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Back from Yosemite

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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby markskor » Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:16 pm

As I sit here musing about my past month’s Yosemite adventure, it was an amazing Sierra epic saga, I feel the need to ramble on a bit, sort of a short dissertation on my take on some of the current conditions/amenities offered for wandering backpackers in Yosemite National Park, with a few added observations on some of the more notable denizens met. Sorry, I do take pictures…do not carry a camera; I leave that task for others much better adapted. So you just have to imagine you are with me now, in Tuolumne mid July, across from the well known Store/Café, sitting on a well used picnic table, hamburger and a cold one working. (Maybe I can give you a little help too.)
It is a zero day; there are the various prides of the PCT hikers coming through now, going northbound. With names like Hawkeye, Brown Eyed Girl, Buffalo Farts, and Spare Parts, they mill about the Meadow parking lot complex, backpacks strewn about, (Mostly ULA I noticed,)… drinking beer, eating the hamburgers, and laughing…(BTW, among this self-proclaimed, elite clic of hikers, bombastic, ostentatious farting while posing seems to be highly encouraged and permissible behavior). FYI, The café serves a generous soft cone dessert now…most popularly served just before closing…funny to see the diverseness that is Tuolumne, all standing around in the late afternoon sun, milling about the parking lot, eating the tall chocolate and vanilla swirl cones… (Like some bizarre Kafka play.) The store, open till 8:00, still stocks it all…well not all but, just enough to restock a Bearikade and adequately pig out for a day, (including some respectable offerings from some good local Mammoth brewers). The store has now also added, for those that may use it, a meager hiker’s box too in the right corner…FYI, I saw a few hikers throwing in food into the box from off the store shelves…then another buddy grabbing this food up, and walking out… (Maybe some kinks in the system here still need to be worked out.) The JMT hikers are also present, southbound…bigger packs…a different strain of backpacker, not as trail jaded…eagerly unpacking boxes recently sealed, tearing open Post Office presents…chocolate and Humboldt. There were always the blue hiker busses pulling in…bigger Tourist busses pulling out…tourists from around the world, Germans and Asians briefly pausing, digital cameras and rental cars. The climbers are here, incessantly sorting out gear, hours after hours sorting; also contently idle now just sitting in the grass. There are noticeably fewer family units hiking this year…maybe it is too early in the season...bugs are still bad but getting noticeably lighter. It is finally warm now though, and last week’s cold front/high winds, thankfully used only a reference point, as in…”Where were you last week when the winds hit?” A Ranger on horseback moseys along, (nice job to have), taking a warm moment among a few bikers wearing colors…cold beer and smiles all around…Tuolumne.
Image

Interesting that there seems to be only 3 types of hike plans active, going on here in Tuolumne right now. Everybody today is only doing the big hikes…The PCT or the JMT, maybe 60% of all the responses to, “Where you headed?” The rest are either going up to Voglesang or Clouds Rest…then congregating in mass at LYV before heading down…long-planned 5 day adventures. Funny, nobody carries fishing rods…plenty of other diverse gear though…lot of those “fold-up” sleeping pads – (the old-school accordion style…thought those went out years ago), maybe a total 50% of all sleeping pads seen…lots of “old-School” external packs too, loaded high and heavy…incidentally, most backpackers around today are now using hiking poles.

Early evening now, just before the canvas-sided Tuolumne store shuts its doors, this is a good time to grab something, perhaps a bag of chips and some fresh salsa, and maybe a 6-pack of Coronas before heading up to the backpacker’s camp…civilized and close…located behind the store and right next to the fireside Ranger circle in Tuolumne. Yosemite contains two available (non Wilderness) backpacker camps (that I know of), no reservation needed, one in Tuolumne and in the Valley; both cater to backpackers. I availed myself of both. The one in Tuolumne, it was self-policing, never once saw a ranger there in three nights of stays…everybody kept it clean and usually quiet…the PCT hikers notwithstanding. The one in the Valley though, located behind the stables, is a little more tightly run and a lot more strictly patrolled; often the Rangers came by 3 times a night there…still the best situation for a wandering backpacker to spend a night…no cars, quiet, and a safe place to leave the gear unattended…bearboxes everywhere. Be warned though, you must have a Wilderness Permit to stay over at either site.

