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 , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rainbow Falls

Day 2 of Glamping:

Almost up early to beat the mid-day heat for our hike to Rainbow Falls, our plans now included a necessary return trip via our same path, as the shuttle to/from Reds Meadow was not scheduled to run till 5pm that Friday. It was Thursday. Not to worry, Mammoth Lakes offers a hearty trail system and a route to Rainbow Falls from Horseshoe Lake via the Mammoth Pass Trail. Normally we would take the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the Mammoth Mountain Lodge (for a fee of now $9/adult), get off at Shuttle stop #9, and spend the day in Reds Meadow with an “easy” 2.5 mile (3.5, if we went to Lower Falls) round trip hike to Rainbow Falls. As this was not an option, we would hike the 5.5 miles down to Rainbow Falls via the Mammoth Pass Trail out of Horseshoe Lake, and return the same way, making it an 11 mile day. Brian would not be joining us on this particular hike as his sinuses were killing him, a possible adverse effect of the current altitude.

Brian (and Russell) dropped us off around 9 am, with instructions to pick us about 4pm…with cold beers. As with all hikes and trails for us, it started with an uphill trek. Within minutes our lungs were searing, as we gulped for air, and stopped periodically over the .08 mile, 362 ft climb to the top of Mammoth Pass at 9,423 ft. Needless to say we felt rather pathetic with regard to our lack of acclimatization and more specifically our inadequate level of hiking fitness. Nevertheless we soldiered on, smiling sheepishly at, and stepping aside for, the swift footed PCT and JMT hikers coming from and going into town via the Mammoth Pass Trail.

Once cresting the Pass, we enjoyed a clear breathtaking view of the narrow valley below that houses the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.

In August of 1992 a lightning strike fire ripped through the hillside and valley we were descending into. This led to even more devestating damage nearly 20 years later when in November of 2011 the “Devils Windstorm” with winds upwards of 200 mph gusted through this area, snapping 2-4 foot diameter trees in half like matchsticks, creating a cascading effect of damage, which left the valley looking like a giant’s personal game of ‘Pick up Sticks’. We continued to descend, amazed at how “deserted” the trail was. We felt like we had the forest all to ourselves, especially once we reached the normally tourist clogged trail to Rainbow Falls.

Once at the falls, we discovered that the trail down to the base of the falls was still under repair, and after talking with the work crew, we learned that the full repair would not be completed for this summer season. Rainbow Falls is a 101 ft tall falls whose mist creates a rainbow effect in the sunlight. If you look closely you can see the point from where these falls “originally” fell, having worn down and eroded nearly 500 feet of solid rock. The power of water is amazing. The surge of water cascading over the edge of rock and down into deep pool is the heaviest flow we have seen this time of year, due I’m sure to the current hot weather that is quickly melting the late accumulation of snow. We lingered here a bit and had lunch, dreading the 3.5 mile uphill climb back to whence we came. We considered taking a “flatter” route via Reds Meadow, past Devil’s Postpile toward Agnew Meadows and up the Postpile Road to the main Lodge at Mammoth, but that route in itself was 11 miles, and still included a hill climb (on asphault) in the middle of the day. Normally we would have preferred to NOT hike through an exposed area at high noon, but if we were going to meet Brian by 4pm, we had to get going. As we marched uphill, we did so, using the sparse patches of shade as our motivation.

A doe looked at us incredulously, as we huffed past her, interrupting her mid day snack. Several PCT hikers and a few JMT hikers skipped past us (both uphill and down) with packs either “empty” or fully loaded for their next leg. The point is that they skipped by us. As we neared the top of the pass, shady areas became more frequent, and Jody was soon introduced to the concept of “false summits”, for as everytime, we thought we were to the “top”, there was yet, one more (actually 4) more uphills! Considering we were fairly gassed, we were amazed at how little time it actually took to crush the day’s 11 miles. Maybe it was the thought of ice cold beer (or in Jody’s case,a Diet Coke) at the end of our day’s trek that motivated us. It didn’t much matter. We we’d seen beautiful sights, and burned some calories in the process. A day well spent!

