The trip that almost wasn'tIt was 2 months since I had a chance to get to the high country. Everything appeared to come together around mid September, I checked the weather and was ready to go. I drove up to Yosemite friday morning the 17th expecting to do an afternoon hike out to Mt. Watkins from Olmstead Point.
I noticed some haze over the distant mountains from the central valley. It seemed fairly common but got me wondering. As I drove up into the Yosemite high country it was getting hazy. By the time I got to Olmstead Point I saw Yosemite Valley was all hazed in from fires. Taking pictures is a big part of my intention on these trips. I was bummed. So I decided to continue on towards Tioga Pass in hopes of clearer skies in the eastern Sierra. As I reached the view down into Mono Basin from Lee Vining Canyon the whole eastern Sierra was hazed in. I'm more bummed. Why didn't I call ahead to check the air quality?!
Now I'm starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness in Mono Basin. Altitude sickness has become a major problem for me the last few years especially the 1st day. Having only extended weekends to acclimate this has kept me from doing big mountains even though I feel fine hiking the local hills and mountains around the Bay Area.
I drive over to the Visitor Center in Lee Vining for a report on the fires. A 600 acre blaze in Kings Canyon is the main source of the haze and could last for days. I drive north over Conway summit but it's just as bad towards Bridgeport and further north.
I'm all bummed out now and feeling worse from the altitude even at 7-8,000 ft.. I decide to just continue north past Bridgeport, drive on over Sonora Pass and head back home. After a few miles I go: "Hey, you came all this way, just give it a chance". So I head back to Hwy 120 with a headache building. I take a couple headache pills and rest a bit. Then drive back up to Tioga Pass again hoping to do a small afternoon hike.
By the time I get to the pass the headache's coming back. The ranger says it's probably gonna be hazy in the morning. I'm starting to feel like shit. Again I decide to head back home. The further I drive back through Tuolumne Meadows I'm getting sicker. By the time I get to the western park entrance at 5,000' I've almost thrown up once. "This is ridiculous"! I can't believe it! 17 years of mountaineering in the Sierra and it comes to this!
A few miles past the park entrance I decide to to pull off on a fire road and rest. As I turn onto the road I open the van door and hurl up lunch. Wow! This is amazing. Anyway I feel better, find a place to chill, take another headache pill and lay down. After a little while I feel a lot better and decide to turn in early and spend the night to see what tomorrow brings.
A nice day on the valley rim
I got a good night sleep was up before dawn and feeling good. I drove up to the Glacier Point area bright and early, the 1st person in the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome trailhead parking lot. The Valley was totally clear and I had a fine morning hiking out to Taft Point and then to Sentinel Dome. When I got back to the parking lot a few hours later it was packed out with overflow cars along the road for a quarter mile. A nice lady with a Greyhound size RV waiting for a parking place tried to get into my spot as I pulled out to drive back down into the valley for lunch. Then back up to the high country, and a small hike to 10,000 ft. around Tioga Lake at day's end, I felt fine.
Then I notice a black speck in the camera viewfinder. It's not on the polarizer, not on the lense, not on the viewfinder. What could it be? I hadn't taken the lense off so nothing could have gotten in there but something was in there! I took the lense off and tried to clean it but it got worse! I thought maybe I'd ruined the camera. Then I took some shots and they were totally clear, nothing on them! It was just in the viewfinder somewhere. So I relaxed that dilemma and drove down to Rush Creek in Mono Basin my favorite camping spot for the night.
A sudden encounter with destinyUp at dawn I'm planning to do the Mt. Watkins hike from Olmstead Point again. I'm driving through the Yosemite high country between Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake when suddenly out of nowhere a young deer bolts in front of the van and gets it bad! I turn around and go back. The poor baby is thrashing around on the road with a broken back. I feel terrible! I get out and drag it off the road. A guy in a pick-up and another car stop to help. The guy in the pick-up says he'll report to the ranger station in Tuolumne Meadows. I try to comfort this extemely vulnerable and helpless young being. Stroking it's neck and back area and talking to it, even getting it to relax and close it's eyes a bit. But every time a car, RV or motorcycle roars by it starts thrashing again. After about 20 minutes a ranger pulls up and I tell him what happened. He says this in one of the most difficult and unpleasant parts of his job. He will have to put the young deer down, probably shoot it. He suggests I may not want to stay and watch so I give my brief companion a farewell blessing and drive on to Olmstead Point covered with dirt. It was all I could do.
Mt. Watkins hike
I thought I had this little hike down but I only had half the route on the topo. My friend Dan told me where to start and meet up with the trail but I grossly mis-judged his directions and wound up getting off on a steep chaparral slope and even a little class 4 granite. Finally with legs scratched up and bloody I'm down into the forested valley where I expected to find the trail. I was lost and pissed! Damn! What to do? I knew the general direction to go and after a couple of minutes I heard some voices. I called out and they responded. There they were on the trail a stones throw away.
It turned out to be a park ranger, Ranger Dick. He had 35 years experience with the Yosemite Park Service. There was scarcely a peak in the park he hadn't climbed more than once. He and his friend were heading to Mt. Watkins too! I was very happy to hike the rest of the way with them and spend some time enjoying the marvelous view of Clouds Rest, Half Dome and the rest of Yosemite Valley from the south end of Watkins for a while with them.
I left for the return trip a short while after them. While cruising along on easy granite terrain on the huge summit plateau of Mt. Watkins I caught my foot on a rock and took a header, getting some unwanted big air and slamming down horizontal with a grunt!. I did a physical check. Everything seemed to be fine 'cept for a little scrape here and there. By now I'm just ready to go home before anything else happens!
Then I get a few miles further and tweek my lower back stepping up the trail. Maybe it was from the header.
I hiked the rest of the way on back and the altitude starts to toy with me again. Even the final few hundred verticle feet of easy switchbacks at 8,000 ft. had me stopping and gasping for air.