Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flip flops in Paradise

This was written as a creative essay tongue-in-cheek:

“Absolutely no rental cars,” read the sign, “ 4 wheel drive vehicles only. Vehicles traveling uphill have the right-of way.”
After looking down the steep 25 percent grade I decided to heed its advice. It was extremely steep. Although paved, I couldn’t i
magine a rental car getting up that road. A normal road would switch back. Not this one. The road descends into the Hawaiian valley from high on the cliffs and drops to the rumbling surf below. We parked our rental car at the small area at the top, got our backpacks out and headed on foot down the concrete ramp scored for better traction.
Our destination was Waimanu Valley, a distant and remote valley only accessible by a trail. We first had to pass through the beautiful a
nd more visited Waipio Valley to reach the best backpacking the Big Island had to offer; the Muliwai trail. My girlfriend, Kristi, and I try to escape the stresses of modern life as much as we can afford, and this trip was to be a respite from society’s constant bombardment of advertisement, rampant consumerism and the consequent war over depleting resources.
We stopped half way to rest o
ur calves.
“Feel the burn!” I said stepping to the side to catch a glimpse of Kaluahine Falls plunging off the cliff face in to t
he surf. “Wow.”
The paved road ended at the bottom in a wet marsh, then switched back to reveal some rental cars that had dared to make the journey. They were flipped over and burned by the locals in retribution for the drivers not reading the sign.
“I hope they got the full damage waiver,” I said smugly.

We arrived at what the Hawaiians called the Valley of the Kings. Traditionally taro, bananas, guava, and coconuts were grown here among the native trees. This was a favorite destination for King Kamehamea, and also where he was commissioned as guardian of the war god Kukailimoku. They celebrated luau style by hunting wild pigs, and cooking them buried in the sand with banana leaves. The ceremony is still observed by torch carrying “Night Warriors,” to this day.
Toursits delivered here in masse b
y four-wheel drive, frolicked in the waves where the Waipio River meets the sea. Then something sinister caught my attention: a lost and abandoned flip flop. I started to look around, another one, and another, littering the beach. They remained, after the tourists had left, flipping and flopping in the waves. One moment they appeared to be headed for open sea, the next they were washing up on shore. Our hike had begun with a slap, a wake up call: did I actually think I could escape society’s blatant disregard to its natural counterpart? There was a war going on over the same resources that constructed the flat rubber soles, and they were cast away, left floating like flotsam. There was something wrong with this picture.
I don’t spend too much time thinking about fashion, but flip flops were becoming more difficult to ignore. They’re found in the most far-reaching places in the world, and cheap enough for even the poorest to rely on them, but seeing them half buried in the sand made me take a closer look at the negative effects that these seemingly necessary footwear has had on the environment.
I tried to put up a wall, and deny the existence of man’s destructive wake, and headed back to the trail, after all I was also culpable. I had a pair of rubber flip flops strapped to the outside of my pack. The trail quickly left the beach and made it’s way up the valley wall. The jungle closed in as we trotted over fallen berries that stained the rotten trail floor. The smell of leaf matter mixing with ginger root stimulated my olfactory nerves in alternating cycles of curious pleasure.
The trail dipped into smaller and more rugged overgrown valleys and wound over the course of 12 more miles. Occasionally I was reminded that the ocean was only a few hundred yards away from the top of a valley cliff. Rising and falling 500 feet, each valley became more and more difficult to navigate. Rain and fallen leaves made it wet and slippery, providing a constant challenge.
The humidity and the mid-day heat was relieved by a small waterfall and pool, right off the trail. We stripped down to our skivvies, put on our camping flip flops, and plunged into the jungle run-off. Drying off our feet, we put on our boots, ate lunch and continued. Valley after valley we snaked our way down the coastline.
My mind kept flashing back to the littered beach we left. I couldn’t keep from thinking of the flip flop as a metaphor for the destructive effects society imposes on the natural world. My fascination with the flip flop stems from what the sandal means to modern society. Were we ever going to be able to shed our unsust
ainable dependencies in favor of the environment? I started to take stock of the social and physical ramifications that flip flops have brought upon the world.
