Saturday, July 26, 2008

Off the beaten track! Yosemite version 2.0

All righty then... Its been 13 months since our debacle at Yosemite - I still had to see the White Wolf to Soda Springs (Tuolumne Medows) route. Arun Sharma, who had organized the one day 32 mile run/hike last year, invited me to do the same route as a 3 day backpacking trip this year. I, in turn, invited my training buddy IronStan (soon to be rechristened "IronSherpaStan") to share the pain. I have never been backpacking before - so this was going to be interesting. I borrowed a backpack from Rashmi & Anil, bought a compact sleeping bag from Sports Basement and a $15.00 small tent from Walmart! (Pam called it a womb tent) - it actually is a studio tent, with an attached bathroom...the bathroom is only a zipper away...come to think of it...two zippers away...wait...including the sleeping bag...three zippers away...I call it my "zip zip zip zzzz...unzip unzip unzip wizzzz tent"...much more sophisticated name indeed.

Thursday July 17th 7:30 pm Renuka packed the backpack and weighed it - 32lbs! Leaping (expletive) lizards! there is no way I can walk 32 miles carrying 32 lbs...some repacking, lighter t-shirts, and 20 minutes later - 30lbs..."I'm screwed" I say...might as well enjoy it ... we had a 4:30am departure from Sunnyvale so I got to sleep early, 12:00am.

Friday July 18th: I was up at 3:00am and ready at 4:15 awaiting Chakri and Stan. 4:30am Stan calls "Rajeev, I just got up...sorry, but does this cause a problem?"..."Umm, no Stan we are just going to be late and Arun is going to #$%&^%$ KILL us!" We asked Stan to drive directly to Pleasanton and meet us at Pam's house. We started for Yosemite at 7:00am and got to White Wolf around 10:30. After parking two cars at Soda Springs (the end of the trail) and repacking the backpacks with the bear canisters, we started the hike at noon. (Smart move of the day: distributing the 5 wine bottles into 3 plastic containers and ensuring the 3 containers do not travel in the same backpack - I believe the President, Vice President and the Speaker of the House have a similar plan of action...except they are not in plastic containers...I think)
At the start: (L-R Chakri, Stan, Me, Arun Sharma, Aun, Pam, Karan, Heera, Arun Desigan)

The players: Karan (7-8 years old), Pam, Anu, Heeral (Age 20-25), Rajeev Char (millions of brownie points for my previous comment), Arun Sharma, Arun Desigan (Old), Chakri (like Madonna & Prince he only goes by a first name- ageless), Stanley Ho & Mike (both around the same age)
Stan's best friend (Mike)

We begin the hike at 12:00 noon - 10/11 miles to Pate Valley - with a 4000 feet drop in 2.5 miles... about 3 miles into the hike we meet a couple and the conversation goes:

They: "Lukens Lake is beautiful to swim in, you all will really enjoy it"
Arun Sharma (AS): "You mean Harden Lake"
They: "No - Lukens Lake - we just swam in it"
AS: "No Lukens is that way" (pointing in the opposite direction)
They: looking at each other "No Harden lake is that way, you are heading to Lukens"
Me Thinking: "Oh Shit!"
AS: "Really!? Sorry guys, we are on the wrong trail"

A bit of back tracking later we are back on track - Stan's previous comments (in jest) about Yosemite being too high for bears and snakes ... came back to bite us! Within an hour we see a bear about 20 feet from the trail...scary stuff.

(Pix by Arun Desigan)

We move 3pm fatigue starts setting in - most of us have not slept much and the heat and the weight of the backpack starts taking its toll. We shift some backpack weight around and Stan, Chakri, Arun Sharma and I decide to press on faster to get a decent camp site. We tell Pam, Karan, ArunD, Anu and Heeral to take it easy as it is a full moon night which gives them plenty of light to make the treacherous decent safely. During the descent we see our second bear sighting...this one is really close...8-10 feet away.
(Pix by Stan)

Shortly later I hear a "SPLAT"...the plastic wine pack I was carrying fell out of my backpack and leaking all over the trail...SAD...Chakri & Arun managed to salvage about half a bottle from that mishap. After the descent Chakri & I lose sight of ArunS and Stan...
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir - on the way down from White Wolf

