Walkabout

Hello, how have you been?  Good?  Good.  Glad to hear it.

I am safely back from the Bridgeport area and the Hoover.   Not gone as long as originally planned but nothing really ever goes as planned.  Just ask  President Obama about the global economy.

Where was I this time?  Let me show you…..

The red line = route taken.

Skinnied down to a 32 pound pack, bolstered by semi diligent workouts at the gym, and realizing this may be the last chance for long trip this season, I planned a 40 mile hike through parts of the Hoover Wilderness.  Like others who I met along the trail had experienced, hiking is  a fluid event and although this one turned out not quite making it’s original itinerary,  it was plenty.  Call me a sap, but I feel privileged to be able to be in wilderness on most any occasion.

This hike wasn’t to be done in a loop so the Subaru was left comfortably resting at Buckeye Campground outside of Bridgeport, Ca. where I caught a ride from friendly Dave who works at Annette’s Mono Village Resort at Twin Lakes.  Dave makes a few extra dollars providing  a shuttle service for hikers like me who don’t want to hitch hike anymore at the beginning or end of their journey.

Dave was prompt, and we left Buckeye around 7:00 am, making it over to Leavitt Meadows trailhead by 8:00 am.   Here is where you would expect me to insert an incredible photo of  Tower Peaks, (my destination) majestically looming many miles in the distance as Leavitt Meadows and the West Walker River unfold towards it, the sun washing all with a beautiful low golden morning light.  And indeed  just such a photograph was taken.  And here is where I present you with the first unplanned portion of the trip.

Fast forward two days and 120 photographs or so later, as I stand at the head of Piute Meadows about to record another golden meadow with green surrounding forests.  Focus camera…. press the button…. and…. nothing.  Hmmm?  Really?  Try again.  Nothing.  Look at the readout on the display screen.  In heart sinking red letters the camera says  “Card Not Formatted”.  Which means the camera doesn’t like the memory card ( where all the photos are digitally stored)  and the card doesn’t like the camera even though they have  shared quite a lot of quality photographic time together prior to this disagreement.  I turn off the camera, take the card out, reinsert it, press button actually taking a picture – but the picture isn’t displayed and the camera reads in the same heart sinking red letters ” Error # whatever”.   Shit…….. I repeat the same desperate procedure many more times and miraculously the camera and card resolve their disagreement and are working together again.  But!!!!  All the photographs taken prior to this moment have disappeared.  Shit!  Gone!  Into the photographic ether never to come back……double shit!!    Tre nauseating…..  yuck.

So now,  you will just have to take my word for it that I was really there and suffer through a few more words of explanation rather than some amazing shots of the first two thirds of this trip.  Which brings up the existential question-  “If a hike occurs in the forest and there are no photos to see it, did the hike really occur?”  Go fish.

Upper Piute Meadows with Tower Peak in the background. Just south of the infamous camera meltdown site.

Okay, back to the now wordy hike.  I promise you I will not belabor the fine points so we can get on to some enjoyable photos in short order.

Looking at Mr. Map above us, the first leg was from Leavitt Meadows to Fremont Lake.  A  rolling but steadily gaining climb from 7740 ft  to 8310 ft with the last mile of the nine miles a workout.  This is a mostly forested hike without a lot of views apart from the beginning one of the meadows and Tower Peak.  Along the way I encountered a fellow and his wife who work for the pack station at Leavitt Meadows and take campers on horseback along with an ungodly amount of supplies to spend comfortable time outdoors. If I had a more padded wallet and an equally padded butt,  it just might seem  a good way to go.

A little later came a backpacking couple who had their plans changed when one of them got altitude sickness at Freemont and so they were returning back to Leavitt Meadows. They were in good spirits despite cutting short their trip and were happy I could click a photo of them on their nicely working camera.

