Monday, August 7, 2000

Painted Lady dominates the lake

A morning view of Glen Pass

Duplicating the cover of the Thomas Winnett book (old edition)

2 food canisters in that pack

After yesterday's emotional low point we headed this morning for a physical low point. The drop from Rae Lakes to Woods Creek: 3 hours. The trail down was by turns beautiful and downright ugly. I took several nice photos: Fin Dome, which dominated the sky for much of the early hike...lush glades...rocky slopes, above which hulked spectacular mountains. Too bad I'll never get to see them.

We arrived at the amazing suspension bridge at 11:30 AM. It was a wonky contraption. As soon as one set foot on it, the whole stretch set into motion as if alive. I had camera in hand. My grip on it was not the best. Three or four steps and I realized that I'd better turn around and take Mom's trekking poles. She was gonna want to use her hands. I made it back off the bridge, which bucked like a funhouse ride, and stuffed the camera into my belt-mounted Sun-Dog camera case and took her poles. Back across the unsteady affair I went, backpack bumping along as I gripped the cables with my right hand and kept balance with my left.

happy happy joy joy

Moments before catastrophe


Something hit the rocks below. Something plastic, or glass, or metal. Or all three. In a millisecond, and in slow motion, I knew what it was. I didn't even have to look down at my hip to know my camera was gone.

With an amazing amount of calm I got to the other side and made my way to the riverbank. I shucked my pack on the rocky shore. The river ran thick and clear over a bed of smooth rocks. Noting something un-rocklike in the current, I reached in, one foot on the shore, one balanced on a rock in the stream, and one hand on another rock. It was my lens. Incredibly, it looked okay. It might even work.

Hmm.the bayonet grooves had snapped off. Maybe not. Mom made it over the bridge and went downstream to look for camera bits. I fixed my eye on an odd rock in a thick cluster of rapids. Donning sandals, I waded in. Reached. It was my camera.

"My camera's dead," I told her, and held it up for her to see. The body was cracked wide open, electronic innards laid bare and dripping. The back panel flapped wide. The roll of film-everything from Kearsarge Lakes the previous day-twisted in the sunlight. I tried to close it. I heard a noise, like a high-pitched whistle. Putting it to my ear I heard it's dying wheeze, like the charge of a flash bulb in reverse. I wanted to cry, but I didn't. It was just a camera. Sure, it was a $600 Minolta, but it was still just a camera. I gathered the body parts, having had to remove the battery because motors kept trying to turn (even when I turned it off) and put it in its case.


"My camera's dead."

Dead Minolta

Body parts

8 pm- Today was better. Will carried both food canisters (what a guy). We left camp at 8:20 and descended to Arrowhead and Dollar Lakes, then down, down, down to Woods Creek Crossing at 11:30. Then a terrible thing happened. Will's camera dropped from the suspension bridge. He searched for it and found it in the river in pieces. Then we had a 4 hour climb up Woods Creek. We took a break at a stream crossing and pondered possibilities. Should we keep going or bag it?

Shortly thereafter, a little way up the hot, steep ascent from Woods Creek, Mom and I munched peanut butter and thought. We had a challenge to work through. More than ever we felt the daunting pressure of the upcoming few days. Three passes in four days, including the legendary "Golden Staircase" on the far side of Mather Pass descending to Deer Meadow. The call of Paradise Valley DOWN-river from where we sat, and the dubious exit of the Cedar Grove trailhead was very strong. And the fact that it was called "Paradise" Valley didn't help things any. We clearly had our work cut out for us in the next few days, and if there was ever a moment when I might have been convinced to abandon the John Muir Trail, it was right then. But something, maybe it was the peanut butter, got us to our feet and prompted us up the trail.

We pushed on. The slog up Woods Creek was alternately steep and level, the flat portions doled out like rewards for having managed the occasional devilish clusters of switchbacks. A flurry of big steps up through forest cover found us at the toes of Mr. Wright. Mount Cedric Wright, that is. We turned left. Passed the Sawmill Pass trail and wound up by our own precious lakelet, surrounded on all sides by jagged peaks; a little campsite over which Stellars Jays squabbled like petulant children, through which waddled a fat wild turkey and about which hummed the ever-present, ever-voracious mosquito.

Our spirits are high. And I'm not even sore, though I'm now carrying both food canisters. It's cool. Mom's carrying the cookset.

Mt. Cedric Wright behind Will

Organizing the food

We decided to keep going. We made it to just above Twin Lakes opposite Mt. Cedric Wright. We have our own unnamed lake. We got here about 5:30, washed up- even hair- fixed chicken stew and chocolate pudding. All our food is now in canisters. We hung up toiletries. Tomorrow we hope to make it over Pinchot Pass and high up Mather Basin. Our new strategy is to leave early because (I) move so slowly- about 1 mph. Every day is 8-9 hours of hiking.
Dinner tonight: freeze-dried chicken stew followed by chocolate puddin'.
Trail music: a fair amount of Rush and Yes, though that followed a momentary attachment to "Hit the Road Jack" Also, theme music from "The Crying Game" resurfaced today. No sign of Liz Phair. And that's a good thing.