This hike was planned as a two part trip, with me hiking solo for the first 14 days in the area around Mt. Goddard, then meeting up with a brother and friend for another 10-day leg. How I came up with the route is a mystery to me now, all these years later, but to say it was ambitious is putting it mildly. With almost no off-trail experience, I found myself tackling both the Enchanted Gorge and the Cartridge Pass trail, two of the hardest cross-country routes in the Sierra Nevada. I was on a shoe-string budget, with barely enough money to buy food for the trip and too poor to pay for the ferry ride across Florence Lake. I did have a good quality backpack (a sturdy North Face external frame pack) and sleeping bag (a North Face Superlight down bag) and an OK stove (a Gerry LP gas stove). I liked the idea of long hikes, where you could immerse yourself in the backcountry and I worked hard to keep my pack weight down. I couldn’t afford fancy freeze dried meals, so I bought all my food at the grocery store: dehydrated box dinners, dehydrated soup, Top Ramen, sharp cheddar cheese, dried salamie, instant breakfast powder, dehydrated milk, fig bars, granola bars, trail mix, peanuts, crackers, dried fruit, and lots of Wyler’s lemonade mix. I carried a large garbage bag for a poncho and relied, as I still do today, on a plastic tube tent (1 lb.) for foul weather.
On July 10, 1975 I left Sacramento at 3:00 am and arrived at Florence Lake around 10:00 am, driving the old beater Plymouth Valiant that served me so well throughout my college years. I couldn't afford the ferry toll, so walked the length of the lake, camping that night beside the south fork of the San Joaquin River, just above where it flows into Florence Lake. It was a hot, muggy day -- close to 90 degrees. Mosquitoes swarmed as the sun disappeared.
Friday I hiked to the Piute Creek/Muir Trail junction, where I laid my heavy pack down in utter exhaustion after only eight miles. The mosquitoes in Blayney Meadows were awful (I had a phobia about using mosquito repellent and would only use it in the most extreme of circumstances). I practically had to run up the trail to avoid being eaten alive, and even this hardly helped. No matter how often I rubbed my hands over my arms, shoulders, face, head, and neck (I did this in a continuous routine), the mosquitoes would always reappear. At one time at least 30 had lighted on my shoulder at the same time. It was miserable.
But the Piute Creek camp was delightful and mosquito-free. I spent the night there and met a group (father, mother, son, sister, son's friend) and I hung out with them. Despite my heavy backpack, I couldn’t resist the lure of real food, so I ate dinner in their camp (canned ham, bread, corned beef, etc.) and we enjoyed the evening together.
Saturday at 8:00 I started on my way and by 2:00 PM reached a beautiful spot just below Martha Lake. After lunch, I read my book (Nana by Emile Zola), then made dinner and enjoyed a cigar as I watched the stars. I had worked up some blisters on my heels on Friday, but they settled down and didn't bother me once I put some moleskin on them.
Above Martha Lake
On the 13th, I hiked to Martha Lake, then headed to the Ionian Basin, working my way high up on the shoulder of Mt. Goddard, above the more obvious route, which dips through a convenient opening in the granite wall and then proceeds through snow up and over a ridge leading to the lake basin. My high route wasn’t any more efficient, taking me only slightly higher and north of the same ridge. and up into the Ionian Basin. I camped just below Mt. Goddard, on a flat ledge in a small ridge between several lakes, perched high in the basin. There was no running water, but plenty of snow and sunshine. I filled my Nalgene water bottles and my cooking pot with snow and in a little while there was plenty of drinking water. It was a perfect setup for lemonade snowcones!
On Monday the 14th, I took a break from the heavy backpack and scrambled up the side of Mt. Goddard, where I was rewarded with spectacular views from the summit. I lounged on the summit, eating lunch and sipping a few cups of lemonade slushies. Set apart from other Sierra peaks, Goddard offers one of the finest views in the Sierra.
On the 15th, I hung around camp until about 11:00, giving the snow time to soften up. I finished my book, then saddled up and headed down into the basin. Most of the hike was through snow, and only once did I have any problem with footing (hard packed snow on a slope). The initial plunge down the Enchanted Gorge seemed almost straight vertical, but all the snowfields and piles of scree proved negotiable and I made a nice camp at a small lake (well below Chasm Lake) in the mouth of the gorge. It was cloudy most of the day, with a stiff breeze facing me as I scrambled down the gorge.
