Face the Dawn

Matt is walking home from San Francisco

Interlude: Call for all walkers

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I will leave Bullhead City this morning, starting the endgame of the trip home. I am now about 200 miles away,

If anyone is inclined to come walk with me, this is the time, since I plan to arrive home on the 15th or 16th of November unless I get impatient and decide to come in sooner, which could happen if I get a lot of people to join me, since that means I can walk with just a day pack.

My proposed route is:

Silver Creek road out of Bullhead City to Oatman Rd, east on Navajo Dr to the I-40 frontage road, then south to Yucca.

South out of Yucca to Alamo Crossing Road, then NE on Chicken Springs Rd into Wikieup.

South on 93 out of Wikieup to Burro Creek Crossing Rd, cross Burro Creek and continue on to 97, then east on 96 through the Kirkland Valley to Skull Valley then east on Copper Basin Rd into Prescott.

My last night out I intend to camp along Copper Basin Rd and have an easy 8-12 mile walk into town. Anyone who wants to camp and walk with me is very welcome, and anyone who wants to meet us along Copper Basin Rd or the Aspen Creek Trail is also welcome.

Call me if you want to make arrangements to join me (or if you’re feeling lucky, just come out and find me). I should have cell reception along the I-40 corridor, and possibly along 93. After that, it’s pretty dicy until I hit Skull Valley …

Written by walkingman

October 30th, 2008 at 9:31 am

Posted in Arizona,meta

Darwin

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Day 45, East side of the Sierra Nevada
CA 190 to Darwin CA,17.6 miles
total miles traveled: 513.2

.. We last left our hero thirsty and nearly out of water camped by the side of highway 190 on the way to Death Valley …

I was up at first light the next day, knowing that I needed every advantage if I was going to get through the day without begging for water by the side of the road, which was my backup plan if I ran out before getting to the next cache.

Getting shaken up like that early on in the desert phase of the trip “focused the mind wonderfully” (did Mark Twain say that?). Filtering water in the Sierras was slow and caused a few digressions in route but it was always available. The contrast with the desert was bold and brash. I saw clearly how tenuous life is here — everything is about the water within and without, the water that is, that is not, that was, that will be … or won’t. After the green soundscape of the mountains, I found myself unnerved by the spare silence of the desert and by the thought that if enough things went wrong I could die out here. Which of course had been true the whole trip, but missing that first desert cache made survival an immediate concern for the first time.

So in the cool of the day with the sun low in the east I walked rapidly south and east, taking a small drink every half mile, knowing I would recognize the place of the next cache, hoping it was intact. I went up through a gap in the mountains, leaving US 395 behind and moving into the quiet desert where the rocks tell a story in a language we can only partly translate,

The cache was in a place where the land sloped off to the right into a valley, then rose to some bare mountains. Two Forest Service roads came together there and I had marked the cache with a old rusty gas can, which I hoped had not been removed by some well-meaning trash collection team.

I saw the mountains first — was it that near range, or the next? And the land perversely continued to slope the wrong way. As I neared the upward curve that I knew was too far, I looked for a remembered rock/sand bench on the left, didn’t see it. And then I was there, the land fell away to the right and the roads came in just as they should, and I crossed a small wash and saw the gas can, and just away on the left was the cairn marking the cache.

I dug like a mole, like gopher, like a Jack Russell terrier. I was never so glad to see a glass jar in my life. I took a long righteous drink. I made coffee, I ate Tasty Bite for breakfast, I wasted at least a liter of water just doing dishes, and then brushed my teeth just because I could.

Continuing the walk much relaxed I could see that the desert is truth — the silence there is the opposite of lies, the antithesis of illusion. There can be no deception in this place where everything is laid out in plain sight ready to hand, and what is not seen or felt or heard, is not.

