only one option


I’ve been closer to a bear than this.  I’ve been closer to a bear than this in the daylight, while “safely” in my car.  I’ve been closer to a bear than this in the dark, while trying to make a phone call on the only payphone in the campground and having to hang up on the person I was talking to (The Queen) so I could remove myself from the situation and find a safe place until the bear decided to wander off and I could resume my late night phone call.  I’ve been closer to a bear than this when I was too young to retain the memories but have been told the stories so many times I feel like I do actually remember them, even though I really don’t.  I’ve been closer to a bear than this many times, it would seem.

But this time there was a camera handy.

How wonderful, right?

In other news, do you see the people on the other end of the bridge?  About two seconds after this picture was taken, the bear decided he didn’t like what he saw in front of him (my family, mostly excitedly trying to take pictures) and he turned around and ran towards those poor people.

They say you aren’t supposed to run from a bear, but those people sure did.  They got off that side of the bridge in a hurry.  I can’t say that I blame them.  When your options are run or get run over… there really is only one option.

one dark night

I shuddered.

It seemed like the thing to do.

The darkness surrounded me, pressed in on me, enveloped me.  I was engulfed by it.  I could no more see the hand that I was frantically waving in front of my face as I could see the streetlamp outside my bedroom window 400 miles away.

That wasn’t what made me shudder though.  I was used to facing darkness in the mountains where there are no man-made lights to cut into the night and where a few clouds can hide away even the meager glow of the moon and stars.  That sort of complete darkness was fine, in small doses.

What made me shiver, that cold lonely evening camped by myself deep in the Sierra, was when the normal sounds that accompanied the darkness, the chirping of crickets, the skittering of chipmunks, the breeze rolling down the passes whistling in the leaves above my tent, ceased abruptly.  I was left in a world seemingly devoid of sight and sound.  They were both complete in their lack of any stimuli.

The shiver ran up my spine and my teeth chattered in my skull.  The sound of which, at least, proved that my ears still worked.   But, I could sense the grinning silence was working on a sound I wouldn’t appreciate at all.  The mischievous quiet was up to something I wouldn’t like.

The heavy footsteps were on top of me before I even had time to register their approach.  The panting and huffing of the bear made me shudder again even as it reached a paw out to shake my tent.


This scary little tale was written in response to the current InMon Writing Prompt:


The Rules

There are none. Read the prompts, get inspired, write something. No word count minimum or maximum. You don’t have to include the exact prompt in your piece, and you can interpret the prompt(s) any way you like.


No really; I need rules!

Okay; write 200-500 words on the prompt of your choice. You may either use the prompt as the title of your piece or work it into the body of your piece. You must complete it before 6 pm CST on the Monday following this post.

The Prompts:







My NaNoWriMo 7

Cheeky stars. 

 It was an uneventful night, I woke before the sun broached the eastern horizon, and was on the trail before it had climbed high enough in the sky to be visible.  I was still headed south.  Which, as we’ve already covered, means that I was meandering all over the place but headed, more or less, in a southerly direction?  Sort of.  Somewhat.  Close enough. 

 The Palisade Lakes on the John Muir Trail beckoned.  It wasn’t going to be the longest or toughest of days but hopefully I’d get to camp a bit earlier than I did the previous day and get to enjoy just being there: soak in the sights and sounds, let my muscles recover, and maybe have some time and energy left to go on a side hike or two. 

 If I could get around to exploring both of the lakes, that would be a good start.  If I could scramble up to the top of Disappointment Peak and get a view of Palisade Glacier on the other side that would be ideal.  I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be disappointed with expansive scenery that awaited me at that lofty peak.  In any case, if I had the energy and time I would take the risk and see what there was to see.  But, first, I had to get there.

 Much as the night had passed without incident so did the morning.  I did startle a few deer off the trail as I went marching on.  There were the occasional glimpses of large fluffy tails as squirrels disappeared around trees and behind rocks when they caught sight of me.  And in the best bit of uneventful related news there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky again.  That made three days in a row and I was pretty excited about it.

 The sun finally slid into view but the shadows from the surrounding trees were long enough that it was only hitting me in small triangles and circles of light as it filtered through the dense canopy.  As much as I hate the biting cold mornings, I enjoy hiking in the early hours of the day so much more than any other time.  Once the sun climbs higher into the sky and starts to warm everything up that associated heat makes the whole process a bit more draining.

