Saturday, June 23, 2012

Days 60-62 - Three Days

Doing some catch-up this evening, three days to cover: the bad day, the long day and the sore day.

The Bad Day

Monday was the bad day, as Mondays sometimes are.  It was going through the northern part of Yosemite, though I can't always tell where one wilderness/forest/park ends and another begins.  The scenery was nice but the trail was probably the most physically challenging I've ever been on.

It went through deep valleys and over steep ridges and everywhere it went was very rocky; big rocks and cliffs.  The trail was often climbing up and down very steeply in what looked like old creek beds or dry waterfalls.  Most days it isn't the miles that wear me out, rather how strenuous the trail is.  And this day had me beat by early afternoon.  Not even the Sierras with a 50+ pound pack or 12-13k' passes wore me out so quickly.  But I had to get decent miles in so that I could stay on pace to reach Echo Lake.  I limped across a stream and into a camp spot around 7:30, fairly late for only a 20-mile day.  Oh, did I mention there were mosquitos?  Here's a look from the inside of my fortress of a tent.

The Long Day

Tuesday I got up determined to make it farther than I had Monday. As the trail goes on in this section it looks to get a bit gentler. There were still a ton of mosquitos, especially in a long meadow area leading up a pass. At the top of the pass though there was enough of a breeze to keep them at bay. At the top I saw Bird Nut and G-Man, a couple hikers I'd seen in the Sierras.

We looked at the map and all agreed that another 8-9 miles would get us to the last good spot to camp before climbing the next ridge. I'd done 15 already to that point, and it was only 1:30 or so; not having to scramble up and down waterfall-shaped trails makes a difference. Bird Nut and G-Man shared my opinion that yesterday's trail was miserable and painful. Some of us may even have been yelling at the trail the day before...

We reached the stream with a good campsite around 5:30. I had decided to have dinner there, then figure out whether to push on up the hill to the top of the ridge or not. I didn't really feel like stopping so soon, we had 3 hours of light left still. So after a double Ramen dinner I hiked on.

The trail went up out of the trees onto a very barren ridge and along the top of it for several more miles. I had thought I'd go part of the way up, just a few more miles and camp, but soon I was at the top and kept deciding to go a bit further. The sun went down, stars came out and I kept going. There was no moon so I eventually had to get out my headlamp to see.

When the trail shifted from the south side of the ridge to the north I came across some patches of snow. The snow was all easy enough to cross in the Sierras, I did it all during the day except the little on Whitney, which was fairly flat. This snow was on the side of a steep ridge and iced over now that the sun was down.

When I stopped in Mammoth Lakes I thought I'd save a bit of weight and sent my microspikes home, since I hadn't used them in the snow at all in the Sierras. Now, standing halfway across an icy patch of snow, following melted and frozen-over footprints, on a 45 degree slope, where the snow extended down the slope a few hundred yards before disappearing into blackness, I wished I had my spikes.

Looking back, it probably wasn't the safest thing to be doing that night. A slip there would have sent me sliding 300 yards down a slope to either hit the rocks at the bottom, or worse, keep sliding/tumbling down the rocks. In the dark. In the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere. With no one else around for miles. I had my trekking poles though, don't think I would have tried it without them. I'd keep one or both solidly planted before taking a step. I think I considered turning around at one point, but that probably would have been trickier than going forward.

Aside from the danger, it was a good night for hiking. Being high up and closer to towns meant I could pick up some radio stations with my mp3 player. They came and went every few songs. Some I could make last longer by holding my trekking poles out at odd angles. Yet another reason to have them.

Around 11:30 I reached the bottom of the ridge where a highway crosses Sonora Pass. I was at almost 36 miles for the day and considered doing another couple hours of hiking to make it an even 40, but the trail started up another long climb that I didn't feel like doing yet. So I found a semi-flat spot among some sagebrush. With clear skies, a new moon and no towns nearby, the stars were amazing. I saw 3-4 shooting stars before falling asleep.

Broke the 1000 mile mark today!
There was a bald eagle sitting in the top of one of these trees until just before I took a picture.

The Sore Day

After the late hiking the night before, I slept in until about 8:00 on Wednesday. It has been quite a while since I've woken up still sore from the day before. But the long day left me moving a bit slower that morning.

