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Meeting people in the backcountry

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Postby markskor » Tue May 30, 2006 6:59 am

The Wedding in the High Sierra May 30, 2006

Having most of my summers off for the past 20 years or so, these blessed months invariably found me wandering high among the Sierra, roaming freely on consecutive extended 10-day excursions. The quandary of re-stocking provisions, how and where, habitually presented itself; my solution – utilizing those twenty or so seasonal establishments located conveniently, always where the high trail meets the road. We all know most of them all too well: the Tuolumne store, the store at Rock Creek Lake, VVR, MTR, the tram up to Mammoth, the log cabin store at Mineral King, Florence Lake, etc – these all readily come to mind. There are many more – all are but seasonal oases: consider also places like Saddlebag, Bridgeport, Sabrina, and the Virginia Lake complex. Even though the prices are always outlandish, the selection barely adequate; for backpacking, besides food, all that was actually required was a hot shower, the use of a washing machine, hopefully a hot meal, a bar stool serving cold beer, and a safe place to set-up the tent nearby for a night or two. Anything else, any added adventure, I consider just an additional bonus.

Many people plan – meticulously, charting destinations and schedules, pre-packaging white 5-gallon buckets, mailing all ahead in advance, everything arranged to the nth detail - not I; that has never been my style. Instead, my sole strategy consisted in thoroughly packing up my trusty Shasta… stocked, strapping down my Trailmaster pole, making sure that my Visa came along, heading toward Tuolumne or wherever, finding my mountain legs, and trusting in the mountain gods to lead me where they wanted me to go next. Trust in fate and the next trip – wherever that may be – always takes care of itself.

Most of these fine afore-mentioned establishments stock all the required basics: Mac and cheese, Lipton rice packages, instant oatmeal, Crystal lite, fresh garlic, cooking oil, spices, white gas, fishing lures and flies, and a wide assortment of candy – what more do you really need? You are surely going to stop in and wander about any store located at any trailhead anyway…for the next leg of an upcoming trip, might as well do all the shopping up there. Fresh fruit and cold beer never seem to travel pre-packaged that well anyhow, besides there may be something right around a corner that you might just miss.

On a previous solo JMT adventure, tried the mail-ahead food drop approach, soon discovering that the worry, cost, and time spent sorting things out beforehand never rationalized the ease of just popping in somewhere and seeing what was readily available right there on site. When you figure in the cost of shipping, storage, and worry that all might get lost in transit, my way invariably computed cheaper in the end, especially when travelling solo as is my norm. Today, with the wide assortment of quality freeze-dried pre-packaged meals available everywhere, the eagerness of those operating these establishments to select and stock what successfully sells, and the ability to always trade fresh trout for whatever was missing…well, let us just say that I seldom go hungry on any trail. I firmly believe in being friendly, interacting with the locals, smiling a lot, and helping wherever one can…these are the desired traits of my kind of dirt-bag backpacker.

This solo backpacking tale begins on a Thursday, late June, this day finding me freshly showered and clean-shaven, sitting on a well-used barstool just a few paces off 60 hard miles of the JMT, hot turkey sandwich, cold Budweiser, and Vin Scully announcing the Dodger game on the antique TV…all high above the bar in an intentionally unnamed Sierra location. There were four other stools available; one soon occupied by a Father O’Malley, a Catholic priest on weekends and a hard-working logger during the week – he was drinking Jack Daniels - neat. Behind the bar, Richard, the owner-operator of the complex, continuously regaled us with humorous anecdotes of his summer Sierra life including stories about his misguided and ungrateful children, his army days, his numerous overseas adventures, and whatever else happened to come to mind at the moment.

I told them about my past, tending bar in New Orleans, my time working as a Wine Stewart on the Mississippi Queen, (a giant tourist steamship running along the big muddy), being a Butler at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe 16th floor. As we drank on, I mentioned the art of tableside flambé and other fine-dining chores for the affluent of Palm Springs’ mega-rich, and my now being a high school teacher. Father O’Malley, now warming to the occasion, (ordered still another Jack…man, that priest could do shots…), enlightened us about his days elk hunting, the perils of the logging business, the hypocrisy of being a priest in today’s Catholic church, and lastly, about an upcoming wedding that he was performing right here at the lake in a day or two. Once he started drinking and talking…that priest could party with the best.

The ball game went into extra innings, we bought each other rounds; it was one of those slow, sultry afternoons where we spent most of it laughing, becoming friends, and generally just shooting the chit among life’s equals – the Sierra has a strange way of bringing total strangers together quickly. As evening approached, Richard pulled me aside and asked me how long I was staying here, and since I obviously knew bartending and food service, would I perhaps be interested in helping out at the upcoming wedding festivities. I told him I was backpacking the Muir, pausing here briefly…intending only to re-stock, but would consider it an honor to assist him, for a small trade… perhaps in food supplies for my next trip… (I bet you were wondering how this all tied together).

Richard mentioned that there was a rehearsal dinner scheduled the next night, and, my job would be assisting in serving, and on Saturday afternoon was the wedding itself, where I would bar-tend. He said that a week’s packaged food from the store would be mine for providing the much-needed help, but he also made a point of warning me that these folk might be a little rough around the edges. A bit puzzled but intrigued, I still agreed; we shook hands and all did one final shot before retiring… back to my tent - home.

The next day arriving on station about noon, (slightly hurting if you get my drift), Richard supplied me with a freshly starched white kitchen smock to wear, (with my hiking boots…it was either that or my Keen sandals), and he pointed me in the direction of a nearby dilapidated banquet room where they planned the pre-ceremony dinner. After quickly meeting the cook and checking supplies, went to work…years of past restaurant experience telling me well what to do next...FYI, very comfortable in this type of environment.

