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Saddleback Ride in the High Sierras - "The Incident at Vogelsang Pass"

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Looking around me as we continued our ascent up Lewis Creek Trail, glimpses of Lewis Creek intermittently in sight, I sat in wonder looking at my surroundings. In addition to the conifers that were our nearly constant companions, what really impressed me was the granite. These mountains are almost continuously granite, by that I mean one huge mass of solid rock. Imagine how many eons it took for the forces of Nature to create the conditions for vegetation to get a foothold and then flourish upon those rocky slopes. The portraits it has produced are phenomenal, powerful, fantastic, inspiring. I only wish I could transfer what I saw directly to everyone just as I was viewing the scenes. 

After we had lunch, the ride was mostly routine as we proceeded upward toward Vogelsang Pass. Nearing the Pass, we came upon a work crew, who, just as we approached started up a chain saw. Knowing that sudden loud noises can cause some havoc amongst the mules, it alerted me to full attention. 

This was a moment that could panic our animals. 

Would this end up with riders suddenly in the midst of a stampede, mules running amok... crashing into tree branches…riders being jostled and thrown about, flipping and falling to the ground, hard granite rocks waiting to crack heads and bones? 

Holding my reins tighter, stiffening in my saddle, feet planted firmly and securely in the stirrups, I prepared for the unexpected.

The work crew, not knowing we were passing above them on the trail, continued their work, the chain saw roaring, oblivious to any plight we faced upon our mules. 

Whether by fortune, or our own instincts, the load noise having given us a pre-warning, tightening up our control of our mules, those tense few moments passed as not much more than a ripple in a pond. It all passed away, as quietly as the noise as we proceeded further and further away from the work crew. 

Relief - tension averted.

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Now being able to relax, again, our mule train plodded along, the pine forest becoming less dense, more open space as we began a climb upward above the tree line. At this higher elevation vegetation changes rather quickly, much smaller plant life prevails on the high slopes. Above the forested areas, tops of pine trees were all that remained in our view behind and below us. Nearly barren mountain tops loomed before us as we made several hairpin turns up the steep slope. 

This was the view I had not seen several days before when I hiked into Vogelsang Camp on the lower Fletcher Creek Trail. It was jaw-dropingly awesome. Not yet at the crest of the Pass, I struggled to look all around me to take in this view, high alpine meadows, two small lakes nestled on this side of the crest one higher up than the other. Patches of snow still tucked into crevices on the higher peaks.With my position on Steve-O, leaning forward, still going upward, keeping a tight hold and planted firmly in my saddle, not stopping and on the move, it was impossible to look, aim and shoot with my camera, So I simply pulled my camera up and pointed and shot what I could without aiming at anything in particular.

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Then, as I tried to capture scenes on my camera, looking up toward the crest of the Pass, came a wrangler on his horse followed by 4 fully packed mules. There is only one trail here, and, while still hundreds of feet away, it was obvious that a right of way needed to be established. Trail protocol mandates that upward traffic yield to downward traffic. Our group had some distances between mules, so K-Bar and Kendall had to get us grouped closer together and step our mules off of the trail. That already became obvious to me as I had steered Steve-O off trail and others behind me followed suit, with K-Bar coming back from the lead to assure all of us made room for the descending wrangler and his mules. Now, milling about, letting Steve-O graze at will, I saw that another, stray, packed mule was straggling, un-attached to the other mules on their downward path. Wow, that seemed peculiar, but the wrangler, his hands full with his horse and the other 4 mules tied together, had decided to lead his pack of animals off the trail to bypass our group. Perhaps that was to avoid any conflict between our mules and his own. Making his way over the slope, trailblazing his own path, his lone, straggler mule, some distance behind, suddenly seemed to realize he was being left behind and he started to run to catch up with his companions, his pack bouncing and swaying as he galloped over the rough terrain.

Oh my gosh, would he be able to keep upright on this steep mountainside, fully packed, and running downhill?

Having given himself and us a wide leeway, keeping a good distance between us, his mule actually did very well. He did not stumble or fall and he caught up with the other mules and his wrangler without further ado.

Drama and disaster de-fused.

Meanwhile, we are all now idling alongside the trail, looking around us at the incredible views. Feeling like being on top of the world, I could have dismounted and just sat up there to linger, lounge and look all about. But Vogelsang Camp was just a mile or so over the crest of the Pass. Once K-Bar and Kendall had made sure everyone was assembled and ready, K-Bar led us on up to and over the Pass.

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We didn't always follow in any specific order as we rode on the trails, we mixed it up a bit, sometimes I was near or at the front of the group, other times in the middle or towards the rear. After our detour and wait off the trail I got back about eighth in line, "J" in front of me on her mule, Finney and behind me was Julian.

As we proceeded up to and then began our descent over the Pass a very sudden and dramatic change of events.

I had just snapped a photo as we dropped down over the crest, (see the blurry photo to the left) when an unexpected scream broke the calm. "J" in front of me was screaming. A slight drop over a rock step on the descent required the mules to make a little jump on their front legs, nothing that we hadn't encountered many times along the trails. This time however, and in rapid sequence, I could see "J" leaning far to her left, right foot in that stirrup pointing upward, her saddle still exactly in place upon the mule, but she was slipping, slipping more and more off toward the rocks along the trailside. It was in a very tight spot, as we were also on a hairpin turn, whereupon everyone behind me was coming up unexpectedly upon what amounted to a stalled mule with rider in great distress. It could be nearly like a chain reaction, with everyone behind running into each other. Immediately, I directed Steve-O off of the trail, as time seemed to stand still and I watched "J" screaming nearing her inevitable fall. In my position off the trail I could see she had one hand far out on the reins, which gave her no control of Finney, while her other hand was trying to hold tight to the saddle horn. I'm shouting at her to pull herself back up, but my words were futile. In an instant, she had totally lost control of her position on her mule and fell - hard - onto the rocks. She hit and rolled several times coming to rest face down along the trail. No movement. 

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Kendall, behind, having not been in the line of sight of "J", but quickly comprehending the situation, got the other 4 or 5 riders ahead of him off the trail. Finney, not seeming to have been bothered by the ordeal, stood patiently on the trail. As all this was transpiring, those in front of "J" were yelling ahead to K-Bar to stop, he being a couple hundred feet ahead. He stopped his horse, quickly dismounted and ran back up the hill toward the still motionless "J" lying below me. Athough my initial instinct was to get off and offer assistance, Kendall, instructed us to remain on our mules. It was a very precarious situation at that sharp juncture on the trail. I was thankful that most of the group were ahead of this and were spared the potential danger those behind had faced.

K-Bar, now at the scene, knelt beside the lifeless looking form of "J". Asking if she were alright, trying to get a response without disturbing her not daring to touch or move her.He could see she was breathing and some of the tension and anxiety showing upon his face slackened. The rest of us behind "J" were breathlessly awaiting, all of us keeping our mules a safe distance away, wondering how this could have happened and with such suddenness. 

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In just moments, "J" stirred and turned over, now face up, and then she sat up. Obviously she was shaken, K-Bar speaking softly and gently to her, she said she was alright. Getting upon her feet, he gave her time to regain her composure, to check for any broken bones or other injuries and to try to determine how she was going to make it down to the camp, about 1 ½ miles away. She said she was OK and that she would continue to ride down. That seemed remarkable considering how hard she fell and that she had told several of us that she had back problems due to osteoporosis. Double checking, K-Bar was very willing to arrange some other means to get her to camp safely, but she insisted she was fit to ride.

OK then, near disaster diverted, "J" being assisted back upon her mule Finney, K-Bar hustling back down to his horse and Kendall being sure those of us behind "J" were doing OK, he too got back in his saddle and we began our final descent towards Vogelsang High Sierra Camp.

It didn't last.

Less than a 1/8 mile further on down the trail, "J" yells out. 

She HAD to STOP. 

She could not go on. 

She was in excruciating pain! 

Once again, with quite the disturbance, everyone came to a halt, K-Bar running back up the trail, and Kendall trying to keep his mules in check while the rest of the back group again kept our mules aside and calm. Helped her off her mule, "J" sat down and stated she was in great pain and riding the mule was only making it worse. Trying to decide, again, how we were to proceed, K-Bar was put in a very difficult situation, one that he had never before confronted until this trip. In a short while, "J" said she would walk the rest of the way, which I could see was not resting well with K-Bar. With Kendall being nearby, I told him that I would walk down with her and assist as best I could. But that would mean having Kendall take charge of Steve-O, which, he told me, would only make his job that much more difficult. You see he was already handling his pack mules plus one riding mule from one person who ended up walking most of the route on foot. One more animal for him to handle was not feasible. He thanked me for my offer, but had to decline in respect for the safety of everyone concerned. 

Now mind you, by this time Vogelsang Camp is in sight and, speaking for myself, I was looking forward to getting down off my mule and planting my own two feet firmly upon terra firma. We were all concerned with "J", yet we had to continue and, once in camp, they would send people to assist her on the rest of her way down and into camp. At the corral, is when Steve-O had nudged me and rubbed his face on my shoulder. Besides getting him through the bees near that trails end, I wondered if he appreciated being guided during the "incident". 

As the rest of us began to wait for our belongings from the pack mules, talk, naturally, revolved around the incident on the trail. While everyone was thankful that "J" was, for the most part intact, walking upright and otherwise OK, we also began comparing notes, most having heard her tell of taking medication for her osteoporosis and a couple of days prior telling us how she was nearly falling asleep while riding one afternoon. Having shared what little we understood, it was realized that what had happened had nearly put many more of us in a dangerous situation. I'm sure "J" did not intend to cause any of us to be involved in such a problematic predicament, but, she did. Most realized how we all had been jeopardized and we were not happy with "J" for having put us in harms way. 

