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Meeting people in the backcountry

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Postby dave54 » Mon Sep 04, 2006 5:17 pm

It mostly depends on my mood and attitude that trip. But lately when I have been out solo I find myself disappointed, almost ticked off, when I encounter another. I spend my entire workday dealing with people on the phone and in person, so my solo trips are my chance to unwind.

On one occasion, though, I had a pleasant encounter. I spotted another person coming towards me on the trail. As the person neared I saw it was a woman. Then I saw she was topless and hiking in a mini-thong bikini bottom and shoes, nothing else. And very nice looking looking. As she approached she made no attempt to cover up and stopped to chat with me for a few minutes and asked about the trail conditions (I did at least try to maintain eye contact and not stare at her attributes ;) ).

Then the momentary encounter passed and we each continued on...
Log off and get outdoors!

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Postby huts » Sun Sep 10, 2006 11:34 am

I met two guys on the trail out of Red's Meadow. They invited me to have lunch with them and their companion who was ahead of us. The four of us shared a meal, went fishing and I ended up camping with them that night after feasting on trout and rice. The next day I went to Iva Bell hotsprings with Ron, the third man. He went behind a tree to change into swim trunks but as I was lacking I took that moment to strip and sink into the pool. Eventually I had to get out though.....He was talking and cutting up cheese and salami as I climbed out of the water and he ended up sinking the tip of his knife into the side of his calf. The bleeding finally stopped, we had lunch, exchanged addresses and I went on my way.
Just one week short of six years later we were married at Minaret Summit with the sound of thunder in the background. Our reception was in the group campground at Horsehoe Lake where we laid out food on tables under rented canopies while the rain fell.
We had 21* years of backpacking every summer. Ron was a master flyfisherman, I frequently said that I was certain he could catch a fish out of a toilet bowl (and once finding a wood privy in the backcountry we posed a shot).
After many years of heavy packs and sore feet and fish feasts and sunsets Ron passed away. I have been out this summer bringing some of his ashes to some of his favorite places and will likely be doing this for a few summers to come. It is a little hard being solo again so the trailside conversations are wonderful gifts.
edit: 27 years when you count the ones we were "living in sin".
Last edited by huts on Sun Sep 10, 2006 12:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Postby Shawn » Sun Sep 10, 2006 11:59 am

Huts -

That is a poignant story and sums up so many things in so few words. It is clear he will rest in peace knowing your are returning to some of your favorite places from years past.

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Postby tory8411 » Thu Nov 02, 2006 2:16 pm

AHHHHH and the chapters are coming together....
Great stuff Marksor!! I obviously didn't wait long to read it. I thought about printing it and saving it for tonight... nahhhh!
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Postby Snow Nymph » Fri Nov 03, 2006 7:42 am

I copied this and sent to work to read later! :) thanks!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison

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Postby markskor » Sat Nov 04, 2006 12:58 pm

“Anyway I Can Help?” 11/02/2006

Sometime back in the early 80’s, back before there were informative internet forums such as this, back when outdoor equipment was cheap, and long before our High Sierra trails were as bureaucratically quota-minded, an old friend helped me assemble my first backpacking gear. I carried, what I thought was then, quality gear, naively feeling “well-equipped” toting a Kelty Tioga pack, Sierra Design down bag, Svea or Primus stove (I forget), and wearing Red Wing Voyager boots…all to be had for under $200…BTW, all bought at the Surprise store in West LA, (just off Olympic). We carried double ensolite pads, wore Pendleton wool shirts, and slept in bulky Sear’s tents… (God, they were heavy bastards), or maybe we used those old red tube tents – the flaming flimsy plastic ones …remember? As I recall, my Kelty backpack, (powder-blue…what a ghastly color) continuously squeaked…, the stove…well you know that leaky POS stove…, the down bag…often wet, baffles torn, feathers flying… soon enough losing the loft… the wool smelled, and the tent had a three day life span, …ah, the good old days.

In South Tahoe, living happily ensconced among the dregs and heathens in the marina (near the Y)…making good dollars at Harrah’s, I decided it was about time to re-gear totally. Spending serious coin (at least it was back then), I purchased Vasque Sundowners, a Yak-Pak “Trois jour” frameless backpack, a-top-of-the-line Polarguard Thinsolite bag, a Powderhorn down vest, and a Hank Robert’s gas stove. As for tent, the thought of a well-made, lightweight, affordable, solo, backpacker’s shelter was still a long way off… still before its time…I opted for one of those cheap, Camel, 2 ½ pound, single-walled, nylon pup tents – adequate at best. However, the best purchase of the lot – (incidentally, the one purchase that got me started on this never-ending odyssey) - was one of those “new-fangled”, blow-up, closed-cell, sleeping pads made by a new company called Thermarest…sweet. It is interesting to note that the total “up” pack weight, (including a solid week’s worth of food) was less than 35 pounds, not too bad for 25+ years ago.

In Tahoe, I owned no car (actually, it was safer that way, if you catch my drift.)…no need really, I walked everywhere, took cabs, pedaled a 10-speed, x-country skied, or relied heavily on the free casino shuttles for local transport…life was sweet. Alas, it was summer now … time to test the new gear and get lost…again… into the backcountry climes of Yosemite National Park. Fully loaded, brand-new backpack at my feet…barely-legible “Yosemite” sign prominently displayed, my immediate plan for that day was to thumb the 141 miles to Tuolumne. For those of you who have never had the time, inclination, or desire to hitchhike (with a backpack) up or down 395…you are missing a grand adventure. (I have more than a few great stories about these escapades in me… but due to my bad habit of rambling on incessantly, will just save most of those for another time.) Whatever the reason, maybe the obvious weathered backpack or… perhaps the “Grizzly Adams” mountain look …the cheesy smile… people in the Sierra have always eagerly stopped and given me rides…and not the type of folk that you would expect either. Standing there at the base of Kingsbury Grade, across from a 24-hour liquor store and in the shadows of a seedy ersatz casino, right there on Lake Tahoe Boulevard…, this is where the story begins to unfold...

It was a behemoth of a vehicle…28, no 32 feet long…maybe longer, painted flat black with one of those gold, “country jamboree” type logos running prominently along the sideboards…it was a stealth Winnebago with a family unit… rolling up right in front of me. The door swung open, (it sort of reminded me of something sinister)…and I hesitantly hopped up on the first step, peering inside…the driver flashing a warm beleaguered smile as he motioned me in. I turned around, grabbed up my backpack, and hopped aboard, just in time to see two urchins come flying out from the overhead sleeper…yelling and screaming…bouncing off the walls and crashing into the furniture as well as onto another older boy sprawled out on the couch down below. I looked at the driver…he looked first at the kids, then at me, and then did a double take again at the escalating conundrum in back. He sighed heavily …”Hop in” was the only repeatable part of the response that I can remember.

“Anyway I can help?” I jokingly asked him as he quickly shut the door….the howls from the living room became increasingly louder…wood breaking; “Damn kids.” “Can you drive one of these?” he called out as he popped up; I think he was attempting – at least temporarily - to separate the kids and hopefully restore some sort of order inside the bus. “Sure,” I said, sliding comfortably into the warm, well-broken-in driver’s chair …”Where are we heading?” “Just drive,” he called out from the rear…”down to Carson City…then turn south on 395… heading up to Virginia Lakes campground tonight…know where that is…Tuolumne the day after…oh, welcome.” It felt just like being at home.

With that I had met Shawn…a mullet-wearing truck driver…divorced…and soon enough, his assembled posse: 4 kids - ranging in ages from 16 for the yet unseen daughter (still hidden in back somewhere), 14 for the oldest boy – some sort of science guru, and finally, the two “spirited” 7-year-old twins, which I have already alluded to earlier. Ten minutes later found us passing Cave Rock…the lake’s early morning tranquility tentative, but still clearly evident across a sparkling azure mirror… the Mount Tallac Cross… prominently reflected through cool, crisp, crystalline air … cruising along…heading south…eventually. About 20 minutes later, somewhere on those wide, sweeping, downhill turns above Carson City…, this Muppet of a creature plops down in the copilot’s chair: overalls, long blond hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and holding a large textbook. “Who the hell are you?” was her only greeting.

It turns out that CG, at least that is how she introduced herself to me, was some sort of high school botany midget, seemingly being able to identify any and all genus and specie of Sierra wildflower, this mania expertise severely taxing even my own meager UCLA taxonomy accomplishments. Once she found out that I knew something about plants too, she warmed up fast… she even made me stop every few miles to collect Dogwood, Mountain Primrose, or Paintbrush…those and all varieties of the millions of Sierra wildflowers now spectacularly in bloom – everywhere – all along 395…pretty cool actually.

As we talked genus of wildflowers, somewhere between the 9th or 10th stop, CG also related this convoluted tale about their family’s bizarre adventures the night before. Paul, the oldest son (now sleeping in back), had started some sort of a UFO panic at the Echo Lakes Campground by filling balloons with hydrogen (Lye and aluminum), then attaching lit fuses to them, and letting the balloons float away. He in effect caused “discernable and eerie” (exact words in the report, copy on the dashboard) explosions high above the lake, late at night, and visible to all the Tahoe campers. This, unfortunately, attracted the attention of the local police, who came and arrested Paul, (or at least took him down to the station where someone filed an official report). In the midst of the resulting maelstrom, a bear with cubs came by and the twins decided that this was a good time to run off…finally found them down by the water ….up all night…dad got pissed …somebody got punched out…eventually thrown out of the campsite…paid the fine…and here we are…pretty cool too.

Stopping about a mile in on the Virginia Lakes cutoff…looking now at some (surprisingly yet unnamed by CG) species of purple Euphorbia, Shawn (Mr. Mullet) emerged from the belly of the beast and once again took over the driving duties…he had been fast asleep for over 3 hours now… refreshed …”Thanks, needed that...any problems? Long night…guess CG filled you in…amazing trip so far huh? You fish…got a pole?”

To make a long story short…I did. We subsequently did OK at upper Virginia dragging lures, got some fierce ‘bow action at Blue, only arriving back at lower Virginia Lake campground just in time to see this old silver stocker truck pulling up… getting ready to let go its bowels with a fat load of silver Alpers. The rest of the afternoon, we spent fixing birdnests and baiting hooks (night crawlers and powerbait) for the twins… (You had to see that coming.) Continuously snagging trees, brush, and mostly themselves, they also gleefully managed somehow to pull in a respectable string of 3 and 4-pound lunkers – fresh stockers; we just sat back under the Alders, enjoying life grand, laughing and drinking beer, and smoking fatties rolled from Shawn’s personal homegrown green-bud stash.

