Thursday, September 06, 2007

PCT trip 22 August 5th through the 17th. 171 miles.

Click on the links for photos and videos.

Our sections get farther and farther away. We have walked every step of the PCT consecutively north from Campo, Ca. It now means it really takes a whole day to get to the trailhead. In this case we had to drop off a car at Tuolumne Meadows, spend a night in the backpacker’s campground, and get a ride to Onion Valley near Independence to reenter the trail. There was a search on up in the Yosemite area for a lost hiker. The rangers didn’t have time to talk. Our driver was Rachel Ginsburg of Oakland. She was my “blind date” early this year when I picked her up at the San Diego for a ride to a PCT segment here in San Diego. I have a lot to do to make up for her help on this long section. Getting back to our latest section means walking over Kearsarge Pass, just west of Independence which itself is over 11000 feet. It wasn’t easy getting out last year and a bit harder getting in. I am in good shape but none of us could be prepared for the altitude. Ray Ellis got up there first after one of my water bottles sprung a leak and I fell back. I rearranged my pack and Rachel accompanied me for an hour. Paul Freiman went up before me but I caught up to him in a little while. He started feeling unwell quickly; something that would bother him for most of the trip. This is a dramatic spot, one of the great views of the Sierras. Once we joined up at the pass we descended past a section which had been recently rerouted and improved.

Our first night was spent at the northern junction above Charlotte Lake. I shoehorned my tent into a tight space and realized I should have placed us at the bigger junction. At my first dinner I found out I had forgotten my salmon. Fortunately between jerky and protein bars I was fine.

Our first true mountain pass the next morning was Glen Pass. At the time it seemed incredibly challenging but as the hike progressed it was remembered a merely as a good warm up. Most passes are bleak rocky ascents into a treeless world. Some like Selden Pass have a beautiful run up. Still they are an alien place. After Glen Pass we passed through Rae Lakes a fine area and crossed our first creek ford. In this case a lake outlet. We were reminded how difficult it must be for early or wet season hikers to cross these things. It is dangerous, time consuming and scary. For me it was sobering.

On day two we ran into a hiker looking for the local Forest Ranger. A diabetic man on Taboose Pass had collapsed and needed help. He said that two doctors were with him, which should be no surprise because of the talent, experience, and quality of the people out hiking. We saw a helicopter fly over later and found out the next day he was in the hospital and doing fine. Saw 103 people on the first full day and 28 women.

I bent one of my hiking poles going up Pinchot Pass which was a bitch with a dozen switchbacks up a nearly vertical rock slide of talus; like walking through steep gravel pit. Many are what I have deemed “Landslide Trails.” Steep rocky trails in a gravel pit. One earthquake and the pass would be blocked. Water is scarcer this year and we make sure to get plenty when we need it. We did Pinchot and Mather in one day. It was too big a chunk. We ran into a very clean hiker: shaved, sparkling, a real scout who said “one pass a day for me.” He was a bit smug. We passed one cool suspension bridge over I believe South Forks Woods Creek. Only one person at a time passes while it swings back and forth. I keep saying to myself “keep looking straight ahead”, spooky. I had blown out two of my three Platypus water bottles. Ray gave me a Nalgene bottle that I used for the rest of the trip. I have to buy new bottles for each trip or risk having none.

The Muir trail section of the PCT is a roller coaster, a pass, a deep valley, steep climbs and descents, a pass and so on. Most of them are beautiful but difficult. Descending in to Deer Meadow we saw patches of dead trees. This was sad because the flora in the Sierras is in such good shape. I thought it was the Bark Beetle but turned out it was fire damage. It appeared a lightening attack had centered itself there.

Paul Freiman decided to fall back and hike at a more comfortable pace to reduce his discomfort from the altitude. His plan was to exit earlier and meet us at the end. I got pretty sick of my protein bars by this time. We always find a food we can’t stand on a trip. I could never get enough beef jerky but later replaced my food bars with Snickers at Vermillion Valley Resort , heaven! We are averaging 11 hour days. Brief stops for water and a short lunch. Before Muir Pass we had the largest campsite, Big Pete Meadow. An early stop, good wash from the creek and lots of really nice people to talk to. There are lot’s of sharp interesting people on the trail. It is a self selected group of educated, aware, motivated people. One lady, a newbie, with a big dream who had struggled in that day over Bishop Pass asked “will Muir Pass be hard?” I told her I hadn’t been there but they were all hard. Very few minorities except for the Asian’s mostly of American extraction. Are white people in general the most likely to enjoy outdoor pursuits? Is this a cultural thing? Ran into to two African Americans both youths with scout groups. I have seen lots of people with fishing poles but only one person with fish.

We had a late camp one night at high altitude above the Palisades Lake near a feeder creek. It was near freezing in the morning. It is never easy to get out of the sleeping bag when there is a chill. Saw a naked man on a rock fresh from a bath, female co hiker looking on. We descended the Golden Staircase which is blasted out of the rock in a narrow canyon. The handbook says that it was the last section of the Muir trail to be finished and I can see why. We expected summer rains on this trip but it never happened. We had blue skies almost every day. Saw two other people with ULA Catalyst packs. Like me they had changed from the ultra light packs that just don’t carry enough weight. It is a lot more comfortable too.

I like the Sierras but don’t always see the beauty others find. Muir Pass was really a long hard slog but quite a pay off with the view. The Muir hut is one cool thing. Bigger than I imagined. Must have been a heck of a project. Saw Marmots and their babies.

We crossed a lot of rivers on this trip. Most of them were quite low. I can’t imagine trying to cross them in a normal season of snow and rain. It must be quite difficult for early season hikers. I had to take off my shoes once and those rocks hurt bare feet. Only reason I could imagine taking ugly Crocks. I have never had camp shoes.

It got a bit frosty on a couple of mornings. I have 20 degree down bag and I was toasty except for the coldest night. I felt the chill a little.

Ran into a guy who had named himself Wilderness Destroyer the day before when the Rangers asked him to move his tent farther away from the river and trail. He cussed a lot about the situation. Claims he dared the Rangers to give him a ticket. Don’t believe him. I think he is a coward and had the conversation in his tiny head. Ran into a nerd hiker who had just “bushwhacked cross-country.” I got the feeling he felt real winners had what it took to go cross-country. I’d like to try it sometime but not by myself.

Ran into our first Pack Train. There are hikers up here with small packs doing about 10 miles a day that are supported in every way by pack trains. Tents, food, fuel and anything else except the basics is carried for them. I wouldn’t do this plan but it still sounds like a sweet deal. Horses have a pretty good deal up here too. They can poop on the trail. Forgot the riders name but he had 8 horses and mules packed to the gills.

Near Selden Pass I tripped and fell flat on my face. Banged up my legs and right knee. It would be so easy to get hurt up here. I was carrying my poles while walking on a flat rocky trail and promised myself it wouldn’t happen again. Quite a scare but I was fine. You have to pay attention all the time. You can’t spend too much time sightseeing when you are walking. Selden had the best approach to a pass. Two wonderfully pretty lakes and the perfect forest. It reminded me a bit of some of the trees in the San Bernardino’s that all the same height with no messy forest floor; like a Christmas tree farm. This bit of Eden was enhanced by another beautiful pigtailed hiker who wanted to talk. I think these young women see me as a father figure. I can go with that. They all remind me of my daughter anyway.

My friend and former co hiker Bill Redman is a few days ahead of us on the trail. He has become my PR agent telling several groups we were behind him and describing us. Three groups of hikers recognized me from his description. I feel like a celebrity. I wear a bandana over my face when I hike to protect myself from the sun. I think that is what Bill has told them to look for. One lady who didn’t know me said “you look gangster” and another guy said “I thought I was going to be robbed.” I cover up completely when I hike. I wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves, big hat, sun block and the bandana. The sun is the devil to the skin. We are getting plenty of Vitamin D just being out there. Young hikers look awfully good but the older hikers with a lifetime of sun worship look like a wrinkled leather bags. Not a pretty picture.

Every time I unload my pack it looks like I getting ready for a yard sale. What a mess of bags and detritus. The contents are organized and essential but it doesn’t look like it.
My legs are really starting to ache at night. This was an eleven day trip but I could see a through hiker could never heal with one zero day. This is the hardest consistent physical effort I have ever done and that is saying a lot.

We got to Mono Creek and peeled off to Edison Lake for a ferry to Vermillion Valley Resort. The lake is very low. I heard it was 30 feet below normal. It is pretty surreal. You walk about a mile across mud flats to a place deep enough for the pick up. Three low life young people drinking beer arrived with the Ferry. 15 hikers filled up the ferry which is a euphemism. It is a flat pontoon boat. The pilot put his empty bottle of Stone Ale at his feet and lost control of it as it rolled about and he did foot ballet to keep it there. Most of us looked at each other in stunned silence. I suppose it is difficult to find good help in the middle of nowhere but this was the low end. The “Resort” was a scream. Like a trailer park after an earthquake. The food was great and the young losers that picked us up turned out to nice enough just lost early in life. We suspected the owner who was in town getting supplies lost control when he left the property; when the cats away the mice play. You do get a free tent cabin to sleep in the first night. The chef, waitress and store manager were fine people. After I went to sleep Ray sat at the campfire and watched a bear attack the camp looking for chow. They fired some sort of cherry bomb gun at it with mixed success. We had time to meet some cool people at VVR. One lady, an American living in Oman, we get our help as she comes into the dry Southland.

Going north on the trail means 90 percent of the hikers pass you quickly going the other way so having time to meet people is special. We ran into Paul Freiman getting on the “ferry” when we left. He is doing better. After getting back on the trail had a very stiff climb which ended with 53 switchbacks on the other side of the mountain. Hiking the Muir/PCT trail is a roller coaster. I pitied the people going up that side even though we had done the same in other places. Not long after we stopped for water and creature the size of a fox run by with a small squirrel in its mouth. It must have been his dinner. Saw several deer.

Silver Pass was a gentle climb and pretty one too. There is a notch at the top that turns out to be the pass. Bill Redman’s PR got me recognized by two hiking ladies my age near the top. This trail is becoming very dusty. One particular day I found I had a fine layer of dust on everything.

We had a scare the day before Reds Meadow. In the morning we were climbing up out of Tully Hole and I said to Ray “it is pretty hazy today.” Later it got worse and I smelled smoke. At Lake Virginia the sky was completely socked in. The first trail gossip we heard turned out to be correct. He said that a Ranger told him it was from the fires near Santa Barbara. For a few hours though we were trying to figure out how we would escape a Sierra Fire. This was a big day for us, 18.5 miles into Reds Meadow. The last 10 miles is pretty pleasant walking. It was good to have a hot meal and a free hot springs shower. The old building has no lights and I had to leave the door open a crack to wash up but it was wonderful. I met owner of the restaurant, store and stables: Bob Tanner. He has run the place for the last 47 years. He has had three strokes and moves at a snails pace with a cane but his mind is great. He doesn’t think that Ansel Adams deserved a forest. He says that he and his buddies did more for the Sierras’ by blocking the Trans Sierra Highway that was going to be built from the Owens Valley to Fresno in the 1960’s, very interesting guy.

Leaving Red’s the next day we walked past the Devil’s Postpile. Having seen it as a child in the nineteen sixties it does, as one older hiker said to me, “look smaller now.” It still is a remarkable geologic site. After Agnew Meadow there is a steep climb into higher altitude but virtually treeless. There is a lot of water here. This mountain must be a big sponge. The view of the Minarets and Shadow Lake is breathtaking. The skies were still hazy from the fire. I will find a picture of the view we had and post it here. My photo wouldn’t have done it justice. As I mentioned before I quickly get my fill of the beauty of nature after hiking for days but this transcended it. The Muir Trail which splits from the PCT after Red’s rejoins it in this section.

We camped at Badger Lake off trail after we met the Badger Lake Chamber of Commerce. This was a family that was camping there and insisted we meet them later. We went to the lake and kept hearing them say “over here, over here” and then never saw them again. Except for a few fisherman it was empty. My feet were in good shape. Haven’t had a blister in all these miles but my legs started to ache at night in the tent. Thank goodness for ibuprofen. Did I mention catch and release fishing is silly. You should eat them unless they are too small. Not that I am fishing. What a lousy hobby if you can’t eat the result.

We came down into Thousand Island Lakes the next morning and I missed a turn and wasted an hour touring the shoreline. When we finally got out of there I tried not to turn back and look at it. I was afraid I’d turn into dressing.

Our last pass was Donahue and it looked like a piece of cake on paper but it is a pile of rocks on both sides. It is a real leg beater. I got really tired going up to the summit. I didn’t want to slow down because some clouds were coming in and I didn’t want to get stuck up there in a storm. I waited for Ray and said “let’s get the hell off this pass before something happens.” He said “I don’t care if it rains.” I replied “who cares about rain.” Descending from Donahue is rougher than ascending. Both sides are very rocky but the north side is bone shaking and knee jarring. Just when you can’t take it anymore it smoothes out to flat Lyell Canyon the best way to finish this section. We spent the night at the trail for Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. I thought I saw a Bigfoot but it turned out to be a teenager. The last day was very chilly till the sun came into the canyon and then an easy short walk to Tuolumne Meadows. We ran into Paul Freiman early just as he said and to our surprise Bill Redman who was hanging around for a permit to go. We had a tough but fulfilling hike. As soon as I was done I started thinking about the next segment north to Lake Tahoe. Often I can’t wait for a hike to end but then….

I was reading about poetry in a history of Japan. The poet-scholar Tsurayuki said “In a world full of things man strives to find words to express the impression left on his heart by sight and sound.” The impression I have is that the Sierras are dramatic, stark, beautiful and inhospitable right below the surface. We only have a small window in which we can pass fairly safely. The biggest impression for me was the achievement of finishing this section. Personal accomplishment moves me more than nature. I could never be a poet.

1 comment:

Spider63 said...

What an adventure!