Sunday, September 25, 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Back to Yosemite Valley

Although the evening was warm, morning was back to its cold old tricks. We started the 2000’ climb out of Virginia Canyon with fleece and puffy coats on.  500’ up the slope to Soldier Lake the morning sun’s rays caught us.  We were soon stripping off layers, back to our daily uniform of shorts and a light shirt.

Soldier Lake is nestled in a glacial cirque.  The last 500’ of climbing to its shores is over remarkable, solid slabs of granite. The glacial polish glistened in the low morning sun as we worked our way across this tilted, massive, granite counter top.

We tested the waters of Soldier Lake for fish, but came away skunked. This was our last lake of the route. We packed our telescoping poles away and began the 300’ climb to Stanton Pass. 

Stanton Pass is the last pass with a headwall.  We found getting up over it a bit troublesome as vertical stretches of granite repelled us, forcing us to negotiate ledges and ramps to reach the pass. At one point, I grabbed a solid looking, ottoman sized boulder for a handhold and pulled it off the mountain and into my lap.  Luckily, my feet were well situated and I was able to bear its weight while I considered how to escape its crushing weight. With no one below, I rotated my thighs and hips, dumping the boulder off my lap and over an eight foot precipice.

The descent of the north side traverses to the left, and although imposing looking, we easily descended the headwall to the requisite boulder field below. This field was shorter than most, and soon we were rounding the ridge that defines the cirque of Stanton Pass and dropping into the broad U-shaped glacial valley of Spiller Creek. Two miles and 600 vertical feet up this valley of low ground cover lay our last pass of the route, Horse Creek Pass. From below this pass seems broad and rounded, but upon entering it we found it rocky, deeply V shaped and full of boulders.

The descent from Horse Creek Pass to Twin Lakes took a few hours. There is a severe “use” trail to follow. Staying on it allowed us to descend without contending with the 6 ft high willow snarling the valley. We picked up the forest service trail coming out of Twin Lakes a couple miles up from the lakes and followed it to the Mono Resort located at the end of the trail.

Our plan was to walk through the resort, stopping for a quick snack at the store and then park ourselves outside the resort, extend our thumbs, and hitch a ride to Bridgeport.  From there, we assumed we could easily hitch a ride from Bridgeport to Lee Vining along highway 395, and from there catch a ride up to Tuolumne Meadows. What we failed to consider is Mono Resort is at the end of a dead end road. This camping area has a checkout time of 11:00am. We arrived outside the gates at 3:00pm.  After an hour, only three cars had left the resort. The possibility of catching a ride was looking slim.

There is no cell service in the area.  We decided to abandon our territory on the side of the road and reenter the resort compound to avail ourselves of their pay phones, call Barb in Yosemite Valley, and have her come get us. We wasted $3.00 in quarters attempting to reach Barb. Our pay phone skills were rusty.

We were presented with a problem. Cell service in the Valley is spotty. The chance of Sally or Barb picking up during one of our calls was near zero.  If we left a message with the pay phone number to call us back at, we couldn’t leave the phone to try hitching a ride.  We decided to call Jeff.  We knew he would pick up. We would have him try to get a hold of the ladies every 10 minutes while Craig and I continued to try for a ride.  

Our communication plan put into operation, we walked back toward the resort entrance. As we did, I noticed a big yellow school bus dropping a child off at one of the resort residences.  As he passed by us, I called up to the driver, asking if he could give us a ride to Bridgeport. Getting to Bridgeport was paramount.  Once there, we were on a main road and felt sure to get a ride the rest of the way. He yelled back, “I’m a school bus.  I can’t give rides!” and drove away.  When he was about 50 feet away, the brake lights came on and I saw his arm extending from his window, waving us forward. He leaned out the window and said, “Come on, get on board.  I don’t have any kids and I can drop you at the old hospital site on the outskirts of town.”

We scrambled up the stairs like first graders anxious to get to school to see our friends and we were off. We enjoyed getting to know the driver, a man in his mid to late 30s as we traveled the 15 miles to Bridgeport, feeling fancy in our cool school bus ride.