Rather than give you a minute-by-minute run down, suffice to say, let me relate some of the major highlights. The priest arrived first shod in logging boots, driving up in a NUCO L, front-end loader tractor (you know… the one with the dented 60-inch bucket). Next, the bride and groom came; families in tow…they were a large family too. When I say large, the bride weighed in about 400 pounds, a pretty woman, young, blond, smiling all the time; her name was Joyce. The soon-to-be husband, John, marine haircut – short and tight – he slightly outweighed the bride, and he was the smallest of the rest of the four brothers, all present now and all close at hand – (in truth, it was actually a demonstrably butt-ugly family).

The evening’s dinner, grandly presided over by Father O’Malley, went as well as expected; in attendance were perhaps 40 guests present altogether – we served spaghetti… with world-class flair. The only unexpected hick-up in the entire evening occurred when the bride announced that one of the brothers, (the one missing a front tooth), would not be allowed in the wedding party photo, as his dental gap would undoubtedly spoil the upcoming wedding pictures – (fat chance that). Apparently, he did not take to this news too well and he consequently stormed out, swearing up a blue streak, squealing his bald tires, throwing up a cloud of rocks and pebbles, peeling out in an old rusted Ram Charger - (Starting to get the picture?).

On a side note, my waiter duties precluded my missing the majority of the nuptial discussions and most of the wedding instructions themselves; I do know Father O’Malley drank his way through the entire evening…spouting both Latin and lumberjack-ese in equal proportions, swearing along too. He was always totally in charge though – the guests dutifully instructed; they all apparently left happy, all seemingly understanding their specific duties at the upcoming gala soiree.

The wedding day arrived, cool and clear, brisk and bracing; Richard set up the wedding station at the end of a short wooden pier, at the end of a gravel dirt path, looking over a glass-smooth, azure-blue, 8000-foot, alpine lake – a bit of Sierra magic – not a bad scene altogether. On the pier itself, he solidly positioned an old wooden rowboat…center stage…sturdily propped up…extra bracing. Here was obviously the designated place for the bride and groom to exchange their vows. The groom arrived first, clad in a traditional black tuxedo; unfortunately, obviously unable to find a formal jacket that fit him correctly, he popped off a few lower buttons, belly hanging out noticeably as he waited nervously near the makeshift altar.

The bridesmaids pranced up next; all wearing something billowy, in lavender and green – ghastly, followed closely by the blushing bride (... she might have been in a bit of a hurry though, as she literally sprinted up the gravel driveway, towing her obviously relieved dad along closely behind her). She was a radiant picture, clad in a low cut, white-satin dress with the obviously swollen-with-pride dad now adorned in a tuxedo… (Closely behind, in hammerlock tow). After the traditional entrance, (FYI, I did not realize that there was that much white silk available in all of California), both the bride and groom somehow managed to climb into the boat, facing forward …towards the lake, and the priest, after a few choice introductory words (and a perfunctory shot), he handed them each one oar. Father O’Malley brilliantly presided over the rest of the entire wedding as a metaphor – the oars symbolizing the necessity of each pulling together blindly as they headed across the figurative lake of married life – obviously, he had done this before…quite effectively too.

The nuptials over, now went to work behind a well-stocked outside bar – ready, located close to the dock; beer and tequila were the main orders of the day….and of course a few bottles of Jack. The bridal party came over first, doing regular and continuing shots of Patron Anejo with Budweiser chasers, (just the perfect choice of libations for a hot afternoon event… at altitude…God help them later). The subsequent lakeside reception party came off fairly well; it got only a little out of hand when at one point a couple of the groom’s attendants got into a boisterous fight with one of the larger bride's maids, rolling around noisily in the dirt…lots of shoving and shouting, but few actual punches thrown…much akin to a baseball rhubarb… no harm, no foul. Some family members decided it was then time to decorate the honeymoon car…you know…clever soaped witticisms …tying on tin cans…that sort of thing. It was all well-intentioned except for the fact that they somehow completely picked the wrong car to decorate… and later, an unknown angler, off on the lake fishing for the day, joined the party… wondering what the hell was going on with his automobile. We quickly smoothed him over with a few quick rounds/shots… last seen later; spotted, still wearing his fishing ensemble, doing a respectable fox trot with the bride’s mother. (You had to be there to appreciate the moment.)

The initial solo dance of the bride and groom came next, closely resembling the start of an ancient Sumo wrestling bout, each one only barely able to reach the other’s shoulders… a tender and loving display nonetheless. Following that spectacle was the traditional cake-cutting ceremony, complete with cake in the face, and afterward, the best man’s toast…well; maybe we should just leave that part better unreported, as most of what followed was far too crude to repeat here anyway. Lastly it was time for the group celebratory wedding picture…now drunk, the bride relented, allowing the afore-described bucktooth brother to join in and be included in the Kodak moment.

Needless to say, this was the most unique wedding ever that anyone had the pleasure of attending anywhere. As the party wound down, half of the wedding guests changed into fishing clothes… the other half did not bother as most wore jeans. Anyway, nearly everyone in attendance decided to grab their poles and tackle boxes, and either rent some boats, or just put theirs into the water, and engage in some drunken evening fishing …the evening rise…finally bringing to a close the wedding festivities that day at the lake.