As we waited for Brian, Jody scrolled through her Garmin watch that records not only her trek, but her heart rate, and exclaimed, “168 beats per minute! No wonder it was so hard to catch my breath.” If Jody’s heart was racing that fast, I figured mine was probably similar, good thing we took plenty of breaks and I forced myself to consume a super saturated blast of electrolytes to keep the electrical rhythm of my heart at a proper pace and cadence. For me, anything over 159-164 beats per minute means that my heart may get stuck on “fast”, and that is not a good thing.

Soon Brain arrived, cold beers (and a Diet Coke) in tow. Next stop, Mammoth Brewing Company and a round of Cornhole, followed by Slocum’s and their Happy Hour $5 cheeseburger w/fries and ice cold beer on tap, to also include $2 PBR bottles ALL DAY. PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) beer. On our PCT thru-hike it seemed that PBR was the go to thru-hiker” beer, not sure why but it was, but had we’d been on a thru-hike, PBR would have been consumed. I will say though, that everytime we see a bottle or can of PBR, it immediately conjures up memories from our PCT thru-hike. With our daily exercise and now dinner complete, all that was left to do for the night was beat Brian at Mexican Train, and plan our next day’s hike/adventure.

*I didn’t beat Brain. Paul won, not that he gloated or anything, and next on the hiking list is McGee Creek, of which we have been wanting to do for some time now.

Posted in Hikes in Mammoth area, JMT, Mammoth Mountain, Mini Adventures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glamping

This past week we returned to Mammoth Lakes and met up with our long time friends, Brian and Jody (of “Magnificent 7“) both of whom who had joined us on the Trans Catalina Trail 2 years ago. On this joint adventure there would be no tents or dehydrated food, but there would be hiking. Early afternoon Tuesday (the best day for road trips) we pulled into the Mammoth RV park, paid our 4 night fee ($50/night) and motored over to our patch of asphault, complete with water, power, WiFi, and even cable (who does that?). A stone’s throw away was the full service restroom, complete with hot showers and a laundromat. Better yet, Brian and Jody had already arrived and had dinner and ice cold beers waiting. A true Glamping experience, at least for us, where most of our adventures involve a tent and some form of braving the “elements”. While we have stayed at this RV park before, it was mainly to escape blizzard conditions this past ski season, and to “thaw out” with a hot shower, after practically freezing ones ass.

(photo courtesy of Jody)

After dinner we continued our catching up. Brian and Jody, who used to live near us, sold their home and have been living in their luxurious tow behind trailer for nearly a year now. We aspire to be like them some day. As we talked and solved the world’s problems, we roughed out the next three day’s glamping activities. We decided that the next morning that it would be a good idea for Brian and Jody to acclimate to the altitude, having spent the last 6 months, essentially at sea level, thus we would drive over and circumnavigate the 167 acre, naturally fed, Convict lake, and maybe even fish a bit.

We wandered back to our Alaskan Camper, which is a low profile cab over camper that fits into our Dodge’s 8 foot bed. My father gave us this camper when he upgraded to a newer Alaskan. Ours is over 30 years old, and after having lived exclusively in an ultra lite tent for over 5 consecutive months thru-hiking the PCT in 2014, it is still quite luxurious to us. A (now) fully insulated enclosure with running water, a three burner stove, an oven, a fridge, actual utensils/cups/plates/pots and pans, a pantry, limited storage, a “dining area” (that converts to a second sleeping berth), a heater, and electricity all add up to some “easy living”. Since we were Glamping in an RV park, there was no need to break out the shovel and set up the 5 gallon bottomless bucket and toilet seat for “nature’s call”. As we retreated to the confines of our camper, we remarked how nice it was to not be in an RV park next to the railroad and how quiet it was…until, we noticed a constant electrical humming of a generator. Puzzled, we wondered why one would be using a generator if they had access to electrical hook-ups, then we realized it was the hum of nearby Mammoth Lakes Hospital’s generator, opposite our site. Go figure! About that time, the interior of our camper lit up like being in a tent on a full moon. Seems our site also had “street lamp” that finally worked its way on, well after all the other “street lights” throughout the campground. We solved that problem quickly with our make-shift foam winter window insulator, and would later put that evening light to good use during the next two night’s raucous dominos matches of Mexican Train.

