Monday, October 6, 2008

A Year in the Wilderness ...

Alpine Lake in the Rain.

or ... oh man, is it raining.

It all started innocently enough. Vacation ... 7 days in the Mokelumne Wilderness looking for bear. I left Thursday, with a truck load of gear and a general plan to camp near the road at 7000 feet in Hermit Valley. And each day, hike into the wilderness. It's a trip like one I made with my father when I was about 17. It interesting to be car camping again, so many luxuries.

Friday morning I woke with an uncharacteristic warmth to the air and a thin wispy overcast. The predictions for a storm must be true, I thought. Ok -- so it could snow. I can wait it out. I set up camp, and took a quiet walk up the hill to get acclimated and have a look around. It's a brisk 720' climb in about a mile and runs up a rough jeep trail to a knob just above camp. At the top of the hill there is a crisp wind. I am a bit winded.

By the time I return it's raining lightly, just a mist falling really, but falling steadily. I start a fire, cook, eat, and the wind starts to hum a bit above me in the trees. I secure the tent a little better. I test out the ice chest (such luxury ...) by choosing a cold beverage, and set up the chair (a chair?) near the fire. I realize that I have forgotten my rain pants, but put on my ultra-lite anorak. and determine to stand to reduce the water falling on my lower body.

Alpine Lake Still in the Rain

I stoke the fire. A family of European travelers inquires whether I have any "gasoline" for sale ... We have a brief conversation about Markleeville being about 30 miles away. We talk about bears and that the family is traveling from Yosemite. I explain that they will be ok if they have to spend the night in their car, and that here the bears are wild, and the humans have guns, which means that the bears are afraid of the humans, unlike in the National Park. I offer my gas can and they decline ...

It is now raining in earnest. the wind above me has risen to a mild cacophony and ... "I think it's going to really storm" goes through my head. I stoke the fire again and secure the camp against the wind.

The wind rises to a roar in the trees about 150 feet above me. Although I am at 7000 feet, it's still about 2-3000 feet below the tree line. I think that qualifies the climate zone to be subarctic, but just by a bit. Back to the wind. The howling increases, helping my mind to wander. I think of Frost, Thoreau and Whitman, and other great men of the wilderness, I think of Abbey, and John Muir. The roaring above me increases, but it's not really windy here on the ground. Is this what inspired Muir to climb a great tree and whether a storm at the top? The roar continues to increase in intensity.

The rain has been increasing too. The rain in Northern California is different from the rain in Arizona. It can rain 3 inches in 15 minutes in Arizona, and everything is dry 15 minutes later. In California, it takes a day to rain 3 inches and 3 days to dry out. The rain in California usually has an ocean behind it. I think about my dead brother, and how whenever we went camping it rained. I hope I haven't somehow been cursed with that.

That's when I start thinking about my time in the wilderness. The Eel river, Russian river canoe trips, crazy inner tube rides in Cache creek, the Colorado, the Sierras, the redwoods, Yosemite, Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, San Juan river, and the San Juan mountains, Vancouver Island, Zion, Joshua Tree, the Sisters, the Kalmiopsis wilderness, the Superstition wilderness, and my totally ever present home, the Santa Cruz Mountains. It started before my earliest memories. Trips to the mountains, the country, the wilderness.

I did a brief calculation. Since I am now 50, I have seriously been traveling to the wilderness for about 40 years, usually 2-3 times a year for a week or so. So I figure that it's somewhere around 100 weeks, but since I can't really say for sure, I'll just call it 52 weeks. Which is a year in the wilderness. I've spent a year in the wilderness.

That may help explain why I am standing in the rain, in the dark, when it's about 40° out, staring at a fire, thinking about John Muir riding a storm out in the top of some fir tree, and wishing it would snow.

Camp de Shawn

P. S. For those of you that follow these things, it appears that Snowshoe Thompson has a beverage™ named after him.

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