Saturday, September 26, 2015

Yosemite Part 1; Alpine Elevations; Plague??? Tuolumne River; Cathedral Lakes; Lembert Dome

Well, my annual week-long solo backpacking trip is complete, and I had a fantastic time in California's Yosemite National Park. I flew to Fresno, rented a car and drove north for four hours, up US 41 and the Wawona Road, arriving late afternoon at Tunnel View (near Inspiration Point) for this view of Yosemite Valley. The image shows El Capitan on the left and Half Dome in the distant background, both iconic locations in this famous park. Bridalveil Falls (on the right) did not show its cascades, since water levels this late in the season are very low. But the sun was fast setting, and I didn't have time to linger at this relatively low elevation (4,400 ft).

The route to my destination took me into the Valley, past El Capitan and its 3,000 ft high sheer vertical granite wall. That's more than twice the height of the Empire State Building (1,454 ft) in NYC. There were several teams of climbers working their way up this world-renowned wall, and a dozen folks were watching through telescopes from the bottom.

After the El Cap photo op, I hustled north on the Tioga Road for another 50 miles or so to my campsite at Tuolumne Meadows. While passing Tenaya Lake (8,150 ft), even though the shadows were quickly lengthening, I stopped for another photo. It would be days before I would be back here, and the weather is always uncertain in the High Sierras. The lake was named after Chief Tenaya of the Ahwanechee people, even though he said that the lake already had a name, Pie-we-ack, or Lake of the Shining Rocks.

I would be spending two nights at Tuolumne Meadows (8,600 ft) before heading into the backcountry. I needed to get acclimated to the alpine elevation here since The Villages, my departure point, is at only 75 ft. The weather was a bit different as well; I would see 25F that night, and 30-35F lows at night for the remaining week. Daytime highs were predicted to be much better, 65-70F. I set up my one-man tent and fixed a quick meal of freeze-dried Mountain House sweet and sour pork, rated a 6 on a 10 point scale. (Note to self: on your next trip, get a real steak for your first night's meal.) On a walk to the restroom, I found this warning sign posted (uh-oh, here we go again). For those interested in medical issues, the most common variety of plague found here is the bubonic variety (history buffs will recall it as the Black Death in Europe during the Middle Ages), caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacteria carried by infected rodents and fleas. Three campgrounds in Yosemite had been closed just a few weeks ago when the bacteria was discovered there, but they had been disinfected prior to my arrival and reopened. (Let's hope the CDC and the Park Service did their jobs very well!)

The Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River was running at typically low fall levels, only a foot or so deep at this point. The river runs about 150 miles to the Central Valley, where it merges with the San Joaquin River. Prior to the ongoing drought, 15% of the total flow is diverted to San Francisco and about 50% of the remainder for agricultural irrigation. (The state is now cutting water allowances to farmers drastically.) I would be hiking down the gorgeous canyon created by the Tuolumne in a few days, after getting used to the elevation.

My first night's sleep was a bit restless. Even in my tent and inside a 32F-rated down sleeping bag, I had to don all my extra clothes - three shirts, long underwear, pants, socks, fleece beanie and a down jacket -  to maintain a semblance of warmth. The next morning found me rolling out with the sunrise to a frosty welcome (quite literally), but two cups of coffee brewed over a tiny gas backpackers' stove brought me awake. My first day's hike would be to and around both Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes, an 11 miler with a relatively light day pack (12 lbs with water and food). The trail rose 1,500 ft through a serene lodgepole pine forest past this granite dome, which is actually part of the back side of Cathedral Peak (10,940 ft).  

There are occasional dead trees standing in this forest. Some died of old age, others of disease or lightning strikes. Logging is not allowed in the National Parks, so these trees will stand until they fall, unless they are an imminent danger to visitors. In fact, a live tree fell on two teenagers in their campsite just a month ago, fatally injuring them.  Keeping that in mind, I selected a tentsite away from suspect trees.

Here is Your Faithful Correspondent on the trail, with Cathedral Peak in the background. The surfaces of these granite outcroppings were ground smooth by centuries of glacial action. During the Pleistocene era, the ice here was between 1,000 and 2,000 feet thick. Jagged peaks indicate that they were above the glaciers. Lower elevation surfaces are almost always smooth and rounded, often in a teardrop shape, with the steep side "down-glacier". 

Lower Cathedral Lake has a lovely sandy beach, but the water temps were in the 50s. No one was swimming. 

The climb to Upper Cathedral Lake allows a much closer view of the peak, a stunning mountain that I would love to climb if I was 25 years old... there was actually a Scottish couple on the Mountaineers' Route to the summit, but I didn't have the least desire to make the ascent with them. (Am I getting older but finally wiser???)

The Upper Lake is surrounded by a muddy meadow, very buggy in summer but only mildly so in the fall. I didn't even need my DEET bug repellent. The view, however, is magnificent.

