We were a small group of Sierra Club members hiking through the High Sierra this month. Four of us signed up for the trek, but at the last minute one of us, Ginger Harmon of Carmel, California, had to pull out because she suffered a recurrence of a medical problem. That left me, Susan DeWind of Middlebury, Vermont, and Ravindra C. “RC” Vasavada of Sea Ranch, California, to hike with the support of Leader Marvin Schinnerer, Assistant Leader John Horrell, and Wrangler Marty Johnson on his horse leading the five mules that carried most of our gear.
As soon as I read about this outing in the January issue of Sierra Magazine I knew that I had to do it. Having the mules to carry our tents, sleeping bags, and food made it possible for us to get away from civilization for two weeks. Previously, I’ve never been able to stay in the wilderness for more than six days when carrying everything in my backpack.
We started our long trek on August 3 just outside Emigrant Wilderness at Kennedy Meadow on Route 108 some 20 miles west of Sonora Pass. We hiked through Yosemite Wilderness, the primitive area of Yosemite National Park. And we came out August 15 through Hoover Wilderness at the Green Creek Trailhead near Bridgeport, California. In that time I hiked 132 miles, according to my pocket pedometer that I had calibrated in accordance with a well-marked trail.
But I thought we would be doing much less hiking. “The overall distance, not counting layover days, is about 80 miles,” according to the trip brochure. While we had three layover days, we hiked as much as 13 miles — 32,617 steps — on a couple of the other days.
We got a lot of exercise. But it was worth the effort for all the wild beauty we saw that we never could have experienced otherwise.
While I was the oldest and the only member of the party to have diabetes, all of the other hikers also have health problems and physical limitations. Each of us qualified as senior citizens. One of us, Susan, is a woman, supposedly the weaker sex, but in fact she was often the fastest hiker.
Marv, the leader of our trek, retired after teaching engineering for 33 years at San Francisco City College. John, the assistant leader, volunteers at a Petaluma organic farm growing food for the community and for low income people and at a foundation working to restore a watershed near Santa Rosa, where he lives. John has dedicated his life to community development and has maintained a close relationship with the outdoors since the 1950s. RC was a professor of pharmacy at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he taught for 28 years. Susan is a staff member of a natural food co-op in Middlebury, Vermont.
Our wrangler, Marty, is 39 and has worked as a wrangler, packer, and cowboy off and on since 1986. He loves the outdoors and leading pack trains and going on treks like this. He is obviously good at his work in a low-key manner. We relied on his to choose our campsite where he left our gear, and he picked great ones.
Each of us went on the trek without a partner. RC and Marv have each been married for more than 40 years. Their wives must be very tolerant and independent to allow each of them to take off into the wilderness as often as they do. John has a steady girlfriend. Susan and I were the only ones who are unattached.
Before setting forth, the group enjoyed lunch together at the Kennedy Meadow Lodge. John and I connected immediately.
“This is the time for me to tell my David Mendosa story,” he said. John had found my website when he was looking for diabetes information for his mother. That was before he knew that I had signed up for this trip. Small world!
The first night we pitched our tents in a grove of big trees — including redwoods! — just a few feet from the Stanislaus River. I had been concerned about how well I would be able to sleep outside.
But three things made my sleep outdoors better than ever before. The first was my TURP operation for an enlarged prostate last November. As a result of that operation I had to get up to pee less than an average of twice a night in the 10 hours of cold and dark that I spent in my tent. The second was a recommendation from my massage therapist to get a thicker air mattress; I steeped up from a 1 inch inflatable mattress to a 1.5 inch Therm-a-Rest mattress so I wouldn’t bottom out. The third was a tip from Marv on how best to use my little inflatable pillow (don’t blow it up hard and wrap it in my down jacket).
Early on the morning of August 3 we left Kennedy Meadow at an elevation of 6,500 feet and soon entered the Emigrant Wilderness. This wilderness takes its name from the Emigrant Trail that came through this area.
Our first full day on the trail, like most that followed, was not an easy one. My other concern ahead of time besides sleeping outside was whether I would be too slow on the trail and delay the group. In fact, I hiked the whole first day squarely in the middle. I even got faster, particularly hiking uphill, as the trip when on. But I was one of the slower hikers when it came to steep downhill hikes, when I was extra cautious because of my poor balance.
I was also concerned that my wanting to take photographs would slow down the group. But all of us went with their cameras. In fact, RC has a Canon 30D SLR that is similar to mine, which was a lucky break for him. When his proprietary Canon battery died on the trail, he didn’t have a spare. I gave him a fully charged one in return for his spent battery.
After 8 and one-half hours on the trail we had climbed to 8,800 feet, reaching the Sheep Camp site where Marty and his mules dropped our gear. That evening Marv showed me his SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger for emergency communication in the wilderness. I intend to get one.
Sheep Camp is a lovely open meadow surrounded by forest and right below a 500 foot wall of rock to the east. Yet it is little known and seldom visited, because it doesn’t appear on most maps and is so far off the trail that we had to jump across a creek to get there. I pitched my tent in the center of the meadow without using my rainfly. That gave me the chance to look up at the stars whenever I awoke during the night.
Marty says that Sheep Camp got its name because shepherds brought their sheep there during the summer. Then, the sheep climbed up higher as the weather warmed.
We kept changing plans during our second day on the trail. Our original destination was a much smaller lake than Emigrant Lake where we camped. We thought that we could hike to Mosquito Lake across country — and across tons of rocks — via a route that none of us had ever hiked before. That turned out to be a hairy climb up a steep and rocky ridge. I told Marv that I was scared. In fact, we all decided to turn back.
Then, we had to plan our next detour. This time we decided to hike up to Brown Bear Pass, elevation 9,760, eat lunch at the pass and turn around. But the view from there down to a meadow dotted with uncounted lakes was too good to pass up.
Instead, we hiked through the meadow by way of an unmaintained path that would appear and disappear at irregular intervals. Eventually, after a long day on the trail, we arrived at the campsite where Marty had left our gear and where John, who had gone the direct route, had set up the kitchen and — surprise — a portable solar shower. I stripped and took a shower as soon as I arrived. First class camping!
And soon John had one of his four-course hot dinners read for us. His dinners always included appetizers, soup, the entree that was usually a one-pot dish, and desert.
Another surprise was that Marty had found my trail book, Meditations of John Muir, back at Sheep Camp and had brought it with the rest of the gear. He also found a pair of glasses that John had left along the trail.
Continued in the second photo essay in this series.