I still got in some decent miles though; the trail has been much better since the rugged patch in Yosemite. I had a campsite in mind and as I was getting close to it I was thinking about how I was almost done with the section of trail where we're supposed to see a lot of bears and I'd seen exactly zero. I crossed a stream and suddenly, there was a bear, right where I was planning on camping. It didn't see me so I took a couple pictures. Since I have no zoom on my phone's camera you can't see it real well in this picture, but that light brown patch just to the left of the trail is really a decent-sized black bear.
As soon as it saw me to took a couple seconds to look at me, then spun around and went crashing away through the trees. I figured since it behaved like a bear should it probably wouldn't be back anytime soon, so I camped there anyway.

Day 58-59 - Losing Blood

There were some patches late in the Sierras where the mosquitos were bad, but the last few days they've been especially thick.  Anytime I stop moving I get swarmed.  In real wet areas I'll have a swarm on me even while moving.  On Friday in probably the worst swarm of them I've ever seen (except maybe a couple spots in Alaska) I took shelter in an outhouse at a tiny campground and waited for them to disperse.

Fortunately, I've never had much of a reaction to them biting me, the rare bumps they leave usually don't itch.  They still do a good job annoying me by buzzing in my ears and flying in my eyes and mouth.  The DEET seems to keep them from landing on me, but that's about it.  I'm very thankful for my bug-proof tent.

In other news, I camped last night at Tuolumne Meadows.  There is a store, post office and a outdoor supply store all near a large campground.  I got there just a few minutes after the store closed, so I had to put off my shopping until it reopened this morning, which meant sleeping in.  What a shame.  I walked back over to the campground with Buster.  I met him during my first week on the trail but only saw him a couple times until Kennedy Meadows.  He dropped off his gear then took a bus back south a bit to climb Half Dome last night.  I didn't see him this morning before I left to see how it went.

I got food for 6 days at the store, as well as some ice cream for breakfast.  It's 150 miles to my next stop at Echo Lake.  That'll be 25 miles per day, maybe a bit ambitious but I can make the food stretch a bit if I need an extra half-day or so to get there.  Echo Lake is right along the trail, but I may try to hitch a ride into South Lake Tahoe, I hear there are all-you-can-eat buffets at the casinos there!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 55-57 - Civilization Once More

Tuesday night I camped with Dayhiker, Memphis, Train, Noamp and Squarepeg about 3.5 miles from a road that would take us into Mammoth Lakes the next day.  We arranged a ride with a trail angel named Sugar Mama.

The next morning we hiked in to the parking lot at Horseshoe Lake.  It was the first road I had seen since leaving Kennedy Meadows, nearly 2 weeks and over 200 miles of hiking ago.  Sugar Mama met us there with coffee, bananas and brownies for a pre-breakfast.  She drove the 6 of us and all our packs into town in her VW van, which doubles as her home.  We went to a restaurant for breakfast and hung out there for a while.

After checking into a motel I had a long shower, went to lunch and the grocery store.  The town of Mammoth Lakes is a bit larger than most of the towns I've stopped in so far.  It's a nice looking place with lots of restaurants and outdoors stores.  After buying a couple days' worth of food I caught a ride on the free trolley back to my room.

The next morning I did laundry.  I think this picture is a bit out of focus, but it shows how dirty my clothes get and why I like to give them a pre-wash rinse in a sink or tub prior to tossing them in the washing machine.
For dinner I went to a pizza place across the street and got a large 16" pizza, thinking I'd eat most of it and have the rest later in my room. But I ate the whole thing; the hiker hunger is out of control, yet I think I'm still losing weight.

I slept in a bit this morning, still digesting last night's pizza. I mailed my microspikes home, didn't need them for walking on snow after all, then got a couple donuts at a bakery nearby. After I got packed I started hiking back to the trail. It was about 5 miles from town to where I got off the trail, but instead of trying to flag down a ride I decided to walk the nice bike path that goes all the way out there, passing a couple lakes and campgrounds along the way. Later in the year there will actually be a bus that goes up there.

Once back to the trailhead it was another 4 miles back to the trail. I got 12 more in just before it got dark. I should be able to make it to Tuolumne Meadows tomorrow.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Days 50-54 - The Mountains Continue

If a picture is worth 1000 words then I'll let them do most of the talking for the rest of this section.

Day 50

Day 51
Looking down on 10 miles of downhill, after Mather Pass.
Here's how I get up and down these passes for mile after mile, day after day.

Day 52 - Muir Pass had the most snow on the climb up. At the top was a stone hut.
Lots of work has gone into clearing large areas where a strong windstorm blew down trees this past winter. Areas like this would be tough hiking with this many trees across the trail.

