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Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

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Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby markskor » Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:18 pm

I was waiting for Mike, aka OldRanger to post his version of this TR first…his trip and all, but the heck with waiting for him…again. Pardon my rambling ways but…here goes a short tale of our last weekend’s Sierra jaunt. I rather expect Mike will give his own version here too.

It was only Thursday and already I had a bad case of the Fridays, so I called in sick. Heading out of Sacramento, my Jeep‘s temperature gauge now steadily rising - fast, progressively crawling ever upwards on that steep, serpentine, asphalt ribbon known as Old Priest Grade - Highway 120. It was time for a last fishing fling of the season... (And I figured that I was now almost half way home). The plan was for a few final fishing days at Saddlebag, before the all-too- soon-to-arrive snows invariably shuts everything down, before all of the high country climes are firmly ensconced in their annual winter hiatus. Backpack readied the night before, I got out of class at 3:00, Thursday afternoon, and drove steadily/ directly to Tuolumne, hopefully arriving before the local tent store there closed at 7:00...alas, just missing it by a scant 5 minutes. BTW, on the way up, I saw no trace of the recent large Yosemite fire, at least not along my stretch of 120…smelled it though, old smoke heavily mixed heavily with the usual ubiquitous Sierra aroma - pines and cedars. The lower foothills below, months before still green, were all brown as I passed through…There was now a definite biting chill now evident, permeating all through the higher elevations.

Walking into an eerily, almost deserted, Tuolumne backpacker camp. .. Assembled there was a large grouping (10- 13 adults) of rookie hikers, all sitting around two picnic tables…campsite # 22. It was an organized RCI backpacking trip….all neophytes to the backcountry, (paying large but fair money, I guess), about to depart the next morning to hiking trails yet unknown to them, on their first leg of a 3-night, backcountry baptism… (Up to the Cathedrals and Sunrise Lakes area.) They mostly all sported spanking brand new gear – still sharp “carton” creases on the tents and parkas…someone mentioned that this group must have bought out RCI… (A little uncomfortable amid so much pristine unused gear, much seemingly right out of the box)…lawyers and pharmacologists, pilots and moms, all total strangers.

Headlight beam set on low, hung around my neck, I strolled up, (FYI, it was 7:30 now and almost dark). In the center of this totally green gaggle of humanity sat the leader, our own Sierra McClure, (Karen), lecturing to them all, (quite matter-of-fact like), all about poo... the backcountry rules…she was very thorough. Obviously this was something she figured that they really needed to hear about in depth. I hugged Karen, opened a bottle of good red, poured her a heady glass, and sat down smiling… Always a pleasure to listen to someone who really knows her sh-it. (Sorry)

She warmly introduced me as a friend/ veteran hiker to her new minions, mentioned something nice about our own HST…nice plug, and then asked me if I, being somewhat experienced in such matters, wanted to add anything…perhaps expand a little more on any of her many poo rules, just described so thoroughly from her thick “introduction to backpacking”, chapter and verse – her well used tomb on all things poo. I had to decline as I cannot read sh-it without my glasses. (Too far?)

Next morning too early, frost crystals on the tents, I quickly packed up before her snoring masses started stirring - safe, making my way down the familiar Tuolumne hill towards the car…all quiet and still - gray, campgrounds nearly empty - Tuolumne. (BTW, slept out that night cowboy style, as there was no moon – amazing night sky show visible at 8,800 feet). Driving now through wispy sheets of intermittent, low ground fog, the 12, early morning miles of mountain road over Tioga Pass magic – moving.

The agenda was to meet up with Mike (OldRanger) and his wife Kathy, currently (and warmly I might add) happily sequestered for the previous night at TPR…to meet up for breakfast… 7:30. Outside the restaurant, watching our frosty breaths pulse…Sign on the cafe said: “Closed – new winter hours – Open now at 8:00”…so, up to Saddlebag – hungry. BTW, be aware that the entire Tuolumne complex as well as all the Saddlebag conveniences close up tight after this coming weekend…appears that this Sierra season is apparently and all-too-soon … over.