On the 16th, I worked my way through the gorge, camping at the confluence of Disappearing Creek and Goddard Creek. It was rugged and rough going, with all sorts of obstacles. I didn't know what to expect. After leaving camp, I descended a long and steep field of scree and talus. Then I ran into a man who was also making his way down the gorge solo. I offered to hike with him, but he declined, and we separated. I then slid down a long snow bank and was next presented with a very difficult and steep snow bank that plunged right down into the stream. I ended up getting across the snowbank by sliding on my ass and digging my heels into the snow, thus scooting along across the snow. The man I had met earlier showed up again here. He was wearing crampons and had no trouble negotiating the steep snow field. But once across, we were presented with another obstacle: steep cliffs. There were two alternatives, either cross the swollen creek or climb up and around the steep cliff. I chose to get wet, crossing the creek while the man chose to climb. Crossing the creek did not solve all my problems (and it was scary and difficult) but it shed me of one of my personal blocks: I was no longer fixated on keeping my boots dry. In fact, it was liberating knowing I could use the water when all else failed. While I made rapid progress dipping in and out of the water and climbing small cliffs, the man found himself in a difficult position (at least to me eyes) high on a steep cliff on the west side of the creek, with a heavy pack. The last I saw of him he was crossing a steep snowfield high on the cliff, one that I had steered him to from my position on the bank of the stream.
Meanwhile, I continued plunging down the gorge, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, crossing the stream only once more. The final leg of the hike was through thick undergrowth (on both sides; I was hiking on the west side) that required a lot of effort to get through. I made it into camp by 7:00 PM. (I had started hiking at 10:00 AM). I was beat but exhilarated!
Both of the previous two nights were heavily overcast, but it failed to rain (luckily) and the cloud cover quickly burned off under the bright sun.
From my trail diary:
As soon as my boots dry out, I’ll continue my way down to the King’s River. I’m not sure exactly where I'll camp; probably somewhere above Simpson Meadow, towards the Cartridge Creek junction. We'll see. I expect to have to fight my way through a lot of underbrush, so the going will be slow.
On Thursday, the 17th, I waited for my boots to dry out, then bushwhacked three miles to Simpson Meadow, a grueling endeavor that took seven nasty, dirty, aggravating hours. The day was one constant torture, as I thrashed my way through deep underbrush, some of which reached over my head. Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating! I finally reached Simpson Meadow at 7:00 and quickly crossed Goddard Creek (again wetting my boots) and just as quickly falling in a much bigger King's River, wetting my sleeping bag slightly and myself thoroughly in my eagerness to cross to the east side. Luckily the night was warm and my bag was only slightly damp. For some unknown reason, there were very few mosquitoes in this particular campsite, perhaps because of the running water. But there was an abundance of flies, all of which took an uncanny delight in biting my exposed skin.
Friday was an enjoyable layover day. I washed my filthy clothes, dried out my boots, made Jell-O pudding and read my book, The Town, by William Faulkner. It was warm all day, with a steady breeze coming from the south. I was glad to be done with the hard hiking and looked forward to the next day's hike up Cartridge Creek. To quote from my trail diary:
Tomorrow, if all goes well, I hope to climb half way up to Cartridge Pass. It is a steep 6,000 foot ascent to the pass, but I am anticipating no problems, not after the kind of hiking I have just finished.
Saturday, I hiked up to Triple Falls, as planned. As I was walking out of Simpson Meadow, I met two young men on their way to Tehipite Valley. When I told them I had come from Enchanted Gorge, they gasped and when I told them further I intended to go over Cartridge Pass, they gasped again. The ranger, they said, had advised them sternly against going down Enchanted Gorge and had told them that Cartridge Pass was terribly difficult, not maintained for at least 20 years. The ranger had done the route himself the year before and said it took him all day just to get from Marion Lake to the Simpson Meadow trail.
This was discouraging news, but I told myself, "We'll see, we'll see -- you've done some tough hiking already, and it can't be as bad as what you've already done." Ah, yes, I was experienced and trail hardened; if the ranger could do it, I could do it. When I got to the trail junction, it took me five minutes just to find the damn Cartridge Pass trail. I followed it easily for two miles or so, then ran into the hated bushes which completely eradicated any trace of the trail, forcing me again into the gnarly business of bushwhacking through patches of thick brush and tangled cottonwood twice my height. It took me almost all day to get just above Triple Falls, where I camped for the night.
That night I slept an inspired sleep, then woke up to the buzz of mosquitoes, which chased me out of camp early and set the note for the entire day. I walked no more than 600 yards before I lost the trail again and was forced to take to the bushes, an undertaking I thought I had put behind me merely because of the altitude. I ended up finally climbing up granite walls to get around the bushes. But the mosquitoes could not be avoided so easily. They plagued me the entire day, coming at me sometimes in swarms, especially those little black high altitude ones. I continued on and next fell victim to my own misjudgment. I had walked farther than I thought I had, sometimes with the aid of a trail and sometimes not. I had decided to approach the pass as if I was traveling cross-country, but I wasn't sure where I was. I was under the impression that I still had a lot farther to travel before I reached upper Lake Basin, when in fact I had reached the top lakes and needed only to turn a bit to the right (south) to reach the foot of the actual pass. My mistake cost me several hours and was not discovered until I had climbed up a ridge near Vennacher Needle and noticed, with the aid of the view, where I was. The switchbacks leading to the pass were clearly visible in the late afternoon light. I took a break, wolfed down a grape slushy, then plunged back down into the basin and rushed up the pass, which I reached in less than a half hour.