The first traditional flip flops were designed by the Japanese and were woven bamboo, or wooden soled sandals. Ironically they are called “biisan” in Japan, derived from English meaning “beach sandal.” The flip flop has infiltrated almost every country, spawning specific nomenclature in many languages. For example in Italy they are refered as ‘infradito’ translated literally as ‘inter-toes.’ Danes call them ‘Klip-clapperes.’ New Zelanders call them ‘Jandals’ condensed from Japanese sandals. The Hawaiians affectionately call them “jap-slaps.” Like the pig, the flip flop was introduced to Hawaii as a foreign species. Now they are deeply ingrained into the society.
I kept hiking and thinking. Was I opposed to flip flops? No, they were useful, after all I had a pair. Comfortable and perfect for camping, they are light and pack down to a minimum. I can wear them at river crossings to keep my boots dry. They are perfect for drying out my feet after a sweaty day locked in hikers. They are too useful to be opposed to… until they’re trash.
There is a fine line between something utilitarian and trash. Two flip flops are utilitarian. They provide protection from the rough rocky ground, a necessity in today’s tender-footed world. One flip flop is trash. Not only is it trash, it is trash that lasts forever. The rubber will not decompose. They will last and last until a pile of unmatched flip flops gathers on shore, or in a land fill. Eventually
the world will begin to fill up with unmatched flip flops. Perhaps an environmental organization will need to be developed to battle the population explosion of lone flip flops. The groups mission: to gather mis-matched flip flops of similar sizes and re-sell them to concerned conservationists. Transients will collect them like aluminum cans then trade them for a few meager bits, proud that they contributed to the mitigation of the destruction of the natural world. A new fashion trend will be born; the ‘U2 Unmatched Flip Flop Special Edition,’: all proceeds to help fight foot fungus cancer- coming soon to a retailer near you.
We arrived at the top of Waimanu Valley with plenty of daylight to spare. This was the steepest and slipperiest valley yet. Layers of wet fronds and leaves lin
ed the trail. We slid down 500 feet to the valley floor. Covered in mud and little cuts we stumbled out of the jungle and onto stable river rock. Before we could access the camping area we had to cross the Waimanu river. We took off our backpacks and put on our flip flops again. The river was deep. We had to carry our packs over our heads and navigate submerged boulders. Waves broke on shore and flowed upstream creating surges that kept us unbalanced. Slipping and falling forward I managed to toss my pack to the opposite shore. Since I was already wet, I swam up the lazy stream and frolicked in the luke-warm water.
Emerging from the water I found my self at an impasse. I was actually thankful for my flip flops. This was a symbol of wanton destruction and resource depletion. It was made from fossil deposits for the comfort of my foot. This disturbed me. Modern variations made out of rubber and plastic are un-sustainable, and float. The backless sandal is easily lost in strong currents. The freedom that it gives the foot is directly disproportional to the dependence society has on its consumption. Why couldn’t they just be made out of bamboo, I wondered. Then they could decompose when they were lost.
My thoughts of the evil sandal faded with the beauty found at the bot
tom of this remote Hawaiian valley. The ocean breaking on the rocky shore provided a soothing soundtrack. Distant water falls cascaded down steep green cliff faces. The swirling clouds that obscured the top of the valley gave fresh water to feed each fall.
Stumbling into camp we plopped down our packs to take it all in. We were alone amid a dozen campsites. We decided to look around to see which site was the best.
“Grunt, grunt.”
We both turned around to face the source of the grunting: a large pig was rustling in some leaves a few feet away. Startled, it squealed slightly and scampered off toward the far side of the valley. “Oooh, there are wild pigs here.” I said.
“Cool,” Kristi said, “Lets try to get a better look.”
We followed what appeared to be a game trail. It took us into the muddy and mosquito infested jungle. We could see depressions in the ground where many pigs had made their beds.
“There.” She pointed at a huge daddy sized pig. Behind him there were three or four piglets. They scampered away making little pig sized grunts. Weaving through the jungle we pursued them, catching quick glimpses until we could
no longer keep up.
“Bananas.” She said. Sure enough, there were a bunch of bananas just lying there, with no banana tree in sight.
“The pigs must collect them from the jungle.”
“Pigs can’t climb trees!” I shrugged, baffled.