On a side note, somewhere along the line, managed to fill my nalgene bottle with Grand Mariner - (for medicinal purposes only), intended for my next days upcoming continuing backpacking excursion. The next morning early, went to the small grocery store, finding Richard had left for me a $75 credit for supplies, just enough to restock my Bearikade. That done, the chili-red Shasta packed up again…snug,we ran into each other outside… he thanked me profusely for all my professional help, and lastly, in passing, he mentioned again, how he had indeed warned me about the guests beforehand…I now understood. We paused, looked in each other’s eyes, shook hands, and then laughed heartedly. Soon enough, the morning ferry, and once again hiking away on the trail alone, solo climbing out of the valley towards some distant lofty High Sierra pass…the Muir.

In retrospect, the wedding was something unforgettable; it was indeed different. More than that though, this experience reinforced my philosophy of trusting in karma, taking what was available, and rolling with it. Sure, when going for a re-supply stash, you can do it all beforehand – the traditional way. There is merit in covering all contingencies, especially when going with a large group or in a hurry, as many of us are want to be in these days. However, much like living in the city and never knowing your next-door neighbors, by remaining isolated you can easily miss the considerable local flavor found near at hand. By being flexible, you invite the indefinite, and can profit considerably from the unknown. It only cost me two trail days, but what I gained was immeasurable: meeting Father O’Malley, Richard, and all the other gala festivities…and the wedding in the High Sierra.

Another solo hiking adventure … by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:57 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Buck Forester » Tue May 30, 2006 2:24 pm

Marksor, I love your stories... I just went through this thread and copy and pasted them all into a Word document and printed it so I can read them all together. It came out to 45 pages! Woo hoo! I keep it stashed at work in our bathroom so I have plenty of good material, ha ha! Excellent stuff!
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Postby caddis » Tue May 30, 2006 3:09 pm

Buck Forester wrote: It came out to 45 pages! Woo hoo! I keep it stashed at work in our bathroom so I have plenty of good material, ha ha! Excellent stuff!
I think you need an increase in fiber in your diet :-k
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Postby markskor » Wed May 31, 2006 1:06 pm

Buck,
Thanks for the kind words…I guess – lol.
It is nice to know that my thoughts are doing someone some good – even if only in the crapper. I always figured that the old Sears catalogue fulfilled similar duties in older times – I suppose I am in good company then.

Just to let you all know, I still have a few more stories rambling around in my brain…just bits and pieces for now but expect at least one more a month in the future.
Still looking for a publisher, maybe with the help of Snowy’s pictures (and a few other of the great photographers seen here), we can put together a real book. Stay tuned.
Anyway, thanks for all the encouragement as I continue to polish up my craft.
Mark
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Postby mountainLight » Wed May 31, 2006 2:01 pm

You have got to stop posting these wonderful stories ... they are a huge distraction at work :). Seriously though these are totally wonderful. If you do get this book published, I will be the first to buy a copy. You are a great storyteller, it is a real gift and lost art if I do say so. Keep them coming.
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Postby Rosabella » Wed May 31, 2006 6:16 pm

Ditto from me.... I really enjoy your stories, Mark. As Mountainlight said - you're a great storyteller! The stories have been funny, tender, sad, nostalgic, and just all-together entertaining. thanks!
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Postby markskor » Fri Jun 16, 2006 3:20 pm

A Wise Backcountry Ranger 6/16/2006

They travel the backcountry, usually traversing and crisscrossing the most populated latticework that is our trail system, hopefully providing sanity, reason, and some modicum of regulation in an isolated and distant wilderness environment. I hesitate to start any story with a rant, and with deep apologies to George, our resident National Park Guru, most of the Rangers that I have unpleasantly encountered recently, many unfortunately, are registered assholes…why? Maybe it is due to budgetary cut-backs or their reaction to the diverse, dysfunctional, and stunted clientele they must certainly often encounter, (often found performing asinine stunts), irregardless, it takes that certain type of Andy Griffith and his Mayberry-type mentality to pull off the required duties with tact, flair, and aplomb. Many of those Rangers encountered recently lack those required necessary people skills. Indeed, there are the good ones, but fewer and farther in between than in past times. Perhaps it is a right of passage that those not yet stationed in permanent backcountry lodgings (the requested, desired, but rare positions), must all endure, that may explain why they all must go through such an arduous ordeal to prove their mettle…a testing ground as it were; today, in my own humble opinion, and many are failing miserably.

The Rangers do draw tough duty; I am sure that the Rangers hear all the ridiculous questions: Do the Rangers spray for mosquitoes…Why are there not more signs in the wilderness? Where is the closest McDonalds…Why are there so many rocks at the trailhead…My wife is afraid of snakes; have you recently sprayed snake repellent on the trails? Where are the bathrooms…What time do they turn off the waterfalls…If I spray this bear spray on myself, how long will it repel the bears…Why are all the trails uphill? Perhaps today, this often-seen, belligerent, negative attitude may also stem from the fact that more people are carrying firearms, certainly not needed but becoming more popular as an unthinking reaction to our present society’s woes. Perchance it is all due to the un-preparedness of many of us to the wilderness environment, many encountered up high are certainly clueless to the wiles of long-established backcountry etiquette. Maybe it is a reaction to the campers of today just not knowing or caring…whatever.

