The Hike Out

Bear Creek to Mammoth Lakes: 56 miles in five days

August 20th: 7 miles along Bear Creek

August 21st: 11 miles Bear Creek to Vermilion Valley via Mono Hot Springs Detour

August 22nd: 6 miles from Vermilion Valley to Cold Creek

August 23rd: 15 miles over Goodale Pass down into Cascade Valley to Fish Creek

August 24th:18 miles from Fish Creek through Iva Bell Hot Springs to Mammoth Lakes

Billy here. After getting soaked in relentless rain for days, we woke up along Bear Creek after a long, restless night. Spence had a fever and was sweating and chilled all night long. He even got up in the middle of the night to make hot chocolate, he was so cold and sleepless. It was clear that we would not make it over the next mountain pass this way, so we began a slow trek out, with the idea that perhaps we would get a ride back to Mammoth Lakes some way or another.

We hiked out Bear Creek and thought we’d try Mono Hot Springs south of Vermilion, since it was closer to the road out, thinking maybe we could find a ride or get a bus or shuttle. It was a beautiful but hot hike out, some of it down a rocky and steep OHV road. At the end of the OHV road was a little trailer where someone lived rather rustically. Here we continued down a steep, winding main road with no shoulder for a couple of miles. Mono Hot Springs was a cute little operation, dotted with cabins and a quaint little general store. We were running low on energy and water, so we bought some juice and maps and sat out front in some rocking chairs to discuss our plan. A couple of local grizzled cowboys were sitting net to us smoking cigarettes, one with a gentle demeanor, and struck up a conversation on the area and where to catch a bus. From the gist of it we would have to try and find a ride to Fresno and then take a bus all the way around. This prospect would cost us some money. Even though Mammoth was about thirty miles on foot (as we erroneously thought) across the mountains, by car you had to go all the way around, south and north again through Yosemite, a trip that would take us all day with good luck. We didn’t really like the prospect of having to negotiate a ride into a city then sitting on the bus with Spence feeling so sick. We decided to rest and walk back. This was a feat of courage and endurance on Spence’s part that still impresses me to this day. He was feverish and woozy with no appetite and the trek we had in front of us was more like fifty more miles, not thirty. Our first step was to hike back up the steep road to Vermilion Valley Resort to get back on the trail. One of the grizzled yokels was talking about the numerous hot springs in the woods, some public, some secret, but it was hot out and we wanted to get on our way. The other cowboy with the soft voice said he saw us walking down the main road as he was driving in from his trailer where he lived at the end of the OHV road, which we passed earlier, and offered to give us a ride in his van, at least as far as his trailer. As long as we didn’t mind a little mud and animal hair. Not in the least! On the ride up he talked about how he used to ride the horse train for the camp up near Vermilion and how he loved the Southwest. There was something so gentle and kind about him, like a cowboy Buddha. Sam Elliot would be cast for his character in the Hollywood movie of our summer. When we said goodbye I realized we didn’t get his name, only the name of his dog, which seemed appropriate somehow. We were so scattered and out of sorts that we had forgotten to get water in Mono Hot Springs and I had even left my half finished juice at the general store. The climb up the road to Vermilion was hot and ruthlessly sunny and we soon ran out of water. It was at least five more miles to the resort and I felt ridiculously irresponsible for letting us run out of water when Spence was so sick and on the road of all places. As if being answered swiftly by a miracle, I heard the sound of running water off the side of the road just up ahead. There was a small spring! We rested in the shade, filled up on water and trekked back up to Vermilion for the night.

That night it stormed through the entire night, soaking our tent further and effectively draining us of more sleep. So we had a slow, wet start to the day and Spence was still feeling very sick, but we didn’t want to spend another day at the resort so we might have a better chance of getting some good rest, so we decided to hike a little into the trail and take a rest day. Looking at the map and remembering the torturous climb down the granite staircase and Tully Hole, we agreed that we didn’t want to climb back up that way. Also, we wanted to stay at a lowest possible altitude, in case Spence’s flu was an altitude sickness combination, so we set out to take a different route back: down into Cascade Valley along Fish Creek instead of up over it on the PCT. We knew we didn’t technically have a permit to go this way, but figured through the extenuating circumstance, we had to take the chance. So we set out up Cold Creek past Graveyard Meadow, where we rested and dried out for the rest of the day. I was beginning to feel under the weather too, but I drank Emergen-C and powered through it with sheer will. I had to be motivated and strong to get us safely out.

The next day we slowly hauled over Goodale Pass, which was relatively not as difficult as Silver Pass. We rose slowly into the dusty, moonscape of the mountain pass and saw Squaw Lake again from a different side. My thoughts were filled with old grievances as we clamored slowly down switchbacks on the other side of the divide past alpine lakes, until we reached the very bottom of the valley and forded Fish Creek with our shoes in our hands at dusk. We continued down the creek for a ways trying to find a flat spot to camp for the night and, even though we didn’t intend to hike for so long, by the time we finally found a spot right next to the creek, it was dark and we had gone almost 15 miles.

The next morning we hiked over the ridge to Iva Bell Hot Springs, where we rested our weary legs in a warm, healing pool and determined that we might as well hike all the way out today since we were quickly running out of food options. We forded the creek again and hiked up a dry, hot switchback out of Cascade Valley, affording wondrous views of the valley floor, and continued north to Devil’s Postpile where we would take a shuttle back to the car. This little back trail from Fish Creek to Reds Meadow was quite beautiful and I am glad we got to see the sheer granite cliffs and waterfalls tumbling straight down them. Much of the trail was flat solid rock, part of a vast cliff dropping off to the west of us. By the time we hiked up out of our last switchback bowl, I was finally getting the hang of understanding altitude change on the topographic map. “Oh, the rest of this trail is no problem!…Gentle slopes all ahead!…No more uphill after this!” I would say before ascending yet another gravelly switchback over a rocky ridge.

We were so thankful to finally see the Rainbow burn stumps of our home stretch: only a couple miles to the shuttle pick up. Just before leaving the meadow, I saw the flapping of what I thought was a hummingbird, but it turned out to be a sphinx moth, a creature I had been wanting to see since I was a kid! Our very last uphill to the shuttle stop from the trail was so ridiculously steep that I joked we would soon start walking up backwards, trying to humor Spence, who was not in a mood for any more hills. I was so tired, hungry and grumpy that I stopped in my tracks and laughed with my hands on my knees. We finally made it to the bus stop after nearly 18 miles up from the Valley floor. We sat on the shuttle in a daze as the sun set. We were dreaming of hot fresh food and a bed and a shower. I could only imagine how tired Spence must feel battling sickness and going 50 more miles over another mountain pass and into and back out of an enormous valley.