A distant rumble of a waterfall piqued our interest, and we followed a game trail in that direction. Slightly overgrown, we couldn’t gain direct access to the falls, but we got as close as we could. It was cascading down a cliff face and into a dense gathering of bush and bamboo. Slipping on the wet rocks, we approached the falls. There, at the base, obscured by leaves and mud, was my nemesis, the source of much internal debate.
“A flip flop!” I declared. “Only one.” It blew my mind. I had been “jap-slapped” again.
“I can’t believe this! I just hiked 12 miles into the jungle to get away from people, found wild pigs and a remote inaccessible water fall only to find an f-ing flip flop!”
I was livid. This was it. It was time to do something drastic. A short rant ensued, but was short lived. After all, I was preaching to the choir. We returned to
camp with the flip flop, not sure what was going to be done with it. It wasn’t going to stay there.
We set up camp and started a fire, then passed a Nalgene bottle of wine back and forth. I began to relax and return my thoughts to nature. The sun had set and a subtle glow lingered in the canyon. While looking through the other campsites for firewood I found some animal remnants.
“Check this out!” I said returning to camp.
“What is it?”
“A pig skull.” I declared. Grabbing a short piece of string laying on the ground, I tied the skull to a tree near the fire.

“Just like Lord of the Flies!” That was it! My primal instinct took over. I knew what I had to do. I disrobed, applied some soot to my face and began to chant. Holding the flip flop over my head like some holy grail, I danced around the fire. Our silhouettes flickered and reflected off the trees while the pig skull peered over our shoulders nodding in approval. I’m not sure what happened next, as the effects of alcohol and mounting frenzy took over. I was channeling some ancient Hawaiian pig ritual. It was time for the great ‘Jap-slap’ sacrifice. I offered a few choice words, mostly unintelligible, then, committed the flip flop to the fire. It resisted a few seconds, as if to reinforce its perseverance. It would not disappear so easily,
it was destined to exist forever! Slowly it succumbed, drooping, lowering into the flames, then, finally, it caught fire. The light from the burning plastic flashed and died: the final catharsis.
“Nature, One, the Corporate Flip Flop Conspiracy, Zero!”

“We should throw all our flip flops on the fire!” Kristi said caught up in my psychotic episode.
“No don’t!” I stopped her. I was overcome with a moment of clarity, “We need those!”

The Colorado Trail

This post outlines the backpacking trip Kristi and I took along the Colorado Trail just out side of Durango, Co. All the photos taken here were from my Canon S80. We got up not extrordinarily early, and it was already raining. We had breakfast, which consisted of left overs from dinner the night before and the remaining hard-boiled eggs we still had. We drove up the short rough road to the trail-head parking, then locked up the Bus. It was still raining, but shortly after we started hiking the sun came out, and we started a game of hide and seek. This game consisted of not only rain and the sun hiding but a constant rotation of clothing trying to keep up with the moisture and temperatures. We passed a couple of lite hikers and exchanged iteneraries. They appeared to have spent the night in thier clothes and ate grubs or something. They each had a small day pack and crocs. I could see no sleeping bag, tent, or food per se. I personally would like to pack some comforts, even if it takes longer to get to a destination. They were bushed, and still had to hike to Silverton. They were considering hitch-hiking the rest of the way. We told them where we were headed, and they grunted a little and said "big climb." We parted ways and continued down the trail. The sun came out to display beautiful wild flowers, then hid again behind rain clouds. After about a mile the trail came to a deep canyon. We could see the Animas river below backed by tall 14k peaks surrounded by swirling rain clouds. Every so often we could catch a glimpse of the Durango-Silverton railroad tracks as it paralleled the river. The rush of the surrounding cascading water falls permiated the still forest. It was the relaxing soundtrack as we zig-zagged on the innumerable switchbacks 4 miles to the bottom. Just as we reached the canyon floor we heard a whistle. It was the Durango-Silverton train. We rushed across the bridge over the raging Animas. It was the same bridge the forest service built in the 70s for hikers. Story goes, it was built in response to a backpacker who drowned trying to cross. Krisiti and I agreed that neither of us would have wanted to cross that river, no matter what the conditions. We could see the plume of black smoke progressing closer, then the chug a chuga, and around the bend we could see the head- light shining brightly. I quickly got out the camera and shot as many pics I could get. We waved at the passengers who looked at us like we were interesting wildlife. Then it was gone. Black smoke and the smell of burnt coal still lingering in the air. Cool stuff. From here on it would be up hill the rest of the way to camp. We moseyed up the trail a piece more and came upon some Boy Scouts who were determined to get to an old mining camp just below the pass. They were impressed with the dog's saddlebags and were even more impressed that they were carying the wine. Again I reiterate the necessity of the simple comforts in life, especially if I don't have to carry them. We stopped at a nice rest stop next to Elk Creek, a tributary of the Animas, for lunch. The trail will now parrallel Elk Creek up to the contintental divide topping off at about 11,480 feet. The trail follows the along the canyon passing talus slopes and glacial boulders, as Elk Creek rushes below. At times the trail becomes steep in all directions, not forgiving any mis-steps. According to the trail guide there would be a few level campsites below the treeline. One such place was located just below a boulder field, and on the other side of some beaver ponds. After some wet rock-hopping with backpacks we came upon a camp that was left by mountain climbers who used it as a base camp for some nearby peaks. Protected by trees somewhat, we arrived and sat in the rain shadow of the bigger trees, admiring the view of the near-by peaks. The large can opener looking rock formations were creatively named peak one and peak two. Anyway we arrived about 4 pm and leisurely set up the tent, started a fire, and cooked dinner. We had packed in some Mahi, and seared it in a wasabi-teriyaki sauce. Yum. The dogs suddenly started barking, and looking around a hill I noticed we had neighbors in the less desirable camsite next to ours. A couple of other campers just arrived. We dried out our wet pants and socks, ate some smores and went to bed shortly after sunset. Then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. Oh did I mention it rained. Yes until 6 am it rained. Fortunately, I had brought some other creature comforts for occasions just like these. No not an instant hotel room, ear plugs. Something you wouldn't think you would need when you are away from traffic, train horns and children. Well, when large rain drops are pummeling the tent for 10 hours you can see how hard it would be to sleep. That was the problem our neighbours had. I don't think ear plugs made it to thier list.
We woke up the next morning not too sore. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and prepared our day-packs and dog's saddle bags, ready to leave Extreme Base Camp and push for the Summit. The rain had lightened to a faint mist as we left camp. As we were passing our neighbours camp, Kristi asked how their night had been. He muttered some expletives ranting about how he and his wife had to be camping through the worst thunderstorm all year, and couldn't get any sleep. I don't think Kristi knew how to respond to his rants, all she could have said was "earplugs." For fear of any repercussions she just continued smiling. The first couple of miles were really relaxing. The soft forest floor padded the sound of our footsteps. We passed a camp, and had to grab the dogs so they wouldn't spook their horses. After we passed over a couple of creeks, we heard the pounding of water. We followed the sound and came upon a beautiful waterfall. At the waterfall we took some pics and discovered a really pretty flower. I will have to look up what kind it was. Soon the trail became steep and passed through more talus and glacial remains. After the recent rains the canyon was now cascading with little waterfalls all around. Soon we met up with more Boy Scouts at a deep creek crossing. They had their boots off and were trying to wade through. Kristi and I didn't pause and trudged right through, hoping our Gore-Tex boots would live up to their name. For the most part they did. The trail squeezed through a notch dripping with seep springs, then came to an old mining camp. An old cabin sat dilapidated with wall boards strewn about. Since it was above the treeline some campers tried to use the boards for campfires. With out adequate kindling it would be tough to get it going. Judging from the number of unconsumed boards burnt on one end laying around they weren't entirely successful. Luckily we arrived at the cabin before the Boy Scouts did. I was able to get some great pics. After leaving the cabin the trail continued along the now dwindling Elk Creek. The trail then took a turn straight up. Then another turn. It continued to switch back about 30 times. We actually counted. There was some debate where we were counting from, however. Either the corner, or the entire tier. Since Kristi was the one keeping count, she decided to count the corners. Eventually Elk Creek disappeared into the mountain. Talk about headwaters. The trail continued to switch back all the way to the top. I always love coming to the top of mountain passes. The anticipation of what awaits is always worth the climb. Sure enough there was no disappointment. There were a couple more cabins down a thousand feet on the other side. The sun was out and we were surrounded by hills of wild flowers and snowy mountain peaks. Time to collapse and eat lunch. I think I heard Kristi snoring. She was feeling a little light headed. We were right up there at 13,000 ft with the 14,000 peaks surrounding us. Clouds swirling around, and distant rumbles of thunder. At the top we had some choices to make. There were trails going off in many different directions. The guide book steered us toward a couple of high altitude lakes. After some more climbing we reached a ridge, then followed it past Lake El Dorado. The trail kept going along the continental divide, so since it wasn't raining we thought we had better look to see what was around the corner. Another mile or so and we reached what seemed the end of the world. With clouds below us swirling around we were awe stricken. We spent two hours exploring the various trails, careful not to loose too much elevation. Alas, it was getting late and the clouds were closing in. As we started to leave the Boy Scouts were just arriving. They remarked that we were like a couple of jack rabbits for having gotten up there so fast. It makes a huge difference if you don't have an extra 40 lbs on your back. We were actually thinking how hard it would have been to summit with our packs, not to mention not having any shelter away from the thunderstorms. The decent back to base camp seemed to take forever, and the adrenaline faded fast. Our feet were pounding by the time we got to camp, and I could feel my blood sugar level falling. We quickly made an Indian Tofu dish, with fresh vegetables and wolfed it down. Bellies full, we crawled into bed. Then it started raining again. It was a replay from the night before. The dogs curled up at our feet and we slept.
We woke up late the next morning, and leisurely made breakfast. We drank a few extra cups of coffee, with our neat coffee press that fits inside a Nalgene bottle. Since we only had to hike 8 miles that day we just hung out at the campsite. The weather was nice, the view spectacular. A little creek dribbled by. The dogs were entertained by ground squirrels. We didn't want to leave. Food was running low, and we were out of dog food too, although they would have loved squirrel fricassee. Oh well. All good things must come to an end. Slowly packing, we bid farewell to our base camp. We hiked to the train crossing again, calves sore from the previous 12 mile day. It was lunch time, and starting to rain. Just as we got grumpy about having to eat lunch in the pouring rain, we discovered a huge spruce tree. It made a perfect shelter. We watched the train pass by again, with the little chase cars behind (I'll fill you in later). The camping party with the horses passed by. Now for the 4 mile climb up the switchbacks. We didn't count the switchbacks this time. We did pass by some campers with a 2 way radio. They had two parties of parading ponchos. Must have been a sale on ponchos. It never quit raining. It was pouring buckets by the time we got to the van. We were ready to get dry by this time. Off to Silverton. As were were driving down the hill we could see a campground. That's where we would be headed. As we pulled in, the sign said no vacancy. Kristi went inside, and no one came to help her. We left, and pulled around the corner to find 3 more campgrounds. We chose the farthest one away. It was the emptiest. I went to the mobile home office and inquired within. They were practically empty and I chose a spot with a great view, and no campers blocking it. They had a jacuzzi, showers, and a sauna. And the sun came out. With our site secured, we drove to the brewery to get dinner. It was closed. So we went next door. They had a nicer place than the brewery, it looked like an old time bar. I ordered an interesting looking taco. It had home smoked pork, smoked on the premises by the proprietor, using apple wood. It was so yummy. We returned to our site, with beer in hand. We laid out our gear to dry, showered and relaxed in the jacuzzi, then dried off in the sauna. Then we snoozed.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. I rented a boat for the 4th of July and Kristi and I piled our dogs and camping gear in it and we drove that thing up to Dangling Rope, over to Rainbow bridge. It was here that my Nikon gave up the ghost. I thought I could wrap it in a plastic bag and swim up a cool slot canyon. Nope. It got wet through the plasctic bag. Once I got it back on the boat I pulled the batteries, and could smell that it was fried. Never to turn on again.

