Friday, October 22, 2004

Yosemite Psalm (Part I)

I really don’t remember who really got the ball rolling, but I’m inclined to believe that it was more my buddy Ron’s doing than mine. He was sorta like that. I’m sure it started out that we were just talking about backpacking, and how Michelle and I had really wanted to make one last big trip before we started our family — our last hurrah, so to speak. And the next thing ya know, we were making plans — not to merely go backpacking, but to do so for an entire week, across twenty five miles of the most famous and beautiful terrain anywhere. Ron made all the arrangements and began planning our route.

Ron was the kind of guy who was great to know for a number of reasons, but mostly because he was someone who just seemed to be good at everything. Not that he claimed to be all that — oh quite the opposite. He was almost too humble. He was totally unassuming, kind, and generous. He preferred to operate without fanfare. He never bragged. He never ragged. He was just a nice, resourceful guy who did things very well.

You probably don’t remember my mentioning him in a previous story (and if you do, well then, 50 bonus points for you!), but Ron was one of the over half-dozen roommates I had in the years before I got married. He worked as a diesel mechanic for some type of contractor, the type or name of which I’m quite certain I ever even knew. However I do know that he used to come home from work every day covered from head to toe in sweat and grease — which often didn't make him all that pleasant to be around. But man, if you had car trouble (which I did — often), you were sure glad that he was there! Ron saved me loads of money in repair bills, and ended up teaching me more about the elementary workings of the internal combustion engine than any single person I’d ever known, before and since.

He was great working with wood too, and made a cutout plywood speaker enclosure for the back deck of my car once. This was after I had already screwed up the original fiberboard back deck trying to cut the holes out myself. He just offered to do it. I didn’t even have to buy the piece of wood. He used to kind of clean up a lot of my messes like that, and always with a smile on his face. Fact was, I felt free to try just about anything I really didn’t know how do, mostly because I knew I could just ask good ‘ole Ron if I ever got stuck.

But for as rough and burley as he was on the outside, he was every bit as gentle and friendly on the inside. Ron was a big ole’ teddy bear and everyone he knew loved him for it.

Ron had some pretty varied interests, too. He built and kept a salt-water tropical fish tank in the apartment for the two years we roomed together. Yes, I said he built it himself. He had great taste in music too, and turned me on to artists like The Alan Parsons Project, Jimmy Buffett, and Al Stewart well before they hit it big on the pop charts.

And although, as you might guess, he’d have appeared to be a pretty good catch, Ron didn’t date much. He was pretty shy by nature — that is until he met Ellie.

Ron & Ellie, as the sun sets to the west of Tresidder Peak, Day 2.

About a year after Michelle and I were married, Ron and Ellie tied the knot as well. We hung out as couples occasionally on a social basis, but the idea of us vacationing together was really never anything I had considered. While I thought of Ron as a good friend and a great roommate, our friendship was never really on a ‘best friend’ kind of basis.

That’s why I’m pretty sure it was Ron who took the bull by the horns when we talked about backpacking in Yosemite; and the fact that he obviously wanted us to join them kind of introduced me to a side of him that hadn't always come through while we shared an apartment, spending more time saying "seeya later" than hanging out together. However I certainly knew him well enough to know the look. It was quite literally a gleam in his eye he’d get when he was excited about something, and I could tell he was excited about this trip.

The route Ron designed for us was either one that he was previously familiar with, or that he perhaps had read about and simply wanted to try. As you’ve probably guessed already, yep, Ron was an avid backpacker and outdoorsman among his other talents, which worked out pretty well for us. The level of expertise he would lend to our little expedition made all the difference in the world.

The Route
Yosemite is a pretty big place, with lots to see and hundreds of potential backpacking trails and routes. The primary place that the tourists and campers flock to is of course, picturesque Yosemite Valley. From there, the most famous and prominent of the park’s geological monuments and features can be seen and enjoyed. The Valley view is a 360-degree panorama of utter majesty. However the presence of all those people and their cars, Winnebagos and other camping vehicles go a long way toward spoiling the wonder. The course we would follow took us away from all that. We would start and end our trek in the Valley, but in-between, take the path less-traveled, without boom boxes or portable electric generators to spoil the experience.

I kept no diary, and like the nimrod I am, I made no notes as to specific dates on any of the pictures. So with the exception of knowing that we went in August (because that’s what I had written on the box of slides that these photos came from), I’m working here completely from the combined recollections of Michelle and myself (there is actually one other indicator as to indicate more precisely when in August we made the trip, but I’ll save that little tidbit for later).

However, there’s always the Internet. And fortunately there are a lot of people who are so enchanted with Yosemite that they too want to share it with the world. So through gathering information from web sites and photos other people have taken and written about, I’ve pieced together what info was missing from my aging brain, to illustrate our trail path. As I did before, I will indicate which photos are not mine.

Oh look…here are a couple now…

Here is a map detailing our daily progress, beginning at Tuolumne Meadows on the second day after spending the first night at the backpacker's campground in Yosemite Valley. (Click to view at a larger size)

I present this borrowed image only to provide a unique point of view that would have been impossible for me to capture myself. In this shot, taken from Glacier Point on the south side of the Valley, you’re looking at Half Dome (right) and Cloud’s Rest (left-center) from exactly the opposite direction of our backpacking trip. Tuolemne Meadows, our trail head, is approximately 20 miles north northeast of this vantage point.

Checking in
I remember being excited going into this adventure, having been camping in various parts of Yosemite on three previous occasions. But I had really had no idea what lay ahead.

The six-hour drive from Long Beach placed us in the Valley at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, as I recall. We parked our two cars in the assigned visitor’s overnight lot specifically for backpackers and campers. It was adjacent to the small ‘backpacker’s campground’ area that would be our initial accommodations for the first night.

Once we got all of our wilderness permit paperwork verified at the Park offices we unloaded our gear and pitched camp. The Valley would be both the starting and ending point of the 28-mile trek that was to be our weeklong Yosemite adventure.

Bright and early the next morning, the cars would stay, but we would catch the shuttle bus that periodically makes the 90-minute transport from the Valley to Tuolemne Meadows via Tioga Road, which bisects Yosemite National Park diagonally from southwest to northeast.

As the sun began to sink behind the western Valley wall, the temperature quickly began to drop as well. Even though daytime temperatures can be quite high in the Valley, the nights are brisk year-round, with August being the warmest at an average low of 53 degrees Fahrenheit. That campfire was sure gonna feel good!

Pitching our little two-person dome tent, I felt energized and alive. “How lucky I am,” I thought, “to be right here, right now.” I could tell that Michelle felt the same way. As it turned out, I got even luckier later that evening…!

Sleep was sweet that night, as billions of radiant stars kept watch over the Valley. Tomorrow I would need that rest, as I would discover negotiating Yosemite’s back country to be both more strenuous — and glorious — then I had imagined.

Next: The Ground Rules
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