Saturday, July 24, 2010

Desolation Wilderness Day 3

Day Three: China Flat to Clyde Lake, or Easy Street (4 miles)

Day three once again began with me hopping out of the tent to get the coffee going. This hopping was enhanced by the lack of a sleeping bag, a largely—if not wholly—unsuccessful strategy to reduce pack weight, but one that has yet to be adopted by other members of the group.

With coffee percolating and the water heating for hot cereal, the remaining MountainGuys slowly emerged from their down cocoons. We faced a choice this morning: to continue on the long loop trail that had appeared so seductive from the comfortable confines of our living rooms, or to short-circuit the loop and return to Clyde Lake, just below Mosquito Pass. The long trail offered adventure, a chance to explore new lands and see new sights, and a chance to go over Dick’s Pass, which at 9,200 feet is the highest trail in the Desolation Wilderness. The short circuit offered a day of leisure, a chance to rest weary feet, and the opportunity to set up a modest 9-mile hike on the last day. Adventure had no chance.

With no real press to get on the trail, we spent a relaxing morning cleaning up the camp and getting things ready to go. By 9:45, we were ready to hike, and by 10:15 we were hiking. How do we do it?

The trip to Clyde Lake was only about 4 miles. Most of this hike was a gentle uphill through China Flat along the Rubicon River, although the last half-mile or so was a steep climb up toward the pass. The trail to Clyde Lake intersects the main trail only half a mile below Mosquito Pass, and leads steeply downhill from there. Clyde Lake is a pretty little lake set in a deep bowl below Mt. Price and the ridgeline of the Crystal Range. Most of the shoreline is tumbled rock and steep slopes, although there was one flattish spot on the top of a slight rise on the northern side of the lake, and several spots around the western side that looked promising.

Since this flattish spot was located where the trail meets the lake, our first inclination was to search the western side of the lake for a supreme campsite that would ensure privacy and truly spectacular sleeping accommodations. However, the going was hard and the outcome uncertain, so in spite of our intrepid and adventurous nature, we turned back and took the flattish site that was known to be adequate. In the end, this decision proved a good one, as privacy was not an issue, the site offered good water access for swimming, and once dressed up with tent and tarpage, the site was really quite nice. The tent was set up behind a rock wall that had been thoughtfully provided by previous tenants, while Oliver’s tarpage was carefully developed on the other side of the wall. The wall also enclosed a space large enough for cooking out of the wind—not much of a problem this trip, but by the gnarled look of the trees along the lake’s edge, a problem much of the time. As is his usual practice, Rick found a flat spot to lay out his sleeping bag around the corner from the main camp, so as to enhance his nighttime star-gazing and to isolate himself from the courser qualities of fellow MountainGuys in sleep.

The first order of business after securing the site was to eat lunch. The lunch buffet was set out on a flat rock at the water’s edge, between two rock peninsulas that each offered superb swimming opportunities. Lunch included cheese and salami on tortillas, bagels, or rolls, dried fruit, trail mix, nuts, apple slices, and cookies.

With the sun out, it was very warm sitting out by the buffet. A swim sounded good, so I abandoned the lunch venue, and wandered out to the end of the northern peninsula. However, I had not had my shirt off for more than five seconds before large and malignant cumulus clouds stationed themselves between the sun and me, greatly reducing the appeal of a quick and refreshing dip. I could have walked all the way back up the hill to my backpack to get my towel, but that sounded hard, and it was too cold to swim without it. So I put the idea on hold.

My return to the lunch rock and the endless mountain buffet was immediately rewarded with the re-emergence of the sun, which in turn rekindled the desire for a swim. Yet the clouds had not stopped their fun quite yet, passing across the sun with a frequency that deterred swimming without entirely precluding the possibility. Finally, a large break in the clouds appeared, and Dan, moving with a speed that belied his earlier napping repose, quickly stripped and dove into the cold, clear waters of the small bay between the peninsulas. I rapidly followed suit. Without scientific instruments it would be hard to know, but I’d have to guess that the speed with which I entered the water was no greater than the speed with which I exited. The water was really cold. Dan lingered in the water a bit longer, but even his swim could be measured in seconds rather than minutes. By the time that the clouds returned, we were both dry and comfortably reclothed. Rick waited for the next cloud break, and then he too (briefly) sought out the cold yet spiritually cleansing waters of Clyde Lake.

