A Week in Yosemite
By Andy S..
How do you condense a week-long trip through spectacular Yosemite into a reasonably short article? Well, you don't, because you can't. So if you don't have time to read a slightly longer than usual article, here's a summary: drive, walk, wow, walk, drive.
John (a Backpacking 101 alumnus), Jeff, & Amy came up from LA, and Glen & I came up from San Diego. We met up in Lone Pine for lunch, and afterwards headed up to our very own group campground- were we met Russ, coming from Sacramento on his first Perfect Pace trip. Wow, a campground for just the six of us. So much better than mixing with the hoi polloi up the hill in the individual sites. We had beautiful lake, with a little snow on the hillsides, as well as weather with a bit of a nip in it, and few mosquitos- boy, was that about to change...
Day 1: White Wolf to Pate Valley
Starting out the next day at White Wolf in Yosemite, I saw my first marmot. Marmots are really cool to folks like me who grew up in the Northeast- they're like smaller, lazier beavers w/o the tail. Actually, it soon became clear to me that I was a "Marmot Whisperer." They loved me- it seemed like everywhere I turned, there was a marmot- and NOBODY else was seeing them. I think the rest of the crew thought I was a little crazy but it didn't bother me because I am a little crazy. But the marmots were real, trust me- not like the aliens.
The first day was all about going down...hill. We descended around 4500' to the Tuolumne River/Pate Valley. I think we all enjoyed the incredible views we had on the way down, and the easy walking. Except maybe for Glen: he was still nursing a bit of an ankle sprain, so the descent was a bit taxing for him.
At the bottom, we set up camp by the river, and splashed around a bit. The water and the weather were quite pleasantly cool- something which changed markedly the further upstream we went.
It was at camp that we addressed our first challenge. Jeff was wearing brand-spanking-new boots, and he'd worn more layers of skin off the backs of his ankles than I would have thought possible. Fortunately, Amy was the Blister Queen, from her experience hiking the John Muir Trail last summer so she fixed Jeff up good (although during the week he did go through Amy's and my own rolls of athletic tape and gauze).
Day 2: Pate Valley to Muir Gorge
Day two brought us upstream through the valley. Pretty early on we encountered a nifty swimming hole. Everyone took a dip except for me: apart from my farmer's tan, I'm fishbelly white (and proud of it!), and even with sunblock on I would have burned in the full day sun.
We went up through Muir Gorge- cool and shaded. We broke for lunch by a little falls. The water there was VERY chilly (it felt like it had melted that morning). Continuing my "polar bear" tradition from last summer in Yosemite, I managed to swim enough to get under the falls. Glen also tried, and I'm convinced that his shriek was responsible for scaring the wildlife out of the valley.
We continued up and over, and then back down into the canyon to our next campsite. On the way we saw a pretty cute baby rattler- so young his tail didn't yet rattle. Nonetheless we kept our distance. We camped along the river, and got in some more swimming. We had t it was actually quite hot out.
When we made camp it was quite toasty, and it never really cooled off. During the rest of the trip I didn't need my sleeping bag to stay warm. Heck, I really didn't need clothes. Well, except for the mosquitos, which were starting to pick up.
Day 3: Muir Gorge to McGee Lake
The next day was "Falls Day"- Waterwheel, Le Conte, California, and a few "smaller" ones. This meant a lot of uphill, but it was worth it, they were awesome. Flow was "low" and a bit of a disappointment to some of the folks coming the other way, from the High Sierra Camp at Glen Aulin, but I thought it was totally cool and that there was plenty of water moving pretty fast- in fact, we lost Amy's sunglasses to Waterwheel.
We continued on to the camp at Glen Aulin itself. I was expecting something like Phantom Ranch from that other Grand Canyon. But this was no Phantom Ranch- a very rough camp with temporary structures. Nonetheless, we satisfied a craving or tw John was a great sugar daddy, buying candy bars for Glen & me.
Out of the Camp for about a mile to McGee Lake, a placid setting after the surprising hustle and bustle of Glen Aulin. There we ran into a German girl who was ecstatic to have someone, or six someones, to chat with for awhile.
