3:00 PM and I’m already making dinner.

5:00 PM Big windstorm! I had to help secure my neighbor’s tent, which seemed on the verge of flying away. There’s thunder and lightening up higher in the mountains, maybe right at Precipice Lake, where I’m bound tomorrow. I hope it blows through and is gone. Here comes the rain! It’s not cold, but crazy windy. Exciting (as long as we don’t blow away). My tent stayed put, but is full of dry dusty sand, because I didn’t think to close one of the flaps in the excitement while I helped my neighbor.

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Suddenly little whitecaps appeared on the lake and the sky over the peaks became one big plum-colored bruise.

I retreated into my tent, and took a little video of of how it felt in there. I was cozy, but the wind was whippin’!

IMG_31827:15 and I’m in my tent. The sun is back out, and Katy, my neighbor, is just finishing dinner. My phone informs me that today I climbed 51 flights of stairs and hiked 13.52 miles. I’m ready to snooze. I can hear the various groups of campers chatting away around me, and fear they will keep me awake (spoiler alert: they didn’t).

Day 1, High Sierra Trail

7/27/2016

It’s almost 5:00 AM, and I am awake after a fitful night’s sleep. Driving here yesterday, I got super-sleepy around 4:30 PM, and stopped for a pick-me-up. I picked up a cold Blue Bottle New Orleans coffee, in a little half-pint container, and it was both incredibly delicious and effective, but too late in the day for a lightweight like me. Altitude didn’t help, either. But that’s fine–an early start and I’ll be assured of getting the itinerary I want for my wilderness permit.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I heard a branch fall from a tree nearby and hit the ground hard. I imagined it falling on a tent, but I didn’t hear any screams, so I drifted back to my semi-sleep state. It was a good reminder to look around for those sorts of dangers before pitching a tent.

1:50 PM Mehrten Creek

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Crescent Meadow, shining in the morning sun as I start my trek.

I had a forced leisurely morning. I couldn’t get my permit until about 8:00 AM. Cost was $15, and I’m good to go. I ate a breakfast tea and a breakfast burrito at the Lodgepole market, and then drove down to Wuksachi Lodge to send my itinerary to Tom, so that someone would know where and when to start looking for me, should anything happen. There was super-slow internet there, and it took mealiest an hour to log on and send the message. Then back to Crescent Meadow and the start of the High Sierra Trail. It was nearly 10:00 AM by the time I got going. Hot, smoggy, so many dead trees. Out here, I am always aware of the life and death all around me all the time. Lately, it seems like Death is getting the upper hand. Poor trees!

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I balanced my iPhone on my trekking poles, which I leaned up against a tree, to take this photo with the timer. The sequoias are amazing! I’ll be leaving them behind for the rest of this hike, as I climb to higher elevations.

At every little stream crossing, there were dozens of little monarch-colored California Tortoiseshell butterflies that flew up at my approach. I tried to take a photo of one with the wings open, but they were so fast, and uncooperative. Finally, I found a wounded one lying on the trail, and managed to get a photo.

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I saw 9 people on the trail all day. I was really dragging today, wondering why I “like” doing this. My pack is heavy, though I don’t think I’m carrying anything extra. I plodded along, looking out at the visibly brown air below me, feeling hot and cranky. My right shoulder is burning, my hips are hurting. Taking time to adjust my pack straps gives a certain amount of relief.

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Looking back toward the way I had come. That’s Morro Rock on the right side.

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The air is clearing up, but I am still walking past many dying trees.

At Mehrten Creek, I rinsed the trail dust off, washed the sweat from my clothes, and now what? It’s early afternoon, still hot, and I am alone with my tent on a ledge above the creek. The deer flies are really getting to me! Luckily, they are super-slow and I can take some satisfaction in lessening the population by one every time I get bitten. I want a nap, though, and will have to cover up for it.

5:00 PM

It’s clouding over, it’s very buggy, and I am tired. I got ready for bed and got in the tent to get away from the bugs. It started raining as soon as I got in! Just little gentle drops, but it sounds lovely! Didn’t last very long, though.

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Afternoon thundershowers gather over the mountains. Today, it’s stormy where I’m headed. What will tomorrow bring?

 

I have made a decision to boycott all Nestlé products (again), after learning that the company is pumping groundwater from our national forests to bottle and sell. This is the people’s water! I know that nobody reads my blog to get preached to about this sort of stuff, but there’s a lot to this story. You can read all about it here. There are many, many other reasons to boycott this company, but I generally don’t buy any of these products anyway. Here’s a list of Nestlé’s water brands, followed by a list of their other products:

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7:00 PM

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My little home on the trail.

I just woke up from my nap. It looks nice outside. I emerged from the tent, ate some salmon and crackers, and inhaled a tiny piece of fish. I just spent about 20 minutes coughing and wheezing, trying to get it dislodged. I finally feel better, but I wonder what might have happened if I had needed a Heimlich maneuver out here all by myself. Luckily, I don’t need to find out. Now it’s 8:00, and I think I am going to go to bed for real this time. My phone tells me I hiked 8.82 miles today, and climbed 31 flights of stairs. Not too bad. No wonder I’m tuckered out!

 

 

 

 

The Walkabout

7/26/16, Sequoia National Park

This is the first day of a planned 6-day solo backpacking trip along the hight Sierra Trailing Sequoia National Park. Last year, when Barbara Higbie and I hiked from Roads End to Crescent Meadow, we hit the High Sierra Trail for the last 14 miles of our trip. The views up toward Kaweah Gap were entrancing, and I decided right then that I would head up there this year, just to take a look around. Here’s what it looked like then:

Looking east toward Kaweah Gap from the High Sierra Trail, July 3, 2015

Looking east toward Kaweah Gap from the High Sierra Trail, July 3, 2015

I managed to leave Berkeley at 2:45PM, surfing along at the front of the rush-hour traffic wave. Traffic was slow at first, but I still got up to Sequoia in five hours. I happily handed my senior pass to the ranger, and got my free 7-day sticker. There are some things about getting older that I just LOVE! For a one-time fee of $10, I now get in to every national park for free for the rest of my life! Plus, I get discounts in many state parks and campgrounds! By 8:00PM, all the stores and restaurants are closed up here, and I forgot to think about dinner. Luckily, I had half an avocado and some crackers, and that was enough to stave off hunger pangs until morning. When I backpack, my food is carefully rationed in advance, with each meal and snack accounted for, so that I don’t have to carry more than I need. But if I break into the stash before the trip starts, I chance coming out short at the end.

