High Sierra Camp Loop Backpacking Trip - Sep 17-24, 2019
2019-09-27 As we all know, things don't always go as planned. That certainly was true of this trip to the Hi Sierra's of Yosemite National Park. It started out well with a smooth flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco, followed by a four hour drive to Yosemite Valley where we stayed in Currey Village, a permanent canvas tent campground for the night. Lovely place. It was in the 40's overnight but the provided wool blankets kept us warm.
Next morning, September 18 we donned our hiking clothes, packed our backpacks and drove the couple hours to Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Center where we parked the car, checked in with the rangers and hit the trail. The six and a half mile generally downhill trail to Glen Aulin was relatively easy, going from at about 8,800 feet down to abut 7,700 feet, scenery was striking and all seemed well. It took about 4-1/2 hours. I (turning 75 in a couple weeks) felt a bit tired but didn't think it surprising for the first day of a hike with a full pack.
The last mile or so into Glen Aulin was pretty difficult as it was a sharply down hill section steep enough that the trail consisted of stone steps, not quite as steep as a normal stairway but close in places. I had to stop and catch my breath and rest my legs several times but generally did well and once again wasn't particularly concerned.
Arriving at the backpackers camp site around 3:00pm John scouted it out and chose a spot to set up our tent, which we did. I began to feel like my tiredness was a little more than I was expecting, bordering on exhaustion. But we finished setting up, fixed dinner, built a campfire and visited with a few of the others in the campsite before turning in.
When we awoke next morning, the 19th, it was pretty chilly, about 35 and breezy. John found a nice rock dome that overlooked the Tuolumne River which flows from an impressive waterfall through a beautiful valley bounded on both sides by high rocky mountains with large mountains in the distance. A beautiful location to make coffee and have breakfast which we did in spite of the bone chilling breeze. It was amazing and inspiring to watch the sunlight creep down one of the mountain ridges as it rose over the other bathing everything in a bright golden glow.
Then we discussed plans for the day which were to hike from Glen Aulin to May Lake, 8.5 miles, climbing from about 7,700 feet to about 9,500 feet, crossing near 10,000 feet along the way. I was a bit concerned as I really still felt pretty exhausted but didn't feel enough concern to say much about it. So we headed back to camp to pack up and hit the trail.
As we neared the end of packing up it became clear to me that I really was not up to the plan, so hesitantly I told John. After discussing it a while, considering spending another night in Glen Aulin as one option, we decided to head back to Tuolumne Meadows. There were more options available to us there and the original plan was now out the window anyway as there was not enough time in our schedule to allow rejoining that. From Tuolumne Meadows we could do a number of day hikes and would also be near our car should exiting prematurely be necessary.
By the time we had reached the top of the initial stairway like climb out of Glen Aulin I realized more was in play than simple tiredness. I was totally exhausted, having to stop every ten or so steps and pant and puff, clearly I was dealing with altitude sickness! Thankfully it was rather mild with severe fatigue and loss of appetite being my only distinguishable symptoms. But I struggled the rest of the way having to force myself to eat a little and drink water and somehow keep taking steps. It took us 5-1/2 hours to go back compared with the 4-1/2 hours to go out.
We secured a tent site in the backpackers campground, set up our tent and John headed out for a day hike to Lambert Dome. I crashed in the tent. Only sitting perfectly still or lying down could I breath normally. The slightest exertion totally exhausted me. It was clear I was not doing well. When John returned we made dinner and hit our sleeping bags. I slept well but upon awakening next morning (it was 22 degrees! with ice on the tent) again the slightest movement took my breath completely away.
The backpackers campground at Tuolumne Meadows only allows one overnight but fortunately John was able to secure a campsite in the car-camping area so we relocated there. That was a miracle as by mid afternoon the "full" sign was hoisted and the entry gate closed. Water and toilet facilities were not too far away, though downhill, and there was a grill in the complex. John left for another day hike to Cathedral Lakes and once again I crashed in my sleeping bag as the sun climbed into the sky and brightened and warmed the place. My only company was a large raven that dropped in! He hung around for about half an hour, making a chocking sound. I thought he was about to hack up a "hairball" or something but I think he was just begging for food. Turns out that sound is just one of their broad repertoire of not-so-pleasant sounds! But never-the-less, since my appetite was still missing I wasn't about to sit there and watch him eat in front of me.
At noon I decided to go "down" to the grill thinking a hamburger or something might taste good and give me needed energy. Turns out it was nearly a mile downhill walk to the grill. And though the hamburger was likely very good, to me it had no taste at all and I barely managed to down most of it. The coke tasted good though! As I sat at the picnic table in the sun I couldn't help but wonder what others who saw me must have thought. Sitting there leaning on my elbows, dressed like a tramp and very slowly nibbling away at that burger I must have made quite a sight. The good news was that they had a basket of apples free for the taking. THAT apple tasted wonderful! Then came the burden of getting the mile back up the hill to our campsite. Miraculously I made it. Oh how thankful I am for a comfortable sleeping mat, warm sleeping bag and sunshine as I slept most of the afternoon.
I had hoped that by the time John returned about 4:00pm I would be at least somewhat recovered. But I was not. Obviously more was needed than rest. I needed oxygen! We had a chicken sandwich (we drove down to the grill) for dinner which to me once again was barely edible then came back to the campsite, made some Dottie's Chicken and Dumplings which tasted very good and built a campfire. Sitting around the campfire we decided that the trip was over.
It was now just a matter of dealing with a non-cancel reservation at the lodge in Yosemite Valley, changing airline reservations and getting out of there. God provides in wonderful ways. John's Verizon phone worked at the campsite so he was able to call Jeri, his wife, explain things and ask her to work on the reservation problems. How she did it I don't know but they cancelled and refunded the lodge and she found seats on a flight back to Minneapolis next afternoon with amazingly reasonable change fees! So we decided to spend the night in the tent and head back to San Francisco next morning. Then we went to bed about 8:30 or so.
About 9:00pm I became aware that John was stirring. When he saw I was awake he said, "We're leaving NOW. I don't like the way you're breathing. You go get in the car and I'll pack up." About 15 minutes later we were headed down the mountain. The first place we found with a vacancy was in Oakdale, elevation 152 feet! But long before that I began to feel pretty good again and when we found a room at the Holiday Motel, likely the only room available after midnight, it was like arriving in heaven. Good beds. A hot shower and most of all AIR containing OXYGEN! I slept soundly and think John did too.
- It is a blessed thing to be loved by your children! I'm so thankful that John was concerned, took the bull by the horns and made the decision to leave. I don't know how things would have been had he not done that, but it was a great blessing.
- Altitude is something to be reckoned with. it doesn't affect everyone, or everyone the same way. And there are no predictors. John seemingly had no trouble. But I did. Reading up on it later I'm thankful that my reaction was in the "minor" category but it was still serious. I don't want to know what would have happened had we gone ahead with that second-day plan and headed for May Lake. I've also since learned that when going into higher elevations one needs to allow time for your body to adapt. We did the worst thing we could have done, arrive and start hiking, allowing no time for adjustment.
- You will likely not anticipate everything when planning a trip. I thought of and tried to prepare for carrying a 35 lb pack. We had adequate water and food. We knew it could get cold and had adequate sleeping gear and clothing. We had maps and apps for all segments of the trip and even alternative trails if needed. John had a satellite communicator. The one thing I never took seriously was elevation and THAT is what got me. Several people asked me about it prior to the trip but I just didn't think it would be an issue. Turns out it was THE issue!
- In spite of all that, it was a wonderful trip. Experiencing the challenging situation with John was special. I was impressed with his quiet, determined, caring and decisive spirit and attitude. This was HIS trip, one he had been planning for a long time. My problems robbed him of a dream But he rose to the occasion, made the best of it, got in a couple good day hikes to neat places and insists the trip was good for him too.
- Yosemite Valley, especially El Capitan, nestled among the amazing surrounding mountains is simply awesome. It's one of the few things one will see in ones lifetime that you simply have to pause and gaze at. Every car that entered the valley that we saw nearly ran off the road as it came to an abrupt stop, people jumped out and stared at it. Thankfully we arrived while the evening sun was lighting the top third of it in a red-orange glow. It quickly lost some of its luster but wow!
- Finally, nearly everything we saw in those Sierras was unique and striking. You simply couldn't look anywhere without wishing you could just keep looking at it! I see now why Yosemite National Park is considered world class. Everyone should see it and at least try (as we did) to experience it. It may well humble you, as it did me, but that's OK. We need to be humbled now and then by the grandeur of God's handiwork. We're so much about ourselves it's good to stand among things that are totally beyond us. It's good to feel small in the midst of greatness. And those mountains certainly make you feel small, yet blessed. After all, God made them for us, to let us see just how awesome he is, since he made them! And to think that he cares about us.... Thank you, God! You truly are THE God of Wonders!
2019-08-29 Another major concern is conditioning. One has to somehow have enough strength and endurance to do it. And though I do walk a fair bit, I don't do it very religiously or with much vigor. But when On August 8th I told my son John I was "in" for this trip, that began to change. Since then I've walked with purpose at first, then hiked and finally backpacked 43 miles. The last week I've carried a 30 lb pack every day for three miles or more up and down every hill I can find in our area! Next week I may do an 8 mile trail at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area just a few miles from our house. We'll see. My 74 year old frame isn't protesting too loudly!
2019-08-26 Food. A major concern for any extended trip. I just finished putting together four packets of what we have come to call "gruel", a breakfast mixture of oatmeal, chia seeds, oat bran, powdered whole milk, cinnamon and dried fruit. They are tasty, light weight and seem to give sustained energy. I also assembled three packets of Santa Fe Cheesy Beans and Rice another favorite for us. And I ordered three Texas State Fair Chile packets from Packit Gourmet along with two packets of their Dottie's Chicken and Dumplings and one Texas Mesquite Chicken Salad. That's a start!
The Cheesy Beans and Rice are generally made with hot water. But the other day I decided to make up some and let it soak in room temperature water for a few hours. It actually was pretty good. I think the same would be true for the breakfast gruel also. So should one have a problem heating water, there are options. If you package these in individual zip-lock freezer bags you can rehydreate and eat them right from the bag saving washing up.
2019-08-26 Yesterday afternoon I loaded my backpack to 25 lbs including two liters of water and a couple snacks and went out to the Richard Bong State Recreational Area just a few miles from where we live and did the Yellow Loop trail, 4.1 miles. It was a beautiful afternoon with clear skies and puffy clouds. Being a Sunday I met three groups of folks walking or bicycling on the trail. Saw one snake, one rabbit, a couple toads, a blue heron a half dozen Great White Heron and some mosquitoes. Wild flowers are everywhere. There were a few mud puddles on the trail but was able to navigate all of them without a problem. This was a continuation of my preparation for the High Sierra Camp Loop Trail John and I are planning to do September 17-24. So far I've walked or hiked 40 miles this month, about 1/3 of those with a loaded pack. I'm feeling pretty good about how the training is going. Too bad our elevations here are less than 1000 feet since about 7000 feet will be our lowest elevation on the trip!
2019-08-24 My son John and I are planning to do the 45 mile High Sierra Camp Loop Trail in September. We've bought our airline tickets and reserved a rental car and have the permit to do the trip in Yosemite National Park.
Lots of planning to do in order for this to happen but here we go! A couple concerns I have personally are,
1) The physical strength and endurance to actually do it. I'll be 75 in October, less than a month after the trip is completed. I've done a number of pretty major trips with John over the past several years but somehow this one seems the mos aggressive.
2) Weather. From the books I've read Fall is not a bad time to go there and may be the best time. But weather in those mountains is unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Temperatures on average are in the 70s & 80s in the day and 30s & 40s at night. And since things are unpredictable one author said to always end the day and camp on the descending side rather than the ascending side of peaks and ridges in case of snow!
And I guess that leads to a third concern, clothing. You want and need to keep pack weight to a reasonable minimum but you also need to be prepared for whatever happens. Those two things seem impossible! But lots of people do this so clearly is is NOT impossible.