Two unforgettable nights later, the “Dust Whale” (its christened name…lol) let me out… alive, early morning, in the Tuolumne store parking lot – the hitchhiking part of this story now over - and this is where the hiking part of the story almost begins. If I may…these solo backpacking adventures, at least for me, seem to come in distinct, separated segments; the ability to be flexible at all times has always been a basic tenet of my own personal Sierra philosophy. Plans do change and opportunities presented often dictate you have to “roll” with whatever comes along. I am unsure if that first “bus part” truly belongs here in a “meeting people in the backcountry” segment, but for me, the hitchhiking part was all part of another, one-and-the-same grand Sierra adventure. A week later, entering the east side of LYV, coming down the Bunnell Cascades, solo, the backcountry tale part finally starts.

That first pair of Vasques saw a myriad of trail miles over the next upcoming years… (Those were great boots…re-soled twice before giving up the ghost). Some of those trails meandered along some alpine stream – boulder hopping, mossy, green, and slick, some traversed wide granite paths visibly and all too oft marked by un-needed ducks…small granite tufas standing sentinel, and some trekked the marshy ruts… brief segments often appearing in eroded multiples…three wide, knee deep, ankle-scraping, spaghetti-like mini-canyons. But, of all the YNP trails, that one stretch…those 14 switchbacks heading down, above the Cascades beginning at that top, fern-encased water bar, and extending to the heavy-beamed, wooden bridge below…this has to be my all-time favorite man-made Sierra pathway.

Rounded granite cobblestones, grey, green, and pink…14 sweeping turns, nary a staircase in sight…all meticulously placed…serious art…this was a job done by someone who truly cared. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37. ... &layer=DRG
Somewhere around the tenth turn down, nearing the river, I popped around a corner just in time to see two slabs of granite come rolling free off some sort of roped contraption…wood breaking, and this longhaired trail dude standing in a hole…one slab rolling over the ledge - onto his feet - and him trying to hold back the other. The dust barely cleared as I stood watching the whole episode unfold right in front of me. “Anyway I can help?” I asked…and with that, I met John. It turns out that he was part of some YNP official trail crew; his personal assignment today was to replace “with discriminating style” two of the switchbacks here that the previous winter’s storms had somehow exploded apart. He was a lanky, black-haired, 6-foot, bearded, trail crewmember, now standing in a hole with 400 pounds of granite perched inconveniently on his boot…stuck…laughing.

Seeing that nothing else was sliding - safe, he looked up at me sheepishly, I guess somewhat embarrassed, all the while trying to pull his foot free…”Damn shoelaces!” he yelled out. With that, he sat down…with a thud, obviously relieved that he was unhurt, but pissed… firmly trapped, pinned by his untied laces, and with me right there watching…I just slow-played the entire scene. “What’s up?”, I asked, casually taking stock of the moment, removing my backpack, and sitting down next to him on the granite slab. Eyeing his predicament with a smile,”Do this often? Never seen that particular technique before…something new…Got time to take a break?” I grinned, as I reached into my backpack, pulling out one of Shawn’s green-bud fatties, lighting it up, and passing it over. “Yea, I guess I got time…this ain’t going anywhere”. Grinning, inhaling deeply, then passing it back, “Ever thought about doing some trail maintenance work yourself…today…I’ll show you how…even got a rock here that could use a little personal attention…after the “dube” of course.” It only seemed logical that I take him up on his generous offer.

For the rest of that afternoon, I worked that trail section, right alongside of John, (taking frequent breaks), and I can honestly relate here that I proudly placed those two granite slabs vertically into the trail myself while John watched attentively – (hopefully, they are still there too). About three or five hours later, and maybe another 15 slabs placed…an epic rock mosaic…I learned that this was fricking hard work. Throughout it all, I continuously pumped John more about the art of trail building – something he obviously knew well and was more than happy to talk about at length. He orated lovingly of power tools: (drills, saws, and donkeys), axes, chainsaws, pulaskis, pionjars, grip hoists, rock bars, sledge and rock hammers, loppers as well as many other un-named (or un-remembered) trail maintenance tools. He told me about how he used come-alongs, top ropes, and wood rollers to farm the granite…”Pissanting” he called it… built water bars on precisely the correct angles, and groused about all the grand staircases he erected…painstakingly, utilizing riprap, talus, and sweat.

He was proud of his work…and rightfully so. He spoke boastfully of doing something that would last…maybe a hundred years or more. Lastly, I recall him saying that he always took that extra few seconds each time he hiked over any part of “his” trail, always pausing to see how the years, (and Mother Nature), treated his meager and unsung efforts. After a while, I began to understand why he did this toil for so many seasons, but decided that although probably ultimately self-fulfilling in some altruistic way, trail work was not for me. John said it probably just got in his blood…like a virus…untreatable. Around dusk, finished for the day, we parted company down at the Merced…me west, heading for the Moraine Dome waterslide campground, him heading to some secret trail crew camp…, officially off limits to me; he said it was some sort of long-standing policy…,“Outsiders strictly forbidden”…whatever. We parted as friends with a standing offer that I could always help him out anytime…on any trail.

A few seasons passed, and it was on the cables of Half Dome that we crossed paths again. As it so happened, YNP decided a few years back to re-drill the holes for the poles holding up the cables. There, about a third of the way up, manhandling this monstrosity of an antique steam drill, is where I spotted him again, drilling happily away…seemingly oblivious to all the grandeur around him. I think he was wearing the same ratty shirt too…maybe even the same boots. I confess that I always wanted to drill one hole…legal…on Half Dome…something that would last forever. Smiling, I tapped him on the shoulder – “Anyway I can help?”

