Place: Golden Trout Wilderness, Lone Pine, California
Coordinates (of where I had camped for the first night): 36.383837, -118.251805
Length: About 8.5 miles
On the morning of the second day of my backpacking trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness I got out of my tent as soon as there was enough light to see the shapes of the trees and fallen logs near my tent. I don't say woke up because I didn't really sleep - a combination of uneven surface, stuffiness and heat, and the loneliness had rendered my night a sleepless torment. I was glad to see the light of dawn and was up and all packed well before the actual sunrise.
|My first night campsite|
|My second day hike as captured by my GPS|
I haven't seen many mushrooms on this trip, and most of those I have seen were bracket mushrooms on dead trees. I did come across this cluster of bolete mushrooms and smiled, because pine boletes are \the only wild mushrooms I can identify to the assurance of harvesting and consuming. I didn't harvest these, however. They didn't look all that appealing, and I wasn't ready to go through the ordeal of cleaning and cooking them just then.
|Sulphur Buckwheat, Eriogonum umbellatum|
|Brewer's Lupine, Lupinus breweri|
Occasionally the trail emerged from the trees and I could have a clearer view of the meadow and of the plants that bloomed there. I was on the lookout for deer and other wildlife, but didn't see any. Nothing except mosquitoes. I had to stop there and put on the bug repellent.
I deserted the trail and approached the rock mound. The first thing I noticed when up close were the little plants that grew in the cracks, some of which were blooming.
What grabbed my attention immediately was the brightness of the meadow and the shine of the narrow creek below. It was so bright that it hurt my eyes after a while.
Looking back to the northeast where I had come from I could see the entire Tunnel Meadow stretching below me, long, beautiful, and vacant. Empty of people, empty of any visible wildlife. For the first time I noticed how eerily quiet this place was.
Quiet, and gorgeous. I kept climbing up, inspired by every rock face and every crack plant. I think maybe a quarter of the photos I took that day were there. It was a difficult task to select the few posted here.
As I descended back (slowly too) I came down the other side of the mound. I run into more little plants in the cracks between the big granite slabs.
|Granite Prickly Phlox, Linanthus pungens|
It looked as if the granite mound was out of place, sticking out like that in the meadow. But the mountains around the meadow were all granite. There was a peak once where the meadow is now . Eroded over time, this rock pile is what's left, rising from the meadow ground as a relic of a taller past.
I came to the edge of the meadow and entered the woods once again. Also the trail started ascending in a mild slope. I thought about taking a break when I'd reach the trail leading to Little Whitney meadow but then I came across a corral that held a few horses. There was no human in sight. One of the horses was lying on the ground. She looked very big and was heaving audibly and I was sure she was about to give birth any minute. Curious, I sat down and looked at the horses for some time. After a few minutes the lying horse got up on her feet and that was it. Suddenly I saw behind the corral a figure of a man getting up on his feet and hoisting something large on his back. Not wishing to interact I quickly got my own pack on and continued up the trail.
The forest looked different than the one I started my day at. The trees were smaller, thinner and farther apart, indicative of a dryer area. The sun washed the forest floor in abundance but very little grew underneath these pines.
Suddenly I saw the ruins of a human settlement. Behind them, a still standing cabin. I got curious and went closer to inspect the cabin. Being all alone all day I was much surprise so see a woman in the cabin. If she was surprised to see me she didn't show it. She was very nice and soon we had an easy conversation going. She told me she and her husband were volunteers for the National Forest and were station ed there for the summer, doing work clearing and maintaining the trails. She told me that the ruins at that place were the remains of the Tunnel Ranger Station which had burned down a few years back.
I shared my hike plan with her and she gave me information about my upcoming path.She also told me that the horses I saw were the national Forest's horses for their use and that the fat horse on the ground wasn't pregnant. She just does that, said the volunteer.
As we were talking a man approached us - the same man I saw behind the corral. The woman introduced him to me - he was her husband. he was very nice too and added some more information about the trails in my plan. I felt embarrassed for my haste to get away when I first saw him. But then again, being a woman alone in the woods, that was understandable.
|The remains of the Tunnel Ranger Station|
|Golden Trout Creek|
I also had to put on a new layer of bug repellent. Thankfully, mosquitoes weren't the only bugs there. I watched the bees going between flowers, fascinated.
|The forest between groundhog Meadow and Little Whitney Meadow|
After that brief exchange of words the other hiker moved on, and in what seemed to me a terrifying speed. I sighed and got up too, hoisted my backpack (that now seemed extra heavy), and continued in her wake.
Inspired (and somewhat annoyed) by the super speed of the other backpacker I tried at first to go at a quick pace. It didn't take long, however, before I slowed back down to my usual gait. I reminded myself that I was there to enjoy the wilderness and not to to any race. That there was nothing I needed to prove to anyone. I was also feeling suddenly very fatigued. I remembered that I didn't have any proper meal yet that day and so I found a place to sit and stopped for a lunch break.
The problem was that I didn't feel hungry, and that despite drinking constantly my mouth felt dry. Nothing in my food pack seemed appealing, but I needed the nourishment so I forced down some trail mix.
My lunch break was cut short when I was discovered by ants who came in multitudes to get their share of the trail mix. I tucked the food away, shook the ants off and plugged on.
