10 Days of Bushwacking, Vistas and Joy

 So this year's backpacking trip was again, a bit intense.  As usual, I'd been planning it since March, dreaming about it since October.  I gave my two friends a couple of choices and they settled on the one that involved 10 days and hiking 100 miles.  The other trip involved lots of high altitude cross country and only 50 miles. 

Deniece said she didn't want to hike "only 50 miles."  Dave and I went along with her strong statement - I was in the worst shape of my life due to moving, a cold and other issues that kept me from playing golf every day.  Dave - a marathoner - hadn't exercised in weeks due to his intense schedule training coalitions across the country how to change community level norms to make adolescent substance use and abuse increasingly "abnormal." 

Deniece is only 45.  Dave is 53 and I a newly turned 60.  When we first started hiking together 15 years ago i could easily hike 15 miles a day.  No longer... 

I got a number of permits so that we'd have ultimate flexibility about where to start, etc.  We ended up starting at Tuolomne Meadows.  The trip involved a circumambulation of the Ritter Range , south of Yosemite and west of Mammoth. 

10 days of food is a lot of weight to carry, and a lot for out of shape hikers.  We mailed six days of food to Reds Meadow east of Mammoth, which is only a couple hundred yards off the Pacific Crest Trail, which we walked the first 35 miles.  However, we didn't know that we would be able to pick it up until two days before Dave flew in from Northampton , MA , Deniece from Seattle, and me driving from Santa Rosa

The big unknown was the consequence of 150 mile an hour winds from the north blowing down great swaths of trees in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River drainage last November.  The road from mammoth to Reds Meadow was covered in places with 15' of 4' thick trees.  Our food was supposed to be picked up in Mammoth and driven to Reds Meadow.   This was one of those situations where if you're not comfortable with some part of your life, you can easily worry about whether or not the road will be clear and mailed food accessible at the pack station.  Sleepless nights can result from being unwilling to deal with and work through real life issues. 

I'm pretty comfortable, although a bit neurotic at times, so I didn't worry.  I had to finish the semester, write a bunch of text for our college's accreditation, move all my stuff (much of which now I look at as CRAP) and then head out to California and the hike.   My mom was disappointed I didn't arrive sooner and left after only a couple days.  It's nice to be loved. 

Dave flew into Reno on Friday, June 14, and Deniece the next morning.  Dave and I had dinner outside at a restaurant in downtown Reno that overlooked the river walk.  Downtown Reno is a place worth spending an evening. 

  They have a park on the river with a stage that has live music, a movie at dark, and contests to see who can do the best kayak tricks on the engineered Truckee River .  Don't go gambling.  Find a cheap hotel and hangout with the locals downtown. 

The restaurant at which we dined was a brewpub and I had a number of really good, hoppy IPAs.  Ummmm...  After dinner we wandered around and saw "Campo" which looked a little more upscale we thought Deniece would like for the ritual after-trip dinner. 

We picked up Deniece the next morning and it was grins all around.  While Deniece carries about five pounds of girl stuff in her pack, she more than keeps up on the trail.  I say that because I'm the one hiking the slowest.  Deniece's pack is 10 pounds heavier than Daves and 15 pounds heavier than mine.  She slings it on and off with unconscious abandon.  On this trip I came to really appreciate objectively just how strong and competent she is.

Perhaps the most snapshot moment came when we were getting ready to leave the Sands Regency for the airport after the trip.  Dave and I were in the hall and Deniece was ready.  She grabbed her 45 pound duffel with her pack and sundry items in it, picked it up with the arm that wasn't damaged, and slung it over her shoulder.  I just stood there in mute appreciation.  Dave and I both commented how she'd just reduced a big load to nothing.  She was a bit perplexed, but got it, and basked for a couple seconds in our appreciation.  She can be a bit self-deprecating. 

We chattered our way down US 395 until we got to the Mono Lake Visitor center where I thought we could pick up our permit.  Because we were starting in Yosemite , we couldn't and had to go to the park.  Some day they'll get over their little bureaucratic barriers and really serve citizens. 

We stopped in Carson City at Raleys to pick up water bottles and sandwiches and Dave got a fifth of makers mark.  I'd already loaded up a fifth of makers 46, and Deniece had her bourbon, less than a fifth already in a small Nalgene bottle..  I seldom drink hard liquor and Deniece doesnít much either.  Dave sometimes will have a bit of bourbon.  Dave and I were carrying a LOT of alcohol.

Deniece just really enjoys a little drink after a hard day on the trail.  For me, the reason is that there is nothing like two or three ounces of fine sipping whiskey at the end of a hard day of hiking to lessen the pain and loosen the jocularity.  I want to emphasize that it RELIEVES THE PAIN that comes from being out of shape and hiking 10 miles.

A part of me feels diminished, like I'm less than I could be cause I can't hike 15 miles from day one like I  could when Deniece's age.  Each year the pain becomes more intense and I have to deal with it more intensely.  In the morning I eat three what my sister calls "Happy Pills."  These are generic Aleve - Naprosin.
I damaged my knee three years ago next September when I was in good shape.  I decided rather than walking between shots on the golf course, I would  jog.  On the second hole after this bad decision, I felt a twitch in my right knee that hasn't gone away.  I can walk 100 miles, but I can't climb stairs without compensating.  I played tennis last week, and couldn't run.  I could stilt my way towards the ball and hit it, but I could run, spring, stop, or start.  That's my goal now - to be able to play tennis and regain my 4.5 ranking.  I'm going to a sports med doc and get an x-ray to see what's there.  Most likely my "therapy" will involve stretching... 

I went to the spine and orthopedic clinic here and met with a physician's assistant.  I could tell she was pointing me towards a MRI and if there was ANY indication of damage to my meniscus, surgery.  She laid out the options so no rational American would do anything but get a MRI.  I did.  I'm waiting to hear the results.  I got a CD with the results on it, and  the program to look at the knee in all its slices.  I can't tell anything.  What I do know is that I can stretch and what pain there is goes away for a bit.  I went to a real sports medicine doc at the University of Washington almost 20 years ago and he gave me two stretching exercises that "cured" my ailment so I could play tennis without swelling and pain.  I'm withholding this knowledge from the orthopedist to see what the MRI says and what he recommends.  The PA is a communicative vehicle at this point. 

A part of me - stemming from my sense of being-in-the-world - believes I can regain use of my knees in tennis and regain a part of the mobililty that tennis requires.  I've got a court 100 yards down the street, an expensive ball machine, and will.  We';ll see... 

We arrived at the Permit station just east of the tuolomne meadows store.  The drive up from 395 was totally energizing.  Dave had never been in Yosemite and he was just awestruck.  I was the driver and very aware of the 500' drops down to the river just beyond the roads edge.  Deniece and I had gotten a permit from the same place last year so there was no anxiety about how to get where we needed to go.  

I was the permittee (my adolescent is rankled of course - permit!  We don't need no stinkin' permit!!!) so I sauntered up to the ranger building.  There was a threesome in there getting an overnight permit and the rangers were trying to lower the anxiety of a young woman who'd never backpacked before about bears.  her face was classic - her father and boyfriend/husband smirked while she asked questions.  

The young ranger who was going to give me permit was obviously a climber - lean of body, strong chin, but enough humility to be respectful.  He had a hard time grokking where we were going on our 100 mile circumambulation until he "got it."  I was suddenly in a different class.  I knew what I was doing.  

 He went through his ranger rap -the one he's legally required to do - and evinced, no, expressed, an honest excitement about our trip.  No one coming through the ranger hut had our itinerary, and about 15 miles of the trail in the park was as of yet unexplored by a ranger hiker.  He gave me three little stick-on badges along with our stinkin permit - asking we give a trip report after we were done.  

 Dave and Deniece had been sorting through their stuff, organizing their packs, changing into hiking clothes, jabbering back and forth about stuff when I got back to the car.  I felt a little behind and hurried my process of getting ready to hike.  This was a bad idea it turns out, as I carried a bunch of gear I didn't want to or need.

Dave and I had gone back and forth about stoves on the phone once.  I argued that Deniece's 4 oz stove that screwed onto canisters was enough.  Dave was probably expressing "I hurt" by arguing we should take two stoves.  There were three of us, and all we were doing was heating water twice a day.  Once in the morning for coffee and Dave's oatmeal and in the evening for three dinners.  I felt we needed only one stove, and not Dave's, which is over a pound in weight.  In the end Deniece carried hers along with the pot, Dave his, and I accidentally threw mine into my pack.  

Dave cornered a German climber woman just off the trail to take picture of us - the before shot. 

  I'd asked a guy who'd just gotten off the trail where the John Muir Trail (JMT) was, and he said it was 20' behind the parking lot.  He said to go east, cross two bridges, and turn left at the appropriate sign.  It felt wrong for me for the first half hour of the hike.  Go east?  We wanted to go west and south!!!  Needless to say that was the way I felt my anxiety about the great unknown - a 10 day, 100 mile trip over fairly steep trails.  

We only hiked six miles, on very flat trail.  However, the Lyell ford of the Tuolomne River is gorgeous.  It flows through forest over rocks and boulders, through grassy meadow where if you sneak up with fly pole in hand, crawling on hands and knees, you can drop a fly in the water and get a strike almost every time.  The fish are small here, but plentiful.  I did this in 1971. 

We found a campsite above where a stream drops down from the high country into the river, and set up camp.  Our familiarity with each other was pretty obvious.  Deniece  prefers to camp near water.  Dave has to have a view, although on this trip, because of it's difficulty, he relaxed his standards, and I just need a relatively flat spot to pitch my tent.  We all have different skill sets and strengths and speed is not my strong suit.  Deniece always insists that I'm not the weak member, that if stuff breaks, I can fix it whereas she canít, that I read the maps the best, and have a good sense of direction.  However, I feel like I'm the weak member of the threesome, big, obese, breathing hard, using my poles with every step, but able to put one foot in front of the other.   



On a trip 10 years ago or so, I heard Dave mention to Deniece how impressive it was that I was able to do these trips, to (then) hike 15 miles a day, to suffer sure, but do and enjoy the trip.  Ever since then I've felt comfortable hiking with Deniece and Dave.  This year really challenged my comfort zone though... I felt the impending reality of my own mortality - my dying.  My physical capabilities lessen every year.  These hiking trips mark the gradual decline of my physical self.  It's not age.  I take responsibility - it's lassitude and a slacker mentality.  As I do my part in writing this missive, I look forward to the summer/fall of 2014.  I'm going to ask for a semester off and do a couple preparation hikes of a week or so, and then the big one - 750 miles from Mt. Lassen to Mt. Whitney .     

