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Early July 1978 Trail Report

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Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Mike M. » Tue Jun 08, 2010 9:35 pm

Here's another one from the vaults . . .

Since we've had such a plentiful snowfall this winter, coupled with a tardy spring, I thought it might be fun to look back in time at another wet year to get a feel for what conditions might be like early this summer. Here’s a trail report from a long solo hike I took in early July of 1978, another very wet year. I started at Mosquito Flat and ended at Cedar Grove, rendezvousing midway with my girlfriend at Bishop Pass. In all, I was on the trail from July 5, 1978 through July 28, 1978. Because of the extraordinary snow conditions, this was one of the most beautiful and memorable hikes I have experienced.

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I started the hike on July 5th, driving from Sacramento to the Mono Pass trailhead at Mosquito Flat. Wilderness permits are available on the road to Mosquito Flat, just a mile or so from Tom’s Place. [Back then; a long gone convenience of the past.} I got to the trailhead at about 3:00 pm. The parking lot was free of snow but the creek was swollen. I hiked a couple of miles that afternoon, up to Ruby Lake, which was iced in. The snowline began about a half mile below Ruby Lake, but I made camp in a nice patch of bare ground next to the lake. I had my snowshoes along and was prepared for the worst, so I thought. I tested the snowshoes that evening and took a few snapshots of the snowy landscape.

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Mono Pass is an exceptionally easy pass to begin a hike. The trailhead starts at just above 10,000 feet and it is a short, scenic hike to the pass itself, a broad saddle at 12,000 feet. The trail is well maintained, an easy grade all the way to the pass. This year, it was entirely snowbound. I got on the trail early, with my 65 lb. pack on my back, but found myself stuck behind a group of packers working on blazing a series of switchbacks up the steep snowbound ridge flanking Ruby Lake. They had been at work for many days and were very prideful of their work. One cowboy, Jem, was an engineer at heart and he was especially proud of the switches he had designed, which were deluxe in that they were rounded at the switches, providing room for the pack animals to turn as they zigged and zagged up the improvised trail. The other lesser switches were straight cuts. They were OK but not deluxe. This was important work, since the pack outfit couldn’t earn any money until they had opened a route up the pass.

Someone somewhere had told Jem that if he put rubber shavings on a line just above the trail, this would make the trail firm and promote a more rapid melt. But there were unintended consequences to this and it slowed everybody down. The rubber did seem to help melt the snow, but it should have been placed on the trail itself, not above it. Instead, the horses and mules thought the black shavings marked the trail and they kept on trying to jump up onto it, where they floundered and mussed up Jem’s elegant switchbacks. This tendency of the horses and mules to want to jump up on the black shavings had Herb London spooked, and it slowed down the progress of the group up the mountainside. It meant also that when they stopped, I had to stop. After about 90 minutes of this, the packers finally came to a stop at the point where they had left off working the day before. They ate a magnificent lunch while I continued on to the pass, finally free to move at a steady pace.

I reached the top of the pass after another 45 minutes of walking on firm-packed snow.

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There I ate a restful lunch, then put on my snowshoes and proceeded down the north side of Mono Pass. Deep wind and melt gullies, high and narrow, made the going difficult. Soon I removed the snowshoes (I never used them again during the trip) and hopped along jerkily past Summit Lake, then veered to the left toward a small ridge where the trail would have been if it were visible. This last part took a lot of effort and I fell on my butt several times. I was getting very tired.

The trail shoots west for ½ mile, down the ridge just mentioned, toward Fourth Recess Lake, then skirts around the mountainside and meets up with the trail coming from Golden Lake. I should have simply made my way to Golden Lake, which was at least a highly obvious route and would have been easy to follow, with no surprises, but I chose to try to follow the route of the actual trail, and so found myself on a sandy ridge high above Trail Lakes and it took me another two hours of trudging through heavy snow to get to the mouth of these lakes. Finally, at 5:00 or so, I plopped my pack down and called it a day.

I didn’t feel well, and then discovered I was horribly sunburned. Quickly put on suntan lotion (much too late for that!) and tried to avoid further exposure. I was feeling weak and tired, and so instead of eating dinner, I snacked, read Dombey and Son, and retired early.

