Welcome to my Wilderness Journal

You may enjoy my September 2012 blog: Sharing Experiences of Great Mystery, which describes the purpose of this wilderness log, photo-art gallery, and poetry corner. In Peace, Bob

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sauntering to Yosemite's Helen Lake

In August 2019, my long-time hiking buddy, David Witt, agreed to accompany me on an ambitious 15-mile cross-country day-hike from our Mono Pass camp to Lost Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  My goal was to rephotograph three sketches that John Muir had made of the southern-most Koip Crest pinnacles. To do this we would need to cross two off-trail passes (11,960’ Kuna Crest Saddle and 11,440’ Lost Lake Pass) and cover the intervening territory of the upper cirque of Kuna Creek. The actual difficulty of the first pass (rated Class 2) and the upland terrain of the Kuna Creek Cirque would determine how far we could go.

We got stopped three-quarters of the way to the top of the first pass when the steep footing became sandy and a class 3 headwall loomed above us. I realized we would never make it to the Muir sketch sites and the way down this pass would be more dangerous than the way up. Reason prevailed and we descended to a lovely grassy alpine spot among the rocks serenaded by the many tones of the snowmelt waters under the rocks.

I spotted a pattern on a rock that looked just like a hunting wolf and sitting quietly for an hour above Helen Lake I was visited by a curious short-tailed weasel investigating my hiking staff. Pikas called from the boulders and gray-crowned rosy finches flew over the snowfields. We had a lovely afternoon soaking up the wild wonders while resting and sauntering back across the meadows to our Mono Pass camp.

Note: click on any image to enlarge and scroll through.

Black Bear scratching tree

Assessing our situation

The Hunting Wolf Rock

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Atikaki Wilderness Canoe Adventure: Part 2

I invite you to view Part 1 as preface to this posting of Troop 139's Atikaki Wilderness Canoe Adventure.

In this posting I cover Day 4 (in magenta on the map below) and Day 5 (in orange). On the morning of Day 6 we were flown back to Bissett Base by the Blue Waters "Otter" float plane.

Note: Click on an image to enlarge.

On Day 5 we set out to complete "Billy Goat" Portage and "Beaver Dam Nation" two very different yet challenging passages. "Beaver Dam Nation" consists of two sections of shallow winding lily-pad choked beaver streams with two beaver dams to lift over. "Billy Goat" is a steep rock portage with a harder and a slightly easier route. When I saw the difficulty of the hardest route (with two high steep rock steps on the side of a cliff) and saw how it was hard for Dan I tried to redirect all canoe carriers to the easier route. But having my pack already shouldered I ended up taking the hard route. I made the first ledge but found no handhold or foothold for the second. A helping hand from Scout Jack pulled me and my gravitational load up the second ledge step.

One of the dams of Beaver Dam Nation.

We made camp just after the last portage of the day in a heavily-burned area. This is where Dan's last crew from 2018 were evacuated by float plane because of the fire. They left their four crew canoes lashed to the rockcliff where they got scorched and the yoke pads of two of them were burned off. We decided to rescue these four canoes by portaging them across Heartbreak Portage the following day. No other crew had been foolish or daring enough to do this.

The burned Jack Pines had their persistent "serotinous" cones opened by the drying effects of the fire and Jack Pine seedlings were sprouting the future forest right below them.

The four abandoned "orphan" canoes we adopted.

Setting up our fire-burned camp.

Fireweed blossoms after fire.

Dinner at sunset.

Drying my paper maps.

Our final portage on our last full day was upon us. We had reserved our energy and determination for the half-mile "Heartbreak," perhaps the area's most challenging carry. The first part was solid ground and posed no problem. But the next section was pure sphagnum bog mud that could sink you waist or even neck deep! We staged all 8 canoes and our gear at the halfway point.

Here we are clean and optimistic facing our muddy prospects. We portaged two canoes and all the packs around the mud by taking the steep and slick wet granite "Brian's Blueberry Bypass." But the remaining six canoes would be muscled through the mud.

Then we're in the midst of our muddy reality of dragging, sinking, pushing, pulling, heaving, and winching. It took us about 3-4 hours to get everything across.

We celebrated getting all 8 canoes across Heartbreak Portage! A tremendous team effort.

We settled in to our last campsite at Scout Lake . . .

. . . where we were blessed with a light shower and a double rainbow upon our arrival.

Our four crew canoes and Dan's four fire-scorched canoes from the 2018 season were now safely back at Scout Lake ready to be returned to the canoe cache before the plane came to pick us up the next day.

I was blessed with a gift from Eagle of a spotted wing feather which I left at the Scout Lake Canoe Cache under a Jack Pine tree. I really wanted to keep it but decided instead that the gift was in the gifting and not in the taking. I invited those who were Eagle Scouts or on that path to have their photo taken holding Eagle's Wing Feather. David, Jack, and I did a Six-directions prayer before releasing the feather.

Dan made us chocolate pancakes for desert.

And we relaxed under the rain tarp to the patter of raindrops.

Dan cleans the dinner pot.

Drying boots on 3 Billion year-old Canadian Shield Precambrian granite.

Back at Bissett Base we clean and return gear, have lunch, clean ourselves up, pack for our flight home, shop at the trading post, and play games. I enjoyed the traditional post trip sauna.

Lassoing the wooden caribou (the only one we saw in Caribou Country, which is what Atikaki means in Ojibway).

We ended our stay with a Rendezvous where we thanked our fine Interpreter guides Dan and Phil and shared our gratitude, growth, and goals.

The next day we were on the plane bound for home carrying with us many fine memories and newfound strengths from our time together on the the canoe trails. As Bilbo Baggins said we went "There and back again." The stories from this storied adventure are just beginning to be told!