Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm getting too old for this!

Well, the much-anticipated backpacking trip has come and gone. And as I got out on the trail for the first few days I had to keep asking myself: 'did I really want to do this?' and 'what was I thinking?' and sometimes even 'am I going to make it?'

Our group consisted of Mike H. and his boys Scott and Brady; David C. and his son Mike; me and my boys Braiden and Taylor; David H. (Mike's brother-in-law from Northern California) and his son Walker; and Nick O. who grew up in the area but is now going to school in Boston. Mike H. planned the trip to start from Mineral King in Sequoia National Park. We were to hike southward into the Golden Trout Wilderness and make a westward loop back around to Mineral King. It was a good plan but things didn't go accordingly.

We arrived late Friday night and camped in the campground by some giant sequoia trees (not shown here, though). If you point a camera at Taylor he'll either look away or strike a goofy pose.

Since Nick was blessing his new baby in church on Sunday, he and Brady planned to catch up to us on Monday so 9 of us set off Saturday morning. The trailhead parking lot was really crowded so we started hiking from closer to the ranger station, which is about 7,600 ft in elevation. Our plan was to hike up over Farewell Gap (10,600 ft) and camp on the other side. And it turned out to be a grueling hike - possibly even worse than last year when we went over Big Sam in the Emigrant Wilderness (11,000 ft). I found it especially rough because I was using my brother-in-law's pack from last year, which turned out to be very ill-fitting and sat too high on my back. (I suspect the pack may be the reason he got so many blisters on his feet last year.) It's a problem because you can't take the weight off when you sit down (my pack was about 60 lbs), plus it's top-heavy and feels like you're going to topple over backward, making it hard on the shoulders. But with some help from my sons I made it and we camped just on the other side (in the Golden Trout Wilderness) at about 9,600 ft. We had travelled about 11.2 miles according to Mike's gps.

It was very windy and cold at the top of Farewell Gap, but we were sweating from the climb.

Sunday we planned a short hike so Nick and Brady wouldn't have too much distance to cover when they started the next day, but there's not much traffic on the trails (I only saw 5 other hikers all week) and they're not very well-maintained. We planned on camping at a site in the valley below called Broder's Cabin but had trouble finding the trail junction so instead we camped on a small ridge top about 2.5 miles from our previous site (elevation was about 9,100 ft). It turned out to be a great spot except water was over a half-mile away. While we were playing cards an old tree fell about 100 feet from us. You see a lot of old trees up there that have fallen, but even those who'd been backpacking for years said they'd never actually seen it happen.

Early Monday afternoon Nick and Brady caught up to us - very tired (but they're young) - and it was pretty much a lay-over day for the rest of us. Mike H. readjusted my pack on the frame and made it a little better. Several of us had developed blisters on our feet, so it was nice to have some rest.

Although I spent most of the time watching the ground in front of my feet, there were lots of beautiful wildflowers.

Tuesday morning we set off hoping to make it as far as Parole Creek, but the trails weren't very clear and we took a couple of wrong turns. By the time we stopped short of our destination a few miles west of Lion Meadows we'd gone 13.6 miles and were very tired. The blister on the bottom of my right foot had grown to about 1.25" by 1" and was pretty painful.

There was no crossing over the river so we had to make our own.

Wednesday we had planned to go as far as Maggie Lake (about 13 miles) in the hope that we could gain another lay-over day there, but things didn't work out so well. We had several rivers to cross and a few of us even fell in, and the trails seemed to be getting even worse. By lunch David H. was really having problems with his feet and Mike cut openings in his boots over the toes to try to relieve some of the pressure. But the real problem came later in the afternoon when Brady twisted his ankle badly going up Mountaineer Creek, and although we were only a mile or so from the top we had to turn around and go back down a short distance. We found a suitable campsite along the river and Mike and Nick set off to find help at a ranger's station. I think the rest of us ended up going a little over 9 miles that day.

It was a pretty spot but it marked a turning point in our backpacking trip (notice all the downed trees across the trail - if you can even see the trail, that is).

Thursday we pretty much stayed put and waited. The boys had a great time in the river where there was a natural slide. The water was really cold (and there was a large rattlesnake nearby) but I think it was probably the highlight of the trip for them. Shortly after lunch Mike returned on a horse with one of the volunteer rangers, who helped Brady ride to the ranger cabin. We moved our camp further down the canyon about a half mile to a better campsite.

Funny how teenagers can stand such cold water (I'd guess it was around 40 F).  All I could stand was to soak my aching feet.

The light day had done wonders for my feet, but not so for David H. I think my blisters popped and formed a sort of hard callous leaving them tender but not painful like before, but David's continued to get worse. On Friday we hiked out to the ranger cabin (about 6,000 ft) and met Nick there (around 6 or 7 miles), but Brady had already ridden out to the pack station where there was road access. The volunteer rangers at the Grey Meadow Station (who were very nice) had left but offered access to the food stored in the cabin and the teenagers were in heaven (I preferred Mike's excellent meals, though!).

Saturday morning we hiked another 6 or 7 miles to a pack station (7,800 ft). It was pretty cool on the way to look back and be able to see Farewell Gap in the distance. We waited at the pack station while Lisa and Carrie drove up to "rescue" us (which was really nice because they put in a LOT of driving that day and we smelled terrible!).

Braiden, me, and Taylor with Farewell Gap WAY off in the distance (it's a 'smiley'-shaped crescent of snow straight above my left shoulder - I couldn't figure out how to insert an arrow on the photo).

In the end... was it worth it? Yeah. Will I do it again? Probably. Did I lose as much weight as I wanted? No, but Mike's a really good trail cook! Plus, it's just a good group of friends to spend a week with.


  1. Wow! You have alot more adventure in you then I do! Pics are great. I saw a pic on Facebook of Braidens page with someone's blister....yikes! It was horrid! I'm bummed you didn't put the pic of you up close with a grumpy look... I told Mom & Dad that's what Danny's going to look like in 10 or so years! You guys look so much alike and he'll most likely have the grumpy look too! =) J/K
    Glad you had fun!

  2. I'm glad that I stumbled upon your blog. I like reading what you have to say!

  3. I think the "grumpy" picture was just me trying to take a picture of how I looked after a week of not shaving (and it was driving me crazy!). The plan was that we would have time to shower and shave before coming home so I wanted Jamie to see how it looked. But with the problem of coming out of the trail 4 hours away from the car - where our clean clothes, shampoo, razor, etc. was - kind of changed things. We got home filthy and smelly, but the worst was stopping at Denny's for dinner - fortunately I easily convinced them to seat us *away* from everyone else.

    Hi Poppy.