While waiting for the Saddlebag Café generator to kick in and adequately heat up their pancake grill…(BTW, good breakfast there), we had a chance to note the current Saddlebag Ferry prices with a new, bonus surprise recently added…seems inflation hits everywhere. The current round trip fare for one now stands at $11.00… (I remember when $5 sounded high). And, they have added an “Overnight backpack” fee to boot…another $5.00. That’s $16.00 for a two mile ride. We tried to explain to them that these were merely 50-pound daypacks and that the case of beer (imports, bottles too, stored/carried in Ursacks…stream cooling ready) was medicinal, but the two lawn chairs, the box of wine, coffee press, Irish Crème, (I think I saw a small flatscreen TV in there too) that Mike was packing was just a bit too much for the dockhands to swallow. Still, we were soon across, camp set, alone in the ~wilderness, a dynamite setting with killer views, basically carcamping, but also enjoying all the usual backcountry flavors, just above the lake, on the far side of Saddlebag.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, there can be good fishing at Saddlebag, and we (Mike and I), had made provisions for two nights of serious angling. In the past, I have often enjoyed Saddlebag’s piscatorial offerings, and have done well there too, but never his way – overstocked gourmet kitchen…3 stoves… and libations aplenty. On a side note here, Mike had also somehow previously forgotten to inform Kathy that this was basically a fishing trip… (Must have skipped his mind), but he now told her there…We all heard about that faux pas for a spell.

That first afternoon, Mike caught lightning in a bottle. Dragging a 3/8 Z-Ray, yellow with red spots, going deep, he somehow enticed this beautiful, long tailed, wild, fat, 3+-pound, female ‘Bow to blink. How that ever happened, nobody really has a clue. You could hear him yelling all the way across the lake…whooping and caring on…sounding a lot like Michael Jackson. The sunset dinner menu at the “rock grill” that night included hors d’oeuvres with salami and pepper Jack, a killer boneless trout with onions and wild rice, a nice red, a few medicinal Coronas, and after dinner Grand Mariner with the Alpenglow.

Breakfast was Irish Crème hot chocolate, bacon, onion, and red Bell Pepper omelets with cheese…all rolled up in freshly sautéed tortilla shells…Oh, and a fresh Corona.
The evenings up there always started out cold, but seemingly warming up slightly after midnight… (Nothing like a great WM bag – most comfy). The moonless Milky Way almost too bright to allow sleep… (I swear it looked so close, I could discern some faint purple and yellow streaks weaving about throughout our galaxy)…now seemingly only a mere few hundred feet away. We were well over 10,000 feet…I don’t think it froze.

Another friend, Gary, hiked in that night late after midnight; even with no moon – he found us easily – fit in well. The next day, despite our best intentions, the winds started up, gusty, blowing cool…the fishing for that day was at best sporadic. A few pan-sized rainbows…Nobody really caught anything…That is Saddlebag for you. On a sour note here though, Mike had taken pity on me and let me borrow one of those big Z-Rays from his stash…said try my luck, while he and Kathy set out, either doing the eight mile loop, or fished Odell, depending. Staying on the big lake, maybe down about 100 yards from where Mike had hooked up previously, I cast out, counted to twenty, and began retrieving slowly….Old school. There was one big tug; I set the hook, smiled, and then, snapped my rod completely in two. Here is hoping Eagle Claw has improved the new ZL600 Graphite Trailmaster handle. It should not have snapped where it did… looks like poor design – obvious flaw…and worst of all, I lost my biggest fish.

Late Sunday morning found me on my way home, back to Sacramento, arriving in plenty of time to catch the late football game. FYI, I have already sent the rod back to Eagle Claw for replacement….here’s hoping.

Thanks Mike…it was definitely a grand, memorable, last-of-the-season, Saddlebag adventure.
Mountainman who swims with trout

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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby copeg » Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:22 pm

Nice :thumbsup:
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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby oldranger » Tue Sep 22, 2009 9:32 pm

Mark is much more articulate than I am. So I have little to add. Hope something similar can become an annual affair. Good beer, good food, and most of all good friends.

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Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby maverick » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:02 am

Wow OR nice size trout.
I went by there the week before on my way to Conness, lucked out and got Friday
and Monday off before my work related events this past Friday and Sunday.
Looks like you guys were really fortunate with the weather, you missed the nasty
stuff by one week.
Sounds like a great party, hopefully I can get off from work or not have any
scheduled events for the same weekend and make the next one.
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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby TahoeJeff » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:07 am

That was one of the best reports I have ever read. I especially like the descriptions of fishing and adult beverages, my two favorite things in the back country!
“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosopher's salary.”

RIP Patrick McManus
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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:10 am

Sounds like a great time...wish I could have made it. :( Excellent report!
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Re: Saddlebag trip 9/18 - 20

Postby Ozark Flip » Thu Sep 24, 2009 6:41 pm

Man, you guys had a helva time huh? You picked a great time to go. Nice fish there OR! Love the report Mark, as always. Getcha popcorn ready before reading Mark's reports.

Right on with the right on,

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