We keep pressing on hoping that they would have stopped for us. 45 minutes later no sign of them! Chakri and I are out of water...I drop my backpack and tell Chakri that I'll run ahead for 2 mins and if we do not find Arun/Stan we will head back towards the rest of the group. Luckily at the two min mark I run into a campsite - I ask them if they saw 2 guys go by...they did...I ran on a few more minutes and spot Stan...I scream "What the @#$% Stan! guys should have waited!" I had a mini meltdown...memories of last year came flooding back....:-). I ran back to Chakri and we got into the camp site (The site was fantastic) Arun made a nice warm cup of Coco for us and half a liter of water later, Stan, Arun and I set out to meet the rest. We left Chakri at the campsite. 30 minutes of fast walking later we finally see the others coming down the last of the descent. Stan and I relieve some of the tired folks of their backpacks and let them head on to the campsite faster. With daylight fading Stan, Heeral, Pam, Karan & I made the hour long walk back with our head lamp lights on. 9:30pm we are all accounted for...cheers and a camp fire is lit. As we filled our buckets during the night I saw a snake swim away from me in the river...that was too close...A sumptuous dinner and a glass or two of wine later, we set the bear canisters 200 feet away from the campsite, dowsed the camp fire completely, and we all staggered into our tents.

Saturday July 19th: 10/11 miles -(camp just after California Falls) 7:00am we are all up - ArunS & ArunD are directing traffic...breakfast is being made, hot coffee is being is good. Stan & Chakri are all packed and ready to go! The regular backpackers (ArunSharma/Pam/ArunD/Anu and Heeral) make us all comb the campsite and ensure that we pick up every scrap we brought with us...not even a corner of a wrapper was to be left behind...we really spent some time doing this - and I am glad we did it, the wilderness is so pristine that it is our responsibility that we "leave no trace behind." We start out towards Pate Valley and the infamous "right turn" that Anil, Vineeta and I missed and got horribly lost last year. Along the way hikers coming back warn us about a "rattler 300 yards ahead" Pate Valley is a Rattle Snake heaven. Luckily we do not see any rattlers. We pass Heeral and ArunS - Heeral seems to be in some distress (She was not well a few days ago) We continued through the tall grass and thick brush of Pate Valley. We slowed down to ensure that Karan/Pam/Heeral were ok and within sight. The temp started rising and it was 87-88F and humid. We left the tall grass and got to the Tuolumne River...GOR-GEE-US!

After a while Chakri, Arun and I decided that we should take Heeral's backpack and give her some relief so she can recover for the rest of the trek. We found a nice long log and hung her pack on it and 4 of us took turns carrying the "Pig" for the rest of the day.

The climbs were really painful...we had about 2ooo feet of climbing...Stan (and Mike) would take off for a few miles, drop his backpack and run back to help us - relieving one of us of our packs and heading out at double speed...the boy is insane!
(Pix by Arun Sharma)

For lunch on Saturday Arun D and Anu had chopped onions, shred carrots and cut avacados! We had tortillas stuffed with theplas, carrots, onions and avacados...we sat by the Tuolumne River...soaking our weary legs in the cold waters...sublime!

After a second grueling climb and some spectacular waterfalls we stumbled into a vacant campsite at around 5:00pm. Stan went for a 2 mile run...this kid is NUTS!

Set up camp and had an early dinner - finished off the wine and we were way too tired to hang 10pm we were all in our tents. We had decided to get moving at 8:30 am the next morning.

Sunday July 20th: Campsite checked - we had a quick freshen up at the river and were off at 8:30 sharp. The 3 hour climb to Glen Aulin this was really tough and cumulative fatigue was getting to all of us...All of us?...No, one person refused to be conquered by fatigue...that was IronSherpaStan. He continued to do his relay work - he is insane! Heeral was feeling fine and was back in the swing of things. Karan and Pam were feeling much better too - the most memorable quote of the trip was during one of the million stories Pam & Karan were exchanging. Karan said "Medusa was cured by a good shampoo" I cracked up! this kid is special...for an 8 year old he is phenomenal. After a good lunch at Glen Aulin we had another 2 hour climb before we reached Tuolumne Meadows.

After that the trail flattens out at 8,600 feet...beautiful flowers and...meadows. A lady stopped me along the way saying "You have a face that is calming and says that you have a lovely voice, can you please sing a nice light song for me"...I sang (actually murdered) 'Country Roads' by Denver and both the lady and her husband rescued me by sing the song really well.

4:30 we were all done..we finally made it...this was a tough trip, but we all agreed that the next time we need to do it in 5 days so we can actually stop and smell the roses!
Karan at the end (Soda Springs) He seems sad that the trip is over!