The next morning I felt energetic. My face did not hurt, though I knew it was badly burned. I decided to make my way down to the creekside trail, and then camp at the first place that looked hospitable. The walk was easy and I stopped early in the day just below the Fourth Recess junction. Spent the remainder of the day hiding from the sun and reading Dombey and Son. Toward evening, my face began to ooze a clear liquid, in surprising quantity, particularly from the territory of my chin. But still, there was no pain. I had hoped to walk up to Fourth Recess Lake, but my condition made this out of the question. Instead, I hid from the sun.

Saturday I walked down to the campground at the junction of the Second Recess trail and found a secluded campsite, where I dropped my pack. My plan was to cross the creek and make my way to Upper Mills Lake and eventually over Gabbot Pass, but my severe sunburn persuaded me to stay out of the sun for at least another day. Plus, this far down, Mono Creek was a raging torrent and would have been hard to cross – I would have had to walk well upstream to find a safe place to cross. It was now clear that my route would have to be entirely revised. So I decided to kick back and stay out of the sun. I talked to a young lady ranger at the junction (she was suffering from a separated shoulder), and we suffered together for a while before I retired to my campsite to read the splendid Dombey and Son.

When I awakened Sunday morning, I was in torment, not from pain, but from the intolerable ticklish sensation my mending skin was provoking. It itched and it felt like I was wearing a death mask, so tight and thick had the skin on my face become. Regardless, I decided not to postpone a dayhike up Laurel Creek with Dombey and Son in hand, and so I took off for the day and spent a relaxing time reading and exploring, mostly out of the sun.

Laurel Creek
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When I got back into camp, I washed my face and this seemed to disturb the itchy death mask and I commenced to peeling with a will. Spent a pleasant evening around a fire (between peels) with Terry, a young doctor from Petaluma.

Monday I hiked down to Quail Meadows. What a beautiful campsite (when deserted, as it was), surrounded by tall pine and fir trees, and with few mosquitoes. I walked through the thick fir forest to Edison Lake, then back up to the Quail Meadow junction, where I sat against a great fir tree only a few feet from my campsite and smoked a delicious pipe of tobacco while reading Dombey and Son.

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Tuesday (the 11th), I hiked over the monotonous Bear Ridge and camped just above mosquito- infested Kip Camp. The first part of Bear Ridge is a great delight, with impressive stands of huge, brittle fir trees. But higher up the trail is monotonous and there is no vista to speak of. On the way down the ridge there are several nice juniper trees, but then the hated mosquitoes set in. Amazingly, my campsite was mosquito-free for most of the day and I spent the day washing, reading, and contemplating the swift creek, which was so high it was like a river. Finished Dombey and Son that evening by the light of a fire. Really a great book, containing a staggering number of memorable characters, my favorite being Captain Cuttle.

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Wednesday morning I was assaulted by waves of mosquitoes, the little black snow buggers that swoop right in and sink their needles in you with no hesitation whatsoever. I hightailed it out of camp as quick as I could, battling the skeeters all the way to a nice camp in a small canyon about 1.5 miles below Lake Italy. This was a relative haven from the skeeters – there were a few, but it was bearable.

The snowfall in 1978 year was incredible. In some places it measured over 250% of normal. There was snow everywhere, and at high elevations (11,000+ feet) it did not melt that year. What this meant also was a late and long mosquito season, high creeks and rivers, and some beautiful scenery. It also meant that many places were hard to get to, so there were very few people on the trail, a real bonus. The only person I saw on Wednesday had just hiked in from Bear Valley the day before. He told me a Mexican storm was moving in and would be with us for three days. There were some high, wispy clouds Tuesday night, and through most of the day Wednesday, but they soon disappeared. So far, the weather had been perfect this trip. No rain, few clouds, little wind.

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The morning of the 13th, I woke up to see another batch of high, wispy tropical-like clouds and was sure that the good weather was over. But by 10:00 there wasn’t one cloud in the sky. I made my way up to Lake Italy with my daypack on my shoulders, did some exploring, and then climbed up to the top of Mt. Hilgard. The climb took a long time and burned my poor skin even more, but the view was magnificent. From the back side of Hilgard, I could see straight down the Second Recess. Lake Italy looked small. The Abbot group of peaks looked rugged and picturesque; Mt. Gabb dominated the horizon. A great climb for me, right at my comfort limit. Much of the route up Hilgard was snow-free, as the exposed slopes get plenty of sun. Got back to camp at 6:00, tired and hungry.