My plan was to just pull in to a campground for the night, and get my wilderness permit in the morning before I hit the trail. The first two campgrounds I passed were full and I started worrying about finding a place without backtracking and heading up on a side trip to Big Meadow. But then, the Dorst Campground loomed ahead, and there were spaces available. I pulled in, found a pretty nice site and pitched my tent in the dark, accompanied by the babble of voices from all the campers around me. There were lots of kids and more than a couple of foreign languages. There was also a campsite that had music cranked up, past the posted official noise cut-off time of 9:00 PM. That reminded me that I had neglected to bring earplugs. Generally, I don’t travel anywhere without them, so that I can deal with noisy air conditioning units, roommates who want to watch TV, noisy revelers in the hotel hallways, whatever might happen. But I hadn’t thought that I would need them in the wilderness. Granted, I wasn’t in the wilderness yet…

I had trouble filling my new inflatable sleeping pad, which had felt so very comfy (and super-lightweight) at REI. Either I don’t know the trick or it’s defective. We’ll find out, but I hope not at the expense of sleep. When I finish blowing it up, lots of air escapes before I can get the valve shut. I found that I actually had to put the entire valve in my mouth, and keep blowing while I tamped the valve into place with my tongue and the help of a finger. Sheesh!

Driving up, I was shocked by the quantity of standing dead and dying conifers. They stretched out as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t as far as I’d like, due to the smog rising from the Central Valley. On the way down, I listened to the weather report on a Sacramento station, and they consistently referred to the smog as “haze.” That seems so innocuous, and actually natural. I wish they would refer to it by what it actually is. Then maybe people would be more motivated to try and curtail it. I was talking to a very knowledgeable fellow last week about the dying-tree problem, and he said that the main cause of death was the weakening of the trees due to air pollution, and further weakening by drought, which makes them easily fall victim to beetle infestations, which finish them off. Generally, the trees fight the beetles by physically pushing them out with sap when they start to bore, but there’s not enough moisture for the sap to run freely. And the beetles, historically, were kept at bay by occasional fires (about every 15-20 years in most forests) and cold winters. The last 100 years of fire suppression coupled with climate change have done their job. Then the man said that some experts predict 100% conifer death in the band between 5,000 and 7,000 feet elevation. Oy. Here, at over 8,000 feet, the trees are looking pretty healthy, though it sure is dry.

With these thoughts, I will try and sleep.

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A hillside of mostly dead Ponderosa Pines greeted me as I drove up Hwy 180 from Fresno. The road winds through thousands upon thousands of dead and dying trees. Poor California!

 

Day 7, a day at the beach

Our host is leaving this morning to attend a funeral in Los Angeles, and Kristin and I are left on our own for a day in Big Sur. Before she left, Lygia took some photos of my sis and me, looking very much twin-like.

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The walk to the beach is about two miles down a dirt road that hugs the hillside.

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Now we sit naked, or nearly naked, on the beach, watching seals, dolphins, pelicans, seagulls, cormorants, terns, and some other birds I can’t identify fishing and carrying on in the relatively calm waters and kelp beds. Beautiful!

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The sand was streaked beautifully with pink from the crumbling rock cliffs.

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A floating tree trunk kept us guessing what it might be for quite awhile. the waves would turn it, changing the shape by exposing different sets of truncated branches. Sometimes it looked more animal than vegetable. Like a Nessie sighting.

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Then suddenly: what’s that? A humpbacked whale, surfacing and diving just this side of the kelp beds, very close in to shore! It’s huge black rolling back keeps on showing itself for almost enough time for a good photo, and then it disappears again. It’s rare to see humpbacks here, I think. Usually, it would be the gray whales. I feel lucky!

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OK. They aren’t very impressive photos, but to see a 66,000-pound creature rolling in the waves is impressive. I guess you had to be there.

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There is a little cache of items that might come in handy someday, nestled in a rocky niche

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A little tunnel through the rocks gave us a glimpse of further down the coast.

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I saw a very interesting sight on the beach: on close inspection, I determined that it was an otter who had choked on a seabird, causing them both to die. Weird.

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I had fun taking photos of shadows.

Lulled into complacency by perfect weather, agreeable company and delicious food, I have no more notes about our lovely few days in Big Sur. However, I do have more photos, which I will share here, from our next day’s excursion into the Ventana Wilderness:

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Then we wandered north to another beach, and met a very nice goose who seemed to want us to take him/her home.

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And finally, back home to Berkeley by late afternoon.

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Now that I am caught up with last year’s rambles, I can start on this year’s adventures. I just spent 6 days hiking solo in Sequoia National Park, and there is much to talk about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6, August 24, 2015

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Very smoky today! Good idea to leave. It’s 7:00 AM and the breakfast bell just rang. There’s already a big line to get food.

At dinner last night–which was delicious, by the way–Kris and I sat with two couples who had just come to hike a short distance of the JMT, going out at Bishop Pass (from Le Conte Meadows). They had decided to scratch the trip and hike elsewhere. We sat with a very sunburned-faced, tense man of about 60, who said he was waiting for his daughter, who was out hiking the JMT solo. She had said she’d be at the ranch yesterday and hadn’t shown up. He said he wasn’t worried, that she was tough and defended death-row inmates in San Quentin. He had flown to Fresno from St. Louis, MO, rented a car and driven to Florence Lake (dodging all the cars full of vacationers fleeing the smoke on Kaiser Pass Road), and walked the 4.5 miles to Muir Trail Ranch. Suddenly, a hiker walked through the gate, and his face lit up. “My daughter!” He ran down to her, they embraced, and there were tears not only from them but in the eyes of all six of us watching the reunion. Kris took a couple of photos of them, which was so thoughtful, and arranged to email them to the father.

