Redemption

I made a second attempt to hike the Ansel Adams wilderness with my photography buddies. (First attempt entry: http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/06/07/backed-out-in-the-outback/). Wow! What a difference a month makes.

Since my abortive first backpack to the Ansel Adams wilderness in early June, attempts are being made to reopen the backcountry, the state, and the country. A month ago, the 3.5-mile road to the trailhead was closed and its parking lot empty. This time, arriving at 7 on Thursday morning in July, we barely scored parking spots for our cars at the packed Agnes Meadows trailhead parking lot.

I for one am glad I didn’t have to hike the 1000 foot elevation gain over the 3.5-mile at 9000-foot elevation road a second time but this time with my forty-pound pack. I had renewed appreciation for the June hike up the road as I was driving my car trying to squeeze by others on the narrow winding street. Since I only day hiked the trail on the first outing leaving my friends to their backpacking adventure, I trekked up the empty road by myself on the way out stopping in the middle of the pavement at my leisure to take pictures of wildflowers, wildlife, and scenery or simply just catch my breath. Not one car or bus.

This time, on the drive out, the line to get on the road at the pay booth entrance near Minaret Overlook was a mile long. I do not think I exaggerate the distance. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get outside in the wilderness on a beautiful 4th of July day, but that long of a wait and only to discover that you might not be able to park anyway would just suck the joy out of the experience.

On the first trip, I was able to get a hotel room, but restaurants only offered carryout or drive-through service. Bars and basically anything with a hint of a gathering was closed. This time, the hotel didn’t offer breakfast or coffee and the amenities were handed to me in a plastic bag when I checked in. The restaurants and even bars are open again under the weird rule that I’m only mildly comfortable with, you don’t have to wear a mask at your table but you have to wear it everywhere else. Of course, it’s the same everywhere in California. Outside is better than inside. Open is better closed. Distance is better than closeness. If you have to be indoors, good air circulation preferably with filtering would seem to be the option of last resort. It seems oddly weird to watch people sit indoors with a bunch of other people in the midst of the pandemic while hikers pull their masks up over their noses as you pass on the trail.

Ewok

The forecast for this trip was abundant sunshine with overnight lows in the upper 30s and lower 40s. So, sans the threat of daytime rain and overnight temperatures in the teens, I ventured into the wilderness with my forty-pound backpack, which is eight pounds more than the recommended maximum of 20% of body weight. I could have gone a little bit lighter on the clothes but not much. When I packed for this trip, I ditched my rain jacket for an emergency poncho knowing the forecast for intense sunlight, so I saved weight there. I don’t own a lightweight jacket so I compensated by carrying a couple of long-sleeve shirts. I could possibly lose a little weight there. I definitely should have left the crampons behind since we never had to negotiate any ice packs. I took two camera bodies instead of one so I didn’t have to change lenses every time I shifted from a closeup to a scenery shot. The camera body is light, the wide-angle and telephoto lenses are heavy. I took a lightweight fold-out chair which was really nice to have but not necessary. Camera equipment is heavy but when your mission is to take the best possible pictures, good equipment is not something you want to leave behind. I should have carried a first-aid kit, but didn’t. I really liked having my life straw, a water bottle with a built-in filter that I used to fill up at a stream whenever I needed to instead of stopping to put together a filtration unit. If there is a next time, I will work harder to get the weight down.

The things that worry me the most are not the expected problems of high altitude and fatigue but the structural pains such as a sharp pain in the knee and excessive hip pain especially on the downhills under the straining weight of the pack. But all-in-all, this old body protested but did not crumble.

For the record, the trip was three days and two nights long. We hiked ten miles to Thousand Islands Lake on the Riverside Trail doing some back and forth once we arrived to pile on extra mileage. We hiked two-plus miles to Garnet lake reaching the highest elevation of 10,400 feet. Both lakes are at 9,800 feet in elevation. And then the seven-plus miles back to Agnes Meadows.

Garnet Lake under Full Moon

On the success of the mission from a photographic point of view, I will leave that to your judgment. We didn’t get any clouds, which as long as they don’t obscure the subject matter of interest, add significantly to the drama of the composition. We didn’t time the night pictures very well. If we had woken up at three-thirty instead of two-thirty, we might have had a full moon over the mountain and its reflection in the water. Then again, the incredible glow of the full moon presents all kinds of challenges for night photography. For one, it rules out capturing the Milky Way as a backdrop to the mountains. All-in-all, I’m very happy with my pics, at least until I see the other guys. The fun thing about traveling with a purpose, in this case attempting to take great photos of incredibly scenic backcountry, is that you end doing odd things that you wouldn’t otherwise do, like get up at two-thirty in the morning for shots of the night sky and then again at five to take pictures of the mountains in the sunrise. Or walking up and down the same shoreline over and over or climbing high up on the rocks looking for that perfect composition. It’s great traveling with experts because they have a great sense of composition and great command of the technology. If they allow it, I will share their links here.

GoldenStar

On the success of the mission from a nature point of view, I would claim a resounding victory. You can find beauty and intrigue in the large and the small and everything in between. Aside from the mosquitos, which can be a complete nightmare if you don’t bring repellent and even some mesh, the beauty of the water and the mountains is amazing and a picture can only begin to give you the feel of the immensity. The wildflowers are in full display. Mountain wildflowers tend to be smaller than their lower elevation equivalents. You have to look harder, but if you take the time to look, they are everywhere and of surprising variety. The insects are also everywhere too busy flitting from flower to flower and buzzing about doing whatever it is that they do. Be sure to check out the proboscis on that fly/bee insect in the photo. I was lucky enough to get a shot of one at work on the long narrow tubes of purplish flower. Regrettably, the one interesting mushroom I found growing under a pine tree, which resembled a hot-cross bun, didn’t turn out.

