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Meeting people in the backcountry

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Postby Buck Forester » Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:24 pm

Hey brookie, yes, some of those small lakelets are southwest of Fordyce Lake, starting out of Sterling Lake. I haven't been there in a while but we used to catch big brookies and rainbows. My buddy and I used to go there reguarly for many years and rarely saw anyone once the trail ends at Lake 11. The area is subject to winter kills as the lakes are pretty shallow. We named all the lakes ourselves, mapped the area, we even called it Boulder Wilderness. It was like our little paradise. This was in jr. high and high school when all we did was think fishing 24/7. We even used our lunch money to buy Roostertails® and spent our evenings tying flies until we could hit the wilderness again. But like you said, there are lots of lakes beyond those tucked away with no trails. It seems, as you mentioned, 99% of the people go to Grouse Ridge area (which is a zoo!), and Loch Leven lakes where there's always 42 cars parked at the trailhead for the small chain of lakes. I've caught some really nice L. Cutthroats out of upper Beyers Lake and the outlet creek too. And I remember once looking down on Phoenix Lake at the base of Old Man Mountain and seeing one of the biggest trout I've ever seen in a backcountry lake cruising the shore, although otherwise we saw no sign of other fish. It's a whole different scene than the High Sierra and I love aspects of both.



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Postby giantbrookie » Wed Jan 11, 2006 3:08 pm

Buck Forester wrote:Hey brookie, yes, some of those small lakelets are southwest of Fordyce Lake, starting out of Sterling Lake. I haven't been there in a while but we used to catch big brookies and rainbows. My buddy and I used to go there reguarly for many years and rarely saw anyone once the trail ends at Lake 11. The area is subject to winter kills as the lakes are pretty shallow. We named all the lakes ourselves, mapped the area, we even called it Boulder Wilderness. I've caught some really nice L. Cutthroats out of upper Beyers Lake and the outlet creek too. And I remember once looking down on Phoenix Lake at the base of Old Man Mountain and seeing one of the biggest trout I've ever seen in a backcountry lake cruising the shore, although otherwise we saw no sign of other fish. It's a whole different scene than the High Sierra and I love aspects of both.

Wow, so you've been going to the Land of the Giant Brookies (what my wife and I named those lakes after our first visit) for a long time. They have DFG names: the biggest (and shallow) one nearest to Sterling is known as Freeman (only one dropped with rainbows, historically), there is this deep and narrow, curved one known as Talbot (huge brookies), a beautiful, deep, slab-bounded one called Virginia (big brookies), one with islands in it just upstream (N) of Virginia known as Evelyn (had big browns in addition to big brookies) and north of Evelyn (there was a medium sized fishless one in between) is Queen which tended to have the most fish of the group (but still some very nice brookies). SW? (doing this from memory) of Virginia are two narrow parallel lakes that are connected (like the outline of two pontoons on a float plane) called Florence (big brookies). The NW part of the LGB has two lakes known as upper and lower Eastern Brook Lakes that received fingerlings but I never saw a fish there. Both Beyers' are great CT lakes with some rainbows thrown in (possibly some goldens washed down from Mott L. (unnamed-DFG name) above, too, that may spawn in the inlet). Phoenix is an odd place where trout can occasionally make a go of it, depending on rainfall amounts that dilute out the acid mine drainage. When I visited the place in 1989 during a series of dry years the lake was devoid of ANY aquatic life (not even any vegetation or aquatic insects, let alone trout)--it reportedly had a pH of about 2 or something as a result of acid runoff from the old tailings above it. With a series of good winters starting in 1993 it's apparently had acceptable water chemistry and fish have done OK although I haven't been back there since '89. That place would have been really high on my list if I had seen fish in it.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Postby markskor » Fri Jan 13, 2006 4:32 pm

The Kid from Tuolumne Store: 1/17/2006

Eventually, anyone even semi-versed of the high backcountry regions of Yosemite invariably stumbles onto that drab, off-white, often-patched, canvas-sided, wood-beamed, side of the road oasis of an establishment known as the general store of Tuolumne Meadows. Open only 3 or 4, occasionally maybe 5 months a year max, annually rebuilt from the ground up – often functioning just days (moments) after the road’s re-opening. Fully stocked, the store’s convenience supplies basic sustenance to a diverse and varied clientele: climbers, backpackers, car-campers, rangers, fishermen, bikers, any and all manner of passers through, on Highway 120. Just west of the Tuolumne River Bridge, (maybe 10 miles inside Yosemite’s Tioga Gate); it fits in nicely between an ancient stone building (campground reservations) and a Chevron gas station. (To be accurate, there is a line of pay phones, a restroom, employee tent housing, and a large ice machine there too, sharing the same white-striped, crowded, asphalt parking lot).