It felt so good to sleep in the bed, piled high with blankets. Should I awaken Kris for breakfast? I think so…

After the delicious breakfast, we packed a lunch for the trail, packed up our packs once more and walked the 4+ miles to Florence Lake. The smoke was worsening by the hour, and I was glad to be getting away from it. I’m starting to cough, and have a low-grade headache, smarting eyes, and a chronically dripping nose. No fun!

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At Florence Lake, waiting for the ferry, we watched two guys–a hippie and a cowboy–unload trash and empty propane tanks from a truck into a boat, and exchanged small talk. When we said that we might be headed to the ocean, the cowboy said, “Take me with you! I’ve never seen the ocean, except once from a different continent. Spent most of my life around Elko, NV, cowboying.”

I said, “Well, come along! We’ll take you.”

“Can’t. My boss wouldn’t like that. Got another month of work here.”

“Well, just walk away, and find another job somewhere else later on,” I jokingly suggested.

“A cowboy can’t do that. It wouldn’t be right.”

Good man.

It felt good to get back in the car and drive the crazy Kaiser Pass Road back to Hwy. 168. Very narrow, and many blind curves and crests. It takes an hour to drive the 17 miles or so.

When we got in email range, I wrote to my friends in Big Sur, asking if we could come to Rancho Rico for a couple of days. Then we just started heading that way. My friend Lygia called, all bubbly and sweet, and said, “Yes! Come!”

California is an amazingly diverse state. Driving from the high Sierra to Big Sur in only a matter of five or so hours, we traversed the fertile San Joaquin Valley, and rolled into the rolling and golden grassy hills that eventually became a dense oak woodland with scattered chaparral. Then to the thriving farmlands near Salinas and the artichoke fields of Castroville, on through Monterey and Carmel and the astounding Highway 1 through Big Sur. Darol Anger once said, “There’s no other landscape where the vertical and the horizontal vie so hard for your attention,” or something close to that. The steep hills plunge into the restless surf and the Pacific stretches out to the horizon.

Lygia greeted us warmly with Chappellet Pinot Noir that featured her own label art, a big salad, homemade goat cheeses, ravioli, and conversation. Then we helped to put up the goats and horses for the night, collected eggs, and listened to the coyotes calling from the rugged surrounding hills. Jag, the enormous Great Pyrenees mountain dog, warned them off with incessant barking.

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I didn’t take many photos today, as I was just anxious to get away from the smoke, and then I was too busy driving. Photos of Big Sur tomorrow! Now it’s off to bed in our little cabin under the redwoods.

Day 5, Muir Trail Ranch

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Smoky air makes for some great diffuse lighting!

We awoke early and very quickly retraced our steps down the exposed switchbacks and into the woods to Muir Trail Ranch, where I was able to snag the only room available, from a last-minute cancellation. The MTR folks were really great (I was going to say “accommodating,” but that goes without saying).

 

A little grove of birch along the switchback trail added color. The forests are so incredibly dry! And the smoky air gives me a feeling of impending doom.

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Beautiful Blaney Meadows

Check-in time is not until 3:00, so Kris and I had the day to just wander around. We waded across the San Joaquin to Blaney Meadows with our books, a lunch, and our water bottles, and explored the hot springs there. Some are basically mud holes and not very inviting, but there was one beautiful clear steamy pool that seeped up among granite rocks, and we spent a few hours luxuriating there.

 

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Kristin wades the San Joaquin, looking like a real “lady hiker”!

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One of the Blaney hot springs

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Our lunch spot, beside a venerable juniper.

I read Kristin the Peattie story about Death Valley, and was surprised to find how emotional it was, read aloud (you can access it online from a link in my last post). I got all verklempt, right at the time that our idyll was invaded by other hikers. Even with the smoke (which was still fairly light), it was really lovely to be there. Talked to hikers about their ordeals walking north through the smoke, and others who were still considering heading south. As one who could say what they would be missing by not being able to see where they were, I advised against it. There were rumors that the rangers in Evolution Valley were telling people that they would have to evacuate over Bishop Pass. But what do you do, when you have saved and planned, and only have this possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hike the JMT? I met a group of young Spanish men who had been looking forward to their ramble on the trail for years. Here they were, and couldn’t see a damn thing, to say nothing of having to breathe smoke at high elevations. They decided to keep going. I guess they will have stories to tell.

 

Smoke wasn’t so bad this morning, but last night it hung heavy most of the long night, with the scent of woodsmoke constantly in my nostrils. I tried to imagine I was at home by the fireplace, and remember how much I liked that smell, but it didn’t help much.

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Breathe the morning air!

After checking in to our cabin, Kris and I gathered up our dirty clothes and did a load of laundry in the old washing machine, manually draining the dirty water, rinsing, and then cranking the clothes through the wringer by hand. It feels good to be clean! I got recognized by four people here. I don’t think I really like that. I haven’t seen a mirror in days, and who knows what I look like. Me, I guess. But oh, well. My fan base is definitely aging along with me. I occasionally idly wonder what I could do to attract younger listeners. Probably stop singing songs about death, for one thing. Maybe I don’t even care. My season of popularity has come and is fading like autumn leaves. Although when the 20-something kitchen worker recognized me a little later, it put a spring in my step, I must admit. She was so pleased to have us visiting the ranch. I didn’t want to ask how she knew my music. Generally, I get “Oh, my mom used to make us listen to you in the car.” I thank those moms from the bottom of my heart!

 

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Those strange pink splotches are the color of the sunlight through the smoke. Everything else was in shade.