In the dark, we anxiously walked away from the shuttle through the parking lot back to where our van was last parked. We were delirious and could hardly walk even on the pavement. We were exuberant to find our van intact once again!

We went to a local bar with a Texas theme called Z Ranch and joyously drank Shiner. I ate a mouthwatering double jalapeno cheeseburger with zeal. We checked into the Motel 6, took heavenly hot showers and crawled into soft, flat, clean and dry beds. We were going to sleep in and have some real coffee. At a coffee shop.

Because we had backtracked and done parts twice, like the River Trail, we had just walked over 192 miles through the Sierras, which is nearly the length of the entire John Muir Trail. I knew in my heart I would go and do this trail again to the finish. Ultimately, it isn’t about the miles or even completion, for there is nothing to complete except the continual shattering of limitations in the mind, forms, symbols and ideas – learning to see and hear the world as it is without the stained glass vision of the story through which we see the world. As Arthur Koestler says:

Every creative act involves…a new innocence of perception liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.

spence here:  waking up to another very cold and wet morning, we decided to go about a mile to a drier camp to rest up and dry out. my head was spinning and breakfast did not appeal to me–not even coffee. we landed not too far from upper bear creek meadows and sadly never went any further south. even after laying in the sun to dry out for several hours i had severe chills, accompanied by sweating since i had put on every layer of clothing i could fit. that night’s sleep was possibly my worst ever, as i struggled in average temperatures to stay warm and stop shivering.  in the middle of the night i finally got up and made hot chocolate,  thinking dramatically, that if i had hypothermia, the beverage would save me. in the morning, we had nice sunny skies and warmer temperatures, however, i was in no shape to hike. i turned to billy and i saw that he knew what i was about to say. in a disappointed and sick-induced haze i buried my head in my sleeping bag. when i woke again, i weepily drank half a mug of tea and dragged myself out of the tent to pack up.  i’ve never been so dizzy, fatigued and/or nauseous in any time i can recall. it took me an hour to sort and fill my pack–a chore that normally took 5 minutes.

what i remember from that day of hiking, as we turned around to go back, was not the fact that we barely made any miles, or the fact that i had napped more than hiked, but that of billy’s courage, patience and resolve to take care of me and get us out safely.  we had both been reading our guide book and re-reading the book to try to figure a short way out and the answer was simple–there was no way out that didn’t include at least one mountain pass and elevations of 11,000 feet. i focused that day on staying upright, with the hope that going down in elevation to vermilion valley resort would help me feel a little better.

we sacked out for the night at a lovely spot near bear creek, with a shadowy butte overlooking our camp. it was warm and dry and i slept a little better at 8500 feet, but still had the chills.  it took me 3 days to get rid of them, but by that time, i had a new problem–chafing.  i had never had this problem before while hiking, although i had heard numerous horror stories of people unable to continue hiking for the chafing on their butt cheeks and thighs was so bad.  many companies make anti-chafe cream and lube for this purpose, as well as special spandex, chamois shorts and a whole host of other preventive measures. fortunately and/or unfortunately, i had read of a quick and painful remedy that proved to work well the whole trip–alcohol.  i always traveled with alcohol pads because they are good for everything–from first aid to getting sap off your hands to cleansing before cooking.  curiously, another use for them was drying up chafing.  yes, it is as awfully painful as it sounds, but its a 5 second way to stay chafe-free and get a little cleaner at the end of a long hiking day.  in my sickness stupor, i had neglected to notice and take care of this increasingly aggravating problem, so by the time we arrived back at vermilion, my chafing was so bad, it was uncomfortable to sit down.  i did what i could by showering at the ranch, using alcohol and eventually using talc powder, but since we had to hike further, nothing really helped. at least it took my mind of my continuing nausea and fever!

with all said, i really did appreciate seeing mono hot springs and i felt sad to miss out on soaking.  i was glad for more kindness from strangers, in the form of buddha cowboy camper-dweller and for the continual hospitality from the folks at vermilion valley ranch in the face of our predicament. i was dead-tired and worried about hiking out, but going down in elevation to 7500 feet helped to clear my head and see that our path was clear over goodale pass. it was a brilliant trail and seeing the pass (basically west of silver pass in the same set of teeth) in the sunlight, really highlighted the silvery rocks and cliff faces, gleaming.

billy must have been on edge and disappointed about our turn of events to hike out, but he never showed it. on our way down we stopped for lunch at another secret waterfall spot which had a shimmering sandy beach of crushed granite. we talked about coming back and finishing the trail another time and i know in my heart we will.  i wish i could have enjoyed the last day of hiking more, as our 18-mile epic walk was so picture perfect in many ways.  the trail weaved through massive granite walls, soft pumice paths, across clear fast streams where i dunked my weary head and captured the pictures of twisted old junipers in my mind.  billy would hike ahead and then wait for me to catch up, a slow, shuffling bundle. i felt all sorts of emotions, from disappointment in myself, to relief, to sadness and then back to disappointment.

our shuttle back to the van was uneventful.  i was grateful for the ride, resting my bones, but somehow i thought there should be some sort of monumental ending. not exactly ticker-tape or a medal, but something. i felt proud of what we had accomplished, however, it felt hard to praise it in my mind in light of our hike being over. it felt difficult to swallow–it being “over.” but besides the chafing and exhaustion, at the lower altitude i started feeling better. i knew we had made the right decision in turning around, as hard as it was. i had heard the stories of hikers trying several times to finish the jmt and being sent back to civilization stronger and wiser–successfully finishing in subsequent years. this was my resolve.

i thoroughly enjoyed my garden burger and beer at the z ranch bar, as well as my epic hot shower at the motel.  we had a lot to look forward to with an upcoming new adventure in the desert. i looked towards those future paths and the wisdom and courage that flows to us with time.

