Monday, February 10, 2014

Down In The Valley and I am NOT YOUR BRO!

I woke up and took my sweet ass time heading out for the final day on the trail. I know I will be ready for this part of the adventure to be over when I get on the train to Merced, but I am in no rush for it to end.

The fawn and mother are back grazing as I pack up. The sky is actually clear and so blue! I know that when I get to the infamous falls of the valley I will have plenty of water, but I fill up everything again from the stream.... not ready for water fountains yet. Maybe I should mention, No one else camped in this area. I was alone with the deer, the stream, and me! So many people stop at the other camp sites, that at first I thought that I was missing something and getting "bad" camping spots, but no. I just went to the more secluded sections, and didn't always choose the ones that are highlighted in the trail books. It also meant I didn't see any park rangers, but they may have been busy with other things.... like people freaking out about fire and smoke.

As I start on down the trail I run into a guy who was celebrating his 50th birthday with his first backpacking adventure and he is doing the JMT. He is super excited. His wife is going to meet him around Red's in case he needs to change plans. He is just happy to be there.

Then there was a guy who's trail name was "nobody" and while we were talking a coyote or 2 strolled by. Then a series of guys going up and down the trail, and that is when I had the beginning of my "bro" meltdown. I know that there just weren't that many women on the trail, and the whole time I was the only woman I ran into hiking alone, but geeze! Note to men on hiking trail, bike rides, soccer games, snow sports.... not everyone out there is a guy, and I am not your "Bro, man"! I was still really doing ok with some of this, it got old, but the beauty of the land was a good distraction.

After I passed the turn off for Clouds Rest, the valley opened up to its awe inspiring self! Half-Dome came into view as did all the other landmarks that I can't list off. As I got closer and closer to the valley, the day hikers increased in proportion to backpackers. I was amazed at how many people were starting the JMT this late in the season. "Nobody" said he loved the trail in the winter time, and that Mt. Whitney had a special beauty in late fall. He had done the trail several times, and found him self with some extra time and camping food, so took off. It is moments like this that I have considered moving to this area of California.

Anyway, I made my way down, and down, and down... then the water falls! WOW! And then the Merced river rolls down the valley. I'll let the pics speak for the views for they were non-stop spectacular.

I wondered into Yosemite proper, and the squirrels were the biggest I had ever seen. As I saw hamburger and french fry wrappers blowing by (the first I'd seen litter the whole 2 weeks) I understood. They are being fed the junk food of the day-hikers/car-campers/village fast-food joints. Squirrels with diabetes and heart disease.

I got to the end of the line and took a shuttle to the campground with the backpackers area. I walk by all the R.V.s, crossed the bridge, and on the other side of the stream, I found quiet again. So I set up my tent, took a swim in the stream, and went into "town" for a veggie burger and a beer. After dinner I went to get the shuttle schedule and saw the ghost of John Muire get off a bus with an super old external-frame backpack. You know the kind you see in hiker museums.

I also went into the Yosemite market and got some fresh fruit. As I approached the bridge to the campgrounds, upon my return, I passed John's ghost again. We both got some more water and headed over to the camp together. Later he came by to see about hitching a ride back to his town. Seems he was doing the 60th or 65th anniversary of the first time he hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls! I never did ask him how old he was, but if I did the story time math, it put him in his early 70s. He was disappointed because he was planning on doing 4 days out, but got to the top of the falls and turned around due to exhaustion, and the falls was dry, so no water.

I had a nice final night in the tent. Something that sounded like an owl started speaking, then something started howling, that got the horses in the corral going. And as quickly as it started in went in reverse and then all was quiet again. I slept with the fly off and just stayed up most of the night watching the sky and reflecting. The tree friend that I had met while on Fish Creek hasn't left my mind. I know we are old friends. I know we have danced together. We have sung songs and played music. We have gone on long walks and had many talks and good hardy laughs. I look forward to more times with that old friend!

The morning moved slowly. I went into Curry Village and got some coffee. I imagined it as a village not part of a national park, but a place that all my friends and I took over. We could grow some food, create a true learning environment for children and those who are older. We could take turns going "out" for supplies we couldn't grow ourselves, but had things to trade... It was the seed that planted the idea I have for creating the community we envision. And a reminder that we don't have to wait for the shit to go down to start creating the communities we want to live in. We can start making mistakes and learning from them now!

I made my way to the shuttle, and who do I find, but John. We struck up a conversation that lasted all the way to Merced... even when I tried to go to sleep. We tried to exchange names, but he could not get my name right and just kept calling me Tim. At first I really did enjoy him talking and telling stories. I miss my grandfather so very much, that I absorbed maybe more than I should have. Towards the end of our travels together, he said he had a question for me that had been bothering him since we met. I thought "Sweet! Here is where we can address that fact that I am not Tim". His question was about his befuddlement on how I kept such a clean shave on the trail! For real! I tried to explain that I didn't know too many females that shaved while backpacking. He seemed even more perplexed and then eventually asked if I like to garden and if so, grow tomatoes.... In his mind, and many others, I will always be some young guy they met on the trail, and it makes me.... is there an emotion that blends mad and sad?

Its not that they saw ME as a guy. That part is fine. Its that they don't expect to see women on the trail unless they are hiking with men, and the men were always in the lead. always taking charge and leading when I saw them. And this expectation that women are not solo hikers, that it isn't safe for them, keeps so many women from having solo adventures. I'm not saying everyone should go out alone.... I just happen to be a loner, or impatient/selfish and just want to go when and where I want to go, and if others want to join great!

Since I have been back, I've talked to women who do not go out alone either for hikes or backpacking treks. Many don't even take themselves out for dinner and a movie date. And to all that I say, do it... if you want to. But don't let fear keep you from doing it. Women experience more violence the closer they are to their homes and families. The majority of rape and abuse that women face is by people they know. Men are more likely to experience violence from strangers.

So don't let people tell you that its not safe for women to go out alone. And it is here that I figured out why I do not want to be called "bro". I am not your bro. I am not on this trail to conquer it, or prove anything to myself (or anyone else). I am here to experience and commune with nature. I will not geek out over gear (except the p-style) and having the lightest pack. I am out here to love this place (wherever I am) deeply; to take it into me and fill me with its grandeur.

And it is with these thoughts that I fell into a hotel in Merced and saw myself in the mirror naked for the first time in 2 weeks. The over 100 miles and 14 days, loss of appetite, stripped the weight off of me. I was sunken in where I never thought it was possible. I was honestly in a little shock! I called my friends in Santa Cruz and said they had one mission while I was there... to get the weight back up... burritos and beer (root or grain I didn't care). I was a couple bus rides from them and couldn't wait to see them... until then it was swimming pool, shower, and bath for me.

the last flat i would see for a spell

sneaking up on half-dome

squirrel gargoyle

something beautiful

the valley

signs of fall

clouds rest, something, and half-dome

one of the water falls, but do you see the water spirit?

can you see her now? climbing?

really giant squirrels

ahhhh water

normally the water is fills this space

some millage perspective 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Decent Begins

I left the Sunrise High Sierra camp after some fantastic conversations with some really nice folks. Word on the trail was that water was scarce, so I filled up myself and all the vessels with water from the spicket in the camp. As I left the camp and turned the bend in the trail, vegetation changed and the trail began to descend.

Two good lessons. 1) Down really is harder than up sometimes, especially on the knees and toes. 2) I will never ever give up my water pump. I know a great many ultra-light hikers are into using stiri-pens or drops, but when the water is scummy or the flow of a stream is low and you will collect just as much sediment as you do water.... I want my water pump. Also.... I really like the taste of wild water and do not appreciate the taste of those chemicals or iodine. There was one stream I passed and decided to get water. Several light hikers in need of water had to pass it up due to a lack of having a pump. (yes, I offered, the guys said no; the women said yes) So, no, you will not separate me from this great piece of gear. Oh and have you ever watched the little fish swim around the intake filter?

I was headed to Cloud's Rest, or at least the campground that is at the trail head to the top. Then the stories about the momma bear and 2 cubs that were gathering food from there changed my mind. Bears only really seemed to be a problem when one camped where everyone else camped. Bears are smart. They know where the food is, its where the people are, and almost everyone that comes and goes up or down this trail seems to stop at the camp.They all left with a good bear story. Bear tip: throw pine cones NEAR the bears no at the bears, and they will eventually be annoyed and go away. A group of boy scouts once threw rocks AT a bear and killed it. They are no longer welcome in Yosemite park ever again.

I knew that I was just a couple days from the end of the hike, so I started reflecting on what I had experienced leading up to this journey, what I was learning by being out this long, and what I wanted to take with me. And I couldn't help but think about the resistance ecology conference and all the great speakers. The theme for most of the workshops I went to was on intersectionality. So every time I saw two seemingly unrelated things, I tried to find where they intersected. Parttrice Jones gave some great talks not just on intersectionality, but also on not using militant tactics in trying to liberate animals, humans, the earth... It did not take me long to develop a deeper appreciation for this insightful and compassionate person. There were many more people that presented at the conference, and one of the topics I will cover when I finish with this trip.

So as I moved ever closer to the valley, I ran into more people. It wasn't too bad, but they were appearing with an ever increasing frequency. And so did people getting confused by seeing me on the trail alone. More on this in the final wrap up.

As I finished a major descent, I encountered a male/female couple who had had encountered the Cloud's Rest bears. The family had played soccer with both of their bear canisters. His ended up lodged between two boulders. Hers got a claw puncture wound right where you press in to turn the canister open. Proving these bears are getting smarter and smarter! It won't be long before they figure these out, and we'll have to figure out a new system. GO BEARS!

With this in mind, I came across a slow moving stream and a small camping area, and decided to call it a day. Little did I know just what kind of reward this choice was going to be!

As I un-packed and set up my little yellow tent, kitchen, and pumped some water; a fawn came wondering into the area munching on various leaves. Then it's mom came by. The fawn was probably a couple month old and finding some independence, but was quick to find mom when loud hikers cruised by. These two lovely friends hung close to my site all evening, and I found them there when I awoke. In the middle of the site was a ginormous boulder that I climbed up on to cook, write, read, and meditate. Nearly every time I looked up, there were my companions. I reasoned that as long as this momma was cool with her baby being here, then danger was not close by... so maybe no bears or coyotes. Probably not true, but like a good human, I can occasionally indulge in a false sense of security.

The evening came to an end and I settled in too. I wanted a good nights rest for the final drop into the valley. My feet were tired, my lungs sore from the smoke, and I was getting excited to see my friends and the ocean.

still smoky in the morning

under or over?

every-once-in-awhile the blue would appear

lovely forest

for real?!

but the haze would always reappear

ahhh water!

and little fish

the fawn remained camera shy

its a good home

Monday, February 3, 2014

When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes... and Nose, and Throat....

Heading towards Yosemite Valley, knowing I was 3 to 4 days of being done with this leg of the adventure, so many thoughts were running through my head. First was being so stoked that someone talking to a vacationing crowd of families, about climate change, did such a very good job of saying what less snow means. When Al Gore talks about the glacier loss in the national parks, he doesn't really say that that means more rain and flooding and loss of a natural form of water storage. He makes people want to get into their cars and drive to see the glaciers before they are gone.

So that was running in my head. The amount of beauty I had seen, was seeing, was overwhelming. How was I to take it all in. To be honest, I was kind of reaching a threshold! I mean, how much can one brain/heart/set of eyes take in?! A lot I would come to find out.

But I was also trying to figure out just how far I was going to go and what I was going to do on my way down to the valley. I wanted to do it all! I was planning on doing it all!

Then the thickness of the smoke became more and more apparent. The book told me all the things I should be able to see as I made my way down the trail, but I could see none of it, or at least I couldn't see it they way they said it would be. It, indeed, was a different kind of beauty. Clark's range wasn't visible at all. All the landmarks that would tell me how far I had gone, and how far I was to go.... not visible.

Then my throat started to itch and my eyes started to burn.  I got into Sunset High Sierra Camp, a short day only a little over 8 miles, and started to make some choices. Water was becoming more and more scarce. The streams were trickles or just puddles, and people going the other way were reporting diminishing water supplies. It is September after all. The snow melt gone. It's not the rainy season, and things dry up. Add that to the desire to have more drinking water to counteract breathing in so much smoke... There were things to think about. So I decided to forgo doing Clouds Rest. The desire to do it was the amazing view from the top. I also decided not to go up to Sunrise Lake, or any of the other view point places, because, well, there was no view.

Don't misunderstand, I was still surrounded by so much amazing beauty! I just ended up not looking too far out and paid more attention to the things closer to me. The change in plants, trees, rock formations, the sounds my feet made under me... so much.

At this point I am completely in love with the Sierras. The massive beauty, the subtle beauty, the people, the ease of using public transportation to get in and out of trails. I was smitten, so when I ran into a couple who live close by and do regular adventures in the area, I asked a great many questions. And they were super cool to talk to! Soooooo I now have a list of trails and destinations to return to, and that made some of my decisions to not do certain things much easier.