Once we were dropped off, we walked the two blocks to 395 and decided to walk to the far end of town to catch a ride as people left the town. Along the way, we stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom. This necessitated us buying a few items, as the restroom was for customers only and guarded by a stern looking 60’s something woman. I chatted her up while Craig was in the bathroom and she softened her demeanor when she discovered that although we were filthy and stinky from 25 days on the trail, we were okay company.

Twenty minutes later, as we were walking in front of the pumps on our way back to the edge of town. A man in his mid-thirties was just finishing his fill-up.  We got to talking and soon discovered he was a climbing guide driving to Mt. Whitney to lead a climb.  He said his van was too stuffed with gear to afford us room for a ride, wished us well and went in to settle with the attendant we had just left.

We were just reaching the outskirts of town, getting mentally prepared for the hundreds of rejections we were expecting to encounter before someone stopped to give us a ride, when he passed us and pulled to the shoulder a 100’ ahead.  

We jogged up to his van.  He said he rearranged his gear and now had room.  We thanked him and loaded in, Craig and the packs in the back seat, me in the front.  

We had a delightful drive to Lee Vining, discussing climbing, guiding and other topics.  He dropped us at the intersection of 395 and 120.  We walked up the hill past the Mobil and set up hitch hiking shop, camp three. As we walked up the hill we noticed a dirty, red, Dodge van on the shoulder about 100 yards away.  It looked abandoned, so we ignored it and began our thumb exercises. 

Craig had grabbed a couple of pieces of charcoal from the fire pit last night to use as Magic Markers to make a sign on his Tyvek. We carefully, and neatly, scribed “Yosemite”, then draped the sign over a trekking pole to hold it rigid and settled into a litany of rejections as the cars sped past.  After about 45 minutes, we heard a voice behind us.  A young man, mid 20’s in age, had run down from the derelict van and was offering us a ride.  We walked back to his van. It turned out to be surprisingly nice under the layers of dust and dirt, although upon entering it we were assaulted with the smell of marijuana. I introduced us, and he said his name was Chris. 

As we pulled away, he told us he was sitting on the shoulder checking emails and texting before going into the park, the land of sketchy cell service, at best. We told Chris we needed to get to Tuolumne. From there Barb would pick us up, or we could ride the shuttle to Olmsted Point and hike the 10 miles to the Valley. Chris was headed to the Valley.  We gleefully agreed to accompany him the whole way.

Chris is a dirtbag rock climber.  The van we were riding in is his home. He was returning to the Valley to join some friends in a climb on the west side of El Cap. He was hoping to catchup with them at the base of the wall after dark tonight, or jug up a couple of fixed lines to their camp somewhere on the wall. He helps run a marijuana farm west of Tahoe, accounting for his income. We found his driving was fast!  Of all the passes, boulder fields, stream crossings, etc of the SHR, this was our most dangerous 2 hours.  But, we survived, and made a new friend as we discussed climbing and weed.

We arrived in the Valley a little after dark. Chris was headed for El Cap bridge. Craig had texted Barb to meet us at the bridge, but neglected to say which bridge in his first text. Luckily, the second one specifying El Cap Bridge got through. Chris’ climbing buddies were sorting gear at the bridge when we arrived. We chatted a few minutes, met a man our age preparing for a wall climb, describing to us how his truck and camper caught on fire three times getting to the Valley. Providence was smiling on us.  Sally and Barb arrived just as we were getting uncomfortable with the verbal assault we were receiving. Their arrival was our deliverance and we scooted away to the van parked 100 yards down the road on the shoulder.

And so, the high route adventure came to an end in a most glorious way.  I thoroughly enjoy hitch hiking.  I have met very kind, quirky, and interesting people with every ride I have received. Nearly every ride is from a member of the hiking/climbing community. They know best the need of a ride back to a car or to a trailhead as they have been in the situation before.  They can see through the filth of multiple days of trail dirt to the energized soul hiding within.

This is my third summer in retirement.  The first saw us doing the national parks of the desert southwest (2013). The second, the PCT (2014). 2015 was riding the length of the Rhine River, Switzerland to the Netherlands.  This year, the Sierra High Route and a couple weeks in Yosemite Valley. Now, I cannot imagine a summer slipping by without an out-of-the-car-on-our-feet-or-bike-adventure. We are talking about a complete PCT or CDT next year, or Italy and a ride down the Elbe or Danube river. We have a winter to plan and dream.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Two Pass Day

Getting up and ready to walk has become rote.  It takes us about 45 minutes to cook and eat breakfast, pack and start walking, meaning we are on the road by 7:00 am most days.  Today was one of those.  Today, we climbed up the east ridge of Mt. Conness, then dropped down the other side to a series of small lakes left in pockets in the bedrock granite after the last ice age, then traversed a bit and headed up over Sky Pilot Pass, named for its airy altitude and the flowers that populate its slopes, the blue Sky Pilot.

Climbing the south side of Conness’s east ridge is straight forward, just a walk up through rocks, willows, meadows and boulders. Reaching the top can bring a shock, because the north side is a vertical cliff for 300-400 feet, followed with 300-400 feet of steep talus.  Luckily, by turning west and climbing another 300 vertical feet a rounded ridge running north presents itself, giving easy walking down to the valleys on the north side.

We tried our luck fishing in the lakes on the north side of the east ridge of Mt. Conness, but with not even a bite. We packed our poles and headed up for Sky Pilot Pass.  My memory is of a nasty scree slope up to the top and a nasty scree slope down the other side.The key word here is nasty. 

The climb up the south side was as I remembered, nasty scree.  But, it went quick and we soon topped out.  The north side provided two choices for the descent.  In 2010, we turned east out of the notch that is the pass and worked our way down some talus that was memorable for its nastiness.  This year, I noticed a well trod “use” trail going west and decided to explore it as an alternative way of getting off the pass.  Once we had descended 30 vertical feet I knew this what not a good decision. We found ourselves in loose, unstable dirt and talus that formed mini landslides with each foot placement.  It was steep! With me below Craig on the slope, we zig zagged our way down, mindful to avoid getting directly below Craig due to the copious rockfall. One hundred and fifty vertical feet of this stuff was more than enough to endure, and thankfully, it ended, depositing us on a snowfield.

The notch that is Sky Pilot Pass is situated where white granitic rock meets dark metamorphic rock. The valley that stretches north from the pass is composed of white rock on the west side and black on the east, meeting in the exact bottom of this v-shaped, narrow gully. It stretches on for a mile or so in this way. The color is not the only remarkable aspect to this stretch of the high route. It is a boulder strewn valley, testing the endurance of our knees as we hop from rock to rock as we descend to Shepherd Lake, searching for dirt to descend in a sea of boulders.

Shepherd Lake is above tree line. Except for a few white bark pines on the north shore, it is surrounded by a small margin of meadow in the sea of boulders. We took shelter from the punishing wind amongst the pines, spread our sleeping pads and lay down for an afternoon nap.

After an hour, we continued our descent, picking our way carefully down the slope, avoiding the swaths of entangling willow bushes that lined the bottom of the draw. Soon, we were in a forest of tall lodgepole pines, walking through waist deep grasses and spent lupines.

Finally, we hit the bottom of Virginia Canyon, marked by Virginia Creek. We stumbled onto a horseman’s camp, marked by big fire pits and sawn tree logs for stools. The weather was warmer than it had been for a few days and we enjoyed relaxing in the afternoon sun without being bundled in down. 

I quickly picked a place to lay my sleeping pad and started to relax. After a few minutes flat on my back staring up at the sky I began to notice how many dead trees were standing in the campsite, including one leaning over the top of me. I reconsidered my bedsite, and moved to a place out of danger.

I handed Craig my iPhone about dark, along with my earbuds, and he enjoyed the movie “Fury” as the darkness descended and the stars fought with the light of the moon to show themselves. Our last glorious night of the high route.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday, September 5, 2016 - The Beginning of the End

“Be glad it happened, not sad it's ending.”

This morning we started the last leg of this adventure.  We packed four days of food, but I think we will do this last part in three days. We are up and out by 6:45 am after Craig has a breakfast of oatmeal and almonds and I eat my ReNola, a nut based granola.  Yummy!  
There were a lot of people in the backpackers campground last night, and most are up and moving by the time we walk down the hill and out to the highway, heading east. For the first mile or so we are back on the horse highway, ankle deep in dust.  But, right before the Tuolumne High Sierra Camp we cross the river and where the horses turn right to go to Vogelsang, we turn left and head up the trail that parallels the highway towards Gaylor Lakes.  It was super cold at the backpacker’s campground, but now that we have climbed a little out of the meadow, the temperature is warming and we remove fleece and hats. We cross the highway, angling northeast on the trail, although the trail will end soon and we will walk across the meadows above lower Gaylor Lakes to the upper Gaylor Lakes. At one point I drift too far left and get us snarled in the willows that line the area around a now dry stream bed, but a correction to the right and we are back in open meadow. The sun is bright, the sky blue, not a cloud in the sky as we pickup the trail to upper Gaylor Lakes that comes from Tioga Pass. As we walk by the first Gaylor Lake we decide to answer the question of this trip, “I wonder if there are any fish in that lake?”
It only took about 20-30 minutes to land 4 10-11 inch Golden Trout for dinner.  A retired man named Phil stopped to chat while we were fishing.  Kind man from Grass Valley up by Tahoe out for a few days of day hiking.
After cleaning them, we sat down for lunch.  Up the hill after lunch we came upon the “Great Sierra Silver Mine” left over from late last century, a collection of rock walls that used to support timber frame roofs and mine shafts.  We headed north, traversing downward toward Green Treble Lake for the night. 
When we arrived at the lake we rested for a few minutes, then Craig went down for a swim.  I joined him a few minutes later and washed my legs, soaked my feet and generally cleaned up a bit.
Fish, rice and chicken for dinner.  The stars were particularly bright tonight, which is saying something, because they are amazing every night.
With the distance we made today, we will finish the day after tomorrow, a bittersweet thought.  Living out here is so amazing, yet my left knee is constantly swollen from the rock hopping and negotiating the terrain. It is not painful, but it does let me know it is being pushed to its limit.  My right ankle and foot are still kind of gimpy, collapsing every once in a while.  So far, not at a critical time. 
It has been 22 days.  Amazing. Beautiful. Challenging. Awe inspiring. All good things must end, or so “they” say.  Why is that?

Sunday, September 4, 2016 - Wow! Is it Cold!

When we were in Mammoth, we had seen in the weather forecasts that there was a cooling trend predicted. They had also said it would be cloudy on Saturday and they had nailed that. This morning we woke to very cold temperatures- the kind that inspire you to stay in your sleeping bag, indefinitely. We did not have a thermometer, but there was no ice in our water bottle so we assumed it was 33°. 
We had decided last night to just eat Pro Bars for breakfast and forego cooking because we were anxious to get moving quickly, as today was the day we would hike into Tuolumne Meadows with its grill and store full of food. 
Once up, packed and moving we began to see frost on the vegetation in the meadows and ice on the margins of streams. Our first goal was to cross over  10,800' Vogelsang Pass, then drop down to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. Today is a total on-trail day. 
We bested Vogelsang Pass just as the rising sun hit it. Dropping down from the pass puts you in the cirque that contains Vogelsang Lake. We rounded the lake, crossed the outlet, and headed toward the High Sierra Camp. As we did, I knew Half Dome would come into view, and with it, cell service. It was still quite early, 7:30 am, so we sent a few texts, checked the weather and downloaded emails, then headed for the high camp. 
Craig had not been to any of the six high camps, so we stopped in, used the composting toilets and wandered into the dining room, hoping we could buy a few candy bars, but none of the staff were present. We left the dining room and prepared our packs to leave. 

It has been a while since I hiked the trail down from Vogelsang, the Rafferty Creek Trail. I knew I detested it, but as the memories fade, so do the details. It did not take but ten minutes on this seven mile long travesty of a trail to remind me why I so dislike it. You see, this is the trail the pack trains use to haul all the bedding, food, propane and other items to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. These daily pack trains (we saw four-six mule trains going up today as we came down) churn and grind the dirt and rock of the trail into fine dust, loosen and knock rocks onto the trail (the lead horse is actually on the trail, the string of mules behind wander as far afield as there leads will let them) and poop all over the trail. Hiking down the trail means ankle deep dust, dodging rocks from fist sized to five gallon bucket sized and stepping on and around their excrement. I had forgotten these details until my ten minutes had elapsed. Then, I had to endure the next three hours as we descended the trail. Oh, did I mention the "trail" is six to eight feet wide and in some places a ditch 3 feet deep? After the first mile it is on the bottom of a wide valley with no views. Enough said.  It is not a pleasant trail. 

We got to the Tuolumne Campground about 12:30 pm and found ranger Brian in the booth at the entrance to the campground. We spent a few minutes catching up, then hiked to the store. 2 Bananas, a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos, an Ice Cream Sandwich, 3 Gatoraides, a hamburger from the grill, a brownie and a bag of mini Oreos quenched my hunger. 
While in the store, I asked the cashier if Ron was going to open the Post Office (it is Sunday of Labor Day Weekend). He said yes and wandered into the back of the this tent building to summon Ron.  Ron asked if I was just picking up a box and if I had ID. My answer to both questions were “yes”.  He unlocked the small room that is dedicated to the post office and emerged with my resupply box.

Craig and I relaxed on the picnic tables in the sun to the west of the store.  The sun was warm, but a cold wind was blowing strongly from the west.  The adjacent bathroom building helped block the wind, but it was still a fleece-on afternoon. 

Craig walked up to the backcountry permit office to retrieve his resupply box that Barb and Sally had put in a bear box as they drove back to the Valley from Mammoth the week before.  Once he returned we sorted food for the last four days of our trip and put what we needed in our bear canisters.  It was nice to have plenty of room in the canisters after cramming them full for the previous sections of the trip.  Four days of food is not much.

We were loath to walk to the backpackers campground. It is in the shade and we were fearful it would be colder than the sun soaked area near the store. Once we got there, we found the wind to be nearly nonexistent in the trees and the comfort level about the same.

We erected the tarp, hoping it would help keep the chill off a little. We spread our ground tarps on the dusty ground, hoping they would keep us isolated from the clingy dirt that is typical of an overused camping area and settled in for the night.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Saturday, September 3, 2016 - No Fish

Both Craig and I were awake at 5:45. The morning sunrise over the jagged Minarets promised to be spectacular. The nice thing was, we didn't need to even get out of our bags to see it. Craig got his stoves going for breakfast while I ate granola and milk as the sky brightened, then burst into color behind the Minarets. We were on our way by a few minutes after 6:30 am. 
We approached Martin's tent. He was awake and staring out the side door at the sunrise as we approached. He commented on our early departure. We explained it is what we do and we would see him later in the day when he passed us. 
We made Blue Lake Pass by 7:25 am, amazed to see so many clouds in the sky this early in the morning. As we crossed over the pass, we left the Ansel Adams Wilderness and entered Yosemite National Park. A slight wind and cool temperatures inspired us to begin descending the north side of the pass. Once off the steep head wall, we began a  two mile walk across a high mountain plateau dotted with trees, awash with wildflower a gone to seed at this late date, boulders, heathers and granitic slabs. At the far edge of this broad flat expanse was the Isberg Pass trail. Once we picked it up, we would be on trail the next 18 miles to Tuolumne Meadows. 
When we reached the far edge the ground began to drop off. The trail was below us on the side of the hill. We checked the map and GPS and continued down the hill, scanning for the trail. We avoided rocky areas and stuck to sandy soils. We might miss the trail in the rocky areas. We dropped below the elevation the trail was at. This began to worry us a bit. Did we miss the trail?  Not possible!  We contemplated retracing our steps to look for it,but realized that was not rational. We would have seen it had we crossed it. We continued down hill and in a few minutes came upon it. As we had descended I had kept us traversing to the right, putting us on the brink of the drop into the Lyell Fork of the Merced River. When we hit the trail, we turned right onto it and immediately began descending the 900' down to the river. 
There are no lakes on this section of the route.  This gave us no excuses to stop, so we just motored along the trail, surprised Martin had not caught us yet.  From past experience hiking in this area of the park I had found anytime you can see Half Dome, you will have cell service. There are no cell towers on the top of Half Dome, so it doesn't really make sense, but most of the time it is true. After about eight miles the trail drops down to Lewis Creek. Just as it drops over the brink to begin its descent, Half Dome is visible. I switched my phone off airplane mode and sure enough, cell service. I called Sally, but the signal was so weak that I could hear her but she could not hear me. I sent a few texts instead. 
Craig and I stopped for lunch in this area to take advantage of the service, such as it is. As we ate, the signal drifted in and out. We were able to make a few contacts, read some texts and glance at some emails. 
After lunch we continued down to Lewis Creek then up the trail toward Vogelsang Pass. After a few miles we agreed it was time to stop and set up camp. We found a wonderful campsite and were soon laying around recouperating and relaxing, although the temperatures were cold and a breeze made it seem colder still. There were clouds in the sky and we debated as to whether to set up the tarp. We decided to sleep out, as it appeared the clouds we thinning. We made about 12 miles this day. Amazing what can happen when you don't stop at every lake to fish!