We pitched our tents, ate dinner far enough from them so Dave felt comfortable, drank some bourbon and played verbally.  We were in paradise...  Still, we were in bed by 8PM, Deniece was more than happy to go to bed too and I was asleep soon after lying down. 

 DAY 2 - Camp before Marie Lakes trail.

 We got up at 6:17 and hit the trail just after 8AM.  This isn't too bad considering each of us has a routine we go through. 

  It was pretty obvious that Deniece had the longest routine.  This is part of hiking as a group.  We all pace ourselves so that we put on our packs at the same moment.  As it became apparent that even if I left an hour before Dave and Deniece, they'd catch up with me, I left early a couple times, especially if there was a climb involved.   

I don't like hiking in front.  I'm much more comfortable bringing up the rear.  Pretty much the only time I "worry," if it can be called that, is if I have my friends hiking behind me.  I am totally confident in my own abilities to survive, and realistically feel that way about Dave and Deniece.  Nonetheless, I prefer to bring up the rear and focus on hiking...  


The trail took us up on a gentle incline, with some descents that I remember from 1978 when I hiked cross country in the Ritter/Minarets area, was annoying.  Finally we started gaining some elevation and crossed the Lyell Fork at the Lyell Base Camp.  There used to be a wire cable on which to hang your food.  No longer.  Bear cannisters for all... 


The trail got steeper and the views back down the river were getting more and more awe inspiring.  The Kuna Crest, before such a massif, was now more a ridge.  The trail crossed many streamlets and the skeeters were miserably thick. 

 We started the day at 8900' and crested at Donohue Pass at 11,100'.  That's a 2200' climb for those who are math challenged.  That's a lot of elevation gain for the second day of a long trip...  Luckily we had only two days of food and our packs were light. The trail crested a ridge and dropped us down into a lake basin at the foot of Mts. Lyell and Maclure. 


Dave and Deniece continued on while I stopped and ate lunch.  I was beat and in the big picture.  Only being in the high country can reduce me to utter weariness while at the same time energizing the higher centers.   

The hike up from the little lakes basin to the pass was 700' or so, and above timberline.  The higher we got the more expansive the view.  A half day on day one and by 2PM on the second day we're in hiker's heaven. 




Dave and Deniece had been at the top of the pass with about 20 other people for a half hour or so.  They didn't express the need to leave right away so we sat back and grokked our reality.  Finally, despite the beauty, it was time to descend to the second night's camp.  The trip plan was to spend the night on the trail heading  up to Marie Lakes , but none of us had a lot of energy.  There's always a bit of tension for me at this time of day.  The fat guy feels like I want to stop, but I'm imposing on my hiking partners by wanting to.  I know this is silly, and it's a very small chord, but it's there. 

 Dave did his bird dog bit and looked for the perfect spot.  Deniece and I, totally aware and accepting of Dave's wanting to have a view from his tent just trudged down the trail, looking for likely places.  Aften 10 minutes of making sure we knew where Dave was we congregated in an area that a bunch of likely small flat spots.  Like dogs circling before lying down, we stopped and walked and talked and looked and stopped and talked.  What we ended up with was just beautiful.  Our view looked south and east over a creek made up of small lakes with wind/snow twisted pines in little clumps.  Shade was scarce.  We needed shade...  A theme...




 We were 15.8 miles from the car, having hiked 9.5 miles or so that day.  We were about a quarter mile from the Marie Lakes trail junction - not bad planning!


 The routine is that I lie around and get out the bourbon and recover.  Deniece goes about setting up her tent and getting secure before relaxing.  Dave will often continue to roam, looking for the "perfect" spot, but finally puts up his tent before relaxing.  I put up my tent just before dinner, usually groaning to myself.  Dave finds a dinner spot at least 50' from camp - psychological security for the most part - a spot with a view.  We heat water and sip bourbon and socialize.  It's the fun part of the day.  We watched the alpenglow deepen on the peaks to the south and east, and reveled in being in the high country again, with friends, tired, hurting, but oh, oh so satisfied. 

DAY 3 - Down to the San Joaquin River

The day began with Deniece getting up and starting her routine, which takes longer than Dave or mine.  I was camped 50' or so away so I didn't hear the rustling I normally do.  The view was spectacular so none of us hurried.   

We each moved through our routines at our own pace, monitoring each others' progress, trying to find the balance where we all lift our packs to our backs at the same moment.  It's pretty cool that it's not hard to do.  It's part of being "sympatico" I think.  We're in tune with each other enough to be respectful, but self-centered enough have vagrant feelings leading to mildly negative thoughts. 

The hike began by continuing down the long gentle swale to the Marie Lakes Trail Junction.  From there we switchbacked in the krumholz up to Island Pass , more a flat spot on the top of a ridge than a pass.  The trail from the Marie Lakes TJ drops from 10,100' to 9600' and then up to 10,250' at Island Pass.   It's a gentle drop to 1000 Island Lake at 9900' or so.  It's possible to leave Island Pass and head for the west end of thousand island lake, then over the ridge south and west of the lake to the west end of Garnet Lake.  From here we could head over the ridge to the Nydiver Lakes and then west and then southeast down to Ediza Lake .  From Ediza lake there is a use trail up to Iceberg lake at 9800', and then cross country again up to Cecile Lake at 10,150, and then down to Mineret Lake at 9850' and the Minaret Trail back to the JMT near where it meets the PCT.  Another trip... 