Arches & Moab

We were having an extremely warm, dry spring. It was perfect weather to go to Moab. The intent was mostly to go mountain biking, but as usual I brought the camera. We also did a quick tour of part of Arches NP. No, we didn't get to Delicate Arch, or Mesa Arch, just some lesser known arches. As a matter of fact I can't seem to remember the names of most of them. We've got Kristi on her bike, and my dog Max with his backpack, and some arches. Some were taken on bike rides, others hikes. We had to cross some railroad tracks to get to Elephant arch, and found a scene where the cliffs were carved out, and the tracks... disappearing. Moab is definately a place to return to. There is just so much going on than what you can do during spring break.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

John Muir Trail

Photography and hiking have always gone hand in hand with me. It was very exciting when I got my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 2000. It meant that I didn't have to deal with carrying, loading, and developing the film, or deal with archiving the pictures and negatives. I've lost a lot of photos, simply because I did not keep well enough track of them. The Nikon was a decent enough camera, during a time when 35mm film still reigned supreme in quality. Truth is, I've sold photos from every camera I've owned, so the adage 'It's not the camera it's the photographer' rings true. Kristi and I have caught some what of a 'epic hiking bug' between the Na Pali Coast, Havasupai, and Paria Canyon trips. Since we had so much experience under our belts, we thought we could handle the logistics of the John Muir trail. My good friend from college, Rich Hoffman, is quite a bit older than me. He returned to college in his forties, graduated and moved to Klammath Falls, OR. He got a teaching job there in Theatre at the high school. He was an adamant backpacker from way back, which is why we got along so well. We missed our trips to West Fork of the Oak Creek Canyon together, and frequently talked about rendezvousing somewhere in the middle ground in California. Yosemite was a natural selection, mainly because I had not been there, and he was excited to return there. Kristi and I had devised a plan to do somewhat of a shuttle-rendezvous with Rich. We were to start from Mammouth Lakes and hike to Yosemite, meet, ascend Half Dome, and he would drive us around back to Mammouth Lakes when we were done. We were ready to go, made reservations for the trail at the Inyo National Forest ranger station, and set up a time and exit point on the trail to meet Rich. Since we were going to be in the wilderness, there would be no way to contact us. We were continuing on faith that we would have a ride at the end. The first day of the journey was driving from Flagstaff to Bishop, in our little Ford Escort sedan. I remember how hot it was crossing the desert, the A/C barely keeping up, even with the car's tinted windows. We arrived at a campground between Bishop and Mammouth Lakes. It had a creek along side of it that was just rushing with water. It was early July and the Sierras had a record winter for snowfall. We had heard that the trail was still snow-packed, and as a precaution brought our snowshoes, with hopes that we wouldn't have to carry them. We still had some loose ends to tie up, as we didn't have bear canisters, which were required to hike anywhere in the Sierras. The plan was to go into Mammouth Lakes buy some canisters, and ask around at the sports stores what the trail conditions were. Finding the canisters was no problem, finding trail conditions proved to be more difficult. The owner of the store knew that there was a whole lot of snow up there, but couldn't tell us how deep, or how hard the snow would be. He hadn't known anybody that had hiked it that year, mainly because of the heavy snow that still lingered. He warned us about the sun-cups, and not to eat or drink the red snow. Evidently the sun melts the snow at different speeds, making fields of parabolic cups. There would be some red dust that blows from the desert and lands on the snow, which supposedly carries a bacteria that could be harmful. It also causes early snow-melt, not able to reflect the sun's rays, which wasn't an issue this year. Our reservation for the trail was to start the next day, so we hung around town looking at maps, and asking more questions. Originally we wanted to start the hike from Agnew Meadows trail head, but were concerned that if we started there we would need to cover more ground so we could meet Rich at the rendezvous point. Since the trail conditions were still unknown we decided to modify our starting point to Reds Meadow, five miles closer to our destination. It was fairly easy to make the decision, since we discovered that there was a shuttle from Mammouth Ski Resort to a number of trail heads along the John Muir Trail. We spent the night close to town, ready to get to the Ranger Station when they opened at 8. We hardly got any sleep due to the excitement, and were ready to go by 6 the next morning. Since we were so early, we went to a local diner for breakfast, then lined up at the Ranger Station waiting for them to open so we could get our hiking