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 6:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby skywalker » Sat Nov 04, 2006 1:50 pm

Interesting topic. Am new to HST. Had the opportunity to spend 25 nights in the backcountry this past summer and early fall. Fourteen of those nights were solo. On a ridge between Humphrey Basin and French Canyon I met trailtrekker and trail bunny for the first time. We spent the afternoon talking and hiking to a small unnamed peak. It was terrific. Later went on a 7 nighter, 62 miles, with trailtrekker. Met another HSTer, Baffman, at Bench Lake. He was with his brother and was completing 13 nights out. I hiked out Taboose Pass with them and they gave me a ride to my truck at Sawmill Pass trailhead. What luck.

Hiking solo certainly has the benefit of moving at your own pace. Hardly ever feel lonely because you do meet other backcountry lovers. Alway fun to know where people are headed and where they have been. But enjoyed trips with company as well. Hope I meet more of you in the future.
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meeting peeps

Postby locorogue » Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:53 am

The more Im around people, the more I dont want to be around them :paranoid: However, out in the great unknown, I make an exception :D
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Postby markskor » Tue Dec 05, 2006 5:55 pm

Those Two Different Ladies of Tuolumne 12/5/2006

That day, morning broke abruptly to the High Sierra: the sun, not yet peeking through… hidden somewhere behind a fuzzy distant ridgeline, emerging colors only hinting any radiant warmth begrudgedly …still hours away. Pinks and purples, barely caressing only the highest of branches through the longest of dark green shadows, early morning tranquility… frosty crystals dancing, sparkling atop the rain fly…in the bag, warm and toasty. From somewhere not too far away: CLANG...”Crap”… whatever… somebody was doing something wrong, it was not working, and it was loud…Argh!

Hearing once, then again this heavy metal clang…peering out and finding some clueless, early-rising, dirtbag-clown desperately trying to retrieve a food sack currently dangling off this 20-foot high, steel-gallows contraption planted directly in the center of the campsite. (As far as a bear/food protection strategies go, this model was at best, a shitty design). Failing (repeatedly), …futile attempts…the desired but almost seemingly impossible task consisted of using a long, heavy, steel pole (provided there) to somehow extricate/disentangle one’s food stash, previously hung (safely?) off hooks welded to a high horizontal bar connecting two tall, thick, silver-colored, metal supports. On every subsequent botched attempt, (there was as much swearing as there was clanging)…the entire campsite moaned, now wide-awake all…then inevitably erupting in unison, cursing (like drunken sailors) the offensive wake-up call.

Welcome to a typical daybreak at the Tuolumne Meadows Backpacker Campground… (before the bear boxes.) Oddly, this same scenario (with an all-new cast of characters) happened seemingly every morning here for years, all part of the rich lore, (the chronology), that is Yosemite. Down the hill and through a stunted forest, the Tuolumne Grill beckoned…hot rubber eggs, pancakes, and sausage…sitting on the rocks next to the highway, catching the first sun’s rays just starting to sneak across the meadow…sparking up a fatty; (incidentally, this post-breakfast ritual: characteristic of most great Tuolumne layover mornings.) Coincidentally, today was to be my last day here; tomorrow my plan was to venture forth again…rumor had it that the big Browns were biting…had to be…somewhere.

Before proceeding farther, no treatise on meeting people in the backcountry would be complete without further mention (again) of this infamous Tuolumne campground/store complex, and a bit more of its subtle local amenities. In the vicinity of the Post Office window, there is a community bulletin board…freely used by all…mostly small scraps of paper…”We are staying at site A - 74, by the river until Friday”, or “Climbing shoes for sale, size 10 1/2…see Bill in the Store,” that sort of thing. In addition though, temporary visitors like me, trying to locate suitable climbing partners, frequently make use of this board too.

Here, two days prior, on a small slip of paper, I had previously scrawled the following short note: “Staying BP camp 2 days…want partner knows route Cathedral Peak…have shoes only…OK, you lead, I clean …comfortable with 5.9…reply here if...” There, beneath my message was a hastily scribbled response: “Meet here at sunrise…have all gear needed…look for an old beater of a red pickup…be ready.” (The “old beater” line hooked me.) On a side note, I had been here yesterday morning too; also waiting…regrettably, no red pickups …maybe today was to be that designated day to attempt Cathedral Peak…I still hoped.

For a good thirty minutes, continuously scanning the 120 highway’s comings and goings, (mostly Winnebagos and/or SUVs…filled with basic family units), alas, there were no red beaters. (In retrospect though, there are much worse places to be stuck.) Resigned to give up and try something else for the day, this old rusted Ford 150, (I guess rust is red), belches in…back-end crammed with old milk cartons chock full of gear…sleeping bags…rap-burned rope…tons of miscellaneous crapola; things were looking up. Parking in a billowing cloud of oil-grey smoke, this “surfer” type dude…head shaved half-way up…long blond ponytail…parachute pants…steps out, obviously looking for someone who might just be me. “You the guy looking to do Cathedral?” he asked, looking me over carefully…”Ready”... (I guess I passed)…”Want to grab a beer first?” From out of the passenger-side door, this drop-dead gorgeous lady also emerged…well, maybe drop-dead is a bit strong, but she would have been absolutely stunning without the three silver rings clipped through her nose…and the two hoops (‘biners?) running through her left eyebrow…regardless, she did possess one hot body. With that, I met Rolf and Heather, (or maybe her name might have been Forest, Glen, Faun, or some other similar cutesy woodsy moniker) …who really cared…Cathedral was on. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37. ... ize=l&s=50

