Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 04

Day 02: Watkins Meadow to Snow Creek Cabin

Well I run and I run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Well I run and I run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Last Rays of The Old Setting Sun

A short distance off to my right, the sparkling aurora of a fiery sunset renders every last tree in black silhouette, threatening to singe any carelessly-wielded retina in its path.  Ignoring the spectacle (with restraint), I continue to lead my team across a snowy bald and into the woods on its far side.  Taking care not to trod upon and upset the ski-tracks laid down by earlier trekkers, I blaze my own path through the hard packed snow, which, incidentally is not very deep at all- maybe six inches, a foot tops.

Heya, Gretel- by all means, ladies first. After you... (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Heya, Gretel- by all means, ladies first. After you…
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Moments later I espy a plume of smoke rising quaintly through the trees just ahead.  The cabin.  And apparently somebody’s already here.  Here’s hoping it’s not some rule-stickling park ranger with an itchy ticket-writing finger, I think to myself; but whatever- there’s nothing for it at this point but to just proceed to the cabin and hope to be well met by its occupants.  At any rate, the cabin is open to the public; so it’s not as if we’re going to be turned away by some gun-toting, knee-slapping yahoo whose dentures sit abandoned on the kitchen table while he goes all Yosemite Sam on us at the front door, spouting off at the mouth and hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, as if barefoot on hot coals. Still, we would have far preferred to find the place unoccupied; but the fact that it isn’t is by no means a surprise, nor is it even necessarily a problem.

We all claimed earlier to have accepted the perils of sneaking our dogs up into the back-country; and here, possibly, will be our test of just how much we really meant it. And whether or not it was worth it.

Precise directions to the secret cabin: 1) Take the highway to the Great Divide 2) Make a 360-degree turn at the Sign of the Southern Cross 3) Turn left at the secret portal to the Hidden City of Gondolin 4) Left on Spit Brook, right on Daniel Webster 5) U-Turn at the retahded kid selling fireworks 6) Follow the runoff tunnel until you come to the brink of the spillway. Pause for a moment to let Tommy Lee Jones catch up. 7) Take a header off the dam- don't worry, you'll be fine. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Precise directions to the secret cabin:
1) Take the highway to the Great Divide
2) Make a 360-degree turn at the Sign of the Southern Cross
3) Turn left at the secret portal to the Hidden City of Gondolin
4) Left on Spit Brook, right on Daniel Webster
5) U-Turn at the retahded kid selling fireworks
6) Follow the runoff tunnel until you come to the brink of the spillway. Pause for a moment to let Tommy Lee Jones catch up.
7) Take a header off the dam- don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Happiness Is a Warm Cabin

Deeming it socially unsportsmanlike to just cavalierly swing the cabin door wide open, potentially blindsiding some good decent folk with the sudden barking of strange dogs, in the process yanking them violently out of what will surely up until that point have been a reverie of unrivaled peacefulness, I drop my pack outside in the snow, get the girls to hang onto the hounds for the moment, and step into the darkened breezeway of the wooden cabin, turning on my headlamp to light the way.

WTF? I was told there would be 72 virgins here to greet me. This is bullshit, man.  (photo by J. Haigh)
WTF? I was told there would be 72 virgins here to greet me. This is bullshit, man.
(photo by J. Haigh)

Easing open the inside door of the cabin, my eyes are met with total darkness, my nose with that half-charming/half-stifling musty atmosphere characteristic of such small wooden abodes, and my face with the heat of a healthy wood-fire, burning vigorously behind the doors of one of those old-timey cast-iron stoves that you never see anywhere- ever, I step up and in and give a perfunctory holler of “Hello?”, though it’s no more than a token gesture; for it’s plainly obvious that there is nobody inside the cabin at the moment.  They can’t have gone far, though.  Judging by how tightly the stove has been packed with axe-hewn wedges of ponderosa pine, it can’t have been loaded up much more than ten or fifteen minutes ago.