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But, now in camp, we looked forward to relaxing and to hot drinks and dinner just a little later in the afternoon. I met my tent mates, all dentists from Los Angeles who went adventuring together around the world. They also enjoyed photography and set out to capture some of the scenery before hot drinks and dinner. Meanwhile, my foot (toe) was hurting and I removed my shoes and socks to find the ruptured blister. Cleaning it with disinfectant, I bandaged it and hobbled about camp for awhile until it approached dinner time. 

As we milled about enjoying our hot drinks, "J" had come and sat by herself on the nearby boulders. Not many of us approached her or otherwise engaged in conversation with her. Perhaps some were uncomfortable not wanting to talk about the "incident" or to avoid making her uncomfortable in broaching the subject. Personally, not wanting to appear to you as cold or uncaring, I really just felt very unhappy with her. As it turned out, others felt the same. We had been instructed, from the beginning, that we should always be on the alert, to be diligent and expect the unexpected. Over the past several days, "J" had been offered some advice on how she was riding her mule, friendly tips by a few who had more riding experiences. It seemed that "J" was not interested in advice and simply would not listen. That kind of stubbornness is it own form of defiance. 

If it had been disclosed that "J" had a serious medical condition, it would seem unlikely that she would have been permitted to have gone on this difficult, jarring, jostling saddleback ride. 

We wondered if she had disclosed her condition… 

While we waited that afternoon, some did talk with "J" and she informed them she had taken more pain pills once she had arrived in her tent. She did seem rather "content" and unflustered as she sat there…

The next day would wrap up our Saddleback Ride to the High Sierra Camps. I looked forward to the end and to continue on with the rest of my month long vacation. That morning, as most of us gathered at the corral, Kendall and K-Bar packing the mules, and harnessing our riding mules, more talk about the "Incident at Vogelsang Pass" continued. How, we wondered, was "J" to proceed on this last day when she was in so much pain and her self medicating? Talk also revolved around the jeopardy she created for the rest of us, no one wanting to be put back into such a situation if she were planning to ride with the group. She had also told K-bar that she had taken more pain pills which, naturally, concerned him.

While we had a determined departure time set, K-Bar had been in contact via two way radio, with Tuolumne Stables, and we were told we were to hang tight for the time being. Word came that a helicopter was being sent to retrieve "J" and fly her back, presumably to a hospital. Having already mounted our mules, we were asked to take our mules off the trail and just work with them, turning them in circles, left and then right several times, then we sat upon the saddles and waited. Mules being easily spooked, there was little sense in starting on the trail if the copter were to arrive and the noise disturb the animals. But then, word came to head 'em, move 'em out. The helicopter was not coming until later, and it wouldn't pose any threat to beginning the ride. That was a relief to hear. 

As we rode along those 7+ miles back to Tuolumne Meadows Stables, I rode behind K-Bar for quite some time. This allowed me time to chat as we rode. Asking about his name, he told me he was from Kentucky originally, had moved to Wisconsin years before, became a licensed Jarvis (as in fishing rods) Guide. He had his own company once upon a time which had to do with his being a  fishing guide, I believe. His given name is Kevin, and the K-Bar came to be to distinguish him from the other Kevin who also worked at that particular job. K-Bar looked the part of cowboy, no doubt about it. It was a pleasure chatting with him as we rode the trail. 

An hour or so after we left Vogelsang Camp, he heard the helicopter approaching, but we were well away from any disturbance to cause concern for our mules reacting to the noise. 

Once back at the stables, we all were asked to write an incident report. Photos I and others had taken, just before, helped us determine exactly everyone's position on the trail at that time. "J" was not at the stables when we arrived and we suspect, as I noted, that they flew her directly to a hospital. 

"The Incident at Vogelsang Pass" aside, I have given thoughts to how the saddleback trip compared to the hiking trip. Both have their merits, both have there ups and downs (pun intended). But, if I were to do this again, I think I'd rather hike. I actually did see much more that I could photograph while on foot. Moving more slowly, on foot, allows for more observation at an eye level closer to the ground. Being able to just stop and take in what lay before me was its' own reward. Ideally, in hiking the High Sierra Camps Loop Trails, I'd pack far fewer items, carry enough water of course, but not the excess I had with me (water bottles can be filled in camps every night) and a gallon per day is more than enough, 2 liters being adequate. Any excess weight that I brought, I'd pack on a mule, but in reality a person needs very little in the way of "stuff". Since the beds are in the tents with blankets and pillows, even a sleeping bag is not essential. Lightweight hiking clothing is easily rinsed out and dried, so need for excess clothes. 

One thing is for sure, as I've thought about it, I can now say that I WOULD do this trip again, preferably with another friend or friends who would be as ambitious. 

But now, it was time to drive out of the High Sierras and down to the highly visited Yosemite Valley about an hour and a half drive. 

Oh my!! what awaited as I came down into the Valley…

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Saddleback Ride in the High Sierras - Nearing Vogelsang Pass

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Who IS that masked man?

Feeling very cozy in my tent cabin at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, I opted not to arise early and watch the sunrise this morning. I was thinking ahead of our trail ride to Vogelsang Camp, appreciating that we were going to travel on the Lewis Creek Trail and come down into camp over Vogelsang Pass. The pass is a high ridge that divides valleys on either side. Atop there, affords people some awesome views to both sides I was told. I looked forward to being able to experience both trails, this time with the mule doing most of the work getting there and hauling my cargo.

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As days go, this seemingly was pretty much routine. The early morning hot drinks, served outside the dining tent, followed by our hearty breakfasts. Everyone was ready to head off on this day of nearly steady ascents, in fact we were all chopping at the bit (ha, ha, horse humor) as we had been informed the night before that we should be ready to ride just after breakfast. But where were the mules? Did they sleep in also? 

Well, we never did know exactly why the mules were not ready, other than K-Bar and Kendall had some issues with them. I did come to understand, in being up early and watching at the corral that attiring the mules and horses each morning required a whole lot of work. All that leather, harness, straps, buckles, saddles - on each animal - it all took time. And then, the mules were not supposed to lie down with all their gear upon them, as, I also learned, they could injure themselves, damage their gear, or not be able to get up. Being at the corrals after the mules were "dressed", some would lie down. When that happened and it was noticed, Kendall or K-Bar would start shouting at them to "GET UP" and may have to resort to prodding them to rise back up on their feet. 

(Being devils advocate here, who could blame the poor mules? Knowing I'd have to be carrying a lot of weight on my back, I'd want to lie down too). 

OH, WAIT! 

I did that the week before. I carried a heavy pack on my back and relished any opportunity to lie down too! 

Poor defenseless mules…

There was some grumbling amongst ourselves, but, no use fretting about things not in our control. Sooner or later we'd get underway and the day would still hold adventure for us. Finally, Kendall and K-Bar had tied down and snugged up the pack straps on the last pack mules, we all got mounted, just about to head on up the trail, and out runs Mike the camp manager, halting us from leaving. WHAT NOW?

Remember that fire I wrote about? Remember that a hotshot crew was to come to assure it was out and of no danger? Yeah? Well they were coming. 

NOW! 

By Helicopter! 

Loud machines and loud noises are not a good mix with mules or horses. So, we had to postpone departure for even longer. Under the circumstances, everyone understood and sat upon the mules, milling about. Nearly as quickly as we heard the alert from Mike, the sound of an approaching helicopter was heard. It was to land upon the massive boulder just above us, and by which we would directly pass. Keeping our mules down below, away and under control, the helicopter hovering above and gently landing, was dog gone awesome to watch. Not being able to actually see the action up above us, the loudness of the helicopter breaking the quietness and calm in camp, it was a very quick landing and departure. It seemed so rapid, that copter landing and then the big yellow bird lifting up again and swiftly darting off over the mountains.

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Wow! What a start to the day!

As quickly as the copter flew off, we were headed out of camp and up the trail. No more delays. Let's ride!

The unexpected excitement and resulting rush were soon settling as we plodded along, climbing the first  steep incline. And we climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Recent memory of my feet tramping upon this trail brought some delight in knowing how much exertion it required, and that I only had to sit in the saddle, hang on, lean forward and let Steve-O do the work. 

Not all of the day was spent leaning forward in the saddle as the mules clip clopped on the trails. There several descents as well and numerous level areas as well. Even upon the mule, the flat trail was typically less straining on me as well as Steve-O. 

By mid day we stopped in a shady area, near a stream and savored our lunches, mules tied to trees, looking as beat as I had felt the week before. And, of course, Steve-O got his portion of my apple, contentedly munching, and, I'm sure, very appreciative.

As the day wore on I reflected on the ride, the mules, the High Sierra Nevada Mountains and comparisons to the hiking.

As I looked at Steve-O and the other mules, it struck me on their grooming. Notice in the photo, the sharp looking crew cut (or would it be a Mohawk) on all the animals' manes.

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Additionally our mules did have their own personalities. Some seemed to sense the riders "softer" personalities and took advantage of that, by testing the limits, slowing down, going at their own pace, being stubborn (like - "as a MULE"). Imagine that! 

As we rode along, I'd give him a good pat on his neck, saying "good job Steve-O" or "good boy" and otherwise try to say encouraging things to help him know my appreciation and good intentions. Steve-O and I really seemed to be well paired. He being pretty much well behaved, not easily excited, steady, trusty. Near the end of this days trail, as we entered camp, another, unexpected swarm of bees were disturbed just as he had to jump over a muddy spot. Handling him on two accounts, the little jump and accosted by bee stings, Steve-O began shaking his head to ward off the bees and I, seeing his plight, prodded him to keep him moving, then getting him to move hastily away from the bees. Patting his neck and speaking softly, I offered what I could, in words, to help soothe him. At the corral, as i dismounted and tied up his reins, Steve-O, turned to me, and rubbed his head upon my shoulder. Ohhh, how affectionate was that?! I think he liked me.