As with all vacations, the intent and ability to “sleep in” is always on the agenda, but internal clocks, as they are, don’t necessarily go on “vacation”. We did our best to putter around and delay doing something “meaningful” in order to allow Brian and Jody to “sleep in”, the next morning. Ironically, they were doing the same for us. As a result, it was well into the morning before we finally got on the road to Convict Lake.

This was of course after we had to make a mad dash from Brian and Jody’s site, to close up our camper in order keep a wandering/curious bear from “moving in”. After a relatively short ride from Mammoth to Convict Lake, we lucked out and found a parking space on the west side of the lake. [This lake was originally known to the Piuate Indians as “Wit-sa-nap”, referring to the fact that they believed the lake was inhabited by “magical fish”, which in some cases is true, as this lake produces some “hog” size trout, both rainbow and german browns. It’s name changed in 1871, following a shootout with escaped convicts from Carson City. The two nearby highest mountains are named in honor of two posse members (Robert Morrison, Mono Jim) who were killed in the shootout. Those who have watched commercials for Nature’s Valley granola bars, or seen the 1998 film, Star Trek:Insurrection, the 1962 highly acclaimed film ‘How The West Was Won’, or the 1951 film ‘The Secret of Convict Lake’ might recognize scenes involving Convict Lake.]

From here we would follow a well worn and maintained 2mile trail that circumnavigates the lake. Brian and Jody brought along their dog, Russell, who loves the water. Russell did his best to drag first Jody, then Brian into the water. We have been told that the northwest end of the lake, where the creek feeds into the lake is the most successful place to fish, so when we arrived at that end we stopped for lunch and decided to try our luck. It was not the optimal time to fish, but any chance to toss a line in the water is a good thing. As we broke out our gear, Russell patrolled the shoreline, unbenownst to us apparently consuming a fair amount of floating parcels of Powerbait, which would later render him fairly listless and miserable. While not being exceptionally good at fly fishing, my ADHD brain prefers this form of fishing to spin casting. Paul, on the other hand would rather spin cast. His ability, however, to adequately cast was severely limited when he discovered, in his haste to pack one of our two, two-piece fishing rods, that he had put the reel ends from both rods in his pack. Had the lake been iced over, it would have been the perfect length. This, however, did not dissuade him from attempting to fish. ( I wish I had a picture of this, but poor Jody is currently in a “black hole” of communications and could not send me one of her many pictures) Once all set up, I waded waist-deep into the refreshingly cool water and did my best to NOT “tie” knots in the air, as I tried to extend the cast of my fly into the lake with a now increasing head wind. With that said, I definitely need to practice more…in less than optimal conditions. Having no success, and a now stiff head wind, it was time to walk the remaining mile around the lake, back to Brian’s truck.

Russell was less than enthusiastic about heading back, as the trail (made up of crushed and course granite rocks) was now extremely hot, and after a short while got carried, to avoid burning his pads. Once back at camp, we dined on a magnificent venison meal prepared by Jody.

Fully satiated, and having switched from beer to “gluten free” spirits, it was time for a rousing game of dominos… specifically, Mexican Train. Bear in mind there is no love loss between the four of us, and certainly NO allegiances, whilst playing this now blurry spotted game. During some rounds an abacus would of been helpful to add up the points still held. Prior to retiring for the night, the next day’s activities were roughly outlined. A hike to Rainbow Falls was in order.

…to be continued.

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Lemonade out of Lemons.

So after Mexican food and margaritas at Roberto’s in Mammoth Lakes, and a fitful night’s sleep at the Quality Inn…we were actually too warm, we headed with our son and his girlfriend to Yosemite Valley to pick up his truck. I’m not going to lie, we were a little bummed to have cut this adventure short, and we’re wondering if we were being pussies and/or a little too cautious. Considering that one of the girl’s newly purchased mircospikes was defective and required an on-trail “McGyver” repair, and that their sleeping bags were NOT living up to their temperature rating, as well as the fact that one of the girls was sporting nasty and painful heal blisters, we WERE, working on a recipe for disaster.

Still, it wasn’t until rain hit our windshield, and the outside temperature gauge read 34° as we drove through the East entrance of Yosemite that we began to feel even more justified with our decision. The mountains to our left (that included Donahue Pass) were engulfed in a giant dark cloud. If it was 34° here, what un-godly temperature was it at Donahue Pass, and what would it have been trompsing through to Cathedral Pass and then down to Yosemite Valley? I suspect we would have been working on a good case of trench foot by then.

As we continued on Tioga Rd toward Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome Village, all of the Tuoloumne area was swallowed up in a dense fog. As we passed the lookout at Olmsted point, the visibility was near zero. The canyon to the right of the road toward Yosemite Valley, carved by the Merced river, was nowhere to be seen. By the time we got to the Valley floor, El Capitan, Half Dome and upper Yosemite Falls were “missing”. By the time we got to our son’s truck we felt seriously vindicated, in that even if we had continued we wouldn’t have been able to see “jack crap”…and therefore would have frozen our butts off for no good reason! To top it off, we read that on that Monday afternoon (while we were first dropping off the truck) a man had slipped off the cables while climbing Half Dome, and had fallen to his death. Moisture, cold and climbing, are always a bad combination. So, it seems that our adventure ended appropriately and in a timely fashion for all involved. And the beer we stashed in the creek at the Cathedral Lake trail head was still there. We each cracked one open. Although it was icy cold, it wasn’t as refreshing as it would have been having hiked up to it. On the way out of the park near the Wilderness permit office we found two PCT hikers (who had passed us as we were headed back to Agnew Meadows) and offered them beers. We asked how Donahue Pass was and how far the snow crept into the Lyle Creek meadow. “Oh, we postholed a bit up and over the Pass”, they replied with a sigh and wagging of their heads. They also told us that there was snow all the way to the meadow. So, it looks like we chose the best and safest option for our group. In reading a few of this year’s PCT blogs, many are still holding back from entering the Sierras, which in this case, and considering our recent experience, might be a pretty good idea.

With nothing much better to do, and considering it was Memorial Day Weekend, it seemed only prudent to head to Mule Days in Bishop, and check out the festivities! We have driven through Bishop for decades on our way to Mammoth and elsewhere, and have always seen the sign advertising “Mule Days” for Memorial Day weekend, but had never taken the time to go. This time, it seemed like the planets had alined and it was time to check this off the “bucket list”.

Mule Days, here we come!

Posted in Backpacking, Half Dome, Mini Adventures, PCT, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Retreat! Retreat!

As we lay in our sleeping bags replaying the events of the day and lamenting the fact we had only made it four arduous miles, of the 10 we had planned, we began to strategize for the following morning and frankly for the remainder of the trip. With our finish time constraint, we knew, considering our pace, we were not going to make Yosemite Valley via foot by Saturday. Tuoloumne Meadows, or the Cathedral Lake trailhead (where we had stashed a twelve pack of beer in the icy flowing creek), and a hitch into the valley for our truck became the plan. We we’re settled with that plan until we woke that morning. Paul just by chance took his phone off airplane mode and discovered we had “4G”… literally in the middle of nowhere. So rather than using our Delorme to check the “local” weather, he pulled it up on his phone. This was an unexpected blessing. What we discovered was that another storm front was moving in two days sooner than we originally had seen, so our window of “survivable” (for this group) weather had shrunk considerably. We figured if we were sleeping a little cold at night, the others had to surely be cold as well. The chance of becoming wetter and colder, on top of having to get to, and ascend and descend an 11,000 ft pass into the valley at Lyle Creek, that last we saw had a considerable amount of snow was for our group (half of which were novices) just plain stupid. While we carry a Delorme for emergencies, we would rather not have to use it, and/or create an opportunity to use it…if ya get my drift. Consistent and regular postholing is exhausting and often dangerous. Twice whilst postholing, I had gotten my foot “stuck” under a limb, but was able to react appropriately to dislodge it without injury. The depth and volume of snow for this area, should not have been such a problem for us, even with a bit of sun. The problem was the fact that most of this snow accumulated in March/April (doubling what had fallen this far) and did not have all “winter” to compact properly, thereby allowing us to walk on it without sinking so deep and often. Thus being only 10 miles from Agnew Meadows, and 16 miles from Tuoloumne (that included Donahue pass), we tucked our tail between our legs and opted for a retreat to Agnew Meadows. When the early morning alarms went off, and everyone was packed up, we unveiled our new plan. Surprisingly our new plan was met with a sigh of relief. Turns out, everyone was colder and more tired than they had let on, as well as a little anxious about going over Donahue Pass (11,056 ft) in these snowy conditions, but they trusted our judgement and experience implicitly enough to continue had we not decided to adjust our plan. Thus with a hearty ,”Hi! Ho!”, and without breakfast or coffee, we made a tactical retreat, and advanced to the rear, from whence we came, two days prior.

