Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 18: The Polish Route

It was time to get back on the trail. We only planned to do a half-day of hiking today, so we took our time getting up and eating the continental breakfast at the hotel and finally packing our backpacks for the hike. Before leaving town, Karolina wanted to stop in a couple of stores to buy earrings and.... well, something I'll tell you about later. It'll be a surprise! ;o)

And finally, we were ready to hit the trail again, with Madam Butterfly in tow. We decided to set ourselves up on the road out of town that we had walked in on earlier since anyone going in that direction would be going in the direction we wanted. I also wanted to walk out just far enough that we wouldn't waste our time trying to hitch rides from people who were traveling a couple of blocks to the post office or wherever. We needed people who were leaving town. And I figured we'd be best off trying to hitch a ride so far out near the edge of town as practical, and at an intersection with a signal. The signal would force people to slow down or stop and increase the likelihood that they'd pick us up. And there was a wide shoulder that would allows cars to easily pull over to pick us up. That was the theory, anyhow.

Karolina shows a little leg to help us hitch a ride.

We arrived and started our attempts at hitchhiking at precisely 11:56 AM. I know because I checked the time as we stuck out our thumbs for the first time. Karolina thought it was odd that we stick out our thumbs to hitchhike in America. How do they do it in Europe? I've never tried hitchhiking in Europe before, but apparently it doesn't require a thumb. Maybe wave at the passing cars? But how would they know you were trying to hitch a ride rather than just being friendly?

I took some photos of Karolina trying to hitchhike, and told her to show a little leg. Come on! We need a ride! The photos were kind of farcical with Madam Butterfly floating around in the background. I hoped it didn't make us look too ridiculous. I wanted everyone driving by to think, "Those are hikers. I might not normally pick up hitchhikers, but I'll pick up hikers." Madam Butterfly does not make anyone look like a hiker.

"Make sure our packs are readily visible to anyone passing by," I told Karolina. "We want them to know why were out here and where we want to go."

Several cars drove by, but none stopped. The noon hour clicked by, and we were still there, waiting for a kind soul to pick us up.

At exactly 12:01 PM, a car with two people pulled over next to us. Yes! We got a ride! It took us five minutes, but we got a ride!

The two were a couple driving home up the road somewhere. For some bizarre reason, I never wrote their names in my journal and now I've long since forgotten them, but they squeezed us into the backseat of their car and drove off. They lived in a house somewhere pretty far up the road and I figured they'd drop us off along the way, perhaps at the turnoff for South Lake, which was okay. It got us closer to our goal, and at least at that point, a lot more of the cars passing by would be going to our destination, but they graciously drove us the entire way to the trailhead. They seriously went out of their way to help us out!

On the drive up, we passed a couple of strange-looking vehicles. Dark, tinted windows and they looked to be mostly covered with some sort of dark fabric, and our trail angels explained that the cars were new designs of car companies that were being tested out. This area, apparently, is a popular place to test new car models, but being new models, they cover and disguise the cars so people can't see it until they've officially been announced. Very interesting!

This bizarre-looking car could get me in trouble for taking photos of it! But I took photos anyway!

Further up the road, they spotted one of the test cars parked near an outhouse and stopped next to it so I could jump out and take photos. Awesome! The note on the window said that this car model was a trade secret of Hyundai/Kia Motors, unreleased to the public, and attempts to take photographs of the interior or exterior without permission would be regarded as unlawful and infringing their rights and may be "strictly penalized upon laws concerning Trade Secret Protection."

That, however, did not stop me from taking photos. Mostly because the car was all covered up with its ugly fabric and I'm pretty sure nobody cared about that.

We soon arrived at the trailhead and thanked our trail angels. I offered to give them money, even a little if for no other reason to help pay for gas considering that they drove so far out of their way for us, but they wouldn't take it saying their car was a hybrid and didn't use much gas anyhow.

We spent a few minutes at the trailhead getting our affairs in order. We put on our hiking shoes (both of us chose to wear our camp shoes while hitchhiking), pulled out our trekking poles and started hiking with Madam Butterfly tied to our packs. I was a bit worried about Madam Butterfly. On the ride to the trailhead, she swelled considerably given our rise in altitude from about 4,000 feet to 10,000 feet. It was already full of helium back in town, but now the ballooned looked like it was positively readily to explode. I tried to see if there was a way I could let a little air out, but it appeared to be seam-sealed with no way to allow just a little air.

Back on the trail by South Lake.

Hopefully it would hold together. Once we crossed Bishop Pass another 2,000 feet higher, it was all downhill.

But a couple of miles into our hike, I heard a distinct hissing sound coming from Madam Butterfly and when I grabbed it, I noticed it was considerably less full than before. Madam Butterfly had sprung a leak!

