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Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Fri Nov 06, 2015 8:43 pm
by Shhsgirl
We decided to do Roper's Chapter 4, or as close as we could get to it.

We met in Mammoth, where the smoke from the Rough fire became steadily worse, until we could barely see the closest mountains from the town.
We decided that, rather than hiking over Italy Pass from Pine Creek Pack Station, where the smoke was reportedly very thick that day, we would enter further north, going over Mono Pass from the Mosquito Flat trailhead. This would cut the first three days off our HR trip, but being adaptable seemed a virtue.

Our group, some acclimatized, some very definitely not, started out from Mosquito Flat on the morning of Aug. 29. The smoke was heavy. It was depressing, to me, to see scenery, dull and dry, which I remembered as sparkling. Smoke, like smog, not only obscures the view, it mutes colors, making the landscape almost monochromatic. The pennyroyal lining the trail were little outposts of beauty, but even they were coated with ash. I realized that I was disappointed that my sister and my husband's brother (yes, they're married, too), who had come from Virginia for our first backpacking trip together in over 45 years, would not see the colors of the Sierra in all their glory. Yet, when I looked back, there was my sister, taking photos with her huge SLR digital as though her life depended on it. The good pictures here are hers. She did not have my memories of better days, and to her it was all stunningly beautiful, just as it was. I tried to readjust my attitude. When we reached Mono Pass, the winds were high and chilly, but the smoke had largely cleared.
Some young boys who had come up with their father on a day hike did cannonballs into the cold, clear water and we applauded their panache. The cheerfulness of children is a great cure for us old folks. We headed down into Fourth Recess for the evening. We camped on both sides of the lake.

That night I woke up to a smoky smell, and knew that the diurnal smoke attack had started. By the time we got up, Fourth Recess was really socked in, and the cataract at the head of the Recess was not visible.
We headed down to Second Recess. Some of us got a very late start, some had bad blisters from the hike up the day before, some just dawdled and enjoyed themselves on the hike down, and some didn't want to go up into Second Recess, which resulted in only two of us camping up in the Recess. The rest camped at an established campsite down near the trail junction. I didn't get too worried--my expectation was that hiking with nine people of widely different abilities would be an exercise in flexibility. The next morning notes were left (and retrieved by their intended recipients) in conspicuous places, and we started the first of the cross-country hiking, the quite straightforward hike up to Laurel Lake. All arrived at Laurel Lake in good time for a swim, and there was plenty of camping for all.
The next morning we divided into a "fast" and a "slow" group--my son led the faster ones, while the slower group was "led" by consensus. We found Roper's two large talus blocks, and walked ceremoniously through them up the hill to Bighorn Pass.

