troopharrison at gmail.com
Thu Dec 7 08:35:35 CST 2017
I love this group! I don’t post often because you’ve already answered most of my questions :-) I had a successful hike of section A in the spring and you guys were a big part of that. Hoping to take on a section B this coming May. Also a desert hike here in Texas. So I will be using all of the same gear.
The Wonderland Trail is on my radar and I know that will be different, but not sure it’s appropriate to discuss that here? I have plenty of questions about that. :D
Sent from my iPhone
> On Dec 6, 2017, at 8:50 PM, Jeffrey Olson <jjolson58 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On 12/3/2017 5:15 AM, Mike Flannigan wrote:
>> Sorry for this test, but I have not heard from the list
>> for quite a while.
> This communication format is dying. I think it needs to be more about stories than information. The 2018 PCT facebook forum is fascinating. Naivete is the norm. It's just faster than it was here 15 years ago.
> Here's a story
> After hiking with Dave I headed West and my heart sank as I drove over Donner Summit. There was pretty solid snow everywhere. I knew I was at least a month from being able to hike at 7500'. That was May 17, 2010. Part of me didn't care because I got to hang with my mom and see friends, play golf, read bad novels, and work around the house. I like that kind of vacation. I worked at least two or three hours a day, planting, pruning, weeding, installing $750 of pleated shades, replacing an exterior door, fixing, etc. I even got to take naps!!! I also spent a lot of time perusing maps and books of trail descriptions, trying to find interesting hiking that didn't go up into the snow zones. Finally I settled on hiking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, south of Yosemite Park, including the Mammoth area. I started on the West Side. The east side of the Sierra is pretty steep. Trailheads are between 7K and 9K go quickly up to 11K - you get into the high country in a day. The West side is much more gentle, with lots of reservoirs and ridges and miles and miles of roads that take forever to get you anywhere. I left Santa Rosa and headed to Merced, then up to Mariposa, then over to Oakhurst, and then to North Fork and 55 miles along the Minarets Road to Clover Meadow Campground in a little pimple of national forest surrounded by official wilderness. I'd stopped at a ranger station in Oakhurst to get a permit for the three hikes I'd planned. The woman there got a bit flustered - I was her first hiker of the season. She spent a half hour trying to talk me out of doing what I was proposing. As it was, we spent an hour filling out paperwork and talking. She told me stories of hikers who'd died, who had to be helicoptered out (thousands of dollars of cost to the hiker) and I kept saying I knew when to turn around. I've been backpacking since the first trip my dad took me on when I was 13, and had spent weeks and weeks in the wilderness over a bunch of summers when the folks hired packers to take the family into the Marble Mountains in the 50s. The woman was from a local tribe and was active in getting "Squaw Dome" changed in name to "Piyau Dome." Apparently "squaw" means female genitalia. This is "controversial" in the literature. Nonetheless, the word is no longer part of acceptable lexicon. A tribe in North Dakota is successfully getting the name of a college's teams "The Fighting Sioux" changed because it demeans... I got out of the ranger's office with my persona intact, but much more firmly conscious I was heading into more of the unknown than I was used to. I wasn't scared. Again - my loins were just more girded... The road from Oakhurst to Clover Meadows Campground is long and winding and narrow and I just wanted to be done. The ranger had said that the road had just opened to the campground - it was obvious it had been open for a couple weeks. There was lots of snow at 7000'. That didn't bode well for high country hiking. I put up my tent at the edge of the parking area, mostly to keep the voracious mosquitos away. The road to the campground proper was closed due to snow and saturated earth - mud. There was a ranger station there, manned during the summer, but empty on June 20. I lay on my half inch thick blue closed cell foam pad, my 20 degree rated quilt covering only my feet, and read one of the airplane novels I'd brought. I didn't get much reading done as I listened to the jays and descending silence. I slept pretty well for the first night and got up and ate muesli, not missing coffee at all. I don't carry a stove or pot or cookable food when I hike alone. That means my intense coffee habit sends me into withdrawl. I knew I would start having a headache pretty soon so I packed up and headed out on one of the many trails leading from the campground. This first trip was to take four days. I was going to head to the southern boundary of Yosemite, traverse along one of the 10,000' ridges and do a 35 mile loop back to the car. Four days of pack and food weighs about 20 pounds. The base weight of my pack is just about 11 pounds now, with nine pounds of food. I knew I had too much, but for this first shakedown cruise, I wanted more than less. I was not in good shape, and hiked slowly through the forest. It was hard to develop a pace as there were countless snowbanks that had to be walked over or around. The trail was 18" wide and very clear. But I couldn't develop a walking pace. I'd get going, start to sink into a rhythm, and a three foot snowbump would appear. If the way were clear, I'd walk around it. If not, I'd go over it. Regardless, I felt I was more picking my way through the forest than trodding at 2 mph. After five hours and seven miles I reached a flat area that was filled with old growth pines, 5 to 8 feet in diameter. There wasn't much undergrowth - just lots of fallen trees and nearly solid snow. This was at 8300'. Solid snow at 8300'. This made me think that my goal of hiking up to 10,000' was pretty unrealistic. If my friend Dave had been there, I might have been emboldened and tried it. As it was, I hiked about a half mile until the snow became solid. I'd lost the trail a quarter mile or so ago, and was navigating by blazes on the trees. I tried hiking from blaze to blaze. I'd get to one and stop. I'd cast my gaze in the general direction the trail was heading, looking for the next blaze. After a while, I realized the blazes were figments - or at least - so old that they weren't obvious. This is where the ranger's exhortations and castigations, warnings and dumbfounded looks showed themselves. I had a compass and decent topo map. I knew where I was (especially since there was a marsh/lake coming up). That said, I didn't feel comfortable heading off into the wilderness by compass and map. Again - if Dave had been around... I decided to find a clear place to pitch my tent and camp. That was on the edge of the marsh/lake, a little spot not much bigger than my tent. Everything else that wasn't covered in snow was wet and/or running with water. The days had finally warmed up and the melt was on. Once the tent was up I got into it and killed about 50 mosquitos and lay there at 4 in the afternoon - five more hours of daylight to come - and listened to the birds and frogs. The wind was blowing enough that a sibilant background had me listen intently for A BEAR!!! Creaking limbs and thoracic whooshes combined with my natural imagination to create lurking and hulking, hungry, newly awakened ursine presences that smelled my muesli and gorp and turkey jerky. All imaginative and fictional my rational self said. Still... I read until dark, fading in and out of a light slumber. The frogs really took off at dusk, and I wondered if I'd be able to sleep. There was one big boy that boomed his croak across the lake. I imagined him with gonads the size of baseballs, and bulbous, Peter Lorre eyes. I tossed and turned all night, getting enough sleep, but really getting used to the absence of my temperpedic mattress with its extra 3" memory foam topper. I awoke at dawn the next morning, and lay under my quilt so comfortable and warm and appreciative of being there. The sun came up, very slowly - hitting the treetops on the western ridge, then glowing through the treetops on the eastern ridge, and finally, shining on me in my little tent on the edge of a marshy lake seven miles from the nearest road and its path to civilization. I didn't lollygag when I finally got up. I put my "butt pad" on a snowfree log and ate muesli. Actually, I felt like I was choking it down. I wasn't very hungry. Hmmmm. Maybe I wasn't hungry because I normally drink a pot of coffee before eating anything. I broke camp in less than 15 minutes and headed back to over the snow to the point at which the trail disappeared. I got back to the car around noon, taking my time, and lollygagging. Rather than heading out for another attempt to enter the high country on a different trail I hung out at the Granite Creek Campground, sitting in the drivers seat of my car, reading an airplane