Archive for August, 2005

August 31, Wed.–20 miles–Sierras I

Wed. August 31         Miles today: 20         Total so far: 1,899.9             Sierras Section I

It was very dark this morning, even though we’ve changed the alarm clock to 5:20.  The moon has waned so much that it isn’t a “big light bulb in the sky” for us anymore!  Actually, one of the things I’m finding I really enjoy about long-distance hiking is being able to really notice and experience the difference it makes as the moon goes through its monthly cycle.  The moon is really beauiful, and with the clear skies in the mountains, we can enjoy that beauty to the max.

We set off for the last bit of climb to 10,140 foot Benson Pass, and reached the top by 6:15 am.  The sunrise light to the east was pretty, but what surprised me was the amount of sunrise color in the western sky as well.  I must say that Benson Pass is truly a lovely place, and the trail was not too hard either going up or coming down, because the trail was mostly dirt, and had a nice mix of steep places and flatter places that made it very do-able, even with a heavy pack.

Then we went through more great Tuolemne Meadows type scenery on the way to Smedbeg Lake, which was another gorgeous northern Yosemite lake.  The scenery here is equal to anything on the JMT, but there are far fewer hikers.  If you prefer solitude and beauty to crowds and beauty, skip the JMT and come here!  After Smedberg Lake, the trail went down into a deep canyon and through some very rugged country.  I had a hard time because the trail was so steep, rocky and rough.  Once I slipped and fell, but thank God, I was not hurt, (because my pack took the brunt of it).  But I was pretty shaken up and felt very scared at the possibility of what COULD have happened. 

We finally made it down (after falling, I was loathe to try to speed up) into the Benson Lake area.  Since the lake and its famous beach, the “Benson Riviera” are 4 tenths of a mile offtrail, we passed it by.  But one thing really impressed me.  Near the side trail to the beach, there are some HUGE trees.  Wow!  Now we faced a 1,600 foot climb to Seavey Pass.  The trail was very steep, rough and hard.  I ws really huffing and puffing!  But of course, the higher we went, the more mountains we could see.  We stopped for lunch at a beautiful little unnamed lake.  It was so peaceful and restful after the hard slog on the trail this morning!  After lunch, it didn’t take long to reach the pass.

But going down the other side of Seavey Pass turned out to be my personal nightmare.  It was very steep, and the trail was almost totally covered with rocks of some sort, either just lying loose or deliberately “cobblestoned” in place by trail crews.  The loose grit on top of the cobblestones makes every one of them very slippery.  I was constantly slipping and almost falling.  Instead of happily “bombing down” as I do on dirt trails, I had to pick my way, one step at a time, among the rocks.  I got so frustrated with my own slowness, knowing Bill could easily just zip down (he is a master of the “controlled fall” method of getting down a hill!), that I could not help but cry a bit while continuing to hike.  No way was I going to stop, but I was in a mental morass of being scared I’d fall again, angry with myself for being scared, angry with myself for being angry with myself and kicking myself for getting into a “pity party” instead of really, truly trusting God to help me.  By the time we made it to the canyon floor, I was totally wiped out, and my knees and feet were aching.  I really needed our afternoon rest break!

And just when I was feeling totally low and miserable, God gave me a kind little gift He knew I would appreciate.  All the way down into the canyon, I’d been angry that the trail crews had cobblestoned the trail.  But lo and behold, at a junction in the canyon, some trailworker had worked very hard with rocks, NOT to cobblestone, but to outline the 3-way junction very clearly, even involving a “pillar” stone in the center.  It looked sort of like a rock garden, and I am a total sucker for gardens.  I stood there and said, “OK, thankyou, thankyou, whoever you are that did this.  I love it!”  And there was a clear, cold creek nearby, where I got a liter of water, added Crystallite lemonade powder, and drank the whole thing on the spot.  Ahh! Now I was definitely feeling better!  (by the way, Crystallites’s “On the Go” packets are awesome!  They’re light and perfect for adding electrolytes or just plain nice flavor to your water). 

Rested up, Bill and I began the climb to Macomb Pass.  The trail was steep, but not horribly rocky, and it did have a few flatter places where we could catch our breath.  We got more great views of “deep canyon country”, but the views also showed us something else that was a bit worrisome–a big thundercloud buildup, off to the east.  “Better stake down the tarp tonight!” we said to each other!  A bit later, we came to a “granite slab” section of trail where sometimes it ws hard to figure out where the trail WENT.  We’d be standing around, scratching our heads and looking for rock ducks, but there were too few.  In the end, we found that our best guides were the “meadow muffins” left behind by horses! 

We made it up and over Macomb Pass quite late in the day, and looking at the thunderclouds coming closer and closer, there was no way we were going to camp “up high.”  So we half-ran down the trail on the other side of the pass (it was a DIRT trail, hooray!) while catching quick glimpses of the lovely evening light on the canyon walls.  We were determined to get as low as we possibly could before dark, and finally reached a dense grove of trees sheltered by huge boulders.  We did our very best to secure our camp for the possibility of big wind and rain in the night.  It was good to finally crawl into the sleeping bags.  This has been for me a very emotional rollercoaster day, with the blessing and the joy of the beauty we are seeing, and the privilege of being able to do what we’re doing, but at the same time the utter frustration of not doing well hiking downhill.  I had to spend quite awhile talking to God about it before going to sleep.

