Aldo leopold said, ” there are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” I am one that cannot!
Friday August 5, 2016
Red’s Meadow to East Creek 12.5 miles.
The day started off with a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon at the Mulehouse Cafe in Red’s. I ate with some of the other hikers I met while re supplying and staying in the backpackers camp. Two of the people are from New Zealand and are doing the JMT South to North. I enjoyed talking and laughing with them and learning about great places to tramp. In New Zealand they call hiking and backpacking tramping.The other person at our table was a woman from Boston who is doing a thru hike of The Sierra High Route, and who also loves to hike and camp solo. I enjoyed talking with her as well.
After breakfast I had to visit with my other friends I made yesterday while packing my bear canister. A couple from Sacramento who are hiking the JMT for their 30th anniversary and plan to be on Mt Whitney on their actual anniversary. I LOVED talking with them and made some suggestions of places to camp.
Next I called my mom and updated her on all the goings on of the trail. It’s so much fun to talk with her because she has hiked a lot of these trails and has been following me on the map. She asks all kinds of great questions about the trail, the flowers, and the people.
I think I could have hung out at Red’s all day and I would have made more friends with the hikers resupplying today! But onward I went, finally hitting the trail at 10:15. And I was like the poking little puppy all day long. Again, it was very hot and after the first two miles of walking in soft soft sand, which is hard, I began a steady climb in the hot hot sun. And because I’m carrying 7.5 days of food and 2 liters of water my pack was heavy. So I kept stopping.
After climbing about 1,000 feet I stopped and ate a late snack/lunch. A guy who passed me earlier, running down the trail was now on his way back up. We had that best conversation. He also gave me valuable intel for the trail ahead in terms of water and potential campsites. Fueled by my rest I pressed onward, ER rather upward. Upward. Upward on the rock slabs. Upward to the tree line. Upward until all the flowers disappeared. Upward until the views of the Minerets and the Silver Divide appeared. Upward until there was no more up to go!
Downward, downward, downward. Downward until the sweeping view disappeared. Downward until the flowers appeared. Downward past not one, not two but three dry streams, all potential camping sites. Downward until I was walking on the forest floor the pines towering above me. Downward next to lush meadows filled with a dazzling array of wildflowers. Downward until finally I crossed a stream that had water and a campsite next to a sweeping vibrant meadow. 12.5 miles, not bad for a poky little puppy!
Saturday August 6, 2016 East Fork Creek to Stevenson Meadow 11 miles.
Phew what a day! The 10ish miles that I hiked involved a lot of route finding and it took forever, so it feels like I hiked 20 miles.
I slept with the rainfly on last night because it was quite chilly and damp next to the meadow where I camped. I didn’t get up until 7 and wasn’t one the trail until close to 8:30. I figured it would be an easy day and I would have plenty of time…..boy was I wrong. About a half mile from where I camped I came across a magnificent horse packer site complete with carved log chairs with arms! Very cool.
Shortly after that the trail went through a fire area from 2003, as well as a blow down. And that, that is where the fun began. Imagine taking several boxes of toothpicks and tossing them willy nilly into the air; now imagine wherever they landed there is a trail under them but you cannot see it. Next Imagine beautiful tall flowers, in some cases flowers as tall as you, growing all around and in between the toothpicks. Now, where the hell is the trail? It’s there somewhere.
I had to walk across logs, over logs, around logs but never under logs to find the trail. I spent a lot of time backtracking. The trail was completely obliterated in some places and then would reappear in pristine condition. I searched for tell tale signs of a trail…Two sawed logs, a mark in a tree, footprints (not the best trail marker) ducks….but I found nothing! Finally I got the GPS out, which I carry for just in case moments like these. The GPS showed I was exactly on the trail but I sure couldn’t see it. And then there the trail would be in perfect condition, so I would put the GPS away and soon find myself waist high in the flowers with a hundred thousand twigs, sticks and logs at my feet. Poor Cruiser got smacked in the face a million times and at one rest stop I found him clinging to my pack by only one arm! I can’t loose Cruiser….I would have to backtrack and hunt for him!
I’m thankful for the GPS and I’m not sure I could have navigated this section with just my map and compass. Wait, I take that back, I could’ve if I had to and I’m glad I didn’t have to! I can see how it would be easy to panic and feel you are lost. I coached myself, “you’re doing fine. The map and GPS don’t lie. Oh look there’s the trail again.” This went on for miles until finally I crossed Iron Creek where the trail continued in good shape all the way to Hemlock Crossing.
Once at Hemlock Crossing I found an amazing aqua swimming hole that was just waiting for me! And boy did that feel good after all my hard route finding. There was a big group at the crossing and they were sliding down one of the waterfalls. I talked to some of them and learned that they come here every year and they always slide down the waterfall. Looked totally scary to me!
Next I met a solo female backpacker maybe 10 years older than me. She had just come from Twin Island Lake up in Bench Canyon where she said climbing up the no trail pass behind Thousand Island Lake was hell! She was headed down the way I had just come from and I told her it was really hard to find the trail and she would probably see the matted down flowers and grasses of where I walked in circles.
I decided to head up into the lower reaches of Bench Canyon, a decision I soon regretted because I couldn’t find any good water and camping. (and then later, un-regretted) Finally, I came to a little trickle of water where just beyond there was a grove of pines that looked perfect for camping. Exhausted I stumbled into the grove only to find another group there. Ugh! Now what?!
There was an older woman cutting onions and I asked her if I kept going up the trail would I find more water and camping. She said: No it was at least an hour and a half up the trail to another good spot. But then, and this is where I un-regretted my earlier decision, she told me if I didn’t mind bush whacking there was an amazing site right on the river but I would have to go cross country to get to it. She said it would take about a half hour and then she walked with me part way and gave me explicit directions. “Go through that gap in between those two rock walls. Follow that down for a while and then go left at the duck. Make sure you go left. Then push your way through the bushes and trees and if you persist you will find the sweetest site!” I told her I had been bushwhacking most of the day and thanked her profusely! “Left at the duck, shoot, was it left or right. Dang it. I hope I can find my way back. Of course you can! Oh there’s a duck and another and another.” I did persist and I was rewarded with the most amazing campsite right next to the North Fork of the San Joaquin River. I dropped my pack and swelled down my tired feet. As I was making dinner I saw someone approaching and it was the woman who told me about this amazing place. She said she was worried and wanted to make sure I found it ok. I couldn’t believe that she walked all the way over here to check. She told me she first came to this canyon 68 years ago! Wow! I told her I was so so appreciative of her not only telling me about this gem but also checking to make sure I found it! Just the nicest!!
Sunday August 7, 2016 Stevenson Meadow area to Hemlock Crossing via a walk along parts of North Fork of San Joaquin River maybe 5 miles.
I slept late, until the sun was almost reaching the top of Pea Pod. I spent the morning doing camp chores, washing my shirt and shorts….I do this in a gallon ziplock bag. The water in the bag was dirty, dirty, dirty when I was finished! Next I fixed my trekking pole that keeps shortening whenever I push down in it too hard. Then I added some Velcro to my shorts so I can tighten them a bit, and in the processes I super glued my fingers together! My shorts were big to begin with but now they are almost falling off.
I walked up and down the river sampling the clear freezing cold but so inviting swimming holes. The river is amazing the way it rips through the narrow canyon smoothing out all the rocks on its way. And the geology is impressive…you can see how the plates were pushed up leaving sharp jagged edges. Here and there medium, small and huge erratics liter the ground like a trail of bread crumbs. So amazing and awe inspiring.
When I got back to Hemlock Crossing the big group was gone and in there place was a smaller group with blasting music!? I had to camp here because the next stretch is almost 10 miles with no water. I found a spot far enough away from them where the waterfalls drown out their music. I swelled down my feet leaving them in the water until they were numb….about a minute….the water is that cold!! There are so many amazing swimming holes and cascading waterfalls
Today was a great day!
Monday August 8, 2016 Hemlock Crossing to Sadler Lake 11.5 miles.
The morning started off with a 1500 foot climb in a little less than a mile….steep, but manageable because it was early. The higher I climbed the more expensive the view became and the river became a low roar in the distance. To the north I could see the Minaret Range and to the south the Silver Divide.
After I ascended the 1500 feet I gradually lost them on the long descent. Such is the way if the Sierra. UP, DOWN, UP, UP, DOWN, UP! I spent most of the day walking through the dense forest and alongside lush meadows filled with knee high wildflowers. I think I was the loudest thing moving through the forest and I felt like an intruder.
Today there were several signed trail junctions which is always fun because it feels like getting mail on the trail! It’s also a great time to rest and study the map. I love looking at the map and locating the peaks, valleys and lakes. I also like to add up the milage; although sometimes it’s discouraging when I’m not as far as I think I “should” or “need” to be. Those “shoulds” and “needs” are still with me on the trail. When I’m feeling particularly discouraged or tired I tell myself. ” you’re the closest you’ve been al day to …..( insert whatever destination )
At one signed junction I sat down in the dirt, leaned against my pack and took off my boots and socks to air them out. And then several bees landed on my feet….eek I don’t need a bee sting….on my feet no less! I very carefully brushed the bees away and realized I was sitting in a sweet patch of lupine.
Further down the trail I came across a trail crew and was amazed at how great the trail looked where they’d been working. I thanked them for all their hard work and dedication to maintain the trails so I can hike them!
There was a long stretch on the trail today with no water and when I finally came to water I stopped and had a late lunch. There was a small waterfall and a pool deep enough to swell down my feet. I stayed there for over an hour. It was so wonderful!!
I now sitting on the sloping granite rocks above Sadler Lake, 9,380 feet. The lake is surrounded by trees. grassy meadow-marshes and dots of granite rock. I found a sweet site that overlooks the lake and has easy access to the water by walking down the granite slabs. It is a really pretty lake and I think I’m the only one here. Of course I jumped in the water first thing upon arrival! It’s so refreshing after a long day of hiking.
Tuesday August 9, 2016 Sadler Lake to Lyell Fork 12 miles including 1 mile of backtracking.
Brrrrr was it cold last night. I spent the night burrowed deep in my sleeping bag with my down vest warmed around my head. It was even colder this morning when I crawled out of the Pea Pod. But the morning light was gorgeous and it made the cold bearable. I was in the trail by 7:30 and passed several people hiking in the opposite direction. I didn’t see anyone else until I met and thanked a trail crew at the end of my day at Lyell Fork.
The day went like this: Up 1,000 feet down 1,000 feet. Up. Down. Repeat. Repeat. The final descent of the day was crazy crazy steep and I cannot tell you how happy I was to be walking DOWN instead of UP.
I crossed over from the Ansel Adams Wilderness into the Yosemite Wilderness at the top of Isberg Pass; first thing this morning. There were also a plethora of trail signs today. In Yosemite the trail signs are metal and they have milage on them! I stopped at each trail sign and studied the map tracing my finger along the different trails. The trail signs are there as if to say; “you are not alone! We have not forgotten about you.”
I walked through a high alpine meadow with miniature everything… Trees, flowers, and little trickles of water. I marveled at the pristine-ness of this gentle area that is under snow for 8 or 9 months of the year. The views today into the Yosemite high country were stunning and spectacular. I even saw the back side of Half Dome way off in the distance. I love the high country with its small trees, and huge white glacier polished granite.
I’m camped next to the Lyell Fork on one of the long glacial polished granite slabs below the trail. I sat under a mini waterfall and had a shoulder massage. Now I’m listening to the roar of the water as it cascades over the rocks forming both waterfalls and inviting pools.
Wednesday August 10, 2016 Lyell Fork to Hutchings Creek to Vogelsang Pass 12 miles
This morning I veered off the trail and headed up into the Hutchings drainage on a very faint use trail. My goal, the two meadows with the Lyell Fork running through them below Mount Ansel Adams. The 1 mile hike up was mostly on long granite slabs punctuated by the occasional stand of trees growing in sandy soil.
Once at the meadow I had a spectacular view of Mount Ansel Adams. I have intel that it’s quite possible the camp I was standing in was Ansel Adams camp in the early 20th century. In 1892 and 1896 Theodore Solomons, the pioneer of the John Muir Trail, visited this spot and photographed the Lyell Basin. I stayed here for a long time marveling at the beauty. I tried to imagine what it was like here in the late 1800’s and how much it had changed. I photographed what I thought to be the same photo that both Ansel Adams and Theodore Solomons photographed. I’ll be curious to look this up and I might want to have Ansel Adams photo hanging next to mine especially if it truly is the same location.
Once back on the trail I spent many hours contouring one drainage to the next. I walked mostly in the forest along dry stream beds. Here the meadows were all brown, fall setting in, another season gone by. I’m saddened by the brown meadows and the changing of the season. Time marching on. And me hiking on and on and on!
