Saturday, August 31, 2013

Island Lake (a valiant attempt to escape the smoke)

Since I was in high school I've been going on a summer backpacking trip with folks I've grown up with, a few park rangers and a smattering of kids playing in the Sierra's. As I've gotten older so has the group and as people's lives have become busier (ie getting real jobs and moving around the country) the trips size has been steadily decreasing. I missed last year and was pretty excited when I got the email about this summer. A trip full of old friends that I didn't have to plan, count me in! As the date drew nearer I realized I knew zero details, originally planned for the grouse ridge area the Rim fire and American fire threw a wrench in our plans. With fingers crossed for good wind and amazing firefighters the plan changed half a dozen times. Desolation, Domeland, Mendocino all sorts of ideas were thrown out there. Ultimately the air looked promisingly clear and two days before our planned departure my email said screw it lets just head to Grouse Ridge and hope for the best. 
Turns out our group was down to three and we would try to meet up in a parking lot, Chubb Lake right off 80 between Truckee and Colfax. So as seems to be my habit I got off work, haphazardly packed my bag, attempted to take a nap and hit the road. A few phone calls later and a whole lot of driving in circles finally had me next to the 80 off ramp. Turns out that our super simple meeting spot was hard to find and neither of our cars had any success, Chubb Lake will have  to remain a mystery. Then it was off down the highway, down the dirt adventure that masquerades as forest service roads and finally to the Feely/Carr Lake parking lot. 
I was handed a sack of food and a mile or two later had us settling down at Island lake for the night. One of our group can't hike far, so the plan was for a mellow base camp with the ability to day hike off wherever we so desired. We hit the lake after 5 pm and with only a bit of haze we were hopeful for our trip. 

After a ridiculous amount of chatting we made some dinner playing with the Kelley Kettle, a fun wood burning kettle that made it feel like we had a campfire. Sometime close to 11 we realized it was super cold out and bed was probably a good option.. Starry skies complete with shooting stars made for a pretty great time falling asleep. 

I woke up under a bright moon, coughing with the surrounding mountains that were pretty obliterated by smoky haze. Not good. By morning it had somewhat cleared but not as much as I had hoped. After a very slow morning (smoke does not motivate me to climb great heights) Lauren and I went exploring eventually cross countrying down to a lake for a short swim. 

The clouds were gathering and the winds were whipping clearing up the air and making reading in the sleeping bag a pretty great afternoon option. The sky was almost clear and the afternoon passed in a lazy happy way. Sunset was pretty much my favorite time of day and another day in the woods wrapped up with an earlier night and a cloudy sky making for a much warmer sleep. 

Turns out a base camp makes me super lazy. With more haze and cold crazy wind it was yet another slow morning. Swimming, snacks and general laziness was my day. I had to head back home that afternoon because I unfortunatley needed to do some errands before working and get ready for my upcoming trip. I have 10 days off and zero prep completed for (drum roll please) Washington. I figure I need to spend at least one day getting ready for that so a short forested hike later I was once again back at my car heading back into the haze that is currently Reno. It was great catching up with old friends and the 3 days felt much longer than they were. Beautiful area, so worth the trip. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

And the rest of Yosemite

We decided to wake up extra early to catch the sunrise. Wrapped in sleeping bags we trekked over to another great viewpoint and watched the sunrise over half dome and the valley. Not the most glorious of colors but a pretty great way to spend a morning.

 Then back down towards the valley we went.

The steps going down started of pretty realistic but sure got steeper as we went along. 3.2 miles of stairs slash steep downhill all the way to the bottom.

Find Meghan...

Finally a bit of glorious shade

It was quite the descent. I found myself checking behind me more and more regularly. Meghan was trailing, apparently being 6 foot something doesn't always do great things for balance and she was taking it slow. And as the day crept toward 90 and the swarms of bugs (thankfully the nonbiting kind) became more unrelenting our progress exponentially slowed. I got a bit cranky as the trail started to head back up, what the heck trail? And more and more people started to appear, aka we must be near the trailhead. I was feeling pretty good after my one small temper tantrum (seriously unmarked junction not cool) and was cruising along, except for the many frequent stops to wait for Meghan to catch up. After being told multiple times to just go on I'll admit I took off. It's been awhile since I have been anything but a solo backpacker and I was not taking perfectly to the change.