permits. The Ranger wasn't too keen on changing our starting point, since they gauge the permits by how many people enter each specific trail head each day. He changed it for us (since there were hardly anybody daft enough to hike the trail with such snowy conditions) with a bit of bureaucratic finger wagging. Anyway we got our permit to start from Red's Meadow, drove up to the Mammouth ski resort, parked the car, got our shuttle passes to the trail head. The old school bus filled with people, and we loaded our packs in the back third of the bus. It lumbered slowly down the road into the canyon to the trail head, where we disembarked, and immediately became swarmed with mosquitoes. We hastily applied our 100% Deet and picked up the pace as if we could get away from the bugs. Red's Meadow was a little less than a meadow, and a little more a soggy marsh, a beautiful marsh, though. Wild flowers, reeds, and cattails adorned the field, back-dropped with the snow capped peaks. The trail soon began to gain elevation, and we began high-stepping up giant granite steps leaving the first of many lakes behind. A couple of does froze at the sight of us, just a few hundred feet away. Without a lot of time to stop, we kept heading toward Garnet lake, our first camping spot for the trip. So far there was very little snow, and we were wondering if we should have packed our snow shoes or not. The more we ascended the more snow we came across. The trail was still pretty clear cut, and only once did we loose the trail and our bearings. Just as we were approaching the pass we were left with a choice to go left or right. Since there were no footprints to follow we made a calculated guess to go left, and we were right. So far we were headed up the south-side of a large basin, the side facing the sun. Once we made it to the top of the hill we could see the beautiful Garnet lake with Ritter and Banner peaks towering above the water. It took our breath away. Once we regained consciousness we looked down, and kept looking down- for the trail. It was completely obscured by a field of snow and ice. We had to proceed to the far side of the lake to camp on a little patch of grass. The snow and ice was still 3 feet thick- but the coolest part was that portions were hollow, where running water had carved caves, crevasses, and under ice creeks. Occasionally we post-holed through, but over-all the ice was solid, and we didn't bother with the snow shoes. We skipped over some boulders at the headwaters to Rush creek, and made it to the other side of the lake, where the snow had melted revealing some flat patches of grass to camp on. The lake was so crystal clear you could see dozens of feet right to the bottom. The water looked so inviting we threw off our boots and poked our tired dogs into the water, brrrr. There will be no bathing in that water. We made dinner, and discussed the trail conditions. We both drifted off to sleep wondering how much snow covered the rest of the trail, and how long it would take us to stay the course. We awoke the next morning to flat water on the lake, perfect photographic conditions. At the time I had not studied the works of master photographers Ansel Adams, or Galen Rowell. I was vaguely familiar with their work, but did not have the chance to really study them. I knew that this was their terra cognita, but was not consciously trying to emulate them. It wasn't until years later that I realized I had photographed the same subjects with the same fresh eyes and wonder that they had. To this I feel a sort of bond with those pioneers of photography, knowing the value and magnitude of trying to capture the wonders of nature. I'm not saying that my work can compare to theirs in anyway. I just realized that we were all drawn to the beautiful and picturesque High Sierras, at different times, with different reasons, eyes, and lenses. We packed up and headed to Thousand Island lake, without any real issue with snow. We took some more photos, and could see some people fishing, the first people we've seen so far. The trail continued up and down some valleys, and we camped the night next to a creek. The next morning we made the push for Donahue pass, continued up the mountain, through some run-off water falls and toward the pass. The trail here is just beautiful, green grass, large boulders, marmots, and the Minarets as the backdrop. There were a couple of groups camped here, and if I had known the area better I would have loved to have camped there. The views were far and wide. We continued up toward the pass. The trail was spotty, but the goal firmly in sight. We had lunch at the top, sitting on a giant granite boulder surrounded by wild flowers. We could see the trail appear below the ice cap, and the sun-cupped snow field. Until this point we hadn't actually needed the snow shoes we brought, but thought they might be useful spanning the snow cups on the way down. So we strapped them on and down. The snowshoes were helpful in that it made the sun cups like steps, gently easing us down the ice field. We picked up the trail and continued down. The melting snow gained momentum and flowed over the trail in many spots. Eventually the trail was starting to cross bigger and bigger