Halfway to Freemont,  a most handsome mature buck with a beautiful rack of antlers was smack in the middle of the trail as I turned a corner.  We calmly stared at one another for a full thirty seconds which allowed me time to take an incredible photo of him that we will never see.  Add to that the four ducks that swam along the creek just a ahead of me for quite a while.  Take my word for it, the light was great.

No one was at Freemont, the campers and horses and  wranglers exiting just as I was arriving.  A good size lake, the reeds and the low light along the south end where the good campsites are provided entertaining photography.  It proved to be a windy night but I was so tired nothing could stop a good nights sleep.  The morning was incredibly  calm.  The most stillness I had ever experienced camping.  Perfect temp, no bugs, no wind,  it was possible to sit outside and meditate.

Taking care to stretch a lot at the end and beginning of each day proved a most wise event as the knees did not give me any trouble during the whole time out.  Yea.

The next day was a six and half mile leg to Cinko Lake via Chain of Lakes, Upper Long Lake and Lower Long Lake.  The trip itself was partially view oriented,  partially forest and partially steppe like in its approach to 9190 ft Cinko Lake.   Along the way I  met a Forest Service trail crew, clearing downed trees from the trail.  Upon learning my destination was eventually  Tower Lake,  the crew boss highly discouraged going there  as there were so many downed trees on the trail he said the trail was actually treacherous.  Okay, so that was number two of how things can shift.  Let’s change the route.

The new plan was to continue onto Cinko and from their and go down to the Kirkwood Trail on the east side of Piute Meadows then over Kirkwood Pass which is where I would have gone but would have arrived at from a different direction had I made it to Tower Lake.  First onto Cinko.

Cinko Lake is absolutely a gem.  Much smaller than Freemont, the cliffs fall right into it on the south and there are two fine campsites on either east and west sides of the lake.  This is a you shoulda been there to appreciate it kind of place.  Especially when coming out of the tent at 5:30 the next morning, and seeing a  resplendent full moon  showering the lake with diamonds of light.

Not going to Tower Lake chopped one day and five miles off the 40 mile total of the original route. That was fine by me but it placed the rest of the trip into an eight and half mile day and then two six-mile days,  which sounded okay overall.

On the way to Piute Meadows I talked with  another couple who were also cutting their trip short due to some foot discomfort that the husband said was developing.

The recalcitrant camera works again.

They still had sixteen miles to go to get back to the Leavitt Meadows trailhead but were spry and moving at a good clip.

Then the ill-timed camera-card war occurred,  leaving my equanimity a victim by the trail side.  Surprising how little things can snowball to create a challenge.  There were a lot of sheep at Piute Meadows.  So many in fact the little used trail I was taking to Kirkwood Pass  was obliterated by their travels along the river.  Had I been paying a bit more attention rather than feeling photographically sorry for myself, it might have noticed when I swapped the real trail for a sheep trail.  But I didn’t and so the real trail was lost for a half hour or so.  That was a tad frustrating although not dangerous as  the real trail followed the river and turned up towards me so I had to run across it soon enough.  But not before clambering over and around  bunches of downed trees,  wasting too much energy and losing my map from my pocket which I forgot to zip up.  A major security blanket just got disappeared, for sure.   But I had read the map and route so many times and knew the terrain, the direction and the distances in my mind. And there was only one trail over Kirkwood  Pass to Buckeye Forks where you left and continued out through Big Meadows to Buckeye campground.   Still,  a GPS unit is now on the Christmas list.

I knew exactly where I wanted to stay the night- right where Kirkwood creeks continues onto Kirkwood Lake and the trail takes a sharp left and then goes stiffly up for 3/4 mile or so to the pass.  That left me two days of six miles each.  The only trouble was there were no good campsites around and very little level ground as the terrain was quickly changing to uphill.  And I was too tired to retrace my steps by a half mile or so to some decent spots. But I managed to find a somewhat level area close to the creek which was a wonderful burbly companion for the night in what otherwise was a fairly dismal setting .  Very interesting area- travelled yes, but lightly so and the area where my tired legs needed to stop at was verrrrry quiet.  It felt like a place you just want to pass through and not linger, the dead trees and rocks strewn about by snowfall and avalanches throughout the years.  But I slept surprisingly well there, and despite tossing and turning on uneven ground, dreamed a lot of humorous dreams that night.

