Thursday, July 29, 2010

Desolation Wilderness, Day 4

Day Four: Clyde Lake to Echo Lakes, or Carl Sexton Please Phone Home (9 miles)

By the fourth day, our routines were well-established and our duties were clearly determined. At the first hint of morning light, it was my duty to get up, recover the food bags, and get the coffee going. While clothed in the garb of public service, this early morning ritual was actually performed to relieve the pain from lying too long on hard ground and to slake the needs of a true caffeine addict. While my fellow MountainGuys were keenly aware of the self-serving nature of this morning ritual, they were nonetheless appreciative.

Despite planning a trip to one of the most heavily traveled backpacking spots in Northern California, there were very few people in the backcountry. Clyde Lake was no exception. We had the entire lake to ourselves, and at no time during the trip had other people intruded on the privacy of our camps. However, while waiting for the second pot of coffee to percolate, a small plane flew in low over the Crystal Range, circled Clyde Lake, and then flew off. Ten minutes later, while we were impatiently watching the hot cereal water come to a boil, the same plane flew back over the lake. This time, though, the pilot was taking no chances that the four of us were unaware of his presence. As the plane was directly overhead, a voice boomed out “Carl Sexton, this is Search and Rescue, please move out into the open.” This message was repeated several times. Perhaps sensing that our lack of responsiveness indicated that none of us was Carl Sexton, the pilot flew off again.

Carl Sexton must be an elusive character, because he did not answer this hail as it was broadcast down the Rockbound Valley. But Search and Rescue is nothing if not persistent, and perhaps concluding that their lack of initial success was due to Carl Sexton’s fear of airplanes, they sent a helicopter over Clyde Lake to broadcast the same message: “Carl Sexton, this is Search and Rescue, please move out into the open.” Still nothing.

By this time, Search and Rescue was getting a bit desperate, so they decided to change tactics, first broadcasting, “Carl Sexton, please phone home”, and finally “come out, come out wherever you are.” Carl never responded, and for good reason: Search and Rescue had been misinformed about Carl’s whereabouts by the jilted and somewhat petulant girlfriend. Carl Sexton was not lost in Desolation Valley, but was at home in “Destination Valley”, a housing development in Southern California. They found him two days later drinking coffee and eating hot cereal on his back porch after calling his mom.

The day looked to be a long one, and despite the distractions posed by Carl Sexton, we were on the trail by no later than 9:00. It’s amazing. The hike from Clyde Lake to the top of Mosquito Pass was much shorter than we had anticipated; within half an hour we were at the crest of the pass. The trail quickly descended down from the pass into the Aloha Basin, where it traversed along the northern shore of Lake Aloha. From on high, we could clearly see that there was no land bridge across Lake Aloha. Whose idea was that anyway?

The plan was to luncheon at the southern end of Lake Aloha, before starting the long trail out of the Wilderness Area and past the Echo Lakes. It was a good plan, but for the lack of water in much of the lake. As we rapidly proceeded down the trail, our highly trained backcountry senses discerned a distinct dryness to the lake bed. With a long hike ahead and no easily available water until the spillway at the far end of Lower Echo Lake, we were forced to regroup, rethink, and then double back to find the elusive waters of Lake Aloha.

As luck would have it, by charting a course back up the dry lake bed we were able to find a fine lunch spot on a large rock outcropping, perched over a deep and clear pool. On a hotter day this would have been a fine swimming and diving spot, but the prospect of having to repackage shredded feet, along with the cool breeze, was enough to dissuade us from swimming. However, a makeshift boat, in the form of a weathered chunk of wood tossed into the pool, made a fine target for rock-throwing MountainGuys standing on the bluff above. In other contexts, tossing rocks at a stick floating in the water would be no more than good fun. In the wilderness, with danger all around, rock tossing is an essential survival skill, a skill to be honed as a way to ward off dangerous animals or to hunt for supper. But sometimes it’s just better not to tip your hand: no animals—neither dangerous nor dinner—were likely to lose any sleep as a result of this particular display of rock-throwing prowess.

From the luncheon spot, the trail was just over 5 miles back to the car. This distance was quickly traversed, and by 3:00 we had shed our packs, changed our clothes, packed the car, and set out on the long drive home. The perfect weather featured on the trip gave way to scorching 90-degree temperatures in the Central Valley, but by the time we reached the Ashby BART station in Berkeley, the temperatures were back into the comfortable 70s. It was here that the MountainGuys parted company, another chapter added to the annals of MountainGuy lore, and the planning for the next trip—to the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado—already well underway.

The End

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