The hike in was tough, typical for Big Sur, a lot of steep ups and downs, putting a mid winter pressure on out of shape knees as they slam down cutting through switch backs along the ridge line. Hiking was gorgeous, the fog tendrils drifting down ravines in the distance and a welcomed breeze floating by at the top of every climb. Hiking through the burned remnants of the 2008 fire at dusk was a little eerie but beautiful in it’s own right as the blazing sunset peeked around the scorched remains of some of the bigger trees now resembling totem poles.
Regardless, we arrived at Pat Springs just as the last bits flaming orange were disappearing beneath the flat line of cloud above the great Pacific. We pumped some good water from the spring and up we went to make camp in the dark and eat a well deserved dinner. Our camp was right on the front of the ridge, a little windy but would surely have a fantastic view come morning and tucked away enough to not be “so” exposed. Getting a fire going was tough and so it was foregone after dinner in favor for the warmth of our sleeping bags and the prospect of a decent nights sleep.
The wind came up in the night and as we were expecting some light rain it was no surprise when the pitter patter against our tent began and eventually soothed us both into a lasting sleep. Upon initially opening our eyes the tent sagged a little but nothing seeming too crazy at that moment, probably just the damp of Big Sur and maybe a little frost as we were up on a ridge.
Waking up a second time a bit later, the sagging seemed more pressing and so a raised hand out of the warmth of the bag and a tap against our tent walls triggered a micro avalanche; unexpected snow had fallen, and our exposed ridge and all the woods surrounding us were coated in a white snowy blanket – the dread of a cold camp breakdown was already in the air.
The wind was still howling and the snow still falling, and as we unzipped, dressed, and put our things together for the sheer sake of getting off the ridge we chuckled to each other over our misfortune and maybe with a slight edge of anxiety over the day’s hike out still ahead. Boots on, lucky to have thought of the gaiters normally left at home as well as the thin gloves and an extra layer, a pat on the back was in order but as the damp cold wind chilled our bones camp was broken down instead. With one foot in front of the other we made our way off the ridge line and into more sheltered lands for breakfast and a warm beverage.
As we sat, savoring the last of our warm oatmeal and coffee discussing the prospects for the day ahead and having a laugh periodically to break the dread of our wet and cold future, we both knew it’d be fine, but the work to get out was going to be way more than we’d bargained for this weekend.
The trials of the hike out began instantly with the thick small vegetation of the area being completely weighed down across our trail inhibiting our ability to travel fast, or dry for that matter, never mind what was still falling from the sky at that point. The first third of our day consisted of not only hiking through a half foot of snow but pushing branches and small trees covered in it out of the way and crawling under or through bushes that became snow walls; hoods up we pushed on comparing ourselves to the winter Buffalo of Yellowstone occasionally shaking the pile of snow that developed on our backpacks.
Arms sore from pushing and wet from the snow we emerged from the thickets and pressed on, up and down, getting wetter as the day went along, the snow giving way to slush which gave way to water shedding from the trees. By the time we made it out and back to our car, soaked and beaming with self satisfaction of a journey well made, we were happy to report the conditions to the ranger of Botcher’s Gap whom only gave us a barely satisfactory “well, I didn’t expect snow on the ridges last night.” Nor did we sir, nor did we.
“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong…” ~Yvon Chouinard
Saturday – Hetch Hetchy to Tiltill Creek (in Tiltill Valley) – 9.3
Sunday – Back to Hetch Hetchy – 9.3
The mark is still there from the mid 90’s, the painted-over crack and words that an environmentalist artist repelled and painted in the middle of the night on the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The words echoed John Muir, “Free the Rivers.”
It’s hard not to agree; hydroelectric power is on its way out, and wild salmon populations have been decimated by the hatchery system. Restoration seems appropriate now, seems necessary now if we want wild salmon to have a fighting chance of survival or hope to see some of our most scenic rivers run free.
There are 75,000 dams in the US alone, a third of which are over 50 years old, and 14,000 of which are considered “high-hazard,” meaning their failure could result in the loss of human life. This isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s an issue of infrastructure in disrepair and public safety. It just happens to have an environmental facet as well.
Stepping down from our soap box, we can think on this from the point of view of the future; of what our children and our children’s children are able to experience and share with their friends and families. Of what they are able to gain knowledge and experience from, and what kind of people we give them the ability to become. There is a direct correlation between our decisions today and the outdoors and America’s natural lands tomorrow, it’s time for that to be recognized.
Railroad Flat Camp to North Fork intersection – Out + Back – 5 miles
Spring engulfed the land surrounding the Merced River. Every step we took brought us to a new spread of flowers, tall grasses, and butterflies. Literally butterflies everywhere. As the warm sun cloaked our shoulders we felt lucky to be in such a place for two entire days. With not so far to go, the river and its creeks and its bursting flowers were ours for the taking. Walking, dipping, napping, collecting, eating, drinking, and singing. That’s all we needed.
All photos taken with 35mm film on a Canon AE-1, except yellow poppy photo.
Saturday – 13 miles Rainbow Falls trailhead to springs
Sunday – 13 miles back to trailhead
Thirteen miles in a day is a long distance for your legs to carry you. But when you’re walking towards something so enticing, you seem to fly! A collection of pristine hot spring tubs in the middle of the wilderness is the greatest reward a hiker can ask for. Your muscles melt into the steaming water and the miles are far, far away.
Giving yourself a gift at the end of a hard day of work can really do a lot for you, even if you’re not in the middle of the Eastern Sierras – treat yourself daily! A good meal and a beer, a stroll through town, a jump in the ocean; anything that gives you pleasure that you think you can’t squeeze into your busy day – squeeze it in. You’ll see it can go a long way, and help take your daily stresses away…
Emigrant Wilderness – Out and Back – Kennedy Meadows to Kennedy Lake
16 miles Total
Saturday – 7 miles in and creek side camp
Sunday Morning – A soggy mile out and back to Kennedy Lake
Sunday Afternoon – 7 miles out
The Emigrant Wilderness’s namesake stems from several groups of Emigrants (folks leaving one area to reside in another) that passed through this wilderness but eventually its use as a route was abandoned as the pass was too difficult and there were safer options. As we hike through fall fields walled in by sweeping granite mountainsides and side step small creeks meandering through the vibrant autumnal yellows, we can reflect on the people that made those difficult and dangerous treks through unknown lands and what that must have felt like.
The idea of leaving one’s home for another strange distant land, whether in search of wealth, opportunity, or community is baffling yet was and is commonplace. The essence of the unknown is a terrifying and at the same time enticing or exciting enterprise and so the mix of emotions that these people would have felt is mind boggling, and yet they did it; scared, unsure, nervous, and excited, they made it work and took that leap to the unknown. Their influence still holds true as there are numbers of us daily (young, motivated, inexperienced, and scared) making the decision to take the leap and see it through.