If another letter from that school goes to that kid's secret back-country cabin, into the fuckin' cast-iron wood-burning stove you're gonna go head-first!  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
If another letter from that school goes to that kid’s secret back-country cabin, into the fuckin’ cast-iron wood-burning stove you’re gonna go head-first!
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

A quick look around the cabin’s interior: the three downstairs rooms and the two upstairs, reveals a pair of occupied bedrooms, complete with bedrolls, sleeping pads, and the haphazardly-distributed contents of a pair of backpacks, which hang from the wooden crossbeams fortifying the gabled roof.  Returning to the lower level, I open the glass-paned windows and swing the wooden shutters outward, folding them back against the exterior wall of the cabin, thereby flooding the room with what little natural light remains to the forest outside.  Even rapidly-waning, nearly-exhausted daylight, however, is a hell of a lot more useful than the utter blackness of the shuttered cabin.

Minutes later, the team- dogs and all- is assembled in the combination living/dining room of the cabin, expeditiously unloading our packs, sorting our gear, and hoping to get our shit out of the communal living space before what’s-their-faces return to find their quarters significantly diminished from what they’d been just a short time ago.

And you may tell yourself: "This is not my beautiful house."  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
And you may tell yourself: “This is not my beautiful house.”
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Open House Walk-Through

Downstairs, one half of the cabin’s footprint consists of the small living/dining area, which contains a wooden kitchen table framed by a pair of matching benches made from sawed-off tree trunks, another wooden table in the corner, an ancient bookshelf containing various board games- some familiar, some too old to be familiar, a visitors log with entries dating back as far as 1930, and the aforementioned wood-burning stove, with its iron outflow pipe disappearing into the ceiling above.  A pair of heavy-duty, industrial-sized cook-pots sits atop the stove’s two large circular burners, each one about half-filled with water.  Small amounts of pine needles and loose twiggery float on the surface of the one; and in the other, chunks of melting snow crystals bob like miniature icebergs.  I dip a finger into one of the pots: warm, but not hot.

Well I'll be gosh-damned! Is that there one of them- whatchamacallit- flying backgammon boards? (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Well I’ll be gosh-damned! Is that there one of them- whatchamacallit- flying backgammon boards? (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Apart from the living/dining room, the far rear corner of the structure houses an exceedingly modest, yet adequate kitchen, with a gas-burning cook-stove grill, a large sink (without running water), and some shelves filled with mugs, silverware, and plates, all of which might very well have been pillaged from the dining room of my old elementary school cafeteria.

The Dangerous Kitchen- If it ain't one thing, it's another (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The Dangerous Kitchen-
If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The near corner of the downstairs level contains a tiny, windowless room, with a pair of cast-iron cots, stacked as bunk-beds, just barely squeezed in between the claustrophobic walls.

Outside the cabin, half-buried in the snow near the edge of the forest some 25 or so yards away, sits a pit toilet constructed of slapped together sheets of thin metal, with an inconveniently-located leak in its roof, which perpetrates its own personalized version of Chinese water torture upon the trembling knees of any and all who endeavor to sit on its cold metal seat.

Do I smell? I smell home cooking. It's only the outhouse, only the outhouse. Good place to get some thinking done. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Do I smell? I smell home cooking.
It’s only the outhouse, only the outhouse.
Good place to get some thinking done.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Ducks in a Row

Preferring to be prudently pro-active over obliviously lazy, I consolidate the waters of the two large pots, and head out to the breezeway, holding the newly-empty pot.  The cabin’s breezeway is a dark, drafty, dirt-and-stone-floored space housing a retractable steel ladder, a wooden chopping block made from a sawed-off tree trunk, various saws, axes, and shovels, and a generous supply of chopped and stacked firewood lining the deep back wall.  I pick up a wood-handled spade, go outside, and commence the aggressive dislodging of large chunks of frozen snow from the unsullied supply covering the cabin’s slanted roof, most easily reachable at its low-hanging eaves. The white blanket of snow sits atop the small cabin as white frosting on a chocolate cake, imbuing the scene with an idyllic quality that seizes my attention for a moment, sending my mind off on a contemplative tangent, before returning it to me, allowing me to regain my focus and resume my snow-fetching duties.  Employing the business end of the shovel as a beaver-tail of sorts, I tramp the snow down into the giant cauldron, packing it as tightly as I can.  That task completed, I haul the pot back inside and place it back on the stove- an investment in future cooking and drinking water, both of which we will need shortly.  After all, the day’s efforts have left us with some healthy appetites, to say the least.

Dems some good eatin'! (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Dems some good eatin’!
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

A lantern hangs from the ceiling in the main room of the cabin.  I fire it up, flooding the room with a soft, evenly-distributed light, a pleasing contrast to the isolated beams which, issuing from our headlamps, have provided the bulk of our artificial light since our arrival at the cabin.  Lowering my aching bones onto the wooden bench by the window, I twist off the cap of the plastic bourbon bottle and take a big harsh swig.  Wincing and gasping through a veil of pitiless heartburn, but no less content for all that discomfort, I scrape my filthy shirt sleeve across my chapped, perforated lips, and hand off the heinous elixir to Robin, who repeats the ritual, albeit with less pussy-ass squirming.  Glancing about the room, at last feeling a measure of relaxation, my eyes are drawn to a tiny wooden shelf affixed to one wall.  The shelf is oddly adorned with a row of little rubber duckies- a cute touch, the meaning of which cannot even be guessed at at this time.

If I had a penny for my thoughts I'd be a millionaire. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

A moment later, Katherine steps outside to let the dogs do the dog thing; and as soon as she closes the inner door and opens the outer breezeway door, the report of barking hounds, mingled with Katherine’s by-now-very-familiar apologetic damage-control voice, tells me that the cabin’s other occupants have returned from their wayward rovings.

Now the evening will either turn awkward and uncomfortable, or it won’t.  Depending.

I don’t know.  But it’ll be fun to find out, won’t it?

 

Previous:  (Chapter 03)

Next:  (Chapter 05)

 

Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 03

Day 02: Snow Creek Bridge to Watkins Meadow

I chose to take this as a sign.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
I chose to take this as a sign.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

A Lot of  Things Be Happenin’ In The Woods

I awoke to Katherine standing over my lifeless carcass, announcing that it was getting on time to shoulder our packs and move on out. As I sat up, rubbing my eyes, I noticed that the lay of the sunlight on the land had shifted noticeably since last I’d gazed upon it, the shadows grown a bit longer.  I soon learned that I’d slept for an hour and a half, which surprised me for a brief moment, until I reflected back on just how wrecked I’d been upon my arrival here, by the Snow Creek Bridge.  Anyway, regardless of what I thought about it, the afternoon really was getting on; and we still had some more terrain to cover for closing out this positively arduous day; and the need for healthy team morale dictated that we must reach our destination in the daylight.

Shit- did I leave the garage door open?  (photo by J. Haigh)
Shit- did I leave the garage door open?
(photo by J. Haigh)

At any rate, at least the day’s hardships were essentially behind us now, as we were finally, at long last, up beyond the south rim of Yosemite Valley, and only had to climb another five to seven hundred feet, over just two miles, to reach our day’s destination: a secret hidden back-country cabin which I had discovered a year earlier with my friend Jake.

I stood up, noticing immediately how extremely well rested I felt.  I threw on my pack, tightened the straps, picked up my hiking poles, and set off across the bridge, bound for higher country.

The Super-Mojo

It was immediately on the far side of the bridge that we encountered the first patches of ground snow; and those would only grow more pervasive as we would continue to climb. Last year when I’d been here, the snow line had been such that we’d had to strap into the snowshoes right here at the bridge; yet even that was a slow year for precipitation.  In early March of a typical year, it’s not uncommon for the snow line to be way down at the valley floor, almost 3,000 feet lower than it was today.  I wasn’t complaining.