Tully Hole to Bear Creek

Lake Virginia to Bear Creek: 36 miles in four days

August 16th: 13 miles from Lake Virginia over Silver Pass to Mott Lake Junction

August 17th: 10 miles into Vermilion Valley Resort along Lake Edison

August 18th: 13 miles back to JMT/PCT via Bear Creek Cutoff Trail

August 19th: Rest Day on Bear Creek

spence here:  it was great to have second breakfast/lunch at lake virginia.  we even set out our portable solar panel to charge up the camera. we climbed up from lake virginia (10,338 ft) over a nice saddle where the view of the cascade valley was stunning. around a bend we first glanced tully hole–a green bowl with mountains surrounding it, seemingly to have no way in or out.  we followed the trail and found the way in and out–about 14 switchbacks carved into the side of a gravelly slide. i was very thankful to have trekking poles for the gravity on that particular slope was strong!  it was mid-afternoon at that point and the sun was baking my brain! i descended quickly and behind me billy took a series of amazing photos as we got closer and closer to the green meadow with fish creek running through it. what a miraculous fairy-tale place.

taking a break on a bed of pine needles at fish creek, we worried about the impending clouds and getting up and over silver pass before the thunderstorm. the scenery was so spectacular however, we still took our time, trying not to miss anything, and trying to remember all the smells, sights and opulent forest.

the steel bridge over fish creek must have quite the construction project.  did people hike in those beams? helicopter? unicorn? who knows, but it was fun to speculate and admire once again the ingenuity and work that has gone into this trail system. we climbed some more as the clouds gathered, darkened and the wind picked up.  the forest slowly thinned as granite rock took over the landscape and we continued climbing. our trail opened up to massive expanse of rock, glacial peaks, small alpine lakes and the storm! our trail was well marked with cairns, which was a good thing because it looked as if there were several ways over the mountain–so many peaks. it looked as if monsters’ jagged teeth had pushed through the earth’s crust–with 10 or so pairs of jaws, which way was our trail going? the rain started coming down a bit more, everything went grey and the wind was fierce. the lightening seemed to be just west of our trail, so we decided to go for it and trust that we would be okay on the pass (10,750 ft).  its not like there was any cover to be had anyway. at one point, after a flash of lightening  billy looked back at me and said he felt a current through his metal hiking poles, through his hands and arms. oh boy. we tried hiking faster, and even though i was hungry and my legs were like noodles i felt we had to get over the pass as there was no where else to go–dinner time and rest was safe on the other side. we passed a family going the other way–they had just crossed–and that reassured the both of us that we weren’t crazy to be doing this in a storm–or just less crazy than we thought. i paused slightly at the pass as we crossed over, trying to take in this god-like circumstance–it definitely felt surreal–before we boogied down another set of switchbacks in the pelting rain.

eventually we stopped as the rain let up, to have a big pot of soup behind a garden of more granite that acted as a windbreak. strangely, at that moment a very fit but very tired-looking woman stopped to talk to us who scarcely had any warm clothes on, a tiny backpack and a mostly empty water bottle. she said she was trying to break some sort of record, hiking/running from vermllion valley resort to red’s meadow in less than 3 days. sadly, she said she wasn’t going to break the record as she was already behind. she seemed to pause, as if we were going to be able to help get her out of this predicament. i felt bad, knowing the trail she was about to go up and at this late hour.  it was obvious, however, that she had nothing really to sleep in and was just going to push on through without rest or much food. what a way to go! we didn’t have much to offer her at that point and i felt as if i had let down a fellow hiker in need.

we descended the trail further after that to a small camp called pocket meadow. it was basically a trail junction with a few flat spots beneath a crazy granite staircase–1,000 feet in a half mile.  ouch! i felt so very lucky again, to be going down that trail instead of up.  i awoke early on my sister’s birthday the next morning, sad to not be able to wish her a good one, but excited at the prospect of getting to vermilion valley resort for a cafe meal, some re-supply food from the free “hiker’s box” and a days rest.  it was at this time i started to feel the effects of altitude sickness, although i didn’t know it at the time. i wasn’t hungry anymore, felt slightly nauseous and had a headache.  i attributed this to our long strenuous hike the day before and to our narrowing/boring food choices. i felt more than sluggish on the pass, felt grumpy on the way down and felt chilled the rest of the day. little did i realize it was about to get worse.

vermilion valley resort was very welcoming to backpackers. the owner himself gave us a quick tour, talked about the cafe offerings, showers, backpacker camp and store.  we could have a beer free from the hiker cooler, camp for free and run a tab while we were there and pay at the end. i was exhausted and thrilled. we had some time before the cafe opened for dinner so we had a few beers, bagels, cheese and chips. on our trip we had become obsessed with the card game cribbage, and so we commenced to playing for 2 hours. we set up our tent in the busy back packer area and hung out at the outside covered bar as more rain came and went. other hikers were similarly passing the time. at dinner, all the options were meat, so it was then i decided to break my vegetarian ways. i was hoping the baked chicken would help me to feel more nourished and less puny.  as the night wore on, we turned in but couldn’t sleep as all the workers were whooping it up at the outdoor bar.

in the morning i didn’t feel as refreshed as i had hoped, but was excited about the trail. i still felt sluggish and so we decided to hike an easier, different trail back to the jmt, called bear creek. what a wonderful choice! i want to go back and hike this loop again, as bear creek was spectacular! the trail was mellow, the creek was clear and cold and i felt happy hiking along it. the flowing water over sand, boulders, through bushy manzanita and around huge rooted trees felt magical and was sparkling. i felt a little nauseous and not very hungry, but the surroundings did wonders for the outlook of our trip.

Billy here. The switchback straight down into Tully Hole was a spectacular introduction into the lands we were about to traverse over the Silver Divide. Hiking down the gravelly cliff was hot and slow going, even with poles, but the gorgeous stream snaking through the pristine meadow was fantastical. As we continued further along Fish Creek, we stopped along the water’s edge and dunked our head and feet, grabbing a snack under the trees. Clouds were gathering ominously, so we were banking on getting over Silver Pass before a rainstorm. A young, fit hiker came pumping our way, having just come over the pass. He had gone 15 miles already and was hoping to make it to Reds Meadow by nightfall. I believed he would probably make it, seeing the shape of his calves. He was rather incredulous that we would make it over the pass before the coming storm however, so we set off at a clip.