The day closed with dinner (freeze-dried lasagna, rated 5 out of 10, and of course there was no Chianti to help it go down) and a postprandial walk for meditative purposes on the slope of nearby Lembert Dome, another glacially-carved hunk of granite near the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Rising 870 feet above the surrounding terrain, Lembert Dome is one of the most popular hikes in the area. I spoke to several hikers and folks in the campground, and I came to the conclusion that I was about the oldest person there, and definitely the most senior camped out in a tent. I think the rest of the over-60 crowd was in RVs or in a hotel down in Yosemite Valley. They must be wusses, I thought. But they are also warmer and better-fed than I. Hmmmmm.......

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Final Summer Tour Post; Asheville; Hiking the Blue Ridge; IANDS San Antonio; Hilton Head; Heading Home!

Following Suzanne's presentation at Unity of the Blue Ridge, we had some time to relax before her next event. A short distance from Unity is a new tourist attraction, Sierra Nevada Brewery.  (What a good location for a spiritual brew... I am going backpack-meditating next week in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, so it was appropriate to try out some of their tasty offerings after a mountain bike ride in nearby Bent Creek Park.) 

My Lovely Bride ordered water ("What???") so Your Humble Correspondent had to take up the slack and order a flight of four very small (dare I say "teeny") tasting glasses of SNB's finest: Pale Ale, Nooner (a Pilsner), Torpedo (a "hop bomb"), and Bigfoot (a rich, bitter-sweet barleywine variety). We also enjoyed SNB's outstanding snack menu - if you're ever in the Asheville area, it's worth a stop).

We also took a short tour of the brewery, a very classy, state-of-the-brewer's art facility. This was one of the vats where hops, barley and yeast are mixed to create beer.

Our stay in Asheville was for 9 days, during which time Suzanne flew out to San Antonio for the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) Annual Conference, where she was one of four keynote speakers (the very first medium IANDS had ever invited to be a featured speaker). I even got to watch her on a Live Stream video, and as always, was suitably impressed. By all accounts, she was a big hit with the IANDS attendees and leadership, because she's already been invited back for their next Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, 28-31 July 2016. You are all invited to attend and you can watch Suzanne's 2015 speech on demand on the IANDS web site,

I stayed behind with Rudy and Gretchen at our campground, and got quite a bit of hiking in. The Blue Ridge Mountains are delightful this time of year, not too warm, relatively dry and almost bug-free. The views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially to the north and west, are impressive, with virtually no buildings visible as far as the eye can see. At sunset, it's easy to see why this range has it's colorful name. Just slightly left of center in the background is the steep, bare slope of Looking Glass Mountain.

Late one evening while driving back from a hike, these towering thunderheads (cumulonimbus clouds) were attention-getting. 

One afternoon, I visited Connemara Farms, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site on Little River Road in Flat Rock, NC. Coincidentally, we live on Little River Path, but sadly, I am not a poet... On this occasion, I toured the grounds and took a pleasant hike up to Big Glassy Mountain.

This warning sign was placed near a big slab of granite sloping down to some trees. About 30 miles away is Looking Glass Mountain where that same day, a hiker died when he fell 500 feet down the bald slope after losing his footing.

Another early morning hike was to Mt. Pisgah, 5,713 feet. It was named after the mountain from which Moses first sighted the Promised Land. I was hoping for clear skies, but low clouds kept me in a fog (literally) until early afternoon, long after I had reached the summit. One section of trail reminded me of forests described in the Hobbit... 

My last North Carolina hike was a 9-miler on the Mountains to Sea Trail. Still under development (and that's sort of a stretch, because the trail is much less used than the Appalachian Trail, and has no shelters for hikers), it will run from the highest point in North Carolina, Clingman's Dome, to the Outer Banks. This "rustic" bridge is typical of the trail up near the Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn't see a single person for three hours up here.

This leaf on the forest floor caught my eye during the hike; I loved the way raindrops had collected on its surface. 

When Suzanne returned from San Antonio, we saddled up and moved to Hilton Head to visit Irene and Tony Vouvalides at their beautiful home. Suzanne had given Irene two readings after the death of her daughter, Carly, and featured her in her IANDS presentation.  We thoroughly enjoyed their fabulous hospitality, including a delicious home-cooked pizza on the grill lunch, a bike tour, and a wonderful shrimp, arugula and pasta dinner. Tony is a world-class ship model builder and is now building a sailboat in his garage.

By the way, our last two nights on the road were spent at a marina/campground in Hilton Head. This was the view from the front window of our coach... not too shabby!

As we pulled onto our street back in The Villages, I wondered whether the sign that our good friends Joyce and Sharon had alerted us to was still on our front lawn... hmmm.... at least the porta-potti was gone!

Our first home-cooked meal back in TV was this fabulous grilled pizza; thanks to Irene and Tony for the recipe! 

