Sep 5, 2014

Day 2: Sunrise Lakes

I lost my spork. I've turned my pack inside out. It's nowhere. I recall what Ranger Jeanne said at the campfire talk about big wall climbing: "If you drop it; you don't need it."

I scrape off a couple of twigs for chopsticks and ladle up my oatmeal. The process requires patience. About half of the oatmeal ends up on my clothes. Duane offers his spork. In the spirit of rugged independence, I decline.

"You inspire me," says Duane.

"How so?"

"I feel a trail name coming on."

"Should I be worried?"


He suggests three names: "Two-twig," "Bear-bait" and "Sporkless." I try to conceive of meeting Two-twig, Bear-bait and Sporkless. I see an image. They would be to wear underwear on their heads. I decline graciously.

"Trust me," he replies, "you may not get a say in the matter."

Just as I'm cinching up my pack, Randy enters our camp. "Teeth all brushed? Hair combed? Lunch packed?"

Last night we agreed to hike out with Randy and Sherry — at least for a mile or two. But, we won't be camping together tonight. They plan to stop along Sunrise Creek someplace after Forsyth junction — probably a dry camp. Duane and I will camp at Sunrise Lakes.

We leave as a group with Duane in the lead. It's his natural state. I expect he'll walk point the entire hike.

We cross the creek with dry feet and walk the first mile up a gentle grade over open and rolling terrain. The sky is Sierra blue. The views are open. There's a soothing breeze and the day is warming. I chatter with Randy about music, math, mountains and things that, for no apparent reason, are miraculous.

It's not long before Duane and I pull well ahead of Randy and Sherry. We stop to peel off a couple of layers and wait for them to catch up. After a few apologies for their slower pace, they encourage us to hike on ahead. We all promise to meet up at the Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers camp.

The morning shadows are still long when we begin our descent to the Panorama Trail junction where we will, at last, be on the John Muir Trail. No sooner than we step foot on the actual JMT than Half Dome and its massive granodiorite neighbors open to our view. I stop and imagine them as towering bubbles of magma, floating up in the crust, secretly crystallizing into magnificent temples kilometers below before casting off the overlying terrane and claiming their rightful place among the grandest things of a later eon. A little further on, we hear the roar of Nevada Falls and pose for Butch Cassidy photo op by the bridge.

Descent to Panorama Trail Junction

Half Dome approaching from the South.
Mount Hoffman in the distance.

Our Butch Cassidy moment at Nevada Falls

From the bridge, it's but a mile to Little Yosemite Valley. Despite the lush sounding name, Little Yosemite is 4 acre dirt patch. In the center stands a Mayan-like ten-foot stone pyramid with steps leading up to pit toilette where hikers ascend to make sacrificial offerings. I contribute to the cause and head over to the river to filter some water. As I filter, a beautiful brunette with a lovely figure walks past me in a bikini. She smiles, and, to my astonishment, wades chest deep into the 50 degree water like it was a sauna. Unthinkingly I filter an extra liter so as to stick around a few minutes longer. I decide not to mention the woman in the bikini to Duane. After all, we are both happily married and ogling is one of those short-lived pleasures that is best not shared.

We leave Little Yosemite knowing we're facing 10 miles and a 3,500 foot gain in the warm part of the day. It's our first work out of the hike. Much greater challenges lie ahead. Except for a brief lunch break by a muddy remnant of Sunrise Creek, we walk without stopping. The land is dry. The trees seemed strained. Another year of drought would be devastating.

The day has gone hot and windless. We climb switch back after switch back. We stop for air and climb again. At last we reach the junction. A couple is resting there, feet up, shoes off, on a love-seat shaped boulder. He's a nice-looking, square-jawed cheery fellow pushing sixty. She is a freckly blond in a broad brimmed hat — probably 20 years his junior. The square-jawed fellow points at me. "Weren't you at White Wolf a couple nights ago? We sat together at dinner. You're the astronaut. Right?"

Duane takes note and gives me a pat on the should. "I guess the secret is out."

"And, I had a wonderful chat with your wife," says the blond. "She helps foster kids, right?'

I remember them. He quizzed me about my work back a Space Systems. They live in Marin. He is a venture capitalist. She's a masseuse. She has climbed Kilimanjaro and hiked in Nepal. He goes to the gym. They seemed an utterly improbable and happy as high-school sweethearts on their honeymoon. She says they are on a day hike from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest. That's a 15 mile hike. It's getting late in the day. They have a sturdy uphill climb ahead. He's looks bonked. They don't seem to have much water or food. I doubt they have a flashlight. And yet, they don't appear to have a care in the world. I suppose it's possible they could be aliens.

We hump it up the last incline to Forsyth Pass. We drop our packs, grab a snack and head over to the precipice for the view of Half Dome and the Valley below. The Valley is full of smoke. There must be a fire somewhere.

"We're doing it," I say.

"We sure as hell are," replies Duane.

We hang around long enough to stiffen up before walking the last mile to East Sunrise Lake. We find a campsite on the west shore with a view of the opposing ridge. We set up our camp. I take a plunge in the frigid water and cook dinner. Duane takes out his book.

Sunset Lake campsite
I climb a ridge behind our camp and stumble across a pheasant. The smoke from the distant fire sucks the blue out of the fading afternoon light which paints the mountains orange. I head back to camp. Crack my book, but can't concentrate on the text, so I strain at the zenith to catch a first glimpse of Vega and think about the days ahead.

Campsite: Sunrise Lake, 9,465
Elevation: +5220, -2158
Today: 14.6 mi.
Total trip: 17.9