I intended to bypass a twisty, shoulder-less section of CA 190 by going through Darwin, CA and on through Darwin Canyon to Panamint Springs, where I would be knocking on the gates of Death Valley. As I walked down the hill towards town, I had visions of comfort and conversation. When she heard I was planning to go through Darwin, my friend Grace told me to look up her friends Dell and Kathy, and I was hoping for a welcome there. Darwn is small enogh that all I needed was one person to stop and offer me a ride, and I could ask them where Dell and Kathy lived. I figured when I showed up at their door things would fall into place. Or not. In fact, two people stopped, and from their descriptions I was able to walk right to Dell and Kathy’s door, where I read the sign informing me that I should tell them right away if I was wearing any scented products so that they would not invite me in. Grace had mentioned something about Kathy’s allergies, but it had been knocked right of my mind by visions of new friends.

Dell answered the door and I introduced myself as a friend of Grace’s and I told him about my project. Then I mentioned that I had heard he was a piano player and that I was one too. He mentioned Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, and I may have said something about James P Johnson, and suddenly we were colleagues. I told them I was wearing sunscreen and Kathy allowed as how if I didn’t mind taking a shower and wearing some clothes she’d find for me, I could probably come in. Don’t throw me in that briar patch!

So I got that extra shower and put on some of Kathy’s clothes (Dell said I looked cute) and got to know a couple of interesting and friendly people over pot roast and vegetables and salad and chocolate ice cream. Dell and I traded sets on the 7-ft grand piano they installed in their mobile home. Dell has spent a lot of time in the Sierras and I heard a lot of interesting stories from him. Kathy is a plant lover and was able to identify the gentian I saw on the banks of Whitney Creek. They put me up in a travel trailer out back and I slept deeply, happy for the comfort and very very grateful for the hospitality.

Written by walkingman

October 30th, 2008 at 9:12 am

Posted in Desert

Escape from the 395

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Day 44, East of Lone Pine, CA
Lone Pine to CA 190, 22.8 miles
total miles traveled: 495.6

Another day where the camping options call for a long walk. In this case, the goal was to get well past Keeler, CA and the mining area around it, and as far down CA 190 as possible. After CA 190 comes in from Olancha, the road rises through a gap, and becomes nearly a wilderness road except that it is the main route into Death Valley.

As soon as I got off 395, the road that runs right up the east side of the Sierras and defines the region enough that a website about the area is called www.395.com, I felt the walk change — it was no longer about groups of people and the effect they have on nature and on me. Now it was about nature and the effect it has on people, especially me.

I passed a marble boulder with a plaque calling attention to the dolomite marble mine nearby, and I found a small piece of stone as a gift for Lori. I passed Keeler, and low on water, drew near to the first cache past Lone Pine. I saw a family stopped by the side of the road picking up pieces of marble that had probably fallen from a truck, and I called out to them that there was another marble-littered section a few miles down the road. And at this point, I made one of the most serious mistakes of the trip and received swift punishment.

Before I left, I decided that I would accept absolutely anything offered to me in good faith by anyone along the way — except a ride. When I talked to these people by the road, they offered me some water and I declined, knowing that my cache was very close by. However, TAMI did not have the coordinates of the caches because I didn’t have the software to transfer them in Lone Pine and I didn’t think of the simple expedient of printing them out and entering them by hand. So I was relying on my memory to find the cache, which was up a side road — but which side road? I remembered the position relative to the big mining facility, I remembered the little pit at the end of the road, I remembered the orange stakes on the right side as you got up a little way … I chose a likely road and followed it — no joy. And now it was getting dark and my hopes of finding the cache were even dimmer.

I went to the mining facility and banged on the door trying to raise a night watchman or something, but got no response. Now I had one liter of water and about ten miles to the next cache, so I blasted down the road, trying to make as much distance as I could, figuring I would make a thirsty camp that night and try for the next cache the next day. I figured if I got in real trouble I could always hold up my empty water bottle by the side of the road and someone would take pity on me.

I reached the junction with CA 190 and got as far from the 395 corridor and the mining area as I could before darkness and exhaustion forced me to a dry camp too close to the side of the road. Setting up my camp in the wind, the pole assembly on my tent failed and my best attempt at a field repair succeeded in cutting the shock cord, but it worked well enough to give me shelter on that starry windy night, and I settled in to a thirsty sleep.

Written by walkingman

October 23rd, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Posted in Desert

The long road to Lone Pine

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White MountainsDay 41, East side of the Sierra Nevada
Horseshoe Meadows to Lone Pine, 22.4 miles
total miles traveled: 472.8

Up at first light, I got an early start on the long trip into Lone Pine. There was no good place to camp between Horseshoe Meadows and the town and I was eager to shed my heavy mountain pack and ready to be in a manmade environment again. So I did all I could to lighten my load — I carried just enough water to get me to the first cache just outside of Lone Pine, and I littered, Gaia forgive me. Remember those pants I ripped on the second day in the mountains? My cloth tape repair job had lasted only one day and my plan to burn them in a campfire was foiled by the rain. I was determined not to wear or carry them into town, so I found a spot where they would be exposed to water and sunlight and hoped the 100% cotton would break down quickly. I scattered food too, leaving nothing in a large concentration to encourage bears.

First view of Owens ValleyThe road from Horseshoe Meadows goes up to a pass, winds around a mountainside, then goes down some Switchbacks on Horseshoe Meadows Roadlong lazy switchbacks to the floor of the Owens Valley. The view from the top is almost as amazing as the view from below up to Whitney and her escorts. I enjoyed the panorama and surrendered to the gentle but insistent slope — more than 5600 ft down to Lone Pine.

I committed my second ecological no-no by cutting the lowest and longest switchback, almost jumping downhill through something that I was quite allergic to. I reached the plateau before the Alabama Hills and broke open my first cache. The water was refreshingly cool and I had some hope that the rest of the caches had survived as well as the first.

Tuttle Creek 1The last stretch into town went through the Tuttle Creek area of the Alabama Hills, which are famous for the many westerns that have been filmed there. They are sort of like Prescott’s Granite Dells, but the rock is darker and feels older, plus Tuttle Creek is a lovely mountain runoff stream, and in the cool of the evening with the beautiful scenery and singing water I felt very lucky to be there.

I took two rest days in Lone Pine. I bought some gear, sent my Sierra pack home, ate buffalo burgers and pizza, did some laundry, and tried to prepare myself for the desert section of the trip. I had some interesting conversations with people about my walk and took in Lone Pine’s schizo dual focus: on western movies and Mt. Whitney tourism. It is too cowboy to ever be Bishop, another east-side town which has completely succumbed to urbanism — they have an Indian restaurant and a coffee-roasting company, but the pressures are evident. I imagine it is what Prescott was 25 years ago.

Clouds over the Sierra 2On my second day there, I woke to see the mountains covered with swirling clouds, and I hoped that anyone fool enough to attempt Whitney that day was smart enough to admit defeat and come down. When the clouds lifted the next day, they left snow behind and as I turned towards the desert and a whole new journey, I felt fortunate that the mountains had let me pass with so little trouble, I figured that one raindrop on Cottonwood Pass as a reminder that it could have been truly disastrous.

Written by walkingman

October 23rd, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Sierras

Bolting for the exit

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Sunrise at Wallace CreekDays 39-40, Sierra Nevada
Wallace Creek to Horseshoe Meadows, 15.8+19.8 miles
total miles traveled: 450.4

I was two days away from Cottonwood Pass and safety and I decided to run for it since there was clearly no percentage in waiting. Climbing out of the Wallace Creek drainage, I walked south along a plateau under the clouded summit of Whitney and took the turnoff to the Crabtree Ranger Station, leaving my gear under my rainfly in case the showers turned my way. I had promised Lori I would heck in at each of the three ranger stations I passed so I could be easily tracked and with the conditions worsening I thought checking in was a better idea than ever even though it would cost me two miles. The first station I had stopped at had a trail register, but I took a piece of aper with me just in case. This turned out to be useless when I arrived at the deserted station, which was locked up tight. I thought for a while about how to leave a message and finally hd the idea of spelling out MJ 929 in sticks on the front porch and weighing the sticks down with rocks. Then I headed back to the trail, disturbed at how useless that diversion was likely to be. As I got back to the trail, I got hit with the first rain of the day, and I hurried to get south out from under the shadow of Whitney as quickly as I could.

