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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mercure’

An “overnighter” kayaking trip to Blake Island, WA

15 Jun

One of our favorite things to do on a nice warm sunny summer day in Seattle, WA is to go kayak camping.  Since we live just a block off of Alki beach in West Seattle we decided to hike our kayak and gear down to the beach and paddle over to Blake Island.

Blake Island, WA

Living so close I got to test out my $2.00 g-sale golf caddy that I strapped to the stern of my 21′ two person Seaward Southwind kayak and walked it right down the alley and onto the beach.  No car or gas involved and I got a lot of “right ons” on the way.  Well it’s been one hell of a cold, rainy Spring here in Seattle and this was our first day above 75, so we were excited to get back onto the water on such a nice day.  The water was mirror smooth and not a cloud in the sky, so we were really ready to soak up some sun on the “easy” 3.1 mile crossing over to Blake Island.  Well, “easy” is the relative term here and there will be more on that towards the end of this entry.  All around us were glorious views of the snow covered Olympic and Cascade mountains along with Mt. Rainier to the South and Mt Baker to the North in full spectacular view.  We arrive safely and got a really nice camping spot on the West side of the island, so we quickly setup camp and set out on a little hike around the island.  There are trails that crisscross the island, so it was fun discovering some new ones we’ve never hiked before.

Blake Island, WA

Blake Island, WA trails

The birds were singing, a warm breeze was blowing and tiny blue, pink and yellow flowers littered our path.  It was the first time this summer that I’ve worn a t-shirt, shorts and sandals, so I was in a pretty good mood.  We finish our stroll around the island and set out to the sandy beach for some sun and maybe a dip if we get hot enough, or maybe just sit there sipping a beer or two while enjoying the view.

Blake Island, WA

Sandy beach on the NW corner of Blake Island, WA

Blake Island, WA - Visitors Center

Blake Island, WA - Visitors Center

Blake Island, WA - Visitors Center

Blake Island, WA - Visitors Center

Well, the day passed quickly and we settle down to enjoy a nice dinner and some drinks by the fire.  As per our usual mode we like to stretch out our weekends by making the most of our Sunday by sleeping in, enjoying a couple cups of coffee, reading a book or newspaper and having a nice leisurely breakfast.  Nothing too new here, except that we’re on the lee side of the island and didn’t notice the wind that was really starting to pick up.  We do another hike around the island, but this time stop in at the visitor’s center to admire all of the Pacific Northwest Native America carvings and art work they have on display as well as get a good nose full of the salmon they have roasting on an open alder wood fire.  Well, the hike was fun, but now I notice that the wind is a sustained 30 mph coming from the North and the water is nothing but white caps.

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island at 5:00am.

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island at 5:00am.

We had met some other kayakers, but they have either left earlier that morning or are going with the wind and the waves towards Manchester or Southworth.  We on the other hand needed to go back to West Seattle, so not only would we be sideways to the waves, but also going into the wind.  It’s just not possible.  Well, we could probably do it, but it would be a terrifying paddle and life threatening if we got dumped out there in 49 degree water with night setting in.  I had hoped it would calm down a bit before we made our attempt to cross, but it’s now 8:00 pm and it hasn’t calmed down at all; it’s not looking good.  At this time Jen starts to freak out about missing work at her new job.  I promise her that we can wait it out by staying another night, set the alarm for 4:30 am,  and she’ll still make it work on time, but this doesn’t calm her down in the least bit.  Oh well, I know missing a day of work isn’t worth dieing for.

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island at 5:30am.

