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strangers on the trail?

Posted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 8:42 pm
by balzaccom
I thought I’d start a new thread here about strange people on the trail—those folks we remember years later for one reason or the other. And it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t get the ball rolling with a couple of tales of my own.
My all-time favorite was meeting two young (mid 20’s or so) who were hiking in Illiloutte Canyon about 3:30 in the afternoon, a good five-seven miles up canyon from Glacier Point. They had a very small day pack and a single bottle of water that they were sharing. When we met them, they had just started hiking back down the canyon…and asked my wife and me if we could show them on the map where they were.
Something felt a little odd about this, so I asked them where they thought they were. They thought they were pretty darn close to Half Dome…but had missed the trail somehow and were up around Merced Lake. I showed them where they were –actually off the map by a couple of inches—and told them that if they didn’t take any MORE wrong turns, they still had about 9 miles to go to get back to Happy Isles. They assured me that they weren’t worried---as they had flashlights.
I could only imagine how lost they might get in the dark, if they got that lost in broad daylight.

The second group was a couple hiking up the Snow Creek Falls trail in mid-October during a snow flurry. It was cold, and they were in shorts…with maybe a light fleece on top. We were on our way down from a day hike to the top, and they were packing in for a few days. We chatted with them and while we chatted the young woman went from being slightly cold to whole-body involuntary shivering. Both my wife and I expressed concern—and were sorry that we couldn’t offer any more clothing to her. Her boyfriend/husband told us that they were fine---no problem. Which meant that he was fine. She was in full blown hypothermia, as near as we could tell. He basically told us to mind our own business….and we did. I am still bothered by it. Sigh.

Finally, on a lighter note, at about 12 miles us a trailhead in Yosemite, we ran into a group of three—an older woman, about 70-75? And a middle-aged man (maybe 45? And his son. She had done the same route 55 years ago when she graduated from high school, and had taken her son on that same trip when he graduated.
Yep—the young man was her grandson, and they were hiking the trail one more time. We still smile about that family, and the wonderful times they must have had together.

So what about the people YOU have met on the trail?

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:57 pm
by Timberline
Great thread suggestion, balzaccom! So many of my own Sierra trips stay vividly alive in memory because of unexpectedly meeting people who turn out to be special in some unique way. I'm sure there are many stories out there in HST-land; I hope others will share theirs, too.

One I still recall fondly was meeting a hiking party consisting of Grant, a 65 year old retiree, his nearly-as-old cousin, and his brother's oldest son. Out on our first week long Sierra hike together, my 14 year old son and I had backpacked over Mono Pass to visit Pioneer Basin and the Mono Recesses. Grant and his party had hiked over from Silver Pass, and camped next to us at 4th Recess Lake. Seeing such old guys enjoying themselves so grandly prompted us to go over and introduce ourselves over some hot chocolate and schnapps. They were gracious and welcoming to us total strangers, and we spent a short evening in pleasant conversation, as if old friends. Their stories totally captivated my son's attention. The next morning, as they were about to depart for Mosquito Flat, Grant stopped by our camp and greeted my son, then showed him an old black and white photo taken along the trail just below Mono Pass, with Bear Creek Spire and the peaks bordering Little Lakes Valley in the background. In the foreground stood a smiling, 14 year old boy. The boy was Grant himself, at my son's age, on one of his first high country backpack trips. He revealed that one purpose of his hike had been to re-visit that moment in his childhood past and share it again with his relatives. I'm not sure which of us was more impressed by this gesture, but I know at that moment my son's Sierra hiking experience had become everything I hoped it would be. Later that day, my son and I climbed Mono Rock and found their names written in the peak register, further tying us to their remembered friendship. Ever since, the memory of that casual, unexpected meeting has been a touchstone of affirmation between my son and myself. I'm forever grateful to Grant and his family members for offering themselves to us as an example of what special people Sierra backpackers are.

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 7:44 am
by Strider
I passed the usual collection of casual hikers going up the Yosemite Falls trail, including moms with kids and an eldery German couple wearing shorts and suspenders. Then I got passed by a group of twenty-year-olds showing off. To make a point, I pushed it to leave them in the dust, got a few turns ahead, and was leaning over huffing and puffing, when here comes the German couple right behind me. I didn't see them again until they were headed down before I reached the top!

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 8:43 am
by balzaccom
Hah! Strider, I love that story!

And yes, that trail is certainly one for meeting the odds and ends. One time, walking back down the trail, I caught up to a young man limping along badly. I asked if I could help him, and he said no---he had just torn his hamstring muscle, and was basically walking down very slowly under his own power. I had to hand it to him--I've torn a hamstring myself--but there isn't much anyone can do. So on he limped. Slowly.

I am grateful that I have never really hurt myself badly on a backpacking trip--only playing soccer!

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:04 am
by rayfound
On our first trip, My buddy and I Left Piute lake after the other two guys, and we were all to meet up at Desolation Lake.

We were expecting to see a trail branch to desolation, and never did. We ended up about 2 miles down Piute Canyon, getting towards hutchinson meadow, before we met a family hiking, and together determined, we'd gone way to far. At that point, we made the decision to just do it cross-country.

So we "aimed" northeast at Mount Humphreys and hiked in a straight line towards is, knowing that Desolation Lake lay at its base. When we arrived, we were alone.

We dropped out packs and hiked about looking for the rest of the group, on the assumption (false) that they had arrived hours earlier, and were now off looking for us.

Then, down from Humphrey's came this old guy that looked like he couldn't have weighed more than 120lbs soaking wet. He'd been in the backcountry for God-only-knows. He proceeded to tell us that we were NOT at Desolation Lake. I looked again and again at my map. Pilot knob there. Mount Humpreys here, and OH YEAH - There's no other lake in the area that is even close in size to desolation!