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On the 14th, I walked back down to Bear Creek, then up to the Marie Lake outlet. There were lots of mosquitoes in the Bear Creek drainage, but at Rosalie Meadow the snow began and most of the bugs disappeared. Bear Creek was high, and I almost had to wade in the swift stream, but I found a half-submerged log to cross on.

Marie Lake caught a lot of snow that winter and was very thick with it when I came through. I spent a very nice evening there, smoking my pipe and watching the sunset.

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On Saturday (the 15th) I sped over the snowy pass, then down past Heart Lake, Sally Keyes Lakes, and down the meandering, hateful trail that leads finally to Piute Creek. The Selden switchbacks are incredibly boring: nothing to look at, each switch 700-800 yards long, no water, no trees, just dust and boredom.

But the Piute Creek junction was delightful, a real haven. I ran into a lot of people there, coming out of Evolution Valley with stories of high water and an impassable Muir Pass. One older guy from San Francisco, Jacques, was especially entertaining. He talked and talked and talked. He had to wade across Evolution Creek because the crossing log was swept away. Then, he says, he was almost swept away during his crossing, but was helped by several boys who threw him a rescue line and then served him hotcakes for breakfast. It must have been a regular social group up there at Evolution!! Pretty soon they all started tromping down and Jacques called them over. Greg and Tom, the two recent high school graduates boys who had helped Jacques out and fed him pancakes, then Pete, walking barefoot, moleskin everywhere on his feet and shins, then two other guys who had agreed to give Jacques a ride back to civilization. We spent a jolly evening together, sharing stories of snow, high water, and mosquitoes. Greg and Tom were bailing because of conditions in the Muir Pass area. Pete had planned to go up Piute Canyon, hopefully, he said, to get another glimpse of the girls from the Santa Cruz group, with their short shorts and skimpy tops, but they all changed their minds when they heard that Selden was easy (although tedious). Smoked my pipe around the fire and drank hot chocolate and Pete's tea. We ate Tom’s dried apricots, which he dried himself on his roof at home. Delicious.

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I wanted to layover at Piute on Sunday, but all the stories about bad snow and a treacherous crossing at Evolution Creek made me decide to get a jump on things and take a short hike to the base of the switchbacks at Goddard Canyon. So on Sunday morning, I farted around and read The Big Money (by John Dos Passos) until noon, then hiked the gorgeous trail that follows the San Joaquin River up to the Goddard Creek junction. I camped just below the switchbacks leading up to Evolution Valley.

The next morning, I started up the switchbacks at about 8:00 am, early enough to catch the water at a relatively low level. The falls were raging.

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I looked for a broad crossing and was able to wade across easily. Water was waist high (brrr!) and mosquitoes were everywhere. So were wild onions. I camped at my traditional site, at the head of the meadow, just below the switchbacks leading up to Evolution Lake. Ate a great dinner of potato buds and freshly picked wild onions. Scrumptious!

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The 18th was a blistering bright day, as they all had been up to that point. I hiked up to Sapphire Lake, fighting my way through snow again (beginning at Evolution Lake). At 1:00, I crossed the a stream in my bare feet, walked a few yards in the snow, and plopped my pack down at a nice snow-free campsite, surrounded by the massive peaks of the Evolution group. The snow was spotty at this site because of all the granite, but where there was snow, it was windswept and ridden with gullies up to three feet deep. Getting around took a lot of effort.

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The moon was full that night and it was almost as bright as day. I sat against the granite and smoked a pipeful of Danish mead and watched the moon and stars, content as could be.

