There are many times when plans don't work out.  I'd planned to hike 
for four or five weeks in the central and southern Sierra this summer.  
The April 1st snow water content averages were a bit below normal, which 
presaged an early melt and mostly snowfree trail by the middle of June.

Hah!  Wishful thinking it turns out.  Over the course of April and May, 
the snowpack actually increased in the Sierra.  This is unusual, but not 
unheard of.  As my date to head west grew closer, I twitched all sorts 
of scenarios, both about my month hiking, and the trip I was doing with 
three of my friends.

That trip was planned for the second week in July and was mostly above 
timberline and cross-country.  If it were my friend Dave and I, I 
wouldn't have thought twice about it.  I would get some yak-traks, bring 
my ice axe, and gird my proverbial loins for an adventure.  But I'd 
invited an ex-student who'd only spent a couple weeks total 
backpacking.  Her husband was nervous anyway.  Deniece is 
good on trails, outhiking me any day. But she's not a big fan of dicey cross country type stuff.  
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We ended up doing a beautiful loop from Leavitt Meadows on Hwy 108, 15 
miles east of Sonora Pass.  The trip took us into Yosemite - over 
Dorothy Pass, snow covered, and then in four miles out of the park over 
Bond Pass, which had only snowbanks.  We hiked down a very rough trail 
to Huckleberry Lake and then up to Letora and Bucks Lakes, and then back 
east past Emigrant Lake, Middle Emigrant Lake, Emigrant Meadow Lake, and 
then back into the Hoover Wilderness and the car.  55 miles of stunning 
granite and views...  We also make 18 major creek/river crossings - big 
snowmelt.  Normal stepping stone creeks were raging 30' wide torrents 
from knee to crotch.  By the seventh day we were pretty blase about 
dangerous creek crossings.
 
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On my way West I stopped by my Laramie house to check out a leak in the 
drain side of the plumbing.  A 2" cast iron pipe had developed a leak.  
I asked the renter to go through the little door in the floor in the 
bathroom and duct tape the leak.  I got there and with my big belly 
dropped down to check out the leak, not really wanting to do any 
plumbing.  The duct tape would last for years.  It was a vertical pipe 
that corroded - go figure - and so there was no resting water.  I put 
some more duct tape on the corroded area and kicked myself for not 
replacing the drain side of the plumbing when I'd replaced all the 
supply side.  What an idiot!!!
BathroomHole.jpg (778490 bytes)
  
Part of my reluctance to actually do any work on the house was that I 
was leaving that afternoon for a four day hike in the Green Mountains in 
central Wyoming with Dave, who I met at a research group at the 
University of WAshington back in the middle 90s.  We had a wonderful 
hike in what is normally either very cold and windy and snowy or very 
hot and waterless mountains that normally only are seen by deer/antelope 
hunters.  Dave insists on camping in scenic spots, so we spent a couple 
waterless nights on the top of ridges in what for that area, is 
incredibly benign weather.  
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The wind was almost nonexistent, and the 
temperature was in the 60s - perfect for hiking - and above freezing at 
night!  Most of the hike was cross-country or linked on old mining 
roads.  We were half lost for a quarter of the time - kinda fun when 
you're only a four hour hike from a uranium mine and two from a 
frequently used dirt road...

After hiking with Dave I headed West and my heart sank as I drove over 
Donner Summit.  There was pretty solid snow everywhere.  I knew I was at 
least a month from being able to hike at 7500'.  That was May 17, 2010.

Part of me didn't care because I got to hang with my mom and see 
friends, play golf, read bad novels, and work around the house.  I like 
that kind of vacation.  I worked at least two or three hours a day, 
planting, pruning, weeding, installing $750 of  pleated shades, 
replacing an exterior door, fixing, etc.  I even got to take naps!!!

I also spent a lot of time perusing maps and books of trail 
descriptions, trying to find interesting hiking that didn't go up into 
the snow zones.  Finally I settled on hiking in the Ansel Adams 
Wilderness, south of Yosemite Park, including the Mammoth area.  I 
started on the West Side.
map.jpg (1673998 bytes)

The east side of the Sierra is pretty steep.  Trailheads are between 7K 
and 9K go quickly up to 11K - you get into the high country in a day.  
The West side is much more gentle, with lots of reservoirs and ridges 
and miles and miles of roads that take forever to get you anywhere.  I 
left Santa Rosa (sorry Wendi - I was just too scattered), and headed to 
Merced, then up to Mariposa, then over to Oakhurst, and then to North 
Fork and 55 miles along the Minarets Road to Clover Meadow Campground in 
a little pimple of national forest surrounded by official wilderness.

I'd stopped at a ranger station in Oakhurst to get a permit for the 
three hikes I'd planned.  The woman there got a bit flustered - I was 
her first hiker of the season.  She spent a half hour trying to talk me 
out of doing what I was proposing.  As it was, we spent an hour filling 
out paperwork and talking.  She told me stories of hikers who'd died, 
who had to be helicoptered out (thousands of dollars of cost to the 
hiker) and I kept saying I knew when to turn around.  I've been 
backpacking since the first trip my dad took me on when I was 13, and 
had spent weeks and weeks in the wilderness over a bunch of summers when 
the folks hired packers to take the family into the Marble Mountains in 
the 50s.

The woman was from a local tribe and was active in getting "Squaw Dome" 
changed in name to "Piyau Dome."  Apparently "squaw" means female 
genitalia.  This is "controversial" in the literature.  Nonetheless, the 
word is no longer part of acceptable lexicon.  A tribe in North Dakota 
is successfully getting the name of a college's teams "The Fighting 
Sioux" changed because it demeans...

I got out of the ranger's office with my persona intact, but much more 
firmly conscious I was heading into more of the unknown than I was used 
to.  I wasn't scared.  Again - my loins were just more girded...

The road from Oakhurst to Clover Meadows Campground is long and winding 
and narrow and I just wanted to be done.  The ranger had said that the 
road had just opened to the campground - it was obvious it had been open 
for a couple weeks.  There was lots of snow at 7000'.  That didn't bode 
well for high country hiking.

I put up my tent at the edge of the parking area, mostly to keep the 
voracious mosquitos away.  The road to the campground proper was closed 
due to snow and saturated earth - mud.  There was a ranger station 
there, manned during the summer, but empty on June 20.

I lay on my half inch thick blue closed cell foam pad, my 20 degree 
rated quilt covering only my feet, and read one of the airplane novels 
I'd brought.  I didn't get much reading done as I listened to the jays 
and descending silence.

I slept pretty well for the first night and got up and ate muesli, not 
missing coffee at all.  I don't carry a stove or pot or cookable food 
when I hike alone.  That means my intense coffee habit sends me into 
withdrawl.  I knew I would start having a headache pretty soon so I 
packed up and headed out on one of the many trails leading from the 
campground.

This first trip was to take four days.  I was going to head to the 
southern boundary of Yosemite, traverse along one of the 10,000' ridges 
and do a 35 mile loop back to the car.  Four days of pack and food 
weighs about 20 pounds.  The base weight of my pack is just about 11 
pounds now, with nine pounds of food.  I knew I had too much, but for 
this first shakedown cruise, I wanted more than less.

I was not in good shape, and hiked slowly through the forest.  It was 
hard to develop a pace as there were countless snowbanks that had to be 
walked over or around.  The trail was 18" wide and very clear.  But I 
couldn't develop a walking pace.  I'd get going, start to sink into a 
rhythm, and a three foot snowbump would appear.  If the way were clear, 
I'd walk around it.  If not, I'd go over it.  Regardless, I felt I was 
more picking my way through the forest than trodding at 2 mph.
Adams1.jpg (903572 bytes)

After five hours and seven miles I reached a flat area that was filled 
with old growth pines, 5 to 8 feet in diameter.  
Adams2.jpg (869397 bytes)  Adams3.jpg (845552 bytes)  
There wasn't much 
undergrowth - just lots of fallen trees and nearly solid snow.  This was 
at 8300'.  Solid snow at 8300'.  This made me think that my goal of 
hiking up to 10,000' was pretty unrealistic.  If my friend Dave had been 
there, I might have been emboldened and tried it.  As it was, I hiked 
about a half mile until the snow became solid.  I'd lost the trail a 
quarter mile or so ago, and was navigating by blazes on the trees.  I 
tried hiking from blaze to blaze.  I'd get to one and stop.  I'd cast my 
gaze in the general direction the trail was heading, looking for the 
next blaze.  After a while, I realized the blazes were figments - or at 
least - so old that they weren't obvious.

This is where the ranger's exhortations and castigations, warnings and 
dumbfounded looks showed themselves.  I had a compass and decent topo 
map.  I knew where I was (especially since there was a marsh/lake coming 
up).  That said, I didn't feel comfortable heading off into the 
wilderness by compass and map.  Again - if Dave had been around...

