|We tested the ski lift readiness.
|We are here.
One should think of winter already in summer. Until about September, you can buy discounted
skiing season passes, then prices suddenly double. Thus I endeavored to figure out and arrange
for our skiing to come. Tom would turn thirteen in October — I did not want to cheat
and wanted to buy him a teenager pass, alas, the machine pronounced him not qualified.
It let me buy him a child pass without trouble. Yet we did not quite feel like having to deal
with this on our first skiing day, when long lines form everywhere and you hang on wearing
heavy, uncomfortable ski boots. Hence the decision to go to Kirkwood now.
We realized we had been going to camp at Leavitt throughout the summer, while the whole
Sierra is beautiful. And Kirkwood operates two ski lifts in summer, mostly for mountain
bike riders, but they are willing to give a ride to a hiker. And if said hiker wields his/her
winter skiing season pass, there is no fare to be paid. Still, our way there included
a dramatic intermezzo. We wished to stop and have lunch at Giant Burger, and as we were
too early with ten minutes left till opening, we looked for some merciful shade under
a tree on a far end of the parking lot. There, a sudden and very unpleasant sound could
be heard — and we discovered our car's bra had been ripped off (a flat sheet of
plastic that protects the engine from underneath). For reasons unknown to us, a parking
curb sported inconspicuous yet effective steel spikes thrusting up a foot or so.
|A brook in Devil's Corral.
We would not get far with the bra dragging on the road under the car; and we
began looking for someone able to hoist the car up, get under, and either rip
the plastic off or fix it back on. It would not seem such a difficult task,
but this was, after all, during a weekend. We got lucky in Jackson, some 15 miles
away, where two guys were still working at the 49er Auto, despite being Saturday;
they got under the car, and used a few screws with large washers to solve our problem.
In fact, they saved us our weekend.
We had thus arrived late at Kirkwood, allowed ourselves getting lifted up to Caples Crest,
planning to run it back downhill. Kids were ecstatic because of the summer ride on a ski lift,
Lisa dragging along her obligatory plush sheep Sierra, and exclaiming how weird it was to sit
on the chair without skis and a winter jacket. We took a trail through Devil's Corral, and
could check out our favorite winter slopes in their summer clothes. Despite being mid-August,
everything was still in full bloom, and some lupines and grasses had grown taller than our
children. Devil's Corral, which comes off in winter as a boring flat, turned into a beautiful
summer meadow. It surprised me how long we took to descend from Caples Crest — you
zip down in under ten minutes on skis, hiking down lasted us good two hours. It's true we
made a detour through the Corral, heeding a recommendation of a mountain patrol guy, who had
sent us there to see wild flowers and a waterfall. The last section of our hike included
a clear vision of us having beer and ice cream, respectively, in the general store at base.
|Morning mirror at Tamarack Lake.
After refreshments, we still had to find a place to spend the night. We were hauling our tent
and sleeping bags in our car, and imagined that we would simply try one of many forests roads
in Hope Valley. We passed a few people-infested campgrounds and eventually found a spot on
the dam of Tamarack Lake.
The lake's surroundings were pretty populated, but everybody had, before dusk, properly turned
in and refrained from hollering, and the night passed in peace. I was the first one up in the
morning, and it was a good thing — motionless surface of the lake reflected nearby mountains
and forests — but only for a little while; within a half hour, a breeze picked up and my
mirror was gone.
We had hoped that Kirkwood and Tamarack Lake would make us adapt to the proper goal of
our expedition — a hike in Carson Pass. Years ago I had been there with friends,
and I liked the pass very much. There is no desperate scrambling up a slope; only beautiful
alpine meadows and lakes. Carson Pass lies a bit above Kirkwood, and here, too, we found ourselves
at the start of a short summer season, just in mid-August. We even found wild strawberry blossoms.
Let's hope they manage to ripe before snow comes back again.
|What is this about, like, going on???
After a first mile, you reach Frog Lake — the kids were very upset as we insisted
on continuing the hike towards Round Top. We naturally did not harbor any hopes to climb
it, but I did want to take our family at least to Winnemucca Lake. It snugs up to the
foot of Round Top, and projects a very wild and alpine image. Weather is quite alpine, too
— while at Frog Lake I was considering a dip, at Winnemucca we put on all clothes
we were carrying along, and sought shelter from the icy wind. What it had to look like
on top of that mountain, we had no idea, although sun was shining brightly.
This mountain trip concluded our summer; we had two days at home to shake off any
confusion, and the kids were starting school again. Lisa had advanced to middle school,
following Tom, and much of our playing taxicab fell away. The school lies in walking
distance, and thus we armed our children with cellphones, and released them into the wild.
In California, where you practically must drive everywhere, including shopping, post
office, workplace, it actually represents a luxury benefit. Being on the verge of puberty,
both children can surely use some freedom from their mother. Not to mention the freedom
aforementioned mother gains — suddenly she does not have to be at some exact
time in front of the school, obsessing about being late.
|A meadow in Carson Pass.
Still, perhaps to protect the children from getting a nasty school start shock, their
onboarding is rather slow. They begin in mid-week, only having to go three times before
another weekend. Then they have a regular five day week — and the next one
is shorter by a Friday off before a Monday holiday — those are, count them, two
four-day weeks, going easy on the snowflakes. For us, Labor Day holiday represents a final
stop after each summer, and an opportunity to organize another greater trip. This year
we had arranged with Craig to do a camping expedition on horseback. They would take us
with our stuff into the wilderness, leaving us at a lake till Monday — and we
would relax and enjoy the nature. School, however, interfered with this plan by Lisa
becoming ill. We had hoped that it was just a three-day cold, curing itself by the weekend,
but she kept on coughing nastily on Friday, dragging herself back and forth between
TV couch and her bed, and in the end I unpacked half of our stuff, left Lisa at home
with Sid, and took off, only me and Tom.
