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Terra Whitmeyer is a long time front-end website developer and graphic designer. Disenchanted with the dot-com industry way back in 2002, I quit and went into business for myself (vividdream.net). After over a decade, I decided that my introverted self just wasn't interested in networking for gigs, or chasing down past-due invoices any longer - and I wanted to again work in a team, which I find can produce better work. I also wanted to work on more cutting-edge development projects (CSS3 and preprocessors like SASS, HTML5, newer JavaScript frameworks like Angular), and as a one-man-shop I was mostly in webmaster or design production mode. I freelance again, usually through temp agencies, while still working part-time for myself.

Trip Report: Whitney Trail Trash Pickup

tl;dr; PICK UP YOUR TRASH – THIS INCLUDES YOUR TOILET PAPER and all the gear you bring with you when you hike.

Selfie at Whitney Portal
Selfie at Whitney Portal, happy in my car camp tent.

I took the opportunity to clean up trash with another volunteer and we went with a ranger Saturday morning. I did not acclimate, I have been only running recently, and I do not like spring melt conditions, so I did not bring my ice axe on purpose to keep myself out of trouble as I had no intention of a summit (switchbacks and chute were still too sketchy for my liking based on reports – I was super proud to see a couple people with helmets!!). I did, however, dress for cool weather but it was HOT… We took the old trail up to avoid walking in water so early in the hike – it’s in okay condition, but I would not personally attempt it in the dark.

The trail is easy, if overly warm (this weekend saw no clouds), through to Lone Pine Lake, which was lovely and full. Any snow remaining is melting fast and can be edged around on rocks or walked across carefully (slippery from use). Some longer stretches still exist on the way to Outpost camp as well as some water coming over and down the trail, nothing that requires more than careful steps. I was pretty dang slow, but it made for a nice day and I am looking forward to going through pix (I brought the big guns this time: a7III with my fav Loxia 21m lens).

Past Outpost camp I ran into several areas of snow that hid the trail and a small ton of boot paths leading in all directions. I don’t think you can really get lost unless you are heading back and fail to keep left back to Mirror Lake. On my way back I totally took a different way but was still somehow on the trail? Weird. (aside: our break above Mirror Lake with another group gave us some shaking of heads as we watched 3 people slide down that incredible 70 deg slope on the west side – yikes!)

The long boot path to Trail Camp is still starting pretty early (it crosses Lone Pine Creek south, then heads west over the Consultation Lake drainage) but… everyone including the rangers thinks that is getting sketchy. Plenty of people going that way, but you can hear water rushing beneath and the extreme melt is going to cause a collapse soon. You can stay on the trail a bit longer and cut left later when the trail is near the creek and the fall wouldn’t be bad then cut over rocks and get back on the boot path… even there the snow is pitted and underneath is pretty empty despite looking solid on top. BUT this would have appealed to me a bit more because even though the rangers did a great job cutting a path on the short bit of trail that runs north/south just north of Consultation Lake (if you look at a map) that is a hell of a traverse for me (it’s a steep slope) so I turned back (with, what, 1/3 mile left?). Most people were slipping back down the boot path, people going up were split. If you have steady legs (mine were wobbly) and no fear of heights or slipping it will be no problem for you: the snow is sticky and it’s along the actual trail. I am just not into steep traverses w/o a helmet, personally, nor the path everyone was slipping on with the water underneath…

I told the crew I’d return to Outpost and pick up trash on the way that we’d seen plus at that camp, which I did. Other than an occasional breeze, it was really, really warm. People were trying for a summit at all hours of the day: midnight to about 3am headlamps went through camp, then about 6am+ some people that I just cannot imagine thought this all through, followed by backpackers taking their time then more people that are way out of their league and I hope weren’t serious about asking me about conditions (crossing my fingers they just went to Lone Pine Lake). I took the regular trail out and the crossings are doable but no joke: fast water to my calf (I am tall) and the smaller one was pretty sketchy since it was thin and sloping. Otherwise, no issues: just lizards, birds (including grouse, a red one, a yellow one, etc.), and wildflowers (lots of shooting stars).

Trip highlight: taking photos both nights (I camped Friday night) of the sky with the Milky Way just in stunning form and meeting great people!

Trash found: mostly paper for pee wipes, a broken hiking pole, toothbrush & paste, and tons of tiny plastic from the corner of snacks. Oh, and one rusting can of “food.” Overall, ya’ll doing good! Just please pack out your wipes and watch it when you open snacks! The rangers were over nice and gave a ‘thank you’ note and some teeny gifts. I felt like I should have gloves and a trash bag with me on every hike! It’s the least I can do.

Things I didn’t need and regret bringing: tent stakes, rain jacket/outer layer, puffy mid layer winter down jacket, gloves, wet pants (over my hiking pants).

Things I didn’t use but still glad I brought: an extra meal (I wasn’t sure if I’d stay another night), micro spikes (I’d expected to come down from Trail Camp in the morning when the ice would have been hard), extra socks (I was trying SealSkins for the water crossings and was still wet but between my snow gaters and those it was more like barely wet vs drenched, so I puddled all day w/o a care!), and the tent cover (you never know…).

Things I wish I had brought: a summer-temp long sleeve layer instead of my insulated one (probably would have worn the down jacket in the mornings, then, and sweat way less during the day) and actually worn my sunscreen instead of it being lost in my bear box (my nose, cheeks, and fingers are burned).

Edit to add: I saw at least 3 people running it. o.O It takes all types! Never be afraid to stop if you are uncomfortable – it’s about “you” not “them.”

Fin! Questions? Ask!

Originally posted at: http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthreads.php/topics/55593/Main_Trail_June_29

Trip Report: 4 states in 3 days

I really thought I’d be farther along my quest to hike in all 50 US states by now. I awoke to a new year and realized I had only crossed off 12 states – at this rate I’d never finish! So, after a costly move to a weekend without thunderstorms, flooding, and tornado warnings, I flew into Dallas and headed off in my rental car (which was a lower model of the same car I own, so this was going to be easy).

I needed to keep the driving to a minimum so I’d have time to hike. There aren’t mountains or a lot of national parks or forests, so my plans were all state parks. I hit up Tyler SP for a short hike in the woods near a lake – not many people around at all, then Martin Creek Lake SP for a small hike around the island I camped on for the night. Texas State Parks are well maintained with friendly, accessible staff. The premises are clean and I felt safe. I saw new-to-me butterflies and my first glow bugs twinkling as the sun went down and brilliant red cardinals singing sweetly the next morning and armadillos… as roadkill, sadly. The camp was oddly near a large industrial plant that made noise all night, but otherwise it was only my noisy neighbors that kept me up. I was in the middle of a cold, so I was blowing my nose raw the entire time and pretty tired.