Parking the truck, (we started at the Budd Lake trailhead…intending to pop over the saddle …perhaps 2 miles in). Coincidently, there were still two other groups…with exactly the same itinerary, milling about, still getting ready at the trailhead…, and we spied at least one more party too just heading out as we were pulling in. Rolf mentioned that because of the quality, closeness, and moderate grade (maybe 5.7 tops); Cathedral Peak, in the summer, might actually be the most crowded, technical, trophy, zoo-like route in all of Yosemite…nevertheless, it sure is a memorable climb. Somewhere around the third pitch, things began to resemble a Christmas Wal-Mart checkout line; the chimney pitch itself had three foursomes ahead of us (much like Sunday golfers waiting to tee off!)…lucky there is a great dihedral crack running up the right, or we might still be there. Three solid-looking old steel pitons protected the dihedral system and an ancient hanger lived above the chimney, making the most difficult sections of this pitch resemble a Tuesday night sport climb at the local REI climbing wall…but without the uber-spectacular Sierra vistas.

“High… thrilling under floods of sunshine as if alive like a grove temple and well named… Cathedral Peak… from every point of view it shows marked individuality. It is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from living rock, and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral style”… John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1869). The climb itself consists of five pitches, (maybe more depending on rope drag and traffic,) of relatively easy, moderate crack and face climbing, on what one can only describe as superb rock…perfect knobby chickenhead granite. With spectacular views all around, the first few pitches began on low angled terrain that gradually turned steeper…becoming increasingly more exposed. There is a narrow chimney on the fourth pitch…gradually widening to a comfortable width….opening broadly out to the summit flakes and the majestic spire above.

The memories of that climb included (in no particular order)… the anchor cracks being plentiful but spread far apart; the deep, cloudless Sierra-blue sky contrasted nicely against the darker azure blue of the lakes far below. Atop the summit you have unparalleled views of the entire Tuolumne area – Unicorn Peak…Mount Hoffman…Half Dome… the Clarks…it was a crystal perfect day…you could see for days. The summit block itself is flat, and there is barely enough room for five people to be on top at the same time…unless they all want to share in a victory “spliff”…which we did…and even a nice bottle of red wine… (a Heitz Cabernet, if memory serves correctly), made it to the top. (Some climbers can be very civilized on occasion…go figure.)

Lastly, I recall that Rolf’s eye-candy companion – (Heather or Dawn? - whatever) – never shut her mouth the entire day. It was not so much that she did not stop talking…which was bad enough…it was compounded by the fact that she only talked about herself concerning everything…”I this”, and “I that”… or she just bitched. When someone waxed poetic…about Muir or Clark, Washburn or Eichorn, (BTW, Jules Eichorn…of Eichorn Pinnacle fame… used skinny 10-inch hardware store nails during his first failed attempt up Higher and Lower Cathedral spires, eventually topping out in 1934. To pay for the venture, Eichorn toiled away, washing prints in photographer and friend’s Ansel Adams bathtub.), she just complained louder. It got so dismal, Rolf even apologized…rolling his eyes in amazement …pathetic really. (I had a feeling that Rolf did not keep her around for her deep insights to life or her finely polished social graces.) She may have been something to look at, but besides being egocentrically irritating every time she opened her mouth (which never shut); she was also painfully slow, whiny, and lazy. Never has so much noise emanated from any human being, without actually saying anything. As soon as time allowed, I thanked him profusely for the spectacular lead and the great day’s summit, but gladly parted company near Budd Lake…finally it was again quiet.
Back at the Grill by twilight…a death burger and fries…maybe a few icy beers from the store next door, there is a region in front of the Store where mountain folk regularly congregate… informally, consume beers, and tell each other lies. Stories of off-width cracks, Alpenglow summits, and wild rumbling talus mix freely with Jack Daniels and Coors light… (God, I do so love Tuolumne!) Being in the company of such finely tuned derelicts, all doing life grand…accepted; money is never the issue…the only common ground is the unspoken brotherhood of Sierra dirt…or maybe it is the granite.

Sated and tired…eventually retracing my morning’s steps…returning back up the hill past the fire circle now blazing away, where a young ranger sang to a full house. She sang some inane song about Little Rabbit Fru-Fru…back to the familiar BP campground... chalk up another day, and another memorable Sierra adventure. Tomorrow seemed destined to be a good day too as it was that time again… time to venture forth. I can honestly say that had my fill of Tuolumne after two long days…everything there gets just a bit too crowded and bizarre; (You can only take it in small doses). The intended (revised) plan was to get a good night’s sleep and pack up…tomorrow the Young Lakes drainage – fishing called.

The next morning’s dawn broke as expected…”Clang…damn it”…a subtle variation on a common recurring theme. On my way out of the camp complex, heading over to the wilderness permit shack, I paused (momentarily) to examine the kiosk bulletin board, (the one closest to the entrance station); the one that had all the day’s scheduled Tuolumne activities posted. Today, the YNP offered up a rare treat, (well, maybe treat might be too strong a word to many, but for me a distinct surprise), it listed “a nature walk among the wildflowers”, conducted by a special guest lecturer, a Professor Mildred Mathias. It said merely, “Meet at the Soda Springs Lodge…10:00 AM…bring comfortable shoes and lunches…expect a three-hour tour…keep up if you can.”