We try to enjoy the last few hours of light, but it’s a strange and helpless feeling being at the mercy of mother nature.  I run through all of the plan B’s that I can come up with in case the weather still isn’t cooperating in the morning, but nothing seems to come together or make sense.  Even the sudden emptiness of the campground is bumming me out.   Well, there is nothing I can do about it now, so we finish the last of our beer and head to bed, but there is no relief there either.  Whenever I get really stressed out I seem to run an infinite loop of problems through my head, but they’re Catch 22 problems that I never can resolve, so I can never really get a good night sleep.  Well, I know I’ve made the right decision because having a restless night in a warm sleeping bag on dry land is so much better than being stranded out in the middle of Puget Sound, cold, wet and clinging for dear life to our tipped over kayak.  Well that’s what I had pictured in my mind at the time.  The next morning is calm, clear and partly sunny as I predicted.  We quickly load our gear and have a glorious paddle back home on mirror smooth water and I can see several people waving to us, with a “that looks fun” look on their faces.  We pull up onto Alki beach and unpack quickly and Jen makes it to work on time.  Aahh, what a feeling.  It’s like we’ve already had a good day’s adventure and it’s not even 7:00 am yet.  Life is good!

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island

Jen and I paddling back from Blake Island @ 6:00 am Monday morning.

 
 

Washington State Visitors’ Guide

08 Jun

I was flipping through a few visitors’ guides at breakfast this morning that I picked up on a recent ferry ride and was surprised to discover two of my images printed in the Washington State Visitors’ Guide for 2010 on pages 59 and 65.  Although it’s nice to see my images printed, the Washington Lodging Association failed to give me proper photo credit.  To add insult to injury they gave another photographer credit next to my image.  That’s just wrong!

I've got two image printed in  Washington State Visitors’ Guide for 2010

Washington State Visitors’ Guide

 I've got two images printed in Washington State Visitors’ Guide for 2010

Washington State Visitors’ Guide 2010

You can view my images in this PDF link or pick up you order your own free copy

Update: I have since contacted the publisher about this oversight and they admitted their mistake and have made a correction to the best of their ability.

 
 

The 13th Annual Bavarian Bike & Brews Saturday, June 5, 2010

07 Jun

I apologize for the long delay in my blog posts, but it’s been a tough re-entry into reality.  I’ll be making more of an effort to keep this thing up to date, so please stay tuned.  On a brighter note, Jen and I just rode in the 13th Annual Bavarian Bike and Brews fest last weekend in Leavenworth, WA.  We used to ride this event for many years in a row in the late 90’s and early 2000, but the participation by our circle of friends who made this event so much fun had dissipated, so we decided to give some of our other local events a try…  Well, this year has been one of trying to reconnect with our past rituals and this BB&B event is definitely back on our calendar for next year.

There is a great group of people who put on this event, from the Grant Gibb’s Family Farm who generously provides their farm as the venue grounds, to James and his wife Christine at Das Rad Haus who does the majority of the organizing for the event, and Dwayne from Der Sportsmann for supplying lots of the free swag tossed out after results are read.  As well as Steven’s Pass for without their support this event wouldn’t happen.  Cheers to y’all!  Also, a big salute goes out to all of the great people who participate in this race and supporting our great local microbreweries…

Some of my biker buddies will probably laugh at my race results, but in my defense this is 17.2 miles with 3,600′ of elevation gain, and it was my first time on my mountain this year.  Jen had a repeat of her previous race experience here at this event of climbing 1,800′  in 8.6 miles and 2nd place at the heels of the leader on top of the mountain only to get passed on the downhill to place 9th.  Well Jen, we will have to work on your downhill skills, but it’s best to take that downhill easy, because those water bars are really tricky at speed.

We don’t do this event to seriously compete.  It’s really more of a social thing for us, but I’m posting these times only to see if we can beat them next year.

Place        Time         Plate        Laps      Racer’s Name            City
5 th        02:09:32         346          2            Mercure, Jim               Seattle
9 th        01:12:38         305          1            Whipple, Jennifer         Seattle

Annual Bavarian Bike & Brews

RESULTS

The Bavarian Bike & Brew Festival is unique in many ways. The IMBA sanctioned XC race features a spectacular, but rigorous 8.6 mile loop with 1800 ft elevation gain per lap. Each lap has four creek crossings, challenging single track, and plenty of water bars interlaced throughout the most spectacular scenery you have ever seen. This is not a course for the timid soul, but will challenge all who commit.

And did we mention the brew part?  Camping on site?  Music?