Of course, we took a good long soak in the “domesticated” hot spring at the ranch, which is very sweet. Here’s a photo from when I was here in 2014:

More comments and stories tomorrow! I’m done writing for the day. Hot springs will do that to you…

 

 

 

Day 4, Selden Pass and Marie Lake

8/22/15

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I slept much better last night. I was in the tent by an un-heard-of 6:30 PM. I wrote, read “The Road o a Naturalist,” by Donald Culross Peattie, and slept until 11:30 PM. (Peattie wrote a wonderful and nerve-wracking story, “Death Valley Christmas, 1849”. You can read it online here) Then I read some more, and slept again until about 5:00 AM. I decided to wait for the dawn chorus to get up, and at about 6:00 AM the Clark’s Nutcrackers started hollering and making a racket. OK! I’m up! No gentle, dulcet tones of thrushes and chickadees this morning…

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The gentle trail to Selden Pass

Kristin and I decided to leave our camp set up and go over Selden Pass to Marie Lake, to see if the smoke conditions are better there. It’s a really nice hike, past Heart Lake and on over the pass, which looks like a movie set. Every rock is placed just so, and the trail follows alongside a little mountain brooklet lined with nodding wildflowers, and through a narrow meadow. It’s quite a different scene from last August, when Betty and I hiked through here headed south on the John Muir Trail. Everywhere is shrouded with smoke, but not nearly as bad as along the San Joaquin. At the top of the pass, Marie Lake appears suddenly spread out below us, appearing rather like a landscape from Norway, with the scoured flat expanses of glacier-polished granite.

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Marie Lake, surrounded by smoky peaks

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While we were enjoying Marie Lake, though, the wind picked up and we could see the smoke starting to drift over the pass. We decided to call it quits and head back to camp and pack out. Unfortunately, it took us so long to pack that we decided to spend another night only two miles from Sallie Keyes Lakes.

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Marie Lake

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Distorted panorama of Heart Lake

The light is so strange–rosy-orange in color. I hope the smoke doesn’t do damage to us overnight here! Tomorrow we’ll head out early, hopefully (OK. Kris is a great backpacker and trail companion, but she packs up more slowly than anyone I have experienced) to Muir Trail Ranch and see what can be done about our reservations there for 8/26.

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Rosy-orange light on the lodgepoles

Marie Lake is noticeably lower than last August. Somewhere, I have a photo to prove it, I think. Poor California! Burning up and desiccating in the wind.

We hiked about six miles today. Tonight we’re above Sanger Creek, only three miles from MTR. We shall see what conspires in the morning. My niece, Chloe, Kristin’s daughter, will be racing in Italy at about 4:00 AM Pacific Time in the World Cup Mountain Bike race in Val de Sol. I think that’s in the Dolomites. So by the time we wake up and get to the Ranch, we will be able to get some news of how she did.

At first, I found this campsite almost devoid of charms, but a second look reveals that we are among a real, mature, un-“managed” forest of lodgepole pines. Every age is in evidence everywhere, with beautiful openings filled with now mostly-spent wildflowers. A red sun is setting slowly through the smoke.

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Kristin filtering water, an ever-present task

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The lovely lodgepole forest

Day 3, a change of plans…

8/21/15

Stayed awake most of the night planning and replacing our trip to try and avoid the smoke. If we didn’t have a paid reservation at Muir Trail Ranch in six days, I would suggest aborting the whole thing and driving north into better air. But that non-refunadabl reservation puts a crimp in those plans. Sallie Keyes Lakes and Selden Pass may be better, but today it looks like the smoke is butting up against the steep slope that gives access to that area. I guess we’ll head to Evolution Valley as planned and talk to the ranger there, if he or she is around.

 

8/21 continued

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About 20 minutes later, the smoke started pouring in. Scratched plans for Evolution Valley and Goddard Canyon. Sallie Keyes it is! We packed up and I went with Kris to the cutoff to Muir Trail Ranch from the JMT, so that she would stay on the right trail heading out. This is that damn section of the JMT that I said I never wanted to hike again. Endless switchbacks on a hot, south-facing steep ascent through chaparral. Not many trees to shelter from the sun. I wanted Kris to get as early a start as possible. I stashed my pack in the trees and hiked unencumbered the mile to the Ranch. I used the computer there to inform Tom of our change of plans. Really slow connection! But it’s a way to communicate with the outside world, and that’s what counts. Then I poked around in the free bins of hiker stuff, and headed back out and up. It’s a very nice service that MTR provides for hikers. You can leave anything you don’t want to carry, and take anything that you might need that you find in the bins. Generally, there’s lots of oatmeal in there, but often yummy things to eat and many useful items. I heard that Evolution Valley and environs were super-smoky, though the actual fire is miles away. Talked to a hiker who came down Goddard Canyon, and couldn’t even see the canyon walls. The fire is out of control and burning rapidly. It’s a mess–a perfect storm of 100 years of fire suppression, a long drought, higher temperatures, and who knows what else.

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I saw a little movement along the trail, and stopped to watch this perfectly-camouflaged grouse walk nearly right up to me.

It’s almost 6:00 PM now and we are camped above the first of the Sallie Keyes Lakes. The sky is clearing! It was terrible today. Every step was difficult, with the combination of lack of sleep last night and the heavy, smoke-filled air. I hope I sleep better tonight! I have to fix whatever is wrong with my left shoulder and the bottom of my right rib cage. Neither side wants to be slept on, and I have never slept well on my back or stomach.

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My little tent at Sallie Keyes, among the lodgepole pines.

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Evening at Sallie Keyes

Day 2, World on fire, and a bat attack!

8/20/15

 

Kris and I got up pretty early, and while we were packing up, the campground manager came around to check us out. She was riding in a little golf cart decked out with red, white, and blue bunting and American flags. For some reason, she made me feel like I was breaking some rules that I didn’t know about.

We continued up Hwy 168 past Shaver Lake, which looked pretty socked-in with smoke. The air was thick and scratchy in my throat. The water level was way down, as evidenced by the bathtub ring on the exposed rocks along the shore.

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A little way further up the road, we took the turnoff onto Kaiser Pass Road, a beautiful 20-mile winding path through the mountains. Our average speed was probably under 10 mph, due to the narrowness of the road, the lack of visibility, and the many twists and turns. We stopped at the ranger station to pick up our wilderness permit, and drove on to Florence Lake (I just Googled “Florence Lake” and discovered that she was a comedic film star. I wonder if the lake was named after her). The air was thankfully clearer, but the lake was so low. I was going to blame it on the drought, until I found out that they had emptied it out in order to do work on the dam.

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Florence Lake, with the exposed dam to the left, and the high country rising above it all.

