Sunday, July 6, 2008
Rosie & Ben's Sierra Diary Part I
Last time we left our brave heroes, they were steeply ascending the highest point on the PCT at 13,180. They did, indeed, make it up and over the pass and happily descended down to a wonderful lake where they plopped down and fell asleep in the afterglow of a sunset upon high alpine lakes composed of icy snow melt.Since Forester Pass, we've done about 1 pass a day. Our days for the last week have consisted of about 15 miles a day. In that space we probably ascend 3,000 or 4,000 feet in a couple of miles as we crest out over a pass at about 12,000 feet and then proceed to lose all the elevation we just gained. While losing the elevation we cross several rushing streams that originate from the melting snow pack. Now this is clean water! It starts from the very clefts, bowls, and peaks of the mountains and you can see it flow right out of the snow! There is no doubt about its source and its purity. Whenever we go in town it's almost hard to drink down the tepid chlorinated tap water because it's just not the same as this crystal clear, ice cold, gurgling delight.After swigging down some of this refreshing mountain water, we continue to descend down a pass. As we drop elevation, the small mountian trickles gather into giant alpine lakes. These lakes are incredible. The water is almost a perfect dark blue and, at times, still has some patches of ice floating on its surface. It just makes you cold to think about it!Eventually we descend past the gorgeous, sparkling lakes, each snuggly tucked into a niche below granite cliffs, and the lakes flow out and take the sudden course of gravity. This produces some terrific water events. We are almost always walking next to a roaring river that is steeply plunging to the valley ain parallel to the trail. Where the terrain is steep there is lots of churning, powerful whitewater pouring and spewing over boulders and drop-offs. As we level out from a million switchbacks we come into a meadow and amble across tints of pink and lavender blooms in green grassy, lazy meadows. The water we walk next to seems to somehow parallel our own journey; it descends with us and tells us what might lie ahead by its various tones. Like the trail sometimes it thunders like a powerful lion trampling everything in its path, but other times it just whispers woodsy secrets to the attentive ear. As the water slows and calms down in the meadows, the trail can beco! me rather boggy. It has been a given that everyday we will come into camp with swampy, wet feet. Our socks and shoes are usually soaked from either the streams flowing down the path and or from the many river crossings.About river crossings. They say that on the Pacific Crest Trail you cross more rivers in a single day that you do in the whole six months and 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. After hiking the AT, I can verify that is never more true than in the Sierras! (Just a hundred miles ago we used to read the trail Data book and water report religiously. It determined our whole lives - where we camped, how far we walked, where we took breaks - because we constantly had to be aware of how much water we needed. Now we don't even bother to look to see where water is because its just everywhere. At any given moment I can go over to one of the lakes, rivers, or streams dip my water bottle in and call it good.) Now the stream crossings vary. From just a little brook that can be easily crossed in one quick hop to larger fords that reqire a knee-deep slog across a 50 foot wide rushing current. Its funny to see different strategies for crossing the creeks and rivers. Some hikers! spend several minutes wandering up and down the stream trying to figure out the easiest way to cross without getting ones feet wet. This usually involves some fancy foot work across logs and some protruding rocks and even some extensive use of hiking poles to steady you on top of rocks as white water pours just beneath your precipitously balanced feet. To me this seems nearer to an Algebra problem that, with the wrong calculation, could produce a disasterously wet end. I, however, recognize that I have the coordination of an ox on roller skates, and that I prefer to never use poles (so far they've ridden 874 miles on my pack and I've only pulled them out a couple times to steady myself on the snowy cliffs of the passes.) With that realization I opt for the quicker and less dainty route of just plunging right in the river with full acceptance that I am going to wade across knee deep water. This is really quite freeing. I don't have to spend lots of time bumbling about! to keep my feet dry when they are probably going to get wet anyway.So the whole long and the short of it is that we are thankful for all the water. It all its forms in the Sierras it is quite idyllic, whether it be the still reflection of a mountain in a quiet lake or the intimidating gush of whitewater as it pummels down a ravine.After a long but beautiful week we have arrived at a little oasis. The Sierras are particularly rustic and thus aren't known for their abundance of amenities. So in this section of the trail involving some of the hardest days over the steepest passes, hikers are pleased to stumble upon Vermillion Valley Resort. Don't let the name fool you. It's not totally a resort. It's more of a high mountain camp for hikers and fisherman. There is a dirt road that comes up to it, but judging by the staff shirts here that read, "I survived the drive up to Vermillion Valley Resort" I would suppose that it is pretty well off the beaten path. vermiliion Valley Resort, or VVR for short, is tucked away in the heart of the Sierras just a couple miles off the PCT at about 7,500 feet. Now compared to the climbs we have done in the past week, 7,500 feet is just a wee lad. But compared to Fresno, CA - the closest sizeable town 3 hours down the hill - we are high up WAY above civilization. Th! e interesting thing is that right after crossing a great wooden bridge over Mono Creek, you see a sign that simply says "Ferry" and "Edison Lake" and points off the PCT with engraved arrows. So we followed this little detour for about a mile and then came to a landing on some sun-bleached rocks that formed a rocky beach upon Edison Lake. So we waited until 9:45 a.m. (the ferry comes across the lake twice a day at 9:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.) anda little pontoon boat took us over and around the lake to the other side where it dropped us off at a van parked alongside a beach. We hopped out of the ferry onto the other side of the lake opposite the PCT and jumped in the back of a white van which took us to see the VVR camp.