This brings me to my first rant…the PCT Hiker mentality. I like these guys…their orneriness, endurance, and general who-gives-a-rat’s-ass attitude about anything else but their personal trail agendas. I laughed with them, partied amongst them, heard the stories, and even drove a few down to TPR for pie and ice cream…they are fun people to be with. My complaint is that along the way, specifically, the next night in the Valley BP camp, I was in the process of restocking and had bought a bottle of Grand Mariner for my next day’s, early morning, Red Peak Pass trek bus ride, (sheesh - $25 for a one way trip to Mono Meadows)…filling up my 20 oz nalgene, stashing it away safely in my pack in the bear box, and offering the rest of the bottle into that night’s general Yosemite Valley backpacker camp debauchery fund. Alas, the next morning the filled nalgene was mysteriously gone…along with the PCT hikers…trust here is fleeting.

Speaking about restocking mysteries, you would think that for all of the “one liter” nalgene water bottles sold to backpackers, (most hikers carry one, I do…fits in the hip belt of my Gregory), someone would market, especially in Yosemite Valley, a packaged powdered drink mix unit (with sugar or not…doesn’t matter) designed specifically to fill a one liter nalgene…a no brainer. Yosemite store only sold those large plastic tubs of Kool-aid - grape….that and Crystal Lite Raspberry Tea…what gives? No Wyler’s…no Tang…no variety?

Speaking again of the backpacker camp – in the Valley this time, this brings me to a second rant…Headlamps. We all carry one…great piece of necessary gear – replaced the flashlight, but perhaps we can turn them down a setting or two when entering into a crowded, sleeping campsite. Nobody really minds it when hikers come in late…often after midnight getting into a crowded camp…setting up tents… etc, long after most there have gone to bed. But when you walk through the entire camp searching for an available free site, or just turn your head an any direction, with your headlamp on stun-blind setting high, you are shining your light directly into all the tents around close for 15 minutes…why? Perhaps a little consideration for other fellow campers might be in order here…Turn down the headlamps to low or take them off your heads, please.

Another minor gripe is the Valley backpacker’s camp restroom light…on a timer and uber-blinding…motion sensitive, it goes on after dark whenever anybody enters the john and stays on 15 minutes after they leave…unfortunately, the light is also set on camp blinding, high-intensity mode…oppressive and piercing. Since we all now carry a headlamp anyway, why not dispense with the blinding restroom light after 10:00, (or all together), and let the individual personal headlamps carry the load…just a thought. Image

FYI, in the Valley, next to the old Bank of America building, the Yosemite Art Institute now offers art classes for free…world renown artists…big time artists (mostly oils and watercolors), somehow these artists, they are enticed/ lured into Yosemite to give FREE, 4-hour classes, 5 days a week…starting at 10:00am and going till 2:00. Image(If you were in the city, such a class opportunity if available would cost $100/class day)…a great opportunity if artistically inclined and it pleases your hiking schedule. I had come prepared to do some watercolor work but alas, the only available classes offered in my 2, short Valley stays were classes in Pastels…for those days…I just listened, watched the demonstration, and then sketched away in pencil, not wanting to spend the necessary $25 for additional art supplies.I sketched Half Dome that afternoon, and I also offer up here a few more sketched impressions of various other Yosemite stopovers. ImageImage