Just as we left, we ran into a group of PCT’rs who were continuing northbound. We had met Randy, and a South African gentleman (trail name – Saint Bernard) earlier in the week at the Mammoth Brewing Company. Joyous greetings were shared. We explained our predicament, and they all nodded with understanding. We wished each other safe travels, and were on our respective ways before the snow threatened to soften.

For our group, once we sounded “retreat”, it was like horses to the barn. Collectively we had never moved so fast.

Our plan was to get as far as we could, and hike out to the 4 miles to the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge the next morning, before it began to rain too hard.

Holy Crap! We were on fire. We went 6 miles before we stopped for a break, and that only took us a little over 4 hours…snow and all! The “gravity” of downhill is wonderful.

Energized and hydrated we saddled up again.

One more (long) uphill, a few more”snow fields”, and a final sketchy hillside snow traverse and it was onto the switchbacks down to Agnew Meadows.

Our asses were dragging, and so we’re our feet, but we were all highly motivated. Not even a face plant or two into the snow and/or the dusty trail, nor a slip and fall during a minor creek crossing (resulting in near full soakage) could stop us… thankfully.

Soon the patches of snow began to “thin”. As we stomped through them, we left a trail of “snow donuts”.

Miraculously, we marched the 10 miles to Agnew Meadows in 8.5 hours! Paul and I had every intention of spending the night at Agnew Meadows, but the rest of the crew had been talking about Mexican food and margaritas, so they wanted to “charge” up the road and get our cars. They were done! So in Agnew Meadows as we lay atop the bear lockers, it was decided that the youngest and strongest legs would start up the road to the retrieve cars. The rest of us would move to the picnic table strategically placed next to the road (Postpile Rd) and rest for at least another hour and/or hope a car or truck (from the workers at Red’s Meadow area) would come by and we could “Yogi” a ride for at least one of us and our packs. We had decided that Kimberly would be the one to go up with our gear, as she had taken the hardest fall of the trip and had bruises and scratches to prove it. Not more than 5 minutes after our son and his girlfriend headed up the road, a truck coming from Red’s Meadow area approached. I leapt (at least it felt like I had) from the picnic table we were now lounging upon and flagged the truck down. I motioned towards Kimberly saying that one of our group was injured, and asked if it was at all possible to give her (and maybe our gear) a ride to the Mammoth Lodge. Meanwhile, Kimberly was doing a great job looking miserable and in pain. The driver asked, “Well, what about the rest of you? Don’t you want a ride too?” Could this really be happening? Stunned that we would be so lucky, I stuttered that if they were offering, we would gladly take a ride up the hill. The driver responded that they had some work to finish up, but could take us all in about 20 minutes, if that was “okay” with us. ‘Take all the time you need, we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon’, I told them. With that, we hailed our son and his girlfriend back, and then promptly laid on the side of the road, soaking up the warmth of the asphault and intermittent sun.

Once the truck returned, Kimberly hobbled to the cab of the truck, and the rest of us piled into the bed. As luck would have it, 2 miles before we reached the Lodge, it began to rain.

We started to laugh and couldn’t help but admire the irony, in that it was only fitting that just as we started this adventure…in the rain, so should we end it…in the rain.

Posted in Backpacking, Hikes in Mammoth area, Mammoth Mountain, Mini Adventures, PCT, Snow Camping, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments