Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trail marked, Mark Trail

Yesterday's event was a test drive for this pair of putative Yosemite hikers at Mount Monadnock. To appreciate this fully, you must understand that my spouse grew up within sight of America's Mount Fuji, where residents' interest in the mountain borders on worship. She has been up and down the mountain more times than she can count. My view of the mountain has always been more reserved, but it is the best thing to climb in an hour and a half driving radius.

Things change, and lesson 1 in such change came with our trail selection. We took our old favourite pre-kid route, the Cascade Link to the Pumpelly Trail. This is seven miles or so, nearly double the length of the two most touristy trails.

If you follow the links above, you'll read what a "gentle climb" this is. On the average, it is: just as the person with one foot in a bucket of boiling water and the other in a bucket of ice is, on the average, comfortable. When we first began using that trail, 30-odd years ago, we agreed with that review.

During the years since our last trip, someone added a large number of not-so-gentle sections that escaped our notice when we were under 30.
And apart from the aging of the hikers in question, there's a question of maintenance. Very few hikers do the Link for its full length. They bear off on one of the other trails that head to the summit. After the last of those turnoffs trail maintenance, especially of trail markers, has slipped quite a bit.

It was a relief to reach the altitudes where cairns took over from yellow markers. Until then, our progress was slowed by having to spread out now and then and find the trail.

Slowed, that is, until I observed the distinctive spoor of the contemporary hiker: the scratches left on rock by today's hiking staffs. (Take this detour to one example.) Part of this trip's purpose was to experiment with these gadgets, which are definitely useful.

More and more of these poles have rubber tips rather than metal points. As I understand it, the change is happening out of concern for the environmental damage the points may cause. On these two little-used trails, there wasn't much evidence that hiking poles had done any more damage than feet to soil and roots. But the marks were all over the rocks, as if some very well equipped family of paleolithic bears had been making daily trips up and down the mountain for centuries. This doesn't seem like much, in the balance of things. Do we care about scratching rocks? Well, my wife noticed that where the scratches were the lichens were often dead or dying.

The rubber tips on my poles were worn through before we had barely started. I replaced them this morning. I had "leave only footprints" borne in on me from an early age, and I try to take more human traces out of the woods than I bring in (more on that presently). Although the marks on the rocks helped us to pick out the trail several times, they struck me as the sort of lasting change on the environment that it's better to avoid.

It was balm to stiff muscles and various bruises to check the literature this morning and discover that we'd done the trip in six hours (minus lunch and summit worship), which is an average trip over this route for hikers of any age and condition. It was also a comfort to check the respective topo maps and find that the nasty bits of yesterday's trek are steeper than anything we plan to do at Yosemite. That lesson is "stick to the plan:" we will not be gulled into doing Half Dome, hanging by our eyebrows off El Capitan, or anything else that could involve the word "precipice."

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Blogger massmarrier said...

OK, so ya'll ready to fairly sprint up a real mountain, leaving your daughter to pant behind.

8:57 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

To quote my California colleague, Yosemite has attendants for slow hikers: bears. That is a motivational thought.

10:59 pm  

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