"Karolina! We need to stop now! We need to get photos while Madam Butterfly still has air in her!"

So we stopped to do a quick photo shoot with Madam Butterfly. I tried to see if I could find the leak. Maybe we could tape it or something, but the balloon looked entirely intact. There was definitely a leak, but neither of us could find it.

We took a few photos, and some videos of us walking around with Madam Butterfly for possible use in the music video later, then Karolina carried it the rest of the afternoon. "Madam Butterfly," Karolina told me, "obviously doesn't like you."

I think Karolina just wanted a turn at having her pack lighter.

Numerous other hikers, of course, asked about the balloon. Some asked why we had it, and we'd tell them it was to lighten our load. And then they might ask how it was working out, and Karolina would tell them that her only regret was not getting more of the balloons. =)

Madam Butterfly had trouble with the high altitudes, but she did enjoy flying!

Despite the leak, the balloon continued to stay remarkably full. We were still rising in elevation, so that made some sense. Now that the pressure inside the balloon wasn't so great anymore, the leak had slowed considerably, and as we rose in elevation, it would expand the air that was still in the balloon to fill up the part that was lost. The balloon would continue to float on its own power for the entire rest of the day and into the next morning!

Although we didn't know that then. We just knew it had a leak and had no idea how much longer Madam Butterfly had left to fly.

Late in the afternoon, we passed the small pool of water where we had camped three nights earlier and it had changed considerably. The water level was far lower, and no water was running into it anymore. The water that used to be so cold it was genuinely painful to put a hand in while filling up my water bottle was now merely uncomfortably cold. Whatever water source had been feeding the pond until our departure two days earlier had obviously dried up. It was now just a stagnant, warming pool of water. It was surprising to see such a dramatic change just two days later. We used to be able to hear a stream running under and beside the trail before it ran into the pond, and that sound was gone as well. I figure it was being fed by one of the small patches of melting snow and whatever patch was feeding it finally melted away for the season. This water source was now closed.

As we approached Bishop Pass, ugly clouds started rolling in and at the top of the pass, we felt a couple of light drops of rain. Rain?! It wasn't supposed to rain today! The top of the pass was our minimum goal for the day, though, and we brought enough water to spend the night at the top, so we quickly set up camp and I set up my tarp for the first time of the hike.

While setting up my tarp, I needed some rocks to hold the stakes in place and picked up a rock that turned out to be covering poop--with toilet paper and all. Ah, great.... I put that rock back, but seriously? I was kind of surprised at the discovery because it was probably four feet off the trail in plain view. Who does a poop that close to the trail in plain view?! I wished they would have gone further off trail or actually buried the darn thing.

The rain never materialized, but just before sunset, a few people hiking in the other direction arrived and we struck up a conversation, which included my saying something like, "You're almost there!" Which I often do, even when it's clearly obvious that they aren't.

Then they said that they weren't actually heading down the trail, but rather going to go off trail to climb up a mountain ridge, follow it around, eventually going back down. And the route he proceeded to describe sounded like it would require a lot of technical expertise, including ropes and such. "That sounds like the hard way," I said.

"It's the Polish route," he replied.

This perked up Karolina's ears. "The Polish Route?" she asked. "Why is it called the Polish Route?"

"Because we're stupid to be doing it," he replied. "We're Poles."

And I thought... Oh, crap.... Karolina thinks that's the actual name of a route. This could get awkward....

"I'm from Poland!" Karolina continued on, still unaware about exactly what he had said.

"You're both from Poland?" he asked, suddenly realizing that calling it the "Polish route" might have been a mistake.

"Well, she is," I said, pointing at Karolina. "My accent is Californian, though."

We talked for maybe another 10 seconds or so, then the group continued onward. After they left, Karolina turned to me and said, "I don't think they're really from Poland."

"No...." I replied. "No, I don't think so either."

"Then why did they say they were Poles?"

Ah, yes... leave me with the task of explaining about Polish jokes.

So I had to explain that, in English--or at least in America since I wasn't actually sure about England and other English-speaking countries--Polish jokes and blonde jokes are essentially interchangeable, and Poles are stereotypically stupid.

"So when he said he was doing the Polish route and that he was Polish," I explained, "he was saying he was being an idiot and stupid. If he had realized earlier that you were Polish, he probably wouldn't have used that terminology."

It was a little awkward for me to explain that we have jokes that make fun of her entire nationality. They're just jokes, and generally as harmless as blonde jokes, but Karolina is proud of her heritage and I wasn't sure how she'd feel knowing about that. She mostly just seemed confused rather than angry or insulted. Like a joke that she didn't understand, because she really didn't understand it. They don't tell Polish jokes in Poland, after all. They tell concentration camp jokes instead. =)

So that was how Karolina learned about Polish jokes.

