Waxing Crescent Moon
My trip to Yosemite last week turned out much differently than I had planned. Nonetheless, I had a great time and I learned that I can still hike with a pack and that I can still scramble up a mountain - at 70.75 years and counting.
My original intention for this trip was to do two 4- or 5-day hikes with a few lazy rest days mixed in there somewhere. I hadn't backpacked since the Fall of 2018 and I didn't know what to expect from my cardio-pulmonary system when carrying a bunch of food in a 2-pound bear canister. I'm not opposed to bear cans, mind you - I understand and support the need to keep human food away from bears - but I had not previously backpacked in areas where they were required. I have either carried an Ursack (where approved) or I have hung my food in trees (when that was the norm). I have never lost food to a bear - never even had a bear attempt to steal it. But times have changed and of course I will comply with park regulations. In Yosemite and increasingly in other parts of the Sierra Nevada, bear cans are a necessity.
|I use the smallest Bear Vault (33 ounces) in my Palomino Kitchen.
You won't hear me whine about the "good old days" but I do hope that the materials science wizards come up with an affordable, lighter-weight canister soon. Most of us have spent a lot of time and money trying to reduce the weight of our kits. Adding back a couple of pounds or more is frustrating - we definitely need an entrepreneurial savior. Many innovations in recreational equipment have had their beginnings in advanced gear made for soldiers in times of war. This particular one is probably not on the front burner of the Army idea guys. I suppose that when everybody is carrying an M16, nobody even considers the need for a bear canister. Them durn bears just better skedaddle.
I was not surprised that age and sea-level conditioning were factors that played roles in my decision-making this past week, but so was air quality. Two forest fires in the region are still smoldering and when the wind is right, their smoke plumes affect different parts of the park. I was lucky at the start, but as the first week came to a close, the air got downright nasty.
|This was Yosemite Valley on August 18.
|This was Yosemite Valley one week later.
My first day of hiking was gorgeous but it was obvious that I needed more acclimation to deal with the elevation change plus more practice with the increased pack weight. I scaled back my plans and settled for what I could do without sacrificing myself to injury or a bad mood. That translated to 6 or 7 mile hikes at a slow pace with a concerted effort to keep a smile on my face. From Tuolumne Meadows (about 8700 ft) to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (about 7800 ft) I just went with the flow and enjoyed the cascades. I met a bunch of hikers along the way and in camp, all much younger than me. Some of them were having fun, but several middle aged dudes just wouldn't stop complaining. Hey man, you gotta whistle while you work, you know? I mean, look up! This place is amazing!
The next place I hiked to was May Lake (9270 ft) and it was even better. Who cares if I wasn't moving fast? I was in woodsy mountain ecstasy. I had no idea May Lake is so big or that it is so beautiful. That took me by surprise and I was elated by my clean camp site about 150 feet above the lake - I was so happy with it that I decided to spend two nights there. I set up my tent, dumped my pack, and walked all over the place, exploring the rocks and taking in the thrilling views. I felt like I was 10.75 years old that whole day.
|YNP is famous for its clean, pretty granitic slabs, but I find metamorphic rocks interesting, too.
|Try to imagine the complex, contorted life history of this rock.
After a good night's sleep, I decided to put myself to the test and climb as far as I could up Mt. Hoffman (10,850 ft). Said to be the geographic center of YNP, it sits right next to May Lake with great views in every direction. A well worn trail leads to the base of the mountain and a series of cairns makes the way up fairly obvious. I huffed and puffed for a couple of hours before getting above tree line and starting to feel the elevation. Finally I got to the point where I thought it would be best to turn around rather than chance a fall. It was a long, slow, careful walk back down the beautiful mountain to the Palomino Kitchen. I had a Mary Jane's Farm Bare Burrito waiting for me, so I wanted to be sure to get there in one piece.
Perhaps my favorite part of this day was looking out at places I had been to on other hikes over the years. Being able to pick out Half Dome and Clouds Rest was especially fun. I remember sitting on top of Half Dome in 2004 or so, dangling my legs over the edge and taking in the awesome view of the rest of Yosemite Valley from up there. On my next next visit, I climbed up to Clouds Rest and gasped when I realized I was looking down on Half Dome and the Valley from way up there. And on this hike, from the upper reaches of Mt. Hoffman, I gazed down to Clouds Rest, way over there, way way down below. The perspective was inspiring and so much fun.
|Looking down on Clouds Rest.
|A view of May Lake.
|Tenaya Lake down toward the left.
That night in my tent, I awoke with a start at the strong smell of smoke. Poking my head outside, I could see none of the innumerable stars I had seen the previous night and the burning smell was even stronger. I instinctively worried that this smoke was from a new fire somewhere nearby. Staring out into the darkness, my mind processed what I would have to do if that was the case. Would I break camp and pack everything up or would I jam together just the important stuff, turn on my headlamp, and book it down the trail, leaving all that materials-science lightweight plastic backpacking gear plus a two-pound bear canister to melt ingloriously into the dirt. I shook my head and told myself the wind had shifted, this was smoke from the Red Fire or the Rodgers Fire blowing in a new direction, they were both far away, I was not in danger except for breathing in God knows what incinerated Earth stuff, and my concern was either unjustified or ridiculously powerless to stop whatever was going to happen to me sitting in my long johns in the dark anyway. Then I went back to sleep.
The next day's sunrise lit up Mt. Hoffman as I sat on a stump and enjoyed my coffee and oats under a light blue sky that smelled slightly of charred underbrush. I was a-okay.
Yosemite Valley (this day's destination), however, was choked with people and particulate matter. I really didn't want any part of either one and since my next hike was supposed to start and end there, I wandered around a little bit with my mask on, bought a cool t-shirt, and ended my vacation early. Not really. I'm retired. What I actually did was transfer my vacationing self to another location. I left YNP for tiny Groveland, CA (population 4,000 or so), a little way down Hwy 120 toward San Francisco. I spent a day and a half there goofing off, listening to ghost stories, eating some of the remaining contents of my two-pound bear canister, and visiting their most wonderful public library. I wanted to eat breakfast at the Iron Door Saloon (California's oldest saloon, it is said), but it was closed.
|My friend Lisa says a ghost lives here. Woooooo!
When I got home, I used one of those COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits to see if any of those people I dodged out there in The World gave me the cooties. Both times (last night and this morning) I tested negative. I don't have any symptoms and I don't feel bad (except for my lower back, thanks to that blasted bear can). I just wanted to do the responsible thing and check myself. I guess you can't be 100% sure those kits work, but I hereby pronounce myself safe from fire and virus anyway.
Peace, Love, and Health in the Time of Forest Fires,
#2,022 in 2022