After a ten-year hiatus from backpacking, we chose to get back into the High Sierra, but with updated gear. With our new ultralight purchases, we enjoyed six nights traveling cross-country in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, with each of our packs weighing in at under 30 pounds, including fly fishing gear. For the whole story, go back to the oldest post and read forward.
The downhill hike to Devils Postpile, the ranger station and shuttle stop was easy and uneventful. The were significant areas with fallen trees, and plenty of work had made the trail passable.
Once we reached the area of the postpiles, we had entered the land of day trippers with clean hair and fresh laundry. I’m sure that we looked and smelled…well, bad. We dropped our packs at the path junction and hiked up to the top of the postpiles. Ver-ry cool – they look like pavers.
Down below, it’s amazing to see how the lava channeled and formed in the natural order of a hexagon pattern.
We hike back to the junction, grab our packs and hike to the ranger station/shuttle stop. We don’t even have time to drink our freshly mixed Wyler’s – two (!) shuttle buses show up within 5 minutes of our arrival at the stop. We hop on.
At the last stop, a group of backpacking scouts crowd onto the shuttle. We listen to one of the boys brag about his 60-pound pack. I hope that he is exaggerating – it would be irresponsible, and frankly stupid, for the leader to allow this. While not everyone can afford ultralight gear, a “regular” pack and gear can be perfectly adequate weighing in at 40 pounds.
Relieved to be off of the crowded shuttle, we stopped for a beer at the “chalet” at Mammoth Mountain. But, there were just too many tourists for us after our relatively solitary days in the high country. We loaded up and headed for motel room waiting for us in June Lake.
We admit it – we’re “old school.” We dipped into our piggy banks to pop for the latest ultralight gear. But, the trekking pole obsession escapes us. I can count on one hand the number of hikers we saw without poles – and that includes the two of us. We saw some hikers handle themselves and their poles very well. But, we saw others use them in less-than-safe ways, perhaps extending them beyond their abilities and fitness level. At worst, we saw hikers use them in ways that put them in precarious and off-balance positions that could easily become disaster with the shift of a rock, or a slight shift in balance.
But, then again, maybe we are missing the point. It will be worth the investigation when we get home.
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After the scramble down the class III spot, the rest of the descent to Minaret Lake was uneventful. We are clearly losing altitude, as the vegetation is lusher and trees taller. We find a somewhat secluded camp spot up from the lake, but near the creek. We are not far from the descent route from Cecile Lake, but the trees and creek noise screen out most of the traffic sights and sounds. As before, the clouds are gathering, so the tarp is rigged, but then rolled back, ready to set up in case of real rain.
We both rig up our fly rods, but whatever we cast: Adams, hare’s ear, even a Griffith’s gnat, the fish are not impressed. It sprinkled a few times, but not enough to warrant a retreat to our camp.
It is our last night in the high country. We have loved the landscape and the route. It provided a challenge, but not so much that it was scary. The pace might have been slow, but it was well suited to the weather, which went well beyond the classic Sierra afternoon thunder showers.
We tuck ourselves into our bags and hope the sky clears for one more starry, starry night.
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At 10,240 feet, this is our last high spot – the rest of the trip will be downhill from here. Cecile Lake is beautiful and austere. There is very little cover here – we are glad we camped below at Iceberg Lake last night.
We paused at the top for drinks and snacks. A pair of hikers caught up with us. We are entertained by their electronics – one is texting his wife, the other seems to be mapping every thirty steps on his GPS. We’ve gone “old school,” only carrying two USGS topo maps and a compass. (Although, the compass was totally unnecessary since the topography is dominating and obvious.) There is an obvious fitness difference between the pair, and the less fit of the two appears to be using his trekking poles to compensate. From our observations, though, his use of the poles is actually putting him in more precarious positions, causing him to extend his body and loaded backpack into awkward and off-balance positions.
We trail the hikers through the talus along the edge of Cecile Lake and discuss the options for the descent down to Minaret Lake. The crest of the saddle at the outlet of Cecile Lake is littered with lightning-struck snags and dead wood – a testament to the area’s exposure.
The pair drop off towards Minaret Lake while we stop for a snack to discuss our options. This is the other spot with challenges, according to previous trip descriptions. We drop over the top, and then I hear Steve say, “Here we are – the class three spot.”
I hurry to look over his shoulder. “That’s it?!” I exclaim. It’s maybe an eight or nine foot slot, with spots that look like they will serve fine as hand and foot holds. Steve scrambles down, and I then hand my backpack down to him. I also scramble down, with a long stretch for my foot. But, not scary. Not barely doable. Seriously. That’s it?! I didn’t even stop to take a picture because it was so unremarkable. Sheesh!