Friday, August 26, 2011


We’ve been five days in a forest service campground just outside of Lee Vining. Now that I’m old enough for a National Park Senior Pass, these campgrounds are half price. The pass cost all of $10 and is good until such time as you die, or can no longer navigate your way to a National Park. With Yosemite just up the hill from where we’re camped, I take great pleasure in flaunting my senior pass at the entrance station rather than handing over twenty bucks.

The weather has been great, so each day we head up the hill for a hike in the Yosemite high county. First up, Gaylor lakes. The trail begins just inside the east entrance of the park and climbs steeply up the hill to a saddle overlooking the Gaylor Lakes Basin. The area around the lakes is pretty much devoid of trees with the lakes surrounded by vast meadows. Once in the basin, hiking becomes less strenuous as the inclines are slight. We walked up to one ridge to the Great Sierra Mine, long ago abandoned. There are the ruins of several stone cabins and some mine shafts. The views are spectacular. On the way back, I took a detour to climb Gaylor Peak (11,000) while Cathie waited below.



The next day we headed out on an 8 miles jaunt to Mono Pass. Mostly hiking through forest to the pass at 10,600 feet which is situated in a high alpine meadow.


The following day we decided to try for Mt Hoffman (10,850). Halfway up is May Lake, where there is one of the High Sierra Camps (web site) that are in Yosemite. You can hike to a series of camps, spending the night in a bunk in one of the tents that are heated with a wood burning stove. Dinner and breakfast is served in the mess hall tent. All this for a price of course.


We continued up the trail which became pretty steep. As the elevation increased, our speed decreased. Pretty much up hill the entire way. The description of the climb that I read before deciding to tackle Mt. Hoffman said it was a 5 out of 10 to the lake and a couple of notches more to the top of the mountain. Well, that’s what we experienced up until we reached a point about 200 vertical feet below the summit. The description made no mention of the rock climbing required to reach the summit. We don’t do rock climbing. Also, as you may or may not know, but I do not like heights and basically have to be on my hands and knees if there is any exposure to falling from high places. So we failed to make it to the top but we did get to experience natures stairmaster for the 1-1/2 miles from May Lake.


So, why all this hiking and climbing at high elevations? If you are a follower of this blog, you may recall my attempt of Mt Dana in the fall of 2009. In that attempt I failed to reach the summit due to my getting really dizzy just shy of the summit. In an effort to be better acclimated, the past three days were spent in preparation. You’ll just have to wait for the next installment to see if all this effort pays off.

I suppose there are many dangers one faces while hiking in the back country. You might get lost, fall and break something, get caught in a storm, or perhaps attacked by a wild animal. But in reality, the most dangerous obstacle one faces, at least while hiking in the eastern side of Yosemite, is the drive to the trailhead.

Each morning we would drive from our campsite near Lee Vining up the Tioga Road to the summit and the entrance to the park. In days of old, the road it self was dangerous. I can recall with some clarity a family trip to Yosemite in 1962. Back then my father’s vehicle of choice was a 1957 VW bus. The bus was capable of speeds upwards of 55 MPH, providing we were going down hill with the wind behind us. Climbing up the Tioga Pass was indeed a test of German engineering. The road back then was narrow, one lane in places, steep, and included numerous hairpin turns. So steep was the grade that the only gear low enough in the VW gearbox to maintain momentum up hill was reverse. So we backed up the mountain, at least some of the way.

Today Tioga Pass is a superhighway in comparison. The danger is not in the road it’s self, but the idiots who drive it. Oh sure, it’s still pretty steep and if one were to drive off the edge into Lee Vining Canyon, you in all probability would not survive, but there are no longer any hairpin turns or one lane sections. The problem is the views. They are spectacular. So it goes something like this:

The Jones from Iowa, where there are no hills of any consequence, having driven halfway across the county, finally arrive at the approach to Yosemite. Or perhaps they’re leaving and heading down the grade. In any event, they have never seen anything like this before and as luck would have it, I am usually in the vehicle behind them. As Henry white knuckles it along the road at his chosen speed of 7 MPH, Opal in the passenger seat has the camera ready to record this momentous occasion for the folks back home. At some predetermined time only known to Opal and when the view becomes the most spectacular she instructs Henry to STOP. And stop he does, right in the middle of the road. Pulling over in one of the view points would get one to close to the edge for Henry’s comfort so the road seems like the best option. It doesn’t matter that I, along with a gazillion other sensible drivers are behind him. So out steps Opal, who snaps several photographs in all directions, including one of all the vehicles which are now backed up to the bottom of the hill.

Then there are those drivers who when looking at some site off to the left, lose their concentration and turn the steering wheel in the direction they are looking. This usually means crossing over the center line into the oncoming lane, where as luck would have it, I JUST HAPPEN TO BE. I wonder what Henry and Opals’ friends will think when they see the picture of the pissed off driver of a Ford truck giving them the one finger salute. So you see, once at the trailhead parking lot, the safe part of the day begins.

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