So I packed up with the plan to camp one more night on the trail and then do the final descent into the valley and then start an adventure to see my friends in Santa Cruz, and with every water vessel full, I headed on down the trail

it took getting right up to this before i could really see it

how the range looked most of the day

sun around 3pm

did make a nice sunset though

hazy morning

the luxuries of being close to the high sierra camps

so the smoke mostly made it  look like portland!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Love at the Meadow

I arrived back at Red's Meadow with something like 73 miles under my feet so far. I still needed to get back to Yosemite Valley to catch a bus out to Merced at some point. My original thought was to hike back using side trails that I hadn't used yet. But I was having some feelings about this. The shadows had shifted and fall was on its way. People were reporting smoke and frost in some of the valleys I would be going through. To do all the things I wanted to do, I would have to rush, and that is ultimately what led me to decided to shuttle around from Mammoth to Tuolumne Meadows, and then hike down to the valley. I was a little nervous because it was heading into Labor day, and even though some of the roads were closed due to the fire, I was still expecting some big crowds, so I started early.

I had a quick breakfast at the grille. Said good-bye to all the amazing people that had been so helpful to me there, and took off on the great shuttle adventures. I was the only one on the bus when we left Red's, but we picked up a couple guys who had been climbing in the area. They were really ready for breakfast! One of them was from France and compared French and American approaches to levels of access to "national park" type areas. I would expand on his thoughts, but I couldn't really follow because he would contradict himself often, or maybe it was a language thing... either way, it was fun to listen.

The bus driver was super interesting. He was retired (from what, I don't know), but grew up coming to the area with his grandparents, and now spends his summers as a bus driver for one of the oldest shuttle services for getting people out to this magnificent area. The next bus driver worked for YART on the east-side. He is a retired sheriff for a small town in Washington state. I was the only rider, again, until we got into a couple stops in Mammoth village. He was super nice and helpful in navigating where to stay when I arrived in Merced (he and his wife now live there).

One of the great things of riding these buses is meeting people finishing or starting their adventures. Most of them where male/female couples. There were a couple of 2 guy crews, and a few single guys out. I was the only woman traveling alone. This was starting to click more and more in my brain. I think I've mentioned before about being mistaken as a "bro" or "dude".... I was called "bro" so firkin much, and it was about to get worse and I didn't even know it yet. No, I was enjoying a beautiful bus ride through the dry desert of the Eastern Sierras. We got into the east entrance of Tuolumne Meadows, with no line! The bus driver was expecting something. Usually its super long, but with so many roads closed, and false reports of the fire actually being in the park, there was no line.

So I got off the bus and headed to the backpacker camp-ground once again. It was early in the day and not really anyone in it yet, so I headed off to explore some of the things I had been dreaming of... like Soda Springs

where the springs bubble up

It is said that this is where John Muir came up with the idea for creating a national park system. There are many tales of this being where he brought people to fall in love with the area, and want to protect it. Much of it is written in such beautifully and poetic ways, that it could be forgotten that people were living here and already caring for the land and all that moves through it.  It can be difficult for me to remember that these protective parks that I so love to go to in order to get away from the over-consumptive nature of city living, is steep in a form of racism that removed people to land that could not support them. To land with out access to their ancestral ways of living, loving, connecting... well things I don't even know. 

As I moved through this area, I also came to the first lodge of the Sierra Club, but really my brain was stuck, and it still kinda is.... How easy is it for people who's views/politics/personal ethics to get watered down as they assimilated or get acculturated? When radical becomes cool. Or when something/someone becomes popular and gets assimilated and then it gets easier to give in a little, and then a little more, until those original calls to action are no longer there? Take the Sierra Club and its one time strong activism to protect land and water and animals. Then it got more popular in the mainstream culture to the point of working hand and hand with energy companies and their concessions to government regulations and big corporations make you wonder why you contributed anything ever, just so someone could get paid big bucks to hang out with the "enemy"....

With these thoughts in my brain, the visions of so much beauty around me took over, and I was able to be present in what I was experiencing... these many days of daily meditations was demonstrating its benefits.

I found myself headed to the visitors center, and of course, the bookstore!  So many good books on the history of the area, but ya know, I'm backpacking and still have 3 or 4 days to go... so I settled on an anthology of women writing on nature! A true antidote to what I had been thinking! Its great! Sisters of the Earth: Women's Prose and Poetry about Nature, helped inspire me to not fall into the void of misogynistic and racist versions of nature I had been getting since I started planning this trip. 

I took my little treasure, stopped my the little camp supply store near the campgrounds and got some veggies and made my way to my little campsite where I read, ate, and watched the smoke roll in with other campers.