Next, maybe a quick mention of some of the available Valley food providers, currently serving up/ answering the need for something that doesn’t need cooking.
Degnons Deli still serves great lunch sandwiches…Pastrami and Swiss on an onion roll was $6.00. If you talk nice to the sandwich makers, (overwhelmed and underappreciated kids), and special request double meat/ double cheese, and smile, they twice somehow forgot to add the price the addition…still $6. I do not think the kids really care about any corporate profit margins. Curry breakfast cafeteria is still a great deal… $10.50…all you can eat…lots of fresh fruit and unlimited bacon and sausage available. Curry also has a new Mexican Food stand…not too bad cuisine, (next to the Mountain Shop)…but it closes too early at 5:00 PM. The Pizza/ ice cream deck zoo always has a continuous line, extending well off the deck…the pizzas sold there are still just marginal at best…tourists line up to suck these up…who knows why. The Curry deck bar does not sell pitchers of beer anymore…and their prices have escalated…a 20 oz bud - $6.00…better to just buy a 6-pack and take it back to camp.

A few other random miscellaneous Yosemite observations, in no particular order:
There seems to be less backpackers this year hanging out in the Valley…and a lot more global tourists. Showers (located at Housekeeping and Curry) now cost $5. The Wilderness parking lot, (between Curry and Happy Isles), where you are supposed to long-term park while backpacking, was continuously full of cars (a sign posted said so)…I left my car in the Curry lot for 14 days with no problems…no sticker in the window either. A new condo unit has been built between Housekeeping and Curry (some employee housing but mostly big buck accommodations…so much for the Valley’s master plan not expanding the facilities (getting everything back to pristine nature), especially when there is money to be made. Of all the hundreds of backpackers seen in my 3 week stay, I only counted 3 that were African-American, out of all those who donned regular overnight backpacks.

Lastly, I would be remiss if there were not some special mention of the HSC at Merced. John Rogors is the chef there…has been for years, arguably the best of all chefs currently working at a HSC, and a friend. We met years ago, shared an evening or two along the way, always a pleasure to stop in and say hi…I do not know why but from all the thousands of people he has met, he always remembers me…this time he even introduced me to everyone in attendance that night during the after dinner introductions. Anyway, I had stopped in earlier to see about possible dinner availability – yes!…next thing I know I am peeling potatoes in the kitchen – (Nice Mural going on back there) with somebody’s Grandma (who BTW was a PHD in Physics), all the while discussing Yosemite lore, past and present. Did you know the going rate for a Merced HSC employee to take a fully loaded pack up to Voglesang or Sunrise? $150…and they do it quite often too…interesting.
It turns out that John was hitch hiking last summer in Tuolumne and was fortunately picked up by some “Cutie.” The next week, coincidently, he was driving along near El Portal and surprisingly, he picked up the same woman…now she was hitching. To make a long story short, she said she would marry him, if he passed Calculus. As soon as he saw me up there he cornered me, bribing me with all available HSC options (Thanks John) just so I would possibly send him up a good Calculus text when I got home…ultimately by mule mail all the way up to the HSC, from the Valley…done…in the mail.

I ate well that night…seconds on fresh salad and warm bread with garlic and rosemary, chicken and fresh greens, and a gooey chocolate cake. Afterwards I partied with the crew…they seemed to have a hankering for (and an unending stash of) Makers Mark available…poor mules… Best meal I had all trip.
Pardon my ramblings...MarkImage
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby The Other Tom » Sat Aug 01, 2009 6:19 pm

Thanks for the write up, Mark. I love Yosemite and enjoy reading your posts.
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby markskor » Sat Aug 01, 2009 9:56 pm

This part of my (somewhat) belated Trail Report deals with our ersatz, HST member, backcountry meeting and what happened during those special 5 days in July…all starting 18 miles deep in Yosemite backcountry, deep inthe Clark range.

First, a good three months ago, somehow the three of us, OldRanger, Tehipite Tom, and me, got together on the PM board. The “super secret” master plan was primarily to visit Obelisk Lake together…somewhere I failed at my first attempt solo last summer. Recently, Backpacker Magazine ran an article about an old Calvary trail, connecting Merced Lake, up through Obelisk, and over to Mount Star King in a recent edition…Also said something about them stocking Obelisk back in the 20’s, and that evidence of the trail scars could still be seen along the route. I think it was TT who started the ball rolling, allowing me to join him on any of 3 possible routes up from Merced Lake. Now Obelisk Lake, located just a few miles south and ~2400 feet above Merced Lake, is not ideally situated…guarded by steep slab granite and thick Manzanita walls…trail my ass.