On the 19th, I woke up with the sun and was on the trail by 8:00. The snow was solid and easy to walk on at first, but as the day wore on conditions became more difficult and finally impossible. One could not walk on the snowbound landscape, one had to walk in it. I was fortunate to be able to walk on top of the ice crust that covered Wanda Lake, and so saved a lot of discomfort and time. From Wanda, I plowed through thick, crusty snow cups up to small Lake McDermott, which I mostly walked on top of, until I got to the eastern edge, where the crust gave out and caused my boots to get a little wet. From McDermott, to the top of Muir Pass was another tedious hour -- one leg up, the next to follow, one leg up, the next to follow -- on and on like this as I slogged over the deeply sun-cupped landscape. My whole leg, from thigh downward, became a foot. Whichever part hit first, I walked on. I learned that I could walk on my ankles, my knees, my calves, my shins, my thighs, and even my arms. One thing I could not walk on was my ass, though I often found myself on it!

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Four hours, and I reached the top of the pass. I ate a leisurely lunch while my boots dried out, and enjoyed the crystal clear view. By 1:00, I was headed down, through thicker snow now. It was mush all the way and within minutes my boots were soaked again (all the sno-seal had been stripped off the boots days ago by the continuous friction of walking in crusty snow). (Next time I'll be sure to bring gaiters.)

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I camped just above the small lake at the head of Le Conte Canyon, well below Helen Lake, near the cut-off to Echo Col. I set my boots out in the evening sun to dry and puttered about, pretty
well exhausted. Made pudding, read David Copperfield, and ate wonton soup in splendid luxury, lying with my feet nested cozily in my sleeping bag. Witnessed a gorgeous moonrise framed dramatically by the walls of Le Conte Canyon.

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The next day I got a late start because I wanted to wait for my boots to dry out completely. On the way down to Le Conte Canyon I ran into a friendly woman ranger and we chatted for quite some time before I finally continued down to the Dusy Basin junction.

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I camped beside the bridge, did some washing, and enjoyed the warm sun while reading. On the 21st, I popped up the trail to Dusy Basin and camped just below Knapsack. Did a little exploring, but again I mainly read the enchanting David Copperfield.

The next morning, I was up early and on top of Bishop Pass by 10:00, ready for my rendezvous with Brenda. The top of the pass was covered with snow but it was mostly clear everywhere else. I ate a few grape snow cones, and then Brenda showed her pretty face. This was her first ever backpacking experience and she did it solo, in new boots. I was worried she would be discouraged by the snow and turn back, but she was a trooper. There was a lot of snow on the pass, but the route was well marked. And here she was with all sorts of fresh fruit and other delectable edibles. We spent a delightful weekend just lying around -- eating, talking, catching the sun. Sunday we made a tomato omelet with fresh eggs and real tomatoes Brenda had hiked in. Oh, I was in heaven!

Unfortunately, Brenda brought with her not only a lot of good food and company but unsettled weather as well. Up until the 22nd, the sky had been almost perfectly clear most days. But on the 22nd and on every day following, it clouded up. Luckily for us, it didn't rain that weekend, but the end of the perfect weather was here.

On Monday (the 24th) Brenda and I said goodbye with the understanding that she would fly to Bishop Friday afternoon, hitchhike to Rock Creek, and then drive my old beater car to Cedar Grove, where we would meet up on Saturday. Monday was very cloudy early, and I felt there was a good chance that it would rain, but we got lucky and neither of us got rained on that day.

It felt good to be on the move again, and my pack felt light without the snowshoes (which Brenda hiked out for me). Alongside the trail down to Devil's Washbowl, the King's River raged with extreme power. The hike was simple, with the exception of two large and steep snow banks along the King's River, and a tricky creek crossing at the falls just before the Washbowl. What a churning mass of raw power the Washbowl was! When I compare the pictures I took here last year (1977) with the ones I took this year, I was astounded at the difference a lot more water makes. This is a beautiful place to visit. I ran into yet another ranger -- a nice, friendly guy named Ralph -- and talked with him for some time. He's the roving ranger based in Simpson Meadow.

The bridge at the junction of the JMT and Palisades Creek (bridge long gone, sadly)
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Images from the North Fork of the King's River
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On the 25th I did the hot hike down to Cartridge Creek and into Simpson Meadow. I camped at the beautiful campsite alongside Dougherty Creek. The bridge across the King's River collapsed this winter due to heavy snowfall and a rotten superstructure; all that remains is a single log balanced on the concrete foundation. A nice obstacle to play with.