Kris and I took a little swim while waiting for the boat that would ferry us to the other side of the lake, cutting out something like 4 miles of dusty stock trail. It was a hot, hot day, and the water felt deliciously cool.

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Woo-hoo! On our way!

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Once on the other side of the lake, we hiked about 6 miles to a beautiful campsite along the San Joaquin River. We dropped our packs and went into the river to rinse off the salt and dust from ourselves and our clothes. We changed into dry things and hung our wet clothes to dry on some bushes by a nice sweet-smelling Jeffrey pine. It was getting on to dusk, and I noticed a bat flying around. I pointed it out to Kris, and then it suddenly became apparent that the bat was attacking us! It flew at our faces repeatedly, expertly dodging our attempts to swat it away. It chased us all around the campsite, and at one point landed on Kris’ back, holding on to her t-shirt. We feared rabies, of course, but thought that we also might be close to its nest and babies, up in that Jeff pine. It was beautiful to look at and absolutely fearless, and scary as hell!

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Site of the bat attack

Kris was fending it off with her shoes, and accidentally made contact when she swatted towards it. The bat fell to the ground, stunned. She felt terribly guilty, but a few seconds later, it was back up and flying at us again. We grabbed our stuff and retreated to a second-rate campsite (still beautiful) a little ways away. It didn’t follow us, and went off to hunt bugs above the river. We sneaked back over and collected our wet clothes. Kris said, “Beauty has an underbelly.”

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Our campsite on the San Joaquin

It was an exhausting day of less than 6 miles. I am out of shape! It’s 8:00 PM, the sliver of moon is setting over the pines and we’re hoping that the winds favor us and keep the smoke away. The fire in Kings Canyon is out of control completely and burning many acres. We are out of danger as far as the actual fire goes, but the smoke is real. I’m worried about our friend Mike W’s cabin in King’s Canyon, and him, along with other things (like the critters and trees…). I crawled into my tent fairly early, but sleep eluded me for a long time. Too much to think about, with the fire and the bat.

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Hiking from Florence Lake, we skirted beautiful big meadows.

 

 

 

 

August 2015, smoke and surf

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Shaver Lake, shrunken and enshrouded in smoke

I took one other High Sierra hike last year, which I never wrote about. I just recently discovered my notebook while cleaning up my desk, and reading it made me want to relive the experiences in public. Also, I just got back from a few days in Desolation Wilderness, and I feel like I can’t write about that until I get caught up. So here goes!

My older sister, Kristin, flew out from Colorado on August 17 to join me on a hike that was intended to be about 6 days, and take us from Florence Lake along the San Joaquin River up through Evolution Valley. Then we planned to hike overland from Lake Wanda (named for one of John Muir’s daughters, btw) to Goddard Canyon, and thence back down to the San Joaquin and a night at Muir Trail Ranch before we headed back home. It didn’t turn out that way.

 

8/19/2015

Kristin and I finally managed to get out of town into early rush-hour traffic at about 3:30 PM. We arrived eventually at the Dorabelle Campground, just off Hwy 168, at 5,500′ above sea level, in Fresno County. Such a strange place: clean to the point of obsessiveness. It is situated among a grove of dusty pines, and I can’t help but feel that if the campground manager were able, she would vacuum the lower boughs, at least. All the camping areas are freshly raked, with no footprints in evidence, like a Japanese sand garden. Plus, it’s a pretty expensive place to pitch a couple of tents for the night at $24/campsite. But oh, well. It’s quiet. I can smell woodsmoke, and there are no campfires. Kris and I set up our tents and crawled in. It’s 10:30 PM and I am off to Dreamland.

July 4, the last day

End of the Trail

End of the Trail

Early on the morning of July 4, 2015, Barbara and I rose from our warm sleeping bags in the chilly crepuscular light. We ate our final breakfast of oatmeal, tea, and dried fruit, broke our camp, and packed our bags. By about 6:30 we were on the trail to Giant Forest Museum and the shuttle bus that would take us to Visalia. I left our mostly-full gas canister for a young couple who were hiking to Mt Whitney. They had started to worry that they would run out of fuel, and I was glad to give them what we could.

The day broke slowly and beautifully over the Keawah Valley and on the high country all around us. The clouds were ever-changing along with the light and I couldn’t stop taking photos.

Beautiful morning sky!

Beautiful morning sky!

more clouds

more clouds

We hiked for a long time before seeing anyone else on the trail that early, and it was a great way to start our last day. Over the tops of the tallest pines in the distance, I saw the bushy tops of the Sequoia Gigantea, unmistakable in their broccoli-head fullness and their lighter green that distinguished them from the other trees over which they towered. I was excited by the prospect, not just of seeing them, but of watching Barbara experience them for the first time.

Babz, ready to hit the trail

Babz, ready to hit the trail

Flowers grew in profusion along the High Sierra Trail

Flowers grew in profusion along the High Sierra Trail

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Perfect design!

Monzanita is so picture-worthy.

Monzanita is so picture-worthy.

It was a bittersweet hike out of the mountains. As the day grew brighter, we could look down to the west in the direction we were headed and see a dark band of pollution hanging in the sky. I tried to keep my focus on the surrounding peaks, but there was no escaping our future

Babz

Babz

Civilization encroaches in the shape of a floating band of smog.

Civilization encroaches in the shape of a floating band of smog.

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Looking west into the Central Valley. I want to turn around and go back over Elizabeth Pass. Well, maybe not…

Finally, and quite suddenly it seemed, we were among the Sequoias, and it was a beautiful sight. It was still early in the day, and the park visitors were scarce. We decided to forgo the free shuttle through the park and walk the extra mile or so to the Museum. We wandered through the Sequoias, stopping for photos and just enjoying the wonder of these giants. The Sequoia woodlands are particularly quiet, I think in part because the birds in the canopy are so far away. And every being seems to know not to raise one’s voice in church.

The Big Trees surrounded us.

The Big Trees surrounded us.

Finally, we arrived at the museum, and were stunned by the number of visitors to Sequoia National Park. They lined up in droves for the shuttles to see General Sherman (the largest of the giants) and the other sights. So many different languages blending together! German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian (or maybe it was Danish), Spanish, and some I couldn’t recognize. There was a strong penchant for red, white and blue clothing, hats, earrings and necklaces. We joined them and took a shuttle to the lodge at Cedar Grove to find some lunch.