 Then again, I am a morning person so maybe I would enjoy hiking in the morning regardless of the conditions?  Do I hate hiking in the heat so much that it would overpower my morning happiness and energy?  Or, would I still be happiest hiking in the morning even if the heat of a normal afternoon showed earlier rather than later?  Unanswerable questions, all of them, as there is no way to test them.  No good way anyway.  Besides, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  Why I like hiking in the morning doesn’t require any further exploration.  It is what it is.

 I made good time and my legs ate up the miles.  At the pace I had set I would easily make it to the Palisades Lakes area by lunch time.  Most likely, it would be well before then.

 I fished my granola bar out of my pocket, removed it from its packaging, and began to add its calorie laced goodness into my system.  Though I felt good and wasn’t all that hungry at the time it would be a mistake to forgo the extra food.  Just because it felt like an easy stretch of trail, and it felt like I wasn’t working all that hard, didn’t mean that my body wasn’t burning off calories as just as fast it normally would.  While hydration is key, sustaining a high level of caloric intake is also supremely important.

 “Yum.  Cashews.”  One of my favorite granola bars as the sweetness of the cashews made the bar taste more like the candy variety than the granola one.  I hadn’t even looked at the packaging before shoving the remnants of it into my pocket to get added to my trash sack later.  I found it kind of fun that I could tell what type of bar it was solely on taste, especially since I had just discovered that I enjoyed the crunchy and salty nut varieties recently.  Before them, I had only ever taken the chocolate chip or peanut butter and chocolate chip bars.  I still enjoyed them, but not as part of my breakfast.

 The sound of my voice startled a few blue jays of their perches above me and I watched as they dropped from their branches and glided away from me.  Flapping only three or four times they rose back up and landed on some higher branches further down the trail.  There they cocked their heads sideways at me and their beady black eyes marked my progress.  As I passed under them they let out a chorus of the brackish caws to inform me of their annoyance with me.

 Then I was passed them and they fell silent, though I was certain they watched me continue on down the trail for quite awhile to make sure I was well and truly on my way out of their territory.  They didn’t have anything to fear from me, and they most likely knew that, but that wasn’t going to stop them from being wary of me.  I couldn’t blame them for that.  I’d be wary about me too. 

 As it was a beautiful day, and I was feeling full of more energy and air than normal, I let the song I’d been playing in my head out into the open.  I couldn’t tell if the wildlife around me approved or disapproved of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” but the normal sounds of the forest seemed to increase in volume as I gave voice to the lyrics. 

 I generally have some sort of song playing in my head while I’m hiking.  It takes away from the monotony of taking step after step after step and it also provides a certain backdrop of motivation, a steady beat to keep my legs in timing with.  Only certain songs will work as good hiking songs.  If a song is too slow then it slows down your pace and doesn’t give you that extra bit of energy to keep going.  If a song is too fast then there is no way you can keep pace with it and it can become demoralizing.  And, it helps to be able to switch up the song based on the terrain.

 For a mostly flat and easy to navigate section of trail, there wasn’t a better song than Badlands.  Its higher tempo really got my legs moving and the energizing lyrics elevated my spirits and kept me from falling victim to the doldrums of a section of trail that may not always require my full and undivided attention.  Like singing in my car to make the long commutes back and forth to work go quicker, singing on the trail worked the same way.

 I made it to Deer Meadow in almost no time, and the two Palisade Lakes were just another couple miles further down the trail.  I passed the Cataract Creek trail and then saw where Glacier Creek came down the canyon wall to merge with Palisade Creek.  Then I made my way across an untold number of unnamed tributaries and streams that bisected my trail before wrapping around the northern side of the first of the two Palisade Lakes where their pristine blue waters first came into view.  I continued on, leaving the first lake behind me, to find a good spot to camp on the northeastern shore of the second one.

 When the second lake came into view I stayed on the trail until I felt I was about half way along its width and then left the trail to drop to the lakes shore.  Once there, I continued along its edge searching for a likely spot to set up my camp.  I was looking for a small flat area for my tent, an easy route down to a good spot in the lake to pump water, and some nearby trees to provide shade for the long afternoon.

 Though I figured the best spots for water would be where the outlets for the lake sent fresh, moving, water down to feed the lower elevations, I knew there was at least on tributary feeding the lake that was worth checking out for a potential spot as well.  However, when I crossed over it I didn’t see a good spot to pump or a good spot somewhat nearby to set up my tent so I kept going.