August 30, Tues.–24.3 miles–Sierras I

The songs they sang at the ranger campfire last night had a great “lullaby effect”–we slept like logs!  When the alarm went off, we woke up to a VERY cold morning (30 degrees). When I was a kid and we camped here, we used to build a campfire in the MORNING because Tuolemne Meadows is so cold.  I guess it hasn’t changed.   My brother and I used to get the fire going nicely and then make a 3-course breakfast for ourselves: hot chocolate first, then bacon sandwiches (bacon cooked over the fire), then pancakes (also cooked over the fire; it gives them a sort of smoky flavor!!)  The rest of the family never got up till WAY later, and I think they had cereal or something; I don’t know, because my brother and I at that point were usually down messing around in the Tuolemne River.

Well, mornings are STILL cold in Tuolemne!  As we walked out of the campground, I noticed that cars parked in the open had ice all over their windshields.  Brrrr! As we hurried along, trying to get warm, I took a few pictures of the familliar sights i remembered from when I was younger.  When the sun finally made it up over the mountains, we found a “sunpatch” down by the Tuolemne River where we could eat a quick breakfast.  It was still so cold that even the sunlight didn’t feel warm yet.  On we went, still “wearing our woolies”, till we came to another place on the PCT that brought back memories for me–a stretch of trail that’s just acres of granite.  “Dad,” I remember asking, “how do we know where the trail goes?”  “Just follow the ducks.”  “What are ducks?”  “A stack of rocks.”  And there they still were–ducks to guide us across the granite! 

Finally we came to the most special place of all–the bridge over the Tuolemne where the river begins to plunge into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolemne.  It was at this very bridge that I first heard of the “crazy but cool” idea of going from Mexico to Canada in one season.  I NEVER ever dreamed then that I myself would do it.  Wow!  My family never walked any farther along the trail than this bridge, because at that point we’d stop and go fishing for quite awhile before returning to the campground.  So once Bill and I crossed the bridge and headed onward, I was in “unknown territory”.  The trail at first follows the roaring, cascading Tuolemne, and goes past Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.  Then the river “took off” downcanyon, and the PCT began to wander peacefully through a “forest park” that eventually opened out into a large, long meadow that reminded me of a small scale Tuolemne Meadows.  It was beautiful, and the trail was easy–no rocks!  We met some PCT SOBOs who were headed for Kennedy Meadows.  They told us, “Don’t worry, once you get past Sonora Pass, the going is WAY easier!”  Encouraging news, that!

Then it ws up, up, up through forest to a crest, and as we were going down the other side, we met a lady park ranger in what seems to be the official backcountry uniform, which includes shorts instead of trousers, plus the carrying of a shovel.  She was polite, but firm, and insisted on SEEING our thruhiker permit and our bear cans.  I guess we passed the test OK–she complimented us on how far we’d come, and left.  Whew!  We heard that the only place on the whole PCT where you are GUARANTEED to meet a ranger is Yosemite.  No kidding.  That made two of them so far!

Our lunchtime goal was Return Creek, about which we’d heard many horror stories, but hoped that since it was late August, it wouldn’t be too bad.  Weeeeelllll, it was still an impressive bit of water!  The current is so strong that it has actually sculptured the rocks in the river and along the shore.  I was a bit nervous about crossing it (the procedure involved some big boulders), but with Bill’s help, all went well.  I always stop once we are safely over these nasty river crossings, and thank God for helping me be brave, and for helping us to make it safely.

Next was a 1,000 foot climb up over a ridge, and then down to beautiful Miller Lake.  Wow! It had TWO sandy beaches, clear water, and a lovely setting.  If we weren’t thruhikers, we would SO have stopped there!  Another climb, and we met another SOBO, Twisted Sister, who was headed for Walker Pass.  All of these folks basically did the same thing–hiked as close to the Sierras as they could back in May/June, then flipped up to Canada, and are now heading back to their various “finish lines.”  Again came the assurance, “Once you get past Sonora Pass, the trail is eeeasy.”  

Shortly after we met Twisted Sister, we found ourselves at the begining of “BIG canyon coutnry.”  We knew that for the next few days, we’d be going multi-thousands of feet up and down, beginning with a 1,100 foot DOWN into the Matterhorn Canyon.  What a canyon!  It is just like Yosemite Valley, only on a smaller scale, and minus the waterfalls.  We got water and ate supper there and just soaked up the gorgeous views.  Then it was time for the last project of the day–to reach Wilson Canyon and follow it up toward Benson Pass.  Wilson Creek, running down the canyon, turned out to be very pretty, with lots of wildflowers.  

We camped for the night just beyond the last ford of the creek, where the trail began its final switchbacks up to the pass.  We could have gone farther, but not knowing whether there would be any good campsites beyond the pass made us decide to stop there.  And, we were VERY tired from carrying packs loaded down with a heavy load of food.  A stretch of 5 days worth of food is not bad, but man, once we have to go for 6,7, or 8 days, the packs are horribly heavy.  Oh well,  every day the food bags grow lighter, and  we were very glad to be on our way towards Sonora Pass and easier going!