An actual seat! And a moving vehicle. How novel!

An actual seat! And a moving vehicle. How novel!

Close-up of Babz's feet-saving shoes: New Balance Minimus trail runners. they're a discarded pair of mine that she brought to use  as water shoes and around-camp wear. Now they are REALLY worn out!

Close-up of Babz’s feet-saving shoes: New Balance Minimus trail runners. they’re a discarded pair of mine that she brought to use as water shoes and around-camp wear. Now they are REALLY worn out!

Lunch wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. Not much of a step up from our particular MRE’s. But honey in my tea was a real treat!

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Goodbye to the trail. We turn around, and walk through the tree trunk into the reality of 21st century living.

I am happy to say that Barbara is now a backpacking convert, and even through our travails her spirit and love of the trail remained bright and alive. Whew! I was so afraid that I might have killed it with an excess of nature’s bounty. The most eventful part of our trip home was our ride from Visalia to Fresno with a talkative Uber driver. I keep getting flashbacks of the trail over Elizabeth Pass. What an amazing place we have been! I feel so lucky!

Day 5, the High Sierra Trail

Day 5, the High Sierra Trail

July 3

Looking up the High Sierra Trail toward Kaweah Pass. I'm still posting yesterday's photos.

Looking up the High Sierra Trail toward Kaweah Gap. I’m still posting yesterday’s photos.

Yesterday was an exercise in being trip leader. When it looked too threatening to go over Elizabeth Pass, I figured out a new route for us: back to Roaring River, through Sugarloaf Valley and over Silliman Pass. But the sky, while not exactly clearing, indicated that the weather might hold for long enough for us to get over the pass, so new plan scratched and old plan reimplemented. We did get our 4 hours of clear weather, but it wasn’t quite enough time for us, as the going was so slow.

I realize in looking back through the photos of yesterday that I didn’t take any pictures of the path right in front of my feet. I should have. Often, it was invisible. There was foliage of various kinds up to and past our knees, and our feet just had to make educated guesses as to where the actual trail was. And then, more often than not, for miles, the foot came down in a stream that was temporarily utilizing the path to get downhill. It was, as I say repeatedly, very beautiful, but a little like bushwhacking, and we stayed very wet most of the day. When we got above the foliage, the trail was mostly clear and dry to the pass, but coming down the other side, it was extremely steep and we had to keep an eagle eye out for the cairns that marked the trail, or we could easily just start following a stream bed (they were everywhere) rather than the trail. That trail down the south side is amazing: it just snakes along these little ridges and switchbacks and you wonder almost all the time how it will manage the descent. It does, of course, but if you walked off the trail it’d be a nice long free fall.

The view from the bridge over the creek. this is the third bridge (at least) that has been built on the trail. The creek washed out the other two. I don't think it can reach this one, though!

The view from the bridge over Lone Pine Creek, Looking back up toward Elizabeth Pass. This is the third bridge (at least) that has been built on the trail. The creek washed out the other two, leaving remnants of mangled steel struts. I don’t think it can reach this one, though!

The High Sierra Trail snakes along a tiny ledge. Recognize those two peaks? We looked down on them from the other side from Elizabeth Pass.

The High Sierra Trail winds along a tiny ledge. Recognize those two peaks? We looked down on them from the other side from Elizabeth Pass.

We got caught in big rain coming down the Kaweah side of the Kings-Kaweah divide. When it finally cleared and the trail became relatively level, we stopped for our hot meal. While we were there, we were startled to see another hiker coming down the trail. Our first sighting of another human since we saw the ranger at Roaring River two days ago. Turns out he was an ultra-marathon runner from New Mexico, out for a little 180-mile jaunt. He had gone all the way from Roaring River and over the pass, and after chatting for awhile, he passed us and went on. He complained about the trail maintenance and said he thought the mileage listed on the map was wrong, that it seemed lots longer to him. We were happy to hear that, as we certainly thought so! But I did love the fact that nothing had yet been cleared or trampled down by humans this year. We saw only one other set of footprints on the trail, heading the opposite direction and at least two days old (otherwise, we would have passed whoever it was). He took the only good campsite between the Tamarack Lake turnoff and Bearpaw Meadow backpacking camp. I would have liked it for us, but that was OK. We continued on and hit the High Sierra Trail, which was/is an incredible feat of engineering. It winds along a teeny ledge high above the Kaweah River valley. It’s like no other trail I’ve ever been on (though maybe like the Grand Canyon in its spectacularity and steepness).

We finally approach civilization, any trail miles from a paved road, at High Sierra Camp. I confess, I wanted someone to invite us in for dinner.

We finally approach civilization, many trail miles from a paved road, at High Sierra Camp. I confess, I wanted someone to invite us in for dinner.

Our deer friend. Barbara didn't like him.

Our deer friend. Barbara didn’t like him.

When we finally got in to the backpacking camp last night, we took the first two tent sites we saw, and never even saw the many beautiful sites in the campground proper until the next morning. A big buck with velvet-covered antlers was snooping around, and we later found out that he hangs around hoping for salty items to lick. He could have had a time licking us! Today we were hoping for sunshine and time for washing and drying of clothes, but it still looks like it’s threatening rain. Oh, well…

Our campsite, Bearpaw Meadow.

Our campsite, Bearpaw Meadow. Barbara said she woke in the middle of the night to find her tent collapsed on top of her. From this photo, I think I can see why. Too tired to set it up right.

I had a great night’s sleep on the most level piece of ground I’ve found yet. Bearpaw Meadow is a very civilized backpacking camp, with running water. There are comparatively lots of folks on the High Sierra Trail, which continues to be spectacular. The sun is out! We stopped at Buck’s Creek and washed up, which was a very welcome activity. Clothes even dried, which we hadn’t experienced for a couple of days. Nobody came by the whole time we were hanging out there, except one young woman, hiking alone. After a very leisurely day strolling along the High Sierra Trail, we made camp early at Mehrten Creek. The only level place for my tent seems to be right in front of the bear box, so out of consideration for whoever else might want to use it, I found a less-than-ideal location. It’s hot and dry this side of the mountains, and that mean one very important thing: NO MOSQUITOS! Or, rather, very few. Yay!

