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Meeting people in the backcountry

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 9:26 pm
by copeg
Maybe this has something to do with backpacking solo so much, but one part of my backcountry trips I like so much is meeting people (and I thought I did it to get away from people ;) ). This last summer I met another solo hiker in Kern Canyon and we talked for hours. He even gave me my first taste of those high sierra wild raspberries. That was one of the many highlights of that trip. Another time many years ago I met a group of four near First Recess and we chatted it up till late at night around the campfire. Another time I met a skier on my way toward 1000 island lake in early spring, and miraculously encountered him again later that year on another ski tour. And then there was the time I met Rosie from our HST forums along the JMT and she offered that I tag along on her pack train horse ride.

So I ask, is it just me (or maybe just being solo), or do others love this part of the trip? What are some of your memorable occasions of meeting people in the backcountry?

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 10:13 pm
by markskor
Harriet Lakes…and Ron Mackie 11/1/2005

Solo backpacking the trails above Isberg Pass, (Yosemite), on my way back down from the three Harriet Lakes, it was one of those magic days - crisp, pungent, early summer, almost immediately after the torrential rains abated – all the world cleansed anew. Previously, I was heading up, x-country to that region below the park ridgeline – just the other side of Bench canyon, near Long Mountain – a previously found hidden High Sierra treasure. This day broke clean, a welcome relief from the two previous days where a steady dismal rain had severely limited all possible outdoor activity, the result, keeping me confined inside of my one-man tent.

This past storm, just over, was not one of those short afternoon Sierra rains – the type that steadily builds – increasingly swelling up over the ragged granite ridgeline, becoming more complex, filling the sky over the course of a few consecutive days. In this type of storm, the clouds steadily becoming thicker, blacker each successive afternoon – until in a burst of long-awaited thunder, the sky opens up, and all seems to let go - (begins) the downpour in earnest. Those types of storms are the typical summer’s norm – brief but violent … Sierra squalls - easy to predict to the experienced backcountry eye, anticipated by their pre-announcement of fierce winds – then lightning …pounding thunder…the ultimate show Sierra spectacular. This storm differed however, this was one of those dreaded continuous downpours – the dirge of the long-distance backpacker; bleak steady rains that quite possibly can kill an entire trip, destroying schedules – seemingly never-ending – depressing, dark, and dismal.

The trip up to this point was mostly uneventful, the trail coming down from Vogelsang Pass, below Bernice Lake, familiar. The well-traveled trail – a major Sierra freeway - soon branching off – now barely maintained… heading southeast, skirting the ragged cliffs high above Washburn, the scene below and outward dominated by the triangular silhouette of Red’s Peak – salmon colored, symmetrical, jutting proudly off in the distance. I had barely made it to the lowest of the three Harriett Lakes before the rain started. See: ... ayer=DRG25

Hank Johnston, noted author, backcountry aficionado, and angler, penned a small but detailed comprehensive analysis of Yosemite Trout Fishing – barely 16 pages long, but crammed full of pertinent fishing data. In the last few pages, he succinctly encapsulates the entire current Yosemite trout situation – every lake in the park holding trout - as he saw it, listing perhaps ten, (maybe one or two more) Yosemite lakes as “good” or better in terms of fishing prospects. The Harriet Lakes chain, a good thirty miles in from any road – the entire three lakes – he lists specifically and I quote, “Elv - 10,200’ lightly fished, 30 miles in, off the regular trail - good”. If you look closely at this pamphlet (it is much too small to call it a real book), this is his highest form of understated praise for any YNP tarn. Unfortunately, that afternoon, the rain started - slowly; I had just enough time to set up my North Face Pebble tent, on the shoreline above the lake before the steady drizzle actually began…not heavy rain mind you, but one destined to last for days.

The next morning, (the downpour never abated all night – no lightning though, only a steady hypnotic deluge) – the next morning, even though still raining slightly, I vowed to try my hand at fishing the lakes, not knowing whether or not I would ever see them again…it was a long journey just getting here. I unzipped the tent to find myself engulfed in a pea soup, dense fog – no visibility at all – the only sound the muffled patter of rain hitting the nearby granite rocks, accompanied by the sounds of large drops splattering on the tightly pitched rain fly of my tent. From somewhere in the distance I could now hear occasional muted peals of thunder – the glow of the lightning flashes only a dull flare exploding against a drab grey sky…and all just feet above me. The fog, (I supposed I was inside a cloud), seemed to part and swirl, allowing me short glimpses of the lake close at hand, briefly, then quickly dropping again, concealing the shoreline and the cliffs above entirely – mystical. Then a most amazing phenomenon occurred - something I have never seen before and probably will ever again. The clouds parted again or rather receded back down the mountain slope – similar to the way the ocean recedes away from the shoreline on an ebbing tide. Walking to the ridgeline dropping off below, I could see the thick opaque clouds beneath – a thick grey gossamer blanket - concealing obscure flashes of lightning inside, the sky above me a crystal azure blue, the lake behind calling out - waiting.

Using four-pound monofilament, I dragged fly and bubble (#12 – 14 mosquito) - across the surface, then spoons (white and pink Z-rays -1/8 - 3/16 oz) deep, snagging 10 – 14 inch trout on every fourth or fifth cast…many misses…sharp tugs…a few larger yanks coming sporadically too - all Rainbows. For three hours I fished – I had the lake all to myself, just above the clouds; the swilling eddies below hiding the views west, the sky cloudless above, the fish hungry. Then, much like a recurring tide, the churning clouds again returned, surrounding the lake and bring with them the rains of before; I retired back to my tent and down bag, content now to stay put – inside, warm and dry.

For that night and all the next, the rains continued – inclement conditions at best, blowing cold, unrelenting. At last, on the third morning, a temporary respite from the storm opened up: seizing the moment I quickly packed up all my belongings – still somewhat damp, and headed down the hill to the warmer and safer climes found far below. Finding the trail soon enough, due west… there by chance, I soon encountered upon an older gentleman – middle of nowhere too, solo – wearing expensive but well-used gear… on his back, only a small daypack, carrying along with him high quality fishing gear. It was just a nod and a quick smile in a determined passing, a brief recognition of competence between two complete strangers – 30+ miles in from anywhere. We just said hi and that was it - for then. Later that day below, at Washburn, I was just finishing setting my camp, hanging out a damp sleeping bag, drying out down and the rest of my clammy gear at the lower lake; that done I was getting ready to fish again – my favorite of all Sierra pastimes. I turned and there he came again – smiling just as before - solo. We shook hands this time, unstressed now, and he introduced himself as Ron Mackie.

The mere mention of his name triggered something distant; it seems that during the long hours of my tent incarceration of the storm previously, I had read and re-read everything I had with me, just to pass the time. It so happened that in Hank Johnston's afore mentioned trout book, it had a dedication to a Ron Mackie – Chief Back-Country Ranger, Yosemite National Park – prominently displayed in the dust cover in the front of the pamphlet. Grabbing the stashed pamphlet from the top pocket of my Yak-Pak, Trois Jour, I asked him if perhaps that dedication was for him… it was…we laughed - and then we spent a few hours drinking up the last of my Grand Mariner liquor stash, fishing the pools of Washburn Lake, and figuring out many of the major world's problems. (I can remember the moment as if it was yesterday.) Afterwards, afternoon now – getting late, the sun dropping beneath the ridge, he packed up his miscellaneous fishing gear pieces, lures, flies, etc into his daypack, and headed down the trail, the two miles or so to the rustic, wood-beamed ranger cabin located at the trail junction about one mile above Merced Lake. I watched as he left, pausing to fish the pools as he walked along.
Yup - solo trips are amazing; you can never tell who you will meet along the trail.

Another solo backpacking adventure…by markskor

References cited - Yosemite Trout Fishing, Johnston, H. (1985), Flying Spur Press

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 10:41 pm
by quentinc
Years ago, I met someone at Kearsarge Pass that I ended up dating for a while. Things ended (very) badly the next summer on a backpack we did together. But I certainly can't blame the Sierras for that!

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 11:12 pm
Great topic!

Posted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 1:27 pm
by Snow Nymph
I've met a lot of people that post on boards. Because of all my photos on the web, people recognize me.

The last one I met was Reinhold Metzger, record holder for the JMT (unsupported). We had e-mailed, but I didn't know what he looked like. ... 7592ntrupL

He was going for one last try to beat his record. It was getting late, but we talked for over 1/2 hr.

Posted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 4:42 pm
by Hikin Mike
I haven't done any solo BP trips. I did manage to meet someone on the trail near Chilnualna Falls that recognized me from my website. That was probably the highlight of that trip!

Posted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:39 pm
by Rosabella
Greg, that's one of the reasons I like to go solo... I don't know if people are a little more comfortable approaching a solo hiker (maybe they think we're lonely ;)), but I also find myself more open and interested in talking with passing hikers. When I am hiking solo, I don't ever remember feeling lonely - I guess it's kinda a diversion, but I've also met some really great people whom I've staid in contact with.