After dinner, we wrote in our journals, then read aloud The Journey In Between about Fozzie's hike of the Camino de Santiago. That's a trail we had both done before so were quite familiar with it, and Fozzie was a fellow I met during my PCT thru-hike. I thought I had his PCT book on my Kindle which would have been incredibly appropriate since we were hiking a section of the PCT, but surprise! I didn't have his PCT book on my Kindle, so we started reading his Camino book instead.

Then we headed off to sleep for the night.

And a video with Madam Butterfly, for possible use in our music video. =)

I'm in camp, with Madam Butterfly watching over me. =)
The clouds spit out a few drops of rain, but as it turned out, setting up my tarp hadn't ended up being necessary.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 17: A Zero Day in Bishop

We decided to take a zero day. Our first zero day of the trail. After the mad-rush to get all our tasks done in Mammoth Lakes, Karolina saw the wisdom of occasionally taking a day off just to relax and take it easy.

Karolina pretends she's about to catch this dog painted on the wall.

So she slept in late, until 9:00 or so. The only reason, I think, she eventually got up was because our hotel had a continental breakfast, but it would shut down soon if she didn't get up and moving.

The breakfast wasn't particularly noteworthy--just a typical hotel breakfast that had cereals, fruits, yogurt and waffles. Not the good waffles either, that you make on the fly with the waffle iron, but rather frozen waffles that get toasted in a toaster.

But Karolina thought the breakfast was wonderful and seemed surprised that it was free. Well, not free... but part of the price of the room. I guess she wasn't used to staying at "fancy" hotels, but this was merely a Travelodge. Certainly not top-of-the-line stuff, but apparently fancier than Karolina was used to.

She did need some help with the breakfast, though. For instance, she copied me when she put the waffles into the toaster, but didn't realize that she needed to push the level down start the toaster and after waiting awhile before asking how they should go for, I had to let her know that she was going to have a very long wait at the rate is was currently going. She didn't know what an English muffin was (although she had been to England several times) or what to do with one, and asked how the coffee machine worked. Not being a coffee drinker myself, I actually wasn't much use for answering that last question. =) I could guess, though, and I proceeded to do just that.

Karolina admires the duck crossing sign. "We don't have these in Europe. It's so... American!"

After breakfast, I was put in charge of doing laundry. I went to the front desk to get quarters and a small box of laundry detergent, then started the laundry going and went back up to the room to kill time until it was ready. About 10 minutes later, I found a box of laundry detergent in my pocket.

I gasped when I found it. I forgot to put soap in our laundry?! Those clothes were nasty! They needed soap! I rushed back down to the laundry room and quickly added the soap, hoping it wasn't too late to get the job done. Karolina seemed to think my forgetfulness was funny, so at least she got some enjoyment out of it.

When the clothes finished washing, I took a whiff of them to see if they still smelled like hiker clothes, but they seemed to be a in a suitable state of clean so I moved them over to the dryer and finished them up.

With our laundry done, we were no longer tied to the hotel and left to go out and check out the town of Bishop. We stopped in all the outfitters. Karolina seemed particularly fascinated with a sign store. She wanted to buy a JMT or PCT sign, but I had to remind her that she'd have to carry it down the rest of the trail and eventually she let the idea go. "Anyhow, you can probably order one online later," I reminded her.

We stopped for lunch at Denny's. She wanted to try a "real American diner" and it was the closest I had seen to such a thing, although it wasn't the traditional 60s kind of diner I usually think of when I think "diner." But they do like to call themselves "America's diner" so it seemed strangely appropriate since Karolina wanted to see a real "American diner." Presto!

Karolina really wanted to buy a sign.... She did not, however, want to carry it down the trail!
After eating lunch, we stayed at Denny's taking full advantage of the bottomless sodas and hashed out our plan of attack for the next section of the trail. It wasn't quite as difficult to figure out as this last stretch had been. We were more in the wilderness now, but we had a 7.2-mile option to resupply over Kearsarge Pass about 40 miles up the trail, which wasn't so bad. Or about 80 miles to the end of the trail. So it mostly just a matter of deciding if we would resupply over Kearsarge Pass--which would take longer, but require us carrying less food--or trying to push the entire distance to the end of the trail without any additional resupply stops.

Ultimately, we decided for the extra resupply stop, planning a leisurely pace that would require us to carry 8 days and 7 nights of food. It was probably more than was strictly necessary, but it was still one day less of food than when we left Mammoth Lakes and--more importantly--checking the weather forecast, we saw that it was expected to take a turn for the worse. We might want a couple of very short days if the weather was particularly wet and cold. So we set up a schedule assuming especially short days of hiking during those bad-weather days, and a leisurely 10 miles/day pace the rest of the time.

When we finally left the Denny's, it was late in the afternoon and the sign for the Motel 6 showed that the temperature was 97 degrees out. Karolina, who wasn't used to the Fahrenheit system didn't need to be told that that was hot! She could feel it! Almost immediately the temperature dropped to 96 degrees, and she wanted a photo of herself with the sign in the background. I don't know what the high for the day was, but it seemed unlikely that we saw the sign at the high for the day. It had probably dropped several degrees from its high already. It might have even cracked 100, I told Karolina, but unfortunately she wouldn't have a photo to prove it.

Later in the evening, we headed to Vons to do our grocery shopping and resupply for the next eight days on the trail. We also went next door to Kmart so I could buy an SD card for my camera. Originally, I had planned to copy photos from my camera to my laptop to make space for more photos, but now that my laptop was broken and no longer with me, I couldn't copy photos off and I needed another SD card for more photos.

Even the buttons to cross the street fascinated Karolina. So much so that she had to take a photo of one! Of course, I had to take a photo of her taking a photo of one, because that's the part I found amusing. =)

We also picked up a few snacks and goodies that we didn't find at Vons like Orchard-flavored Skittles.

I should also point out... in Vons, we picked up a new friend that Karolina named Madam Butterfly. It was a helium-filled balloon and we got the idea in our head to attach it to our packs like we were trying to lighten our load. It could be part of our music video, and we both liked the absurdity of carrying a giant, helium-filled butterfly balloon into the wilderness. =)

"And it doesn't weigh anything," I pointed out. "Throw it in the air, and it flies away!"

So we bought Madam Butterfly, our newest travel companion for the next section of trail.

Finished with our shopping, we decided to grab a late dinner at Taco Bell on the way back to the hotel, but it had closed already. It closed at 9:00, and when we arrived, it was 9:02. Argh! Two minutes? We missed it by two minutes?!

Fortunately, there was also a Carls Jr nearby and they were still open, so we grabbed dinner there before heading back to the hotel.

Karolina had purchased a beer--an American beer that she'd been craving since we had left Mammoth Lakes--but it was a bottle and neither of us had a bottle opener. I guess she didn't think to get a can or something that she could open on her own, but I had a plan.

I took the beer to the front desk of the hotel and ask if they had a bottle opener we could use. The desk clerk did, although it took her a few minutes to find it. Crisis averted!

Karolina drank her beer, then it was off to sleep. We needed our rest, for tomorrow, we were going back to the trail!

Lots of murals in Bishop!
The wildlife in Bishop was so tame!

It was a hot day! And the temperature was already dropping!
We picked up a new traveling companion: Madam Butterfly. She would help make our loads lighter and carry our packs! =)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Day 16: Trail town: Bishop, CA

Karolina and I had about 5 miles of hiking today to reach the trailhead--a short day by any measurement, so she slept in suitably late and we didn't get hiking until nearly 9:00. That was okay by me for two reasons. One, if we got into town too early, they might not have a hotel room ready for us. And two, if we got to the trailhead especially early, there might be a lot of day hikers arriving for a hike, but nobody might be heading off the trail in the direction we wanted to go. So we took our time getting on the trail.

Our maps showed a trail completely circling Chocolate Mountain. The Bishop Pass Trail cut along Long Lake on the west side of the mountain, but an unlabeled trail took a slightly longer route around the east side of the mountain and since we had the time, we decided to take the detour. We would have to come back up this trail to the John Muir Trail and would take the shorter and easier route back when our packs were loaded with more than a week of food. While our packs were light and empty and we had the time, we'd do the detour and see something different. =)

The route, as it turned out, wasn't anywhere as easy or well-marked as we had imagined by looking at our maps. We could see it rising up from the topographic lines on the map, and coming back down so we knew the trail wasn't flat, but it was marked with a clearly delineated dashed line which suggested that there was an actual trail around the mountain.

But there wasn't. Oh, no.... It followed a trail at first Ruwau Lake, at which point the trail dead-ended. There were some smaller game trails leading off, and at times Karolina and I weren't sure which direction to go. I definitely had to read the contours of the topo map to check that we were actually heading in the correct direction.

The trail--or rather, what passes for a trail--crossed over a small gap then descended a steep and difficult slope to the Chocolate Lakes where we picked up another well-beaten path to complete the loop. Most of the loop around Chocolate Mountain was well-defined, but the section between Ruwau Lake and the Chocolate Lakes were a difficult, cross-country scramble.

Chocolate Mountain gets its name, presumably, because of it's brownish look which stands in stark contrast to the bright granite mountains that dominate the area. It definitely had a chocolate color to it.

One of the Chocolate Lakes. The route down was not a trail!

