Put a fork in it

Final Day: 6.4 miles

Still inside our tent, not really wanting to get up, we heard a bit of scurrying outside our tent. It was obvious that the sun was up, and so was Scout, for outside of our tent I heard him say, “Sorry Dee, I just have to do this. Paul will appreciate this though.”, and he proceeds to play John Denver’s “Annie”. He and Paul enjoy this song immensely, whilst Pole Dancer and I just cringe (and moan) over it…any John Denver song for that matter. Well that does it, there’s no goin back to sleep. We pack up our gear as quickly as we can inside our tent, as the morning air is significantly cooler than we have experienced the last two nights. I make a point to stretch my thighs and calves before exiting the tent, hoping that it will provide me with more balanced footing, for when I got up to go pee during the night, my calves were so tight I lost my balance and almost fell onto Josh and April’s tent. No need to repeat that again. img_20180816_0746568281Breakfast, as usual, was at a leisurely pace, full of conversation and laughter. Soon it was time to “saddle-up”, and on came Americs’s ‘“Horse with No Name”. This has been the morning “rally” song. Meaning, you got 2 minutes to finish up cause we got to get a move on. IMG_0712We thread out of the campground with a short rock hop over a stream on our way to the river bridge that leads us out to our final ascent into Tuolumne Meadows. We meander up the trail, stopping to take photos along the way.

This is the most closely spaced we have been the whole trip. Maybe if we stick closely together, we can keep this wonderful week from ending. The sky is azure blue. Not a trace of haze or smoke is evident.

Surprisingly our feet and legs are mostly free of aches and pains. Go figure. It’s our last day, and they (our feet and legs) are finally “broken in”. The miles click by and so do ‘day-hikers’. A tasty cheeseburger at the Tuolumne Meadows store “floats” in front of us, like a carrot on a stick. Our packs feels like day packs. We stop and hydrate from time to time, as well as “snap” a plethra of photos as “souvenirs” of our time together.

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Josh and I hang back a bit, perusing my Yosemite High Country Map, planning next years’ adventure in Yosemite. My Adventure “bucket list” includes hiking most, if not all, of the trails in Yosemite. Like eating an “elephant”, you gotta do so one “bite” at a time. As we come to our final climb, we meet a group of Boys Scout’s just starting out on a several day backpacking trip. Ironically they are dressed in the same color combination that Ken is. As we let them pass we make sure they tell Ken that he’s “going the wrong way”…his attire says he should be with their group…Boy Scout’s belt buckle and all.

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The trail flattens out from here and eventually widens into a massive meadow, and Soda Springs where people used to come to drink “healing” fizzy water and camp. The end of trail comes into view, and April and Katie take off in a full sprint toward the gate. The pull of a cheeseburger is strong with these two.  After retrieving our “smellibles” from the bear locker, we pile into our cars for the short drive to the store and non-rehydrated food.

IMG_1412.JPGCheeseburgers, fries and a coke is the “soup de jour”. A chocolate vanilla ice cream swirl cone is first on the agenda for me though. Best cone I’ve ever had, especially since it was in a cup. After eating, we divide and conquer once again. Pole Dancer will ride with April, Josh, Katie and Ken, return the bear canisters and then head to the Mammoth house, where we will “recuperate” the next two days. Paul will take Scout to his car at White Wolf, while Kaleb and I have volunteered to hang at the store…and drink beer. (Actually we walked to the Visitors Center and back, and got a patch for Katie…then drank beer). In no time we were all reunited at the Mammoth house, showered and off to Roberto’s for dinner and margaritas. Seeing that Katie, Kaleb and Ken had a return flight Saturday morning, they, as well as Josh and April (who were staying in the OC a few more days) head back the next morning (Friday) so its not such a mad dash to get them to the airport. Meanwhile, back at the “ranch”, Scout has a tremendous idea. Let’s go to Bishop and explore. Our plan is to walk from one end of the Main Street (Hwy 395) to the end and back the other side. We’ve driven through this town for years. It’s high time we see what’s there, besides two bakeries (Schatts and Big Basin) and a brewery.

We literally walked into every sporting goods, food, art and “iconic” downtown Bishop locations, to include the 395 sign shop, a vintage coin/memorabilia store, the was Mountain Rambler Brewery, and Rusty’s Saloon, where I redeemed a drink chip, that was given to me by the bar’s owners (Mike and Michelle) who were eating at the Alabama Hills Cafe in Lone Pine, the same time we (girl’s ski trip 2017) were. Somehow I got to talking with them (my mom taught me well, the “art” of talking to strangers), and that led to them pulling out two drink chips and telling me to “stop by” next time we are passing through Bishop. Well, this was the perfect opportunity as it was hotter than a “stack of black cats”, and Rusty’s was air conditioned and well stocked with refreshing beer, some “regulars” and a $1 pool table.

Several beers, three rounds of pool (Paul and I won all of them, not withstanding a “trick shot” I’m sure I could never replicate…Or could I?), and a mini celebration of the day Paul “lost his mind” and proposed to me, some 33 years ago. Beverages were followed by Burgers and made to order shakes at a unique burger stand, the Bishop Burger Barn, just off the beaten path and definitely worthy of repeat patronage.

(Let’s just say this place reminds me of Belden Town in Northern California.)

Well, another memorable 2moremiles adventure in the bag. One of my favorites, thus far.

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Can’t wait to get this “band” back together for another go at…adventure. Time to clean up and plan for another trip. Can you say…September? I knew you could.

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Tuolumne Meadows, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Too many waterfalls?…Never!

Seeing as Monday was 10.5 miles and Tuesday was 7.8, and we know that our final mileage from Glen Aulin to Tuolumne Meadows is 6.4, we should only be left with a scenic 6.5 miles in which to gain 2,320 ft that includes three major waterfalls: Water Wheel, California, and La Conte Falls. Considering that the map’s trail mileage has been off consistently by 2miles, we decide to mentally tack on 2moremiles to our days’ proposed mileage, making it a little over 8 miles, just so our brains and bodies are prepared for more than a hopeful 6.5 miles.

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We walk atop solid granite, along a constantly flowing river, whose sound, smells, colors, shapes, lighting and movement cannot truly be replicated or captured by words, video or photos.

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It is an all encompassing sense of beauty and wonder that touches each of us, in profound and individual ways.

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Eventually, we turn back into the woods where it appears logging, or more likely, purposeful thinning has taken place to ensure the health of the forest. The fallen logs will, in essense, “feed” the canyon floor.

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As we walk through the canyon, tall trees stand watch like sentries high above us on the edges of the steep grey streaked canyon walls, monitoring our progress as we meander through the trail. The theme music from Game of Thrones now plays in my head. “Winter is coming”, I can’t help but think. It is obvious at times, that the water flow and volume of this river have been significantly higher and equally ferocious.

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Up-rooted trees are wedged between and under massive granite rocks. Piles of debris, trees, branches and smaller boulders, litter the edges of the now “softly” flowing river. Intermittently we walk in patches of fine sand, leaving welled footprints as we go. This place is magical.

I spend most of the day walking “alone” as our group stretches and contracts in what seems like a natural rhythm. I make a point to walk quickly through the sunlight and linger in the shade. As I walk, only the creak of my pack and the errant clank of my poles on the rocks and roots beneath me break the silence of the forest. It is as tranquil as an empty church, and here I am drawn toward self reflection. I think of my friends who have the courage and chutzpah to venture out on these types of journeys solo, and wonder if I could do the same. I imagine I could and would, as there is something endearing about having these vistas to oneself and the tranquility they conjure, but these very sights, sounds, and majestic views beckon to be shared and admired. It is here that I’m thankful for my husband and friends who accompany me on these jaunts, my father who introduced me to the “art” of playing outside, and my mom who had an incredible sense of adventure and wonder.

With another morning start once again near 9 am, it wasn’t till around noon that we stopped at an inviting swimming hole for lunch. Just as we are about to explore our swimming hole, Paul spies a bear heading to the water, initially in our direction. Paul greets him with, “Hey Bear!”, and the good sized rusty brown colored bear looks up, sniffs and continues in the other direction down river.

I’m not particularly sure if it was the “Hey Bear!”, or our stench, that sent him packing though. Once we were comfortable that the bear was on his way, a swim and lunch were in order. The water was significantly colder than yesterday (and the day before), but a slide (even if it’s short) into a crystal clear pool of water with it’s frigid version of a lazy river beckoned, thus we frolicked all the same.

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A peanut butter and strawberry jelly poptart, trail “sandwich”

Meals of unique remaining ingredients are concocted and consumed with delight. At this point we think we have only around 3 or 4 miles to go. Sadly, we were SO WRONG…and we didn’t know that…just yet. Rejuvenated and hydrated we begin our ascent out of the depths of the canyon floor.

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We reach water wheel falls after a zig-zagged rock step staircase, to yet another “landmark” tree perched high above us.

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The falls are amazing, and we see how the rock has been worn and smoothed with “curbs” that under a more forceful flow would create enormous “wheels” of water ( I saw them once on a “California’s Gold”, Huel Howzer special). Paul and I make a note to return again…earlier in the summer months when the Sierra melt is in full force. We linger here a bit, but decide not to swim, as we are halfway into our day, and think swimming at the falls at Glen Aulin at the end of our day may be a better idea.

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We climb yet again to the crest of California Falls, which looks like a giant churning water slide, but with a steep drops too tenuous to attempt.


More climbing, and we have only gone a total of 6 miles, but are now at the La Conte Falls, where we stop to take a break.

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Towards Glen Aulin, and the “top” of La Conte Falls that will continue to the right


Based on our map, and my EarthMate app when I plug in my current coordinates and our end goal it reads, Glen Aulin. 2.5 miles. Certainly doable in no time with appropriate motivation. I, however made the assumption that it was giving me the distance on the trail. NOPE! It was as a “crow flies”, WTF?! But of course, I didn’t figure that out until, well we had gone 2.5 miles and we still weren’t there. (I gotta get better at this, especially if I want Pole Dancer to keep coming on these adventures.) Another “elevator rock” nearly took her knees out. Luckily her poles held and her RockTape (in backpacking, everything should have a dual use…teehee) kept at least one knee from being skinned…badly.

After La Conte Falls, the terrain “flattened” out to soft needled tread with calm, mirrored bodies of water to our right.

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We should be there soon, we surmise, and “off to the races”, like horses to the barn, go Josh, April, Katie and Kaleb. Paul hangs with me, while Ken, Scout and Pole Dancer bring up the rear. By now, we have been passed by a total of 10 people headed to from whence we came…maybe not that far, based on what they were carrying. So reflecting on our trip thus far, I’d say in total, we have had more than 90% of this amazing journey to ourselves. How did we get so lucky?

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By now, even with proper hydration and the “visual heroin” of a seemingly endless enumeration of “minor” waterfalls, after the “Big Three”, I was dragging ass, big time. I saw many a viable and swim worthy campsite along the way, and wished that we had stayed more together, but then the pull of a genuine pit toilet is sometimes like a magnet after a couple of days squatting in the woods.

