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A Backpacker's Journal by Dave Norton

 

Notes and sketches made during a solo backpacking trip into

the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River during July, 1996

6/30/96

Blue Moon today.  I’m writing this in the parking lot in Tuolumne Meadows, 6:15 AM.  I parked in the same spot Russ & I parked the Mini 32 years ago, the first time I came here.  It’s remarkable how little has changed.  

The wilderness permit booth opens at 7:30, I’ll get my permit (that’s one change!) and stop over at the Tuolumne Meadows Grille for hotcakes before I go in.  There’s quite a bit of snow left up here this year.  Folks I met in Bishop (Jack’s Waffle Shop) said it was “miserable cold” up here last week but this week looks warm.

3:30 PM at Ellie’s Brown Hole.  It was kinda dicey getting here.  The stream crossings are either muddy (I phlumphed, a bit...) or very high.  I crossed Ireland Creek on a downed log.  On the way out I’m gonna wade the shallows instead.  [Dummy!  The preferred crossing is just upstream on a big log.  No sweat!]

I stopped earlier at Ellie’s Island.  No way to cross to the island.  I can see wild onions growing there and can’t get to ‘em.  It’s also much too high water to cross over to Camp Flintstone.  The falls here are FALLS.  The hole Ellie pulled the Brown from three years ago is a jumble of churning white foam.

Ellie:  I promised I’d notice the little things:

          Tiny tiny bright chrome lemon yellow flowers...

          A Monarch butterfly...

          Three tiny toadstools looking like they were carved from polished mahogany...

          A strawberry plant with one bloom peeking out from under my pack...

          On the trail the shadow of my head with two butterflies dancing around it...

It’s 8:30 PM.  I’m camped just upstream of Ellie’s Brown Hole.  It’s too close to the river but there’s an established fire ring.  I think It’s going to be awfully noisy this close to the falls.  No plans for tomorrow yet.  Sleep in!  Dinner was granola, three fried eggs (they broke on the way in), and five lovely Bookies breaded in corn meal and pan fried with fresh green onions (I found some!).

The fishing is about usual... little Brookies, though I did catch (and release) a little Brown.  Ellie and my sweet spot upstream about 1/2 mile is still cookin’.  The run is slow esses, adjacent to a marshy area.  Well, it was marshy, now it’s schwampy. Knee-deep muck.  Which keeps the Abercrombie & Fitch crowd out.  I caught dinner there in about 20 minutes.

Food is in the bear canister tonight, except for 1 potato I left out (to see if bears would take it) and three I buried under the bear canister.  And the pound of bacon and nine eggs and cantalope in the crick.  We’ll see...

7/1/96

Aahh, high altitude coffee.  It’s the best!  It’s 7:30 AM (eleven hours sleep), that perfect time when the sun has just cleared Kuna Crest, the meadow is sparkling with millions of dew drops, the birds are singing, and the skeeters are not up yet.  They were out en masse yesterday in the schwamp.  Clouds of them would rise out of the grasses with each step.  The “Deet Plus” stuff works pretty well.  Breakfast will be bacon and eggs and cantaloupe (no bears last night).

A plan is forming.  I chatted with a packer coming down from Donohue Pass yesterday.  He saw my fish pole and said he watched 14” Rainbows feeding at dusk at Emerald Lake, on the other side of Donohue Pass, and it’s so remote nobody fishes it.  The Pass is about four miles, but I don’t know how far the lake is as it’s off my map (and out of the Park I think).  I’ll move camp today to a spot that’s drier (fewer skeeters) and quieter.  Tomorrow I’ll day hike to Ireland Lake, and maybe up to Donohue Pass on Wednesday.  I’ll check with inbound hikers to get a look at a map showing Emerald Lake.

It’s 7 PM.  I had a wonderful day today, following the river upstream, fishing along the way, about 2-1/2 miles.  I found two real hot spots, about one mile up, just a hundred yards or so above the furthest Ellie & I got before.  Slow S-bend in the river, some trees for shade, six Brookies.  Water is high, nowhere to cross below Kuna Creek.  At Kuna Creek there’s a down tree across the river, I crossed there.  No sweat.  I backtracked back down to Kuna Creek inflow and fishing there was like I remember it when Russ and I first fished Conness Creek, in 1964 (Au-H20-64!).  I blitzed back to camp (after pulling 15 Brooks from one spot, and putting them all back - I’m not food fishin’ tonight) and moved down near the cables.  It’s quieter here (no falls) and drier (fewer skeeters, still plenty though).  

Fishing today was a fly fisher’s dream.  Like many wonderful things (sex?) it can’t be adequately described but must be experienced (my Blackberry pie?).  Dinner tonight is Mahatma Southwestern Pinto Beans & Rice, and Kowboy Koffee.  I’ll do a big breakfast.

Pardon my writing.  I was sitting on the kitchen table/chair/counter.  I’ve moved to the den, the chair is higher.  This beans/rice stuff is good!  And I’m forever grateful for Charlie’s Kowboy Koffee recipe (“Boil.  Eat.”).

I’m amazed at how many people aren’t here.  Cable Camp is empty, and I’ve only seen one other camp occupied.  No camp fire tonight.  A camp fire is a social thing, a focus for visiting, telling about the one that got away, and just togethering.

Lyell Fork (of the Tuolumne River) seems to have a rhythm: a mile of meadow, the river slowly meandering in lazy S-bends, then a 1/2 mile of broken whitewater.  All the whitewater runs are dotted with deep green pools fed by rolling water, and each yields trout to the patient/persistent/fortunate angler.  The little time I spent fishing with Dad at Wild Plum Creek convinces me that he’d have loved this.

No bears so far.  I have six eggs and half a pound of bacon underwater in a stream, and three spuds and the half cantaloup (I’ve spelled it differently three times, one must be right...) buried under the bear can. [The “bear can” is a bear-proof canister designed for backpackers to keep food in, which the bears have not so far figured a way into].  

Ellie’s Brown Hole sounds so...undignified.  I hereby rename the spot Ellie’s BrownFall.

This is a much nicer spot.  I’m between two tributary streams rattling their way off the crest down to the river, and I’m far enough from each that their sounds fade to two discernible tones of white noise.  Very pleasant.

I relented and built a fire, just a little one (“White Man build big fire, sit far away.  Indian build small fire, sit close).  Guess it’s my Injun blood coming through.  It did knock down the skeeters.  Weather’s been gorgeous: 70’s during the days and about 40 at night.

BEAR IN CAMP!  11 PM...I awake to the all-too-familiar “unh...unh...unh” of a black bear.  As I sit up to listen, the shadow (very bright moon) passes over the tent.  It walks right past the bear canister (and buried booty), sniffing and grunting.  I get my glasses, flashlight, and camera, and just manage one shot as it leaves camp.  Kudos to the bear can guy!

7/2/96

Bear got the coffee last night, nothing else.  So burying food under the canister really does work!  The eggs and bacon were undisturbed in the creek.  I had three eggs, 1/2 pound of bacon, 1/2 fried spud, and 1/4 canta-whatever for breakfast.  I feel STRONG today!  Up the hill!

9:05 AM.  Rest stop one,  +600 feet altitude, adjacent to base of Potter Point (AKA Sparklett’s Peak).  Sitting on convenient log, at my feet I see pistachio shells.  Gee, I didn’t think they’d grow here.  Onward...

9600 ft, no wood fires above here.  Ireland Creek is just roaring through here.

10:45 AM.  9700 ft.  Frequent snow patches now, and gophers!  Meandering gopher mounds cross the trail, raised completely above the surface.  They look like dirt tree roots!  There are plentiful little gooseberry-looking plants, both down below and up here.  No berries, no flowers.  I think the only thing I’ve forgotten this trip is my wool hat to keep my ears warm at night.  I picked up a nifty little Turtle Fur number in cranberry (it’s me, it clashes well with my khaki pants and blue shirt) at the Tuolumne Meadows Store coming in.  If I’ve forgotten anything else I don’t remember what it is.  It certainly isn’t Ellie!  I wish she were here...but then, she were...  Pretty spot right here, conifer forest, deep ground cover of needles and cones.  There’s so much accumulated organic matter here that the ground thumps deeply when you stomp your foot.  There scampers a gray squirrel!  I think “scamper” is the only speed I’ve ever seen a gray squirrel operate...Onward...Oh yes.  I found the camp Ellie, Russ, and I used three or four years ago, just below Ireland Meadow.  I looked for but couldn’t find the can lid Russ stuck to the tree (a 35 year old tradition for Russ and I).  I tried the first fishable hole, no luck.  Well, good luck, just no fish.

11:10 AM.  Ireland trail junction, 10,450 ft.  Started at 8,900.  I’m delighted with my level of fitness this trip.  All those runs up to the end of the street at work pay off!  Frequent snow patches here, and a noisy creek just over the rise.  There’s a light high haze today, but no heavy clouds.  No weather coming.  On to the lake!

11:25 AM.  Out of the timber now, above the tree line.  Just saw two fat does proinking for cover.  [On my return, Ellie pointed out that it’s hard to tell the bucks from the does this time of year...]

Noon.  Max. altitude, 10,850 ft., on the rise overlooking Ireland lake.  It’s surprisingly warm up here.  The sun is balmy and even the wind (gusting to maybe 30 knots...) isn’t ear-chilling cold.  No snow cows this year, they’re all wearing white.  

The ground up here is tundra.  At first it seems dead.  Then you begin noticing things.  The tough scraggy grass that starts as a clump then grows outward in a circle.  The inner older plant dies leaving a ring.  As it ages, the ring becomes irregular and broken.

I counted at least seven different flavors of lichen on one rock.  The rocks themselves are multi-hued, greys whites blacks rusty reds yellows tans and the occasional obsidian chip.  Russ tells me that this area is a geological no-no for obsidian, every piece found here was carried here on purpose by humans.  On previous trips we’ve gathered a couple of cups of chips, and a few recognizable arrowheads.  Here’s one sitting at my feet as I write this:

I see smallish deserty-looking plants with olive colored leaves and chartreuse little flowers.  There’s one with bright yellow flowers, each about the size of my little fingernail.  There’s a second, and third variety of grass, and a kind of mistletoe-looking plant, but tiny.  Ah, the outflow steam beckons...hear it?  Fish me, fish me...  Wow!  Look at those beautiful lenticular clouds coming up over the lake!

11:35 AM.  Starting back.  Fishing not too hot, too cold!  I couldn’t find the pool Ellie and I caught so many from last time, but I did get two Brookies in the outflow.  I’m now picking my way back across the snow fields.  One must guess where the trail is likely to come out on the other side.

4:15 PM.  Back to Ireland Creek Meadow, the spot Charlie and I stayed in the snow.  I’ve fished the Creek to no avail (maybe Russ was right after all!), and am simmering a vat of yummy split pea soup.  That and the PayDay bar coming down the hill are lunch.  I’ll be back to camp in time to catch dinner.

8:30 PM.  The last of the sun’s light has left the highest peaks, things are settling down.  Me too.  I did 14 miles today, 5 yesterday, and 9 Sunday.  28 so far.  I don’t feel particularly tired or sore.  I owe it all to good genes (Levis) and exercise.  More people around here today.  Cable Camp was empty this morn, I saw four groups by the time I got back.  One is about 10 or 50 (hard to tell) wild Indians and two semi adults.  I inquired as to their bear food etiquette...they’re first-timers, have never hung their food before.  Ah well, the Lord looks out for fools and kids.  I’m still not sleeping thru the night.  It takes a few days to acclimatize.  Picked up dinner tonight at Dave & Ellie’s Fish Mart.  Three nice ones.

7/3/96

Wednesday.  This must be Wednesday.  I’m settling in here, beginning to feel like I belong.  I’ve broken fast (about a quart of the traditional cornmeal mush.  It brings fond memories of Russ’ first exposure to camp mush, in a remote spot in the Trinity Alps in ‘64, waiting for the snow to stop and the hunt to continue.  Good times.)

Well, I was right.  The Tribe made it through the night unmolested by bears.  They’re headed out now, just a one-niter.  I told the leader that what he is doing for these boys will be a turning point for some.  His ‘Thanks!” and the sparkle in his eye told me he thinks so too.

Gee, I wonder what SPF sunscreen Jeremiah Johnson used...did Lewis & Clark use the Deet spray or roll-on?  Were John Muir’s fishing glasses Polarized?  Arrrgh!

11:45 AM.  At Kuna Creek junction, sittin’ by a pool watching a 7-8” Brookie feed...

12:15.  At the footbridge on the way to Donohue Pass, 9,200 feet.  Spectacularly beautiful spot.  There’s a little meadow with bright green grass and skunk cabbage.  I fished off the bridge but didn’t raise anything with a red fly.  But, then, how many fish have a red fly?  Brooks, maybe, in spawning colors...

12:45.  Another meadow above the footbridge.  Skeeters!!  I’m in a granite bowl with whipped cream smeared over all the sides!

1:35.  Well, that’s as high as I get today, I figure about 10,200 feet, maybe one mile from Donohue Pass.  What a land of extremes.  I’m sitting on a flat rock, hot from the sun, my feet are chilled (many are cold, but few are frozen) from crossing the snow fields in my Tevas (one Teva, two Tevi?).  The rest of the trail looks to be mostly snow fields.  A turned ankle here would be a real problem.  I’ll pick my way carefully down.  

I’m overlooking a valley with a runoff lake (the trail crossing at the outflow was up to the bottom of my shorts).  As I look back at the ground I’ve covered, I’m continually surprised at how quickly things recede.

2:20.  Headed down now.  Here there are signs of a major kill.  Deer?  Mountain goat?  Large rib bone, flesh, fur...  My guess is goat.  It’s halfway up the switchbacks across steep granite scree.

2:30.  Coming out of the last tiny meadow I glimpsed the first sight of the river proper, miles away and a thousand feet below.  Just beyond the Witch’s Hair (we did do the nose, a bit...).  Leaving the trail frequently to avoid snow fields...no worry, it’s well made and well marked.  The section across that granite slope was drilled and blasted, with equipment brought in on foot.  Thanks to the CCC!  My feet are warming up again after crossing the outflow, then snow gets stuck between my sox and the Tevas.  Did I mention that crossing was COLD?  The steeper parts of the trail are inlaid with many hundreds of square-cut granite steps, while tree roots across the trail form steps of another sort.

3:10.  Back at the bridge.  So, there are fish here!  Three li’l Brookies!

3:50.  At Kuna Creek entry again.  Crossed a major avalanche area just above here, must be 1/2 mile wide.  Nothing cares but the trees.  The stream beds find their way down, and along them all manner of green things flourish.  Here the River is Big Water again.  Heavy.  I’m crossing over to try the Kuna inflow again.  No good, just six little ones.

5:10.  I’m sitting by the trail, watching two does across the river.  One is laying down, watching me, about 100 yards off.  Now she’s slowly walking away, stopping to munch grass, as if I’m not here.

9:40.  I met some interesting folks today.  There was a young couple (30 maybe) at the river crossing in the bowl below Donohue Pass.  I told them I hoped they’d still be backpacking when they’re 50.  They said that was the plan.  They were headed over the top.  I chatted with the same fellow up and back at about Kuna Creek.  He had gotten separated from Manny yesterday and hadn’t found him yet.  Ron and family took up residence at the house across the street (well, the camp across the trail).  I introduced myself and he asked how the fishin’ is.  I told him about Dave & Ellie’s Fish Mart and Green Grocer (wild green onions), he said he’s going there now, I said I’d show him, and we went.  At 7:30 PM.  We each got a nice one (I equaled my Brookie max. at 9-1/2).  Oh, when he saw the writing on my fishin’ hat I ‘splained it listed where Hat and I camped and what our personal max. is for Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Golden.  He said “Wow, a 9-1/2 pound Brook, was that caught here?”  Uh, that’s 9-1/2 inches.  Anyway, I got to cook fish after dark.  Again.  I hate it when that happens.  Let’s see.  Moon rise about 11:30 tonight, I predict the bear will hit their food bags about 12...

7/4/96

No bears last night.  Probably because they were rather looking forward to the excitement.  They seemed disappointed.!  

The morning ritual: Coffee!  Must have Coffee!  Boil the grounds, add a dash of cinnamon (that’s what makes it Kowboy Koffee!), boil a couple of minutes, take it off the stove, add a splash of cold water to settle the grounds, and viola!  Coffee!  [Actually, it doesn’t really become Kowboy Koffee until it’s had enough cycles of pouring off the liquid, adding more grounds and water and reboiling, until there’s at least three inches of dead grounds in the bottom and it’s been on the boil for at least an hour.  Then it’s Kowboy Koffee.]  Once the starter fluid has been administered, the Cleansing begins.  Hot water, washcloth, CampSuds, and scrub all exposed areas of skin down to base metal.  At this point, timing is critical.  One must not interrupt this sequence for any reason short of a bear in camp, because by now it’s warmed up to the point where the skeeters are up and hungry (after all, you can’t leave the sleeping bag until the sun hits the tent).  So one must proceed to the Reconstitution and Repulsion phases without stopping to, oh, say, jot down one’s thoughts in a journal, say.  (Smite!  Gotcha!)  The Reconstitution consists of a liberal (literal) application of Complex 15 to forestall the inexorable Drying and Cracking of the Hands which occurs anyway so why bother.  Then (Smek!  Too late, that one was already full!) the Repulsion phase is accomplished with liberal quantities of Deet wherever you can reach.  Then, and only then, can you begin to consider breakfast.  Oh!  Arrgh!  I nearly forgot (well, OK, I did forget, but I remembered) the Anti-radiation phase, which comes after Cleansing and Reconstitution but before Repulsion (take notes, there will be a quiz).  Water Babies SPF 30.  Accept no substitutes.  Put is where the sun shines.  Skweet!

For breakfast this morning, we have a choice of three eggs cooked to order, fried potato with green onion and a side of mush, or not.  Uh, please!  A little breakfast drama just played out.  A hungry jay just landed on a branch in the kitchen, apparently close to the nest of two LGB’s (Little Grey Birds).  One LGB feigned injury and dropped to the ground, hobbling, fluttering, dragging one wing and peeping plaintively, while the other squawked and dive-bombed the jay until it left.  Nest protected.  Ah!  The dramer continues.  I’ve found the LGB’s nest, 30 feet above the kitchen stove.  As the jay approaches (he’s just after my scraps...there, he grabbed and absconded with a piece of potato), the LGB’s go into their DEFENSE! DEFENSE! mode.

Things I wish I’d brought (not that I’ve forgotten to bring them...): hammock, pencil (sketching in ink has its limitations...), not-so-many cans of stove fuel (I started with two partials and one full, I’ve just emptied the first partial!), Ellie, more film (I’m on my fourth and last roll), altimeter (couldn’t find it when I packed), lensatic compass (ya gotta have a lensatic compass, they’re just so trick!), more large flies, a map beyond Donohue Pass.

Things I might as well have left at home: all the fishing gear not related to fly fishing, my down jacket (so far, at least), that silly dumb candle lantern, and the mosquito net hat (real fishermen don’t need no steenking mosquito net hat!).

Hmmm.  It appears the jay knows where the nest is after all.  He landed in the kitchen, poked around my stuff and, finding nothing to his liking, hopped into the tree and up, branch by branch directly to the nest and poked around there.  A rock from me sent him on his way again.

It’s 11 AM.  I’ve been just, well, hangin’, watching and listening, enjoying the pageant before me.  The pageant goes on, oblivious to my presence.  I respect and applaud the efforts of those who work to balance the frailty of this wilderness with the need of man to experience it.  Well done, I say!

I’ve reached the point that comes, on these trips, if you’re fortunate, called Being There Comfortably.  I don’t feel compelled to Do, but am happy merely to Be.  Sometimes I sits and I thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

Where do hatchery-raised trout go to spawn?

As I expected when it became apparent that this trip would be solo, it is an experience distinctly different from that of camping with a group, even a group of two.  When you’re with others, it seems you’re always doing For, or doing With.  My preference is still sharing this pageant with Ellie, but I remain greatly thankful for this time alone. I am at peace.

8 PM.  I’m on the sofa watching TV (camp pillow on up-ended bear canister watching the shadow line march up Kuna Crest).  Today was an off day, which made it right on.  I spent 40 minutes motionless watching two trout (they swim here, they swim there...).  I became persuaded that they have a memory of at least half an hour for what their skyline looked like before you arrived.  There was a few hour stint practicing my flycasting technique (11:00, 1:00, 11:00, 1:00...).  I found what I take to be robin’s eggs, sans robin, in two different places.  Beautiful pale pastel blue.

Breakfast today was the last of the eggs, and mush with granola.  Mmmm.  Trout and mush were tonight’s fare (Trouts yestidy, trouts today, and buggar if it don’t look like trouts again tommorrer...).  I’m getting concerned.  I’ve got to watch my intake of nonfats.  With a cholesterol level hovering perilously close to 75, if it drops I’ll be a cabbage.

Well.  Bear one, Nort nothing.  While I was at the next camp visiting, the bear got my granola.  It’s not even dark yet.  This one (the bear, not the granola) was a very light reddish tan number.  And my camera was in camp.  With the bear.  Oh poop.

It’s 9 PM now, and still light enough to see the odd mosquito silhouetted against the mosquito netting.  I rolled the tent’s rain fly back last night, leaving a panoramic view of sky.  The whole head end is netting, and it pretty much disappears at night.

You know, there’s just not much in city life that prepares one for a confrontation with a wild animal that weighs twice what I do and could, if it chose to, lay me open from stem to stern with one casual haymaker.  Part of the lure of backpacking (aside from the fishing lure) is that all the trouble jobs at work, the petty games people play, the office politics, the leaky faucets and stopped up toilets, the conflicts with spouses, kids, exes, mothers-in-law, all that crap takes a back seat for awhile.  The game again becomes one of survival, like it used to be.  The odds of being mauled by an animal, falling into an icy torrent, breaking a leg alone in the wilderness, or being caught at a remote lake above 10,000 feet in a spring blizzard may be small, but the chance is there.  Each year, luck runs out for a few.  For the many, having survived their “vacation”, they return to the real world as changed persons.  They know what matters and what doesn’t, what’s real and what’s crap.  They know.

7/5/96

Happy Belated Birthday, America!  You always were an Independent sort, and yesterday was your Day.  

I have two different kinds of ants and a tiny red spider exploring my right mukluk.  Sunshine on the tent woke me today at 8.  Last night was cooler, I used the Turtle Fur head thing and pulled the sleeping bag drawstring snug around my neck.  Any cooler and I’d need longies.  Or Ellie.  Make it Ellie.

I wish I could draw animals. [Do you now!  Do you want to be able to draw animals? Well, yes.  Ah.  How badly do you want to be able to draw animals?  Allright, allright.  Not badly enough to work at developing the ability.  I got that.]  If so, a sketch would be fitting at this point.  Man, that bear was big!  So.  To hell with wishing.  Decide what you do want, and do it.  “Try not.  Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  Yoda.