Friday, September 2, 2016 - Exhausted

We woke in our cozy stand of Lodgepole Pines at the usual time, 6:00 am. We were on our way by 7:00 am. The solitude of our campsite was shattered when we walked 50' and looked over a shelf to see a tent pitched, 50' below where we had spent the night. Up to this point, we had assumed we had the place to ourselves. It ruined that sense of remoteness. 
Someone had tried to mine in this area sometime in the distant past. There was a few pieces of machinery lying around and a notch blasted in the side of a cliff with tailings below. We found the remnants of the trail they had built to get their mules up to the site, and followed it down through a cleft in the cliff wall. We traversed at the base of the cliff towards the first of the Twin Island Lakes. As we were on the west side of the range, all was still in shadow, a nice cool time to move. 
Twin Island Lakes are two lakes about two hundred yards a part, the second, or western most, 100 vertical feet higher. We clambered over solid ribs of glacial smoothed and striated bedrock, wound between them on carpets of heather and soon were at the eastern most lake, about mid-lake. We dropped to lake level after trying to traverse west up high and getting cliffed out. Once down at the lake level we did whatever always do, fish. We caught four as we moved along the shoreline. All we beautiful Rainbow Trout. We cleaned them right there and slid them into our ziplock bag dedicated to fish, the "fish bag". 
We climbed up to the other lake and repeated the process, pulling in another four fish. With those cleaned and bagged, we began the cross country route that would culminate with us in Bench Canyon, a beautiful, U-shaped, glacier carved valley that Ansel Adams called his favorite. 
We rounded the ridge, turning from south to west, then traversed diagonally upward for about a mile to 10,200' and a small lake. Both of us were struggling today. Tired. Lethargic. Every step a push. Was it the two big previous days?  Left over fatigue from the 17 mile day to see Sally in Mammoth Lakes? Being 62?whaterver the cause, we made lots of excuses to stop during the day. This time, the lake seemed to be crying out for someone to swim in it. We obliged. 
By now it was lunch time. We both were eating burrito wraps with cheese. But, with eight trout in my pack it seemed logical to fry a few up and have fish tacos. They were delicious. 
With no further excuses to delay us, we started off again. The route took us uphill to the north, then west. Being adverse to too much uphill today, we turned west too soon and began descending not into Bench Canyon, but into the North fork of the San Jochin River. We caught our error before we had lost too much elevation, and traversed upward 300' to the top of the dark bluff. From here we could look down into Bench Canyon, with its lazy stream ambling over solid slabs of granite on the bottom of the broad U-shaped valley, it's Lodgepole Pine groves and its abundant meadows. We dropped the 400' into the canyon, dropped our packs and lay down on the smooth granite slabs, listening to the soft babble of the steam nearby. After our break, we struggled up the valley, wheezing and puffing as we once again cleared the 10,000' mark. We were tempted by a few comfy looking camping opportunities, but knew we wanted to make it to Blue Lakes at 10,500', the glacial tarns at the head of the valley, just below the head wall and the pass. We struggled up the last few hundred feet to the lake, then quickly unfurled our sleeping pads and lay down, hoping to gather some strength. It was 2:55 pm. 
After an hour, Craig grabbed his fishing pole to see if there were any fish. I wrote in my blog, maintaining my horizontal position. The sun was warm with a cool wind blowing, but I was low enough to the ground that the wind missed me, mostly. 
Craig returned with stories of big fish. He said he had landed an 11" Rainbow, but released it due to the six fish I already had in the fish bag. I thought more fish was better. After a half an hour, we both returned to the lake. We caught fish, but most were 8-9". We threw them back. Finally, I hooked into something big!  How big? I could make this a great fish story, but suffice it to say, he broke my line. That was my bad, I had the drag too tight. After tying on a new swivel and lure, I tried to catch the fish that stole my gear. In the process I hooked a 12" Golden Trout.  
It was now 6:30 pm, so we wandered back to camp and began frying our eight fish. It took the better part of an hour to get them cooked, but what a great supplement to our dinner. 
While I was finishing up some Alfredo noodles just before dark, a man suddenly appeared in our camping area. He had been high tailing it the canyon to get to this lake for the night. His name was Martin. He was from Switzerland. He had come Minaret Lake, covering in one day that which had taken us two. He headed for the other end of the lake to camp and we settled in for the night. 
It was a little disappointing to be caught by someone moving that much faster than us, but then again, we had spent time fishing every lake we had come to, not just racing through this incredible wilderness. I slept well. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016 - Cliffed Out

Deadhorse lake was less than half a mile away and only 200' above us. It met the profile of a lake that might contain big fish. Isolated. Rarely visited. 
We were up at 6:15 am, a quick breakfast, then up to the lake. Lots of fish. All small. We ended up with six guppies that swallowed the hook so far we couldn't release them. We strolled back to camp, put the fish in our "fish bag" (a gallon sized ziplock) and stowed them in my pack. 
We quickly reached Minaret Lake. Craig's lure had gotten hooked in his pack. While he extricated it, I hooked 5 fish in 7 casts, keeping one.  By the time he was ready, the fish had disappeared. 
We climbed up to Cecile Lake. Here we met two kids that had been climbing. While out for the day the wind had blown their tent into the lake, shredding it in the process. Some kind soul had pulled it from the lake, along with their sleeping bags and other gear in the tent and had laid it out to dry with rocks on them to keep them from blowing away again. 
We descended to Iceberg Lake, then down close to Ediza before we started the climb up toward Nydiver Lakes. We stopped in the shade of a thicket of Lodgepole Pines beside a cascading stream for lunch before we began the 1000'+ climb to Whitebark Pass above Nydiver Lakes. 
The route traverses above Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake, crossing two passes to do so.
It was now decision time. Do we continue on, climbing over 11,200' Glacier Pass and camp on the west side of the range, or save the climb for morning and camp on the east side of the pass. It was nearly 3:30 pm, and although we had said just yesterday that stopping by 3:30 pm was our goal, we decided to climb over the pass to the west side, a nice sunset being our motivation. Climbing the pass was straightforward, just a lot of meadow climbing and boulder hopping. However, descending the west side is tricky and magnificent. Two lakes, Catherine and an unnamed smaller one sit right at the pass. The pass lies at the foot of spectacular mountains Ritter and Banner, both 13,000+ footers. The route follows the outlet of Catherine that flows into the other lake that then begins a series of cascades over glacial scoured and polished granitic bedrock. Pockets of flowers and grasses are tucked in next to waterfalls and swift courses of the stream as it tumbles downward into the North Fork of the San Jochin River valley, 4000' below. The tricky part is two cliffs, one 300' high and one 500' high that the stream cascades over, yet leaves no place for a traveler to descend. You have to traverse way to the right, like a quarter to half mile before you come to an angling valley that delivers you to the base of the cliffs. We missed the angling valley and ended up down climbing two very large and very steep cliffs. Both had ample hand and footholds so that even with our full packs we felt secure, but looking down the two hundred foot cliff and descending it made for a fun and exciting route. 
By the time we reached the bottom and worked our way through the meadows down to a cozy stand of Lodgepole pines it was well after 6:00 pm and we were beat. I had remembered this place from 2010 and thought it would be an awesome place to camp, right next to the rushing stream, tucked into the trees. 
We fried up our fish from the morning catch, cooked dinner and did our nightly chores and were soon fast asleep.