Tag Archive for: Pacific Crest Trail

Looping Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps

Categories: Adventure, Conscious Living, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Horses, Relationships, Travel - Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wonderful opportunity!  Reservations for the High Sierra Camps are hard to come by.  You have to win a lottery and my psychoanalyst colleague Francine has been trying for years.  The appeal is enormous:  Yosemite National Park; beautiful trails high above the valley floor, some intersecting with the JMT (johnmuirtrail.org/) and the Pacific Crest Trail (www.pcta.org/); camps about every 8-10 miles with tent cabins, restrooms, and a dining/cook tent to prepare meals so you need only a day pack; you don’t have to carry a full backpack!

In 2012 Francine’s number came up for a group of six hikers and we were lucky to be among them.  Just try to imagine a group of (mostly office-bound psychoanalysts representing southern and northern California) planning a challenging 5 day hiking trip, then throw in the fillip of the hantavirus threat (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hantafaq.htm), and you’ve got a guaranteed flurry of preliminary emails, a classically contagious mix, not of the virus, but of the sixty something and seventy something hikers’ anxieties.  What shall we  bring? Carry?  Wear? How much training had we better do? etc.

Fortunately for me, one of our number, Susan, recently married to John and new to distance hiking, was sufficiently worried about carrying a pack and her back pain (an occupational hazard for we of the seated psychotherapist set) that she called ahead and discovered, lo and behold, a mule could be arranged to carry any and everything a hiker didn’t need on her person during the day (i.e. dop kit, camp shoes, book, flashlight, sleepsack, extra clothes).  So, for a a fee, Roamer the mule freed us to hike completely unburdened by anything other than our 2 litres of water, rain gear, cameras and lunch. Thank you, Susan and Roamer and his charming mule skinner accompanist.

Jim, Francine, Mary, Harriet, Roamer, Susan and John and our lovely “muleskinner”s horse Ready to Roll On!

Day One:  After a good dinner and comfortable bed in our tent cabins in Tuolomne Meadows, inauspicuously visited by a deer mouse scuttling across our packs during the night, we loaded our packs. Just in case we sprayed them all with Lysol and gave Roamer what we didn’t need; we set off in high spirits to hike our “shakedown day” about eight or so miles to the camp at Glen Aulin.  We stopped for lunch overlooking Tuolomne Meadows, setting the bar for each days picnic as a site of beauty and welcome rest.  By late afternoon, we reached Glen Aulin Camp, situated at the base of a spectacular waterfall.  Out came the blister first aid, aspirin, some scotch, comfortable shoes–no showers because throughout the loop the water shortage this season was too extreme–handiwipes instead of showers, and in my case, my favorite “Ticket to the Moon” purple parachute silk hammock (ticketothemoon.com/).  I climbed in and, gently swaying by the waterfall, relished reading Caleb’s Crossing, Pulitzer prize winning author Geraldine Brooks’ story of life in the 17th  century colonial settlement on Martha’s Vineyard.

Day Two:  Setting out for Mae Lake Camp. With my Garmin GPS I soon learned that the old artistic rusted cutout trail marker signs underestimated distances by 10-20%, so we averaged 10 miles per day between camps and with detours for spectacular views and picnics.  Today we had a good long 1,600 foot climb up out of Glen Aulin with views of dark red Mt Dana and Mt Conness marking the Sierra divide.  Because of the drought and our September days, we missed seeing some of our favorite Yosemite wildflowers, Lemmon’s Paintbrush, sticky  yellow Monkeyflower and Sierra Gentian.  Another year!  By the end of the 10 mile hike, we were all sweaty and tired and so happy to come upon beautiful Mae Lake that we all stripped and dove in.  It felt fabulous.  Only later did we see the “no swimming” sign—it turns out in the drought, the lake is needed for the camp’s drinking water.  Tasty!

 

Two beautiful shots taken by Mary Herne of (L) the sunrise coming up behind Mae Lake, and (R) the shimmering reflection on Mae Lake’s surface at sunrise.  No evidence, fortunately, of our inadvertent rule breaking swim.  Just beauty.

 

Day Three: Mae Lake Camp to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, following the original Tioga wagon road to Tanaya Lake, we climbed up the trail on a series of steep switchbacks  to Clouds Rest Junction.  Other hikers coming the other way assured us we were almost at the top and we must NOT miss taking a cut off west from the junction to a perfect overlook site for lunch.  Jim, Mary and I did that and even though we were tired from the climb, were SO glad we did. The overlook provided a dramatic vista of the valley carved by the movement of Tenaya Glacier, formed when a portion of the Tuolomne Glacier overflowed its basin into Tenaya Lake and down Tenaya Canyon. Oohing and Aahing, munching on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we could look out over Half Dome and El Capitan from our perch. Returning to the trail inspired, we hiked the rest of another 10 mile day into Sunrise, a camp Jim and I had stayed at years ago, hiking from Vogelsang High Camp in the other direction.

Each tent cabin has a wood stove and bed space for six, but because several less-intrepid hikers than we had cancelled, we spread ourselves out nightly in two tents and kept cosy over the cold nights.

                                                                                           Jim, Stoking the Wood Stove at Sunrise

Day Four:  Sunrise is aptly named as it is situated on the edge of a huge meadow rimmed by peaks, a perfect place to get up early, which Mary and I did by starlight the next morning, the last morning on the trail, to meditate bundled up in parkas, long johns, blankets and booties, and watch in silent awe as the sun slowly lit up the peaks and crest, bringing in warmth and the day.  Sad to anticipate parting with our friends and the high Sierras, we set out on our last day’s hike back out to Tuolomne Meadows.  It was a gorgeous hike past Cathedral Peak and an opportunity for another beautiful side trip down to picnic on a huge granite outcropping overlooking Lower Cathedral Lake.  Switchbacking down the trail back to Tuolomne Meadows, another 10 miler, and we were thrilled to find the bus stop at the trailhead juncture with Tioga Road for the shuttle bus to save us an additional two more miles back to our starting point.  

