We won the lottery!!! Well sort of. Actually a friend of Betsey's cousin Kathleen won a coveted Hi-Sierra 6-day mule trip back in 2005 and through various twists and turns we were able to hitch along. The anticipation in 2005 was dashed when (for only the second time since 1916) the camps did not open due to high snow depths (15+ feet) and dangerous water levels. The last time was in 1996 due to wet El Nino year. We waited patiently for the summer of 2006 to approach. Plans were made then changed as the snow did not melt soon enough for our first booking, but we persevered and were able to get a slot at the start of August.
We started with a night at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and then it was up and at'em in the morning to meet our mules and head for the first camp, Glen Aulin. The day started under clear skies that later squeezed out a few minutes of Sierra rain drops and then quickly returned to warm and pleasant.
The first day ride was short, about 5 miles, and ended up at a beautiful spot nestled at the foot of a waterfall and the gateway to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. The camp is at the confluence of 4 trails and I took a curious look at the path that I would be coming down in just 7 weeks on my yearly backpacking trip. We were treated to a turkey dinner after an impromptu serenade by the staff with whatever they could cobble together for musical instruments. The night was peaceful and the moon shimmered on the water and in the misty veil of the rushing waterfall.
The next day we arose to blue skies, a huge breakfast and our mules awaiting to take us onwards. May Lake was our destination in about 8 miles, and in the shadow of Mt. Hoffman, the geographic center of Yosemite. The trail rose up from Glen Aulin eventually ascending to a lunch stop with views that seemed to go on forever. The high ridges and peaks stood in all their splendor and guarded the domain before us. May Lake camp was hidden along the shore and nestled in between towering Lodgepole pines. At over 9000' the temperature was quite cool even in the middle of the summer, but the staff was well prepared to keep us warm and well fed. That night as the dark descended we watched the light of day turn to amber glow and carpet the panorama
This was our departure point from the mule trip as the altitude was having an affect and we decided to drop down lower and spend the rest of the week in the valley. The Camp Manager Brian and our guide Sheridan were just wonderful to help us through this event and showed a real backcountry spirit. We descended with the group to a point at which we were able to walk out to H120 and get back to the stables and our car.
Our first venture was to take the bus up to the point and then hike down the trail to the valley floor. For anyone who has been to Glacier Point, the vast expanse of the high Sierra is on constant display. It is one of those world class experiences where you have the combination of a spectacular view and a powerful draw to an inner sense of peace. I will let the view speak for itself.
After soaking in the expansive view and a bit of shopping at the store, we laced up our boots and headed for the valley trail. It was one fantastic view after another along a well designed and maintained path.
Since we had such a good time we decided to return at sunset to enjoy the view in a different light. After picking up sandwiches, desert and a nice bottle of wine we drove up to the point and settled in on the granite amphitheater in the perfect setting. We were not the only ones as a French threesome had gotten the same idea. As we were being blanketed by the soft warm hues of sunset, the wild creatures started their nocturnal awakening and we were treated to three pairs of trios, a Blue Grouse mother and two chicks, three bucks and three does. Something very prime in all of that. The sun dove behind the far away Pacific Ocean and John Muir's 'Range of Light' came to pass.
For the rest of our trip we tooled around in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. We went on a short loop hike up Tenaya Canyon past Mirror Lake, or what used to be Mirror Lake. Once the ice source for the valley, this temporary lake was created by a rock slide from Half Dome above. But now the natural progression of sediment from the river flow is transforming the landscape once again. This is a nice hike in relative shade with varied flora along the way to tickle the eyes.
No trip to Yosemite is complete without a look at the waterfalls and the real big rock - El Capitan. I captured Bridalveil Falls as the sun was going down and she showed off her spectacular colors and then I caught a few climbers in the morning sunrise. Perfect book ends to the night in between. And to round out this panel, a woodpecker and the noisy and curious Stellar Jay.
Well, all good things have to come to an end, at least for awhile. The rest of our party was due out from the last High Sierra camp and we headed to pick them up and spend the last night in this corner of wonder. Our stay at the White Wolf Lodge was not without a bit of drama. During the campfire ranger talk on bears which we missed, as if on cue one showed up to cap the tale. Later that night Kathleen and her roommate had a bear tale of their own. Shortly after the camp settled down for the night a bit of huffing and puffing awoke Kathleen and just outside was a large bruin with it's head ensconced inside a scavenged empty tub of sour cream! There was all sort of yelling and bell whistles but the bear decided that the treat was greater than the threat and continued to lick away. Eventually it rambled on, as most bear encounters end. To say the least, it was an exhilarating experience.
May our paths & errands meet
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