My last two days in Yosemite were spent dayhiking from Tuolumne Meadows. As I was hiking up the trail to Elizabeth Lake (9,508 ft), I met a small ranger-guided group, and was invited by National Park Service Ranger Brian Scavone to join them. I normally prefer hiking alone, but Brian was so friendly that I changed my plan and joined several other folks from Switzerland, Holland, and the SF Bay area on this five miler. Brian is a trained ecologist, and proceeded to tell us all about the history, flora and fauna in this part of Yosemite. For example, the T-shaped scar in this tree was actually a trail marker cut by US Army cavalry scouts who guarded Yosemite during the period 1890-1916, before the National Park Service took over.
Elizabeth Lake lies in a beautiful setting at the foot of Unicorn Peak (10,823 ft), the horn of which is quite prominent in this image. It’s another one of those many “hateful places” which abound in the High Sierras.
We hiked around the lake, but because the surrounding meadows and other vegetation are fragile, overnight camping is not allowed here. Our group photo was taken right after a lunch stop on the lakeside; it was 65F in the sun, but into the 50s in the shade, so we kept moving to keep warm.
Brian kept us informed about some of the local residents, notably the pika (Ochotona princeps), which we heard (it has a high-pitched whistle that it uses as an alarm signal) but did not actually see. The pika is unique in that it literally “makes hay while the sun shines”. During the brief alpine summer, the pika collects grass and other edible vegetation and dries it in small “haypiles” on sunny rocks. Since they do not hibernate during the winter, they have to collect, dry and store lots of food to be able to survive harsh winters.
We did spot several Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) flying around, but they were too quick to catch with the camera. This pretty bird eats mostly pine seeds from the white pine tree (Pinus strobus). It has a sublingual pouch where it can store up to 150 seeds at a time for transport to its cache. It stores up to 98,000 seeds for the winter, in caches of 1-15 seeds, and its caches are often raided by pesky squirrels, hence the large number laid down.
This image provided another interesting factoid – these bent trees were at the very bottom of an avalanche chute. Many were bent like bows; it was a surreal scene, but with a logical explanation.
While Brian shared his extensive knowledge as a naturalist, what I appreciated most was the poetry he recited extemporaneously at several spots on our hike. My favorite was one by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God…
“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it.
I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?”
After the guided hike ended, I chose to go for another hike and get a swim in. Dog Lake (9,170 ft) was a delightful place; this time there were hardly any other hikers (and no dogs) around, and I found a nice private cove where I could jump in clad in my skivvies for a minute or two (water temp was a frigid 50F) and scrub off trail dust and sweat (no soap, of course). As I mentioned in a previous blog post, my campground had no showers and no hot water, and a dip in Dog Lake was the closest I was going to get to a shower.
And oh, yes, one last hike… this one to the May Lake High Sierra Camp, which had also been shut down for the season the week before. On the trail I ran into a charming Israeli couple; Rachel has a small vineyard near Tel Aviv where she has just started producing wine, 1,000 bottles this year, but her friend Amit says she will be a big name in a few years. (But heck, she didn’t bring along any samples!)
I was hoping that the hotel in Fresno would let me in; I hadn’t shaved in a week, needed a real shower desperately, and was beyond “scruffy”, but perhaps the smile from a week in the High Sierras would get me past the door…
And so it did… the next afternoon, I arrived safely back at Orlando International where My Lovely Bride, Rudy and Gretchen picked me up. The Pack is back together and life has returned to normal. How normal, well, for example, the day after my return, Suzanne took me mountain biking at Santos Trailhead near Ocala. Here she is as we departed the part of the trail complex known as Spider Kingdom. Turns out it is named that for the hundreds of spiders who spin their webs across the trail at night. Since we were riding in the early morning, and I was in the lead, I was covered in webs and a couple of angry arachnids who took to biting my bare arms… a week in Yosemite with plague-ridden squirrels, bears, sub-freezing weather and rockfalls, and not a scratch, but the first event at home and I am attacked and bitten…
Then today, we decided to try to figure out why Suzanne’s side of our high-tech air mattress in the coach was losing air overnight, while mine remained firm. (No wise cracks, please!) The coach is now in storage, but we wanted to repair the leak before our next trip out. My Lovely Bride decided to help me by holding up the heavy mattress while I checked out the pump and air hoses. She determined it was easier to use her head than her arms. I had to immortalize this photo of Ms. Bed Head for everyone to enjoy…