Comparing the hiking to riding, first thing of note was that my line of sight was raised much higher upon the mule. The vantage point from there provided a whole new perspective. It also could be a bit unnerving. Particularly thrilling could be when the mules began a steep descent. I'd liken it to being on a roller coaster. Remember the feeling you get as the coaster slowly nears the pinnacle? Then remember that moment, it crests and you are looking, momentarily off into nothingness before you? And then, remember the feeling in the pit of your stomach as the coaster goes headfirst over the crest? Finally, remember looking down and seeing the tracks once again as the thrilling descent is upon you? THAT is what I often thought as Steve-O crested a hill, I was suddenly thrust forward and he took his first quick steps/jump downward for a bumpy, heart stopping ride. Watching the ground from that vantage point just made me hang on for dear life. Yeeee, yaaaa!

Lastly, about the mules, I never felt in any danger that he would mis-step or fall off a cliff. My confidence in Steve-O was complete. He did stumble one time on a descent, but, mostly on his own, he recovered and just kept on going, taking it all in stride. He (and I) also handled ourselves very well later up the trail at Vogelsang Pass.

And that will soon be revealed...


Saddleback Ride in the High Sierras

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Early morning near Sunrise High Sierra Camp meadow.

One thing that differed at Sunrise Camp was that they did have a couple of showbiz folks who performed after dinner. It was an a-cappella song and soft shoe routine. It entertained me so much that I asked for the words to one of their songs. This is to Simon and Garfunkel's tune to "Slow Down, You Move Too Fast":

Slow down you move too fast, You've got to make Yosemite last. Just kickin' down the granite stones, Lookin' for fun, and feelin' groovy! Ba da-da-da-da, feelin' groovy…

Hello Lodgepole, what ya known', I've come to watch your flowers growin', Ain'tcha got no bears for me? Dootin' doo doo, feelin' groovy… Ba-da-da-da-da, feelin' groovy…

I've got no deeds to do, no promises to keep, I'm ramblin' and happy and ready to leap. Let Yosemite share all her wonders with me. Life I love you, all is groovy! Ba-da-da-da-da, feelin' groovy…

(Slow down you move too fast, You've got to make Yosemite last. Just kickin' down the granite stones, Lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy! La-la-la-la-la, la,la feelin' groovy…)

Right on! GROOVY!

Other than that, like I mentioned, not much had changed at Sunrise. My tent mates were Julian and Drew and the other single woman, to whom I'll refer as "J". Julian and Drew, younger and outgoing were easy to like. J was chatty, informing us she has sleep apnea and would likely snore. I was very glad to know about the snoring, as I had brought ear plugs just in case a tent mate's nocturnal noises would disrupt my sleep. Those came in handy after all. J also let us know she had osteoporosis and was taking multiple medications for it. (Hummmm, a bone disease? Riding mules?? … more about that later…)

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As I had done the prior week, I arose early (it was even colder this time), and headed outdoors for the sunrise. As the sunshine began to sweep across the meadow, so too were thin clouds of smoke from the fires now being lit in the tent's stoves. The drifting wisps of smoke added another dimension to the brightening morning light.

As before, soon after breakfast we had our belongings gathered up and were ready to go, but K-Bar and Kendall had some issues early on that delayed our start. Once that was resolved, they had us mount up and set out for Merced Lake Camp.

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As we progressed during the day, from on top of Steve-O, the scenery's familiarity was like an old friend. This time, though, I could look up and look around more thoroughly and took in even more of the views. At the now familiar "Jane Mansfield Pass" we stopped for lunch. I was able to walk around more, there, and enjoyed just looking at the scenes.

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Our lunches were more than ample for me and usually an apple was included along with a good sized sandwich, packaged cookies and a pack of animal crackers. By the time I got to my apple, though I love fruit, I could not eat all of it. Whereupon, I decided to share it…with Steve-O. (I think that won him over entirely to me). Thereafter, at lunchtime, I'd share my apple with my trusty mule. I do think he looked forward to receiving that instead of his typical lunch of grasses or whatever greenery he chose to munch upon. I considered it a good insurance policy with Steve-O. He's assured of an apple from me, I'm more assured he will be trustworthy and carry me along until the end. I never had any issues with him all four days.

Proceeding on to Merced Lake Camp went without incidents. Except for trying to keep the mules closer together instead of having them spread out. 

K-Bar had told us not to let the mules eat along the way, especially if they just stopped and decided to graze. We were to give them a good swift kick or use the rein ends to swat them and get them moving. We were told, WE were the boss and had to get the mules attention and establish authority. I both had to laugh and cringe when a couple of the riders would be shouting:

 "NO, NO don't eat that",

" NO, not that way", 

"C'mon, let's go"

and the usual grunts, groans and screeches of surprise as the mules might have to jump a little bit down over a rock, or hop up over ones along the trail. Some seemed to treat their mules like a pet dog or cat, expecting them to respond. Giving the mule a little kick in the side was part of our instructions to get them moving, to get caught up or hasten them along, as was the case when we passed by a nest of ground bees and we HAD to run them out of that area before the mules REALLY got unruly being stung by the bees. Yet, a little tap was about all some were able to muster. I can only imagine if the mules had any thoughts, they'd be thinking "oh sister, is that ALL you got?" or, like the Pillsbury Dough Man would say, "that tickles".

It was good to enter Merced Camp again. At dinner, manager Mike let us know that some campers next to the camp had not extinguished their campfire that day which started a small forest fire. The staff recognized it quickly and thought they had it under control and had extinguished it. To be sure, however, a hotshot crew was to arrive in the morning to assure there was no further possibility of re-igniting and spreading. THAT kind of excitement would NOT have been fun. 

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K-Bar and Kendall were supposed to share my tent that night in Merced Camp, but, as it turned out, they slept either outdoors, just like Sean had done the week before, or they arranged some other place to spread out their bedrolls. But, I did have one roomie that night who arrived after I had been there for awhile. Introducing ourselves, I learned he was from Michigan and upon further asking found he was from Ann Arbor, my former home. He told me he was a radiologist at the U of M Hospitals. That immediately struck a chord with me and I asked if he knew Mark Bonney, my former partner. Surprised, he said, yes, of course, Mark and his business partner had just made a sales presentation to him a week or so before. Mark had worked at the U of M Hospital as an ultrasound tech, and later worked for a company that sold ultrasound equipment to clients where Mark would then train staffs to operate the devices. Mark is now presenting another type of medical imaging equipment to clients. (Richard Bauerman say's hello Mark). Talk about 15 degrees of separation…

No extra day at Merced on this trip, and with my sore toe, I limited my movements just to what was necessary that evening and next morning. The night was time to get relief and it did feel good to be off my feet. Otherwise, I had very little to complain about after my second day riding a mule. 

The next day would bring us to our last camp, Vogelsang, and word had it that we were going to be taking the higher, longer, Lewis Creek Trail. This really pleased me. Now I would have the opportunity to enter Vogelsang on the other trail AND get to see the Pass and the scenery I did not get to see a few days earlier. Plus, my exertion level would be minimal this go around.

Who would know what the next day would bring, but near tragedy and unexpected drama awaited at "The Incident at Vogelsang Pass".

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Saddleback trip to High Sierra Camps


Arriving at Tuolumne Meadows Stables on Sunday morning, the first thing that I witnessed was a wrangler leading five or more fully packed mules, tied together, around the stable yard. He, on his horse, seemed to be leading them around with no particular destination, maybe just getting them "organized". In just an instant, a couple of the mules became unruly, and it looked like pandemonium was about to prevail. After a very short period of yelling and shouting, he had control of them once again. 

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"Hummmm", I wondered, "is this any indication of what I'm to expect over the next 4 days"?  

Watching the scene, however, it appeared that one or two mules took offense with another and they had a little spat, which set off a chain reaction amongst the others all tied together. That must be like children in the back seat of a car -

 "MA, he touched me! 

Did not!

Did too!

(Kids. What ya gonna do?)

With the rodeo now in check, the wrangler had set off to wherever his destination might be. I expect, from seeing how many fully loaded mules he had under his command, that he was taking supplies up to the High Sierra Camps. There are no roads up there, after all, so the mules are the means to transport food and necessities to the camps. 

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Soon thereafter more people began arriving, who turned out to be members of what would be our saddleback riding posse. Everyone brought in the belongings they planned to use and need for our 4 day ride. Those things were then packed on four mules. All that each rider needed for the day was packed in the two saddlebags upon each mule. Those immediate necessities were our water and sack lunches. Other small items could also be taken on the mules but duffle bags, backpacks and larger items were carried on the pack mules. Having learned a few things from the previous week's hike, I brought my much smaller day pack, stuffed with a few clothes, meds, sandals and toiletries and my sleeping bag. I carried my Canon camera in a case strapped to my waist. The water bottle and my daily lunch were stuffed into the saddlebags. This go around, I knew that simply the basics would be all I'd need. 

Others in this group, to my surprise, were bringing large duffle bags, and quite a bit of baggage for each person. This, of course, all had to be packed on the mules (poor mules) every morning and unpacked each afternoon upon reaching camps. Everyone was responsible for delivering our possessions to Kendall, our wrangler/packer and for retrieving them once we arrived in camp. I, at least, was very happy to have kept my baggage to a two handed, light load which was easy to pick up and carry to the tent and then back to the mules every morning. 