This is a spot on the River at the Ireland Lake trail junction, at the end of the path from Cable Camp to the River.  The sun forms a million dancing lights reflecting off the water.  A man and his two sons just filled their canteens right in the middle of the sketch.  But I don’t do people (either).  I am curious to see how others handle rocks and water in pen and ink.

I’m intent on my cast...just across the split in the river...retrieve...THERE! a nice Brookie.  Keep him in the water, gently release the hook from his lip, back in the water li’l guy, now if I can put one just over...and there, quietly sitting in the shade of the trees on Ellie’s Island, just to the right of the wild onion patch, she is.  She’s been watching me work my quiet way along the bank, catching and releasing three, four, five trout.  She is aware but unconcerned.  I lay down my trout rod, walk slowly to my pack.  She follows me with her dewy doe eyes and doesn’t move from her rest as I return to the bank and begin sketching.  That was 20 minutes ago and I’m still watching her, reclining in the shade, an item of curiosity and wonder.  And she, me.

There was another deer on the trail today, or what was left of one after a predator (probably a big cat?) got it last night.  All that was taken were the haunches and organs.

I’m nearly halfway out now, on a part of the River I haven’t seen before.  It’s rolling whitewater thundering through chasms of huge granite boulders.  There is a sadness in leaving, but I do look forward to Home, Ellie, and Fresh Peach Pie!

7:30 PM.  Whew!  I’m glad that’s over.  The last hour and a half has been a raging battle between my patience and the Mosquitoes from Hell.  The plan was to camp the last night close enough to the trail head to just get up in the morning and blitz out sans breakfast.  At the Rafferty Creek trail I left the John Muir up in to the woods a ways, out of sight but close enough to Rafferty Creek to get water for dinner.  I fished Rafferty a little (got a Brook nice enough to make me reconsider my no-fish-tonight plan but back he went).  I made pea soup and Southwestern beans and rice and am well de-hungered.  But this spot is too close to the trail, besides this close to the water the skeeters are fierce.  So pack up and move up the Rafferty trail a ways and off into the woods away from the creek.  The further I go the less distinct my shadow becomes as it is enveloped by this living haze of blood-sucking flying needles.  Eight are siphoning my left hand which just minutes before got a fresh dose of Deet.  Each time I stopped the cloud got thicker.  I finally dropped anchor and set up the tent in record time, myself inside with only a dozen or so of them.  They were soon dispatched.  Now it’s cooling off, the cloud has lifted and I find myself in a boulder strewn wood of living and dead giants, the last of the Westering sun climbing to their tops and vanishing.

This is the DMZ [De-Militarized Zone] of the wilderness area.  It’s too close to Tuolumne Meadows to legally camp (four mile limit) but not close enough to hear traffic on Highway 120.  Many folks on the trail here are day trippers...shorts and T-shirt, no gear.  Yet the trail still carries a bear footprint in the mud probably ten inches from heel to claw.  Kids in swimming trunks and grizzled oldsters.  I do get grizzled in a week.  If I weren’t me, I wouldn’t let me in my car!  I treasure the wilderness and will mourn its passing if “we” should outlast it.  Perhaps it has passed, years ago, and we merely play in its shadow...

Tomorrow: up at 6:00, out at 6:30, and in line at the Tuolumne Meadows Grille at 7:30 for breakfast!  Cooked!  And by somebody else!  I might even wear my down jacket down tomorrow, just to justify its portage.  

I’m watching the dusk’s last golden sun climb Ragged Peak, from whose slopes Russ and I commandeered three fallen logs, dragged them to Lower Young Lake and fashioned a raft 32 years ago.  

These lakes, high, austere, and remote, and the icy streams they feed, they beckon me still.  When I die, I’d rather like to live here...

7/6/96

copyright 1996 by Dave Norton

 

 

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