After a hearty breakfast at the Tuolumne Meadows grill, we headed south on the Pacific Crest Trail. I led out, and my heart was bursting with expectation. It’s always like that for me in the morning on the trail and especially the first day of an excursion into new territory with people I hardly know. I was so excited I felt like my feet were barely touching the gorgeous granite slabs that we hiked on.
“Legs”, the geologist, gave us an impromptu lecture on the forces that create such beauty. She is passionate about geology and hearing her talk made the rocks go from hard inanimate objects to something almost alive. When I look at rocks now I often see time and energy flash before my eyes like a moving picture show and I think of the easy friendship she and I developed on the hike.
The water embraced us vigorously with icy cold hands. I think we all gave a little gasp of surprise. Naked Dave (who wasn’t naked) was the first to venture behind and through the water falls. His head went under for a bit, but it all worked out and soon others in the group followed his example. We fished here too and I caught a nice rainbow trout on a gold spinner. The camp itself was my idea of what east coast summer camps might have been like, with its many well-heeled tourists.
Early the next morning we were anxious to leave Glen Aulin and the crowds behind. (While the crowds did thin, there was a pretty steady stream of hikers going north.) We had about 8 miles to hike before coming to the next reliable water. The group split up. Which ended up being our pattern for most of the hike. It was just easier for everyone to hike at their own pace and meet midday and at camp.
The hike itself began very flat with a long walk up cold canyon. At the top of the canyon we came to a lovely forest of red pines. We also officially met Trevor and Jackie from Australia. We had seen them the day before, but only in passing. This day we exchanged names and I wondered about their occupations. Jackie and Trevor roughly had the same hiking plan as ours, so they unofficially became part of our gang too. Lovely, interesting couple who stopped with us midday for a quick dip in a creek and a bite to eat. The hike after lunch became more difficult as we had to do a bit of climbing and it was hot. Mark opted to stay behind and hike with Naked Dave and Flash so for the first time in my life I backpacked alone. It was strange but nice and I kept trying to walk faster to catch the Mapster and Legs. But I never did.
Miller Lake was our camping destination and it was my favorite part of the day. I took a sublime solitary swim in its cool, not cold, water. With granite rocks on the east, sandy shore on the west I breast stroked down the lake through blue above and blue below. A wonderful ending to about 12 miles of hiking.
Little did we know what this special day would bring and how we would find ourselves in a Survivor episode or perhaps a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm. Perhaps that doe did have a message for me and I just didn’t listen.
It seemed as if we had landed in the southwest while climbing the 1600 feet up to Benson Pass. The trees were spaced well apart and there were many rocky outcroppings. I had to jog to keep up with Legs so I waited to hike with Mark and we had fun tracking Legs with her trademark Keens.
We caught up to her at beautiful Smedburg lake were she was slaying fish. Blood lay gobbed on the granite rock where she had bludgeoned the head off her first catch. She apparently couldn’t find a knife. She ended up catching a total of 3 big fish and after the whole gang came together we fried them up and ate them. Most of us swam too. You can see me way out there if you look hard. Coming out of the lake I sliced my arch on a sharp piece of granite. Luckily the Mapster/doctor was in and had it steri-stripped in no time. It was late afternoon, and Flash was struggling with adjusting to altitude, but we decided that we needed to get further along the trail to be able to make Kennedy Meadows by Sunday. The Mapster and Legs left the lake first. Remember this.
Naked Dave, Flash, Mark and I began the hike together but I soon scooted ahead to try to catch up to the others. The trail began with a short section of up, but then it began a quick descent. I came to the area we had decided we were going to camp at, but Legs and Mapster weren’t there. I checked for Legs footprints and found them continuing on, so I did too.
Things were beginning to feel weird and the shadows grew long. I wondered where everyone was. Then I heard a commotion behind me and found Mark running down the steep trail to tell me that Legs and Mapster had accidentally gone off trail at the lake (AKA: Got Lost!) and I was the one everyone was trying to catch… OOPS! Apparently, someone else is also wearing size 9.5 woman’s Keens.
By this time we were well past that intended camp site and no water was available until Benson Lake , a few miles away. It got dark and we hiked on and on through what now seemed like sinister woods with boogey men or the Big Bad Wolf lurking around every corner. Legs had some whiskey along and shared. Our fortitude strengthened we made it to the lake. The beach glowed white in the moonlight and I fell backwards over a log laughing and donkey’s brayed and bells tinkled. It was surreal and fun and an epic day of hiking 15 or 16 miles.
The next morning came soon and we were treated to a beautiful view. Benson lake is aptly called the Riviera of the Sierra for its white sand beach. It was really pretty, but crowded. It is popular with the horse packers and groups. Today’s hiking felt uneventful after yesterday’s adventure. I made sure to not scoot ahead. We traveled up through fairly open terrain.After a midday break at another sparkling lake we continued over a small pass.
The canyons here are steep and the movie Jeremiah Johnson came to mind and I thought how I wouldn’t want to get caught here for the winter. This area of the Sierra is called the wash board for a reason. We passed Jackie and Trevor’s tent along an almost dry creek, but didn’t see them. First day of hiking we didn’t get to chat with them.The last bit of the day was hot and steeply up and then steeply down. I think the down felt tougher. We camped as soon as we made it to stubble-field canyon creek. A trail work camp was near us and we heard them singing Happy Birthday to Andre’. I wondered if they had cake, but was too shy and tired to go ask. I think we hiked about 11 or 12 miles this day. I didn’t keep good records of the mileage. White Lightening, a PCT hiker, who was way behind schedule, camped with us and we shared some food. The darkness came quickly in the canyon and we ate quickly and went to bed. There was a lot of noise in the night and I dreamed of wild animals and robbers. Of which there were none. It was only Legs relocating due to the snorers and the neo-air mattresses which sound like someone is wrestling midgets.
We met Andre’ the next morning and wished him a happy birthday. This photo is not him. This is Ryan from Cal Poly. He was the trail boss and enjoyed his time fixing the trails. We enjoyed their work too and made sure to thank them.
Midday had us at lovely Wilmar Lake first so I decided to go skinny dipping only to end up having other hikers go by. OOPS. My mistake. By the time the coast was clear I was a frozen Popsicle. Mark and I washed clothes with our bag method and hung them up to dry. The group arrived and we discovered that Flash had sprained his ankle. Poor guy. Legs, renamed The Trout Slayer, caught some nice ones while Mark and I got skunked.
Grace Meadow, our camping destination, had a small creek full of little fish that I taught to fly. We met up with the Mapster who had been in the lead and picked a camping spot. He had hiked a lot further looking around for the perfect sight and we appreciated his scouting. Later the others joined us and we all camped apart like a little village.
We horsed around and did photo shoots at Benson Pass. We could tell we had exited the ‘wash boards’ as the countryside was wide open. Frankly, it was a relief as the hiking up and down the canyons had been difficult.
So pretty and western postcard appropriate. I thought about the emigrants who brought their wagons and all their belongings right through here. And while these photos make the land look fairly flat there was quite a few steep ups and downs.
A rock perched prettily.Our camp for the last night on this section. We had purchased a new tent this year. A Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. We loved it for its 2 doors, ease in setting up, lightness and room for the two of us and our gear. As you can see, it even has an easy way to attach and anchor the rain fly, just in case, but sleep with the stars! It’s a keeper.
Morning came quickly and we enjoyed waking up to our favorite mountain ‘parrots’ with their strange alien sounds. Clark’s Nutcrackers are ubiquitous to the Sierra and we’ve grown fond of their loud sounds. After packing up we headed down the trail towards Kennedy Meadows with mixed emotions. It is always sad to leave the wilderness but it is also good to think about eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger.