Emigrant ➜ Yosemite ➜ Hoover Wilderness ◆ 9 Days ◆ 48.7 Miles
This was the year to expand our exploration of the Yosemite Wilderness with visits to Upper Twin, Peninsula, Otter and Tilden Lakes. This was the year to bag a couple of new peaks along the way. This was the year to nab some more pictures for the web site. And finally this was the year to make it up Tower Peak. However, as is with the best laid plans of mice and men, we only reached some of our goals, met challenges along the way and learned a valuable lesson.
Upper Twin Lake
We were off with a helpful start from Kennedy Meadows arriving at Maxwell Lake in a short 6 hours. We camped at a quiet site and enjoyed an alpine glow sunset with a delicious meal. The next day we were off to Upper Twin Lake. A mere 3 miles, but about a 1k drop and 1k rise was enough to get us huffing and puffing for the first hard steps of our journey. We made it in a reasonable time and were treated to a beautiful lake and surroundings. As the two Twin lakes sit on the edge of the one metamorphic formation within Emigrant Wilderness, the terrain is varied and draws you in. Our two days were spent exploring the lake and running up to Michie and Kendrick Peaks. We had vast vistas of the back side of Emigrant all the way into Yosemite, where a few fires were taking their toll. Smoke rising from the canyon below us, which would be in our direct path in just 2 days was a bit unsettling, but a back country ranger put our minds at ease when he told us that it was smoldering and under control. That was to be the least of our worries just 48 hours later.
Day 4 was moving time and we strapped on our packs and headed cross country to Peninsula Lake, about 4 miles away with some rough terrain to tackle. We made our way slowly and surely and ended up at our destination. The lake was a vision of Emigrant-Yosemite back country splendor, with a granite cirque, a hanging valley and a towering dome. We made camp quickly and scrambled around to drink in the beauty. This was to be a one day stay and a quick move to Otter Lake the following day. We rested up and headed out early in the morning. The day started warm, and we poked our way around the eastern shore of Peninsula to gain access to Upper Peninsula Lake and the granite cirque that lay ahead of our Otter Lake goal. As is customary when the three of us hike together, we each have our own vision of the best route and attempt to convince the others why. George and I wished to follow a route that would take us close to the back of Haystack Peak so we could bag it, and then take the easy hike down to Otter. George Sr however, wanted to take the quickest way so he could fish Otter Lake, as all that climbing nonsense was not for him. So we went our separate ways and planned to meet at Otter, which was just over the ridge. We were all working off the same map and the plan sounded sane enough. Unfortunately it was not.
Lost & Reunited
A tale of of what it is like to be split from a hiking partner, what goes thru your mind, what actions/decisions you make and what you learn... Just follow the maps...
Day 5 Geo & Mark
We leave George Sr. as he is scrambling up the cirque towards Schofield Peak. Our path is via a fold that gets tricky in a few places, but we manage to make the ridge and then run up to Haystack Peak. Great views and a coconut shell holds the Peak Journal. We scribble down our thoughts and start back to our packs and head down to Otter Lake. And there it is, just over ridge and an easy hop down granite ledges. We arrive, set up camp and start to look for George Sr. No signs. A bit strange but at 3:00 PM we are not worried. As the afternoon wanes we do start to worry, and George decides to hike back up to the ridge where his dad had last whistled to us. I in turn circle the lake and search the adjoining areas to see if Geo Sr is at another location. George makes the ridge and attempts to call down to Upper Peninsula Lake for a response, in case his dad has decided to fall back to our prior position. However, the wind is howling and while he believes he heard a single response, with no follow on he speculates it was just the wind returning his calls. In the meantime, I have circled the area with no signs of George Sr. let alone any other tracks of human existence. That night we take stock of our limited food, since George Sr. was carrying the bulk of it, and make our plans for the search and rescue operation tomorrow.Day 5 George Sr
George Sr is methodically plowing his way to the top and probably cursing the two of us for picking such a difficult way. But the promise of Golden Trout in Otter Lake and a head start on the fishing propels him on. He is remembering our last words, " As soon as you get over the ridge, Otter Lake will be straight below and just head there and we will catch up with you." The ridge finally appears and George Sr spies what he believes is Otter Lake and makes a beeline. The campsite he stumbles upon is stunning beyond belief in such an isolated location, and he has decided that this is his resting spot, and no cajoling from either of us is going to make him move. As the afternoon wore on a creeping doubt starts to fill his mind as he wonders where the two of us could be. He loops around the lake with no success and starts to think out his next move. Then in the distance above him he hears a voice shouting and calling. The first thought that races through his mind is that George Jr. is in need of help and has further stressed a previous injury of his ankle. He empties his pack and heads up to ridge to rescue his son. But darkness is creeping in and there is no happy reunion. The night is long, but George Sr. keeps the camp alight with a continuous fire to signal any wandering backpackers and to keep the thoughts of dread away. The food is plenty, but the cooking gear is with the boys.
Day 6 Geo & Mark
We awaken from an uneasy nights sleep and head out as we had planned the night before. George carrying an empty pack, short rations for us both and a determination to find George Sr. in good health waiting for us back at Peninsula Lake. We move quickly and crest the ridge in a direct line and then test our way down into the cirque. George criss-crosses Upper Peninsula and I head back to our prior campsite with no luck. George Sr. did not return. Where he is now is a wild guess. We reunite and stake our way back to camp rather sullen, with a constant cycling of the events of the past 2 days in a effort to catch that one overlooked thought that will give us some hope. We ramble through various options and finally decide that we need to exit in the quickest line possible and start whatever search efforts that were needed to find George Sr. We were low on food, just granola, but we could fish for some sustenance and the weather was conjuring up blue skies and plenty of warmth. That was to change rather abruptly in the middle of the night. Day 6 George Sr
The night wears on and half of the downed wood around the unnamed lake that George Sr. has chosen is now smoldering in his campfire or had become ashes in the wind. The first course of business is to investigate a wider swath in his vicinity to hopefully find the two of us camped and laughing hysterically at the stunt we had pulled off. If only it was so. By mid morning it is apparent that we are not in the area and it is time for him to head out on his own. He picks up the same map that had betrayed him once already and decides to head for Emigrant Lake. Here he hopes to pick up a pack train on its return voyage to Kennedy Meadows resort. After a few hours he stumbles back on to Upper Twin lake and is greeted by a lone hiker. He is given some directional bearings and hikes up a ridge in an effort to catch up with us at Tilden lake, which was our next stop. How it happened George Sr. could not say for sure, but he ended up back at Upper Twin and with night falling that was as far as he was going.
Day 7 Geo & Mark
The rain was making our quick getaway a slow lane nightmare. The sky was misting and we dodged rain drops to break camp and head down into Jack Main Canyon and out to Leavitt Meadow in 3 days. Dorothy Lake was our first stop and we were anxious to make camp as soon as possible. The rain did not relent and we hiked thru some spectacular scenery that despite the foreboding we felt, still penetrated our souls. Dorothy Lake came up on us as we dragged into camp. Food was on the first order of business, and between the two of us we managed to pull in 3 barely legal rainbows and chow them down. The rains had ceased, to be replaced with howling winds. Mother Sierra at her best. Day 7 George Sr
The day broke favorably on George Sr., as the weather front had moved towards us in the East, and he moved immediately in the direction of Emigrant Lake hoping to hitch a ride. The going is pretty much uphill from Horse Meadow and he pulled in just in time to see a pack train moving out on the other side of the lake towards Mosquito pass, his intended direction. The feet were just going to have to carry him all the way, at least for today. George Sr. hiked thru the afternoon and made camp at nightfall. This time he had no option but to sleep with his back against a large tree on top of his pack. With no way to hang any food and no tent to fend off any rain storms, it was the best course of events. But as was the case in prior nights, he followed a scorched earth policy and kept the flames on thru the night.
Day 8 Geo & Mark
We woke to high winds but clear skies and the promise of warm dry weather in which to make our way. The path under our feet was very familiar at this point and we glided on thru the day. We had not seen another soul since splitting up from George Sr., until later that day when we passed upon two souls who had zig'd when they should have zag'd. Not a very good omen for the predicament we were in at this point. The day rambled on and we made camp at a familiar spot and finished off the last of our granola. Sleep came easy until about 3:00 in the morning, when the boom of the loudest thunderclap blasted thru the canyon as if the skies were about to open up for the last time. Silence followed with short spattering's of sky water, but no deluge came that would hamper our escape plans. Day 8- George Sr
The day was good for George Sr., as he was within striking distance of Kennedy Meadows and had hopes of a warm bed, hot food and a nip of firewater to console his soul. As he neared his journey's end there was hope he we would find us merrily waiting for his return, at which he would proceed to grind us both into pulp. No such luck. Calls were immediately made to Yosemite rangers, and a request to send up a plane to verify that we were safe and continuing on our journey was met with a cascade of questions. Most of these seemed to be aimed at the mental state of our minds, the holes in our wallets and what insurance money was at stake. Matt grabbed the phone, vouched for our abilities and stability, and challenged the ranger to get going in a stern tone. Thanks Matt!! The night soon became a blur and sleep was a welcomed by product.