The building itself is unique, heavy stiff fabric draped over a Lincoln log frame – aging, dated, archaic, and barely adequate in size for the needs. Continually evolving many times over, shelves always different each re-opening – this ramshackle dwelling holds not only a store, but (when and if it actually ever legitimately opens – only on late afternoon weekdays I think) an official U.S. Post Office. Moreover, under the same flap-in-the-wind, drip-on-you-when-it-rains roof but having its own separate outside door is a small kitchen, providing a much-needed and popular “breakfast/lunch/dinner, pancake and burger counter” menu – the Grill. Anticipated from the trail, amazingly cherished many days away, this monopoly of a food concession offers all sorts of semi-hot and almost palatable fare for only a-little-bit-above-exorbitant prices.

Located in the heart of the meadow, the Tuolumne Store anchors a social hub; the entire complex including (among others) a renowned climbing shop, the HSC, the wilderness permit office, stables, as well as the public campground itself. The store, open daily, sells mostly foodstuffs: sweets, candy, newspapers, (only one day old), fruit, alcohol, beer, some respectable wines, and even some stronger spirits too, it is not at all uncommon to find mosquito-bitten, trail-dust-covered, well-traveled, world-class athletes temporarily stepping right off the JMT, and through the swinging wooden doors. Outside, their backpacks left open, bear cans empty – expensive well-used gear thrown down haphazardly, some leaning here-and-there against trees, stumps, and outside walls, broad smiles richly deserved all around. Daily all summer long, a brotherhood of mountaineers convenes armed with stories to share and thirsts to quench. Climbers – longhaired – long muscles, Metolius stickers, their cars beaters, back hatches open – gearboxes stuffed, heavy “borrowed” milk cartons swollen with alien paraphernalia and empty wine bottles. These and more appear, eagerly co-consuming death burgers and cold french-fries while strutting about the parking lot right along side Winnebagos filled with tourons and other various basic family units - the Tuolumne Store.
Relaxing against one of many boulders, conveniently placed between the store and the road, one is easily tempted to sit back temporarily and enjoy life, long, warm, mellow afternoons, privileged – sun basking easily towards a Sierra sunset, drinking frosty cold beers, sharing outlandish tales of adventures with a multitude of similar crazed outdoor aficionados. This all transpires under the scenic splendor of a wildflower-covered blanket, flanked by distant peaks, Unicorn and Lembert. Yup, Tuolumne has an attitude, a distinct edge: a completely different flavor from the somewhat vanilla, homespun one existing down below on the Valley floor. People in the Meadow are more athletic – their blood flows differently, vibrant, playing the game of life most grand sans generators or air conditioners; these cohorts proudly play life’s games hard.

It was just such a Sierra afternoon, early August, while watching the cars coming and going, leaning on my backpack just outside of the store, when I met him. There was a bunch of us, a haphazard gathering at best, maybe a little gnarly looking but all trail-tested, long miles producing audible creaks in bones but ready to go out again - backpackers. I remember Bob appeared as a young college kid, a big kid, (slightly bigger than my 6-foot frame), and that he mentioned that he was toiling away, (unhappily, I might add) in yonder Tuolumne store. He revealed that Curry recruited him fresh out of some small unheard of town in Ohio, finishing up college, out here for the summer. Curry Company – the company then designated to run all the YNP concessions – advertises out of state, and wisely drafts college kids from far away for their annual summer workforce, paying slave labor wages to naïve teenagers eager to experience for themselves the imagined Yosemite lifestyle. Under the guise of a great summer job, gullible teens – now too broke and too far away to even attempt go home without saving up their future meager wages – (read hard work here), come to Yosemite, eager to live out a wilderness, Davy Crocket type, Disney-fed dream. Funny though, with their long work hours, hard schedules, few days off, deductions for meals and food, and a low rate of pay, few of these college kids ever get any chance to go out into any wilderness at all, much less even enjoy their jobs for the long summer. Many invariably (and quickly) turn to getting drunk, and passing their free time listening to the many stories bantered about in front of the store – eavesdropping, living off the adventures of others.

Bob worked in the store, a cashier I think, sharing a shoddy, mildewed, canvas tent – his home - just around back, sometimes stocking dry goods and sometimes working the thankless, never-ending, cash register line. More than anything though, Bob wanted to go backpacking; he possessed the gear – his dad bought it all for him – he told me - all brand spanking new, good stuff too, barely used. He read all the backpacking books – cover to cover, he knew what he thought he should carry, he had a backpack, a sleeping bag, tent, a stove, even fishing gear, but he had never actually been out camping overnight – for whatever reason, he was stuck.