The view south was spectacular.  Mts. Ritter and BAnner and the Minarets marched south.  Mammoth Mtn. ski area was visible.  The defile down which the North Fork of the San Joaquin River flowed was a trench and we guessed where the PCT went above it. 

The trail traversed along a ridge, gently descending, the views of Ritter getting better and better, until the trail dropped to the outlet of 1000 Island Lake .  We were now 19.8 miles from the car, having hiked about 5 miles.  We all took lots of pictures.  Here they are. 



We'd been meeting lots of PCT thru-hikers.  One of them was a guy who was deaf.  He wore hearing aids but let them hang while he was walking.  I guessed they got sweaty.  At any rate, when I stopped to talk with him and congratulate him on being 850 miles into his trip, he read my lips and I realized there was a lot of communication in tone of voice and pitch and timber as well as the actual words I was saying.  He was gentle and I felt I'd touched a higher soul.  Our communication wasn't what I was used to. 

From 1000 Island Lake I'd planned to continue on the John Muir Trail.  However, it was pretty obvious that the PCT was a bit shorter, and easier hike.  It also had better views.  That's the part that sealed the deal for Dave.  Deniece was just happy to be hiking and didn't engage in the intense discussions Dave and Jeff had had the night before about which trail to take.  Whatever!!!  It's all beautiful. As it was, it turns out the JMT hadn't had the blow downs cleared yet, while the PCT had.  We didn't know this.  Luck of the draw...   

The PCT climbed up a west facing ridge with few trees or shade, and then traversed, up and down, to a junction above Agnew Meadows.  The view along this five mile stretch of trail was to die for.  The chasm of the river's defile got deeper and the moutnains on its other side steeper.  Mt. Ritter faded as we hiked south, and the Minarets became our focus.  Shadow Lake and its outlet stream created the perfect photograph. 

We started to descend into Agnew Meadows and entered the cool shade of the forest - old growth, and not decimated by the 150 mph winds of Nov. 30, 2011.  During a break a thru-hiker came through and Dave essentially gave away my stove.  When I'd found out we were carrying three stoves, I left mine at our first night's campsite in plain sight.  Dave picked it up with out telling me and I took it back the morning of the second day.  Now, on this, the third day, I could get rid of it.  I gave it away after totally emptying my pack, not knowing where it was because I wasn't using it. 

We walked down into the Agnews Meadow pack station area and it was dead.  No one but a couple guys putting furniture in little huts were there.  The campground was closed.  The big winds had really done their damage here.  We tried to imagine what it might have been like to have been there when the winds hit.  Way bigger than imaginable... 

We really didn't know what direction to go and started hiking south on the road towards Devils Postpile.  After a half mile we realized we were off course, walked back to where the trail dropped into civilization and realized the trail we'd seen had a sign saying it was the PCT.  We met one of those thru-hikers you wonder about.  He was young, but his clothes were falling off his body, torn and his gear was garage sale quality.  Most thru-hikers had a thousand dollars invested in gear, or more.  When we asked if there was a place to camp - we were really beat again - he said not til we got to the river. 

We hiked for another mile and a half.  Dave stopped when we hit the river and we camped in a space that wasn't more than flat.  It had brush and no view, but it had the sound of the river - the best sound for sleeping deeply there is.  We'd hiked about 30 miles by this point.  Two and a half days.  Not bad.  We were lucky Dave didn't do his normal bird dog routine looking for a better camp.  There wasn't one for a bunch of miles. 


DAY 4 - To Reds Meadow and the first Bushwacking

It was hard getting up because we were in a deep river valley and sun wasn't going to hit us til after 8AM.  We began to encounter more and more blowdowns, but the forest service had cut them down so the trail was pretty clear.  The trail was pretty uninteresting, compared to the previous days.  It was mostly in forest or blowdowns or brush.  Being at 8000' is a different experience than being above 10,000'.

We reached a bunch of junctions, one of which we should have taken to get us to Reds Meadow and our resupply.  Instead we continued on the PCT and hiked a mile or so south and down from Reds Meadow and hiked back up and north to it. 

 We hiked the couple hundred vertical feet up to Reds Meadow in the 75 degree heat.  There were only workers, and piles and piles of trees stacked away from roads and buildings.  We set up at a picnic table in the shade and wandered over to the store which had a closed sign on it.  A couple high school kids were stocking shelves and luckily our packages were there and we retrieved them and unpacked them at the picnic tables. 

 Because we were carrying bear cannisters we had to muscle six days of food into them.  We ate snacks and drank water from a spigot.  A couple groups of PCT hikers swooped down while we were there, and we were a bit bemused by the rather raw complaining one of them was doing, and his friends putting up with him.  We ate and rested and threw on our packs, not carrying an extra 15 pounds of food. 

We left Reds Meadow, hiking down the road, til we came to the trail to Devils Postpile, the trail that would have saved us three miles and 500' of climbing. 


 We headed up the trail that would take us to the crossing of Kings Creek and our camp for day 4.  The blowdowns got more and more prevalent, and there were eight or nine on the trail that forced us to walk around them, and a couple that we couldn't walk around we had to climb over. 


The whole blowdown thing was getting old.  Deniece and I took a break while Dave was hiking ahead.  He came back with a young couple who had turned back five or six miles ahead.  They were lightly equipped and had expected to do in three and a half days what we were doing in six.  They decided that the plethora of blowdowns wouldn't let them successfully hike that many miles in a day. 

They left and the three of us debated what to do, finally deciding to hike until it became obvious we could do the trail, or not. 

We continued hiking on the trail, encountering blowdowns we had to navigate until we came to Kings Creek.  The crossing was in a flat area with 40' high pine trees and sandy soil.  This was an incredibly comfortable site.  There was as fire pit and seats and our first use of an established campsite.  We were at mile 40 at Kings Creek.   There had been lots of blowdowns, but nothing we couldn't handle.     



DAY 5  - From Kings Creek to Cargyle Creek.

 The trail heads from 8000' at Kings Creek to 8800' at the Fern Lake Trail Junction.  The trail climbs another 400' - invisible on the map - to the top of Granite Stairway.  This is an amorphous spot.  Our projections about where the trail went were off as usual.  We hiked down and traversed a south facing ridge towards Corral Meadow.  Lots of ups and downs and lots and lots AND LOTS OF BLOWDOWNS. 


Our miles per hour was less than one.  This was seriously problematic hiking.  Because the elevation was so low, there was brush.  When another pile of matchstick trees covered the trail, we'd have to go around.  Each step was wrought with danger.  We couldn't see the actual ground.  We were stepping through brush and pine fronds - every step a potential ankle spraining. 

The traversing trail started to do so on increasingly steeper slopes.  The blowdowns presented more navigation challenges.  To climb over or go up and around through the manzanita and old tree falls and ??? 

We hit a couple meadowy areas - Cargyle Meadow, and we were ready to camp.  No water, and no decent unbrushy place to camp.  We hiked on until we hit Cargyle Creek, on a steep ridge, with three barely level spots.  I set my tent up 30' below Dave and Deniece.  We didn't so much worry about eating dinner away from camp.  The day had been hard. 

 Backpacking on a trail is usually a process of getting into a rhythm.  Whether going up or down, or infrequently, traversing on a level trail, it's one foot in front of the other.  Our minds go into neutral and thoughts drift.  Sometimes the trail is the focus if it's rough for steep.  The world narrows.  Sometimes we cross a meadow and a vista opens up and you just check the trail as the gaze casts about in the vista. 

 This day was filled with stopping and starting and backtracking and crawling over logs and under them a couple times.  We were at the point of no return.  Aften leaving Kings Creek we were as far from the car going forward or back.  We were committed and we had no more conversations about what to do. 

Day 6 - Cargyle Creek to Hemlock Crossing

The day began with more traversing along steep ridges that gave over to meadowy areas with lots of mosquitos.  We hiked to Earthquake Meadow, a gentle uphill to 8135'.  We were at 49 miles at the beginning of our sixth day on the trail.  Our goal was Hemlock Crossing, an ominous name. 

It was six miles from Earthquake Meadow to Hemlock Crossing, two miles after our camp on Cargyle Creek.  The trail was in forest and there were brief sections of trail without blowdowns, but for the most part, we crawled over one tree after another, or went around a pile of them.  We no longer slowed down when we came to a tree or pile of trees.  Dave would cast about and find a way through or around or over or under and Deniece and I would follow.  Again, it was tough hiking. 

 It was a gentle, traversing uphill from 7940' to 8135' over the two miles to Earthquake Meadow.  It would have been really pleasant forest hiking but for the navigation issues. 

 After EArthquake Meadow, really no more than a trail junction next to a grassy area in the forest, the trail headed north along a steep side hill.  It became a bit more difficult to cross blowdowns, but luckily, there were fewer of them.  In about a mile and a half we got to Naked Lady Meadow. 

 As we started to cross it, the trail disappeared.  The meadow was a quarter mile across and we just trudged through the knee high grass, searching for remnants of the tread.  It was pretty obvious that not only was the trail not maintained, it was seldom hiked.  Even if 20 or 30 hikers a year hike a trail, there is some evidence of their passing - bent grass, 20' bare spots of trail, and so forth. 

 The meadow was on the steep side hill and when we reached the forest on its far edge, we had to cast up and down the hill looking for trace of the trail.  We went down and decided we'd gone the wrong way.  We turned around and headed up the ridge at the forests edge, looking for blazes in the trees, for trail tread - for anything that would indicate we were back on the trail. 

 We hiked up the ridge for a hundred yards or so, chomping down on increasing anxiety.  Dave let out a shout - he'd seen a pink ribbon tied to a pine frond.  We stopped and looked around, and there was another one 100 yards away - once again on a flat line heading north.  For the next half mile or so we followed the pink ribbons in the trees until the trail once again appeared in spits and starts and we were back on track. 

 The view down into the Canyon of the North Fork of the San Joaquin came and went, and when it appeared, it was enthralling.  We could see across the canyon to where we'd be hiking the next day, and 700' down to the river itself, roaring over granite and twisting its way down the defile. 

 The trail opened up and dropped steeply to Iron Creek.  Every step was an act of braking, and is hard on knees.  We arrived at the creek and the trail stopped at the creek and appeared to start up the ridge on its other side.  However, there was a 15' tall pile of 3 to 5' thick trees covering the bank.  Downstream it got too steep to hike down and across, and it didn't look any better upstream.  The creek was falling right at the angle of repose, and we stopped and dispiritedly ate lunch and stared at the barrier in front of us.  We were so burned out and sapped of enthusiasm none of us even got our cameras during the half hour we ate.  We have no record of what faced us after lunch. 