In recent years, barely dry-behind-the-ears Rangers repeatedly ask us to produce our wilderness permits…no problem there, but when they defiantly make me unpack a loaded backpack on the trail, oblivious to the distinctive bear can-bulge inside…just to see it for themselves, that goes too far. Additionally, I have encountered Rangers who paced off the distance to nearby water…audibly counting out the steps…96, 97, 98…”sorry no, your camp is too close,” only to have them take up residence in the same place immediately after my vacating. Once, at Lower Cathedral Lake, even though previously assured that camping was still legal there, (I remember asking when I obtained my permit), one nubile, attitudinally challenged uniform told to us all to leave, his reason never rationally explained. Invariably, it is always these younger Rangers who make these demands; I object not so much to their message, but the way they deliver it…gruff, terse, and demanding. The older Rangers, by old I mean over 30, never seem to adopt this Gestapo-ish attitude; maybe it is that the older ones know better or have graduated to better jobs in permanent backcountry placements. A smile goes a long way in the backcountry; a lesson obviously not taught in Kiosk-tending classes…a place where most of these upstarts belong instead.

No, I take that back; in Yosemite, I remember fondly the old Indian Ranger of the Tuolumne entrance, ensconced there for so many years, blissful in his Tioga Pass entrance station. For over 25 years he always remembered me…how, who knows…but he always had a smile as I passed through each summer. There are the mature Rangers of Glacier Point, happily walking among the tourists, hearing the same queries repeatedly, always responding with pertinent knowledge and a knowing grin; in Yosemite Valley, rangers stop and chat with all, patiently answering all the multitude of questions that must get stale after years in the park. At the Merced Lake Ranger station, on more than one occasion too, Rangers there invited me in for tea and witty conversation, once lasting into the twilight before I begged off and left hurriedly up to Washburn.

Certainly, there are many who backpack our wilderness areas that have a disposition towards the absurd; their antics foolish, inane, and unfathomable, and any Ranger encountering such idiocy on a regular basis must either develop a thick skin or quickly learn to cope. Problems of chopping down standing trees, soap in the water, trash, illegal campfires above altitude, etc...Backcountry Rangers deal with all these tribulations regularly to be sure, and they are usually alone when they do so…there is no help soon forthcoming. OK, rant over, but before continuing with the story, let me again apologize again to all the many conscientious Rangers who repeatedly perform their necessary backcountry duties diligently, without inciting any adverse reactions from the “innocent” masses. My hat is off to all those who do it all so well.

This story takes place on the far side of Kearsarge Pass, on one of the many high alpine lakes there, Bullfrog, Charlotte, or Rae, (I forget which one exactly), all I remember today was it was close to the vicinity of Glen Pass. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... atum=nad83. I was doing the Muir, again solo, and I had hit camp early, intending to do some late afternoon Sierra fishing, before continuing onward and upward the next hiking day. My Gregory off, my camp set, I headed down to the water, my Eagle Claw trailmaster rod armed with an assortment of Panther Martins, Kastmasters, and Z-rays; I had a trout dinner planned for that night’s menu.

I was concentrating on dragging some deep pools up about a quarter mile or so away when I heard them come on the lake from afar…three of them, backpackers too, loudly making their offensive presence known to anyone within earshot as they passed by me and headed off somewhere close to set up their camp site. To their credit (and my blind luck), they camped far away from my site, down more than a few hundred yards or so, but they were certainly loud and rowdy…you know the type. I paid them little mind until I heard the first gunshot, the echo reverberating across the lake, disturbing the sparkling High Sierra silence. Maybe another half-dozen other shots soon followed, effectively alerting the entire lake to their armed presence. I never found out what they were shooting at…target practice perhaps…but I soon remember seeing a uniformed Ranger also heading their way as I picked up my string of browns and headed back down the trail to my camp, all in the same general lakeside vicinity.

The Ranger, I never caught his name (or if I did, it is long forgotten); he was 35-ish, maybe 6-foot, curly brown hair, bearded, toting an Arc Teryx Bora backpack, and travelling in a hurry. Finding their camp, I soon came upon him again as he was sitting down casually among these three other campers, a smile ever-present on his face, and sporting an easy-going demeanor that made you feel right at home…someone who I could easily get to know later if ever presented the opportunity again. Joining them in the camp, I remember his mentioning not being that concerned about the guns, (or maybe it was that he just was not showing it)…he did point out in passing that the discharging of firearms was prohibited here…his immediate main concern though was their large campfire and the camp’s close proximity to the water’s edge. I recall his asking them nicely to please put out the fire…illegal here…(“really no big deal guys”, he said), and then also requesting that they maybe move their camp about a hundred feet farther away from the water’s edge…all done with a sincere and honest smile. To his credit, he never raised his voice and never became confrontational in his requirements; he said it all in a slow matter-of-fact Ranger drawl.

The three backpackers sitting there, sleeves cut of their shirts, tattooed, semi-grizzly looking, now a bit bolstered by alcohol and/or whatever, started getting riled up a bit at the unpleasant task of having to move a camp that was already set up. “What if we don’t…You are only one person…We can do what we want to up here…We pay our taxes….Buzz off (or maybe something a bit cruder)”, came the retort from the largest. The other two in the party seemed resigned to the fact of having to move camp eventually, but now hesitating; they seemingly did not want to lose face to the obvious leader of their mangy rag-tag group. “Listen guys, I see from your permit here that you guys are legal and know about the wilderness rules…it plainly says no fires up here, camping a hundred feet from any water…you signed it too, so get it done...and let’s just let it go at that. Put out the fire, move it over a bit, and I will forget about whatever else happened up here …OK?”

