Friday, September 4, 2015

the way back

I wandered afoot and alone.
—John Muir

Friday. The way back from Glen Aulin climbs to the source of Tuolumne Falls. 

I was proud of the time I made, only slightly behind a trio of women in their 60s and 70s. 
Slow and steady wins the race. 
The air was clearer in every direction, a fitting end to my High Sierra mini-loop. 
After 25 miles, my thighs are tighter, footing is steadier and more confident. 
I've loved the home-cooked meals and friendly hikers. Surprisingly I met only a few people traveling alone: national parks are an ideal place for solo travelers. Maybe they were off on the John Muir Trail, in a different league from my modest circuit. 
I've loved hiking every day and training this summer and waking up to the sound of waterfalls. 
Probably won't be camping again soon, even glamping. I miss the creature comforts too much. I hate being cold. And I miss wifi. 
But my immediate world is filled with adventures that can be undertaken on foot. Places where you can push your physical limits and reconnect with nature and meet wanderers and hear yourself think. 

I'm back at Two Bridges where I started nearly a week ago, reading a paper newspaper(!), waiting for  friends to arrive from the city. The air is colder than last week when it was still August. A mule train driver told me there was frost on the bridges this morning. 
And even though I'm dressed in sandals, and the leopard-print fleece from the flea market in Chinle, and the beige fuzzy hat I got with Lorraine in Berkeley, people I meet on the trail seem to think I belong. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

it's in the water

Thursday? Today was a perfect lazy day. Other people went hiking, in packs. I sat alone on a rock and listened to waterfalls. For hours. Sometimes I stretched or looked at birds. Mostly not. 
New people began to arrive, some by mule train. They looked cleaner than those of us who'd been sleeping in our clothes. 
And then something exciting happened: a young man with long hair climbed up on top of the rocks!
I'd seen a tall blonde in a polka dot bikini posing in the water for her boyfriend, but this was much better. The diver waved and climbed down and an hour later returned with friends. 
A couple of middle-aged dudes were swimming under the freezing waterfall, but they got out to watch too. 
The cliff divers of Glen Aulen, in your SF water! 
We cheered and then I went and took a nap. 

My new tent mates arrived, and Lydia and I set to opening her box of Cabernet Sauvignon that her husband had mailed to Yosemite and then paid $5/lb to send to Glen Aulin on mule. 

We ate dinner with the mule wrangler and learned lots of nifty facts about mules: that they have an odd number of chromosomes and can't reproduce. That they spend the offseason in Chowchilla. I appreciated their good temper even more on Friday when I climbed 600 feet of terrible cobblestone.… 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

alone at night in the depths of the woods

When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
—John Muir

Wednesday: en route to Glen Aulin. I hiked part of the day with a family from Connecticut. Most people seem to go counterclockwise, but Susan recommended this direction because it's 1200 feet descent over 8 miles. 
It's really a lovely trail. Huge granite and quartz cliffs and Ponderosa pines and once in a while ferns and Sequoias. 
Lots of great rocks. I wished I had a friends who was a geologist, or at the very least, an internet connection to look things up. 
We had a lot of pre-smartphone conversations: Oh you should really take that trail, the one by Tioga pass with the silver mine and the pie. I can't remember its name. Or: I wonder if that's Mt Dana, or that one.  
I met a few interesting people on the trail: we passed a lithe man coming from the Ten Lakes fork, and it turned out he's finished the John Muir trail (from Mt Whitney) early, atop Half Dome. He had less in his pack than I did. 
There are not a lot of signs, so you don't really know if you've gone 5 miles or 3. With my phone in airplane mode, Apple Health is extrapolating miles from my steps, only it seems to think I've gone twice as far as I have. (Yesterday: 17 miles. I probably walked 9 or 10.)
I liked this rock and gave my achy shoulders and crunched toes a break. 

We met Cece and Ricardo on the trail and had a long talk about where we would live if we could live anywhere in the world. This was inspired by Lydia, a recent college grad who left her job and is contemplating new options, saying that this was her one big chance to travel and take a break. 
Cece is originally from NYC but is on her way to Sulawesi for an indeterminate time. She said: This is not the only time you can decide to leave the straight life. 
I took a break figuring I'd catch up with my friends at dinner and happened to pass this mule train heading up the hill. It's not every day you see a mule with a ladder balanced on its back. Apparently one of the mules had escaped. 
The trail down to Glen Aulin Camp is a hellacious tenth of a mile of cobblestones. They should use it as a test on a reality show. I remembered again why I hated backpacking and was glad there was no one to hear me curse and scream. 
But at the bottom is your own private (public) waterfall, the Tuolumne river. 
And just a few 100 feet away is this view of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, which empties into Hetch Hetchy and eventually 150 miles West into my sink in San Francisco. (I regretted having used it to wash my socks.)

The scenery reminds me a little of Zion. The stars were dazzling last night. There aren't any electric lights and most everyone is in bed by 9. My tentmates had gone to sleep by the time I got in, and I didn't want to wake them by starting a fire. Big mistake. I'm bundled up in silk + cashmere + down + a silk sleep sack, with three wool blankets and gloves. A puffy pink Popsicle. 
So I'm taking it easy today. Most everyone has gone on to either May Lake or back to Tuolumne Lodge. A bunch of people much older than me are off on vigorous day hikes. And while I'm already fantasizing about bubble baths (fed by this river) and fast internet and a foot massage, Glen Aulin is a pretty special place. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A doorway

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.
—John Muir

Tuesday: May Lake. This was the day I remembered why I hated backpacking. Still gasping and not hungry from the altitude, I headed up a not terribly interesting steep hill to May Lake HSC. Worse, 2/3rds of the way up is a parking lot. 

I also lost my leopard sunglasses while taking a break to catch my breath and cursing going to Yosemite instead of Southeast Asia. But enough grumbling. 
I loved May Lake High Sierra Camp. There was a big friendly hiking group from LA, led by a woman in her 70s. They argued over who should carry her water and later drank shots of bourbon and tequila by the campfire. 
I learned from my John Muir audiobook that the source of Yosemite Falls is on the other side of Mt Hoffman, pictured above. 
And I loved Brian, the manager of the camp and a gifted raconteur who regaled us over spaghetti and meatballs with stories of 19th century hotels in Yosemite Valley including one up s 60' ladder on the mist trail between Vernal and Nevada Falls and another atop Glacier Point (responsible for the famous firefalls). Marlene, the hike leader from LA, had seen the firefalls.
I climbed up the hill for a view of the valley and because I'd heard there was AT&T reception. No go. 
And I appreciated the Dadaists who packed my lunch, as I headed off the 8 miles to Glen Aulin. 

The Burning Man of HSC: