Sierras H

August 29, Mon.–13.1 miles–Sierras H Tuolemne Meadows

Mon. August 29         Miles today: 13.1          Total so far: 1,855.5         Sierras Section H  Tuolemne Meadows

Boy, was it windy last night near the top of Donohue Pass!  We really had to burrow into our sleeping bags!  But we were eager to get up & over Donohue and on to Tuolemne, so shivery or not, we had to hit the deck at packup time, as the wind continued to blow. Brrrr!   It was a slow climb up to the summit–the trail is bouldery and rough–but it was spectacular, scenery-wise.  By 6:15 am, we were at the top, and didn’t linger, because the wind was really pushing us around!  On the way down, slowly and carefully picking our way, we enjoyed the great views of Mt. Lyell, Yosemite’s highest mountain.  The wind was still blowing so hard that it was a long time before we were down far enough to get out the fuel bottle which had been travelling inside my jacket next to me, and we had hot mochas to warm us up. 

In the meantime, we’d already had TWO slightly scary crossings of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolemne River.  (The usual tall steppingstones through deep water).  It was a great relief to get to get at least one crossing with a bridge!  Far below in the valley, we could see the river coiling its way through the meadow, but getting down to it was a very tedious business on the steep, rocky trail.  And by now we were thinking, “Hamburgers at the Grill!”  We cheered when we got “down on the flat’ on soft dirt trail, through the meadow by the river and across wide, flat granite slabs and through the forest.  My family used to hike here when I was a kid, so it was sort of like coming home.  I love the wide-open meadows and the spectacular, unique mountains. 

We met wo Korean backpackers, a father and son, who got so excited about what we were doing that they wanted a picture with us!  I guess we are going to be in yet ANOTHER family photo album.  We charged on ahead and finally reached the campground, with its Grill and yes, hamburgers and ice cream and resupply box!  Hurray!  It turned out to be very windy even down by the store, making resupply sorting at the picnic table across from the store a bit of a challenge.  The store is just as I remembered it–all made of canvas.  I got us some treats for supper–fresh tomatoes, foccacia bread and other goodies.

Then we wandered over to the backpacker campground and claimed a spot.  When we opened the bear box, surprise!  Somebody had left some Bass beer behind with a note about “Take this, it’s yours.”  All right!  It was good beer, too! We used it to raise a toast to our coming adventures in Northern Yosemite.  Then we set up our camp, much to the fascination of another backpacker nearby, who came over to inquire about our rather “different” gear. Turned out he was from Washington, DC, and he’s doing the John Muir Trail.  He said that for him, adjusting to the altitude had been tough, but he MUCH preferred altitude problems to having to deal with back East HUMIDITY.   He admired our homemade gear and said he hopes to do the PCT someday.   We had a great conversation, then happily stowed our BIG food bags (7 days supply!) in the bear box and went to bed.  We could hear the singing and goings-on at the ranger campfire nearby, and it was very homey-sounding.  Actually I did almost feel as if I had come home–some of my happiest times as a kid were in this campground.  I can remember when the Tioga Pass Road was a one-way and at times pretty scary drive, but worth it all, just to be here in the beauty of Tuolemne Meadows.  We usually came right about this time of year, too, just before school started up again, only usually we had thunderstorms every afternoon.  Bill and I are blessed–since that horrendous storm before Kennedy Meadows, we’ve had clear and lovely weather.

August 28, Sun.–22.6 miles–Sierras H

Sun. August 28        Miles today: 22.6           Total so far: 1,842.4          Sierras Section H

Well, no bad mama bear or naughty cubs came calling last night.  In fact, Bill and I slept very well–TOO well!  I didn’t hear the alarm go off, and woke up a half hour late.  Oh well, more light made packup easier and quicker, so maybe we didn’t lose that awfully much time after all??  We walked as far as the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River before stopping to get water by the pretty wooden hiker bridge. 

Then we followed the PCT through the “back side” of Devil’s Postpile National Monument.  We didn’t do the “tourist alternate route” because we’ve seen the Postpile before and we’d never seen the PCT.   Well, the PCT route was really interesting.  Part of it wound through a very narrow canyon.  I half expected to see Robin Hood or maybe (this IS Califronia!) Black Bart, ready to relieve us of our heavy “purses.”   Eventually we got to another bridge over the San Joaquin,  where we could see happy fishermen downstream,  when whom should we meet snacking by the trail, but Dick Tracy and Wildhair.  We last saw them in northern Oregon!  We had fun catching up on each others’ adventures before moving on.

As we continued to follow the PCT, we had to cross many creeks that run into the San Joaquin.  One had a log laid across, but had added a center support post–good idea!  Now came a very long climb up to Agnew Meadows.  The trail stays high on the canyon wall of the San Joaquin River. As we neared the Meadows, we began to meet clean, spiffy, WAY overloaded backpackers just heading out, as well as even cleaner, spiffier dayhikers.   We probably didn’t smell very good to them, but to us, they just REEKED of artificial scent from laundry detergent, fabric softeners, deodorant soap, etc.  Long after they have passed, we could still smell what I call “eau de scented laundry soap” along the trail where they had been.  Gack!

Once we got to Agnew Meadows, we found it green and very pretty, but all fenced off so nobody could go in.  Bummer.  We stopped for a drink at the water faucet before tackling the climb to The High Trail, and there was a guy by the faucet with a HUMUNGEOUS heavy backpack.  He said he was just doing a training hike for a trip next month, and that carrying a heavy pack was “character building”.  Sure–also foot wrecking, knee destroying, and shoulder dislocating!  He was struggling mightily just to put on his pack.  Sad.  Well, we took our much lighter packs and were off to The HIgh Trail.  Wow!  Views!  Rock formations! And wild delphiniums taller than I am!  The High Trail has lots of springs, so all the plants thrive.  I’m afraid we shocked a couple who caught us in the act of filling our water bottles at one of the springs, without filtering the water.  “Aren’t you afraid of getting sick?”  “No–we just make sure to take water from a reasonably safe source, and this is a spring.  Looks good.”

Then came the climb to Thousand Island Lake.  As usual, it was a rocky trail, but with many small meadows, lots of wildflowers and butterflies.  When we reached the lake, with its stunning backdrop of Banner Peak, all we could do was just soak up the view.  Awesome, awesome!  The Sierras and the North Cascades (plus Jefferson Park in Oregon) have the most beautiful scenery you can imagine.   There were a number of very happy backpackers by the Lake.  Wow, it was tempting to just stop and camp there, but not when you are a thruhiker with several hours of daylight left, so on we went to Island Pass.  I’m not sure when we crossed it–there was no sign–so we headed on for Donohue Pass.

I was looking at all the beauty as we hiked along, and concluded “There must have been a lot of snow here–there are so many green meadows, pretty creeks and wildflowers.”  The flowers were amazing–they lined the trail, and sometimes covered whole hillsides.  As the sun went lower, the late afternoon light on the mountains and rocks was beautiful.  We climbed up and up the VERY ROCKY trail to just a bit short of the summit, and found a dry, flat, grassy spot to camp.  There was light enough to go on for a bit, but we didn’t know what lay on the other side of the pass, campsite-wise, so thought it best to stop.  The evening sky was clear (hooray! We have had no more storms!) but it was very windy.  As I was going to sleep, I was thinking, “If our Floodwrecked world could still look as beautiful as we have seen today, I wonder what it looked like before?   God really does bring beauty out of ashes.”