I decided to find a clear place to pitch my tent and camp.  That was on 
the edge of the marsh/lake, a little spot not much bigger than my tent.  
Everything else that wasn't covered in snow was wet and/or running with 
water.  The days had finally warmed up and the melt was on.

Once the tent was up I got into it and killed about 50 mosquitos and lay 
there at 4 in the afternoon - five more hours of daylight to come - and 
listened to the birds and frogs.  The wind was blowing enough that a 
sibilant background had me listen intently for A BEAR!!!  Creaking limbs 
and thoracic whooshes combined with my natural imagination to create 
lurking and hulking, hungry, newly awakened ursine presences that 
smelled my muesli and gorp and turkey jerky.  All imaginative and 
fictional my rational self said.  Still...

I read until dark, fading in and out of a light slumber.  The frogs 
really took off at dusk, and I wondered if I'd be able to sleep.  There 
was one big boy that boomed his croak across the lake.  I imagined him 
with gonads the size of baseballs, and bulbous, Peter Lorre eyes.  I 
tossed and turned all night, getting enough sleep, but really getting 
used to the absence of my temperpedic mattress with its extra 3" memory 
foam topper.

I awoke at dawn the next morning, and lay under my quilt so comfortable 
and warm and appreciative of being there.  The sun came up, very slowly 
- hitting the treetops on the western ridge, then glowing through the 
treetops on the eastern ridge, and finally, shining on me in my little 
tent on the edge of a marshy lake seven miles from the nearest road and 
its path to civilization.

I didn't lollygag when I finally got up.  I put my "butt pad" on a 
snowfree log and ate muesli.  Actually, I felt like I was choking it 
down.  I wasn't very hungry.  Hmmmm.  Maybe I wasn't hungry because I 
normally drink a pot of coffee before eating anything.  I broke camp in 
less than 15 minutes and headed back to over the snow to the point at 
which the trail disappeared.

I got back to the car around noon, taking my time, and lollygagging.  
Rather than heading out for another attempt to enter the high country on 
a different trail I hung out at the Granite Creek Campground, sitting in 
the drivers seat of my car, reading an airplane novel, napping, 
wandering around the deserted campground, and setting up camp.

I watched Granite Creek and noticed that it was increasing in depth over 
the course of the afternoon.  From noon til dark it got about two feet 
deeper.  The melt was on.  I woke up the next morning and whole sandbars 
with vegetation were exposed.  Again, no one was around.  This was the 
second day I hadn't uttered a word or seen or met anyone.

I got up the next morning and repacked my pack for a five day trip to 
the Mammoth area and back.  I wasn't too confident I'd be able to 
actually complete the hike as there was a 10,000 pass to go over, and 
lots of the hike was over 8500'.  I had to try it though.  I packed up 
and drove the car back down through Clover Meadows, to a junction and up 
towards a pass leading down into the middle fork of the san joaquin 
river canyon.  There was no parking where the trail crossed the road, 
and I basically parked off the dirt road at an acute sideways angle. No 
biggy.

I hiked gently up from 7200' to a notch in the ridge that was about 
8200' and the snow was covering the ground about 50%.  Once through the 
notch the snow was 100%.  I got to a trail junction where I could either 
continue across snow to the area I had wanted to reach on the previous 
aborted hike, or cross a stream and head towards Mammoth - my plan.
Adams42Granite CreekNoNo.jpg (944098 bytes)  Adams43GraniteCreekNoNo.jpg (1008763 bytes)

I could see the stepping stones that hikers normally used to cross the 
creek.  But they were under three feet of raging, undulating, almost 
sensuous snowmelt water.  The normally 15' wide creek was 25' wide and 
crashing down at 10 mph.  I really didn't have a choice.  Not only did 
the ranger's warnings echo through me - they were more an ironic parody 
of the choice I had to make - I realized I didn't want to hike on solid 
snow on a relatively unmaintained trail or cross the creek.  Again, if 
Dave had been there we would have talked ourselves into the adventure.  
And again, I made the safe, prudent choice.

I'm sure I would have made it.  But there was a good 10% chance that I 
would lose my footing and be swept away, blubbering and pushing towards 
the other bank, watching for boulders to avoid, realizing I couldn't 
swim, that I really didn't have any control here - I just needed to GET 
OUT OF THE RIVER and survive.  This was very clear to me as I stood 
there in 70 degree warmth, sweating, sunshine on snow making me wear 
sunglasses...  My wonderful imagination had no trouble supporting the 
rational decision to turn around.

So I sat down and ate some turkey jerky, feeling melancholy.  I decided 
to head back to the notch, walk up a granite slope, eat lunch, and take 
a nap, if the gods were so inclined...  I spent three hours lounging on 
a little bench overlooking the whole western approach to the Ansel Adams 
Wilderness.  I had three quarts of water.  I had four days of food.  I 
had a 400 page airplane novel.  I had my butt pad and convenient granite 
to lean against.  I was in slacker heaven...

With a bit of punchy "I'm not quite awake and coordinated" I climbed 
back down the class three granite to the trail and hiked down to the 
car.  I drove back to the Granite Creek Campground and set up camp in 
the same place.  I sat in the driver's seat and read and napped.  I took 
pictures of the creek getting higher and higher as the day went on.  I 
drank a couple IPA's I'd purchased in Oakhurst.  I wandered around and 
just fit into my environment - I was in balance and harmony!!!!
Adams40GraniteCreekLow.jpg (912905 bytes)  Adams41GraniteCreekHigh.jpg (976599 bytes)
I spent hours looking at the maps I'd brought.  In between napping, 
reading, wandering, watching the creek rise, I'd bring out the big topo 
map and peruse the next days hike.  I had hoped that all the snow 
reports on NOAA and the California water agencies were wrong, that I 
could really hike in mid-june above 8300'.  The reality was unless I 
wanted to hike on solid snow and cross multiple raging creeks, this 
wasn't going to happen.  So I went to the third trip on my itinerary.
TopoOfTriip.jpg (2919693 bytes)

This was a four to eight day trip from the Granite Creek trailhead, down 
the canyon wall of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, up it's 
other side, up and down and up and down to Lake Edison and then back.  
The four day trip was basically a down to the river, up from the river, 
hike along the canyon wall, and down and up again to the trailhead.  The 
eight day trip involved hiking in forest with no alpine environs to lift 
the spirit.  I decided to do the four day loop, down and up and down and 
up - and head back and hang with my Mom...

The fourth morning of my sojourn in the mountains I woke up and packed 
again for a four day trip.  By this time my inner world was raging just 
like the creeks I'd encountered.  I hadn't spoken or met anyone in 
almost 96 hours.  There were times when I would just melt into the 
raging Granite Creek below my campsite, and others when I'd be so deeply 
into the topo map I'd need a second pair of reading glasses to make out 
the details, and then have to recover from that magnified focus when a 
jay screamed at me.  I wiled away hours engrossed in an airplane novel, 
sitting in the drivers seat of my Toyota Solara, the seat all the way 
back, dropping the book to my chest and closing my eyes and drifting, 
and waking and picking up the book again.

The next morning I drove to the Granite Creek Trailhead, about 6 miles 
from the Granite Creek Campground, or tried to.  The map said the dirt 
road turned into a four wheel drive road a mile or so from the 
trailhead.  I would drive as far as I could and hike.  About three miles 
from the trailhead a three foot pine had fallen across the one lane 
road.  I could have driven round it, or attempted to, but that was more 
jeep stuff than Solara stuff.  I turned around, drove 100 yards back 
down the dirt road and parked on a narrow flat spot.  I put everything 
in the trunk, installed the sunshields behind the windshield, locked the 
car, and slid over the log.

The walk along the dirt road offered views of the granite benches and 
domes at the upper reaches of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin's 
canyon and high country to the east and south.  
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I followed the tracks of 
a 4 wheel drive pickup that tore up the road and flora and fauna when he 
had to drive around deadfall in the road.  I tried not to get righteous 
and irritated.  I was on a hike, and would leave such desecration behind 
very shortly!

I arrived at the trailhead and it was basically a sloping solid piece of 
granite upon which cars could park.  It was solid granite!!!  No human 
shaping - just some 300 pound granite boulders marking it's 10 or 12 
spots.  If you parked and forgot to put the car in park or the emergency 
brake on, the car would have gained speed, and in two hundred yards, 
bounced it's way down into the Granite Creek defile.  Weird...