 Before reaching the first of the outlet streams I saw a good spot to get things set up.  I dumped by pack against a tree and went the extra hundred yards or so to make sure I’d be able to get my water where I thought I would, and to make sure there weren’t any better spots closer.  The situation at the outlet wasn’t ideal, but it was serviceable, and the water was moving well enough for it to be cleaner than pumping from the lake directly and there weren’t any closer sites so I returned to my dropped back and went to work getting things set up.

 The tent went up.  The sleeping bag and pad went in and got set up along with my clothes for the following day.  My fishing pole was assembled.  Then I gathered enough fire wood to create some coals for cooking purposes if they ended up being needed.  As it wasn’t technically an approved spot for camping there wasn’t an established fire pit, but a few strategically placed rocks later and, voila, I’d be all set to cook any fish I managed to pull from the lake. 

 Once all the set up work was done I sat down to enjoy my little lunch feast.  While the food was digesting I determined that I didn’t have time to climb to Disappointment Peak if I wanted to get in any fishing time, and I was disappointed.  “So, the name fits.” 

 Instead, I opted to go for a walk around both of the lakes which would probably get me back to camp right around 3:30, just in time to go fishing.  I headed down to the lake, crossed over the outlets and wound my way south and the west, rock hopping along the shore when needed and climbing further away from the banks when I had to.  When I came to the tributary that ran between the two Palisade Lakes I followed it further west to walk along the southern bank of the first lake before wrapping around the western edge and then heading back east towards my camp.

 The water was a brilliant blue and not only could I see fish jumping but that water was clear enough to see the fish darting back and forth among the rocks, down trees, and other submerged hiding places and obstacle courses.  That boded well for fishing later.  The landscape around the lakes was a thing of beauty in and of itself: dark green trees intermixed with the almost fluorescent green of moss growing along the trunks, every shade of rock you could possibly imagine punctuated by long shattered slabs of granite, and the towering canyon walls on all sides.

 Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the Sierra?  Well, I do.  A lot.

 I was in good spirits, though my legs were a little weak and tired, as I made my way back towards my camp and my tent came into view.  It had been a good little trip around the lakes, and though I was disappointed I had missed out on the opportunity to see the Palisade Glacier, I was happy I had at least gotten to explore a section of the mountains I had never seen before.

 And then I stopped in my tracks.  There was a second tent in my clearing set up not too far from my own.  I hadn’t seen a single person since I had passed that guy headed towards Muir Pass after I had just survived coming down from it.  I hadn’t shared a camp with anyone on the entire trip.  If it was a ranger they probably would have already taken down my fire pit and all hopes of a fish complimented dinner would be out the window.

 “Well, no use stalling…”  I made my way up from the lake and into the clearing that comprised my camp for the night.  My eyes went from my backpack to my fishing pole to my butterfly chair and ended on my tent, making sure that everything appeared as I had left it, and then swept across the remainder of the camp.

 The second tent was also of the small, one person, variety.  Whoever the newcomer was had also already set up their own little kitchen area, with a Coleman one-burner stove and some assorted pots and utensils.  And they had moved a couple rocks closer to my fire pit to act as chairs.  “So, not a ranger then.”

 However, of the newcomer there was no sign.  My mind flashed back to the mysterious red colored shapes that had flitted across my vision the last couple of days and a shiver ran up my spine.  I wasn’t sure what I suddenly thought of that except that the appearance of someone else in my camp was yet another unsolved mystery.  However, the sound of foot falls crunching through the forest in the direction of the outlet streams made it likely this mystery would be solved sooner rather than later.  I turned towards the sound to greet my fellow traveler.


Word Count: 2,298
Total Word Count: 14,453

Story progress:  Hooray for more filler.  Sort of.  I think there is a bit of additional character development in there, and I did end up laying the ground work to introduce a new character that will hopefully provide some new twists and turns for the plot (and help fill up a bit more of my words quota) because the further I get into this story the more it is seeming like a short story that I’m trying to make longer than it should be.  Does it seem that way to anyone else?  Am I being too self critical?  I’d enjoy any feedback you want to provide.

