Two Days in the Wild – Part One

2 June 2014 in Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

The rain came blowing in yesterday and washed away all of the dust and the dirt as well as all of our hopes of spending two days in the backcountry. We made the best of it with overindulgence – a big breakfast, a late lunch at the Mexican restaurant in Groveland. But today we had our sights set on the Ten Lakes loop and there was not a cloud in the sky to stop us.

This was our first backpacking trip of season—with many more to come. We had our wilderness permit and our bear canister, along with every other necessity strapped on our backs and we were ready to roll. I had done the first portion of this trail as a day hike just last week and so I was familiar with the terrain as we strolled up short inclines, along rock laden passes and wound our way through short stretches of forest. Surprisingly our 20-30 pound packs hadn’t reduced our standard pace much and soon we crossed the vast meadow I knew foreshadowed a steep and unrelenting incline.

We stopped for a quick break and a granola bar before proceeding skyward along the short and precipitous trail. Initially our packs were tolerable, but this incline provided a effective reminder of the weight we had “gained”. Our knees and our thighs were engulfed in flames with each step and the sweat dripped down our brows. The first time I made this ascension I thought it was much longer, but thankfully this time it seemed to let up sooner than I had anticipated.

Rounding the crest and now atop a long, flat and vacant plateau the mountain range to the north began to rise slowly over the horizon. Dipping ever so slightly the whole of this massive range was soon revealed. Pinnacles of rock stood as they had for millions of years, still and imposing. Their size and distance so overwhelming and unreachable that they could have been a painted backdrop leftover from some old movie set.

Departing from the trail we took a spur trail I had discovered on my first trip and soon we were perched upon a small, elevated mound of crumbling rock. To our right were four of the Ten Lakes and to our left was the bottomless gash that dove infinitely down below the previously mentioned mountain range. The Tuolumne River spent more time than could possibly be imagined cutting through these mountains and forming a canyon truly worthy of the title “Grand”—and we should know we lived at the Grand Canyon for a couple months. Even though our perch only revealed a small section of the canyon it was certainly impressive.

We waffled and waited up here for a long while. It was too early to eat lunch, but we wanted to take a good, long break here. We also wanted to have a good number of miles behind us before we called it a day. So after much deliberation—most of which was only an excuse to hang around—we continued down the trail to the basin of Ten Lakes. Once we were in the basin it’s easy to get turned around. The lakes are situated short distances apart, but far enough where you can’t see one from the other. So in the thick forest four lakes were hidden and the secret passageways were the small streams that linked them all together—except one.

The trail leads to the link between two lakes and so we followed that north to one of the lakes. It was a peaceful and tranquil place to eat our sandwiches and entertainment was provided by a pair of rambunctious marmots who were scurrying about just across the way. Just off shore was a small cluster of islands that I deeply wanted to swim out to, but after testing the waters I thought them too cold.

After lunch our goal was to find the lake located furthest north. It was the only one of four I had not visited on my initial venture. A small and faint footpath led us to the side of a bald hump of granite. Here the trail disappeared, but we knew we needed to go up and so up we went, making careful notes of any peculiar landmarks so that we might find our way back. As we rounded the top another pristine alpine lake was revealed and we were once again, as always in awe of the beautiful scenery around us and how fortunate we were to be able to explore it.

But the trail called, and the miles to the camping area we wished to reach weren’t getting any fewer. So we hiked back past the lake we had eaten lunch at and threaded between two lakes in the general direction in which our map was directing us. Then we lost the trail. We had somehow ended up on a trail to nowhere. It was faint and fleeting, but it was there. It was also not the right path and led us to a dead end.

And so we reexamined the map and found our way back to the proper trail. This led us through some small tracts rich with lush green grasses and then up a series of winding passes. Then we wandered along side a ridge of rock and later passed the last lake associated with Ten Lakes. We were still a long haul from where we wanted to be, but we had know idea at the time.

The next span of trail sent us down more perilous switchbacks than we could count. We could see a flat valley of green grass below with a snake of a stream, but it seemed impossibly far away. The distance really seemed like more than we could overcome and the trail reinforced this belief with long, hard stretches of loose, unforgiving rock. Of course my knee began to act up and so each step down triggered a small burst of pain. But the sun beat down and the promise of flatter ground was at least gradually approaching. There was certainly nowhere to camp along this slope and so we had no choice.

As we approached the bottom of the valley our spirits were high. It was around this area that we had hopes of camping. But we also had hopes of a beautiful view for sunset and sunrise. Down, deep in this valley we were surrounded by trees and had only partial views of the mountains immediately across the meadow. We were exhausted and we had come all this way to find the perfect campsite, to settle for anything less seemed to be acknowledging that the last stretch of hard fought miles between the Ten Lakes Basin and where we stood was all for nothing.

We took another break and mulled things over. We treated some water to replenish our supply and ate a snack. And then we decided to pony up and continue on. From what we could gather from our map we were close a section of trail that would carry us back up and out of this valley to higher view points. We just had to follow the river for a little ways and then we’d begin yet another set of punishing, innumerable switchbacks.

We shadowed the river for longer than we had anticipated. I think by then it was our impatience that extended the trail. Our tired bodies were begging for rest and would not be silenced. Each step was increasingly labor intensive and required as much physical exertion as it did mental. After perhaps a mile or so I was eagerly surveying the landscape for a suitably flat area to set up camp, but there was nothing. The side of this mountain was steep, much like the side we had descended into the valley on, and this side was even less conducive to camping with massive boulders and burly trees scattered about a 45 degree incline.

So we slogged on. And on. And on. And on. And on. I kept rechecking the map aiming to find salvation, but the tiny scale furnished little substantial proof it’s existence and just left me guessing as to how many more switchbacks we had to go. But then something popped out at me. A long, fairly straight line dotted it’s way across the map. A line that had to represent the long stretch of fairly straight trail we were currently upon. This would lead us to the rim and to views of the range set across the canyon, I was sure of it.

My steps hurried leaving Lindsay in the dust, but I always stopped and kept her within reasonable sight. And then my joy was crushed. The trail did lead to the rim, but the only viable campsite at the end of this rainbow was a tiny patch of flat space set perilously close to the edge. It was not ideal to say the least and so I let Lindsay catch up and once again we weighed our options.

Another set of seemingly endless switchbacks loomed above us and below us only a lot of back tracking. At our immediate side was the least suitable site, but a wonderful view. We continued on.

And finally we had a little luck, just a short distance up. It was not perfect, had we stood on fresh legs, but in our tired state it was the best site in the whole park. It was just off the trail, contained a large flat area with rock walls on either side, and best of all a magnificent view of the mountains and the canyon below.

Our bags were immediately dropped and dinner was started. It was almost seven and we had began our hike at eight in the morning. With only a few short breaks amounting to less than an hour we had been hiking pretty much none stop for ten hours. The fuel in our bellies had run out and we were in desperate need of a refill. Boxed veggie soup supplemented with TVP and dehydrated refried beans made for a hearty dinner and just to make sure our stomachs remained satiated through the evening a ramen was cooked for dessert.

While the view was wonderful, tiny pests tortured us as we cooked and ate. Ants seemed to be everywhere, crawling on our food, our clothes, everything. And mosquitos, despite our almost fully covered bodies seemed to find ways into our ears, up our noses and onto the backs of our necks. There was not a peaceful moment to be had that wasn’t annoyingly interrupted by one insect or the other. It became intolerable and we were prematurely forced into our tent.

From there we watched the sun slowly set and the warm tones of twilight transition into the cool tones of the night. Venus popped out, followed by a few other stars poking their way through the atmosphere, but then the mighty moon rose and cancelled the majority of the remaining appearances. We would eventually drift off to sleep, but the moon remained. As we awoke throughout the night it always seemed like the sun was about to rise, but it was just the intense light of the moon. It was our night light for the evening, though we were too tired to be scared of any bears of mountain lions, it provided comfort when we did awake and look out.

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