Day 5: In Which We Climb Our First Two Passes and Almost Ford a Creek

Daily: 9.8 miles
Trip: 42.3 miles
Camp: Island Pass

One thing I can say for certain we got right on this trip – camp near the passes. We wake up in 45-50° weather, break camp before 7am and start hiking. So we start climbing before the sun’s really come out, the temperature remains nice and cool, and the 2000 foot climb isn’t a huge deal! Donahue Pass was our first time over 11,000 feet on this trip and was a good hike, but not real rough. There were some thundering waterfalls on the way up as well – always good photo opportunities, especially if we catch them in prime photo hours (8-10am).

Once up over Donahue Pass, we encountered a number of stream crossings. When planning this trip, one of the things we kept running across was the fords. They were described as extremely dangerous and, at times, impossible. We were advised to cross the fords in the morning before the snow melt swelled the water to dangerous levels. And I read up on all the best techniques like unbuckling hip belts, going across in teams, etc. Then we watched the snow in the Sierras over the winter and noticed that there wasn’t any. Or at least not very much. Low snow? Low water. Low water? We rockhopped our way across the fords. I suppose if we’d fallen while crossing the rocks on one of them, we had at least a possibility of falling six feet down a waterfall of decent danger. Thankfully none of us toppled to the right and we stayed dry. We crossed other streams on logs and Erin, at least, splashed through a few of them. But since she’d started hiking in her Crocs yesterday to relieve the blisters her boots had caused, that was anything but a hardship.

I’ve been fighting a few blisters as well. Strange for me, since I managed the whole Appalachian Trail without any. But it’s not a big deal. My right IT tendon is letting me know it’s working a bit too hard as well, but no real pain yet. Green One is feeling an impending shin splint, but that’s no real trouble yet. Chris, who’s never done a trip over five days or 40 miles, is doing great! Between his solo start and how upbeat he’s been through this adventure, I’m real proud of him. It looks like he’s hit his wall this evening, however, and is looking forward to wrapping up his hike in two more days.

Donahue Pass also marked the end our our time in Yosemite National Park. We crossed into the Ansel Adams Wilderness of Inyo National Forest, home of the Ritter Range, Banner Peak, and later the Minarets. A professional photographer we ran into just past Donahue Pass described Ritter and Banner to me as ‘perfect mountains’ and I came to understand what he meant about their classic, photogenic, triangular shapes. These peaks would become the backdrops for many of my best trip photos.

As usual, the thunderstorm clouds formed around 1pm. This time, however, we were able to get to Island Pass (down 1500 feet, back up 600 feet) before the rain hit. When it did, we disappeared into our tents for the 12 minutes or so that it rained. Green One and Erin got a nap in, I believe. Then it was over and we were able to emerge and enjoy a leisurely evening of eating and chatting with a brief excursion to explore the tarn 100 feet below us.

Eating well is one of my keys to success on a backpacking trip. Your body obviously needs extra energy to deal with all the calories you’re burning backpacking. The difficult and counterintuitive element is that it’s tough to actually eat. Especially in the beginning – your hunger just doesn’t catch up to the caloric burn for a while. So I try to eat as much and early as I can. On this trip, I was working on homemade granola in the morning, a Snickers bar, an energy bar, and some trail mix while hiking. I had crackers, peanut butter and pepperoni for a lunch break. I also brought Gatoraid powder to help get the first quart of water in me before I was thirsty. And a combination of Tang and fruit smoothie powder to get an extra quart down at dinner time.

The other thing I did for this hike was buy a number of freeze-dried meals. I have no problem with raman and, in fact, really like eating it. I like the texture, flavor, and especially the 750 calories I get from a couple lightweight packages. It’s lacking something, however: any nutritional qualities beyond starch/sugar and fat. Chris brought a relatively new company named Packit Gourmet to our attention prior to the hike. I’ve had a number of commercially prepared freeze-dried meals over the years and like the convenience and improved nutritional qualities, but never liked many of the flavors. Packit Gourmet meals are a different story, however. They have a ton of vegetables in them and, just as importantly, taste great! Some of my favorites were the Gumbo, the Tortilla Soup, the Poblano Corn Chowder and the Beef Stew. They didn’t pack quite as much calories as raman, but left me feeling like I’d done something good for myself. And, compared to my experiences with other freeze-dried meals, I didn’t feel like a four-year-old staring at a dish of collard greens, two hours after my siblings had been excused from the table.

Mosquitos were rumored to be horrible for a 50 mile stretch this side of Donahue Pass, but aren’t bad yet. There are some flying around, especially in the evening hours, but a little 100% DEET takes care of them. Maybe the first frog of the trip (the one that’s singing me to sleep right now) ate them all.

Day 6: In Which Rainbow Trout Jump Out of the Water, Into Our Fire, and Down Our Throats, Narrowly Avoiding Coyotes