My NaNoWriMo 6

As I sat by my little fire later that evening, relishing its warmth and relaxing my weary body, I felt inspired to break into song.  The fish I’d supplemented my dinner with had been especially tasty, I’d had two whole days without a drop of rain falling from the sky, and I was still “lost” in my beloved Sierra.  That may not seem like much, but it was all I needed to be happy.  A happy me leads to singing.  You might think that’s weird but I bet I’m not alone in that particular correlation.

I should probably point out that I wasn’t in fact lost in the mountains.  I just like to use that word to describe my long haul treks when I only have a vague idea of where I’m going to hike to next and a general outline of when I’ll be heading out and back into civilization.  It’s my own little version of wanderlust or walkabout.

Generally, when singing around the campfire I start with Don McLean’s “American Pie.”  It goes first because it’s not that challenging of a song, other than trying to remember all the lyrics, and I enjoy recalling the stories that go with each section of the song.  It’s a good one to warm up too and make me want to keep going.  Besides, though I may not have a coat borrowed from James Dean, and I’ve certainly never sung for a King or a Queen, I definitely have a voice that came from you and me, and though I wouldn’t say I could sing as well as Dylan, the Jester, I like to think I do have a voice of the people.

Afterwards, I generally just let my mood guide the music.  But it’s a good bet to say I’ll sing Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and Bob Dylan’s “Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” at some point before the fire sputters out.  I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story.

Leaning back in my butterfly chair I gazed into the starry expanse above and started, “Long, long time ago.  I can still remember how that music used to make me feel.  And I knew if I had my chance, I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for awhile…”

God, but I loved being lost in the mountains.  All the responsibilities and stress of normal life fade into the background.  Everything around you oozes peace and tranquility, which isn’t to say that backpacking is easy, because it isn’t.  It’s hard, dirty, tiring work and your body and mind let you know that almost every step of the way.

It takes a lot of endurance and perseverance to complete a journey of that nature, to keep putting one foot in front of the other even when every single step is like driving a spike into your feet, or synching a vise around your waist tighter and tighter.  Most of the time I return home after such adventures a bruised and battered man complete with blisters and scrapes.  But, with every successful trip I learn more and more about myself and about the world.  I learn more about what I am capable of and I learn more about what the world is capable of.

You might think that after a certain number of trips into the backcountry I I couldn’t possibly be learning anything new.  Haven’t I already seen it all?  Haven’t I already done it all?

Before two days ago I didn’t know that I could hike for three days in a row in a monsoonal storm.  I didn’t know that I had the courage and fortitude to keep going despite the conditions.  I didn’t know that if I came across a frozen over lake I’d think of an easy way to break out a circular section large enough for me to pump water out of.  These may have been things I assumed I would be able to accomplish, but before two days ago I wouldn’t have known for sure.

Sure, none of this information would be specifically useful back in the board rooms and cubicles of the corporate world where I earned my living, but if I can survive in the Sierra on my own for weeks at a time while the mountains throw obstacle after obstacle in my path then there is nothing in the rest of my life I can’t also accomplish.  Surviving a few weeks in the backcountry is very empowering.  Reaching the top of a particularly strenuous pass, catching the food you need for dinner so you don’t go hungry, and returning to your vehicle alive and well are feelings that cannot be adequately described.  Each of those triumphs leaves you stronger, better, tougher.  They make you a more resilient person.  They make you a survivor in all avenues of your life.

Plus, there is all the wonderful scenery I get to enjoy along the way: deep canyons, rigid cliffs, tall green trees, pristine lakes and tarns, and rushing whitewater cascading over boulder and pebble alike.  I don’t mean to preach about it.  I just really enjoy it all and it’s hard for me to keep that exuberance out when I think about it and talk about it.

These life affirming experiences aren’t for the faint of heart though.

I had wrapped up “American Pie” and moved on to The Kingston Trio’s “They Call the Wind Mariah.”  It is a soulful song that reflected my musings about backpacking and the Sierra in general.  I was about halfway through when a twig snapped off to my left.  I swiveled my head in that direction and waited for my eyes to make out the source of the sound.

A doe (a deer, a female deer) stepped out of the trees and into my little clearing of a camp site.  Her head was to the ground, nose sniffing out for food.  She didn’t pay me any mind and I let her go about her quest.  She shuffled forward, led by her nose, and meandered through my camp before disappearing back into the trees directly across from me.

