Off the trail, into the wilderness
When the sun goes down in the backcountry of the high Sierras, the surroundings take on a different aura. I’ve heard that the best colors often occur before sunrise and after sunset. It is contrast, which seems to affect the detail in what we see. The dark land in comparison to the various hues in the sky gives you this wow factor. This sunset left an imprint on my mind.
This second campsite was more exposed and open. We were located above the lake on a granite slab. There were few trees at this level, but enough wood to make a decent fire. Dinner tonight was MRE’s, those meals-ready-to-eat that the Marines love so. My beef stew was palatable, but the truth be told I could have eaten pine needles. Something about being outside and walking all day just made me hungry.
As the darkness enveloped us, the waxing moon lit up the sky as it rose from behind the granite monolith across the lake. Occasionally, the clouds and moon played hide and seek. I’m not ashamed to tell you that three manly men sat in awe of this amazing vista as it unfolded. Even after just a few days, the remoteness began to have an affect on me. The farther we ventured into the wilderness, the more I appreciated this creation of our heavenly father.
The one thing that made this trip painful and took away from the awesomeness was that I had one of the nastiest colds ever. The week before this trip, I went to the VmWorld Convention in Vegas with over 25,000 people. On that trip, my coworker had a severe cold and I felt bad for him. Now, I blamed him for my misery. On the first day, the beginnings of the cold were barely noticeable. By bedtime on this third day, my throat was so sore and closed like a gauntlet to the point where I could hardly swallow. Already 15-20 miles from the nearest road, I would just have to endure. Another thing that became apparent was that when one drinks over a gallon of water in a day, one must get rid of an amount somewhat equal to that gallon. I probably could have extinguished several campfires that night. There is no quiet way to exit a tent, the zippers are really loud. My poor tentmates. Morning would come quickly after a tough nights sleep.
After breakfast and warmth of a morning fire, we broke camp and restored it to its’ pristine setting, leaving just the rocks around the fire. We looked at the map and chose our path to the next lake and beyond. We headed off and started picking our way around the cliffs and canyons. The elevation changes were frequent and challenged me to keep pushing. The air was thin and my breathing was shallow and fast as I worked to bring in enough oxygen. On the edge of feeling altitude sickness, I would lose sight of the guys and would rush to catch up. Beginning to think that this off trail hiking sucked, we made it to a granite slab which made the previous two hours of trekking worthwhile.
Yosemite and the Sierras in general offer vistas that are often indescribable. Well, maybe John Muir described it best: “God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” The awesomeness extended for miles and miles. The Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir to the north is a part of Yosemite that relatively few people see. The lake below us made for another photo op.
After some excellent photos, we discovered that there was no path down to the lake below. We would have to work our way down the rocky outcroppings, around the bear scat and through crevasses to drop down five hundred feet. At first, this task did not appear possible. We couldn’t turn back because the trail we needed picked up on the other side of the lake. After what seemed like an eternity of scampering down the rocks, the terrain flattened out and we were near the lake. The mosquitos returned, often drilling through our clothing in several spots at the same time. These skeeters must have come from Jurassic Park. If I could only invent mosquito proof clothing…. We broke out the bug repellent and ate our lunch, which ended up tasting a bit like the 3M insecticide.
The lake was beautiful, like liquid glass. We soon spotted the trail and began our descent through a forest and numerous switchbacks to the Tuolumne River valley. Across the valley where the river flowed was the Tuolumne Peak, which would tower over us. The scene from LOTR where Frodo, Sam and Golum were climbing the cliff face in Mordor came to mind.
Next: Above 10,000 ft