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


Mary said...

I found a video with a roll call and when Mayor Pecsi's name was called and he answered - it's not THE Joe Pecsi! It sounded nothing like him and I think I saw who answered. If Clint Eastwood can be the mayor of Carmel, I guess THE Joe Pecsi could be mayor of Bishop! But no, he isn't.

Mary said...

Even more proof this Joe Pecsi isn't THE Joe Pecsi!!!! "Former Bishop Police Chief, Joe Pecsi, said that his 31 years of experience in law enforcement and his qualifications as a leader, and his experience with the city’s budget process makes him a good choice. He said, “What I can add to the council is leadership,” describing his involvement in the community as a teacher at Cerro Coso Community College, his service as the current chair of the Bishop Water and Sewer Commission, as well as serving on the board of the Bishop Country Club and the Inyo Mono Handicapped Association. He also said that he was a member of the Bishop Lions Club, Bishop Elks Lodge, and Knights of Columbus."