|Upper McCabe Lake and McCabe Pass|
Date: July 31, 2019
Place: Yosemite National Park, California
Coordinates: 37.994137, -119.350864
I am an experienced hiker and I sure know how to use a map and compass. A GPS navigator always makes things more easy and convenient too. That said, I am not mistake-proof. That have been occasions in the past when I was too distracted or too lazy to stop and verify my location. This happened once on my July 2016 backpacking trip to Mineral King when me and my friend (a different friend) took the wrong turn going up to Sawtooth Pass, ending up by Spring Lake rather than Columbine Lake where we had planned to go. One outcome of this mistake was that for nearly two days we had to walk cross country with no trail, scrambling through boulder fields and scree, wading through bogs, and climbing down steep cliffs. That was quite an educating experience and although we did it well and safe, and had a splendid time by Spring Lake, I made sure on all my following trips to not make such a mistake again.
|Sunrise at Lower McCabe Lake|
Yet, now on the third day of our Yosemite Backpacking Trip, I was about to go off trail and cross country again, this time intentionally. And I was taking with me a backpacking novice, who had no navigation experience and who trusted me blindly. Having talked with the mountaineering class instructors on the PCT the previous day I knew that this time would be no easier. That we would face large talus slopes (big broken boulders), wide flooded bogs, steep slopes, and most scary - the climb to McCabe Pass on a north-facing steep slope covered with icy snow. Ever since my talk with them I had debated in my mind if going cross country was a good idea. But then again, I also learned from them that yes, this route is definitely doable. Moreover, although guided, it was doable by an entire class of novices.
|Morning reflection at Lower McCabe Lake|
|Our hike from Lower McCabe Lake to Upper McCabe Lake as captured by my GPS|
|Morning reflection at Lower Lake McCabe|
|McCabe Creek where it drains the lake.|
|Unofficial trail north of Lower Lake McCabe|
Talus is the geological name for fallen boulders. The forest floor was littered with talus, ranging from table to house sizes, and each shaped differently. Between the boulders grew pine and fir trees, their low limbs brushing the ground. Low heather shrubs, some blooming, matted the forest floor, and many cobwebs decorated everything.
We made a slow progress along the contour of the granite spur that separated Lower McCabe Lake and the basin where we planned to climb to Upper McCabe Lake. We couldn't see the spur because of the trees but we knew it was there, if only because the talus boulders had to roll down from somewhere.
We hooted a bit when we saw our first snow mound of the day.
Having a GS navigator makes cross country hiking much easier. Instead of having to pull out my map and triangulate our location al I needed to do was to select the optimal altitude line and follow it in the direction I desired. Give or take a few us and downs to circumvent path difficulties, it worked very well.
|Towny Horkelia, Horkelia fusca var. Parviflora|
The flowers that bloomed along the snow-melt line were so tiny that they were hardly visible from above. But there were many of them,
|Nevada Bitterroot, Lewisia nevadensis|
|Shepherd Crest East|
|Primrose Monkeyflower, Erythranthe primuloides|
|Ledge Stonecrop, Rhodiola integrifolia|
|Buttercup, Ranunculus sp.|
|Shepherd Crest West|
|Meadow Everlasting, Antennaria corymbosa|
|Great Red Paintbrush, Castilleja miniata|
There was lots of water everywhere. I chose a small brook and started following it up the valley. Soon however, we had to cross it and follow another one. As it turned out, the valley floor was netted with countless brooks and rivulets.
In between these brooks the soil was completely soaked, rendering this valley effectively a bog.
A very lively bog it was. So green it hurt my desert-grown eyes. So wet that I had to carefully calculate each step as to not sink through the mud.
The king of the swamp there wasn't the daffodil but the swamp onion, which was only beginning its bloom as we waded our way through its territory.
|Swamp Onion, Allium validum|
|Attol Lousewort, Pedicularis attollens|
I looked wistfully at the end of the valley where I wanted us to climb. Both my friend and I were winded from our haste through the swamp and needed rest, and it looked very far still. `then my friend pointed out to the slope right of that valley end and suggested we should climb up there. It was closer to get there and it seemed totally doable so I agreed, and we started heading over to our right.
|American Brooklime, Veronica americana|
|California Tree Frog|
Unlike mountain goats, we carried heavy backpacks. Also we were weary from running through the bog. There were very few spots along our ascend where we could pause for a breather, and we used each and every one of them. It was about noon when we started our ascend but we climbed so slowly that I started wondering if we'd managed to get over the pass that day. I was also concerned with my friend who needed to pause after a few steps each time. She had water but when she refused any offer of snack claiming she was feeling nauseous, I begun to worry that she might be getting altitude sickness.
|A mosquito photobomb on our way up to Upper McCabe Lake|
The concern fueled me with renewed energy. I moved up as quickly as I could all the way to the ridge, which wasn't all that far. I placed my backpack against a rock making sure that it won't roll down and started downhill again. I paused only briefly to look at the green valley that we left so far below.
I found my friend on her feet, pushing her back pack uphill. I admit I got so upset that I snapped at her for taking the risk. I was afraid that at her level pf fatigue she might lose her balance and fall, what might get her rolling down the slope at high risk of injury. She didn't argue, just yielded her backpack to me, and we made it slowly up the rest of the slope to the ridge, where I had left my own backpack.
|Shepherd Crest East|
There was no trail there too, and we made a slow descent toward the lake. It was around 2pm when we arrived at the north (near) shore of the lake and found a good place to stop. I set about filtering water and fixing lunch while my friend laid herself flat n the ground, covered her face with her hat and drifted off to sleep.
At that point I was convinced that we would go no further that day. The day however, turned out otherwise, and about that in the next blogpost.