The trail took me across a substantial bridge and then down 2500' to the 
San Joaquin River.  
Adams46GraniteCreekBridge.jpg (1113628 bytes)  
The map said that this was an unmaintained trail.  
I've walked on "unmaintained trails" before.  No biggy.  That just means 
there's brush overhanging the trail and rocks/boulders to walk around.  
It's mostly a matter of not spraining an ankle.  This "unmaintained 
trail" was different.  It hadn't seen the hands of man for at least a 
decade, and probably longer.  This segment of the trail was not 
difficult to follow.  It would disappear for 20' and appear, and then 
disappear for 50' and appear, and so on.
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I was used to switchbacked trails.  This one had switchbacks, but they 
were steep, more a miners trail than backpackers trail.  Miners trails 
tend to go straight up and down, with switchbacks when going from bench 
to bench, or the terrain is too steep.  I'd read in a book this was part 
of the "California Horse and Riding Trail" or something like that.  I 
couldn't imagine a horse going down this with a rider on its back.  
There were times where I maintained four point contact as I lowered 
myself down a little cliff or vertical defile.  I could see where horses 
had gone down or up the trail, but not for years.  Normally there's 
evidence of hoofs striking granite - horseshoes chip granite.  The chips 
were not fresh - they were definitely weathered.

This wasn't a dangerous trail.  For this I was grateful.  But I was a 
bit flustered as I got near the bottom and poison oak appeared, and the 
trail would just disappear into it.  
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Steep trail along granite walls 
with poison oak growing out of every little bit of dirt - not big, but 
there.  I'd been hiking for three hours and had dropped 2000'.  I had 
another 500' to go to get to the river.  I wasn't anxious or scared or 
even irritated.  But I was conscious of every step, of where I put my 
foot, and where my leg was, where my arms swung.

I had poison oak once so bad that I spent four days in my house naked, 
drinking six quarts of malt liquor a day, smoking pot, and when my 
roommates came home from work, I didn't care that I was naked and drunk 
and high and obnoxious.  I showed them how poison oak had invaded my 
crotch and butt crack...  I was so impacted by the poison oak nothing 
else mattered.  This is what I remembered...  Consciousness - poison oak 
is here.  Don't touch it...

I made it down that last 500', mostly with no obvious trail through the 
benches and granite walls.  I'm glad that the trail was 20% there.  The 
next three days took what I learned and forced me to hone my trail 
consciousness even more.

The trail, or where it had been, was invisible the last quarter mile.  I 
couldn't imagine being on the "California Horse and Riding Trail" and 
crossing the bridge over the river and finding the trail.  It was well 
hidden by brush and narrow cracks in the granite and poison oak and 
grass where there once was tread.

I got to the bridge, and looked around for a good place to camp.  It was 
obvious there was a huge meadow on the other side of the river - the 
RIVER!!!!!!!!!
Adams15BridgeOverRagingRiver.jpg (602158 bytes)  

All those snowmelt creeks that were raging torrents flowed into the 
middle fork.  It was 100' across and 20' deep at the bridge, and just 
flat out angry and NUTS!!!!  There were boulders near the bridge that 
were under water and created standing waves five feet tall with churning 
holes behind them.

Downstream the river narrowed into a granite sided, vertical canyon.  
Adams16-Gorge.jpg (845754 bytes)  
The threaded currents were compressed into one flow that didn't seem to 
make noise or have much surface action.  But you could tell there was 
incredible power there - there was a constant four foot bulge in the 
north edge of the river where it flowed over an underwater obstruction.  
When it hit the south wall as the gorge turned, it looked like it had a 
six foot flow up the wall before sliding down to even out with the rest 
of the river.   The river at that point wasn't level.  Very weird - I'd 
never seen anything like it before.

When I got home I spent a couple hours checking out the middle fork of 
the san joaquin, and apparently, it's one of the fringe kayak runs.  
There are utube videos and blogs describing checking out the canyon and 
running it.  I was just captured by the constant roar of the water.  
There was so much of it!!!

I crossed the bridge and entered the meadow.  It was sand and pines and 
warm and paradise.  I found a spot behind some thick, tall pines that 
would be in shade for the rest of the afternoon.  
Adams14-CampFirstNight.jpg (999906 bytes)
There is nothing like 
setting up a tent under the erroneous assumption it will be in the shade 
on a hot day, only to find it slowly being warmed to oven like 
temperatures when the sun drops 15 degrees from vertical towards the 
horizon.  This isn't a problem when there are no mosquitoes.  Just open 
the tent up and let the wind flow!

This trip had a constant undercurrent of mosquitoes.  They don't much 
bother me in terms of being bit and itching.  But they bother me when 
there are 50 or 60 within three or four inches of my face - when I can 
hear them and the buzzing gets, well, intolerable...!
Adams17-BreakDay2.jpg (862625 bytes)

After reading and napping and munching for hours, listening to the 
river, drifting in and out and back and forth, I finally stripped down 
and put on my sleeping clothes.  The dusk lasted for a long, long time, 
but I wasn't really aware of it.  I was in a perfect space, spiritually, 
emotionally,  cognitively and behaviorally.  I was in balance and 
harmony.  I'd been close the previous days, lying in the car, reading, 
the breeze flowing through the car, lying in my tent next to Granite 
Creek, spending a couple hours on the edge of the snow covered alpine 
world with a view to the west and warmth.  But this, and the night I 
spent upstream 48 hours later, were two of the most perfect relaxing 
afternoons and evenings I've ever spent.

The next morning I lay in my tent at first light.  I was ready to go 
back to sleep - I wasn't going far that day - but suddenly I felt the 
"call of nature" in an urgent feeling I couldn't ignore.  This happens 
every time I go backpacking.  After a couple days I am forced out of my 
warm quilt/tent because I have to take a dump.  I don't have a choice.  
The urgency begins with me awakening to a sensitivity to being, to 
"having" a "fullness."

I've awakened and in the last 20% of being asleep, desperately attempted 
to relax and sink back into dormir.  This has worked, but not often.  I 
can't fool my body.  There is a point at which consciousness emerges to 
include bodily functions and everything just revs up.  After a week of 
backpacking I try and remember to dig a cathole the night before so I 
can crawl out of my warm bed, stumble to the hole, and do my business 
without having to dig and feel my "fullness" move to a sphincter clench 
that threatens to blatt its way into my long underwear.  I've never shat 
in my pants, but I've come close, little uncontrollable spasms of the 
sphincter that have me forget digging a hole or being out of sight of my 
hiking mates.  Whew...

I ate muesli, packed up, and began to hike on the faint trail at the 
edge of the forested meadow.  I knew this day wasn't starting out well 
when I got to the end of the meadow a quarter mile downstream and there 
was no trail.  There were lots of animal trails, and I think I followed 
most of them over the next hour.  Finally, I ended up at a place I'd 
avoided that looked like the trail might have once gone through.  But it 
was a poison oak patch.  It was overgrown with bushes and there was lots 
of dead-fall to step over while avoiding the poison oak.

I passed this point five times before stopping and realizing that the 
trail most likely headed where I didn't want to go.  Once again I 
"girded my loins" and headed into the poison oak.  Luckily it lasted 
only 20' or so, and on the other side of the brush that intermixed with 
it, there was an obvious trail.  It took a real act of will backed with 
underlying despair to have me head through the poison oak.

Coming down the northiside 2500' canyon wall was an introduction to 
"abandoned trails"  Going up the southside on the California Riding and 
Hiking Trail took me to the next level.  The bridge was at 4800' and the 
poison oak stopped at 5300'.   The trail had no switchbacks.  It wound 
its way from bench to bench, sometimes flat for 100 yards, other times 
straight up for 100', in a 100 yards.  And there was no "trail" to speak 
of.  I not only had to watch my feet - every step was a potential ankle 
twister - I had to stay 10' to 100' ahead of myself to look for the next 
little bit of abandoned trail.

I got pretty good at anticipating where the trail "should" go, and 
trusting my developing intuition that where I was walking would 
eventually reveal itself to be THE TRAIL!!!!

I know I'm fixating on THE TRAIL or its lack.  I can't emphasize enough 
just how disconcerting it is to a backpacking guy used to following an 
18" wide trail, step after step, head down, unthinking, just one step in 
front of the other, working when it's up, letting loose and noticing 
stuff when it's flat, and taking care when the trail heads down.  A 
trail is a given for 99% of us.  We are camp centered, hiking from point 
A to point B.  The trail is a way to get from one point to another, the 
vistas and creeks and vales and defiles and lichen all to be appreciated 
and "grokked" but the overall point is to get where you're going.

I'm thinking there is a metaphor here.  Most of us (I) are most 
comfortable when the way is clear.  When it becomes obsfuscated for any 
reason, we feel anxiety and wonder and sometimes get neurotic and 
sometimes within neuroses get weird...  I found myself feeling despair 
that I had to cast my gaze to find the trail bits as I walked.  When I'd 
find a bit after 100' of trusting my intuition where the trail "should" 
go, I'd feel a rush, a high!