Coming up to Silver Pass was incredible. We crossed Fish Creek on a steel foot bridge – such an amazing construction project so high in the wilderness! The creek kept dropping further below us until it was hundreds of feet down a chasm spilling into Cascade Valley. The mountainous axeheads of granite did shine like silver, white rocks glistening with ice even in the increasing gloom. I felt that we were entering a superhuman realm – gleaming white rocks jutting into each other at extreme angles while western juniper and pine grew right out of the stone. The junipers were like witches, bright and mischievous. The land spoke to me more clearly than anywhere since the Benson Plateau or the Waucoma Ridge in Oregon. The woods seemed peopled with sprites and elves, all sorts of woodland spirits. The lakes here have terribly racist names near Silver Pass like Squaw Lake, Warrior Lake and Chief Lake. I began to think a lot of cultural appropriation of the Native People and the challenges it poses, especially to Americans of European heritage. It is true that the land spirits are different here and the Native people know them as my ancestors must have known the elves and trolls of Europe. We rounded jaw after jaw of granite, not knowing where the pass would actually be, steadily climbing upward as it began to rain. We passed white ridges, bridges of rock, alpine lakes, massive granite walls. Soon enough it began to pour and Cascade Valley suddenly opened below us across shining expanses of rock that was our trail, marked by tiny cairns. I was thankful to see horse manure across the flat, cracked wedges of stone, for it helped me to know I was still on the trail. Seeing the misty rain empty into the valley, under which Fish Creek snaked in a silver gleam filled me with energy to make the journey over the pass. The thunder kept rolling and the teeth of the divide flashed. The pass, which I kept thinking was over the next rocky knoll, seemed to grow more distant with each switchback. I began to think that maybe this was an idiotic idea, but we were already at 10,000 feet, and the pass was close now. I felt a jolt in my wrist and wondered if I was building up a charge through my poles. I became very afraid and doubtful. The hair on my arms were standing on end, but maybe this was because of my fear. Then I saw a woman and her very young daughter, maybe six, stumbling down from the pass towards us in rain ponchos. They seemed so nonchalant about the storm that I felt less crazy about being here. A little ways later I met the grandfather. He asked me to fix his poncho for him, as it had blown off of his pack and half of his body. I stood there on a rocky precipice fastening his poncho as thunder roared around us. He thanked me and we continued past one another. The storm was increasing. I suddenly became aware of the silver Thor’s Hammer pendant I was wearing. I knew rationally that metal on the body was a bad idea in a lightning storm, but somehow, something gave way in me.  I was emptied of all human fear and doubt. A resolve and strength entered me and I knew I would will myself over this pass through harm’s way. I was reminded of what Thor represented to my ancestors, a protector, giver of rain and thunder. Thunder and lightning fixes nitrogen to the soil and fertilizes the fields. Here near the top of Silver Pass I could feel the nourishing power of the storm, the valley waiting for the needed water. I looked around at the world below – lakes, forests, valleys, distant mountain ridges, and felt that the mountain was the forge and lightning the spark that fertilized the earth – destructive and creative in one burst – bringing nitrogen and fire. My heart grew soft like a ripe fruit and tears came to my eyes. I felt awed and humbled. As I neared the final pass the wind and rain picked up and chilled me. Tears were still streaming easily as I crossed the divide and saw the sunny John Muir Wilderness extend before me to the southern horizon in sloping granite to the valley: new lakes and valleys and sun dappled mountains. I felt that I came over the pass with a changed life. Something hard in me melted. I felt grateful to be humbled at Silver Pass.

Feeling soon returned to my frozen wet hands as we descended and the sun grew long. We were tired and hungry, trudging wet over boulder and pine past Silver Lake. Finding a flat camping spot seemed challenging. Soon the descent challenged our knees down into Pocket Meadow, where we climbed narrow granite steps a foot tall 1,000 feet to the Mott Lake Junction. The trail to Mott Lake looked ridiculously steep and scrambling. We were very tired and dusk was upon us, so we camped at the only flat spot we could find only a few yards from the trail.

The next morning we hiked down through Quail Meadows and took the Mono Creek Trail toward Vermilion Valley Resort along Lake Edison. The lake was extraordinarily low, exposing all the clear cut stumps left underneath from the man made lake. Finding our way in from Mono Creek Trail seemed trickier than it looked from the map because the trail wasn’t very well marked. Someone had etched in “VVR” for Vermilion Valley Ranch into some wooden posts rather faintly so that was a clue. We took the right fork up toward the horse camp when the shortest path would have been to the left toward the parking lot. Vermilion Valley was a funny little hiker’s paradise in the middle of nowhere, an interesting mix of good old boy and hiker bourgeois. We walked up to the main building, being strung with lights and complete with an outdoor bar and tools hung on the wall, seemed every bit a party barn and somewhat odd in the middle of the woods. Spence said it reminded him of the bars in the middle of nowhere in the series Twin Peaks. They were very friendly and we filled up on food and beer, playing games and hanging out with the other hikers. One hiker told me an unfortunate story about how his hiking buddy couldn’t join him because he had broken his leg a few days before departure by tripping over his dog in his living room. Safer to cross a mountain pass in a storm than to walk across your living room sometimes. He then went on to describe how a marmot stole his pants while they were drying on a log, which he then was able to retrieve, only to find that they had been shredded beyond repair, so he had to walk back out in his thermals. I suppose I would rather have a marmot eat my pants than break my leg on my dog in the living room as well. I was thoroughly convinced that adventure was by far much safer than city life at this point. We nearly completely resupplied out of the hiker barrels, where hikers dump their extra food when they have sent themselves too much in a package, which the resort also accepts. They have numerous binders full of hiker photos and stories going back to the ’90s. The owner was extremely friendly and enthusiastic. A fire started up in a barrel and soon the local hands were hooting and hollering. We had forgotten it was Friday night. Some local rowdies were harassing three young cowgirls who were working for the horse camp. Generators were going full blast and the local drunkards were shouting till what seemed a late hour, since our tent was set up in the backpacker’s area near the outdoor bar. So, despite the loveliness of the resort, we only stayed a night and set out next morning along the Edison Dam to the Bear Creek Cutoff trail on the south side of Lake Edison to get some peace and quiet.

Bear Creek was the most beautiful creek of the trip to me. It was crystal clear, filled with little falls and surrounded with stony domes and trees. We took a dip in the creek in the noon sun and had lunch on the warm rocks. Not surprisingly, we had missed another forest fire by a week on Bear Ridge nearby, as we learned from a ranger when we asked about the helicopter out surveying the extent of the burn. So we were still thankful when more clouds and rain came through as we climbed the stony ridge near the creek. Soon though, the rain lengthened, pouring and flooding out the trail. Spence’s shoes became soaked and I was thankful again for my choice to wear sandals on the trail, a choice I never regretted once through the end of the hike. Soon everything on our person was dripping, Spence wasn’t wearing his rain pants and he realized his pack cover wasn’t totally waterproof. The trail became a boggy stream. We decided to find a spot to pitch camp early and dry out. Even though we were soaked and tired, I was getting excited about surmounting my own ideas of limitations and getting through the next more challenging group of mountain passes, including the highest one on the Pacific Crest Trail, Forester Pass at over 13,000. I was somehow rejuvenated on Silver Pass with a determination. So when the hikers in front of us turned back to tell us that the stream was too swollen to cross safely, I was not discouraged. We poked around to find the flattest spot we could find to camp and ford the creek the next day. That night, Spence was getting chills and sweating.