Bob took up a familiar position behind the register, pricing my burrito, beer, newspaper, and fruit;” Where you heading out to next?” he asked. I had only just recently come in from Twin Lakes, near Bridgeport, a good 55 miles distant, arriving to this so-called hub of civilization only that morning. However, to be truthful, two days here at Tuolumne - among all this traffic, although beautiful, the congestion… the constant hubbub made me a bit uneasy; Out for another month, I was wilderness spoiled, more than eager to get out again - soon. “Do not know, Bob,” I said, looking at his nametag, “Were you thinking about heading out somewhere yourself?”
Bob stopped mid ring. I remember him blurting out something to the effect: “Would you mind me taggin’ along for a week or so…you look like you know what you are doing…heard you laughing outside. I never really been out much…not gay or anything…just want to do some real hiking…maybe some fishing…Can I come…I hate this place.”… “Sure, why not,” I heard myself saying. And with that, in that very instant, Bob threw off his apron, eschewing that most-prized possession, his YNP Curry uniform, and walked off the job. “Thank God, screw this!”

Back in his tent, we shared a stolen bottle of wine, a final perk – (it was a good red too – a BV meritage) – I recall us starting to make some vague plans for a possible adventure; there were many possibilities. I mentioned that I always wanted to visit the Mattie Lake area, a bit off any listed trail, high above Glen Aulin. The plans for this hike would first include a visit to Virginia Lake – off Cold Canyon – after spending the first night out near the High Sierra Camp. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
After the wine and just before heading up the hill to the backpacker’s campground, I remember saying to him, “If you are serious, meet me out at the store, tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM.”

Well, the next morning soon found us out in a grass meadow eating free but tepid pancakes, warming ourselves in the sun, and pouring Mac & cheese packages into Ziplocks, dividing two piles. There was candy, canned meats, Crystal lite, Lipton dishes, pita bread, breakfast bars, peanut butter, top ramin, etc…(whatever they sold at the store) – enough food for a good week’s trip. Within the hour, self-contained again, we were on the trail meandering past Soda Springs, following down along the Tuolumne River, north by northwest. That night we camped just over the ridge from the waterfall at Glen Aulin, down among the trees down along the beach, the next day backtracking just a bit, making our way up Cold Canyon, then x-country to Virginia Lake and Mattie.

I wish there was something distinctive about that trip (or about him for that matter) that stood out. I remember him first chattering a lot in the beginning, asking all sorts of questions about hanging food, making fires, fishing, and cooking – all sorts of stuff we just take for granted after many years in the backcountry. I also remember there being no rain on the trip, few mosquitoes, and having fun, the first lake fishless, heavy with clouds of blue damselflies - finally the good extended fishing at Mattie, the deep pools on the far side – something large there breaking my 4-pound line. I remember many Brookies and a few big Browns – (they hover in the dark shadows) – orange fins and green bodies. Observation: Sierra lakes that have active working seagull populations (lake butlers) also generally have good fishing; those with heavy concentrations of those shiny-blue, four-winged, big-eyed, dive-bombers usually produce nothing.) I vividly recall marking fishing time by the color of the alpenglow – the shadows on the granite walls at dusk, and I remember pleasantly our discovering a fisherman’s trail on our way back out, destined to make any future return to Mattie so much easier.

There was however, one thing that did make this whole trip exemplary, and it only occurred many years later. (Ask my wife, it blew her away!) Ten years later, maybe even longer, my wife, a young son, and I were sitting having breakfast in the Camp Curry Cafeteria - the $9.95 all you can eat buffet. This guy, a total stranger - I had no recognition of him at all - comes over to our table and asks, “Are you Mark?” He said that his name was Bob, and that he and I had gone hiking together, once, one August week, many years ago. He said meeting me then had been a turning point in his life, and that my helping him, my showing him the nuances of backpacking, had turned around a dreadful summer. He went on to say he was now a educator, degreed, teaching high school classes somewhere near San Francisco, and that each year he took some students – handpicked from the inner city – into the Yosemite wilderness to show them how to backpack. He smiled, said someone had done something like that for him long ago, and he was just continuing a tradition. All I can remember is that he was the kid from the Tuolumne Store.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby giantbrookie » Fri Jan 13, 2006 6:30 pm

markskor wrote:The Kid from Tuolumne Store:

What a totally sweet story! I've had some rewarding experiences introducing folks to the high country, but nothing in that league.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Postby AldeFarte » Fri Jan 13, 2006 10:40 pm

Cool story! What goes around ,comes around. jls
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Postby Rosabella » Sat Jan 14, 2006 5:30 am

Ditto on both comments above! Mark, this was a wonderful story, I loved it! I wondered how it would end... talk about symmetry!!