Day 2 was driving to Louisiana to hike and walk around Lake Bistineau State Park. This lake had a decidedly “bayou” feel with quiet waters made into a maze by trees with their thick trunks and roots hiding the views. There was no staff and the trails were seemingly unused: overgrown tick factories. I still managed to have a good time, though not a single other person seemed to hike despite a full campground on Memorial Day weekend. I did see tadpoles and wee frogs in wet divots and a lot of dragonflies. Have I mentioned it’s upper 80s to low 90s with high humidity the entire trip? I am pretty sweaty!

I then drove to Arkansas where I stopped at the stunning Cossatot SP: rushing waters, hilly forests, world-class visitors center with staff reciprocating my excitement for things found… I did a few miles on the fantastic Harris Creek Trail, again with NO ONE even in the parking lot and all campgrounds full to bursting. What was everyone doing? I have realized by now that all parks and recreation areas revolve around fishing or boating, but… really? No one is hiking? Anyhow, after a great opening in a dark shale pit (mined for road material) where there was quite the flower display above the black shard, the trail wound up under a forest canopy to various lovely views of rivers below winding through green hills. I found a legless lizard, more butterflies, more flowers, and, for the first time this trip, my joy of hiking. This was the trip highlight! After returning to the vistors center just before closing to use the toilet & ask about things seen, then did a small hike down the hill to the waterfront and back. Since campsites were totally full, and only Texas had online reservations, I found a hotel in dumpy De Queen.

The next morning I realized I was ahead of schedule… I was supposed to hike one state per day and now it’s day 3 and I still had 2 days to go and only 1 state left. So I wasted some time in the morning going to Pond Creek National Nature Refuge. I am not sure what I expected… probably better organization. I got lonely gravel roads and no maps (I had a GPS unit), though eventually happened upon a planked walkway (the roads are lined with waterways) that led to a couple signs (map included!) in an overgrown crossroads. Nearby were two “nature walks” – I tried the wee 1/4 mile one first thinking to try the longer one next but these trails are COMPLETELY overgrown, nearly non-existent. I was only able to follow the small trek because there were white signs visible between some barely discernible worn areas. At the trailhead sign, in 2 foot grasses, I decided to walk back to the car for deet application due to biting horseflies and swarms of mosquitoes. I head back in and I swear within 20 paces I felt in total isolation: the forest is DENSE and I had barely noticed the slow, brown waters nearby when an alligator noisy jumped back in from the opposite bank. Yikes! I told myself “it’s only a quarter mile, suck it up” and continued to find the next white marker, each telling about beavers, alligators, bobcats, and plants, all the while waving my arms frantically to keep bugs off my face and trying to keep an eye on the water for ‘gaters I apparently cannot even see in the murky water. I am not taking many photos of the spooky place, with tree roots jutting out like stalagmites from the still water and sounds I cannot place. I rush past snake holes though tall grasses and am glad when there is sun ahead meaning I am nearly out of this dark, lonely, frightening pit. LOL! Later I’d found a female lone star tick attached to me, but I still decided to drive around a bit more: many large white birds flew away at my approach, once with a fish or something in it’s beak; deer ran across the roads, quickly disappearing into the dark forest; the ‘campgrounds’ I found were nothing more than parking areas near water, so they are clearly meant for RVs, not tents. I saw NO people and only a couple cars. Weird place!

For a totally different story, I arrived at Beavers Bend SP (after driving around the Broken Bow/Hochatown area a while) and I am in a tourist zoo. I cannot believe how many people there are. I do find some pleasant hikes here: after a walk along the campsites that line the milky blue waters of Mountain Fork River where multi-colored kayaks lazily enjoyed the day, layered shale rising from the opposite wall, I found a small, nearly unused (again) trail where a large black snake moved up and looked at me, more new-to-me butterflies, and generally a pleasant walk. Later I find a proper trail. Well, it started out as a walk near families playing in the gentle waters of a stream that fell over more broken shale, until I just kept going. I haven’t mentioned this, but I NEVER used my backpack in this trip. I didn’t even carry water – these treks were just not long enough for me, despite the heat, to carry anything but my camera and a bunch of tissues for my raw nose. I questioned my judgement to leave the easy blue trail markers for the red ones that went up hill, but I had also learned I would be hard pressed to find a trail that was longer than 3 miles in this part of the US. So up I went, and it felt a trial proper – a mild climb under a green canopy. It found a the creek again before a final climb then popping out down the road for a short walk back to the car. Nice day! Everyone else was on the water, but there were some hikers on this trail for a change.

That’s it! 4 states hiked in 3 days – that is 16 so a shocking 34 states left. ug! Anyhow, I found a hotel for the night then drove to Dallas for the final day where I did absolutely nothing. I even had pizza delivered instead of going out. My flight was at 6am and that meant a very early rise and I was to head straight to work upon the 10a arrival… by pacific time standards that meant I woke up at 1:45a and got into work at 11a already exhausted to the point of alternating between crying and delirious laughter. I was on some OTC drugs by this point, trying to keep my nasal passages manageable, but they flight was doable despite ear pain on descent and I was home and done with quite the adventure. (-:

Trip Report: Havasupai

First, a heartfelt thank you to the peoples of the Havasupai Tribe and village of Supai: they were gracious and friendly and provide way too much trash services (visitors do not pack out what they bring, sometimes just leaving trash at the stunning campsite – people can be the worst).

Pack weight start (had to carry water): ~32 lbs including camera, felt like 28. Pack weight end: ~25.2 lbs, felt like 35. lol! Food was only down about 1 lb, water down 5.5 lbs. So my base weight was a tad heavy: extra shoes, extra bottles, a day pack, 3x change of clothes, and too much tech will do that.

The bad stuff:

I certainly ignored advice to bring medical tape and use it preemptively and now have 6 toes that seem to be nearly all blister (it’s impressive, and scary – and two pops within my shoes on the way out).

On the way down, my right hip started to hurt. Standing up straight certainly helped, but walking on flat trails was rather painful, especially with weight. This really came to a head on the way out since I needed frequent breaks to calm down the pain and wasn’t moving very fast (still, with breaks was just less than 2mi/hour, which isn’t terrible). This lead to being passed by 6 people who left 2 – 2.5 hours after me – sure, they are super fast, but it still felt demoralizing.

Finding a camping spot was very difficult – the mile long area was full to bursting. The full moon often shined right into my hammock (love my Hennessy hyperlite zip!) – which I found odd because the bright, hot sun didn’t seem to make it through the trees often.

I wasn’t thinking well and packed only a Rumple down blanket, expecting overnight temps of 60F… which it was, just not by the water, which I was 1 foot from. The nights were a bit chilly for me, especially when a breeze kicked up.