I wanted the comfort of a clear trail, but felt triumph when absence 
gave over to presence.

I reached the top of the canyon.  There hadn't been many views because 
of the vegetation, and I only knew I'd reached the "top" when the way 
flattened out in the forest.  I came to a junction I'd anticipated since 
beginning the day.  I was headed south for the rest of the afternoon, 
and then the next day was going to turn around and come back.  Once I 
got back to this junction I would head 3 miles down the other trail and 
drop another mile and 2500' to the other crossing of the river, and a 
different 2500' climb out back to the trailhead and three mile hike on 
the 4 wheel dirt road to the car.

The sign at the junction was in three pieces on the ground.  
Adams23-Sign2.jpg (979880 bytes)
There was 
no post.  Forest service trail signs are wood with cuts making up 
letters.  The letters on this sign were almost unintelligible they were 
so old.  I realized in another dimension of understanding that I was 
walking "abandoned trails."  I doubted at this point that rangers 
patrolled this area.  I hadn't seen anyone in four days, seen any 
footprints on this "trail" or spoken a word.  I was out there in the 
wilderness by myself and that was what was.  The trail I would follow 
tomorrow disappeared in 50' - in the grass of a small meadow before an 
old growth stand of big pines I could see was populated by lots and lots 
of dead trees piled one on another.
Adams47LakeDay3.jpg (1118424 bytes)

I must admit that I felt a bit "spooky" as I continued to follow the 
abandoned trail south.  I was getting better at just hiking, walking 
where I would have put a trail, and for the most part, finding I'd made 
the correct choice.  I was actually making time, and averaging more than 
a quarter mile an hour.  I crossed a snow fed creek that wouldn't be 
there in three weeks and ate lunch.  I spent two hours on my butt pad, 
book in hand, my face and legs and hands covered with DEET, trying to 
relax and be in the moment.

The mosquitoes were voracious until I put on the DEET.  After than they 
didn't swarm and pretty much did what mosquitoes do where there is no 
food around.  But they were still there, and as I closed my eyes and 
listened to the forest they were definitely a part of it.

I hiked for another couple hours and realized I wanted to stop.  I 
filled up my three quart gatorade bottles at a seasonal creek and found 
a ridge top with some minor views.  I walked a couple hundred yards up 
from the trail and laid my tent out on a flat spot in that would be 
shady for the afternoon/evening that was about six inches deep in forest 
duff.  I think that's the word - duff.  Pine needles and sand and it's 
like a tick mattress - very comfortable.
Adams19-InTheTent.jpg (830291 bytes)  Adams18-Icon.jpg (544304 bytes)  Adams20-Icon2.jpg (447883 bytes)  Adams49camp2.jpg (1009423 bytes)  

Again, I spent five hours of daylight hanging out, first against a tree, 
and then in the tent when I got tired of the swarms.  Dusk and dawn are 
worst for mosquitos.  But the late spring let them hang out in their 
swarms during the day too.  I realized that I was at the 
halfway/turnaround point of the four day trip.  I knew I could have 
continued south for as many miles as I wanted, but to be honest, I just 
didn't want too.  I like hiking, and love being in the wilderness.  But 
I like rising to alpine worlds and they were closed to me - snow.

The next morning I leapt out of bed to the urgent drive to defecate - 
earlier each day - today at 7AM.   A part of me was watching - the 
witness - and from the outside, I dumped, packed up, ate some breakfast, 
did the final packing, and hit the trail, or its ephemeral 
suggestion...   
Adams21-AlmostREadyToGoDay3.jpg (1157216 bytes)
From the inside I was stridently in dialogue with 
myself.  I didn't have a quiet moment in the morning.  All the routine 
stuff had internal verbal markers guiding me.  What seemed to be moving 
from one task to the next on the outside, from the inside was a constant 
blathering stream of talk that ranged from how to pick up a tent stake 
and locate its bag, to a sense of universal connectedness that was a 
smile as I moved through the moment in the packing.

I realized once again I was discovering a kind of balance between big 
and small that was life's lesson revealing itself again.  There is peace 
in this realizing.  What emotions exist between behaving and perceiving 
were backgrounded in the exquisite performance of a daily act - getting 
up, dumping, packing, eating, surveying camp to make sure all was as it 
was before I intruded, then beginning the day's walk.  I watched myself 
do what I was doing and my perceiving was a ribbon wrapping the present, 
a dance in the midst of energetic living, an opening to what the world 
and universe were giving me there in the woods and wilderness...

The end of a day's hike has a spectrum of emotion.  I'm tired and sore 
and all the acts of setting up camp involve bending over and standing 
up, bending over and standing up.  in the morning I bend and raise, bend 
and raise, but each day there is an increasing competence, an increasing 
sense of rhythm and balance that I think comes form being in better 
shape -  physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

When the day is done I struggle from one task to the next.  I'm tired 
and sore and stiff and I hurt.  In the morning I'm stiff, but not tired 
- energized.  My world is different.  I anticipate the trail to come, 
the climbs, the vistas, the surprises.  At the end of the day I 
appreciate the moment and that's about it.  I have no future 
orientation.  Sometimes I'll figure out the next day by spending time 
with the map.  But most of the time I have a sense of what that'll 
entail, and I don't need to leave the moment of being-tired and 
satisfied and appreciative.  I'm the frog with Peter Lorre eyes without 
the baseball sized gonads...

I headed back down the trail I'd hiked the day before.  I recognized 
points at which I'd mentally marked when I was confused about where to 
hike.  I remembered a little vale with downed trees at either end I had 
to climb over, that yesterday I'd almost hurt myself when I slipped and 
bounced off a broken branch that was two inches from poking a hole in my 
thigh.  I remembered a little lake becoming a meadow that swarmed with 
exponential numbers of mosquitos - I almost ran through that couple 
hundred yards trying to fool them about my being there - it didn't work 
and I just put up with the ebb and flow of the hoards finding and losing 
me.

And in a little over an hour I got to the junction with the degraded 
sign and trail that disappeared into the big forest and unmitigated 
fallen tree brothers and sisters.
Adams22-Sign.jpg (998522 bytes)  

I spent three hours hiking three miles.  There was no trail.  I made my 
way along benches at the rim of the canyon of the middle fork of the San 
Joaquin river.  I shouldn't say there was "no" trail.  Every once in a 
while a bit of trail would appear, but after a while, it was hard to 
tell what was abandoned trail and what was animal trail.
Adams49topofcanyon.jpg (832485 bytes)  Adams49topofcanyon2.jpg (713004 bytes)

The first part of this part of the hike was through old growth forest.  
That means no undergrowth and lots of deadfall.  I crawled over lots of 
trees and realized I would be better off if I worked my way to the 
narrow meadow heading in the same direction I was.  Crawling over dead 
trees is the most dangerous thing I do hiking cross country.  There is 
so much room for slippage and so many little spikes and branches ready 
to puncture big muscles.  I was so careful...

I was in a different reality.  No trail.  Primeval forest.  And lots, 
and lots, and lots of bear poop.  As I headed along the narrow meadow I 
kept stepping over piles of bear poop.  Most, if not all of it, was old, 
most of it from last year.  I poked every pile I ran across with my 
hiking pole, and felt safe when it revealed itself to be dry.  
Nonetheless, in the half mile I walked along and in the narrow meadow, I 
came across at least 50 piles of bear poop.   Each sighting raised my 
adrenaline, and with each poking and discovery it was old, I faced my 
fear and let a little bit of it go.

I did see a bear.  It was grubbing a log - a cinnamon colored yearling.  
I walked over a little hummock and there s/he was, nose in the ground.  
As soon as I crested the bear leapt into the forest and within two 
seconds was gone.  A fleeting glimpse - that's it...

It's a gift to see a bear.  They are hunted in most forests, and have a 
primordial fear of humans as a result.  We are so loud, and they are so 
sensitive.  I've seen bears before and most of them were feeding, 
relatively oblivious.

By the time I got to the end of the narrow meadow I knew I was on my own 
- no trail at all.  Not even vestiges of trail.  The map had the dotted 
line of unmaintained trail, but I'd finally reached the edge of 
civilizations decline - the vestiges were overgrown and had sunk back 
into a natural state.  I was faced with a choice - turn back and hike 
down the way I'd come, or continue forward, trusting my ability to read 
a map and read the terrain in the map's perspective.