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Tuesday was mostly overcast. I got a lot of reading done, but it was too cold to wash my hair and smelly body. The clouds refused to dissipate in the evening, but, obstinate as always, I ignored the sounds of far-off thunder and chose to sleep in the open rather than set the tube tent up. By midnight drops were falling on my sleeping bag and in no time everything was wet. It rained the whole night through, and heavy, low clouds stayed with me all day Wednesday. I built a delightful fire and kept it burning, with pyro-maniacal pleasure, the entire day. Read more David Copperfield and ate a lot. Everything was wet. Tried to dry my bag out by the heat of the fire, but only partly succeeded. Luckily, the night was warm and I slept comfortably.

I woke to a clear sky Thursday and was off hiking by 6:00 am, unusually early for me. Fought the mosquitoes off in Dougherty Meadow, ate a hurried lunch just below the north side of Granite Pass, then marched over the pass, as black skies threatened. Granite Pass was easy; only a small bit of snow. Camped just in time below the pass, then a savage hail/rain storm hit, lasting almost four hours. The night was cold, especially with my still-damp sleeping bag, but there were no mosquitoes.

Friday was an easy trudge down to Road's End, endlessly downhill. Only the last two miles were a pain, with their long, obnoxious switchbacks engineered for stock animals. In Cedar Grove I guzzled several beers and wolfed down assorted pieces of fresh fruit while reading the newspaper (the Giants were still in first place!), then washed up down by the river, where I also washed my clothes and dried out my sleeping bag. Then Brenda showed up the following morning, and off we went on another adventure.
Last edited by Mike M. on Wed May 04, 2011 4:09 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby PCT1981 » Tue Jun 08, 2010 10:03 pm

I very much enjoyed your storytelling and photos. Wow lots of water. Thanks for taking the time for the write up.
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Mike M. » Tue Jun 08, 2010 10:33 pm

I very much enjoyed your storytelling and photos. Wow lots of water. Thanks for taking the time for the write up.


Thank you! It truly is a labor of love! It's fun to do these and back then I kept a decent trail diary. Sorry about the poor slide scans.

Mike
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Shawn » Tue Jun 08, 2010 11:32 pm

An amazing trip and great trip report! Thanks very much for sharing them.
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Xosob » Wed Jun 09, 2010 5:23 am

A terrific & informative report, especially for me given I have a planned trip in the 2nd week of July out of Roads End and a later trip in August around where you started your trip.

You mentioned bringing and using snowshoes (albeit briefly) -- did you bring any other winter gear (e.g., ice ax or crampons)? Sounds like the snowshoes really weren't that useful.
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby maverick » Wed Jun 09, 2010 10:06 am

Thanks Mike for a fun TR.
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Mike M. » Wed Jun 09, 2010 10:34 am

You mentioned bringing and using snowshoes (albeit briefly) -- did you bring any other winter gear (e.g., ice ax or crampons)? Sounds like the snowshoes really weren't that useful.


Xosob, the snowshoes weren't useful at all. They were just extra weight in my pack -- I only used them once and that was that.

I did not have any special gear with me -- just a good pair of boots. No ice axe, no crampons, no ski poles, no gaiters. For your early trip I would highly recommend bringing along a pair of gaiters, as well as extra sealant for your boots. Conditions probably won't be quite as snowy this year as it was in 1978, but it is anybody's guess. You should not have any problems with snow in August.

For the conditions I encountered in 1978, an ice axe and crampons would not have helped. It wasn't icy. The snow was walkable early in the day (more like "hoppable"), but melting fast and deeply rutted and sun-cupped. You just had to plow through it. The upside was that the snow made things spectacularly beautiful, adding stunning contrasts and drama to the landscape, not to mention all the high water.

Mike
Last edited by Mike M. on Wed May 04, 2011 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby Xosob » Wed Jun 09, 2010 11:06 am

Mike -

Thanks for the info -- your experience should be quite valuable for my upcoming trips. I'm now trending towards being excited about the high snow, given your glowing report & pics, rather than apprehensive. Maybe I can catch a few places before the melt has progressed to the point where the mosquitos take over, never mind have places to myself.

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Re: Early July 1978 Trail Report

Postby copeg » Wed Jun 09, 2010 7:27 pm

Thanks much for the TR and photos!
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