Which was not very quickly, since I was on a section of the John Muir Trail that stays high on the western shoulders of the range that looks out over the Owens Valley and the desert beyond, so it has to deal with the drainages of the creeks rushing down to the Kern River, meaning many ups and downs.

So I descended to Whitney Creek and Crabtree Meadow, now hearing thunder from the north and climbed up to the flats under Mount Guyot, finally gaining the southern ridge and began a long steep fall into the valley of Rock Creek.

The Sierras and the desert to the east are the playground of US military flyers, and I had been hearing them low and close the whole way through the mountains, but never as happily as now when I heard them roaring around up there through the threatening skies. I figured they don’t fly when the weather is truly awful, so I took it as a good sign.

And I felt some relief as I took the switchbacks down to Rock Creek, with the skies clearing, even though there were some ominous storm systems moving in from the south. Reaching the first campground sheltered in the trees before dark, I set my pack down, covered it up, and walked over to check in at the last ranger station before leaving the mountains. This time I took paper and pen …

I expected the cabin to be deserted, but someone was inside so I rapped on the door and met John, who stocks these cabins for the January snow survey. He had a fire going, and he offered me hot chocolate and we talked about people he knew from Prescott, and he gave me a weather forecast and the lowdown on the snow survey. This was the end of the third day where I had not seen a human and I was thoroughly enjoying some conversation with John, who I found amiable and interesting, so I can probably be forgiven for ignoring the first thunderclap. But the second one got my full attention, especially since John pointed out that it was starting to rain. He was mistaken, though. I threw down my cup and bolted, running down the trail through a respectable sized hailstorm, trying to get to my pack before my boots filled with ice.

As I got to my gear, the hail let up and I had just enough rain-free time to set up camp before the storm came in for true. Seeing that it was settling in for an all-night rain, I decided to make a fire with the bit of dry wood by the fire ring, and gathered some dry pine needles under the closest big tree. Alas, these needles seemed to be fire-resistant, unlike the Ponderosa needles I use for tinder at home and now everything else small was soaked. I soon realized that I had the solution close at hand. A little stove fuel and WHOOSH, I had a nice blaze going. I was remembering a rainy night in the Adirondacks by the fire with Bradfield as the showers blew in and out, and I hoped for some of that comfortable feeling, but the rain was heavy and unrelenting and I became depressed and went to bed after scattering the fire a bit.

The next morning was gray but the rain had stopped ad it looked like John’s weather forecast was right:
the current storm was supposed to give way to better weather in the next day or so, but two or three days later the first real winter storm was slated to dump two feet of snow on the mountans. It looked like I was going to get over the Sierra just before the gates slammed shut.

FoxtailsI climbed to a high ridge and spent most of the day wandering along it, the weather still gloomy but slowly clearing. The forest thinned out, the lushness of the west side giving way to foxtail pines scattered over rocky slopes. The air felt drier despite the occasional shallow patches of snow from last night’s storm. I remember the pleasing texture of the Sierra dust turned to soft sand by the rain, and the waves of ridges receding to the south.

Golden Trout WildernessNearing the pass, I reflected on what this walk has taught me about change. Removing myself from the rhythms of life I am accustomed to has got me more attuned to how many changes of varying velocities pass through any one moment in time: landmarks advance and recede, aches and pains shift around, my spirits and confidence sink and fly. I see it as a kaleidoscope; with each turn old patterns dissolve and new ones click into place. Looking at things in this way helps free me expectations and thus the planning mind — what is a plan after all but a set of expectations?

Lha Gey Lo!!!Descending past Chicken Spring Lake to the pass, I pause to do what I forgot to do on Colby Pass — observe the Bhutanese tradition of greeting the gods of the pass with a loud “Lha Gey Lo” (“praise to the gods of the pass!”). I am rewarded with a single drop of rain … and then the sun comes out.