We hiked up past the creek the following morning easily as things had soaked in and the sun came out. We decided to take a rest day to dry all our things out in the sun on the rocks and relax since Spence wasn’t feeling so great. The rain came in and went throughout the day, so we took turns playing cards in the tent and laying out on the rocks when the sun came out. Trying to go to sleep that night I laid awake with an unshakable feeling of looming disaster. I kept thinking of a bear breaking into our van or something of the sort. Something would turn us around.

Devil’s Postpile and Alpine Lakes

Rosalie Lake Through Devil’s Postpile to Lake Virginia: 23 miles in two days

August 14th: 11 miles from Rosalie Lake to Red Cones

August 15th: 12 miles from Red Cones to Lake Virginia

spence here: arriving once more over the ridge in bright sun to devil’s postpile, i looked forward to some different food and a good view of the monument.  even though we had passed through before, (taking the shuttle and re-supplying at the van), we still hadn’t seen said “postpile”. trying to find our trail, we looked across the valley and saw huge columns of basalt cooled thousands of years ago…that’s it!  we found our trail and hiked down through the monument, taking pictures and exploring. the columns were much larger than i had thought! billy took a picture of me next to one of the columns for comparison! there is a “resort” there, called red’s meadow, which boasts the oldest continuous delivery of goods via mule train, stating they still use pack trains to this day.  red’s meadow is a frequent, popular stop for the shuttle buses and has a store, cabins and a small cafe. first up for us, a good ‘ol meal at the cafe.  we were craving fresh food and we weren’t sure what was going to be available or how expensive it was going to be. well, the garden-burgers were a nice surprise, along with side salads and pitchers of water! even with all the rain we had endured the past few days, everything felt as parched as the high desert, our gear and ourselves covered in multiple layers of dust. a smiley thin man was waiting to get some grub and was seated near us at the cafe bar. after looking us over and eyeing our packs he struck up a trail conversation–his group was dropping off some food buckets at red’s meadow to re-supply on their way through in a week or so and were about to take the shuttle to start the jmt in yosemite NP.  he was all excitement and wanted to know if we had any thoughts about the trail thus far. we filled him in on a few of our adventures, some weather talk, some gear talk and eventual re-supply talk. i knew we probably wouldn’t run into him again, but i wished we would have. he had a curious enthusiasm, and the energy of someone just about to get on the trail!  he said goodbye and we wished each other good trail luck.  as billy and i were getting ready to head out, we stopped to pay the bill, only to find out this nice smiley thin man had paid our bill already!  thank you random man! sadly, we never did catch his name, or see him again.

onto the store to buy a few dinner meals and snacks to add to our food supply.  we didn’t need much, after completing our previous loop in record time. good thing we didn’t need much, since there was only a small amount of food in the store to be had, and for an exorbitant price!  some pasta-roni, beans and rice, chips of course and some cold beer for a reward. we walked down to the campground behind red’s with gleeful anticipation–our guidebook had stated the campground had a free backpackers camp, hot showers and hot springs.  alas, we wandered around looking for the oasis, only come to find out from the camp host the springs had been capped! something about “risky” minerals in the water and not wanting to incur a law suit, although the host said the springs had been feeding the showers at the campground without incident for many many years.  she shrugged her shoulders and said there also wasn’t a cheaper backpacker camp, we could pay $20 like everyone else but could stay in any site we wanted.  she was very nice, but we opted to continue on down the trail.  i think i mumbled something about hiking another 6 miles after already hiking a bunch, as was our defaulted routine!  oh well, save the $20.  we got water, rallied up and went on to tour rainbow falls on our way out of the park

we hiked through a region outside the park which was been part of the rainbow forest fire in the 90s. it was hot and dry and we could see for miles all the way to  mammoth mountain, past burned trees and newly sprouting grasses.  the hardest part was walking through the sandy-like pumice. eventually, we set up camp off the side of a steep ridge–basically the first flat spot outside the park’s boundary. not the prettiest, but flat and safe! we piled in the tent for sleep before it was even dark out.

the next day we hiked through what i called a pumice forest. the ground felt a bit sandy again, but was actually small off-white colored rounded rocks, packed down, that treated my feet well.  there were lots of trees but you could see through the forest for many yards, as the pumice kept any ground cover from growing. it was hot but we passed a few refreshing streams and meadows on our way past the red cones. they looked like giant ant hills. that night we camped at purple lake, which indeed seemed purple.  very deep and very beautiful.  i loved this alpine lake, but did not enjoy so many backpackers crammed in along the lake’s edges. whatever happened to camping at least 100 yards from the water?  my first look of the lake was a man washing his under arms in his underwear 10 feet from where another man was getting water–not cool. (this is yet another case for issuing only a few permits a day to back country campers.) it was still a great view past the lake up into the mountains, which contained duck lake and duck pass, another trail i would love to hike sometime.  we found a site up and away from the masses at the lake and had a nice batch of soup before bed. the next day it was onward and upward to lake virginia, and one of my favorite vistas of the trip.

Billy here. It’s Geology time! The Devil’s Postpile National Monument website has a nice little geological introduction to the back story on the formation. Since I’m a geology nerd (I still prize a rock hammer given to me for my 10th birthday) I’ll outline it here.

500 million years ago…Eastern California was a shallow sea and the massive supercontinent Pangaea was still intact.

About 200 million years ago Pangaea began to split, washing eroding sediments from present day Utah and Nevada into the California sea. At the same time, the North American continent drifted west, which slammed the oceanic crust underneath the moving continent, creating a subduction zone (that’s Fancy for one crust plate being pushed under another into the mantle of the Earth). However, sometimes pieces of crust would be thrust upward, creating more land mass on the western edge of the continent in a process called accretion (Fancy for growth). Over millions of years, the land mass that is known as California today was created in this way.

