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, August 29, 2010

Yo-Ho, Part 6

In Which Dr. Morton Enforces Some Downtime

Before bed last night, the resident clinician examined my toe. It was not a pretty sight. It never is, but a second toe swollen to twice its normal size and decorated with evidence of metatarsal joint injury is especially unappealing to anyone but podiatrists. We reached two conclusions: it was time I kissed off my boots, and it was time to take a break from hiking.

The plan, then, was that spouse and daughter would go to McGurk Meadow, a high-country meadow on the way to Glacier Point, whilst I stayed in the valley, did some work work, and investigated the fleshpots of Curry Village and Yosemite Village.

The McGurk Meadow trip was a consolation prize because Em wanted to climb Half Dome via the famous cables route. My wife, reasonably enough, vetoed this. At best this is 16 hour round trip and in August, it means starting before dawn and finishing after sunset. We'll be back to Half Dome at the end of this installment.

One of the annoyances of being unemployed is that one can't totally go on vacation. Things are much better than they were pre-interwebs, because you can now keep up your side anywhere there is Wi-Fi. I had already put in two sessions on the Web at Curry Village, wired and ten minutes' walk away. I did not walk: I rode the shuttle. Now I buckled down and put in most of the morning on the necessary search for work.

With departure only two days off, I also checked on the breakfast arrangements in Curry Village and confirmed the departing bus schedule. That done, I boarded the shuttle to check out some Yosemite Village features we hadn't examined before. Chief among these was the celebrated Degnan's Deli. This might well have measured up if I did not live a couple of blocks from a transplanted and celebrated Manhattan deli, which gets two thumbs up from native New Yorkers. The standard of comparison was thus high. Degnan's, although OK, fell a bit short. Maybe this is a San Francisco deli.

The Dubious Pleasures of Yosemite Cycling

After this, and a brief check-in at the campsite, I decided I'd try renting a bike and doing the Valley's circuit of bike trails. The timing was excellent, because the morning riders were just coming in and returning their bikes.

This process was a bit odd for a regular cyclist. These are one-speed machines to start with, with coaster brakes. There are helmets only for kids. Seats are fixed height, so one can't fine-tune the height: just shop around for the bike nearest your ideal seat height. In this case Goldilocks didn't find one that was just right. Having to choose between one with a seat a bit too high, and one a bit too low, I went with the last.

Off we go. OK, there will be a quiz: in Yosemite, is "flat" an absolute or relative expression? Right. There is plenty of exercise to be had honking up the low hills along some parts of this route. Although the rentals are not supposed to go on one two-mile stretch of path that goes toward mule country and Mirror Lake, it's easy to make up the lost distance by missing a turn or two. Once again, NPS trail management came up short in the Valley. A directional sign or two would come in handy.

Set against the hill-climbing is the bane of all cyclists on all bike paths in my experience: pedestrians. As the trail winds toward Yosemite Village and the day-use parking, the pedestrians become more numerous and more oblivious. I should say, completely oblivious. Did you know it's possible to track stand on a one-speed beach cruiser? Neither did I, until I reached the traffic jam caused by many cubic yards of clueless amblers.

Deer added to the difficulties: not of themselves, but as attractions. There were a couple of deer who showed up in the meadow near Yosemite Village so often that they must have been on the payroll. I don't allow that any wild animal can be tamed, but as long as they had a safe exit, these would allow camera-snapping bozos within a metre or two of them. Wherever there was a deer, there was a thick crowd of the thick on the bike path. Because they were immobile, except when they surged toward the deer, cyclists became pedestrians. From that and other causes, there were times when I made better progress on foot. I haven't even mentioned the family units cycling together after having declared (read, lied about) their cycling competence to get the rental. Passing Yosemite Village was a trial. I did punch my way through at last (readers are welcome to place their own interpretation on the verb). I found one view East I hadn't seen before:
and one west.

It was about this time that I decided one circuit would be enough. Whatever aerobic benefit I was getting was more than offset by the damage to my blood pressure doing crowd control. Except for crossing Swinging Bridge (which does not swing: go figure) there were no more crowds, just enough short hills to keep one busy and alert.

A Bad Day at Half Dome

Back then to the campsite. With no immediate occupation, I took advantage of the informal siesta time and snoozed until the family units returned. The McGurk Meadows trip had been mainly a success, except that it was the first place any of us had run into insects in any appreciable numbers.

Soon after showers, and with supper underway, we began to notice helicopters flying quite low over Housekeeping Camp. I began my adult life listening closely to helicopters. I'm no Radar O'Reilly, but I can usually tell when they're landing, taking off, and more or less where.

These choppers were landing somewhere near Yosemite Village, I guessed. Confirmed when I got a visual on one taking off--and we saw the landing zone the following evening. Six helicopters came in, landed quickly, and left in a hell of a hurry. A seventh came in and landed, remaining on the ground quite a while.

It wasn't until the next day that I got the story. Six people had been rock climbing on one of the scarier faces of Half Dome, when one of them "got stuck" as my informant said tactfully. According to my rock-hopping child, this could mean either climbing into a place from which there was no safe way up or down, or freezing with fear. Either way, the entire party got stuck well up Half Dome and had to be rescued. As for the medevac: remember that comment about the face of El Capitan being as hot as a pizza stone in this heat? Half Dome must have been nearly as hot for people stuck there for several hours. Dehydration and heat exhaustion leap to mind. No one was lost, fortunately. In this business, the tendency is to save lives first and assign blame later. My source was a Ranger, who was chiefly happy no climber had died.

The family unit was divided about the news when I got it. My wife felt her decision to stay away from Half Dome was justified. My daughter said, "if we'd gone to Half Dome, we would have had front-row seats." You can't please everyone.

Our nightly visitors made another appearance, but I guess everybody was chillin' about it. My wife rose just before 5, after another rough night clutching her pots and pans. She was no sooner on her feet than she heard, quite clearly, a male voice casually shout "Yo, bear!" Right, dude. Yo, bear, in Yo-semite.

Later in the morning I found fresh bear poop between us and the river. It was full of lima beans, so I'd say this bear paid the price of his raiding. But clearly, they were getting closer.

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