One expression we won't be using any time soon in the back country is "We dodged a bullet that time." The first time P said this, we were camped in the high country of Mono Pass, and major thunderstorms had passed us by for the last four hours. Only one lonely little cloud remained in the sky when he made this remark to M.
That cloud dumped forty-five minutes of hail on our camp, and made it look like a snowstorm.
So on this last trip, we were camped in the upper reaches of Cloud Canyon and the clouds were thundering all around us. The good news? No rain in our camp. "Looks like we dodged a bullet." M said to P as the cloud cleared during the twilight hours.
And yes, at four in the morning the clouds had gathered again, and dumped rain on us.
We're not looking to dodge any more bullets!
P has become enamored of one item of clothing that he takes on all backpacking trips now. When we were in Peru, he bought a nice locally knitted alpaca hoodie for about 15 dollars that he now uses instead of a puffy down jacket. It's just as warm, packs just as small, and with its hood it is more convenient as well. And it's just as comfy when he folds it under his head for a pillow at night. A great thing to buy the next time you are in the local market of Pisac, or Cusco, or Huaraz!
We've run into groups of kids backpacking in the Sierra on a regular basis. Sometimes you can hear them coming from a mile away, as their excited voices ring through the mountains. Once we met a group of young religious hikers who had taken a vow of silence for the day. That made our conversation with them a bit awkward!
On our last trip in the Emigrant Wilderness we met three groups on the trail. The first was from the Overland School, and as we did a bit of research later, we learned that each of those families had paid about $5000 for their child to experience the High Sierra---and climb Mt. Shasta. We heard them first, and they descended from Blackbird Lake into Emigrant Lake. And after a comfortable rest at the ford, they packed up and marched off in the direction of Kennedy Meadows. They were young, bright, full of energy...and they all had pretty cool equipment, too.
But we couldn't help compare them to two other groups we met later on the trip--both groups of 8-10 Boy Scouts. These two later groups had a fishing rod for each kid, and their gear wasn't quite as up-to-date in every case as the Overland kids. But we bet they had every bit as much fun, for a lot less money.
Of course, the scouts had a couple of dads along as the adult supervision. They were volunteers, not paid staff. And they were earning very bit of that salary, and more, God bless them. They looked a bit tired, as they tried to keep up with their charges. But they also looked darned happy. They were having the times of their lives with those kids. And the kids were having an ever better time.
Hopefully, these trips with young adults will lead to more voters who understand how important the wilderness is. And will lead to parents who, in turn, take their kids out into the woods to enjoy what the woods have to offer. We met a few of these, too, heading to destinations a bit closer to the trailhead--some of them with children as young as five or six.
And somewhere in the middle, you might also find a group of young men like the ones we met near Upper Bucks Lake. There were about five of them, and they were fishing. And they were there for a few days of backpacking and hanging out together in the wilderness. The oldest might have been old enough to drink, but most of the others were not. They were pleasant, polite and just a bit serious about fishing.
And it made us smile to think that they will be voting someday soon, and supporting the wilderness that they obviously love.
On our recent trip to Yosemite, we were struck again by how many people are just plain knuckleheads. It's sad to see them in action in our National Parks.
The first group we met had forded the Tuolumne River in Tuolumne Meadows so that they could build a stack of rocks out in the middle of the granite slabs that make this area so beautiful. They had found a pile of rocks, and were carrying them across the granite, grunting as they did so. P couldn't resist asking them what they thought they were doing. "Building a stack of rocks!" they explained.
P asked them if they thought the other visitors to the park wanted to see that--given that everything else was so beautiful and natural.
"There are lots of them along the trail over there," was the brilliantly conceived response--completely avoiding point.
P took photos, and will share them with the rangers at YNP, although he doesn't expect any action on that end. But the good news is that these four knuckleheads had taken their shoes off to wade the river, and were now carrying heavy rocks in their bare feet across the granite. They were in pain. (Apparently it hadn't occurred to them that they could carry their shoes with them...and avoid the pain. And P didn't take the trouble to point this out to them.
And then on the drive back home we were frightened at least twice by large RVs who simply could not manage to stay on their side of the road. They seem to assume that they can take an extra foot or so of the oncoming lane, because their RVs are big and they don't know how to drive them. We've always wondered what happens when two these meet each other on the road. Does Darwin step in at this point?
But even worse, on that same drive home we were passed by another knucklehead driving an SUV who crossed a double yellow line just so that he could get ahead of us. We were driving the speed limit, behind a US Govt. vehicle who was doing the same. We hoped that the park service vehicle in front was a ranger who could give a ticket, but no such luck. And a couple of miles later the idiot driving the SUV then passed the US Govt, vehicle on a blind hill, and very nearly caused a crash because oncoming traffic appeared just as he pulled even with the car in front of him.
Sadly, the driver the US Govt. vehicle didn't have a radio to call ahead to a ranger to pull this clown over and ticket the daylights out of him. Or at least didn't use it. All of this along the section of the road that is very clearly posted against speeding--among other things, to try to protect the bears that are sometime struck by speeding cars here.