Your descriptions of the Tuolomne Meadow Store were so accurate, you actually had me missing it :) ! When I was young, before we really started backpacking we did a lot of camping in Yosemite and Sequoia, and always went to the "Campfires" hosted by the Rangers. Does anyone remember these, and particularly a song we learned back in the 60's called "The Tuolomne Meadow Store Song"? We still sing it when we're out. (well, actually, I don't sing... I play it on my harmonica 'cause I can't sing) ;)
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Postby Snow Nymph » Mon Jan 16, 2006 1:33 pm

Great story, Mark!

SnowDude and I would love to find the guy who took me backpacking for the first time! Just to thank him for introducing me to the outdoors. I don't know if it would have happened without him. I was totally different back then.
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 » Thu Jan 19, 2006 10:44 am

The Characters of Yosemite Valley: 2/21/2006

Academia means having summers off; instead of remaining broke in a city, an expensive smoggy basin, a strategy soon evolves and the prescription stresses cheap optimal backpacking pleasure. Take one backpack (be totally self-contained), re-arm it annually with the best possible (affordable) equipment gleaned from hours stared longingly at 6-color glossy overlays - long winter’s advertisements, discriminating dreams. Bring along enough money to barely survive for 3 months, and then, somehow get to Yosemite. The rest is easy.

Coming in from Southern California, travel logistics pose subtle problems and various solutions. The first alternative requires a taxi, busses and a train, a taxi to get to the LA downtown bus terminal from Venice, and then a long bus ride to Bakersfield, couple hundred miles aboard a train following alongside Highway 99 to Modesto, and finally another bus into YNP – arriving 12 -14 long and grueling hours later. The second choice entails driving a car – an easy 6 hour drive up the California heartland through Fresno (Blackstone Blvd.), but then you also have to take into account parking long term in the Curry parking lot (worrying about the 2-week towing rule), or the Tuolumne lot (same worry). Additionally, you always have to come back occasionally to check on it/move it around - all too impossible under these difficult circumstances. (Funny thing about mountains, trails, and cars; it is often quicker and much easier to hike across them then to find any ride back, (aka the Trans-Sierra shuttle blues.) The third option was to hitchhike, beg a ride, the very best way to get around once at altitude – a hand-written sign, a smile, and a backpack, but however, a non-dependable way to navigate through big cities. I chose the first option, even though possibly the longest – it posed the least amount of headaches – as such, always the easiest.

Armed only with a fist full of Traveler’s checks and a smile, I rescue my Chili Red Shasta from the dark hollows beneath the Greyhound dark, now idling and belching noxious welcomes from outside of the Yosemite Lodge. I have the next 12 weeks open - no fixed schedules – June, July, and August – same as the years before. My tentative plan, a series of 10 -12 day adventures spent on trail or x-country solo, fishing, followed by 2 or 3 days of hedonistic apathy – always the latter somewhere/anywhere that supplies fresh fruit and cold beer. (In two or three days in the Valley rejuvenating, one could easily spend as much as on 11 days worth of backpacking stores – interesting balance.) The first trip of the season is now automatic, a ritual: Tuolumne to Boothe, Vogelsang, then Bernice, Washburn, Moraine Dome waterslide, LYV, down the Mist, and into the backpacker’s campground. Ten days later found me getting off the free shuttle bus at Housekeeping camp, trail-dust tan, malodorous clothes, backpack sweat-stained, bear can empty, and there is where this story begins.

Nick, YNP employee, sandy-blond, built like a cornerback, big smile, oversaw the showers and the washing machines complex – his office, a stool, a window, and an oft painted, funky white, clip-board-holding counter; his main job, dispensing soap, change, fresh folded towels, and lip to the masses. A cash job, money unaccounted for – lax supervision, opportunity, a real plum - the slow afternoons enabling him to take long breaks at the nearby river bridge.

Nobody was at the counter, so I reached over, grabbed a clean towel, left a cold beer, and proceeded directly into the showers, intending first to remove some of my Sierra tan and secondly, do a load of wash. Conveniently, right across the Yosemite Housekeeping parking lot, a small cramped store sells six-packs, just the thing for watching the Merced River, lying in the sun and waiting for laundry to dry.

Nick walked over to the river, holding the last of an opened beer, then smiling, saw my beer too, sat down on a near-by stump, and nodded a friendly hello. “You ready?” I asked; “Sure,” he said, and in that instant, a friendship was born. It turns out Nick was in his third year here in Yosemite, one year a San-jan, then another in Raft Rental, he now slaved away in Housekeeping. Employees, by length of service in the park, bid on jobs as they become available – the one with the highest seniority bidding taking preference – the way of the Valley. Over the rest of the six-pack, he told me a collection of Yosemite horror stories – mostly about employee housing: Boystown, the Ozone, the Dorms, and the place where he lived, Girlstown, the last tent house on the very end of the trail – across and up from the Curry pool.

