July 9, 2018 - Day 1 - Phil, Dave, Brianna, Kevin, Brian, Brent, Drew, and Mike set out from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail. Spirits are high, legs are fresh, and all look forward to a good time in the High Sierras!
With 10 miles to cover on the first day there is no time to stop and smell the roses!
Day 2 - We enjoy a much needed rest day and are quickly rejuvenated swimming in the clear, cold waters of Thousand Island Lake. There are lots of people camped nearby and we enjoy trading stories with fellow backpackers. Their jaws drop when we tell them about our trip plans - a 60 mile cross country adventure from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley.
The usual suspects.
Happy to be back in our element.
Day 3 - The whole group hikes to the west end of 1000 Island Lake and I am reminded of Frost's famous words - "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I... I took the one less traveled by". This is the point where Kevin, Brent and I split off from the rest of the group and begin our cross-country journey across the Sierra Nevada.
Brian decides to tag along with us for a couple more miles of some of the best sierra scenery.
"The mountains are calling and I must go" - John Muir
1K Island Lake in the rear view mirror.
Looking up at North Glacier Pass - which is MUCH steeper than it looks in this picture. There is a storm coming in from the other direction and we are a bit nervous about ascending until we see a group coming down having the time of their lives - sliding, dancing, hooting and hollering... descending in the most carefree manner imaginable.
Old man selfie on top of the pass
And then the going gets tough. Really tough. There is no trail here. You just have to figure out a way through.
We make camp at Lake Catherine. The rugged beauty is awe inspiring and spirits soar; but the terrain takes a tole on the body and I'm not sure I will be able to make it all the way to Yosemite.
Day 4 begins with significantly easier walking, and grand views of Stevenson Canyon; but, navigation becomes much harder as we look for a way around impassable cliffs and waterfalls.
Doing a map-check.
The way forward. Rugged country. Rugged and beautiful.
This waterfull is especially lovely. It is not only beautiful to behold, but really easy to navigate around - unlike the rest of the waterfalls in this canyon which are nearly impassable.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul" - John Muir
"Not all those who wander are lost" - Unknown
It is mid afternoon when we arrive at a serene, comfortable campsite and decide to stop short of our initial goal of Twin Island Lakes. This proves to be an excellent decision as the rain starts soon after we setup camp and doesn't let up until somewhere around midnight.
We start out day 5 by passing near the end of a 16 mile long trail that comes up from Stevenson Canyon. If someone gets seriously injured in the next few days and we need assistance, this trail is where we will go to find help; so we spend a while studying the valley and looking for the trail now so we won't have to find it later under duress.
After hours of rock scrambling down the steep rocky cliffs behind us it is relatively luxurious just to stand on a patch of dirt.
"This morning I was born again, my past is dead and gone. This great eternal moment is my great eternal dawn. Each drop of blood within me, each breath of life I breathe... Is united with these mountains and the mountains with the seas" - Woody Guthrie
A midday celebrations after conquering a major descent, wading through a lake to get past a section of impassable cliffs, and then crossing a waste deep river to get to South Twin Island Lake. Behind us is a spectacular view back towards the waterfalls and steep mountain faces we've navigated over the past few days.
"And the Earth becomes my Throne. I adapt to the Unknown. Under wandering Stars I've grown" - Hetfield/Ulrich
"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart." - Chief Tecumseh
"You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'" - Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut
South Twin Island Lake. I'm not even going to try and come up with the words...
Heading north into a storm...
The view to the south...
One last picture before the storm dumps 3 inches of hail on our impromtu and hastily pitched camp as we are curled up snug in our bags while the lightning and thunder lectures us on our foolish temerity.
Hello, Day 6.... we love you!
If you lost a really nice Gerber knife here, let us know. We found it!
It's lunchtime and the thunderheads are signaling rain as we approach another long stretch of steep, unstable talus.
Our first glimpse of Bench Canyon - the crown jewel of this trip.
We are all anxious to get moving in hopes that we will get down off the exposed mountainside before the rain and lightning cut loose!
Putting it in four-low and hitting the gas.
Hello, Bench Canyon!
The thunder and lighting have us racing to setup the tent; but, the weather passes quickly and we enjoy an afternoon of napping in the shade and swimming in crystal clear pools with glacier polished granite bottoms.
Day 7 is a much needed respite as we stroll effortlessly up the gently sloping meadows of Bench Canyon.
"All good things are wild, and free" - Henry David Thoreau
"I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news" - John Muir
I like this picture. Its pretty. Sadly, it can do little to convey the magical sensation of actually being there.
Am I my brother's keeper?
Blue Lake is our favorite campspot. The Minarets tower in the distance. Hard to believe that our trip started on the other side of that jagged mountain range.
Houston, we have lift off.
50 years old
20 years old
Baptized in the name of water, earth, and sky.
Day 8 - Scrambling up Blue Lake Pass is challenging, but the view from the top is spectacular.
Knowing that we are on top of the final major obstacle of our adventure has us all in high spirits, but the descent down the other side is no fun at all.
The talus is so steep and loose that it feels like one wrong move could bring the whole mountain down on top of you. In the distance we see smoke filing up Yosemite Valley.
But for now... we are on top of the world!
High on life!
"This morning I was born again, I was born again complete. I stood up above my troubles and I stand on my two feet. My hand it feels unlimited, my body feels like the sky. I feel at home in the universe where yonder planets fly" - Woody Guthrie
By the end of the day the smoke has overflowed Yosemite Valley and covered us as well. Going to sleep with the taste of smoke in our mouth we wonder about the fire... How close is it to the valley? Will it impact our plans to exit through the valley? We have no way of knowing and can only press on.
Day 9 - We wake up to blue, smoke-free skies and set off in search of something we have not seen in 6 days - A TRAIL!!!
We clear the last navigational hurdle, pick up our first sign of civilization (some trash), and meet up with Isberg Pass Trail.
We are awed by Yosemite's massive slabs of glacier polished granite, its spectacular waterfalls, and its beautiful groves of whispering pine.
Day 10 (Part 1) The day begins with us hitting the trail before sunrise and hiking 6 miles under clear skies to the most perfect swimming hole ever! We spend several hours swimming, napping, and eating lunch. By the time we hit the trail again we are practically bursting with energy and enthusiasm! We are nearing the end of the trip! The thought of hot greasy food and cold sugary drinks is mesmerizing! Nothing can stop us now!
After lunch we hit the trail and crank out another 10 miles. The smoke is thicker than anything we have ever experienced.
The trail winds through a dead forest of blackened trees from a fire that burned through Little Yosemite Valley years ago.
Normally one would expect to see multiple mule trains and 100+ people on this section of trail. Today, because of the smoke, it is deserted. Spooky.
By the time we make it to camp we are exhausted beyond words.
Too tired to eat.
Too tired to think.
Unable to take another step.
Day 11 - Sorely overused muscles and tired feet are no match for the lure of hot showers and greasy food. We wolf down one last freeze-dried breakfast, take a quick dunk in the Merced River and hit the Mist Trail for the short walk down into the relative civilization of Yosemite Valley.
We pose for a picture after opting for the easy route and simply going over the falls rather than hiking down the steep granite staircase that is the mist trail.
We buy fresh shirts and deodorant at the store... grab a hot shower... then proceed to demolish 3 pizzas with gusto - a great ending to an adventure that will not be forgotten.