It's gonna take more than just a little bit of snow to stop this train, goddammit.  (photo by J. Haigh)
It’s gonna take more than just a little bit of snow to stop this train, goddammit.
(photo by J. Haigh)

I felt great, having fully recharged my batteries with that 90-minute creek-side nap; and so I trekked on with renewed vigor and purpose, making great time.  In fact, Peanut was the only member of the team who could keep up with me at this point.  My super-mojo was in full effect; and as such, Pean and I soon began to pull away from the girls, who were by this point getting pretty tired; but I knew better than to leave them in the dust- especially considering the fact that I alone knew where we were going.  It’d have been something of a bad-faith gesture to abandon them in the home stretch.  Take it from one who has learned through error, and now knows: you definitely want to get the women off the trail before they start to melt down on you; and they don’t usually give you a ton of notice to work with; so play it smart, fool.

Into The Great White Open

The next mile or so consisted of a mostly-pleasant, gently uphill stroll through the woods, over ever-increasing amounts of snow, until finally the team must strap on the snowshoes in order to continue further.  That was okay, though, because by that point we were getting very close to our day’s stopping point.  Not a moment too soon, too; because mutiny from the female camp was imminent- I could feel it, see it, hear it.

It ain't true that the sun don't set in Yosemite- I seen it once.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
It ain’t true that the sun don’t set in Yosemite- I seen it once.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

What was left of our route to the secret cabin would be off-trail; but no matter… I knew the way.  We strapped into our snoes and left the trail, switch-backing uphill through the snow for a short spell before the terrain began to level off, our route emerging from under the cover of the forest, and out into the open.  We were very close now.

 

Previous:  (Chapter 02)

Next:  (Chapter 04)

 

 

Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 02

Day 02: Happy Isles Trailhead to Snow Creek Bridge

Lower Tenaya Canyon

By 4:45 AM we had finally stopped ignoring our alarm clocks, and emerged from our tents into the cold pre-dawn darkness of the sleepy campground. 4:45 was plenty early enough for me, thank you very much. But I knew it was in our best interest to get an early start, as we did have a long, hard, uphill hike ahead of us- and with heavy packs, no less. In fact, of all the trails etching their way up and out of Yosemite Valley, we would be gaining the north canyon rim via the very steepest one: a seemingly-vertical climb of 2,800 feet over barely two and a half miles.

Reflected across placid Mirror Lake, the indistinct, amorphous nocturnal forms of lower Tenaya Canyon slowly take shape as the waning night yields to the rising sun. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Reflected across placid Mirror Lake, the indistinct, amorphous nocturnal forms of lower Tenaya Canyon slowly take shape as the waning night yields to the rising sun.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The other reason for our insanely early start time had less to do with mileage or workload and more to do with canine logistics. Y’see , in the U.S. National Park System, there is an across-the-board ban on dogs in the back-country.  This is a rule that I find to be, while appropriate and sensible in some particularly sensitive areas (and at certain times), much of the time wielded with an excess of seemingly arbitrary zeal in a multitude of places where such measures are entirely unnecessary.  Like the Yosemite high country in the wintertime, for example.  There are just not enough people up there this time of year for it to be an issue, my research has convinced me.

But if you’re gonna selectively refrain from obeying those laws which seem not to have been meant for you, you at least have to be ready to own it, and face the consequences, should the situation arise wherein you are confronted by park authorities on your insolence.  So, accepting the risks, and the possibility that we might at any point be turned around, or cited, or both, we set out under darkness to begin our journey, hoping to get above the canyon floor before the rangers all came out for the day and started busting irreverent shit-heads like me and my crew.

The first leg of our hike consisted of a flat walk of about two miles, across the floor of Lower Tenaya Canyon, past Mirror Lake, alongside the very feet of Half Dome, and onward to the Snow Creek trail.

It's darker than you know in those complicated shadows. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
It’s darker than you know in those complicated shadows.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Up Snow Creek Without a Saddle

We climbed and climbed all morning, the pitiless ascent relenting not at all.  Switchbacks the whole way up, from canyon bottom to canyon rim.  Its floor falling away from us more with each miserable uphill step, Lower Tenaya Canyon slowly lit up as the sun crested eastern prominences such as Clouds Rest and Quarter Domes, which comprise, in part, the long southeastern granite wall of Upper Tenaya Canyon, a high perch for late-season ice fields and hanging glaciers.

Under an almost 50-pound pack, I slogged slowly up the trail, as the rest of the team did the same under their respective loads.  Spirits were relatively good, considering what we were engaged in.  About a quarter of the way up the drainage, we were at last met with direct morning sun; and in appreciation of this, I stopped and laid down in the middle of the trail for a 20-minute cat-nap.

Soon I arose, shed my layers of extra clothing, no longer necessary under the glare of the sun, lumped my behemoth of a pack back onto my shoulders, and resumed the uphill slog.  Smart folks ascend the Snow Creek Trail on horseback, I thought to myself.  That’s what smart people do.

Maggie speaks for all of us, somewhere along the Snow Creek Trail. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Maggie speaks for all of us, somewhere along the Snow Creek Trail.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?

By the time we neared the top of the switchbacks, I was nearly delirious from exhaustion.  Although the morning sun had long since cranked up the views to 11, I wasn’t really able to give a shit, teetering as I was with every step, barely getting one foot in front of the other (to say nothing of lifting it up and heaving my body and pack weight up along with it).  I started getting worried that I was going to take a catastrophic tumble if I didn’t seriously chill out for a little bit; so I threw down my pack and declared myself immobile for the time being.  Katherine and Peanut waited with me, while Robin and Maggie trekked onwards towards the Snow Creek Bridge, our next checkpoint, and our next opportunity to re-up on water.

The sheer northern face of Half Dome looms menacingly over Lower Tenaya Canyon, as seen from near the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The sheer northern face of Half Dome looms menacingly over Lower Tenaya Canyon, as seen from near the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

I lay there huffing and heaving like a dying man, too wrecked to shift my body into a more comfortable position.  I was just done.  After fifteen or so minutes, the hot sun began to molest me with its probing rays; and so we got back under our packs and continued on towards the bridge, hopeless though the effort seemed.

Two switchbacks later, we had at last reached the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks.  A gloriously short and easy walk through a mostly level forest would now bring us to the Snow Creek Bridge, a destination that had seemed mockingly unreachable for most of the morning.

A few minutes later, I stumbled up to Robin and Maggie, who were kicking it by the cheerful little trail bridge which spanned the flowing icy waters of Snow Creek.

Rather than actually take my pack off, per se, I more just allowed myself to fall to the ground, then unclip my hip-belt, and then just kind of roll out from under my pack, thereby freeing myself from its pitiless burden with minimal effort.  Then, as a man just rescued after a long ordeal at sea without water or companion, I clawed my way over to a flat rock , collapsed, and passed out.

It had taken us just under six hours to climb the switchbacks: a distance of just over 2.5 miles.

The Peanut Troll, self-appointed temporary warden of the Snow Creek Bridge, will suffer none to pass on his watch.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The Peanut Troll, self-appointed temporary warden of the Snow Creek Bridge, will suffer none to pass on his watch.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Previous:  (Chapter 01)

Next:  (Chapter 03)

 

The Fleeting Greenery

Welcome to Springtime-

It is a season for rebirth, for the quenching of lands, for emergence from winter’s long slow torpor.  The wildlife has awakened.  The waterfalls are raging.  The birds are back, the bees are out, the flowers are blooming.  

California Orange Poppies adorn a sloping hillside in Crockett Hills Regional Park, Contra Costa County.  (photo by D. Speredelozz)
California Orange Poppies adorn a sloping hillside in Crockett Hills Regional Park, Contra Costa County.
(photo by D. Speredelozz)

That’s the idea anyway; but here in California, the reality on the ground is a bit different.  Disconcertingly low water levels statewide means a lot less rebirth, and a lot less quenching of lands, than is typical.  Or sustainable in the long term.  Much that has traditionally hibernated or migrated south for the duration of the colder months never even bothered to go to sleep, or to relocate, this past winter, because the temperatures never made these things necessary.  This kind of thing messes with the environment’s natural equilibrium, which can lead to unpredictable and sudden shifts in climate (at both the regional and global level)- shifts whose full consequences might very well not be understood and acted upon until it is too late to correct course.  Up in Yosemite, the bears have been active all winter long.  The waterfalls, though still raging, are issuing considerably smaller torrents than is typical for them this time of year; and they will run dry much earlier in the summer than usual.  Here in the Bay Area, the bees all skipped their late fall nap-time, and the birds canceled their travel plans.  

Get it while you can, cows.  Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, Contra Costa County. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Get it while you can, cows. Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, Contra Costa County. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Nevertheless, there is some flowering to be seen, even if its season will be a short one; and some of the best local places to take advantage of in the early spring are the vast rolling hills of the East Bay.  Quick to dry out and revert back to their default state: dry, waterless, brittle, colorless, the East Bay hills enjoy a green season that, while striking in its vividity, can be over before you even realize it’s begun.

A dusty farm road winds its way down towards the green flats of Big Valley, and its resident herd of  mindless bovines.   (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
A dusty farm road winds its way down towards the green flats of Big Valley, and its resident herd of mindless bovines.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

So here’s a tip: the East Bay’s green season is peaking now.  Normally barren-looking hills are suddenly popping with bright greens; and creek beds that represent for most of the year as bone-dry conduits for dust and bugs are suddenly run through with flowing streams and mini-waterfalls.

There is no better time to go probing the peaks and ridges on the far side of the Bay; and it won’t last long- unless new, plentiful rains arrive unlooked for; and nobody’s counting on that.

Soon it will be camping season in the higher ranges to the east, north, and south; but in the meantime, the show is happening right here in our city’s backyard, the East Bay Hills.

Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 01

Day 01: San Francisco to Yosemite Valley

The title of this post is deceptive- we did not make it into the wilderness on the first day of our trip, as planned.  Thank for this the fact that, no matter what time I get up in the morning and leave San Francisco, I simply cannot arrive at the park (a four-hour drive) before mid-afternoon.  Also the fact that some new (as-yet unknown to me) changes at the park, as regard long-term parking for back-country travelers, complicated our attempt to get on the trail once we finally did reach the park.

Together comprising the tallest waterfall in North America, the twin curtains of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls spill the waters of Yosemite Creek over the lip of the canyon's north rim, from whence they plunge 2,425 feet into Yosemite Valley. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Together comprising the tallest waterfall in North America, the twin curtains of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls spill the waters of Yosemite Creek over the lip of the canyon’s north rim, from whence they plunge 2,425 feet into Yosemite Valley.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

So we decided to do the only rational thing under the circumstances: grab a campsite in Yosemite Valley, get to bed early, and hit the trail first thing the next morning.

The team adorns the viewpoint at the base of 617-foot Bridalveil Falls. (photo by John Random)
The team adorns the viewpoint at the base of 617-foot Bridalveil Falls.
(photo by John Random)

We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the easy-access, dog-friendly hikes of the valley, specifically Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls.  After a stop for firewood at the Yosemite Village grocery/general store, we retired to the Upper Pines Campground, to eat an early dinner, enjoy a campfire for a couple of hours, and get our packs together for tomorrow’s utterly grueling climb, which would bear us up the north wall of Yosemite Valley, over the rim, and off into the high country beyond, where (relatively) few of the park’s visitors ever set foot.

The seasoned outdoorsman knows that everything tastes better cooked over the live flame of a campfire. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The seasoned outdoorsman knows that everything tastes better cooked over the live flame of a campfire.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

After dinner, we only very slightly dipped into the alcohol supply, employing prudent restraint so as not to squander our liquid stash before we even hit the trail, and also so as not to imperil our 4 AM wake-up plan.  We sacked out sometime around 9 PM- extremely early for me; but definitely the right call under the circumstances.  The nearly-full waxing moon had just peeked its pale blue face over the canyon rim when I closed my eyes and settled in for a few hours of good slumber.

Tomorrow the shit would get real.

 

Next:  (Chapter 02)

I Looked In To a Burnin’ Rim of Fire

Far below the Rim of the World vista point, the canyon of the South Fork of the Tuolumne River winds its way northwestward, joining its parent, the Tuolumne River proper, in the left middleground of the image.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Far below the Rim of the World vista point, the canyon of the South Fork of the Tuolumne River winds its way northwestward, joining its parent, the Tuolumne River proper, in the left middleground of the image.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

If you’re driving from the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park via the most expeditious route (that being CA Hwy 120), after crossing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge you pass first through the lush rolling hills of the East Bay, then the parched wastes of the Livermore Valley, up over the windmill-peppered Altamont Pass, down into and across the horizon-flat scorching San Joaquin Valley, and up into the dry-grass-covered western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, before finally reaching the park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, hard by Hodgdon Meadows.

Twelve miles west of the park entrance, you pass the Rim of the World overlook- a long-range viewpoint down into the sprawling Stanislaus National Forest, and lower canyons of the Tuolumne River, both of which abut Yosemite on its west side.  For long years, the Rim of the World viewpoint afforded park-bound travelers their first looks at the Sierra proper: tall, green, jagged, remote.  And although the sight still packs the tall, jagged and remote, instead of green, peering eyes now see this:

The surviving flora holds a sad vigil up here on the Rim of the World.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The surviving flora holds a sad vigil up here on the Rim of the World.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The culprit is the 2013 Yosemite Rim Fire: the third largest wildfire in California’s recorded history (largest ever in the Sierra), which raged for more than two months, from mid-August until the last week of October.  Actually, the culprit is the fuck-head hunter who started an unprotected campfire in a bone-dry, leaf-strewn, matchstick-ready stretch of barely-accessible wilderness.  And the fruit of his blunder is the vista pictured above, plus the rest of the nearly 260,000 acres that were thoroughly roasted in the conflagration.

The line is perfectly clear to see, where Stephen King's Langoliers were finally stopped by valiant firefighters.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The line is perfectly clear to see, where Stephen King’s Langoliers were finally stopped by valiant firefighters.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Authorities said that unlike in most wildfires, where underlying seeds and roots typically survive in some numbers, providing at least some foothold for bounce-back and regrowth, the Rim Fire so utterly scorched its domain that, in its hottest-burning spots, even these deep seeds and roots were incinerated, meaning that, in these places, there is nothing left to point the way in terms of regrowth.

In other words, the land can’t even “remember” what types of plants and trees used to grow there, before the memory-wiping onslaught of this fire swept in and rewrote the region’s history. Nothing will be able to grow here until seedlings and such are blown in from elsewhere; and depending on what kinds of seeds these turn out to be, and where they blow in from, the next chapter in the area’s floral history might take any one of a handful of forms, impossible to predict at this early stage.

…In With Yosemite

Perched nearly a vertical mile above Yosemite Valley, a pair of fools stands on the summit of Half Dome, one of the world's most recognized and respected granite monoliths.   (photo by John Random)
Perched nearly a vertical mile above Yosemite Valley, a pair of fools stands on the summit of Half Dome, one of the world’s most recognized and respected granite monoliths.
(photo by John Random)

Okay screw this, we said- let’s just go for the jugular.

Thus my crew and I resolved forthwith to bite off another winter backpacking trip- this one in Yosemite National Park, one of America’s very proudest and most mysterious natural play-lands.

And they knew that it was right, and necessary, that they do this.  And so the three travelers arose with the sun, then headed east, as if seeking to intercept it on its curving trajectory across the firmament.

But the rest was still yet to be written…

After The Rain…

Move it along now, son.  I can tell by looking at you that you don't live in this neighborhood.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Move it along now, son. I can tell by looking at you that you don’t live in this neighborhood.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

I didn’t see the sky too much these last couple of weeks in San Francisco; but that was mostly a good thing, as we need all the rain we can get.  That said, I’m not gonna squander too many bright sunny days sitting indoors and fretting about a drought that may or may not ever come (but almost certainly will), and that, even if it does, I can’t do shit about anyway.

So I walk around, and try not to fret about the world and its problems.  Sometimes I even succeed at this.

Out With Tahoe…

Okay, I’ve said enough about Tahoe for the time being; and now it’s time to talk about somewhere else.  But first…

...this photo of Jake's Peak, towering over Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness, is the last Tahoe image I'll be forcing down your throat for awhile.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
…this photo of Jake’s Peak, towering over Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness, is the last Tahoe image I’ll be forcing down your throat for awhile.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

On Wednesday I will be heading off to a new mountainous (and hopefully snowy) location, as always seeking fun, photos, and adventure without walls.  And when I get back, I’ll probably yammer on and on about it for a week or two.

Stay tuned for whatever is to come. We’ll know then.

Desolation Wilderness: Day 03

Laugh if you must; but I've never regretted carrying a full-size pillow on a backpacking trip.    (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Laugh if you must; but I’ve never regretted carrying a full-size pillow on a backpacking trip.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 03: Maggie’s Hollow Camp to Eagle Falls Trailhead

It was close to 9 AM when the staccato vzzing of a pair of tent zippers pierced the tranquil silence pervading the forest- first one, then another, in quick succession.  All throughout the morning we flip-flopped on whether or not to climb a nearby peak before throwing on our packs and heading back out to the world of man, ultimately deciding, by way of sufficiently prolonged inaction, against it.  As it happened, we were both of one mind: to get back to the car with minimal dawdling, so that we might enjoy a leisurely drive home on a scenic, non-freeway route that I am fond of, while there was still sunlight. This we discussed over Pop Tarts, standing by the ashen remains of our campfire.  After a condensed version of the previous day’s morning rituals, we packed our packs and broke camp, setting off at around 11:30.

Our previous day's tracks are visible higher up on the mountainside.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Our previous day’s tracks are visible higher up on the mountainside.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

For some reason, on the descent of the Dicks Lake Trail, back down towards Eagle Creek and out to our trailhead, the going was – at points – straight-up treacherous, especially when compared to the easy passage that those spots had granted us on our ascent two days ago.  One certain factor in this was that, overall, the temperature had been falling over the past few days; so the steeply-sloped hillside through which the trail was cut had iced over considerably since Friday.  We had no choice but to make our way laterally across this slippery sheet of frozen snow pocked with protruding granite fins and hard, brittle Manzanita bushes, all of which extended downhill from the trail, in a chute, for close to 200 vertical feet.  To lose one’s footing even slightly here would mean taking a perilous slide down the by-no-means-safe-or-navigable slope of rocks, shrubs, and ice.

Jake attempts the hostile crossing.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Jake attempts the hostile crossing.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

There were two particularly menacing spots, the first of which we passed without incident, though the attempt was not without consternation and shortness of breath.  At the second tricky spot, I picked my way gingerly across the slanted frozen mountainside, shifting my weight just so, in order to maintain my balance on poor footing and under heavy pack weight.  Safely across, I dropped my pack and started coaching Jake on his crossing.  He chose his footsteps carefully, and was about two or three steps from safety when his snowshoes slipped out from under him, casting him onto his stomach.  Prostrate on the icy slope, limbs splayed in a desperate bid to create as much friction as possible with the surface of the snow, he began at once to slide downhill into the chute; but thanks to quick reflexes, and presence of mind under stress, he managed to arrest his fall almost immediately by grabbing onto a Manzanita bush just below the trail.  I grabbed my poles and maneuvered back out onto the ice to try to fish him out of the bush and back onto the trail.

With a little teamwork, some clever weight distribution, and a smattering of luck, we managed to get Jake across the chute in one piece, and then took a five-minute break to collect ourselves.  Afterwards, no worse for the wear, we continued down the trail, soon taking off the snowshoes, and, shortly after that, breaking out of the snow entirely.

Back at the trailhead, we took a few minutes to walk over and admire Lower Eagle Falls, where Eagle Creek rushes under Highway 89, rumbles across a granite shelf, and then plunges off of a cliff, in the final descent before its waters at last pay their tribute and are mingled with those of Lake Tahoe itself.  Sitting by the lip of the falls, we gazed out across Emerald Bay for a few minutes of decompression, then got up and jumped into my Rav4.

We headed into South Lake Tahoe, intent on burgers. We had done what we could with the wilderness for the time being.

The beast unclimbed (for now): Mount Tallac.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The beast unclimbed (for now): Mount Tallac.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The End

 

Previous chapter: (Day 02)