Yosemite Falls, sans water...
 I made it to the bottom and watched the stream of people head up the trail. So many unprepared people, it was kind of fun watching the people head up and then shortly see some back realizing they were in far over their heads. That climb was no joke.
When Meghan finally got to the bottom she looked a little rough around the edges. I pushed on for us to get to Yosemite Village for a snack and a break, I was worried that once we stopped there would be no more moving son on we trudged for the last little bit into the depths of Yosemite Village.  A hot hot day for sure. Collapsing on a bench we eventually grabbed some food and started to get our plans straightened out. Clearly the plan of exloring the valley was a no go. Meghan said her feet were done so tourist watching and napping until the 5pm shuttle was on. Only when we checked with the visitors center we were told nope no free shuttle, we could hitch but otherwise its $20 and they should drop us off at the trailhed if we ask. Hey wait a sec? Where'd my free hiker shuttle disappear to? My cheapskate self wanted to hitch but I was voted down. I wandered a bit and enjoyed some frozen yogurt as we killed time. Reading my book and watching the millions of people on cells phones that surrounded me, nothing like a bit of culture shock.
Eventually the YARTS bus showed up and after being told nope they didn't stop at our trailhead I was feeling pretty beat down. The bus driver said maybe and we got on on crossing our fingers. A surprisingly speedy drive later the bus pulled in and happily let us off right where we wanted to be. A nice easy 2 miles and we were back at the car campground which was shockingly full. Tuesday nights are apparently more popular than Sundays, I sure was surprised. We had one last campfire and settled in for our last night under the stars.

And then our adventure was over, packed up and ready for the long drive back to the highway. The dirt road wasn't much shorter heading back but as we passed out of the park we sure did thank our luck for avoiding the insanely long line that was heading into the park.

nice scenic drive through the park

so many cars!
On the drive back we had plenty of time to chat about the trip. Meghan promised me I hadn't scared her out of backpacking but that maybe a few gear adjustments were in order. She swears she had a good time and I'm glad I got to explore a new corner of the park but think I'll stick to trips with a bit more water on my next adventure...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Yosemite Day 2

Up and out of the campground without much fuss. We packed up, stashed our food in a bear locker and headed down the Yosemite Creek Trail. Nice easy graded trail, forested and even a little water. Nothing much but enough that we were hopeful for our planned campsite.

First peek at some of  the giant rocks of Yosemite up close
We reached the intersection for the valley and north dome sometime between 10 and 11. This had been our intended camping spot, and like we had guessed it was plenty early for a side trip. Plus there was no water and Yosemite falls was supposed to be a quarter of a mile away so we could at least eat lunch and get some water there. We decided to stash the bear can and some heavier clothing/sleeping bags and head towards North Dome.

Within a few minutes we took a scenic overlook detour. If its signed it must be pretty awesome right?

I peered over the edge and had a sinking feeling, I am standing near a sign for Yosemite Falls, only there is no flowing water. For some reason it had not occurred to me that the falls themselves would be dry. Apparently it's common knowledge that this particular waterfall is seasonal, but not being in the know I was rather disappointed. More shallow pools for us.

We grabbed some water and started climbing.

It was much less hazy looking back towards the way we had come. But I was starting to think we might have an issue. The hiking up until then had been super mild. Mostly flat, a bit of downhill, basic easy trail. Now that we were climbing I was reminded that hiking with someone who is almost a foot taller than you makes for very different strides. And hiking with someone who has never lugged a backpack around can create a bit of a stutter step hiking pattern (you know walk, walk, gasp for air for a bit, walk a little farther). This was not a smooth climb at all. But it was pretty short, and the excitement over seeing Half Dome up close for the first time overshadowed the gasping for air bit. I was having some concerns about us succesfully getting all the way to North Dome and suggested a lunch break. We found a boulder with a beautiful view and collapsed in the heat. I was hungry and even though we had only hiked a total of maybe 7 miles it was already afternoon and 9 more miles seemed a little far fetched (from the intersection it had been 5 miles to North Dome). So a lunch slash regroup break seemed perfect.

My first tip off that our day might not go quite as planned actually happened the night before. As we unloaded the car I had picked up Meghan's sleeping bag and realized how hefty it truly was. We had talked about gear briefly over the past few weeks but since we had never sat down together I hadn't physically looked at her gear. Yup that's right, the silly person who used to lead backpacking trips for loads of inexperienced kids forgot to look at what the newbie packed. I have plenty of extra gear (seriously back in college I managed to basically outfit 3 friends for a quick overnight). I'm not a big clothes shopper but I happily own 3 sleeping bags and have spent the last two months rationalizing the purchase of another (Zpacks quilt you look so amazing). So I easily could have lightened her load at least a little. I cringed as I saw a cotton sweatshirt and later that evening a whole extra set of clothes. Obviously it all comes down to personal choices, and learning that those extra couple of pounds really do add up.  There's is nothing like experience to teach you what you actually value enough to haul over mountains. The slow climbing, the general pack discomfort and the growing number of blisters on Meghan's feet coupled with my sleep deprivation were not a recipe for a hike 17 mile kind of day. At least not if I wanted Meghan to remember her first backpacking trip fondly.

After a pretty long break and lots of debating North Dome was vetoed and we decided to head back to the falls grab a little water and backtrack to camp at our lunch rock. As we were heading back to the trail stumbling through bushes we found a perfect campsite with amazing views and a nice big flat spot. It seemed like perfect confirmation for our choice. Back to the creek was a quick adventure where we lazed around for a few hours watching all the tourists. We had really only seen a handful of people so far and were feeling pretty spoiled by our solitude in Yosemite experience.

Later in the afternoon we headed back up to our campsite. We had met a few folks who sounded like they were all camping up on the ridge and we were a bit worried that our lovely spot would be gone. Heading back up we somehow lost the trail, so many people have cut the trail that there are a zillion offshoots, but we made it back to the top with no issues and plenty of time for sunset which was our true goal.

I'll admit it I ran around like a crazy person during sunset. I actually was just going to use the bathroom but kept getting distracted by all the great views. A great way to explore your surrounds is to run around like an excited 5 year old shouting, ooh ooh look at that and then realize you are talking to yourself.

Probably the best part of the whole day was the sky. A car camper the night before had mentioned a meteor shower and boy was he right. Bright huge shooting stars over half dome, not to shabby. Thanks Perseid you rock.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yosemite Part 1

The best ideas come at two am. At least that's what it seems like lately. Two am on night shift is often a sort of magical time, there is a lull as you get incredibly tired and the chaos of the beginning of the shift recedes. With a bit of caffeine and a lot of conversation the shift moves on, but it's definitely one of the stranger parts of night shift. A few weeks ago during one of these moments I was chatting with a coworker and found out that even though she has visited a ton of national parks and lived within a few hours of the park her whole life she had never been to Yosemite; and a plan was hatched.
Now this lovely lady is no newbie to the outdoors, loads of camping, hiking and horseback riding experience but she has never been backpacking. So with that in mind we decided to try to get a few days off together and hit Yosemite, with a little bit of backpacking and car camping to keep it mellow. No over the top crazy hard backpacking plans for a first trip. Now I'm not quite sure how it happened but summer is a busy time and suddenly we were just a few days out and had done basically zero planning. With opposite schedules we were having a tough time meeting up in person, so on our own we picked up a few things and decided to show up and hope it worked.
Sleep deprived and slap happy after three nights of work I shoved some stuff into my backpack and tried to look awake when Meghan got to my house at 8 am. We stopped at Winco (bulk aisle I do love you so) and cobbled together 4 days worth of food and hit the road. Pretty drive passing Topaz lake, canyons, cows and finally Mono Lake and Tioga Pass. One more food and gas stop at the infamous Mobil (I keep hearing this place is epic and yes it was good but honestly overpriced and overcrowded, I'd vote for burgers and shakes at Walker Burger hands down).