On the success of the mission from a spiritual point of view, perhaps the most important aspect of the trip, three days really isn’t long enough to truly disconnect but only to feel a vague uneasiness that those things, coffee, alcohol, and connection to people and news, aren’t there and to notice that your world goes on even inside your little nature bubble. Or is the bubble the other way around? I did leave a little something of myself behind, buried under a couple of inches of dirt and covered with rocks. Hey. Don’t laugh. Making do without modern amenities is part of the spiritual experience.

I don’t know on what other criteria you would judge a trip, but I would judge it a success. The thing that made me go back to Ansel Adams was my abortive first attempt. The things that will keep me going back is the wind whistling through the pines, a curious yet afraid marmot, and the raw beauty of a peak towering glacier-covered three-thousand feet beyond a lake full of jumping trout. The thing that will keep me from going back is the body. I’m not sure it’s up to it anymore.

Here are the pics. I hope you enjoy them. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1jCExUnmEMIIQO2Wz47l2KiZGCYReKc3P?usp=sharing

Backed Out in the Outback

Okay. I have to come clean. I read the weather report of rain followed by overnight temps in the teens. Although I could hear the call of nature, it was the anticipation of the call of nature four times in the middle of the night in subfreezing weather that told me to wait until next time to take spectacular sun-on-the-peak in the reflection-of-the-lake pictures. A man has got to know his limitations, run his own race, stay within himself, ride his own ride, hike his own hike. I still went on the trip but elected to do day hikes instead. I hiked in with the group I intended to backpack with but turned around about six miles into the trip and hiked out by myself. I spent the next day doing hikes in the Bristlecone Pine forest.

The world is opening up again but there are still many concessions to COVID. If you travel, make sure you bring your mask or you won’t be allowed in. To anything. I’m sure in a pinch, you could wrap a bandana or scarf or something around your face, but if you anticipate needing any service or any interaction with anyone indoors, bring your mask. If you are worried about the disease itself, bring hand sanitizer. Some places have it and some places don’t. I will let you know in a week or so if I managed to escape.

The biggest concession on the hike was the closure of the road to vehicles. We had to walk 3.5 miles just to get to the trailhead. And then I had to walk the 3.5 miles out. For me, that meant over half of my hike was walking the road from the parking lot to the trailhead. More on that later though. All the visitor centers are closed. So don’t expect any support. I imagine this will change in the next week or two.

The other big concern was conditioning, or more accurately, lack of it. Today, walking is painful, my calves are completely worked. Judging by when it hurts the most, I think it’s the downhill more than the uphill that worked them the most. Surprisingly, my wind and my heart rate felt pretty good even on the eleven thousand foot hikes in the Bristlecone Forest. My feet held up and my back was fine, despite problems during my few training hikes (Daley Ranch, http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/24/stanley-peak/ Daley Ranch 2 http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/28/daley-ranch-addendum/ , and Daley Ranch 3 http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/31/daley-ranch-3/). I think basketball must have been sufficient training in the past because I didn’t have this problem on previous hikes but not playing is another concession to COVID.

On the first day, I hiked Shadow Creek about halfway before turning back. I did the easy half, descending from 9250 ft elevation at the parking lot, to about 8400 feet along the river, with my friends. But then I had to come back. So I did about twelve miles total and close to a thousand-foot elevation gain, though most of it was on the road. The road back by myself on this hike compared to the trip I took two years ago is a study in contrasts. Two years ago, I stood on a packed bus that weaved in and out of heavy traffic for the slow ride to the trailhead. Instead of squeaking brakes and exhaust, I had the road entirely to myself. I could hear birds chirping, water running, wind whistling through the trees, and smell perfumed plants. Several times, I stopped on the road to take pictures of the Minarets in the distance. A couple of scooters scooted by. Two guys on electric bicycles went flying past. Their batteries died on the uphill and I ended up catching up to them pushing their bikes complaining about technology. But that was it.

On the second day, I drove to Bristlecone Forest. The Bristlecone Forest is on the other side of Owen Valley. It’s about an hour’s drive from Bishop to the visitor center at Schulman Grove. The gates were open but the visitor center was closed. I did the four-mile loop trail through the grove. It’s well-marked with mile markers, has strategically placed benches, and a self-guided tour but no brochures or maps stocked to tell you what they want you to see.

Trees dot the distant hills seemingly spaced like a planned forest without any undergrowth. The wildflowers that do grow are all miniaturized. In addition to their incredible longevity, Bristlecones have an amazing range of deep colors from tan to red to brown, twisted wood particularly as they age, and haunting shapes.

I drove the eleven miles of unpaved road to Patriarch Grove over the eleven thousand foot mark. There are a couple of steep grades, at least from the point of view of a Prius C. The road is well-graded with only the occasional washboard. The last mile is a single-vehicle rough but not uneven road. I had to slow down to the five to ten mph range to get through that stretch without rattling pieces of the car off onto the road.

There are two short loop trails. One through the grove about a quarter-mile long and the other to an overlook, about a half-mile. Given the time of year and lack of atmosphere at that altitude, you might be worried about sunburn. But with temperatures in the mid-forties and gusty wind, I didn’t have any skin exposed to burn. The grove is right at the tree line. At eleven thousand feet, there is not much growing. It’s easy to see why the bald mountain is called White Mountain.

The views from the White Mountains are incredible. To the west, you can see hundreds of miles of the Eastern Sierras. To the east, the entire Great Basin unfolds out as far as you can see, including views of salt flats and sand dunes in Death Valley. It’s a big sky country that a camera can only begin to catch. That’s my way of telling you, you should go see it for yourself.

Here are the pics, hope you enjoy.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1PgheqcV0EEZjbd72dfnPwS_luhshkaI0?usp=sharing