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So onward we shuffled. At some point along the way, Paul disappeared ahead of me, so I walked with Ken for a bit. Soon he too was too tuckered to continue without a break and found a perfectly good “sit log” upon which to rest and wait for Scout and Pole Dancer. I told him I would continue on and send the “boys” back to grab his stuff. On I marched, for another 30 minutes, and still I had not reached Glen Aulin.  WTF?! My shoulder was aching in near intolerable pain (too much use of my trekking poles), and felt slightly out of socket (it does that sometimes). I took out my phone to see where I was on the trail, and it went blank. I took that as a sign to stop, take the weight off my shoulder(s), sit down right there, recharge my phone, and more importaintly take in the beauty that surrounded me. Another “minor” waterfall spilled into a mirrored pool of fresh water. Its’ fish were just starting to jump, and the sun was lowering in the sky.  There was not hint of civilization in view, or earshot. I was alone in the woods, tired, sore, but happy, drinking in the solitude, because I knew that soon we would be returning to “civilization”. The solitude was reminiscent of how I feel when deer hunting, wherein you melt into your surroundings, allowing your sense of sight, smell and sound to heighten. You’re at “one” with your surroundings. The day could pass without a solitary deer worthy of harvesting, but it would still be a remarkable day. I decided, I would wait here for the rest of the crew (Ken, Scout and Pole Dancer), and if they didnt want to go any further, I was perfectly happy to camp where I sat. (Actually maybe just a little closer to the water, to look for fish and maybe a swim). I sat there for a good 30 minutes, and above on the trail (cause of course there was another “climb”) appeared Josh, trotting my way. He asked if I was okay, and I was, so he continued down the trail to check on the status of his dad, and the others. Soon thereafter Paul appeared. He asked what I was doing. I told him about my phone and my shoulder. Without hesitation, he shouldered my pack, saying, “You’re almost there. It’s just over this rise”. Of course it was! Just prior to Josh and Paul appearing, my phone had charged just enough for me to figure out exactly where I was. Oh, the irony! I took my time however, on the final ascent into what Paul described as a “pretty full” campground, not because I wanted to delay my interaction with humans outside of our group, but really, because I was just that darn tired! In a little over 10 minutes our elongated “slinky” of a group had contracted once more and came to rest in a perfect campsite, with running water and a toilet nearby.

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We completed our set up, and with our remaining energy ate Mountain House dinners, “seasoned” with our remaining Tapitio (like bacon, Tapitio makes everything taste better). Because it was our last night, storytime was a MUST. After we filled our bellies, Scout read a perfectly appropriate tale of a John Muir foray into these exact areas, filled with the climbing of waterfalls and mountains. He (Muir) too, found their abject beauty barely describable by words.

Later that evening, we ran into another couple who had done the exact same trail, and started on the same morning as us. Just like us, they thought they had this trail all to theirselves. Remarkable how a span of an hour or even 10-20 minutes can create a feeling of solitude. Life is good!

As I drift off to sleep, I realise we have, in all honesty, barely scratched the surface of this soul filling, awe inspiring place. It is a mere “snapshot” of the expotential beauty God has created, and how one would be remiss not to share with, or encourage others to seek out their “snapshots”, if only to re-center one’s soul.

*Did I mention that the days’ total mileage was 10.1 miles. 2moremiles, of course, longer than we had thought.

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Whose calves are these!

A blissful and energy restoring night’s sleep, after getting up at 2 in the morning to see if we (Paul, myself, Katie and Scout) could catch the meteor shower (we didn’t) was replaced by the discovery that someone had replaced my calves with someone who had apparently jumped on a trampoline for the last 24 hours. Alarmingly, mine were not the only calves that had been replaced! At least two others complained that their thighs we’re not working properly either. And then I remembered having experienced a similar condition the morning after having hiked the Grand Canyon (the Arizona one). It was called the Kaibab shuffle. It appears that we had all come down with a similar, but different case of said “shuffle” ailment. Today we would be experiencing a bit of elevation gain (1574 ft, to be exact), which would give us a chance to stretch out our calves. Some, however, decided that a bit of “gymnastics”, before the doning of packs, would stretchout said calves and thighs.

First on the trail menu, after breakfast and a team “Slinky” pic,

would be two Tuolumne River crossings, both of which involved a “temporary” fix to washed out, partially repaired bridges, identified by the Yosemite website (and the Rangers) as “not recommended”. The first bridge, that was visible from our campsite was crossed with ease.

New boards spaced were in place, but did not appear to be permanently affixed. In keeping with Murphy’s law we all made sure to have our hip belts unfastened and shoulder straps loosened. Easy peasy, onto the next, a mile or so ahead. This one was as close to a log crossing as I want to get.

Three long narrow (for me) boards, laid across a deep pool of the river, none of which were permanently affixed. The outer two boards were in varying degrees of decay that required one to adjust one’s footing between the three boards as you cross the 20yard expanse. Had this been early in the summer, when the river is deeper and flowing with distinctly MORE power, it would have been unervingly scarry for me. As such, it was just uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I am not afraid of the water (at any flow), it’s just the height above the water that often finds me near paralyzed with fear. I push through, cause like hell I am going to climb up those switchbacks back to White Wolf. The rest of the group is mildly entertained with my misplaced fear for the conditions. Paul is used to it, but still thinks it’s ridiculous, seeing as it has not stopped me from any of our adventures, save a hot air balloon trip, many moons ago, that he thought would be “romantic”. Today’s trail was glorious. The mixture of the river and the forest smelled like clean laundry. The sights, sounds and smells were everything I dreamed this route would be. As with all trails, they begin with an uphill, of sorts. Of that we were not dismayed, as we needed to seriously stretch our calves from yesterdays 3000 foot stairway.

Most of the morning involved a “gentle” gain in elevation with the river to our right. The sun was shining, and the sky above us is a clear blue devoid of haziness. Our days goal is 7-8 miles, with a hearty climb of around 1200 ft followed by a 400 ft immediate descent towards the end of the day. A third of the way into our day, a perfect swimming hole is discovered. The air is warm, and of which will only be getting warmer, so we reward ourselves with an active and well deserved frolic in the extremely cool waters of the Tuolumne River.