Our plan had been to drive out early morning and be for lunch in Strawberry.
Honza had written in the morning that he was joining us, albeit without Klára.
Švajdas and Dulinas had reported from the road, too, and we all did indeed meet
at Strawberry Inn. Then we separated for the final leg, crossing the mountain
range, but arrived within ten minutes of each other. An organizationally difficult
phase ensued — unloading all our things onto a deck, where they were all
weighed and distributed among four mules. Infantry detail of our expedition
departed — Luba, Mirek, Olík, Ajka and Tim went marching, equipped with
snacks; Honza joined them with a full backpack on account of exercise.
Jaro transported all infantry to a bridge, returning with his car and joining
us on horseback.
|... and on rocks.
Neddie was unavailable, and I was issued Racer — another gray gelding, but more than
a foot larger than Ned. When dismounting, I almost broke something — it was somewhat
longer way down to earth than I was expecting.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Our ride proceeded more or less problem-less, we even encountered our infantry, and it would
seem that everything was running according to a plan. I was under the impression that we had
agreed with our marching companions to meet at Lane Lake — before we find our campsite
a bit away from crowds. Craig had recommended camping at the river — away from the main
tributary to PCT, and near a water source. Then I had wanted to return with the cowboys to
the lake, collecting our hikers. They, however, did not care to wait and began circumnavigating
the lake, and I ran into them earlier than expected — still if they followed the main
trail from the cross-roads, we would have missed each other. Still, all ended well and we
could camp in a beautiful spot.
|Gorge with the river under the waterfall.
Unfortunately, the night was rather crazy — a wind was blowing and a little farther behind
the tents, a dead tree wedged between two live ones, creaked ominously. And so irregularly, one could
not sleep — having packed as effectively as possible, I did not take along my full complement
of toiletries, in particular, ear plugs.
In the morning after I was getting up in a state of a complete zombie, and as one of my early deeds
I set up to move the tent. Gradually, other adult members of the gang mused about not having slept
much. As much it is strange, the kids did not seem to be bothered by this noise, and all were
very perky and active.
Tom helped me move the tend to a river bank. In the spring or even begin of summer, I would
not have dared, but now the water was so low and no precipitation; sleeping on pebbles seemed to
me like a good idea. Honza was moving, too, but others stayed in place. Let me tell your right now:
there was no wind the following night, and the tree did not creak at all.
|The kids lasted at their play in the river for an incredibly long time.
|On our way to Lane Lake.
Sunday program was not specified, we just wanted to camp. Still we made a small trip to the
waterfalls before noon. I first had thought that we would take twenty minutes going there, take
some pictures of the stream, and we'd go back, but in the end we stayed there relatively long.
Thanks to the low water level, one could crawl through the gorge made by the river, of which the kids
took advantage with a verve. We adults participated only haltingly, but even so it was very nice
After lunch we set out to the lake, hoping to swim in it. Alas, previous windy night had apparently
signaled the end of summer. Icy wind blew over the lake, and so I got in it more as a matter of
principle than because I felt such an urge. Tom eschewed swimming, and instead he tried to fish,
and teach fishing the other kids. Their like kept getting tangled and they could not properly cast,
for which I was quietly thankful — I truly don't know what I'd do if they caught something.
Eventually they tried catching crayfish with bare hands, which made them busy for a while —
luckily no one suggested boiling crayfish for dinner; and we had nice beans from a can.
|Enjoying the lake.
|Tom lures a crayfish.
Tom had surprised me, for with sunset he went to sleep in the tent without being told. He had
soaked his sneakers in the afternoon, and got water in his rubber boots in the evening —
they had deteriorated and cracked in the instep. He said he was simply too cold, and so he went.
He was overall very self-sufficient and functional on this trip — helping me with pitching
the tent and moving it, and later with packing. He did not ask for help dealing with problems like
his leaky boots — and was able to smartly choose crawling into his sleeping bag when he was
being cold, although our tent was now farther away from the others.
The rest of us sat for a while longer, even sang a bit, but after the previous noisy night we did
not last long. This second night was much quieter, but also colder. I had zipped my dawn mummy bag
all the way to my neck, and even put on a hood in the morning, for there was a draft hitting my
neck and head. And I was not surprised that by nine in the morning, I would shake pieces of ice
out of the tent fly, which had formed from our condensed breaths.
|On our way back over the lake.
We got up by seven thirty, to be ready and packed up by nine to be picked up by mules —
and most of our expedition was actually ready by nine. I was somewhat behind, missing the second
pair of adult hands. Although Tom and I had altogether fewer things, the tent and all the cooking
does not shrink much. Fortunately our cowboys were late, and even I had packed in time in the end.
Honza set out first, claiming to have to be home early, and we just got back to the pack station,
re-packed into our cars. Since Tom just opened his yogurt, I let the others go ahead. We hung
out at the ranch, talking about horses and fishing with Craig. We still caught up with the rest of
the gang in Strawberry, for a late lunch.
It would appear that this trip was a success — and I am glad that we managed to take our
friends out into the wilderness. Away from official campsites, port-a-potties, and sources of
treated water. And all our friends managed to deal with everything, including filtering and
drinking water from Walker river. Having all our food and stuff carried in on mules is, of course,
a very soft alternative to hauling it all on one's back, but then we had fun riding horses.
Too bad Lisa and Sid could not be there with us.