High Sierra Camps

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Sunny, bright, clear blue skies and, now, warmer temps accompanied our band of intrepid hikers as we marched across Tuolumne Meadows to meet up with a part of the group that had gone to the Tuolumne Stables first. That group had (wisely) arranged to have part of their cargo carried by mules to each of the camps, thus lightening their backpack loads. Essentials for hiking were with them in their backpacks, but earthly comforts such as the liquid spirits kind, were much more practically transported by the mules. Any additional weight that could be eliminated from their packs, and not needed until they reached camps each night, were included on the separately packed pack mules. Those two mules were then led by our wrangler, Sean, who typically left after we began hiking, but overtook us along the trails and arrived in camps well ahead of the group. 

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  The cast: l - r, Kurt, Ken, Cynthia, Jeannie, Mike, Cindy, Ames, Cynthia (back), Dot, Keith, Dick, Jana, Lev, Rob.

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We had 14 hikers in our band plus Jana Walker, our National Park Ranger guide. Eight were couples from the San Francisco Bay Area, 3 were the Byrd brothers from the Boston area, 1 their friend Keith and ending with Dot Armbruster from CA. and I. Several had hiked the High Sierra trails previously and, so, had some experience with long distance backpack hiking. Ames Byrd had helped build a portion of the Fletcher Creek trail from Merced Lake Camp to Vogelsang Camp, nearly 40 years ago. He looked forward to re-visiting his handiwork of rip-rak, a paving resembling cobblestone that often is found on steep inclines.   This rip-rak made it much easier to maintain one's footing on the ascents and lessened the strain on aching legs and bodies. Until we reached that paved portion that Ames helped create, we traversed over a multitude of rip-rak, many of which were not so much fun to maneuver upon.

Having gathered up our whole troupe, we headed off over more of the meadows and then began a long day's hike. This portion of the hike was to be rather mild, actually descending to Glen Aulin H.S.C. (High Sierra Camp). But believe me, it was not ALL downhill. While my pack seemed manageable when I lifted it upon my back, neither too heavy, nor too light, I soon enough found I was not built like a mule to carry any more than I needed. Despite the foreign weight upon my back, I made sure that I had plenty of water. Living in Arizona, I know that keeping hydrated is of utmost importance. This first day, luckily, was a good warm-up to the days that followed. I learned more of how to adjust my backpack and how to better load it for more comfort, meaning repositioning heavier items to my mid back instead of lower back. It still proved challenging to me, but I forged ahead daily.

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The scenery, after leaving Tuolumne Meadows soon changed, as we ascended to higher heights, then lower, and so on through the day. Most times during the hike concentrating on my footing over the rough terrain of even these "maintained" trails was challenging. I plodded along, sometimes up near the head of the pack, other times in the middle, and also toward the tail end. 

Delving further into the wilderness, we passed other hikers going in both directions, so while it is designated wilderness, people are seldom isolated or alone along the trails, or not for long. Jana allowed us to travel at our own paces, otherwise it would have been a forced march of madness. Thankfully we were offered this freedom to trek as we desired. Parts of the trails proved to be more tiring than others, the straightaways were best, of course, downhills pounded the balls of my feet, uphills stressed my upper legs, hips and lower back. My knees, for the most part, suffered few sorrows.

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Frequent stops were welcome, and at trail intersections, we would rest. Packs were quickly dispatched to the ground, we re-hydrated, ate snacks or our sack lunches, removed shoes, tended to hot or sore feet, waited for stragglers, and then, having caught our breathes, we hoisted our packs upon our backs and continued along the scenic mountain trails. 

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Taking photos, as most of you know is my delight. Having to concentrate most of my efforts on my hiking did not always allow for me to shoot scenes during the hikes. But, even with that restriction, I managed to capture many magnificent scenes. Trailing along a stream, babbling, bubbling and singing it's sweet fluid melody, approaching the downpour of a waterfall, stopping to see the rushing roar of water as it flowed over falls, or gazing out over a clear mountain lake, quiet, serene, with pines and mountains reflected in their mirrored surfaces, these were, and are, the things that so touch my soul, that I feel my connections with all creation that surrounds me. If only I could have lingered at many spots along the journey, I would still be wandering, wondering and marveling at the beauty from valley depths to the mountain heights. Ahh, yes, this trip already had me in it's grasp, and rewarded me daily with our earthly, natural beauty. 

 Nearing our first day's destination of Glen Aulin, we passed an impressive, roaring upper waterfall. Stopping to admire and catch my breath, I looked out upon the landscape and appreciated that this day's hike would soon end. By now my feet were hot and tired, the balls especially tender and aching from the steady downward contact upon the rocks and trail. But, I did not suffer from blisters, thankfully.

Crossing two bridges into camp, my pack was off my back toot sweet, as I then ambled into the lodge office for check-in and tent assignment. This night I shared the tent cabin with Cork, Mary and their son Sam. Cork and Mary are from Rochester, NY, while son Sam lives in San Francisco. This camp has a lower falls, from the larger one I admired from above, and a small lake. Many of us soon had immersed ourselves in the cold waters for a much appreciated, briskly refreshing rinse. A dry down in the sun, conversations with others in our group and other campers/hikers rounded out the time before the call to hot drinks at 6 and then the dinner bell at 6:30.

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We had an excellent dinner, served family style, complete with dessert, and ended dinner with the staff introductions. Most are young men and women, some who have worked in the camps for several years. Announcement were made, including reminders that hot drinks would be served at 7 a.m., followed by breakfast at 7:30 a.m. 

A short hike away from camp, we gathered to witness our first days sunset. More camaraderie amongst ourselves and the other camper/hikers, I was thankful that I was intact, none the worse for wear, for a safe, yet demanding day and conclusion of our hike to Glen Aulin H.S.C.


Though feeling beat, I knew this was just the start of an ambitious part of this journey. Though there was a sharp chill now that the sun had set, sleep was swift to come, as I snuggled deep under the wool blankets and comforter upon my cot's mattress. This kind of civilized comfort was greatly appreciated. 



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kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments