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Meeting people in the backcountry

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Postby Timberline » Fri Jan 27, 2006 5:12 pm

Great stories, folks! It feels so enriching to be introduced to the Sierra in such simple, person-to-person ways, and maybe be able to pass it on to others, too. Since I didn't have a Dad who could do that for me, I found other heroes and mentors neverthess, who I idealized by pursuing the visions they instilled in me. Although I never met him, I remember the first time I ran across what I believed to be one of Shorty Lovelace's cabins along the South Fork of the Kings. I'd heard stories about Shorty and how he never seemed able to stand being in civilization for too long. I guess he didn't have much choice during the winter; he supposedly hung out around Bakersfield and other parts of the southern San Joaquin Valley when the mountain weather forced him out, holding down odd jobs and living sort of hand to mouth until the high country opened up the following season, and he headed back again. I guess being in the Sierra sort of saved him in a way, let him dry out the alcoholism, put his personal demons at a distance, and pit his energies to the very real tasks of surviving on his own steam. Its pretty clear that he drew an immense solace from being in the Sierra. Then, he was a pretty genuine woodsman, almost a Sierra mountain man in the old Rocky Mtn trapper kind of way. So finding one of his structures once made his legend that much more real to me, and kind of let me see how the mountains could nurture even the most troubled souls. Once the magic grips you, you just have to go with it. I guess all of his old cabins are gone now, so I hope his legend always lives on.
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!



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Postby markskor » Sat Jan 28, 2006 2:31 pm

The Concert at the Yosemite Store: 1/29/2006

Nowhere mentioned anywhere has there been any discussion (or even vague reference for that matter) to any of the extra gear that some of us haul, easily accessible but secretly hidden away, (accepted as added weight, and considered more than just basic creature comforts); I am talking about major gear pertinent to the soul of the individual carrying the backpack.

No my friends, we are not talking fishing gear here; though, at this point in my long-established backpacking life, I consider a rod and reel to be part of the 14 (no, make that 16 now) bare-naked essentials – gear necessary to have … if I do not have them along…why go – might as well stay home.

Some appreciate the art of photography. With the advent recently of the latest micro digital, Sony/Canon/Nikon, with the uber-megapixel array, extra Lithium this, 64 gig memory card that…it is now possible for someone like myself to carry a decent camera ($$$), take and hold over 200 high-resolution but mostly mediocre shots – a good week’s backpacking adventure captured – all for well under 1 pound. All I can say though is, thank God though for the real pros, (many have their outstanding work showcased here in our forum) - digital or film - long lenses, filters, timers, tri-pods, inspiration, understanding, a discerning eye, and more than anything else, patience. You have to admire anybody, already obsessed with backpacking, the ability to find that truly right spot, then after waiting what could be an eternity for the sweet light, bracketing heavily, varying focal lengths, fidgeting with f-stops, filters… timed at… and after all that… maybe, just maybe, getting lucky – that one extraordinary shot – kudos to you! I cannot.
Never having ascribed to this avocation, I can only tip my hat to the various acknowledged masters, and wonder what solo backpacking experiences must ultimately result from lugging all that extra mass of required gear along (alas, that has to be somebody else’s story).

Before proceeding, but as long as we are talking cameras here, I feel a bit of a rant coming on. I myself have never carried a camera; I have yet to find any camera yet that can accurately record those bitter early mornings, the shivering, then the sweat, the agony, the throbbing blisters, or the energy needed that accompanies racing an afternoon thunderstorm over the top of Kearsarge Pass, from either direction. One-hour, Wal-mart generated, two-dimensional, 5 by 7 glossies never tell the whole story; somehow, the cold biting wind, the bug swatting, the aroma of “trail biscuits”, the dust, the scratching, the looking up and tripping, stubbing the toes (I hate that.).…these types of “highlights” never show up in any shot I have ever seen, or taken. Whenever presented with a familiar Sierra photograph, the mind’s eye always searches – remembering the feeling of just getting there – the empathy… the recollection makes the picture seem more alive. I often wonder what someone who has never been up there must see…just a picture.

No, I am more pragmatic than to carry a camera; I am not that good with one, and I know better. If I am going to carry weight at all, the extra 2 or 3 pounds should be something that helps provides easy access to warm friendly campfires, offered samplings of any libations available, and maybe even perhaps a free meal. I am talking here about carrying music…no, not that mini-iPod crapola – stone-deaf hikers with earbuds, tuned out – oblivious… stuck in their own private little worlds - wrong. I am talking about carrying a real musical instrument.

Back then, everybody wanted to play a guitar, even me. Fortunately, an old high school girlfriend, wisely deciding that since she had recently developed, (nicely I might add), she was now much too cool to attempt to play music (badly) anymore; hence, she gave up and bestowed on me her old Conn, a silver-plated, dinged up, leaky-padded, tin-sounding, introductory band flute. (She informed her mom that she lost it…or maybe she used the old: somebody stole it.) A few hundred lessons, some hard living in New Orleans, and 15 years later, the old Conn somehow evolved into a solid silver Gemeinhardt M2, closed hole…sweet. (It plays both rock and roll as well as some jazz licks quite nicely – thanks, and is especially adaptable to most if not all of other Sierra musicians.)