 The creek was wide enough we needed to wade it.  I did so in bare feet, as I'd done for all the creek crossings we'd made.  Dave and Deniece put on their crocs and made it across.  We sat uncomfortably on rocks and broken trees, put on our shoes, and started to climb.  It was a dangerous 30' crossing.  One misstep would have resulted in a fall down into the humongous matchsticks.  We each found our way across without mishap and breathed sighs of relief. 

The trail now opened up and went through chest high manzanita type brush. 


The trail hadn't been maintained so the brush reached over the trail, clawing and pulling at skin and clothing.  The dozens and dozens of scratches - shallow and deep - that came from crossing or going around blowdowns were now given the icing of manzanita scratches.  It was hot and sticky and slow going.  EAch step was taken in faith that our ankles wouldn't turn because half the time we couldn't see the trail tread.  And the tread was not tread at all - it was shale rock, granite pieces heaved by the winter snows, the freezing and melting.  There was no tread at all. 

 For some reason I'd stopped using my poles and had tied them on my pack.  I felt something slap my leg and hoped it wasn't a rattlesnake, and saw that one of the poles had come loose.  I stopped to re-attach it and found one of the poles had fallen off the pack. 

 I depend on my poles.  They relieve my knees, push wet brush out of the way, and add a bit of stability going through the blowdowns.  I knew I could stop and go back and look for it, but might take 20 minutes or more to go back and 20 minutes again, and I was tired and just accepted I'd lost the pole. 

 When I caught up to DAve and Deniece and told them what I'd done Dave was gracious and offered me the pole he carried but wasn't using.  Nice guy. 



The trail dipped down and up, but mostly down, across the hot, brushy and steep slope to Dike Creek.  This was a slot in the granite four feet wide and the creek was a series of waterfalls that was supremely beautiful.  Dave and Deniece got pictures of this. 


 Finally, the trail got down to the river and its white and green frothing turbulence and the trail disappeared again.  We knew it headed upriver so walked, no, trudged tiredly up.  I got a bit headstrong and went straight up a draw, and then saw the trail 50' to the side and had to go back down and then up again. 

 Dave and Deniece went ahead and finally, we got to Hemlock Crossing, a series of pools and waterfalls and a 50' metal bridge spanning the river. 



God I was tired.  Deniece and I stood around while Dave searched for the best campsite.  Because there were only a couple choices, we got settled pretty quickly. 


 It was also relatively early in the afternoon.  The plan had been to hike another thousand vertical feet into Stevenson Canyon , billed as a smaller version of Yosemite VAlley .  But we were so tired from blowdowns, lack of trail, brush, and unmaintained tread, we were grateful to stop early and wash clothes and wash and lounge around. 

 We'd washed clothes at Kings Creek and had a clothesline up, and Dave put up another one at Hemlock Crossing.  We took turns going down to the river and wading out into the swirling pool and washing and cooling down. 


What a bloody relief.  Then it was back to camp, set up our tents, and sit back with a tot of good bourbon and relive the day... 


 Day 7 - Hemlock Crossing to East Fork of Granite Creek

  The day began with a steady - no, steep - climb and a slow traversing descent along the rim of the west side of the North Fork Canyon . 



 Again we ran into clear stretchs of trail only to be blown away by blowdowns.  Just before we got to Cora Creek , just before the trail junction at 8180' and we ran into the mother of all blowdowns.  We'd had to leave the trail and hike a couple hundred yards through brush and fallen treetops, boulders and other crap for days.  We were used to it. 


 However, this time the detour kept getting further away from where we thought the trail went.  After 20 minutes of walking around the mother blowdown, we realized we had no idea where the trail was.  We found the creek and followed it for a couple hundred yards south and west - opposite of where we wanted to go.  The trail must have turned 90 degrees in the middle of the blowdown and instead of walking 90 degrees left and 90 degrees right, we had to do a full 270 and then a little curl. 

 By this time we were used to being slightly lost and none of us felt any anxiety we were LOST lost.  After a half hour of halting progress Dave ran across the trail and we high fived each other and felt like we had reached a new level in backpacking prowess.  And we had...

 We continued south until we came to the crossing I'd reached from the south the year before - when it was a high snow year and the creek was raging.  Now it was a walk across and Dave kidded me about my choice not to continue.  I snorted and we turned, and headed north.  Our sojurn south and west was over.  WE were now on an almost a due north course that would take us back into Yosemite and Tuolomne Meadows. 

 We passed marshy Cora Lakes and continued the gentle ascent rhough forest below 8800'[ towards tomorrow's goal - Isberg Pass.   The hour we hiked on this part of the trail was blessedly free of blowdowns.  WE could actually walk/trudge without interruption, and our progress showed it.  We were able to average almost a mile and a half an hour!!! LOL


 It was close to 6PM when we stopped.  The campsite was 3 on a 1 to 10 scale.  But it was the best we'd seen in a long time.  WE were 30' from Granite Creek and I was thankful again for the creek's white noise to help me sink into sleep while my twitching, stressed out body wanted to keep me awake. 