I stared into the spot she had disappeared but couldn’t make out any further progress and no additional sounds of movement reached my ears over the constant crackling of the fire.  “She was like a ghost to me, one minute there, then she was gone.”  And just like that I switched from The Kingston Trio song into a song from the musical Les Miserables where Marius is describing his first encounter with Cosette.

I didn’t know all of the words though so I just let the tune play out in my mind while reveling in the glory and emotion of it when a whole crescendo of twigs snapping jerked my head back to the left.  I felt my heart rate spike and then immediately return to normal as a yearling deer bounded out of the trees chasing after its mother.

I shook my head at myself and smiled sardonically for getting a bit jumpy there for a moment.  I know my response was something out of control, part of the autonomic nervous system, but that didn’t mean I was going to accept it without derision when I was concerned about something that turned out to be completely harmless.

The stars seemed to wink at me above, laughing at me, and with me over the humorousness of it all; silly human getting worked up over something harmless.  Such is the way of life.  We make fools of ourselves and the stars are our witnesses.

“Then again, I’d rather have the stars be witnesses to my follies than anyone else.”  True.  Very true.

I cast about for a new song to start up but the momentum and motivation had been lost.  My eyes were drawn back into the fire and I partially zoned out; only semi-aware of my surroundings and not really thinking about anything in particular.  When mother and daughter deer made their way back through my camp, disappearing back into the forest at the spot in the trees where I had first seen them, I knew they were there but didn’t raise my gaze from the fire to track their progress.

When, a few minutes later, a flash of red streaked across my field of vision across the fire from me at the edge of the clearing I ignored it as well.  Once again, I was aware of it, aware of the color, the shape hinting at substance (it had weight and depth, it wasn’t just a flash of light), and the new twist in the mystery in that it appeared directly in front of me rather than at the corners of my sight.  However, unlike the previous incarnations of the mysterious movement, I had finally learned that going in search of the source wouldn’t bear any results.  So, I stayed seated, warm and relaxed, by my fire.

The mystery would unravel itself at its own pace.  Or, perhaps, it would remain a mystery forever but I decided that I wasn’t going to let it make me feel uncomfortable any more.  It was odd.  It was different from anything I had experienced in the mountains before.  But, it didn’t seem like it should be something I worried about.

“Right?  I mean, if it were a threat, wouldn’t it have done something by now more than just streaking passed me?  And, how can it be a threat anyway?  It’s probably just some bird I’ve never seen before and or just never paid attention to before.”

In the back of my mind, however, it occurred to me that the shape I had seen across the fire was much larger than a bird, and without feathers, or wings for that matter.  I didn’t let those realizations surface though.  I liked my bird theory and I was determined to hang onto that for as long as possible.

The night continued on and eventually I found my voice again, sang to the mountains, and sang to myself.  My pile of fire wood dwindled away to nothing and the fire followed suit.  The stars kept on winking at me, letting me know they were in on the great cosmic joke that is human life.  Oh sure, we may think we are intelligent beings, but how smart are we really?  That’s what I thought.

The fire puffed out, leaving only the glowing  bed of coals, and I made my way to my tent to get the rest I would need to do it all again the next day.  There would be more elevation to gain and lose, there would be many more miles to traverse, there would be more aches and pains, and fishing, and fire time, and cooking, and water to be pumped, and based on the last two days there would probably be more instances of a mysterious flash of red crossing my vision.

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and wondered for a moment if I’d miss that mystery if it didn’t show up the following day.  Would I wonder where it had gone?  Would I wonder if I had just been making it up?  Or would it be out of sight and out of mind and I wouldn’t even waste a second thought on it.

Through the mesh top of my tent I saw the stars wink at me again.


Word Count: 1,900
Total Word Count: 12,155

Story progress: Filler chapter?  Possibly.  It’s hard to tell, but I did have to take a step back and realize that I was only a 1/5 of the way through the 50,000 words and was developing the plot a little too quickly.  So…  I slowed things down.  Now I need to figure out something to throw into the story that can add a new element and therefore add some additional words.  Maybe a second character?  We’ll have to see what happens next.

the road less travelled

What follows are my notes, comments, and stories from my recent backpacking trip in the Sierra.  At first I was planning on doing a detailed day by day account of the trek, but there are already enough of those floating around the web, so I’m just going to throw out my own spin on the trip and some other randomness: funnies, written images, etc…  Hopefully I’ll give you a taste of what it was like without boring you with all the mundane details.

