Saturday, May 18, 2013

Part 79 - Scary River Crossings

The store was crawling with hikers; some were standing in line for showers, others were retrieving their resupply packages, and others still were sitting at the picnic tables in front of the store eating a wide assortment of junk food or sorting through their resupply boxes
There was excitement in the air, as hikers I had never seen before shouted to one another about their plans to leave the trail, hitch into Yosemite Valley and climb up the back face of Half Dome.  Me, I was just happy to find a place to sit down at a picnic table and take off my backpack and relax for a bit.

With my pack on the ground, and now feeling as light as a feather, I headed for the convenience store to see what treats and goodies I can buy for a couple of bucks.  I settled on my usual of cookies and milk, while those around me scarf down green vegetables mixed with bits of cheese, mushrooms, and avocados.  There was a large hiker box in the store, and I rummaged through it for edible treasures.  

This box happened to be filled with food that day hikers had purchased but hadn’t consumed on their hikes around the area.  I found packets of hard salami, blocks of cheese and bags of dried fruit, plus foil packets of Idahoan Instant Potatoes
I took all of them and headed back out to the picnic table to stuff them in my backpack. At the table, I met a young female hiker named Pia.  I would leapfrog with her on the trail all the way to Bend, Oregon, at which point she would leave the trail and head home to Rhode Island.

I left the store at two in the afternoon and walked back to the trail at the point where it crossed Highway 120.  Heading north, I passed through a pack station that supplied horses for trail rides.  I wasn’t sure I was on the trail, but a female wrangler assured me that I was.  The trail followed the river for a distance and then headed overland, crossed a footbridge, passed several notable waterfalls, and finally made a steep descent to a footbridge that crossed the Tuolumne River just below White Cascade Falls.

Across the river was the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, a dude camp for tourists who hiked in from Tuolumne Meadows for an overnight stay in a rustic setting.  The cabins appeared to be canvas wall tents with wooden frames, of which there were about ten, plus a combination dining hall/cook shack and facilities for showers and restrooms; the camp was full, and I arrived just as the dinner bell was sounded.

At the clang of the dinner bell, almost in unison, the doors of the cabins opened and the occupants emerged and moved in a single file towards the dining hall.  They looked like so many subjects in one of Ivan Pavlov experiments, the Russian psychologist who could get dogs to salivate even before food was placed before them, just by hearing the ringing of a bell.

The camp also had a campsite set aside for backpackers, and this was where I headed. Facilities at the camp included compost outhouses and potable water from spigots located throughout the camp.  I selected a flat spot close to a stream and set up my tent.  There were only a few other hikers in the camp, and it was here that I met, for the first time, the two Germans from Berlin – Biers and Ranch, a couple who were students and/or teaching assistants at the university in Berlin.  Later in the evening, another German hiker joined them whose trail name was Viking and who lived in Iceland.

Because of my diet, constipation has been a serious problem for me since the beginning of the trip.  Eating three or four flour tortillas, Clif Bars and PowerBars a day hasn’t been terribly conducive to daily regularity.  One day without a bowel movement is irritating; two days without a bowel movement spells trouble; and three days or more without such a movement could mean a trip to the hospital.

As was my usual routine, I awoke early and prepared to leave while it was still dark. Today was the morning of the third day without a bowel movement, and I was greatly concerned. I grabbed my headlamp and headed for the compost outhouse, where I labored for over two hours trying to take care of business.  Applying constant abdominal pressure during this two-hour stint, I was afraid I was going to blow a gasket or cause an aneurysm before I could get contents of the bowel to move. From here on, I would have my wife start packing stool softeners and dried prunes in my resupply boxes.

I may have spoken too soon about being out of the Sierras and not having any more major streams to ford.  I didn’t count all of the streams that I crossed in the next seventy-six miles, but there were many, and according to trail angel Thumper, who I met back at Tuolumne Meadows, he said there were nine major crossings in 2011, all of which were waist-deep or deeper.  Leaving Glen Aulin, the trail entered Cold Canyon, and then made a long traverse to the head of Virginia Canyon and Return Creek.

In a high-water year, Return Creek would be a monster of a river crossing.  This is where death or dismemberment could occur.  Virginia Canyon was a steep, straight shot down the mountain canyon and the crossing was just feet above a waterfall chock-full of massive boulders.  A slip or an unchecked fall with backpack still strapped to a hiker’s back could see the hiker going over the falls, with little chance of rescue.  Before leaving for the hike, I had watched YouTube videos of this crossing from previous years, which really made me nervous as I approached it.  Fortunately, this was a low-snow year, which meant an easier, but still apprehensive crossing.

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