Honestly, I didn't know if I could read a map well enough to get to the 
place where I could descend the canyon wall to river and its bridge.  I 
remember starting out on a 750 mile, 75 day trip with my fiancee who had 
never backpacked before.  I taught her everything I knew - we were a 
team.  What revealed itself early in the trip was that she read a topo 
map far better than I did.  I gladly gave up that responsibility and was 
very patient when she got anxious about her choices.  Invariably - that 
means ALWAYS - her choices were right.  She had me check her choices, 
but even then, when I was 40, my eyesight was less than stellar and I 
needed glasses to see fine detail - glasses I hadn't brought.

It was early in the day though, and I knew I could turn around at any 
point and find the narrow meadow and the junction and the way back if I 
needed too.  Maybe this is what makes the choice to enter the unknown 
palatable - the knowledge I can turn around and find the familiar.  
Thinking about this as I walked, I realized this was an option not 
available most of the time.  I make a choice and there is no going 
back.  There is coping, backtracking, reveling and celebrating - but 
seldom is there the ability to turn around and go back.

I made my way along the canyon wall.  It was made up of benches and 
manzanita and forested glens 100 yards long.  There was no sense of an 
"edge."  I knew from the map I needed to drop 200' vertical feet in the 
next mile and find a creek that led to a waterfall.  I climbed up and 
down on granite slopes to 20' wide benches of pines and manzanita that 
petered out in cliffs that had me backtrack and climb up or down to get 
to the next bench, and the defile with a creek and a waterfall at its 
head.  The total 200' drop ended up being much more than that - the ups 
and downs and retreats probably tripled that elevation drop.
What bugs me now, as I put this narrative in web form is I didn't take any pictures from the sign at the trail junction to what eventually was that night's camp.  I was way too into the moment to take pictures.  

At one point I knew I had to drop down a granite face 40' or so.   I 
could see a creek at the bottom.  I had to go back 100 yards to find a 
safe way to wind down to the creek.  I was hot and tired and thirsty..  
There were last fall's leaves on rock, and I slipped when I didn't step 
well.  There were little pine trees and manzanita hanging over granite I 
had to step over or walk around.  Every movement on that backwalk and 
descent to the creek was an effort that threatened to hurt me.

I could feel malevolence and it wasn't coming from the terrain.  I'd 
entered some sort of weird space that made everything in the environment 
dangerous, a space/place where I could hurt myself.  It wasn't the 
"wilderness" that would hurt me.  It was me - my perspective on behavior 
as I put one foot in front of, or behind, the other.  I had lost the 
sense of being-part-of-the-environment.  I was jerkily alive within my 
almost uncoordinated efforts to make my way down the slope.

I hadn't felt this before on this hike.  I'm familiar with this feeling, 
but not in the all-pervasive way in which every step was threaded with 
danger, with the imminent actuality I could hurt myself.  A part of me 
succumbed.  I gave in to the malevolence.  I was bereft, lost, my 
presence nothing more than tactile edges maintaining contact with the 
rock and dirt and trees and bushes.  What larger perspective I'd had was 
gone.  The balance and harmony I'd felt was disintegrating into 
fractured emotions taking me away from my ability to navigate my way 
through the world.

I got to the creek.  I'd slipped and fallen three times in the previous 
100 yards.  I'd wrenched my back catching myself in one of the falls.  I 
stopped and took a 15 minute break, downing two quarts of water.  I was 
breathing heavily, and it didn't abate.  I felt panic - intense anxiety 
- and it took most of that break to slow my breathing and stop my 
intense sweating.  I drank the two quarts and with each swallow, felt 
the panic's edges settle down into deep breathing...  I hadn't realized 
just how intense the previous 10 minutes had been.  When my larger 
perspective re-emerged, I found myself revisiting the intensity within a 
larger, cognitive context, and the fractured sense of being ruled by 
malevolence that was another pair of eyes staring at me lessened.

This is all emotional.  There was always a part of me that monitored my 
loss of perspective and grasping for handholds and footholds on the edge 
of the canyon.  But it was thinner and shallower than was normal for 
me.  It was as if it was 1974 and Robert and I were eating LSD on Stony 
Point Road outside of Cotati and finding the rock-bottom-base-line.  I'd 
forgotten the effort required to maintain when things get heavy, or 
hard, or really, really threatening..

I sat next the creek and breathed heavily and drank water and slowly 
centered.  I knew things had turned when my breathing went from deep and 
constant to me forgetting to breathe, and then, a big sigh/breath.  The 
damn forest was the same, and the creek was beautiful and burbling and I 
was walking cross-country with no trail.  Life is good!!!!!!!!

I finally put my pack back on and started up the creek.  100 yards from 
my rest spot there was the waterfall.  The waterfall was on the map.  I 
was only a couple hundred yards from where I thought I was!!!!

Now it was time to descend.  I was feeling good - well hydrated, knowing 
where I am, where the trail should go.  Unfortunately, the trail down 
the canyon wall to the river didn't begin with an open hand and 
welcoming presence.  There were a number of benches with manzanita and 
pine trees, and one would fade into a ten foot drop and another bench, 
and there was no place it seemed like a trail would go.

In a matter of 200' I would turn around and go back to the last vestige 
of trail.   I did this at least three times over a half hour.  I would 
take a couple steps and search intensely for a trail.  Animal trails 
were prevalent.  There was no way to tell those from the unmaintained in 
20 years people trail.

That half hour was couched in the larger perspective I'd gained sitting 
for that 15 minutes at the creek.  I knew I'd find the right way down 
the canyon wall.  And I did.  There turned out to be a bunch of two and 
three stone cairns marking the way down to the obvious trail.  I'd been 
too wrapped up in what was on the ground to see them or, I think I saw 
them, but discounted them because they  made no sense...  The map says I 
need to go north but what I see in front of me has me choose to go south...

This is where mistakes are made that cost lives.  I could feel just how 
important each decision I made was in terms of me continuing to live.  
Sure, I could have gone all the way back to the junction I'd reached 
four hours ago.  But that wasn't a real option in those hours I spent at 
the top of the canyon.  I was going to get down to the bottom of the 
canyon and make camp and read my airplane novel and revel in the warm 
breezes and background sound of the river.

The trail was more obvious now, a miners trail through the manzanita, 
granite, descents, pines, leaves, dirt and heat.  It was straight down 
after leaving the multi-benched rim.  The cairns I'd found continued, 
but they took me straight down the canyon wall.  Every step was one that 
teetered on the precipice of a twist or fall.  The intensity of my focus 
narrowed to the ground in front of me, no more than one or two steps 
ahead.  When the trail wasn't obvious I'd stop and breathe and extend my 
focus to find a safe way through, no, down, the tree shaded cliff.  When 
I could, I placed my poles and cushioned the 18" steps that threatened 
to blow out my knees.  When I had to, I leaned back, and used my hands, 
grabbing the rough granite for purchase, holding my weight as I lowered 
myself down to the next little foot rest.

This was a 2000' drop.  It wasn't a "cliff" like you think of Half 
Dome.  It was a canyon wall that had a 60 to 70 degree slant.  90 
degrees is straight up and down.  There were no places where I was 
climbing down.  It was all walking, mostly with poles, but so steep, it 
wasn't hiking.  I used  bushes and trees and granite to slow my 
descent.  I stopped often to breathe, to reconnoiter, to wonder just 
what the hell I was doing.

Yes, I did wonder, but for the most part I was in the moment, where I 
needed to be to successfully complete the day's hike.  I'd walked for 
three miles cross-country with infinite bear poops.  Now I was 
descending a 2500' canyon wall.  No biggie.  LOL

I was open to the malevolence, but after finding the waterfall, then the 
cairns leading down to the wall from the lip, it was absent.  What was 
present was a sense I needed to be present and paying attention to what 
I was doing.  What I was doing was dangerous, and to some,  I could 
easily imagine, foolhardy.  If I slipped and fell and broke a leg, there 
was no way anyone would find me.  I was on an abandoned trail on the 
wrong side of a river canyon.  Every step included the possibility of 
actually dying.  Wow...

To be in this feeling, doing, not thinking.  All the existential 
philandering I've done over the years faded in the face of dying being 
but a step away, step after step after step.  Such an intense focus I 
had to maintain.  So intense - too intense...

About half way down the canyon wall I came to a drop that required me to 
step from one granite slab down 24" to a granite boulder covered with 
last fall's leaves.  These were leaves that had fallen, been covered 
with snow over the winter, and now, were flat and slick ready to 
decompose into threads.  From the boulder I would need to step another 
24" down to a small flat spot of dirt.  There was a small pine tree next 
to the boulder.  This was the 50th, 100th, 200th little maneuver I'd 
made to make my way down to the river I could hear blasting along the 
canyon's bottom, far below.

I put my right hand's pole on the leaf covered boulder and began to 
lower myself.  I put my right foot and weight on the boulder, but was 
not "centered."  My foot slipped off it and the next thing I knew I was 
spinning out into space.  It would have been a simple matter to lower my 
left hand and catch myself on the granite slab, but when I reached down 
to do so, my pole caught on the boulder below, and my hand scribed an 
arc forward into space.

