High Sierra Camps - Part 4

What, you may ask are ALL of my clothes doing scattered about near that lake?

Ahh,...well, would you believe SKINNY DIPPING?

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It's true! After we left May Lake, and having taken my Advil, this day's trek did not so sorely affect me. It had it's moments, as all days did, but by now I was getting into a stride. There were plenty of steep mountains to climb, and also descents into valleys, but, in total, our elevation gain was merely 130' on this section of the trails. "Merely", does not mean easy, as you can imagine, the down trails and up trails still worked me. Jana, nearly every day, would announce along the way that she would have a "surprise or treat" for us somewhere along the days travels (to which I'd typically reply, "ICE CREAM?") No, although, I'd have welcomed a simple dish of vanilla ice cream…

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The surprises were more of the geological, flora, or water feature types. So, having announced a surprise this day, we already knew that Sunrise Camp was the only one lacking a body of water. However there are three lakes as we neared Sunrise, Lower Sunrise Lake, Middle Sunrise Lake and Upper Sunrise Lake. We stopped and viewed them all, but Upper Sunrise Lake, gleaming in it's own meadow, was much too inviting to just look at, which Jana certainly knew and offered us the opportunity to experience it au naturel - if we so desired. Maybe not so surprising, at least a good many of us bucked modesty, and jumped in buck naked. (Admittedly, I did feel a wee bit naughty! Giggle). But, oh boy, was that fun! The water was very chilly, so not much more than a quick, refreshing rinse and then to lie in the grass to dry in the warm alpine sunshine. 

But, all good things must come to an end, and having enjoyed our little interlude, we soon enough got back on the trail and proceeded to Sunrise Camp. Although there is no lake at the camp, it does offer a large alpine meadow. After we freshened up a bit and before the dinner hour, Jana hosted a "cocktail party" on the boulders overlooking the meadow. With ample supplies of spirits that were packed into camp, we did have a very nice get together, with much frolicking and laughter. Higher altitudes, I think, makes liquor quicker…

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The boulders overlooking the meadow were a popular spot for other hikers/campers also and they couldn't help but notice our raucous group. Sean, our wrangler, also joined the party. Oh yeah, the COWBOY!!

After dinner, and seeing the sunset from another vantage point, I returned to the boulders above the meadow and saw one very quick falling star from the Perseid Meteor Shower in the earliest vestiges of darkness. I did not, however, linger late to see more of that meteor shower, as it soon became quite cold, and I much preferred to check out Jana's campfire talk that night, then to hit the sack for a good nights sleep. 

This night I shared a six person tent cabin with Cork and his family, again. In the morning, I once again flunked fire starting 101, but went out before dawn to witness this day's sunrise. I was not disappointed.

Sunset from Sunrise Camp

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Sunrise over Sunrise Meadow

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Despite the bone chilling temperature at this altitude in the wee hours of dawn, the sunlight began backlighting the cliffs behind me, then I could see the high mountains to my right begin to grab those early morning rays of sunlight.The meadow itself presented itself as a frosty carpet of grass, the delicate white icy lace clinging to the blades until the warming sunshine melted it away, leaving a shining blanket of mountain dew in it's place. It seemed it would take forever, however, for the sun to rise above the mountain across the meadow and strike ME with some of that warming illumination. But the far side of the meadow, the pines and boulders were now beginning to capture that light and, as the sun rose steadily higher in the sky, the line of frost upon the meadow retreated slowly in my direction. Now, shivering in the cold, I decided to go to the light and warmth instead of waiting for it to come to me. Down into the meadow I went, then out to the new brightness of sunshine, feeling the icy frost until I reached the sunbathed grasses and their glistening dew. 

As I wandered about, the sun now peeking over the eastern mountain top, I did begin to thaw out and kept in the sunny warmth, then proceeded back toward the granite boulders behind camp, which were soon within the sunshine and picking up more of the day's warmth. 

None too soon, the sounding for morning hot drinks was heard and I then more hastily headed to the dining hall. Meeting new people as we held our hot drinks in our chilly hands, I chatted and learned more of some of the other visitors to Sunrise Camp. 

We had a reasonably good start time after breakfast and headed out across the meadow, then began a first, short climb.

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This day we dropped down to Merced Lake Camp by about 1150'. Again, it was NOT all downhill. There were plenty of hills to climb, plus this was to be the longest stretch of our week's hiking, somewhere near 10 miles.

Along the way, Jana told us she had a surprise for us (ICE CREAM??). Sadly, no. But she had mentioned a "Jane Mansfield Pass" earlier in the day. At this point of the hike I was nearer to the front of the pack when she had us halt and wait for the slower moving people. Jana, to this point, had not said what she had in store for us, but as I turned around I saw the "landmark" of which she had previously referred. My words were, OH, there are the Grand Tetons of Yosemite! (If you don't get the meaning of "tetons", then think of Jane Mansfield and her, ummm,"endowments").

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Jane Mansfield Pass

Along the way, after crossing a bridge, we all stopped, dropped our packs and ate our lunch along a pleasant area of the river. The water levels are not high, as the drought in the Southwest has reduced water flow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as well. Still it was flowing, steadily, if not rapidly, which gave us time to soak our feet, lay back for a spell and enjoy the beauty all around us.

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As the day progressed, on the way to Merced Lake, someone spotted a bear across from what had now become a deep ravine. As I approached those who saw him across the way, I got just a short glimpse of him, a cinnamon color, as he abruptly dashed into the trees and out of sight. That was the first bear sighting all week, despite all the preparations we had to follow each night in all the camps, ie to put all food, scented items, toiletries inside the bear boxes, and despite my initial fear that I'd be seeing bears all about the forests and hunting me down for a quick snack. Although the sighting was brief, we later learned that we saw the yearling of a mother bear that roamed near Merced Lake with her new, twin offspring. The yearling was cast out, so to speak, since mama bear now had twins to mother. 

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Further up the trail, a buck deer was grazing just off the trail. Apparently, humans don't present much fear for them, as he and at least one doe, just ambled along, not trying to escape nor avoid us. Ahh so, just another day in the forest for them.

On we continued, me mostly watching the trail and my footsteps as I typically attempted to find the path of least resistance, trying to avoid any large steps up, or down, over large rocks and boulders that were abundant in the trails. There never was any hand over hand type of climbing. A person just needed to watch his walking. As a result, I would many times look up from the trail and be astounded by the scenes that had been awaiting my gaze all along those trails. Those moments are the ones I captured on film. Part of the astounding beauty is that those mountains are granite. Continuous, never ending masses of hard granite.

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The days were perfect, if not a bit warm, but typically, all week, cottony white clouds drifted high above the majestic mountains, making for a perfect contrast against the brilliant blue skies. As we neared Merced Camp, we passed a fanned out waterfall that spread out over a gently curving mass of granite. Being able to walk right up to the water as it flowed across the surface, I knew that THIS was the place I would like to spend the following day, a much anticipated extra day of rest at this camp. From the falls area, we followed another mile of trail, much of it up above the Merced River, so scenic and inviting I wished I could have just sat and enjoyed the peace and pleasure it seemed to promise. But, again, as I walked, I began making my plan to return the following day to savor what this mile of trail would present to me.

Having walked nearly 10 miles, I was very, very glad to drop my backpack, find my tent and take off my hiking boots. My feet were so tired and hot, the relief of shedding the boots and taking a load off was my prime objective. Having also had enough of being on my feet, I did no wandering about the camp. It was already well into the late afternoon, when Jeannie came to my tent and asked for me to take photos of Cynthia's birthday arrangement in their tent. Along the way several of us has acquired items from Nature for the "arrangement" plus several bottles of wine that the group of 8 had had transported on the mules. The presentation to Cynthia, I think was so thoughtful and tastefully done - in an Eddie Bauer, REI manner of speaking. Very earthy.

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Being dog tired, I did little else but read from "Interview with the Vampire" until hot drinks, then dinner. Another ranger, in camp, gave a campfire talk after dark. After more conversation, later with Dennis and Anne (who I tented with at May Lake), it was than much cooler and time for me to lay my weary bones upon my cot, bundle up under the wool blankets and comforter, and drift off to sleep.

Thoughts of spending the nest day at the waterfall were on my mind.

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