The fast group went left up the hill, and the consensus group went right. Both ways worked fine.
From the top of Bighorn Pass we looked across to Shout-of-Relief Pass. Roper says to descend about 75 feet below the crest of Bighorn Pass. One of us tried to do this and got into a tangle of talus, probably because she didn't know how far down 75 feet was.
Others of us who didn't overthink it took a simple route and crested Shout-of-Relief Pass without too much difficulty. It's not hard--just do what looks easiest. Our plan was for both groups to meet up at Izaak Walton Lake for the evening. Both passes were easy to come down.
We hiked around Cotton Lake, at which point I told the consensus group I would go ahead and scout out a way down to Izaak Walton Lake. Well, I forgot that I told them I would come back (way to go, Grandma!). So they waited patiently for me to come back, I and I waited patiently, out of earshot, for them to show up. We both shouted for each other, but natural features blocked our voices. After about 90 minutes, I started to get worried and plunged up and downhill from tiny lake to tiny lake, all over the place without regard to navigation, looking for them. Unbeknownst to me, they were slowly and steadily making their way to the lake, being guided by my brother-in-law, a graduate of Army Ranger school. Daylight was waning, and I realized I needed to get to the lake. I was off my planned route, and didn't know exactly where I was or how to get to the lake from there. Fortunately, I knew the lake should be around the large mountain above me, although I knew now that I would not be taking the easiest route there. I climbed back up and dead reckoned, and soon I was overlooking what I thought was Izaak Walton Lake, at about (I thought) the place Roper said I should be. On my way down to the lake I called and called to the fast group, who should have been there ahead of me, but the lake was silent and deserted. I started to doubt I was at the correct lake, but as the light was fading very fast, I decided to make camp and sort it out the next morning. Cursing myself for all my wilderness sins, to wit, getting separated from the group, rushing around when I thought they might have had an accident, getting off track, and not being confident enough in my navigation skills to know whether I was at the right lake, I set up my tarp. As darkness fell, I proceeded in my mind to decide that I was too old to hike cross country, and had mentally sold all my equipment on Craig's List, when I heard, "Oh, there you are!" It was the rest of the consensus group, who had waited for me to come back, and then come right to the lake, albeit slowly, with no problem at all. I was never so happy to see them! My daughter went down the lake in the dark and discovered the fast group, who had camped below the lake's outlet, and thus had not been in sight or earshot of my shouts.
So there we were, all in the right place! Self doubt in the wilderness is a dark place, though, and I had inhabited it for a while that evening. Lessons learned: Don't get separated, always navigate, even when in a hurry, and carry a whistle if you don't possess a good natural one. Don't panic is also a good one, but fortunately I had not quite gone there that night.

We had a lovely rest day at Izaak Walton Lake. Some of us went swimming and stayed in a little too long and took hours to re-warm. As my sister wrote: "(T)he photos of the rare Lake Izaak Walton mermaids we glimpsed on our stay-over day were so sensational that I deleted them in order to protect their habitat from hunters and/or thrill-seekers. Those who were there will understand."

The next morning we made our way down to Horse Heaven, crossed Fish Creek and joined the trail down to Tully hole, where we had lunch. The last time I had been there was 15 years ago when my husband, son, and one daughter waited out a thunderstorm at noon. This time it was sunny, and we basked on the rocks.

Pretty soon we headed up the hill toward Purple Lake. It was smoky. All of us were acclimatized now, and we arrived there in good time. One of the members of the "fast" group was thoughtful enough to wait for the consensus group at the lake outlet to guide us to the big camp spot. I realized that it was same camp spot that we had stayed at on the trip 15 years prior, and details of that prior stay came rushing back--having a birdbath with my daughter in the meadow, fixing my blisters next to the stream . That evening was the last that the nine of us camped together. Two hardy ladies, who had been on the trail since Aug. 20, decided to take the JMT out to Red's Meadow. The rest of us decided to head up to Duck and Deer Lakes, but then cut down to the JMT from there. We wanted to avoid Roper's last waterless 10-mile day over Mammoth Crest, because we weren't sure that we could make it in time to catch the shuttle to Mammoth, and planes would be missed. We were still divided into the "fast" and "consensus" groups. One of the brighter members of our party found a little unnamed lake on the map below Deer Lakes and suggested we meet there the next night, and then have a short hike along the JMT to Red's Meadow the next morning.
We set off the next morning up to Duck Lake, which was quite cold and windy, and gorgeous! The consensus and the fast groups met at Duck Lake, and confirmed that we would be meeting at the little unnamed lake below Deer Lakes to camp for the night. The fast group went ahead, and the consensus group dillied and dallied and got completely bogged down looking for arrowheads at the obsidian dump. I knew it was getting late, but I was having so much fun that I didn't care, until my normally placid and easy-going brother-in-law actually shouted at us that we didn't have time to "play for two hours" and that we needed to get moving. We got moving, and crested the little rise over to Deer Lakes as it got windier and colder. Pretty soon we descended into the forest and started looking for the little lake. We climbed up to take azimuths, and climbed up to get views into different drainages, and couldn't find that little lake for the life of us. As we were standing on the top of one forested ridge, looking down at yet another empty meadow, my husband said, "Um, guys, this isn't a little lake on the map at all--it's just a couple of tiny rivulets that look like a lake." Oops. Lesson: learn how to read a topo map. Just then we heard a deep voice, about ten yards into the forest, say, "Well, hello." It was the fast group, who had navigated to exactly the same dry hole we had.
Oh well, at least that reinforced our confidence in our navigation skills...Our map reading could have used some help, though.
We quickly decided that we had to hike the last few miles down to the JMT in the dark, since there was no water between there and Deer Lakes, according to the map, which we could now suddenly read. Army Ranger Paul made us put on our headlights and get in line. We had to count off every once in a while, so that we could be sure no one got left behind. At least we didn't have to whisper the count! We bushwhacked down to the JMT, headed north for a couple of miles, and finally found an established campsite with water, where we bedded down. The next morning we ate breakfast, and then walked about three miles out to Red's Meadow, where we visited Devil's Postpile, and then took the shuttle out. We retrieved cars parked up and down the eastern side of the Sierra, and said goodbye. Some of us were going back home to work, some of us were flying back to the East Coast, and some of us were laying over in Mammoth and then continuing on for another week-long trip. It was sad to say goodbye, but we had packed away a lot of good memories.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Sat Nov 07, 2015 2:36 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Thanks for the trip report.

