The day started early once again for me, and I was packed up and ready to go before the darkness cleared the sky.
Funny thing happened that morning, I forgot to pack my tent inside my backpack, and I just strapped it on above my sleeping pad.... which worked great. Something I repeated for the rest of the trip. Saved me space, and kept my weight closer to my hips.
So, I went up. 1500 feet over 2 miles of beautifully switch-backed trail. I was feeling tired, and slow, and was definitely plodding as I climbed, but every time I looked back down over my shoulder, the view kept getting better.
I found my pace (I was definitely the tortoise for this trip) and kept rolling up the switchbacks. I wish I would've counted them.
After about 45 minutes, I was above Upper Ottoway lake, as the path turned slightly northward and headed straight up to Red Peak Pass.
Leaving Upper Ottoway Lake behind, the switchbacks got tighter as I climbed, zig zagging my way up towards Red Peak Pass.
Only once on the climb did I force myself to stop due to over exertion, after 2 full days on the trail, I finally found my agonizingly slow pace which let my breathing and my heart rate keep up with my ascension.
It is always tough to keep your head up while hiking, especially uphill, staring at each step to be sure of footing as you go up. I also made a conscious effort to not try to guess how far I had left, as it always seemed to slow me down. Suddenly, I looked up as the ground flattened ever so subtly, to see how far I had to go... and dropped a huge F-Bomb.
I'd gotten to the razor's edge that was Red Peak Pass, and suddenly, the next valley was open before me.
I climbed up on a rock and took that picture, and decided to sit and have breakfast.
The view was incredible. As I sat, another fellow rolled up to where we were, and then the twosome of Aaron & Krystle.
The four of us chatted and enjoyed the amazing scenery.
As I stood up and strapped my pack back on, sitting at 11,200 feet, I was excited. It was already an amazing day (more to come, in part 2).
Day 2 began bright and early, I awoke before the sun and from some very vivid dreams... which is apparently something that happens at altitude.
Packed everything up, ate my leftover couscous for breakfast and started walking. About a half mile into my day, I came across one of the wonderful woodland creatures on the other side of the river.
I stood and watched this wonderful black bear munching away for 5 minutes, enjoying the scene and how beautiful this area near the stream was.
I finally let him know of my presence, not wanting to scare him as I walked further up the trail (and closer to him), with a nice shout of "Go Packers." and he looked at me for a moment and then promptly scurried off into the woods.
I continued my walk that day, my goal being to get up and over Red Peak Pass and camp near one of the tarns on the far side of the pass.
The miles went by quickly, as I went downhill from I stopped for an early lunch near where the trail crossed Ottoway Creek, a couple miles from Lower Ottoway Lake. By that time the sun was all the way up and the day started to get really, really hot.
My body was feeling great and I was ready to keep on keeping on. The trail this day was very well graded, and I hardly gave up any altitude as I walked, my legs felt great and I got to Lower Ottoway Lake by about 2PM.
I also bumped into a twosome, Aaron and Krystle, for the first time, and unbeknownst to me, I'd be seeing them every day for the rest of the hike.
Even though my body felt great, I was tired. I tossed down my sleeping pad (the benefit of not using an inflatable!), ate a second lunch (PB + Nutella on a tortilla) and took an hour nap in the shade. When I woke up, I made the decision to postpone Red Peak Pass until the next day, the scene at the lake was too beautiful to not enjoy it.
I walked around to the east side of the lake, found a perfect spot to set up camp, and decided to relax for the rest of the day.... I even went for a little swim and was surprised at how warm the lake was - I guess when you have a stagnant lake and no snowmelt flowing into it, it warms up, even at 9700 feet.
It was a beautiful evening and I decided to have a big dinner (shelf stable bacon and mashed potatoes) and relaxed while I watched the sunset.
It was an odd experience, as the sun set on my campsite early, but the sky stayed bright for an hour afterwards. Not something you experience in Wisconsin.
I crashed before the stars even came out, the difficulty sleeping at altitude was really starting to get to me.
I snapped awake a few hours later, the moon was so bright it was almost like daylight. It was beautiful, too bad my camera wasn't working (and my phone is terrible at low-light pictures) so I couldn't snap anything that actually turned out.
I went back to bed, crashed hard, and woke up just before sunrise (still living on Central Time, I think).
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-3-lower-ottoway-lake-to-below-isberg-pass-11-miles
I awoke at about 4:30 AM and started packing up. I'd packed most of my gear the night before, and had it sitting, ready in the bear box.
I tossed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack, collapsed my tent as quietly as I could, and then stacked everything on top of my sleeping bag in my backpack.
My pad on the outside of my bag, I hoisted it onto my back, with my GoPro affixed to my shoulder strap, and started my 1.5 mile walk to the Happy Isles trailhead.
Once I got there, a short distance across the bridge, I snapped the required selfie in front of the trailhead sign, and began the push straight up towards Nevada Falls.
I struggled mightily finding my pace, as the trail climbed 2000 feet over 2.5 miles. It took me about an hour and a half of walking to manage those 2.5 miles, and I had to make a concerted effort to both not push myself too hard, and to pause to take pictures. The views were so beautiful, and it was so nice to be away from the chaos that was the valley floor the night before.
As I walked past Clark Point, the views became more spectacular as Liberty Cap began to loom closer and closer to me.
I took the JMT route up the hill, instead of the steeper Mist Trail (looking back, I should've taken the Mist Trail, the views were probably even more spectacular, including a better view of Nevada Falls).
