Last weekend, Aurora and I, accompanied by Dan Fults, Ray Lear and Nancy Coe, hiked our way through a beautiful section of Yosemite National Park. Beyond the basic hiking we had a bear encounter and a cross country route finding experience.
Day One – Travel & Staging
Ray, Aurora and I drove up to Yosemite on Tuesday and met Dan (who flew into Reno and drove a rent car down highway 395) in Tuolumne meadows at the Lambert Dome parking lot. We then drove to the Green Lake trail head and left Dan’s car as the shuttle vehicle for our takeout point. On the way back to Tuolumne we left a note at the Mono Inn Restaurant on Mono Lake for a reservation on Sunday at 7pm. There was no way to confirm it, but we left the note anyway. We had dinner at the café at the Mobile Station – Tioga Gas Mart (recommended by Karen Fuller) and it was fantastic.
After dinner we met up with Nancy who had wisely reserved a camp site for us in the Tuolumne Meadows campground.
Day Two – Young Lakes Hike
Got up early and made coffee and started sorting gear. Dan, Ray and I went to get our permits and to rent another bear can so we had 3 total to carry our food. It is now a requirement to carry all food in bear cans in the back country. Bear cans are plastic bear proof containers that weigh about 2 1/2 pounds and measure about 16 inches high and about 10 inches around.
We started hiking around noon and made our way to soda springs, and then to the Young Lakes fork on the way to Glen Aulin. Overall we climbed about 1400 feet in 7 miles. On the way it rained which was part of the afternoon Sierra weather pattern. This pattern builds up a thunderstorm in the late afternoon and by 8pm it clears up for a spectacular sunset. We got to the camp site at about 6:30 and proceeded to set up camp. Of course after we got our tents set up and changed into warm evening clothes, it was time for cocktails and Dan set us up with some tasty Bombay Safire Gin martinis, each with an olive and an onion. We ate humus and pita bread as a cocktail h’orderve.
As we sat there contemplating our place in the world, sipping martinis, we saw a big bear emerge from behind our tent. A big long legged black bear with light brown fur. We chased him off but soon he was back. He continued to probe our campsite for food until about 2am. For dinner we had a chicken and rice gumbo with orange chocolate cookies for desert. After dinner we found that we had more food than the bear cans could hold so we had to hang the remaining food.
The first hanging used the traditional approach where you hang food bags over an extended high branch using a piece of cord. We tied the cord to a nearby tree and backed off to see if the bear was able to get to the bags. It didn’t take long for the bear to emerge from the dark and as we watched him, we were amazed that he went straight for the tie-off point. Just like Yogi, he was smarted than the average bear. We threw rocks and yelled and chased him away and then tried another technique.
The second hanging was what is called the counter-balance method. In this method you hang half the contents on one side of the cord pull it it up high. You then tie off the other half on the cord and push it up with a long stick to equalize the balance. We thought this would fool the bear so we called it a night and crawled into our tents. No sooner was I drifting off than I heard bear claws scratching on the tree. By the time I got out of my bag and out of the tent and into my boots and over to the tree the bear had one of the bags in his mouth and was tearing it to shreds. The other bags were hung up by the cord in the tree branch and he was trying to get the bag he had in his mouth loose from the tree. I yelled and threw rocks but I had to get pretty close before he abandoned everything.
We took the contents of the thrashed bag and crammed them into the bear cans and hung the remaining bags, counter-balanced, over a smaller branch that would be harder for him to get to. Then back to bed, resigned that we were going to lose the food in the bags.
Yet again I heard the bear claws on the tree and back out of the bag, the tent, into boots, but this time I caught the bear in the tree. I approached the tree, growling and yelling and throwing rocks and he started to growl and hiss at me. I kept up the pressure and he got more annoyed and hissed louder. Finally I backed off from the tree and he saw his opportunity to escape and dropped onto the ground and disappeared in to the night.
I went back to bed again, but was sure that this would be the ongoing pattern throughout the night, but at daybreak, we saw the bags were still hanging and we had beat the bear. We never saw him again.
Day Three – Layover at Young Lakes
We had an easy day of hiking up to the top of the 3 Young Lakes and had a relaxing day. In the afternoon, the rains came and most folks took naps in the tents while it rained. By 8pm the sun emerged and we had a glorious sunset and sipped on Dan’s Manhattans. For dinner we had a Cous Cous and Lentil soup, beef stroganoff and sipped on a Merlot wine (which I had carried into the camp site 2 weeks earlier). For desert we had orange chocolate cookies.
Day Four – Cross Country to McCabe Lake
On Friday we hiked on a cross country route from the lower Young Lake almost to lower McCabe Lake. Just north of Young Lake is an east to west draining valley and a little further northwest is a north to south draining valley. As the crow flies, our goal, McCabe Lake, lies about 5 miles away, but our route was designed to avoid steep terrain and minimize altitude loss or gain (both lakes sit at about 9800′). Over the course of the day, we would plot a course from our position to a desired goal. After about 1/2 hour of following our compass bearing we would break out the GPS (Global Positioning System) device and after a few minutes I would call out the coordinates to Dan who would then mark our position on the map. Again we would plot a desired goal and repeat the pattern. Overall our navigation worked perfectly and we found our way as expected. The main problem we found was that the terrain was often quite tough with boulder fields and fallen trees that made the going tough, especially with a full pack. In the future, I’ve now learned to expect off trail hiking to take about twice as long as trail hiking. The late afternoon weather pattern brought a light rain that chilled the air and seemed to sap some of our lagging energy.
We didn’t quite make it to McCabe Lake but found a suitable camp site about a mile south of McCabe and settled in for camp setup and subsequent cocktails; Manhattans (No cherries. That’s one of the things the bear got) with tasty Sarenah cheese and crackers h’orderves right on time for a spectacular sunset with Matterhorn Peak in the distance. For dinner we had a chicken and rice stew then called an early night.
Day Five – McCabe Lake to Summit Lake via Virginia Canyon
This day started with mostly downhill travel but ended up with a tough uphill trudge that left us scrambling for a suitable campsite. We started with a hike to beautiful McCabe lake (our original goal from the previous day). The lake shore had a wonderful vista and we could see trout swimming near the shore hitting the surface for mosquitoes. The next section of trail ambled through the forest for about 3 miles and took us to the bottom of Virginia Canyon and our first Teva crossing (we call it that because we take off our boots and wade across in our Teva sandals) to cross Return Creek. After our lunch break we started east up Virginia Canyon. This was the beginning of the uphill trudge but every once in a while we would break out of the forest and see wonderful panoramas in the southwest.
The last mile up to Summit Lake rose about 1000′ and was the final trudge. At the top we ran into some other hikers who graciously took our group shot, but then wanted to talk on and on, but we were tired and moved on to find a camp. Luck was with us and we found a great spot on the east end of the lake, tucked behind a stand of junipers.
It was high and cold and we were tired (and I was a bit cranky) so it seemed to take us a while to get camp set up. Soon, enough, though, it was cocktail hour and our spirits started to warm up. Martinis were in order and Dan set us up straight. We each had and olive and an onion in the martini and the extra olives and onions were served up as h’orderves along with a bean dip that Nancy made which we dipped into with pita bread. Dinner was a hot corn chowder with chicken (Nancy’s variation on a Jacque recipe). After dinner we had some tea and cookies and settled in to some old story telling and stayed up ’til almost midnight. The stars were spectacular until the moon rose over the eastern ridge.
We had planned to meet up with John, Jacque, and Ellery at East Lake this evening, but we figured that IF we had proceeded on, we wouldn’t have gotten to their camp until 9 or 10 o’clock. We would have been far too pooped to even have dinner, let alone cocktails, so the decision to hold at Summit Lake was the best all ’round decision.
Day Six – Summit Lake to Green Lake trail head
The last day on the trail was a glorious blue sky day. The Sierra weather pattern was broken and it was cool and clear. After our usual breakfast of oatmeal or cereal and Peet’s coffee, we headed down the trail to find J, J, & E. The trail was mostly downhill and uneventful except for a few Teva stream crossings. Finally about 2:30 in the afternoon we found J, J, & E and had a happy reunion. They packed up while we rested and caught up with our adventures. I cached a bottle of Wine in the area and then we all hike down to Green Lake where J, J, & E were going to spend another night.
We said our goodbyes and left our comrades on a huge granite rock in the split in the trail and headed down the trail to our take-out point. It was indeed mostly downhill, but the last section seemed to take forever and we were again, pooped. The 6-pack, chips and salsa verde in the awaiting car was like a grand feast at the end of the trail.
We packed all our gear into Dan’s little rent car and headed back to Tuolumne Meadows with the hope of having dinner at the Mono Inn. Sadly we found that they were closed on the 4th of July so reservations or not, it was a bust. The Tioga Gas Mart was our post hike dinner and I had a burger and a salad. It was fantastic.
See the trip highlights at: http://jumano.com/blogs/chris/gallery/187.aspx
See the Gallery of all my pictures at: http://www.jumano.com/ngallery
Read about our exploratory trip to Young Lakes at: http://jumano.com/blogs/chris/archive/2004/06/21/991.aspx