And speaking of Knuckleheads, here's hack that our daughter suggested in case you can't access the photos we post here, thank to those complete knuckleheads at Google/GoogleSites/Picasa/Google photos:
We wanted to do a short backpacking trip in Yosemite with our daughter, and we were lucky enough to get a walk-up permit for a pass-though to Glen Aulin. We knew this route, since we'd hiked in last year, and it met all of our criteria: some nice views, lovely walking along a river, the opportunity for some real solitude, and easy enough that we could do the hike and still get back home to Napa on our way out.
And did we mention that permits were available?
Off we went.
The trail along the Tuolumne River is full of deep pools, cascades, and spectacular waterfalls. We enjoyed every minute of it. And once we got to Glen Aulin, we were happy to top up our water bottles at the backpackers campground there, and continue up Conness Canyon until we were well beyond the reach of the rest of the hikers.
We pressed on past the narrow gorge or Conness Creek, and then found a quiet spot up on a shelf above the creek. It was very peaceful, and well-hidden from the trace of a use-trail that follows the creek at this point, and it made a perfect camping spot for our little group.
A quiet afternoon, with naps and cups of tea, followed the hike. P fished a bit, while the two ladies went wading in the creek.
After a luxurious five course dinner (soup, couscous with paneer, lentils and rice with Indian spice, dried fruit, a couple of dessert energy bars, and a sip of brandy apiece, we finally turned in. The skies were cloudy, but we only got a light rain, and that came after we were already bedded down in the tent.
The next morning we packed up, packed out, and were at the car in time to eat lunch in Groveland.
And book another great hike in the family album.
Our daughter was in town last week, and she told us that she'd like to take a hike or two with us.
She didn't have to ask twice.
We'd always wanted to explore the lakes just to the south of Sonora Pass, and we though this would be the perfect occasion to that. Estelle is a top-notch hiker (at least she is in better condition than we are!) and so we knew we'd get a work out.
The trail leaves from a small parking area just past the tiny waterfall on the right-hand side of the road after the first set of switchbacks in the upper canyon right about 8500 feet or so. That's the waterfall at right. -->
We took a less used route that starts just below the waterfall, and it was a bit steeper at first. But both routes get you above the waterfall and into the lovely canyon.
From there a clear use trail leads up past delightful cascades, gorgeous views of the peaks surrounding Sonora Pass, and eventually up, up, and up to Blue Canyon Lake.
The lake itself is set into a steep bowl, with towering peaks around it, and when we were there in mid-August, plenty of flowers as well. And there were a few trout rising, even at midday.
But the weather wasn't looking great at this point. The clouds were building, and we heard thunder and felt a few raindrops while we ate our lunch.
And so rather than staying another hour and fishing the lake, we packed up and clambered back down the trail. We got sprinkled from time to time, but made it to the car without a real soaking.
And we had a wonderful hike to a really spectacular spot.
This is one we'll do again, since it is near our cabin.
So you could keep the fish, and not make a fire, or make a fire, but not keep any fish. Hmmmm. P quickly developed a plan to camp at exactly 9,000 feet. He would fish upstream and keep a couple of trout, then go downstream enough to where it was legal to make a fire to cook them...just kidding.
Ranger Cindy explained her interpretation of those rules, and we ended up keeping two nice fish, and cooking them over our backpacking stove in a little pan, in oil and butter, and fileting them over couscous. Delicious.
As Cindy noted: "I am concerned about good wilderness practices. Don't keep any fish you won't eat. And don't make a fire unless it's in an existing fire ring (we didn't see any...BTW). Leave no trace, but eat a few fish if you catch a couple of nice ones."
This trip didn't go exactly as planned-what trip does?--but it turned out to be a bit more than we usually tackle, and it took us a day or two to recover afterwards. We normally hike 6-9 miles a day, and this trip was ten miles every day for four days.
Day One. We spent the night "dispersed camping" at the trailhead. This is legal here, since it is not in either of the two national parks. In fact, at the Rowell Meadow trailhead there is a vault toilet and a fire pit. At our trailhead, Horse Corral, there is a parking lot and nothing else. And there was a fair amount of traffic in the parking lot, since it also serves the Sequoia High Sierra Camp. The only people who signed out trail register during our trip were all either going to the SHSC or doing the great day-hike to Mitchell Peak, our top day hike in the Sierra.
It's a steep climb for a mile up to Marvin Pass, and we startled a bear in the first 300 yards as we started up the trail. He took off and a full sprint down the hill, again confirming that no human can run nearly so fast as a bear. They can absolutely fly, over hill and dale, through bushes and trees. Amazing.
And we saw the footprints of another large carnivore here. Note the puma track below. We saw these for about a mile along the trail...
From the top of Marvin Pass the trail climbs and drops for a couple of miles until it drops down steeply into the Sugarloaf Valley at Comanche Meadows. A mapping note here: various maps show between zero and two different trails along this route. There is one trail, you cannot miss it, and there is no other trail.