Steadily downhill I went until I found myself again walking on the forest floor looking at the understory. I much prefer the high country where I look down on the understory. As soon as I arrived on the forest floor I began to climb again steadily up, up, up. This time along Lewis Creek. And then amongst all this beauty: granite rocks, rushing water, purple fire weed, chirping birds, I found myself in a foul mood!? “What?! Foul mood? How can this be?!” I told the trail I didn’t want to be walking up hill anymore! The trail did not listen and continued its ascent up, up, up! To make myself feel better I thought of all the ways I could be more miserable and discouraged: ” I could be swatting at black flies and mosquitos while walking up this hill. I could be out of food while walking up this hill. It could be raining while I’m walking up this hill. The sun could be beating down on me full blast while I’m walking up this hill. I could be huffing and puffing while walking up this hill. My pack could weigh twice as much while walking up this hill. My feet could be full of blisters while I’m walking up this hill. I could be barefoot while I’m walking up this hill. I could be starving while I’m walking up this hill. Oh, wait, I am starving!” My litany continued until I looked up and saw an inviting swimming hole on the smooth granite slabs. The water calling my name: “Tidy, Tidy, Tidy!” I couldn’t get my pack, clothes and boots off fast enough! I sat in the water as it rushed over and around me. I dunked my head and slowly slowly felt my body temperature drop. Back on the trail my mood improved and I was able to focus on the beauty rather than my game of what could be worse.
I am now camped on the top of Vogelsang Pass, nestled in a sandy spot surrounded by miniature white bark pine and rocks. I arrived late, 8 pm and as I eat my dinner I’m watching the alpenglow on the distant peaks. Two backpackers walk by and they stop and chat while they put on warmer clothes for the descent. I learn that they are naturalists in Tuolumne Meadows and have a few days to explore unchartered territory. They pull their map out and quiz me on which drainages I’ve been in. I suggest the meadows with the Lyell Fork running through and Mount Ansel Adams standing guard. ” That’s exactly what we’re thinking” they say. They switch on their headlamps and down the trail they go. I notice one of them is wearing flip flops! I’m thrilled I’m NOT hiking with my head lamp or in flip flops! The wind is howling and I’m looking forward to the cozy shelter of Pea Pod.
Thursday August 11, 2016 Vogelsang Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. 10 miles
Shortly after I hunkered down inside Pea Pod I began hearing what sounded like two rocks being banged together. What could that be? This went on for several minutes until my curiosity couldn’t take it any more. I felt around for my head lamp, slowly, slowly unzipped the tent door and boom…. 1,000 lumens are shinning at the vast world outside my tent…… Only instead of the bright, bright light coming on, the little itty bitty red light came on and I couldn’t see a thing! I cracked up! Finally after much button pushing I actually got the correct light on and of course nothing was outside except the stars and the moon illuminating the the rocks.
I was up early and drank my coffee to the accompaniment of the howling wind. Slowly the sun crept across my campsite but by the time it fully arrived I was long gone down the trail.
The hike into Tuolumne Meadows was uneventful. I arrived at the “backpackers picnic” tables outside the store and flopped myself down on the bench. I was tired. Very, very tired. And I earned the “right” to sit at these tables by all the miles I accumulated the last 2 weeks! Of course the tables are really for anyone but they are mostly occupied by backpackers resupplying, eating burgers and trading stories of the trail. It is an instant community full of comrade and we are bonded by the miles we hike, our dirty clothes, smelly socks and especially by our love for the backcountry. This table feels good and I spend most of the afternoon here.
In addition to hikers sitting on the picnic benches the benches are also filled with backpacks. This is a curious thing…. After miles of flopping our packs in the dirt, dust, mud and leaning them against sticky sap trees, we now treat our packs as a distinguished guest that need special seating off the ground. Why we do this I have no idea…but it is what we do and it’s a ritual that draws us together. The backpackers table satisfies my craving for interaction, connection and community.
This concludes part 2 in a 3 part series of the great big adventures of Tidy and the Pea Pod and Cruiser too!
This blog was typed trail side on my eye phone with my index finger one letter at a time!
Stay tuned for the final installation of the Great Big Adventures of Tidy and the Pea Pod and Cruiser too…coming to your in box soon!