As we neared Bull Lake, we ran into a couple in a campsite who asked if we had just camped there. No.... Didn't they just see us hiking in with our packs?

They told us that they had found this campsite and the campfire had not been properly extinguished and had spread outside of the campfire ring. It was the beginning of a wildfire, and they just happened to walk up to it in time to put it out before it got too big to handle.

Wow! We did see one person near Chocolate Lake, but only from a distance. Maybe that was the dastardly dude who nearly started a wildfire? The couple had taken photos of the close call and planned to report it to the authorities hoping to find whoever it was that had camped there last night. I hope they could find them, but it might be difficult. Our permits let us camp pretty much anywhere we wanted to, which is the case for all of the JMT permits. There's not really any way for the authorities to know exactly where we camp every night. Although perhaps the rules are different for other permit holders and they had to request a specific place to camp. We weren't in the national park anymore--we crossed out of Kings Canyon NP the second we passed over Bishop Pass. Now we were in Inyo National Forest and part of the John Muir Wilderness. We parted ways with the other hikers, thanking them for putting out the forest fire before we had arrived (that could have caused an unexpected detour to our hike!), and continued hiking.

As we neared the trailhead, the number of day hikers increased dramatically! Seemed like we passed several dozen people the last half hour or so on the trail, and we chatted with several and greeted everyone. Actually, I told Karolina to be especially friendly and nice to everyone on the trail--one of these people might be our ride out of this place! Which isn't to say that we're normally unfriendly people, but often times you pass people on the trail and don't say nothing more than "hi!" or "bye!" or whatever. I wanted us to be a bit more aggressive in our friendliness--and find out who was planning to head into Bishop in the near future. All of these people had cars nearby, and we wanted them to want to take us into town.

I also wanted to seed the idea that we would need a ride. "Yes, we're hiking the JMT! Started in Yosemite, and now we're heading into Bishop to resupply...."

I was actually pleased with the large number of people on the trail. It was a good sign that we'd find a lot of people at the trailhead, and lots of opportunities for rides.

Nearing the trailhead, we found a fellow with a large survey sign asking hikers to stop for a quick survey. The survey wasn't as quick as I thought--we probably talked with the guy for ten minutes--and he asked us all sorts of questions about where we started, where we were going, how long we were out there, where we camped the night before, etc. He also wanted to know where the person who had the most recent birthday came from. That was me, and I said I came from Seattle, but Karolina and I were both disappointed that her birthday wasn't more recent because "Karolina from Poland" sounds a heck of a lot more interesting than "Ryan from Seattle." There would be no record of her coming all the way from Poland to be there.

Karolina and I stop to take a survey.

Finally, we reached the trailhead. It was time to start hitchhiking! The parking lot was a fairly sizeable one, but largely empty of people. Tons of cars, but not any people. We decided our best bet was to hang out where the trail came out of the woods and ask people as they were leaving the trail if they could take us down. A couple of cars arrived while we were waiting, but we didn't even try to get rides from them. They had just arrived and probably would not be leaving anytime soon.

The first guy to come off the trail seemed nice, but he said he wasn't actually headed to Bishop and that we'd probably be better off waiting for someone who would go directly there

The second group of people who came out were a group of about five people who had traveled up in two rental cars, who seemed reluctant at first to give us a ride into Bishop saying that they didn't have enough space. The group was some of the people we had talked with earlier on the trail and didn't dismiss us completely, though. I joked that we didn't need much space--Karolina was small and I'd let Karolina sit on my lap. (I thought it was funnier than Karolina did, though.)

Eventually, though, one woman--Katy as we'd later learn--moved some of her gear from the backseat into the trunk of the car and we piled in, but they suggested I put my pack in the other vehicle where there was room on the floor.

I was more than a little nervous about the idea of leaving my pack in an entirely different vehicle than myself. I didn't really suspect them of maliciousness. I didn't really think they'd search my pack for valuables, or refuse to return the pack when we arrived in Bishop. But at the same time, it seemed wrong to split up with my pack too. Eventually I went with it, though, just happy to be getting a ride into Bishop after perhaps five minutes of waiting.

The ride lasted for about a half hour, and--as we descended down the road--the terrain turned from a lush, green forest into a dry desert wasteland and temperatures gradually crept upwards. The trailhead is located at about 10,000 feet above sea level, and the town of Bishop is located about 6,000 feet lower at about 4,000 feet above sea level. There's about a 4 degree increase in temperature for every thousand feet, which meant that Bishop would likely be approximately.... 24 degrees warmer than the trailhead! It's a major temperature change!