The riders in this group numbered about 12, I believe, plus K-Bar, the leader and Kendall the wrangler/mule handler/packer. They fit the spitting image of "cowboys" (but without the guns - not allowed in National Parks). There were several families, one a mother and son from the Netherlands, a mother and two adult children, a younger couple, Drew and Julian, another family of father, mother, teenage son, a single woman and myself. During this week together, I hung out mostly with Drew and Julian.


The view from atop Steve-O.

As the mules were being packed, we received more instructions and watched a video concerning our riding the mules and safety practices. This video was a bit intimidating, citing that accidents or injuries could occur, control of our mules, and assorted warnings and precautions. Any medical conditions, of concern, were to be brought to the attention to the stable staff. 

Now, feeling some trepidation, and having the obligatory safety helmet in hand, we proceeded to "introductions" to our mules.  I really started to wonder if this mule ride was a good choice for me. I've had experience riding a few horses, most recently last year near Zion National Park, but never a mule. Handling mules is similar to horses, but with some differences, as we learned. Early on, I could see that Drew and her husband Julian, were most likely the most accomplished riders in our group as Julian came prepared complete with chaps. Drew told me she had had horses, I believe, and ridden enough to have a very good idea of what she was doing. As it happened, she was helpful, or tried to be helpful to others in our group who had little or no riding experience. 

Steve-O was my steed. As instructed, we approached the mules, talking to them, patting or touching them and loading the saddlebags with what we planned to carry throughout the day. Once upon Steve-O, I began my "test ride". 

Yup, he turns right on command. 

Yup, he turns left on command.

Ah, yup, he stops when the reins are pulled back.

A little kick start, and he moves forward. 

Hey, I got this. Seems all systems are a go. 

Let's ride!

Hold on there Don (or as they say, "hold your horses partner" - OK - mule... not horse).      

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Walter, showing how to hold the reins.

Other delays that morning prevented us from hitting the trail until more than an hour after the planned time. But, once we had all saddled up and felt comfortable upon our mules, the pack mules loaded, K-Bar mounted his horse, and led us out of the stable yard onto the trail.

Previously I had thought we were going to the first three camps that were visited the prior week. But that was not so. Saddleback trips that leave on Sundays take the southern camps, Sunrise, Merced and Vogelsang. This was just fine with me. It is not, after all, about the destinations, it's about the journey to get there. 

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Noticeable from the start was the dust that was kicked up by the mules. Having had previous riding experience, and from the hike, I already had my bandana tied around my neck which was soon pulled up over my mouth and nose. This was most useful and helpful preventing breathing in all that dust (and you thought cowboys only wore bandanas when they robbed banks, didn't you?).

Second most noticeable was the ride. Oh yes, as you might imagine, a bit rough on the posterior. (But, I had a little "assistance". I wore some padded underwear, similar to the riding shorts worn by bicyclists. They did help 'soften' the ride).

Soon after crossing Tuolumne Meadows, then across Tioga Road, we were headed uphill. I can assure you this was much easier (on me) than by hiking on my own two feet. Proper technique was to lean forward when going uphill and to lean back when going downhill. Those two tips did help lessen strain on my body, and I sure hope it was less stressful on the mules too. Also, the balls of our feet were supposed to rest ON the stirrup, with toes up and heels down. We were reminded, often "TOES UP, HEELS DOWN". K-Bar told us that our knees would take most of the punishment and added, "if your knees aren't hurtin', you're doin' it wrong". 

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Really?

Well, heck, I'm not going to intentionally hurt myself, and made darn sure my knees were not hurting. Every once in awhile, I'd get a twinge in a knee, but I'd stand up a bit to stretch my legs while riding and that was usually enough to take off some pressure. The balls of my feet, however, already having taken a beating the prior week, were now steadily pressed upon which was not so very comfortable. 

And then there was that toe blister that developed the last day of hiking. For whatever reason that became troublesome while riding and I finally realized the extent of it. But, by then it had ruptured and the constant pressure peeled back the loose skin, which then led to the tender flesh beneath to bleed. THAT was very uncomfortable! The injury, unfortunately, also curtailed my hiking expectations over the next week and a half. Short distances were tolerable - barely. Ow!

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Lunch stop, my mule Steve-O tied to a tree.

Prior to mounting the mules and beginning the ride, I had thought I'd be able to take a bunch more photos. But that didn't work out so well for me. With all the jostling on top of Steve-O, photo ops were lost before I could even TRY to focus my camera. Eventually, I just pointed and shot, in hopes that something decent would develop from shooting on the go. 

Later in the afternoon we rode into Sunrise Camp, this time from the opposite direction as when we hiked in the week before. Of course, not much had changed, except the new visitors. 

I'll leave you with tid-bit of information (in case you did not already know it). Mules are primarily beasts of burden. They are more sure footed and better built to negotiate rough terrain, such as on the High Sierra Trails.  Some are trained as pack animals, others are for riding. As K-Bar pointed out, you DO NOT want to try to ride a pack mule, or you will be in the midst of your own wild rodeo. That's good to know, for the next time I try to mount up on a mule. Mules are the offspring of male donkeys and female horses (that I knew, but may have had the sexes mixed up). Mules are sterile (usually) and don't produce offspring (again, usually). Now THIS information intrigued me - mules will always follow a horse. They follow horses because horses were their mamas (makes no difference to the mule whether its male or female). Thus, that is why whomever leads mules will be riding a horse, not a mule. 

That public service announcement brought to you by…ME. 

File it in you grab bag of trivia. 

Staying tonight in Twenty Nine Palms, CA and will try to write more yet tonight. Now I need to find some dinner.

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One more thing, I did not know about the current Yosemite fire until after I left Sequoia National Park a couple of days ago. I've been asked about it in concerns for my well being. To reassure everyone, I was long gone from Yosemite when the fire started and was not near the flames at any time. Tuolumne City, which apparently is threatened by the fire, is further north, northwest of Tuolumne Meadows where my hike and ride began. To the best of my knowledge they only share part of their names, but not locality.

So, rest assured, I'm a long ways away from any forest fire danger.


High Sierra Camps - Part 7


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While we were all in high spirits for all that we had accomplished, there was a bitter sweetness for me, the ending of a challenging, sometimes grueling effort to trek the rugged trails in the High Sierra Mountains and for the friendships and camaraderie between our troupe and the others I met and befriended during the week. My photos and stories, I hope, will help keep the memories alive for all of us.

On the last day at Vogelsang, I was up early, lit the fire in my stove, and redeemed myself for fire starting, as this fire did "take" and was soon burning very nicely. But, I didn't linger to savor the warmth, instead going out into the very cold morning air so that I could grab more scenes of this sunrise. From the west side of Fletcher Lake, I waited and watched as early dawn dwindled and the sun began it's steady climb upward in the Eastern sky. Vogelsang Peak grabbed the first beams of the sun and glowed brilliantly. Soon thereafter, the conifers beneath Fletcher Peak and along the lake were bathed in morning's golden glow. It was quiet, peaceful but for the chirping and chattering of the birds as they flittered and flew about. 

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Early mornings such as these in the mountains, set a peaceful, calming tone for me. All the mornings that brought me out into the cold, were so worth the effort. Even the smallest of things attract my attention, whether that be the darkness giving way to dawn, the colors in the brightening sky, glowing clouds, reflections in still waters, the manner in which the sunlight backlights pine needles as they gleam in sharpness and clarity, the way in which the light touches the mountain tops and proceeds it's flow down over the land and the night shadows disintegrate into the new day's light. Otherwise unseen, the strands of spider silk, stretching between branches or from tree to tree, trap early sunlight rays as they glimmer, multi-colored, waving in the light breezes, causing the light to seem to walk a nearly invisible tight rope, hesitating, jumping to and fro, hanging in mid air, the reflected light dancing along those tight, ever so slight silken threads. Animals and birds become active, squirrels and chipmunks scurry about looking for a convenient meal, birds singing and chirping their morning songs. So many little things are there to be seen if patience prevails and curiosity is sparked.

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Returning to my tent, it had warmed up nicely so that I could comfortably gather up my belongings and get them re-packed. Hot drinks were enjoyed once again, while I aimed to stand in the warm morning sunlight. Breakfast was delicious and satisfying, as trays of food were passed around the tables. By 8:30, most of us were assembled and patiently waited until all were ready to head out on this last leg of our hike. With lunches stowed in our packs, the final verse of the 7 Dwarfs, HI-HO rendition with dance step presented to the staff, we stepped briskly out and made our way over the meadow on the return to Tuolumne Meadows.

This last day of hiking was relatively easy. No big surprises along the way. A stop in a meadow along the way revealed some markers on four trees that have been used since the 1930's to help measure snow pack. Our wrangler, Sean, overcame us and passed through soon after we had left camp. Nearing the end of our hike I could feel some discomfort on a toe on my right foot, but it did not seem to be of any concern - at the time.

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Dot and I were staying overnight at Tuolumne Meadows. She was planning to arise early and begin her drive back home to San Jose. I was able to also sort out my clothes, and packed a small day pack with the items that I felt I would need for the next 4 days on the back of a mule. As requested, I drove over to the stables, introduced myself and received instructions for meeting there the following morning. Additionally, releases were presented for my signature and, having accomplished that task, I returned to camp, showered and shaved then rested until I met Dot for dinner. We met another couple who were backpacking into the mountains the next day. Sharing our stories and hearing theirs made for a pleasant way to enjoy our meals and end this final day of the backpacking hiking adventure in the High Sierras.

I was asked if I thought I might do this High Sierra Camp Loop trip again. That is something I'm still contemplating, but, by trip's end, I would have said "probably not". Happy and proud of myself for having completed this amazing adventure, there are many other places I'd like to experience and other adventures to live and conquer. If someone else or others would be interested in such an ambitious undertaking, that would certainly sway me towards tackling the Sierra Nevada Mountains once again.

Part 1 of the Yosemite feat now under my belt, I began focusing on the next four days of the Saddleback ride visiting three of the same High Sierra Camps of the past week. 

Would this be as demanding and fun as the hiking?





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High Sierra Camps - Part 6

I was ready to roll soon after breakfast, as were most of our troupe. Delay was inevitable, however, as our lunches were not all packed and ready for us by 8:30 a.m. But, finally, well after 9 a.m., the group of 8 performed their 7 Dwarfs song and dance and with that, HI, HO it's off to Vogelsang we go.

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There are two routes to reach Vogelsang High Sierra Camp after leaving Merced Camp. The lower route, Fletcher Creek Trail was about 7.6 miles, while the higher route, Lewis Creek Trail was about 8.4 miles long. Earlier I mentioned that Ames B, nearly 40 years earlier, had helped construct a section of rip-rak on the Fletcher Creek Trail and that was the trail most of chose to take. 4 of the group opted for the longer, Lewis Creek Trail. Personally, I preferred to save a mile of trekking, as I knew it would be a long day of up, up and up to 10,130' elevation (starting at 7250' at Merced). Also I read that we would pass through a nice flat area, Fletcher Meadow. I was sure that level section of the hike would be very welcome once we reached that part of the trail. Either route, I learned has it's merits, but the Lewis Creek Trail, while longer, had the Vogelsang Pass. Once reaching that pass, standing upon the ridge between valleys, one could look on either side for breathtaking scenes on either side. Some hikers, I heard, would drop their packs once in camp at Vogelsang and THEN hike up to the Pass and see the views without all that heavy load upon their backs. That sounded to me like an ideal way to experience the Pass without all the effort. (When I reached camp, I was just plain tuckered and had no desire to hike another mile or so up and then down again).

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The split in the trail, Fletcher Creek below, Lewis Creek above.


There was steady climbing shortly after leaving Merced Lake Camp. And it continued. And it continued. Up, up, up we trudged, and nearly 2 miles in, we reached the split in the trail, the right being the longer Lewis Creek Trail. 4 of the group opted to take the higher, longer route, while the rest of us chose Fletcher Creek Trail. 

I was under no misconceptions that, by taking the lower trail, it would be easier. Either way it was cut, this was going to be a long day of upward ascension. I was not mistaken.

The photo to the right gives you a perspective of the steepness of much of the trail. I was up several levels as part of our group are steadily climbing upward to the intersections of the trails. Much of what we encountered this day was very similar to this picture.

Once we all had regrouped at the intersection, final decisions were made of who was going on which route. Kurt, Cynthia, Mike and Cindy, brave and hardy souls that they are, marched onward and upward along the Lewis Creek Trail.

Once rested, re-hydrated and prepared to go, everyone picked up their resolve and set off, again, for more of the day's steep trails.

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 And climb we did. At times it seemed to be never ending. 

After some time, we finally arrived at the constructed rip-rak that Ames helped build. In my opinion, this really was the best of all those we traversed on the entire trip. This example of "paved" trail was especially welcome as it made for a less strenuous climb on the steep inclines.

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Prior to reaching Fletcher Meadow, we stopped for a snack break and a chance to once again catch our breaths. Sitting there, regaining some energy, I mused as I looked out over the massive landscape before me. It struck me, again, of how continuous the granite mountains were. In places, vegetation desperately hung on to growth in seemingly impossible places. Smooth granite mountains juxtaposed upon the clear blue sky, were sharply in focus in the high Sierra air.

Having had our opportunity to rest and grab a snack, Jana told us we only had a bit more climbing and then we could halt for lunch. That is like holding a carrot in front of a donkey, encouraging him to keeping on moving forward. It worked for me. 

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Similar to the waterfall near Merced Lake, we dropped packs along Fletcher Creek where it began it's descent from the meadow, spreading out over the gently sloping, flat granite creek bed. This was a perfect spot to enjoy our lunches and for the marvelous scenes all around, especially down from where we had come. Lying upon the flat surfaces, we could rest our feet, cool them in the stream, or, as I did, wander about and take in all the natural beauty that my eyes could behold. WOW! is about all that I can say. The scale of what I saw and had seen all week still astounds me. Grand views. Inspiring, the full canvas of this natural beauty was perfect in every way.


As we crested up the creek, we entered the flat and open alpine Fletcher Creek Meadow. It was stunning. And a welcome respite from all the upward trekking we endured all morning.

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Once across the meadow, there were more times of upward trail, but it did not seem nearly as taxing as it had been the first part of the day. Jana pointed out Fletcher Peak, below which lay Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. It still seemed a long time, though, before we actually marched into camp. 

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Being the highest of the High Sierra Camps, Vogelsang also lie along a high meadow, Fletcher Lake nestled under Fletcher Peak where there were still small patches of snow packed into high crevices on that mountainside. Not having the desire, nor energy, I decided not to do an optional hike up to the Vogelsang Pass. It just did not have enough draw for me to exert myself in the effort to reach the high ridge nor a scramble up the even higher Vogelsang Peak. Instead, I strolled around Fletcher Lake, where flowers still were in bloom, the air was cool, the lake picturesque and calming. It was much more rugged up in this camp, but not in an unfavorable way. It was a comforting location, tents planted amongst the flat topped granite and boulders with high peaks towering above camp, the lake, the stream lazily flowing adjacent to the tents, the alpine meadow filling in between the mountains, and a high, brilliant blue sky capping off the idyllic scene. 

Over hot drinks at 6 p.m. I caught up with others not in our group who had been hiking the trails and camping in the same camps during our week on the trails. The night sky was clear in the cold evening air, a sliver of the moon and the first evening stars brilliant in the fading dusk. Alpine glow from the setting sun continued to keep a pleasing pinkish, coral colored aura until that too was overtaken by the darkness and countless, brightly twinkling stars, in such a multitude as can only be seen and appreciated in skies like this, high above the "civilized" world.

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Before turning in for the evening, I laid out up some huge boulders, gazing up into the heavens, one brightly beaming, sparkling star catching and mesmerizing my attention. That, I believe, may have been Mars, but it seemed to beckon me, which only prompted me to lie there for over an hour, gazing, wondering, and watching for more shooting stars from the Perseid Meteor Shower that was making it annual performance during this week of my high mountain travels. As I lay there I did see three distinct falling stars, and possibly a couple more in my peripheral vision. But having only heavy socks and sandals on my feet, popsicle toes forced me to give up my star search and hastened back to my tent. Having a tent by myself, I prepared the stove for a quick lighting for my early morning awakening.  

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Chilled now beyond all previous nights, I borrowed blankets from the unused beds under which I nestled for another nights peaceful, restful slumber. I drifted off to sleep, keen to start on the next, last day of our High Sierra Camp Loop hike. It promised to be much less tiring, as it was to be a gradual descent back to Tuolumne Meadows. After a nights rest there I would trade in my hiking for a four day saddle back trip on the back of a mule, visiting the same last three High Sierra Camps from a different point of view.

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High Sierra Camps - Part 5

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With no wood burning stove in our tent cabins, there was no need to start a fire in the morning, though it was on the chilly side early in the morning. As usual, I awoke early and ventured outdoors for some early morning exploring and for my sunrise ritual. I climbed up above camp and shot some photos of the camp below. The Merced River, flows by camp, with a sizable waterfall. With nary another soul stirring I ruled the domain for the time being. A mule packer/wrangler was up early and had packed up her mules. She may have brought in supplies for the camp, I'm not certain.

Merced Lake Camp is quite a bit larger than all the other camps, and is managed by Mike Talmadge, his first year as manager. Mike had been coming to Merced Camp since he was 6 years old - for 60 years. Having retired as a doctor, he was asked to manage this camp from a friend who oversees all the camps. He and his wife work as a team and run a well organized location. Mike is very outgoing and mingles with the guests everyday, getting to know them and sharing stories together.

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Of course, I was relishing this "extra" day. A day of rest and relaxation. It was good to have a day off, for the next day was going to be the most challenging part of the High Sierra Camp loop. A 2880'+ elevation gain loomed as that trail was to lead us to Vogelsang Camp. As I earlier stated, I had already made my mind up to wander back to that waterfall that fanned out over a granite slope.

After our breakfast, it felt good, though a bit odd, NOT to have to scurry and have our backpacks ready and prepare to don the loads and trek off on another days hike. So, I lingered longer this morning, explored around Merced Lake, which does not have what could be called a beach, but rather more of a marsh meadow on one side closest to camp, butting up to a mountain on the one side, the trail back to the falls on the other side and, farthest from camp, it flows out as the Merced River. Once I had explored nearer to camp, I gathered up my lunch, swim suit, towel, water and sunscreen and started the 1 mile hike back to my waterfall. Along the way I lingered to take photos of a deer and her fawn(s), enjoyed the views along the lake and the river and marveled at the granite mountains and the tall pine trees.

Along the way, I stopped frequently, also to get down closer to the river. Mike had told me about the mother bear and two cubs, though they had not been in the camp (that is a good thing - they do not want bears raiding camps and relying on human food (remember, bear boxes are for securing food, snacks, scented items and toiletries)). 

Also reportedly seen along the river and lake were an eagle, osprey, and river otter. I did see a very large bird flying low over the lake but I could not determine it's species. Likewise, I never saw the otter, though I would like to have.

It was a perfect day for a short mile hike. Upon reaching the falls I searched for an appropriate place for me to spread out and enjoy my day. Looking for a secluded pool below the falls did not look very promising, so I simply prepared a spot next to the thinly layered fall as it spread out across the granite.

A father and his young daughter happened by early on, as they were fly fishing in the pools of water, but otherwise I was undisturbed by others who might have wished to hang out in the same location.

Later in the day, I laid down in the shallow flow of water, feet braced on an outcropping and allowed the cool, clear water to just flow around me. It never submerged me nor streamed over me - simply around me. That was soooo refreshing.

Lying in the sun, soaking up the rays, listening to the water ripple over the rock, I was totally at peace. By mid afternoon I could feel more of a chill in the air, and so, I headed back to my tent cabin. The day of rest was just what the doctor ordered and allowed me to gather up some strength and will power for what was to come on the ascent to Vogelsang.

Others in our group had hiked out to nearby Washburn lake, of which, I heard little feedback. But Cindy had returned from Washburn Lake separate from the others and was rewarded with seeing the mother bear along her way. She did get a photo of it which she shared when she came into camp.

Another delicious dinner was prepared for us at Merced Camp, and the day soon wound down. I prepared my backpack, and made sure to get plenty of sleep as Jana made it clear, she wanted us on the trail by 8:30 a.m. I did not want to be the one holding up departure, and so, tried to have everything organized for a timely start on a day of climbing, climbing, climbing...

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That is Mike, the manager, in the mess hall at dinner.

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The start of breakfast, hot oatmeal and mixed, fresh fruit.

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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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High Sierra Camps, Part 3

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  May Lake - early morning

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As before, I found the peacefulness of the early morning, a time to reflect and contemplate all that the earth presents to us each day. Beauty abounds all about us, it is up to us to see it in it's many forms, take it in, absorb it, cherish it. At moments like these, I do appreciate that I have the desire and ability to wander far off on the less traveled paths to see this astounding scenery. Our nation's Parks are treasures that should not be taken for granted. I would certainly encourage people to travel to them and experience them in the manners that best suit your style or abilities. Certainly, everyone may not be as adventurous as I or those like me, but the National Park systems can accommodate people in various ways so that they can be enjoyed. But please, don't just drive through, as I heard 90+ % of visitors do and then consider that they have visited a National Park. Get out of your vehicle, take a bus, tram or other tour, walk about, stay, linger longer and experience what is before you. As they say, "it's not the destination, it's the journey".

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Having made up my mind that my aches and pains were not going to stop my hike, (and now boosted with Advil and Tylenol), I found the next days trek to Sunrise Camp, less taxing than the previous days. That renewed my spirit and having now gotten to know more about our troupe, the realization that setting your mind to it and keeping facing forward is a matter of choice and determination.

With that said, I'd like to comment on those who ventured out on this 7 day hike. Starting with the group from the Bay Area, there were 4 couples, all of them friends. A primary reason for them gathering together for this adventure was to celebrate the birthday of Cynthia P during our week together. By first names, there was Cynthia, Cynthia, Cindy, Jeannie, Rob, Kurt, Mike and Ken (the names aligned with spouses). 

Now here was a group that knows how to enjoy life! Such a fun-loving group as any I've ever seen. All the couples were very devoted to each other, supportive of their relationships and of those of the others, plus, supportive and encouraging to the rest of the troupe. Little did they know that a word from them here or there was an impetus for me to forge ahead. As I've mentioned in previous stories about people I've met along the trails of my journeys, this group, and all the rest, were the wind beneath my wings. Also, as I refer to these souls, as my guardian angels. You all have no idea the inspiration you stir in me, with a determination to tackle the tasks that I confront.

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Loving, caring, supportive, fun-loving, the group of 8 had decided they would have a theme for their week of celebration. They chose to go with "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs", and Cynthia P being Snow White. When introductions were made they persisted in using their alter ego names, which really got me and others confused. Dot and I, often conferred together about who was who, and it still took nearly the whole week to just get it set in my head of their real first names. Having said that, I will try to recreate the given names and alternate dwarf names to the group. (in the interest of privacy, I'll just use first names, as I don't want to offend anyone by not asking permission to use full names). Sleeping Beauty: Cynthia P. Sleepy: Rob P. Bashful: Cynthia T. Grumpy: Kurt T. Doc: Cindy K. Dopey: Mike K. Happy: Jeannie P. Dopey (again): Ken P. Along the way a few others picked up a dwarf moniker, Richard, (Dick) (Sneezy) B, Jana Walker, our Ranger Guide became (Sleezy). While I didn't end up with a dwarf name, at times I was referred to as Ansel (as in Ansel Adams the famous photographer of numerous Western National Parks and scenery). Imagine that?! 

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Like I said it got confusing, but as I walked I consciously reviewed their real names and finally got them placed in order so that I knew to whom I was speaking. To Jana and Dot I confided that I thought they all are in a witness protection program, thus the cover names to protect their real identities. (Oh boy, do I now hope that is NOT the case!).

Additionally, some of the group of 8 had hiked the High Sierra previously, so they had knowledge of what lie ahead. Apparently there is a tradition amongst the guided hikes to perform a short skit as they leave each camp before hiking to the next camp. Well, as Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, it was obvious that the song of choice was "HI, HO, HI, HO, it's off to…" was the basis for each days rendition of music, which they accompanied with a little dance step, which then led to our marching out of camp. These skits were performed for the Camps' crew, as we were wished well on our days' journeys. With a smile on our faces, a song in our hearts, a new day of discovery then opened before us.

That being the first group, the second group were the brothers from Massachusetts and Vermont: Dick, Ames and Lev and their friend Keith, also from Vermont. While Snow White and her band of dwarves were close in ages near or in their 50's, the Eastern band of brothers were all in their 60's, and closest in age to myself. Dick was the elder of the brothers, and a natural leader as I saw it. They all respected each other and definitely had a bond between themselves. Also a jovial bunch, with much laughter and insights, I enjoyed their company as well. Being similar in age, they too inspired me.

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Keith, their friend, I learned, is a pretty well know gymnastics instructor (and as it turned out, taught the manager of Vogelsang camp, who also had dinners at his home when she was training. The manager was delighted to know Keith was staying at her camp, but had not known he was arriving until he was on her doorstep). Keith was a trooper who frequently preferred a solo trek. Always quick with a big smile, it was obvious he enjoyed the adventure, the effort, and the fellowship of the rest of our crew.

And then there is Dot. If ever there is an inspiration, this lady optimizes the word. Dot also was traveling solo, just like me. But this was not Dot's first rodeo of the High Sierra adventure kind. Oh no. This was her sixth High Sierra sojourn in Yosemite! That, in itself is remarkable. But what is even more outstanding is that Dot is 81 years young. Holy Smokes, this woman was most often at the head of the pack, tackling the upgrades and downgrades with a relentless determination. I honestly can say, most times I had to struggle just to keep up with her. If memory serves me, Dot was a teacher, lives in San Jose, CA, and takes these trips by herself. She would like to have her son and granddaughter join her, but that has not yet happened. She certainly would delight in showing them the scenery she has viewed  on her multiple hikes and hopes it will be so while she is still able. When I would begin to think that I had just about reached the end of my endurance, I would see Dot up ahead and would be re-energized to set my feet back on the trails and just move forward again. Dot and I had several conversations, which I cherish and I would call her Mom for all that she has done and the lift she supplied when my wings felt too tired to soar.

Not to be forgotten is Jana Walker, our National Park Service Guide. Jana has worked as a park ranger for many years, in several different National Parks, including the Grand Canyon. As a guide, she taught us many lessons about the vegetation, geology, animals and more. Funny, informative and equally as fun-loving as the rest of the troupe, she sponsored an uplifting, hilarious and intoxicating cocktail hour after our arrival at Sunrise Camp. A little bit of liquor at high altitudes goes a long way and releases a lot of "free spirits" in a person. The laughter, antics and bonding make me smile every time I think about that party on the granite boulders overlooking Sunrise Meadow.

This takes me to Sunrise Meadow, where I will pick up the story, when next possible. 

Today I leave Kings Canyon en-route to Sequoia National Park.

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Cindy, an artist, painting a scene while we rested.


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Snow White and the dwarfs, singing and dancing as we prepare to depart May Lake Camp.


High Sierra Camps, Part 2

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   Sunset above May Lake High Sierra Camp

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Arising before the sun at Glen Aulin Camp, I quickly dressed in the very chilly tent cabin, then set about lighting a fire in our wood burning stove. Surprisingly enough, the fire took on the first try, though I made sure it was well engaged before shutting the stove door, then exited the tent, leaving Cork and his family still asleep in their beds. Grabbing my camera, I walked out to where we had viewed the sunset the night before. 

Now the sun would be coming up from behind me. As the first rays of morning light rose above the mountain behind me, mountain tops to the South and to the West began to brighten with a golden glow. Far to the North those high peaks also grabbed the sunlight and brightened as the sun rose higher in the sky. Now as the sun ascended, the pines too, were bathed in that pleasant, serene golden light. As the sky grew brighter, the light draping down over the mountains and over the trees, the shadows of night were pushed down, down, down into the deep valleys.

Though brisk in that early morning High Sierra atmosphere, I was wrapped in layers with a stocking cap to keep me warm. Still, it was approaching the time for the gong to sound and rally the campers for hot drinks at 7 a.m., so I was ready to head back and get into the (hopefully) toasty tent. My tent mates were then up and about and thanked me for warming it up for them. I'm sure they could dress more leisurely than I did. 

So, warm drinks, coffee, tea, hot cocoa were being served when I got back to camp and much mingling amongst ourselves, commenting on the chilly night, rest from the previous day's hike, and talk of this day's journey. A hearty breakfast beginning with hot oatmeal, followed by fruit, eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, potatoes were the standard morning meal. This proved to me ample sustenance for the morning hikes each day. After breakfast we picked up our sack lunches, typically a turkey, PB&J, or veggie sandwich were offered, but included were a pear, apple or orange, packaged cookies, trail mix or animal crackers for a snack. 

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Well fortified, we tried to leave camps by 8:30, but most often got started after 9 a.m. As Jana would tell us, the later we start, the less play time we'd have at the end of each day's trail. While we were assembling, repacking our backpacks, stuffing in our sack lunches and milling around before setting foot on the trail, Sean, our pack mule wrangler was busy packing the accessory items of the backpackers upon his two mules. As I mentioned, he would usually leave after us but overtook us and arrived in camps ahead of us.

The second day on the trail was a tough one, for me. Especially, I remember the last grueling miles before entering May Lake Camp. But before that, we had some pleasant rests, time to adjust packs and care for hot spots on our feet, but most exceptionally, we stopped for lunch at Raisan Lake, a small, but delightful little gem, where many of us took the opportunity to splash in for an awakening, refreshing swim. Then to lie up the massive granite rocks to dry and savor our lunches.

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Ahh, and then came a particularly steep hike. One that seemed to never end. I stayed in the company of Jeannie and Cynthia for a good part of that trek, but finally had to halt to catch my breath and rest a bit. The ladies, encouraged me, but continued onward, seemingly unaffected by the altitude or the steep grade. After a brief respite, I trudged on, alone, finally reaching the summit and then was able to amble along through a meadow and on level ground. In time I saw May Lake off to the right, a pleasant vision that beckoned me to dive into it's clear waters.

Yes, after dumping my stuff in the tent, I headed to the lake and, once again, savored the brisk bathing. Chilled, yet refreshed, I met my tent mates, Dennis and Anne by the lake, where we chatted and got acquainted. This also gave me an opportunity to chat with others in our group, as we bonded daily over the week of hiking.

The night in May Lake Camp was the least restful of the week. Others, too, complained of having a difficult time sleeping or other physical ailments the same night. I had taken some extra strength Advil and Tylenol, gift of another hiker, Dan, from Nova Scotia, to counteract some soreness, stiffness and aches during that day's hike. That medication may have hampered my slumber, or it could have been elevation change, who knows. At this camp, during my restless night, I started to give serious thought of throwing in the towel and just end the agony. Thoughts of more of the same lying ahead each day, in my troubled sleep, only intensified these misgivings. 

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And yet, I was still responsible for myself, which meant, I'd have to wander back out, on my own. Now it wouldn't take a genius to realize, going back would only present the same hard hikes, and I would be without any support from the rest of the group. It's not in my nature to give up so quickly, though I felt on the very edge upon waking the next morning. When I heard others, too, had some nighttime complaints, I somehow felt relief. What I heard from a couple of the others seemed to pale in comparison to any aches and pains I may have experienced. And so, after breakfast and another delayed start, I flipped that pack on my back, buckled it securely, strapped on my camera bag and water bottle, and set one foot in front of the other as we made our way almost continuously downward to cross Tioga Road, pass near Tenaya Lake and then to climb upward to Sunrise Camp.

Usual routine, as in all camps, was to drop the backpack, outside, go inside to announce arrival, get your tent cabin number, place the next day's lunch order, then grab your pack and go to the tent. While in the lodges, I would find with whom I shared lodging each night. On a couple of occasions, I was solo in my tent. If we had a lake, and we so desired, we could take a dip, go for a hot shower (in the camps where they were available), rest up, or otherwise recoup a bit before hot drinks were announced at 6 pm. Dinner bell, gong, horn or sea shell were used at camps to announce the hot drinks and meals. Dinners began at 6:30 pm.

There was no electricity in our tents but we did receive a solar powered lantern to use. Most of us had a flashlight or headlight to use in the dark when needed. I felt lucky, most nights, that nature did not call during my sleep, otherwise, it meant dressing, putting on sandals, shoes or other footwear, donning a light and heading for the facilities. I can't speak for the ladies, but for men (at least me), I took the opportunity to hydrate vegetation near the tent. Then quickly, stripped down and jumped back into my still warm bed. I think that my marking my territory also kept away any nosy bears, as I don't think any were ever spotted in any of our camps

This is a recap of the camps we visited, with distances between and elevation changes. 

Day 1, Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin, 8 miles/ 8775' to 7800' (-975'),                                                                                                      Day 2, Glen Aulin to May Lake, 8.5 miles/ 7800' to 9250', (+1450'),                                                                                                                  Day 3, May Lake to Sunrise, 8,25 miles / 9250' to 9400', (+130')                                                                                                                                       Day 4 & 5, Sunrise to Merced, 9.5 miles / 9400' to 7250', (-1150')                                                                                                                                      Day 6, Merced Lake to Vogelsang, 7.8 miles /7250' to 10,130', (+2880')                                                                                                                            Day 7, Vogelsang to Tuolumne Meadows, 6.8 miles / 10,130' to 8775', (-1355')

More photos on the way to May Lake Camp:   


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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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Trekking the High Sierra - Tuolumne Meadows

Approaching the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the east, out of Death Valley was impressive. There they sat, like a great wall, towering above the flat lands below them. Traveling north on US-395 to Lee Vining and my turn off westward on Tioga Road, those gigantic mountains were always in sight.   

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At times I noticed that they appeared to fade in a haze and then realized that somewhere up in those high elevations a fire or fires were probably burning and the haze was the resulting smoke settling into the lower regions. As I drew closer to Tioga Road, the mountain heights increased, just as I now drove higher up on the highway.

Tioga Road rose steadily, winding around mountain curves as astounding scenes abounded around each bend.  Needing to pay attention to my driving, it tempted me, just the same to want to get out and gaze at all the majestic beauty that presented itself.

Cresting over Tioga Pass, was a steady climb up to 8,500 feet. Now, having ascended up to Tuolumne Meadows, the scent of pine was pleasing to my senses, as was the cool air and bright blue skies. (Approaching the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the East, near Lone Pine, CA).

Tuolumne Meadows would be the start, and end, of my High Sierra Camps trekking adventure. 

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One of the first items of business was to store all food or scented items in bear boxes, which were ample in supply for both longer term visitors and day hikers. The boxes are simple for us mere mortals to open, but not so for bears seeking a quick meal or snack. 

As was true of all the 6 High Sierra Camps, my housing was a tent cabin, which consisted of a canvas draped frame "cabin". At Tuolumne Meadows, and a few of the other camps I was solo in my cabin tent. Otherwise, all cabin tents were shared.

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All camps have a lodge office and dining hall, and while rather primitive looking, the meals served at all the camps were creative, plentiful and delicious. Except for Tuolumne, dining is family style, large platters of food presented to each table, and then self served. The open seating allowed me to meet many people, not only those in my group of 14 trekkers plus our ranger guide Jana Walker. 

Nightfall, and the temperatures dropped. Quickly. The first night at Tuolumne, we had a campfire meeting with Jana, our ranger guide, where she instructed us on what to expect and to suggest items we might take with or to eliminate from our packs. Finding my way back to my cabin in the dark, I then did remove a few items from my backpack. Once underway, I did wish I had whittled that down to half of what I actually  carried.

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In the early morning, I lit a fire in the wood burning stove in my cabin to take the dramatic chill out of the air. Each day thereafter, except at Merced Lake Camp, a nice warm fire in the early mornings made the cabins much more bearable and cozy warm as we prepared for each days hike.

After breakfast the next morning, Sunday, we met by the lodge, picked up our sack lunches, packed them into our packs and, in time, we were off for the first leg of the High Sierra adventure.

Next: My week in the High Sierra Camps.

(This story being sent from Yosemite Valley)



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Bear box.


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Tuolumne Meadows Falls, near my tent cabin.


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Last minute prep, before hiking into the wilderness.


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A partial view of Tuolumne Meadows Camp. 

Today I was 100 Feet below sea level...

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…and yet, I'm bone dry (well, maybe a bit of perspiration).

Never, in a million years would I have imagined that I would have so enjoy Death Valley - especially in the SUMMER!

Today started very well after a good nights sleep, a very good, hot breakfast at the Best Western, a fuel fill up, and I was off to cross into California about 8 miles from Pahrump, NV. At Shoshone, I was to take CA-178 west, then hit Badwater Road and go 46 miles to intersect with CA-190. That route was to take me up through a long valley in Death Valley. I would hit CA-190 at Furnace Creek, which has a very nice resort, picturesque and right in the middle of this desert.

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Well, plans changed - unexpectedly.

The road I intended to take was closed, due to flooding. Flooding? Are you asking yourself, Flooding? Really?! Oh yes, indeed. I should have guessed this could happen. You see when I drove into Pahrump Monday night, it appeared that they just might have had some torrential rains, because some of the sidewalks and streets had been plowed - plowed of dirt and mud. Though I didn't ask anyone, it was pretty obvious the area had heavy rainfall enough so to even have had the highway scraped clean in places where the water had flowed across. From my vantage point at the closed road signs, no flooding was visible, but there is a lot of road out there and plenty of it goes through some low places. Perhaps, what the highway department still had to do was scrape away heavy accumulations of debris before allowing traffic to use those roads. 

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Well, no big deal, I continued north from that intended turn off and intersected with CA-190 about 30 miles dead ahead. 

And then the entry into the foreboding, desolate, dry, dry desert of Death Valley. Was I prepared for this drive through Hell? Would it be I to break down if my Santa Fe broke down, turning me into a raving, dehydrated lunatic, crawling across the desert, buzzards circling overhead, seeing illusionary mirages and hoarsely calling out "water, water…"?                                                       Oh please, such melodrama!                      I must have watched way too many Westerns in my day .

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Quite the contrary, to my surprise, there was a steady stream of traffic traveling through Death Valley on this hot August day. To my surprise, also, it was not nearly as hot as I thought it might have been. I am sure it did get into the 100's, but, hey, I live in Phoenix, so 100+ days are a piece of cake for me. Also to my delight, I found all kinds of places to visit at roadside stops, including a long ago abandoned Borax processing site, 20 mule team wagons, a nearly deserted town, and views that were so varied, broad and magnificent that it was hard to take it all in. My eyes felt like they were bulging to take in the immensity of the views before me, while my brain, like a sponge, was fully absorbing all the natural beauty that lay itself before me. Some may think this kind of terrain is so lifeless and barren as to not possess any worthwhile beauty. To me, beauty surrounds us all, whether it is a cornfield in Ohio, Autumn leaves, wave patterns in sand dunes, snow laden pine trees, pebbles on a beach,  gently rolling hillsides, a tree tenaciously rooted in the rocks along a mountain trail, ominous storm clouds gathering in the sky or the first rays of sunlight bursting over the horizon above the Grand Canyon, These things and more make me feel so connected to Mother Earth, that I can feel and appreciate my place in this incredible planet. 

But the day had hardly begun and I had already stopped at several sites, shot many photos, and totally enjoyed my drive and the views. Most other drivers on the road today, were seemingly in much more of a hurry than I, and I did not let their haste deter me from my steady 50-55 mph along long, long lengths of that black ribbon cutting across Death Valley.

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By noon I had reached Stovepipe Wells, a more up to date, and newer looking, little stop along the highway. And for those who would need it, a gas station, 5.98 per gallon! Thankfully I had filled up in Pahrump! Since I was well ahead of myself, despite my taking a leisurely drive all morning, I had a nice lunch there, lingered awhile and then was on my way. I was due to arrive in Panamint Springs, my overnight stop, but not as early as 1:30 in the afternoon. I almost decided to continue further west and skip my motel reservation at Panamint Springs Resort, but I then checked my reservation information and found that I would forfeit the cost of the room without 48 hours advance notice, so that made my mind up for me. Upon checking in at 2:00, I was informed the room would not be ready until after  4 p.m., so I had time to kill. By asking the desk clerk, she told me of close-by attractions that would interest me, most notably a spring and waterfall, the road to which was only ¾ mile ahead. This surprised me, and she noticed that. Yes, the place is Darwin Falls, she told me, and the source of this little stage-stops' water supply. I would, however have to drive on a rocky road, which she told me she and her husband had done in a subcompact, so just to drive slowly. Then it was a mile hike back into Darwin Falls. Who would have thought a desert oasis existed in such an arid and remote place like this? 

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Following her directions, I cut off the highway, and started the 2 ½ mile bumpy drive. Part way in I passed a Dodge Caravan and since they must have gone all the way, it looked like I would not have any difficulty with my Santa Fe. Some of the road had been affected by the rains, but was not worse than many other unpaved paths I have traveled in the same vehicle. Once parked at the trailhead, there was a noticeable little rivulet, or tiny trickle of a stream which was easy to follow back into what seemed nothing but hard, barren mountains. Then an increase in vegetation, then even more, and the walk began to narrow into a side canyon. Now I was amidst small willows, a gently flowing little stream and such a contrast from less than a mile from where I started. Soon thereafter I heard water and found two small waterfalls. But this certainly could not be all there was, so I continued on into the ever narrowing canyon, scrambling over rocks and boulders at times, stepping through the shallow stream, and the sound of rushing waters grew louder as I delved further back. And then, oh wow!, a slender flow of water dropped down from about 20 feet into a small pool.                  What a thrill to find this place and enjoy the serenity it offered. Totally amazed to find this water source from a spring, in a setting so unlike all that I had seen all day, I felt thankful that I was led to discover it for myself. 

Still having one other overlook that I wanted to integrate into this afternoon, I was back at my car after an hour and a half. Then I continued to Father Crowley Vista. But to get there, I had to climb from near sea level elevation to 4000 feet above. Now, I should tell you, that after lunch at Stovepipe Wells, I also had to cross some mountains, the beginning of that ascent addressed by a sign reading, "Turn off A/C to avoid overheating". What? Just how much of a climb lies ahead? As I found out, a lot of elevation change. From about sea level to 4000 feet. It was a nearly constant climb and my car continually kept shifting to keep up my speed of about 30-35. And some were going faster than me! 

Descending from 4000 feet was rapid down into a wide valley with mountains also on the other side. The brakes on my car got a workout on that run. Now safely down to level terrain, I heard, then saw a military jet zip high above me following the roadway, then split off turning, rolling and then, just as quickly vanished to the South. I had heard jets at the 4000 foot overlook, but could not see them. A naval air base is nearby, I believe, which would account for them flying in this part of the valley. 

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Getting back to Father Crowley Vista, again with a rapid change in elevation from near sea level to 4000 feet on the next mountain range, it was further than I thought it might be. Once there, I took another unpaved, rocky road that led to a much better overlook. From there, the views into the valley below, the mountains to the East, and the winding road lay below me, snaking its way up to this elevation. Now seeing the vehicles on the roadway, maneuvering around hairpin curves, racing up the straight-aways, gave me a whole new perspective of where I had just come, and to where I would soon be headed - back down to the valley and Panamint Springs. 

Death Valley was supposed to just be a drive through today as I had not thought it would present any places of interest to me, especially in the heat of summer. I can say, however, this is a place I'd like to come explore even more - but probably in cooler weather.

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 Driving down, was not nearly as frightening as I thought it might me and actually had me back to the motel in about 20 minutes. Now checked in and having written a new story, I'm ready to go to the restaurant for dinner and then get organized for the next leg of my journey. Tomorrow will see a vast change in scenery, as I leave this low, desolate desert and climb upward to Toulemme Meadows in the High Sierra Mountains. Internet service from now until later in Yosemite will probably prohibit my writing and sending new updates. I'm sure I'll have many stories to tell.

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Mesquite Sand Dunes site.

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Waves in the Desert…

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Crows, begging for water? (or a handout?)

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Darwin Falls

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View from Father Crowley vista looking East with highway  below.

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What would a trip with me be like if I didn't take some unpaved roads?


Packed, loaded and on the road

7:28 am and I was driving out my driveway beginning the first day's journey en-route to the High Sierra Mountains in Yosemite National Park. 

As I backed the Santa Fe out of the Garage, I heard a crunching sound, believing it to be a seed pod from the Acacia tree next to the garage. But, with the vehicle now out of the garage I saw that my sunglasses were lying on the garage floor. Oh *&%#@, I really liked that pair too. Getting out and picking them up I thought I might be able to straighten the bows, only to have one break off, then one of the nose guards. Well, that pair bit the dust, or rather the trash can. 

So, now, on the way, I had to stop at Wells Fargo to withdraw cash AND buy a new pair of sunglasses. Since Walgreens were not yet open I just continued to drive until after 8, then found a CVS and there bought a new pair of sunglasses for this trip. Sunglasses are highly recommended in Yosemite, as they say the sun glare off the granite can be intense. Other than maybe a 20 minute delay, I was still ahead of my schedule and was soon merging on US-60 heading toward Wickenburg and points beyond.

I reached the new Hoover Dam Bridge around 12:30, detoured off the highway  so that I could come back to the bridge and capture the view from along the bridge walkway looking down to the Hoover Dam. After a short trek up some stairs and ramps, I was out on the bridge. It was pretty awesome although it was extremely windy up there. I walked about half way across, right over the middle of the Colorado River below, and then went back to my car and got my prepared lunch out, eating it in a shady area nearby. 

Las Vegas traffic was busy, but no bottle necks. I got off track around the city and then had to get directions, back tracked several miles, and using my iPhone GPS, I got back on the highway to Pahrump, NV. By 4 p.m. I arrived in Pahrump and have settled in at the Best Western Motel. Once I got out of my car, I felt very, very tired. So, I'm glad to have landed for the night and will be rested and roaring to go tomorrow. Today's mileage to Pahrump was 350 miles, a decent day's travel distance.

Tomorrow, Friday, I will only go 156 miles. But that drive will be taking me right up the middle of Death Valley. No problems are anticipated nor expected. I have over 15 gallons of water in the car, the road is blacktop all the way, and until late afternoon, the temperatures should not exceed 115, which is not much different than a really hot day in Phoenix. By the looks on things on Google Maps, this is a frequently travelled road also, so no need to fret about getting stranded.

On the way to Pahrump, the horse stables at Toulemme Meadows in Yosemite called to give me an update and itinerary with items to take on that portion of my HIgh Sierra adventure. I'm not so keen on having to wear a helmet, but, they have their rules and reasons, so I will forego fashion and abide with their dress code.

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A view from high above the highway of Mohave Lake (Colorado River) about 10 miles south of the Hoover Dam.

A view of the Hoover Dam (Mike O'Callaghan/Pat Tillman) Bridge before crossing over it.

And there it is, THE HOOVER DAM. What a view!

And to think ALL the traffic used to have to cross over that roadway atop the dam until this bridge was constructed.  A major reason for building the bridge was because of 9/11 and possible bombing attempts by terrorists. Traffic still crosses the dam but not in the high volumes as in the past. There are checkpoints on either side so that everyone is monitored before reaching the dam. You can also see the "bathtub ring" around the edges of Lake Mead behind the dam. Water levels have been below capacity for many years during our drought. Still, there is a LOT of water behind the dam and back as far as Lake Mead extends - many, many miles.

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Giving a perspective of the bridge and me upon it.

Bracing myself against the high winds, before being blown across the Nevada State Line.