At this point OldRanger somehow got wind of the idea and took over, as only he can. He knows what he is doing…Just ask him. Now the new plan, a master fishing plan (now there were three of us committed on the upcoming adventure), started out from a different route, one coming from the top instead and following down the Red Devil Lake drainage…maybe 20 miles of X-country included. For me that meant Lower Ottoway Lake the night before, and then crossing over Red’s Peak Pass and hopefully finding Mike (OldRanger) at the designated rendezvous spot. Just imagine that you are two days and 18 miles in, looking down from the top of the still iced-in, 11,300 ft. pass, 1000 feet of elevation to lose…solid suncups and talus the next ½ mile…plenty of postholes ahead…and you are wondering in the back of your mind whether any of these two guys will even show?

Coming down the North side of Red’s Peak was an adventure, wandering about the high treeless tarns of the upper Clark Range was amazing, and I soon found myself at this un-named lake/tarn…the agreed upon meeting place, mid afternoon. Maybe 2 hours later, catching a wink in my tent, I hear him…snorting and pontificating…full of stories, set in his ways, extremely knowledgeable and eminently capable, raucous and opinionated, mountain man extraordinaire, good fisherman and now friend Mike. The next day’s plan was easy now…lets go fishing. Before I proceed with the story, I should mention that we discussed whether we should actually name of any specific lakes we visited, lest any trolls overuse a possible fantastic Sierra resource. The only lake we agreed to actually name was Edna, and only because it is so remote, that if you can actually get here, you should probably know that the fishing we experienced at Edna that day was truly above excellent. ..Nuff said.

The un-named, meeting place lake/tarn sits just below a hanging basket lake, (look at your Topo)…Edna sits about 350 feet above, up the canyon wall…follow the waterfall up the precipitous cliff, skirting and avoiding the steep snow fields and the cascades…just to the right of that big black rock…Edna Lake. Today was a fishing day trip. We started out at 7:30, hit at the lake at 8:15… split up at the lake exit…me left and him high right…the plan was to fish all day here…excellent. I tied on one of those ¼ oz. Wild Edge Berzerker lures (similar to the old Panther Martin’s, which were great once but now are inferior as chit as they are made in China)…yellow and red…single hook…black blade. Yowza!

As we were apart all day, and we carried no cameras, it is impossible to verify anything a fisherman says, but…We killed that lake. All I can tell you is that my rod, a Trailmaster III, 7 ½ foot, graphite has four 22- inch sections. I caught multiple, fat, healthy fish, Rainbows, that were almost as long as one section…20 inch easy…Mike too. Everything was spawning…they were not eating fish – empty stomachs, just pissed off, territorial trout doing what they do. The louder the lure, the harder they hit it…rod-bending, drag singing, tail-walking action…never had a better Sierra day fishing, ever. Somewhere around 5:00, I yelled out to Mike and I left, spent… Mike was still across the lake, but also returned down shortly…big grins all around…over 20+ fish each that day…looked like we could have put together stringers like you used to see in the old fishing magazines…10 fish – 20+ pounds.

Next day we packed up, said goodbye to Edna, and headed out, a short day down to Red Devil Lake, and to see if Tom would show…damn…right on time too… (I will never doubt a HST member again…both showed up. What are the odds?) A pretty lake and full of frogs was Red Devil…we stayed on the beach that day…drinking Margaritas and solving the world’s problems…two excellent hiking companions…would hike with either one again in a minute.