novel, napping, wandering around the deserted campground, and setting up camp. I watched Granite Creek and noticed that it was increasing in depth over the course of the afternoon. From noon til dark it got about two feet deeper. The melt was on. I woke up the next morning and whole sandbars with vegetation were exposed. Again, no one was around. This was the second day I hadn't uttered a word or seen or met anyone. I got up the next morning and repacked my pack for a five day trip to the Mammoth area and back. I wasn't too confident I'd be able to actually complete the hike as there was a 10,000 pass to go over, and lots of the hike was over 8500'. I had to try it though. I packed up and drove the car back down through Clover Meadows, to a junction and up towards a pass leading down into the middle fork of the san joaquin river canyon. There was no parking where the trail crossed the road, and I basically parked off the dirt road at an acute sideways angle. No biggy. I hiked gently up from 7200' to a notch in the ridge that was about 8200' and the snow was covering the ground about 50%. Once through the notch the snow was 100%. I got to a trail junction where I could either continue across snow to the area I had wanted to reach on the previous aborted hike, or cross a stream and head towards Mammoth - my plan. I could see the stepping stones that hikers normally used to cross the creek. But they were under three feet of raging, undulating, almost sensuous snowmelt water. The normally 15' wide creek was 25' wide and crashing down at 10 mph. I really didn't have a choice. Not only did the ranger's warnings echo through me - they were more an ironic parody of the choice I had to make - I realized I didn't want to hike on solid snow on a relatively unmaintained trail or cross the creek. Again, if Dave had been there we would have talked ourselves into the adventure. And again, I made the safe, prudent choice. I'm sure I would have made it. But there was a good 10% chance that I would lose my footing and be swept away, blubbering and pushing towards the other bank, watching for boulders to avoid, realizing I couldn't swim, that I really didn't have any control here - I just needed to GET OUT OF THE RIVER and survive. This was very clear to me as I stood there in 70 degree warmth, sweating, sunshine on snow making me wear sunglasses... My wonderful imagination had no trouble supporting the rational decision to turn around. So I sat down and ate some turkey jerky, feeling melancholy. I decided to head back to the notch, walk up a granite slope, eat lunch, and take a nap, if the gods were so inclined... I spent three hours lounging on a little bench overlooking the whole western approach to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I had three quarts of water. I had four days of food. I had a 400 page airplane novel. I had my butt pad and convenient granite to lean against. I was in slacker heaven... With a bit of punchy "I'm not quite awake and coordinated" I climbed back down the class three granite to the trail and hiked down to the car. I drove back to the Granite Creek Campground and set up camp in the same place. I sat in the driver's seat and read and napped. I took pictures of the creek getting higher and higher as the day went on. I drank a couple IPA's I'd purchased in Oakhurst. I wandered around and just fit into my environment - I was in balance and harmony!!!! I spent hours looking at the maps I'd brought. In between napping, reading, wandering, watching the creek rise, I'd bring out the big topo map and peruse the next days hike. I had hoped that all the snow reports on NOAA and the California water agencies were wrong, that I could really hike in mid-june above 8300'. The reality was unless I wanted to hike on solid snow and cross multiple raging creeks, this wasn't going to happen. So I went to the third trip on my itinerary. This was a four to eight day trip from the Granite Creek trailhead, down the canyon wall of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, up it's other side, up and down and up and down to Lake Edison and then back. The four day trip was basically a down to the river, up from the river, hike along the canyon wall, and down and up again to the trailhead. The eight day trip involved hiking in forest with no alpine environs to lift the spirit. I decided to do the four day loop, down and up and down and up - and head back and hang with my Mom... The fourth morning of my sojourn in the mountains I woke up and packed again for a four day trip. By this time my inner world was raging just like the creeks I'd encountered. I hadn't spoken or met anyone in almost 96 hours. There were times when I would just melt into the raging Granite Creek below my campsite, and others when I'd be so deeply into the topo map I'd need a second pair of reading glasses to make out the details, and then have to recover from that magnified focus when a jay screamed at me. I wiled away hours engrossed in an airplane novel, sitting in the drivers seat of my Toyota Solara, the seat all the way back, dropping the book to my chest and closing my eyes and drifting, and waking and picking up the book again. The next morning I drove to the Granite Creek Trailhead, about 6 miles from the Granite Creek Campground, or tried to. The map said the dirt road turned into a four wheel drive road a mile or so from the trailhead. I would drive as far as I could and hike. About three miles from the trailhead a three foot pine had fallen across the one lane road. I could have driven round it, or attempted to, but that was more jeep stuff than Solara stuff. I turned around, drove 100 yards back down the dirt road and parked on a narrow flat spot. I put everything in the trunk, installed the sunshields behind the windshield, locked the car, and slid over the log. The walk along the dirt road offered views of the granite benches and domes at the upper reaches of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin's canyon and high country to the east and south. I followed the tracks of a 4 wheel drive pickup that tore up the road and flora and fauna when he had to drive around deadfall in the road. I tried not to get righteous and irritated. I was on a hike, and would leave such desecration behind very shortly! I arrived at the trailhead and it was basically a sloping solid piece of granite upon which cars could park. It was solid granite!!! No human shaping - just some 300 pound granite boulders marking it's 10 or 12 spots. If you parked and forgot to put the car in park or the emergency brake on, the car would have gained speed, and in two hundred yards, bounced it's way down into the Granite Creek defile. Weird... The trail took me across a substantial bridge and then down 2500' to the San Joaquin River. The map said that this was an unmaintained trail. I've walked on "unmaintained trails" before. No biggy. That just means there's brush overhanging the trail and rocks/boulders to walk around. It's mostly a matter of not spraining an ankle. This "unmaintained trail" was different. It hadn't seen the hands of man for at least a decade, and probably longer. This segment of the trail was not difficult to follow. It would disappear for 20' and appear, and then disappear for 50' and appear, and so on. I was used to switchbacked trails. This one had switchbacks, but they were steep, more a miners trail than backpackers trail. Miners trails tend to go straight up and down, with switchbacks when going from bench to bench, or the terrain is too steep. I'd read in a book this was part of the "California Horse and Riding Trail" or something like that. I couldn't imagine a horse going down this with a rider on its back. There were times where I maintained four point contact as I lowered myself down a little cliff or vertical defile. I could see where horses had gone down or up the trail, but not for years. Normally there's evidence of hoofs striking granite - horseshoes chip granite. The chips were not fresh - they were definitely weathered. This wasn't a dangerous trail. For this I was grateful. But I was a bit flustered as I got near the bottom and poison oak appeared, and the trail would just disappear into it. Steep trail along granite walls with poison oak growing out of every little bit of dirt - not big, but there. I'd been hiking for three hours and had dropped 2000'. I had another 500' to go to get to the river. I wasn't anxious or scared or even irritated. But I was conscious of every step, of where I put my foot, and where my leg was, where my arms swung. I had poison oak once so bad that I spent four days in my house naked, drinking six quarts of malt liquor a day, smoking pot, and when my roommates came home from work, I didn't care that I was naked and drunk and high and obnoxious. I showed them how poison oak had invaded my crotch and butt crack... I was so impacted by the poison oak nothing else mattered. This is what I remembered... Consciousness - poison oak is here. Don't touch it... I made it down that last 500', mostly with no obvious trail