Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Week 1, Day 5: Mt. Ladybug and Mt. Snabulus

August 17th, 2005
Destination: Mt. Ladybug and Mt. Snabulus
Distance: 11.0 miles
Climbed: 1,700 ft.
Descended: 900 ft

Digression: Information quality is variable and iffy on the Pacific Crest Trail. Over the course of talking to people and sharing what we had heard about water availability at Tolo Camp, it was never the same twice. The people with the snarly dogs told us the springs should be easy to find. A warning message left by a hiker at Windigo Pass told us not to settle for the mud hole 1/3 of a mile down the hill, but go 100 yards down for the clear water. A message left by another hiker at Tolo stated that water was 200 yards down. There were a few older gentlemen camped near us at Tolo. One said that he walked down a mile without encountering water. Another that came in to camp later (presumably from down the hill) told Ladybug he walked two miles without finding any water. Don’t worry, the water story gets more convoluted as we go. End of Digression.

On this morning, we roused ourselves before the sun came up and started the morning routine. We looked at our water reserves. A couple of liters we left. We thought about all of our data points and weighed whether we wanted a possible 4 mile side trip for water or just hike to our destination, Maidu Lake, just 7 miles ahead and enjoy a whole lake full of the stuff. Those old guys had better and lighter equipment than we did and sure seemed more acclimatized to hiking than we did, so we decided to believe them regarding scarcity of water and we bugged out. Ladybug snapped a picture or two of the beautiful sunrise and we started hiking at about 7am to get as many miles behind us as we could before it got warm.

Just a few hundred yards out of camp, I couldn’t remember packing our water treatment stuff. Since we found things laying around after we picked up our packs, Ladybug headed back to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind. Meanwhile, I tore my pack apart looking for the iodine, but didn’t find any. She came back empty-handed, so we assumed we overlooked it and continued. We tried not to think about the time we wasted backtracking.

The first couple of miles were viewless but cool and shady. The mountain hemlocks in this area were large (4 to 5 feet in diameter on average) and there was little underbrush, so we were looking at a forest near its prime. Eventually we finished our morning climbing and found ourselves looking over some beautiful glacial valleys and eventually we were gazing over the shimmering waters of Miller Lake. We threw down the packs and rested for a while. Ladybug turned a fallen log into a resting cot while I took a couple of pictures.

We continued on down some mountain a few miles until we reached a trail junction at which a trail connecting Maidu Lake and Miller Lake criss-crossed the Pacific Crest Trail. We sat and started ripping apart the packs looking for our precious iodine tablets and other items. They showed up in some strange corner of my gear (blush). In the process, we made the decision to water up at the lake and continue on. The trail junction was at 6,200 feet elevation, Maidu Lake was at 5,900+ ft., and we knew we were going to hit the high point of the Pacific Crest Trail the next day at 7,560 ft. It made sense to put a dent in that ascent, so we stashed our backpacks behind a big tree and put our empty water bottles and lunch in a garbage bag to take down to Maidu Lake (about a mile away). We would fill up with water and then return to continue our hike.

We got another taste of our famed Lodgepole Desert Dust Circus on the hike down to the lake including horse poop and lots of dust. I was getting a clue that elevation was determining our flora, but it wouldn’t hit home until later. Ladybug agreed to carry the garbage bag to the lake as long as I would carry it back up to the trail (full of water of course).

When we reached the lake, we sized up the situation looking for a good place to fill the water. There were people swimming out in the lake (as well as a dog) and the now familiar mudhole where a hundred hooves ripped up the shoreline to afford this life-giving gift of water to the horses. There was one difference at this lake though. Frogs. Hundreds of them all over the shoreline soaking up the sun. We’d had enough sun, so we were enjoying the cool breeze coming in off the lake. After a while, it was cool enough to make standing in the sun more comfortable than the shade.

Ladybug owned our sole pair of water shoes, so she found a good spot to fill our water without silting it up with her own footsteps. The frogs parted to let her through. She caught a frog in the first bottle, but let it go. The frogs must have gotten the message because they dispersed for the rest of the job. She would fill each bottle, then toss it to me on shore. I performed the initial treatment on the way. We hung out and relaxed for a half-hour while the iodine destroyed the evil frog germs, hoof residue, and minute amounts of DEET and sunscreen (which we were able to push out of our minds at the time) hidden in that perfectly clear water. Eventually, we ate lunch, refilled and retreated our water supply, and readied to lug our water up the hill (my turn now). Just before we got up to go, the swimming dog came up to say Hi followed by his owners.