Sunrise was gray and matched our moods, but we had a ray of hope as we were just 8 miles out and could at least start the search. George was feeling the effects of a sore ankle and sore feet, so I volunteered to fast hike out. Our SUV was to be moved over to the trailhead parking lot and our first point of hope was that it would be there for a quick launch to Kennedy Meadows. The rain returned and pelted us on and off the entire hike out. The small squall that hit me as I approached the parking lot was an omen. The vehicle was not there. On to the Leavitt Meadow Pack Station for some help. Bart was out and about but Barbara was holding down the fort, and after a generous portion of spaghetti and some news that the rangers had come by to say there were some hikers lost in the back country, I headed out to hitch a ride to Kennedy Meadows. While 108 is not a busy road, there is a fair amount of traffic and I watched it sail by without a glance from anyone to even acknowledge my existence. I then realized, standing along the side of the road dressed in my black rain suit, splattered with mud and a face that had not seen a razor in 9 days, I must have looked like an escaped inmate. Finally a Fish + Game warden, Chad Elliot, stopped to hear my plea and immediately took up the task to get me over to Kennedy Meadows. We are grateful for his assistance and it replaced some of the faith I had lost in my fellow beings standing by the side of that road. If you were one of those that whisked by, next time it would not hurt to roll down the window and ask how you can help out. As we approached the parking lot I spied my SUV but noted it had been moved. After discarding my rain gear and unknowingly dropping my wallet on the ground, we headed for the Hotel to find Matt. He was also out and about, but after several conversations it became apparent that George Sr. was alive and well, raising hell along with a few beers. We tracked him down to this room, pounded furiously in the guise of the Sheriffs department, and had a warm reunion with several bear hugs that squeezed my breath away. The rest of that afternoon was spent going back over the pass to retrieve George, shower off nine days of dirt and replenish our empty bellies. The final act of this play was revealed as we called the Yosemite rangers to advise we had been reunited. We then discovered a laissez-faire attitude towards lost hikers. There had been no attempt to send up an overfly, even though there were several fire spotting aircraft on patrol, and a casual admittance that in a few days they MAY have sent a ranger on horseback to Otter Lake. Behold your tax dollars at work and if this would have been a real emergency, a few possible victims. The icing on the cake was being peppered with questions that implied that we had taken George Sr. out in the woods to pick up his inheritance. What an insult. I finished the ranger conversation off with a hearty endorsement of George Sr's. outdoor abilities, and then thanked them for all their efforts, which in retrospect amounted to filling out papers.
Besides a little humility and a set of protocols that we will take with us on our future trips.
➤ Start each day with an understanding of what each person will be attempting, with enough details to ensure that every one in the group has a sense of what, when, where and how
➤ Ensure that each member of your party has part of the food rations, cooking equipment and a heat source
➤ When moving from one camp to another, conduct a detailed briefing
➤ Use maps
➤ Each person walks thru their plans for the day
➤ Clear understanding of where everyone will meet up (Have an If you get lost plan, which in our case will be a return to the prior day camp)
➤ If anyone does not show up at the designated camp spot, set up camp before starting any area searches
➤ Area searches should be conducted with a goal to return back to camp before nightfall
➤ If by nightfall you have not found your hiking partner, get a good meal and on the following day return to the prior camp site or what was agreed to when the day started (dependent on your specific scenario)
➤ If a return to the prior camp site does not produce a reunion, stay calm and proceed by the quickest way out to start a search
➤ When meeting up with any other hikers while exiting, mention what has happened. The information they give you just might solve the mystery.
Last item. A heartfelt thank you to the soul that found my wallet and turned it in to the Sonora Post Office. You have restored some of my faith in mankind and it is a nice ending to this long story.
May our paths & errands meet
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