Other then a short segment, the trail continued along the Golden Trout Creek that gained breadth and speed as it collected tributaries along the way. I was wearing my sandals still so I didn't worry about wetting my feet crossing the tributaries. Apparently neither did the backpacker who had passed me because I could see her still wet footprints for a few yards past each crossing. Soon I could recognize her footprints even when dry. They were the newest on this trail - it seemed as if no one else had walked there that day.
The alternative (and longer) trail I could have taken to get to Little Whitney meadow was the Volcano Trail. Indeed on my map that was marked 'Volcano' on one of the buttes outlined by the topographic contours. I could even glimpse said volcano here and there through the trees. But is was along the Golden trout Creek trail that I could clearly see the volcanic rubble that was pushed right to the water's edge.
|Golden Trout Creek|
|Little Whitney Meadow|
|Primrose Monkeyflower, Mimulus primuloides|
|Painted Lady butterfly and aster flowers.|
My appetite still hasn't kicked in so I was satisfied with a protein bar and a few nuts. Meanwhile the other backpacker came along, looking all energized and cheerful. She was also much more talkative this time. She paused near me and we had the friendliest chat yet. She told me that she had backpacked the Golden Trout Wilderness several times before, and that the current summer was really unusual. August is the dry season hear, she proclaimed. You can go for miles and miles not seeing any surface water. This summer, which followed the wettest winter in a very long while, all the streams were high and ponds full, and all the vegetation was green still and not likely to dry out at all until the turn of fall.
|Golden Trout Creek|
|Narrow-leaved Wire Lettuce, Stephanomeria tenuifolia|
|The Golden Trout Creek Trail|
In my head I was debating whether I should make it all the way down to the Kern that day or should I stay the for the night at the Natural Bridge. I had no idea what will I find in terms of camping convenience on either site.
An odd looking tree caught my eye. It was dead, or almost dead. Its trunk hd numerous holes drilled into it, some of which were oozing sap. I've seen previously trees that fell victim to the bark beetle but this one seemed a bit excessive, especially when other trees in the vicinity didn't seem to be under such an attach. I wonder if the drilling was what killed the tree or were they done because the tree was already dead/dying.
But there were nicer things to see in that forest too. Wildflowers, for example. Clusters of scarlet gilia flowers added nice color to the rest floor.
|Scarlet Gilia, Ipomopsis aggregata|
|Scarlet Gilia, Ipomopsis aggregata, a white form.|
Something happened to me. I was tired, which wasn't very surprising, considering that I was walking for two days now after two sleepless nights and had eaten very little during that time. But it was more than just fatigue. All of a sudden I started feeling woozy and nauseous. I found that I was relying more on my hiking poles to keep me steady, and that was on a fairly level trail. I had to stop and breathe.
The thought of altitude sickness crossed my mind but I dismissed it. Perhaps I shouldn't have, but the treatment for that was going to a lower elevation and I was heading that way anyway. All that day I was basically going downhill.
I entered a small forest clearing that was full of wildflowers and that helped diverting my mind and cheer me up a bit. The pretty meadow that grew in the clearing flanked the Malpais Creek - a tributary of the Golden trout Creek which I had left some time ago.
|Cobwebby Hedge Nettle, Stachys albens|
Eventually I settled for the most moist item I had there, which was a small packet of peanut butter. I squeezed the entire thing in my mouth and spent a few long minutes chewing in with long sips of water.
|Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja sp.|
|Biglow's Sneezeweed, Helenium biglovii|
The trail neared the Malpais Creek again and was now going distinctly downhill, although still in a mild slope. I quickened my pace, eager to get to my destination.
I came upon it almost by surprise - the Natural Bridge is an arch of volcanic rock that the creek had tunneled under. The trail goes right over it.
I walked across the bridge and looked around. Straight ahead to the west there was at all mountain that had no name on my map. Between me and that mountain was the Kern Canyon.
To the north was another prominent peak made of smooth granite and prickled with pine trees. Between me and that peak run the Golden Trout Creek.
I crossed the Natural Bride back to the north side and walked down the rock ledges to look for a campsite place. Just as the volunteers had told me there were some already established campsites in that area. I half expected to see other people there but there was no one but me. I went all the way down to the lowest ledge that was most hidden from the trail above, and from which it was also the easiest access to the creek to get water. I dropped my pack, stretched myself on the ground, and closed my eyes.
An hour later I got up, brushed the pine needles off and pitched my tent. I took the time to verify that the place was completely level and that there were no stones or pinecones underneath.
True to my resolution I hydrated a pack of guacamole and wrapped it in a tortilla. I ate slowly without enthusiasm but with great determination. When I finished I had to breathe deeply to stifle my nausea. I focused my mind on the pretty trees that would be my only companions fro the rest of the day and the night that was to come.
I arrived at the Natural Bridge before 4 pm and even after resting, pitching my tent, and eating, there were still a couple of daylight hours left. There was only so long I could sit at the ledge and stare at the running water so I walked back up to the bridge and looked at it again.
|The Natural Bridge over the Malpais Creek|
|Last sun rays on the trees above my campsite|
I felt very lonely.
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!
A link to the next day blog post.