“And what if we refuse…what are you going to do about it?” came the reply from their now slightly agitated leader, “Call in the Marines?” The Ranger paused, looked over at me, now standing only a few yards away, winked knowingly, then walked over slowly next to the fire ring and the dancing flames. After warming his hands and seemingly briefly lost in thought, puzzled, he quickly unzipped his pants, whipped it out, and proceeded to urinate right on the fire…the stink was instantaneously tremendously horrid – ghastly bad – worse than anything imaginable. He won; nobody was going to camp here, or even close to there for some time to come; the three had to move now…and soon, or die. With that deed accomplished, the Ranger smiled broadly in my direction, strolled over nonchalantly to his pack, grabbed up his Bora, hoisted it on his shoulders, and slowly proceeded to walk off, up the trail…away from the camp, whistling. He never looked back, and I never saw him again.

I walked away too, laughing all the way back to my camp, located inconveniently in the other direction of the Ranger’s travel route…he never returned, and fortunately, I never saw or heard from the other three again either. It was a good thing that my tent was upwind from this stench, as I never smelled anything as vile in all my entire past Sierra camping experiences. The next morning I was up early, packed, and on the trail long before daylight broke clean over the ridge again.

As I think back on that episode, I still chuckle fondly. This un-named Ranger handled the potentially explosive situation in probably the best of all ways possible, nobody got a ticket, nobody got hurt, he definitely made his point, and all was over ever so quickly. In retrospect, I did learn the best way to get people up and out of camp in a hurry…perhaps I will use this newly gained knowledge if a similar situation ever arises again, with or without the presence of a wise Backcountry Ranger.

Another solo hiking adventure … by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby krudler » Fri Jun 16, 2006 6:56 pm

Markskor, you rock!
"Krusty, you know Bette Midler?"
"Yeah we own a racehorse together - the Krudler!"
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Postby Daiwa » Tue Jun 20, 2006 2:48 pm

Awesome stories, I really enjoyed them. I stayed up last night until three in the morning reading most of them, and finished the last a few minutes ago. The last time I was glued to a book/monitor like this was when my Dad brought home a beat up copy of Colin Fletcher's 1000-mile Summer from the local library about 10 years ago.

Much appreciated, looking forward to your book.
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Postby markskor » Fri Jun 30, 2006 11:48 am

Iron Chef – Clouds Rest 6/30/2006

The Sierra Nevada is an addiction, a way of life, and a destination with purpose: it presents a vehicle for both insatiable madness and personal conquest. Our Sierra provides both an outlet…and a physical challenge…coupled with fleeting moments of unabashed awe and divine inspiration. In addition, I firmly believe that there is yet another phenomenon unexplained: for me, just being in close proximity to the Sierra causes in my body the release of some sort of a magic granite riparian enzyme. Maybe it is a drug hidden in the water, a powder forged in the stone, or perhaps a mutant pollen form wafting innocently along with that distinctive, musty, clean-dirt aroma…osmosis perchance. Whatever “it” is, initiated by just being up there, anywhere high, ordinary adventures invariably turn into something that continuously will, as Emeril says, “Kicks it up a notch.” For example, simple insignificant chores thought mundane down in the flats, repeatedly take on new meanings… happily ensconced at 10,000 ft. The simple act of preparing a meal, getting water, and/or all the other general camping BS tasks we all do repeatedly, these often lead to grand pageantry, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and fond memories. Something always happens…but better.

This solo backing adventure started days prior at Matthes Lake, late July…see: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... atum=nad83. Tucked under a fantastic cockscomb ridge, Matthes Lake, seldom visited, is a marshy, off-trail, 9,600 in elevation, YNP lake that has on past occasions produced more than its share of significant healthy lunkers – Brookies…only if one has the will and a mind to get off the trail and trudge up the friggin hill. It is also the gateway to Nelson Lake, directly east, just through a narrow rock pass…another lake I had never before fished…another alpine tarn off the beaten path. After a few days camped where hoards of ravenous mosquitoes ate me alive, (I hate marshy lakes, but with the bugs, comes the trout)… after two days of good to spotty Sierra fishing, I hastily retreated, heading now southwest…towards Clouds Rest…intending, at least temporarily, to get some high altitude respite from the omnipresent blood-sucking swarms. Following a stream back down, (I am not telling you where exactly either), I stumbled upon a healthy stand of wild Sierra Onion, (Allium campanulatum); growing proudly among the Aspens and Alders…indeed, I stopped to gather up a few.

The narrow knife-edge ridge heading up to Clouds Rest, rocky and steep with a long drop-off on the right, leads up to what is arguably the best panorama found in the entire park. Unobstructed views all around and the opportunity to gaze down upon the Half Dome massive in the foreground, there is more than adequate room on the peak to sleep ten or more quite comfortably. That day, a little after the noon hour, I arrived atop and there found another fellow backpacker, about my same size and age…worn…maybe a little ragged at the edges…we hit it off immediately. I cannot remember his name, but for the sake of this tale, I will call him Fred. (Yes, my friends, there was the traditional breaking out of the stash: bowls filled, and Bics clicked…some things never seem to change.)

Before I continue along with the rest of the story, I will briefly pause on this occasion to pose a quick query about Yosemite regulations; Clouds Rest is at 9,900 feet high, and this is a question pertaining to campfires. I know that Yosemite prohibits fires above 9,600 feet, primarily due to lack of availability of downed wood. However, just below the top of Clouds Rest, down the ridge about 1/8 of a mile away…max, there are ample stands of available wood…all down, legal, and plentiful. Thus, the question posed is whether it is then permissible to go down there, gather enough for a fire, and drag it up in order then to have a pyre on the peak. Whatever the correct answer, (We actually pondered this dilemma in depth over a second bowl), Fred and I nonetheless went down the hill and played Sherpa, gathering fuel, and thus preparing for a festive night high atop this massive granite mass. The question - does anybody actually know if this was legal?