On a completely unrelated note, I just looked up the city of Bishop online to get the latest population and elevation figures and it says Joe Pecsi is the mayor?! Is that right?! I know Wikipedia isn't always accurate, so I tried looking up the mayor on the city's official website. I found the website, but I couldn't find anything about who the current mayor is. Hmm... Interesting.... but I digress!

Is that last line true? Is Joe Pecsi really the mayor of Bishop?! THE Joe Pecsi?

Our benefactors drove us into town, or rather, to a gas station on the outskirts of town. They were turning off to some other location, but pointed us down the street and said the downtown core was in that direction. I retrieved my pack from the other vehicle and all was well.

Bishop isn't a very large town with a population of 3,879 people, but it's the biggest town in this part of the state. Knowing it was so small, I had made a huge mistake of assuming that the downtown core--where our hotel was located--was relatively close. Maybe a 5 or 10 minute walk away. No big deal.

Except.... after about 15 minutes of walking and seemingly getting nowhere, I finally turned on my phone and used it's location mapping services to figure out exactly where we were in town and how far away the hotel was located. Two miles! It was two miles away?! WTF?!

Karolina and I were both somewhat upset to discover this shocking truth. Sure, okay, I didn't necessarily expect door-to-door service from our rides, but to dump us out two miles from our destination? Seriously, they couldn't have taken just five minutes to at least dump us out in the middle of town? It felt like a hundred degrees outside, and we're walking along a busy road that wasn't even lined with a proper sidewalk, and they left us two miles from the middle of town?

On the plus side, walking into town did give us this photo op that we would have otherwise missed. (Karolina was fascinated that the sign included the population and elevation. "So American! Just like the movies!")

What to do? What to do? We could try hitching the last couple of miles into the center of town, but that would require standing in the hot, blazing sun and who knows how long it would take? We would certainly be there within a half hour if we kept walking, and that's ultimately what we decided to do.

But we were both a little bitter about the situation.

In all, it took us about 40 minutes to reach the air conditioned hotel and oh, my... that air conditioning felt good! Except, drats, we still arrived before check-in time and once again, none of the hotel rooms were ready yet. But they said we could wait in the lobby, which is what we did. I was ready for a cold drink and walked over to a gas station convenience store named "Giggles" and bought us some cold drinks and ice cream sandwiches. May as well enjoy something cold to consume in the air-conditioned lobby while waiting for our room to be made up.

Karolina beats the heat in the air-conditioned lobby of the hotel while drinking a sports drink and an M&M ice cream sandwich.

We had to wait about an hour before the room was ready, then we took turns taking showers and cleaning up. But for Karolina, cleaning up wasn't her first concern. She was still worried about her grandfather who, when we left Mammoth Lakes, was in the hospital and there was concern that he might not make it out alive. For the last nine days, Karolina hadn't been able to get any updates. Back in civilization, we could now get on the Internet--and Karolina was scared to check her email fearing the news. I wanted to offer to read it for her, although if the worst had come to pass, I'm not sure it would have been any easier to hear it from me than reading it herself. But I didn't make the offer because the email would have been in Polish and I probably wouldn't have understood it. Or I could have misread it. It could have said, in Polish, something like, "He made it! He didn't die!" and I'd misunderstand it as "He didn't make it. He died." No, I couldn't read Karolina's email and give her any bad news easy, even if I wanted to.

She took a big breath and checked her email....

I watched her, for signs of hope or despair, and.... I wasn't sure how to interpret her face. I guess she was making Polish expressions that I didn't understand.

"Well?" I asked.

And the news was good! He had had some sort of infection, and once they figured out what was wrong and gave him the right medications, he improved so dramatically that he was sent home a mere day after we left Mammoth Lakes. Karolina was extremely relieved about that, and the heavy weight was lifted.

After we cleaned up, then it was time to get a meal. A real meal! It was a bit early for dinner, but definitely way too late for lunch, so we called it an early dinner and settled on a BBQ restaurant a few blocks away. Karolina had never eaten BBQ before and wanted to try something new. We both ordered the "Texas Ranger" (a tri-tip sandwich), which Karolina seemed to approve of. She seemed amazed with the restaurant. "So American!" she'd exclaim. "Just like the movies!"

Karolina digs into her "Texas Ranger."
Outside, she was even more amazed at the water-based air conditioning system for their patio. It's one of those places that have hoses around the perimeter with small holes that water is pumped through to provide a form of air-conditioning. Karolina had never seen that before and thought it was endlessly fascinating and a complete waste of water. "There's a drought here! How can they waste all that water?" I nodded, but didn't actually have a good answer.

Afterwards, we decided to walk to the grocery store, but got sidetracked when Karolina saw a donut shop and had to give that a try. She'd seen them in movies and wanted to see a real live one now! So we went in and got some donuts. It was, however, the least American-looking donut shop I had ever been to. It seemed to be something of a Chinese restaurant/donut shop hybrid. But they had donuts, so we got a couple. I was stuffed full from our Texas Ranger, and Karolina was too, but we got the donuts anyhow.