Mildred Esther Mathias was born in1906…making her at this time well over 80…and for those of you not lucky enough to have attended UCLA, its renown botanical gardens, located on-campus in Westwood, adopted proudly her Sur-name posthumously as a fitting tribute…world famous…for she indeed knew her flowers. During my undergraduate career, I had the distinct privilege of enrolling in her annual consecutive class series, (BTW, almost impossible to get into…limited to 20 students at a time) on the “Taxonomy and Evolution of Flowering Plants” - (Quite a mouthful). Even after hours of study, I felt lucky enough to escape those classes with a “B”…she posted one hard mother of a botanical examination. Over ten years now elapsed since our last meeting, figuring to renew old acquaintances, I gladly steered my Gregory Shasta towards Soda Springs and in the direction of her scheduled alpine wildflower presentation.

In the middle of a verdant luxuriant meadow, along a lazy stretch of the Tuolumne, amid perhaps 30 or 40 tourists, she stood out easily. Professor Mathias was never much of a beauty, but she was charismatic. Wearing the same old familiar comfortable straw bonnet, long brown-grey hair flowing freely, a bit heavy set, stoic features, rather tall…she always was at the center of everything… today leading this gaggle of visitors, as only she knew how to lead. (It almost felt again just like another typical day in one of her past college lectures.)

On a side note, (before ending this rambling saga), it is interesting to note that everyone has their own hiking pace…some quick, and others not so much so. In all my years traipsing through our High Sierra, never have I met anyone faster afoot than Mildred Mathias. Pausing only briefly at some interesting specimen of local flora, announcing only the pertinent information on the Latin family, genus and maybe species…you had just enough time to glance down and she was gone…50 feet up the trail in a cloud of dust…and she was over twice my age; I felt sincerely humbled. She had a knack… never said much, but when she did, it spoke volumes…still.

A few hours later, after a brief lunch and a warm hug, the trail called out again - onward towards higher unknown places. Soon enough, I was once more …solo…free-spirited…alive… (the way I relish travelling best), backpacking solo through our Sierra. It is only through stories like this that I now think back, reminisce…and compare… those two different ladies of Tuolumne.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 6:05 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby markskor » Tue Mar 27, 2007 7:02 pm

Two Days of Food Remaining 3/27/2007

Pardon my long-winded ways, but this rambling story has too long occupied the back burner… for months now…bits and pieces refusing to come together…now finally, somewhat coherent. So, for your winter enjoyment, I offer up a convoluted summer Sierra tale relating one of my first solo adventures…a catharsis of thinking…a trip that completely altered my basic backcountry philosophy.

Way back when, long before afflicted by the solo hiking bug, I was one of those who always pre-planned intended Sierra trips to the extreme - probably pre-influenced by the “tried and true” ways of my first backpacking guru. Continuing to carry out his persnickety rituals, whatever…those first-taught habits stuck. When venturing into places unknown: the beginnings of any new quest to seek out foreign Sierra treasures …I always copiously researched and dissected to the minutia – maps scrutinized, food rationed, campsites pre-determined, miles per day analyzed; he taught me fastidiously to plan it all out, to envision all contingencies, and to organize meticulously all beforehand. For him, and for the majority, (mostly those uncomfortable in their own mountain abilities), this strategy certainly has merit – it does work, and it is certainly the safer route.

However, much later in my wilderness career, only after all too many aborted trips… countless times having well intended partners bale out at the last minute… (at the time, seemingly having rational excuses)…”Sorry, I have to wash my hamster, my girlfriend thinks she is pregnant, something to do with work …bla, bla, bla”… invariably these unexpected voids, the end result always leaving me in somewhat of a frustrated lurch. It was just such a time, a long-planned trip to the general Ritter / Banner area, two college friends who swore that they wanted to try a week-long backpacking trip…if only I selected the food, lent them the gear, did all the planning, and totally orchestrated the adventure. They would gladly split the costs later… (You know how this ends, right?)…”Oops, sorry, something came up”, and…”we just cannot make it…another time…maybe later on”… (Sound vaguely familiar to anyone?).

So there I was - mid-summer in the sweltering San Fernando Valley; backpack at the ready, car gassed, time taken off work, maps bought, and food for three carefully pre-packaged. This time, instead of just abandoning the dream, I opted simply to jump in the car, make the familiar drive…do this particular extended trip alone. Having already done a few shorter solo treks previously, the thought of another unaccompanied adventure, although this time longer… much longer, neither frightened nor intimidated; to be truthful, did I readily prefer my own company to that of most others anyway…Screw them, I could do this.

The initial part of the trip, starting out from Mammoth, went just as pre-planned…no major problems to speak of…good fishing, plenty of trail company here and there…all great times. A week later, coming off Donahue Pass, now pushing it a bit through the talus switchbacks, I quickly made my way downwards following the headwaters of the Lyell. I was in a little bit of a rush, getting late, and I was intent on making camp soon, wanting to fish that final night along the river… near the fork in the trail that cuts off to Ireland, and that is where this story begins.