The backpacker’s campground of Yosemite, not to be confused with the other walk-in campground, Sunnyside - Camp 4, sits back behind the stables, down a pine needle-covered path, and across a stone bridge, tucked away under a tree-covered canopy of tall swaying pines and cedar. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
In the same campground, in the very back, hidden behind a white stone building, there the Yosemite brain trust, stuck for another separate campground, sequesters much of its foreign peon workforce. These temporary trail crews, actively recruited globally in some way unknown to me, each weekend night the tired workers come down from high trails unknown, re-open a giant steel shipping container there, (much akin to the ones found aboard cargo ships), and take out their individual personal gear, all held inside all week for safe keeping. These “foreign” crews, paid little to nothing, get free camping privileges, good food, and little else in the way of reimbursement for their long day’s efforts; they do get to see Yosemite, and they get to say that they worked on its trails. In my little if any language comprehension here, the general attitude seemed that they took pride in their work. (Fair trade I guess). Many of these guests spoke little if any English, and are only in the park for two or three weeks, tops.

Just down from the high country, off the shuttle at the stables, past the kiosk on the left, following the road through the campground, I strode across the familiar bridge - solo, into the familiar safe haven of the backpacker’s campground. Hans, tall, angular, and lean, Norwegian I think, wearing a ragtop American flag thing on his head, spoke only in his native tongue (whatever the hell that was), but he only sang in English. Continually strumming on an old beat-up Martin archtop, he put out spirited renditions of songs, his favorite songs like “Red Neck Mother”, some early Jackson Browne, and he even threw in some passable Lynyrd Skynyrd too. Hans had an eclectic mix in music taste. He also had a friend, (never caught his name, or if I did, it is now long gone), on 12-string guitar who accompanied him, together they competently hammered out recognizable popular top 40 tunes, always in broken English. They played everything and anything; they had chops – a vast repertoire as it were, occasionally some even the correct words.

Never missing this kind of rare opportunity, down went my backpack and out came the flute. After the quick smile of recognition, (a mutually accepted but unspoken nod - “Put it in C, G, D, or E.” – a wink, a quick tune up - and off we went. The first song started simple but soon evolved into a lengthy and heavily bastardized, funky blues version of a song that…well, all I can remember is that it originally started out as Rocky Raccoon – really not too bad considering. Before long, to nobody’s surprise… (We sounded pretty sweet.)…we drew a crowd; out came ice-cold beer, followed by fried chicken, and eventually all the rest…all among the typical energetic and well-tuned backpacking community…our peers.

Shortly, joining in the party from somewhere out of the increasing darkness, first a mandolin player showed, and then a fiddle player, real good players too – now we were five. It was a country-rock meets raunchy blues….international…slow and easy…piercing type of music that wandered about the backpacker’s campground this evening, bouncing off the granite, and coming to rest eventually on the pine needle carpet. Around a central campfire, shimmering orange light danced both against silver and mahogany, we played on. Hans, (remember…no English), did all the “vocals”…fun hours: every time we attempted to quit … exotic spirits somehow appeared… and more. Finally, being late, Hans’ repertoire exhausted – he crashed and burned. The fire dying, the fiddler, the mandolin, and I capped off the evening with a slow mellow wandering instrumental conversation: Moon Dance – we really worked it. It ended up as low sweet blues …a very nice way to end the evening. The tents all applauded from the shadows.

The next morning, smiles all around, mild hangovers and sweet memories – a special night it was – the enterprising capitalist inside, (or maybe it was our sense of boastful alcoholic pride)…whatever…somebody decided that today, a real concert was in order. This time though, instead of the confines of the backpacker’s campground, we would play in front of the general Yosemite masses – (we could even conceivably make some beer money too in the process). Hans’ friend, temporarily but unexplainably unaccounted for, the four of us re-assembled early afternoon in front of the Yosemite Store – our agreed-upon stage: those big wooden rounds found sitting on that dark brown wooden deck…in front of the trees on the walkway leading from the Shuttle stop to the main Yosemite store.
Songs only practiced together once the night before, somehow miraculously became much tighter sans alcohol; appreciative crowds of basic “tourons” circled, spirited music flowed…many smiles all around… and an open guitar case attracted a noticeable pile of spare change. The Park Rangers, one on horseback especially, stood watch vigilantly over the entire spontaneous spectacle – smiling, laughing, and singing along; another ranger even asked to sit in for a few, doing himself justice on the 12-string. (That boy really did know how to pick!) After quite the memorable Yosemite Valley afternoon, the event over… only the three of us remained - (the Mandolin player split early); the same deck found us sitting back, semi-congratulating ourselves, drinking a cold one, and counting the spoils. All told, I guess you could say that our impromptu concert was an unqualified success; we amazingly tallied a little over $81.00 for three hours of fun.

Then the ranger stepped in, the same one who had joined in the music festivities earlier. Very apologetic in both his comments and demeanor, he said that he was truly sorry for what he had to do because that afternoon he witnessed something indeed magic and out of the ordinary for the park…(I think he used the word memorable.), but unfortunately, we were law breakers. It turns out that an open guitar case constitutes panhandling and panhandling is illegal in Yosemite; our concert replete with a collection plate somehow violated some archaic, non-posted, anti-music, YNP statute. It just so happens though, justice in Yosemite Valley, although sometimes nebulous at best, also provided a quick answer – he (Ranger hat and all) held court immediately on the same cut wooden round that served as our main stage earlier. The fine for each violation turned out to be…(coincidence…I think not) … $25.00 per – there was only three of us left there to charge…the total fine was $75.00…and it was over. WTF? .Nobody said a word…we just sat there nodding and smiling.

