Thursday, June 29, 2006

Boulevard of Broken Knees

Yosemite Tramp, Chapter 4

Hiking back down the Yosemite Falls trail was painful. They had built all of these fake steps, as Jen called them, in to the steep switch backs. Going up, oddly enough, one doesn't notice them. The steps are wide enough, perfect for digging one's toes. On the way down, this is a different story.

You see, for most people, down steps need to be taken using the ball of the foot. This is the part of the foot that the majority of the weight is put on during walking. Without a step wide enough, balance is very difficult, requiring more attention to where the foot is placed. It's slow work and we had at least a mile of it.

I was quite pissed off at the trail.

I had less of a reason to be pissed at the trail than Jen. She blew her knee out. Fortunately for me, I did not see the actual moment of knee blowing. I don't really handle see friends pain that well, female friends in particular. I try to be as helpful as possible, but seeing any one on the verge (or actually over the verge[1]) really puts me on the verge of sobbing like a little girl.

Yep, I'm a big old softie[2]. Not the kind of softie that I'll describe in a minute, mind you. I hope I am never described in that fashion.

The best solution to that is really just send Rob and I ahead at our own pace. We made it down to the bottom pretty quickly, dropped our packs, took a drink of water, and headed back up. I'm really proud of Rob, actually. Even after some pretty long days of hiking, he still can be a gentleman.

We met back up with Liza and Jen after about fifteen switch-backs. In what took a little convincing, I was able to verbally wrestle away Liza's pack[3], while Rob took Jen's (I don't think there was a lot of arm twisting there).

We made it back down after the first of two treks into the wilderness a little bruised and broken, but otherwise in good shape.

We had a bit of a run-around after that, riding the shuttles around the park. This allowed for some interesting observations of life for the valley visitors. It was soft and I mean soft. They had hotels, shuttles (who needs walking?), restaurants and bars. We had, well, the stuff in our packs. There were so few backpackers riding around on those shuttles that we became an oddity, another attraction for the softies to photograph. I'm still surprised we never heard the statement "get my picture while stand next to them." Probably due to the smell.

The advantage to this was that the have Fat Tire on tap at the bar. This is one of my all-time favorite beers, and I only ever seem to get it when I'm on a hiking trip. It would be great if they would distribute here in the Midwest, but then it might lose it's specialness. It's become a little gift, a reward for hard work and too much mileage.

Ah, a tasty reward.

[1] What the hell is the "verge" anyway? How does some get on the edge of it. It seems like people hang out on the verge all the time, so is it really wide? Another piece of evidence that it's a really big place is that there are a lot of people on the verge of things: a breakthrough, a breakdown, madness, happiness. Maybe they just like hanging out there, like "he's on the verge, man."

The Verge must be a pretty cool place.

[2] Softie, /'sof-tE/, Etymology: 1soft.
1. a person who enjoys all the comforts of home, while surrounded by amazing natural beauty, which is meant to be explored and enjoyed through hard hikes, whilst carrying everything needed on one's back.
2. a softhearted or sentimental person

I fall under the second definition.

[3] In a fair, physical fight, I might put my money on Liza. The woman hikes on twelve Advil. She's a veritable pharmacopoeia.

[Note] Strangely enough, I didn't really take any pictures on this day. Probably due to the fact that we were climbing back down the same trail we took to get to the top in the first place.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

El Cap Nap

Yosemite Tramp, chapter 3

The Road to El Capitan
The brilliant part of backcountry camping is waking up to the sunrise and feeling like the only people on the mountain. We woke to the sounds of the river rushing below our campsite. The air was fresh, crisp and cold. Damn cold. Icy cold.

Yet another night of freezing my ass off.

I spent my previous backcountry hiking experience freezing nightly, to the point of breaking out the emergency blanket so I could sleep. While I slept soundly, my traveling companions were more annoyed by the crinkle sound the blanket material makes whenever there is the subtlest movement. This year, I decided to go a different route: bring things designed for colder weather.

The whole of the trip a learning process of how to sleep in the cold, while still being able to carry ultra-light equipment. On the first night in the brush, I used a silk liner sheet, and wore a stocking cap. Still, I kept waking up every fifteen minutes or so. My feet were cold. Lesson learned: wear socks.

We had decided the previous evening to do the ten mile hike to El Capitan, as a day hike, instead of hiking to North Dome, which would have been a ten mile hike with full packs. After the hard hike the previous day, we decided that a day hike would be preferable. Besides, we really liked our little campsite.

High Meadow
We hit the trail after the usual camp breakfast of instant oatmeal. The trail itself was relatively easy with pretty minimal elevation gain[1]. We passed by snow pack, and flooded meadows. We were all still tired from the previous day, but the excitement of being in the backcountry - again, as if we were the only people there - speared us on.

We stopped off for a hike up one of the peaks along the way. Here I made the mistake of climbing around the outside of the peak, dangling myself above a long drop down the face of the mountain. It made for a great photo op, though. Liza and Jen stayed behind at the fork in the trail, only to get tired of Rob and my childish need to climb up everything. At least they left a note, made out of pine needles[2].

We found the top of El Cap in only a few hours. The top wasn't really much to see. It was a long, rocky slope with few trees and little else. We did find a very nice little wind shelter, built around a small tree, that had been put together by some previous camper. We sat in the shade of it's tree and napped for a while.

The hike back was uneventful, simply passing back along the same trail. We spent another evening pleasantly exhausted, enjoying yellow curry and cheesy rice, with cashews, a nip of Scotch, and a few games of cribbage.

[1] Only 800 feet. This didn't really seem like much after the 2700 from the previous day.

[2] Somehow, that seems very
Hansel and Grettel to me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Up the Falls

Yosemite Tramp, chapter 2

We woke up early in the morning to find that we didn't need to worry at all about rangers. The patrol rate of the rangers seemed pretty minimal in Yosemite. Glacier National park was crawling with them. They were almost as plentiful as the deer, and about as intrusive.

We needed to head over to the Wilderness Center to grab our permit and bear boxes. It seemed a bit odd that one has to hike in the backcountry with a personal bear box. These box turned out to be small canisters, with clever locking mechanisms, a little larger than a paint can. We needed two of them to cover our supplies for the first two nights in the backcountry.

In fact, we thought we needed three. The whole group seemed to develop a problem with knowing the exact day that a trip would end. Perhaps they caught it from me. So with an extra day's dinner, as well as all the breakfasts (yep, I forgot to even sort through those), we set out to climb Yosemite Falls.

The Falls
Yosemite Falls trail is a microcosm of American terrain. It switches to and from pine forests, through desert sands, and misty trees. Each area delights the imagination, conjuring forth different persons who lay in wait just beyond trees. I half expected to see Clint Eastwood burst from the brush, with Eli Wallach close on his heels yelling "Blondie" at the top of his lungs.

The trail itself is probably one of the most difficult hike in the park. It involves hiking up nearly 2800 feet of elevation over three and a half miles. Much of this climb is done in a series of very step and very short switchbacks. How I hate the switchback.

We arrived after about six hours of climbing. We were all in pretty decent shape by the end but quite exhausted. No one was terribly interested in hiking too far from the falls. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a really nice campsite, complete with fire pit, just off of the river.

After a brief nap, we headed to the falls to enjoy a well earned meal. Dinner and a show, actually. The Air Force's show flyers seemed to be doing some practice formations over the park. With all that Californian desert, we couldn't figure out why they choose a National Park as their training area. Still, there are less interesting things to see during dinner

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Flood Waters

Flood Waters
Yosemite Tramp, Chapter One

Let me start by saying, this trip was made on a bourbon-induced whim. The decision was made with the flippancy of one who's been traveling for months, and had no qualms about finding a new destination to keep oneself out on the road.

That being said, things started out without a hitch. The flight went well, we found the hotel, and took the train down to San Jose much earlier than we had thought. The plans seemed so solid, and so perfect that I was confident that it would be a perfect trip.

Hold on, let me back up for a minute. Unlike the rest of my recent travels, this one is a bit different. It's a group trip, one planned by my Friends Rob and Liza and accompanied by her friend Jen and myself. I've hiked in the backcountry with Rob and Liza, so I know their personalities in close-quarters. Having never camped with Jen before, she was a bit of a wild card. I had no idea what to expect there. As it turned out, not a problem. Going into the trip, everything else seemed pretty well planned, and I had no thoughts that it would go otherwise.

After the strange experience of visiting a local Greek festival[1], we headed for the park packed in to a van driven by Liza's dad, David. David is an interesting driver[2]. The mountain roads wound and snaked through the southern half of the park, causing some of the passengers to go green. It was a damn fun ride: tight turns, too-close passes, and wicked accelerations. Who needs Disneyland?

We only had the option of coming into the park by the southern entrance due to a massive rock slide. This disaster closed off the Highway 140 under tens of feet of rubble. The delay easily added an extra hour onto our travel time.

Here's where the first of the minor hitches in the whole plan cropped up. First off, the ranger stations all closed at 5:30. We arrived after 7 pm. This prevented us from getting our permit, which would allow us to stay in the Backpacker's camp. So, for the first night in the park: no campsite. The trip was already starting to look a little less perfect in execution.

The second hitch was the fact that the Backpacker's camp was flooded out anyway.

The water levels in the park were very high, due to record snowfalls and rainfalls this Winter and Spring. Many of the walking trails near rivers were flood over with at least eighteen inches of water. This causes some serious routing problems for people who plan to travel about by foot.

With no one wanting to ford a stream, in the dark, with packs, we made the decision to abandon any attempt. Luckily, we were able to find an unused spot in the reservation campground nearby. We only had to hope that we wouldn't run into any rangers before morning.

[1] This was a little fund-raising festival for a local Greek Orthodox church. Damn good Gyros.

[2] I.e. nuts.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Into an Hour-Glass


Oh, poor little blog. Neglected, lost, alone, wanting of updates, and information. My time for you is now limited, stolen away by that great sink hole named Work.

What have I signed myself up for?

It's day three of the new job. I'm still not sure how I feel about being back in the saddle. Partly due to the fact that I haven't really had a full night of sleep until last night. I flew the red-eye back from San Francisco, which denied me of a much needed nights sleep between hiking in Yosemite[1] and the start of a new job.

This lack of sleep and lack of time has really impacted my time for writing. I've started place a lot of importance on this. Heck, I'm on my lunch break at this very moment. The writing has to be crammed in to the day somehow. This leaves me wondering: how will I continue this in the future? Where will it fit into my life? When and where will I find the time to fill the need, and will the need remain with all the other concerns pushing it out of the way?

I had come to the conclusion that I enjoy the software business. Having just entered back into it, I'm left feeling like I've made a mistake somewhere. It needs a little time, to let the dust settle from the impact of what is, for the second time this year, a major change in my life.

On the positive side, I do feel like I have a clean slate - new job, new home, and new outlooks. I can make some changes in my daily life that would have been difficult to make before. But, more on that later.

[1] Which will be syndicated in seven parts, entiled Yosemite Tramp, or How to Lose Feet, Knees, and Avoid Bears with Neither.

Forthcoming from VT Publishing, Ltd.