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Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

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Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Nov 29, 2011 1:15 pm

Ionian and Blackcap Basins, August 4-14, 2006

I posted this report in another forum before I joined Sierra Topix. Since we are in the winter doldrums, I have edited the report to present here.

July mosquitoes had driven me out of the Sierra in early July so by August I figured the bugs would be fried. The afternoon of August 2 I drove to Shaver Lake where I camped at a nearby pullout yet undecided whether to enter via Courtright Reservoir or Florence Lake. By morning, Florence Lake seemed more promising. After picking up a permit at Huntington Lake and mailing my final route plan home, I drove 2 hours slowly up the ever-challenging road, detouring to Mono Hot Springs for a hot shower. I arrived at the Florence Lake store just as SAR was recovering the body of a woman who had drown in the San Joaquin River at the Piute Canyon junction. My plan to return down Indian Pass and cross the San Joaquin was immediately scratched! I spent the afternoon talking with store clerk, packing and repacking. Still leery of mosquitoes I chose my tent rather than a bivy and added a book and camera. One heft of the pack convinced me to switch to my old external frame Kelty and delete the bear canister. I had forgotten my hat, so I bought a Florence Lake souvenir baseball cap at the store. A short ways back the road I found a nice pull out, set up, cooked supper and sipped beer.

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Day 1: To Goddard Canyon
At the boat dock an Amish (or Mennonite) family was sending off four of their members on the John Muir Trail with an interesting mix of traditional clothing and high tech gear. I was amazed to learn they backpacked extensively. The boat ride was quick and I hiked the rather unimpressive 7.3 miles to Piute Creek Junction in under four hours. I carefully edged to the stream to fill my water bottle remembering that here is where the lady drowned. Although a nice spot to camp, I was not legal on the John Muir trail without a bear canister so I continued to the Evolution junction where I left the JMT and ascended Goddard Canyon. Campsites were scarce the first mile and the first flat spot I saw was occupied. I was exhausted but continued upward. Clouds quickly built and soon I was fumbling around to set up at a marginal site as rain poured out of the sky. It drizzled most the night. The first day was grueling due to a heavy pack and hiking nearly 12 miles to find a legal campsite and rushing to make it in 7 hours to beat the storm.

Day 2: Easy Day in Goddard Canyon
In the morning the skies were clear, but it was surprisingly cold as I packed up my wet tent and headed out. Wet vegetation soaked me and sunshine was blocked by the forest. Ice on a slippery log complicated a stream crossing and the trail literally was a creek in several locations. So far, I was not having fun. At the first open spot I threw everything out on rocks to dry and watched the creek roar down its mini-canyon. Now in the sunshine, life became very pleasant. At the head of the canyon the trail disappeared and it would be several days before I saw another trail, let alone another person! I easily crossed the creek where it diverged into several small branches and ended the final steep ascent at Martha Lake, a stunning campsite with a stiff wind that kept the bugs out of the air. I had the entire lake to myself as I washed up in a pool below the outlet where several small fish scattered when I stepped in. Puffy clouds were building but never became threatening. I puttered and wandered around the outlet area until I was blessed with a fine sunset. The snow on Reinstein Pass was worrisome as I only brought trekking poles. My second day was more reasonable at 7 miles in 7 hours with only 1,500 feet gain.

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Martha Lake

Day 3: Martha Lake to Ionian Basin
The morning was totally clear. I traversed left around the lake and avoid the snowy north-facing slopes that I suspected would be icy. I had thought of going over Ambition Pass to Blackcap Basin but could not see a reasonable route that I was willing to do with a full pack. I managed to find a route that stayed on rock all the way to the top of Reinstein Pass 2.5 hours after leaving camp. At the top of the pass I surveyed the tedious traverse I would have to do to cross the headwaters of Goddard Creek to reach the Ionian Basin. I descended slabs and ledges to the first bench where I turned to traverse east, entering a remote and wild place, aiming for the lakes that were the source of the numerous waterfalls. A major canyon between me and my destination remained hidden, to surprise me later! The view south was breathtaking and I knew I would be heading down to the inviting dark blue lake below later, but for now I had to tediously work my way through the rocky maze. It took some major detours to finally get across. Three hours had passed. Upon reaching the first lake, the source of the waterfalls, I crossed the icy outlet numbing my feet, only to find that I was stopped cold by steep snowfields that extended into the lake. I was forced to climb south over a hill on class2 rock before dropping east into the drainage below Mt. Scylla to camp at a 12,000-foot unnamed lake. After finding nothing on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, I settled for the tiny hummocky sheltered spot on the north shore. I set up the tent, cooked dinner and as soon as the shadows hit me, the chill drove me into my sleeping bag. Soon I was blessed by a magical full-moon. I had completed 5.8 spectacular but rough miles with 2,200-feet gain in 7 hours. All in all, a very good day!