Packs are dropped with exuberance, as are our hiking clothes. Skiveys will do for swim wear this trip, “modesty” be damned.

The water is so cold that a gradual entry into the invisibly clear water is impossible, so canonballs, jumps and dives are in order. Once in, you are immediately robbed of your breath that a quick stroke swim remedies. The boys explore the upper regions of our swimming hole (fed by a waterfall). They are looking for a “slide” into our “pool” that does not have a tailbone buster at the end, and/or a perch from which to leap into the icy depths of our personal water park. Aches and pains from the pervious days descent are relieved by the healing properties of a full body ice bath. Pole Dancer swims gleefully like a river otter. She explores the waterfall only to be sucked down and spit out…eventually (to our horror and relief). If we did not have miles to make, we would have stayed here all day, it was so much fun.

The large slabs of granite warm us dry. Without notice, a thick fluffy thunder cloud obscures the sun, and the temperature drops enough to remind us we are in the Sierras, where it can rain and/or snow anytime of the year. We rally reluctantly, throwing our clothes back on, and for good measure move our rain jackets to the top of our packs, and don our pack covers…just in case.

Single file we thread up and over stone stairs and through fallen leaves and needles piled untouched in the trail. It is obvious that this section of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River trail has not been touched by homosapien footwear. As we march up a stone staircase, and make a left turn, I hear the buzzing of what sounds like bees. Katie is directly behind me. Suddenly I hear a scream, “Oh my GOD, there are bees all around me! Get them off me!” I look behind me and see an angry swarm. I am about to tell Katie she has them in her hair and one under her sunglasses, but before I can utter a syllable, I am stung repeatidly in the inner thigh “crotchal” region. This sends me scurring up the trail, along with Katie who has now striped off her hat, glasses, pack and shirt, while doing her best “mosh pit” dance. I am working on getting my pack off and dropping trou to assess the exterior burning sensation in my nether-region. No one but Katie and I understand what and why we are doing what we are doing. Paul laughs, “I’ve have never seen girls take off her clothes so fast. I wish I knew bees would do the trick, years ago!” In actuality they were not bees but wasps, hence the multiple stings. It appears that they had moved into a rocky crevass and were not accustomed to being “disturbed”, thus they let us know vigorously.

Luckily April is a PA and specializes in allergies, so she was prepared with benedryll and salve to apply to our many welts. The rest of the group held off until the wasps had “calmed down” and “tiptoe” up the trail, careful not to disturb any rocks.

A bit further up the trail, Pole Dancer solidifies her name once more, when her poles get stuck in the rocks whilst trying to avoid what she calls “elevator rocks”.

Luckily, she is able to catch her fall with her face. With no major injury (just a “flesh wound”), and we are on our way.

We stop for lunch at another possible swimming hole, but decide against it as during the past two hours the air has cooled and we had been “spritzed on” a time or two.

In hindsight, we should have just made the plunge anyways, it would have prepared us for our steep ascent and lengthy descent to that evening’s campsite.

We would most likely would have collected more water as well. The earlier overcast had reduced our sweating and similarly our liquid intake, thus we failed (once again) to fully refill our water containers before our 1200 ft ascent. (sensing a trend are we?)

We joked at the bottom of the ascent, that we were probably headed to the tall tree on the ridge before us, and we were correct.

While the elevation gain was filled with rocky switchbacks (of which I failed to count), the views of where we had come from where stunning, almost more breathtaking than the actual climbing. We remarked how blessed we were, that in all of Yosemite, we were in the place where the air was absent of any smoke or smell of smoke. And we had it all to ourselves!

By the time we reached the tree, and the top, 95% of said liquid was exhausted during our climb, which initially did not concern us as we thought (based on the map, and what we could see once at the top) that the trail would empty out onto the river on the other side. NOPE.

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Water below, but the trail went to the left!

It climbed down the rocky face and made a hard left turn into a slot canyon forest, full of a welcoming committee of mosquitoes and a bear scratching pole.

“Hey Bear! Hey Bear” was the chant through our head nets, all the way down to a jumble of rocks that we scrambled down to fetch water and soak our feet.

Here we cameled up once more, filled our water bottles, and left 4 liters in the trail for the others to drink from as Paul, April, Josh and I headed forward to scout out a campsite for us all. We stopped at a forested possibility, and Josh walked across the river to see if he could find something better on the other side. I dropped my pack and decided to continue up the trail and see what I could find. Eureka! I think I found the best campsite of the whole trip.

 

IMG_20180814_182315787.jpgToo bad it was so late in the afternoon. I think we all would have been more motivated to swim at length, had we arrived earlier.

 

A father and his two sons

 

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Nevertheless, the fact the water was indeed much colder than our first foray into the river, did not dissaude all from a quick spritz and rinse of our sweat soaked shirts.

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With all gathered around our dinner site, where hikers previously had built a campfire, we did our best not to eat all our remaining food, and sadly, we were, in fact, much too tired to even stay awake for another of Scout’s reading from the tales of John Muir…breakfast maybe.

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drop and give me 3000!

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Morning came and final preparations were made. Packs were packed and repacked, with minor adjustments made for fit and comfort.

An additional belt and suspenders insured that Ken’s favorite hiking pants would not migrate past his pack’s hip belt, a problem I have myself with my current hiking pants (which I will continue to deal with as I will NOT wear suspenders, or buy new pants…they aren’t worn out enough). By 9am, Scout’s car was parked and we were on our way.

The first two miles of what we intended to be an 8 mile day was an easy hike via the old hwy 120 (circa 1940’s) trail to Harden Lake, which practically lulled us into complacency.

Another 2miles past Harden Lake (which looks more like a pond) with a 15 switchback, 1000 ft drop in elevation offered up terrain that changed like the frequency of a newborn’s diaper.

