A HIGH SIERRA HIKE
In early 1966 we started to make plans for our summer vacation. So soon, you say? Not if we wanted to make the "High Sierra Loop" hike through the back country of Yosemite National Park.
The park has established a group of camps spaced 7 to 10 miles apart, allowing hikers to make a circle tour of some of the most magnificent scenery in this incomparable national park. At each High Sierra Camp, there are tent cabins, with beds, similar to the ones found at Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley. The distance above sea level is measured by the number of Pendleton blankets that hikers will find on their bed! The nights can be very chilly at nine or ten thousand feet in an unheated tent.
All the hiker has to do is provide his means of transportation (his own two feet) and a small backpack filled with enough clothing, cameras and incidentals for a seven-day hike. Each camp will provide you with a box lunch to enjoy as you are traveling toward the next camp. We knew that space was limited at the camps, so we made reservations in January for an August trek.
Our High Sierra hike remains a wonderful memory for the four of us. And, like many memorable experiences, it is a lot more fun to relive it 40 years later than it probably was at the time. Along that line, I have written a little story that describes what it was REALLY like for four city dwellers to hike seven to ten miles every day for seven days. I call my story.....
THE LEMONADE THEORY OF RELATIVITY
On a brilliant August day, our foursome arrived in the cool, 9,000-foot high country of Yosemite National Park. After the long drive from Los Angeles, up through the Central Valley towns simmering in the summer heat, how cool and refreshing was the air of Tuolumne Meadows! At last, the months of planning a family hiking trip in the Sierra wilderness were behind us and here we were: two parents and two children, ready to start a walking tour of the "High Sierra Camps" strung out like beads in a loop through the eastern portion of Yosemite Park. Each camp was a day's walk from the last one and as registered guests, we would have our own private sleeping tent and share meals with other hikers and horseback riders in a dining tent every morning and evening.
We had camped down in Yosemite Valley many times and always envied the lucky few who could enjoy the unpopulated back country. As city folk, living down at sea level in L.A., we knew we weren't up to independent backpacking in the high mountains, but the idea of having only to transport ourselves and personal items, with all food and lodging provided in the camps--well, we figured we should be able to handle that much effort.
Glenn had calculated that this was the optimum year for us to make the hike. Mark was 14, Karen was 12, and both were now sturdy enough to tackle mountain trails, while at 39 and 35, respectively, this might be about the last time Glenn and I could handle this much exertion. Our four "physical ability" graph lines now intersected, for probably the first and last time.
The first day's hike was the shortest, only about six miles and all downhill to the little valley of Glen Aulin, close to the tumbling Tuolumne River, which was hurtling headlong in a dash to leave the Sierras. We found the reception tent, got our cabin assignment and the details on dinner and the box lunch we would take along on tomorrow's hike. As we left the tent the receptionist said "Oh yes, and you just have time to get some lemonade in the dining tent; we serve it every day from three to four p.m."
Well, that sounded pleasant enough, and we strolled to the dining tent where a young college girl poured us all a glass of pale yellow liquid. Was this lemonade? Surely not! First off, it wasn't chilled, just at a tepid temperature with nary a sliver of ice cube in the cup. Even worse, what we were drinking wasn't real lemonade, but that powdered imitation stuff with barely the hint of lemon in it. Well! We turned up our noses at this and didn't even ask for a refill.
The next morning, after a bountiful breakfast and with box lunches in our day packs, we struck off for the second camp, May Lake, perched 1,470 feet higher up in the mountains and about eight miles away, all uphill. In spite of the spectacular scenery and glorious weather, eight miles, with every step a bit higher than the last, became a challenge to us four "flat landers" with tender feet. Our training hikes hadn't prepared us for this much huffing and puffing!
The last two miles were a real struggle and we made it to camp just minutes before 4 p.m. Our water canteens had been almost dry for the past half hour, so our first stop was the dining tent where we squeaked under the deadline for that lemonade on tap. If we had hoped that today the drink would be iced and would be closer to real lemonade, we soon learned that nope, it was exactly the same stuff served at Glen Aulin, and not a bit colder. The waitress explained that refrigeration at these remote camps requires a generator and fuel for it must be packed in by mules. Only meat and perishable food were kept in the camp's refrigerator. But, you know, that lemonade really didn't taste half bad, in fact, a second glass sounded good.
Our third morning in the high country the trail led straight down into a deep valley where Tenaya Lake is nestled. We crossed the Tioga Pass highway--our only contact with civilization during the week's hike. Then, it was back into the woods and up the zig zag trail to an even higher elevation camp at Sunrise Meadows. It had been three miles down from May Lake camp, and now we faced 5 miles, up, up and up to 9,400 feet. By 3 p.m. we were really dragging up the dusty trail, and Karen and I were taking ever more frequent rest stops. Finally, in an effort to get us moving, Glenn threatened, "you know, if you don't hurry up, we're going to miss the lemonade!" Well! That alarming thought was enough to get our weary legs pumping up the path and we managed to almost run to the dining tent when we reached Sunrise camp. Ah, there was that lemonade. Oh, that marvelous thirst quencher! We took all the refills offered and the waitress almost had to boot us out of the dining tent so she could start setting up for dinner.
What magical transformations had that lemonade undergone? Not a one; it was the same tepid stuff we had sneered at on Day One at Glen Aulin.
For the remainder of our trek, anytime we started to flag, all Glenn had to do was say the magic words, "We might miss the lemonade" and the pace immediately picked up. Never again would our family share the adventure of back country hiking together for seven days, and never again would any of us ever have a more satisfying drink than that lemonade.
Indeed, all things are relative!
Barbara Halliday, March, 2006 - Salem, Oregon
Here's a photo album of our High Sierra hike.
A map of the Yosemite Park back country with the High Sierra camps noted:
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2006