This trip report began as field notes made on my Palm Pilot. I am in the process of editing it into a more coherent and interesting version, but for now the raw field notes show through in a few places.
For the uninitiated who are wondering what the wilderness experience is all about, just note the difference between the obsessive-compulsive, techno-geek list of times, distances, weights and temperatures I recorded on the first day and the writing toward the end of the week: "I enjoy treading on the soft, sensuous mixture of dirt and pine needles on the forest floor."
The challenge of Backpacking is anticipating and planning for 100% of your needs for the duration of your trip. This includes food, stove, fuel, cooking utensils, wood cutting and fire building supplies, clothing, footwear, rain gear, shelter, bedding, lighting, navigation aids, bathing, personal hygiene and toilet supplies, first aid, medicines, entertainment, sporting gear and spares or the means to wash, clean or repair such items in the above list as might get lost, get dirty, break, wear out or otherwise need restoring. The next challenge is minimizing the weight of your gear to the point where it's possible to carry it all. Finally, what you take must be small or compressible enough that it can fit into or onto your clothing and pack.
The fun is deciding - or discovering - what you really need and what you don't. You really don't want to discover anything. "Discovering" that you need something usually means that you're already in the backcountry when the need arises, and there's no way of getting it.
No matter how many times I go Backpacking, or how many lists I make, or how long beforehand I start, it seems that I'm always fussing with my gear and making decisions about what to take up till the last minute. This trip was no exception. I was up till 3:30 AM the night before, packing, rearranging and making trade-offs. I was up before 7:30, getting fewer than four hours of sleep. My morning routine followed by still more packing and loading consumed over two hours. I finally got away a little after 9:30 AM.
Sunday, 9/3/00 (Original log)
What I like most about Emigrant is its proximity: the trailhead at Crabtree is a mere 156 miles from my home in San Leandro. After topping up my gas tank, it was an easy 2 1/2 hour drive to the Summit Ranger Station at Pinecrest. I picked up my wilderness permit there and proceeded to the trailhead, arriving a few minutes before 1:00 in the afternoon.
As I was assembling and weighing my gear in the parking lot, I was approached by a foursome of rangers - two couples, to be exact. These were volunteers, meaning that they held down regular jobs in the Bay Area during the week and spent their weekends, unpaid, patroling the Emigrant trailheads and the first few miles in. They wore brand new khaki trousers, Gore-Tex jackets and ranger hats from the North Face. They didn't just look the part, they were the Poster Children of rangers. In lieu of pay, they got to wear badges, and the males were somewhat officious. I wasn't even out of the parking lot and they already wanted to see my wilderness permit. I hadn't finished getting my gear together and the permit was still in the car. They reminded me that I should carry it at all times. Solicitous, one noted my bare arms and asked if I had sunscreen.
Still, they provided useful information. A bear had torn open a tent at Beardsley, perhaps 10 miles away but not in the wilderness. Beardsley is a public recreation and camping area that attracts a lot of people (and food, and trash) in one place, so it wasn't surprising to hear of a bear there, as rare as it was. Bears are rarely sighted in Emigrant proper, which is another reason I like it. One of the employees at the sporting goods store in San Leandro where I got my fishing license told me that he had lived in Mi-Wok, near Emigrant, for 24 years and had only seen a bear once. The rangers also told me that a snowstorm had passed over the area Friday night and Saturday, leaving snow on the ground - since melted - and a lot of surprised backpackers. The storm was now gone. The skies were clear and the temperature was 50 degrees F, ideal for trekking over mountains with a load on your back. The snow deposited by the storm was to prove invaluable a day later, in the form of ubiquitous puddles of water just when I would need them.
I finally got my gear collected, weighed (58 lbs!) and on my back. I got my picture taken by one of the people next to me in the lot and departed at 1:40 PM. The first thing the trail does is cross a stream - or river, depending on the time of year. Today, there is a foot bridge over this river. It makes getting in a lot easier. Before 1990, I used to get wet.