Karolina may have lost her self control completely by the time we arrived at the donut shop. *nodding*

Another "uniquely American" thing she spotted in town were the mailboxes. "Just like in the movies!" I hadn't given the mailboxes a second thought, but they were different enough to get her attention.

Anyhow, we headed to the grocery store where we bought some snacks and looked around a bit. We had decided that we would take a zero day in Bishop, a day to stop, relax and rest. So we didn't have to resupply yet. That could wait until tomorrow, but in the meantime, we did want some snacks and drinks for the hotel room.

And that was pretty much the end of our day. When we got back to the hotel, we took turns using the computer in the lobby to get online and take care of business using something larger than our phones. Karolina turned on the TV to watch America television. The summer Olympics were going and she wanted to know if Poland had won any medals.
I sit at the South Lake trailhead, waiting for people to get off the trail in the hopes of scoring a ride into town.

Chocolate Mountain, presumably, got its name from the chocolate-covered rocks that make it up, which stands in stark contrast to the bright gray granite of most of the area's mountains.
Bull Lake
South Lake

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 15: Looking for vomit in all the wrong places!

In the morning, before leaving camp, Karolina and I met one of the other nearby campers. We hadn't met her the evening before because she was already in her tent for the night when we arrived, but she got up (and out) early and we made introductions. She was traveling with a few other people, also camped nearby, and heading in the opposite direction as us. They had started a couple of days earlier at the South Lake trailhead and over Bishop Pass, which was the direction we were heading to get off the trail to resupply.

And she explained that she suffered a bout of vomiting from altitude sickness while going over Bishop Pass--which tops out at 11,972 feet above sea level. A whopping 17 feet higher than Muir Pass--our previous high point on the trail. Anyhow, she explained that the sudden ascent to nearly 12,000 feet had caused her altitude sickness and that she vomited on the trail, but as soon as the trail descended again to the Le Conte Canyon over 3,000 feet lower, she was fine and had been fine ever since.

After that conversation, Karolina and I joked about finding vomit on the trail somewhere near Bishop Pass. If either of us walked off trail to use the 'restrooms', we'd warm each other to watch out for the vomit! It could be anywhere!

We eventually got on the trail with a fairly late 8:15 start time.

The first 4.4 miles went down a relatively steep hill, more-or-less following alongside the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Karolina and I stopped once at a giant, cracked rock. Someone had placed a bunch of smaller rocks in the giant crack which resembled something like teeth, and the crack resembled something of a mouth, and the entire rock had an uncanny resemblance to a giant landlocked whale, or at least the head portion of a giant whale sticking out of the water.

We took a few photos of each other pretending to be eaten by the giant whale. There was a man there, who had camped at the site the night before and was still packing up, who offered to take photos with both of us in the photo so we did that too. He asked about Karolina's accent and when he found out she was from Poland, he told us that there was another Polish hiker on the trail not far ahead. Karolina was excited to learn about this news, but we'd only be following the trail for a couple of more miles before we turned off on the Bishop Pass Trail to resupply. We wouldn't be seeing him, much to Karolina's disappointment.

Karolina and I, consumed by a giant, landlocked whale!

Further down the trail, we reached the junction with the Bishop Pass Trail and where we would veer off-trail in order to resupply. Also near the junction was a ranger station, which Karolina had never seen before so she wanted to go to the creek and check it out which is what we did. It was a typical, wooden structure with informational information on the board in front. No rangers were around, which isn't a big surprise since they're usually off walking around checking permits, educating hikers, doing trail maintenance or whatever else their job entails.

From the trail junction, we had a long climb up over 3,000 feet to Bishop Pass. The trail was relatively steep, although still built for horses so not that steep--just steeper compared to most parts of the trail. After a couple of hours of heading up, we stopped for a snack break and I made a comment that I was surprised that we hadn't seen anyone on this trail yet. Hours of hiking, and we didn't see a single person. We weren't on the John Muir Trail anymore, but I still figured that this was a major access point for the JMT and where are all the people?!

We got going again, and not more than two minutes later, we ran into three different people: a couple hiking together and a park ranger--probably the same ranger who would be staying at the ranger station.

The ranger stopped to talk for a bit, then asked if we had permits. "Yes," I said, a little disappointed. "Why? Do you need to see them?"

We had permits, but I was in no rush to show them off because they were in my pack and required taking off my pack and rooting around for it, but yes, he wanted to see the permits. So I dropped my pack and rooted around for it, pulling it out a minute later. He looked over it and returned it.

