Sharon's Summer

Sharon's Summer
Sharon Chooses High Elevation and High Temperature

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Down River—Lyell Fork Canyon

On this third morning, I awake inside a tiny tent, unzip it and taste the air.  My thermometer says thirty degrees; the air sharp.  Last evening’s mosquito army is gone.  I fetch the bear canister from where I placed it last night away from my camp.  You can see it as the black container, opened now, and my food spread about for morning eating and for packing away.  Again, I retrieve it from exactly where I had placed it the night before.  No bear has been here, no tracks.

I begin the day six miles behind, downhill miles, easy miles along Lyell Fork River.  I feel recovered from yesterday’s ordeal and will finish them by mid-morning.  I have good physical strength and endurance and plenty of experience using them, I tell myself in the early day.  I fear only that it leaves me oddly innocent and vulnerable, a bit of a stranger in civilized company.  Here in the wild I can recuperate quickly and be on my way.

A steady downhill walk, each step like a morning lived in habit, the paces of them uniform, like seconds on a clock.  Occasionally, a pace falls decorated with interest—a flower blooms low along the trail; a doe with two fawns, one a wanderer, the other a stay-at-home; she walks away as one tries to nurse and looks pensively for the one like me.  The wanderer investigates a pond out of mother’s sight, then as fear wins over curiosity, runs clumsily home to mother deer. 

Moments of decoration relieve the tick-tock, left-right, a pace that feels good in the early hour and tries to make up for yesterday’s lost miles.  The times it takes to landmarks on this catch-up day fall into plan from calculations of the past—three miles per hour on a city sidewalk, two on a rocky level trail, one when going uphill at ten thousand feet.  On these certitudes, my life is known, its future like its past, and all is well.  But as I watch the landmarks pass, and read the times like years, I find my space-time fabric stretching.  Some gravity-heavy object lengthens time between the marks.  Relativity rises, where at first it sneaked unnoticed, until a slower walking pace strikes me firmly in the face.  Pulled closer, like a wandering rock from empty space, the great mass draws.  Can a postulate so contrary to common sense be actually true?  A simple trail is changing what I know about time and space.

The pain of yesterday’s blisters and the bump on a heel from some mis-landed step, I learn as I walk the morning trail, not to mind—like Lawrence of Arabia, at least in the version with Peter O’Toole.  My hurtings call to question whether I can think out my life, or just tag along.  Yet, it isn’t thinking that I do so much here in the wilderness, but feeling, experiencing and remembering. 

I feel happy that no telephone or internet allows communication about yesterday.  I can avoid exciting the nerves of my friends back in the city.  They will hear it all from lips that are safely home.

I am not doing well as the day opens toward noon, resting often, back hurting, legs soar, a blister on each foot.  By mid-morning, when I had expected to have made up the six lost miles, I am only three miles along.  I sit on a rock, like yesterday, and lean on another, considering a change of plan.  Delusions of the early morning are being challenged.  My intended route would turn southerly along Lewis Creek and Tripple Peak Fork, cross Red Peak Pass and descend into Yosemite Valley along that little-used trail where a fire burned several years ago and where I expected to see nobody for three days.  But always I knew the shorter way, the twenty-seven mile way to the Valley from the fork at Ireland Creek.

I was leaning against a rock, calmly surveying the crags above me.  Clouds hung about and fraternized with the mountains.  I looked at a gloomy walls that rose a thousand feet shear above the pines circling around me, ominously clouded, and tried to decide what to do.  It was not a hard decision, just a painful one, a choice of safety over adventure, with realization that I am not as fit as I thought.  It brought to question how many more decisions of this kind await as life lengthens.

At noon, I come to the fork where a turn to the left would take me to Yosemite Valley, twenty-seven miles, and continuing down Lyell Fork would take me to Tuolumne Meadows and civilization in eight miles.  I have enough food for three days, and the average of nine miles per day seems easy enough.  I could camp here and hike tomorrow into the high country at Evelyn Lake and Vogelsang pass, carrying only a light pack and return here for a second night.  That would make the timing right for ending in Yosemite Valley as scheduled for my ride.  I would, by that scenario, arrive in the Valley by bus and not on foot.

I had to decide.  The factors weighed heavy—all the preparation for this hike—three days at June Lake acclimating to the elevation, a day hike from there to prepare, scheduling the time, the hope for accomplishment of a feat in crossing the Sierras alone and unassisted—all lost it seemed if I did not hike to Yosemite Valley.  I had pronounced to the world that I would do it. 

But I feel weak with pains.  Is safety, and the likelihood of some breakdown more to be considered?  And there is the fear of failure, that somewhere on the way to the Valley I might not be able to continue, would admit that I am finally old and be carried out on a mule.  Much sadness fills me in this decision, I consider it all afternoon, knowing that each hour waiting makes it less likely that I could reach the Valley.

Finally, I take off my boots, a ceremony of change, where with slippers on, the course is set.  At least there are only a few mosquitoes here.  Big black ants, but no mosquitoes.  It was when one of those ants got into my slipper and bit me on the toe, when the toe swelled and the nail turned black that I knew Tuolumne Meadows would be my destination.  A carpenter ant sealed an already made decision as if to say, “This small pain I give you to prevent greater pain.”

The campfire throbbed before me as if it were made of music, sad good music.  When my eyes become dull as embers smoldering among the ashes, I would remember this fire and this place.  Then I fitted myself into the cocoon of my tent.


  1. Done in by an ant! Wow! It's almost like a fable. And that has made all the difference!

  2. Rick says,'d be carried out on a mule... "if you were lucky..." But even more luckily you made this decision and you are home safely to tell the story....I think it's amazing how we set our goals, and want to keep them,I wonder what other creatures do this, want to get to a certain place by nightfall having told themselves and their kin they would.... but really it's all inside our own mind, while all the others (who've been told) are really busy and forgetful with their own lives but wish you well, and have concern.... we each allow the weight of our mind to be felt inside itself, and want to keep to our own expectations.... The fire and foxglove though, and lupine grow as their life and habitat flows, take in what fosters their well being, where they tend, resilient as they can be as you are.... Watching and remembering this fire is soothing, was soothing I hope at that moment's rest....But fire-ant was a surprise, and at least a small fierce creature, not too bad, but bad enough! This was a hard day too. I do wish I could have given some consolation at the time by your reporting on line or by voice the troubles, as I know it feels good to share at such a time and feel your friends are close, but I know it was not possible. So we leave you with throbbing toe and fire, yes, another hard day... but as you say we hear it from the vantage point of your safe return! What a journey this was!

  3. So, one might say that the ant was a divine trickster inviting you to learn or, perhaps, relearn something important. I often regret that we are so limited in our ability to remember (and cherish) what it was like for us to be newborns. And I salute you for taking in the salient information! Love, Sharon R.

  4. Yes Steven, it's the Fire Ant Fable. And Sharon, it's the Divine Trickster. Inviting me, as by fiery trial, to learn. And I determine to learn, not cast off such happenings as mere misfortune.

    Yes, Kathabela, it seems natural to trod along in the pace of our plans, which are usually habits based in some established way of ease or pleasure. Tick-tock we go like clocks to where we know we’ll go, but never can, not really. Its funny, something shakes us, and then we change, as if its abnormal.