Sitting at the office one day, I got an email from the Yosemite High Sierra Camps letting me know that they had openings the last week of their season which is in late September. Well this is normally a lottery draw for reservations and nearly impossible to get …. So I jumped all over the opportunity. I have visited Yosemite National Park and even fished there previously, but here was a chance to hit some of the more remote back country areas… far from the crowds and the roads, which we all know is where I feel the most at home. All without having to carry tent, bedding and food because they supplied that for you as part of the “hike in” tent camp experience nestled in the Little Yosemite Valley area above the Tuolumne Meadows. I figured this was a great compromise for getting back deep in the backcountry but keeping pack weight down and keeping enough people around me that my cardiologist and family wouldn’t flip out on me if they knew where I was going. I knew the scenery was supposed to be outstanding but I wasn’t too sure about the fishing, but a trip to the woods is a trip to the woods and honestly even though the Maine trip hadn’t been that long ago…….. I needed another break from society and reality… … as I get older I seem to need my breaks more frequently.
I managed to do a little legitimate business early in the week so the trip could actually be called a business trip, but by Thursday morning I found myself standing somewhere in the Tuolumne Meadows parking lot strapping my backpack on. I had a fishing bum friend of mine with me, Bernard and between the two of us we had maybe half an idea of where we were supposed to go. But an adventure is an adventure so off we rolled… … “half cocked” as usual. It was a lighter backpack than normal but still a solid 35 pounds of clothes, camping and fishing gear and a few snacks…….. hey I like to be comfortable and us big fat boys do like our snacks. According to all of the literature the trail was supposed to be about 6 miles with only about a 300 ft elevation drop …… sounded easy…… which is normally is my first mistake. Well what they don’t tell you is the parking areas are about a mile or so from the trailhead so I was increasing the distance even before my legs got stretched out. Plus I got the added benefit of a few hundred of my closest friends and neighbors hanging around in that first few thousand yards closest to the black top roadway. I started off down the trail with my mind spinning a hundred miles an hour trying to solve some complex and fairly serious, personal and business problems that had been plaguing me for a long time. Marriages and careers can be a thought provoking conundrum even at “the best of times” and here lately … … well let’s just say it isn’t “the best of times”. So for the first half mile or so I was lost in trying to unravel the knots and tangles that are my personal life, and that tangle level would look a lot like a triple 15 inch dropper rig with two split shot that has been fished in a high wind for a few hours by a guy on his first day trying to learn to fly cast. So as you can guess the unraveling wasn’t progressing too well. But fortunately for me nature has a way of pulling you out of your own personal funks and the trail got harder and my aching legs and wheezing chest soon pushed all other thoughts from head. About that time I rounded a corner in the trail and saw some of God’s greatest handiwork spread out before me, and let me preface that with I have traveled all over our wonderful country and even hit a few foreign ones and always in search of fantastic scenery….. and this was truly some of god’s greatest handy work, which always manages to clear my head and leave me free to be “in the moment”…… and I am betting even my lousy camera can share just a little bit of that magic.
With scenery like that how you automatically stop and enjoy the view. After spending a few minutes letting some of that scenery seep deep into my soul, I settled into a nice slow pace and just picked and plodded my way up the trail. I was happy and content and feeling pretty good about all of my progress. I was getting lapped fairly regularly by the standard severely in shape, intense type “A” personalitied, two poled backpackers that we are all accustomed to seeing in the National Parks throughout the country, but that didn’t bother me because these were all young hot shot hikers right, well on my next water break I stopped and talked with a couple who had passed me a little while back and who had been practically doubling my pace, and during the course of our conversation it came out that they were almost 70 years old…….. well obviously I was inspired by that, if they could do that, at that pace then I think I was going to live through my hike as well…… but I must admit it does hurt the masculine pride a little to get lapped by a pair of seventy year olds who don’t even have the courtesy to act like they are at least breathing heavily.
I realized that I was starting to gain elevation at a pretty rapid clip, from the various physical warning system alarms that were clanging and ringing of oxygen deprivations and tortured muscles screaming to slow down or stop completely but also clearly I could see the scenery change from the tranquil serenity and beauty of the meadows to the much more rough and tumble sheer granite cliff faces and boulder strewn trails that are such a trademark of the Yosemite Area. At one point as I was stopped, pretending to admire the scenery while desperately trying to catch my breath, I heard the sound of white water roaring off unseen in the distance. Well since the river had been all meadow meanderings to this point that kind of caught my attention and I dropped the pack for a few minutes and we went off exploring to see what we could find…. which would hopefully be the water fall that I thought I had heard. Sure enough a few hundred yards away and just over a ridge line I saw a sight that made me forget my tired legs and aching shoulders and made me smile all the way through my soul and down to my toes.
I just sat and stared in awe for the longest time, just drinking in the scenery. Sometimes you find a stolen moment flash frozen into a private memory of perfection. The view was as pretty as anything I had ever seen and there wasn’t another person in sight but Bernard, who was worshiping in silent adoration just like I was. I actually spent a few seconds trying to think about how this could be any better and the only thing I could think of was if this was my final camping destination for the trip. By the time I had drunk my fill of that wonderful site and let my mental images develop to full exposure so that I knew there was no way I could ever forget that moment, I was as cool and refreshed as if I had been swimming in the chilly waters of the plunge pool. My pack felt ten pounds lighter as I shrugged back into it and I knew even if I didn’t catch a single fish or see another site … … the trip would have been worth it just for that one single solitary vista… … and somehow I knew Bernard agreed with me.
From there the trail started up a serious grade and we climbed consistently for the next few miles. The fact that the trail was a total drop of 300 feet in elevations made it apparent that I would have to climb to a ridgeline and then probably have a pretty long decent and drop down into the camp. Intellectually I had, I guess, always known that but for the short term my oxygen starved mind had assumed that I was almost there and that every curve of the upper meadows trails would bring a tent camp city into my field of vision. But from the cliff tops that surrounded me it was pretty obvious that I was still a long way from the bottom of the valley where the camp would be… … so I just keep plodding forward and let my eyes feast on the scenery around me and hoped that I wouldn’t pass out on the trail and roll off one of these cliffs.
We flattened out for a while and ran the ridgeline at the top of the valley following the river. My casting arm started to twitch in earnest as I walked along this beautiful river fishing opportunities and I was really in a hurry to get to the bottom now… … partly so I could get this d**n back pack off me …… but also so I could start fishing.
Finally we started our downhill decent, and I do mean decent as it was nearly straight down. That made for great scenic waterfalls, but I really hate downhill hiking for some reason, that angle actually hurts me as bad if not worse than uphill hiking so even with scenes like this next to me I couldn’t even enjoy them…. Well maybe I should rephrase that……. I couldn’t enjoy them as much as they deserved.