through the benches and granite walls. I'm glad that the trail was 20% there. The next three days took what I learned and forced me to hone my trail consciousness even more. The trail, or where it had been, was invisible the last quarter mile. I couldn't imagine being on the "California Horse and Riding Trail" and crossing the bridge over the river and finding the trail. It was well hidden by brush and narrow cracks in the granite and poison oak and grass where there once was tread. I got to the bridge, and looked around for a good place to camp. It was obvious there was a huge meadow on the other side of the river - the RIVER!!!!!!!!! All those snowmelt creeks that were raging torrents flowed into the middle fork. It was 100' across and 20' deep at the bridge, and just flat out angry and NUTS!!!! There were boulders near the bridge that were under water and created standing waves five feet tall with churning holes behind them. Downstream the river narrowed into a granite sided, vertical canyon. The threaded currents were compressed into one flow that didn't seem to make noise or have much surface action. But you could tell there was incredible power there - there was a constant four foot bulge in the north edge of the river where it flowed over an underwater obstruction. When it hit the south wall as the gorge turned, it looked like it had a six foot flow up the wall before sliding down to even out with the rest of the river. The river at that point wasn't level. Very weird - I'd never seen anything like it before. When I got home I spent a couple hours checking out the middle fork of the san joaquin, and apparently, it's one of the fringe kayak runs. There are utube videos and blogs describing checking out the canyon and running it. I was just captured by the constant roar of the water. There was so much of it!!! I crossed the bridge and entered the meadow. It was sand and pines and warm and paradise. I found a spot behind some thick, tall pines that would be in shade for the rest of the afternoon. There is nothing like setting up a tent under the erroneous assumption it will be in the shade on a hot day, only to find it slowly being warmed to oven like temperatures when the sun drops 15 degrees from vertical towards the horizon. This isn't a problem when there are no mosquitoes. Just open the tent up and let the wind flow! This trip had a constant undercurrent of mosquitoes. They don't much bother me in terms of being bit and itching. But they bother me when there are 50 or 60 within three or four inches of my face - when I can hear them and the buzzing gets, well, intolerable...! After reading and napping and munching for hours, listening to the river, drifting in and out and back and forth, I finally stripped down and put on my sleeping clothes. The dusk lasted for a long, long time, but I wasn't really aware of it. I was in a perfect space, spiritually, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. I was in balance and harmony. I'd been close the previous days, lying in the car, reading, the breeze flowing through the car, lying in my tent next to Granite Creek, spending a couple hours on the edge of the snow covered alpine world with a view to the west and warmth. But this, and the night I spent upstream 48 hours later, were two of the most perfect relaxing afternoons and evenings I've ever spent. The next morning I lay in my tent at first light. I was ready to go back to sleep - I wasn't going far that day - but suddenly I felt the "call of nature" in an urgent feeling I couldn't ignore. This happens every time I go backpacking. After a couple days I am forced out of my warm quilt/tent because I have to take a dump. I don't have a choice. The urgency begins with me awakening to a sensitivity to being, to "having" a "fullness." I've awakened and in the last 20% of being asleep, desperately attempted to relax and sink back into dormir. This has worked, but not often. I can't fool my body. There is a point at which consciousness emerges to include bodily functions and everything just revs up. After a week of backpacking I try and remember to dig a cathole the night before so I can crawl out of my warm bed, stumble to the hole, and do my business without having to dig and feel my "fullness" move to a sphincter clench that threatens to blatt its way into my long underwear. I've never shat in my pants, but I've come close, little uncontrollable spasms of the sphincter that have me forget digging a hole or being out of sight of my hiking mates. Whew... I ate muesli, packed up, and began to hike on the faint trail at the edge of the forested meadow. I knew this day wasn't starting out well when I got to the end of the meadow a quarter mile downstream and there was no trail. There were lots of animal trails, and I think I followed most of them over the next hour. Finally, I ended up at a place I'd avoided that looked like the trail might have once gone through. But it was a poison oak patch. It was overgrown with bushes and there was lots of dead-fall to step over while avoiding the poison oak. I passed this point five times before stopping and realizing that the trail most likely headed where I didn't want to go. Once again I "girded my loins" and headed into the poison oak. Luckily it lasted only 20' or so, and on the other side of the brush that intermixed with it, there was an obvious trail. It took a real act of will backed with underlying despair to have me head through the poison oak. Coming down the northiside 2500' canyon wall was an introduction to "abandoned trails" Going up the southside on the California Riding and Hiking Trail took me to the next level. The bridge was at 4800' and the poison oak stopped at 5300'. The trail had no switchbacks. It wound its way from bench to bench, sometimes flat for 100 yards, other times straight up for 100', in a 100 yards. And there was no "trail" to speak of. I not only had to watch my feet - every step was a potential ankle twister - I had to stay 10' to 100' ahead of myself to look for the next little bit of abandoned trail. I got pretty good at anticipating where the trail "should" go, and trusting my developing intuition that where I was walking would eventually reveal itself to be THE TRAIL!!!! I know I'm fixating on THE TRAIL or its lack. I can't emphasize enough just how disconcerting it is to a backpacking guy used to following an 18" wide trail, step after step, head down, unthinking, just one step in front of the other, working when it's up, letting loose and noticing stuff when it's flat, and taking care when the trail heads down. A trail is a given for 99% of us. We are camp centered, hiking from point A to point B. The trail is a way to get from one point to another, the vistas and creeks and vales and defiles and lichen all to be appreciated and "grokked" but the overall point is to get where you're going. I'm thinking there is a metaphor here. Most of us (I) are most comfortable when the way is clear. When it becomes obsfuscated for any reason, we feel anxiety and wonder and sometimes get neurotic and sometimes within neuroses get weird... I found myself feeling despair that I had to cast my gaze to find the trail bits as I walked. When I'd find a bit after 100' of trusting my intuition where the trail "should" go, I'd feel a rush, a high! I wanted the comfort of a clear trail, but felt triumph when absence gave over to presence. I reached the top of the canyon. There hadn't been many views because of the vegetation, and I only knew I'd reached the "top" when the way flattened out in the forest. I came to a junction I'd anticipated since beginning the day. I was headed south for the rest of the afternoon, and then the next day was going to turn around and come back. Once I got back to this junction I would head 3 miles down the other trail and drop another mile and 2500' to the other crossing of the river, and a different 2500' climb out back to the trailhead and three mile hike on the 4 wheel dirt road to the car. The sign at the junction was in three pieces on the ground. There was no post. Forest service trail signs are wood with cuts making up letters. The letters on this sign were almost unintelligible they were so old. I realized in another dimension of understanding that I was walking "abandoned trails." I doubted at this point that rangers patrolled this area. I hadn't seen anyone in four days, seen any footprints on this "trail" or spoken a word. I was out there in the wilderness by myself and that was what was. The trail I would follow tomorrow disappeared in 50' - in the grass of a small meadow before an old growth stand of big pines I could see was populated by lots and lots of dead trees piled one on another. I must admit that I felt a bit "spooky" as I continued to follow the abandoned trail south. I was getting better at just hiking, walking where I would have put a trail, and for the most part, finding I'd made the correct choice. I was actually making time, and averaging more than a quarter mile an hour. I crossed a snow fed creek that wouldn't be there in three