Yosemite without the People or Cars
by Anstr Davidson
Chris was at it again. "Hey, buddy! Come backpacking with us in the Sierras."
I was weary of Chris. (See how he got me to do the Ring.) It was the usual invitation to another wild adventure with the usual reassurances. Normally, it's "We'll take it easy and run slow." (Right up there with "the check's in the mail" or "I will respect you in the morning.") But this time it was "My brother Pete is coming and he has done nothing in the mountains. Zoe is just studying for the bar exam and way out of shape. You will do fine."
Well, Pete didn't come, and Zoe is, I find out too late, an exceptional hiker who had no trouble with the climbs or elevation. Besides, I have forgotten how studying for the bar exam makes you lean, mean, and ready to take on anything.
Chris's group of six dwindled down to three -- Chris, Zoe, and Mister-Odd-Man-Out, moi. We turned out to be a pretty good group with Chris and Zoe not appearing to resent my intrusion. We seemed to hike together well. I usually led until we approached our final stop for the day when Zoe would shoot ahead. I was sort of like Josť Azevedo pulling Lance up the hill until I could go no more, and then Lance/Zoe would claim le maillot jaune.
Chris usually pulled up the rear. At first, I thought I was doing better than he, but I soon realized that he was taking pictures of the trip from behind Zoe and me. Plus, he probably thought that if I got behind, I would become disheartened and just go off and die.
We did a 50+ mile loop that took us through Evolution Valley, said to be one of the most spectacular sights on the John Muir Trail. Our route formed a big letter "C." We came out south of where we entered the mountains.
This loop was not death-defying. We met many people who were doing the same thing. While we were alone most of the time, all we had to do was lay down in the trail and hikers (and a few mules) would step over us eventually. We went by two ranger stations and were within about three miles of a third. The loop was, however, tough and rewarding. It was a great adventure.
Our mentor in the run was Deb Askew. She housed us before and after the journey and advised us on it. Her advice consisted mainly of not taking extra weight. We (well, I) were mainly in the mode of "We might need a microwave oven up there. What's another 20 lbs?" Of course, we found out that any extra weight is huge. I think that Deb's motivation was to laugh at us. She did help with our car shuttle and accompanied us to the first summit.
As we climbed up to Piute Pass, I had the slightest of abrasion from my new boots. Deb's eye's lit up. "I told that idiot Anstr not to wear those boots!" she thought when I stopped to adjust them. It turned out that my adjustment worked and that during the rest of the trip my boots fit like gloves and gave me no trouble. Deb had been an excellent teacher and it paid off for us. I think that she was proud that her students had solo'ed successfully.
I could describe every rock and root of the trail, but you would be bored and I forget some of it. Let me just mention some highlights and lowlights.
Poop: The ranger we met confided that he had only given two tickets all summer -- both for dogs. No pets are allowed. But if your pet is a mule, it's allowed. The one good thing about the mules is that you could follow their poop across the wide expanse of unmarked granite.
Granite: Speaking of granite, there was a lot of it. Right coasters like me (actually, I feel like a left coaster trapped in the body of a right coaster) think that western trails are smooth and easy compared to the rocks of the east. That was right for much of the way. There were miles of smooth dirt trails. But when there were rocks, there were big-time rocks -- large, sharp, and not easy to get over. We saw a lot of granite -- big faces or it, small rocks, everything. One needed to have read McFee. Chris had.
Water: Chris and Zoe each had only one water bottle and I had two. There was water everywhere. We drank out of all of the streams, only trying not to drink below mule poop. We only filtered water at Wanda Lake. We survived. It was nice to go back to my only other time in the Sierras, 40 years ago, when we drank out of everything and did not worry. This time, we drank out of everything and worried a little. Thank you lawyers!
People: For the most part we were by ourselves, but one of the great joys was the people we met on the trail. Chris, of course, was the official greater. It took me awhile to get the knack of it. "Hi. Where are you headed? Where were you last night? See any bears?" This always added five minutes, at least, to our day. Two groups bear special note. First, there were the three fascinating women -- Caroline, Diane, and Nancy, whom we met as we entered Evolution Valley. They are big-time outdoors women who do rock climbing and much else. We were to meet them again on your way back up north at the Mobil Station in Lee Vining. (The "Mobil Station" (actually, the "Tioga Gas Mart") is noted for its great food, including fish tacos. Lee Vining is the "town" at Mono Lake.)
The other group was from Ridgecrest. They knew all the runners we know from Ridgecrest. They brought their own chairs. They have done all but one section of the John Muir Trail. (View the group.)
Our Nationality: This trip reinforced our western roots. At first, when we met people we said we were from "New York City, and Virginia." But without discussing it among ourselves, you could see the west coast coming out in us. Soon, it became, Zoe: "I am from the Pacific Northwest, but live in Brooklyn now." Chris: "I have been all around, most recently Oxnard, but live in New York City now." Anstr: "I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, but live in Arlington, Virginia now." In each of our statements was the implication that we are just on TDY at our present homes. The mountains did that to us.
Weather: We were lucky. We only had rain twice and both times we had already made camp. The second time, however, was pretty hairy. The thunder was something I had never heard before. As I read a book in my tent, Chris got up and told me to look out. There was snow/hail on my tent. It was pretty awesome.
There is much more to say, of course. I was, for example, surprised that I wasn't hungry all the time (Chris fed us well), didn't miss the beer that much, and had no problems with altitude (other than sucking some air on the uphills).
It was a wonderful trip. It was California at her best. I can't think of a place I would rather have been.
Remember, John Muir was a Scotsman!
The Pictures: Between Chris and me, we took over 700 digital pictures. I have put some of mine on the Web. (I should have incorporated some of Chris's but it just complicated it too much.) I tried to be brutal and only put up the best ones. I failed. There are too many. I did mark, however, the best ones. If you are on a fast connection, you might enjoy some of them. To see the pictures, go here.