At a disputed time ago, perhaps the pressure between the drifting continent and the adjacent plate created a massive crumpling up east of the subduction zone, warping the sedimentary layers and the accreted land mass up together, metamorphosing the rock into a great mountain range, the Sierra Nevadas. The pressure of the forming Sierra Nevadas pushed subducted crust closer to the molten mantle of the Earth, causing the rock to melt into magma. Some of the magma rose higher into the crust, forming huge magma chambers. Granite was formed by magma cooling under the ground and then being thrust up over millions of years after cooling. The area was highly volcanic at the time and the climate also began to cool over millions of years, forming glaciers.

About 80,000 to 100,000 years ago the stage was finally set for the formation of the basaltic columns. A lava vent began spurting basaltic lava into Reds Meadow Valley. Basaltic lava, rich in iron and magnesium, is hotter, thinner and faster flowing than other types of lava, which allowed the lava to flood the valley until it hit a natural dam, probably a glacial moraine and fill the valley with an uncommonly deep lava lake, in some places 400 feet deep. This lava lake then began to cool and contract. The stresses from cooling relatively rapidly caused the basalt to crack in columns as it cooled, forming the hexagonal columns exposed today from erosion. The quicker basalt cools, the smaller the columns. Some columns have been found smaller than a centimeter. Obviously, the columns at Devil’s Postpile cooled relatively slower since they are a couple of feet wide! Since the cooling of the basalt columns, rivers, earthquakes and glaciers have eroded away the once much taller formation and exposed it to air.

One of the main reasons why I love geology so much is that it is such a concrete reminder that the spots where we now stand have once been undersea, volcanic, rain forest, arid desert or all of the above sequentially, and will be once again something else through the dynamic changes that the Earth undergoes. Even in a seemingly geologically boring place like North Texas, my early interest was sparked by finding marine fossils in the plains. Something that seemed so sure or solid as rock and shoreline I learned is fluid over millennia. It’s somehow comforting, like the vastness of the stars, that we are such small creatures in what seems to be a infinitely expanding and morphing mulitverse. Rocks to me seem to be just as alive as any other creature, they just live on much slower timelines!

The Sierra Nevadas are still rapidly rising today, being pushed up by forces still unknown to scientists. Some features of the range show great age of 40 to 60 million years while some features show youth of only 3 million years.

Another interesting aspect of the Monument was seeing the effects of the Rainbow Fire in the 1990s: while the fire had devastated the taller trees, it allowed for the propagation of smaller vegetation and thus habitats for birds of all kinds.

Speaking of change, the climate in the Sierras was obvious here on the trail. The dramatic loss of half the usual snow this last winter was now falling on us in the summer as rain. The switchback trail up to the volcanic Red Cones had been washed away precariously, turning portions of the trail into slippery washes falling down the slope, hardly stable enough to walk across, taking the soil-stabilizing plants with them. Finally the active rainfall was lessening for a few days and the sun was drying things out, so we were able to cross this pumice gravel portion of the trail. I wondered too if the warmth of the lakes had anything to do with the early snow melt. A sobering fact: the Sierra Nevada snow pack supplies 65 percent of California’s water. California provides half of the nation’s fruit and nuts and at least a quarter of its vegetables.

For some reason I felt like we were leaving the Shire and into the great unknown in passing out of Devil’s Postpile, perhaps because we were leaving the vicinity of the parked van and heading toward some truly massive mountain passes. The kind stranger buying our lunch at the resort humbled me. I couldn’t thank him in person, but I could wish for his safe passage through these mysterious mountain grandmothers. Wildflowers of purple lupine and hemlock filled the meadows. Thunderheads loomed over peaks across the valley below. I could finally feel the metal bands of city life unsnapping from around my heart.

There and Back Again

Agnew Meadows Trail Head via River Trail Back South on JMT to Rosalie Lake: 21 miles in three days

August 11th: Rest day at June Lake and Lake George

August 12th: 9 miles from Agnew Meadows to San Joaquin River on River Trail

August 13th: 12 miles through Thousand Island Lake to Rosalie Lake

Billy here. After five days on the trail, we woke up in the motel and decided to take a day off. We reorganized our bear vaults, resupplied out of the van, and then had eggs benedict and bloody marys at The Tiger in June Lake. It was a real treat and reminded us of being in Portland, OR at Genie’s with friends. It was so fun that we decided to continue our vacation from vacationing and get Tecate, chips and salsa and sit at the shore of June Lake and write postcards all afternoon until a thunderstorm sent us back into the car. We drove back to Mammoth Lakes and decided to camp at Lake George and complete the rest day by sleeping on flat ground before getting back on the trail. This was a crowded and noisy family campground, agitated further by the sighting of a scampering young bear before dusk through the middle of it. So the rest of the night, every sound sent teens, kids and adults alike into choruses of “Is it another bear?”, in between choruses of “Down by the Bay” sung to toddlers on one side of us, to the snarky sibling rivalry of the five preteens on the other side of us. So much for catching up on sleep. 

We woke up early, drove into Mammoth Lakes to mail postcards and post a blog at Java Joint before parking and catching the shuttle back to Devil’s Postpile. By this time the sky was gray and rain was coming down steadily. Despite the frequent assurances to tourists by the shuttle driver that the rain only lasts a little while in the afternoon in the Sierras and would soon clear out, it continued to rain for the rest of the day. We didn’t mind at all, for it was pleasantly cool and the water brought out the lovely scent of sage and pine. We hiked back up the River Trail towards Thousand Island Lake to take the JMT back down south into Devil’s Postpile National Monument. It rained all through the first night and rainstorms loomed the rest of the next day, though it cleared up enough in the morning to dry our things out before the trek to Thousand Island Lake. Good smells of earth, yarrow, sage and evergreens surrounded us. We took shelter under a boulder during a thunderous rain and had lunch near Garnet Lake. The dark boulders shone silver in the rain and the soft sea greens and yellows of wild herbs and flowers seemed vivid in the grey misty afternoon. It was incredible watching the rain squall move over the valley below slowly like an enormous jellyfish. The rain continued almost until dusk, when we set camp at Rosalie Lake and watched the sun set over the waters. We snuggled into the tent chilled, stripping of our wet rain gear and slowly went to sleep, listening to a bear sniff around our campsite as we drifted off.

spence here! june lake and the boulder lodge, “cabin” #10 (double-wide) was certainly not the worst $95 i ever spent. i slept hard on the motel slab bed, but had dreams i was still 100 yards from half dome and the setting sun. i really had enjoyed the previous night’s camp, our granite out-cropping, sleeping out under the sky.  but i also appreciate a good ‘ol bloody mary and eggs benedict brunch! the tiger bar felt like an up north haven, where everyone knew each other and got dressed up in the sweatshirt without the stains to go talk to the bartenders about the weather and fishing.  i especially appreciated the 4 older women next to us celebrating their friends 85th birthday with mimosas! in my secret quest to find the cutest small town to settle near, june lake, california was top ten.