I’d like to start with a general plea, a request, a concern: they are called turnouts for a reason people, you use them to turn out, you don’t have to come to a complete stop, you just veer off the road, let the people pass you, and come right back on.  No problems.  Of course, when you don’t use them then not only are you not being a courteous driver, but you are also being a danger to yourself and everyone in the 10 cars stacked up behind you.

I have no problem with you driving the speed you feel comfortable driving.  Excellent.  That’s what you should be doing.  But, you should let others’ drive at the speeds they feel comfortable too.  Share the road.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that bit of work taken care of, on to the meat of the post: The Deadman Canyon Loop.  We started at the trailhead in Lodgepole, Sequoia, traveled over Silliman Pass down to Ranger Lake, up to what I’m calling Sugarloaf Crossing, across to Roaring River, down the length of Deadman Canyon, climbing the headwall and traversing at Elizabeth Pass, and then out of the backcountry at Crescent Meadow.  The whole trip is just over 50 miles, though depending upon your source (various publications or the signs in the backcountry) the actual amount varies.

Lodgepole:  I have no need to ever camp there again.  The spaces are small and squashed one on top of each other.  Plus, the idea of needing a reservation for a campsite is completely foreign to me.  I’ve been traveling into Kings Canyon for so long, where it’s first come, first served, and you can pick your own site, that having a site assigned for the night sight unseen completely threw me off.  But, as a launching pad for our adventure, it served it’s purpose.  The pizza we got from the deli/grill counter was delicious and the store had a good selection of beer (yum, Mammoth Breweries, Shiner Bock, Beck’s Dark, etc…).  (It’s good to stock up on those calories before the hike, you’re going to need them.)  Also, while walking through the campground that night we came across a buck with a nice rack.  Was an amazing sight.  (And perhaps a little disturbing that the animal was so completely at home amongst such an abundance of humans…)

Day 1:  Silliman Pass isn’t much of a pass.  At just over 10,000 feet it satisfies the “quiet” requirement (see my post on the sound of silence), but it didn’t have that much in the way of views from the top.  It was okay but not great.  Ranger Lake was dead.  Warm.  No fish.  We had to clean our water filters in the middle of pumping due to the sheer volume of nastiness in the water.  I wouldn’t recommend camping there.  The nearby Bellevue Lake might be a better option, or camping at Twin Lakes before ascending the pass might also be a good idea.  There are supposedly two bear boxes at the lake, though we only found one – the one listed on the map – and it was a pain to get to.  A ranger stopped by our camp that evening; he was having trouble with his water filter too and asked if he could use one of ours, after reviewing our permit, of course.  That was slightly amusing.

Oh.  And besides the ranger, we may have had other travelers at the lake with us:

Day 2:  The original plan had been to camp at either Comanche Meadow or Sugarloaf Meadow.  We made it to Comanche Meadow so early in the morning that we carried on to Sugarloaf; only when we got to the second meadow there was no water so we had to carry on, turning what was supposed to be our short day into another fairly long day.  Luckily we found a nice little camp where the trail crossed Sugarloaf creek which turned out to be better than the one we would have stayed in back at the meadow.  On the way between the two meadows, Mike (my brother) saw “the biggest bear I’ve seen in many years.”  We all heard it crashing through the brush but he was the only one fast enough to whip his head around and get a glimpse of it.  (Thankfully it was not as happy to be around people as the buck the night before or that could have been interesting.)  That afternoon, in camp, we had our first of many experiences with the squirrels going into hording overdrive: the pinecones were falling with regularity and they were scurrying down after their prizes to store up what they could.  Was a bit creepy hearing the “thump…  thump…  thump…” until we figured out what it was.  Afterall, Mike had seen a BIG BEAR (“big bear, big bear, big bear chase me…”) earlier that day.  For dinner we had vanilla, parmesan and red pepper flakes beef stew…  the adventure that is freeze-dried food and eyeballing the correct amount of water to add.  Too little water and you get the joy of flavor nuggets.  Too much water and well, you end up with soup and have to figure out what you can add to soak up the extra moisture.  Delicious?  Well…  Hilarious?  Yes.

