Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Part 83 - Cowboys and Bears

Sometimes when trying to hitch a ride, I would get to the highway too early when there was no traffic on the road, and I would then have to wait.  Such was the case this morning; I was awake at 4:30 a.m., and by 5:30 a.m. I’m standing beside the paved highway, patiently waiting for a ride.  A few cowboys driving their heavy-duty Chevy Silverados and towing gigantic horse trailers pulled out onto the highway, but they all turned west heading towards Modesto and Stockton, California, rather than east towards Sonora Pass.

Patience was one thing I’ve learned on this trek; nothing can be sped up, everything will happen in its own due time.  One just has to wait for the right sequence of events to coalesce, for the outcome to be of benefit to the person seeking results.  And so it is with my ride back to Sonora Pass.  I had to wait until a fellow, driving his late-model Ford pickup on his way to do some work on his rental property over in Ridgecrest, drove by, felt sorry for me, and stopped to offer me a ride.

I got a good start on today’s hike; I was on the trail before the sun came up, which gave me the opportunity to walk in the shade of the mountains.  Leaving Sonora Pass, the trail was steep as it wound in switchbacks through volcanic fragments to a pass high up the side of the mountain.  The summit was studded with red, orange, and black volcanic outcroppings that dropped a thousand feet to the valley floor below.  There were few lakes and water sources on today’s stretch of the trail, as volcanic rock is porous and unable to hold water.  The small basins that did contain water were formed from granitic rock that predated the younger, overlain volcanic rock.

Judging from the number of wire fences that paralleled the trail or headed off into the surrounding forest, I concluded that this was cattle country but the fences seemed to be old and many were in disrepair; in fact, at some gateposts, the barbed wire had been removed from the steel posts and coiled in large rolls that lay on the ground.  My thinking concerning the matter was that when this area was designated as wilderness, the grazing allotments were retired and the fences were left for Mother Nature to dispose of.

About a mile up the trail, after crossing Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass, I heard a rustling in the bushes off to my left and saw two stout men emerging from the brush, each restraining a large dog on a leash.  One dog seemed friendly, but the other one was a giant bulldog, and he looked menacing.  It was a total surprise to see them, and they may have been as surprised to see me.  With no guns, they didn’t appear to be hunters, and they had no other tools, backpacks, or water bottles with them; they were just two men with big dogs coming out of the bush.  Immediately out of my mouth came the question, 

“What are you guys doing out here in the wilderness with these two dogs on leashes?”

Their answer was a surprise.  They said they were ranch hands mending fences and that they had repaired about two miles of fence so far this day.  With that answer, I asked them about the miles of fence I had seen on the south side of Ebbetts Pass, some of which was coiled and laying on the ground.  They replied that in the fall after the cattle are off the summer grazing range, they and others come in and remove the strands of barbed wire and coil it.

“If we don’t,” they said, “the heavy snows in the mountains, which can get as high as fifteen feet, will move the fences down the mountainside, effectively destroying them.”

They had been putting the fences back up, in anticipation of cattle being brought back to graze in the forests.  I then asked about the dogs, to which they replied,

“They’re to keep the bears away; they alert us to their presence.”

I thanked them for their information, and as I prepared to leave and hike on up the trail, they cautioned me about a cinnamon-colored bear they had chased off about a mile up the trail.  If I wasn’t alert before, I was now.  

I met up with Bipolar and we walked together for the rest of the day, camping in the only flat area we could find, which was heavily infested with mosquitoes.

Before going to bed last night, I prepared my breakfast so that I could eat it quickly without being attacked by mosquitoes.  Preparation was simply adding water to my breakfast meal of oats, crushed nuts, dried fruit and spices, and letting it hydrate.  Bipolar and I wasted no time in breaking camp and getting out of the swampy bog with its pesky denizens.  

The trail kept us high on the crest overlooking Upper and Lower Blue Lakes, which appeared to be heavily used recreational lakes.  From our vantage point on the crest, we could see numerous motorized watercraft, canoes, and kayaks on the water.  Coming down the ridge, we passed close to Lost Lakes, and found a young lady sitting on a rock beside the trail.  She looked a bit dejected, and we asked her if she was okay.  She said she was and was only waiting for her husband to rejoin her after he’d gone hiking up a hill.

Even if one doesn't have time to do the entire PCT,for those individuals who enjoy hiking, the John Muir trail through the high Sierras should be on everyone's to do list.

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