By this time, Oliver had left the lunch rock and was productively engaged in a new and elaborate tarpage undertaking. But he eventually found his way down to the cold waters after the tarpage was complete, ensuring that all of the MountainGuys would be awarded the Really Little Dipper badge.

Stricken and somewhat pale from his exhausting swim, Dan quickly retired to the tent for a recuperative nap. (Man, that bar is set high.) The rest of us were left to pursue our own quiet afternoon activities. Oliver was now remodeling the kitchen and garage space in his tarpage, while I set out on a brief walk to secure a food-hanging tree and see the lay of the land. Rick spent his time on a rock hunched over his mangled feet, which suffered from blood blisters, regular blisters, bruises, and at least two severed toes. The toes were reattached with moleskin, and each toe on both feet was individually wrapped and cushioned for transport the next day. For this Rick earned the Bloody Stump badge, a badge awarded not for achievement, but for heroic efforts in dealing with mangled body parts while on the trail.

Mountain work is rigorous and requires discipline and order. Safety and comfort are enhanced when shortcuts are not taken, when important activities are not overlooked. Returning to the camp after my short hike, I determined that in the best interests of safety and comfort it was time for afternoon coffee and a snack. It is this kind of attention to detail that sets MountainGuys apart from run-of-the-mill weekend hikers.

Invigorated by strong, fresh coffee, and after debating its merits for quite some time, Oliver and Rick concluded that a game of Precision Mountain Flying Disc was in order. Dan and I joined in, though reluctantly at first. Precision Mountain Flying Disc is a dangerous game played on a field of strewn boulders, steep embankments, small trees, and significant water hazards. One misstep is the difference between catching the disc and tumbling down the mountain and into the lake. The potential for a lost disc is always high, and the possibility of real embarrassment is ever-present. Not content with the inherent challenges of the game, we took turns stationing ourselves on a large boulder, thereby risking a fall of six to eight feet onto a patch of sharp granite rocks before tumbling down the mountain and into the lake. Needless to say (as is true of this entire account), but a game of Precision Mountain Disc has rarely been played at a higher level (8,200 ft).

Dinner on the third night had been a mystery for the duration of the trip. Oliver had planned this meal from afar, and had not shared its content with any of the other MountainGuys. Dinner was Tortilla Soup, served with hot quesadillas. Dessert was a delicious fruit compote, served hot, on the peninsula, from where the MountainGuys could watch the sunset down the Rockbound Valley.

Tortilla Soup
(serves 4)

Heat two tbsp. Olive oil in a 2 qt. pot. Stir in reconstituted dehydrated vegetables, retaining the water. Add tomato paste and two 7 oz. packages of chicken, and fry until lightly browned. Add vegetable water and additional water to make six cups. Add chicken-tortilla soup mix. Cook for 10 to fifteen minutes to let flavors meld. Serve hot and add blue tortilla chips to each serving. Serve with hot cheese quesadillas.

Fruit Compote
(serves 4)

In medium pot melt 1/2 cup butter or margarine. Add two finely sliced Fuji apples, dried apricots (sliced), jumbo raisins, and any other fruit on hand. Fry until warm and the fruit is coated with the butter. Add 1 cup apple-blueberry granola, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and cinnamon and salt to taste. Simmer to heat the granola and melt the sugar. Add dark chocolate and a splash of brandy, if available. (On this trip only scotch and tequila were available, and were deemed by the SpiceGuy to be unsuitably dry for the compote. They were served separately.) Cook only until the sugar crystallizes on the granola, and not until it burns on the bottom of the pot. Serve hot.

By the time the dishes were done, the stars had come out and the moon was peeking over the ridgeline above the Lake. After a long, exhausting day, even the promise of Cuban cigars could not entice us to stay awake. Oliver made a valiant effort to read by candle lantern, which is a sort of romantic notion but tiring in practice, and the effort was quickly abandoned.

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