our chip and dip afternoon wore on as we kicked off the hiking shoes and opted for flip flops and more family-style car camping. it does have its up and downs, but exploring many of the lakes in mammoth lakes was fun. lake george was picture perfect, with tiny cabins, colorful row boats, fisher-people and towering cliffs on one side. i wasn’t thrilled with the noisy campers, but it is to be expected when all the sites are open and right on top of each other.

i was excited to get back on the beloved river trail. it will always be in my memory as one of the most care-free, curious, handsome natural areas i have ever been. watching the san joaquin river weave its way effortlessly over and through the striped rocks reminded me i should be so lucky to flow through life like that. the water felt intelligent and full of breath. our hike took us to back through the thousand island lake region where we turned left to follow the jmt back down, making an incredible scenic loop, eventually winding our way back to devils postpile.

highlights for me included all the alpine lakes.  i will never tire of these amazing, refreshing eco-systems. emerald lake, ruby lake, garnet lake (where we had lunch with a view of the origin of one of the waterfalls we had been glancing through the trees for the last 2 days), shadow lake and finally rosalie lake. water so clear you swear you could see whole cities, loved ones from the past and your deeper self.

shadow lake was indeed in a shadow the whole day, not just from the clouds and the down pour of rain we endured being there, but because of the high cliffs surrounding it. in my tantrum (i was mad because while i was pumping water everything i owned was soaked…water everywhere!) i still tried to see through my speckled glasses the beauty of the mist and steaming water.  surprisingly, the lakes were sometimes warmer than the air–heated by the high tempertaures of the summer.  i guess i’m used to oregon, where every body of water is freezing, all year long.

rosalie lake was a good rest spot, even with the bear sniffing around at night. i stretched my aching legs and watched the sun go down over the lake. what’s tomorrow going to be like?!!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park from Donohue Pass to Happy Isles: 40 miles in three days

August 8th: 18 miles from Donohue Pass through Lyell Canyon to Cathedral Lake

August 9th:  11 miles from Cathedral Lake to Sunrise Creek

August 10th: 11 miles from Sunrise Creek into Yosemite Valley via Mist Trail

Billy here. The night before we made it over Donohue Pass and camped between two small lakes next to a boulder. Lyell Glacier gleamed in plain view across from us. I was surprised that the rocks held our tent so well in the winds. In the dawn curious marmots stood above the grasses to peer at us. Crossing my first mountain pass was incredible: the dry winds, the granite expanse. Even in the height of the summer, the altitude alone is challenging to the lungs. No matter the time of the year, a mountain pass seems a gateways to gods, a portal to the cosmos beyond, an absolute, vast, awesome and deadly space.

I could not shake the feeling that I was a stranger as a backpacker, passing through, carrying all my food on my back and partaking and sharing nothing except water and my own waste – merely an observer. But also I felt that this was as it should be, for in certain wilds humans do not belong and should not meddle.

The first day we hiked down into Lyell Canyon, a flat, hot and relatively dry walk along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. Walking down from the pass, I could tell that the hike up for southbound hikers would be much more difficult than northbound the way we came. It was a lovely morning view, walking down into the green canyon and watching the trees overtake the granite. The trail crosses the river twice, where at the first crossing one must ford on foot and the second there is a little footbridge. It was refreshing to take off my shoes and plunge through barefoot, especially as I felt the day warming up. This part of the trail was the hottest, even though we were barely under 9,000 feet, partly because there was little shade a good part of the way. We encountered many hikers coming from Tuolumne Meadows, some out just for the afternoon, some heading further toward Donohue Pass, Tuolumne Pass to the west or camp Vogelsang. It is about twelve miles to Tuolumne from Donohue Pass, so we decided we would resupply there and camp for the night. I think I said out loud that I couldn’t imagine hiking six more miles after getting to the campground and general store. I asked Spence if he was ready for the crowds of Yosemite, everyone and their toy piano. He wasn’t sure. We were pretty tired by the time we reached Tuolumne Meadows and filled up on bagels, cheese and beer from the store. We were somewhat refreshed and realized we may have to pay for camping. After exploring the campgrounds, we had enough of the sounds and sights of people on summer vacation running generators and hollering, although we did see an amazing crew of GQ young men with kerchiefs around their necks and open shirts, who watched us as intently as we did them in passing. Though we were tired we decided to keep going and not camp next to the hum of humanity. Funny that I had picked six miles as the arbitrary number that I couldn’t imagine hiking after already doing 12 miles the day after climbing my first pass, because that’s exactly how many more miles we did in fact hike. Each time I open my mouth to declare an artificial limitation in my mind, I hope to be challenged with my own immediate sweat and consequent triumph like this! We trudged up to a gravelly spot beneath Cathedral Peak, nearly invisible in the dusk and camped after what would be our longest day of the hike.

The next morning we could see the glory Cathedral Peak in the dawn light and trekked up to Upper Cathedral Lake for water and breakfast. We saw lots of deer and horse trains as we went over Cathedral Pass and past Colombia Finger. This stretch of the trail seemed like Valhalla: vast, bouldered, verdant and surrounded with enormous peaks of granite rising like castles and spires. We went further this day than we intended as well because the Sunrise Creek area, which supposed to contain more camping, was littered with fallen trees from a recent wind storm, so there was no ideal place to camp. We tromped off the trail to find camp, finding more cougar and bear scat than anything, but finally found a flat spot near the Quarter Domes: the best spot of the trip on a rock outcropping with an amazing view of the domes.

The next day the crowds started growing as we passed Little Yosemite Valley. We decided to take the Mist Trail down to Happy Isles because I wanted to see Vernal fall. Mist Trail is ridiculously steep and rocky. I was nervous walking down it even with trekking poles, but the falls were worth it. The crowds were at this point were as packed as a theme park, the trail’s steep descent wearing on our knees, and we were getting tired and hungry. Another sighting of the GQ men in matching denim cutoff open shirts and shorts (the wind blowing their hair like an ’80s music video) boosted our spirits and we made it to Happy Isles ready for food. We went into the Nature Center briefly and took the shuttle to Yosemite Valley, where we chowed and drank a beer at the incredibly busy cafe there (which reminded me of my job back in Portland). We filled out postcards, spaced out and oveheated, as it was 101 degrees out, and waited for the arrival of our shuttle back to Mammoth Lakes where we would start back at the van to head south. There were a lot of people waiting for the shuttle and by the time we got on the shuttle we were forced to stand in the aisles holding on to the overhead luggage racks for a couple of hours to the north side of the park before other people got off the shuttle. I felt a little bad for the dressed up tourists smelling our unshowered backpacker’s odor under our raised arms, but what can you do?