I found myself falling backwards, twisting around my left hand's pole.  
I did my best to collapse rather than actually fall, figuring it would 
be better to skid down the incline.  However I'd gone to far and had to 
actually pull my right hand around my head as I fell.  I landed on my 
pack and bounced off the boulder.  I continued to twist my body through 
the fall and ended up spreadeagled with four point contact over the 
little dirt spot I'd meant to step on.

I'd managed to land on my back and then do an intentional 180 degree 
flip/fall and land on feet and hands.  My poles made my landing awkward, 
but I didn't scrape my face or head or body.  I landed in a spider 
position and hung there for a moment before collapsing into the dirt and 
rock of the forested canyon wall.

I let loose with a groan and little whimper.  I felt like crying.  I lay 
there on my face for maybe 10 seconds, still in the midst of the fall, 
reliving it, before I started taking stock of my physical well-being.  
My hands were both scraped a bit.  That was it.  That was it.
AdamsDeathDrop.jpg (651467 bytes)

The above picture doesn't do justice to what I experienced.  It looks south from the north wall....800'
I gathered my sense of self and rolled into a sitting position.  I 
stared down the cruddy drop/trail, another 1000' of what was essentially 
class 2 and 3 climbing, made more dangerous because it was DOWN, which 
is always harder than up.  Even with tender knees, give me up over 
down~!!!  I sat there for a couple minutes rocking and twisting my back, 
freeing my hands from the poles straps.

Never again - never will I go down or up anything that is remotely iffy 
with pole straps around my wrists.  My worst nightmare - broken leg on 
an abandoned trail, little water, no way to move - slowly dying...  Just 
take of the poles straps so I can let go of the poles to cope with 
falling down canyon wall cliffs...

I slipped and lowered and traversed and marveled my way down the rest of 
the trail - still straight down the little defile/valley that got larger 
and larger as I got closer to the river.  I didn't walk.  I slithered 
and slipped and stepped and reconnoitered and lowered myself.  It felt 
like hours, but the last 1000' really only took a half hour or so it was 
so steep.

When I got to the flat, forested, sandy, five acre glen that was the 
descent's reward, I strode forth and reveled, so damn high and filled 
with a sense of competence and, and luck???  I didn't think about the 
descent at all.  I just opened to the beauty of old growth pines, no 
undergrowth, and the sound of a river raging.

I followed the intersection of the canyon wall and valley floor to the 
left, thinking the bridge across the river would likely be in that 
direction.  I came across a horseman's camp, with trash and saw hewn 
benches and tables and a pair of new new balance running shoes.  Go 
figure.  Horse people's camp.  No self-respecting hiker would leave this 
kind of trash and desecration of the wilderness.
ADams48horsecamp3.jpg (1001727 bytes)  Adams51Horsecamp4.jpg (1091185 bytes)  

I took my time walking along the floor, just soaking in the warmth, the 
breeze, the river's roar, the slanting sun - the perfection of 
intersecting natural forces coursing through me, through my world...
Adams50River.jpg (1091719 bytes)  

I came upon a bunch of granite slabs, 20' high, one leading to the 
next.  I walked up them to a high point, and a couple hundred yards of 
river became visible.  It was 150' across, 20' deep, and moving at more 
than 10 mph.  The water was roiling - the power.  It was just 
overwhelming...

It was hard not to be carried away by the threaded currents, formed by 
rocks an boulders - massive boulders that created five foot holes behind 
them, a kayakers nightmare.  The sun, the breeze, the river, the canyon... 
ADams53River.jpg (1049612 bytes)

But no bridge.  I walked out to the end of the granite slabs and saw a 
bunch of one inch bolts embedded in the rock, twisted and rusted.  It 
was obvious there had been a bridge here at some point.  It was also 
obvious that a great flood had washed it away.

I'd started the hike guided by a book published in 1991 that talked 
about the bridge at this point on the river.  The map was ambiguous I 
saw - later.  I figured the bridge had washed away between 1991 and 
2010.  Here I was, stuck at the bottom of the middle fork of the San 
Joaquin River, faced with the prospect of climbing back up the 
harrowing, miserable, dangerous, steep and horrible trail to the rim, 
back cross country to the junction, and back down the canyon wall to the 
crossing over the bridge I'd walked two days before.  Then I'd have to 
hike back up the tenuous trail I'd started the trip on.  That was two 
extra days of hiking.  That was an extra climb up and down - 2500' up 
and 2500' down.

I can't begin to describe the feelings coursing through me as I stared 
at the twisted bolts embedded in the flat granite slabs above the 
roiling river.  Well, yes I can..

The "biggest picture Jeff" opened to the challenge and reveled in the 
thought of the hardships I'd encounter.  The "moment-to-moment" Jeff 
felt great dissipation and lassitude.  All I could see was the pain of 
climbing up, climbing down, and climbing up again.  I stood there and 
felt the whole of my summer.  I had spent time with my Mom.  I'd been 
beaten down by snow.  I was hiking in conditions that were ideal, warm, 
relatively buggy but beautiful...  I saw the next three days - one huge 
slog after another, and for what, for what purpose???

This is the question that I'd faced over the last 16 years of long 
distance hiking.  I'd set off on a trip planned to last 30 or 50 or 75 
days, and come up against the question, "Why am I doing this?"  To this 
day I've not come up with answer to this question.  I can't tell you why 
I want to hike for 75 days, or the whole 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail 
over 5 months.  Not after having spent a number of months on five or six 
different trips hiking for three weeks and longer.  Or this trip, three 
days long so far...

I begin these trips with exuberance.  The planning is fun.  The 
purchasing of food and repacking is fun.  Putting food into boxes my 
folks or sister will mail is fun.  Once out on the trail - not so fun.  
I go to the pattern this expresses, and I see a frontier.

Planning is fun.  Hiking alone is hard work.  And here I was, two extra 
days of really, really hard and dangerous hiking in front of me that I 
hadn't planned for.  I felt discombobulated.  I see a frontier.

I know what the edge of my next evolutionary dimension is.  My brother 
is a Buddhist monk and he doesn't have to say anything to teach me.  My 
sister is grounded in a way that intrigues and puzzles me.  My mother 
inhabits a space I can only hope to inhabit when I'm her age.  But my 
next life's step involves this frontier of being-alone and finding the 
center - Wo'Lakota- where all is in balance and harmony, moment to 
moment, day after day...  Day to day life in the world is filled with 
distractions that use to deviate from this core life's presence - maybe 
aim, maybe focus???

The fact there is no bridge upon which to cross the river is ultimately 
heartening.  But I don't know this yet.  I'm not "conscious" of "the 
biggest picture Jeff."  I'm really bummed out.  I really, really don't 
want to have to backtrack.

I wandered back to the flatness of the forest floor and meandered east 
upriver.  I came upon another horseman's camp, with its trash and hewn 
tables and benches and decades old firepit.  
Adams54.jpg (1001727 bytes)
The two camps were only a 
couple hundred yards apart, but separated visually by old growth pines.  
The five foot thick trunks of fifty or sixty trees were enough to insure 
privacy.

After the second horse camp the forest floor developed some sandy rises 
and brushy areas.  I walked disconsolately, bereft of perspective or 
hope.  I figured I'd explore the whole of the valley before settling 
down for the night, girding my proverbial loins to make the climb up the 
canyon wall in the morning.

I knew I was coming to the east edge of the forested glade - the canyon 
wall as getting closer.  I felt its looming presence - the malevolence 
was beginning to leak through again.  I didn't care that I was 
projecting my despair onto the canyon wall and making it into a 
"presence."  I was tired and discouraged and emotional and vulnerable.  
I REALLY didn't want to hike back up the canyon wall.  To be sure there 
was a part of me, no matter very small, that reveled in anticipation of 
the challenge to come, both the up and down and up again - despair 
underlaid with a hint of macho...  But mostly I was tired.

The river was massively flowing.  I could see where it had been four 
feet higher earlier - a week, two weeks?  I couldn't tell.  But the 
brush and sand and trees had twigs and grass intertwined and wrapped 
around everything up to the same elevation.  The river was awesome right 
then, probably five or six feet above normal reservoir outflow.  The 
white noise would have had someone with a quiet voice unheard.

I pushed through some brush and saw some angularity - straight lines 
that weren't natural.  There was a tripod about 20' high.  
Adams55.jpg (628466 bytes)  
A cable 
resolved heading from the tripod's apex back to the right to the 
ground.  On the other side of the tripod was a platform, and a little 
car with two benches, hanging from the cable on two eight inch pulley 
wheels.  
Adams55.jpg (628466 bytes)
I stood there a bit dumbfounded.  I pushed through the head 
high brush and lo and behold, there before me in all its 19th century 
glory, was a cable crossing the river and another tripod with platform 
on the other side.