The drive felt super quick and as we wound into Yosemite we did the touristy thing and stopped at pullouts to gawk at all the views. We pulled into the permit center at Tuolumne Meadows and hoped for good luck. The two rangers at the desk looked like they were having a long day and were plenty busy. We quickly found out that there were no permits for anything going out of the valley that night or the next so that option was out the window. We asked for suggestions and I was beyond overwhelmed, going on 27 hours without sleep decision making wasn't my strong point. Meghan was deferring to me and I just wanted to sleep. After a whole lot of staring at maps and questions we decided on a short trip starting at the Yosemite Creek Trailhead, with us camping near the trail intersection for North Dome on day 1. Only about 6-7 miles, we could then day hike to North Dome if we got there early enough or it would just give us a nice really easy day. Day two would drop us into the valley past Yosemite falls and with less than 5 miles to hike total we could explore the valley in the afternoon. The Ranger told us there was a free hiker shuttle in the valley at 5 pm that would drop us back at the trail head so we were set. She also recommended camping at Yosemite Creek Campground that night, she said it was undeveloped and a bit of a drive but there were deep pools along the creek to sit in, I was sold. Plus she guaranteed there were spots. So back into the car we went heading for the car campground.
Within 15 minutes we were at our turnoff and shortly learned that it was one rough long ride to the campground. Nothing like 45 minutes at less than 10 mph to build anticipation. We pulled into the campground to see a few listing tents, some screaming children and a few algae covered puddles in a basically dry creek bed, uh oh. Undeveloped means no running water, meaning we had been relying on that creek to actually be flowing. We got back in the car to explore the campground a bit farther crossing our fingers, the Ranger said there were swimming holes after all...
Tucked all the way at the end of the campground in a little cul de sac we found a nice spot. Quite and secluded with a trickle of water running in the creek (and I do mean trickle, but at least it was moving). There would definitely be no swimming, but at least we had ruled out dehydration. Settling in I'll admit humanity had me a bit pissy. The campground was not in the best of shape. Boxes were piled around, trash was rampant and we put out a 100% still smoking campfire in an empty campsite. And lets not even get into the open trash bags next to the garbage cans, this is bear country people, and you wonder why you have issues with bears in the park?

A scrumptious dinner of tortellini, and a campfire complete with s'mores had me in a much better mood. Tucked in for the night under the stars I was looking forward to our next day of backpacking, with only a few worries about the potential lack of on trail water to dampen my dreams.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weekend Away

Since this summer wasn't spent wandering as a homeless hiker I find myself trying to squeeze things into weekends like the rest of the 9-5 crowd (never mind that I work twelve hour nights...)
This past weekend I spent a short few days in the fog of Marin county. Always enjoyable and even more so because I got to spend some time with my lovely mother.

Foggy green tunnel at
Pt Reyes National Seashore

so many looming trees in the fog

apparently I look up at trees a lot...
and yes eucalyptus are invasive and bad
but they remind me of summer camp
and childhood and make me ever so happy

understated but swarming with butterflies
and bees, quite the sight

I officially took a zillion photos of trees and grass

Oh and did I mention the absolute best part of all this hiking? The blackberries. At least 10-20 minutes of every hour on the trail were spent braving thorns and traffic because they were so delicious. Nothing like stopping on the side of the road eating blackberries to make your day happier. Perhaps it would have been nicer (and probably safer) if the trailside bushes had been quite as abundant as the ones along the road but other than my stomachache and purple hands it was pretty brilliant.
So somehow I took zero pictures of the beach but about 15 of blackberries. I clearly have my priorities straight. And now its back to work and 90 degree days. Goodbye fog and sweater weather you will be missed.