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View from the John Muir Trail west across the Kern Valley

August 2, 2000
Crabtree Meadow to JMT Junction and on to Forester Pass
Fighting the elements ...

0545-0630 — ridge above Crabtree Meadow  (59°F, clear moonless night)

          The morning is a tad chilly so we move quickly to get packed and on the trail. A bivy camp packs up as quickly as it is made. After a few days this routine becomes very efficient and mindless. Everything in it's place in an organized pack. Our days orient around our breaks: the breakfast break; foot rests every two hours; lunch; nap; bath; dinner and camp. An organized pack follows this program. And then, there is Irene's more spontaneous process ... another story. Immediately our trail descends steeply to Crabtree Meadow. We were camped less than a mile south of the meadow. I try to photograph Mt. Whitney to the east and the mountains in the west. The haze and smoke still obscure the views and they are less than inspiring.

0715-0745 — Crabtree Meadow 36°33.133 / 118°21.503 - 10.7K' (58°F)

          Near the Crabtree Meadow Crossing and junction with the John Muir Trail we pass numerous camps. I count about fifteen people camped in the immediate area. We stop to filter water and have a breakfast of bagel chips, apple cinnamon cream cheese and jam saved from our Lone Pine breakfast. We have yet to open the bear canister. We are surviving on the extra-in-case-of-emergency food that we bought in Lone Pine just before heading out on the trail. No matter, it is good.

          A squall is moving in from the southeast and everyone is breaking camp. Nor do we dally too long in Crabtree Meadow. It is not far up the trail before we must stop to put on rain gear. The thunderstorms begin.

          By the time we get to Sandy Meadow the sun is back out briefly so I snap a photo of us still in our ponchos. Irene doesn't like her poncho. She gets wet and so she gets cold. She vows to take a rain jacket and pants on the next trip despite the additional weight and inconvenience. I on the other hand, like my poncho. It is a quick cover of person and pack. I manage to stay dry and warm underneath. The poncho works best when temperatures are relatively warm and there is little or no wind. If John Muir were with us, he would have us consider the "storm an invitation and comfort an irrelevancy."

0930-0945 — another saddle pass 36°34,806 / 118°22.455 - 11K' (61°F)

          We stop to warm up a little and have a snack. The pre-trek stuffing and Vegas buffets have worn off and I'm hungry for a snack although it has not been that long since breakfast. A couple folks we saw camped at Crabtree Meadow stop here to take a break as well. It is Chris and her son Will. We will bump into them several times in the next couple days as they too are going north on the JMT. They also started at Horseshoe Meadow but took the route over New Army Pass instead of Cottonwood Pass. A troop of ten Boy Scouts pass us on their way south to Whitney Portal. Between Whitney and Woods Creek we pass many Scouts. This is a favorite region for organized groups and August is Boy Scout season (I don't think there is a correlation between Boy Scouts and meteors, but I could be wrong).

1030-1200 — Wallace Creek  36°35.641 / 118°22.257 (70°F)

          On the south side of Wallace Creek we stop for lunch and a foot soak. The sky is clear of storms for our break. Trees by the creek provide shade cover from the 105° in the sun. We decide to review our inventory of food and other expendables to see if we can unload some weight. We discard about a pound of food, surplus aspirin and a bar of soap to make the climb up Forester Pass easier (you would be surprised how every little bit counts). We leave the extra supplies in a bear box as donation to the cause. Hopefully, some hungry hurting soul headed south will appreciate the gift.

          Much lighter and refreshed we begin the climb up and out of Wallace Creek. I believe it is here that Irene finds a pedometer on the trail. We often will pick up other peoples' garbage when in the Sierra and cart it out. This small and functional twelve dollar item was worth carrying out, I guess. Other items we ran across during our trek included: a shoe, a sock, a couple hats, a shirt, a scarf, dish towel, ace bandage, underwear, jock strap, swim goggles, boot inserts, shoelaces, assorted string, fishing line, busted balloons, a refrigerator rack (used for a fire grill), a liquor flask, a wine box, a backpack with two water bottles, visor, apples and power bars. Some of these things we carry out; some we must leave as they lie. There are people who think the rest of us are here to pick up their garbage; hopefully their karma will pile up on them someday. For the most part, people in the wilderness are conscientious and "take only photos and leave only footprints." Accidents do happen. As for the call of nature, everyone succumbs periodically if not regularly. But when you only eat Ramen and gorp, the "call" is infrequent and more like a "whisper" (in other words, our s--- don't stink).

