By Patty Wilber
It is one long drive from here to Eastern California (1900 miles round trip),
in the Jeep, with the windows down.
In 5 days.
“No pain, no fun”, being the family motto.
We did make good use of the time and read a book about an African Explorer in the 1850’s–Paul Du Chaillu–aloud as we drove.
So now I am deaf from the wind and hoarse from shouting over it!
Also, despite the AC, and creating our own breeze by driving, (cuz the windows were down) 113F in Needles, is still sweat-to-your-seat kind of hot. Hey that’s better College Station TX (1980’s), where I just swam places in my truck-seat sweat as I had no AC.
I grew up on the other side of the Sierras…well, that is true, but misleading. I grew up on the other side of the state–in the San Francisco Bay Area, and never spent much time on the east side, so this was new for me!
On this trip, we drove Sunday pm and Monday am (gas is reasonably priced at the Alien Brothel in No Where Ville Nevada just beside Area 51), and we hit a local history museum in Laws, California on Monday afternoon.
Monday night we camped at Big Pine Campground at about 9000 ft. It was marvelously cool and I cannot remember the last time I saw the sky so clotted with stars. The Perseid Meteor Showers ran Aug 11-17 th but I hit the sleeping mat and that was that.
Mr. Long Distance Swimmer and Mr. I Spent a Month in the Back Country of the Eastern Sierra this Summer were stoked for an 18 mile hike to a glacier. (See the snow in the back ground–yep–the glacier is up there somewhere.) Excuse me, but I seriously doubt I could make that hike (not to mention the 4000 feet of elevation gain followed by 4000 feet back down.) They agreed we could hike to three glacial lakes and just see…
As we hiked up and up, of course we had to observe the trail conditon. Much of the stone work looked like something the CCC might have done during the Depression, before the Wilderness designation which prohibits machinery.
A pack string operates in this area, so I was hoping to do some packing stalking if they came by.
They did, but only with saddled horses.
Our man in the saddle was ponying a string of two and only when I looked at the pictures did I realize how they were tagged together.
That rope around this horse’s neck is the lead rope for the horse behind. (You can see the shadow of horse 2’s head).
Hmm. That is interesting.
I ponied a string of six, once. I had no clue what I was doing, but figured it couldn’t be that hard (I was 18).
I saddled them all and then tied them head to right stirrup.
1. This makes your string sort of fan out to the right. Fortunately, I was riding down a dirt road. Unfortunately, I was alone, it was getting dark and there was an escaped rapist loose in the area (not kidding), but it’s ok. I was 18. (They caught the guy and drove him by my pack string experiment, so I guess it was a closer call than I’d supposed.)
2. If you have a sluggard that pulls back, the stirrup leathers break. This tends to annoy the owner of the saddle.
I learned a better way would have been to tag to the tail.
In Back Country Horsemen, we tend to tag to the pack saddle. I might have to try the tail tag on my next multi-horse string…or convince my friends to try it in my stead.
When we reached the third glacial lake, it was clear to me that a loop to two non-glacial lakes and back to the campground was doable but the glacier was definitely not.
Not even with dark chocolate M&Ms!
Which melted anyway. Sadness.
That loop came to only 14 miles and only 3000 feet up and 3000 feet down. Turns out that riding a lot of horses is not completely worthless, fitness-wise. (But not that great, either. I was sore.)
Back at our campground (it was a long hike down it seemed) we split a bottle of wine, ate dinner and again fell asleep before we saw any shooting stars!
The next day we hit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (Pinus longaeva) up at 10,000 feet in the White Mountains (but on the other side of the valley from the Big Pine Campground which is in the Sierra Nevada). One of those bristlecones is the Oldest Living (non-clonal) Organism on Earth.
On the way, we saw this sign.
We did a four and a half mile nature hike through the Bristlecones (plenty long enough after the lake viewing trip–No pain no fun!)
There were 500 year old mountain mahogany there too. Amazing.
Then we camped at a natural hot springs in the valley!
And on Thursday we drove home. Benton Hot Springs, CA to Tijeras, NM in just 14 hours. Or 16? It is all a blur.
On Saturday, we headed to the Pecos and hauled dirt by pack animal. Ok Road base. Pure gravel or maybe crusherfine would have made more sense for the job we were doing: filling in a raised bog bypass.
No tail tagging, but we did see some Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata)! I had always wondered what kind of tree they were! They are not as old as the group in California, but there were distinctly bristlecones–now that we knew what to look for.
Whirlwind week, but loads (roads?) of fun!
Hiking enthusiast friend: “It’s only half an inch on this map.” Me with game leg: “First tell me the scale of the map.”
LOL. It was another couple hours to the glacier–on a dot dot dot trail so not a regular maintained trail AND very steep AND THEN the trail ended and you just had to go over the rocks or ice or whatever was there Probably at least 2 more miles to the glacier…no way I said.
Oh, it sounds like grand fun. I used to love hiking when we lived in Farmington. But I’ve been living at sea level for the last (mumble) years, plus a knee which hates me, and… I clearly need a Luke Skywalker speeder so I could just float over the ground! I think you were smart to quit while you had the stamina to make the return trip!
Whew…I’m exhausted. I have to run 17 miles tomorrow but that doesn’t sound near as daunting as hiking at altitude!!! Beautiful countryside (and family members)!!! Miss you guys……
It was beautiful and we went pretty slow so it was ok–but I was beat by end and some of my parts hurt–like my hip.
Plus we live at altitude so that helps a lot !