This will be the final post of our Summer 2015 Tour... we had a great time but are looking forward to winter in The Villages and catching up with family and friends after almost six months on the road. Stay tuned in a week or so for Ty's report from his upcoming Yosemite backpacking trip and future goings-on with His Lovely Bride (The Lovely Suzanne), Rudy and Gretchen!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Shells and Bombs; Yellow Jackets! Unity of Wilmington; Musical RVs; Unity of the Blue Ridge; Missives from Minnesnowta

Before leaving Fort Belvoir, we had to go for a final trail run in the forest. In past runs this summer, we have seen signs warning of bears, cougars, coyotes and rattlesnakes. This sign caught us off guard until we realized that unexploded shells and bombs from 1861 through 1945 could be sitting just under the top layer of soil here. Needless to say, we didn't venture off the trail. (In fact, the day before, we had seen an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Demolition) Team in the area, so there are still things that can go boom in the woods here.)

On the way south from DC, we stopped at the Seymour Johnson AFB campground. It isn't often that you get up and see guys in HazMat suits walking around your campground... in this case it wasn't a fuel spill or ricin attack, but a nest of angry yellow jackets resident in the base of a tree in the next campsite over (which they had closed). The guy in the suit proceeded to spray the nest and then to dig up and remove it.

One of our favorite places is Wilmington, North Carolina. Rev. Mindy Tucker and the folks at Unity of Wilmington are some of the most hospitable people we've met on our cross-country tours. We arrived at our campground at Fort Fisher, in Kure Beach, and prepared for our first event, a Sanaya session, which was very well-attended and -received.

The next day Suzanne and I were walking Kure Beach and ran across several rowdy tourists, including our good friend Barb Kelly (far right) from The Villages. 

Kure Beach was a favorite place for Doug Brown, whose name many of you will recognize from Suzanne's talks. He is the young son of Scott and Robin who made his presence known by waving at Suzanne from the other side and later showed her the gorilla in a tutu.  It's a beautiful area, much less crowded than most East Coast beaches, and we could see why Doug loved coming here.  

We then enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our hosts from Unity's Consciousness Frontier lecture/workshop group. Left to right: Barbara McGirt, Cliff Birtwistle, Sherron Herdtner, Judy Birtwistle, Beth Ventre, Patricia Howell, MLB, YHC and Val Mahoney. It was a fun evening, right on the riverfront, with a great view of Battleship North Carolina and fabulous local seafood. 

Suzanne's SOAR Workshop was also a hit at Unity of Wilmington.  While she was spending the day  helping people to let their spirits take flight, I was dealing with more earthly matters back at the campground ...

This photo showing our motor home and two trailers doesn't look very interesting, but the story behind it is nothing short of amazing. When we checked in for a three-night stay, we were told that because of heavy demand, we would have to move to a different site for each night. No problem, I thought, since it's a busy time. When we had to move from site 6 to site 5 on day two, I noticed that site 5 had been empty the night before. So why couldn't they have put us in site 5 initially??? Then when on day three we were told that we had to move to site 4, I started asking questions... we were being told that we had to move to where the red truck is, he had to move to where the trailer on the right is, and the trailer had to move to our site!!! Yep, musical RV's, moving from one site to another for no good reason. Everyone was preparing to disconnect hoses and electrical power, bring in slide-outs, come down off jacks, hook up to move 50 feet, and then do all of the above steps in reverse to set up again. I then did something very out of character. I fomented a revolution. I went to the owners of the other two RVs and said, "Does anyone else think this is really dumb? Do you all want to move or stay where you are?" Obtaining agreement from the other owners, we then moved in a phalanx to the campground office, executed an enveloping maneuver around the unsuspecting office lady, and basically said, "We're not moving." It worked... one of those minor victories against bureaucracy. We may not ever be allowed back on this Air Force installation, but the sand fleas were vicious here, and it's not on our "must return" list.  (A phone call to the parent command recreation office later resulted in an admission that their reservation system is a bit antiquated.  Ya think??)

Having been placed on the campground manager's persona non grata list, we cheerfully packed up and moved all the way across the state to Asheville, NC, for the next event on our summer tour. Suzanne presented her Awakened Living 301 workshop at Unity of the Blue Ridge in Mills River (our second visit here), where hospitable, lovely, and beloved Rev. Darlene Strickland welcomed us. This is another happy, enthusiastic and loving community of kindred spirits who lauded Suzanne's presentation.

I would like to thank Terri of the Frozen North for her submission of her interpretation of the hidden designs in a photo from the last blog entry. I had mentioned being unable to discern a pattern because it kept dissolving and reforming, like swirling clouds in a thunderstorm. Terri saw a heart and a seagull in the photo, proving that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to artistic ability...

Terri also had time (during an early winter blizzard) to visit a hothouse floral exhibit in perpetually-frozen Minneapolis and sent along this image of lovely morning glories, a species of the Family Convolvulaceae. Terri tried to convince me that these flowers were growing just off her deck, but we all know that winter started months ago in Minnesnowta...