We’re back at sea level — the air is so thick and balmy compared with 10000 ft! Terry and I hiked 10 miles into Lyell Canyon (basically to the end of the meadowy part halfway up the switchbacks to Donohue Pass). So it was basically about 25mile hike in total, including a day hike on day 2.
This was a pretty easy hike — mostly flat (although we gained 1000′ feet from Tuolumne Meadows to the pass area). It was unseasonably cool — we were warned about a snow storm. It definitely was freezing overnight and did snow lightly, but no accumulation in our area. This was a pretty spontaneously planned hike. Terry just happened to be in town and I snagged some days off. Most of his gear is at my house, but he was a little under-equipped for cold weather.
Anyway, we lit out early Wednesday morning, arrived to get our permits at the ranger station around 9, and after gathering some last minute supplies (warm clothes for Terry and some lunch) we were finally on the trail around 1:30. We hiked in about 6 miles to a point beyond Ireland Creek where we had never been before. It’s always fun to explore virgin terrirory. We found a really excellent site — flat, soft earth, plety of trees for our hammocks (Terry’s tent is a hammock dealy. I have a simple hammock for resting during the day but my tent is a single person tent on the ground.) Close to the Lyell Fork for water, a pretty little falls. Previous campers left some little presents for us — a copy of the novel All Tomorrow’s Parties to use as kindling, some sunblock and a handkerchief.
There seemed to be tons of pack trains on this trail — this is a segment of the John Muir Trail and most hikers are going much farther than we did. Lots of groups were hikers plus horses plus mules. We also saw one Llama train! That was cool. Two hikers leading around four or five llamas. They did not carry as much load as the mules did but they were really beautiful and exotic.
On day two, Thursday morning, it was snowing. We had some hot coffee and Ramen noodles for breakfast, then head down the trail for a day hike. We passed more pack trains and chatted with hikers. One British dude we met was 6 days into a 4 week hike of the full JMT — which culminates with a hike up to the summit of Mt. Whitney. He’s out there now, presumably, so do raise a pint for him. He bid us “Cheerio!” which struck us as archaic, although I greeted him with a “Howdy” so…
We hiked up the switchbacks at the end of the meadow — it really isn’t Yosemite unless you do switchbacks, according to Terry anyway. Got more views of the pass and the meadows we had just come from. But it was a little too cold to linger too long. We hiked back down to camp, lit a nice fire and mixed ourselves some High Sierra Margaritas: water + instant lemonade + tequila + snow.
Friday morning we lingered at the site. The sun threatened to emerge but basically it was still cloudy and windy and cool for the hike out. We drove to Oakdale for our traditional Mountain Mike’s post hike pizza and it was a wrap.
In terms of wildlife, we saw: mama deers with their fawns, a garter snake (first non-poisonous snake we’ve seen in Yose), horses, mules, llamas. No bears, so our success rate for this area dropped from %100 to %66.666. But that’s OK, especially since we saw something rarer. It was either an American Marten or a Fisher. We had stopped on our hike out at Rafferty Creek by a bridge. Right as I was ditching my pack, I saw across the stream an animal that scurried across the rock and stoop and looked at me. I said to Terry, “That’s a huge marmot!” Then the creature slinked away and as it did so I noticed it had a more elongated shape than a marmot. It had similar coloring — a brownish coat with a light colored chest. But the behavior was not at all marmot like — a marmot would have come right up to us to steal our food. Also I have never seen a marmot at this elevation (around 8800′) — they usually appear higher than that and in more rocky terrain. This was woodland. The elongated shape and size were the main giveaways. I came home and wikipediaed the thing and basically narrowed it down to Marten ro Fisher. It looked more like a marten but the size was more like the fisher. So cool, I saw my first new mammal, and a hunter as opposed to a scavenger.
That was a real highlight. Also the lack of mosquitoes or bugs due to the cold weather. Virgin territory, new animals, no skeeters, and snow added up to a really pleasant, highly successful hike. Also cool is that this canyon is a fork of the Tuolumne River, so I essentially hiked all the way to the very headwaters of the source of the water that is eventually captured in the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Next month when I do my “Restore Hetch Hetchy” hike, I’ll connect up by hiking from Tuolumne Meadows down to the reservoir. So that means I’ll have walked the length of the watershed.