On the way to Mammoth Lakes we saw another forest fire past Mono Lake from the shuttle around dusk, which seemed somewhat ominous. We reached Mammoth Lakes in the dark and it was cold, a shocking difference from the scorching wait in Yosemite Valley. We approached the parking area with anticipation where we hoped our van was sitting intact. Much to our relief, it was just as we had left it. However, that night in Mammoth Lakes our hopes of finding a motel room were dashed by “Margaritaville”, some tourist festival or another. As exhausted as we were, we drove out to June Lake in hopes of finding camping or a cheap motel room. Finally after 11pm, we found a janky little “cabin” at the Boulderlodge. Completely drained of all energy, we showered and slept on a real bed. Even though sleeping indoors felt extremely hot and stuffy, we slept like champs.

spence here: upon waking from a fitful high altitude sleep, near donohue pass, i crawled out of the tent and felt as if i crawled into an rei catalog. at first, the views and the crisp air awed and disoriented me–how did i get here?! i couldn’t believe we had hiked in! it looked as if a helicopter couldn’t have even gotten there…cliffs, peaks, glaciers and intimidating rocks surrounded us. as the morning wore on and we were breaking camp, however, the isolation wore off, as many many backpackers came ’round the boulder, up and onward heading south to summit the pass before the heat. it was our first inkling of the “crowds” that were to come.

i savored the views of the canyon and thanked the universe for our somewhat random decision to hike this part of the trail north.  the steep granite “steps” (they were 2-3 feet tall) we descended from the pass through avalanche territory, didn’t pain me as much as watching families with packs loaded to the brink, struggling up them as the heat rose as well. still, we had a great hike down. there was a trail crew out, seemingly “practicing maneuvers” as my mom would say, and i secretly thanked everyone for working so hard to build and maintain the trail… i think i even thanked john muir in my imaginary speech. once down the granite, crossing over the river, we entered a magical meadow, where the river wound around lazily.  i had read on the internet before our hike that lyell canyon was home to the most bears in yosemite national park, and i could see why–the clear winding river, fish literally jumping, plentiful grasses and wildflowers made me want to live there.  no bears came out of the brush, however. i think the heat kept them in higher places.

tuolumne meadows was a buzz. the family-style campground and camp store are always a comfort to me, left over from the days my family and i would go car camping and exploring all summer.  i want people to be in nature and experience even small tastes of the forest, as that is the only way any of it will remain saved. that said, i also am annoyed by bohemoth RVS, generators, partier extreme rock climber bro’s, perfumed teenagers on their phones and people leaving food trash everywhere next to signs that say “help protect california black bears”. i was pleased with a re-fuel however, of bagels, cheese, cold beer and people watching, so maybe i’m a hypocrite. the decision to move on that day towards cathedral peak was a good one.  i didn’t want to hassle with the backpacker camp or bother showing a bogus permit to camp there. there was plenty of light left in the day, so up we went, with billy’s words of hiking 6 more miles echoing in my head!

a curious thing happened on our way up the trail. we passed two hikers working their way down the trail and one of them stopped me in my tracks. as billy cordially said hello, i stumbled to say anything at all, as my brain tried to compute the face i saw–it was non-other than the woman who had turned me onto long distance backpacking 10 years ago! we had met through a series of friends in the spring of 2001, when i was on my way to move to portland, oregon. she was hurriedly in preparation mode for a big thru-hike–the pacific crest trail. i had heard of the east coast “version” of a cross country thru-hike, the Appalachian trail, but i was unaware of the pct.  also, i was unaware of a thing called the “triple crown” (the three major thru-hiking trails, the other trail being the continental divide trail) of long distance backpacking. i was enamored of all of it and hung on her every word. later that summer, we met her at crater lake and helped her re-supply, as her and another friend were to hike some of the trail together. we eventually lost touch as people do, going our separate ways, but i had been obsessed with the pct ever since. to actually be on a “real” thru-hike and to see her on the trail many years later was like seeing a ghost. of course she was still on the trail!  in my mind, it is where she had always been. i had changed over the years and i was sure she wouldn’t recognize me, which she didn’t, but she looked exactly the same!  i spent the next 4 miles wishing i had said something instead of letting the moment pass me by.  it was no less profound. it was a sign i was indeed on the right path!

cathedral peak is a wondrous formation, as are its lakes and trail. the following miles felt easy, as the guidebook mentioned, the scenery taking over whatever physical ailments were present. billy and i had fun trying to figure out the other formations along the trail–the vistas feeling wide open and endless. mostly though, we clomped a long in silence, the wind and our minds making the noise. i spotted a fair, scrawny, seasoned hiker down the path near sunrise high sierra camp and we stopped to chat. turns out he was a back country ranger and he asked to see our permit. busted! i pulled out our permit, thinking that it might actually apply since we were just heading north instead of south, no big deal? well, i neglected to worry about being on the right trail!  the jmt deviates from the pct in only a few places–from tuolumne meadows to happy isles is a section where it does. we technically had a permit for the pct only, besides also stating that we should be heading in the opposite direction.  the ranger was not pleased and sternly pointed out that we were not only going the wrong direction but that we were supposed to be on the pct.  well, that actually was an honest mistake and we explained we weren’t coming back that way, but taking the shuttle to our van once we arrived in happy isles.  he let us go since we were so close, but he warned to stay away from the happy isles ranger station, lest we get him in trouble for letting us go. i was surprised he didn’t want to see our california stove and fire permit, as it was so dry, but he scoffed, as if it didn’t mean anything. so apparently it doesn’t, even in one of the driest summers the sierras have ever had.  hmmm.

at a lower elevation it felt like a hot autumn day in michigan. we wormed our way through the masses of people we first started to encounter near half dome, then at the waterfalls.  i was trying to take it all in, but the crowds were impeding my enjoyment. at one point there was a line of people waking to get up the trail about 50 deep. after making our way down towards yosemite valley and getting our grub on, i finally felt happy about what we had accomplished and seen. my knee was holding up under extreme climbing circumstances, our stove worked well, we had eaten fairly well, we were on our way to another segment of adventure and we had just seen some of the most beautiful back country on earth.