The last  night over dinner and breakfast the last morning, we celebrated our friendship, our accomplishments, our courage in not cancelling the trip out of fear of a deer mouse, and our hopes to win the lottery another year for a return journey.

 

Llama Drama: An Opportunity for Practice

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Family, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness - Tags: , , , ,

All Black Llao Llao Grazing by Matlock Lake

Arriving in bliss with the llamas and our dogs, high in the John Muir Wilderness, we chose a relatively off the beaten path lovely lake to set up camp for our week.  While the Kearsarge Pass trail gives access to both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail and thus sees lots and lots of backpackers this time of the summer, Matlock Lake is a hidden gem.  We are the only ones here.  It is in a basin surrounded by gnarled weather bent White pines and granite outcroppings against a backdrop of jagged minarets.  From here we can explore Flower Lake,  Gilbert Lake, Heart Lake, and Bench Lake.

Packing with llamas gives us some luxuries backpacking must deny, such as a commodious tent, extra thick sleeping mats, a hammock, a table and two low Crazy Creek chairs, my small inflatable boat the “H.M.S. Sassenatch” launched summers ago on Crabtree Lake into Bench Valley, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other delectables.Feeling immeasurable gratitude for all their exertions in making this possible, I wanted to offer the llamas something in exchange.  Down by the banks of the lake I saw a wonderful garden of fresh green bunch grass, their favorite.  I could liberate them from their stake out line, up the required 200 feet from the lake, and let them enjoy an hour of grazing while I paddled across Matlock Lake in my little boat on a reconnaissance mission.

Paddling H.M.S. Sassenatch with Beau and Tashi on Matlock Lake

Jim had warned me that that he had seen Kalmia Polyflora,a toxic form of heather,  the same noxious neurotoxin that had killed Llao Llao’s grandmother Hopi on a pack trip many years ago.  I had seen a bit of that plant down by the lake but felt that there was so much good bunch grass available for the llamas that they wouldn’t eat it, especially if they were only allowed to graze there at the lakeside for an hour.

Last night we climbed into our tent early, read for awhile, buttoned Tashi and Beau into their bright red fleece sleeping jamis and fell fast asleep.  That is, until I was awakened by my muse to write ” The Zen of Llamapacking in the Wilderness” as Jim and the dogs snored on.   I finished writing just before turning out my headlamp to go back to sleep.  But not quite!  I heard a disturbing noise.  Was it a llama choking and sputtering?  I knew it could be the worst.  Terrified, I pulled on my camp mocs and jacket, and rushed out of the tent to discover my worst fears realized.

Llao Llao was frothing at the mouth, just like his grandmother Hopi had done before succumbing to paroxysms of neuromuscular trauma and death.  OMG.  At least this time I had fully stocked our llama emergency first aid kit and was prepared with activated absortive charcoal, a camelback and tube for intubating a poisoned llama, as well as an injectable bio-sponge to absorb toxins from the gut.

At first, so chagrined that I had not heeded Jim’s admonition, and dreading the inevitable “I told you so.” I hastily mixed the granulated charcoal in water in the camelback and tried to administer it by myself to the downed llama.  As soon as I approached Llao Llao with the hose to intubate him, he got to his feet and I knew I couldn’t wrestle 325 lbs of even a sick llama by myself.

I had no choice but to swallow pride and wake up Jim for help. Torn between terror about losing Llao Llao and dreading Jim’s reprisals, I called out imploringly to him.  Aroused, he snarled, “I knew it!” but pulled on his pants and shoes and came to my side.  Realizing we had to figure out a way to immobilize Llao Llao’s head and incredibly strong neck, I haltered him and led him to a large granite rock, pulled his head down onto it, wrapped the lead rope under and around the boulder and handed the rope to Jim to immobilize him while I tried to get the hose down his throat and into his stomach, not his lungs.  Not easy at all, as naturally he fought with all his might and when I did snake the tube in he tried to grind it up with his molars.  He didn’t try to bite my hand inside his mouth per se, but I did get some cuts but somehow managed to pump quite a bit of the bladder full of charcoaled waters into him.  We released his head and watched for awhile, until we figured there was nothing more to do for him but pray.  Charcoaled water all over my clothes and feet, I looked like a refugee from a coal mine.

Jim couldn’t resist telling me that I had shown way too much hubris.  Meekly, I replied that I thought it was misguided compassion more than stubborn pride. Nonetheless, deeply sobered, I realized it was definitely time to practice, to breathe, to meditate, to embrace humility and calm, not get feisty and defensive.  So, exhausted, we returned to our tent and fell back into deep slumber.

The following morning at daylight we checked on our patient and to great relief found him standing and even tentatively chewing his cud.  To be extra safe, remembering Hopi,’s prolonged fatal poisoning ordeal, we repeated the procedure this time with the orally injectable bio-sponge.  The whole drama was such a practice opportunity!  Breathing in my humiliation, breathing gratitude that a potential tragedy had been averted, and that Llao Llao would not die, I realized that compassion and gratitude must be tempered by good judgement and common sense.

Confirming the crisis had passed, I was able to feed and water the llamas then stake them out far from the lake and the heather.  Assured they were cared for, secure and safe, we were able to actually take a great day hike, climbing to the top of spectacular Kearsarge Pass at 11,804 ft.  Surrounded by jagged minarets, we found a new vantage point overlooking our breath-takingly beautiful high Sierra world!

Jim & Me with Tashi & Beau on Kearsarge Pass

 

 

 

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