Of course, the crazy mountain man tells me this lake is no more than 1/4 mile long. (desolation is a mile). In my mind I'm thinking... OK, a 1/4 mile would mean basically 2 decent golf shots.... look at the lake - NO WAY.

The old guy wanders off and later comes back saying he took a bearing with his compass and map, and this and that, and we're at Muriel Lake. At this point I know he's lost it, and thank him, and send him away. And we wait. We make a flagpole out of a Fishing rod tube, and attach a mylar blanket and a orange rain poncho for our Party to see in case we're not at the camp when they arrive. And eventually they get there... it seems they took some wrong turns on the trail also!

Sometimes I wonder if that old guy ever made it out of the Sierras. His Navigation skills were not helping him any!

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:54 pm
by paul
We were finishing the JMT, and since the weather was great we were planning to spend the night on top of Whitney. We arrive in the early afternoon, amid the usual crowd of whitney hikers. As the afternoon wore on, nearly everyone headed down, leaving a few folks who clearly were prepared to stay the night. Maybe an hour or so after the last of the crowd had left, a guy shows up who I recognized from earlier in the day - he was wearing a bright yellow jacket that was very noticeable. He was a little panicky, and said he'd been wandering around the summit plateau for hours looking for the trail down. He wanted to borrow some gear and stay the night in the stone hut. I immediately thought "If this guy stays here, we're going to become responsible for him", and convinced him his idea was a bad one. He was worried about finding and following the trail down, and I reassured him that once he got past the snowpatch(which was where he had lost the trail) he'd have no problem, as there was only one junction - at trail crest - and he couldn't miss it. I convinced him to head down by promising to guide him past the snowpatch to the clear trail, which I proceeded to do. Once we were past the snow, he was very grateful - "you saved my life, man" - and I told him again that he had to bear left when he got to trail crest. I headed back to the top to have dinner. But I was worried about the guy, since he seemed panicky and a little out of it, and celarly his sense of direction was not the best - I had visions of him heading down the west side - so I couldn't relax until I saw that yellow jacket on the switchbacks, which I finally did an hour or so later.

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:00 am
by Snow Nymph
I hiked to Towne Peak and the Albatross in Death Valley in 2004. There was a register entry that caught my attention.
This guy is my age. I was impressed!

I posted my pix on a desert site, with the caption "I hope everything turned out ok". A year later his brother replied, and said everyone was ok and they were rescued.

In 2006 I was hiking White Mountain, and a guy said "your'e Snow Nymph". It was Tom Gossett, 38 years later! Last year a group of us got together to hike to the Albatross, and celebrate 40 years after TomG's first hike ever and unexpected overnighter. He always says "Don't stop climbing!"

He is now one of my best friends and a great hiking partner! :D

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:46 am
by Ozark Flip
Four nude backpackers (two guys and two gals) made their way past me while I was relaxing and having some lunch on Bighorn Plateau. I ask them how they dealt with the skeeters and high altitude UV and their reply was that they were naturalist. I said, okay, naturalist study plants and animals but whay are you all nude? Again, they stated they were naturalist and wanted to be as nature and god intended. As they started to head on down the trail I said, "What's up with the hiking boots and big hats?" There they went, four full moons going down the trail.

I witnessed a wild eyed fisherman and his super model girlfriend about four miles from a Yosemite trailhead. Neither one had a backpack or any other gear other than a fishing pole and small tackle box. The eye candy girlfriend was wearing a very short shoulder string dress and very high heels. A designer purse dangled from her wrist as the wild eyed guy was urging her to hang in there. They stopped and he asked me a few questions about fishing in the area. I indicated some concern about them being so far from a trailhead so close to dark (it was getting dusk). Best case scenario is the super model hiked out 4+ miles, barefooted and in the dark.

I am a friggin' magnet for these type of people. So many backcountry travlers I met and will always wonder what ever happened to them.

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:32 am
by balzaccom

We met a group in Emigrant last year--ten-twelve young people, all hiking together. We pulled off the trail so that they could go through, and I remember thinking that I was glad I wasn't with a group that large.

As they passed, I made some comment to the first in line about it being quite a parade.

No answer.

So as number 4 or 5 passed, I asked them where they were headed...

Still no answer.

Finally, one guy near the rear explained that they were on a religious retreat, and today was their day to hike in silence.


So you go in a big group, and then you hike in silence.

Good plan.

Ah well. It takes all kinds

Re: strangers on the trail?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:05 am
by Hetchy
I was decending the Trail from Bear Valley to the bottom of Kerrick Canyon at the end of August.
Just as I reached the trail junction and began my up canyon leg, I noticed a singular individual about 20 yards off the trail sitting on a log.
I said nothing cause he was obviously deep in thought, writing in a journal or something. But as I passed by I could not help but notice his attire and gear.
He had on a Full Length Black Trench coat.
A Tree Branch (Think: Gandolf's staff!) for a Hiking stick leaning on the log next to him.
His pack was a huge round rucksack with a cowboy style bedroll.
Well, he never looked up. So I just kept on my way in silence thinking; with that rig he's got ,that will probably be the last I'll see of him.(That trench coat must weigh 10 pounds!)
So I continue on up Kerrick at a good clip, turn up Rock Island Pass and stop at Snow Lake.
No sooner do I unload my pack when I hear, "Ka-Thump..Ka Thump..Ka-Thump!"
Here comes "Trenchcoat" Man!
And yes, He was hiking in the coat!
His round pack dangling by it's single strap behind one shoulder.
He wasn't moving fast, just steady, and planting that "wizard's" staff with every other step!
He never stopped moving and I watched him clump along down over the Pass and out of sight.
Now I know for a fact I had literally raced down the trail to get there.. How he made it there in so short a time is still a mystery.