Getting back to the saga, there is no water anywhere near the top; the closest drinking water is south, down a switch-backed meandering path to a small artesian spring emanating right off the trail itself, about one or two miles away and a good thousand feet down. Still early afternoon, we hung our food bags over the cliffs, gathered all our nalgene and any other available reservoirs, and headed down to replenish our overnight water cache…I can still remember the grandeur of the amethyst-colored Manzanita-lined trail, a hundred various shades of green highlighted…always dominated though by a daunting Half Dome jutting out prominently. One or two gigantic Ponderosa Pines among the waves of golden scrub framed this vista. Obviously, there were many Kodak moments along the way as we made our way down to the spring. Soon, about two hours later, we were back on top, and that is where this story begins.

Late afternoon arrived and soon enough, three more backpackers straggled in, joining us at the top…there were now five for dinner…all solo…all equipped…all capable. Initially there was some talk about a community meal but instead everybody opted to cook something for himself. Amid the sarcasm, laughter, and general camaraderie, a cooking contest emerged…the best gastronomical feast produced atop Clouds Rest…the winner would get the bragging rights for the remainder of the stay. (I told you previously that up high, mundane tasks somehow become special…here was a prime example.) This was truly to be Haute cuisine.

Before I go any farther, I should make mention here that nobody attempted to bring out anything freeze-dried from a foil pouch (thank God). I am almost certain that others besides myself carried at least one such pre-prepared meal, but nobody brought one out for this ad-hoc, food-preparation competition …interesting that everything offered was actually something cooked. My own personal thoughts on those freeze-dried foil meals: after one too many…well, let us just say I still love the desserts.

From deep within five packs, five stoves emerged….five sets of similar pots…sauté pans….titanium this and Teflon-coated that…it was a solo backpacker’s culinary extravaganza. I counted two MSR stoves (one using white gas), one Peak 1, one alcohol homemade lightweight, and an old Hank Robert’s canister model…I figured that we had the gamut of stoves pretty well covered; our impromptu kitchen stadium was indeed something to behold.

The first “chef” brought out a nalgene bottle filled with chunks of lamb. He said that he always froze up a lamb stew at home beforehand – on dry ice – and this was his traditional “first night” backwoods meal. Cleverly, he had some sort of insulated carrier thing wrapped around his bottle; plainly, there were still frozen chunks of meat inside as he prepared his lamb ragout with bowtie pasta. While original, savory, and the dish did smell rather enticing while cooking, the flavor of the lamb was…how should I say it…a bit mangy, (and I usually relish the taste of lamb); alas, he burned it too. We all voted …and while deemed an extraordinary and worthwhile effort…he came in last…you cannot burn dinner and figure on winning…not among this group. (Could you pass me over a taste of that the single malt scotch, please.)

A second entrée consisted of the traditional Mac & Cheese, with a twist. The chef here started with thin slices of Pepperoni and sautéed them with fresh garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Then he opened a small can of prepared ham and added it to the fry pan, combining all this eventually with the boiled noodles and cheese packet. This dish – so prepared – has now (thanks to this chef), become one of my main “go to” staples over the last few years; the kids always like it and it fills you up…maybe a little hard to clean up though. The vote: The spicy Mac took high honors, was easy to prepare, and totally eaten by all in its entirety. (Any more of that 100 proof, peppermint schnapps left…thanks.)

Vegetarian cuisine certainly seems obligatory in such a serious outdoors competition such as this one…yes indeed there was one presented: a couscous/pine nut/tofu medley made with some secret fresh saffron/tabooli/eucanuba concoction dressing…I think. Maybe it was the dire need for fresh spices or perhaps the lack of other available herbs, but while this dish turned out to be quite the filling meal, it unfortunately had little in the way of satisfying color, taste, or texture; it just sat there sullenly resembling lumpy wallpaper paste. Surely, it must be good for you; it contained all the necessary vitamins and minerals, but this was at best bland, insipid, pasty, and ultimately disappointing…(the verdict: at the very end of the competition, this dish was the only one not entirely eaten). Even the chef who created it scoffed at the eventual outcome…admittedly, not his best effort…I think I still recall his immortal words afterwards, “I usually prepare it a little differently; I really could do much better…pass over that pipe…damn!”

I countered with a healthy portion of wild onions and fresh minced garlic, sautéed in olive oil, to which I added a small can of chicken, a few cream of chicken bullion cubes (for a savory sauce), a few well-chosen “secret” spices…all served over a bed of Uncle Ben’s wild rice. I must admit it was, if I say so myself, damn fine eating. Everybody raved and commented most favorably…the addition of the fresh wild onions certainly made the meal…a sure fire winner, I thought…until the last chef pulled out all the stops.

From deep within the bowels of his well-experienced Gregory, Fred somehow produced a package containing five fresh Bratwursts, a loaf of pita bread, packets of Dijon mustard, and then, as a kicker, he even proceeded to hit me up for some of my recently purloined wild onions to caramelize. What could I do…he even offered me my own Brat to sweeten the deal. There is nothing comparable to the sweet summer aroma of fresh meat grilling at 10,000 feet…now perched high above Clouds Rest…at sundown. We had our unanimous champion.

That night the sun set red; we lit the fire and subsequently took our sweet time the rest of the evening consuming most of the available options at hand, all the while watching the fading alpenglow radiate off the mass that is Half Dome…seemingly just an arm’s distance away. There was no moon that night; the sheer volume of stars…the solid stripe of the Milky Way… once again, I cannot reiterate too strongly, how glorious a place Clouds Rest can be to spend an evening. Maybe this night it was the company, certainly the food contest helped…whatever, but without any of these extras, this place would always remain a celebrated memory…somewhere special…with or without the experience of Iron Chef, Clouds Rest.

