This story picks up midway through our five-day hiking trip in Yosemite. Part 1 is here!
When I left off, we were at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp (HSC) for the night. We slept well, sharing a tent with some roommates we’d had before: an older couple who were traveling by mule train between camps instead of hiking between camps. We really liked them, and we deeply respected their mule wrangler, a tall and dignified woman in her 60s named Sheridan. She’s been leading mule trains in Yosemite for over 30 years!
At 7am, the bell rang for hot drinks, and everyone gathered outside the meal tent to drink hot coffee and talk. Afterwards we feasted on cream of wheat, eggs, sausage, pancakes, hash browns, and fresh fruit.
We had the steepest hike ahead of us that day to Vogelsang HSC: 3,000 feet of elevation gain over about 7.5 miles. That morning Sheridan came up to us and said, “My pack mule is carrying a light load. Would you like to give me some extra things in your packs and I’ll carry them for you? I can give them back to you at Vogelsang tonight.”
What a gift! We unpacked everything but the essentials and enjoyed a lighter load up into the mountains that day.
After a couple of miles, we came to a fork in the road. One trail was shorter but wound through a dry valley, and the other trail was a couple miles longer and steeper over Vogelsang Pass. Which to choose? Sheridan and other veterans of these trails had strongly recommended the latter trail. We finally decided to take the road less taken… or at least more beautiful.
We purchased our lunches each day at each camp: two PB&J sandwiches and two pieces of fruit. Today for the first time we got three-layer sandwiches; they knew we had a hard hike ahead of us!
Also pictured here are my moleskin- and duct-tape-wrapped toes. I learned that duct tape works a lot better and actually stays on, so by the end of our trip four of my toes were wrapped in thick silver tape! Trust me, it’s works like a charm. (You just might have to take a long bath before you can get it off.)
Just before our final steep climb over Vogelsang Pass, we passed through the most beautiful valley. We lingered there, taking pictures and savoring the flowers and quiet creek. And then we climbed! Well done, Elliott, on the selfie with the big camera.
That’s the beautiful little valley down below, and Merced Lake is back over those near mountains.
At the top of Vogelsang Pass, where it was a lot winder and colder than it looks!
Poor little frogs, so cold they could hardly move!
Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, where it was unfortunately so cold that
we I put on about 4 extra layers and a hat before I could sit outside and read comfortably. 10,300 feet!
Steak and baked potatoes with all the fixings that night, and some kind of amazing chocolate cake with whipped cream and mint for dessert. Also, for the very first time, Sheridan invited us into her pre-dinner social group with her box of wine (carried by her pack mule) and asked us to sit with her group and another mule wrangler’s group at dinner… so basically we felt like the cool crowd that night.
Beautiful but very cold sunset! We lit the wood stove in our tent for the first time that night.
The next morning Elliott fired up the stove again while we got ready for our last hike.
Beautiful Vogelsang HSC, which by 9am was already warm enough for short sleeves in the sunshine.
This was perhaps my least-favorite trail of all, unfortunately. The 8 miles wound steadily downward (no uphill relief for your knees and feet) over a powdery, chewed-up trail, and it marched down the center of a valley without much change in terrain. Made me realize how much I enjoyed that challenging, beautiful, varied hike the day before.
However, I also think we were anxious because we knew we were just a couple of hours away from talking to our kids, finding out if they were ok, and putting our minds at ease.
Some of you, I know, might wonder how a young mother can leave her kids for 5 days, be totally out of touch with them, and bear the separation — especially those of you who have young babies and can’t imagine doing such a thing! I will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t have chosen it myself (although I loved being unplugged otherwise). Sure, I like taking short breaks from my kids, but generally I’m with them most of their waking hours, and they are the dearest people in the world to me. As attached parents go, Elliott and I are pretty attached.
So I chose at the start of the hike to pray every time I thought of Lena and Gil and commit them to the Lord’s care (knowing that we do not know our day or hour to die — or be hurt, or whatever else — and I could not do much about that wherever I was). And after that, I just did not allow myself to think about them any more. Praise God, it wasn’t that hard, and I never descended into panic, although I could feel intense anxiety creeping at the edges of my consciousness before I pushed it away.
I also know that part of our peace came from knowing they had such excellent babysitters. Our parents adore their grandchildren but also know how to say “no,” share our values down to the minutiae, and spend a lot of time with their grandchildren and in our home and so know the kids’ routine and personalities very well. We couldn’t have left them in better hands. Thank you again, parents!!!
And there I am, done with the hike! We called Lena and Gil shortly after that, and they were headed back from church with my parents and were happily chattering and glad to hear from us. My mom told us that they had been very calm and peaceful while we were gone, didn’t ask about us that much, and knew we were coming back in a few days. Gil even called “Grammie!” instead of “Mama!” when he woke up from his nap, and was proud of that fact.
And now… on to a much less rustic side of our trip! We spent a night in The Ahwahnee Hotel, a famous old lodge in Yosemite that has housed presidents and queens, and had a deep bathtub, a bottle of body lotion, and a soft robe that I couldn’t wait to enjoy.
The magnificent Great Lounge on the main floor, where we sat for a long time reading and savoring tea and cookies during the afternoon tea hour. The facade is famous and blends in so beautifully with the surrounding park.
My scruffy hiking buddy in the famous Ahwahnee dining room! The next day we rented bikes and pedaled around Yosemite Valley, exploring trails, reading books, and even seeing our first bear. Poor guy was a teenager and looked pretty scrawny, almost like a dog wandering through the woods.
We also hiked up to Vernal Falls, which is usually about 20xs larger than this stream coming down the rocks. The California drought is really affecting Yosemite! We sat for a long time on this rock, reading and watching swimmers down below playing in the cold spray.
At the top of Vernal Falls… more like Vernal Drips. We also saw Nevada Falls above it, equally anemic. Oh well, the hike was beautiful, and we loved those steep, rugged granite rock faces.
Speaking of which… this was the last photo I took of them before we headed home…
… to these precious people. Happy day! Elliott and I feel rich indeed after such a trip and such healthy, happy, cute little people to come home to! Thanks for adventuring with me, Elliott; I hope this is just the first long hiking trip of many we take together.