The rangers had left ahead of me and were only carrying day packs. They were stopping occasionally to check permits and get field reports from hikers on their way out. I was carrying a lot more weight than they were and was also stopping to gather intelligence, but I caught up with them and passed them at the first climb, eventually leaving them in my dust. The first climb is a steep grade for a quarter of a mile. It took me 25 or 30 minutes on previous trips. Today I made it in 12. My months at the gym were paying off. I began to feel good about myself.
At the top of that climb, the trail levels out and forks. The left fork goes to Camp and Bear Lakes. I took the right one, heading downhill into Pine Valley, 400 feet below. The trail through Pine Valley is also accessible from the Bell Meadow trailhead, which is popular among parties with pack animals - horses and mules, mostly. The trail bears much evidence of their passage.
Wilderness users who ride horses are not content simply to exist in a different place for the duration of their trip. They also seem to slip back in time. They dress like it was a hundred years ago, or earlier. Where they find their clothes I have no idea, but it's sure not REI or Any Mountain. Even their speech and mannerisms are different. When you pass them they greet you with a larger-than-usual smile and every last one of them says "howdy". Not "Hi", "Hi there", "Hey there", "Hiya", "Hello", or "Good Afternoon". Just "Howdy." The first such party I ran into was on their way out, between Grouse Lake and Bell Meadow. They wore high boots, full length riding coats and felt hats. And with his short mustache and round lensed, rimless glasses, the leader was the spitting image of Teddy Roosevelt. "Howdy," he smiled as he passed.
The first major landmark on my route was Grouse Lake . On two earlier trips (1991 and 1996) it was as far as I got on the first day of hiking. Today I reached it in 2 1/2 hours, stopped for tea, and kept going.
The next leg took me up a steep, narrow granite canyon.
[Mule Train Story]
Monday, 9/4/00 (Original log)
Awoke 8:30, out of tent @ 9:00
Dinner: Tea, cereal and noodle soup. I prepared them all while lying down on my stomach in my sleeping bag and using the space in front of the tent to work with. After the cereal, I filled the sierra cup with water and stirred it around to rinse out the powdered milk. Then I poured that water into the cereal bowl and rinsed it also before emptying the measured cup into the pot. I repeated the procedure and now had a clean cup and bowl and two cups of water in the pot for the noodles. The little powdered milk that remained there was hidden by the flavor of the soup. I ate the soup out of the pot. What little residue remained I would rinse out in the morning. Bottom line: a nice, hot, three course meal prepared, consumed and mostly cleaned up all from the comfort and warmth of my sleeping bag.
I had a headache, though. The meal had exhausted the water I collected at Cherry Creek. I got up, filled my canteen with the nearby rainwater, and took three aspirin with an untreated swallow. The rest would serve to rinse my contact lenses, clean the noodle pot and make tea in the morning.
Lights out at 10:00 pm.
Tuesday, 9/5/00 (Original log)
Woke 08:55 - tent temp 47°
I'm feeling warm in t-shirt, flannel shirt and long johns under a fleece sweat suit, plus sock liners and wool socks under my boots.
Made tea. Scouted. Found trail, but it went off in the wrong direction and then petered out.
Fetched fresh rainwater and decontaminated it for a cereal breakfast.
10:47 am 42°
I encountered another of what were numerous little puddles and pools of water left by the recent storm.
I was going cross country but I kept running into cairns - stacks of two or three rocks used as trail markers. Evidently, hikers before me had navigated much the same route. Near the top of a narrow pass, I finally encountered a real trail again.
3:23 pm There at last! There at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm there at last! On my fourth attempt, I finally reached Lake Rosasco. It took me three days to get there. An energetic hiker who knew where he was going could have done it in one. If he started early, took the shortest way and didn't get lost. Oh, well. I made it, and that's what counts.
3:30 pm: Dropped my pack at a potential campsite and went exploring for better ones. Found a couple of other sites, but the first one where my pack was waiting was the best.
My scouting took me past the lake to the top of the trail from Cherry Creek and Louse Canyon. Three years earlier Grace and I had climbed a quarter or maybe a third of the hill, but turned back because we couldn't find the trail. We were just climbing a cliff. I determined to follow the trail down to see where we went wrong and how close we got. The trail was clearer at the top. I followed it down maybe two thirds of the way to the bottom and sure enough found the spot where we had turned back. We were only a few yards from the trail when we gave up. Still, had we proceeded, there was no guarantee we'd have found it anyway. Grace was tired and it was getting late (4:00 pm as I recall). I think we did the right thing.
This time, though, I resumed from where we left off. I knew the trail now because I had just come down it; I wasn't carrying my pack, I had lost weight and hd been working out at the gym for six months. I reached the top in about 15 or 20 minutes. With packs, it would have taken us an hour and a half if we didnt get lost.
On the way back to my campsite I ran into Jim Powell, Poet and former professor at Berkeley. He and his friend Greg had been in the woods since July 30 - over a month.
Back at camp, I pitched and organized the tent. Then I rebuilt a fire ring that had been recently destroyed by rangers, as they are wont to do. I started a fire and went fishing for a few minutes without results. I returned to camp at dusk and made dinner: tea and noodle soup, followed by snacks and Crystal Lite in the tent. Hoping to reduce my pack weight for the morrow, I lit 3 candles, which gave me enough light to update my log.
Lights out 10:55 pm.
Wednesday, 9/6/00 (Original log)
Woke at 8:30. Out of the tent by 9:15. Did my stretch exercises and took pictures of the lake before making coffee. Then I fished for an hour, catching nothing. It was too late in the morning for the fish to be biting, but I enjoyed having my lure in the water.
Back at camp I had a bowl of cereal and noted that there was only one more serving with four days to go. I had oatmeal, but that required fuel or a campfire.
1:20 pm: Began packing
I found a site and set up camp in the last minutes of light. There was enough firewood to build a fire, so I didn't have to forage in the dark. I built a fire and made tea and noodle soup and went to bed.
Lights out at 12:40 am.
Thursday, 9/7/00 (Original log)
Woke at 8:15 am with sun on the tent
9:40 am Dressed and out of the tent.
Feeling stiff and lethargic. The Thermarest is warm, relatively light and quick to inflate and deflate, but it's not the most comfortable for those with back problems.
Spent the next two hours preparing and eating breakfast (bacon, scrambled eggs, Ry-Crisp with butter, and tea) and cleaning up afterwards. The stool is a real boon, allowing me to sit wherever it's most convenient for a particular task.
Time: 11:40 am. I packed the top of my pack and moved the stool to a shady pot to update my log.
12:23 pm: Began breaking camp.
1:33 pm: All packed up. Took a few minutes for a cup of lemon Crystal Lite.
1:43 pm Ready to hit the trail. Next stop: Jewelry Lake.
1:51 pm Pack on, under way.
2:15 pm - 2:50 pm: Jewelry Lake. Took 3 photos despite running low on film. Only 9 shots left with 3 days to go.
3:18 pm Deer Lake. Dropped my pack at the first site and went exploring - a longer process this time because Deer Lake is a bigger lake. I treated myself to a Sierra cup of Crystal Lite made with water straight out of a stream that fed the lake, and then continued exploring. Passed a couple on horseback headed home. On my way back, met an older couple from Mountain View filtering water at the stream. With their son and his friend, they were occupying the second site. The two sites were all I found. The second site, already taken, was secluded and offered more privacy. My site, though visible from the trail, was excellent. Shady, wooded and with a view of the lake, it had an enormous fire ring built and improved over time by successive parties with pack animals. Some of the stones, as well as the larger logs left behind, were too big to have been moved there by human hands. Six feet in diameter, it's floor was elevated more than a foot off the ground. On one side, at about sitting height, was a large flat slab that served as a table for preparation or eating. Facing the table was a short, fat log to sit on while cooking, eating or simply enjoying the fire at night. All in all, the finest wilderness kitchen/dining area I've ever encountered over my numerous trips.
I selected a spot and pitched the tent. Then I had the last bowl of cereal, something I'd promised myself all day, and washed it down with an extra cup of (powdered) milk. While I would never drink it at home, my standards in the wilderness are perforce relaxed and I found it delicious.
By now it was close to 6:00 pm and I decided to go fishing in earnest. For me that means dedicating at least an hour to the task; hanging my creel (a gallon Ziploc bag with a grommet in the corner) from my neck; moving around but giving each spot ample time to prove itself; changing lures according to lighting conditions, water clarity and depth: the murkier the water, the shinier the lure, the deeper the water the heavier the lure. I tried a couple of combinations before settling on my old standby, a gold Mepps No. 1. Soon enough, my efforts were rewarded with a lovely rainbow trout measuring 11 1/2 inches. I fished another half hour but only caught the one. I cleaned it on the bank. In camp I started a fire. Then I dredged the trout in flour, salt and pepper and fried it in butter, garlic and dill. By that time it was dark and I couldn't see the colors in the pan very well, and I ended up blackening the skin, as in Blackened Redfish. It couldn't have been better if I'd planned it that way. Delicious! Then I followed it with tea and noodles. I left the dishes for the morning, when it would be light.
I stoked the fire and enjoyed its warmth for a while, then retired to the tent.
Lights out at 10:40 pm.
Friday, 9/8/00 (Original log)
I first awoke at 7:40 am, but kept going back to sleep until in was warm enough to get out of my sleeping bag, which was 8:45. It was sunny and warm outside. I made tea, updated my log, did my exercises and made more tea. Then I gave myself a sponge bath in the tent and treated myself to a fresh shirt. I'd brought a fresh change of socks, underwear and t-shirt for each day, but only three shirts and one pair of trousers. It felt good.
When I emerged from the tent it was 55°, pretty much what it had been all morning. I washed the dishes from the night before and made breakfast: two days worth of scrambled eggs and bacon, Ry-Crisp with peanut butter, and coffee.
By the time I had updated my log and washed the dishes, it was 2:30 pm. It was still 55°. The wind had picked up, but I was comfortable with three layers on top: t-shirt, flannel shirt and fleece sweatsuit top. I wouldn't even have needed that last layer if I were being more active.
Decision time: stay in Deer Lake another night, or move on? Tomorrow I had to start back. If I started packing right away, I could make Wood Lake by dusk, not much further from the trailhead than I was now. But that would mean hurrying, trekking and leaving by pretty much the same route I'd come in on. Staying would be more relaxing and though I wouldn't see a new lake, I'd see a new trail on my way out. I decided to stay over another night, the first such two-nighter this trip. Resolved, I went to gather firewood.
By 5:00 pm I had gathered a respectable pile of wood. I was busy sawing the longer trunks into logs of useable length. At some point I became impatient with sawing all the way through the logs and tried to accellerate the process by smashing a partially sawn-through branch into a rock. On my first attempt at this, the cut proved to be insufficient. The branch was springy and bounced and twisted at the same time, very quickly, and a sharp protuberance on the wood gave me a rather nasty slice and puncture wound on my left thumb.
It bled profusely, which was good: the blood irrigated the wound, hopefully carrying out with it bacteria and microscopic debris. I let it bleed this way for a few minutes, sucking away the blood so as not to make a mess. When I thought it was clean enough, I stopped the bleeding by wrapping a tissue around it and applying pressure by squeezing it with my fist Then I opened my first aid kit - thankful now that I had bought a new one this trip to replace my homemade kit, which had become rather dirty over time. I cleaned the surface with an iodine swab, coated the cut with antibiotic and applied a bandaid.
That little exigency taken care of, I returned to my sawing. In short order I transformed my pile of wood into a pile of firewood, neatly stacked according to size.
6:00 pm - I began fishing. My adventures for the day weren't over yet. Within 15 minutes I had snagged my favorite lure - my Mepps No. 1 that caught dinner last night - on an underwater log.The nature of survival in the wilderness is that your things are not expendable. Not withough a fight, anyway. I changed into my sport shorts, which double as swimming trunks. At a less populated lake I simply would have stripped naked, but I had neighbors at a nearby campsite and one of the boys had been in this very spot a little earlier. I waded far enough into the water to recover the lure. The lake bottom was squishy, muddy and slippery. Balance was difficult. There was no danger of drowning - it wasn't that deep - but a fall into 50 degree water at this time of day could prove hypothermic before I got dried off and got a fire going. As it was, it was cold enough that the bones in my legs ached from that short exposure to the cold.
I dried off, changed back into by long pants and resumed fishing. My efforts were rewarded a short time later at 7:00 pm when I caught another trout, 10" this time. I confined it in my creel and photographed it. I fished a while longer and then quit at 7:20 pm to give myself enough light to build a fire and start cooking. My trout was in the pan by dark. I skipped the flour this time and fried it in butter, salt, pepper and dill. Fantastic. I followed that up with a pot of noodles and some tea.
Replete, I stoked the fire and washed the dishes. I contemplated the flames for a while, then retired to the tent at 10:40. I redressed my wound and snacked on a granola bar, jerky and Crystal Light.
Lights out at midnight.
Saturday, 9/9/00 (Original log)
Early Alarm; woke 7:35. I dropped a contact lens trying to put it in and spent a few panicky minutes searching the tent floor before I found it. I had a spare pair with me, but it's quite old and not my current prescription. Old contact lenses are not good for your eyes. Out of tent at 8. Back at 8:40. Tea. Changed; Made breakfast: 4 egg omelette, bacon, Ry-Crisp w/ butter & peanut butter, coffee AT THE SAME TIME! Exercised, washed the dishes, packed, more tea, packed, log, off at 1:45. I felt an inexplicable sadness at leaving the place.
2:30 pm Wood Lake
4:04 pm Spotted my second deer.
Drank a powdered milk, then tea. Plenty of firewood. Made a fire, cooked and ate noodles, then burned trash. Retired to the tent at 9:20 pm. Dressed for bed. Snacks: jerky, granola bar, Crystal Lite.
At 10:00, it was a balmy 55 in the tent.
The moon was three quarters and bright, lending a fairy tale perfection to the setting. The still, moonlit lake was visible through the wooded campsite. Smoke from the fire permeated the area, accentuating the moonbeams among the trees. There was no wind. The only sounds were insects and the occasional, distant click as the forest dropped another pine cone.
Lights out at 10:30.
Sunday, 9/10/00 (Original log)
Woke at 7:30 am. Good night's sleep - less air in the Thermarest.
8:45 am Tent down. Made tea, then fetched water for breakfast. The butter, though I'd left it in the sun, was still hard so I put it inside my shirt and sawed wood until 9:41 am, by which time it had softened.
I redressed my wound, now extremely dirty from all the activities in the last 24 hours, and made breakfast: 2 cups of oatmeal with butter and Ry-Crisp.
Brushed my teeth and packed my pack, then did my stretching exercises.
11:12 am One last look & then I'm off. This site is a cathedral.
11:30 am I'm off.
12:42 pm At the top of the pass between LR and Louse Canyon.
12:08 pm I reach the bottom of the trail, as defined by two cairns forming a kind of gateway.
12:20 pm Stopped at a comfortable shady rock for trail mix and CL at Cherry Creek.
12:30 pm Refreshed, I'm off again.
1:00 pm Dep Cherry Creek campsite
1:50 pm Arr Piute Creek turnoff to Piute Meadow.
2:07 pm Arr Piute Meadow. Tea time.
3:01 pm I resume after some water and two welcome cups of tea and a chat with a party of hikers camping at Piute on their way out from Buck Lake.
3:37 pm Top of climb
3:50-4:05 Visited an old campsite from a previous trip
4:06 pm Dep No Name Lake
5:10 pm Arr Lily Creek. Dropped my pack and vest and stopped for 3 Crystal Lite and stream water.
5:30 pm Began ascent to Camp Lake.
5:45 pm At the top!
6:03 pm Dep Camp Lake. The fish are jumping. :-)
6:33 pm At junction
7:17 pm Arr at car.
7:32 pm Pack stowed in car, engine started. Car clock had lost 11 minutes in one week.