I walked up to the tripod and followed the descending cable to it's 
anchors in solid granite.  
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I pulled on the giant, one inch bolts in the 
granite and they didn't move.  I started back to the platform.  It was a 
suspension bridge.  It was obvious - you climbed up the tripod leg on 
horizontal bars welded to the vertical 2" schedule 40 steel pipe, got 
into the car, untied the rope holding the car to the tripod, and hand 
over hand, pulled oneself across the river.
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Oh happy day!!!  OH HAPPY DAY!!!  Yes, when jesus walked, when he 
walked, he washed our sins away...

I had stupid stuff bouncing round inside me as threw my pack to the 
ground and climbed up to the platform.  Across the river was a little 
log building with no windows - probably the hut the guys who took river 
readings used during the winter when they came down here.  A weird kind 
of civilization.
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I pulled on the cable and pushed the car.  Finally, I sat in the car and 
looked across the 150' river.  My exuberance folded over into 
nervousness.  While rationally I knew that crossing the river was 
probably 100% safe, I'd never done anything like this before.

I saw I'd have to cross the river with my pack.  Then I'd have to let 
the car go and get into the other car now docked on the north side of 
the river.  I'd have to pull myself across the river, pushing the first 
car in front of me, and retie it to the south side tripod.  I'd then 
have to get back in the north side car and cross the river for the third 
time.

I have a kind of acrophobia.  I've lost my inner ear on the shoulder of 
Mt. Ritter and a peak in the Enchantments in Washington.  It was all I 
could do to cling to the rock as my world spun and my stomach lurched 
and breathed trying not to vomit.  The cable was probably 20' above the 
river, but it was "above."

I climbed down from the platform and meandered back to a sandy glade 20' 
from the river and its wonderfully soothing white noise.  I set up camp, 
crawled into the tent to put a barrier between me and the voracious 
mosquitos, munched on goldfish, jerky and gorp while I read my airplane 
novel.  Every once in a while I'd stare off into space, into the next 
morning, and feel my stomach clench.  I was not looking forward to 
crossing the river.
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The despair I'd felt at the absence of a bridge was gone.  Just wiped 
away...

I woke up the next morning, lay in the tent as the dawn turned into a 
bright presence on the canyon wall across the river, into sun streaks 
through the trees on the canyon floor.  A gentle breeze moved the poplar 
leaves and made the pine boughs almost sway.  I lay there knowing I had 
to get up, pack, cross the river, and hike up the north canyon wall.  I 
was willing to luxuriate in the 55 degree warmth for a long time but the 
call of nature had me up within minutes, grabbing the toilet paper and 
plastic shovel.  No choice here.  Two seconds of pooping, wipe, bury, 
and that's it.

Back to tear down the tent and pack up, eat some more muesli, and then 
over to the cable.  I climbed up to the platform, took off my pack, and 
placed it in the seat on the little car closest to the river.  I tied it 
down with my 50' of black quarter inch nylon rope so that if the car 
fell into the river, the pack wouldn't float away.  Don't ask me why 
that mattered.  If the car fell into the river, I'd be swimming for my 
life to get to the other side before being swept into the class six 
gorge a couple hundred yards downstream.  I guess it made me feel more 
secure.  What's ironic, is that if the car had fallen into the river, I 
could have used the pack to float/swim to the other side.  Tied to the 
car it would go to the bottom and stay there forever...
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I stepped into the car, my feet on the platform under the seat just 
ahead of the foot bar.  I untied the rope holding the car to the tripod 
and sat down.  I grabbed hold of the inch thick cable and put my feet on 
the foot bar.  The car began to move.  I'd decided without consciously 
deciding, that I would move hand over hand across the river.  The car 
wanted to pick up speed.  I stopped it and hand over hand, let it down 
the cable toward the middle of the river.

The cable was almost at arms length so hand over hand involved a little 
bracing of the feet on the foot bar, my back against the seat back, so 
that I had a modicum of control.  Hand over hand I braked my way down 
the cable.  There was a strip of steel that kept my hands from being 
caught between the pulley and cable.

As I approached the middle of the river the car lost its urge to run and 
I felt much more in control.  I began to pull on the cable, pulling the 
car on its two eight inch pulleys.

To this point I'd been looking at the cable and pulleys and across the 
river along the pulley.  I hadn't looked down into the river.  Feeling 
brave I looked down.  I saw the water flowing at 15 mph and lost my 
inner ear.  I grabbed hold of the cable, closed my eyes and tried to 
locate myself in space - in the space of being in the car, somewhere 
solid.  My stomach wanted to void itself of the morning's muesli and 
water.   It only took 10 seconds or so, but I managed to ignore all the 
physiological sirens going off and start doing what I had been doing, 
pulling myself across the river.

The pulling got harder the closer I got to the other side of the river.  
I think the two platforms were probably pretty close to being at the 
same elevation.  That meant that the suspended cable dipped a couple 
feet - maybe three or four - in the middle.

I got to the north side platform, pulled myself up against the other 
car, put my feet on the platform underneath the foot bar, and grabbed 
the railing surrounding the platform.  I'd made it.  I was shaky.  I put 
one foot at a time outside the car, holding onto the railing and the car 
at the same time, until I felt myself on solid ground/platform.  Whew... 
Wheww... WHEW..!!!

I tied off the south side car to the north side car and then took my 
pack off.  I looked at how the north side car was tied to the tripod, 
got in the car, untied the rope, and began to lower myself down the 
cable again, hand over hand.  Because of the extra 200 pounds or so of 
the other car, I worked a lot harder crossing the river.  I didn't look 
down.

I got to the other side, tied the south side car to the tripod, and got 
in the north side car for my third trip across the river.  This time I 
just let go of the cable and let the car run.  What could happen???

The car got up to about five miles per hour and it hummed, an increasing 
pitch that slowed only when we started up the other side.  I didn't have 
enough momentum to take me all the way to the platform so I had to pull 
myself across again.  I was ecstatic.  I could do this all day, and I 
bet i could even look down and not throw up!!!  But I didn't.

I put on my pack and climbed down the 12" long ladder rung pipes welded 
to the 2" tripod leg.  I had no interested in exploring the little 
windowless log cabin.  I didn't even go over and read the sign that 
probably said what it was.  I just wanted to get back to what I knew - 
hiking.

There was an obvious trail that disappeared into the brush leading to a 
creek splashing its way down the treed canyon wall.  Hoping against hope 
it would continue I started following it.  It disappeared after 50'.  I 
must admit I stopped, dropped my shoulders and head, and wilted as much 
as you can standing up.  I made it across the river even though there 
was no bridge.  I had only seven or so miles and 2900' vertical to hike 
that day.  On my seventh day of being alone, not talking out loud, I was 
ruing what I was about to do.  This would make four days of moment to 
moment trail finding and steep, sometimes dangerous hiking.  I was 
tired, not physically, but emotionally.  Being emotionally tired 
manifested itself in images of me taking one step after another in 
abject, defeated, hot misery.

I took a deep breath and looked ahead for vestiges of the trail.  I 
began walking, knowing I would eventually get to the car and the drive 
back to Santa Rosa.  The despair emerging at facing another unmaintained 
trail was caught up in sitting in the drivers seat, turning the key, and 
beginning to drive.  That was the slacker call - sitting and driving...

So much for balance and harmony.  Torn emotionally I put one foot in 
front of the other and made my way to the creek burbling its way 100' 
down to its convergence with the river.  There was an obvious crossing - 
stones 18" from each other, but under water.  I strode through the brush 
to a spot 100' upstream where i could step from boulder to boulder and 
cross the 10' creek without getting wet.

The trail was pretty nonexistent, but the way was obvious to my now 
sensitive eye.  The despair I'd felt when the trail disappeared on the 
shady, brushy flat had dissipated and I was full into one foot in front 
of the other, monitoring my aerobic functioning and the ache in my leg 
muscles.  The "trail" wound its way up along and from bench to bench, 
getting higher and higher above the creek, which after a while was only 
a promise at the bottom of the canyon  600' below.

It was a miners trail again, no switchbacks to speak of.  It was a south 
facing slope, so there were relatively few pines and lots of deciduous 
trees.  And it was getting hotter and hotter.  The previous days hikes 
had temperature in the 70s.  By 10Am, it was easily 80+ degrees.  The 
map showed the trail crossed three creeks on the ascent, so I wasn't 
worried about getting dehydrated.
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I stopped every 100' to 200' or so, for a couple seconds, for a minute 
or two.  I stopped once at a rock where I could keep my pack on and lean 
back and be supported.  There was a 30' tall tree with broad leaves in 
front of me.  Four hummingbirds, red and blue and green and yellow, 
played/fought in front of me.  I sat there for five minutes watching 
them and marveling.