When I reached my evening’s destination, there was already one solo party camped at the split…ratty old canvas tent erected – perched under a sprawling Cedar, (many of you probably know the spot).
See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37. ... &layer=DRG
Whenever I arrive at such an intended but occupied campsite area, where someone has already taken root (happily ensconced), I like to take a moment and converse a spell, ascertain whether they welcome having company, (check if I really want to stay there), or whether I should move on a ways. Well, this person in front of me was a real Richard, if you catch my drift. While he gruffly mentioned not really minding the company… he did exude a certain belligerent tendency… seems he had to have all things his own particular way, and to make matters dismal, it appeared that he was totally clueless.

His camp, set only feet from the river…I asked him what he would do if a perchance a Ranger showed, the permit restrictions… he barked back, “What #%&#!* permit…” (If I may translate – I guess he was saying that he did not believe in permits). His Wal-Mart green backpack (holding whatever unseen provisions), now easily reachable barely six feet off the ground and tied non-securely against the tree. He had a monster fire ready to go…probably 6 feet across…no fire ring… filled with giant blackened logs10-feet long, sticking out of both ends of the pit…and he had, to top it all off, a cast iron pot from which to cook. When I merely queried him about his possibly breaking a few finicky regulations… incongruities, he said that this was his way… the way it was supposed to be….”Like it or leave”. Hoisting up my backpack, ready to move on down the trail, just then another hiker, Dan, joined our party from the trail above, and that is where this story truly unfolds.

Dan was a longhair, blonde-haired, a big strapping (maybe a bit imposing) lad possessing ancient, but well-packed gear that looked technically exceptional …you could tell from the outset that his backpack had seen many a trail mile. Just from his gate, you realized he obviously knew what he was doing, (quite the contrast to the inept buffoon sitting right in front of us)…we hit it off immediately. (There is that unspoken mountain dogma...the instant recognition of proficiency among equals)….plus, as an added bonus, he had what appeared to be a fishing tube strapped to the outside of his ancient brown Gregory. With only a quick smile in my general direction, he immediately started in on the damn fool. “What the hell do you think you are doing?” he inquired…”Are you a complete idiot…Is that a fricking bear buffet...think that fire is big enough…couldn’t you find a heavier pot…camped a little close to the river…are you for real or what? I can still hear the loud swearing reverberating off the walls, as together we both meandered down the trail, searching for another convenient site a bit farther downstream… ah, the Lyell.

“Been following you for the better part of the last 4 miles, ever since the pass…you set a good pace…see you carry an old Gregory too…good choice…where you headed?” Soon, finding a sweet home for the evening, (far enough away), we set up camp together, talking now as if we were long-lost friends reunited. “How much food you have left?” he asked…”no matter, got some myself…up for some serious stream fishing before dinner, should be good here…want to get high?” Smiling back I quickly replied, “I have enough food for a few days, maybe three if I stretch it - lots of pasta and rice, getting low on the drink situation though… yes on the fishing, why do you think I carry this damn thing too…of course on the latter.” (Some things never change.)

Over a sumptuous trout dinner, I realized there was much I could learn from this solo hiker’s mannerisms – his outlook on life; he possessed a certain novel and invigorating attitude about backpacking the Sierra – spontaneous but no-nonsense…a mystique that was somewhat foreign to me…intriguing…a bit of a free spirit… possibly someone to emulate. “Where you headed next
…Tuolumne…Got a few extra days to kill…Let’s do Ireland.” With that sentence, in an instant, my plans out the window; now I was going up again, and I had to admit, I was okay with the decision. (FYI, around dusk, we both got a tremendous laugh out of an all too familiar ruckus emanating from up the trail…the sound of cast iron banging…then the discharge of a firearm…moments later a large cinnamon bear scampering through our camp holding the shredded remains of that before-seen green backpack…the fool’s way.)

Over the course of the next few hours at campfire, Dan related his basic dissertation, a take on trail manners…specifically regarding his particular position on bartering in the backcountry. “To start with, attitude and timing is everything…first a warm smile…always show respect for the other party, but know that the majority of our fellow campers would gladly share anything under the right circumstances, or if the price were right. The first thing to appreciate is that money per se in the high country is useless…there is nothing to buy, no place to spend it anyway…all of us are self-contained. Realizing that fact, he then listed a few of his basic postulates…not in any order of importance.

Toilet paper, mountain money, is a necessity…but few will part with any of theirs…but a spare roll can sweeten any deal.” Dan went on, stressing using this wise trading strategy only as a last resort in any bargaining negotiation. “Cigarettes, a pack of Marlboros, can be gladly worth a day’s supply to the right party. It weighs next to nothing…lasts forever” and, and even though he confessed that he did not actually smoke, he always carried a few packs for those times where trails beckoned and food was scarce, especially camping the last days among the heavily traveled, popular campsites. “Everybody is trying to quit…most campers do not bring enough butts along, and at the right times they are worth their weight in gold. Just a mention of a cigarette at a friendly campfire, especially at those sites only a day’s hike in…invariably someone will pick up the hint…ka-ching.”

Marijuana, he considered pot and its “application”, much akin to a sacred High Sierra sacrament …holy, something spiritual, only shared never traded. He went on lovingly about never angering the mountain gods…never including the weed as a bargaining chip…its only use, (besides the obvious) was to ingratiate and honor the mountain. As I think back, he may have a valid point here. Much the same with alcohol…single malted scotch to be specific - always allocated warmly between friends…a sign of mutual respect … never something that one foolishly trades away.