Trying to lead a group of family members can be like herding cats! Glad all ended fine on those times you got "lost" or separated.

From Deer Lakes, there actually is quite a nice trail up onto the Mammoth Crest. The most scenic part of the route is along this trail. You can then follow a good trail down to George Lake. My husband took this trail route out when we did it. I continued on the High Route just to be a "purist" about it, but it was a let-down. Then I took the shuttle and we met in Mammoth Lakes. The old burned area makes this part less than scenic. And that was before the big wind blow down. I imagine that dropping from Deer Lakes to the JMT would be difficult between basically no trail and the blow-down.

Off-trail orienting is a matter of lots of practice. I would not give up on off-trail just because of one bad experience. Just keep doing it and you WILL get better.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2015 5:48 pm
by giantbrookie
Thanks for the trip report. It comes at a good time. With the cold and snowy weather coming in, things have been slow for us and its nice to read a good trip report.

I second WD's thoughts--the herding your family around was quite the task, but you seem to have done a great job keeping things together. I also agree wholeheartedly with WD's statement about not giving up on the off trail stuff. It will get better with experience. Folks such as WD or I started off doing a lot of off trail stuff in our early days because our objectives involved mountaineering or climbing, so we got a lot of practice very early on in our outdoor days. "Reps" (ie just getting out there and doing it) make a big positive difference in anything someone does. I'm always telling this to my geology students--in the field it starts with "what's this rock?", "where am I?" and the more they do it the better they get at it. Keep with the off trail stuff and it will deliver greater and greater rewards as you get better at it each time out.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2015 7:05 pm
by Shhsgirl
Thank you, WD and GB, for reading it. And thanks for the encouragement! I will keep at it until I die trying, or at least until my back gives out....People ask why I like cross-country and especially Roper's Route. I think the best answer is that I like the puzzle part about it.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2015 8:13 pm
by maverick
Thank you for the enjoyable TR and pictures. It's great to feel your spirit and energy, as it wants to fly and experience the Sierra. :)

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:11 pm
by Shhsgirl
Forgot to put this one in trip report.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:13 pm
by Shhsgirl
Oops! Wrong photo. Here's the correct one.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:33 pm
by rlown
If that fish is hollow, you could sell it to Markskor. He could stay out in the woods a LOT longer.. :)

And if that is Paella, I'm totally in!!! looks wonderful.

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:37 pm
by Shhsgirl
It is paella, my husband's specialty, but I've got to figure out how to delete that post!

Re: Part of Roper's Chapter Four: Aug. 29- Sept. 5, 2015

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:39 pm
by rlown
ask any mod or admin. they can delete it. but I'd leave it. =D> a beautiful dish.