|Clouds gathering over the Big Whitney Meadow|
Date: August 4, 2017
Place: Golden Trout Wilderness, Lone Pine, California
Coordinates (of Rocky Basin Lake): 36.443895, -118.312227
Length: about 10 miles
On the fifth morning of my trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness I got out of my tent after a long, dark, and restless night. It rained on and off throughout the night but the morning was precipitation-free. The clouds, however, still hung low in the sky, in reminder that the next rain isn't a far-fetched idea. I could see some blue patches between them and was ok with that.
|Rocky Basin Lake|
|My Tent's Footprint|
At that time I was already quite efficient in getting organized and soon I was on my way down from the Rocky Basin Lake.
|Fireweed along the creek|
Sure enough, at the bottom of the trail I now found the trail junction that I had missed yesterday. There, on a rock, was a soggy yellow piece of paper with a note saying that the fellow (whomever wrote the note) had gone all the way up to the lake but didn't find the people he/she was looking for and continued on to the Big Whitney Meadow to look for them. I suppose the note was left there in case those people might eventually come this way so I left it there untouched and turned on the trail leading to the Big Whitney Meadow myself.
|Barigan String Creek|
The ascend to the ridge south of the meadow was short and mellow and didn't take me long. The trees at the top blocked the sweeping view I might have otherwise had of the meadow below. It was enough, however, to tell that the title 'big' was an understatement. The Big Whitney Meadow was HUGE.
At the edge of the forest I had a better view of the meadow and could appreciate its size and beauty. As I broke my camp that morning I was resolved to head out that day, and I thought that if I didn't feel good enough to go up the Cottonwood Pass then I would stay at the Big Whitney Meadow. I was glad to see that it looked like a nice place to camp.
But it was still early when I got there, and so I started my journey across the meadow to the base of the trail to Cottonwood Pass.
|Big Whitney Meadow|
|A green and white carpet below, a gray blanket above. The Big Whitney Meadow.|
|Strokes String Creek|
|Pumice Alpinegold, Pumice hulcea|
|Monkeyflower, Mimulus sp|
|Crossing the Big Whitney Meadow|
I also had to take great care not to trample them :-)
|Tree Frog. My big toe in the bottom right corner as a size reference.|
|Dandelion, Agoseris sp.|
In between the multitudes of monkeyflower and arnica I spotted here and there some rarer blossoms and I took the effort to document them to the best of my ability.
|Mt. Whitney Draba, Draba sharsmithii|
|Strokes String Creek|
But a little further away and the vegetation changed again to reflect an even drier soil.
And little by little, I begun to go up.
At the northeastern edge of the meadow I sat down for a snack break and contemplated my next move.
It was still early in the afternoon and I felt a bit better so I decided to start up the trail toward the Cottonwood Pass. I told myself that I would go slowly, and if my feeling worsen I would go back down to the meadow and camp there.
|A yellow carpet below the Cottonwood Pass Trail|
|A green and white carpet below the Cottonwood Pass Trail|
There could have been other reasons to make me stay up on the ridge but I preferred not to think about them, and thankfully none materialized.
|Up to the Cottonwood Pass|
|Filling up on water on the way up to Cottonwood Pass|
As I munched my snack I heard calls from somewhere above. It didn't take me long to spot the caller - a Clark's nutcracker. It was quite far and I didn't have a good birding camera with me, but I still got a passable image of the bird, the first and only I'd seen all day.
|Mountain Monardella, Monardella odoratissima|
|Oceanspray, Holodiscus discolor|
I turned the corner of the slope and the thick, green line that was leading to the tip of the ridge appeared before me. I was nearing the top.
I went on upward. A small squirrelt darted from the trail before me. One of the very few I've seen that entire trip. I raised my camera as quick as I could but the squirrel was quicker. I consoled myself with a picture of some beautiful Indian paintbrush shrubs in full bloom.
|Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja sp.|
|A view down to the Big Whitney Meadow|
In the north corner of my view a saw a prominent mountain, very far. I photographed it with my strongest zoom: there were lines of snow along its slopes, leftovers from a very wet winter.
I kept going, now urged to keep ahead of the rain. The slope of the trail had softened, alowing me to increase my gait. I did pause to look at the wildflowers still.
|Fleabane, Erigeron sp.|
|Southern Sierra Chaenactis, Chaenactis alpigena|
On my left in the trees there was a horse camp and the people there were busy tying tarps to the trees in preparation for the imminent rain. They didn't notice me, or didn't show they did, and I just went on moving up the trail. I could see the actual mountain pass ahead.
It really was a lovely area and on a different time I might have stayed there longer. As it was, I wanted to get to the pass and go down the other side as quickly as I could.
|Rocky point near Cottonwood Pass|
|Last look at the pass before the hail storm|
|View East from the Cottonwood Pass|
|A view east down to the Horseshoe Meadow|
|Larkspur, Delphinium sp.|
|Carpet Clover, Trifolium monanthum|
I also run into a large group of backpackers that were making their way up - they were on the long route to conquer the summit of Mount Whitney- the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S.A.
|California Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum|
|At the eastern bottom of the Cottonwood Pass Trail|
I expected to go into the Horseshoe Meadow at any moment but the trail remained inside the woods, skirting the meadow from the west. When eventually I did get a full view of the meadow I begun my trek at, it was right at the junction that pointed toward the trailhead parking area. I stood there for a few minutes and looked at the pretty meadow and the now familiar carpet of purple monkeyflowers. I wanted to finish the trek but now I felt a tinge of regret.
My trek at the Golden Trout Wilderness was done. I had walked about 40 miles in 5 days. I fulfilled a long time desire (to see the Kern Canyon) and I got to see a beautiful and very remote part of California at its best time in years. I was all alone most of the time.
Botanically speaking this trip was a huge success. The vegetation was absolutely gorgeous, including the forests, meadows and the dense wildflower carpets. Although I did not realize it at the time, many of the wildflowers I've seen were rare or endemic to that region and I was very fortunate to have seen them. On the other hand I hardly saw (or heard) wildlife, which I thought was strange. Not that I expected wild animals to pop in my way with every step but the dead emptiness and silence (not even birds!) that was there for most of the time, had certainly contributed to my sense of desolation. Come to think of it, it might have been the outcome of 5 years of drought in an already arid place that caused it, but it was still strange.
My biggest surprise was my own feelings during this trip. I honestly didn't expect to have the doldrums while being in what I believed (and still believe!) to be my element. Looking back at this I think that I probably did have a mild form of altitude sickness, and that at the time I took the right measures to control it, enough to be physically good to complete the trek and go over the mountain pass but it was not enough to lift up my mood.
I learned a lot from that experience and while I realized that I do prefer going with others, I would not refrain from going by myself again. I would prepare better, though, and I would likely chose a destination more popular where I would be more likely to come across other backpackers on my way.
I am now looking forward to my next backpacking trip :-)
Post Edit: My next annual backpacking trip was also a solo one, also unintentionally, but for which I was far better prepared :-)
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!