Day 53 - These next two pictures were of a couple short (50-100' long) streams flowing between lakes near the treeline of a pass. You probably can't really tell, but there are 20-30 fish, from 8-10 inches in each picture. If you had pleanty of blood to spare for the mosquitos, it'd be a great area to fish.

Day 54 - More incredible scenery, there just seems to be no end to it.

Day 49 - High Passes

After climbing Mt Whitney Wednesday morning I returned to my camp for some food and sleep.  Around 3:00 that afternoon I packed up and hiked on another 10 miles down the trail.  Since I had added an extra day to get to Whitney I wanted to get in whatever miles I could, and also move a little closer to the passes I would cross the next day.

The first pass was Forester, also the highest pass I would cross, at over 13,000 feet.  Approaching it was like walking up to a huge wall.  Way up the side you can see a small V in the ridge that looks impossible to get to with any sort of a trail.  I didn't get a good picture of it (with my phone) from lower down the valley, but here's one looking up at it from below, then the view on the other side.
Most of the passes tend to have more snow on the climb down, since that side faces North. But with the lack of snow this year and the warm weather, there wasn't much to worry about. There were large drifts here and there and patches 150-200 feet across. There would either be ways to walk around them, hopping across big boulders or loose rock, or they'd be well travelled over and solid enough to walk across.

Forester Pass was the first of two passes that day. The second was Glen Pass. The climb up Glen Pass wasn't as steep and the view from the top was the best view in the entire trip that far. The first picture is looking back from the top, the next two are the view on the other side. These pictures will not do it justice by a long shot; the drop into the valley below, surrounded by mountains and full of lakes was breathtaking. I camped that night on the far side of the Rae Lakes partway down the valley.

Day 48 - By The Light Of The Moon

Wednesday morning, if you could call it that, I had my alarm set for 12:45 am.  I rolled out of bed after not quite 5 hours of sleep, just before 1:00.  I tossed my bag of warm clothes and a few other things into my pack, along with a bag of snacks out of the bear box, just up the trail.  In all it probably weighed less than 10 pounds, hardly noticeable.

The full moon was the night before, leaving me with one that was still pretty much full.  The trail followed the creek up through the woods, but enough moonlight was getting through that I didn't really need my headlamp much, just in real shaded areas and for a few creek crossings.  While hiking I ate a balanced breakfast of Pop Tarts and a Snickers.

After a couple miles I reached the treeline and had the moon giving me all the light I needed.  There were a couple lakes along the trail.  I probably could have made camp a bit further up, but with such a light pack now, I didn't mind.  A few others had camped up there.

The trail goes way up a valley where it turns and climbs steeply up, with a bunch of long switchbacks.  It reaches the top of a ridge, where it joins the trail coming up from the East side; there are a couple towns and a highway on that side and it's where people would come up if they didn't want to backpack in.

From there it follows the ridge North for a couple miles.  Most of the time the ridge rises way up on the right side, with a very steep drop on the left, but occasionally it has a gap where you can see down.  Near the top was a patch of snow about 100 feet across, that's about all there was the whole way.  I got to the top just after 5:00, 3 hours and 36 min of climbing, up 4k feet over 8.5 miles.

I immediately put on my rain coat to block out the wind.  The wind wasn't bad, but it was 22 degrees up there.  According to the chart on the back of my tiny thermometer, a 15 mph wind at that temp is a wind chill of 6 degrees.  Enough to make my fingers go numb anytime I took my glove off to take a picture.

Sunrise was at about 5:25, so I bundled up the rest of my warm gear for something to sit on besides the freezing granite, and waited.  There was a line of clouds above the distant ridge of mountains in the East, but it broke up enough as the sun was coming up to make for a pretty awesome sunrise.  I took a few pictures and enjoyed the view for a while.
I wasn't really all that cold, just my hands and feet; I did't want to freeze my fingers further by untying my shoes to add some warmer socks.  It was mostly the thought of being at ovr 14k feet, in freezing wind, with the sun barely even up that made me shiver.  After taking a few more pictures of the surrounding mountains and the stone shelter, I packed up and headed down.

On the way down I remembered most people actually get cell service at the top.  I tried it at one of the gaps along the ridge and sent out a picture and text to my family.  It was still pretty early, dad may have been up but I was getting too cold to call and brag about my accomplishment.

I got to brag on the way down though, to about a dozen other hikers who were going up now that it was morning, when normal people climb mountains.
These aren't of Whitney, just the meadow at the bottom where I camped.