The funny stuff:

I really chewed up my hands, especially fingertips, gripping onto rocks and chains and general roughness with handling gear (typical small scratches), but my index finger no longer unlocks my phone – I have worn too much of it off. Does… does it come back?

The great stuff:

Man, that canyon is stunning. Red, sheer walls towering overhead; teal waters cascading over rounded terraces for miles and miles; giant waterfalls; lush, green hills and forests all along the Havasu “creek.”

My trip:

I snag a cancellation date that fits my schedule with plans (that I never did) to have time to train since I’d been pretty immobile after 3 months of back issues. Screw lottos or mad rushes to buy permits on the first day released: when I am a single I just pick up cancels, it usually works out.

It’s over 7 hours to drive from the OC to “hilltop” – a trip I did Thursday, late morning. Very little stopping, other than gas for Cutie (who drives so fun! Hurray, Hyundai Kona!) and bathroom visits. I manage a spot right up front and, after a sandwich dinner and next-day planning and sunset admiring, I break out the mattress and sleeping bag and squeeze into the back (okay, Cutie does NOT have rear room: maybe 4.5 feet long, and I am 6’1″+). I… didn’t sleep great. There is a light in the parking lot, it was a full moon, and most others who were also sleeping at the trail head were NOT quiet.

Day 1: Anyhow, I arise with the noise and hit the trail at 5am. There are switchback carved along the sheer canyon walls for less than a mile, then some traveling out to a plateau – eventually turning at the two mile marker and descending into basically a slot canyon for the next 5 miles or so – it’s all basically downhill. For the last mile you make it to the creek – a stunner of white and teal rushing by under a green canopy – and the village of Supai. On the way, I decided these people hiking out when the sun was now roasting the canyon were nuts.

Trains of horses and mules went by, the leaders wishing me welcome and telling me “you’re almost there!” I get to the tourist stop for my wristband and tag before 8:30: ~8 miles, less than 3.5 hours. It was great until then… 2 miles down to the start of the campground and I was limping – my right hip is a mess, probably posture related + the weight. I had to add another mile + some meandering to find a campsite that was both available and had trees appropriate for a hammock, and it was WAY at the end right near Mooney Falls. In theory, this is only 10.5 miles, but based on my time + GPS, it’s closer to 12 (verified on the way out – actually said 12.5 but some of the canyon slots were narrow so there is bouncing / inaccuracies). I was settling in by 10:30, 5.5 hours from the start.

It’s quite warm now. After some snacks, I walk back up a mile to visit Havasu Falls – quite the stunner. Then generally muck about – taking photos and filling water bottles at Fern Spring. I force a good amount of food down – made all the easier by the fantastic tasting Mary Jane’s Farm dehydrated meals: this time, Eat Your Veggies pasta. I had some bull crap Mountain House meal the next night which reminded me of why people hate dehydrated backpacking meals. Never again. What I have left of other brands will remain in my emergency pack, until 6mos to expiration – then I’ll donate, I guess.

I end the day by reading (via Kindle) in my beloved Hennessy hammock and, though I didn’t sleep well and had to do the small hike to the composting toilets twice, managed some rest…

Day 2: I am up and moving, heading to the (to me) petrifyingly scary decent to the base of Mooney Falls at 6am. This consists of steeeeeeep steps in tunnels and right out on the cliff face, assisted by metal chains and a couple worn, wooden ladders: all of it slick use and spray from the waterfall. yikes. My man said to use common sense before I left. I have to admit I put that aside on this hike. The goal is the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon proper where the muddy waters mix with the blue of Havasu creek: the confluence. This is a 16 mile round trip hike according to online sources: my GPS wouldn’t know as the canyon walls are too tall and close together so the map looked like Spider-man tracks.

It’s slow going – I mean, I’m not terribly fast anyhow, but there are water crossings (stunning! but I was often taking off shoes/socks in exchange for water sandals) and class II scrambles straight up (and down) to get around Beaver Falls and none of these had chains, though some sketchy-ass ladders were involved. The canyon is shaded most of way and then there is happily cloud cover, and all 8 miles are bright teal pools and the sound of rushing water – I mean, it just kept getting more amazing. I am at the confluence by 11:30, so that’s 5.5 hours. I hang out, jump round the natural steps, wave “hello” at the Colorado and the extra tall canyon walls (I haven’t been in years), admire the mix of brown/green with the clear teal, and stare at a bunch of fish in the area. Some rafters were around, and I got a ‘you made it’ from other hikers who passed me earlier. Some hikers climbed down to the river and waded into Havasu Creek in what has got to be it’s thinnest point, many getting their Instagram moment.

The hike out was terrible and amazing in reverse: the sun was out for less than half the hike back, so I was hissing at it and cowering under my hat, but this made the blue waters every more vibrant – and everything I climbed up or down had to be done again in reverse which I hated and just glad I could lift myself up where my feet could find no hold. Pictures, smiles, effort… eventually I notice I am really developing some interesting toe blisters and my pinky toes are missing the pink polish entirely. I feel like other than some core trail areas, there is a maze along the banks of the water and often I find I took a different way back than in. One of these led to just downstream of tall Mooney Falls, where water was coming off a cliff, the deposits forming a cave of rocky growth and ferns, and I climb up some small terraces – making my way pool to pool until I am once again at Mooney Falls. The climb up was terrifying – worse than down for me… but I live and I’m back in camp about 5pm for a giant 11 hour hiking day. I felt pretty good (disclaimer: I was taking prescription strength pain medication that I have for my back but in this case helped my hips and knees) and though my toes look a blistered mess I don’t really feel it. I have enough time to clean up and organize before eating a shitty meal in the dark (woe is me who didn’t bring something from Mary Jane’s Farm both nights!).

Day 3: I wake up in the middle of the night. I never find sleep again. I decide to leave. It’s 2:30am when I start. I always wanted to leave early – after the hike out (and uphill this time) I was going to immediately to the 7.5 hour drive home and going to work the day after sounded terrible… I didn’t want to take more than 3 days off. My hip really hates me, and I basically sometimes limp and keep adjusting my stance (plus resting) to be able to push through. It’s dark, and fairly scary, until well past the halfway mark. I stopped for some night photos of Havasu Falls and Lower Navajo Falls (I admit not having time to visit fifty-foot falls or spend time at stunning Navajo – I needed to spend my other full day). You cannot take night photos when there is a full moon: my 6 second exposures looked hilariously like bright daylight. I used my headlamp in red, except when the moon was on the trail and lit it just fine. Anyhow, by the time I was making in through the slot canyon, the sun was lighting the sky (thankfully not the rock walls yet) and it was getting downright chilly.