 Day 8 - Granite Creek to Foerster Creek

 The next day we awoke engergized as we hadn't been since we'd left Marie Lake - Day 3 hiking...  Sure we'd hiked through beautiful country, but much of it was below 9000' and in forest, and forest that was more like a puzzle than the majestic presence of grandfather trees. 

 I'd left camp a bit early each day because I knew that Dave and Deniece would catch up with me within the first hour.  That didn't mean that I didn't wonder if they were ok.  I really dislike "leading" by hiking first.  I'd much rather carry up the rear as my self-image involves being-competent and I'd rather come across something that happens than wait for a long time when someone doesn't appear.  Last summer in the Winds I unknowningly walked past Dave and we spent a couple hours apart.  I knew it would be ok, and was bushed.  I was lying flat on my back by the side of the trail, gazing up at the sky when he walked up.  I hadn't even heard him.  It took 10 minutes to debrief and get going to camp a half hour later. 

 I headed out and the trail continued to rise gently, and then, for the first time since the 1000 Island Lake area, granite appeared.  Dave and Deniece caught up and passed me, and I sauntered (in the moment I would say suffered)_ along, gazing to the left at the the granite benches rising up to Post Peak . 

 The trees became increasingly smaller as we got higher.  When we got to Sadler Lake , the trees were 10' to 12' high, with the forest just down slope 30' high or so. 




 The trees around Medicine Bow Peak outside of Laramie were called "krumholz."  Krumholz are small trees surviving at timberline, that have branches that grow only downwind from the prevailing wind.  No upwind branches - weird when you see them the first time.  There were krumholz around Sadler Lake . 


 It was 1250' and 7.1 miles from the junction where I'd gazed across the creek to 9380' at Sadler Lake .  We were once again in the HIGH COUNTRY. 

 Our next goal was Isberg Lakes , about a mile and a half from Sadler Lake , and 10,000', right at the edge of true timberline.  The walk opened up and the view south and east was incredible.  With each step the view got more awe inspiring and it was really easy to stop, breathe, rest, and look.  I didn't make much time walking up to the 10,510' pass.  That last 500' took a long time.  I'm fat and out of shape and my wind isn't as good as could be.  However, I thrived, step by step, hurting, but walking. 

 When I arrived at the pass Deniece and Dave were sitting with full underwear/outergear on.  The wind was whistling, and it was chilly.  They are so gracious when we get to the top of passes.  They wait, and then when I get there, they wait for me to process the beauty and be ready to hike on. 



A man appeared - a 60 year old space cadet who said he'd started out at Clover Meadow and was going to hike to the top of one of the peaks to our west - but do it that day and be down tomorrow.  He was living in a different world.  We'd met a wryly cynical guy earlier in the day who'd mentioned this guy, and we were a bit bemused.  The wry guy said the guy wasn't dangerous - he wasn't the kind to carry a gun.  That was pretty obvious.  Some people are sharp points.  Other's are q-tips.  This guy was definitely of the cotton batting type...

 The view north from the pass was pretty spectacular. 


 We were looking down the canyon of the Merced River .  The Clark Range was due west of north,  and Half Dome and the valley just out of sight to the north, northwest.  We could see up into the North Boundary Country of Yosemite above and behind Tenaya Lake .  If you have personal issues, this is a view that will put them in perspective. 



The trail headed due west towards Post Peak Pass , and we were a bit distrustful.  We followed the trail and felt better when it met the post peak pass trail when it was supposed to.  We switchbacked down to the grassy basin and took a break before a stand of Krumholz.  Dave had reached some sort of epiphany of peace and was lying back against his pack, gazing down the drainage.  Deniece had left to pee.  I lay down and unpacked my pack to make it tigher.  We watched Deniece hike down the broad valley to the 15' trees in the distance.  Normally we just turn our backs but for some reason this time she felt the need for privacy... 

 DAve saw a piece of cloth in my pack and asked what it was. 


 I'd had problems with chaffing and rash over the previous couple days.  The liner of the shorts I was wearing need rinsing out every evening, and I hadn't done that.  As a consequence, I was fighting a spreading, painful rash that had me walk like an arthritic cowboy, legs bowed, thighs apart.  The night before I'd cut out the lining in my shorts so I swung free and my inner thighs were aerated.  It worked.  Dave took a picture... 

 The trail descended gently in a well-worn tread.  We paralleled the crest for a couple miles and we could see both sides, east as well as west.  That was neat.  After awhile the trail re-entered the forest and its 100' ups and downs, so wearying at the end of the day.  While the trail was pretty constant in terms of elevation, the mountain/ridge had bumps and valleys.  The trail had to avoid granite outcrops and steep forested sections, so it was never, ever LEVEL... 


 We'd decided earlier to spend the night in the vicinity of Foerester Creek, and as we approached I started getting worried.  The sidehill was steep, and while there were benches, there really weren't places for three of us to set up our tents. 

 We paralleled the creek for a while, with bumps and bruises, swales and defiles, until we got to the place where the creek dropped straight down to the Merced River .  Dave dropped off the trail a 100 yards or so, and found some flat spots.  Good enough.  If we moved 50' to the north, we had a view unparallel.  We ate dinner here and drank some bourbon here, and joked here, and laughed a lot...


 We laughed a lot on this trip.  All three of us were beat at the end of the day.  When I say, "beat" I mean really worn out and spaced and physically hurting and at the end of our proverbial ropes.  I checked in later and made sure this wasn't just my perception.  Both Dave and Deniece affirmed just how taxing the 100 miles was.  As part of this affirmation, is the release that comes from old and good friends sharing spending an hour or a little more sipping two or three ounces of Makers 46 bourbon and dinner.  I remember my friends and our laughter as theme more than the pain in my body hiking generated.  I remember the pain though...

 Day 9 - Forerster Creek to Florence Creek

 I headed out the next morning while Dave was polite and waited for Deniece to complete her routine.  The trail headed up to a bench meadow, and then - then...,,, there was a drop-off.. 

 The trail was ok - it was just STEEP!!!  I have a memory of how steep it was.  We dropped 800' down a canyon wall of switchbacks in trees in less than half a mile.  Every step was treacherous.  Dave and Deniece had passed me by this point, and I realized how alone I was.  To be sure if I slipped and fell and hurt myself, they would wait at the bottom, and eventually come back up, resentfully, to see if I was ok. 

 Every step had to be couched with consciousness of my body in space.  I remember falling when hiking alone in 2010 on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Canyon .  If I'd've hurt myself, no one would have come along, and ???

 I made it to the bottom and the Hutchings Fork of Lyell Creek, and Dave and Deniece both had their packs on, ready to go.  The mosquitos were horrendous.   


 I haven't mentioned these buggers much because they were pretty everpresent.  DAve had a mosquito headnet he wore a few times, but more often than not we'd stop for a break where there weren't a lot of them, and camp in areas we hoped wouldn't have a lot of them.  Every once in a while though, there were a lot of them.  This was one of those places.  I shooed them up the trail and we stopped for a break a couple hundred feet above the stream on a piece of slickrock granite, if there is such a thing.  The view back to the steep drop didn't do the reality justice. 


 The trail now traversed along the very edge of the Merced River Canyon .  We walked on various benchs, spending 100 yards on one in forest at 10,000' then walk along a wider bench away from the canyon's edge, and back again. 





 This was completely awe inspiring.  The trail took us to the edge a couple times, and we'd peer over chest high granite down and across.  One view after another took our breaths away.  It was at times like this we didn't say much.  We'd look at each other and shake our heads. 


 Finally, the trail dropped down another steep ridge to Lewis Creek .  We took a break and saw our fourth set of hikers since we'd left Devils Postpile five and a half days before.  ONce again we were in forest, and only a mile or so from our destination at Florence Creek, where it dropped down from Florence Lake . 

 We trudged up the trail and I was suddenly 19 again.  I'd hiked this trail before, 41 years ago - the summer of 1971 when Rob worked at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and met his girlfriend of a couple years Kristi.  I remembered the creek crashing and flowing and pooling over granite slabs for 100s of yards.  I think I remember because I took pictures that I still have - black and white film.  The trail was steep and I trudged, just wanting to be done again.  My pack's belt had an extra inch or two I'd draw through.  I could feel I'd lost 10 pounds or so over the previous nine days.  I still felt totally beat. 

 We stopped at Florence Creek and Dave coursed around, looking for the perfect campsite.  He didn't look long because Deniece and I were sitting on it.  We admired Florence Creek coming over the canyon's edge and cascading down the granite.  Once again I'd get to sleep with white noise as my lulling friend. 




We ate dinner out on a rock overlooking Lewis Creek and we joked and moaned and groaned and ate and reveled in the feeling that this was our last night.  I think we were all ready to leave the trail, while at the same time feeling a sense of appreciation of the gift we'd been experiencing. 


 Day 10 - Florence Creek to Tuolomne Meadows and the Car

 The next morning we packed up and I headed out first, trying to get a couple miles underneath my belt before Deniece and DAve passed me.  I got to the threads of creeks that had to be crossed marvelling at the view up the cirque to the backside of Cathedral Range and over to Mt Lyell and Maclure that we'd hiked on the other side of 9 days and 80 miles ago. 

 Deniece stepped across one of the little creeks into some mud and buried her foot/lower leg.  When they caught up to me the story was pretty funny.  Dave was bemused and Deniece self-deprecating. 


 The trail started up again, an 800' climb or so to the top of Vogelsang Pass.   AGain, the country opened up as we got higher. 



 The views up the canyon to the cirque lake and peaks behind that was to the east, and to Lyell and MacClure to the east-south-east were spectacular.  This was a fitting end and peak to a totally challenge and energizing and satisfying trip.   

The trail crests at the pass just below Vogelsang Peak , almost a hands reach away.  We were a lot higher, and walked a lot more vertical feet, than we'd thought we would.  Fine - it was all downhill from here to the car.   

 We hung out at the top for a bit, but really felt the urge just to finish.  From now on we would descend through a cirque by Vogelsang Lake to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, down Rafferty Creek to the John Muir Trail back to the car.  The trip now was essentially a push to get to the car, clean clothes, Reno , a shower and a good dinner with IPAs. 



We dropped by the beautiful lake in its cirque and crossed Fletcher Creek by rock hopping.  We lost the trail and strode through the tent cabins, feeling a bit voyeuristic, but not caring.  We found a trail junction at the compounds edge and headed down 400' to Tuolomne Pass.    It was 8.4 miles from Vogelsang Lake to the car - 7.,1 miles from the sierra club camp to the car.  It was a horse highway, wide, dusty, stinky with new and old poop and every once in a while, a choking fog of bitter, acrid urine smell.  I was done.  I was done.  I was done..