Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I headed up to South Lake Tahoe with grand plans but the coziness of a couch and a fire sucked me in. I didn't go on any grand treks, or even mildly exciting adventures.
Monday morning dawned gray and snowy. The one or two inches I was expecting turned out to be a fair but more and instead of anything ambitious the dog and I went wandering a mile or so into the fresh powder only to be smacked in the face by more snow falling and one cold ass wind. Nope, no thanks. Back inside we went, to enjoy the views from my cozy couch with warm fingers and toes.

Two days later the sun finally appeared and I got to see blue sky again...

Okay winter lets do this, I'm hoping for a good one...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 6, And then it was done

I woke up in the dark, wide awake and chilly but still dry as can be. I crossed my fingers against oncoming weather and called out to the other tent. Apparently Anna wasn't feeling well and we debated having her stay tucked in the tent while we went and got the car, but she said she wanted to hike, so soon enough we wandered out into the dark and onto what we hoped was our trail. 
One of the beauties of hiking in the dark is that trails are even trickier to find. This area seems to be particularly hard. I was lost last time I was here and we had met multiple hikers who were lost, or at least heading the wrong direction when we had been there two days before. Needless to say we were not on our trail, maybe 5-10 minutes later our upwardly sloping trail started to cut down and we found ourselves at Red's Resort. Oops, a few more circles and some snapping on my part (not proud but being cold and not on our intended trail makes me cranky) and I decided a side trail looked promising and we headed back up the mountain. This time the trail continued to head up and soon enough we had a real junction, success we were actually on our way to Mammoth Pass (Thank God)! 
Soon enough I was able to strip off some of my layers and other then the very creepy glowing eyes my headlamp kept coming across the trail was uneventful. However I was soon to learn that this was going to be a very tough morning for me. It was cold and the trail was well graded and I wanted to book it to the top. Instead we were stopping constantly. Anna had to take breaks very frequently, so instead of forward motion it was one constant stutter step. And as we gained elevation it just got colder, I got crankier and was actually starting to hate this trip a bit. Basically I wanted to walk and I wasn't being allowed too for group safety. Needless to say those were an incredibly long few miles. I recognized the defeat in Anna's voice when she would ask how much farther and I tried not to snap that I had no better idea than her, darkness blocks landmarks and we all had looked at the same map. I was not a happy camper, and to be fair I don't think either of my companions were either. Everyone had misjudged their capabilities. Anna was out of her league big time hiking wise, Diana's hopes were still bigger than what her feet and body could handle and my patience with less experienced hikers was simply not what it should have been. The others were popping Ibuprofen like candy over the last few days and I found myself constantly frustrated. Standing still in the darkness sure gives you time for self reflection (and plenty of self pity). 
Despite the drama we finally neared the top and as the sky started to lighten and Diana shouted "Yes!" I thought she had seen an intersection and was excited we were actually at the top but no, it had started snowing. I did not feel like it was time for rejoicing, instead I tucked my hands farther into my pockets and hoped we could pick up the pace. And then we really were on the top and swiftly cutting down towards paved roads and only a few short miles from the car. We hit the first real road and took off. 

We sped down the road, the snow picking up in intensity when we where less than a mile from the campground. Heading uphill with our heads tucked against the snow I was getting worried about driving and I was emotionally done. Reno seemed much too far away.

My car sat all alone in the parking lot, soon enough we were inside with the heat blasting and on our way to Mammoth. Yet again tempers frayed and finally after a few circles and zero decisions we decided to eat some breakfast and see what the storm was going to do. I didn't have chains and food sounded delicious so it seemed like a good plan. Breakfast was pretty good, even if we picked the one spot that seemed to have their heat broken (I was not happy to wear my down jacket through breakfast) and the snow petered off. I think we were all pretty done with each other, everyone wanted to be home. We hit the road, hoping for good weather. A beautiful if uneventful drive had us back in Reno and going our separate ways a few short hours later.

This entry took me a pathetically long time to write. The thing was every time I started it all came out so very negative and that's not what I was going for. The overall trip was not a bad thing, just like most trips it was one giant learning curve. Overall I really enjoyed it. I loved exploring a corner of the Eastern Sierra a little better and getting to know two other hikers a bit better as well. I just think that for my own sanity and enjoyment I might take a bit of a break from backpacking trips with fairly new folks to backpacking/longer trips. Good thing its winter and I have only day hiking plans!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 5, Back to the Postpile via the PCT

Garnet Lake was one windy cold place, and then the sun set and it was beyond lovely. We had actually been warned by other hikers that it had been so windy the night before it had been hard to sleep, thankfully that was not our experience. No wind and no frozen water, and then a beautiful sunrise. The start to a good day, hopefully. Anna and Diana had agreed that getting as close as we could back to the trail head was ideal. Snow was supposed to roll in on our last day and the closer to the car the better. Our plan was to head towards Thousand Island Lake, catch the PCT and make it back to the Devil's Postpile/Red's Meadow area which would only put us 6 miles from the car. The only tricky part, this would need to be a 16-18 mile day. However the topo showed mostly downhill easy terrain so I was crossing my fingers.