As I rounded a bend, there was Liberty Cap, stretching up to the sky, with Nevada Falls trickling over the cliff's edge. I sat and ate breakfast at this spot, just enjoying the astonishing views.... and realizing I'd already climbed about 1500 feet, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Shortly after breakfast, another mile into my walk, I got to the Nevada Falls/Panorama Trail junction. I walked the extra 1/2 mile round trip, to the Nevada Falls footbridge, and looked out over the landscape and the valley which I'd just hiked out of. The view was nothing short of incredible, although, the smoke looming over the valley was disconcerting.
Looking at my maps, I decided against topping off my water, seeing 4-5 streams coming in the next 4 miles, knowing that lunch would be calling my name about that time.
Continuing my climb up and out of the valley, for another mile and a half which contained another 1,000 feet of elevation gain and had me breathing heavily and questioning my own humanity as the heat of a 96 degree day beat down on me (yes, even at 7,000 feet, it was HOT). I veered off the Panorama Trail, and headed almost due south, through a burn area, which I believe was from the Hoover fire, in 2001. There was some regrowth, but nothing tall enough to give me any shade.
Over the next 2.5 miles, the heat really started getting to me. With no shade, and with every stream I crossed being dry, I ran out of my 2L of water, and kept trudging on.
About 7 miles into my day, I came across a tiny stream which was trickling into a couple of large pools, sat down in the shade of a burnt tree, and drank 2 liters of water, and put another 2 in my hydration bladder and soldiered on, making the mental note to not pass any water if I needed it for the rest of my trip.
As I got back into the cover of the forest, my legs still felt strong, and I kept admiring just how enormous the trees were, and how much they seemed to sway with the wind. It was almost hypnotic.
After crossing two more small creeks, I walked until I came upon Illilouette Creek for the first time, and found myself a decent spot to set up camp for the night, about 12 miles in.
After a delicious dinner (Couscous with some packaged Chicken -- which I finished off for breakfast the next day) I was sound asleep as soon as it was dark outside. The night sky would have to wait for another night.
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-2-illilouette-creek-to-lower-ottoway-lake-10-miles
I woke up early on Saturday. Repacked my backpack (twice) and then wandered over to the bus stop (a full hour early) and waited for the bus to Yosemite.
The trip took me through Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, which was a very pretty, very open area with these huge glacial boulders strewn about.
It was on that bus ride that my camera stopped working (a sign of things to come). Which meant I was carrying 3 lbs of dead weight on my entire trip -- and I ended up taking many, many fewer pictures than I would have otherwise.
My typical setup includes a camera clip from Peak Designs which leaves my camera easily accessible, clipped onto my backpack strap, however, without a working camera, I was forced to try to use my GoPro and cell phone to take pictures.
After the 3 hour bus ride, I was safely in the Yosemite Valley, and poised to wander around for the next 8 or so hours.
I went and picked up my backcountry permit (along with my WAG bag -- for the LAST day of my hike) , mailed a couple post cards to friends who had requested them, and then wandered over to the backpackers campsite and set up for the evening.
A bit about the valley: There were people EVERYWHERE. It was like walking downtown on a busy street during lunch, constantly. I don't think I could've managed staying there for a week, I might've gone a little bit crazy.
The shuttle service around the valley was amazing, and allowed me to see and do everything I needed to that day in about 10% of the time it would've taken otherwise. The restaurants were reasonably priced, and they had beer (so of course, I had one of those before I went to sleep that night).
The worst part about that night? The two drunken backpackers who came back well after dark to find their beer was missing, who proceeded to shout, scream, and announce to everyone within a half a mile their beer was missing. Mind you, the ranger had put their beer in a bear box (because, you know, EVERYTHING goes in a bear box there, and there are 100's of signs posted saying this) instead of writing them a ticket.
I finally dozed off around 10pm.... and awoke at about 4:30, and started to pack up and get ready for my hike.
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-1-backpackers-campground-to-illilouette-creek-12-miles
I flew into Mammoth Lakes on a Thursday evening, and traveled to Yosemite on Saturday. I spent 2 nights in Mammoth Lakes, the full day I spent there, I traveled to Devil's Postpile National Monument, to drop off my resupply.
I took the $7 round-trip (and 45 minute each way) bus to Devil's Postpile all the way to the end of the line, and dropped my resupply off at Red's Meadow Resort.
Then I walked the mile and a half to Devil's Postpile and checked out the amazingness of what nature has to offer.
The hexagonal columns reach over 60 feet high at Devil's Postpile, and the hike from Red's to the Postpile was uneventful (and really, really dry -- a hint of things to come).
Once I got to the basalt columns, I was amazed. Despite having seen them in photos the columns seemed out of place. As if someone had carved them into the rock.
This was my first full day at altitude and the valley was a bit smokey... my lungs were really feeling it as I climbed up to the top of the Postpile.
It was my first experience of having to tell myself I needed to slow down, or else my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Finding the right pace when going uphill was a constant struggle for me on the trip. My legs never seemed to be an issue.... just my fitness level.
After I visited the Postpile, I wandered back to the Ranger Station and then caught the bus back to Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Lakes was an interesting town, I'd never seen so many people on mountain bikes and full body armor in my life. They'd rigged all of their ski lifts (on Mammoth Mountain) to carry the bikes up to the top, and people spent all day biking down the mountain on different trails. It was hypnotizing to watch, but trying to navigate the mass of mountain bikers who didn't seem to care about where they were going and constantly assumed they had the right-of-way was pretty annoying. Only one guy ran into my backpack.
I hopped the bicycle shuttle from the mountain down into town, went and got myself a pizza and a beer, and then crashed as soon as it was dark. The next day, I was off to Yosemite.
Read on: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/the-day-before-the-hike-saturday
Kid A is an avid hiker, backpacker and outdoors enthusiast located in Milwaukee