That night the camp fire talk was on climate change and its effect on Yosemite.  I decided I was going to go, not only would a fire be nice, but I wanted to hear how the talk might be framed in this context. Besides, even Muir mentions climate change in his book "Yosemite". And a plus, it was going to be given by a female ranger!  She was amazing! Not only did she talk about how climate change and the cyclical nature of changing weather patterns, but what that would mean for the surrounding cities... like San Francisco.  For example: less snow = more rain. less snow = less catchment for water supply = more flooding = displacement of wildlife and people.  She also taught me that my favorite little mountain rodent (the pika) is actually a member of the rabbit family! WHAT!  We lingered and chatted more long into the night about her love affair with Tuolumne specifically and the Sierras in general.  I look forward to many return trips to the area my self.

The smoke had really settled in. My black jacket was covered in ash, and it was time to get moving. I awoke early, packed up and went down to the grille to get some coffee and breakfast before starting the final uphill before the major descent into the valley.  Somewhere along the way, I did leave a solid piece of myself in Toulumne, and I can't wait to return and continue the exploraton of the magnificent nooks with in this landscape.

places I explored

just another walk

soda springs, the white residue is made up of the minerals, the red is the only place place I saw red soil, the water... amazing and bubbly!

the meadow

smoke rolls in (from prescibed burns, not the wildfire its self)

fresh avocado!

oh yea

peaks and spires I hope to explore soon

places to return to


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Just Hanging Out


When I was planning the alt-adventure, all I really knew was that I was heading to the Sierras and some hot springs that I had randomly been told about. As I was meeting both of those "goals", now what?

I was finally in the middle of no where, and I was finally alone. It was here that I would finally find 3 days of not talking to anyone but myself. There were a couple of times that I would hear people come near, and I was in a camping spot that could have allowed for others to stop, but no one did. Close one night. It was late, and I heard 2 guys talking, their headlamps scanned the area, but when they saw my tent they said someone was here and they should move on. That was it. 

So what did I do here? I really did meditate 3 times a day. I adventured off trail where I apologized to snakes I had disturbed. I soaked in hot and cold springs. Mostly, I sat on boulders and watched amazing clouds move around.... and some of the bluest skies filled my sights. There were days I thought my chest would burst from the beauty of the peacefulness that I had found myself in.

I laid out some ideas of what I wanted to return to Portland with. Where I wanted to go when I left this little spot. Mostly I just cleared my mind, and my heart. It is funny what comes in when you clear out parts of yourself.

My grandpa's death the previous year was still really sitting with me (and still does, thankfully), and I was wondering what to do with it.  There is this notion in the white capitalist culture of what to do with death, but if one sees death and life as something you can't separate....

So we had some chats... several chats with folks who's spirits I feel as continues companions. It is in these environments that I feel I can truly open up to them and we can all expand and take up some space... so we did.... so I did. And I allowed myself to be comforted there. I would like to mention the sage that is in this valley. I have had some sweats with an amazing person who would bring this high altitude sage to ceremony, and here I found it again. Each time I brushed up against it, a flood of feelings would wash over me and I would slow down to take things in even deeper. That sage is so strong and so soft....

One of my favorite things about the solitary nature of this spot, was soaking and then laying out on a big rock face naked to dry off and warm up. Then returning myself to an upright position and meditation for a spell...

After a few days of this, I packed up for the long hike back to Red's. I wasn't ready to leave, not by a long way. But it was more that I was ready to start. Also, I needed to be back to catch the shuttle around to Tuolumne Meadows. The fires still had roads closed, and it was now almost Labor day, the day many things start to close down.

I was prepared for a seriously difficult hike out. It was going to be all uphill, out of the valley. And there was just not that much water once I left here. So I filled myself and all my water bottles with every beverage I could imagine, and headed out.

But everything happened so fast! A couple hours ahead of what I expected, I started to run into hikers from Rainbow Falls going in the wrong direction. It wasn't much longer that I had a train of folks following me out of the burned up forest and into Red's. I did feel a little smug as I landed, grabbed a beer and bag a chips, and watched them wonder up to catch their shuttle back to Mammoth. 

I did cheat and get a cabin to myself. Sat on the porch and watched the sunset. I was worn out. I had pushed myself hard and was feeling so amazed at what I was able to do! Not that I didn't have limits to my ability, but that I had a new level of confidence. I was no longer so nervous crossing a stream on a fallen log with a pack on my back; I was cautious, but not so afraid. I was bounding over obstacles, not like a 19 year old, but also not like, well others my age. I had sharpened old skills and cultivated new ones. So when at breakfast in the grill the next day, I was not surprised when the woman who worked there and myself both turned at the same time to see the shifting shadows and new that fall had arrived in the woods.

my campsite lounge

perfect spot post soak meditation

fish eye at the compsite

one of the views

amazing trees growing out of rock

SOOO blue!

morning breaking over the rim

I will miss fish creek

the inside of a pine cone

a mammoth