Past Ruby Lake, one of my favorites
Thousand Island
I hiked with Anna for the the next little bit chatting about all things thruhiking, shes debating hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer and we were having a great time. The folks back home get sick of trail talk so its always fun to find people who aren't sick of one of your favorite subjects.
The trouble happened unfortunately soon. Lets start with basics. Since I was a little kid hiking with groups I've had one rule drilled into my head, when you hike in groups you stop at intersections. This is a really big safety thing and just isn't negotiable with groups. After Thousand Island Lakes there were three intersections each about 0.5 miles apart. We found Diana waiting at the first one where she sped ahead as soon as we arrived. That was fine, I knew exactly where we were going. The next intersection found Anna and I alone. I didn't think much of it as it was so close but I did get a little irritated that Diana hadn't waited. The next intersection found Anna and I alone again, okay what the heck? There was one more close intersection and then nothing for over 5 miles, I figured we should just keep going and check the close intersection. Maybe 5 minutes later we startled a herd of deer. Alarm bells started ringing, we shouldn't have startled a darn thing because Diana should have been only 5 or 10 minutes ahead of us max. I quickly started searching the ground, watching people's footprints had become a habit of mine on the PCT and after 5 days of hiking with her I knew Diana's shoe's and they weren't there. Anna was in no shape to be traipsing around in circles and I had the only map. We went the 0.7 to the next intersection in hopes that I just hadn't seen her footprints but no Diana. What then commenced was over an hour of me cursing and running back and forth and calling out into the woods. I finally heard someone calling back and Diana appeared back at the intersection right before the deer. She was looking upset and saying where had we gone, she was on the PCT. No my dear you were not, I know this silly trail and you most definitely were not. We headed back up the trail to where Anna was waiting (next to a PCT sign I might add). After a lot of nervous energy we decided with a big storm rolling in the group would walk 100% together for the rest of the day. I was amped up and angry, Diana was pissed and Anna was the calm force trying to hold us all down. Have I mentioned my next big trip is solo? Because despite the good times I was over this group thing.
Okay big deep breath, the hiking was spectacular along the ridgeline. Gorgeous vistas, golden aspen everywhere and way more water than I expected at the end of the season.

trail or creek?

looking across at the Shadow Lake Outlet, crazy we were there just yesterday

Then it was down towards Agnew Meadows and our bear box picnic table. We were getting closer but Anna was starting to look tired...

We then followed the river for what felt like ages but was actually only 5 miles.

Only 0.4 miles to the monument!
 Originally we had the best intentions, skirt the monument sticking to forest service and the legally open trails. But it was late, Anna looked wrecked and we decided to take the bridge to the road rather than cross countrying across a meadow just to avoid a park we had seen a ton of people in earlier that week.

never saw the postpile up close but the rocks are still pretty darn similar
It's probably less than a quarter mile from the bridge to the road, but right as we crossed into the parking lot we heard a truck backing up, and then we were face to face with a ranger. Panic, utter panic flitted through me, I am not a good rule breaker. In unison a quick look pathetic memo seemed to be telegraphed across our faces. We muttered something about being out for a week and just cutting through to the road because we were worried about the weather and my friends feet. The very nice ranger than asked if we knew that snow was coming and that the road we were on went all the way to Mammoth, and lastly did we have a ride. After nervously mumbling we knew about the snow and that we had a car we went on our way. Thankfully no more tickets had to blacken this trips memories.

Then it was down the road, and finally to Red's Meadow Campground and one last set of hot springs. I had remembered these from my PCT hike and helped use them to spur on my cold weary crew.

We had made it about 18 miles, and it had been no where near smooth sailing but we had made it. The plan was to set out super early and hopefully beat the snow to Mammoth. The skies were darkening and with no desire to hike or drive in heavy snow I was plenty motivated to set my alarm.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 4, Garnet Lake

We woke up early with high hopes. Today would be true high sierra country. Alpine lakes along the John Muir Trail and giant mountains all around. No dilly dallying in the morning just bundled up against the cold (yup frozen water again) and started the climb out of Johnston Meadow.
Our first break found us trailing along meadow edges enjoying small grassy lakes. I was last on this section of trail back in 2008 southbounding and all I remembered was a long hot dusty area that I hadn't been too excited to get back to. Well early October mornings heading north are a whole different story, nicely graded climb and lovely views.

A few steep switchbacks down and we made it to our first lake, Gladys and then Rosalie. Our lunchtime goal was a long break at Shadow Lake so after some snacking on we went.

Gladys Lake
The switchbacks down to Shadow were relentless. That was one long trek down. We stopped and waited for Anna, she had fallen pretty far behind and as usual I worried if we were tackling to much. Clouds were rolling in and we were fully wrapped in our warm gear as our little band finally sat down for a pretty lunch break. Anna was looking exhausted but said she was up for continuing on...