weeks and ate lunch. I spent two hours on my butt pad, book in hand, my face and legs and hands covered with DEET, trying to relax and be in the moment. The mosquitoes were voracious until I put on the DEET. After than they didn't swarm and pretty much did what mosquitoes do where there is no food around. But they were still there, and as I closed my eyes and listened to the forest they were definitely a part of it. I hiked for another couple hours and realized I wanted to stop. I filled up my three quart gatorade bottles at a seasonal creek and found a ridge top with some minor views. I walked a couple hundred yards up from the trail and laid my tent out on a flat spot in that would be shady for the afternoon/evening that was about six inches deep in forest duff. I think that's the word - duff. Pine needles and sand and it's like a tick mattress - very comfortable. Again, I spent five hours of daylight hanging out, first against a tree, and then in the tent when I got tired of the swarms. Dusk and dawn are worst for mosquitos. But the late spring let them hang out in their swarms during the day too. I realized that I was at the halfway/turnaround point of the four day trip. I knew I could have continued south for as many miles as I wanted, but to be honest, I just didn't want too. I like hiking, and love being in the wilderness. But I like rising to alpine worlds and they were closed to me - snow. The next morning I leapt out of bed to the urgent drive to defecate - earlier each day - today at 7AM. A part of me was watching - the witness - and from the outside, I dumped, packed up, ate some breakfast, did the final packing, and hit the trail, or its ephemeral suggestion... From the inside I was stridently in dialogue with myself. I didn't have a quiet moment in the morning. All the routine stuff had internal verbal markers guiding me. What seemed to be moving from one task to the next on the outside, from the inside was a constant blathering stream of talk that ranged from how to pick up a tent stake and locate its bag, to a sense of universal connectedness that was a smile as I moved through the moment in the packing. I realized once again I was discovering a kind of balance between big and small that was life's lesson revealing itself again. There is peace in this realizing. What emotions exist between behaving and perceiving were backgrounded in the exquisite performance of a daily act - getting up, dumping, packing, eating, surveying camp to make sure all was as it was before I intruded, then beginning the day's walk. I watched myself do what I was doing and my perceiving was a ribbon wrapping the present, a dance in the midst of energetic living, an opening to what the world and universe were giving me there in the woods and wilderness... The end of a day's hike has a spectrum of emotion. I'm tired and sore and all the acts of setting up camp involve bending over and standing up, bending over and standing up. in the morning I bend and raise, bend and raise, but each day there is an increasing competence, an increasing sense of rhythm and balance that I think comes form being in better shape - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. When the day is done I struggle from one task to the next. I'm tired and sore and stiff and I hurt. In the morning I'm stiff, but not tired - energized. My world is different. I anticipate the trail to come, the climbs, the vistas, the surprises. At the end of the day I appreciate the moment and that's about it. I have no future orientation. Sometimes I'll figure out the next day by spending time with the map. But most of the time I have a sense of what that'll entail, and I don't need to leave the moment of being-tired and satisfied and appreciative. I'm the frog with Peter Lorre eyes without the baseball sized gonads... I headed back down the trail I'd hiked the day before. I recognized points at which I'd mentally marked when I was confused about where to hike. I remembered a little vale with downed trees at either end I had to climb over, that yesterday I'd almost hurt myself when I slipped and bounced off a broken branch that was two inches from poking a hole in my thigh. I remembered a little lake becoming a meadow that swarmed with exponential numbers of mosquitos - I almost ran through that couple hundred yards trying to fool them about my being there - it didn't work and I just put up with the ebb and flow of the hoards finding and losing me. And in a little over an hour I got to the junction with the degraded sign and trail that disappeared into the big forest and unmitigated fallen tree brothers and sisters. I spent three hours hiking three miles. There was no trail. I made my way along benches at the rim of the canyon of the middle fork of the San Joaquin river. I shouldn't say there was "no" trail. Every once in a while a bit of trail would appear, but after a while, it was hard to tell what was abandoned trail and what was animal trail. The first part of this part of the hike was through old growth forest. That means no undergrowth and lots of deadfall. I crawled over lots of trees and realized I would be better off if I worked my way to the narrow meadow heading in the same direction I was. Crawling over dead trees is the most dangerous thing I do hiking cross country. There is so much room for slippage and so many little spikes and branches ready to puncture big muscles. I was so careful... I was in a different reality. No trail. Primeval forest. And lots, and lots, and lots of bear poop. As I headed along the narrow meadow I kept stepping over piles of bear poop. Most, if not all of it, was old, most of it from last year. I poked every pile I ran across with my hiking pole, and felt safe when it revealed itself to be dry. Nonetheless, in the half mile I walked along and in the narrow meadow, I came across at least 50 piles of bear poop. Each sighting raised my adrenaline, and with each poking and discovery it was old, I faced my fear and let a little bit of it go. I did see a bear. It was grubbing a log - a cinnamon colored yearling. I walked over a little hummock and there s/he was, nose in the ground. As soon as I crested the bear leapt into the forest and within two seconds was gone. A fleeting glimpse - that's it... It's a gift to see a bear. They are hunted in most forests, and have a primordial fear of humans as a result. We are so loud, and they are so sensitive. I've seen bears before and most of them were feeding, relatively oblivious. By the time I got to the end of the narrow meadow I knew I was on my own - no trail at all. Not even vestiges of trail. The map had the dotted line of unmaintained trail, but I'd finally reached the edge of civilizations decline - the vestiges were overgrown and had sunk back into a natural state. I was faced with a choice - turn back and hike down the way I'd come, or continue forward, trusting my ability to read a map and read the terrain in the map's perspective. Honestly, I didn't know if I could read a map well enough to get to the place where I could descend the canyon wall to river and its bridge. I remember starting out on a 750 mile, 75 day trip with my fiancee who had never backpacked before. I taught her everything I knew - we were a team. What revealed itself early in the trip was that she read a topo map far better than I did. I gladly gave up that responsibility and was very patient when she got anxious about her choices. Invariably - that means ALWAYS - her choices were right. She had me check her choices, but even then, when I was 40, my eyesight was less than stellar and I needed glasses to see fine detail - glasses I hadn't brought. It was early in the day though, and I knew I could turn around at any point and find the narrow meadow and the junction and the way back if I needed too. Maybe this is what makes the choice to enter the unknown palatable - the knowledge I can turn around and find the familiar. Thinking about this as I walked, I realized this was an option not available most of the time. I make a choice and there is no going back. There is coping, backtracking, reveling and celebrating - but seldom is there the ability to turn around and go back. I made my way along the canyon wall. It was made up of benches and manzanita and forested glens 100 yards long. There was no sense of an "edge." I knew from the map I needed to drop 200' vertical feet in the next mile and find a creek that led to a waterfall. I climbed up and down on granite slopes to 20' wide benches of pines and manzanita that petered out in cliffs that had me backtrack and climb up or down to get to the next bench, and the defile with a creek and a waterfall at its head. The total 200' drop ended up being much more than that - the ups and downs and retreats probably tripled that elevation drop. What bugs me now, as I put this narrative in web form is I didn't take any pictures from the sign at the trail junction to what eventually was that night's camp. I was way too into the moment to take pictures. At one point I knew I had to drop down a granite face 40' or so. I could see a creek at the bottom. I had to go back 100 yards to find a safe way to wind down to the creek. I was hot and tired and thirsty.. There were last fall's leaves on rock, and I slipped when I didn't step well. There were little pine trees and manzanita hanging over granite I had to step over or walk around. Every movement on that backwalk and descent to the creek was an effort that threatened to hurt me. I could feel malevolence and it wasn't coming from the terrain. I'd entered some sort of weird space that made everything in the environment dangerous, a space/place where I could hurt myself. It wasn't the "wilderness" that would hurt me. It was me - my perspective on behavior as I put one foot in front of, or behind, the other. I had lost the sense of being-part-of-the-environment. I was jerkily alive within my almost uncoordinated efforts to make my way down the slope. I hadn't felt this before on this hike. I'm familiar with this feeling, but not in the all-pervasive way in which every step was threaded with danger, with the imminent actuality I could hurt myself. A part of me succumbed. I gave in to the malevolence. I was bereft, lost, my presence nothing more than tactile edges maintaining contact with the rock and dirt and trees and bushes. What larger perspective I'd had was gone. The balance and harmony I'd felt was disintegrating into fractured emotions taking me away from my ability to navigate my way through the world. I got to the creek. I'd slipped and fallen three times in the previous 100 yards. I'd wrenched my back catching myself in one of the falls. I stopped and took a 15 minute break, downing two quarts of water. I was breathing heavily, and it didn't abate. I felt panic - intense anxiety - and it took most of that break to slow my breathing and stop my intense sweating. I drank the two quarts and with each swallow, felt the panic's edges settle down into deep breathing... I hadn't realized just how intense the previous 10 minutes had been. When my larger perspective re-emerged, I found myself revisiting the intensity within a larger, cognitive context, and the fractured sense of being ruled by malevolence that was another pair of eyes staring at me lessened. This is all emotional. There was always a part of me that monitored my loss of perspective and grasping for handholds and footholds on the edge of the canyon. But it was thinner and shallower than was normal for me. It was as if it was 1974 and Robert and I were eating LSD on Stony Point Road outside of Cotati and finding the rock-bottom-base-line. I'd forgotten the effort required to maintain when things get heavy, or hard, or really, really threatening.. I sat next the creek and breathed heavily and drank water and slowly centered. I knew things had turned when my breathing went from deep and constant to me forgetting to breathe, and then, a big sigh/breath. The damn forest was the same, and the creek was beautiful and burbling and I was walking cross-country with no trail. Life is good!!!!!!!! I finally put my pack back on and started up the creek. 100 yards from my rest spot there was the waterfall. The waterfall was on the map. I was only a couple hundred yards from where I thought I was!!!! Now it was time to descend. I was feeling good - well hydrated, knowing where I am, where the trail should go. Unfortunately, the trail down the canyon wall to the river didn't begin with an open hand and welcoming presence. There were a number of benches with manzanita and pine trees, and one would fade into a ten foot drop and another bench, and there was no place it seemed like a trail would go. In a matter of 200' I would turn around and go back to the last vestige of trail. I did this at least three times over a half hour. I would take a couple steps and search intensely for a trail. Animal trails were prevalent. There was no way to tell those from the unmaintained in 20 years people trail. That half hour was couched in the larger perspective I'd gained sitting for that 15 minutes at the creek. I knew I'd find the right way down the canyon wall. And I did. There turned out to be a bunch of two and three stone cairns marking the way down to the obvious trail. I'd been too wrapped up in what was on the ground to see them or, I think I saw them, but discounted them because they made no sense... The map says I need to go north but what I see in front of me has me choose to go south... This is where mistakes are made that cost lives. I could feel just how important each decision I made was in terms of me continuing to live. Sure, I could have gone all the way back to the junction I'd reached four hours ago. But that wasn't a real option in those hours I spent at the top of the canyon. I was going to get down to the bottom of the canyon and make camp and read my airplane novel and revel in the warm breezes and background sound of the river. The trail was more obvious now, a miners trail through the manzanita, granite, descents, pines, leaves, dirt and heat. It was straight down after leaving the multi-benched rim. The cairns I'd found continued, but they took me straight down the canyon wall. Every step was one that teetered on the precipice of a twist or fall. The intensity of my focus narrowed to the ground in front of me, no more than one or two steps ahead. When the trail wasn't obvious I'd stop and breathe and extend my focus to find a safe way through, no, down, the tree shaded cliff. When I could, I placed my poles and cushioned the 18" steps that threatened to blow out my knees. When I had to, I leaned back, and used my hands, grabbing the rough granite for purchase, holding my weight as I lowered myself down to the next little foot rest. This was a 2000' drop. It wasn't a "cliff" like you think of Half Dome. It was a canyon wall that had a 60 to 70 degree slant. 90 degrees is straight up and down. There were no places where I was climbing down. It was all walking, mostly with poles, but so steep, it wasn't hiking. I used bushes and trees and granite to slow my descent. I stopped often to breathe, to reconnoiter, to wonder just what the hell I was doing. Yes, I did wonder, but for the most part I was in the moment, where I needed to be to successfully complete the day's hike. I'd walked for three miles cross-country with infinite bear poops. Now I was descending a 2500' canyon wall. No biggie. LOL I was open to the malevolence, but after finding the waterfall, then the cairns leading down to the wall from the lip, it was absent. What was present was a sense I needed to be present and paying attention to what I was doing. What I was doing was dangerous, and to some, I could easily imagine, foolhardy. If I slipped and fell and broke a leg, there was no way anyone would find me. I was on an abandoned trail on the wrong side of a river canyon. Every step included the possibility of actually dying. Wow... To be in this feeling, doing, not thinking. All the existential philandering I've done over the years faded in the face of dying being but a step away, step after step after step. Such an intense focus I had to maintain. So intense - too intense... About half way down the canyon wall I came to a drop that required me to step from one granite slab down 24" to a granite boulder covered with last fall's leaves. These were leaves that had fallen, been covered with snow over the winter, and now, were flat and slick ready to decompose into threads. From the boulder I would need to step another 24" down to a small flat spot of dirt. There was a small pine tree next to the boulder. This was the 50th, 100th, 200th little maneuver I'd made to make my way down to the river I could hear blasting along the canyon's bottom, far below. I put my right hand's pole on the leaf covered boulder and began to lower myself. I put my right foot and weight on the boulder, but was not "centered." My foot slipped off it and the next thing I knew I was spinning out into space. It would have been a simple matter to lower my left hand and catch myself on the granite slab, but when I reached down to do so, my pole caught on the boulder below, and my hand scribed an arc forward into space. I found myself falling backwards, twisting around my left hand's pole. I did my best to collapse rather than actually fall, figuring it would be better to skid down the incline. However I'd gone to far and had to actually pull my right hand around my head as I fell. I landed on my pack and bounced off the boulder. I continued to twist my body through the fall and ended up spreadeagled with four point contact over the little dirt spot I'd meant to step on. I'd managed to land on my back and then do an intentional 180 degree flip/fall and land on feet and hands. My poles made my landing awkward, but I didn't scrape my face or head or body. I landed in a spider position and hung there for a moment before collapsing into the dirt and rock of the forested canyon wall. I let loose with a groan and little whimper. I felt like crying. I lay there on my face for maybe 10 seconds, still in the midst of the