Friday, May 17, 2013

Part 78 - Leaving the Sierras

Leaving the Red’s Meadow Café behind, Lucky Man and I walked back past the mule and horse corrals and reconnected with the PC Trail.  After the trail crossed the San Joaquin River on a footbridge, the trail split; choosing the right-hand fork gave the hiker the opportunity to visit Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls, and then reconnected with the PCT farther up the trail.  Lucky Man chose this alternate trail, while I stayed on the main trail.  I had seen pictures of the falls and the Devil’s Postpile, and didn’t feel the need to visit them up close.

Moving towards Tuolumne Meadows, the trail passed through Agnew Meadows and entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness area, a stunning section of the John Muir Trail dotted with many small to medium-size lakes, the most notable of which was Thousand Island Lake.  On stepping stones, I crossed over the outlet of Garnet Lake, walked around Ruby Lake, and within a few hundred yards was standing at the outlet of Thousand Island Lake.

The outlet to the lake was shallow and was also easily crossed on stepping stones placed in the waters decades ago by the trail builders.  Thousand Island Lake itself must be relatively shallow as numerous little islands were sprinkled throughout the body of water, most of which had a few trees growing on them which resemble tufts of hair growing on the sides of a man’s bald head.

Beyond Thousand Island Lake, there was one more pass to cross over – Donohue Pass at an elevation of 11,056 feet.  It wasn’t the highest pass I had climbed, but by and far, it was the toughest for me to get over.  I simply could not get sufficient oxygen into my lungs; subsequently, I did the Old Man Shuffle all the way up the climb.  At the summit, I could see Lyell Canyon stretching out before me and I camped for the evening at the head of this canyon, a few hundred yards below massive Lyell Glacier.

This glacier is the largest glacier in Yosemite National Park.  It was inspiring to see it up close, as it is a massive sheet of ice that is slowly creeping down the mountain at the rate of about twenty feet a year, but it’s also a glacier that is dying, and rangers in the park estimate that the glacier will have disappeared within a few decades as a result of environmental warming, either man-made or just as a natural occurrence in nature.

My campsite for the night signaled the accomplishment of another major milestone on the long hike to Canada – the end of the Sierra Mountains.  There will be no more high passes to climb, no more snowfields to slog through, no more death-defying rivers to cross – well, maybe a few more rivers in Washington, but for now, the High Sierras are behind me, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.  The walk for the next ten miles will be through the luxuriant summer growth of grassy meadows that front the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.

I left early this morning, anxious to cover the last remaining miles to Highway 120 and the Tuolumne Meadows Store.  The path through the meadows and along the river was filled with day hikers who were seeking to make the three-hour trip from the highway to the base of Lyell Mountain, to either camp in the vicinity of the mountain or to return the same way they came before the day ended. 

 If I were visiting Tuolumne Meadows with family, I, too, would be like the day hikers, seeking to see as much of this part of Yosemite Park as possible with the time constraints that limited vacation time imposes upon travelers.  By 11:00 a.m., I had reached highway 120, and turned left and walked the half mile to the convenience store that served hikers and park visitors alike. 

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