White gas deserved a mention here too…”people spill, accidents happen.” Dan told me that it was never considered bad manners to pop into any group, under the guise of needing a little gas…people always seem to understand the klutz factor. Not surprisingly, he found most, if not all, who carry white gas stoves will gladly part with a few ounces…anywhere, and this ploy served as a great way to break the ice. A smile first, then stating a tacit problem – soon you will be sitting next to any campfire – warmly accepted, hopefully with gas.

This leaves the only renewable backcountry Sierra resource as trout – Bows Brooks and Browns…and that is the crux of today’s tale. “Everybody fantasizes about sitting down to a trout dinner in the mountains…few are able to provide; here there is great opportunity.” He continued…”I always make a point of taking the circuitous route, stopping by a neighbor’s campground, rod in hand, before heading out to fish. Hi neighbor, what’s for dinner…how about a trout feast among friends…if I’ll provide the trout…even cook it up, will you provide the rest of the fixings?” He told me to watch and see…the next day, after Ireland, we traversed across to Boothe Lake…and indeed, that night his plan worked…well.

“Where to now?” he offered, stretching out in the morning sun…”Still got a few days’s food left…How about south instead…the Valley?” Since my best-laid plans were already out the window, the fishing good, and the company enjoyable, we turned boots southward…in the general direction of Merced Lake, a good steady 7-hour march away. At the Ranger station above Merced, we made a left turn…”Washburn Lake is a much better place.” I knew Washburn well and the fishing there (for you HST readers…let us keep this destination a secret, huh?) is quite superb.

Having already gone into great lengths on the attributes of Washburn in previous tales, I will spare you any of the physical descriptions. However, on this trip, three isolated vignettes deserve attention…as they directly pertain to this particular trip. First, there once was (long gone now) perhaps the greatest of all outhouses, conveniently situated steps from the outlet. With the door open…facing north…any morning rituals took on mythical status. Sitting on that throne, door swung open…cleaner than reasonably expected…this experience was something to look forward to…comfort with a grand view… even from miles away, as lovingly anticipated as the burgers at the Portal…it’s passing deserves documentation.

Secondly, even though our food supply was barely adequate at best, the fishing good, and our reefer supply better, we had run out of rolling papers. Now, for you pot smokers out there, (I know there must be one or two.) having a good bud stash, but with no physical way to consume it…we had to find some remedy fast. I make it a point always to carry a paperback novel on all my trips, this time a Western …Slocum’s Revenge…cheesy. (For any of you hikers out there, in most of the High Sierra Camps…I know at Vogelsang…also at Merced…the park service offers a small trade-in library service…open to all comers. You bring in any book, and they allow you to trade it in on whatever is available. I picked this one up from Vogelsang two days earlier.) Our solution was to take a page from Slocum’s…carefully hand rubbing it for a good half hour into a ball…removing the starch…and rolling away. Hence forth on this trip, any extra-curricular activity of that nature at Washburn went under the sobriquet of “Smoking Slocum’s.” (I guess you had to be there.) If you happen to see this book at the Merced HSC, (I confess, I traded it back in), missing the first chapter, I hope you understand.

Lastly, at the far end of Washburn, back among the weeds and Alders, a basic family unit of four took up a two-week residence, their version of a vacation package…paying a stock packer a veritable fortune to bring in a more-than-adequate supply of fresh food. Unfortunately for them, fortunately for us, they forgot to bring any fishing gear along, and the wife loved trout. Bartering Dan was once again in his element.

One fish for a Wyler’s lemonade, two for a couple packages of hot chocolates, a string for mashed potatoes and salad…this went on for days. They supplied the sides; we provided the fish and the firewood. . I do not think we ever took down our own food…they had more than ample…we ate many a trout and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. The youngest son we temporarily adopted …teaching him how to fish…could not get rid of the kid, but even that in itself was a treat…17 miles in.

Three wonderful fishing days and one easy 11-mile hike later, we soaked our trail weary feet in the Merced at LYV – (sorry to all those downstream) – in the middle of the old riverside campground in the midst of what seemed like hundreds of one-day-in backpackers. The best part of LYV is that it provides a well-earned buffer zone between the Valley floor zoo and all those past backcountry moments of isolated solitude. Arriving late, too late to fish, Dan resigned himself to actually cooking up one of our few remaining, bottom-of-the-stuffsack dinner entrees. He figured it was either that or starve - (already traded the Marlboros.) Dropping my Chili-Red Gregory…thud…I spotted a few guitar players strumming along…not bad pickers… across the busy playground. From deep inside my Gregory’s bowels, I grabbed up my trusty silver flute, immediately launching into some bluesy rendition of whatever came out.

Much to Dan’s surprise…not to me, though…crowds started milling, extra food offered…alcohol…the typical gambit…grateful bounty from overstocked but well-meaning hangers on. Music was one extra bargaining chip that Dan did not have in his scavenging quiver, but after a week’s adventure with him, nothing ever again food-wise will seem far-fetched or impossible. That last trail night, we once again ate and drank well…typical, all provided for by the generosity of others…unexpected, yes, but hardly unforeseen after all we had encountered …all starting with a smile.

Happy Isles came soon enough, followed by a pitcher of Margaritas and Curry pizza; money was useful again. Somewhere in that last conversation, before boarding the Yarts bus back to Mammoth, Dan turned to me and asked, “How much food did you actually have left, after all our week-long, extemporaneous, fishing adventures?” I just smiled back answering, amazed by my final answer… I still had two days of food remaining.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 6:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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