fall, reliving it, before I started taking stock of my physical well-being. My hands were both scraped a bit. That was it. That was it. I gathered my sense of self and rolled into a sitting position. I stared down the cruddy drop/trail, another 1000' of what was essentially class 2 and 3 climbing, made more dangerous because it was DOWN, which is always harder than up. Even with tender knees, give me up over down~!!! I sat there for a couple minutes rocking and twisting my back, freeing my hands from the poles straps. Never again - never will I go down or up anything that is remotely iffy with pole straps around my wrists. My worst nightmare - broken leg on an abandoned trail, little water, no way to move - slowly dying... Just take of the poles straps so I can let go of the poles to cope with falling down canyon wall cliffs... I slipped and lowered and traversed and marveled my way down the rest of the trail - still straight down the little defile/valley that got larger and larger as I got closer to the river. I didn't walk. I slithered and slipped and stepped and reconnoitered and lowered myself. It felt like hours, but the last 1000' really only took a half hour or so it was so steep. When I got to the flat, forested, sandy, five acre glen that was the descent's reward, I strode forth and reveled, so damn high and filled with a sense of competence and, and luck??? I didn't think about the descent at all. I just opened to the beauty of old growth pines, no undergrowth, and the sound of a river raging. I followed the intersection of the canyon wall and valley floor to the left, thinking the bridge across the river would likely be in that direction. I came across a horseman's camp, with trash and saw hewn benches and tables and a pair of new new balance running shoes. Go figure. Horse people's camp. No self-respecting hiker would leave this kind of trash and desecration of the wilderness. I took my time walking along the floor, just soaking in the warmth, the breeze, the river's roar, the slanting sun - the perfection of intersecting natural forces coursing through me, through my world... I came upon a bunch of granite slabs, 20' high, one leading to the next. I walked up them to a high point, and a couple hundred yards of river became visible. It was 150' across, 20' deep, and moving at more than 10 mph. The water was roiling - the power. It was just overwhelming... It was hard not to be carried away by the threaded currents, formed by rocks an boulders - massive boulders that created five foot holes behind them, a kayakers nightmare. The sun, the breeze, the river, the canyon... But no bridge. I walked out to the end of the granite slabs and saw a bunch of one inch bolts embedded in the rock, twisted and rusted. It was obvious there had been a bridge here at some point. It was also obvious that a great flood had washed it away. I'd started the hike guided by a book published in 1991 that talked about the bridge at this point on the river. The map was ambiguous I saw - later. I figured the bridge had washed away between 1991 and 2010. Here I was, stuck at the bottom of the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, faced with the prospect of climbing back up the harrowing, miserable, dangerous, steep and horrible trail to the rim, back cross country to the junction, and back down the canyon wall to the crossing over the bridge I'd walked two days before. Then I'd have to hike back up the tenuous trail I'd started the trip on. That was two extra days of hiking. That was an extra climb up and down - 2500' up and 2500' down. I can't begin to describe the feelings coursing through me as I stared at the twisted bolts embedded in the flat granite slabs above the roiling river. Well, yes I can.. The "biggest picture Jeff" opened to the challenge and reveled in the thought of the hardships I'd encounter. The "moment-to-moment" Jeff felt great dissipation and lassitude. All I could see was the pain of climbing up, climbing down, and climbing up again. I stood there and felt the whole of my summer. I had spent time with my Mom. I'd been beaten down by snow. I was hiking in conditions that were ideal, warm, relatively buggy but beautiful... I saw the next three days - one huge slog after another, and for what, for what purpose??? This is the question that I'd faced over the last 16 years of long distance hiking. I'd set off on a trip planned to last 30 or 50 or 75 days, and come up against the question, "Why am I doing this?" To this day I've not come up with answer to this question. I can't tell you why I want to hike for 75 days, or the whole 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail over 5 months. Not after having spent a number of months on five or six different trips hiking for three weeks and longer. Or this trip, three days long so far... I begin these trips with exuberance. The planning is fun. The purchasing of food and repacking is fun. Putting food into boxes my folks or sister will mail is fun. Once out on the trail - not so fun. I go to the pattern this expresses, and I see a frontier. Planning is fun. Hiking alone is hard work. And here I was, two extra days of really, really hard and dangerous hiking in front of me that I hadn't planned for. I felt discombobulated. I see a frontier. I know what the edge of my next evolutionary dimension is. My brother is a Buddhist monk and he doesn't have to say anything to teach me. My sister is grounded in a way that intrigues and puzzles me. My mother inhabits a space I can only hope to inhabit when I'm her age. But my next life's step involves this frontier of being-alone and finding the center - Wo'Lakota- where all is in balance and harmony, moment to moment, day after day... Day to day life in the world is filled with distractions that use to deviate from this core life's presence - maybe aim, maybe focus??? The fact there is no bridge upon which to cross the river is ultimately heartening. But I don't know this yet. I'm not "conscious" of "the biggest picture Jeff." I'm really bummed out. I really, really don't want to have to backtrack. I wandered back to the flatness of the forest floor and meandered east upriver. I came upon another horseman's camp, with its trash and hewn tables and benches and decades old firepit. The two camps were only a couple hundred yards apart, but separated visually by old growth pines. The five foot thick trunks of fifty or sixty trees were enough to insure privacy. After the second horse camp the forest floor developed some sandy rises and brushy areas. I walked disconsolately, bereft of perspective or hope. I figured I'd explore the whole of the valley before settling down for the night, girding my proverbial loins to make the climb up the canyon wall in the morning. I knew I was coming to the east edge of the forested glade - the canyon wall as getting closer. I felt its looming presence - the malevolence was beginning to leak through again. I didn't care that I was projecting my despair onto the canyon wall and making it into a "presence." I was tired and discouraged and emotional and vulnerable. I REALLY didn't want to hike back up the canyon wall. To be sure there was a part of me, no matter very small, that reveled in anticipation of the challenge to come, both the up and down and up again - despair underlaid with a hint of macho... But mostly I was tired. The river was massively flowing. I could see where it had been four feet higher earlier - a week, two weeks? I couldn't tell. But the brush and sand and trees had twigs and grass intertwined and wrapped around everything up to the same elevation. The river was awesome right then, probably five or six feet above normal reservoir outflow. The white noise would have had someone with a quiet voice unheard. I pushed through some brush and saw some angularity - straight lines that weren't natural. There was a tripod about 20' high. A cable resolved heading from the tripod's apex back to the right to the ground. On the other side of the tripod was a platform, and a little car with two benches, hanging from the cable on two eight inch pulley wheels. I stood there a bit dumbfounded. I pushed through the head high brush and lo and behold, there before me in all its 19th century glory, was a cable crossing the river and another tripod with platform on the other side. I walked up to the tripod and followed the descending cable to it's anchors in solid granite. I pulled on the giant, one inch bolts in the granite and they didn't move. I started back to the platform. It was a suspension bridge. It was obvious - you climbed up the tripod leg on horizontal bars welded to the vertical 2" schedule 40 steel pipe, got into the car, untied the rope holding the car to the tripod, and hand over hand, pulled oneself across the river. Oh happy day!!! OH HAPPY DAY!!! Yes, when jesus walked, when he walked, he washed our sins away... I had stupid stuff bouncing round inside me as threw my pack to the ground and climbed up to the platform. Across the river was a little log building with no windows - probably the hut