We chatted with them and it turns out they were headed to Tolo camp. We told them of our conflicting data points and how we decided to move on without trying to find the springs. They were counting on that water being there, so they had a discussion while we trundled off up the hill. We got back to the junction, got our packs and were repacking our gear when some hikers coming from behind us on the PCT caught up and so we chatted with them. They stopped at Tolo and had no trouble finding water just below the mudhole 1/3 of the way down. Apparently the old, wise, seasoned hikers were either dumb or inattentive (and what did that make us for believing them I wonder?). The other folks with the dog showed up about shortly and were heartened by the better news about Tolo. Hopefully we won’t hear about four human skeletons (and a dog) found below Tolo camp wherein the forensic pathologist determines the cause of death as dehydration. Somehow I think it probably turned out okay, but it does serve to show that there is no substitute for direct experience.

We marched on and braced ourselves for what seemed to be some brutal uphill coming up. We had a mile and a half of gradual uphill walking before things started steepening. We walked up the first unnamed ridge (named Mt. Ladybug by me) and collapsed on some rocks near the top, probably around 6,900 feet. With over half our climbing to the top completed, we trudged onward and upward a while longer and finally found a good sheltered flat area beneath another unnamed peak (which I call Mt. Snabulus). We were definitely over 7,000 ft. now and we had whittled down the distance to be hiked the next day by a few miles. It was not as bad as I feared.

We set up camp between our little mountains and it was cold. It didn’t help that I was drenched in sweat from the climb but, even after I put on a coat and hat, I never completely warmed up to shirt-sleeve comfort. Wispy puffs of white cloud whizzed overhead like migrating birds sometimes dissipating into the distance. I worried about the possibility of our first precipitation so we used our rain fly for the first time. Since we weren’t in an improved camp site and the highly flammable humus was very difficult to penetrate, I used the camp stove on the hiking trail to reduce the risk of fire. I was coughing a lot more with that lovely bronchitis, so I went to bed as soon as I could (as did Ladybug).

Let me just say one thing about being a big guy and sleeping on the ground. It sucks. I had a 3/8” foam pad and Ladybug had a borrowed Therm-a-rest. Neither of us slept like a baby. I generally couldn’t remain in any one position for more than an hour and I woke up at least a dozen times every night, usually many more, changing positions to relieve pain in the shoulders, hips, and neck. It was the same for Ladybug. This particular night was even tougher for me and I didn’t so much wake up the next morning as gave up on trying to sleep and even became a bit claustrophobic perhaps because the rain fly blocked my view of the stars through the bug mesh roof. But hey, it was our last night on the ground for this leg of the trip, so what the heck?

Digression: Some people drive Mini Coopers and some drive Winnebagos, but not always for the reasons you think and not always by choice. Most of the people we met on the trail had small, self-contained backpacks. Sleeping bags, tents, and the rest were safely inside the backpack. All of this good stuff comes at a price. We paid some of that price, but ran out of budget before buying all of the light stuff that would have added miles to our days and erased sweat from our climbs. $150 here and $75 bucks there for things as simple as clothes and shoes adds up too fast. In the end, we looked like Griswolds in Winnebagos compared to the petite campers with their expensive, superlight gear. We had tent poles and sleeping pads strapped on like CB antennas and gun racks. At the beginning of the trip, my pack was 42 pounds and Ladybug's was 35 pounds including water. There were people out there travelling with less than 20 pounds. I am hoping that next year we can afford the Mini-Cooper lifestyle because hauling the Winnebago was a chore. End of Digression.


Pandabonium said...

Looking at your great pix and reading about what you endured along the way was intriguing. The juxtaposition of what one imagines when looking at the pictures vs the reality of the price you paid to get them is pretty jarring.

I was reminded, tangentally, of the Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz movie in which they are newly weds going cross country with a trailer. ["the long, long trailer" 1954.]

Our vision of an adventure at the outset is usually radically transformed by the actual experience. But unless it ends in total disaster, I have always found it worth the pain and ultimately a source of humor and joy and even pride.

Thanks for sharing the beautiful pix and harsh realities of what you went through to get them.

Don Snabulus said...

Hopefully I am not presenting a tougher picture than it really was. The truth is that it was a tough hike for two sedentary people. My last 50 mile hike was in high school and this was Ladybug's first. On the other hand, it was also beautiful and 80% of the good views were on our last day of stay tuned!

penav said...

I like frogs.

The Kite Man said...

What if your kite wiiiiiiiiiiinds around a power line?

Gack!!!!! said...

Make this [expletive] wearing a lame-ass kite costume climb up and get it!


Philrod Piddlewaif said...

And just what does this inconsequential line of dialogue have to do with hiking?