People started coming down – I assume these people left closer to 4am. There was a steady stream of incoming: all in warm gear and me in my clothes made for the warm weather of the lower canyon. I catch the 4 mile marker, than the 2. I’m going very slow, my hip very painful, but pushing through. At the mile 1 marker, with mostly just switchbacks to go, I sit, rest, stretch, eat, and drink the last of my water (I only brought 2/3 liter, having drank only 1/4 coming in despite carrying 2.75) – I knew the sun wasn’t going to be on me and I had a small ton of water in my car by way of a giant 1 gallon Hydro Flask. You know, I originally was going to take the helicopter because I thought that seemed exciting… then I thought it would save my hip… and I have nothing to prove by hiking out… and my toes are blisters. But since I left so early, this would be a pointless wait. Instead, I suffered and got to the top 5.6 hours after starting. I was passed by people, right at the end, who started way later than I, but they are fast and I had a limp and I’m actually very okay with my time in the end. A couple of these passers offered encouragement: despite some idiots, most people I actually spoke to were over friendly, which I appreciate. I returned the favor by quickly moving my car so a man, who was dropping off packs, could actually just park and get on with it.

I was going to make tea and have a poptart as my victory, but it was seriously chilly and windy at Hilltop (much colder than when I was up there just 3 nights earlier) so I drove to Peach Springs and had my feast there before the long drive home.

Havasupai is amazing. Every picture you see is accurate, but does the place no justice because how do you explain by picture than there is a dozen miles of blue pools below red walls? Europe: how many castles and churches can you really remember after a while? Oregon: it’s not long after the 20th waterfall that you start to complain when you can’t walk behind one. Canada: is it possible to fall in love with 50 different mountains at once? Same here: if I shared, or even took, that many photos would you get tired of seeing the paradise?

I am glad the tribe instituted the online system and raised the rates: sure, 300 people even in a campsite this large was a stretch, but there are bathrooms and trashcans and staff making their rounds and recording where people hike and stay the night. Better than to be overrun by any more idiots than that a night (well, there are a few more at the lodge).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a shower followed by a salt bath in hopes that I can loosen my leg muscles and walk like a normal person by tomorrow (I have hurts).

EDIT: scratch the bath. I did a great job keeping sun off my face (large brim on new Sunday Afternoons Latitude Hat), an okay job covering my arms and hands (they do look a tad darker, and maybe some new wrinkles/freckles), but a terrible job with my lower legs which were exposed mostly on day 2 as I rolled up my beloved Deluth pants (Flex Dry On The Fly Convertible Boot Cut Pants) for water crossings which often came up to my knees (and I am tall). The shower heat hurt, so… I am pretty thrilled to have tomorrow off work because I don’t want to wear pants due to the burn… or shoes due to the blisters… or a bra due to some sort of heat rash on my chest. I got pretty worked: my knees are bruised, my lower legs are sunburned and scratched, my toes are blisters, I have rub rash from backpack straps plus sports bra straps (had this before, but this time they look dark/blood blister-like), I have rub rash on either side of my hip (usually maybe a scratch or bruise, but not like my shoulders), my fingerprint cannot unlock my phone anymore, and now my chest is red – forget the sore muscles. Wow. I am a mess and not entirely sure why as I have hiked longer with same gear and much less damage – something to work on! I wonder if all those pretty 20-somethings hiking in bikinis had any damage – they were exposed to the sun all day plus did all the climbing I did only without protection… ??

Trip report: the Sierra Mountains gave everything and took all I had.

tl;dr:

Amazing area: many flowers, trees, peaks, rivers, rocks, lakes, bridges, vast vistas, lizards, butterflies, and critters with bonus snake and bear sightings. Trail varied from rocks to forest to lush, humid, mini-jungles. But mostly rocks. Nice, brief conversations with others. (-;

Trail kicked my ass with heat and elevation lost/gain: pondering severe intake issues plus training missteps and shoe comfort and stretching.

——
Long version:

I was going to stay the night car camping at Lodgepole, in Sequoia National Park, but told them to give up my site since it was easy to secure a backpacking permit on Thursday – so I just changed, packed, and got to it, happy to get what I thought would be 3 nights, and less mileage, vs originally planned 2 nights. A bit of a late start, maybe by 11:30a I had driven to the trailhead and was ready.

The amazing High Sierra Trail out of Crescent Meadow (near Moro Rock in beautiful Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park) looks far easier on maps that it was in person – it seems most of the trail is 7200′ with major landmarks and campsite at 7600′, unfortunately the overall elevation gain is MUCH more as the path loses anywhere from 50 to 500 feet over and over… and over again – all of which had to be gained back and in VERY warm weather under a clear sky of a brutally hot and demoralizing sun. I didn’t weigh, but let’s assume I was carrying 26 lbs plus small gadgets and varying amounts of minimal water that I mostly filtered as I went.

Day 1: The first six miles of dirt paths that head up and down mostly in pine forests but hugging steep drops and offer EXPANSIVE views of the stretch of peaks making up the southern Great Western Divide across the green valley below where the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River tumbles. Some sections of the trail were blasted out of steep granite cliffs and the mostly one-person-width walks are not for the faint of heart but are very rewarding view-wise on outside turns and with falling water on inside turns. I passed a threesome of peeps in their 60s or 70s that were very slow but smiling! (I saw them again on day 3) The trail continues to meander up and down and in and out – sometimes under a pine canopy, sometimes out to views, sometimes through thick plants, crossing washes frequently but only about once per mile was the water significant enough to filter.

Some of the larger creeks had a few campsites nearby, and one of the washes had very dense brush and a medium-sized black bear in a lovely cinnamon color just a few feet from me – too busy lazily bringing down large branches with ease to eat off berries or whatever (I backed slowly up the trail, warily enjoying the sight – bears are hungry this time of year and encounters are frequent). I gave a heads up to a couple of guys hiking in the opposite direction about the bear. I had short comments with a couple of girls as we routinely saw each other first two days – they stayed near “9 mile creek” and I kept walking…

One of the largest elevation losses early on is into Buck Canyon at about 10 miles in – a long, long run of boulders with cool Buck Creek bouncing down – and then, crossing a foot bridge, the trail is often brutally steep to gain back that 500ft to eventually arrive at Bearpaw Meadow (after many a curse that the trail never seemed to end – this was a SLOG to end the day), which is supposedly 11.4 miles from the trailhead (it felt more, my GPS said more, but my GPS can also bounce while I’m resting in canyons). I had talked for a while with a healthy looking group of four that were staying the night at Buck with plans to do some climbing later in their trip – “See you at Hamilton!”

The buildings of the high Sierra camp have great views – the tent campsites are down a short but steep hill (my thighs were shaking with fatigue at this point) with no view in a dense pine forest by a muddy streak that used to be a creek but mostly filled with the buzz of unwanted-type of insects. It was nearly dark, so I quickly found two suitable trees to hang from for the night, threw my stuff into a bear box (note to self: ask rangers why do I need to carry 2+ lbs of bear canister when there are bear boxes everywhere), forced down some fish/crackers/dried cheese, and went to bed after a solo male admired my stickered bear can. I saw him later the next day – he seemed in no hurry and always arrived in the afternoons.

Day 2: I woke with the sun and headed out early with only a small snack. I have no appetite when exercising, and my intake issues will manifest terribly on day 3… Climbing out of camp and continuing past the Bearpaw area I could see people eating in the dining area and I enjoyed a quiet moment looking out at the incredible jagged peaks across the valley while a deer walked about munching on choice greenage and keeping one eye on me. There is another decent, but this part is really stunning. There is a lot of moisture still coming down the mountains (this area is kind of shelf, and I have hiked/camped at two places higher up – another shelf around 8-9k feek to Alta Meadow and over the pass at Pear Lake, Alta Peak providing a lot of run off). I thought I was in a jungle – the vegetation was DENSE and smelled green and was humid. Alive with various insects, bees were busy on plenty of flowers (the wide variety surprised me for August!) and butterflies floated about without a care as I pushed my way through the encroached trail, often jumping over mud and enjoying the sounds of falling water (but also catching spider threads in the face frequently) – one of the springs was DELISH!

Another major descent on rocks and down steps to a bridge that crosses Lone Pine Creek when it is crunched into a thin, deep chasm: so the bridge view was of a series of falls and blue-green pools between steep grey granite walls (including the ruins of a failed steel bridge smashed against rocks below). Luckily, I got here in the morning when the steep climb was still shaded because the trail AGAIN climbs, this time up switchbacks and, once you reach a watchful tree on the edge of the cliff before coming round the bend south to head again east, the path frustratingly heads DOWN to cross Hamilton Creek where it falls wide and shallow over rounded granite shelves (MANY lizards were disturbed), then climbing a bit past the nice roar of Hamilton Falls (Google maps shows this named “Valhalla”).

A few more rocky switchbacks, each, again, marked with a twisted tree (which I began to refer to as Sentinals as I enjoyed their varying personalities while resting in their blessed shade) until reaching the lower lake. A rest in a bit of overhang shade to snack and enjoy the tumbling water that feeds the lake which is green, surrounded by green, but below an impossibly steep granite wall to super steep peaks like a white crown 2000′ above. A few more ups and I arrive at Hamilton Creek. This is “ONLY” 4.5 miles from Bearpaw, but felt like 8: the loss and gain of elevation was brutal (more difficult on the way out, I must say).

Hamilton Lake is truly peace on earth. I mucked about for a long while looking for a spot to camp – but many trees were sparsely spaced, in a restoration area, or falling over dead. I settled on an area RIGHT on the trail next to the first bear box to hang my hammock then walked to the lake and spent the rest of the afternoon lazily by the shores in the granite bowl – resting, wading, eating, sitting and enjoying the view. It was impossible to not feel content in this place. I cannot overstate it’s loveliness. The two women from the day before arrived, set up a single tent, and also relaxed by the lake before starting a day hike. Then the foursome I’d talked with the day before arrived staggered. The men had short dips in the cool water, and after they were done planning a climbing route one of the women ditched clothes and backstroked to a spot across the lake to lay naked on a strip of rock. Some others came and went. It was peaceful and quiet. Time stood still.

Day 2.5: Eventually, wanting to be in no hurry to depart such a perfect location, I assembled a day pack and headed up an amazing amount of switchbacks that climb the northern shores through brush. Sure, the lake started to look smaller and farther below, but I seemed to be going nowhere – and it was hot in the sun. “I must have gone a mile” – gps says .6. “I must have gone two miles” – gps says 1.2. Sweet Christmas, I was moving slow.

FINALLY the trail starts to just climb mostly straight east at a less steep incline and the goal starts to look closer… Then the trail hits a granite wall again and a tall, “sheer-walled avalanche chute known as Hamilton Gorge” (from the NPS website). They are not kidding. No one with fear of heights could walk here. The trail is blasted into the walls with bits raised up by rocks held by rebar. There used to be a steel bridge in 1932 – but in 1937 a giant avalanche pulled it down and left it in ruins – the concrete foundations are still on the trail on either side of the gorge, and after a stomach-turning view down you turn and see that the Civilian Conservation Corp blasted a ton of rock and now you walk on a crazy ledge including a small tunnel. Oof! SCARY RIDE!

But it’s over quickly and it’s back to climbing – sometimes still long stretches through cute washes and stairs of trickling cascades until it’s really just rocks and shrubs that can live with less soil. Some marmots scared the crap out of me when I’d turn a sharp corner and they’d streak off the trail. Other backpackers were coming down and a ranger gave me a sideways glance – I acknowledged I was moving slow and fully expected to be coming down in the dark: “At least you expect it.” There is a sweet little lake that was a real dick: here there were a lot of rocky switchbacks and the entire time it shined the falling sun into my face like a spotlight – bright sun from the side and below.

Finally, I got over the next lip and beheld the unique majesty of Precipice Lake. Whoa, dude. It’s a mirror for me with the lowering sun (I have seen pix where it’s blue). It rests at 10300′ and it’s north wall is a SHEER slice of granite streaked with melt from the impossibly steep Eagle Scout Peak and surrounding cliffs of balanced stacks of rocks where there is still a pile of snow. Amazing. I have to tell you that I was struck that I’d “been” here before, if only in words: this surely used to be the location of West-gate of Moria. Somewhere, now lost, must lay the ruins of the Elven Door…

Anyhow, though I was clearly doing to lose the sun, it was clear Kaweah Gap (10700′) wasn’t far so I pushed through a few more rocky switchbacks and then it was a surprisingly easy, straight trail through low grasses in a series of small lakes – a quiet meadow at 10500′! After a tiny final ascent, I enjoyed being well inside the Great Western Divide and thought this a weird place: this pass was not steep, but it was a gentle slope to the wide, open valley of Big Arroyo below with a lake on the left (north) and the Big Arroyo waters shining it’s winding way south – and on the other side some more steep peaks with water falling from lakes somewhere out of my view above.

I turn around. The sun is setting and the shadows are reaching toward me. There is a chill wind now, but it’s welcome after a hot day. The wildlife changed and pikas were everywhere – their cute round bodies squeaking an alarm after their wee round ears judged me too noisy. I kinda of consider them the kodama of the granite mountains – little hamster-ish rock spirits. Do a Google search for ‘pika’ – you’ll like it.