I plunged down the switchbacks into Horseshoe Meadows and stumbled into the cattle camp, where a cowboy who clearly thought I was some species of lunatic directed me to the trailhead and water. Not wanting to go west or up, I continued on towards Lone Pine, vaguely remembering another campground which never materiaized. Exhausted, I headed for a spot where the road crosses Cottonwood Creek, and made a stealth camp close to the road in the last of the light.

Written by walkingman

October 23rd, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Sierras

Interlude

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A brief pause in the narrative to let you all know that I am now in Death Valley. Lori joined me here yesterday and cousin Mike gets in tonight. Tomorrow Lori will head home to Prescott and Mike will stay and walk with me for 5 days or so — it’s beginning to look like I will hit the Colorado River around November 1st.

Your comments are always appreciated, and your good wishes keep my spirits high.

Written by walkingman

October 14th, 2008 at 11:48 am

Posted in meta

Turning Point

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Looking back towards Colby PassDay 38, Sierra Nevada
Gallatts Lake to Wallace Creek, 11.3 miles
total miles traveled: 414.8

The next day I continued in my resolve to relax and enjoy, dawdling and taking plenty of time to look around and take pictures. With the exception of a wicked scramble up a nasty little avalanche gully, the morning walk was fairly easy but unremittingly downhill.

Near Junction MeadowI crossed the Kern River and met the High Sierra Trail, theoretically a much more traveled path though I saw no one. Next was a 2400ft climb up to the headwaters of Wallace Creek. I would then be high on the ridge backing the high peaks that loom over Lone Pine and would walk along that ridge south to Cottonwood Pass and emerge on the east side of the mountains. I had four days to get there and I intended to linger. The climb is long but the grade is easy and Near Wallace CreekI reached Wallace Creek before dark and set up camp. All day the clouds had been building and forming scattered rain showers. This a mountain weather pattern I am very used to and the only unusual thing about it was that the rain always seemed to be where I wasn’t.

But in the darkness that night as I stowed my camping gear and got ready for bed, I saw clouds drifting over and obscuring the stars. This was disturbing, since the weather pattern usually has the clouds breaking up and leaving clear night skies. I had been in the habit of storing the rain fly in the tent in case of quick need, and later that night as I felt small drops exploding on the mesh of the tent and I heard the pattering of larger drops, I got up fast and rigged the rain fly, then settled in for a night of wondering how bad this was going to get.

Sunset at Wallace CreekNot too bad in terms of rain, it turned out. Really it was just of series of showers, but the question was, was this the advance scout of a real winter storm? Had I tried this passage too late in the season? And just exactly how screwed was I now? Up at first light the next day and resolved to head to Cottonwood Pass and Lone Pine as fast as could be, I saw that even if I had been in position for an attempt on Mount Whitney, the weather would have prevented it — it was quite ugly, with large storms ranging up the valley of the Kern and the high peaks whited out by low-flying clouds.

I put on my rain jacket, made a pack cover out of my tent’s rainfly, and headed south towards Rock Creek Ranger Station and Cottonwood Pass.

Written by walkingman

October 14th, 2008 at 11:43 am

Posted in Sierras

Over the Great Western Divide

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Aspens in Cloud CanyonDays 36-37, Sierra Nevada
Roaring River Ranger Station to Gallats Lake, 14.3+11.2 miles
total miles traveled: 403.5

From the ranger station, the trail turns a corner into Cloud Canyon and climbs gradually up to the head of the canyon where it is blocked by a large hill called The Whaleback. This was a beautiful day of walking through real high country scenery (I’ll post pictures as soon as I can, but it will be at least 10 days),The Whaleback and I relaxed into the rhythm of easy climbing and took many rest and picture breaks, including one happy interlude near the Roaring River close to its source where it meanders quietly through a large meadow, having not yet learned to roar. I sat and watched the rainbow and brown trout, reflecting on the perfect weather I’d had the entire trip and trying to motivate myself to get up and go on. What finally did it was the thought that Colby Lake, a little below the pass, was supposed to be even nicer.

The goal of these two days was to cross the Great Western Divide over Colby Pass and drop into the valley of the Kern River, which is in the middle of the two high ranges that form that part of the Sierras. I had been pushing hard the last three days and felt a lot of urgency about getting over the pass, in part because I was hoping to make an attempt on Mt. Whitney and it was only going to be possible if I could get into position soon enough. Looking back on it, I can see that I also wanted to get over Colby Pass while conditions were good because the pass marked the point of commitment where my sensible exit in case of bad weather would be east over the second range into Lone Pine, rather than a retreat to the west side of the mountains.

Big Wet Meadows from the shoulder of the WhalebackAfter my idyll by the river, I climbed the side of The Whaleback and maneuvered around its side preparing for the climb up to Colby Lake. All together this is about a 3200ft climb, with the last 600ft up to the lake being the hardest. And it was here that I made the worst mistake of the trip so far.

I was sick sick sick of climbing and I could see where the lake had to be, yet the trail was not headed that way. I figured it was going to take some lazy long switchbacks to the top of a ridge and then contour over and drop into the lake basin, and I could see an easier path over granite slabs to where it had to go. So I left the trail and made a beeline for the junction. Only when I got there, the trail wasn’t, and I couldn’t see it anywhere. Naturally, I compounded my error by continuing my traverse to the basin where the lake had to be and it began to get rough and steep, with some true scrambling required in spots. I love scrambling, but not with a full pack which messes with my balance. My shortcut turned into a very slow and somewhat scary crossing into a basin that turned out to contain not one, but three lakes. During that traverse, my GPS ran out of battery power and shut down, so even if I had been inclined to admit to an error and try to correct myself, it would have been difficult to find a stable enough place to change batteries and look at my position.

I have done this kind of thing before, unfortunately. The first time I tried to climb Split Mountain, the trail stubbornly did not go where I knew it had to go, and I ended up on a high cold ridge utterly demoralized and exhausted to the point where I just came down the next day even though I was in fact on the right trail and not too far from a summit attempt. You would think I could learn enough from that experience not to repeat it, but …

Lake Schweinkopf at dawnSo when I saw those three lakes in the fading light, I tried to think where I had gone wrong as I struggled to get a camp set up on the treeless cheerless shore of the largest lake. Once warm in my sleeping bag, I consulted the map and GPS and saw that following my idea about Colby Lake’s location rather than the trail had been my downfall, and now I was up a side canyon under high peaks too low to name, and about two trail-less miles out my way. This was very disappointing, but since the map showed a stream instead lakes in the area, I figured the lakes were mine to name. Thus they became Lake Misperception, Lake Idee Fixe, and Lake Schweinkopf, the last being the largest of the three.

The next day I regained the trail at the cost of two hours and some tough scrambling up to the ridgetop I had not wanted to surmount the day before, then went around the lake after a brief and pleasant Goodbye Colby Lakebreak on the shore and began the climb to Colby Pass. This is close as I will ever get to climbing a high peak with a full pack on. The trail was steep, rough, and loose in a way that the summit trails up 14ers often are, and I was made anxious by the clouds beginning to roll in and knit together. I was grateful for the difficulty, however: nothing blows the planning mind away like a truly difficult physical task.

View from Colby Pass #1The view from the top of the pass was beautiful and daunting, since now I could see the depth of the river valley I would cross and the height of the range beyond. I lost altitude quickly as the steepness of the trail suddenly became my friend. Miles later and a thousand feet lower, I downed my pack, took off my boots, lay on a granite slab and closed my eyes for a few minutes. When I opened them, something had changed — I found I no longer cared about an attempt on Whitney’s summit. What I cared about was truly absorbing and enjoying this amazing part of earth for the rest of the small amount of time I was there.

Well before dark, I found a miniature meadow to camp in and settled in to another night of clear Sierra stars, this time with the bonus of a small meteor shower.