Sun! Views!

Sun! Views!

Little Blue Dome in the foreground, looking out across the Keawah River valley

Little Blue Dome in the foreground, looking out across the Kaweah River valley

We take turns posing.

We take turns posing.

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It's so nice to walk in the sun on a relatively level trail.

It’s so nice to walk in the sun on a relatively level trail.

Lazing around on Mehrten Creek, at our last campsite.

Lazing around on Mehrten Creek, at our last campsite.

Happy trees.

Happy trees.

water cascading over lovely speckled granite.

water cascading over lovely speckled granite.

Mehrten Creek sang to us as the sun shone down.

Mehrten Creek sang to us as the sun shone down.

Our last campsite, above the creek.

Our last campsite, above the creek.

I’m watching thunderclouds form over the mountains to the east. Tomorrow, we have to pack up early and hike six miles to Crescent Meadow where we can get a shuttle to the Giant Forest Museum to catch the 2.5-hour bus ride to Visalia to contact Uber for a ride to Pat’s house in Fresno to get my car to drive 3.5 hours home. Whew! I do hate to leave these mountains.

Storm clouds gather (again), but only over the high peaks. We are at about 8,000' now

Storm clouds gather (again), but only over the high peaks. We are at about 8,000′ now

Day 4, Elizabeth Pass!

Day 4, Elizabeth Pass!

7:30 AM

It has been the longest night. More thunderstorms rolled through and near us all night long. Seemed like the lightning never stopped. I lay awake trying to count the seconds between the flashes and thunder. So much lightning that you can’t tell which thunder roll belongs to which flash. From about 1:00 to 5:00 AM, the rain abated. Now the rain has set in and is falling steadily. I am aborting the hike over Elizabeth Pass. Today we’ll go back down to Roaring River. Fording the stream may be difficult after all this rain. Tomorrow, we’ll head of Sugarloaf Valley and Silliman Pass, and see how far we get. That pass has a much better chance of being good weather-wise, as it’s quite a bit farther west and 1200 feet lower in elevation than Elizabeth Pass. Last time I left my tent during the night, the mosquitos attacked en masse. At least rain gear is impenetrable for them. We’ll wait out the weather a little while longer. I feel so responsible, if anything bad should happen. Not sure if I like being the “trip leader.” I barely slept. It’s going to be a hard day.

8:00 AM

The rain has finally stopped. Barbara and I are getting up and having breakfast, hoping our tents dry out a bit before we have to pack them up. Barbara thinks we should go ahead over the pass. I’m not so sure. I estimate we need at least four hours of clear-ish weather in order to avoid getting caught in the open in a thunderstorm. I’d hate to be responsible for getting Babz hit by lightning! She has decided to stop wearing her hiking boots in favor of my old pair of trail runners that she threw in her pack at the last minute. She claims that her feet are pain-free in them. Yes!

9:30 AM

The weather seems to be holding. We’re going over Elizabeth Pass.

The trail towards the pass. The actual pass is around the slope on the right, and can't be seen from here.

The trail towards the pass. The actual pass is around the slope on the right, and can’t be seen from here.

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Columbines. They came in all colors, but the pure yellow we saw only on the north side of Elizabeth Pass

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Somebody likes the rain!

Barbara is in harmony with her surroundings.

Barbara is in harmony with her surroundings.

The trail leads up and to the other side of these babies, and up some more.

The trail leads up and to the other side of these babies, and up some more.

Looking back the way we came.

Looking back the way we came.

Wildflowers everywhere.

Wildflowers everywhere.

The last stream crossing on the north side of the pass, Kings River watershed.

The last stream crossing on the north side of the pass, Kings River watershed.

The landscape up here looks like Scotland highlands or Norway.

The landscape up here looks like Scotland highlands or Norway. Barbara trudges upwards.

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The trail cuts west, and we can finally see the pass above us.

Elizabeth Pass, 11,327'

Elizabeth Pass, 11,375, looking back toward the Kings River watershed’

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The view east from the top.

Ahhhh...

Ahhhh… looking south into the Kaweah River watershed.

Little did we know that these peaks would be obscured in a matter of minutes.

Little did we know that these peaks would be obscured in a matter of minutes.

The first cloud whips up from the valley.

The first cloud whips up from the valley.

Another one follows. It will round that ridge and come right up our valley.

Another one follows. It will round that ridge and come right up our valley.

Where's the view?

Where’s the view?

Hearing thunder rolling in the distance. We hurry to get off of the exposed pass.

Hearing thunder rolling in the distance. We hurry to get off of the exposed pass. It’s a steep descent!

Looking toward Tamarack Lake. That side trip calls to me, but not today...

Looking toward Tamarack Lake. That side trip calls to me, but not today…

We regain the tree line.

We regain the tree line.

Thunder rolls and the weather closes in.

Thunder rolls and the weather closes in.

Wet manzanita. So pretty!

Wet manzanita. So pretty!

I have to stop myself from taking photos of every darned juniper.

I have to stop myself from taking photos of every darned juniper.

Pathfinder points the way

Pathfinder points the way

We stop for lunch and have a visitor.

We stop for lunch and have a visitor.

A glimpse of blue sky finally appears.

A glimpse of blue sky finally appears.

9:00 PM

My flashlight died. We’re at the High Sierra backpacking camp. Extremely hard day over Elizabeth Pass. Incredible beauty. Amazing views. Too tired to write. I have nothing but admiration for Barbara. She’s a real trooper. I’m going to sleep well tonight!

July 1, two days in one.

July 1, two days in one.

IMG_0290Went to bed early last night, about 8:00 PM. At a little before 10:00, I was awakened by the full moon’s light filtering through the Ponderosas. Three very loud jets chose that time to fly overhead, from the nearby air force base, I guess. I had heard stories of fighter pilots practicing flying up and down the canyons of Kings Canyon National Park, but for some reason, I thought that they had stopped doing that. I guess not…

Ponderosas basking in magic light

Ponderosas basking in magic light

Remains of Native American encampment. You can't really see the rock-lined indentation, but I know it's there.

Remains of Native American encampment. You can’t really see the rock-lined indentation, but I know it’s there.

I woke again at 2:00 and at 4:00 and finally got up at 5:30. Babz and I had our breakfast of oatmeal and tea (just like John Muir!), and hit the trail at around 7:00 AM, heading over the lip of Moraine Ridge and down to Roaring River. Before we headed out, I discovered the remains of a couple of old Native American storage pits, shallow round indentations lined with rocks, perched on the lip of the ridge. I certainly can see why they would choose this area as a camp!

A view of where we're headed, as we take the trail down from Moraine Ridge

A view of where we’re headed, as we take the trail down from Moraine Ridge

The day started with a high overcast and a muggy feeling in the air. We got down to Roaring River, and were glad that we chose to stay higher: there were people everywhere, and riders with mules loaded with chain saws and such, going off to do trail maintenance. Very busy! The ranger was listening to the weather report, and told us thunderstorms were forecast on Elizabeth Pass. We pressed on. Once we started up Deadman Canyon, it started to rain steadily, from about 9:00 AM until now (2:00 PM), where I am huddled in my tent at Upper Ranger Meadow. It’s a beautiful spot, but then again, it’s all beautiful.

Follow the sign to Deadman.

Follow the sign to Deadman.

the trail into Deadman Canyon

The trail climbs over glacial till into the mouth of Deadman Canyon

Babz is walking slowly, but seems to be enjoying herself. I am loving it, rain and all. The bugs (mostly mosquitos) kept us going until now.  Finally, the rain seems to be abating. Thunder is rolling far off in the peaks.If it doesn’t clear, we are thinking we may need to spend another day here, which would probably mean that I miss Peter Rowan’s birthday party. But we have plenty of food and will be fine.

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A large fungus. So puffy and light-looking that I just had to climb up on the fallen logs to get a photo.

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Fungi were profuse at the mouth of Deadman Canyon. Must be the rain!

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Sprouting life out of death.

Getting water today in the creek, I slipped and tumbled and lost my water filter, which Babz quickly rescued, though she had to get her boots wet. Lesson: remove pack before hunkering down on wet rocks. Luckily, everything stayed dry in my pack. It was a funny feeling, like an overturned beetle maybe, to be clawing at the air as my feet slipped out from under me and I fell sideways into the running water. All slow-motion.

The creek where I took a tumble.

The creek where I took a tumble.

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The canyon walls rose above us and started closing in.

Deadman Canyon got its name from this gravesite. A Basque shepherd died here in 1881. I stopped and sang

Deadman Canyon got its name from this gravesite. A Basque shepherd, Alfred Moniere, died here in 1887. I stopped and sang “The Lone Pilgrim” for his memory.

Dressed for the weather

Dressed for the weather

Approaching Ranger Meadows, aka Rain-grrr Meadows

Approaching Ranger Meadow, aka Rain-grrr Meadow

Our first campsite of the day, Upper Ranger Meadow.

Our first campsite of the day, Upper Ranger Meadow.

The rain stopped, the sky cleared, and by 3:00 PM the sun was out. We dried everything on the big granite boulders, and decided we should hike farther up toward the pass. We probably hiked about 9 miles today. The day became indescribably gorgeous, and the campsite we found near the wall of the canyon is spectacular. It’s in the last stand of Lodgepole before the pass. The stream is running over smooth granite slabs, and down a steep spillway (not quite a waterfall). I’d hate to slip at the top of this drop!

The stream flowed over steep glacier-polished granite.

The stream flowed over steep glacier-polished granite.

We forded the stream barefoot today. The water was cold, but not icy (no snow left to melt), and the gravel felt good on my bare feet. Mosquitos are still a problem, but not bad up here, comparatively.

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What are these, Heather?

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This morning, I heard a deep thumping sound on the trail. It took me a few seconds to zero in on it and figure out where it was coming from. A gorgeous golden honey-colored “black” bear was digging at a rotten log. It didn’t notice me, and I motioned for Barbara to hurry up. She got to see it, too. I took out my camera and tried to move to a vista that was less obscured by trees, but it saw me and went galloping off upstream, huge hindquarters swiftly disappearing into the forest. That was the last we saw of it. I had been imagining a bear digging for grubs in a rotten log yesterday. And there it was, just as I had seen it in my mind’s eye! Wish I had taken a photo even though the trees were in the way…

Near our second campsite of the day, at the last stand of lodge poles before Elizabeth Pass.

Near our second campsite of the day, at the last stand of lodge poles before Elizabeth Pass.

Today was like two days, with two complete camps, two tent-pitchings. I had never done that before. At the first camp, as soon as we got our tents up and got inside, the sky let loose. I love a good tent!

The stream opened up and flowed down slick granite.

The stream opened up and flowed down slick granite.

Glacial polish

Glacial polish

The view towards the pass from our campsite.

The view towards the pass from our campsite.

Alpenglow, as photographed from my tent.

Alpenglow, as photographed from my tent.

And the storm clouds began to gather on the peaks.

And the storm clouds began to gather on the peaks.

9:30 PM.

I have been listening to far-off thunder and thinking it was jets, cursing the pilots for interrupting my wilderness experience. But a huge lightning storm is bursting upon us, moving fast in our direction. From my tent, I can see the lightning on the peaks around us. Four miles away, then 3, and now it’s raining really hard. My heart is pounding and I’m definitely scared! I called to Barbara, and she seemed quite calm. But she can’t see the lightning hitting the peaks. It’s a beautiful sight, no doubt, but the tough of it striking one of the trees near us, or us, is really scary. I realized I left clothes out to dry. Oh, well…Every time the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls, I jump. Now the flash and crash are almost but not quite simultaneous. It really was amazing, watching it come closer and closer. Now it’s moving past and I feel a flood of relief. Hope the morning is clear so we can get over the pass. Today we were so hopeful.

It seems that all that is left now is heavy rain. And it’s only been about 15 minutes’-worth of storm I think. Whew! Disaster averted so far…