Subtitle: the heartbreak of spring in summer.
We have a plan, days off, gear and food, it’s go time! Seven-day counter-clockwise loop, entering Emigrant via Kennedy Meadows to revisit some familiar spots and explore the new.
On July 30, hike buddy and I get our usual late start, mid-afternoon this time, spiced by an absolute downpour just as we hit the trailhead parking lot. Yes, a sign and an accurate one.
Note: Mi-Wok Ranger Station is only open one day/week so count on getting your permit elsewhere. Summit was still open for us—whew! We were asked for our permit on this hike.
The plan: circle Granite Dome and hit the many meadows and lakes along the route, hopefully addinga visit to its high alpine basin and string of gemlike lakes.
What happened: The trip south from Kennedy is a hump, much climbing alongside Relief Reservoir (finished 1910, owned by PG&E) including remnants from its construction, most notably a steam engine that drove the cable winch system. One scratches one’s head imagining how the heck that thing was hauled up the mountainside (score upon score of mules, probably). Much of the trail is horse highway with all the pleasures that gives us regular hiker types. But the dubious conditions kept typical summer crowds away and our Sunday walk was mostly by ourselves.
Eventually, a junction is reached and we head west towards Relief Creek and our route to Upper Relief Meadow. Relatively soon a big problem is encountered: Summit Creek, swollen by snowmelt and presenting a hazardous crossing made more daunting by our six-night loads. We find a nearby camp with hopes of a dramatic diurnal water level drop. It’s getting late anyway and yes, raining.
Surprisingly, despite the soggy environs and abundant wildflowers, mosquitoes aren’t bad and we have a nice camp along with a perfectly legal fire to dry our stuff.
Next day delivers bad news: the creek has maybe dropped four inches and we’re still not comfortable trying a hip-deep crossing of its rocky bed in swift water. The entire plan gets pitched and we instead head south, up the now-cursed Summit Creek. Days are spent exploring its headwaters and then we try for Emigrant Lake via Mosquito Pass. This requires a different Summit Creek crossing and this time, the overnight drop makes it a boot-top scamper of perhaps ten yards. The climb to the pass opens into a high basin half snow-covered. My shoes, while sticky on wet rock lack deep lugs and snow navigation is a slip-slidey series of misadventures. Gazing down the south-facing chute my buddy and I chose to about-face and head back the way we came. Our concerns were three-fold: a creek crossing at the bottom of the descent, lack of faith in crossing downhill steep snowfields and the gathering storm conjuring nearly continuous thunder and lightning. We felt a bit…exposed.
Two more days sampling various pleasant Summit Creek environments followed, then we decide to call it quits a day ahead of schedule. Thursday, our now-nemesis waterway put on a final show. We hauled into a creekside camp where I gathered some water. Fifteen minutes later we’re asking each other, “What’s that roar?” Returned to the creek to discover it had turned from clear green to opaque gray and jumped more than a foot, apparently swollen by a major downpour somewhere upstream. Dry ephemeral side channels filled up all around our camp, temporarily putting us in violation of the 100’ rule and having us looking for high ground, just in case.
The rise ended and the water level slowly receded during the evening. Overflow channels became series of pools, some with stranded fish.
The hike out was pleasant enough, visions of pizza dancing in our heads. We encountered dozens of hikers heading in and counseled many on what to expect. I know the weather got even heavier after our exit.
One hiker we encountered days earlier was an ambitious fellow who had come from Kearsarge Pass, headed to Tahoe. The first person seen in two days, he had the ultramiler’s tiny pack, a poncho essentially fashioned from Saran Wrap and a straw coolie hat. Positively giddy at the thought of his resupply box at Kennedy Meadow (two days for us but his evening destination) he earned my unconditional respect.
Planning is great. Then reality happens and one adjusts so as to still get in our miles and nights sleeping on the dirt. It was a fine trip and I still think our plan will work, just not this year and the maps and waypoints are stowed for future use.
Gear notes: Finally deployed my Patagonia Alpine Houdini rain jacket and it worked as it should, keeping me dry but not too sweaty (although I didn’t backpack wearing it, preferring a poncho over the pack and myself). It’s by far the most compact, lightest WPB jacket I’ve used, but stripped of amenities.
Impulse-bought a Sierra Designs Tensegrity 1 on close-out, which worked really well once I sussed out the unconventional setup. We took solo shelters this trip to gain flexibility on campsites—I’m finding a lot of potential sites are unworkable when space is needed for larger shelters. This uses trekking poles for the front support and has a three-way vestibule-canopy at the head end. It relies on ventilation to control condensation and I messed up on one night, keeping windows too closed for conditions. Adjustments made that a one-time occurrence and I’ll add the temp never dropped lower than 48 degrees on the trip, shockingly warm for 8-9k feet. BTW, the supplied stakes are absolute crap—they bend with a stern look. I have other stakes.
Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp. Concept seems goofy but in practice this headlamp that adjusts its beam width and intensity depending on where one points it is a winner. Also has red mode (default) for night vision retention and is field-rechargeable, which I do via a solar battery. Unlimited battery life. Evidently my noggin is larger than French noggins because the strap is tight. It’s also programmable via USB and a PC, while newer versions can be adjusted via Bluetooth, at which point we’re off to the tech races and I don’t want to play. YMMV