Most YNP employees live cramped and cold, two to a room, in canvas tents similar to the ones at the left side of Curry Village. Climbing up an “employee’s only” path, we entered Nick’s tent, queen-sized bed, gas BBQ, and a small but full-sized refrigerator, tasteful – all crammed into a 10-foot square canvas tent – he shared the tent with his girlfriend Doreen and a dog. There were perhaps 50 or 60 similar tents in the complex, most done up similarly by other old-time employees – creatively trading roommates was an art practiced by all, girls as well as boys, until reaching a comfortable and convenient morality. (To this day, I still wonder though, how they got that refrigerator up that trail.)

Curry employees have the option of either cooking for themselves in a communal kitchen, in their tent, or having the cost of their meals deducted at the cafeteria. That night, feeling generous among new friends I bought steaks and hamburgers for about 10, grilling them up at Nick’s tent for a few of his close neighbors, Nick supplying the beer. Since his tent was the last one up the trail, Nick allowed me to crash out behind his tent, far up the hill – totally illegal but tolerated – for as long as I stayed in the Valley. Therefore, now instead of the backpacker’s campgrounds, I had a free place to stay, out of the public eye for the next weeks ahead, whenever I was down off the mountain.

Employees, abused, un-thanked, and underpaid, often demonstrate obvious distain for the Yosemite establishment, undermining Curry authority at any opportunity, and living under some unwritten law that says it is all right to bend rules for most, if not all fellow employees. Raft rentals became free – (thanks Cass), 25-cent laundry facilities exist at the Dorms (behind Degnon’s parking lot), Shuttle rides up to Glacier Point are free for the asking, un-paid for desserts show up at the restaurants. Rounds of shots, free pool passes, all overseen by a giant of a man living there – Bear; he was the unofficial police for the camp, his tent down below on the flats. Somehow, I fell into the right crowd, and Yosemite Valley would never be the same.

Accepted, they showed me many secrets of the Valley; there are caves behind the Le Conte memorial building, capable of hiding belongings untouched for all summer – Nick told me he spent his first summer there. There is a place known as the Devil’s Bathtub, high above the Ahwahnee, where water dripping off Royal Arches warms and pools, just above tree line – great for bathing au natural. I learned about the caves of Vernal Falls, just over the metal railings at the top, a small opening going down, expanding into a cavern, and looking down and out into the falls. There are more places too – a lot more – but most of the secrets I cannot expose here; they made me swear.

I left again for the high country soon enough - once more; I did not come to Yosemite to live long in its ghetto, but two weeks later, after another hiking adventure, found me again at Nick’s, ready for another 2-day round of his Valley hospitality. I remember cooking 10 lemon meringue pies in their communal kitchen – leaving them on the counter for all. I also remember feeding his many friends – (more than once too – they asked for it) - with my famous chicken stir-fry with pineapple and water chestnuts, cooked over a large wok on Nick’s BBQ; there were always parties and I was accepted, one of the many.
Over the years, things change, but many remain the same. There is a saying among employees, I forget how it goes exactly but –

“The tent is a mess, I am late for work, the view is tremendous, Curry sucks …screw it!”

I know this thread started about meeting people in the high country, but I could not let it go without documenting the life style of the times, some of the many characters I befriended there, the characters of Yosemite Valley.

Another solo backpacking adventure by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:11 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby caddis » Thu Jan 19, 2006 11:33 am

One morning on the trail back from Benson lake, my hiking partner and I met two old men sitting down at the top of Seavey Pass drinking a cup of coffee. They looked to be in their mid 60's at least...white hair and white beards. You'd have thought they were John Muir and Ansel Adams. After a short goodmorning and small talk we learned they had made this hike (the loop from twin lakes) a few times in the past and were taking their time, doing it again. The meeting is memorable because it was a picture of where I wanted to be in 20-25 years and let me know I still had plenty of hikes left in me. I regret to this day not taking a picture of the two sitting there in the rocks sipping coffee.
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Postby copeg » Thu Jan 19, 2006 11:35 am

GREAT stories Mark! The kid from tuolumne store is a wonderful story. Very moving.
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Postby markskor » Mon Jan 23, 2006 9:35 am

Wilderness, 1/8th Mile: 1/27/2006

A wise mountain guru once told me over a dancing campfire that in Yosemite National Park, 98% of all the park visitors either remain in the Valley - always, and they never get more than 1/8 mile away from any of the many roads that traverse throughout the magnificent park. Out of that adventurous remaining 2%, less than 1% of these souls ever dare to get more than 1/8 mile away from any of YNP’s 500+ miles of well-established trails. This story, (and this entire treatise in fact) is dedicated to that 1/50 of 1%, maybe 1000 individuals a year – probably less, backpackers all… us.

