Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Miter Basin, July 2012, Day 9

Day 9: Upper South Fork Lake to Cottonwood Lakes Campground, or It’s All Downhill From Here (5 miles)

Upper South Fork Lake proved to be a good camping spot for the last night of our trip. We were up early and ready to hike by 8:00 in the morning, and by 10:00 we were at the trailhead. 

Cottonwood Lakes Basin.

The trailhead parking lot was much less crowded than it had been when we left, but the trail was still all buggered up with people. Most of the folks that we met were day hikers, although quite of few of them could have been hiking in for a week or more, given that their backpacks were larger than a lunch sack.

Shortly after we started hiking, we ran across a couple of guys who were resting by the side of the trail. What was striking about this pair is that they were young (early twenties, tops), but they were carrying full-size backpacks, maybe 70 liters capacity. That’s the same size as my pack.

“How long you going in for?” I asked, as my companions kept on hiking.

“Just over two weeks,” one of the guys replied. “We’ll make it to Miter Basin today, and we hope to climb Whitney tomorrow. If all goes well we’ll be in Yosemite before our food runs out.”

Two weeks to Yosemite seemed mighty ambitious to me, and I said so.

“Yeah,” the guy continued, I know what you mean. This pack is killing me.” He looked over to his friend who was nodding in agreement. “I mean, it weighs almost 34 pounds, including water, but I got almost 20 pounds of food.”

“You were able to fit 20 pounds of food in a bear bin?” I asked, incredulous.

The two guys smiled. “We’re not carrying bear bins. We plan to sleep with our food, and we’re prepared to defend it from bears if we have to.”

Now, I’ve seen bears peel back the outer skin of a car door with their bare paws to get inside. These two guys were young and athletic, but I’m thinking a bear could take them. So I said so. They were pretty sure that a bear couldn’t. We talked for a while longer, and when I turned to go, one of the guys said, “Hey! Is that a chair on the back of your pack? That is so cool!”

“Yeah,” I said proudly. “It’s the best backpacking chair you can find.”

The two guys looked at each other, one of them said, “Wow, those guys carry chairs. Man, I hope I’m never that old.”

“You keep baiting bears,” I said back, “and you won’t ever be.”

“You got that right,” the young man retorted. So we parted company, with those on both sides of the debate feeling just a little bit smug.

We were all very glad to reach the trailhead, which was somehow much further than we remembered. Light packs certainly help, but no matter what, there are no shortcuts when the shortest route to the car is five miles, and the last two miles are always a lot longer than they seem on the way in. 

The last two miles are the longest.

Our experiment with lightweight backpacking had been a great success. We didn’t do anything that we couldn’t have done with heavier packs, but I don’t think anyone missed the things we left behind. I am sure that there is still more that can be shed. Packing light is a process, the goal being to carry only what is truly needed. We will never be those guys whose pack for a weekend trip weighs 10 pounds. When the MountainGuys do lightweight backpacking it’s a lot less light than it could be. We carry chairs and sit in them at every opportunity. 

Still smiling. Our packs must be very light,

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