Beware the Social Vortex and Trail Gremlins – JMT #6

Day 4 – Crabtree Meadow to Forester Approach (almost!)

Camped on the edge of a big meadow where trees meet grass, we slept very well on night four. Back around 10,000′ and flat ground was very nice. We both felt like sleeping in, but it was important to keep the rhythm for a couple reasons. 1. I much prefer to hike alone, not with a lot of other people. Starting early gives more time alone, and puts one on a somewhat different schedule that many. 2. It’s cooler in the morning and it definitely has been warm by 10AM. It’s 5:15AM, we’re groggy, it’s dark, but time to throw off the bag, deflate the thermarest and pillow, and begin stuffing those items in the backpack.

I had barely stuffed my packed, exited the tent with other gear and gathered the bear can, when I realized it was time for the morning ritual. I’m a pretty regular and predictable person. But for some reason, beginning on day three and lasting for about three days, I was a 3-a-day person. Just your basic run-of-the-mill BM, nothing concerning. I guess the combination of dehydrated food, meal bars, junk food, pepperoni and cheese, lots of water, altitude and exhaustion, took a bit for my body to adjust. And adjust it did.

Packing up is routine. We each use Hyperlight Mountain Gear packs. Both have feather friends zippered quilts (hoodless bags), women’s thermarest, etc. First in is the deflated pad, then deflated pillow, followed by our quilts. I’m using an HMG large pod for my bag. Jean likes the roll top dry sack. I’ve gone back and forth on the compactor bag method. I like the tidiness of the pods, but the compactor bag method is definitely more space efficient. Next is bear canister. I use a BV-500 (700 cubic inch) and it only fits vertically. This is a pain because I also like to use a pod for my sleep clothing, extra socks, and long pants or shorts depending on what I wear that day. But the bear can doesn’t really leave the room, so I just ram/stuff clothing and items such as first aid kit, power banks into the voids. Jean is using the BV0450 which is 450 cubic inches. It fits horizontally and she can put her clothing pod on top. We put a few things we’ll need in the outside front pocket, including lunch items and our crocks (camp shoes). We were very happy to have brought camp shoes. We put our ½ Nemo foam pads on top. We decided to cut our winter foam pads in half for a more luxurious sit pad. They got a lot of use.

HMG Southwest Packs. 55 Liter and 40 Liter. And I believe they count the external pockets in that calculation.

Today’s goal was to make Forester approach at 12,000′, basically at the base of Foreter Pass which is 13,200′. The day should not be nearly as hard as day one or three. All was good, but in the first hour I lost my sunglasses. Jean had already broke hers, but we had taped them up. I think they were on my head above my cap. At one point in a flat but sandy area, I pulled my hat off. I have a gut feeling they went flying. When I realized they were missing, I figured, it’s only a mile, I’ll run back. I won’t have to go far. I went about an eight of a mile and said to myself, “forget this”. I brought a spare pair for just this reason. So now we were down to my spares and Jean’s patched up pair. Not long after getting started again, we crossed paths with a young couple headed SOBO. A few minutes conversation and we learned about the Sierra red onion. I knew about the already, but they gave us valuable beta on where to find them. We crested a small summit and descended to a creek where we had a nice break, and BM #2 for the day. While on break, a few backpackers moved past us, including Phil, Tish and Josh. We got going, but not long after, we crossed paths with a fairly large group headed SOBO. We ended up chatting with two you woman. We talked way too long. It was fun and interesting, but these social stops really eat up time. I began referring to them as a ‘social suck’, as in they suck time. But throughout the next few days, if I mentioned social suck, people gave me a strange look as in, I said something quite negative about being social. I eventually changed the phrase to social vortex. A softer approach. Words matter.

The scenery was becoming much more dramatic. Not that the first few days weren’t. Whitney certainly was. But we were definitely moving into a more dramatic landscape overall with larger mountains, bigger trees and greater expanses. On the Bighorn Plateau we saw four backpacks dropped to the ground between the trail and the lake. Even though we could see the lake, it was in a depression and the backpackers nowhere in sight. We dropped off the plateau through a fantastic big tree forest to Tyndall Creek. In the forest, we took a break and I achieved yet another BM. It was around 1:30PM. At Tyndall, we arrived as Phil, Tish and Josh were leaving. They said they’d see us at the approach. I said, “it is a big landscape!”

A man and his daughter sat down and had lunch nearby. We traded some snacks. We gave them a couple Stroup Waffles and they gave us small candies that were a cross between starburst and something else. Jean knew of them. Very tasty.

It was only four miles from Tyndall to Forester approach. But we had to climb a couple thousand feet. It was a long grind that seemingly took forever. It was hot, but getting windy so not oppressive. It was one of those days with false summit after false summit. We could see Forester, this notch in a talus slope. No visible trail, but we know it’s there. We make it to some lakes and water. I’m ready to make camp nearly anywhere that’s flat. Jean wants to push on. So we do. Finally, off to the right are the two lakes we’d been waiting to see, and three tents. We walk over past the tents. It’s not Phil and Tish, but there are spots so we grab one. The other folks have grabbed the best spots with wind protection. The next best site is fully exposed. But it’s flat and won’t funnel water into the site if it pours, which it’s looking a bit dark in the sky. We make camp, secure the tri-plex for a storm and crawl inside. We take a nap. After about 45 minutes, it’s time to make dinner and secure camp. the wind is really starting to blow and it’s cold in the wind. We are depleted. Jean starts to go outside the tent but the moment she hits the wind, she begins shivering uncontrollably. We get her back inside. All clothing including rain gear is put on and she gets into her bag. I begin boiling water. We have a cup-o-soup and make dinner. The calories and hot meal make a difference. It begins to lightning and hails from maybe a minute or two. The storm threatens but does not really hit us. It seems to have been on the north side of Forester. Sleeping at 12,000′, but it ins’t as bad as at Guitar Lake. Still some altitude effects, but getting used to it. Jean has that neck pain. Tomorrow is another day.

Day 5 – Forester Approach (almost) to Charlotte Lake (packer resupply)

Once again, up by 5:30 and hiking by around 7AM. We were maybe ½ mile shy of the actual approach. Frankly, I liked our site better than what we saw at the approach. Tents had to be clustered fairly close together. There were some other SOBO hikers using a spot trail right (a so so spot), and Phil, Tish and Josh were camped trail left with a little more space. The SOBO folks had a couple zpacks tents, but the were not pitched very well.

The climb up Forester was pretty easy. The trail crew really did a great job cutting it in. At the summit it just keeps getting better and more dramatic.

We would descend Forester down into Bubbs Creek drainage, all the way down to about 9,500′. It was a long descent. Great views but did have a little haze from smoke. After a lunch stop we all started walking again and it was on the easy trail, the stuff that is pretty flat, but with roots and rocks (trail gremlins), where Jean took a tumble. The five of us had traded leading off and on. Jean was behind me and I think only Phil was behind Jean. He was a ways back. I just remember hearing that horrible sound of tripping and the gutteral sound that goes with it, turning quickly around and both seeing and hearing the thud simultaneously. Lucky for Jean she fell forward but in the process, she twisted so as to fall more on her pack than face, or front body plant. After some tense moments of checking her out, nothing broken. She had a skinned and bruised knee and forearm. All else seemed fine. We just got started when she discovered her hiking pole was snapped. We just put it in the pack for the day. But later on I taped it up. And then the next morning, I used a spare MSR groundhog stake to splint it. We doctored her knew at camp that evening.

As we climbed out of Bubbs Creek toward Kearsage Pass and Charlotte Lake I found a bounty of onion. I was sooooo excited. They were very hot – as in way hotter than the hottest radish I’ve ever had. I harvested a handful and put them in my pack, but later removed them for fear of making my pack inviting to a bear. I shared with friends and other hikers, and eventually tossed that last couple I had.

Back when we dropped off our resupply box to Pine Creek Station, I’d mentioned to Dee Berner (owner) that I would have preferred Friday but it was better to go in with another group, so Saturday was fine. She said they had a solo delivery on Friday and to text with my garmin the day before if we thought we’d make Charlotte Lake on Friday. So that’s exactly what I did and as it turned out, Sequoia Kings Packers delivered the entire load (the solo guy, and our supply which was part of the Klaus group). So when we arrived at Charlotte Lake, we grabbed a tent spot and went to the ranger station. The supply was behind the ranger station behind the communication shack in a bear box. We announced to the ranger we were there for the resupply. I think we caught her off-guard because she was part surprised and part annoyed. Later on in the trip we learned that the Rangers were trying to avoid human contact as much as possible. One sign a few days later read to only go to ranger station in an emergency. Our ranger just asked we make sure the box is fully closed and locked when we leave.

Getting the resupply a day early was great because it would help ensure we get to VVR by Friday the 13th. Had we not gotten a resupply until Saturday afternoon, we would have needed another day to get to VVR. The downside is that we still had a day’s food supply in our packs and the resupply had an extra day just in case. Ultimately we had not only this early supply dilemna, but also had packed too much in the resupply so we ended up leaving quite a bit for the packers to remove. Mostly pro-bar meal bars, and other snacks such as fig newtons and stroup waffles. I had calculated we’d use 3 small cans for each leg – week one and two, and have a little left over. But we’d been efficient on fuel, literally using about the same amount for two as I did for one the previous year. We’d used 1.5 cans in 5 days. We ended up leaving 1 can in the locker, which when asked by other hikers the next morning if we had extra fuel, we let them know about the extra can and they were able to use it. Yeah!

We put our food in our bear canisters, took a chilly dip in the lake to wash up, ate dinner and then it was bedtime. Almost dark.

The photo below was taken somewhere along Bubbs Creek well before Jean had her incident. But the trail was similar with granite sand, pretty flattish, and occasional trip hazards.

On January 20, 2021, Forest Service Crews laid down their brooms. This one left as a reminder to never forget!

To be continued….

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