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View towards Ionian Basin from Reinstein Pass

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View south from Reinstein Pass

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Camp below Scylla

Day 4: Exploring the Ionian Basin
I awoke to frost and broke ice to get water from the shallow lake. I had hoped to climb Mt. Scylla, but snow conditions scuttled that plan. Instead I hiked a 4.6-mile loop to several lakes I had hurried by too quickly on a previous trip yet remembered as spectacular. I was not disappointed. First I scrambled to a high point to peek down into Enchanted Gorge that I had descended on my first trip in the Sierra nearly 10 years earlier. At my feet tenacious Sky Pilot was clinging to meager soil wedged in the dark barren rock. Descending towards Lake 11,837, I was temporarily stopped by cliffs but finally found the way to the large lake below carefully kicking steps in snow so that I would not slip into an icy bath. I dropped down a second bench on a large snowfield that thankfully had developed sun cups offering secure footing. I reached Lake10,592, and slowly wandered to the outlet where the wind howled. Years before on the south side of the outlet I found a site with chips and arrowheads and I tried to find this again to no avail. I peeked down at Chasm Lake where I had camped on my previous trip. On that trip I headed down just to “peek” at the Enchanted Gorge with only a day pack, one trail bar, and thinking that this would be a two hour hike. Well, before I knew it, I slid down an icy snowfield with a controlled self arrest only to realize I was not going to get back up! So down I went; belly crawled across snow bridges, hung to vegetation on the steep sides, bushwhack-traversed just above the confluence, ascended Goddard Creek, bivouacked at Lake 9,787, the next day hiking back to my camp at Chasm Lake, reaching it just after noon. Those were the days! I do not think I am quite so adventurous in my old age. This time I continued around Lake 10,592 while noting the nice campsites for future reference and stopping to take several photos of Mt. Charybdis. As I headed back to camp the snow became soft enough to kick steps up steep slopes to the top of Peak 12,497 - a sorry substitute for Mt. Scylla. Back at camp I took a refreshing but frigid bath and ate a leisurely dinner, followed by a stroll to the west to check out several lakes. That evening, to remain in the sun, I crept out onto the peninsula as the shadows lengthened. When the sun left, I returned to my little tent and hopped into my sleeping bag for another icy night.

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Lake 11837

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Chrybdis

Day 5: Leaving the Ionian Basin
I packed up in the chilly morning as another day dawned perfectly clear. I followed the string of lakes from my camp in hopes of finding an easier route. No such luck. I ended up climbing the same hill covered with wildflowers that I had encountered on my route in, again dropping to the outlet of Lake 11,818 where I crossed the creek and descended slabs adjacent and north of the waterfalls, following narrow ledges with a few easy but exposed class-3 sections. Soon I was walking on the lush bench below the falls in an amazing micro-ecosystem of wildflowers among the barren dark rock. I photographed for half an hour. The meadow was lush with grass, shooting star, Indian paintbrush, tiger lilies, mule’s ears and many other flowers I could not identify. From the flowery bench I climbed back up a small rib and stayed high until I was across the slot canyon that gave me grief on my way in. Once crossed, I could descend to the west shore of Lake 10,232, where I immediately got hung up in brush and tiny cliffs. I finally reached the outlet to take a long rest after the 2,500-foot descent. My original plan to reach Tunemah Lake was to continue down Goddard Creek and find a route up the steep west brushy slabs to the lake. As I peered up into the valley to the west at the brink of the steep descent I was intrigued and after reviewing maps decided to instead ascend snow-covered Finger Pass. So instead of dropping 1,000 feet I headed up 1,000 feet to camp at the uppermost lake at 10,600 feet. Mosquitoes were horrid. I quickly hung my food and hunkered in my tent, read and worried about the pass. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful 6-hour day traveling 7-mile through absolutely enchanting country.

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Flowers and waterfalls on lush bench

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Lake 10232

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Lake below Finger Peak

Day 6: Day of Mountain Passes
I awoke to an amazing reflection and quickly snapped photos before the wind picked up to ruin the magic scene. I packed up and first traveled north to get up on a ramp before heading south to the pass. The northeast morning sun had softened the snow on the north-facing Finger Pass, so that I could safely cross with trekking poles, although there were a few breath-holding moments. Descent into upper Blue Canyon was easy allowing a reasonable traverse to Lake 10,401 with only a few cliffy sections. I was uncertain of the location of Dykeman Pass so I headed east and slightly south to the most obvious notch in the ridge. This obvious notch was NOT Dykeman Pass: the difficult descent involved class-3 cliffs. At the base of this pass, whatever it was, sat a beautiful unnamed lake. Additionally tricky slab climbing was required to get around this lake. By now I had walked off my maps! I headed up Alpine Basin, my travel complicated by terrain that trended perpendicular to my desired direction. I was relieved to return to map coverage since this remote country is no place to wing it without a map! Tunemah “Pass” simply was the last 600 feet of ascent through large talus blocks before reaching Tunemah Lake. Camping at the outlet would offer the best view however it was a wind tunnel, so I crossed and surprisingly found a man-leveled spot on the shale hillside. Others had obviously been here but probably not many. After my 7-hour, 7.2 mile day with 3,200 feet gain over three passes, I had fun basking in the late afternoon sun building little tables and nooks of slate.

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Looking back at Lakes under Finger Peak, to the north

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Route traverse of upper Blue Canyon

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Tunemah Lake

Day 7: Lazy Day of Exploring

It was a relief to be day hiking with a light pack. I crossed the outlet and zigzagged down slate ledges to a granite bench of isolated unnamed lakes. I came to the cliffs dropping into Goddard Creek and scrambled another 1,000 feet down beautiful granite slabs and up tiny slot canyons full of alpine wildflowers. My original plan to access Tunemah Lake directly from Goddard Creek would go, but would have taken some time to figure out. I was glad of my impulsive decision to instead take the Finger Pass route. Back up on the bench I followed the southern string of lakes and to my surprise found fresh bear droppings! I stopped to swim in the lakes and enjoy the warm sun rays. I would have preferred to camp here on this enchanted bench, but my tent was at Tunemah Lake. Back at camp by 3:00PM I decided to explore north up the unique contact zone of granite and dark slate. On top I peeked over the edge and saw several remote lakes perched on the adjacent bench that also dropped into Goddard Creek providing another possible route to Tunemah Lake. I traversed the ridge west about quarter mile and found a chute to the lakes below that probably would go at class 2. The sun was now low so I quickly descended easy sand slopes and slabs back to my camp ending a wonderful day of just poking around this enchanted seldom visited country.

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Lake 10,458 on bench below Tunemah Lake

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Lakes north of Tunemah Lake

Day 8: Long Hard Day to Blackcap Basin
I awoke and peeked out my tent amazed at the still visible full moon over a perfect reflection. I quickly snapped two photos. My previous night’s worries about bears were relieved as I retrieved my food hung in scrub trees that only provided protection from marmots. This is not a place to end up without food! By the time I packed, the sun was shining on me. I hated to leave. I crossed the outlet and stepped onto the icy snow on Tunemah Pass. On my return to Blue Canyon I was determined to find Dykeman Pass. The thought of having to retreat and ascend the pass I descended was highly unappealing. Thankfully from Alpine Basin, Dykeman Pass was obvious. I turned up the first steep drainage heading west and zigzagged up sloping ledge systems, relieved to reach the top. After a lengthy descent over delightful slabs I reached Lake 10,401. My objective now was to find the path of least elevation gain or difficulty through the upper reaches of Blue Canyon and Crown Basin so I could reach Blackcap Basin. Travel involved some rock, some brush and some swampy areas full of mosquitoes. I was tempted to camp at my first contingency site, a small lake south of Kettle Ridge, but it was early in the afternoon. A few class 2 moves up ledges and I was over the pass to the west and dropped into Hummingbird Lake through lush flowery meadows. Again I was tempted to stop at this beautiful spot. Perhaps I should have! Instead I traversed steep slabs heading northwest dropping into Crown Basin, thick with mosquitoes. I felt I had jumped from paradise to hell. Ugh! Now I was exhausted but a rest would only bring on an attack by mosquitoes. Not finding the trail, I trudged cross country to Portal Lake where I met the first people I had seen in a week - three biology students collecting bugs. I headed north, crossed the outlet of Pearl Lake and slowly climbed the steep hill to Regiment Lake, too tired to go any further, ending a very long day of 9.2 hours over 10.6 hard miles, with 2,800 feet gain. I quickly washed off the sweat, set up my tent on a glacial polished rock that was smooth as skin and soon was rewarded with a fine sunset and alpenglow as I cooked dinner.

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Tunemah Lake at sunrise

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Pearl Lake

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Regiment Lake camp

Day 9: Change of Plans

The plan was to reach Schoolmarm Lake. Travel was easy, as I passed Ram Lake, Ewe Lake and Bighorn Lake through the barren alpine country full of miniature gardens. I took a circuitous path trying to see every lake in the basin! From Ambition lake I dropped down through little slot canyons with ponds and meadows traversing east about a mile. Here my camera batteries gave up. I walked low angle slabs of smooth granite, cut by tiny parallel slot canyons, some filled with rushing melt water. After skirting Rainbow Lake on the west side I followed the drainage that was coming from a distinct slot canyon below Confusion Pass. I crossed the creek and stayed right of the chute on ever steeper slabs where, finally, I was on a bench above the south shore Confusion Lake. Although the guide book recommends staying in the slot, I found the slabs on the east side easier. Reaching the lake I chose to traverse counter-clockwise over a small peak rather than get into the difficult talus on the west shore. From the outlet I could see my next pass. With the 200% Sierra snowpack this year, I realized that without an ice axe and crampons I was not going over the pass. I admitted defeat. Not being able to find a campsite with a view at Confusion Lake, I explored an obvious narrow ledge system to the north and found that not only would it provide an escape route to Goddard Canyon, it contained a beautiful grassy campsite complete with a view and melt water stream. I went back for my pack and set up on this little spot. I had traveled 6 miles with 1,200 feet gain in 6 hours of pleasant travel. Although disappointed about missing Red Mountain Basin, I was thoroughly enjoying my view, sitting in the sun finishing the last pages of my book. Mosquitoes had not yet found my little perch.

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Ponds below Ambition Lake

Day 10: Goddard Canyon, Again
Another crystal clear day dawned. I reluctantly left my perch and traversed north on the obvious bench above cliffs until I reached the grassy slopes that descended to Goddard Canyon, intersecting the same trail I had left eight days earlier. This alternate descent from Confusion Pass avoids the cliffs and talus. Although the route finding was tricky and I had to use my trekking poles on the steep slopes, it remained class 1. This time, going down Goddard Canyon, I was enjoying the views, regretting that my camera was dead. As soon as I reached the junction to Evolution Valley my solitude ended with the hordes of backpackers on the John Muir Trail. Some boy scouts wanted to know where they were, a group of Sierra Club climbers were headed to Mt. Goddard and some ultra-light fast packers had heads to the ground and were literally running up the trail. If only all those JMT hikers knew what wondrous country lay just off their heavily tread path! At the Piute Creek junction I stopped for lunch and met three other backpackers. We all being old farts sat in the shade and had hilarious conversation. As we finished our lunch the two fellows headed up Piute Canyon and the other lady, a UC Santa Cruz professor of education, joined me for the trek out. She had just finished some of her own off-trial exploration of McGee Creek. We headed to Belaney Meadows with hopes of finding the hot springs but the San Joaquin River was still too high to cross so we settled for conversation at dinner at this popular and crowded campsite. The day had started in solitude and happily ended in the company of a fellow sole-mate. The extreme change of conditions was a bit surreal. I had hiked 11.6 miles and dropped over 3,000 feet in 7.8 hours.

Day 11: Missed the Boat
I left early to catch the 11:00 AM boat. Unknown to me, my watch was off about 15 minutes and I missed the boat! I figured I could walk out about as fast as wait for the second boat – it was a tie; the next boat arrived back at the store just as I hit the parking lot! The walk out included and unexpected 1,000 feet elevation gain! I had to take off shoes to cross one creek and thankfully there was a bridge to cross the San Joaquin River. Nevertheless I made the 8-mile trip from Belaney camp in 3.7 hours. On the positive side, the views of Florence Lake were great and I saved $10. I packed up my car, retrieved food from the bear boxes and headed out hoping to jump into the first body of water I could find to wash up. It was surprisingly crowded and I had to settle for a discrete bath in my swim suit while nearby anglers watched. I wished I had gone back to Mono Hot Springs for another hot shower. Although I would have liked to have completed my planned route, Bench Valley and Red Mountain Basin will be there for another day. In summary the trip was 85 miles, 60% off-trail, 22,200 feet total elevation gain and 70 hours of backpacking. My starting total pack weight was 42 pounds. At the time I did this trip bear canisters were only required on the JMT so I did not take one. I went an entire week without seeing another person or trail! The conditions were snowy for August because of the 200% snowpack of the previous winter. Ironically, my previous trip to the Ionian Basin in 1998 was also a high snow year so it seemed pretty “normal” to me. This definitely was one of my all-time favorite backpacks.



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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby lostcoyote » Tue Nov 29, 2011 5:50 pm

fantastic area.
Last edited by lostcoyote on Fri Dec 02, 2011 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby Cross Country » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:28 pm

Now that's my kind of trip (cross country)! Too bad you didn't go into Red Mountain Basin and Bench Valley.
Because it's my kind of trip I've been to or seen from not far away all of these places except Ionian. One can catch dinner (trout) at all of these places (Bench and Red Moutain too) except for Ionian. I was close to Ionian on 4 different trips but sans fish (and almost sans trees - I like trees) it's not my cup of tea. Nevertheless:

What a great trip!!
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby balzaccom » Tue Nov 29, 2011 10:55 pm

Great report and really beautiful photos! Thanks for posting this...I can hardly wait to get back up there!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby LMBSGV » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:04 pm

That was just a wonderful read and beautiful photos to make me want to visit those places someday. The entire area around Tunemah Lake was especially enthralling. If you have other old trip reports to post, please do so.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby Timberline » Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:08 pm

In the high Sierra it seems that the most remote places are also the most stunningly beautiful. Your pix do that area justice in bringing that beauty to our eyes. What a fantastic trip! Thanks for allowing us to tag along with you. =D>
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby adornowest » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:10 pm

Thanks for this fascinating report, which only whetted my desire to go to the Ionian Basin. How much experience do you think a successful trip through this area requires? I've done some x-country, and really liked it, but nothing like this much.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Dec 01, 2011 7:48 pm

Re: experience needed. I had been to the Ionian Basin before so knew my way around it quite well. I also was actively rock climbing and mountaineering at the time. As a climber, nothing was overly difficult. As a backpacker, if you do not have experience with a lot of class 2+ Sierra passes, you may have difficulty. The Ionian Basin has a lot of rock hopping and in a high snow year- steep snow. The travel is more tedious than difficult. You definitely need snow experience. And as in all Sierra off-trail travel, the difficulty is directly proportional to your skill at route finding. Some of the exact routes I took were class 3 rock slabs- something that a backpacker may not like- but there were alternative ways around it too. I will take steep slabs over bushwhaking or talus any day. Perhaps the most important skill is mountaineering judgement - knowing what is safe and what is not. The easiest way into Ionian Basin is via Black Giant Pass. I suggest if you are uncertain of your abilities, go this route and do an exploration trip in Ionian Basin, then you can do an extended trip after you see how that works out.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby Bluewater » Thu Dec 01, 2011 11:47 pm

Thank you for posting your TR. I am new to HST and can't beleive it took me so long to find this site. Your beautiful photography, map and cross country route descriptions have got me psyched to get out next spring. Thanks again. Andy.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby East Side Hiker » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:20 pm

Amazing pictures. I like the ones where you have flowers directly in front of the main subject.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby adornowest » Sun Dec 04, 2011 12:48 am

Thanks very much, WanderingDaisy, for the very helpful reply. Your suggested way of trying out the waters first sounds like a great idea -- and hopefully I'll get to try it next summer!

Thanks for the advice and for the wonderful TR.
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Re: Ionian/Blackcap Basins 2006 TR

Postby paul » Sun Dec 04, 2011 5:24 pm

Ah, a classic returns. I remember this from its original posting, and I enjoyed it again. Thanks, WD.
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