Written by walkingman

October 4th, 2008 at 9:31 am

Posted in Sierras

Walking in the tracks of the bear

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Sierra streamDays 33-35, Sierra Nevada
Grant Grove to Roaring River Ranger Station, 15.7+11.7+15 miles
total miles traveled: 378

These days were all about positioning — the first two were spent just reaching the trailhead. The terrain was rolling ups and downs through deep forest, though the big trees faded out once I left CA198 near the end of the first day. On day two I took a calculated risk that didn’t work very well, at least in terms of time. Instead of staying on the main road, I took a slightly shorter side route which faded into a trail at some point, according to the map. Actually, it started as a well-defined side road which simply ended. Casting about, I found a faint trail which did some things that human trails never do — such as heading straight downhill through a thicket. Following this animal (bear?) trail I finally found a true trail running parallel farther downhill and followed that to a destroyed and abandoned bridge and a lovely stream crossing where I rested and recorded the sound of the stream. Coming back onto the road, I ripped my pants going over a log on the way to a stream to get water. It wasn’t cold, so I decided to keep wearing them and save my spares for when I got closer to Lone Pine.

I passed the Horse Corral Pack Station and reached the trailhead in the afternoon of the second day and began the 1500 ft climb up to Rowell Meadow. I camped just short of the meadow as it was getting dark. The Sierras are dotted with lovely grassy meadows which are used for grazing by people traveling through the mountains by horse or with mules as pack animals. This is a bigger deal than I ever knew — I was dodging horse turds the whole trip, though I only saw two parties with animals — both of them associated with the Park Service, which uses pack animals instead of vehicles in the backcountry.

Sierras West

The Sierras are bear country, so much of these early days in thick woods was colored by bear fear (how I wish it had been beer fare!). I used the classic techniques — consciously making lots of noise and singing loudly to warn the bears of my approach. In the afternoon of the third day, after I had dropped 2000ft into the Sugarloaf Valley, I came on a gate across the trail and four saddled horses behind it. Detouring uphill around them, I met the rangers coming downhill towards them. I paused to talk to them and they told me they had seen two bears about a quarter-mile down the trail. They did mention that the bears didn’t seem at all interested in them, but it seemed to me they might react differently to a lone hiker.

This is probably a good time to say that I saw no bears on my whole Sierra traverse, though I am sure that those particular bears saw me. For the next mile and half I was singing my fool head off. When I ran out of songs that I knew the lyrics to, I made up some bear songs, some which contained rather racy (if not downright obscene) references to Lori. Embarrassed, or their finely tuned musical sensibilities offended by my tunelessness, the bears made themselves scarce and I rolled into the Roaring River Ranger Station near dark, signed the trail register so that I could be traced if I ended up overdue, and camped near the river, poised for an early start the next day when I would enter Cloud Canyon and begin the climb up to Colby Pass.

I want to acknowledge the debt I owe to fivenineclimber in planning this trip. The detailed and accurate description of the route he posted online was better than anything I hoped to find.

Written by walkingman

October 3rd, 2008 at 11:29 am

Posted in Sierras

The Sierras

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I keep thinking of what my friend Mark Maher said about bicycle touring: “It’ll show you heaven and it’ll show you hell”. Not that I saw more of hell than a slice of the hell my mind can become when it’s being eaten alive by anxiety. But divine moments are ready to hand in the Sierras; there are places there of such surpassing pleasantness that it’s near impossible to think of a good enough reason to leave.

The visual beauty has been well documented and I have my share of pictures to add to a very crowded oeuvre, though I wish there was a way to convey the feeling of of a chilly moonless night in the mountains with a slight breeze stirring the pines into song. Now I know what the stars really look like.

The last nine days had everything — hard climbing, confusion, endless ups and downs though deep forest, costly mistakes, stunning views in every direction, a variety of fears, plenty of solitude, and some moments of simple happiness.

And now I am in Lone Pine — back in civilization. Beer! Food I didn’t cook myself! Hot water that cleverly comes out of a spigot and gets you clean!

We’ll see how rapidly the weight I lost in the mountains comes back under the influence of this soft living. Here’s Matt’s guaranteed weight-loss plan: don’t eat very much and spend all day every day doing hard physical exercise. It worked for me — it will work for you too!

I’ll be posting a detailed trava-blog about the experience over the next few days as I prepare to walk into Death Valley.

Written by walkingman

October 2nd, 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Sierras