A past discussion here talked of wilderness, the wilderness that lives that one-step beyond how far a backpacker can hike in a day toting a full backpack. Past that arbitrary line, etched not only by distance, but also by altitude and terrain, one does not worry about thievery; everyone values their own gear, has their own bag to haul, and their own personal agenda to keep. Wilderness calls for necessary self-sufficiency, a powerful overall attitude, anybody requiring aid or assistance, the person just venturing out to help, most assuredly, also enduring a major ordeal just getting there.

In the true wilderness state, there are recognizable absences. No artsy-crafty designer toilets are necessary to handle the human accrual, quotas are not so rigidly enforced; if you happen to stay over one day extra, nobody fines you for merely enjoying yourself, (or for just forgetting what day it is), schedules do not matter, time is relative, and pace individualistic. Wilderness is a place where rangers are interruptions; they are the exception, the uninvited, and not necessarily the rule. Wilderness is majestic, wild, open, and untamed; it is unsullied and unspoiled by mortals. Common sense dictates behavior, pride actually matters, and personal ethics count more than some capricious set of laws dictated by unseen bureaucrats - never actually being present. It is a place of freedom, a state of mind inviting serendipity, whimsy, and occasionally, even profound thought. Wilderness is unblemished land, pristine waters, and multitudes of countless stars, a synchronization of lights, and a midnight symphony drowned out by a nocturnal silent cacophony. It is a hard place to define, difficult to put one's finger on, but I know it when I see it.

In Yosemite, one such arbitrary wilderness boundary begins just past Little Yosemite Valley (LYV), approximately 2 miles above Nevada Falls. LYV, just the thought of it, a crossroads situated along the Merced - a few miles above a substantial wood-beamed bridge, just those initials are enough to bring back a flood of memories amassed by countless visits. Back when I first made that first trip, in the late 60’s, (yes, there were still dinosaurs alive), it was legal then to camp overnight at the rock slabs just above Nevada falls. Fortunately, someone was thinking; managing the area around Nevada Falls has undergone repeated evolutions in response to the growing number of users to the high country. Sometime, not long after that first visit, somebody became enlightened, bureaucratically designating a specific area a bit farther upriver for the future camping needs. The same master plan (They were smarter back ten) called for setting up a ranger complex in the same vicinity, and providing future “guests” those blue “porta-sans” – those three blue outhouses we all so fondly remember. Yes, for about 25 years or so, the old campground at LYV was more than a wilderness boundary; it was an event, a greenhorn extravaganza, a Boy Scout Jamboree, a Grateful Dead Concert, a safe haven of insanity and anarchy, all located alongside a lazy stretch of the Merced River. See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25

Of course, there were some rules, the rangers in their little enclosed little compound with their flagpole and bulletin board mentality, well meaning and driven, they came out regularly, early evening, checking wilderness permits, kicking asses and taking names. Those with good attitude but without wilderness permits, busted – a slap on the wrist - immediately relegated to some menial janitorial chore. The rangers saved up apropos assignments, like cleaning campfire circles, empting bear boxes, or picking up two bags of trash/each; these became the payment for not having the required legal authorization to stay overnight. Others, those with a different, more serious attitude, those ornery individuals who just always seem to piss everyone off naturally (We all know who they are.) zealous rangers escorted some entirely off the mountain – in handcuffs. The bears, the bears knew this campsite better than anyone did, making regular nightly visits, some even coming at scheduled times. I could relate many stories about bears and this famous campsite; far too many of my adventures required passing through here. After a while, it got so crazy there that on outgoing trips, I prefer to camp instead at another site, an extra mile upriver – the one at the Moraine Water Slide, but that is for another time.

One memorable night during a typical warm August, a group of Boy Scouts came through, up for the weekend via the longer Muir trail – I suppose they were saving the Mist for the way down. There were perhaps 15 of them, uniform shirts, badges up the kazoo, yellow bandanas, and backpacks with frames: young, spunky, kids – maybe 13-years-old – who can really tell at that age. Unfortunately, there was accompanying them someone who I only can describe as a complete *******; he led this troop of kids; I do not know how he became a leader, maybe by default, but this individual had a serious attitude, complaining about anything and everything the kids tried to do while backpacking. Have you ever known someone who had a voice that just hearing the sound, it made you cringe, and worse yet, that person would never shut up? Add to that a generally negative attitude and the fact that he was a short fat person – possessing some sort of Napoleon complex, and you have an accurate picture of the scout’s designated leader.