The next day promised to be a real ****, X-country down 1000 ft to 9,000 feet and then up another 1500, steep slabs, talus…maybe 7 miles but it felt like 12, then again down and up another 400…Adair. Mike led the entire way up the hill, I hated him then, as he walked us straight up the damn mountainside…sadist, always pushing on, but it was the best route up…good man. It rained and hailed on us at Adair…a late afternoon storm that hit 30 minutes after we hit the lake…good timing, I need a nap anyway., clearing at dusk but drizzling sporadically but interminably all through the night. Around 7:00 that night, perched on top of the world, looking northeast, the sky parted for 15 minutes and Mount Florence, located clearly in the Cathedrals across the way, was lit up like it was on Broadway…dark clouds surrounding the neighboring peaks…awesome.

Another similar rollercoaster day, another 7 miles of losing and then gaining back the same 1000 feet…dropping over into another drainage and then continuing on, following that one up, found us at Obelisk….Damn pretty and finally here. I never thought we would make it, but here we were…high above Yosemite, looking north…We could see it all from here…wide open Vistas. BTW, we fished this lake too…just as long as we were here.

Next morning we lost Tom…over the ridge toward Star King was his route, sorry to see him leave…looked like a tough route but after what we did the last three days, I had no worry that he would make it. Mike and I instead, went in search of the old cavalry trail down… it was well hidden if it was there…never saw the damn thing…we forged on. The last 1500 feet of elevation loss was steep and through a Manzanita forest…it really sucked…legs tore up…even broke my hiking pole…made it down safely. At the Merced River, here Mike and I also parted ways and the joint adventure dissolved.

FWI, about fishing these final two lakes, one held 15 inch Goldens…fighting and colorful, great tasting too, and the other one lake was fishless… Figure it out yourself…then try it…an Epic adventure in all ways awaits you.
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http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3427/375 ... 7cc67c.jpg
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2612/375 ... 614733.jpg

Mark
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby Telkwa » Sun Aug 02, 2009 8:16 am

markskor -
Thanks very much for your post with the drawings and observations. I worked in the Valley at the Loft Restaurant in 1978. That summer in the Park is "the" landmark of my young life. Reading your post brought back a lovely, melancholy mood lodged in my synapses from that wonderful experience.

BTW, I love my "old school" Alpenlite external frame pack!
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby rlown » Sun Aug 02, 2009 11:46 am

welcome back, Mark..

If we could all take a month off, we'd all be there with you. that would be interesting and scary at the same time.

PS: i also love my external frame Kelty 5500 Tioga pack, but i have other requirements beyond just backpacking..
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby gary c. » Mon Aug 03, 2009 8:33 am

Great report as always Mark, you really know how to enjoy the backcountry. You do seem to have a problem keeping hold of your water bottles tho. Didn't you leave one behind in camp last year also?
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"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 04, 2009 1:27 pm

Great report, Mark...and fantastic drawings/watercolor!

I'll get around to my version in a week or so...heading up to Sequoia tomorrow, so it'll have to wait.
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby Ozark Flip » Tue Aug 04, 2009 6:23 pm

We met years ago, shared an evening or two along the way, always a pleasure to stop in and say hi…I do not know why but from all the thousands of people he has met, he always remembers me…


You're not easy to forget Mark. :D Trading mathematics for HSC amenities....classic!

I really enjoy reading your stories. You have a way of making me feel like I'm right there.

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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby markskor » Wed Aug 05, 2009 9:38 am

"You're not easy to forget Mark. Trading mathematics for HSC amenities....classic!"

And they said math would never pay off :eek: ...a good story to tell my kids in class this year.
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby markskor » Sat Aug 08, 2009 7:24 pm

Recently, I have seen more and more fly fishermen in the Sierra…less spinner types. I do not understand why.
I had just walked the easy 2 miles, from just below the dam to the far end of Saddlebag, intending to camp at the inlet. I had tried to do the west ridge of Conness earlier that morning as a day hike, but we got blown off the summit ridge by 50 mph winds… (Just not worth it), so, it still being early in the day, I bid goodbye to my hiking partner and decided to stay over instead and fish a known spot, the far end of the big lake. Saddlebag fishing is at best finicky in the daytime: RE, as to when or if its trout really ever decide they want to bite, sometimes it produces, and other times – absolutely nothing…you just never know there.