In theory, this was only 8+ miles r/t – I was too slow, IMO, and the first 2 miles felt much longer both up and down. As I headed back to camp, I was quickly tired of walking on rocks on the switches past the lakes. The sunset was lovely – the afternoon brought some old fire smoke haze in so the rays broke around jagged peaks dramatically. Then all the granite walls on my right turned pink. Then the sun was gone. I made it down the switches and across the alpine stretch again but eventually stopped for a snack and to put on my headlamp. By the time I got to the scary cliffside trail and tunnel I was in the dark. I am unsure if that made it better (to not see the fall) or not…

The endless switchbacks back to the lake were no less enjoyable down: still the overwhelming feeling of not getting anywhere and that it must be longer than 2 miles, but now the bright full moon was casting shadows in front of me, often freaking me out, and my headlamp would catch eyes from time to time (mostly deer, I think). I could not make out the various sentinel trees at switchback corners, but I was pretty head down to watch my steps, cursing when rocks slid out beneath me and relenting a laugh when I misjudged a water crossing and filled my right toes with mud. FINALLY back to the creek where Hamilton Lake drains, jumped across some rocks, stowed my gear, and climbed into my hammock without dinner about 10pm. Whew.

Day 3: Have I mentioned it was hot? I’m sure, but it was also warm every night. This is totally weird to me and not the norm for backpacking in elevation, even in the summer and even a lower than 10k. Actually, last August I did a single night to Chicken Spring Lake (lovely) out of the Horseshoe Meadow area, and it was for real 80F at that lake at 10k. So… if you can find a non-monsoon time in August, you can expect summer weather in the southern High Sierras.

I didn’t bring a lightweight, long sleeve shirt. Mistake. I didn’t need to bring my rainfly and never hung it. I was toasty in my 0 degree bag. I was comfy and hung out for a bit – climbing back into bed after a pee. (-: I could hear others mucking about and bear boxes opening and closing. Eventually, I got up and ate a solid breakfast. I walked about a bit and an antlered deer wandered by camps while a few of us watched in silence, nodding a good morning to each other. Then I went back to bed to recoop. I hadn’t really slept well – my feet in a solid ache. Without dinner or many snacks, my body needed to recover and had not been able to overnight. After a couple more hours rest I felt a better, packed up, and headed out.

You know, this is supposed to be down but I swear I went up more often than not on the return trip. Only 2 miles in I was near tears in the heat as exhaustion set in early. The climb back up to Bearpaw was even less amusing than the way in, though I did enjoy the bits of shade and tasty spring water and a snake sighting (research says a Striped Racer, kinda like a whip snake: dark body with bright yellow stipes down its length) – plus some views were clearer as the smoke seemed to leave every night, but return in the afternoon (which it did later).

I stopped at Buck Canyon and put my now severely aching feet in the cool water, sitting under the bridge (in the shade) like a sad, skinny, dirty troll. I filtered water and chilled for a bit while another solo hiker finished filling and continued onward. It wasn’t to last – I had places to be and I was only about 6 miles into the day. I reluctantly put on my shoes and pack and braced myself to make the climb. A few ‘hellos’ and ‘hi, how are you’s and my reply was often ‘hot, but it’s stunning’ – ‘yes and yes’ was the frequent agreement. I started passing the same creeks and camps and washes from two days before and had to take breaks at each one to rest my feet. I do not think there were many through hikers (50 miles to Whitney). Most were out for 2 to 5 nights, or day hiking from Bearpaw (if you pay $300 for a 3-room tent/cabin you don’t have to carry shelter or food, so they got well into the wilderness without backpacking), and everyone seemed pleased as punch to be there.

When would I get to my goal, Mehrten, which is something like 10.5 miles from Hamilton Lake? Only one jerk didn’t move for me (uphill, and packs, have right of way) but everyone else was pleasant. I was really wearing down. Finally I arrived at Mehrten Creek and tried to understand the sign about where campsites were in my tired state. After mucking about along the creek on a short use trail, I couldn’t figure where the camp was – then I lost my footing on slick granite. I didn’t fall, but I did sit down and cry. I was completely worn out. I came back out a few feet, and there was what looked like another use trail going straight up the slope: I don’t mean it was an incline, I mean it was really steep. Actually, there were two spots like this. This can’t be right – what kind of camp would make me climb up slippery rock and loose scree? I went about half up one, I saw a tent. Wow, I thought, really? I could barely get down: my tired legs were in no condition for balancing acts. I tried the lower bit, which did appear to be correct, though totally unmarked and clearly not maintained. I have to tell you: these were VERY short but for my condition way, way too steep. I started to head up, and after 10 climbing steps I lost my footing on scree. I sat and cried – what maniac would put a campsite up here? How was I supposed to get up and down it carrying weight? And to get to water to filter? I came down crouching nearly on my butt – and my foot slid out again. FUCK THIS PLACE. I was very pissed off and for real too tired to deal. I said it aloud “I have nothing else to give, I need to stop and rest, why can’t I?”

Supposedly, the sign said, there was a bear box and ~5 camp spots up there, at least one occupied that I had spied, but I couldn’t understand the whole situation (I found these notes online after: “80′ elevation above the trail and 40 yards west of the creek.” / “the box is entirely invisible from the trail” / “a 15′ face above the trail” / “One box 40 feet above” http://www.climber.org/data/BearBoxes/HS02.html). I have no idea what mean person decided this was reasonable campsite to get to or why rangers didn’t think it was difficult in any way / not worth mentioning to me. I wasn’t even sure I’d find a suitable place for a hammock even if I solved this puzzle. I must again say that it doesn’t seem other people hate it as much as me, though they do find it confusing and weird or never found the bear box. I resolved to grumpily ask rangers about it next I saw them (I haven’t yet). I was not in any condition to do a scramble – I do NOT do scrambles when I am fresh or carrying weight because I HATE scrambles and loose footing, I was not able to at all now.

I sat and cried for a while then repacked: charged my GPS, made my headlamp accessible, pulled some more snacks, filtered some water, and set off with tears in my eyes: somehow, I was going to have to hike an additional 6 miles back to the trailhead with painful feet, weak leg muscles, and failing sunlight. Luckily, the next three miles were mostly dirt and slowly downhill. I stopped every 3/4 mile or so for a foot break when I reached a wash. Then the trail climbs again about 400′ in a mile. I had a full mini breakdown. I really had nothing to give and didn’t know what I needed to do to end this madness.

I was aware that my surroundings were still pretty, and it was nicely quiet as all other people and birds were settling in for the evening, but I was head-down and pushing with everything I had. The sides of the mountains were steep so there was really no safe place to hammock along the way, I thought. Plus, I was ‘over’ it. I steeled my will and pushed through the next mile. I saw a raven and said “good evening” – some other small birds were rather dismayed I was near their evening hideouts. Then for a half mile I descend, but it’s not much relief because my feet are in so much pain that my hands are fists and I am sometimes gasping. The next 3/4 mile is up. There’s a spot where I am on crooked rocks on a cliff and honestly didn’t know how I’d make over those 5 steps because I wasn’t sure I had enough muscle strength to balance well. I begged the trail to stop the torture and it replied with peaceful silence… So I rested shortly after with a planned snack, but mosquitoes found me and I swear bit my butt while I took a leak. Fuckers. I ate as I walked and reminded myself there was just over a mile left.

Finally, Eagle’s View was there – it’s the one mile marker. There a smidge more up, but then it’s wider, packed dirt down into Crescent Meadow to the parking lot. The sun is nearly gone, the sky is a bit orange, it is so damned quiet. I am leaned over – my 6’1″ frame probably only 5′ as I am just trying to fall forward at this point. Fuck. I have never been this exhausted… well, my feet were KILLING me and I did cry coming down Whitney – but that was 22 miles and the last time I wore boots (trail runners FTW). I remind myself that I am finishing something like 16.5 miles on the day AND carrying weight.

My right hip has decided to get in on the action and now I am limping. The trail turns and there is asphalt – only hundred or two feet to the car. There it is – yet no relief. I am still walking, barely, to a bear box to get some smelly stuff I had stashed (keep those things out of your car!) then to the my vehicle where, finally, I can drop pack. I am not really happy or feeling better – I am in a fair amount of pain. I change right there, I really can’t care about anything. What do I care if someone else see me in my underwear? What care I for the bear ~20 feet away sniffing around cars?

A few day hikers are coming back late as well and a couple without a car missed the bus. I’m an asshole and say I don’t have room – I mean, I mostly don’t: PuttPutt is small and I also had car camping stuff, but I could have smushed them in with effort. I felt bad about it quickly – I mean, she was like “it’s dark and we missed the bus and there’s a bear” so it was mean to be all ‘I don’t have room and I just wanna leave the park not drive people around’. I would have taken them once I gathered myself – luckily, some additional late hikers did take them (larger car). Hopefully karma doesn’t get too mad at me. I was pretty grumpy but they didn’t deserve that, they were kinda scared.

I do manage a smile that one group of young women have all their phones out to tape the bear – who is pretending that it’s not interesting the cars (“Oh, me? Nothing, just hanging out in the brush…”). The bear walks off slowly, everyone gets into their cars, we all leave. I am still near tears – that was too little food and too many miles with too little stretching and maybe a poor decision at the end to keep walking instead of finding a different camping spot.

Why is this dickhead tailgating me? We all have to wait for a construction light in a couple miles anyhow. Fucker. I decided fast food was the best bet, then no one would have to smell me – I was FILTHY from sweating uphill and dirt trails during the last 9.5 hours. I drove past my usual Three Rivers Comfort Inn and hoped I could remember where hotels were in Visalia (I don’t have a data plan). I call my man, he tries to calm me down and make sense of where I pulled over and gave me directions. I love this guy. <3 Unfortunately, no vacancies at Hampton Inn. They nicely give me a list of hotels with street addresses - and apparently Google Maps app will work w/o data and GPS only. I try Comfort Inn - one room and they wanna charge me $180 or something crazy. I drive back and try La Quinta Inn - $119 and sold - very nice staff letting in a crying, filthy person at 10pm. I buy some food from Del Taco, though I am not hungry still and don't finish. I shower. I lay in bed. How can I not sleep after such a day? Eventually, I guess I do - but my feet and hip ache all night.

Day 4: I am up, but with a bit of a limp due to my hip, and eating breakfast. I am looking forward to getting home and spending time with my man – this all works out, traffic isn’t too bad. I am really emotional still, but a bit more food and some hugs help.

Wow, I should not have been that worn out – what happened? A moment later: When is the next trip?

Peace in exhaustion. Freedom found when the only thing in my mind is how to take the next step. Trail dirt and tears break me down and I am built up again by Nature’s works. Not everyone is like this, but I need to push to failure because that is where I find myself.

A week later: my right hip and food are a-okay, my left heel not so much. I have to halt walking/running for some healing time and I continue to ponder intake/food problems on the trail and have purchased from shoes with more ‘stability’ and partial shanks which should assist with repetition damage walking atop rocks (I was stupidly wearing basic trail runners, too light flexible for weight-bearing multi-day backpacking).

I really lose faith in humanity every time I drive to work.

I started working for the man, instead of running my own home business, a few years ago. It’s just easier… except the drive. I have it easy, it’s within 13 miles to the office where the cubicle I was assigned sits in a corner far from windows (dead plants ensue). Still, even with minimal distance and mild traffic congestion (barring an accident on the freeway), I often lose my shit regularly anyhow.

The number of people not watching the road is astounding. I am not sure why driving a high-speed vehicle doesn’t inspire a little more concentration. I regularly watch lane bouncing and speed changes wondering what the hell is going on only to notice heads down – looking at their science-damned phones. Are people trying to get killed? I’m honestly shocked that there are not more vehicle crashes. It destroys any hopeful nice-people-going-out-of-their-way-to-help story I managed to scrounge up on the internets the same way reading comments on just about any issue also does. Clearly, only 10% of humans (rough guestimate) are worth saving – the vast majority of us are assholes and a scourge on this planet.

Not that I had a lot of posts, but…

Well, I have zero time to maintain this website or to make regular posts. My punishment is that the site was hacked and my wonderfully worded (of course!) blog posts were all replaced with spam. Thanks for that, assholes! It’s kind of amazing to think about, but I am a professional web dev and I didn’t have database backups nor did any maintenance. Goes to show what a pain in the ass it is to maintain a website by yourself and to manage a 3rd party system (WordPress) well enough to ward off hackers. To you hackers: go fuck yourselves.

A loss for words.

Look – I am with you. Politicians seem corrupt beyond comprehension. The choices seem limited. National elections seem pointless (not local, get out and learn and vote local, damnit!). Often, the choice of one US President over another is like choosing a lesser of two evils. BUT how on this green earth is Trump the lesser evil? How is he ‘draining the swamp’ – by putting the strongest opposers for each cabinet position? It makes no sense.

Howard Dean once yelled ‘YEEE-AAAW’ and lost his bid for president. But Donald Trump can mock a handicap, talk proudly of harrassing women, routinely run businesses that go bankrupt, incite violence, hold hands with Putin, and constantly spout hurt feelings on Twitter and this is okay? I… just… speechless.

I hope to science I’m wrong. I hope somehow hiring the leaders of corporations that have spent millions lobbying and corrupting our government somehow solves the problems… but how exactly does that work? I am fearful for our national parks, for women’s rights, for non-white non-straight rights, for the poor. I cannot see how this will turn out well – unless it’s so crazy bad people revolt ala Rome style.

I think we are living in the upside-down. I guess I knew it would happen the first day I noticed two Starbucks immediately across the street from each other: whatever rapture religious people believe in already happened and these are the end times. They are more weirdly disturbing than horrific than we expected – but it all seems to be getting worse. Somehow the internet and television have given us unlimited access to information and it’s made people more stupid – more full of fear which clouds judgement and gives way to tyranny. The history repeat is so blatant, so sad to watch.

But a big part of me thinks all the nonsense that is so overwhelming I’m just slackjaw is just some smoke screen – some ratings ploy to pull all our feeble minds towards this shit-show circus that is the US government and away from some larger issue – something unseen but guessed at. Something I’m supposed to do that I can’t figure out. Some words I’m supposed to say or story I am to follow. Some mystery that is keeping me up at night.

Not identifying with ‘grumpy’ any longer

Sure, I am still pretty grumpy. I generally utter the words ‘I hate people’ about three times per day. But 2015 has been the year of travel; I have added a Canadian province and three US states to my ‘hiked in’ list, and this weekend I will add another US state and probably one more over Christmas vacation. One day I will hit my goal of having hiked in all 50 US states, move on to finishing all Canadian provinces, then just keep going – new places rock. Travelling enriches your life like nothing else can and I feel like the luckiest person alive to be able to do it.

Anyhow, that is why I haven’t concentrated on this side brand for a while – the logo mark is still adorable, but it’s just not how I see myself now, so I just “can’t even” and haven’t. (-:

Hiking Masochist

For reasons I cannot explain I hiked for 9.5 straight hours today. I mean I only took a few meager stops, mostly during the first 3 hours, to take some quick non-tripod shots of the north sides of Pine & Mt. San Antonio peaks, which still had snow. (Side note: it’s the middle of February and winter is over in Southern California – it feels like a rather hot March with flowers blooming, but there will be no use chasing waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest, they will still be dry.)

I climbed up the PCT (Pacfic Crest Trail) from Inspiration Point off Highway 2 along Blue Ridge. It was full of great views, but pretty easy – I passed many closed Mountain High lifts, and stopped to watch some people come off the one that was still open for a minute, and when I made it to the ridge I round it covered in towers – shows what I know. I did not research this hike. I have hiked on the south side a LOT and have been on this side a few times, but I was totally winging it, taking my best guesses at mileage and trail conditions. I was ready for way more than an out and back at that point, even clocking 5.5 miles it seems way too short. So I continued into new territory – without having consulted a real map, done any research, or even talked to a ranger about it. Just a guess based on general knowledge of the area and a look at my 100k GPS unit. So I left forest road I was on around Guffy Campground (the PCT was skirted the North Side of the ridge, I was on the south) and headed down a forest “road” into the Prarie Fork – a stream-bottomed canyon. I have to say, one other hiker was 50 feet above me on the PCT at one point and yelled down that “I missed it” and when I said I was doing the loop he thought that was at least 16 miles and hard on the knees – so the trail gods did send a warning that I did not heed. You cannot call anything you see on the map a “road” any longer – forest and “jeep’ roads seen still on Google Maps are washed out or overgrown at least 60% of the time inside the canyon, and rock strewn further up the mountain – though they do popup once in a while and only sometimes fallen trees block them, either accidental or purposefully cut and placed in they way… interesting.

I knew the canyons had washed out trails, but the loop was longer than expected by at least 20% and had a fairly good section where any passable area, forget actual trail, disappeared among washes, debris, fallen trees, and ‘new’ plants… so I bushwacked with my body and prayed for nothing to bite me as I scrambled through dense brush and trod on unstable ground of branches and thick blankets of leaves. Surprisingly few scrapes this morning – good ol’ rip-stop hiking clothes! I passed two drive-in campsites that were abandoned – Lupine and Cabin Flat had picnic benches, fire pits, wood areas bordering roads to show where to park, and pit toilets (I did not look). There was some water in the stream, a feeder to the San Gabriel River, so sometimes the canyon was pretty, but time and energy were lost whenever a trail was – I often climbed inside the stream, jumping sides as needed, then being forced to leave and try to find any trail again or just pushed forward in the clearest spot I could find. With darkness falling I was nearly spent. My goal was just to make it onto the trail proper at Vincent Gap – the bottom of which comes and goes and I really didn’t want to do that in the dark. I did make it to the switchbacks, happily, before I had to get out my headlamp (kids, never hike without your essentials!).

It was pretty slow going at this point – I was less than 1.9 miles from the top according to GPS, but I had to guess it was nearly 3 with switchbacks PLUS I was parked in a lot fairly far away, so if I wasn’t able to hitchhike with another late hiker in this lot, I’d have to get back on the PCT and take it to where I parked, which was at LEAST 3 miles away, but probably 4. Lucky for me, two young men came up the trail behind me after their own over-long adventure (they went to Big Horn Mine then scrambled down the the southeast side of Mt. Baden-Powell into the gap) when I had about 0.8 mile left as the bird flies according to GPS. They talked with me to help pass the final hour in the dark, slowing a bit but also keeping a pace, and, after admiring the bright stars, gave me a lift to where I parked.

I did not plan, which is pretty rare for me, I just made guesses and went for it – and it hurt! I think the last time I didn’t plan at all I did a giant day looping from Millard to Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point, then up Mt. Lowe, back down the other side passing old ruins of an Inn and back down the old tram railroad – that was about 19 miles and hurt like hell, too. I was never lost or scared, but surely bit off more than I could chew with too many miles, unknown trail conditions, and a lot of elevation climbing. Coming up the final ascent in Vincent Gap I found the ravaged old campsite gone, but plenty of over-large scat… If I had so much as twisted an ankle it would have been a long night and following day: this area is REMOTE for being not that remote. You will NOT see anyone else, so going solo was my only regret, but all worked out with my amazing luck.

Today I am wishing the guys good karma and promising my pained feet (oh, my poor toes!) a long break as I say goodnight to this day, wondering where the wilderness will take me next. I’ll probably plan my future solo adventures like I usually do, in detail – for a while anyhow. The guys I met just shrugged and said diving into an adventure IS the best plan. I might be getting too old to agree – even one buddy on this one might have saved me from a serious problem of being stuck in the wilderness until rescued, which is a total waste of resources and a lot of worry from loved ones… or from being mountain lion food.