Next morning, the “things change” gods had one last curve ball to pitch.  Answering natures call,  I got up at five am.  Cold.  Around thirty degrees I think.  Making like a bear and squatting in the forest,  this was the exact time my back decided to spasm.  Mean spasm.  Now this wasn’t due to anything but the fact my back does this every once in a while.  Mostly when I bend over to pick something up or a slightly turn just turn the wrong way.  Such a sense of humor, this back.   However this was horrific timing.  The twelve and a half miles I had to go suddenly ballooned  in painful anticipation to something like twelve hundred.

Okay, breathe, breathe and breathe some more.  Inch back to the tent, lay down on the fist and use the knuckles for shiatsu massage. Rock the spasm over the fist. Breathe some more, releasing tension with the out breath.  Lightly stretch.  Release.  Dig the thumb into the knots pushing the tension anywhere but there.  Slowly things loosed up enough to gingerly make breakfast and break camp, although it took me a full half hour longer than usual for the that routine.   By the way, ibuprofen makes an excellent breakfast hor d’oeuvres.  And another by the way, I’m also adding a satellite communication device to the Xmas list.

Intuitively it felt like once I put the pack on (which by this part of the trip was around 26 pounds or so–pretty light), that the heat generated by the muscles moving and the pressure of the pack’s belt would actually feel good.  Just go slow at first. Baby steps, baby steps.  Oh thank God for the hiking poles, taking just enough weight off the muscles and making it all happen.  Baby steps.  My mind set was very simple.  I have less than one mile to go.  The steep first part of the trail that goes up to Kirkwood Pass.  After that, gravity would take over.  In reality,  I could have just stayed and waited a day or so- I had enough food, but the spot I was in was fairly inhospitable and I did not want to backtrack at all.

Thankfully,  very quickly the back loosened up. Uphill was actually comfortable.  Having had this spasm occur often enough I knew this was more of a literal pain when bending  or when beginning to walk after sitting.  Once in motion things would flow just fine.  Another thing I knew was that it would be unwise to sleep another night on the ground as things would be ugly stiff the next day.  I wanted to make the 12  and 1/2 miles back to the Subaru in one day versus two.

Stopping for snacks, water,  lunch, ibuprofen, snacks, water and of course photos,  I kept in motion, making it back to Buckeye Campground in eight hours.  I was mindful to keep the stops short and not give the muscles time to cool down and stiffen.   It was, despite the challenge, an awesome passage.  This sounds corny and trite  but the photos can’t begin to convey both the intimacy and grandeur of this amazing backcountry.  With a scale too large to be really captured, photographs I fear,  can actually shrink  the emotions down allowing us to be voyeurs, abstracting the image to one not feelingly participated in.  But in person, you are overwhelmed in an arena too large for the mind to contain and so you are naturally and gracefully submitted in the moment, the small self  made insignificant as one is brought into relationship to the whole of  life.

I would like to describe the topography of mountains more, how the ranges merge together, the rise and fall of trail and route taken, but I feel sorry for having put so many words in front of you, dear readers.   Instead, here are some images from the last 12.5 miles of the hike between Leavitt Meadows and Buckeye Campground.

A giant granite stegasaurus makes it way through the mountains. This was between Piute Meadows and the Kirkwood creek turn.

The very cool Nesbit stove. Light, functional and cheap.
The white brick burns hot and and quick enough to boil two cups of water in six to eight minutes.

Nesbit in action. Oatmeal and hot tea, oh boy.

As you quickly head up the steep trail from Kirkwood Creek to Kirkwood Pass, 11,143 ft. Hawksbeak Peak  catches your eye.