Soft sandy tread, to bush-wacking in the “jungles of Borneo”, to gooey swamp mud, a few dusty bouldered switchbacks (often lined with loose square “marbles”), and finally luxurious tread carpeted with soft decomposing needles left us with a mere 6.2 miles to to Pate Valley. It was 11am, and time for lunch as 5 of our group were still on east coast time. As we snacked, talk was about the upcomming descent. How hard could 6.2 miles be? Paul and I do that almost every day. Well, let me tell you, this was no walk in the park (technically it was, but you get my drift). Let’s run through the numbers. White Wolf campground is at 7875 ft. Pate Valley is at 4360 ft. This leaves a difference of 3515 ft. We had already descended 1000ft over 4 miles, so, 2515 ft over 6.2 miles shouldn’t be that bad, right? (Enter hysterical laughter).

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The terrain over these miles initially weaved back and forth through forested areas blanketing the upper canyon walls (complete with a bear foraging on the thimble and goose berries that flank the trail and hillsides) and then opened up to hot, dusty, bouldered steps, and approximately 104 switchbacks, of which I counted personally if only to distract me from what my feet and knees were trying to tell me. Even the trees were switch-back weary.

A quarter of the way down the 104 switchbacks was a peek-a-boo outcropping with a much appreciated breeze and view of Hetch Hetchy.

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Hetch Hetchy

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A panoramic view from our perch

This reservior that the Tuolumne River flows into and whose water serves as the drinking water for the San Francisco Bay Area, and our days final destination.

Katie paying particular attention to the LNT display

I remember the Ranger at the permit office making a particular point about that when he was going over his Leave No Trace (LNT) speel when it came to bodily waste. I couldn’t, however, help but think about the fact that they have maps/apps for “The City by the Bay” in order to avoid human waste…and you’re worried about me “relieving” myself too close to (or heaven forbid, in) the Tuolumne River. While we actively employ LNT principles whilst in the “wild”, we do so out of courtesy to our fellow outdoor enthusiasts. It’s bad enough that lions, coyotes, and bears crap in the middle of the trail regularly, so, why would we want to add to their discourteous behavior?

But I digress. Did I mention it was super hot and dry?  Heat exhaustion hot!

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It was reminiscent of the time we ran out of water on the PCT in the desert. Even though we studied the topo map, watched a few YouTube videos, and read up on the trail, we somehow failed to adequately plan for the scant opportunities in which to refill our water bottles, let alone take the opportunity to do so when said opportunities presented themselves (one, or three tiny times). Part of the problem was that we fractured into three distinct groups, expanding and contracting like a slinky working it’s way down a set of stairs. It seemed that when we expanded, the opportunity to collect water would present itself (in areas generally not listed on the topo map), and invariably either no one was in possession of a water filter, or we all believed we had sufficient water to make it to the next source identified on the map, which of course was discovered to be bone dry, or flowing at an uncollectible trickle. When we contracted, we’d triage and share what liquids and electrolytes we had with each other, as needed. Lingering in shadey spots, especially with perfect “sit rocks”, and admiring the expansive views became nearly addictive and detrimental to the timely progress of our decsent to the canyon of the Tuolumne River.

The little “white” spot in the middle of the green was to be our destination for the day.

Once we finally reached the “bottom” of what felt like a never-ending broken escalator, the river was still pretty much out of reach. Meaning, that you walk along a nearly 30ft elevated bank of the river for at least another 2miles before coming to a place where water is easily accessible. It’s like being starved for food and someone hands you a can of soup, but you have nothing to open it with…yet. I can say with assurity that not one video or blog we viewed talked about the potential for such a sustained dry patch, so be forewarned. So, in the later parts of the summer months be sure to “camel up” (which thankfully we had, and do as a general practice before starting each morning), and carry twice what you think you’d normally need for this stretch. Water is heavy, but thirst is heavier. At our first opportunity, off came our packs…and shoes.

Kaleb killing two birds with one river (soak and pump)

Water was consumed and feet were soaked in the glorious chill of the Tuolumne River. As the later third of our “slinky” group was still making their way down to the bottom of the canyon, it was near 5pm, and we still had a little bit more to go before we got to a proper campsite. A divide and conquer plan was drawn up. Paul and Kaleb (sans packs) would scout ahead to confirm Josh’s assertation that a “really cool” campsite was “just ahead” (as Josh had done this same hike a decade ago), and to see ACTUALLY how much further said campsite was, as Josh’s distance/time estimations are not so accurate, for our little legs. Josh would run (literally…he’s a Marine, so…) back to Scout, Ken and Pole Dancer with water, of which we were highly confident they were out of. Meanwhile, more water was filtered and all other containers were filled. Soon Josh arrived, wearing his Dad’s pack, and his dad (Ken) had taken Pole Dancer’s (as she had been just short of heat exhaustion). They were followed by Scout and a haggarded but smiling Pole Dancer, of whom I was concerned would no longer be my friend after this trip due to the excessive down and heat she had just experienced. (I had told her that this trip would intially involve a day of “down” over 8 miles for the first day, followed by a fairly “easy” trail that ran along the Tuolumne River, repleat with swimming holes a’plenty…which was at times, mostly true). Just prior to their arrival, Paul and Kaleb returned, explaining that we only had another 10-20 min walk over easy terrain to our day’s final resting spot.

We ended up approximately 2miles shy of Pate Valley, with wonderfully soft, flat and spacious surfaces upon which to pitch our tents. The day’s total mileage being 10.5 miles.

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This of course did NOT match up with the mileage of the map (or metal signs), and as we would find out through the course of this adventure, it never would! However, a refreshing swim/float/drift, in/down the gently flowing Tuolumne River capped off this arjuous day, and made it all worth it.

We had an added bonus of no bugs!  After our bellies were filled with satisfyingly salty and rehydrated Mountain House meals, and a handful of “Vitamin I” (aka. Ibuprofen),

it was John Muir story time with Scout.

Bedtime followed soon after…

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Plan A

After a cheerful reunion, a BBQ, a pack shakedown, and a team meeting, it was time to hit the hay for an early rising and a road trip to the hopefully “clearish” skies of Yosemite. As we hit the northbound 395, a thick haze coats what should be crystal blue skies. Concern perculates in the recesses of my brain, ‘What if there is truly no place to go, then what?’. Paul is unfazed, saying, “We really won’t know till we get there.”  We approach Lone Pine and our favorite diner stop, Alabama Hills Cafe. A crowd of people are lined up, waiting outside the door of this 50 seat gastric delight. Even more people are seen shuffling like zombies toward the cafe, like a scene out of the Walking Dead… it’s that good! (I honestly don’t know why I’m even telling you about this place, as it does not benefit us one bit!  In fact the more people who know about this place, the longer the wait for us!) Sadly, breakfast will have to be elsewhere, so we continue northward noting the groves of people parked outside our decsending list of “favorites”, until we realize that it is Sunday morning, which explains the plethera of people out and about at these fine breakfast establishments. Our last and final attempt at a somewhat hearty breakfast, before instant oatmeal and mini crumbly donuts are the breakfast fare of the morning is achieved at The Looney Bean in Bishop. Breakfast burritos, a robust coffee for Paul and a fantastic chai latte for me, send us on our way. A smoke tinged haze hangs in the air from nearby fires (Lions, Hot Creek, Owens and of course Ferguson) reducing the visibility of the snow free jagged mountains. Considering the chaulky haze, it appears that Plan “B” and even Plan “C” may not be options if Plan “A” is a no-go. As we pass the exit to Mammoth Lakes, the smell of smoke oozes into the interior of our car. My stomach slowly ties itself into knots. Before we make the left turn onto Hwy 120 (Tioga Rd.), I text to our group our location and wait for them to respond with theirs, knowing full well that our cell service will fade almost permanently once we enter Yosemite…I think by design.

As we travel up the 120 and close in on the east entrance to Yosemite, the air is remarkably clearer than we’ve seen over the last 200 miles. We approach the entrance station hoping to find our favorite attendant, in hopes of playing “stupidest questions”, and getting him to laugh. He’s not there, so we have to settle for a simple smile and a wave of our annual pass. (We had such a great question too!). Last time we drove into Yosemite (end of May), the mountains and meadows were blanketed in bright white snow and the rivers and streams were overflowing with fast, angry, chaotic water. Now the mountains are devoid of snow, the meadows are slowly browning, and the ponds, streams and rivers have settled into a quiet tameness. We pull into the Tuolumne Wilderness Center Permit Office and retrieve our permit. We ask about the smoke, and are told that, “It was pretty clear up here until today…the winds shifted…but the fire is nearly contained, so hopefully it will be getting better.” Meanwhile, the guy next to us is trying to get a permit for Half Dome, and the Ranger is trying to talk him out of it due to the unhealthy levels of smoke near there and the fact he won’t be able to see any of the valley.  He, however, insists on pulling a permit. Before we leave, we confirm that they have bear canisters available for the rest of our crew. They laugh. “Oh, we have plenty. We don’t see us running out anytime soon”.  Since we have time before the bulk of our group arrives, we decide to drive down to White Wolf to check the air quality, secure a campsite, and determine where we will park Scout’s car once they arrive. We are amazed at how few people are in the park, and laugh at our impeccable timing. The smoke is far less than we experienced in the Owens Basin and definitely clearer than the Mammoth Lakes area. We might just be able to pull this off, we chuckle. We turn onto the narrow road (that at one time was the old 120) to the White Wolf campground. The lodge is already closed for the season, but the campground is wide open, practically vacant. We pinch ourselves, can this be real? An “empty” campground in Yosemite, and it’s August. Definitely surreal. We pay $18 (actually $20…as we have no change) for a campsite, and drop it into the iron ranger box. Had we stayed in the “backpackers” area we would have paid $6/person. This way we saved a whopping $34, and had a bathroom nearby. Proud of our craftiness, we drove back to the Tuolumne Meadows Store to meet up with our friends April and Josh, and Josh’s dad, brother Kaleb and his wife Katie. This will be Kaleb and Katie’s first major backpacking adventure…I hope we don’t kill them, as they are unfamiliar with 2moremiles “adventures”. Scout and Sandy (aka. Pole Dancer) won’t arrive till 5pm, which logistically makes for perfect timing. This allows us to ferry everyone to the campsite at White Wolf, pack bear canisters, and drop the cars (and smellibles into the bear lockers) at the Soda Springs trail head parking, and be able to walk back to the store, buy cold beer (and box wine) for the evening, and catch a ride with Scout and Pole Dancer to White Wolf, where they will leave their car. Of course, it only takes two people to ferry the two cars back to Soda Springs, so Paul and Josh volunteered. Meanwhile, the rest of us captured the attention of Ranger Nick who was wandering the campground literally “jonesing” for people to talk to. It had been three weeks without park visitors, due to the Ferguson Fire closure, and thus no one to share his interpretive knowledge with. We obliged his need and peppered him with questions.

He was energetic and animated, and even took us on a short hike to a perfect spot from which to view the evening’s meteor shower, and treated us to a sampling of “bear food”, in the form of goose berries, that a nearby fresh pile of bear poop confirmed. We wander back to our campsite, and shortly thereafter Scout arrives with the remainder of our 9 man crew and cool libations.

