Notes and sketches made during
a solo backpacking trip into
the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne
River during July, 1996
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
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
A strawberry plant with one bloom peeking out from under my pack...
On the trail the shadow of my head with two butterflies dancing
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
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...
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!
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.
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.
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
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...
No bears last night. Probably because
they were rather looking forward to the excitement. They seemed
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
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
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.
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...
copyright 1996 by Dave Norton