Cottonwood Pass ... next chapter

Cottonwood Pass with view of Horseshoe Meadows

July 31, 2000
Horseshoe Meadows to Chicken Spring Lake via Cottonwood Pass
The adventure begins ...

1630 — Cottonwood Trailhead 36°26.896 / 118°10.237 - 9.5K'(smoky)

          Just for the record, Steve snaps a couple photos of us all geared up and ready for the trail posed next to the Cottonwood Trailhead sign. Then we are off.

          This trail is not yet the John Muir Trail. We are in the Golden Trout Wilderness. It is about four miles to Cottonwood Pass. We do not decide how far we want to go this first non-day of our journey. We can camp a mile up the trail at the first water if we feel like it or not. There is no schedule we must adhere to.

          The trail is familiar for we have been on it often in the past. We have climbed Cottonwood Pass before. There is nothing all that new and exciting about this part of the adventure. I tune in to how my equipment is working, adjusting my pack straps, taking note of any discomfort in my shoes, trying to foresee any long term problems down the "road"; but, I am feeling really GOOD. Little do I know at the time, Irene is suffering from nagging nausea (probably, too much Vegas).

          We pass over the first water crossing and keep going. When we reach the base of the pass, we keep on going up the switchbacks. At the second water opportunity half way up the climb there is no water so we keep on climbing. The meadow is dry and a little wilted presaging the condition of the entire trail to Yosemite Valley. There is no choice, we must keep going. Anyway, I feel fine and I am usually the one to give out first.

1845-1900 — Cottonwood Pass 36°27.205 / 118°12.927 - 11.2K'

          We reach the top of the pass and take a short break to collect data and snap photos (see above painting Cottonwood Pass). My hope is to record GPS lat/long data, temperatures, pedometer readings, sightings, etc. at each rest stop on our journey. Like a captain's log, I guess. Once I get into the habit it is relatively easy to keep the record; although looking back, I don't know how much of this data has any real value (most of the following stories and insights I have to remember because I didn't take the time to compose them on site).

          I do things like count the number of people we pass. (I haven't bothered totalling these numbers. I know it is big). We passed a lot of people in the beginning when we were running into boy scout troops and then again at the end when we were hiking against the flow of thousands of Yosemite tourists. Sorry, I "progress" (and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and spoil the suspense).

          I keep pedometer readings in hopes of verifying mileage between stations on the itinerary. I do this religiously for about half the trip before I quit with the realization that for one reason or another the data is bogus. I either had my stride wrong, or the blinking thing wouldn't count every step, or I would forget to turn it on or turn it off. Anyway, one piece of equipment I can leave behind next trip is the pedometer.

          The trail is pretty well delineated in mileage even though the itinerary didn't always match the sign posted mileage. Usually, we had a pretty good idea how far we had come and how far we had to go. Sometimes the pedometer helped a little to determine how far we had to go so that we could pace ourselves to make a particular destination. Otherwise the thing was just a distraction and a conversation piece. Invariably when we stopped to chat with folks, the guys were always curious about that "thing on my pack belt." Gadgets ... I guess, are a "guy thing." Coincidently, not too far down the trail Irene finds a pedometer so we had two useless gadgets to carry 200+ miles (I'm thinking now someone chucked that pedometer rather than lost it).

1930-2000 — Chicken Spring Lake 36°27.434 / 118°13.511 - 11.3K'

          We think that if the water is running at Chicken Spring Lake we will just bivy down by the outlet or up on the western ridge above the Lake. Unfortunately, the Lake is not discharging any water so we hike the extra quarter mile to the Lake shore. This late in the day the lake is a rather crowded camp site. There are already four other camps in prime locations on the south shore. We wander around to the east and find a flat spot for our bivy bed.

          I filter two quarts of water which is my chore while Irene usually begins dinner. This night she isn't up for cooking and besides we are still feasting off Vegas buffet residuals. We snack on left over lunch bagels and cream cheese (typical trail food? ... hardly! ... it is food from the "extra" bag we packed at the last minute) The sun is rapidly dimming, that much more due to smoke. Smoke from the Manter Meadow Fire south of Kennedy Meadows fills the air here thirty some miles north. The smoke haze lingers for several days as we move further north.

          We retire to our bivies to escape a few pesky mosquitos and call it a day. An unofficial day by the itinerary, but since we covered about five miles we are ahead of our unofficial schedule. We stay a few miles ahead of the "schedule" for the rest of our trip.

          Sometime during the calm and clear night I wake to the pitter patter of light rain on my bivy. I look up at the bright moonless sky with all its stars twinkling like crazy and I can't see any clouds. I return to sleep unconcerned. In all our years trekking through the Sierra, we have been sprinkled on only a couple times. So why worry about rain in August?

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