The remaining $6.00 went for beer, almost enough for a six-pack. When I think back on that day, some lesser individual might consider the whole afternoon’s ordeal a complete waste of time and energy – not I. Even though we played our hearts out, did surprisingly well too; unfortunately, Yosemite decided to confiscate our pay, even before we had a chance to divvy it up. One thing about it though, I was there and it was quite the show - epic, and they even let us finish it. I just chalk it up to another day in the park, a glorious day it was too, the day of the concert at the Yosemite store.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Great forum!!! Cool stories!!!

Postby Phil R » Thu Feb 02, 2006 7:35 pm

Great stories! I look forward to meeting people in the backcountry...part of the magic, IMHO. I have met people I knew or was acquainted with on the trail several times (such as former students).

Got my Bearikade discount by mentioning Snow Nymph's name also!!! Always great to be around nice people like her!

I just spent 45 minutes reading through this forum...awesome stories everyone!! Hope to run into you on the trail sometime!
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Coffee House Blues

Postby markskor » Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:31 pm

The Coffee House Blues 2/28/2006

This adventure originates in that river region below the Tuolumne Meadows, following the trail down past Glen Aulin, past that stretch of meandering green high grasses and lazy pools... exposed meadows with long Sierra shadows. Past the land of open distant vistas, mountain peaks rising behind smooth rolling granite slabs, the all-too-obvious way comically abused by countless tiny stacks of rocks, (far-too-many ducks), the trail visits both dome and forest, after all this, the path drops out of the meadows and down into the canyon. Heading north, tumbling down high cliffs, thick groves of Alder, sheer drop-offs, and manicured designer trails (or what is still left of them), punctuate this stretch of the Tuolumne River gorge. Three titled waterfalls, a series on the Topo; names of Waterwheel, LeConte, and California represent only a momentary pause in what is really one long, steep, continuous cascade, eventually destined for the distant abomination of a reservoir, foolishly created years before, far below. This spectacular country: steep, mossy, and fragrant, redolent of that distinctive Sierra smell, the trail environment completely envelops - one side, thick, massive, angular shadows, the other, slick lichen, water dripping off polished granite walls - rich verdant mosses... hundreds of different shades of green.

The Tuolumne pauses just below one of these major cascades, an irate river, momentarily leveling off before re-loading. There in isolated cavernous pockets... deep crystal pools hidden beneath giant boulders... fishing opportunities beckon. Like aquatic dirigibles, mammoth browns hover deep, lining up against the swift current - motionless, almost impossible to reach without adding heavy lead weight to monofilament line - waiting. The Tuolumne is a powerful engine, its sheer volume and slippery footing discouraging foolish thoughts of crossing over to the far side, here anyone spending the night, cautiously proceeding along slimy banks, always mindful that a careless step here could be the last one before Hetch Hetchy. There are limited places available nearby for campsites - amid carcasses of coniferous giant hulks, their substantial bodies ripped out miles above, stripped and discarded here, their past appendages long-gone. Randomly littering the falls, Mother Nature continues to play an oversized game of pick-up-sticks every season with each subsequent spring run-off.

Being productive in these pools takes strategy, stealth, patience - (and of course blind luck), any foolish, sudden, or ostentatious move easily capable of spooking the pools for a half-hour afterward. Turning over wet slippery rocks reveals the hatch; surreptitious casts flung far above the pools - an attempt to drift weighted succulent morsels down into the depths below... all done with gleeful anticipation - hopefully the midge plummeting deep enough before the strong currents carry it all away - downstream: fishing. These are not stockers, (colorless, insipid meat, tasteless) - any success here rewarded handsomely, powerful swimmers, firm pink flesh, 2-pounders - worthy adversaries indeed - good times. A week’s provisions to this region demands duplicity of forethought - toting in provisional food as well as ample stores of olive oil, spices, a decent frying pan, and most importantly, a real stove.

Two days out from Tuolumne, three days successfully fishing the pools, and another two days coming back up, supplies running low, I find myself at the bridge above Glen Aulin, heading south back to the meadows. Somehow while taking my eyes off the trail just for an instant, I lost it; x-country, I bear a little left of a familiar landmark - Cathedral Peak standing prominently in the distance - the Tuolumne store has to be somewhere around there eventually. Just a brief side note here, unknown to me, a large sewage sanitation plant exists just a few miles north of the store facilities complex. There, in the middle of the meadow, ten to twenty large, round, earthen, asphalt-lined pits - 100 feet across - levees - allowing evaporation of the piped in human accrual. (I knew this facility had to be somewhere: I just did not know where exactly.) Passing through this fabricated intrusion to the senses, the eyes water freely and the skin pricks uncomfortably, a reaction to the strong alkali presence found so abundantly there. Soon enough though, the Tuolumne, lazy and placid now, re-appears - on the right, limiting direction, but now easily fordable; I am heading in the right direction. The Grill sits south, where the stream crosses the road. Another mile of easy x-country finds me directly across from the Chevron Station - just a 1/8th mile from my true destination - hot food and cold beer.

This story really starts right after dropping my pack. Spent and hungry; I entered the Grill’s swinging doors, and ordered a burger - another successful Sierra solo adventure committed to history. There standing behind a faded Formica counter: Ed, he was the front man - the one talking to a never-ending line of humanity - (the “fricking” tourist busses too); Ed worked off the limited Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows Grill menu. He appeared maybe 30, maybe a bit older, heavy set, receding hairline, with an “I-do-not-really-give-a-rat’s-ass-about-your-problems” attitude towards life. Ed had an air about him, obviously schooled, perhaps successful previously, now his primary station in life consisted of politely taking food orders, (starting anyway), then often sarcastically erupting when any customer displayed any hint of minor attitude or demonstrated any other sort of petty annoyance. (Do you remember the soup Nazi character from the television show Seinfeld?) To Ed’s credit, it was nearing the end of a long Tuolumne summer season.

Leaning in the hot afternoon shade under the awning, against the canvas walls outside of the Yosemite store, burger, fries, and a cold beer in hand, (There really is a heaven!). From inside the grill, consternation, yelling, and then Ed barging out the door, raggedy guitar case in hand, swearing , muttering something, taking yet another one of his all too frequent, self-imposed sanity breaks. It just so turns out that Ed’s real avocation in life was not working the Grill; it was playing guitar, not just any guitar mind you, a pre-CBS Gibson, a Vintage 1939 L7 F-hole Acoustic.

A still somewhat agitated Ed slumped down on a familiar stump, not fifteen feet from where I sat, and proceeded to take out this priceless guitar and play a truly kick-ass version of a song he announced beforehand as the “Coffee House Blues”. Musically, Ed was a master; he had a distinct country style, blues mostly, three-finger picking, his thumb playing lead while the other two digits filling in the treble harmonics. I remember Ed mentioning, on more than one occasion afterwards, his affinity to on old Black musician - (How did he describe him? - A musical god) - Mississippi John Hurt. Playing mostly in C, G, or E (he probably could play in any damn key just as well); Ed’s guitar playing had that slow, country, Good-ol-boy sense of timing. Without boring you with music theory: augmented sevenths, minor ninths, and blues progressions, etc…suffice to say, Ed knew how to play a guitar. (He could not sing fer ****, but that boy did know how to make that Gibson cry.)

I think I may have mentioned here somewhere before that I carried in my backpacking quiver a solid silver Gemeinhardt flute - closed hole, an impressive backpacking tool, easily reachable, extremely useful in times just such as this. Pulling it out from the belly of my Gregory Shasta, Ed’s eyes somewhat widened and even a hint of a smile crept across a previously distressed face. One thing I learned about musicians, the ability to contribute music often can make brothers out of strangers. To make a long story even longer, that day Ed took a more extended than regular break; we played drunken, slow, raunchy, sultry blues… for hours - right in the corner in front of the Tuolumne store until the sun went down; the crowd bought us beer.

Later back in his canvas tent, (located in back of the store behind a noisy and prehistoric ice machine), drinking again Ed related to me that thankfully the season up here was only two-weeks short of its closure. He said he expected to go down to the Valley to winter there, and then, hopefully, come back again to the Meadows the next year again. (Ed did not like to talk much; he spoke mostly through his guitar and innuendo with his choice of repertoire.) He did mention once that he liked beer among other things…, hated modern music (said it sucked), and really only played what he liked. He said I was always welcome - anytime to join in - high praise from one with his superior abilities. The next day my scheduled plans pointed me towards Mammoth, grabbing a seat on the afternoon YARTS bus, but we did manage to play again some in the morning before my bus headed down the hill. Days later, fall was in the air and YNP again, as in the past years, closed down the store, carting off the remaining food to warmer climes below, packing up the canvas, storing the wooden beams, and preparing all for another arduous Sierra winter season.

Winter passed, but during Tuolumne’s next short summer season, I saw more of Ed, like clockwork - every two weeks or so, always making a point of stopping by his tent every time I hit Tuolumne for a rest or a restock. It was worth the extra effort, (and the beer) just to watch him work that amazing guitar. All through that entire summer, maybe eight or nine times more, we got together - always in front of the store - this was his favorite stage to perform on, outside in the Sierra, the lush high green meadows of Tuolumne. There were occasionally more musicians, a lot more musicians too; harmonica players, an occasional fiddle, many more guitars, drummers…any and all paused briefly in the warm afternoon sun outside the Tuolumne grill. At the center of it all, it was always Ed, his old Gibson, and that gravel voice.

I once asked Ed to come hiking with me, to take a week off and go backpacking, perhaps I could show him those crystal pools below Glen Aulin; we could catch fat trout and play music…accompanying the tumulus cascades. Ed never ventured far away from the complex however, he stated that he preferred not working that hard, but he did take one memorable afternoon off and introduce me to that stretch of river south of the Tuolumne HSC. It turns out that there is an abundance of fat lunkers all through those hidden pools - just far enough away from the campground to restrict easy access from most of the inquisitive masses.

