…shit just got real
Good evening and welcome to this year’s Raging Madness, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne edition. Let’s start with the most recent news from the National Park Service. A man was mauled by a grizzly bear earlier this week on Wapiti Lake Trail, site of RM VI: Yellowstone. Not to be outdone, another man was swept off the footbridge at Wapama Falls in Yosemite, where I last visited on the Rancheria Falls loop in June 2007 with Anna and Elisa. Not a good sign. Nonetheless, the weather looked perfect, the snowmelt was active, the rattlesnakes were out for the season, and bear reports were flurrying in. Wheels up!
Day 0: Danny and I picked Beth up at the airport, provisioned at the San Leandro Safeway, and drove the four hours to rendezvous at the 4,000 foot altitude Hetch Hetchy Backpackers Campground to acclimate with our seven allies, only five of whom will turn out to survive the week (stay tuned!). I distributed the mosquito bracelets I bought last year in my malaria paranoia surrounding the South Africa trip, and since it was effectively car camping (our wilderness permit didn’t start till the following day), beer was had in exuberant quantities.
Day 1 to Glen Aulin (8,000 feet): Waterfalls! The river crossings were as high as ever because of record snowmelt (still not as treacherous as RM V.5: Olympic…) but as compensation the waterfalls were spectacular. The mosquitos were bad (still not as aggressive as on RM VI: Yellowstone…) but in preparation we all had chemical warfare DEET sticks and permethrin/pyrethrin infused apparel so no worries. I love my MSR pump and cherry-infused Jim Beam. First marmot sighting.
Day 2 to Return Creek: Bear can logistics mean that everyone’s packing evolves through the week, from at the beginning just food and toothpaste and bug spray, to during the middle when it is fuel and garbage and chapstick, to at the end it is kites and army men and extra carabiners because why not. A beautiful campsite with wildflowers tonight, populated by the whole model range of REI tents (T1, 2, and 3). The Quarter Dome is easy enough to set up that an altitude-sick hiker in her delirium can assemble a shelter on a cliff face at night and in a high wind, which is pretty slick.
Day 3 to Register Creek: Nick and Janet went home today in order to make a funding meeting, eleven miles back up to the cars in a single push. Danny, Beth and I started late so spent the day catching up to the group, appreciating ham radios, ascending and descending 2,500 feet of rattlesnake-infested boulders and ledges in the hot hot heat. My theory is that my ability to see every snake, even curled up and silent and in bushes, is just a point on the spectrum delineated on one end with my sister’s phobia where she sees them everywhere and the other with Lindsay’s blissful oblivion. I contend that I just have a highly developed amygdala, and that it is not a phobia, but a logical, evolutionarily justifiable unwillingness to be any nearer to an angry venomous death muscle than I have to be. It just externally manifests as screaming sometimes. Ended the day with an above-average waterfall crossing.
Day 4 to Pate Valley: Yesterday’s campsite wasn’t as superb as it needed to be to justify a base camp day so we pushed through without madness. Beth saw a coral snake, for which the mnemonic for telling which is dangerous depends on if you are a farmers almanac or me and is either “Red and yellow, he’s your fellow / red and black, stay back Jack” or “It’s a fucking snake. Don’t touch it.” Today’s campsite was indeed spectacular, with a private riviera where we could play army men and a fire ring where t0m could exercise his inner caveman and I could perform the necessary field repairs to Danny’s pants so his Homer pajamas weren’t showing.
Day 5 to Morrison Creek: Bear! Mama and cub, more specifically, with the mama the size of a terrifying dog and the cub about one ultra-Baxter unit volume although probably twice the weight. Ferns and moss and landslides are fractal, and how can snakes be nocturnal? Michael was withdrawing so spent the day playing imaginary Starcraft with Ethan, and they are both guilty of pulling out an iPad after the spectacular sunset over Hetch Hetchy while Danny whittled a diamondback from manzanita. Note to self, always plan epic journeys to coincide with the full moon, wow.
Day 6 to Lukens Lake: Back at lizard altitudes and too high for one-lunged snakes! Our original wilderness permit had us out at White Wolf but the ranger station was closed so we had to detour, and luckily we only found the sign after already reaching the cars that warned of hikers getting lost due to confusion about the snow and that advanced orienteering skills were required. We would have been all intimidated but I guess it worked out. The biggest injury all trip is a tame competition between Elisa’s eyelashes after the Stove Incident and a few toes and knees, but nothing lasting. Shuttled successfully to PJs in Groveland for bacon cheeseburgers and a change of clothes, then a long drive home to touch down at the Pandalair by midnight and leave unpacking for after a good long sleep in.
Day 7: Woke up briefly to an earthquake in the middle of the night and spent the day with Beth and Danny eating Indian delivery, napping, and finding all the youtubes we had been meaning to show each other all week. To do: plan a kayak/cabin trip to Kenai Fjords for next year. Once again, a brilliant trip, I don’t know how we do it.