The lake itself was quite lovely, although noticeably low- some swampy areas that were probably underwater in normal water years. And you know what swampy areas mean, especially in Yosemite: MOSQUITOs! By sunset we were under siege. We covered as much of ourselves as we could, including mosquito-net hats. I had also brought along one of those mosquito-net canopies that you put over beds in malaria county. We had our dinner under it. Russ later said it was the gayest thing he'd ever seen- but I didn't see him eating outside in the open.
Somehow despite the siege Glen managed to spend a couple hours alone on a rock at lakeside. There he spent some time a-pondering making a job change (PS, he did it).
I came to quite like the head netting I'd bought. I was tempted to not take it off: it took such a gentle picture and was so much easier than smearing margarine on everyone's camera lenses.
Day 4: McGee Lake to Tuolumne Peak
Next day was uphill quite a bit to a high meadow just below Tuolumne Peak. Still beautiful, lots of marmots (for me, anyway). Still waiting to see a bear. I'd spent most of the last four days craning my neck, seeing things that looked like bears, but which turned out to be rocks or tree stumps as I approached. I was thinking about that as I hiked. Heck, I thought, right there's a tree right there with a growth that looks just like a bear's head. Holy cow, it was a bear's head. I *love* bears- I think they're just about the coolest things. And this was like a teenager: long, gangly legs, young face. Probably he was about 18 months old, just having left his mother. He was so cute, I wanted to go hug him. But of course I didn't, because I didn't want to get him too comfortable with people- although I probably flatter myself the sight of me coming at him, after fours days rough, would not have scared the heck out of him. I waited for Glen to catch up, and the paparazzi were off.
Just below the peak we made camp. There we actually had a momentary thunderstorm- a bit of thunder, some gusty wind, and even a few sprinkles of rain. It blew over pretty quickly though. Thanks to Amy, we all also had lovely baths- she had brought along a collapsible bucket, and we all took advantage to clean ourselves and our clothes. What a great feeling.
That night at dinner John whipped up some apple-coconut cobbler out of rehydrated dehydrated apples he had, some coconut cream pudding I had, and some granola from one of Glen's granola bars. It really hit the spot.
Day 5: Tuolumne Peak to Ten Lakes
The next morning, Glen, Russ, and I left before dawn to hike Tuolumne Peak. Russ and I climbed almost straight up to what Glen insisted was the peak. It wasn't. If I had a nickel... So we came down, and ultimately met up with Glen on the real peak. Awesome 360 degree view of Yosemite. Lots of domes. Half Dome. Clouds Rest.
We then headed over to Ten Lakes. On the way we saw a couple grouse high in a tree. How do those things even fly?
Making it to Ten Lakes, we spent a restful afternoon lounging lakeside all by ourselves. Chatting, laying in the sun, ogling the pushy deer who kept traveling through. Glen went out fishing at another lake- he wasn't very lucky, but he did say that other lakes had quite a few folks.
Day 6: Ten Lakes to White Wolf to...Vegas?
Next morning began- long slow descent back to White Wolf. Finally there was a marmot that stuck around long enough for others to see. For a while it seemed there was another thunderstorm coming, but it passed over. Little did we know...
Out at White Wolf we celebrated with beer and/or chocolate, cleaned up a bit, and said goodbye to Russ (because Sacramento was the other way). We ate at the Mobil in Lee Vining. All in all, it was a great trip- awesome views, awesome folks, some relaxation and some work. Same time, next year guys?
PS. We had smooth sailing (er, driving) coming home until Lone Pine: those dry thunderstorms had sparked something that came to be known as the Inyo Fire Complex. 395 was closed, and Independence was evacuated. We had two options- go back up to Yosemite, around, and down the 5, or skirt Death Valley and head to the 15 via Vegas. Which we did. Man, what desolation in that Nevadan desert. And for some reason, a lot of folks thought it a good idea to spend 4th of July in a desert- so rooms were hard to come by. The LA folks continued on, getting home around 3am. San Diego being just that much further south, Glen & I decided to stay over. We found a room at the Frontier, downtown. Let me tell you, it can be quite nice to live in luxury cheap downtown, rather than in a much smaller room on the Strip.
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