There is also some minor fire damage on the last 1/2 mile before Comanche Meadows, but it was bursting with wildflowers when we were there. On the other hand, there weren't a lot of views from this trail, and what we saw concerned us--lots of smoke from the Big Sur fires made visibility pretty darn poor.
The rest of the day was spent on a long and relatively flat hike down the Sugarloaf Valley, past Sugarloaf Dome itself (photo below), across Sugarloaf Creek, until we finally made camp at Ferguson Creek. Our NatGeo map says that from Comanche Meadows to the Roaring River Ranger Station is seven miles. The NPS signs say it is nine. Having hiked it, we think it is closer to seven. But the map also shows a creek coming out of Ellis Lakes, and that creek was bone dry when we hike by in early August. It's hard to imaging it carrying much water any other time during the season. But Sugarloaf and Ferguson Creeks were both running fine.
On the other hand, P was hoping to fish those creeks at some point on the hike, and they were both small enough and, in the case of Sugarloaf Creek warm enough, that he decided to give the fish a break.
We hadn't seen soul on this hike so far, except for the bear. Late in the evening a ranger and a string of pack horses came through Ferguson Creek with supplies for the next few weeks.
Day Two. Up early and headed off to Roaring River. This part of the trail goes up and over a ridge, and then follows the Roaring River (which was at least growling happily) up to the ranger station. We stopped in and chatted with Ranger Cindy, since we'd been given a kind of introduction by someone on a backpacking forum. Cindy was full of great recommendations of books to read (she has plenty of time to read!) as well as some of the historic sites and relics we might visit on our trip. She also clarified some of the confusing printed regulations that we'd been given when we got our permit. We must have spoken to her for almost an hour--a real pleasure!
From there it was a straightforward hike across the bridge and up Cloud Canyon for about seven or eight miles. P had hiked this forty-six years ago, and had always wanted to show it to M. The trail alternated between a few steeper sections and lots of strolling along the river, but biting flies and mosquitoes finally convinced us to put on some DEET--although not headnets. By mid-afternoon we were up into Big Wet meadow, where we were greeted once again with one of the great views in the Sierra. Above the meadow, we climbed up to the foot of the Whaleback, where we had been told there was a use trail to take us further up the canyon. (The main trail crosses the creek at this point, and then climbs up the side canyon to Colby Lake.)
The use trail was not obvious--we only found a slim trace of a trail, marked by a single rusted tin can, and we decided that we would camp here, and decide about the trail the next day. We set up camp, and P caught quite a few brilliantly colored smaller golden trout (5-8 inches) in the stream. That evening the clouds rolled in, and we heard thunder in the peaks above us. As night fell, the clouds seemed to have dispersed, and we turned in for a solid night's sleep. But at four in the morning the clouds were back, and we scurried around to tidy up our camp a bit more for the rain. And it rained.
Day Three. Dark clouds all around. We ate breakfast and talked through our options. Our initial plan had been to hike up Cloud Canyon and over Coppermine Pass today...but with clouds, thunder and lightning, that struck us as being a poor idea. The last thing we wanted to do was to be up on top of a 12,000 foot ridge during those conditions. We could hunker down for the day, and hope that the weather would improve, but that didn't appeal to us as much as hiking back down to where P could fish the river for larger trout...and so we headed back down to Roaring River. We got sprinkled regularly during the hike down, but by the time we got down to the ranger station the clouds were looking a bit more hopeful. As we chatted with Cindy, she noted that Cloud Canyon often gets the most of the bad weather--thus the name!
We ate lunch at the historic cabin nearby, and then took the afternoon off, hiking down about a mile below the ranger station, and finding a lovely isolated campsite near the river.
(In fact, the only place we ever saw any people on this trip was within about 100 yards of the ranger station.) We took a nap, to make up for our interrupted sleep the night before, and then M went swimming while P caught about fifteen trout between 7-12 inches over the course of ninety minutes of fishing: browns, rainbows, and even a couple of golden/rainbow hybrids. He even kept two of them to supplement our couscous for dinner, and we ate like royalty that night.
Day Four. We had decided to take two days for the 12 miles back out, and didn't get an early start. By this time M wasn't feeling great. She was suffering from some kind of allergy attack that made her congested most of the night, and kept her from sleeping easily. So we were going to take it easy, and make life easy for her.
But the trail back along Sugarloaf Creek went quickly, and we were in Comanche Meadows by lunchtime.
There followed a discussion. Comanche Meadows is more of a way-station than a destination--not a great place to camp for a day. The creek is small, the views are limited, and so we decided to keep hiking, this time following the trail to Rowell Meadow instead of the route we had taken in. Two miles of steep and continuous climbing put us at the top of the pass, and treated us to some fabulous views as well. That's the Sierra Crest from the trail above right.
From there, it was only a little over three miles to the car. And at that point, we decided to wrap it up. We hiked back to the car and took off our packs about 4:30 in the afternoon.
We just got a nice email that we've been nominated and won a GOLDEN BOOTS BLOGGER AWARD for July of 2016.
It's always nice to be recognized for our blog. We'd like to thank the academy...blah, blah, blah.
Most of all, we'd like to thank the readers who read our blog and write us. They're the most fund of all.