I had not been back to the Sierra for many years when the opportunity for a solitary hike in Yosemite came availiable. Like most of my undertakings, this hike had no plan to it, no "agenda", just a starting point and a vague goal.
In the late sixtys I had found the hetch hetch area of yosemity to be isolated and alluring. As a solo hiker I enjoyed leaving the trailhead without encountering the freshly scrubbed crowds one finds in yosemity valley. I needed to get away; this was the place to start. Once, earlier, I had made my way to Falls creek at the foot of JackMain canyon and wondered what lay beyond; this trip I would explore further.
I departed the trailhead at the dam on a weekday in August; the heat of the day drove me on, I had to gain altitude to cool off. In earlier years I had camped at Beehive and Lake Vernon but not this time. The heat and the many bears I saw along the trail to Beehive drove me to get past Moraine Ridge, into JackMain canyon. At the hottest time of the day there I was, cruising along treeless Moraine Ridge in the blinding brilliance of the Sierra summer afternoon wishing for the cool pools of Falls creek. Finally, midafternoon brought me to a campsite somewhere near the snow-survey meadow where I set up camp and relaxed around the creek for the afternoon. Cooling off in the creek and sunbathing for hours filled the rest of the day. By evening the first hints of a bad sunburn were appearing; so were the mosquitoes.
The previous winter had been one of those heavy snowpack kind, and with a late runoff keeping the middle elevations meadows wet well into late summer, so multitudes of mosquitoes were my company. So imagine me, sunburnt all over, on a hot August evening trying to seek shelter from mosquitoes in the only shelter I had, my down sleeping bag. The night was too warm for any more than a light covering, my burn wanted nothing to touch me, and the skeeters were after my blood. I passed the night fully zipped-in my bag, skin exquisitly sensitive to the touch of the fabric of the bag, covered in sweat, but avoiding those damn bloodsuckers.
The next day's hike up the canyon was notable for the sunburn meeting the backpack at all the pressure points and the mosquitoes meeting all the exposed skin. Before leaving the trailhead I had checked for repellent and had two squeezers of Cutter's. Unfortunatly I discovered this day that one was nearly empty and the other was not full; the rate of use would get me one or two days more, then I would go deetless. Driven by the biting critters I made Dorothy lake by the afternoon where there was a good breeze to keep away the mosquitoes. Three fishermen come over from the east side were at the lake, the first hikers I had met so far. By evening several more campers had arrived but did not make a crowd.
After a better night's sleep my next destination was Snow lake, just over Bond pass, an hour or so away. I did much exploring around Snow lake, checking out the old mine, the meadows, and the little two foot high dam that caused all the lakeside trees to be drowned. Snow lake is the eeriest place I have been in the Sierra, I felt spooked there. Many years later when I returned there with my teenage daughter she declared her dislike for the place too.
Early morning found me retracing my steps over Bond pass, returning to JackMain canyon this time with no mosquito repellent. The damn bugs drove me nuts all the way down the canyon; I wanted nothing more than to be away from them. I had thought that lake Vernon would be my evening's campsite with Tiltill valley the next day's spot. No way today. The trailhead and an automotive escape from the biting pests was all that I could envision, so my boots pounded out the miles back to the car while the rest of me tried to numb out.
There is another story in here, too. It's the paradoxical state of being on the trail and rushing to be off the trail. I anticipated this hike for several years, (even now I want to return), yet when I there I rushed through the region, covering in four days what I had planned for seven. Sure, the bugs were awful, the sunburn hurt, but why did I rush it so? Even now some 15 years later, it is so difficult to slow down on the trail and not push to make 15 miles a day when the plan was to make only 7 miles. The return leg of the hike is the most difficult to slow down, somehow being 20 or 25 miles from the car and inbound makes me pass up that planned last campsite and the leisurly walkout on the next day in exchange for an allout push to the vehicle and the race to the highway. The shower and the burger stand could wait till the next day, but I push on.