creeks. One such creek had stepping stones crossing it. Kristi made it across, but - SPLASH- I was facing down in freezing water, backpack on. Kristi became a little alarmed seeing me face down in water, thinking that the backpack was keeping me under, but I quickly gained composure and lumbered to shore. My first concern was my camera. Tucked away in my non-water proof camera bag, it was only slightly damp. I quickly removed the batteries and memory card and dried it off, as well as rung out my socks. We sat there for a half an hour in the sunlight, reassembled the camera, turned it on, and BAM. We were back in business. We arrived at a pretty glacial pool, another prime camping spot. The plan was to continue to a bridge lower in elevation, so we bid adeu and turned back to the trail. We were faced with another crossing. This time it was about waist deep. We took off our packs and carried them overhead to the other side. We did make it down to the wooden bridge a bit lower, but were a little dis-enchanted with the spot. It was pretty by normal standards, but another mile and half back the spot we passed up was just too georgeous to ignore. We made the decision to return, since it was early enough in the day. We spent the night there, not complaining at all that we had to make the river crossing two more times, Brr. The next morning was the day we were to meet Rich. Since we went back a little way, it was now by far the farthest we had to hike in one day. It amounted to a twelve mile day, but fortunately it was all down hill meandering along the small river through a lush green valley. At lunch we took a dip, and headed to Tuolumne Meadows. It was getting to be around four o'clock and we were about a mile away from the trailhead in Yosemite when "Bork!" It was the cry of the Farquar hiking society, an elite society of hikers known only to Rich. I returned the hail "Bork!" And he responded "I have beer!" He held up some canned Guiness, as if it were the holy grail. We knelt down and gave thanks, then consumed the beverages. Our next stop was to secure a campsite at the campground at Tuolumne Meadows. We then walked down to the commissary and got a couple of chicken sandwiches, just before they closed. The rest of the evening we sat down and surveyed the trail system in Yosemite, and devised a loop going up Clouds Rest and on to Half Dome, then back to the car. There was a bit of excitement when some rangers came barreling through the camp in four wheel drive golf carts chasing and shouting "Go on Bear, go on Bear." Evidently a bear was in the site next door, and had grabbed a bag of candy from thier picnic table. It was thier job to shag the bear back to the forest. Sorry, Yogi. The next day we started up the back side of Clouds Rest, and made it to the top, pitched camp and celebrated with another round of Guiness. Some other hikers passed by, and marveled at the sight of backpackers drinking beer. Soon other hikers came by to witness the event. The word had spread, and we became the talk of the park, attracting campers like flies to honey. Alas, we only had enough beer for our immediate party, and had to turn away the thirsty masses. (They really did ask if we had extras.) The next day was to be gruelling. We had to travel down the front of Cloud's Rest, then on to Half Dome. The down was a killer, and steeper than any trail to date. By the time we got to the camp spot at the bottom our shins were burnt. We still had two miles to go before we got to the base of Half Dome, and Rich bowed out. He decided to stay at camp. Kristi and I weren't about to pass up the once in a lifetime opportunity. Standing at the base of half dome looking up at the wire ladder was a bit overwhelming. We were already exhausted from the hike, but anxious to get to the top. The park kindly leaves a pile of gloves at the base, which you have to pick through. We slowly climbed the cable rungs of the ladder, mindful that any mis-step could be the last one. We got to the top to find we were the only ones there, possibly because there was a storm brewing not to far away. There was a sign at the bottom explaining that lightning has struck the top of Half Dome every month out of the year, and that even storms miles away can produce lightning there. Needless to say we took our photos gave each other hugs, and lingered no longer. After climbing down, we returned to camp, made dinner and slept like babies. The next morning we bathed in a nearby creek, hardly awknowledging the small tame deer meandering through camp. This was our last day with Rich, and once we returned to the car we hung out for the last of the Guiness left inside the cooler. He drove us back to Mammouth Ski resort, and handed us the entrance pass for Yosemite, so we could return the next day and visit Yosemite Valley. Once we drove through the valley, took the obligatory tourist shots, we headed back home, stopping at a Mammouth Motel 6 for the last night. Hiking the JMT was definately an epic trip. If I get a chance to do it again, I might start at Mount Whitney and end at Donahue pass or Tuolumne Meadows. Although Yosemite is beautiful, nothing beats the lakes and peaks of the High Sierras. Oh, and a perfectly timed Guiness.