Through the Hike Sierra on our sixth trail day we hiked in the Hoover Wilderness from Stella Lake to Kirkwood Creek, elevation 8,700. Our seventh day took us up to beautiful Kerrick Meadow at 9,360 in the Yosemite Wilderness.
Leaving Stella Lake we spotted beautiful flowers and mushrooms:
The weather turned much warmer after two cold days. We had a much more pleasant day on the trail. But we crossed the West Walker River by mistake. We had taken the wrong trail at a junction and went almost two miles out of our way. No problem. And it gave us the opportunity for a different sort of true wilderness experience. At the river we found no rocks or logs to use for our crossing. We had to take off our boots and socks and wade across half a foot of water. Fortunately, the bottom was sandy and the water was warm.
Since we were running late and had a long steep climb for the last 2 miles, I knew that I had to step up the pace. What helped the most was doing walking meditation where I concentrated on nothing more than breathing in and breathing out. Amazingly, my pace was a lot faster than earlier in the day when I was fresher. For the rest of the trek I continued my walking meditation whenever we encountered steep climbs, and again the result was much greater speed on the trail.
When we arrived at our camp along Kirkwood Creek about 6 p.m. on one of our longest trail days, 11 miles, I pitched my tent at a lovely site about 15 feet from Kirkwood Creek. I didn’t know that Forest Service regulations don’t allow camping closer than 25 feet to a creek. As close as I was to the rushing water, to my regret I couldn’t hear it with my hearing aids out.
We reached Buckeye Pass at an elevation of 9,595 feet after a long haul up from Kirkwood Creek. Here we reentered Yosemite Wilderness. We rested at the pass; I needed it.
The only other person we saw all day was Marty, and he is really a member of our group, even though he travels separately with his horse, five mules, and our gear. Good thing to that we saw him or else we wouldn’t have had a campsite!
When we arrived at Kerrick Meadow the first order of business was to find a spot to pitch my tent. Susan pointed out a glade where someone had pitched his tent when she came here two years ago. It was ideal. The little glade was close to the kitchen and dining area and yet totally secluded by boulders and pines.
Marv helped me find the optimal site and position my tent. He lay down at the place I picked and adjusted the direction slightly. He says that we can’t find the best lay of the land just by looking at it and that the worst position is not having the head too high or too low but when you roll sideways. That in fact was a problem with my otherwise lovely site along Kirchwood Creek the night before.
Our kitchen, of course, lacked walls. But it was amazing what great meals John concocted.
Kerrick Meadow was our second layover day. I got up at 6 a.m. to capture this sunrise on the meadow.
A layover day means that we only have to pitch our tents once for two nights. Even more importantly it means that hiking is optional, not mandatory. And we needed the rest after the hard slog up to Buckeye Pass.
All of us slept in. We agreed to met for breakfast at 8 a.m., an hour or more later than usual. I slept through until 7:30 when I got out of my tent just as the sun hit it.
I had been planning to stay around camp this “rest day.” I didn’t plan to go far either, because I wasn’t sure that I could find my way back.
But Susan asked me to go with her and Marv to Rock Island Lake, “The most beautiful place in the Sierra; the place I remember most,” she told me. The cross-country climb up to the ridge to look down on the stunning view of Rock Island Lake was steeper and longer than I had understood from Susan and Marv, and steeper and longer than they remembered. They had said that the hike would be 5 miles round trip, and that’s what it was to the ridge overlooking the lake, not the additional 5 miles down to the lake and back, and not something on my agenda this rest day.
I stayed on the ridge when they left at noon, saying that they would return between 2 to 3 p.m. Meanwhile I wrote more of this essay, meditated, and lunched on sardines and salami. At 2:09 p.m. Marv andI spotted each other as he climbed back up to the ridge; Susan was close behind. As glad as I was to see them, my two hours alone went all too quickly.
As soon as I returned to camp I made sure to get what I consider to be an ultimate wilderness experience, skinny dipping in a mountain pool. I walked out onto Kerrick Meadow and found a big pool in the stream that runs through it. The pool had a soft bottom, and I waded in until the water reached my nipples. Then, I ducked under to wash my hair. Finally, I floated on the water and swam in it a bit. All in the middle of a big meadow with no one in sight!
Between Rock Island Pass and Mule Pass we hiked in the Hoover Wilderness for about 3 miles, until we reentered Yosemite for the third and final time. But just because it isn’t Yosemite doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. Snow Lake sets just below Rock Island Pass at 10,186 feet.
Mule Pass, where we reentered Yosemite for the final time, took us up to 10,480 feet. The farther and higher we go the more beautiful is the land.
The farther we go is also harder. On this day we went from Kerrick Meadow at 9,360 to the tarns below Burro Pass at 10,360 where we made our highest camp. But we actually climbed almost 3,000 feet over three steep passes. While I was second into camp after Marv, I was near exhaustion.
For dinner at the Burro Pass tarns John invited Marty to dinner. He had camped a little further down. Marty explained to me that mules are a sterile cross between a horse and a donkey, also known as a burro or a jackass.
Why does Marty use mules rather than horses to carry our gear? “Mules follow better and are more sure footed than horses,” he replied. “But you need one horse to keep everything together.”
Burro Pass itself is 10,650 feet, our highest elevation of the trip. Looking up to the pass just 300 feet above our camp, I thought the climb would be impossible, but the path was hidden in the rocks. At Burro Pass we crossed over to the long gradual descent down Matterhorn Canyon. I found a lucky horseshoe or muleshoe lower down the canyon, and Marty and I pounded out the remain nails and kept the shoe as well as another one that I found later in the day when we arrived at our Hook Lake campsite, elevation 9,550 feet. I have my souvenirs of Yosemite.
Continued in the fifth photo essay in this series.