Yosemite Hike, part II

Pate Valley is at the bitter end of the canyon. Go farther, and you will fall from sheer cliffs into the Tuolumne, and your body will be carried over various falls and rapids to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir itself. Eventually your disintegrated remains will mix into San Francisco’s water supply, which will in turn cause San Franciscans’ cholesterol levels to rise slightly, and no one wants that.

So we stopped at Pate. We set up camp and spent the night. We decided to spend an entire day of rest there—a whole day of nothing to do but laze around on a beach, resting up for the three thousand foot elevation gain from Pate to White Wolf, which was about 6 miles away.

Lazing on a Beach at Pate Valley

It was a good plan. The next day, we found a nice sandy beach a few hundred yards upstream from our campsite and lolled for many hours, occasionally moving our soft cushions several feet back into the shade as the sun crept across the sky. Around 3pm, we rolled up our soft things and ambled back to our camp to fritter away a couple more hours before the sun went down by eating, sitting, yawning, and so on.

We’d barely started frittering when a snake slithered by my hammock. It was a rattlesnake, a ‘one rattle’ rattlesnake. After a couple minutes of consternation, I took my hiking sticks and, feeling in the groove, feeling Australian, I lifted the snake up and tossed him to the far side of a little creek that we were next to. Hardly had I finished congratulating my nature-documentary-sized balls, when another snake slithered into camp.

This one was a five- or six-rattle rattlesnake. He coiled up behind a tree next to the river, very close to where David and I had (many times) hunkered down to pump water or cool off.

Here’s my thinking at this point: one rattlesnake is an aberration. Right? Two minutes before, I could count how many rattlesnakes I’d seen in the wild in the last thirty years on one finger. Now, in the space of two minutes, all that had changed. I mean, one rattlesnake equals one rattlesnake; that’s evident. On the other hand, two rattlesnakes equals many rattlesnakes. Gangs. A conflagration of rattlesnakes.

Obviously we couldn’t sleep in a place that was also home to a conflagration of rattlesnakes. So we left. It was 4pm or so, and our nice, easy stay in Pate Valley was at an end. We packed in just over fifteen minutes and we were, groaning, back on the trail.

Hours later and eleven hundred feet higher, we struggled into an unexpected campsite on the side of the mountain that had an awesome view of the reservoir, the first we’d seen of it on the whole trip. It was beautiful, but we were tired, so we set up camp after only a minute or two of gawking. It looked kind of like this

The Beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley

only a lot farther away and less oil-based.

The next day we climbed the rest of the way to White Wolf and fell upon what the little camp store had to offer. I stepped up to the window and asked for “the biggest, fruitiest athletic drink you have.” Unfortunately, all they had were half-pints of orange juice. I ordered seven of them.

Hours later at our traditional apres-hike stop at a Mountain Mike’s halfway back to the Bay, David ordered a ‘mountain-sized’ pizza for us, and we did our manly best to inhale it.

A day after that, we hooked up with Eric and Donna and Julie and spent some time inhaling beers at PCB. Also ping pong; Eric’s bought a ping pong table, and I did my level best to inhale that, too.

It was a good trip.

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1 Response to Yosemite Hike, part II

  1. Phineas says:

    And now, the REST of the story…

    Almost the hole hike had been downhill. Downhill, hell, I could have walked to San Francisco. But on day 3, from our isolated camp to Register creek we had to scale a ridge, gaining about 1000′ or so (?) along dry razor sharp switchbacks. Half way up that I took a siesta (it wasn’t even 10 a.m. yet). I woke up totally disoriented and for a second was not sure which way I had come from and which way I was going.

    Then I realized, “Oh, up.”

    Over the top of that I called Terry on the walkie talkie and he was already at register. I could hear the water rushing as I passed the summit of the ridge. It was amazingly dry here — you would think you were a hundred miles from the nearest water. This dry manzanite shrub got not water value from the rushing river below.

    I made it thru mosquito infested forest to the falls. I waded and washed and vegged out, Terry moved on. We hopscothed like this all day. At one point the trail came right along the river and the water was slow moving and relatively warm, so I ditched my pack, peeled off all shirt, shooes and socks and waded in. Sinking all the way below the surface was a real shock. The water was far from warm, and for a second I could hardly breath. But coming out from that into the blaxing sun felt fantastic. After all that gravity, floating was fantastic.

    I heard Terry trying to reach me on the walkie talkie but it was just static. I figured it meant he was reaching the trail junction for Pate. He metnioned a swamp area and that was all I heard. It was cool getting this notice of what was to come. I packed back up and after a few miles started wondering, “Is THIS it? Its kind of swampy. Is THIS it?” I reached an area which was extra swampy and overgrown. You could not be sure where the trail was. It was like a tick infested deer trail. But river to the left, canyon wall to the right, you could hardly really get lost. And sure enough it was the trail — I saw the trail junction sign and terry’s pack at a nearby site.

    I was high on my swim and could not wait to get back into the water, but we strill had to find the right site. This first one was too shabby and too close to the buggy swamp, so we trekked ahead. I was wiped out by now and every slight uphill grade had me huffing, then cursing, then puffing. At one point Terry went ahead and I lost site of him. The trail seemed to be going up away from the water and I could not accept this, so I collapsed on the trail and waited for the news freom the walkie talkie. The news was bad, so we had to double back and find a site. We grabbed a reasonable clearing next to the water, no beach, but water access, (snake infested as it turned out) and made camp. I sat fully clothed in 3 feet of rushing water for the next half hour cooling down.

    I crawled into the tent at about 7:30 and slept a sound deep sleep. I had eaten some ramen noodels in the morning and a power bar at about noon and that was it, like 400 calories. But I was not hungry I was massively fatigued.

    We decided the day at Pate was a rest day, so we packed day packs and went to the beach Terry described for the day. It was quite beautiful and mellow and it was sunny but some clouds started threatening rain in the afternoon. We headed back to the site to be attacked by about a dozen snakes. Or two, whichever. Terry did his snake charming routine which was very impressive, but the 6-rattler was not so suggestible, so we packed up and decided to make tomorrow, the hardest day, a little less hard by doing half of it tonight.

    The snakes was really thrilling, and scary. Way scarier than the bear.

    This part of the hike was all uphill, switchbacks after switchbacks. I couldn’t stand to look ahead — it was too discouraging. So I watched my feet and listened to my breath. When no more oxygen could reach my heart and lungs, I stopped, which as almost every 100′. Terry pitied me enough to lighten my pack load by taking my bear canister of food and my laundry sack. He hiked ahead and I just took my time. It took forever. We came across another hiker, Andy, and chatted a bit. Eventually we reached camp, I was dead tired again, and we managed to catch the very last rays of the sunset overlooking Hetch Hetchy. No dinner.

    Next morning at 5 I felt like a million bucks and we headed on up. Nothing more to describe except more switchbacks, resting every hundred feet, watching for snakes, smearing deet all over myself. Terry came and rescued my at one section of switchbacks below Hardin lake — he carried my entire pack this stretch for which I owe him my life.

    After a long hot slog, thinking of Cherry Coke, Hawaiian Punch, Gatorade, and all the marvellous sugary beverages that civilization had to offer, I bumbled in on rubbery legs to White Wolf and sat w/ Terry and Andy and some other backpackers and cooled down.

    I loved this hike. It was the farthest and most days out I had ever done.

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