The first of many Mountain House dinners is consumed, and it’s “light out”, till a pre-planned rendezvous with a meteor shower at 1030pm. Paul and I, antsy to witness the meteor shower devoid of man-made ambient light slither out of our tent at 9:40pm. The sky is an inky black, pierced by the sharp white glow of distant planets, moons and suns, we commonly call stars. Now Katie wanted to join us in the viewing of the meteor shower, but it was prior to our agreed upon 10:30pm excursion.  We considered collecting her, however active snoring could be heard from her tent (most likely Kaleb), so we let her continue sleeping with plans of returning to wake her if the showers are worthy of rousing. We tiptoe through the campground with headlamps tunneling through the darkness before us. Somehow we wander past the turn off point that Ranger Nick had taken us, but I recognize the second spot he recommended and backtrack from there. While we don’t actually get to the specific spot, we find an equally open rock formation upon which to climb up upon and view the sky. As we lay on our back staring at the sky in earnest, we are quickly rewarded with a long falling meteor whose tail streaks like a swath of glitter across the sky above us. Several others appear at sparse intervals, but not of the quality and magnificence of the first, and sadly not worthy of rousing. Beginning to get a little cold we attempt to make our way back to camp, failing to accurately retrace our steps, which leads us to a bit of an unintentional wander in the dark…with bears. Paul is unaware of the extremely fresh bear poop we saw earlier, and frankly I wasn’t about to share that tidbit of information with him…at that moment. After a bit of bushwacking we find our way back to the road that leads back to the campground. We are immensely relieved, for we were sure that we would never live down having to spend a night in the woods (sans tent and/or sleeping bag) because we got turned around (lost) in the dark. No worse for the wear, we slip back into our tent and quickly drift off to sleep…no one the wiser.

In any event, Plan “A” is a go!

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Tuolumne Meadows, Uncategorized, Wilderness Permits, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Answer the phone!

So we have a short backpacking trip coming up in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolume River to be exact, a 30 mile scenic juant.  The only problem is that most of Yosemite is closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Ferguson Fire.  While we will be able to enter the park via the Tioga Pass entrance, I am not sure we even will be able to start or even complete this adventure for one of two reasons: (1) Air Quality; due to smoke from the Ferguson Fire settling in the canyon of the Tuolumne River, or (2) Foot Bridges crossing the Tuolume River are out in two locations – Pate Valley and Glen Aulin. Per Yosemite’s web page, the Tuolumne River crossing is a 6 inch deep crossing at Glen Aulin, which is fairly easy even if the flow is still moderate.  You just need to take it slow and be methodical.  The crossing at Pate Valley is the question, as per Yosemite’s website, “It is not recommended”.  Does that mean the crossing of the Tuolumne River is not recommended, or the use of the damaged foot bridge is not recommended.  I can’t imagine the flow being that heavy this time of year, and besides we’ve done super crazy (read..stupidly dangerous) crossings of rivers and survived, but this time we will have 5 other people with us.  As they are our friends, we would like to keep it that way, so there in lies our dilemma.  I have spent several hours attempting to talk with an actual Ranger (or park aide for that matter) for a “boots on the ground” assessment as to whether we need to inact plan “B” or even plan “C”, however no one answers and currently all the mailboxes are “full”.  The additional problem with alternate plans include either possible smoke (due to fires near my alternate routes), terrain challenges to hiking ability, and/or time constraints (as three of the 5 have a return plane to catch the following Saturday in Orange County).

The silver lining, at least at this point, is that I was able to leave a message with my questions, so hopefully they will get back to me before we leave Sunday.  I can only imagine the call volume, to include some very unhappy people on the other end that the Rangers have to contend with.  Been there, done that.  I always found the mute button (so as to keep from unprofessional blurts) and a healthy amount of eye rolling helped deal with such calls.

As I wait for a return call, our alternates are the following:

Plan “B” – Hike out of McGee Creek to the JMT/PCT and drop back into the Horseshoe Lake parking lot from Upper Crater Meadows via McLeod Lake.  A 33 mile option.  Again smoke may be an issue, and the climb up to McGee Pass is a bit arguous with a full pack.  The reward however is plenty of alpine lakes in which to swim and/or fish.

Plan “C” – Kennedy Meadows to Horseshoe Meadows, via the PCT section G, a 43 mile trek.  This is more physically challenging than plan “A” or “B”, and this time of year requires ardent attention to reliable water sources and possible lengthy water carries. While this is a tremendously beautiful gateway into the Sierras, there are no real places to swim (and/or fish), and frankly that is what hiking the Sierras in late summer is all about.

**Update as of 8/10/18.  We are currently a go for plan “A” – White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows via The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.  An actual Ranger called me back (whilst on a “convection oven” training hike in the foothills behind my house) to say that the Ferguson fire was nearly contained, the air quality was improving, and absent the foot bridges, the Tuolumne River is crossable…we just need to be sure to find a “safe” spot that all can manage.  No problem!  With any luck the predicted thunder showers will come in on Saturday and Sunday and clear out the lingering smokey particles suspended in the late afternoon/evening inversion layer.  So plan “A” it is …until of course it isn’t.

 

***Just a reminder: If you are a 2MoreMiles “follower” on Facebook, Facebook will no longer allow me to share my link to this blog.  I will have to paste a link in order for you to view each post.  Either way you will have to go to my website 2moremiles.com to view the post, so you may as well “officially” sign up as a “follower” so that each post is sent to the email address you have entered.  I have also updated my LinkedIn account to reflect my current “occupation”, and will be sharing my posts there as well.

Bear in mind, updates to the entirety of this adventure will be a bit delayed once we get on the trail due to lack of “conectivity”, which frankly is why one should play outside and wander about the wilderness.