Day 3:  Hooray for our “new” short day.  Because of the extra miles we went the day before we only had to go the short distance from Sugarloaf Crossing to Roaring River.  We didn’t even set an alarm.  Woke up with the sun, leisurely broke camp, and made our way out of the Sugarloaf valley and into the Roaring River basin.  The Ranger Station there was very cool (it had rocking chairs out front) and there were a few other landmarks in the area worth checking out (the “powder room” sign pointing in the direction of the “facilities,” and old log cabin, the bridge across the river, etc…)  It was a wonderful place to camp and we could have easily spent several days there as a base and gone off exploring the surrounding area if we had the time.  To continue with the creepiness that seemed to permeate the underlayer of our trip, that night the stillness of the evening was rent by a thunderous crash, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  Avalanche?  A giant pulling loose from the earth and falling?  We didn’t see evidence of either the next morning so the source is unknown, but either way it is not the ideal way to be woken at 3AM in the backcountry.  (Not that there is an ideal way to be woke at that hour anywhere.)

Day 4: The long uphill slog from Roaring River to Upper Ranger Meadow.  The arduous climb was softened by the gorgeous scenery, the glacier carved canyon walls, the greens, the grave of the “dead man” (funny how those go together, but yes, he is the reason for the canyon being called Deadman) and water coursing out of countless crevices, cascading down the smooth granite walls.  Spectacular.  Mesmerizing.  This was one of the most scenic stretches of trail I’ve been on in the Sierra.  And it was all capped off by our camp at Upper Ranger Meadow – the head wall at one end, high granite cliffs on either side, and the drop off back towards Roaring River behind us.  We were surrounded by beauty.

Upper Ranger Meadow looking towards the Western Divide and the climb we found face the next day.

That night, still continuing the trend, I woke to the sound of a coyote singing to the moon.  His voice carried in the stillness and echoed again and again.  Call and response.  Call and response.

Day 5:  We lost the trail almost immediately.  It went straight into a big rock and that was that.  We found it on the other side of the rock, but we had to scramble cross-country to get there as the rock was too large, and too steep, to just walk up.  Ah, a foreshadowing of what was to come, if only we had known.  Elizabeth Pass is a true Sierra pass.  At 11,375 feet, per the sign at the top, it completely embodies that perfect silence I crave, and it has impressive views down either side of the pass.  Getting up to it, however, wasn’t the problem.  Coming down the front country side the trail starts off as slippery loose rocks at a very steep angle (the first time I’ve ever had to walk sideways down a trail so I wouldn’t fall – and that didn’t always work) and eventually descends into… well, nothing, because the trail became so broken, either too small to walk on safely, or too punctuated by large drops and rocks and overgrowth, that it became the prudent thing to abandon the trail and go down the pass cross-country.  This is a common enough problem for travelers on this route that they’ve placed cairns (rocks stacked on top of each other to mark the trail) at regular intervals to follow.  It became a game, “Where’s the next cairn?”  And, watching every step to try not and fall because in some places on that steep slope it would have been very bad to fall indeed.

My feet hurt just looking at it…

After hours, literally, we finally came to a sign at that bottom to point us on our way for the rest of the day and it said we had only gone 3.2 miles from the top of the pass.  Demoralizing.  Deflating.  It felt like so much more, and our day wasn’t even done yet.  The view was perfect, but we paid for it with each step of what we all agreed was the toughest day any of us had ever had in the backcountry.  And that’s saying a lot.  We later learned from a Ranger that they’ve nicknamed that particular beast “Eliza-bitch.”  Fitting.

Day 6:  The last day.  The final trek.  The way home.  It started lively enough with two bears foraging near the trail at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp but then quickly descended into a hot, dusty, march of rollercoasting Sierra trail as we made our way back to front country.  Once again the scenery was awe-inspiring.  The trail follows the folds in the canyons, heading up to each outcropping to get a view down the length towards civilization beyond, and then dropping down to cross the creeks at each intersection.  After awhile though even the scenery began to blur together as my feet fell into the regular cadence of forcing one in front of the other to push on towards the end, towards the truck, towards the shower, and real food, and a real bed, and all those creature comforts of home.  And then I was there.

All in all, I’m glad I did this trip.  I’m still high on the sense of accomplishment that always accompanies successfully navigating these endeavors.  My feet are still blistered and bruised from the long, hard miles.  I will treasure the photographs I took climbing up Deadman Canyon always, even though they don’t do the grandeur and beauty of the canyon justice.  But now I’ve been there and seen it firsthand, and I never have to do that again.