Although not overly maintained, the trail is well-defined and in good shape. This is a downed tree that the Forest Service cleared away to keep the path free.

10, 724 ft. Grouse Mountain to your right as you first head up the trail.

9,940 ft. Kirkwood Pass which marks the divide between the Walker River and Buckeye Creek drainage.  A small saddle. A magical transitional place. This is the view when you crest the trail from Kirkwood Creek.

And behind you, one last look at Hawksbeak Peak before descending 1530 ft over 2.6 miles to Buckeye Forks.

Although I was hiking solo, I wasn’t hiking alone. Not too many days before me another hiker, his dog and a pack animal went the same route.  It was comforting to keep seeing their tracks all the way down.

Great color on a grand scale.

The Forest Service out did themselves on this stretch.

Buckeye Forks is at the bottom of the mountains on the left. That would make it on the canyon floor in the middle of the photo. A triangular convergence of three ridges.

The trail moves down through the forest, downed trees and openings where you can ponder just how big this place is.

Forest opening.

A curious marmot climbs up to see who was making all the noise.

Wind, snow and age or disease = downed trees.

A perfect swimming hole.

I love the little moments on a trip. Here the ferns shadows create a paleolithic rock fossil.

 

 

 

 

At the bottom of the trail at Buckeye Forks. This U.S Snow Survey Cabin was built in 1928 and is believed to be the oldest U.S Snow Survey Shelter.

 

And now down to Big Meadows and Buckeye Campground. Buckeye Pass goes up towards Peeler Lake and Kirkwood Pass is where I just came down. The unmarked path for Big Meadows is behind me.

This is the backside of the mountains that were on the left on the way down the trail. A massive vertical rise of granite.

It get narrows through here and is called “the Roughs” before it begins to open towards the large meadows below.

On your right heading down.

The sun was not photo favorable this time of day. But I was happy just to be able to take photos.

The view after exiting The Roughs. The trusty Subaru sits somewhere out there at the base of the far ridgeline.

Looking back up trail as it passes through a talus slope. One of the more dangerous places simply because it would be easy to twist an ankle in a moment of unconsciousness.

Of the talus slope and through the brush on the left side of the valley.

And through the aspen.

Out of the trees on onto the valley floor.

Looking back over my shoulder.

A late lunch spot. Looking back towards Buckeye Pass.

Out of the meadows and down the dusty trail to Buckeye Campgrounds.

My friend. Over to Twin Lakes for a soup and salad then a most soft and pleasurable drive home.

Lotsa words and lotsa photos.  Kudos to you for sticking with me.  Oh by the way, I did learn a few things during this enjoyable and humbling adventure.  Keep going to the gym, bring a spare map, a spare camera card, and start looking for a hiking buddy.  Now taking applications.  Good nature,  a sense of humor and a GPS / Satellite Communicator a big plus.

Thanks for taking some LIP from me,

Bruce

P.S. As always, clicking on the photo will enlarge it for a more pleasurable viewing experience.

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2 thoughts on “Walkabout

    • Hi Colton,

      Nesbit makes tablets for their stoves. One tab. usually handles boiling two cups of water easily. I didn’t use a windscreen but that helps the boiling time for sure. The only thing about the tablets is they smell like dead fish. Really. So if you are going to try them out you might want to spend the money on some odor proof zip locks that you can buy at REI. They are also useful for packing out your TP. I’ve switched to a MRI Micro Rocket canister stove since then and am also considering experimenting with an alcohol stove.

      If you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend checking out Backpacking Light. Their website is a treasure trove of information and education, gear reviews and considerations, used gear for sale, etc. Really, really worth it. You will learn a lot from the conversations on the forums. and it could be a good place to pick up some used gear as you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. It is easy to spend a ton of money but one can certainly equip themselves at a reasonable cost too.

      Good luck!
      Bruce

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