Posted in Backpacking, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

McGee Creek

For several years we have heard about how amazing the hike up McGee creek is, as it is a portal to several lakes and can intersect (14.7 miles) with the PCT/JMT and several other trails that lead to Mammoth Lakes. It also offers several route options into the John Muir Wilderness / Sierra National Forest once you reach McGee Pass (11,895 ft). There are two maps that are my “go-to” maps when planning hikes, and hiking in the Mammoth area. They are Tom Harrison Maps: Mammoth High Country Trail Map and Mono Divide High Country Trail Map. I also have the Yosemite High Country Trail Map as well, but that’s a story for this upcoming August. All are “Waterproof & Tear Resistant Plastic”. So far they are indestructible, and so much better than pulling out ones phone, or piecing together 8×10 printed, ink fading, paper maps, enclosed in a ziplock bag. Looking at our map, the uphill appeared to be fairly gradual and followed alongside McGee Creek. Prior to setting out, we had given ourselves only a 4 hour window in which to hike and explore this route. This was because Russell (Brian’s dog) was still not feeling so well, and we didn’t want to leave him alone in the trailer for too long. From the Mammoth RV park, it’s a relatively short drive to the McGee Creek trailhead. Traveling south on the 395 from Mammoth’s 203 turn off, you take the McGee Creek exit and continue straight. You’ll pass the Mc Gee Creek campground run by the USFS on your left and continue past the McGee Creek Pack Station to a medium size parking lot with a restroom.

From there you hit a well worn and established trail, that climbs gradually as you work your way up the colorful valley with McGee Creek to your far left.

A waterfall beckons in the distance on your right. Initially this is a fairly exposed route, until you get to the pockets of Aspens and pine fed by seeps, springs and creek-lets nourished by the quickly melting snow of the abundant mountains in near distance. Steep, sharp, rocky peaks flank you on either side. As you continue to gain elevation, the valley begins to narrow as it funnels you up to McGee Pass.

In the fast moving creek beside us, we look in earnest for any sign of fish, this is in hopes that we may be able to drop a line in, at a later date, as the creek is mostly white-water and/or flowing way too fast.

A log crossing and a scramble up a tall crumbling bank of the creek is the only challenge so far on this hike. However, it seemed that this creek crossing was the demarcation line for the mosquitos, for once we stopped to take a breather, they began attacking with reckless abandon, until we “surrendered” and fogged ourselves with Deep Woods 30% Deet spray. We had been told that there was a beaver pond along the way. What we came across was not a beaver pond, but a beaver lake! These waterproof, buck-toothed, lumberjacks made some fine work of some hearty trees.

Shavings from their handiwork, or should I say “dental-work”, and the remaining 4-8 inch in diameter stumps scattered the banks of the “pond”. The beaver’s dwelling lay high and dry in the middle of what was a wide and quietly flowing shallow body of water. As time was of the essence, we wandered up the trail another 15 minutes in the off chance that we might at least get to the side trail that takes one to Grass Lake and Steelhead Lake, but to no avail.

We had to console ourselves with a perfectly shaded grassy creek bank beside a slow moving, side pool of water (still way too cold for a dip), to have a bit of lunch before turning around and heading back to the truck.

As we descended, we got another look at how big the “beaver pond” was and were treated to a peek-a-boo view of Crowley Lake.

Our total mileage for our 4 hour trek was an easy 8 miles, making our average speed (wait for it…) 2miles/hour, and we finished before the day’s heat became any warmer. After we returned to the RV park and released Russell from his 27′ “kennel”, it was time for a treasure hunt.

Awhile back, Brian had been up on a fishing trip with some of our other friends. Whilst out exploring, they came upon a “midden site”, circa 1900 – 1930’s. Here they found a plethora of discarded and often intact glass bottles and cans whose graphics were still legible. We decided to see if we could find the site and see what “treasures” we could find. After a bit of wandering over dirt roads just outside of Mammoth Lakes, we came across the site, whose “treasures” lay in scattered piles of rusted nostalgia.

Sadly most of the glass bottles we found we broken, and the tin cans of what appeared to once contain beer or oil were in the later stages of oxidation. As we surveyed the area, that stretched across both sides of the dirt road, we wondered aloud as to how “old” these “artifacts” were and from whence they came to be discarded here.

This spent oil can dates to pre-WWII because it is fully metal. After the 1940’s and the advent of WWII, a metal shortage necessitated quart sized oil cans to switch to cardboard cylinders with metal tops. Based on my “after-find” research, this can was made/distributed by the Standard Oil company 1930-1940, with its label reading RPM Motor Oil. This can was originally white, with the lettering and “seal” in the background being bright red in color.

As nothing had a “born on” stamp visible, we surmised based on the thickness of the glass, the broken bottle tops, size, shape and puncture holes at the tops of the cans, piles of bottle caps and a few odd sheets of metal and appliances, and the pieces we were able to find history of on the internet, that this had to have been a favorite dumping spot for a late 1930’s, early 1940’s service station.

A Google search of the graphic on one semi-legible beer can Jody recovered from the site, confirmed our summation. The Burgermeister label is circa 1930’s, produced by the San Francisco Brewing Company until 1961, when it was sold to Schlitz. This particular can dates anywhere from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, however based upon all surrounding items, I would place it around the late 1930’s. We could have “dug” around this site all day, and even wondered what other “treasures” might lie beneath the surface debris. Ones imagination can’t help but wander. Now we understand the draw for people who become archeologists. The story is in the “stuff”, as it is a touchstone of time. An era and existence, similar, yet different from our own to be examined and compared. What “advances” have been made? What has stayed the “same”? What has changed? Are things better or worse? Does it matter? One wonders what our discarded stuff, and “midden sites” will say about us. Will future generations be just as intrigued or ecstatic about finding our “trash”? What stories will they concoct to fill in the “blanks” of understanding. Will they be compelled to figure out the what, and why of how this “stuff” was used, and by whom? Time will tell.

Posted in Hikes in Mammoth area, JMT, John Muir Wilderness, Mini Adventures, PCT, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments