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Meeting people in the backcountry

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Postby markskor » Sun Feb 19, 2006 4:10 am

Rose...

I am. You are just reading the chapters first.
Mark
Mountainman who swims with trout



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Stan: another solo backpacking adventure

Postby markskor » Wed Feb 22, 2006 11:08 am

Stan 2/21/2006

No matter how many in the party, the true dedicated backpacker should allow for chance, romancing the unknown, anticipating the unexpected - always accepting and embracing whatever adventure may come along the way. The trail over Red Peak Pass from Ottoway Lakes, a dreadful penance of small, rounded, mailbox-sized rocks… some pale red in color – others off white, meandering up pathetic switchback-inundated knobs – false summits… a never-ending corridor of talus, and a struggle up from the pristine mountain tarn below. Pausing at the top, waiting for stragglers, the Indian paintbrush, the magnificent view of the distant Clarks, and the azure, island-dotted lake behind, all temporarily made me forget why I – the resident mountain cognoscenti as it were - had consented to join this ragtag assemblage of straight-laced flatlanders on an extended adventure into Yosemite’s most isolated of backcountry arenas.

Backpacking for me, always a singular affair, hours of natural wilderness sounds: waterfalls…Steller’s Jays…classic tunes re-playing endlessly inside my head…these should be the only trail accompaniments to any grand Sierra adventure; instead today, waiting for the three others to summit, momentary silence was at best only a respite… temporary. Standing there alone, basking among magnificent pink, granite-sculpted splendor - top of the world…grand vistas… my serenity all-too-soon disturbed by the increasing staccato of incessant wining - the bickering of barely known companions as they drew nearer. “It is too hot…the mosquitoes are impossible…are we there yet…are you sure this is the right way…cannot we rest for a bit…quit crowding me…I am hungry…we will never get there on time.” This sucked.

Lower Ottoway Lake is a mountain oasis; a verdant covering of lush, green carpet enveloping fresh glacier fed streams, all rushing down to spectacular snow-lined coves…dark hidden holes… a paradise surely made for extended Sierra fishing. There were lunkers there, 2-pounders – easily startled - racing upstream as we forded the rushing rivulets leading down into the lake. Unfortunately, none besides me thought to carry any fishing gear, their carefully pre-planned, pre-sorted, and pre-packaged menus did not allow for fresh caught meat, or for any alteration in plans; and for some still unexplained reason, schedules casually agreed to beforehand did not now allow for an overnight there; we walked right by the lake without stopping – you can’t fix stupid. One can easily rationalize that backpacking with others meant being somewhat democratic, bowing to the will of the majority, and letting others vote to decide when to go and where to stay, but when you add it all up though, to a backpacker like me, it equated to freedom lost, (and you wonder why I backpack solo). See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25

A few other ill-fated trips with unknown or dubious companions invariably turned sour too, somewhere along the way, any differing or conflicting individual agendas that are present – baggage - always produce strife – egocentric power trips - members pulled apart from various directions, alas – often the major cause of shortening the adventure. One trip off the Lyell Fork up to Ireland Lake, the fact that one antagonistic individual owned the stove, another the cooking pot, this preordained arrangement mandated us all staying together miserably, finally abbreviating the trip in order to alleviate the imagined displeasure of the few. I vowed, from these days forward, always to be self-contained, especially if unsure of my companions. I would never again let any rare Sierra opportunity become unfulfilled due to some not serious (or even imagined) conflict originating with one of my hiking cohorts. From here on in, whenever backpacking, if I wanted to stay over anywhere, I always would… invite the possibility – warmly welcoming any spontaneous or intriguing opportunity. Additionally, I decided the disposition of hiking companions should strongly coincide with my own temperament (whatever the hell that means), lengthy conversations beforehand may set up only tentative agendas…firm, but always flexible… realistic but always open invitations to any chance-encounter of High Sierra serendipity or whimsy.

This story actually starts out in a five-star restaurant in Rancho Mirage – a suburb of Palm Springs – an affluent neighborhood, tucked away against the base of the foothills, situated in California’s prestigious Coachella Valley. Wally’s Desert Turtle, a Mecca for the prosperous, my occupation by night that of a captain – putting on airs…heading a 5-man dining team…tableside service… clad in a tuxedo – Armani. It could have been the night of the Gerald Ford party, or maybe it was the evening of the Bill Gates soirée, (they were all pretty much the same, tending to blur together after working there six seasons). Anyway, there I was, impatiently waiting at the bar, intending to pick up a round of after-dinner cordials – Taylor Fladgate vintage port, Grand Mariner Centenaire, Johnny Walker Blue…(that sort of order), when I overheard the bartender – Stan – rambling on to a seated customer about an upcoming hike he was attempting in the next few weeks ahead. Stan stated that he was thinking of doing Mount San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail. I recall hearing him also mentioning that he would be doing Mount Baldy, as well as the Mount San Jacinto trail (Southern California’s big three) in the upcoming months. It turns out that I had never been to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio - interesting.

I also had never socialized with Stan – other than the normal short and perfunctory co-worker greetings; he was tall and lanky, slightly older (one year), and somewhat dignified, but a pompous ass, aloof, haughty,…perfect for the restaurant job - always open to last minute aberrations, (my kind of potential hiking companion). That night, the hour drawing late and the evening’s guests almost gone home to their country club mansions, I took the opportunity to approach Stan, questioning him about what I had overheard earlier. Stan was a bit of a character: an ex outlaw biker, Harley Davidson riding, long hair braided and tucked beneath his jacket, intelligent, set-in-his-ways, loner of an individual, currently living with his girlfriend and two dogs in Cathedral City, just a few miles distant from my own home. We briefly discussed the Vivian Creek Trail; he said that his plan called for doing the entire trip (up and back) in one long day; I told him he was crazy. I mentioned that while it was indeed possible to do the 16-mile steep and protracted trail (over 5000 feet of elevation gained) in one arduous day, but wouldn’t it be better to stretch it out, make it an overnighter, and enjoy the outing (and any unknowns) a whole lot more. Stan balked initially, stating that he had never actually been backpacking in his life…why…too much work, and he countered with the fact that he did hike quite often – he could do it all in one day - easy. He mentioned that it might be an interesting diversion though; if so, what equipment would he need, how long would it take, and did I have the stamina to keep up with him; he bragged that he was a veritable hiking god on the local desert trails.

In the following weeks, Stan and I often found ourselves nonchalantly discussing the possibilities further – no pressure and no commitments - yet. One day he called early unexpectedly, scheduling that morning a strenuous day hike up to Suicide Rock near Hemet – a real mother of a trail especially under the hot southern sun – perhaps he was seeing if he could break me, or perhaps, just seeing if our hiking styles were in any way compatible for any real adventure. Ready in minutes, it became apparent immediately that our hiking styles clicked; both of us taking short unspoken rest pauses at similar times (when warranted); both of us not chattering incessantly while hiking; our paces similar - coinciding, our basic temperaments laid back – seemingly always in agreement (or maybe just not caring). Afterwards, I told Stan that if he really desired to overnight Gorgonio, I would be happy to show him how, but he first needed a decent backpack, and some gear. He said he could get one; his son had one… as well as a sleeping bag…as well as all other equipment that he might ever need. (Unfortunately, I soon discovered that his son was a car-camper – and he shopped extensively at Wal-mart.) The next week we left early, taking highway 10 - to the cutoff to Forest Falls off highway 38, and then the trailhead to Mount San Gorgonio. See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25

The Vivian Creek trail is one long slog, steep, green in spots, mostly brown in others, the trail adequate but not altogether that well maintained – dirty - one long, badly-placed switchback in the middle adding miles while serving no apparent purpose. Stan carried a heavy and ill-fitting Jansport backpack, his son’s… the heavy gear that did not fit inside, he lashed awkwardly to daisy chains on the outside. Throughout it all, we never raced and Stan never complained; we camped overnight at High Creek, summiting the next morning, later that afternoon returning to the truck – the comfortable pace as well as the entire trip a resounding success. The view from the summit was hazy at best, local wild fires contributing to the general lack of visibility: Palm Springs should have been perceptible on the not-so-distant horizon, unfortunately that day – not so much. On the way back home, Stan beamed, boasting to me that now that he was an “experienced” backpacker, he always wanted to do something truly grand – Mount Whitney. Once again, I explained to him that a one-day, scheduled death-march, 22-mile adventure was not my forte, he could do that all by himself, but I would eagerly consider going via the back way – possibly an extended 7-day fishing trip via the Cottonwood Lakes and New Army Pass – Stan just smiled and drove home.

Stan had caught the backpacking bug – big time (sound familiar?); every day at work now – until the remainder of the season in June (Palm Springs closes up and leaves town for the summer), he would proudly boast to anyone who would listen about his latest new acquisition. Gregory Whitney backpack, 800 prime goose down WM overstuffed sleeping bag, Thermarest, TNF tent, Vasque Sundowner boots: you name it – the very best available - $$$ - Stan had to have it . He poured over glossy gear catalogues, made wilderness permit reservations far in advance, reserved a Portal campsite, bought and re-packaged the most expensive of freeze-dried food, even pre-booked a shuttle up to Horseshoe Meadows…this last move enabling us to leave his truck at the Portal, conveniently waiting for us when we returned from the summit. Remarkably, I did not have to do a thing – except of course, pay my fair share. Stan was a bit anal though – steadfastly trying his best to think of all potential contingencies, planning it all out to the smallest detail.