The despair and fractured emotionality had given over to acceptance of 
the slog up the canyon wall.  And in this break, there was a pristine 
beauty in the bird's play that helped move me towards the balance of 
larger healthy perspective and smaller moment to moment emotionality, 
both fractured and holistic - the melding/wreathing/weaving of both that 
makes up the act of living.

This was hard work.  Every once in a while the trail appeared, and every 
once in a while, the trail flattened out for 100 yards or so.  These 
little moments heartened me.  I felt strong and looked at the views that 
I didn't see when slogging, one foot in front of the other.  My 
exuberance was tempered when I came to the next steep slope and the need 
to slow down, breathe more deeply, and put one foot in front of the 
other...
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I'd started with three quarts of water and after two hours of hiking, 
and getting maybe half way up the canyon wall, I wondered about the 
"reality" of the streams on the map.  When I got to the first one, and 
it was flowing, and in the shade, I threw my pack down and filled my 
gatorade bottles and drank and drank.  The one constant of hiking is 
drinking water.  I've hiked sans parents for over 40 years now, and can 
remember only a couple times where I've drank too much water.

Some people carry water bladders with tubes and sip as they walk.  I 
tried this, and gave it up as a bad deal.  My way of drinking water is 
to carry as little as possible, and when I get to a water source, drink 
a quart or two.  I can tip a gatorade bottle of cold snowmelt and drink 
it down without pausing.  This causes both consternation and amazement 
when I'm hiking with others.  I slam my body with water.  If I haven't 
peed in a couple hours, I make sure I down two quarts.  If' I'm peeing, 
and it's relatively clear, I'll down a quart at a stop as a preventative 
measure, and hike on.  A quart of water weighs two pounds.  Why carry it 
when the map says there is water in two miles/an hour???

The trail climbed to 7800' from 4800' at the river.  The trailhead was 
at 7200'.  The extra 600' takes the hiker over the top of a ridge 
offering stupendous views of the Sierra south of Mammoth.  
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The trail 
became more obvious as the forest retreated from deciduous and pines and 
undergrowth to pines with little undergrowth.  Maybe because it was more 
obvious, it became a bit mellower.  As it approached the apex of the 
ridge it was climbing, the views obviated the soreness of walking.  This 
is what I remember.  This is what hiking in alpine environments does to 
me - I get high.

What this means is that weariness and despair and slogging fade away.  
The one foot in front of the other backgrounds as the foreground expands 
to one vista after another.  "I" gets diffused into the world and it's 
majesty.  "I" is no longer a kernel coping with pain in my foot, calf, 
thigh, hip, waist, shoulder, or head.  "I" am stretched to the horizon 
of my vision, including all that is.

Perhaps my most vibrant experience of this expanded sense of "I" while 
backpacking occurred when hiking south from the San Joaquin River to the 
Muir Hut at the top of Muir Pass.  There is a stretch of trail that 
leaves the Evolution Basin, itself incredibly awe inspiring, that rises 
to 11,400' or so.  It's the head of the canyon's cirque and gives over 
to a treeless lakes basin beneath Muir Pass two miles long.  This 600' 
climb switchbacks up and offers ever larger and larger views south over 
Evolution Basin and the invisible Evolution Valley below the basin.

I'd spent the night at the San Joaquin River in the forest.  It was 14 
miles and 4000' to Muir Pass, my goal for the day.  The day began with 
an 1200' climb up the canyon wall along Evolution Creek to Evolution 
VAlley.  Then there was another 1000' climb to Evolution Basin.  Then 
the walk up the cirque wall between Evolution Basin and the basin below 
Muir Pass, another 1000'.  Finally 700' or so to the pass.

On my way up from Evolution Basin to Wanda Lake I met a fellow who'd 
been smoking pot.  He was almost incoherently nonverbal (make sense of 
that one!).

We spent a half hour talking.  I turned down his offer of a joint 
numerous times.  When we finally split I found myself energized.  I was 
so high.  My body was a finely tuned machine.  I walked two miles an 
hour and saw the world unfold before me.  When I stopped and looked down 
the basin I just got higher.  My weariness was an edge to my holistic 
connection with the rock and sky and snow and water.

As I got closer to the top, monitoring my progress on my wrist 
altimeter, I felt this connectedness again - not as strongly, but 
present nonetheless.  All the emotional ups and downs concresced into an 
ongoing moment of being-in-balance-and-harmony.  All the pain was 
there.  All the joy at being at the top of the world was there.  "I" was 
hiking in the wilderness on a warm day under a sky with fluffy clouds 
creating pockets of shadow on the landscape unfolding before me.  Ahhh...

I reached the top of the ridge and trod across it - the nose or shoulder 
actually - and began a switchbacking descent on a real trail.  I was 
still a mile or more from the bridge crossing Granite Creek I'd walked 
three days before.  I now felt my body hurting.  Each step down was a 
jarring reminder that I'd been stressing my body for a week now.  
Everything hurt.  Not all at once - more sequentially.  I think 
everything hurt at the same time, but I couldn't notice the "whole" of 
hurting, just the parts.  The soles of my feet hurt when I stepped.  My 
thighs hurt when I stopped myself from speeding up.  My back hurt when a 
step dropped me more than a couple inches.  My butt hurt when I twisted 
to catch myself stepping down.  My neck hurt...

600' down.  I hate hiking down...

I didn't see much on the descent.  I entered the forest and knew the 
junction with the trail dropping down the canyon wall I'd taken three 
days earlier was only a couple hundred yards away.  I passed the 
junction and reached the bridge crossing Granite Creek.

I'd been hearing the irritating buzz of two stroke engines for a half 
half hour and while the motorcycles were gone, they left their mark in 
the torn up trail leading from the bridge to the trailhead parking 
area.  While much of the trail from bridge to trail head was on granite, 
enough was on dirt, and they hit every patch.  Grrrrrr...

I'd left a little pouch on the sign at the trail head.  I'd gotten two 
of them a month or so ago.  One I put on a shoulder strap and it held my 
camera.  The other I put on my waist belt and it was to hold snacks.  
After the first hour of hiking from car to trail head I knew that I 
wouldn't use the waist belt pouch, and it would be more of a pain in the 
butt than a help in making little things accessible.  It was still there 
and I stuffed it into a shirt pocket.

The two or three mile hike back to the car from the trailhead was mostly 
gently uphill.  I was sore and tired, but the overwhelming feeling that 
let me put one foot in front of the other with resolve and joy was that 
of accomplishment, and gladness to be nearly done.  There were some big 
views I appreciated.  I even stopped a couple times and let the "big 
picture" visual scope carry me away.  But really, I just wanted to sit 
in the drivers seat of my car and drive.  I was done with hiking...

One of the background themes, minor for those of us who are relatively 
healthy, major for those who are quirky/neurotic, is the wondering if 
the car is ok.  I wondered about this as I walked up the road, but 
maintained a "let it go" frame as I realized that I could do nothing 
about whether the car had been broken into or not.

My brother and I went backpacking into a very rough/wild part of the 
Cascades for four days a couple weeks after he and his wife separated.  
We got back to his 1972 Datsun station wagon the folks had given him, 
and the rear window was blown out.  Bad karma...

Nonetheless, the wondering added impetus to my walking, a strange 
motivation anticipating a whole other set of challenges.  There were two 
big logs across the one lane dirt road.  I crossed them both and knew 
the car was around the corner of a treed bend.  I walked round the bend 
and there was the car - just as I'd left it.

I dropped the pack, fished out the beefy ziploc bag with my license, 
credit cards and key, unlocked the Solara's trunk, and stripped.  There 
I was, sweaty, but cooling off.  I gazed around me, wondering if I was 
offending some morally upright or officious American.  Suddenly, I 
didn't care.  Wearing only my shoes and socks, I raised my fist in 
exultation.  I leapt into the air, fist held high, and let out a whoop 
that faded in a minor echo through the forest.  I jumped up and down, up 
and down, whooping joyfully, wrapped in a sense of well-being that had 
me twirl a couple times before sinking into bodily soreness...

I slumped against the trunk and grabbed the clean shorts and shirt I'd 
left there four days ago.  I was done.  I took off my shoes and socks 
and grabbed my Tevas but didn't put them on.  I threw the pack in the 
trunk, got into the drivers seat and just relaxed - just sank into the 
seat.  My body was so sore, so ready to just sink into a five or six 
hour drive...  LOL...

Jeffrey Olson
10-4-2010


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