Another solo hiking adventure … by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby markskor » Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:52 am

Those Extra Days at Consultation Lake 9/4/2006

Mention the names of Seldon, Mather and Pinchot; include Glen (one of the steepest) and Muir; do not forget Donahue and Island, or Silver and Forester, and you know the trail. Traversing what many backpackers believe is the finest accessible mountain terrain found in all of the United States; measuring roughly 222 miles long, this well-known, well-signed, alpine, High Sierra artery meanders above and through a mystical enigma very much alive…heady really. You encounter eagles soaring motionless above 14,000-foot peaks, skirt countless, trout filled, azure lakes perhaps numbering in the thousands, tread stealthily beneath thick, silent, moss-covered forests and pass in close, misty proximity to countless rambunctious waterfalls. There is so much grandeur in evidence…invoking awe; you find yourself in a paradox: half the time gazing out partially numbed, the other desperately trying to avoid tromping on the ubiquitous lush carpets of wildflowers, the exact genus and specie far too numerous to identify.

God, I do love extended backpacking adventures; a week or a bit longer preferred, however, even at that length, on any of my past trips, when they are over, invariably (always) there must include some mention of a re-occurring trepidation: the anxiety of the myriad of hidden treasures missed along the way. I have never yet had a excursion where eventually I did not regret not stopping – not visiting somewhere – something missed…always under the guise of the inevitable rush. There are just too many dancing waters or unexplored canyons, and to top that, (pardon the pun), there are literally bazillions of un-named sculpted granite walls calling out - unheard. Maybe this time it would be different.

Twice previously, once from the south, the other north, I have backpacked this trail, both times tagging along innocently following some pre-made plans of another…rigid procedures - admittedly well thought out…, food pre-bought, pre-rationed, and pre-shipped…schedules itemized in detail…twice satisfyingly successful but always under the demands of a seemingly never-ending timetable. This last time, I vowed to do it my way…unplanned stops whenever…. whims and serendipity…days idly spent unhurried…the long version: (The directors’ cut?).

Before proceeding farther, let me ramble on a bit more… relate a personal observation and a bit of my own philosophy about most “regular” backpacking trips: they are always too friggin short. After all the weeks of planning…the maps…the visits to REI…the shopping, measuring, and packaging…and the long familiar drive, eventually… you finally get to the trailhead. There, one boldly proceeds to attack the mountain, intent on following some sort of pre-determined personal agenda. Two days later, you discover the error of microscopically pre-planning to the extreme, and then grasp again that the mountain itself always dictates what pace it will allow, not you, and hopefully, you gladly acquiesce to this inevitable realization. A day or so later, you finally re-find your legs, ultimately settle into a comfortable Sierra rhythm…and become one with the trail. Maybe after a layover, a couple or three long death-march days, (and hopefully, some fine evening fishing), you all-too-soon arrive at that one dreaded date…the last night in the backcountry. Where the hell did the week go?
Mid-summer, in the familiar Yosemite Valley permit office, I recall listening to myself answering the one big question: “30 days…maybe a bit longer…solo.” Some three weeks later, somewhere between Glen, with its polished exposure and steep switchbacks, and the sands of Forester, here is where this story truly begins to unfold. I will save the rest – the beginning - for another time. I remember it was just a day or so after a vast crimson sunset exploded hot over Charlotte Lake, a crowded camp under an expansive Milky Way sky. The sign said 20 miles to Sandy Meadow; the realization struck like a bolt from above. Waves of emotion coursed over me: first the sorrowful trepidation and then a light-hearted apprehension: the end of the trail was fast approaching…only a scant few days away now. It was almost over…again.
Gaining almost 3,000 feet before Forester (13,200'), my pack lighter - now an integral part of me...(from the very first day, my Gregory has always treated me, well - like an old trusted friend), I first encountered meeting up with Roq somewhere among the many switchbacks winding upwards…just a friendly nod and he comfortably fell in steps behind. Together, (funny, I remember few words actually spoken), we flew up and over the final pass, leaving behind the distant memories of Kings Canyon and entered into the friendly confines of Sequoia NP. Descending down to Bubbs Creek and into Vidette Meadows, we worked our way up the Bighorn Plateau… the well-earned rewards there are spectacular views of Russell, Tyndall, Williamson and our first views of Whitney in the near distance. One trail evening, I recollect a great camp near the Wright and together (silently), we fished the swirling pools, the eddies and the overhangs, all the while watching the nightly alpenglow come alive radiating off the rich-pink Sierra walls.
He said his name was Roq…with a Q, (I do not know how they find me, but they always do). He was thin, wiry, an avid fisherman too, carrying all the right gear, experienced, but candidly possessing a well-earned attitude…and it was slightly off kilter. One could easily say he was somewhat of an old coot, except for the fact that he was not that old…all the rest of the analogy fit him though. Roq laughed at everything, openly and full-heartedly. It was not a derogatory or deprecating laugh, but rather, a laugh that made you feel good while realizing that you just did something that stood out (in his opinion), as completely bogus…he had a constant ribald comment on all life forms in general.
Sarcastically, Roq was an equal opportunity cynic, laughing robustly with many, if not all of the passing hikers. He was not shy…he picked on everybody, pointing out instantly and sharing vividly all his well-known “inept hiking” horror stories with anyone within earshot. It turned out that he was a great trail companion…, as he also knew when to shut up.
Together, we hiked all the last miles together, catching and releasing uncounted Goldens from both Guitar and Hitchcock, eventually making our way up to Trail Crest and then spending the night atop the continental US in those few sheltered cleared spaces just west of the hut. Now only eleven miles of downhill left until the long-craved burger, we effortlessly purred through the 98 switchbacks, pausing briefly at Consultation…just to see it…and that is where this story really begins. “Are you really ready for it to be over?” he asked me knowingly; “How much food do you have left?” was my only reply.
The packs came off and the entire mal-odious contents of both spilled out on the convenient polished granite lakeside: various powerbars mutilated but uneaten…Wheatina packages…Crystal lite...one dehydrated curry something…something else Lipton with rice…and a few assorted packages of hot chocolate. Gastronomically speaking, it looked bleak. Nevertheless, we resigned on staying another night right here, for I too was not ready for it all to end…not yet.
Consultation Lake is one of those prime Sierra lakes; conveniently located just far enough from “a trail going elsewhere” that nobody goes there…Go figure. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=36. ... ize=l&s=50 Less than a quarter mile from Trail Camp…a true zoo, we found almost perfect sandy sheltered sites….plenty of willing and healthy fish (‘Bows and hybrids)…and almost had the lake all to ourselves. For whatever reason, nobody in the “I did Whitney in one day death march” club fishes; over 200 determined bodies pass right by in a good day…no poles in evidence…nobody thinks about working a promising shoreline…it would seem that they all had other agendas.
For those who fish, and/or care about such things, we separated …subsequently dragging small Panther Martins, Kastmasters, or Z-Rays deep across both sides of a fairly good-sized lake, all the way down to the inlet. Armed only with barbless hooks, strikes came frequent…mostly skinny ‘Bows in the 10” to 12” size…some hybrids too (Goldens?), fighters too. Roq snagged a good one (~18”) and I kept two fat ones to add to our banquet entrée …dinner was assured. FYI, we did see a few lunkers cruising in the shadows too…large torpedoes lurking….and there were more than a few seagulls hovering over the lake. In my opinion, Consultation Lake, although stocked – probably long ago, seems healthy and self-sustaining for the amount of pressure it receives today.
Around 6:00 PM Roq decided to take a walk…”Back in an hour for dinner”, he yelled out… I stayed on the lake, having too much fun to leave. He came back soon enough from just over the ridge…the trail close to the solar shitter… with a daypack loaded: Sardines and crackers….pasta…candy…tuna….breakfast bars… even an instant strawberry cheesecake thing…and much, much more. Beef Jerky, packets of cheese, more crackers, trail mix, powdered milk, pancake mix, and jelly packets spilled out onto our ersatz kitchen rock; it appeared that Roq had been to the market…the market that is Trail Camp. “How...where…nice job” was my response.