Late June found us at Whitney Portal, camping at site 6, spending the first night acclimatizing before our long-anticipated, extended backpacking excursion. Some highlights - a brief review of Stan’s meticulously, planned-to-the-minute, 7-day, Whitney adventure package: It took us 9 days – two days extra – a bonus from me – (I just couldn’t help myself) until we were able to get back to the truck. We were the first ones over NAP that year – breaking trail over a 50-foot high cornice. I fished almost every night - Goldens; we camped at South Fork Lake, Cottonwoods (unplanned), High Lake, Lower Soldier, Crabtree Meadows, Lower Crabtree (also not planned), Guitar, Trailcamp, and the Dow Villa Hotel (after the beer and the burger at the Portal of course). If you ever get a chance, dine at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant in Lone Pine – excellent blue cheese dressing, superb New York Steaks, freshly made bread, chocolate moose, and a good bottle of red wine – a great way to end any victorious adventure. My backpack – a chili-red Gregory Shasta started out at 47 pounds; Stan carried one pound extra (the Whitney pack weighed 1 pound more) – we never complained once…we even spent a few of the trail nights completely silent, staring at the stars and not saying anything…we didn’t have to…it was glorious.

A few months later, late summer now, right after my moving my family to Sacramento, an 8:00 PM obscene phone call from Stan…it seems he was passing through town with his now trusty backpack, and wanted to further test the merits of my spontaneity theory: perhaps a last-minute unplanned attempt to tackle the Half Dome cables. (We had talked about this on our previous trip as another possible adventure – I may have mentioned in passing that planning was unnecessary, and the outing would indeed be worth the effort.) My pack always ready - the wife said yes…bless her, she really understands me…He picked me up at 9:00…and we were setting up tents in the YPS backpacker campground around midnight.

Stan had never seen Yosemite – my way – and was truly amazed that we could arrive in the park (the rangers often leave the Modesto – highway 120 entrance gate unattended for the night), park in the Curry lot, and camp without spending a dime, and without going through any sordid, pre-made, complex, wilderness reservation process. (I tried to tell him, it is always better just to show up and trust fate.) The next morning (after a hearty but mediocre Curry cafeteria breakfast), we found ourselves at the permit office next to the Ansel Adams Gallery at 10:00, and on the Happy Isles trail - legal (there are always large numbers of available unclaimed “next day only” permits waiting) - by 11:00. Two nights later, we were down, successful, doing pizza and beer and making plans to do Shasta, Rainier - or maybe it was St. Helens – I forget – (It did not really matter much to me) for our next summer’s continuing backpacking menu. I think I had finally found someone who understood my thoughts about backpacking - using only a general plan… serenity, adventure without rigid pressure… just going and seeing whatever was available – and taking whatever developed in stride. Forty percent of the wilderness permits in Yosemite – most of the entire Sierra actually – ascribes to this no reservation policy – few are wise enough to take advantage.

Best laid plans – anticipation of further non-solo adventures with a worthy companion (hard to find a good friend with compatible wilderness values and the required wanderlust)…all is at best short-lived. That winter, Stan, on his way to work in Palm Springs…riding his black, chromed-out, Harley Softail Deuce…a dented pick-up made an inadvertent left turn in front of him. Two weeks later…his right leg amputated at the knee…two years later Stan is still re-learning how to walk. When you invite chance…you have to take all that comes along.

Another Solo Hiking story…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Skibum » Wed Feb 22, 2006 1:19 pm

Great stories! :D
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Postby Snow Nymph » Wed Feb 22, 2006 1:44 pm

Great story! :D Bummer about Stan :(
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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The learning curve of Yosemite

Postby markskor » Sun Feb 26, 2006 8:41 am

The Learning Curve of Yosemite 2/26/2006

The Royal Arches is a granite formation, a multi-pitch rock climb of Yosemite Valley, (located high above the Ahwahnee Hotel); it is a moderate climb at best, (especially if you manage to stay on route). Rated 5.7, it contains 14 -15 pitches of quality climbing fun - little off-width chimneys – mostly on clean exposed granite. Having done this route once before, I called first lead - starting out miserably – drastically hung over from the previous night’s celebration at the Broiler Room of the Yosemite Lodge – the Yankees wound up beating the pants off the Dodgers on the bar TV. Too far left, but following an epic handcrack – damn, I could not seem to remember how the route actually started, luckily there were other climbers there …somehow, watching them quickly pass us by, laughing… we eventually got back on track. I led the first three or four pitches, (sobering up quickly now) and then temporarily spent, noodle-armed, I took up my position in the back of the bus, cleaning up the pro – my sling becoming heavier by the minute. Somewhere, around the seventh or eighth pitch, we did what everyone seems to do there - we got off-route…again,… into the weeds – dropping down and then crossing up and over to the famed pendulum pitch – our days climb now almost half over...we thought. See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=37. ... -119.56528

Relaxing on belay, I sat back watching my friend Bill do this hairy long snake-out – almost free - his feet suddenly blowing out – violently pulling out every piece of protection from a slightly horizontal crack as he fell; he was a human pendulum on a 30-foot arc. (When you think about the physics, it was probably closer to a 60-foot fall – top to bottom.) Bill, I think his name was Bill (could have been Bob – as in plumb bob) – we had just met down at Sunnyside the day before. He was, (self-professed) a much better climber than I was, capable of leading far above my barely-respectable 5.9 – he appeared OK. When I say he was OK, I meant still alive - except for the fractured arm, broken collarbone, various scrapes, contusions, and generally being a babbling, bloody pulp…we took our time lowering him carefully off the rock. Now I, being almost 30-years-old, pondered this entire episode and taking stock; maybe it was time for me to reconsider rock climbing as a serious life avocation. If someone – a much better climber than I would ever be – can instantly turn himself into a bloody yoyo in a careless instant, maybe there were other ways, better ways to enjoy my beloved Sierra.

Hitchhiking back up highway 395, my intentions were to get back to Lake Tahoe, (Round Hill specifically), before dusk…I missed my objective by only a hundred miles or so. Now, it was getting dark, and I was now still at the California/Nevada border; my last ride stranding me at that little dilapidated piece of… casino located at Topaz Lake, backpack and climbing gear lying at my feat, standing, seemingly un-noticed by the string of passing cars, on the side of the road, thumbing. Thankfully, there was a campground behind the casino, two campgrounds really, one for car-campers…full of G-rated, perky, family units, the other, for backpackers only…completely empty. I paid my $5 and walked into the empty backpacker section, setting up my North Face Pebble tent in the far back…the closest site to the shore, once again home – safe and sound for the night.

I may have told you this story before, but for those who might have missed it, I will sorrowfully relate this part all over again. I rudely awoke the next morning to the piercing sounds of a vociferous duck, swimming and quacking away, just off shore - sunrise. Trying to ignore the incessant early-morning interruption was fruitless; the damn duck would not shut up – I was too close to the water’s edge, and he seemed to be intentionally calling out, baiting me. Crawling out of my warm, comfy bag, (nature called anyway), I looked around for a projectile, something, anything to chuck in the general direction of the offending creature. Spying a convenient, soft ball-sized chunk of granite, I let it go in the duck’s direction; my true intention was high and outside, a waste pitch, just to brush it back – merely to get it away from my previously quiet campsite. I admit it, I put something extra on the release, the toss was indeed a hefty throw, one in a million, not unlike a soldier tossing a hand grenade, or one of those innocent little rockets the kids play with, arcing high and far against the red-orange morning sun – all done in slow motion. Mid flight, surprisingly the duck turned and sped up; the rock and the duck now on a predetermined collision course, destined for an instant date with mortality. I can vividly recall the audible crack – a snap, bones breaking, and the resultant mournful peace - still.

Wide awake now, maybe a bit ashamed, (the duck fatally floating away face down), I would no longer be able to sleep after that unintentional debacle, energized though - nothing else to do (I hate gambling); I grabbed my “el cheapo” rod and reel and headed for the flawless lake stretched out enticingly before me. On the far end, against the rocks sheltered, from deep, black, hidden pools brightly colored trout now increasingly dimpled the mirrored glass surface - the morning’s rise. First cast, distant then deep – waiting patiently, slowly jerk-dragging a white and pink, 3/16th oz. Z-Ray, something substantial struck running, my four-pound line singing a chorus from off my black, Wal-mart-bought Daiwa reel. There is something about a large fighting trout – maybe the tail walk – maybe the bent rod – maybe the sound of the drag - whatever, from out of nowhere, little kids appeared, calling, laughing, eager to help but mostly just in the way - amazing. I remember fighting the beast, then slowly easing it into a quiet cove, reds and greens, silvers – the lure swallowed – a four-pound ‘bow panting its last in the shallows before me. I also remember the littlest kid, laughing and jumping, more exited than I, eager to be in any way a part of the moment; not looking where he was going, jumping on my 2-piece rod – another audible snap – payback.