The view from the top of the pass was splendid, with Bench Lake perched unnaturally in a high hanging valley across the deep chasm of the King’s River. I cannot help but think what a shame it is that such a beautiful route is not maintained. Only the switchbacks remain in tolerable shape.
That night I camped a bit above the King’s River, on the south side, about two miles from where I am now. I got into camp around 8:30 and did not have time to cook dinner, so I snacked instead, then went to sleep, fighting off mosquitoes all the way.
The next morning (the 21st) involved a pleasant cross country hike alongside the river, hopping through a few boulder fields, then finding a trail that intersected the Muir Trail. I made camp there at about 10:00 am and loafed around the rest of the day.
The filter on my Gerry stove, which used an LP canister, had clogged, so I needed to be below treeline in order to cook dinner.
Since Sunday the 13th, I had seen only 5 people, so I was hoping this nice campsite would bring me some company. Sure enough, I quickly met several hikers. Eric, Dennis (brothers) and Julie were very nice, from Simi Valley. We sat around, talked, and played cards. It was really nice to be around other people for a change, after so many days alone. I ate dinner with them that night, then got up early the next morning and made Pinchot Pass by 10:00. On the top of Pinchot I met a number of interesting people, and sat and talked until almost noon. Two rather strange fellows who claimed to be out on the trail for 13 months starting from Anchorage proved to be the highlight of that pass. They called themselves the Walker Brothers – Phil Rogin and (I think) Michael something. They intended to be on the summit of Whitney in two days, which translates into a painful 25 miles per day average. These guys were really crazy, very mercenary at heart. They claimed to have an agreement with the Sierra Club to publish a book and also had some sort of connection with David Brower’s Friends of the Earth group. They were hoping to make the Mexican border by September, then present a slide show in San Francisco in the middle of September, after which they planned to continue down to the tip of South America, then to Africa, etc. They gave me a postcard describing their adventures, but I seem to have lost it. I walked with them a good ways down Pinchot, until we reached Woods Creek.
I camped about a mile and a half past Castle Domes that night, where I was joined by a nice guy named Kent, from San Diego. We cooked dinner together and had a good time. He left early in the morning for Cedar Grove, and I followed an hour or so after him, arriving at 2:00. The hike down was utterly beautiful and mosquitoes were not nearly as bad as I expected. This would be perfect late or early season hiking.
Once in Cedar Grove, I gorged myself on hamburgers and other goodies, then sat around the store. Kent showed up, and we decided to camp together again. Meanwhile, I had befriended one of the employees and conned him into letting me take a shower. So, after hearing Ranger Hickey deliver his lecture entitled “Out On a Limb,” Richard, Kent, and I went to Richard’s cabin, drank a few Coors, and then I took my delightful shower. We sat around someone’s campfire for a couple more hours, then Kent, Richard and I walked over to where Kent and I had left our packs, near the stream close to the amphitheater. Pretty stupid. Kent and I both fell into a rage upon discovering that out packs had been ripped into by bears. Both side pockets of my North Face backpack were badly mutilated and all my gear was strewn about. I was especially angry because it was such a stupid thing for me to do: in resort areas, you just do not leave your pack unattended. Believe me, the lesson was well learned.
Given the condition of my pack, I decided to cut my hike short and try to hitchhike out of Cedar Grove on Friday.
Thursday I laid around, read my book, swam, phoned my girlfriend, or at least tried (I talked to her mother), and bullshat with the people at the store. Around 2:00, Eric, Dennis, and Julie (of South Fork, King’s River junction) showed up and offered to give me a ride early Friday morning as far as the Giant Trees turnoff. So while we sat around the store joking about a National Lampoon Eric had bought at the store, Dan (my brother) and his friend Dennis tromped up to the store. Party time! We all camped together that night (Kent had hitched out Thursday morning), played cards, and talked a lot. Dan and Dennis expected to be out 23 days, on a leisurely hike. I hoped to meet them on the trail later. I gave Dan the family camera to take with him (he promptly broke it!).
I had incredible luck hitching. We left Cedar Grove at 7:30 and I was in Fresno by 11:00 and at Florence Lake at 1:00. Snot purred when I started her, and I hit Sacramento at about 8:00 PM, despite the fact that it was a record 112 degrees in Sacramento that day, hard weather for an old car. All in all, a very satisfying trip.