Later, over a sumptuous sautéed trout, stuffed with Ritz crackers, and garlic rice, Roq explained. Initially, he said was going down to Trail Camp to try to barter fresh trout for anything edible…a fair swap…but somewhere along the way… “Sidetracked among the yokels”…that is how he put it. He added, “Nobody has a stove that is capable of cooking fish anyway…I saw no frying pans…no olive oil either…spices, fugitaboutit. What is with these clowns…and they call themselves backpackers…you cannot decently cook fish on a JetBoil….besides; most here already are carrying too much food along for an overnighter…they must not know that nothing is going to taste good the first night… at this altitude. Most of these Yahoos are not going to eat what they have… I just told them you were starving…something about a bear…and they all pitched in. I could have had more if I wanted it too…maybe we should stay over again tomorrow…good fishing?”…He laughed.

You heard no complaints from me with the improved food situation; admittedly, while not the infamous Portal burger followed by a cold beer chaser…up here, we were fat. “What about the Rangers,” I countered,”Won’t we get busted if we stay past our allotted permit date…they check up here pretty close, you know.” “You have the big-ticket permit; right…they never bother anyone with those…they figure that anybody might easily lose a day or two along the way.”…pretty civilized thinking if you ask me. In retrospect, I too was still not ready for all this adventure to come to an end…, as I had no pressing reason to get back to civilization and the city.

Fishing the rising boils early mornings and late evenings with fly and bubble…jerking lures deep in the afternoons, some times produced… others, not so much…that’s fishing. Eventually I wound up spending two more glorious “extra” nights camped on Consultation, easily bagging Wotan’s Throne – a great side trip and pleasant unscheduled bonus. The next day, I merely “vegged”, content in sunning myself on the slab granite…resting easy, observing the continuous ant-like procession that typifies Whitney, and listening to Roq’s constant monologue. His convoluted, skewed take on the general caliber of the ill-equipped masses parading the trail directly in front of us made us both laugh. (Possibly, it also helped that here I finished the last of my scotch ration; FYI, I think quite highly of single malt scotch drinkers…IMO, they usually have what it takes.)

Roq declared that he could accurately foretell, by merely a quick cursory glance, who was, and who was not going to make it to the summit. I recall it was one of Roq’s basic postulates that we all somehow emit some sort of a distinct aura… the truly difficult part is to be able to recognize it…interesting. Funny, the Whitney Rangers must be able to distinguish this aura too…for in those three days, nobody asked us to show them anything…can, license, or permit…coincidently, not once on the entire trip either. The next morning I was finally ready…my heart agreed this trip was over too…thankfully sated this time by those extra days at Consultation Lake.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby ifernau » Mon Sep 04, 2006 12:02 pm

Markskor,
Love the story. I started reading all the posts you wrote previously. Sure hope you are writing a book.
Inge
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Unless you’re prepared to expect the unexpected, you’re likely to miss capturing nature’s finest moments.(Galen Rowell)
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