Shadow Lake
across the canyon from Shadow is the PCT, we will heading that way on our way back tomorrow

We started the climb along Shadow Creek, the mountains became even more glorious and the creek was a gorgeous cascading thing that was heaven to spend a mile following. 

We were pretty excited about how quickly the first mile went and after chatting with some hikers it was time for the slow climb towards Garnet lake, 1.6 miles away and then only 2.5 until our goal for the day, Thousand Island Lake.

I was enjoying the climb, it was nicely graded and the views were kept getting better. As we continued to head up towards pass Diana started to crash. Not enough snacks make for lousy hiking and suddenly I was the only one excited. Oh well at least I was enjoying the views.

as usual photos don't capture the massiveness of the surrounding rock

We made it over the top and there was Garnet Lake, gorgeous. Of course it was beautiful but there's nothing like cresting a ridge and seeing a new view unfold before you. It always makes me all sappy and silly.

The wind started whipping and soon enough we were at the lake outlet, we hunkered down in some trees and discussed options. At first Diana was all for continuing on, as the talk continued and Anna still hadn't caught up I saw her wavering. I was itching to leave but was worried about how late it was getting. At 3 pm there was plenty of time to get 2.5 miles farther, except that Anna still hadn't shown. Earlier she had only been 15 min or so behind but that had stretched as the day progressed. And then the coffin was nailed shut. Diana admitted she had no energy to go on and thought we should stay. We boiled some water and right as the hot chocolate was ready Anna rounded the corner looking exhausted. The group wins, Garnet would be our camp for the night. I set off scouting for a spot to camp and soon enough it was leisure time. Oh well, another short day but at least there was reading time.

Time is starting to get tight and both my hiking partners really struggled today. I'm not so sure how the next two days will go with the mileage and approaching snow but I'm crossing my fingers that it will be smooth.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 3 Devils Postpile, Almost

We woke up almost warm, no frozen water this morning, and the hopes for a mellow day. The other hikers we had met had at the hot springs had all done out and back trips from the Devils Postpile area and said we a had an easy downhill day ahead of us. Our original trip plans all had vague figure eights centering around Devils Postpile so how far we got today decided the rest of our trip. I had hopes of making it a few miles past the monument which would put Thousand Island Lake within our reach. I was hoping to hit the John Muir Trail and enjoy the area during the quiet hiking season. That would require 16 or so miles and I wasn't so sure the rest of the crew was up for it but with easy hiking it could definitely happen.

The day started like we expected, gentle walk down the canyon with one climb to pull us out and enjoy the views even more.

A quick break and it felt like we were at the top, false summits as usual but the reward when the view opened up was pretty fantastic. Miles of granite and canyons stretched out ahead of us.
Anna was slow to catch up and mentioned a few blisters (guys fix this nonsense when its still a hot spot, blisters are so not worth it). We were already slower than I had hoped but the views had me smiling and excited to keep going so on we went. 

Open granite and aspen surrounded us as we slowly approached Devil's Postpile. Anna was lagging farther behind but continually assured us she was okay to keep going when she caught up on our breaks. I was getting worried but brushed it aside as we entered an old burn (sometime during the 90's) that had us baking in the sun and climbing a whole lot more than we expected on a day that should have been mostly downhill. 


We hit our first intersection as we officially entered Devils Postpile National Monument after about 12 miles of hiking and waited for Anna to find us, well over 20 people passed us as we baked in the sun. Guess closed is more of a suggestion out here, no signs or rangers in sight.

Despite the handy you are here dot on this giant map we had some issues. Following the signs to Devils Postpile we found ourselves climbing, and then climbing some more. In the hot dusty afternoon we started to have doubts, magnified when we realized we were looking at the monument from across the canyon. Oops, well look now we barely touched the actual closed area and at least caught a glimpse of the area even if it was from afar.

And it turns out there actually were closed signs, except we only ran into them on our way out of the national monument. Hmm okay then, well we saw a ton of hikers but certainly no rangers. And back into the land of wilderness and onwards onto the John Muir Trail. Anna looked pretty darn tired but with no water we decided to push on to the closest creek, another mile or so.

Camp was a welcome relief for my little group. 16 miles may have been a bit much for them...

don't they look excited to be pumping water?
We then sat around enjoying camp, appreciating the wilderness and playing with my phone. Okay to be honest we didn't expect to have service but have been worried about weather so were pleasantly surprised when Google magically worked. Still snow coming Wednesday...

After seeing a fair bit of fresh bear scat we decided to be on the safe side and attempt to hang our food. What followed was an hour of ridiculous laughing and one darn creative food hang (that thing was crazy heavy!).

Tucked in against the cold and very unsure about tomorrow I started to drift off to sleep only to be jolted awake by howling. And welcome to the wild, a pack of coyotes was clearly nearby and all the howling was pretty darn unsettling. After way to much nervous chatter it was back to sleep, or at least the hope of some good sleep. 14 miles will put us at Thousand Island lake tomorrow night but I have some serious doubts about my fellow hikers ability and desire to trek that far. My feet are itching and I'm missing the miles I can put make solo but the laughter and craziness is helping mitigate my antsiness.