Then we continued on our separate ways. Karolina asked what would have happened if we didn't have permits, but I didn't know. Probably give us a ticket or something. It seems like an inconvenient place to arrest us and carry us back to a prison cell or anything--and a little extreme for that sort of thing in any case. =)

Karolina seemed a little disappointed that he didn't check that we had bear canisters since we had gone through the effort of carrying them all this way.

"Don't worry," I told her. "We aren't done with this trail yet. It could still happen!"

As we climbed higher up to the pass, the dark and ominous clouds started rolling in. It was the first time we had seen any clouds at all during our hike. Rain hadn't been in the forecast, but I started having concerns that it could happen. Afternoon storms aren't unheard of in these high mountain passes, and the weather forecasts we had checked are generally for lower elevations.

Near a lake, unnamed on our maps, we spotted three deer with beautiful antlers roaming around. We watched them for quite awhile taking photos, but I was frustrated with my photos. The dark clouds cast a perpetual shadow on the deer and the poor light was dim making my photos blurry.

We continued our march to Bishop Pass. We'd been making excellent time. Originally, when we first got back on the trail from Mammoth Lakes, our minimum goal for the day was to reach the campsites near the ranger station and we did that relatively early in the morning. If we did a full 10 miles today--the typical distance we liked to shoot for--that would put us almost exactly at the top of Bishop Pass--leaving us a mere 5.3 miles from the trailhead. Perfect for a short day of hiking and getting into town at a reasonable hour!

Except that there was no water or campsites at the top of Bishop Pass. We could camp a couple of miles on either side of it, but not at the top. We were indecisive about which side to camp on when we woke up in the morning and decided just to see how things went. If we had the time, strength and energy, we'd go over the pass today. If we didn't, we wouldn't. Either was fine.

And we decided that we did have the time and energy, so we headed up to the pass--still keeping our eyes open for vomit. =)

As we approached Bishop Pass, the dark and ominous clouds started giving way and eventually cleared up completely. That was a relief!

At the top of the pass, Karolina celebrated her new "highest ever" moment, shattering her previous high point experience by 17 feet. We took a break and recorded more videos for our upcoming music video, but the sun was soon about to set and we needed to reach a campsite quickly. We continued on down the mountain. Just on the other side of the pass, we reached a small patch a snow that covered the trail. Snow! We had to hike through snow again! Maybe for all of about 20 feet, and it would have been easy to go around it if we wanted to, but we charged through.

The trail went down a series of steep switchbacks along what appeared to be very much a near-vertical cliff. There was quite a bit of horse poop on the trail, and I joked with Karolina that that's because this view scared the crap out of them--literally and figuratively.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, the trail crossed a small underground stream. Which was annoying because we wanted to camp at the first place we could, which meant we needed water and if it was underground, we couldn't get at the water. We'd have to keep going. We could hear it, though, rushing under the trail and downhill.

A bit later, we arrived near a small pond of water. The water had a nice stream flowing into it--probably that underground water we had heard earlier--and it was cold water. Colder than cold. My fingers turned painful then numb filling up my water bottle. All the water on the trail has generally been very, very cold, but it wasn't painful to put a hand or foot in. This water was genuinely painful to the touch from the extreme cold, though! I'd live, but I had to imagine that the water must have been coming direct from one of the nearby patches of snow.

It was 7:30 in the evening when we arrived--our latest finishing time so far on the trail--and darkness was quickly enveloping the landscape. We decided to cowboy camp.

Tomorrow, we would be heading back into civilization. Our packs were relatively light and empty now that we had consumed about 90% of our food. This was great. On the downside, however, I had only one dinner left--burritos with rice, broccoli and ground beef that I had previously dehydrated. I really didn't want to eat that, however. Blah. I'd had too much of that already. And, as it turned out, Karolina didn't seem too excited about her lasagna-flavored Hamburger Helper.

"You want to switch?" I asked, hoping and praying she'd say yes.

"Okay." Yes!!!

So we switched dinners for our last night before civilization, I gobbling up a dose of Hamburger Helper and Karolina eating burritos.

By the time we finished dinner and cleaned up, it was already quite late and very dark, so we called it a night. Our day was done!

And we never did find any vomit. Our one disappointment for day.....

Clouds started rolling in later in the afternoon, which would eventually turn a bit ominous....

Look at the antlers on these fellows! (You almost missed the one laying down in the background, didn't you?)
The dark clouds made getting decent photos of these guys very difficult. They'd have been lit up much better without the ominous clouds!
Nearing the top Bishop Pass, the clouds started dissipating again.

Marmot sighting!

Karolina crosses the one, small patch of snow near Bishop Pass.
Over the pass, the trail dropped down this series of steep switchbacks! It's enough to scare the crap out of horses!