The next year after, sometime in early June, just after the road opened up for the season, I again walked into the Tuolumne Store complex, inquiring about Ed, his infamous salty attitude, and his famous guitar. At first, all I noticed was that there was a totally new Grill crew there, and after questioning them, they informed me that they did not know of any Ed or about any guitar master, they all looked back at me with something akin to indifferent bewilderment. Finally, from out the shadows, a familiar face, a girl that I recognized from seasons past came out from the back of the store. “Seen Ed?” I asked. With a tear in her eye, she sadly informed me that Ed succumbed that past winter to his long bout with pancreatic cancer; she told me that he had been fighting a hidden but losing battle for years, his last two he requested up here in the Meadow. Every time I hit Tuolumne now, I look back at that corner of the store, that corner just outside of the grill, in the shadows, under the awning, against that canvas wall, I still see Ed. I remember the sound of that remarkable Gibson, his three-fingered picking style, and the Coffee House Blues.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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The Mountain Gods and Karma

Postby markskor » Sat Feb 11, 2006 10:49 am

The Mountain Gods and Karma 2/11/2006

Palm Springs (PS), 1992: by day - teaching mathematical equations to junior-high hip-hoppers and derelicts, by night - wearing hospitality’s top uniform: the tailored Armani Tuxedo - fine dining for the affluent at prestigious Wally’s Desert Turtle (the town’s only 5-star establishment) – flambé and tableside; together it all meant summers off – always returning back to my personal Sierra Nevada. Late May in years past would find me now sub-letting my apartment and leaving town for 3 months; but this year, renting a Coachella Valley home with a very special lady and her 7-year-old son - baggage - things got complicated. Bridgeport, a small town on highway 395, an advertisement in the Desert Sun - (Palm Springs only has one decent newspaper), it simply stated - experienced restaurant help needed – The Sportsman - “Come work in the High Sierra…”

My soon-to-be wife, Tami, decided that my leaving her all summer long, going backpacking (again), was not such a hot idea (go figure), so instead she answered the above ad, announcing that she accepted, for the good of us all, temporary summer employment in the High Sierra; this summer we would all be together in the Sierra. Specifically, she would be a bartender, tending a rowdy redneck cowboy bar for a Jean somebody in Bridgeport, California –cattle country - home of the Clampers (E Clampus Vitus). Hastily making a quick weekend road trip, we luckily found a small A–Frame cabin to lease for the entire summer season, just a few miles outside Bridgeport; (to this day, I find my wife usually gets things done her way). Closing up our rented house in PS, we loaded a U-Haul, 500 miles… May 13, my birthday, and it is snowing. (FYI, good summer service jobs are a snap to find all throughout the upper Sierra – just go).
The cabin had an enormous redwood deck, soaring glass walls, two open lofts, a magnificent fire pit…and quite the spectacular view. We lived quite comfortably in this little summer home just off the water at Twin Lakes: the view from our couch - the upper lake canyon across – granite and alder, snow-topped Matterhorn Peak higher above, the lower lake and dam just outside the back door. We were both making decent money, fishing daily, hiking, boating, bbq outside, deer at the back door, eagles roosting on Redwoods above our deck…no cable and only one television station … cattle country – cheap beef but expensive toilet paper: happily ensconced at 7000 ft. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
Our paradise on earth continued until late July when my wife’s grandparents called, deciding to surprise us by popping in, un-announced, for 2-week visit – Cuban style: (Please, just shoot me now!)

This story really starts a few days before; her grandparents, now in route, the Twin Lakes cabin much too small to hold the five of us, the anticipated yelling (it seemed the only way her family knows how to converse), and my not wanting to be anywhere close to this upcoming debacle…sorry. Tami understood, pulling out my chili-red Gregory Shasta, she granted me an out, temporary freedom… my hastily drawn-up itinerary - a solo trek to Tuolumne, 50 - 70 miles distant south, exploring the northern edges of YNP. I figured nine, maybe ten days fishing tops, plus an extra Tami day in Tuolumne when she came over to pick me up…coincidentally, my trip lasted just as long as the relatives expected to stay; they came and I left. (Interesting side note… simultaneously to my packing, the regulars at her cowboy bar – the Sportsman - started a betting pool, picking squares for what day I would give up, turn around, and come back - no hikers there – Tami knew better, and bet on me; we used the money for dinner for two at the Tiger Bar.)

The trail began in Mono Village, meandered up to Barney, turned steep to Peeler…then climbed over a ridge and into Yosemite National Park. My circuitous way-points included: Burro Pass – wide and green, the dreaded sand hill of Matterhorn Peak - long, backtracking through miles of alpine marshes, past the land of the ubiquitous uber-mosquito – numbers thick enough to walk on (or saddle), and continuing on through countless, nameless, lush and wide, glacier-rubbed granite canyons. The trail eventually rounded a long crest, dipped into a large valley, and then, in the distance, Bench Lake loomed large and low, a little hazy, the view obscured by having to look directly into the late afternoon sun.

On a brief side note here, the backcountry ranger in charge of this drainage went by the name Richard; (if he were in the army, they would call him a Major Dick). I do not understand why power corrupts, but here, right in the middle of this pristine wilderness, for reasons all his own…he continually stopped, harassed, and demanded to see all permits from everybody… waving his arms about, gold badge showing, lecturing all incessantly ala Barney Fief style (from the old Andy Griffith Show). He completely forced one couple to abandon their campsite after pacing it off…calling out the numbers aloud for all to hear…alas, just two short steps too close to the water for him…then camping at the exact spot himself moments after they left. Bench Lake - the Sierra Riviera with its white-sand beaches – the lake of the wild otters and the leviathan trout – a long sought, distant, hidden Sierra treasure… this Bozo of a ranger became such a stench – an ignoble stigma – a pariah; the next morning I was among the many that left the lake early. (I made a point of reporting that turd.)

Tim: I ran across Tim on the trail, on that long uphill, 1000 ft elevation gain, left-hand traverse, somewhere along that long slog up to Smedberg Lake. He was a young pimple-faced kid, 160 pounds tops, maybe 20 years old, toting an old wooden external frame backpack (it was bigger than he was). Tim was still the camper we all were once: proud, eager, and inexperienced – carrying both a large hatchet as well as a larger Bowie knife, both hanging lose from an old-style, faded, WWII type army belt, aluminum Boy Scout canteen, rolled-up Sears & Roebuck special sleeping bag, heavy cast-iron pot – green as they come, a rookie. He was also hungry; he said he had intended to catch fish down below at Bench, but having no wilderness permit (said he forgot to pick one up), the ranger running him off, and to make matters even worse, all his worms died – he was really hungry.

At Smedberg, we set up camp near the east side cliffs, the sheer numbers of ravenous mosquitoes present only surpassed by the growing number of rings ever expanding on the blue-green rippling glass surface extending out before us. Long swirling dancing shadows, golds and greens, spots of crimson, purple cliffs, yellow alpenglow, silver splashes… 10 no 20 at a time, lunkers launching themselves skyward then smacking heavily back onto the lake – Smedberg Lake. Drenching ourselves with DEET, I showed Tim the art of fishing fly-and-bubble (here under the most ideal of conditions); both of us wore out flies from the sheer numbers of solid hits. That night, over a couple of 2-pounders, we talked… serious backpacking… various techniques: how to hang food, get water, build fire, cook, stay warm, and mostly we talked of mountain respect…general camping courtesy – Sierra manners. One long day hiking in Return Canyon led to another day’s fishing together at Mattie Lake – (off trail out of Cold Canyon); finally our last night together found us on the beach at Glen Aulin, him proudly preparing the evening fire in a ring on the sand. Tim was now a self-proclaimed, trout-catching, fire-building, backpacking, food-hanging expert, an opinion on everything, a real Sierra mountain guru – just ask him.

Glen Aulin, 6 miles in from Tuolumne, a short morning hop to the experienced but arduous journey for the backpacking novice. Six short miles, mostly level and downhill, back at sea level easily accomplished, a snap - here at 9,000 ft with an over-loaded pack, something quite different. Tim and I sat as spectators, watching the 1-day hikers come over the ridge, brand new virgin backpacks - some still with tags, overloaded with all manner of bizarre, superfluous, and extraneous gear. These are the follies of the river campsite at Glen Aulin. One pair of couples arrived; or rather, the two men staggered in first, overloaded with enough gear for five people – each. Giant dome tents- tall enough to stand in, backpacking blenders, butane powered hair curlers (stuff I had no idea that even existed), igloo coolers with ice, 2-foot-long binoculars, 4-pound square sleeping bags, shower bags and curtains, all this “stuff” exploded out of the two backpacks just as the two dudes collapsed in the sand. Moments behind, make-up still perfect, hair somehow nicely combed, (heavily sprayed into place), nails obviously recently manicured, two well-appointed but obviously exhausted lasses – no backpacks, new boots (heels), expensive designer leather wardrobes – they joined their men at camp. Complaining about everything, pausing only to light cigarettes – (menthol I believe) – the women decided the first thing to do was have the men folk set up tents so they could take an early evening nap. Tim, still on his guru high, looked at all their pile of gear, then looked down at his hatchet, then me, then his 3-foot knife, then the hair curlers… and laughed; I think he understood.
Around dusk, one of the two men emerged from the tents – dragging and moaning - announcing that they were all just too tired to cook, and their only intention was just to hang up food safely and retire early. Tim, now eager to demonstrate his “stuff”, accompanied him, pointing out how to counter balance food bags correctly over the right branch, doing it all - good work too - while I just sat, listening to my exact words echoing back from three days before.

I am a great believer in Karma – what goes around, comes around. I suppose Tim’s willingness to help total strangers impressed the heck out of the guy, or maybe the dude just did not care anymore - whatever. Tim returned to the fire holding two, seasoned, ready to cook, 2-inch thick, perfectly marbled, New York steaks, as well as a bottle of Heitz Reserve Cabernet, (1982 - a great year). I guess I should have known that the dudes would go over the top with their food too. That night we had the best backpacking meal I have ever consumed backpacking, 6 miles in – I guess the mountain gods do reward those with the right attitude.

The next morning, back again in Tuolumne, Tim and I parted ways, him hitchhiking down the hill, me calling Tami in Bridgeport for a ride back home. I told Tami all about Tim, the power of Karma, the ranger, the dudes, and the steaks; she told me about her cowboy bar, her winning the pool, her grandparents’ visit, the constant yelling, and all about family rules. She had one additional surprise for me too; Karma had one more trick to play. She handed me a card - a homemade, happy father’s day card – and this little stick with a blue + showing on one end. She lifted up her shirt revealing a happy face drawing there – the nose - her navel, and a note scrawled that said, “Meet your kid.” I chalk it all up to a reward from the mountain gods, and Karma.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby BSquared » Sat Feb 11, 2006 11:03 am

My God, Markskor, you'd never seen butane-powered hair curlers before?!?!?! And here I thought you were a truly experienced man of the wilderness. [Surely there can't really be such a thing, can there? Tell me you made that part up...]
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Postby markskor » Sat Feb 11, 2006 11:09 am

Nope-
That's how it all happened. True story...FYI, I forgot to mention - my 13-year-old kid's name is Bryan.
Mark
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Postby BSquared » Sat Feb 11, 2006 12:34 pm

Well, if you say so. The blenders, I believe -- I spend part of my time on a sailboat, and there are lots of hand-powered (and 12-volt powered of course) gizmos most people would never believe. But butane-powered hair curlers?! Why, it's enough to curl your hair! I shall remain skeptical :paranoid: until I see a catalog page...

Terrific story as always, Markskor! :)

-BSquared
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Postby Shawn » Sat Feb 11, 2006 1:27 pm

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Postby BSquared » Sat Feb 11, 2006 1:55 pm

Oh, my God! Well, now I've seen it all. Thanks (I guess...) to Shawn for the URL, and my apologies for being a skeptic, Markskor; the evidence is there for all to see. However, Good Lord willing, may I never get any closer to one of those things than looking at the ad!
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Postby markskor » Sat Feb 18, 2006 6:45 pm

The Changing Bear Philosophies of Yosemite 2/18/2006

As a kid, my earliest recollections of Yosemite, aside from the long car rides just getting there and my numerous times getting car sick in the back of the family station wagon (a new 1962 Olds Delta-88 – metallic sky blue), fond memories recall spending a week at those “whatever they call them” sites found at Housekeeping Camp. Three rickety walls, wooden bunks, frayed manila ropes strung and colored Indian blankets hung, crammed food lockers, family camping en mass along a lazy stretch of the Merced River. As a family vacation – an annual summer ritual, it was paradise; all a middle-class family from L.A. (the San Fernando Valley) with five kids could ever ask for.

Yosemite meant sleeping outside; long lazy days spent splashing in the water, kayaks and inflatable rafts – crammed ice chests, popsicles, and smoky, greasy BBQs. After dinner, little mouths filled, hands washed - just after dark, piling in the back of the car, dad driving the short distance over to the dump – a semi circle of cars, a tourist show – headlights illuminating the pile of accumulated Valley trash, hundreds of eager eyes watching and waiting for the bears to come down. You had to get there early at the Yosemite dump just to find a good parking spot, dad always pondering what was just the right one to see best, it was better than the circus. The bears always came, eventually; sometimes it was mothers with cubs in tow, other times various colored bears alone, their antics seemingly rehearsed, photographed, accepted, scrutinized, and apparently advocated by YNP. Two groups came: the tourists and the official park representatives, (some fur bearing, others in uniform hats); it was the nightly Yosemite bear feed.

Somewhere between puberty and college summer vacation, philosophies changed. In those eight years, no longer was the Valley environment or its 3000-foot walls adequate to captivate the day’s Sierra adventure possibilities; no longer would the park continue to advocate feeding the bears trash, and calling it entertainment for the masses…two changes for the better. 1970 found me squeaking along under my powder-blue Kelty Tioga; Redwing Voyagers, Hank Roberts stove, and cheap down gear the best choices available for a starving UCLA zoology student. Somewhere above Nevada Falls, (the old Little Yosemite Valley campground was still a dream – years away), found us camping – fishing, deep in along the Merced, hanging our food bag high suspended over one branch, and tying the rope off to a tree, another tree further away from under the primitive hang…this is how we were taught back then. The only time I have ever lost hung food to a bear occurred here, that night back along the Merced River, back in the dense pine, something noisy yet unseen attacked our food; I vowed it would never happen again.

The next morning, cautiously searching for the remains of the purloined food bag, and soon finding a trail, the torn shards and discarded nylon among the food wrappers, papers cartons, (and bear slobber), we saw ominous signs - drops of blood. We obviously had not thought that the glass Jiffy peanut butter jar would ever bring critical harm to any bear, if we had, we would have packed something differently; maybe it was time to re-evaluate further our personal wilderness backcountry canons. Forums such as this were unavailable – (computers were slide rules), so… campfire discussions, scouts, trial-and-error, and magazines like “Field and Stream” provided the only available source of required answers. Coincidentally, Yosemite National Park also was undergoing a backcountry bear re-evaluation; soon thick wire cables suspended between chunky trees became prominent overhead and brown painted, metal vaults called Bear Boxes also appeared in some congested camping areas.

Years passed but for me, Yosemite’s charisma still always captivated; a climbing adventure up Snake Dyke (an easy 5.7 Half Dome route) found us that day on the way back down just above Nevada Falls. Together, the two of us sitting on top of a big rock taking a break - smoking some primo Acapulco Gold (or maybe it was Thai stick)… whatever…we were just above the trail, observing all the hikers passing by below. In those days, the powers of Yosemite were not as adamant about not bringing dogs on the trails; it was not uncommon to see Shepherds and Labs running along with their family units, hiking along, making their way up the longer trail towards Nevada Falls before returning the loop. That day, high above the trail… we looked down to see a well-dressed matron with pink hair hiking along with a poodle – a miniature poodle, also with matching pink hair. I remember her not being able to see us above as we laughed aloud at the ridiculous spectacle, obviously the custom die jobs designed to color-coordinate the unlikeliest pair of designer ****.
Unbeknownst to the woman, a small bear also traveled the same path, immediately meeting up with her and the dog, the confrontation occurring just beneath our advantageous but unseen boulder location. Reacting first, the pink dog (on a rhinestone leash) barked out as only a poodle can bark, that high-pitched yapping sound, oppressive to most mortals; the lady also joined in too, calling out in an amazingly similar voice – FIFI, FIFI!...we laughed harder. The bear first appeared unfazed by the entire spectacle; the woman, instead of drawing her pink dog back, away from the bear, safe, allowed it to get even closer, still yapping away, nipping at the bear’s legs, doing what poodles do…generally being obnoxious.

Yosemite’s bears may appear slow, sluggish, and possibly lethargic, much akin to cuddly sleeping giants, but do not let these pre-conceived appearances deceive you; they can get it done and get it done in a hurry when provoked. This bear, maybe 200 pounds tops, slightly cinnamon in color, an ugly bear too, took it all in stride… took all it could handle before reacting. While we watched, it made a kind of saluting motion, coming downward from the vicinity of its ear, catching FIFI across the back of its neck with its nails, just barely grazing it in one amazingly quick motion. The woman’s high-pitched calls – FIFI, FIFI – turned deep and guttural; I can still recall the one unfathomable, low-pitched FIFI called out as the dog’s head physically parted from its body - coming to rest in front of the woman, the leash now flapping free in the wind. My climbing friend sitting next to me, howling and laughing in amazement, fell off the rock.

This story, about meeting significant people in the high country, actually begins years later, around 1990, up at Lower Cathedral Lake, at the drainage end of the lake, beneath the bear cable once suspended there, on a granite point between two gigantic trees. There were about three of four groups of hikers present, me solo as usual, all sharing a community campfire when he came through; it was about dusk. Gary Tenaka, the official resident YNP bear expert, came out of the darkness and dropped his pack next to the fire at my feet. Gary is not a big person, maybe 160 - 175 pounds, slight of build, dark hair, and a mustache, but he has an air about him that suggested someone much bigger – a distinct presence: when he talked, people listened. Gary started talking: above us, maybe twenty feet high up, learned bears were in the process of systematically destroying a half-inch thick, food hanging cable; claw marks indicated they were climbing up the tree, hanging onto and shaking the cables until food bags suspended there fell to the earth below. Gary, along with his personal gear, carried a lot of equipment, bear equipment: today, among all the other personal hiking gear, he had a fancy rifle equipped to fire some sort of tranquillizer dart.

Sitting around the evening’s campfire, Gary informed us about a mother bear and two cubs that were presently making trouble by ransacking the area. He told of reports of nightly raids here, exactly where we were sitting, (peaking our interest) as he further explained his intended evening’s plan. Sometimes, he said, just the act of tranquillizing the bears was enough to discourage them…scare them off; maybe it was the drug, the headache, or maybe just the shock, but he said often bears would leave one area entirely after just meeting one of his well-placed darts. Gary asked us if we wanted to watch, and if so, we had to agree to do exactly what he said and remain calm throughout the entire ordeal; (how anyone could resist this opportunity would be a mystery). We, about eight of us, walked away from the fire, a bit north, up the hill a bit, crouched down in the shadows, and waited in silence. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25


Shortly, Gary somehow hearing something unheard, indicated for us to hush up, then took careful aim at a moving shadow, and fired a prepared dart into the darkness. A small cry went out, and then a plop; soon we were all gathered around Gary as he examined a bear - close up, looking inside its mouth, seeing the tattooed numbers inside of its lip, and helping Gary secure a green numbered flag to one of its ears. Soon more commotion from out in the darkness, the aforementioned marauding mother and cubs arrived, the mother instantly making a strange howling noise and the two cubs responding immediately by scampering up a convenient tree. Gary took careful aim; soon the mother, then in short order, the two small cubs, first calling out sorrowfully for the mother, then quiet as they fell out of the tree; they joined the original bear, all four bears drugged, fast asleep, lying at our feet. Before the night’s festivities were over, another bear, a yearling – maybe older, came along; Gary carefully loading up still another dart… when all was finished, there were five bears stretched out before us on the slab granite of Lower Cathedral Lake.

It was not so much this once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing five wild bears lying supine before us that stuck with me; instead, it was the casual information gleaned from Gary during the inspection process that struck home. He said (briefly in passing) that the pre-established days of bear storage cables, hanging food, and bear boxes were soon about to be part of Sierra history; these strategies, though effective in the past, were not working and were now actually causing more harm than good. He said that there were approximately 450 bear in the park, about 50 more than should be here for the park’s existing food supply adequately to provide sustenance for all. He said it was we, the backpackers, who were causing the majority of the overpopulation problems; the bears, in well-populated camping areas, were now relying primarily on man’s food supply – poor food storage techniques mainly - and bears were increasingly learning and teaching others how to get to our hung food.

I gave Gary all the usual answers we still use today: I never lose food, I know how properly to hang, I am careful, and I only camp far above the bear’s territory. He just sighed and said he had heard it all before, every time he tried to educate the masses about bears, but regardless, he said that something must be done…sooner than later, or the bear, as we know it, might disappear altogether from the Sierra ranges. He did mention something he heard about, using small portable food tubs, something we all could carry that might work, if they could figure out how to make them light enough…and strong enough. Interesting that back then, fifteen years prior, he was forecasting the changing bear philosophies of Yosemite.

Another solo backpacking saga…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Rosabella » Sat Feb 18, 2006 10:19 pm

I sure enjoy you stories, Mark... you should write a book! I'll bet you really keep a campfire entertaining :nod:
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