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?

Monday, October 15, 2012

California, 2012, 5

In which we march around in the hot damn dirty dust at 7000 feet (line courtesy of  Michael Shaara's novel Gettysburg, which has a apt accompanying line. "It's them first few thousand miles. After that, a man gets limber to his feet.")

To begin the hike programme, we went to the original hiking day 2 plan, skipping the acclimatizing valley hike. This was to take the Glacier Point Road about 2/3 of the way up, hike to McGurk Meadow, then to Dewey Point, and there review our next move.

The ostensible appeal of the route is that it offered what the hiking guidebooks called a "flat" hike at moderately high altitude (in the 7000 foot range). They got the high altitude part right. However, let's
refer back to the chief discovery of the last trip, about the truthiness of flattiness. Once off the valley floors, there is no such thing as "flat."

We began down the trail to McGurk, down as in downhill. Em turned to me and said "have you noticed how we're going?" I replied, "Yes. We're going into a fool's paradise."

This was my first visit to McGurk Meadow. Unfortunately, in September most of its renowned wild alpine flowers had gone by, though there remained a few smaller specimens visible in the grass.

 It was also my first look at Mr McGurk's famous mountain shelter. Low it was, and looked exceptionally breezy, although I suppose in its time the cabin had the chinks between the logs filled with mud and vegetation. There is an urban legend that the McGurk cabin had inspired Tolkien's vision of hobbit houses. Pity there's no evidence that Tolkien was ever in California before the publication of either The Hobbit or the Ring trilogy. Nor does it match any of the narrative descriptions of hobbit architecture.It looks like what it was: a sheepherder's shelter.

As one leaves the Meadow, the true nature of the trail reveals itself. It goes up, then down; up a little more, then down a little. It throws in a lot of up and a lot of down for variety. And, this month, everything past the Meadow was the hot damn dirty dust. During our visit, this part of Yosemite had not had appreciable rainfall in two months. In dry conditions, as we knew, the dust here is incredibly tenacious. Even three people hiking in line churn up an awful lot of it. One coughs, one wheezes, one sips water constantly from dust-covered water bladders and bottles. But still, one begins to experience the dread companion of Sierra hikers: black boogers.

One lesson I've picked up from the various hiking guides I've been reading when I haven't been able to hike is that everybody who hikes, complains. Most hikers would no more think of hiking without bitching than they would of hiking without boots. The dust was inevitable in September, so there was nothing for it but to sneeze black, swear, and keep on hiking.

For me, the last trip was darkened by poorly-fitting boots (last time I buy boots online.)  This trip was to be the final test of my professionally fitted boots, lined with an additional arsenal of foot orthotics.
One of the gadgets was clearly not working out, so I stopped, removed it, and went on. There were no foot problems for the rest of the trip.

Last time in Yosemite, we'd discovered that the most important unit of measurement on Yosemite trails is the ish (aka the appx.). The official round trip to Dewey Point from the McGurk trailhead is, for example, eight-ish miles. For a variety of reasons, disclosed shortly, we covered more like nine-ish miles. One could find trail estimates varying a mile either way of the official distance. It all depends on what you wanted for bragging rights, I guess.

At 1.9-ish miles from the trailhead, the Meadows trail meets the Pohono Trail, the main drag along the top of the south escarpment, running from Glacier Point to Tunnel View, a round trip of 16-ish miles. This is somewhat less than halfway to Dewey Point, and we turned west toward Dewey.

The signs below illustrate what ish means. The one on the left is at the trail junction, and says 2.0-ish miles to Dewey Point. The one on the right is about 200 steps down that trail, but it's still  2.0 miles. Welcome to the twilight zone.

Considering that we were in Yosemite, with its 4 million annual visitors, and the temperature was pushing 90 F, there was very light traffic. That was one reason we'd chosen September, of course, but one couldn't help thinking that hantaphobia was also keeping the numbers down. By the way, although descriptions of the route to Dewey Point via McGurk said "flat," there was no such unanimity about the Pohono Trail. Some sources consider it flat, others moderate. Note that the last three letters of its name spell "o no."

I'm with the moderates on this one, because this is where the steep ups and downs become a bit wearing. The topography made me glad we'd favoured greater Boston's Blue Hills Reservation for our local training. This stretch resembles that reservation's Skyline Trail, minus two-thirds of the rocks. The Blue Hills haven't been as dusty in recorded history, and they are of course over a mile closer to sea level. Both these things make a difference, especially when you're an easterner on your first day hike of the trip. But that training kept us from saying "are we there yet?" except in jest.

As on most Yosemite outlooks, there are no guardrails or nannies at Dewey Point. It's a reasonable assumption that anyone who has completed four or more miles of "flat" hiking, or rock-climbed 3500 vertical feet, to reach these places will have enough brains to stay away from the drop back down those 3500 feet. So it proved the day we were there. Nevertheless, the transition is sudden. Before you come close to the edge, the dusty trail gives way to ledge, making the last 200-300 metres quite toasty at 90, with no apparent humidity. Then, the drop is there. Having now tried Sentinel, Taft and Dewey Points, I incline to the last. It's near the mid-point of the valley, and it's panoramas...well I hate to use that would, cliched as it's become, but this visual experience is what panorama means.

Anywhere along the south summit you have, in addition to Yosemite itself, the jumble of the Sierra Nevada rolling off into the distance, to peaks you can't name high and indistinct at the horizon.
I'd suppose there's more traffic at the height of the season, but I don't see Dewey Point becoming Bridalveil Falls. They can't drive buses there.

Linux subsidio est.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home