the guys who took river readings used during the winter when they came down here. A weird kind of civilization. I pulled on the cable and pushed the car. Finally, I sat in the car and looked across the 150' river. My exuberance folded over into nervousness. While rationally I knew that crossing the river was probably 100% safe, I'd never done anything like this before. I saw I'd have to cross the river with my pack. Then I'd have to let the car go and get into the other car now docked on the north side of the river. I'd have to pull myself across the river, pushing the first car in front of me, and retie it to the south side tripod. I'd then have to get back in the north side car and cross the river for the third time. I have a kind of acrophobia. I've lost my inner ear on the shoulder of Mt. Ritter and a peak in the Enchantments in Washington. It was all I could do to cling to the rock as my world spun and my stomach lurched and breathed trying not to vomit. The cable was probably 20' above the river, but it was "above." I climbed down from the platform and meandered back to a sandy glade 20' from the river and its wonderfully soothing white noise. I set up camp, crawled into the tent to put a barrier between me and the voracious mosquitos, munched on goldfish, jerky and gorp while I read my airplane novel. Every once in a while I'd stare off into space, into the next morning, and feel my stomach clench. I was not looking forward to crossing the river. The despair I'd felt at the absence of a bridge was gone. Just wiped away... I woke up the next morning, lay in the tent as the dawn turned into a bright presence on the canyon wall across the river, into sun streaks through the trees on the canyon floor. A gentle breeze moved the poplar leaves and made the pine boughs almost sway. I lay there knowing I had to get up, pack, cross the river, and hike up the north canyon wall. I was willing to luxuriate in the 55 degree warmth for a long time but the call of nature had me up within minutes, grabbing the toilet paper and plastic shovel. No choice here. Two seconds of pooping, wipe, bury, and that's it. Back to tear down the tent and pack up, eat some more muesli, and then over to the cable. I climbed up to the platform, took off my pack, and placed it in the seat on the little car closest to the river. I tied it down with my 50' of black quarter inch nylon rope so that if the car fell into the river, the pack wouldn't float away. Don't ask me why that mattered. If the car fell into the river, I'd be swimming for my life to get to the other side before being swept into the class six gorge a couple hundred yards downstream. I guess it made me feel more secure. What's ironic, is that if the car had fallen into the river, I could have used the pack to float/swim to the other side. Tied to the car it would go to the bottom and stay there forever... I stepped into the car, my feet on the platform under the seat just ahead of the foot bar. I untied the rope holding the car to the tripod and sat down. I grabbed hold of the inch thick cable and put my feet on the foot bar. The car began to move. I'd decided without consciously deciding, that I would move hand over hand across the river. The car wanted to pick up speed. I stopped it and hand over hand, let it down the cable toward the middle of the river. The cable was almost at arms length so hand over hand involved a little bracing of the feet on the foot bar, my back against the seat back, so that I had a modicum of control. Hand over hand I braked my way down the cable. There was a strip of steel that kept my hands from being caught between the pulley and cable. As I approached the middle of the river the car lost its urge to run and I felt much more in control. I began to pull on the cable, pulling the car on its two eight inch pulleys. To this point I'd been looking at the cable and pulleys and across the river along the pulley. I hadn't looked down into the river. Feeling brave I looked down. I saw the water flowing at 15 mph and lost my inner ear. I grabbed hold of the cable, closed my eyes and tried to locate myself in space - in the space of being in the car, somewhere solid. My stomach wanted to void itself of the morning's muesli and water. It only took 10 seconds or so, but I managed to ignore all the physiological sirens going off and start doing what I had been doing, pulling myself across the river. The pulling got harder the closer I got to the other side of the river. I think the two platforms were probably pretty close to being at the same elevation. That meant that the suspended cable dipped a couple feet - maybe three or four - in the middle. I got to the north side platform, pulled myself up against the other car, put my feet on the platform underneath the foot bar, and grabbed the railing surrounding the platform. I'd made it. I was shaky. I put one foot at a time outside the car, holding onto the railing and the car at the same time, until I felt myself on solid ground/platform. Whew... Wheww... WHEW..!!! I tied off the south side car to the north side car and then took my pack off. I looked at how the north side car was tied to the tripod, got in the car, untied the rope, and began to lower myself down the cable again, hand over hand. Because of the extra 200 pounds or so of the other car, I worked a lot harder crossing the river. I didn't look down. I got to the other side, tied the south side car to the tripod, and got in the north side car for my third trip across the river. This time I just let go of the cable and let the car run. What could happen??? The car got up to about five miles per hour and it hummed, an increasing pitch that slowed only when we started up the other side. I didn't have enough momentum to take me all the way to the platform so I had to pull myself across again. I was ecstatic. I could do this all day, and I bet i could even look down and not throw up!!! But I didn't. I put on my pack and climbed down the 12" long ladder rung pipes welded to the 2" tripod leg. I had no interested in exploring the little windowless log cabin. I didn't even go over and read the sign that probably said what it was. I just wanted to get back to what I knew - hiking. There was an obvious trail that disappeared into the brush leading to a creek splashing its way down the treed canyon wall. Hoping against hope it would continue I started following it. It disappeared after 50'. I must admit I stopped, dropped my shoulders and head, and wilted as much as you can standing up. I made it across the river even though there was no bridge. I had only seven or so miles and 2900' vertical to hike that day. On my seventh day of being alone, not talking out loud, I was ruing what I was about to do. This would make four days of moment to moment trail finding and steep, sometimes dangerous hiking. I was tired, not physically, but emotionally. Being emotionally tired manifested itself in images of me taking one step after another in abject, defeated, hot misery. I took a deep breath and looked ahead for vestiges of the trail. I began walking, knowing I would eventually get to the car and the drive back to Santa Rosa. The despair emerging at facing another unmaintained trail was caught up in sitting in the drivers seat, turning the key, and beginning to drive. That was the slacker call - sitting and driving... So much for balance and harmony. Torn emotionally I put one foot in front of the other and made my way to the creek burbling its way 100' down to its convergence with the river. There was an obvious crossing - stones 18" from each other, but under water. I strode through the brush to a spot 100' upstream where i could step from boulder to boulder and cross the 10' creek without getting wet. The trail was pretty nonexistent, but the way was obvious to my now sensitive eye. The despair I'd felt when the trail disappeared on the shady, brushy flat had dissipated and I was full into one foot in front of the other, monitoring my aerobic functioning and the ache in my leg muscles. The "trail" wound its way up along and from bench to bench, getting higher and higher above the creek, which after a while was only a promise at the bottom of the canyon 600' below. It was a miners trail again, no switchbacks to speak of. It was a south facing slope, so there were relatively few pines and lots of deciduous trees. And it was getting hotter and hotter. The previous days hikes had temperature in the 70s. By 10Am, it was easily 80+ degrees. The map showed the trail crossed three creeks on the ascent, so I wasn't worried about getting dehydrated. I stopped every 100' to 200' or so, for a couple seconds, for a minute or two. I stopped once at a rock where I could keep my pack on and lean back and be supported. There was a 30' tall tree with broad leaves in front of me. Four hummingbirds, red and blue and green and yellow, played/fought in front of me. I sat there for five minutes watching them and marveling. The despair and fractured emotionality had given over to acceptance of the slog up the canyon wall. And in