Mid July, everything that day was in spawning mode… they were all hovering just outside, gray dorsal fins barely breaking water, all schooling about 25 yards out, in the wide rocky inlet, shallows. The wind was blowing steady off the lake, not nearly as strong as earlier in the day, high up above, but definitely breezy…coming from offshore right up the inlet too. It is mid afternoon now – nobody is fishing on this side of the stream…the spinning gear ready, camp nestled up in the trees just above. Perched on the south side of the wide stream inlet, armed with fly/bubble…large white Elkhorn, 4-pound line, I zinged (zang?) the bubble out low, far out onto the lake, (and incidentally into the wind)… BAM…14 inches of Rainbow. Another cast, the same; This continues for two hours…into the late afternoon…almost every cast, a hit, a dance…I find I am actually laughing a bit out loud.

About ¼ mile north, up the cove, on the other side of the inlet, the ferry arrives again, letting out the (now cost $11) fares, intending on picking them up later…First I see a few hikers (with dogs)…Then I particularly spy a few fly fishermen (long rod tubes) coming down the dock too. One by one, they see me and amble over…FYI, I am still nailing them…maybe 15 inches that time… hooting and hollering now…(BTW, I released everything…all C&R), as this fishing was totally unexpected, afternoon spinning heaven. One of the fly fishermen, eager to join in the fun now, took a ready perch on the opposite side of the inlet, casting out nicely…Low roller cast, but immediately is thwarted by the offshore wind blowing everything back in his face. Maybe he gets his line out 5, maybe 10 yards…I am out 30…He swears at me (laughing), and leaves…Oops, another fat 15 inch ‘Bow…or maybe that one was a Brookie -(did not dance)…hard to get the Brookies to dance up here, they just won’t come out of the water.

At least 3 other fly fishermen came along in quick succession that afternoon, all intent on trying their luck from the very same vantage point. It was something to see…long casts, tippets flying, and utter futility…funny, they all swore at me too…and then they all gave up…unfortunately, none of them caught anything. I eventually wore out that fly I was using…total of 20+ fish in a two hour period. In Sierra lakes, if I was only carrying one rod/reel, I would vote for the spinner approach. I can appreciate the art form of a well-presented dry fly, but a sweet spinning rig, in the right hands, often produces more quality fishing…(Why you ask?)…More time with the lure/fly actually in the water…in the catching zone.
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby rlown » Sat Aug 08, 2009 8:02 pm

Given i generally go in late fall, i carry both spin and fly (and bait), as you never know what's gonna work. If i can see them 20 yds from shore, it get's the roostertail rainbow dressed. or a lil cleo or a blue/silver Kastmaster. If it's calm and i can wade a shelf, it might get a more "delicate" hopper presentation. i kinda like to fish deep and let my tackle sink, so i like heavy sinky flies. Just me; I tend to think the bigger fish are deeper off the shelf.

I tend to leave a meal or two at home so i work harder on the right fishing approach. Hence, I don't like to go to "known" fishless lakes.

Still Mark, I've fished that lake along the mid-west shore and was never disappointed. I can only imagine what the inlet must be like. Last I was there, we were on a mission to get to Upper McCabe.
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Re: Back from Yosemite

Postby gary c. » Sat Aug 08, 2009 9:41 pm

For the last couple years I have only fished alpine lakes with a fly rod. My last 3 BP trips were with guys that were fishing a fly/bubble. As long as the wind was not in my face and I had room for a back cast I out fished them 2 to 1 or better. The problem was that half the time I couldn't get a decent place to cast. I'm OK with a roll cast but most alpine lakes have hat shelf that is just a little too far for my roll cast. The guys with he fly & bubble fished anywhere that they wanted. Unless it's mostly stream fishing I think I'm going to start carrying a spinning rod.
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