In LYV, there were perhaps fifty camping sites available, more or less, the leader carefully selected his pick for his minions - just across a small grove of trees; I could hear every frigging word - others could too. The camp at LYV had its own defined and unique ethic; it self- governed. After listening to the leader harangue yet another kid… someone else equally offended… from across the way they started making catcalls…”Leave the kids alone”…that sort of thing; we all felt sorry for the kids.

The night progressed and campfires died out. A small group of us, a campfire nearby, passed the evening drinking single malt - Oban, listening to everything, eventually deciding we should do something – take advantage of this unique opportunity. We created a bear magnet. Starting out with an old sock, we took general donations: sweets, melted marshmallow, chocolate, candy, freeze dried fruit, honey, kool-aid, anything sticky, sweet, and aromatic went into that sock. A knot at the end, some holes in the sock for strategic leakage, a few yards of fifty-pound monofilament, the moon disappearing behind the ridge…we were ready. Creeping silently over to the leader’s tent, a few quick knots around a tent pole, pull a few stakes… all we had to do now was sit back and wait. Right on time, 2 AM, the feisty cinnamon cub – the one with the green 6 stapled to his left ear - started his regular disruptive rounds; the ranger previously warned us during her evening six o’clock permit check, just before the scouts arrived. The pompous scout leader, always in charge and hearing outside commotion, came roaring out of his sleeping bag, waving his arms, jumping, ostentatiously ready to yell at someone, anyone - again, only to turn around to discover his tent leaving without him, moving upstream, following the cub. I can still hear the laughter of fifteen scouts as their leader, barefoot and thermals, swore a blue streak, his language not found in my Eagle Scout manual.

Then, about 10 years ago or more, someone in Yosemite’s new front office, someone powerful, declared this specific campsite and its unique ecosystem untenable, moving the entire complex 1/8th mile north, up and off the river to today’s location, engineering the famous two-story crapper in the process, and signaling an end to another famous chapter in Yosemite’s backcountry lore. That old campsite remains as a pleasant memory for many of us today; we happily and proudly chronicle its past glory in stories such as this.

LYV, for some, this very site itself often initiating backpacking’s version of a baptism – Yosemite - just far enough out, logical, a place to try out a new dream – new gear, then afterwards, over a Curry pizza below, realization. Many, dividing the arduous 11-mile march up to Half Dome, plan an overnight hiatus here, temporarily abandoning expensive gear, glad only to pick it all up again after experiencing the thrill of cables and poles. Then there are the hikers that come down from Glacier Point, designating the bridge at Nevada Falls a natural and logical waypoint, a scheduled pause in a multi-day family adventure. Finally, there are the few others like me who used this camp as a buffer zone, the relatively large camp population here acting as a much-needed re-initiation back into the bustles and insanities of civilization – tomorrow, four miles distant. These are the kinds of users who spent days and miles hiking far and above, hiking the trails leading to who-knows-where, one famous corridor coming from Mt. Whitney itself, 211 miles distant. All trails seem to pass through Little Yosemite Valley.

After a few months, no make that after quite a few years, of Yosemite’s influence, one develops an air, a Sierra attitude, maybe it is more like a swagger – movements elongated and defined, akin to the way a giant cat glides along, moving slow and easy, minimum effort, maximum efficiency. That morning I had just come down the Merced, starting that morning 15 miles upriver - solo, now finished for the day, dropping my pack next to a bear box, a site located near the river’s edge in the peripherals of the campground at LYV. Leaning back against a fallen tree and half-way studying the camp’s demographics, John emerged from the far side somewhere, he had that recognized swagger too, well-worn Marmot windbreaker, Vasque boots, Chicago Cubs baseball cap, beard and long black hair; he carried a faded Gregory Denali. Even though we had never met, there is something rather accepted - an unspoken recognition that draws similar species together – it happens all too often to deny – he crossed the flats, long shadows swaying underneath tall pines, and threw down his pack over next to mine.

For the first fifteen moments, there was not a single word spoken – packs opened - small stuff sacks found, rolling papers – the sharing of a typical Sierra repast, - respect - the “old-school” greeting. Finally, conversation – starting out new as fast friends –seemingly continuing a conversation started years ago, not missing a beat, birds of a feather again reunited. It turns out that John worked for some government agency, forestry, or maybe it was transportation, (Who really cares – He told me but I cannot now recall exactly.); he was just finishing his weekend, a big party down below and was only a bit late getting back to his job. John’s summer work was temporary. It consisted of re-drilling the holes going up that cable-spanned granite monolith known as Half Dome. More specifically, John’s job was the operation of an ancient pneumatic drill, the chattering incessant… the noise, the widening and deepening of the old holes – newly drilled holes securing the new steel poles, the new poles on which anchored the wood beams, from which hung the cables, the famous cables of Half Dome.

My intentions for the next day had originally centered on fresh fruit, cold beer, and a hot pastrami sandwich from Degnon’s Deli, but faced with this rare opportunity, I turned upwards instead, pointing my boots towards Half Dome. Rising early, I accompanied my friend up the switchbacks, then across the ridge, finding his billet, the trail crew’s weekday campsite high above – just a bit below Quarter Dome. Hearing animosity, I left John behind to explain to his irate boss why he was only a few hours (a day) late, I passed the time by once again doing the cables, again, (as long as I was there, I might as well).

From the top, you could hear his drill start, roaring to life, a rude metal sound announcing its attack on the orange-brown, sparkly, mica-incrusted, granite surface. About 3/4s of the way down I again found John; he was, roped in, hanging on to this dang infernal machine for dear life. He drove an archaic drill… top roped above him, his main objective: just holding on while the rotating chisel did all the real hard work. Watching for a few moments, I could not let this prospect in front of me pass, and I admit it, (freely here too), that I heavily bribed John, begging him to let me have a chance. I remember he adamantly declined at first, but all I know is that right now, on the left hand side, looking up, about the twenty-third hole, that one there belongs to me.

You might think that would be the end of this tale; you must agree that it is impressive that I was able to put a legal permanent mark on one of the world’s most recognized landmarks, and even better, find a way to tell you too – (my effort is still recognizable many years later too – I still check). For some, that would be more than enough to end this rambling tale, but I ascribe to a higher calling, I still have to tie this whole saga together, so let us continue... It just so turns out that, while I was taking my turn with that drill contraption, I had previously taken off my daypack and looped it (I thought securely) over one of the lower poles. I soon discovered that nothing falling off the cables, (at least from the vicinity of the 21st pole), makes its way down to the trail directly below. At the base of the cables lives a pile of worn gloves, I can also tell you that just a little further south, it drops off quickly another thousand feet down.
See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25

Watching my pack, sunglasses, and water system slide down, then disappear over the ledge below, this produced howls of laughter from the masses (Well, at least from John and this other damn fool). Flummoxed, I immediately pondered if there was any way to retrieve my lost belongings. Riled still, looking at my Topo, I figured that if they landed somewhere around the red dot, they might be recoverable…maybe. To make a long story short, I never did recover my daypack. To anybody out there, the pack, a gunmetal blue North Face, the water system, an old Platypus, and the sunglasses were Porsche (I do miss those glasses.). I did find, (always within 1/8th mile of the trail too), many scraps of cloth that could have come from windbreakers, colored shapes that once might have been hats, frames from glasses, trail trash, paper, plastic, water bottles, cigarette wrappers, and a whole junk yard of wind-blown crap. I also discovered there is a Lost Lake that empties between Mount Broderick and Liberty cap, giving a unique perspective on the well-traveled main trail below.

By leaving the main trail somewhere, south, (just back from that flat open section overlooking Tenaya canyon – near that one big tree) I discovered the following sordid facts. It is almost possible to avoid a majority of the talus, some of the Manzanita, most of the bushes, and maintain the same altitude – no, I lied. The object soon became not to find my lost belongings, but just to find a different way, a safe way down from the Dome – it is a big rock. Within 1/8 mile, all traces of the trail above completely disappear – you cannot retrace steps - it becomes steep, fallen trees and thick shrubs impair the route, then, after experiencing the fun of a giant boulder field, after breaking a trekking pole and tearing up an ankle… finally open granite. There – above a boggy shallow lake covered with yellow pollen, Lost Lake – pristine, wilderness again.

What I remember most, heading southeast away from that high hidden marsh, was the amount of available firewood lying about. Having come through LYV over 50 times over the years, never has it been easy to find decent firewood there, at least within its 1/8th mile radius. I always thought that it was just due to the lack of trees. Here though, not that high above, and certainly not that far away, was ample easy campfire pickings. Then, as expected, the closer you got to LYV, the available wood stores ceased, and the trash increased.

Maybe there is a simpler definition of wilderness after all. Wilderness, at least in Yosemite right next to one of its most-used trails, seems to start 1/8 mile off trail any direction, and coincidently, that is where the firewood starts… and the trash stops. People complain that Yosemite is too crowded. To them I say, “Wilderness, I’ve been there. It’s that way, 1/8th mile.” What could be easier?

Another solo backpacking adventure… by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:14 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Mountainman who swims with trout
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Postby Buck Forester » Mon Jan 23, 2006 11:36 am

marksor, duuude, you need to get a website up with this stuff. You have a great gift for writing.
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