this break, there was a pristine beauty in the bird's play that helped move me towards the balance of larger healthy perspective and smaller moment to moment emotionality, both fractured and holistic - the melding/wreathing/weaving of both that makes up the act of living. This was hard work. Every once in a while the trail appeared, and every once in a while, the trail flattened out for 100 yards or so. These little moments heartened me. I felt strong and looked at the views that I didn't see when slogging, one foot in front of the other. My exuberance was tempered when I came to the next steep slope and the need to slow down, breathe more deeply, and put one foot in front of the other... I'd started with three quarts of water and after two hours of hiking, and getting maybe half way up the canyon wall, I wondered about the "reality" of the streams on the map. When I got to the first one, and it was flowing, and in the shade, I threw my pack down and filled my gatorade bottles and drank and drank. The one constant of hiking is drinking water. I've hiked sans parents for over 40 years now, and can remember only a couple times where I've drank too much water. Some people carry water bladders with tubes and sip as they walk. I tried this, and gave it up as a bad deal. My way of drinking water is to carry as little as possible, and when I get to a water source, drink a quart or two. I can tip a gatorade bottle of cold snowmelt and drink it down without pausing. This causes both consternation and amazement when I'm hiking with others. I slam my body with water. If I haven't peed in a couple hours, I make sure I down two quarts. If' I'm peeing, and it's relatively clear, I'll down a quart at a stop as a preventative measure, and hike on. A quart of water weighs two pounds. Why carry it when the map says there is water in two miles/an hour??? The trail climbed to 7800' from 4800' at the river. The trailhead was at 7200'. The extra 600' takes the hiker over the top of a ridge offering stupendous views of the Sierra south of Mammoth. The trail became more obvious as the forest retreated from deciduous and pines and undergrowth to pines with little undergrowth. Maybe because it was more obvious, it became a bit mellower. As it approached the apex of the ridge it was climbing, the views obviated the soreness of walking. This is what I remember. This is what hiking in alpine environments does to me - I get high. What this means is that weariness and despair and slogging fade away. The one foot in front of the other backgrounds as the foreground expands to one vista after another. "I" gets diffused into the world and it's majesty. "I" is no longer a kernel coping with pain in my foot, calf, thigh, hip, waist, shoulder, or head. "I" am stretched to the horizon of my vision, including all that is. Perhaps my most vibrant experience of this expanded sense of "I" while backpacking occurred when hiking south from the San Joaquin River to the Muir Hut at the top of Muir Pass. There is a stretch of trail that leaves the Evolution Basin, itself incredibly awe inspiring, that rises to 11,400' or so. It's the head of the canyon's cirque and gives over to a treeless lakes basin beneath Muir Pass two miles long. This 600' climb switchbacks up and offers ever larger and larger views south over Evolution Basin and the invisible Evolution Valley below the basin. I'd spent the night at the San Joaquin River in the forest. It was 14 miles and 4000' to Muir Pass, my goal for the day. The day began with an 1200' climb up the canyon wall along Evolution Creek to Evolution VAlley. Then there was another 1000' climb to Evolution Basin. Then the walk up the cirque wall between Evolution Basin and the basin below Muir Pass, another 1000'. Finally 700' or so to the pass. On my way up from Evolution Basin to Wanda Lake I met a fellow who'd been smoking pot. He was almost incoherently nonverbal (make sense of that one!). We spent a half hour talking. I turned down his offer of a joint numerous times. When we finally split I found myself energized. I was so high. My body was a finely tuned machine. I walked two miles an hour and saw the world unfold before me. When I stopped and looked down the basin I just got higher. My weariness was an edge to my holistic connection with the rock and sky and snow and water. As I got closer to the top, monitoring my progress on my wrist altimeter, I felt this connectedness again - not as strongly, but present nonetheless. All the emotional ups and downs concresced into an ongoing moment of being-in-balance-and-harmony. All the pain was there. All the joy at being at the top of the world was there. "I" was hiking in the wilderness on a warm day under a sky with fluffy clouds creating pockets of shadow on the landscape unfolding before me. Ahhh... I reached the top of the ridge and trod across it - the nose or shoulder actually - and began a switchbacking descent on a real trail. I was still a mile or more from the bridge crossing Granite Creek I'd walked three days before. I now felt my body hurting. Each step down was a jarring reminder that I'd been stressing my body for a week now. Everything hurt. Not all at once - more sequentially. I think everything hurt at the same time, but I couldn't notice the "whole" of hurting, just the parts. The soles of my feet hurt when I stepped. My thighs hurt when I stopped myself from speeding up. My back hurt when a step dropped me more than a couple inches. My butt hurt when I twisted to catch myself stepping down. My neck hurt... 600' down. I hate hiking down... I didn't see much on the descent. I entered the forest and knew the junction with the trail dropping down the canyon wall I'd taken three days earlier was only a couple hundred yards away. I passed the junction and reached the bridge crossing Granite Creek. I'd been hearing the irritating buzz of two stroke engines for a half half hour and while the motorcycles were gone, they left their mark in the torn up trail leading from the bridge to the trailhead parking area. While much of the trail from bridge to trail head was on granite, enough was on dirt, and they hit every patch. Grrrrrr... I'd left a little pouch on the sign at the trail head. I'd gotten two of them a month or so ago. One I put on a shoulder strap and it held my camera. The other I put on my waist belt and it was to hold snacks. After the first hour of hiking from car to trail head I knew that I wouldn't use the waist belt pouch, and it would be more of a pain in the butt than a help in making little things accessible. It was still there and I stuffed it into a shirt pocket. The two or three mile hike back to the car from the trailhead was mostly gently uphill. I was sore and tired, but the overwhelming feeling that let me put one foot in front of the other with resolve and joy was that of accomplishment, and gladness to be nearly done. There were some big views I appreciated. I even stopped a couple times and let the "big picture" visual scope carry me away. But really, I just wanted to sit in the drivers seat of my car and drive. I was done with hiking... One of the background themes, minor for those of us who are relatively healthy, major for those who are quirky/neurotic, is the wondering if the car is ok. I wondered about this as I walked up the road, but maintained a "let it go" frame as I realized that I could do nothing about whether the car had been broken into or not. My brother and I went backpacking into a very rough/wild part of the Cascades for four days a couple weeks after he and his wife separated. We got back to his 1972 Datsun station wagon the folks had given him, and the rear window was blown out. Bad karma... Nonetheless, the wondering added impetus to my walking, a strange motivation anticipating a whole other set of challenges. There were two big logs across the one lane dirt road. I crossed them both and knew the car was around the corner of a treed bend. I walked round the bend and there was the car - just as I'd left it. I dropped the pack, fished out the beefy ziploc bag with my license, credit cards and key, unlocked the Solara's trunk, and stripped. There I was, sweaty, but cooling off. I gazed around me, wondering if I was offending some morally upright or officious American. Suddenly, I didn't care. Wearing only my shoes and socks, I raised my fist in exultation. I leapt into the air, fist held high, and let out a whoop that faded in a minor echo through the forest. I jumped up and down, up and down, whooping joyfully, wrapped in a sense of well-being that had me twirl a couple times before sinking into bodily soreness... I slumped against the trunk and grabbed the clean shorts and shirt I'd left there four days ago. I was done. I took off my shoes and socks and grabbed my Tevas but didn't put them on. I threw the pack in the trunk, got into the drivers seat and just relaxed - just sank into the seat. My body was so sore, so ready to just sink into a five or six hour drive... LOL... Jeffrey Olson 10-4-2010
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