The casino there, involved in many more activities than alcohol and gambling, held (maybe still does) a summer fishing derby, awarding cash prizes for the biggest fish caught weekly from out of “their” Topaz Lake. My trout, even though a stocker (what did you really expect from a lake along highway 395) came in a close second in that week’s fishing competition: 4-pounds, 2 ounces. It paid out $75, coincidently the price for an Eagle Claw Trailmaster, 6 ½-feet, 4-piece, backpacking rod, offered for sale in the window of the shop there: $74.99. (I wish I could make this sort of stuff up people, but maybe it is just pre-fated – out of my hands – destiny by intelligent design); instead of rock climbing, maybe I was now supposed to fish the Sierra Nevada – made sense to me – I believe in things like that. While there, I also bought a good reel – the best they offered – a Penn gold series SS 420, replacing my previously inferior equipment with what I still feel is the best spinning fishin/backpacking ensemble available today.

Soon back in Yosemite Valley, again – the park’s attraction for me always too great – this time backpack loaded sans climbing gear… raining outside, I happened to spend some time inside the Wilderness Center – the same building where previously you got the backcountry wilderness permits. In the book section there, I discovered a small innocuous-looking pamphlet by a Hank Johnston – soft covered (only 16 pages), it briefly but succinctly encapsulates what I eagerly sought after: a detailed treatise on Yosemite Trout Fishing. This smallest of all books – soft cover too – contains analysis of 318 park lakes; the last few pages listing all the 127 lakes in the park containing fish. Furthermore, careful scrutiny reveals Mr. Johnston gives only 10, maybe a few more, a good or better rating as to where the big fish live, and where he feels the best fishing possibilities still exist in the park. Closer analysis in conjunction with detailed Topo maps reveals that most (if not all) of these “favorite” lakes are at least 10 miles off any road – many much farther in; this detailed information now providing a concrete reason for me to see the wildest, most remote areas of the park, first hand. (This is what they mean when they say do your homework.) I now had another valid reason (other than climbing which she hated with a passion) to tell my wife why I was going out backpacking alone; I had to see for myself if Hank Johnston’s analysis was correct. (The things we have to do.)

Bernice Lake: the book lists the starting point as Tuolumne Meadows, 11 miles out, 18 acres, EB (short for Eastern Brook though I discovered it does also have Rainbows), elevation 10,217, and he lists the lake as good – his highest possible rating. Just 1 mile off the main trail, its location conveniently places it just far enough away that it gets little if any fishing pressure. The summer season of Yosemite lasts about 100 days total – often much less – the trail splitting in two below Vogelsang: one side easier down to Emeric Lake and continuing on, the other up and over the pass before coming only close in proximity to Bernice, before also heading down, joining the other again above Merced Lake. Consequentially, Bernice sees, at the most, only about 200 intrepid souls per year, most of them non-fishermen, hardly enough to make a difference on its established trout population. The fishing (let us keep this quiet) there is indeed good, mostly 11 -13 inchers, some larger; Hank Johnston’s analysis once again proved correct – at least there.

This rambling story (I do apologize… well, not really, but…) actually begins on the backside of Bernice Lake, over against the refrigerator-sized talus that covers the entire backside shoreline. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
Many years now since my transformation from climber to angler – experienced - I usually carry not only a spinning reel, but also an Orvis fly reel – though I readily admit my preference for spinners in most High Sierra waters. As for flies, I carry a large assortment – lures too, all carefully sorted and stashed away in small Perrine aluminum boxes, a company that once produced a fine assortment of boxes in various sizes but now, unfortunately, out of business. It is still possible though to purchase these fine Perrine boxes on eBay for a reasonable price; you just have to look carefully at the different models offered – (I carry, among others, #66). Anyway, I was fishing Bernice – the back pools deep, mid day – casually placing my flies, lures, etc in their respective boxes on a large flat boulder – close to but unfortunately not in the daypack that I usually carry while fishing.

You guessed it, the large talus boulder moved and my entire assortment of lures and flies slid down beneath the massive rocks, just barely visible in the cracks - far below but impossible to reach… essentially gone. Imagine the dismay, 11 miles in on a 50-mile backpacking fishing trip, no flies, and no lures - solo. In an instant, my heart sunk; no way could I move those gigantic boulders, and even when I cleverly tried to use my rod to reach down and rescue my Perrine box, it proved fruitless…I was seriously flocked. I still had the teardrop shaped bubbles – and the split shot, but without hooks, flies, and lures, I was effectively dead in the water, at least as far as fishing went for the rest of the trip – a sad lesson learned. Sadly, I retreated off the talus, back to my camp on the far side, my tail between my legs – completely and utterly dejected.

Crossing back, I happened to came across another camper’s tent pitched near mine, somehow his joining me up at Bernice unseen, my pre-occupation with my loss perhaps explaining why I did not see him when he first arrived. Elated to find another soul in residence, I immediately questioned him about whether he carried fishing gear; maybe, between us, we could still salvage this trip after all. Alas, only a very small percentage of the backpackers in Yosemite actually carry fishing gear regularly; indeed, he was also an experienced angler – unfortunately this trip – travelling fast and light, he left his fishing gear elsewhere; my spirits sunk again…crap. Tom, (I think his name was Tom but I usually am wrong about these things…I will call him that anyway for the sake of this story) was one of those amazing individuals that was up to – even surpassing – any conceivable challenge presented. Tom was thin, older, short, but with an experienced eye, an air that first listened, considered, and then produced viable and realistic results to any problem. After telling him my sad tale of woe, Tom came up with a solution: search and recycle...

We were not the first to visit this lake, and not in any way the last; even the best-experienced anglers coming before us always lost gear during the process. Tom, mindful of his own Sierra fishing experiences, suggested combing the bush for these precious offerings…those lost snags – tree limbs that reach out that seem to grab line – inadvertent casts on a regular basis…they are always there; you just have to search them out. Walking the shoreline, exploring the obvious fishing sites…yes, Tom was right; there were a plethora of easy finds. With a careful eye, we together discovered there was no shortage of usable Sierra treasures ripe for the taking; bird nests of monofilament, abandoned and hastily stashed away in the bushes held hooks…size 12 and 14…overhanging limbs…more hooks with small lead weight dangling in the sunlight like spider webs. You just had to look closely; we did. An hour later, one brief cursory trip around the lake, searching carefully with detective eyes produced over a dozen usable specimens – I was close to being back in business. Hemostats used as a vise, black thread, feathers from the down, scraps of colored cloth…and a little super glue; that evening, I caught us both dinner.

The next morning…when I came back from the talus – after early fishing the morning rise, Tom was gone, his campsite now vacant – not a trace remained, disappearing as quietly as he came, (mysterious that I never saw him come…or go). Packing up, I also soon continued my journey down the meandering granite path, my newly trained eye now constantly scanning for more of those discarded Sierra riches…the fishing trash left behind by others. For the record, I caught much on the remainder of that trip; I continually to this day scour the brush still, only a little exertion spent rummage around …easily recovering expensive lures left behind by those not willing to put out the required effort. There is a moral here, not just for fishing, but for all life’s general endeavors; it is all part of discovering the many lessons of the wilderness, the learning curve of Yosemite.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor

References cited: Yosemite Trout Fishing, Johnston, H. (1985), Flying Spur Press
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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fire rings and pine knots

Postby markskor » Sat Mar 11, 2006 8:38 am

Fire Rings and Pine Knots 3/11/2006

Early on in his brief wilderness life, it became evident that my (then) eight-year old son was overly fascinated by fire, a backpacking pyromaniac – when camping, give a small boy a long branch, a good campfire, and he will be in his own world, more than happy for hours, just worrying the campfire to death. Watching him poke away incessantly, hatching embers like fireflies…sticking the blackened end into the red shimmering coals…skywriting his name with fire in the darkness – ala Zorro…blowing the searing cherry end…the occasional addition of a marshmallow (and the sugar) may be pure overkill. What is it about campfires, sticks, and kids; the combination – even at that age – (dangerous – I think not) inseparable, a surefire magnetic draw - though admittedly, the endless fascination continues long into adult life, and has not seemed to have harmed the father much either over the years. Now, being a responsible grown-up, the hours spent staring into campfires always invoke memories of an easier simpler time – a Sierra without as many rules – before…

After another sweet day of long Sierra miles, a sheltered camp along a granite slab…amid quiet stands of cedar and pine…the sun lying low on the lake, the water surface still a bit choppy – dancing - but relaxing in anticipation of the early evening rise, a familiar established campsite is a welcome sight. At each particular lake, there are but a few magic locations, secluded, well used over the years, time-honored by a fortuitous setting, histories of endless fires built – worn granite kitchens - rounds…old friends. Realistically, backpackers cannot expect, or even begin to presume, that they are the first campers ever to overnight there…one should know better…Topo maps lead one directly to it. With that thought in mind, this current philosophy of methodically destroying all backcountry existing fire rings perplexes and disturbs.
.
99.99% of Yosemite is pristine; the remaining part, that well-trodden trail or eroded alpine meadow simply re-classified, now plainly designated as ground under repair…as if the YNP was desperately trying to erase completely all trace of man’s past heavy hand from today’s delicate Sierra palate. Perhaps the Park Service, in its wisdom, could leave some places better alone; backcountry function is not necessarily spotless. Zealous volunteers, early 50s, (usually stepping out of oversized SUVs), eager to do their part, avidly hike en mass to designated areas, and then systematically – like locusts - seek out and destroy any trace of any existing campfire ring found. No matter how long ago built or time honored, these honest do-gooders eagerly toss asunder all the past’s well-maintained kitchens – leaving in their wake shards of blackened rocks and blowing ashes strewn everywhere. Like a terrorist bomb, the result is chaos where there once was harmony. Quotas certainly allow (and anticipate) more than one party at a lake, but after arriving at many the chosen (popular) wilderness destinations, it is all-too-common to discover only one site usable, the others available littered with craters - scars of long-established fire rings, broken down and rebuilt continually, soot-black rocks, grimy ashes - an uninviting camp setting…why?

This story begins where Yosemite Creek crosses beneath a thick square-timbered bridge - highway 120, just a tad east of White Wolf and its HSC. Yosemite Creek, depending on the time of year, (and how prevalent the previous winter’s snowpack), can be meek and unassuming, or enraged and rambunctious. Mid June, soon after the Sierra waters start running clear, this day found me trekking down the six-mile trail to the top of Yosemite Falls, traversing both smooth granite slabs and dense expanses of conifer. The now formidable creek carved its way all along the downhill plunge, following the glacier carvings through burn and forest, polished granite and rich loam, the further down the canyon, the more scenic the display of erosion’s powerful signature. At about the four-mile mark, deep sinuous pools, twisting and green, serpentine with moss…hidden polished labyrinths swirling slick, water serene and dark, then fast moving white… round boulders and miniature cascades. Fallen giants, decayingly aromatic …pungent green, darting Rainbows and Eastern Brookies hide furtively below wide still shadows. A mile above the falls, the trail here politely leaves the stream just when the canyon opens and the current slows…for those working delicate spoons, wading silently – the fishing forecast exceptional.

After visiting all the pools on the way down Yosemite Creek, (at least all those of the last 2 miles or so), back on trail, and the familiar YPS signpost signals options – one side left - up and over the ridge to the upper falls, the other down - to the switchbacks leading to the Valley, hot pastrami, cold fruit, and beer. Choosing left, popping over a rounded ridge, in the flat rocks above, there is ample evidence of numerous past campfires speckling the stone with obvious black scars contrasted against the carrot-colored granite. Staring down at the rough hand-hewn bridge below, the trail continues, crossing over the catch-pools above the falls, throngs backpackers in evidence, most celebrating their 2500 ft climb from the crowded Valley below. There are many use trails here, the most notable winds down, through massive corridors of granite, eventually finding its way to the staircase above the falls; there a steel cage – the overhang – the falls announcing the onset of its spray above left, then disappearing acrophobicly into the 3000-foot void below.

Setting up my camp high in the rocks above the creek, See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
I did not have long to wait before the previously unknown professor and his class walked up, backpackers all, looking for a campsite that would comfortably hold their esteemed instructor and his nine prized students. Paul, the professor – from Pierce Jr. College – stated that he was teaching (was doing some extensive research on) the feeding habits of two of the local species: Oncorhynchus mykiss and Salvelinus frontinus; he was teaching a class on fly-fishing techniques - ‘bows and brookies. Without a word, and only after a brief nod in my general direction, they all threw down their backpacks and proceeded to set up camp all around the general vicinity of my tent. (I do not know why this always happens – it does though, but I learned to accept the inevitable long ago.)

They seemed to know what they were doing; tents erected in moments, worthwhile brand name gear soon appeared… strewn everywhere…previous duties assigned – a giant fire ring quickly constructed from the available soot-black rocks scattered about in abundance. I just sat back and watched the entire ordeal unfold. The only hitch in the obviously pre-planned agenda came when they began foraging for firewood – here in this confined, well-used canyon, there was none available – gone long ago. A brief huddle…plan 2…they marched up and started attacking standing trees…anything that was wood; that is where I stepped in and called a brief “time out” on their engineering endeavor. Calling Paul over, I asked him what the __ he was doing; I did not mind the intrusion on “my space” initially, but when they started attacking and destroying standing timber…well, something here needed fixing. Diplomatically, I stated aloud that any standing trees in Yosemite – all the High Sierra for that matter - are always sacred – they must remain entirely untouched – part of the local flora. If they wanted to build a fire to cook their freshly caught fish, (and they had a ton too), they had a few other choices available to them. Either they could backtrack the mile back to where there was ample downed and dry wood behind, or they could follow my lead up to Yosemite Point and collect pine knots from the rotting tree carcasses along the way. They looked at me puzzled, as if I was the one speaking in a foreign tongue - pine knots. Looking back to their professor for guidance, him signaling that I might be right here, they asked me to lead on.

I told three of them to bring along empty backpacks – big ones; they needed them to hold the knots and probably would be getting them a bit dirty too. The trail down across the creek then led up to the point overlooking Lost Arrow – a local climbing Mecca and a great view of the Valley below. It is possible to walk right up to the edge – (most people actually crawl on their bellies) – and look directly down the 3000 foot vertical drop. Along the way, off on the left, downed hulks of fallen conifers lie rotting, untouched – the massive wood trunks now like sponge – soft and easily broken, I walked up, kicking easily into the soft mass at my feet. There, protruding out, darker foot-long projections - solid, easily lifted out from among the rotting wood, the places where the branches connected to the trunk – saturated with oil – pine knots.

These were bright kids, easily comprehending the situation (today’s youth); after seeing my solution, they were eager to be the first also to assail their own rotting conifer cadaver for themselves. All along the ridge, they scattered, attacking the downed wood and quickly filling up the backpacks with hundreds of available pine knots. That night, invited to join them on their feast – they had to, it was my site - we all sat by the fire, enjoying the sumptuous trout dinner, and regaling in telling the stories that always come all to easy under these circumstances.

On a brief aside here, Biology (Zoology) professors are notorious for their explicit campfire stories…mostly about nature’s freakish anomalies, or the potential worse case scenario ever. Was it half-truth or fiction… he stated that they were all “actual” recorded accounts of supposed true wilderness follies. (Stories of bats, Gila Monsters, poison nettle, ticks… climatic shifts); if it was gross, the professor had a harrowing story. The next morning, bright and early the professor pulled me aside; he wanted me to give a walking lecture on the indigenous plants found along the trail as we made our way down the miles of switchbacks back down to the Valley. I am a solo hiker, and even though I nodded, unfortunately I may have hiked a bit faster than they did. Looking back after a half mile, one could see the whole class strung out far above me – the distance between us gradually increasing on each subsequent turn – I was gone.

Months later, in the mail, a thick envelope appeared - written on official Pierce Jr. College stationery, Los Angeles (from the San Fernando Valley – off Winnetka). There inside, Paul included a quickly scribbled note (from each student too); personally thanking me for giving them what I thought was just common hiking knowledge. It appears that this last trip was all about teaching - fire rings and pine knots.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby markskor » Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:50 pm

The Flat Straw Hats…at Stoneman Meadow 3/18/2006

Yosemite National Park, federal land…federal regulations: the Valley floor is an established metropolis, make no mistake; it has the grocery stores, library, housing, sanitation departments, fast food…all the infrastructure necessary to support 20,000 strong each crowded summer night. It also has its own police force (straw hats, horses, and badges), its own legal classifications, its own jail, its own judge, and its own specific procedures for handling any infringing situation, big or small, real or imagined. Located just west of the stone Wilderness Center building, the well-built but ancient fortified bastion, the YNP police building – YNP operates under federal law and all that that entails – the building itself imposes its somber presence on any who dare enter there. Heavy bars locking cold – secure, impersonal…not totally unlike entering the regime of a military foreign country.

Once, many years back, some beautiful woman foolishly coerced me into going there in order to bail out a casual acquaintance, her boyfriend – (She said she did not have any current ID with her, and it was only a $25 fine) – I was duped. It appears that the local constabulary operates by its own time-tested methodology. Knocking initially, someone unseen allowed me entrance into the police building’s front door - easily…then, asking me to produce my license, subsequently directing me to the second floor in order to post the pre-stipulated fine. At the top, entering a room to post the bond, the upstairs doors quickly slammed shut behind, heavy bars securing me almost immediately; my identification then taken, copied, and scrutinized even before a chance of any word spoken; had I known how YNP treated the innocent, I might not have entered there after all. They finally allowed my posting of bail, (for someone I barely knew) - after running all my personal statistics…in depth… through their master federal computer, only then releasing me, allowing me to escape into the daylight (freedom) – at last. I guess I passed muster, but I vowed never to tempt fate there again – who really knows about any dubious recorded past crimes and federal land.

