Tuolumne Double-Header with Justin
random trip report
Photo credits: mostly Justin.
I have some free time with Noah out of town, so I call up my old friend Justin and suggest a Sierra trip. Turns out he recently quit his law job and is open to recreation. He suggests the Cloud's Rest hike in Tuolumne Meadows, and I suggest following that with Mt. Hoffman, which he and I started once but didn't finish.
We leave Berkeley around 2. I had a sleepless night but feel OK. The drive to Lee Vining is smooth. We stop for gas; Justin gets a cylinder of Pringles and tells a joke based on the similarity of their shape to a tennis ball piece. He derides my 2001 Honda Accord, which is missing some superfluous parts.
We arrive around 7:30. Fortunately the Lee Vining Motel (which takes no reservations) has a room; otherwise we would have camped in the desert.
We want to stretch our legs before dinner. We turn off 120 onto Picnic Grounds Rd., which seems to head toward the lake, but it ends at run-down collection of shacks, trailers, and rusting major appliances. A couple of vehicles are parked, with ornery-lookin' men sitting in them. Justin and I recall "Deliverance" and keep driving, down a dirt road that parallels the lake. We stop at a point maybe 100 yards from the lake. But that interval is densely vegetated. We give it a go. Each time the brush seems impassible, an opening suddenly appears, as if by magic, perhaps a metaphor for life itself.
We eventually make it to the lake shore. It's very peaceful. The setting sun illuminates mountains on the far side of the lake. I skip a number of rocks on the calm water. There are many small tufas.
Sulfurous water bubbles out the ground at the water's edge.
Various waterfowl mill around, producing a montage of sound that could pass for contemporary music.
Mountains cast shadows in the sky.
We return to the car and go to Nicely's for dinner. Justin gets chicken-fried steak, something his wife would never allow, and I get the fried chicken dinner, which is about 3X more food than I can eat; I save it for the next day.
I'm plenty tired, but still end up having a second sleepless night. The motel is right next to 120 and passing vehicles are very loud. That mattress is hard enough that I can't stay in one position very long. It's kind of hot in the room; we run a table fan, but that's loud too.
We stop at the Mobil station. Justin gets the Breakfast Burrito, a massive caloric bombshell of eggs, bacon, potato, and cheese. I get coffee and nibble on my fried chicken and corn on the cob.
We drive to the Sunrise trailhead and hike to Cloud's Rest. It's 7.5 miles each way, with a net gain of 1,775' but some up and down along the way, so maybe another 300-400'. Most of the way it's through sparse pine forest.
It's a popular trail, and sections are paved with stones, which is hard on the feet. About 2/3 of the way it goes by a small and pretty lake.
We swap lead with a pair of athletic young guys from LA who are just getting into hiking and climbing; one of them was a 440/880 runner in high school. There are various other groups on the trail, including one with several women who chat at high volume constantly. We're impressed with their aerobic capacity.
I feel low-energy because of lack of sleep. On the uphill parts my pulse maxes out, so I have to go slow. I feel anxious about my heart, especially after Dan's father died a couple weeks ago. I discuss premature ventricular contractions with Justin - turns out he gets them too, though somewhat less then me.
We reach the final ridge at the very top of Cloud's Rest, which is 6-8' wide with big dropoffs on both sides.
Just past the ridge there's an area of flat rocks where you can hang out. We eavesdrop on some Chairmans (Germans) and chat with the LA guys.
I eat more of my chicken, which Justin claims is now mummified, and we dub it Cluckankhamun.
The hike down is long but not too bad. Justin shares some mini crunchy rice rolls wrapped in seaweed, which are oddly yummy. We've made decent time - 6 hours for the 15 miles, including rests.
We drive to the other end of Tenaya lake and loll around a beach for about an hour. I strip down to my undies (which are similar to swim trunks, but with a much smaller Bulge Containment Coefficient) and wade out far enough to briefly submerge myself, though in fact the water isn't that cold. The sand is warm and restorative.
We still have some daylight and some energy, so I suggest that we climb Lembert Dome, which I last climbed ~12 years ago. I switch to my sandals. At first the trail is as I remember it, but then it changes - it's much flatter and family-friendly. Instead of going up the dome, it circles it tentatively, always moving at a tangent. We can see the dome, which looms high above, but we're not getting closer. I get more and more pissed off, and in my best Drumpf voice curse the "p***ification" of the trail.
Finally I can't take it anymore and we strike out cross-country. We get to the top of a dome, but it's not the main dome.
We reluctantly rejoin the main trail, which has finally circled around and headed for the top. The very top of the dome is a 40' high knob. A tough-looking young woman descends the right side, which looks impassibly steep.
So of course I have to go up that way. Halfway up there's semi-hard manteling move, spiced up by the large exposure underneath. I'm in an incautious mood, so I blast up it. Justin thinks once or twice and follows.
Justin comments on the smooth, glossy patches of glacial polish, which are common in places like this.
Looking down at the steep north face of the dome, I can see the system of ledges that the old trail traversed. I'm sorely tempted to go down that way.
I settle for descending to the forest, then ignoring a warning sign and going down the original trail. It's covered with fallen trees and very hard to track. I recognize some stretches of it from before. Eventually we reach the main trail and I leave a small cairn for future reference, which Justin thinks is absurd. Maybe so.
We drive back to the motel. The Honda develops a glitch where the engine light flashes briefly while the speed and RPM needles go crazy.
When I get out of the car my right knee is suddenly in major pain, on the outside of the joint. I can't really put pressure on it, and can barely walk. This is alarming, given our plans for the next day.
We go to the Mobil Station for dinner. They have a beer on tap called "Epic IPA", which seems appropriate. $6 pint, $19 pitcher, so Justin crunches the numbers and orders a pitcher. Justin gets the pork chops with berry sauce with a side of spaghetti squash, which he's uncharacteristically unable to finish. I get a burger and potato salad.
I'm accosted by a man who notices my "Climbers for Kerry" T-shirt. He and his friend were the organizers of that ill-fated initiative (which aimed to create a giant Kerry banner on the face of El Capitan) and of the fund-raising event where I bought 3 copies of the T-shirt for $5 each. He's extremely excited to see me wearing it. I sit with them for a few minutes and recount the experience.
Back at the motel, more Olympics. A smug US swimmer has bad-mouthed her Russian opponent, who glowers like a female Klaus Kinsky. Michele Tafoya's interviews are inane and irritating. The ad/content ratio is about 50-50.
I'm determined to sleep tonight. I remember that I brought my 3" memory foam topper, so I put it under the sheets of the motel bed. We close the main window to reduce noise. All this sort of pays off - I don't sleep well, but I get a few solid hours, which is infinitely better than zero.
I get up and gingerly test my knee. It's sore but not painful. I drink a lot of water and take 4 ibuprofen. It doesn't bother me the rest of the day. I think it might have been cramping of small muscles around the knee.
We pack up and head to the Mobil station for breakfast - this time Egg Sandwiches for both of us - epic assemblages of croissant, egg, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and 4-5 strips of bacon. I eat a part of mine; it later serves as lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and (as I'm writing this) dinner.
The drive to the May Lake trailhead takes about an hour. The parking lot is almost full. I'm lethargic and set a slow pace. We reach May Lake, circle it to the right, and head up the granite slope toward the saddle. I've done this hike many times over the years, and have several deja vu moments when I recognize particular rocks, like long-lost friends.
A steep ridge leads to the summit plateau. To get up to the ridge you can pick whatever route you want, ranging from impossible (left) to easy (right). We pick one toward the left, with some mild rock climbing moves.
On the ridge we slow down a bit; I'm huffing and puffing, and Justin is getting lactic acid in his calves. Then there's another steep boulder scramble, and we're on the plateau, which is always is spectacular. We see a big fat marmot. We turn the corner and see the summit block.
I frolic in the snow a bit.
It looks pretty empty, but then we see a group of climbers nearing the top. We scramble up the summit block. The group consists of 3 women, one of whom is a park ranger, so of course I chat her up with directness and enthusiasm that Justin finds "shameless".
We head down, passing the fantastic rock garden, the memorable clearing from a previous trip, and the lush canyons. The colors are mind-boggling. I visit my friend Bertha, the Ponderosa pine, who rewards my embrace with a subtle butterscotch/vanilla scent.
I visit the dining tent at the May Lake High Camp, inquiring about desserts. Brian, the usual cook, is taking the day off. The young woman says they no longer sell food to hikers (huh?), but when I bat my eyelashes she offers to see if they have any left-over brownies. They don't, so I buy some peanut M&Ms. Justin and I discuss the manufacture of peanut-butter M&Ms.
We return to the car. A young couple, who have been on a 3-day back-packing trip, ask us for a ride back to the Ten Lakes trailhead, where their car is. We're very happy to oblige. They're from Portland. The man, who looks like a climbing stud, is originally from Bend OR. He recently climbed Mt. Stuart in WA, and is gearing up for Mt. Hood next year.
We stop in Groveland for ice cream. Two teen-age girls are working behind the counter. One of them is wearing Goth makeup and a Nirvana T-shirt. I ask her about it, and she says she got it at Target and only vaguely knows what Nirvana is - generational divide. We sit outside the Iron Door saloon, next to a seedy-looking smoker, and enjoy our mini-sundaes.
The drive home goes by quickly; we talk about Meyer Sound adaptive acoustic systems for restaurants, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, the Continuum Hypothesis, and various other topics. Above Pleasanton a giant truck changes into my lane and nearly sideswipes me; Justin is rattled. We discuss post-mountain depression, which Justin doesn't suffer as much as I do. We arrive at my house around 7:30. I show Justin some Utah pictures and he takes off.
Summary: a great trip. I really enjoy trips with Justin, and it's been a long time since we did one. Among other virtues, Justin is the only person I know who's packed up and ready to go faster then I am.
I'm happy with how my body held up. I'm a bit sore all over, but nothing hurts. Justin has some lower-back tightness. I'm clearly not in as good aerobic shape as Justin, who runs 5 miles a day. I need to figure out something to do about this; maybe the machines at Ironworks.