What I love most about hiking solo, though, is that I'm not responsible for anyone but myself. When I go with my sons, there is part of my consciousness that is always with them - are they comfortable, are they having fun, what if they get lost or hurt, etc. But when I'm by myself I am totally in the present - I am aware of every smell, sound, color, change in light... and sometimes it's just so much beauty it's overwhelming. I just don't have that same experience when I'm in a group.

Don't get me wrong -I do enjoy hiking with a fun group,but I REALLY like solo hiking!

Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005 12:40 am
by wingding
I like a mix of solo trips and trips with others. I tend to move at my own speed, which is doesn't match those I hike with so I'm alone along the trail most of the day anyway. I will try to stick with the group when I'm not out solo and the terrain is rough or we're traveling xcountry.

Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005 1:29 pm
by markskor
The Sweat Lodge 11/25/2005

It was just a bit off the JMT, deep, crossing paths with this other fellow backpacker - this meeting happening over 20 miles in, on one or another of my many Sierra solo-backpacking adventures. He went by the name “Charon”, skinny and wiry - long, blond…clean but scraggly…wild hair, wearing an ancient leather headband and a welcoming smile. (He announced that he took his name after the ferryman of Hades – or maybe it was after one of the moons of Pluto – I forget exactly – he mentioned them both in passing…). His real name though – after you actually came to know him some - was Tom Plunk. (I do not make this stuff up people.) Where he came from, who knows or cares, but Charon somehow magically appeared at this idyllic lake, way off trail, shod in moccasins, carrying mostly a 5-pound bag of brown rice, as well as some other basic primitive backpacking gear…all contained in an prehistoric external wood-frame backpack. One other thing stands out though, about that first meeting with Charon, besides his hunger, (seeing my rod case, he more than once admitted to hopefully enjoying the taste of a fine trout dinner); he was also toting an enormously large baggie of ultra-pungent, purple-haired, Humboldt stink bud – the kind.

He appeared a real head case but extremely knowledgeable - on any variety of subjects… perky, seemingly competent… mostly coherent anyway - eagle feathers, colored beads, attitude, and all the rest. (Despite all these strange trappings, I liked him immediately.) Now before we go any farther, both you and I must first admit, we have all met Charon’s like before - in one form or another – always along some bucolic back x-country Sierra trail, or near some isolated alpine meadow. He was part self-proclaimed professor, part reborn Shaman, and part space cadet. The Sierra successfully breeds this type, (clones them perhaps?), or maybe it is just that they somehow are magnetically attracted to me… as they always seem to show up at my campsite eventually anyway.

Back to the story…, we both found ourselves, just by coincidence now, late June, early afternoon, at this spectacular but intentionally unnamed Sierra lake, far off any main trail. The lake was one of those rare places where, besides its great fishing, it had two other added benefits. One, because of the relatively “lower” altitude, campfires were still barely just legal there (hint), and two, it was in an area that had an over-abundance of available firewood, freshly downed and lying scattered around. Better not to tell you where this was exactly, other than to say that Hank Johnston’s manual on Yosemite Trout Fishing rates the fishing there as great or better. (Johnson, 16)

Anyway, after the preliminary greetings, laughs, and “subsequents”, both of us sort of wandered apart, went our own ways for a bit, with the immediate intentions of setting up two individual camps – both camps were however, just about a stone’s throw apart from each other. There had also been some mention, along the line earlier, that this upcoming night, because of the great fishing potential – (God, there were boils everywhere – at noon too!), it would be nice if we should/could meet up later and share one common campfire/ trout/ bring-your-own, “potluck” dinner.

After making my camp presentable, setting up my tent, and hanging food bags, I prepared for an historic afternoon of anticipated and hopefully spectacular Sierra fishing. The big Browns were out, holding deep in the outlet current like dark green U-boats, silent but ready, calling out to me, like Sirens. I desperately wanted to meet them as well, as they were my intended contribution to the upcoming evening’s festivities. Charon, now also finished with his camp duties too and just hanging out - lakeside reading, sun baking him even browner (if possible), lying on a smooth slab of glacier-polish. He exhaled healthily on a ridiculously large and seemingly, continuously fresh, hand-rolled fatty, looked at all the abundance of firewood available, and said that while I fished for our dinner, he personally would take care of the arduous chore of making the evening’s campfire arrangements. It seems that Charon did not himself fish. Shaking my head and laughing, my path was headed down to the lake, Eagle Claw four-piece in hand. You could hear him calling out in the distance, “Dude, good luck…and…, Have you ever been in a sweat lodge... gonna make one for us tonight.” (Whatever the hell that was…). This all was soon forgotten; I was going fishing!

A good 3 hours later, hit camp again with a healthy stringer of browns and brooks, a few two-pounders – dinner – more than enough…, only to discover that our man Charon was indeed quite the ambitious back woods builder. While fishing on the far side, deep-dragging Panther Martins and Z-rays, watching wild browns do their tail-walks, our man, Charon, had been busy. On the beach, close to the lake, he had erected a pyre, replete with large logs, deadwood crisscrossed and stacked neatly. On closer inspection, you could see where he inserted many, large, bowling-ball-sized boulders into this large stack. All told, this impressive display showed quite a bit of ingenuity, as it was a good 6 feet high, equally as wide, and it had maybe 15 – 18 boulders interspersed throughout the pile of gnarled pine and cedar.

About 10 yards away from this pile, equi-distant away from the lake, also standing atop the coarse Sierra sand, sat a dome-tent like structure – “the lodge”. He boasted that he made the frame from six green saplings, bent over, twisted, and tied together – all natural; he designed it to be about the size of a good 3-man tent. (It rather looked a little like a Wal-mart special.) Charon covered over the entire structure with scraps of plastic, bark, leaves, and my plastic ground cover as well as his, anything he could find to wrap it up tight. Inside of the “lodge”, a bit off-centered and away from the door, he had painstakingly dug a large hole - about 3 feet across and equally as deep.

Well …we did have that great trout dinner, completed with Ritz crackers, wild onions, and you guessed it…brown rice (go figure!). At just a tick before dusk - “It is now time”, he said, and in one Ohio Blue Tip motion, he fired this whole bonfire thing up. Looking back at it now, that night was a bit nippy and the fire indeed mesmerizing, and so we sat there, next to this hellacious fire, getting completely skunk-fried. While waiting, we contented ourselves, for the next few hours, in fixing the world’s problems, and watching the almost- full but waning moon-rise bounce its ice-blue spot off the high granite walls.

The fire caught, grew, roared, peaked, and then eventually fell back into itself… the wood transferring the last of its life into the rocks. Around 10:30 at night, – maybe a tad later, when the sky was full of stars and the Milky Way a distinctive stripe, he announced with a grin that all was – at last - finally ready. Disappearing into the darkness, he re-emerged quickly - now grasping a large “crutch-like” staff, intending to push a few of the now glowing boulders, out of the fire pit. He rolled them right along … towards the general direction of the pre-dug hole inside of the lodge. There was nothing left to say... followed him and the marked trail - red-hot charcoal shards, glowing, smoking, scattering themselves over the granite as he guided the boulders along.

Tennis shoes and swimming trunks were the order of the day, and we crouched down and stumbled in, then settled ourselves down – sitting on our haunches, Indian style – inside of the newly erected lodge. Finally, after closing the tarp that was the door, Charon – in his true element now - took another healthy toke, and proceeded to pour out this old, well-used, Nalgene water bottle … over the now red-glowing hole.

No doubt about it, Charon’s lodge worked fine…The steam rushed us...the first 2 minutes inside were amazingly intense, and truthfully, about all that anyone could handle comfortably. It did not take anywhere near that long to work up a mighty sweat. The temperature got so searing you were forced to breathe through a wet towel, and you could not open your eyes inside the lodge due to the scalding piercing steam. Each time, right after the pour, you waited to feel that rush of steam, waves of vapor - coming at you - immediately - violently… and indeed the sweat did flow. When inside the lodge got too hot to bear, we bailed out – quickly running into the nearby lake, diving in, cooling off, and then back to the fire area to warm up again and re-load.

We repeated this ordeal many times that night, over and over again, mixed heavily with my Grand Mariner (as I always carry something along too - you have to be civilized.), his Humboldt stink bud, and Wyler’s lemonade – the big three! The lodge remained open until the last of the rock’s glow died out…maybe 2 hours later. The next morning we dismantled the lodge, policed the area, and made sure that no trace was evident of the proceeding night’s adventure…now only the memory remained…as it should always be - in the Sierra.

Another solo hike adventure … by markskor

References Cited:
Yosemite Trout Fishing, Johnston, H. (1985), Flying Spur Press

Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005 9:17 pm
by copeg
Great stories...

Markskor, that last story of yours is priceless.

Rosie, you summed up what I like most about going solo...

quentinc, dating on the trail...sorry things ended badly.

Snowy, do you know if Reinhold beat his record? I talked to a JMT hiker last summer who passed him on the trail but never heard anything since.