I suppose there are valid reasons for the Gestapo-ish treatment. Park Bums (PBs) in Yosemite are notorious for spending long weeks, months even, without venturing away from summer’s easy living on the Valley floor, surviving well, only on the money garnered from collecting empty cans. At ten cents a can, (the current park redemption value) an enterprising collector can easily amass $30 - $50 a day, just going through the many common trash receptacles on an easy afternoon stroll. Protecting basic family units from the likes of these PB rapscallions must be a full time job, for all the time that YNP dutifully devotes to this ongoing project. In retrospect though, without the parks constant vigilance, many others of highly questionable character would easily join the scofflaw ranks here, living off the dregs that others throw away, increasing the crime rate, and bring down the quality of life throughout the entire park. Therefore, in this particular case, I salute the rangers – a job well done… kudos to them all!

Yes, the presence of the YNP police is a necessary evil, one specific walk-in campground (intentionally un-named here) is especially vulnerable to the whims of the opportunists staying there; in an instant, routinely taking any unguarded piece of equipment left susceptible - gone. Once unknowingly, setting up my tent in this campground, (the one across from the Lodge), leaving an expensive stove and my WM Apache safely stored inside. When I returned, the same wannabee climbers were still sorting their gear as before, many the same denizens were still wandering about, but my stove and bag were now missing. Contacting the local ranger to report the theft, they told me that this type of activity was rampant there – the climbers living there taking care of their own (“taking” the operative word here) - beware.

Twenty years back or so, the park attempted to provide the backpackers an alternative - another walk-in campground option – Yellow Pine I think they called it – down Valley, across the Merced from Yosemite Lodge. It was just far enough away from the masses, across a bridge and ¼ mile down the trail from anywhere important, conveniently out of earshot of the regular family gatherings. I stayed there more than once; it was more than adequate, somewhere for those of us without cars, temporarily down from the high country, to camp without disturbing the rest of the Valley. YNP regularly policed this camp; making sure all paid the minimal required fee ($2 per night), and just generally making their presence known to all who used the Yellow Pine campgrounds. The park service police came at night too – late night – on their regularly scheduled patrol; writing out $25 tickets to anyone found sleeping outside of the designated sites there.

I remember a good friend, camping right across from me, innocently quiescent in his sleeping bag on a plastic ground cloth, the ranger rudely awakening him early morning (5 AM?) there for having the bottom half of his bag just outside of the staked boundary. He got the $25 ticket and we joked afterwards that it only should have been $12.50, as half of him remained legal throughout the entire ordeal. About fifteen years ago, in the great Valley spring flood, this specific campground washed away, and the powers of Yosemite never re-opened it, or even sought another in the same location; I suppose that it was, at best, a temporary experiment - failed. Please forgive these ramblings, as I am just intending to give some background to the thought patterns that must certainly go through the heads of the rangers as they constantly patrol this, our magnificent park. They are thankfully present here for our protection, and without their continued presence, the park would not be the Eden that it is today.

This story actually begins much earlier, July 2, 1970, to be exact, on my first unsupervised “non-parental” visit to Yosemite National Park. (I realize that I already documented this story once before on the earlier “lost forum”, so anyone who has already read it; I apologize for the redundancy.) There were four of us, freshmen all from UCLA – summer vacation – not old enough to drink but self-admittedly wise beyond our years. We were young, opinionated, stupid, and cocky…not totally unlike the characters portrayed on today’s TV comedy “The 70’s Show” – in all regards … but without the foreign kid. Ron had a yellow Volkswagen van; underpowered…slow…I still do not know how it made it up the hill from Fresno. (It did get great gas mileage though, even though gas only cost $.25 a gallon back then.) We all were backpackers – or so we thought – our gear packed - ready, intending to try the cables of Half Dome for the first time via the mist trail – a three or four-day adventure at best - tomorrow. Arriving in the park, setting up camp in one of the pre-reserved sites there – I forget which one, but it was one of the established family sites – camp set, we eventually made our way down to Curry Village, primarily for pizza, but also to check out the babes, and to hang.

Growing up in California in the 70’s, one cannot help recalling the experience - the influence of the Haight-Ashbury scene, and all that those days entailed. Much akin to the San Francisco concert scene of that era, one could not stroll past the concert lines at the Fillmore Auditorium or Winterland – (before a Janis Joplin or a Jimi Hendrix concert?) without many the muted whisper, the offer of marijuana - available for sale. Curry Village, at that time, had much of the same flavor, that meadow to the immediate north, un-roped – free then to use, (not like today’s designation - always under constant re-construction)… hundreds of youngsters wandering about – unsupervised – 70’s style. There we were, in the green soft meadow, diverse groups of people, circles… in the tall grass sitting, playing music, “grooving on the scene”, and getting high. (Though, unlike the documented confessions of former President Clinton, we did inhale.) Before I proceed any further, I must clarify something here; I am not advocating any illicit or illegal behavior, only relating a historic event – a true story that occurred long ago, when I was much younger.

That night, we retired to our campsite, amazed at the great weather, the scenery, our freedom, and good fortune; we even voted among ourselves, deciding to postpone our backpacking adventure one extra day in order again to revisit the meadow tomorrow – it was great fun there. The next day, much like the day preceding, the meadow quickly filled with pungent circles of instant friends, some playing music …guitars and flutes – some singing along, some playing drums on coffee cans or whatever…others just listening quietly…all enjoying the essence of the high granite walls, the waterfalls, the music, and the pot. I recall somebody selling three-finger, $10 bags, Acapulco Gold, Thai stick. There was no thought of any violence…at least not from the meadow crowd. This unbridled activity remained much the same, from noon until about three; the meadow definitely had that distinct San Francisco concert flavor and aroma – with all the desired accouterments and trimmings. Then, around three in the afternoon, it all changed – forever; that is the day I realized - I grew up.

From out of the north hidden, out from behind the trees, unannounced, 30 – 50 mounted police charged violently into the previously peaceful “hippie” circles. Riot helmets now replaced the familiar straw ranger hat, batons swinging freely…horses galloping…vengeance rampant. Not seeming to care whether they attacked innocent or guilty, anybody in the meadow, Stoneman Meadow, became fair game for the federal police onslaught. See:
http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
Boldly charging at anyone available, horses trampled teenagers, batons swung in anger intending carnage on any person within arm’s reach; it was pure unmitigated rage. In the meadow, a small meandering stream wandered, still visible today, but only from outside the current roped walls of restriction. As the youth scattered in fear, many blindly tripped over this stream, falling hard and getting up, only to encounter again, immediately afterwards, more batons swung at their heads - anger. It was complete chaos, something similar to the conditions born out of the documentation seen of the Chicago or the Watts riots; I remember the blood-red rage in the eyes of the mounted – nothing peaceful there – only blatant animosity shown for all those unfortunate to be on the ground. The only difference between the published riots seen on TV, and those experienced here, was that the victims here were mostly all underage white kids.

Losing sight of my cohorts, I remember a young girl, falling into the stream, a charging horse trampling her, blood spurting profusely from the wounds on her back. Another kid, my age, fell hard, breaking his leg…the bone protruding out from under the skin…the mounted police reaction - smiling broadly at the sight below, obviously seeing the pain but oblivious of any feeling or empathy. I escaped shortly, heading for the road nearest Curry Village, almost making it too before losing consciousness from an unseen blow to the back of my head. Somehow, someone thankfully pulled me up, saving me from certain arrest – (many were not so lucky), but my further recollections of the rest of that afternoon (and the next day too) fuzzy at best. When I shut my eyes though, the vivid recollections of the obvious hatred instantly return; my preconceived notions of family-taught police fairness gone – now replaced by brutality etched dramatically by their hostility.

Thinking back, Yosemite did have to do something; blatant dope smoking is definitely something you do not want within the National Park boundaries, especially in the middle of the Valley proper – YNP did have the right. Yes, we all were illegally smoking pot openly, unconcealed, totally breaking the law – stupid. I think however, that the response was perhaps a bit heavy-handed – over the top, and conceivably, the YNP could have handled the situation quite differently if they had a mind to. One or two mounted police – wearing the familiar flat straw hats we all know and see today – feasibly would have had the same desired effect on us. A few police cars with bullhorns might have gotten the point across non-violently; instead, the park simply demonstrated brute violence as its primary option, intending a massive show of force to get its point across. From the shear numbers of mounted police on hand, this was an obviously a pre-rehearsed and well-thought out ploy. It certainly worked, but is there any wonder why today’s youth treat police with suspicion and distrust?…who is actually at blame?...is it all one-sided?

I often think back to that day – my official coming of age - July 3, 1970, especially whenever I am in the Valley and I see a mounted YNP ranger. I always look twice to see if he has on a riot helmet or the flat straw hats…at Stoneman Meadow.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Rosabella » Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:39 pm

This story leaves me speechless, Mark. No, I don't remember it from the old forum. What an emotional roller-coaster this story took me on. I do remember Yosemite and the JMT in the 70's. And the hut on Muir Pass...

Thank you Mark.
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Postby markskor » Sun Apr 30, 2006 7:14 pm

To Tami: 4/30/2006

Maybe it is the water, the altitude, the ubiquitous pungent smell of the omnipresent clean dirt, (the phase of the moon?)…whatever… the minute one catches that first glimpse – (you know the one)…that recognizable turnout just past the second tunnel – something always happens to the soul of each first timer that instantly triggers a massive case of Sierra stupidity. We all have seen it, (all too often, I might add). Autos crammed with family units creeping along at 5 MPH, oblivious – lines of traffic futilely bunched up behind; loaded RVs lurching, suddenly stopping directly in the middle of the wooded highway for no apparent reason; sporadic left turns made unannounced from right lanes; cars going the wrong way on clearly marked one-way roads – somehow they are all completely unaware. There is a theme here: contagious, accepted, awe-inspired idiocy – perhaps it is the first discernment of a higher power: recognition of man’s futility and ineptness that finally overtakes us all. What can you say…Yosemite.

Pictures never seem to do it justice, (at least mine never do.)…the sheer granite cliffs…stair-step hanging cascades...gossamer wisps dangling precariously everywhere…originating on high – somewhere distant… hidden… falling and trailing off, fading into nothingness… a thousand fresh waterfalls. There are prisms of color – a veritable kaleidoscope: the golden alpenglow and that magic moment immediately after a summer squall… the omnipresent gray puffy clouds obscuring the richly veined and mottled walls; that deep distinct shade of azure Sierra sky… rays of a masked sun spotlighting a hundred different shades of verdant wonder. The vertical splendor dumbfounds, certainly reducing the human condition into one of insipid frailty, invoking a newfound respect for nature, sensitivity towards humility. I recognize often that infirmity of overpowering awe, one that turns the most discerning city-dweller into a blathering idiot, respectful now but temporarily overcome – well, some overcome … filled with mystic admiration and wonder – others untouched …blind…sated instead with other unnamed character deformities …perhaps lacking the capacity…no soul.

That first seed planted: those lucky enough to revisit the park repeatedly invariably undergo a predetermined transformation…over time – an evolution …cathartic. Those few, strong enough, those willing and able, perhaps with only a little help of a seasoned guide, someone experienced… a mountain guru, the uninitiated gradually renovate themselves from “wannabees” into our fortunate ranks of knowledgeable backpackers…chosen. The makeover predictable - a new spirit emerges, not unlike the proverbial Phoenix, reborn and revitalized with a new perspective, more appreciative of life and righteously somehow aligned with the un-seen forces nature: (sometimes a bit pompous but certainly stronger and more appreciative of the fragility of the wilderness and the true meaning of life.) Ethics and morals change over time too, those previously blind and unknowing now begin to see; they discover subtle nuances before seemingly unaware, now plainly evident, maturing into caretakers of our beloved Sierra…usually with attitude.

As a rule, I still typically prefer to backpack solo, not that I believe that being alone is in any way superior, but I consider myself an educated, discerning, but set-in-my-ways, soon to be 50-year-old, SOB who would much rather listen to nothing, 25 miles in, than subject myself to the constant senseless drivel of babbling inane masses. My past life consisted of a distinct dichotomy of values. For nine months of the year, I taught – (high school math and science) during the day, and then worked a second career at night… that of a distinguished Food and Beverage peon. Both occupations are honest but hardly noteworthy; I only mention them here because both my personal choice of venues invariably provided for a regular hiatus – typically, three months off during the beloved summer months…the Sierra Nevada calls. Most of the year, I pined longingly for the higher mountain climes of my beloved Sierra – my summer home for the past 20 years – usually somewhere in or around Yosemite and always-above 10,000 feet. For nine months a year, I gladly prostrated myself proudly, swallowing pride, subjecting myself to the subjective wants of others: sometimes - answering infantile questions, most usually better left un-asked… (Today’s kids are much too self-absorbed in themselves…they do not listen anyway). Then at night, I worked double-time, spending long hours providing polished and opulent service to the affluent but demanding high snobbery of our society. I enjoy certain aspects of both occupations, and always performed both jobs with a sincere smile, but am constantly counting the days and aching for the freedom that only the Sierra summer invariably provides...a time to refresh the spirit anew.

This tale begins 15 years ago, in Palm Springs, sometime in April, on a weekday. Only recently relocated, freshly removed from the friendly debauchery of my last neighborhood, the New Orleans French Quarter, not teaching in California yet, I now only toiled one job as a bartender in a posh Palm Springs upscale establishment – Melvyn’s. It was at that time the only 5-star establishment in that part of the desert, a favorite dining and watering hole for the local luminaries and other various entertainment nabobs visiting from who-knows-where into the prestigious SoCal Coachella Valley. My current job mainly consisted of keeping finely etched crystal glasses full of over-priced cocktails in an upper class, horny, aging, meat-market environment – (oh, it also had a piano bar) – good bucks… and like most of the major Palm Springs eateries…soon temporarily closed (as usual) for the upcoming summer months ahead. Slow tonight, my bar shift over after the dinner hour…still early, I said adios to my fellow bartender, took my black and whites out the door, and headed down Palm Canyon Drive to seek out another familiar watering hole – somewhere with a younger clientele and cheaper libations.

There she was…the new cocktail girl…long legs, short skirt…pouty lips…and big… eyes (ha! got ya on that one, huh)…my soon to be wife. Tamara, my beloved Tami, her and I together from the start…from the very beginning she said she completely understood about my passion for the mountains. She mentioned she had never been to Yosemite herself, but she took it all in stride when I soon subsequently left her temporarily for the two summer months ahead, starting in late June. Soon after my return, that September, she moved in with me, and never left; we married a few years later. I guess we all have to grow up eventually…I waited as long as I could.

Most women expect gifts…the nature of the beast…however, along with the usual crapola, I began bringing home some “extra” surprises: one day a Gregory Deva backpack, another day a Sierra Design down bag, and one afternoon I took her out unexpectedly and fitted her with “the kind” Vasque boots, her size…she thought I was crazy. (There is always a problem when you own the best equipment yourself… you have to be consistent, but damn… ka – ching - $$$.) Anyway, after a while, the gear closet filled to the rafters - (sound familiar?), she started to look at me a bit strange; did I really expect her to wear this expensive gear…her…a city girl…backpacking? She really appeared flummoxed after I told her where we were going that next summer… (You know where)…Yosemite, first for a short week, then later (if it all worked out), for an extended two-week backpacking adventure...a man has to do what a man has to do.

I think her previous idea of ruffling it was not using valet parking when we were going out to eat. I have to admit that she was willing and strong, (and she had the great body), but you could see it in her eyes that she was a bit unsure over this upcoming wilderness episode, especially when I explained to her in depth about what a bear does in the woods. I honestly thought she was going to leave me right there and then.

Boots well broken in, gear fitted, the appointed day arrived…the car packed and headed back to Yosemite… again – finally (sorry about all the previous ramblings and the length of time it took to get to this mountain part of the story). Yes, we too stopped at the scenic turnout afore mentioned above, and yes, she too came down with the typical case of Yosemite awe - (Sierra stupidity?). A few days spent in the Valley…rafting…the tourist trail up to the Emerald Pool above Vernal…cocktails at the Curry Bar…we were soon enough sufficiently Valley acclimated. I figured that doing YNP in gradual steps might be better than jumping right in and backpacking away from all civilization right from the very start. The short drive up to Tuolumne, obtaining the required wilderness permit, the repacking of the food; she took it all in stride, but who really knows what she was thinking about during all this new fangled foreign activity – she was now, at least for a short spell, temporarily quiet – (ah, for the good old days).

That June night, our first night in the Tuolumne campground – the “A loop” along the river – it snowed…WTF? I remember midnight, her poking me in the ribs; waking me…she wanted to make sure I saw the snow too…asking me if this was normal, and just making sure that I really knew about all this nature, “outdoorsy-type” stuff. The next day we were off to Cathedral Lakes via the fisherman trail up from Tenaya. Our intended route circuitous; we pointed for the Cathedrals first…maybe a quick X-country jaunt over to Matthes Lake, then Sunrise Lakes, and back down to Tenaya… I wanted to start out easy, 3 - 4 nights, just to see how she would do and felt about it all, before we did any extended second trip. Her first 400 feet, wearing a semi-loaded backpack for the first time, she immediately tripped and fell over a log; her leg bleeding slightly, I thought it was all over, but to her credit, she got up instantly and continued on, now leading our way up the granite rock face …hooked. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25

I am not going to bore you with any day-to-day accountings of this trip…or the next one, a month later (You know I would not marry a woman who would not be able to hang… didn’t you?), but I will regale you with a few memorable highlights of that summer’s adventures. Camping at Townsley Lake, near Vogelsang HSC, one night she asked me when we were going to see our first bear. As if on cue, not less than 10 seconds later, a big brown came from around a nearby rock…her eyes bugging out, but never showing any trace of panic. She was starting to get the idea; we both laugh about it today.

At Bernice Lake, she bonked…hit the wall… just a few hundred feet below the ridgeline of the lake, just after crossing Vogelsang Pass. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... ayer=DRG25
I told her to rest, take a nap there, in the middle of a beautiful flower-covered meadow while I took my pack up to our intended camp…I reassured her that I would be back in 20 minutes to carry her pack up for her. Here she discovered that Sierra alpine meadows, while soft, idyllic, and majestic, hold millions of ravenous mosquitoes…a valuable lesson learned here about the importance of DEET. At Bernice, she caught her first rainbow trout – a 2-pounder too – but unfortunately, I lost it trying to get the hook out; (she still brings that up whenever we fish again). That night, sitting on a rock lakeside, consuming our most grand trout feast, a fat marmot joined us for dinner, sitting in the middle of the same rock – only feet away – between us actually, obviously comfortable with us, consuming all the fish that stuck to the bones that we tossed his way. Tami also broke her fishing rod here – (I had bought her one of those cheaper Trailmasters – not the good model I carry), and from then on, for the remainder of the trip, we shared mine. Now, she deals only with the best…It has not changed much to this day.

We spent four nights at Washburn Lake; fires legal, plenty of available firewood, great fishing, few if any visitors…my favorite Sierra Lake – it was glorious. By the end of the fourth day here, she was building fires, hanging food, and to her credit – turning quickly into a truly accomplished woodsperson. We played a fishing game there – a contest of sorts: fly and bubble, each had five casts - one point for a fish, a half-point for a documented but unsuccessful strike before turning the rod over to the next person for their turn – damn if she did not win – honestly. The prize she selected was for me to heat some water and wash her hair for her – fair enough - a pleasure just having her along; I guess there were more things I still had to learn myself about hiking with a woman.

Little Yosemite Valley – the old campground with the blue porta-potties: this was the last night of a most successful adventure. I turned in a bit early, Tami decided instead to stay up late and finish the last few chapters of her paperback novel, unfortunately draining the last bit of juice out of the flashlight batteries – I slept unknowing. Sometime after midnight, (you guys know how this goes), a rustling noise outside of the tent …again, a poke in the ribs…something outside demanded my attention. Having to get up anyway…no real problem, (yea right…if you believe that), I reached for the flashlight – not knowing it was drained…nothing… then cursing the darkness, pulled down the zipper of the tent and stuck my head outside… right into the side of a bear. For those never lucky enough to experience a bear that close…bears reek; they smell foul, are more than a bit greasy, and the hair is not at all soft and cuddly (as in the famous Charmin commercials). Not being able to see that well, I could only barely make out the bear trying to abscond with her backpack, obviously something left in the top pocket grabbed its attention. Lucky, the only real damage was a ripped zipper…and the copious amounts of bear slobber – another lesson learned – the hard way.

Two days later found us again above the Mist Trail, coming down, almost home… battling the hundreds of rude tourists crowding along on the misty-covered stair steps of Yosemite’s most popular trail. Interesting, this the exact same trail she walked on unsure when first in Yosemite only a few months before…now heading back – now nicely seasoned, she was different. Before, she knew nothing about the mountain ways, now only a few wilderness months later, she acted as if she was born of the mountains …energetic, respectful, and even a bit arrogant, somewhat intolerant of those not exhibiting the same correct, newfound Sierra manners and values.

I warmly gazed at her (proud) as Tami now started to plainly exhibit that certain cocky swagger that comes from completing a successful backpacking adventure…the pack lighter, the step bolder, and the smile broader. We all have it; some more than others, but to some extent, there is certainly that self- assured air that typifies anyone confident, alive, and at peace with their role in the outdoors. There is that attitude…a glow – (it plainly shows through the trail dirt) – that separates successful backpackers from all others. I cannot put my finger on it directly…but I always see it, (a lot); it is especially evident at the end of any wilderness adventure.

At the Emerald Pool, we paused a quick minute, and Tami, a bit flustered now …unexplained…stopped and retied her ensolite pad low, horizontal…across the bottom of her Gregory backpack. When I asked her why she now carried it this way (before it was attached higher…vertical…closer in) …she just smiled – the smile of someone with a mission…and sinister master plan. When we hit the paved part of the trail below Vernal, the crowds thick, she asked me (told me actually) if it was OK if she led the rest of the way down. Humbly, I watched her strut her stuff ahead, (quite the vision actually)…calling out “trail right” as she passed others on the right – a confident demeanor now plainly evident…hearing my words echo from her lips. “Trail left”…please…”trail left” she called out, trying to pass another couple holding hands and standing directly in the middle of the trail – oblivious and blocking all…not missing a step, she politely barged right through.

Then she started walking even faster, past some dude I vaguely recognized that had passed us earlier on the trail, a mile or so above. Without a word she passed him… close on the left (him on the right), then quickly spinning left, clipped him with her backpack…putting him forcibly, directly into a granite wall. Now smiling…obviously feeling much better, “That turd grabbed my butt earlier…payback is a bi-tch…you know, I really think I am going to like this backpacking thing.” I know I did not teach her that, I guess there are some things that she did not have to learn…some things just came naturally to Tami.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby mountaineer » Mon May 01, 2006 10:05 pm

Great stories! I loaned my tent to a cousin and her husband. they brought it back a week later with a friggin' hole burnt through the bottom of it. Yep, you guessed it, a butane curling iron was the culprit!

Met lots of cool people but only one famous one in the backcountry. Ran into Ed O'Neill(Married, With Children) along Bear Creak near the Lake Italy trail one day. He said Hollywood drove him nuts sometimes and he would just split for the mountains without telling anyone when he wanted to clear his mind.
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Postby markskor » Tue May 16, 2006 10:37 am

Kids: 5/16/2006

Having kids changes everything: that once proud, independent reliance on individual prowess - going solo – free - doing what you want, when you want, how you want – now gone – out the window – kaput – at least for the better part of the next 18 years. Countless hours researching the latest ultralight, state-of-the-art gear, staring longingly at 5-color lithograph glossy advertisements announcing miniscule (if any real) weight savings, obtaining the latest high tech “in” toy, shedding pounds – this is now all hopelessly (ridiculously) passé. There is no more “I” – replaced now with “you”, constant vigilance never-ending, lest one casual miss-step… (Well, you know the rest of how that story could end). All those long hours accumulating a plethora of personal wilderness behavior – how best to do this, that, or the other…blown out the window. You might as well resolve to yourself that they, your cherished offspring, are not going to listen to you much, or even have anything to do with what you have to say for long – damn kids.

It is not to say that today’s kids are stupid or inept… that cannot be – completely absurd; they carry your genes …documented clones of a once proud, dynamic, rock-climbing, mountain aficionado – apples falling in close proximity to the tree of a wilderness god as it were. It is just that kids today just do not seem to understand why and worse yet, they simply do not give a rat’s ass either. To make matters even worse, they loudly profess that they certainly know more than you do, on any and all possible varieties of subjects…just ask them, they will be all too glad to enlighten you – at great lengths too. You initially try to show them by good example, hoping that they, just perhaps, can possibly avoid some of your past wilderness mistakes, past gaffes, peccadilloes…but alas, not so…it is not to be. You have to understand right from the get-go that there will be no further leading, or setting of any pace on the numerous trails ahead – your wilderness position now consists of (in no particular order) chauffeur, mule, cook, maid, nurse, psychologist, janitor, and best of all, expedition caboose. You still ask the wife, “Dear, can I go?”… “Of course you may, darling, but you are now taking the kids with you…right”….mumble, mumble… “Yes dear.”

Where to begin: First, let us start with a general discussion of the necessary changes and adaptations in the obligatory backpacking gear inventory. Pre-assembling this list of what is required has always been the subject of fantasy and wonder for us all – we start threads about it – dream about it – argue about it - what are the best choices available – all from a seemingly endless list of knowledgeable and reputable suppliers eager to separate us from our hard-earned wilderness dollars. We eagerly search out obscure ads from countless, enticing, well thought out, full color displays; mulling over specifications, their subtle messages dissected and debated endlessly in outdoor forums just like this one. They are all incalculable variations on a common theme – all now useless.

The selection of a new backpack comes first: before, it was exceedingly important for the pack to be just large enough to hold the minimum necessary equipment needed for as long as the anticipated trip might take - just enough room for one’s personal gear. (Would it be big enough for one week – less - maybe longer – lightweight – comfortable enough – fit – durability – room to hold a bear can – maybe a few well-placed straps to secure the tube holding the fishing gear?) Now, as they say on the TV show, the Sopranos …fugitaboutit! The svelte, ultra-lightweight, color matched, 32 – 4,000 CI, state-of-the-art, Gregory Z backpack – might as well stash it away somewhere safe: put it on hold for a future adventure. (Make it a perpetual garage shrine next to the cherished climbing rack and all the other expensive gear and never-to-be-used again-soon equipment on the wall); it helps to realize that your next real trip is probably only in your imagination anyway. In its place, purchase a dump truck pack; a cavernous hole with super-comfortable, heavy duty, reinforced straps, capable of holding never-before-imagined equipment – room for things you will never use yourself – you might as well go “super-size” expedition style here.