Red Rock Sheep

Fanciful composition of big horn sheep in red rocks outside Bishop

          Above Wallace Creek the trail flattens out as we cross a dry Wright Creek and traverse Bighorn Plateau. There is a break in the on-'n-off rain long enough to shoot a few photos of the surrounding peaks which I identify later when we get home. More rain is on it's way from the southeast so we keep moving up toward a little nameless lake beside the trail which landmarks the spot where if you leave the trail and climb the knoll about 0.5 mile southwest you can have "the best view of the Kern River Valley." When we reach this lake we are in the middle of a thunder & lightning hail storm. I stop only to shoot a quick picture of the lake and the mound. There is no view from here today.

          Not far down the trail from the hail storm we detect smoke and initially identify hotdogs on a campfire even though we are above 10K' (no campfires allowed) and "who would bring hotdogs out here?" Irene spies a burning tree in the wood just off the trail. One tree on fire. The trunk is hollowed out with flames rising up a newly created chimney and at the base coals tumble out onto the sandy ground. We decide the fire is the result of lightning and contained to the one tree. We are given no other Instructions; we simply witness the phenomenon and once again appreciate the divine order of things. A spiritual if not religious experience.

1430-1445 — nowhere break 36°37.963 / 118°23.149 - 11.0K' (64°F; hail & rain)

Descending below Tawny Point toward Tyndall Creek we break briefly for a snack when the rain wanes south of some nameless lakes. On this segment of trail we have passed nineteen people hurrying south into the storm. Our respite is short . The rain begins again. At this point, it is easier to stay dry moving in the rain than it is to remain stationary. And we decide it is not far to Tyndall Creek where we can fill our water bottles, wash up, rest our feet and maybe catch a nap.

1500-1600 — Tyndall Creek Trail 36°38.392 / 118°23.294 - 11.0K' (68°F)

           Tyndall Creek (see above painting Tyndall Creek) is an intersection of trails to Kern River, Shepherd Pass and Forester Pass. We stop for a while and discuss our options. Since it is still relatively early and the weather appears to be clearing, we decide to move on. Just as we strap on our packs ready to leave, a very wet and exhausted fellow wanders up and tries to convince us to camp with him here. He seems a little strange. We tell him we are headed for Forester which is unfortunately where he is going too. He joins us on the trail. Soon after the Tyndall Creek Crossing we come upon a gaggle of campers. There are probably ten or more including Chris and Will who are here ahead of us and making camp for the night. The weary trekker decides to camp with this lot. In passing conversation, Irene learns he is from Three Rivers. Curious about real estate opportunities there, we stop and spend a half hour talking with George of Cherokee Oaks, Three Rivers, a retired non-computer savvy engineer originally from San Jose. He tells us to look him up next time we are in Three Rivers. We say adieu and head up the trail toward Forester Pass.

          Lots of folks are pouring down from Forester Pass toward the Tyndall Creek camp grounds. It will be a crowded site tonight . George will have plenty of company. Most of the crowd are Boy Scouts who are required to camp where there are permanent bear boxes. We also pass a couple gals from Fresno who are doing the JMT south at about the same pace as ourselves going north (ten miles per day). These two have only a couple more days of bliss. They are all smiles even in the inclement weather. Prior to this storm they have enjoyed perfect weather on their way south from Yosemite. You know they are having a great time. We are anxious about water and they assure us there is plenty of water ahead.

Forester Pass

Approaching Forester Pass from the east below Diamond Mesa

1800-1900 — below Diamond Mesa 36°40.412 / 118°22.887 - 12.0K' (rain)

          Tired, wet, cold and hungry we settle on a spot behind a boulder to provide some protection from the wind. The landscape is wide open here about a mile and a half below Forester Pass. We passed the abandoned tools of a work crew which contributes to our feeling of isolation. It is raining and blowing. We hastily construct a barely adequate shelter with the tarp. Irene gets cover from the elements to prepare some hot food. It is tense and uncomfortable; a test of our will. The Ramen doesn't help Irene's nausea and so she has gone now for a couple days without having much to eat.

          During a short break in the weather we knock down the shelter and lay it out as ground cover for the bivies. We tuck ourselves in early, around 1900. It has been an exhausting day fighting the nasty weather and trekking about 12.5 miles.

          The night is not much of a relief. Rain falls now and then. Irene discovers her bivy is flawed. The seams are not all sealed. Water collecting on the tarp leaks into the bivy and soaks her sleeping bag. Although the storm is out of the south and warmer than it could be if it were blowing in from the north, it is not good to be wet at 12K' at night. At least she did not have to get up and dance the Highland jig all night to keep from freezing as John Muir once had to do (on other frigid occasions, Irene has been known to moon dance; but then, she had a warm sanctuary). Needless to say, Irene does not sleep well this night. I am able to "batten down the hatches" (zip up the bivy so just my nose and mouth are exposed) and lay awake anxious, listening to the loud heavy rain and hail fall on my bag. I stayed relatively dry and warm. At times in between showers the sky is clear as can be. I get some sleep.

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