Monday, August 1, 2011

Big Lil Loop, Day One

Epic. As far as I’m concerned, this was an epic trip, even if we were only in the backcountry for about 48 hours.

Our group on what was supposed to be the easiest of the overnight trips consisted of seven Marchers, including me, and our guides Heather and Mateo. The other Marchers were three dads and their kids, ages 7 to 11.

We spent Wednesday night at Hodgdon Meadow with the Marchers signed up for the Long Loop and our guides. There was rice pasta for dinner for those of us who don’t eat gluten. The next morning there were delicious lox and cream cheese along with Udi’s, the good gluten-free bread.

Thursday morning we were up around 6:30 getting ready for our respective trips. Most of us were at the dam ready to go around 10. It was already hot and we were about to climb nearly 3,000 feet on a rocky, exposed trail with our full packs.

Rattle snakes were a favorite topic that morning. I was anxious to spot one.

About half way up the switchbacks from the reservoir-side trail I asked a man coming down if had seen any. He said, “No, we saw some on our last trip, but not on this one. They try to stay out of your way.” A beat later he pointed and said, “There’s one!” Sure enough there was a long, fat one a couple feet down from the trail slithering into a gap between some rocks.

On one of our many stops Heather asked us to gauge how we were feeling with a thumbs-up, -sidways or –down. Mine was about half way between up and sideways. I had a headache, which is typical when I’m exerting myself in the sun on a hot day. But I was excited and wanted to keep my steady pace. There was lots to learn about my fellow marchers and from our guides.

We stopped for lunch at the top of the switchback trail, still a few miles of uphill from the site of a spring called Bee Hive. I ate a Ziploc baggie full of pasta and veggies left over from the night before. It hit the spot. We marched on.

It wasn’t long before, at a stop, I started to feel nauseated. I came back from using the natural facilities when everyone else was moving on and I told Heather how I was feeling.

In a few minutes I started throwing up. My stomach felt better. She asked me all kinds of questions about medications, how much I’d been drinking, if I could have the flu, if I could be pregnant. It was clear she knew how to handle the situation. Mateo came back down the trail a bit later to check on the situation, after the last hiker who left our little stop, Josh, told him I was feeling sick. He and Heather decided the rest of the group would go on and she and I would take our time.

I rested in the shade for a while, then we hiked a short distance back down the trail to a creek that made a little oasis, with gorgeous flowers all around. She filtered water with a hand pump and I soaked my clothes to get my core temperature down. Heather theorized that I had AMS (acute mountain sickness) or heat exhaustion, or a combination of the two. The cool water and rest made me feel somewhat better. I had an Emergen-C (sort of a Gatorade-powder drink) and a few nibbles of a gluten-free cereal bar.

We walked back to the packs and rested a bit more and started out again. We made a third or so of a mile before I puked again. We talked again about our options. There was a good spot to camp near there, and we could have stopped there and caught up the next day. We almost did, but she realized we had gear the other group need for dinner and they had gear we needed. If we could make it to Bee Hive with our packs, she could quickly cover the mile to the set campsite for the night, Laurel Lake, to exchange gear. After more rest, we pressed on.

I shuffled along for a little while, and she asked if I would do better without my pack. I said, “Sure, but what’s the alternative?” She offered to carry my pack. I was somewhat unbelieving that that was a real possibility and mumbled a noncommittal response. A short time later she said, “I’m going to carry your pack.” With her pack on her back, and mine on her front, we moved along slowly but steadily for almost two miles. It was getting to be 5 or 6 in the evening and with the sun no longer beating down, the break from carrying 25 pounds on my back was improving my condition greatly. The terrain was much easier, and my pace was just a tad faster than hers, me carrying only my camera and her toting 50 or more pounds of gear.

We came to another stream and filtered more water. I was feeling much better and ready to carry my pack again. We were nearly to Bee Hive when Heather said softly, “Look! Bears!” I could hardly believe my eyes. About 200 feet from the trail, across a level span of greenery, was a momma bear foraging while one of her cubs scampered up a tree after noticing us. The momma looked at us for a bit with a look that expressed mild interest. The baby looked down at her, clearly concerned. Soon we noticed another cub up a tree. And a half-blonde adolescent ambled up the hill, not seeming to notice us at all.

My only other bear experience was seeing one dash across the road while driving from Yosemite Valley to Wawona. So this sighting blew me away. It made the earlier nausea a distant memory.

We ogled the quartet as long as we dared in the fading light. After a few more minutes we arrived at Beehive, where we hoped to find our group. As we got attacked by mosquitoes, it became obvious why they decided to press on to Laurel Lake instead of camping at Beehive.

The signs at the junction were a bit sketchy, with one falling over a bit and the other directing toward a somewhat grown-over trail, but we soon noticed an arrow made with branches and highlighted with pieces of lichen! We eagerly followed. Soon there was a slightly-challenging stream crossing, which I made after Heather went across to find the trail.

We had one more climb before we came over a ridge and spotted campfire and headlamps. Heather hooted and got a reply to this from Mateo. It was almost totally dark, but we were finally able to relax. The cooler evening temps and the break afforded by Heather carrying my pack had contributed to what felt like a miraculous recovery.

Two headlamps came toward us and soon 7-year-old Xander was shouting at us: “You missed the most exciting thing!” Another momma bear and her two cubs had come right into camp soon after they got dinner going. Those had made their way out of camp without a confrontation, and the next day I saw amazing photos of the trio not 15 feet from the photographer (Jason). I think I would have been pretty nervous if bears had been that close to just Heather and me!

I made my way to the dinner area and my dear fellow Restore Hetch Hetchy board member Drew and his 9-year-old Dylan offered to put up my tent so I could rest and eat. I gratefully accepted. Miso soup plus a tortilla with a bit of avocado made a good dinner for my recovering stomach. I told some of my fellow marchers of our adventure and what an amazing nurse/sherpa/encourager my guide had been.


  1. I agree. Day 1 was epic in it's ups and downs. The heat and humidity was really tough on my daughter and I. I've been activity hiking for many decades and as far as I can remember this was the first hike that I ran out of water. The lush mountainside cloaked the water needs of us hikers. However, the views of the Hetch Hetchy valley were stupendous and the flora at beehive was simply unbelievable.


  2. Kathy, I remember you getting really sick on a hike up in Yosemite years ago. We were taking the Nevada Falls trail and had taken the steeper side for the hike up. You barely made it and I remember being really worried about you at the time (and we only had day packs on). I think you've lived at sea level for a long time. Maybe next year you can spend some time at higher altitude for a few days before starting the hike. Oh, and seeing bears sounds awesome!

  3. Linda: I agree, I definitely need to spend a couple days acclimating next time I do a backpacking trip above 2000 feet!