Well, Kai had warned us about Day One of our 4-day 4th of July extravaganza (to climb Arrow, Pinchot, and Wynne), and now the hour was upon us. No one will ever really know what deep psychological dysfunctions motivated us to attempt the 15-mile trek to Bench Lake over the dreaded Taboose Pass -- a 6,000' 9-mile climb so arduous that obtaining a permit is never a problem and rarely are vehicles seen at the trailhead. Nevertheless, at 8:45 am, Saturday, July 1, Kai Wiedman, Gary Aldrich, and myself, Phyllis Olrich (no relation), set out amid partly cloudy skies and warm temperatures, following Kai's directive to keep a slow steady pace, taking short rest stops every hour (with one longer stop for lunch).
Just getting there, however, proved to be touch 'n go for awhile. Believing that Tioga Pass had opened the day before, we confidently took that right-hand turn onto Route 120, driving past the signs reading "Tioga Pass Open." But to our surprise and dismay we discovered at the Yosemite gate that heavy rains had caused a washout and delayed the grand opening. Nice signage - NOT. Luck was with us however, as we only had to wait a half hour or so for the road to open. We joined the huge line of people waiting, awestruck by the torrential waterfalls, frozen Tenaya Lake, and flooded campgrounds along Tioga Road. We amused ourselves with horror stories of what lay ahead (there's the Donner party, then there's the Wiedman party.)
Back to our hike. To make a LONG story short, we hiked from 5,500' to the top of 11,500' Taboose pass in eight hours in fine fettle (well, no one hurled). This excellent trail offered fragrant sagebrush, wildflowers, Mormon Tea, Mountain Mahogany, swarms of small blue butterflies, and two stream crossings (one quite dicey). The snow was easy to walk on, but ice axes were desirable in spots.
Can you spell D-E-N-I-A-L? That's what we were in before we stood at the top of the pass, gazing west , spying nothing but WHITE as far as the eye could see. Yes, we had heard there was lots of snow this year, but this? We were stunned. Idyllic fantasies of lazy afternoons on the beach evaporated. There was not one dry spot on which to camp. We had no tents, our boots were already soaked, and our feet were starting to freeze. Kai took one last look at the tasty ridge up Arrow Peak and we headed back down the trail about 1,000' to the first available dry bivy site, where we had dinner, mused about what might have been, and settled down for an 11-hour nap.
Back in Big Pine Sunday afternoon, the world proved to be small after all, as we ran into Tim Hult, Jim Curl, and Dot Reilley, down from an ill-fated attempt on North Pal (but, that's another story). When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! The six of us hooked up, found a fabulous campsite in the Bristlecone Pine National Forest in the White Mountains, and enjoyed a campfire together. I learned an all-important lesson that night -- never stray too far from your campsite when you go off to answer nature's call in the middle of the night -- finding your sleeping bag can be akin to finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we all took an even more leisurely stroll around the 4.25 mile Methuselah Walk, viewing those gnarly 4,000-year-old Bristlecone Pines, stopping along the way to read our nature guide booklets. Tim seemed preoccupied with the huge gap in our ages, as he gleefully remarked, "Gee Phyllis, these trees are even older than you." Reminds me of a button I received on my 40th birthday -- "40 isn't old -- if you're a tree."
Kai, Gary, and I bid farewell to our friends and freshened up at Hot Creek before heading home Monday evening, thus avoiding the holiday rush; I for one was grateful for quiet day off Tuesday to catch up on my chores.