The rest of your personal, previously handpicked, expensive, lightweight gear will indeed come in handy though; it compresses nicely doesn’t it, stuffs down small, thus providing all sorts of extra room available for all your kid’s assorted and much needed paraphernalia that they beg you to bring along just to keep them occupied. The tent: before it was a 60 ounce (or less) wonder of modern engineering prowess, designed to keep one person dry efficiently, but, can it sleep three or four comfortably; if not, better pay a quick visit to REI and see what is there available that fits your budget – can you say sticker shock?. Figure on six + pounds minimum, maybe seven…more, including a rainfly, and best of all, you get to carry it all yourself; the wife might help you out some here, but you all know how that ultimately works out. After checking the prices, arguing that you will not need this circus-style monstrosity of a tent structure for too long anyway, and balking at paying $400 - $500 for something you steadfastly assert you do not really need, you eventually turn to eBay, or worse, make a compromise selection – Wal-mart…God, please shoot me now.

Cooking pots, before conveniently designed around the 1-liter size - perfect, now instead you require a 2-liter size or larger, add an extra bowl or two too, and cups, and do not forget the second spoon – it all adds up rather fast. Even though your offspring are small, you know you have to purchase the best for them – it invariably reflects back on you: Thermarest, sleeping bag, waterproof jacket, and clothes. Can you say, “Oh my God, this is costing a small fortune?” …hang on…it gets better still…you realize of course that they will require new ones – replacements – each and every season for the next ten years. Boots: they scream at you that they need hiking boots, real ones, just like dad; the irony here is that they outgrow them ten minutes after you get them out of the store.

You are going to teach the kids how to fish…right, it has been a major part of your wilderness avocation for so many years now – your sole justification for going into the Sierra (after the wife made you give up climbing big walls?) Make a choice; first, take all of your spinning gear and triple it, reels, rods, tubes etc – this is a great plan – makes all sorts of sense, on paper - except for the fact you will never again get more than a free second ever to fish again yourself - dad. Then, take all your lures; throw them into a tree…that is where they will soon wind up soon enough. You might as well have the fun of doing so yourself…if not they soon enough will find their way up there anyway. Learn to love the infamous birdnests…make up songs about them….cherish them…you are going to see mountains of these in the foreseeable future. Finally, even though you dearly love the art of fly fishing, the presentation, the graceful rolling cast, the way the fly lands softly and drifts down enticingly just past that rock hiding that flash of a behemoth lying just beneath the surface, poised to strike; learn instead to like salmon eggs, cheese, powerbait, and the dreaded (wait for it)… worms.

We are not even going to discuss the first four or five years; in your heart you know you still must venture into the Sierra still regularly, these infant years you discover…car camping. Tuolumne Meadows, the “A” loop along the river, Reds Meadows, camping among the ubiquitous Winnebagos and the incessant drone of generators – whining away unmercifully until all hours…, and best yet, Yosemite Valley, with the two story tents, lawn chairs, and color TVs of the familiar river campgrounds: you hit them all. There is nothing like sharing one of those beige canvas tents below Yosemite Lodge with the wife and two boys, conveniently placed just close enough to hear your next-door neighbor’s fart, the afternoons a pleasant, stagnant, 110 degrees inside – stifling . You find nary a breath of any discernable cooling breeze other than the drone of the small oscillating fan rattling and sputtering away nervously on the dresser. The rafting on the Merced is fine, the Curry Pizza sucks, and the crowds…; the part I liked best is when the entire family, jam-packed next to you on the shuttle bus, wears identical clothes - matched, reminiscent of a traveling wilderness circus troop – car camping.

Wait, while I am here, I feel the beginnings of a rant (well deserved I might add) coming on – concerning whoever is responsible for managing Curry Village. One of the most enjoyable man-made places ever in all of Yosemite was the Curry Deck bar – tucked slightly behind on the right, located just a few paces from the cafeteria; (the cafeteria is another deserving story too, but I will reserve that one for yet another missive.) Anyway, the ultimate bastion of adult civility in all of the Valley, was that Curry Deck – well placed, just a convenient stones throw overlooking the outdoor stage, and all else hectic in the immediate area. It was a place of adult relaxation among all the hustle and bustle that is Curry. Convenient, central, a place to supervise all things from afar – The kids could always easily find you, and not bother you; it provided a venue of quiet relaxation where haggard civilized adults could consume adult beverages in a grand location. There was room for ample enlightened conversation; occasionally live music (flute and acoustic guitar – I know because I often played there) accompanied this exchange of ideas worthwhile; never boisterous, always inviting; there was opportunity to spread out, relax, and contemplate the true meaning of a life grand in a truly worthwhile setting.

Then Yosemite got greedy and located a damn pizza/ice cream stand on the same sacred site. While obviously monetarily successful, the spirit of the deck invariably changed from idyllic serenity to…Disneyland crap. Where before it was peaceful, inviting, and soothing – a haven, now, much akin to Binion’s Casino on the opening night of a major Texas Hold’em tournament, crowded antagonistic family units judiciously guard precious tables like hawks, discourage conversation, scowl, and invite derision. You can watch it all unfold before you as they eagerly suck up pepperoni and ice cream like pigs at a trough: an Eden gone to hell. To add insult to injury, the pizza offered there tastes like reconstituted cardboard, the spilled gloppy confectionary attracts swarms of hornets, and the trashcans are continually overflowing with the ghastly remains of the many uneaten remnants. How much money is enough… like the trail quota system, when you put too many people in one confined area, the quality of the experience diminishes for all. Is anybody out there listening? Rant over.

Finally, seven years later, the youngest son deemed old enough, the wife acquiesced and finally actually allowed me to take the two boys backpacking. To put it all in perspective, this story, though not a solo backpacking story, actually began seven years ago in Tuolumne Meadows, a one-night campground reserved: my two boys and I readied and packed for their first backpacking adventure. One night for acclimatization at altitude, our plan’s listed itinerary was to follow Yosemite Creek, starting from highway 120 down to the base of the mighty falls, a three or four night adventure, on a real trail – just the boys. My oldest, Adam, now 14 – a sturdy but quiet youth, he had often seen me head out before to trails unknown but had never tasted the Sierra backcountry on his own terms. Filling out this adventure package was Bryan, now 7, all 70 pounds – no waist, all legs; (it was hard to find a “real” backpack that that he could actually tighten around an 18-inch waist.) Bryan shouldered a Tioga Jr – carrying his sleeping bag, a jacket, and the toilet paper; Adam toted the Gregory Diva, his sleeping bag, clothes, and some of the food; and dear old dad, bringing up the rear, lugged everything else.

True to my history, I am not going to bore you with any day-to-day accounting of the trip: that has never been my style, suffice to say that it was a success and I will just leave it at that. There were a few worthwhile observations that I will gladly relate however, in the hopes that they may prove insightful to you and your future experiences too. Bryan turned out to a pyromaniac; give him a campfire, a long stick, and enough time, and he will gladly worry any campfire to death. Forget the S’mores…he just incinerated the marshmallows, and then repeatedly asked for more. Adam, the great worrier, loved to complain, continually asked variations on the same basic question, “Dad, what is the worst possible thing that could happen if…?”

The most perceptive observations occurred at the top of the great falls proper, on that stair/steel-rail path heading down to the observation cage perched atop Upper Yosemite Falls.
Adam leading came down first, caught his first glimpse of the acrophobic 2,800-foot drop off, and immediately turned various shades of putrid green – petrified. No amount of coaxing could prompt him to make it that last 30 feet down to the metal caged observation platform. He froze, slowly turned around – shaking, inched upwards - and waited for us patiently atop the bluff. Bryan, however, displayed something inside yet unseen, scampered happily down, immediately vaulted over the railing, and started inching farther down the unguarded rock ledge closer to the falls. “Look dad, I am a climber” he yelled – showing no apparent fear…it was with a mixture of pride and apprehension that made me call him back to the cage. How can two boys, raised so identically, react so differently to the same stimuli?

That night, in the quiet security and solitude of the backpacker’s campground located behind the stables, we three shared a hushed family dinner and I took the moment to ask their thoughts about the trip, its outcome, and most of all, their innermost feelings now toward backpacking in general. Adam first, related that the preceding events noticeably scared him; regretfully he revealed to me that backpacking, especially among the high granite walls, might not be for him, and if he ever did it again, it would be somewhere without any of the trip’s extreme exposure. Bryan, on the other hand, was still obviously elated; he just looked up at me grinning and asked, “Dad, where and when are we going to next year?”

Thinking back in retrospect, I concluded that I had found my future-hiking companion, maybe lost another, and, when you added it all up, the family grew up more than a little. On our way out of Yosemite, after retrieving the Jeep, we paused again at the Tuolumne store, one last stop before we headed down the mountain to highway 395, and ultimately back to mom and our happy Palm Springs home. In the store, I gladly bought the boys whatever souvenir they desired as a cherished remembrance of the adventure. Just to put everything in perspective...Bryan threw up all over the counter - Kids.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:56 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby copeg » Tue May 16, 2006 2:08 pm

markskor wrote:I sincerely hope I am not boring you.


I don't think this can ever happen Markskor. I've read every one of your stories and love all of them. Keep them coming!
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