 
 

Devil’s Tower

09 Oct

(This post is still in progress.  I will remove this comment as soon as it’s completed)

America’s First National Monument

Devils Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River.  Once hidden, erosion has revealed Devils Tower.  This 1347 acre park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are seen.  President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument in 1906.

Also known as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site for many American Indians.

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower

If you’ve never been here it’s quite the sight to be seen.  It’s a very small park and pretty much the only trail to hike takes less than an hour, but it’s not that far of a drive from i-90, so it’s time well spent.

Winter comes early here, so be prepared for snow in October, which is what happened to us 10/02/2009.

Devil's Tower with moon rise

Devil's Tower with moon rise

 
 

The long trek across the Great Plains – Pipestone & Badlands NP

02 Oct

Ever since we left Marquette, MI we’ve had a strong head wind and it’s been slow going the entire time.  If you’ve never traveled across the Great Plains it’s long, flat and boring.  There are acres and acres of corn, soy bean and sunflower fields.  This seems to go on for days and days.  There are parts that I find beautiful like the old farm houses, barns and old style windmills, but for the most part its monotonously similar for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Not only is the scenery the same, but so are the radio stations.  It’s nothing but classic rock, raving religious lunatics and new country.  One can say that there are 3 choices right there, but I’ve given them all a chance and for the most part they all suck.

Country music’s lyrics are just pathetic.  They’re all about how sad their poor lives are, or they’re about some sappy heart tugging story about down home values of “Real America.”  It reminds me of a typical Republican speech pandering to gullible people just to gain their vote, or in this case, ears.  It’s not really so much the lyrics, but that gawd awful twang that is ubiquitous in country music.  It sounds like cat’s claws on a chalk board to me.  Where does that twang come from and why is it so popular?

I’ve got to admit that I really couldn’t take to much of the religious stations, so I’ll keep my thoughts to myself since religion and religious beliefs are such a hot button topic and this isn’t really a place I want to take on that kind of argument.

Classic rock isn’t much better though, since the lyrics are just as bad, and most station just play about 60 of the same songs over and over.  It’s like it just one long loop of the same songs played by one big classic rock radio conglomerate.  Don’t get me wrong since I really like classic rock, but it’s the fact they ignore 95% of the great music out there that is just not as popular.

After hours and hours of flipping the station and just when I think I’m gonna have a melt down if I hear one more Boston, Journey or Foreigner song I hit the scan button and thank gawd NPR comes in loud and clear.  The announcer mentions the next story is about a little known National Park called Pipestone in SW Minnesota just as we pass the sign for it on 1-90.  It seems so serendipitous that I think we better go with the flow.

Pipestone National Park Quarry

Pipestone National Park Quarry

We watch the little movie of the park and take the ¾ mile walk through the park.  We see the quarries where Indians have been quarrying the rock for some 300+ years.  Its labor intensive hard work under the hot sun, biting insects, and wind, so I decide I’d like to support their efforts and buy one of the ceremonial pipes they have for sale.  I talk to one of the carvers and it ends up the being the same person featured in the NPR story.

"The Oracle" in Pipestone National Park

"The Oracle" in Pipestone National Park

He seems like a really nice and interesting person.  His name is Travis Erickson and he tells me that he’s been carving for 25 years and it shows.  One the way to the park I noticed one of the tourist traps sells the pipestone in bulk, so I ask him if sells of any from his quarry.  He does, but cannot sell it during work hours, so I shop around the near by town and bid my time until 5:00 and I’m rewarded with a big chunk of some priced red pipestone direct from the person who quarried it.

I also buy one of the pipes they have for sale.  This one is made “Swift Horse” – Mark Pederson who is of the Sisseton – Wahpeton Dakota Nation and fourth generation quarrymen / pipe maker.  He is a direct descendant of Moses Crow, who settled in the Pipestone area in 1927.

Pipestone National Park

Pipestone National Park

For over 300 years, the red stone ceremonial pipe held an extremely high value and historically was valued as worth one of the finest horses in trade.  The pipe is considered sacred and used in all their ceremonies.  The pipe was also used in all treaty negotiations and thus labeled the “peace pipe” by non natives.  Native people believed that the smoke from the pipe carried their hopes and dreams to the “Creator”, and I plan on putting mine to work in the same fashion.

We spend the night in a big box store’s parking lot and press on to the Badlands, SD the next day.  We do a little hike around before the predicted big storm hits.  We decide to call it a day as the sun is going down anyway.  As we’re looking for a good place to spend the night in the Badlands National Park we come to the little town of Interior, SD.  This place is barely a one horse town with next to nothing going on.  We see a little road house that looks interesting and appropriately called “The Wagon Wheel” because it seems to be more wagons than broken down cars.  We open the door and I was surprised that tumble weed didn’t blow out of there.  The place is deserted, but I like how “authentic” it looks, so we go in for a beer or three.  The bar tender is a woman who kind of reminds me of Flo from some 70’s sitcom I cannot remember then name of.  Wait a minute, scratch that.  She looks more like the contemporary version of Miss Kitty from the old Western show “Gun Smoke and by the way she is looking at me through thick black mascara I wonder is she is also in the same line of business.  She is a genuinely sweet older woman, but I can imagine she could probably kick my ass if I got outta line.

The Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park

Some of the locals from the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation stop in.  They’re having a good time shooting pool and drinking beer.  We see the pizza they ordered and decide to try it.  It was one of the best tasting pizzas that I’ve had in a long time.  Normally I’d never eat at a place like this just from the looks of it, but this is one of the great lessons we’ve learned from traveling is that people and places cannot be prejudged just from their appearance.  Some of the nicest and friendliest people we’ve met on this trip are people I would not normally get to talk to.  For example we stopped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to check my oil and to pull out a tumble weed that was stuck in my radiator and two people within 15 minutes pull over to see if they could give us a ride or lend a hand.  That is one of the things I miss about small town living is that most of the people out there would be willing to stop and lend a hand if they saw the some one in need.  On the other hand it seems like people living in or near major metropolitan cities have been watching too many crimes shows and are fearful or just don’t give a shit weather you need help or not.

The Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park

Another example is the person who was sitting right next to me at the Wagon Wheel Tavern.  His name is Leon Little Killer.  He’s got a persistent case of the hiccups.  He tells me he’s had them all day.  I tell him I know of a sure fire cure and he gives me that sideways look like I’m BS’ing him.  I tell him “It works every time” and he finally asks me how after trying one last time to cure them himself by hold his breath as long as he can.  I ask the bartender for a wooden pencil.  I tell him he has to put the pencil in his mouth sideways like a horse’s bit and as far back as he can bite down on it.  Then drink 3 solid gulps of water without talking a break.  I forget to tell him to lean over as he is dribbling all over himself and I then realize that this could be a big mistake if it doesn’t work.  He swallows his last gulp and sure enough he’s cured.  He looks suddenly relieved and chuckles to himself in disbelief.

We shoot the shit for a while and he tells me he is a cowboy and he looks every bit the part with the dirty white cowboy hat, boots and jeans.  He’s a burly Native American, but with a boyishly handsome face and big smile.  He offers to take us for a horse back ride the next day for free.  Wait a minute he adds, we have to buy the beer.  I gladly accept and we get his number and direction to the ranch he works at and agree to meet the next morning.

A wicked looking tree in the Badlands, SD

A wicked looking tree in the Badlands, SD

Thinking about it that night it seems a little strange going out onto the high plains desert with a person with the name Little Killer, but he seems trustworthy.  He tells me he really likes taking people out riding, because he likes to show off his country where he grew up.

Unfortunately for us we wake up and there was a cold windy rain storm rolling in which we wouldn’t have lasted long enough to make it worthwhile.  Hopefully he’ll take a rain check in the future.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

Grand Tetons National Park – Paintbrush Loop

23 Aug

I keep on fumbling, stumbling and tripping over words to describe the scenes and situations that we’ve encounter on our journey, but in an effort to keep it real I’ll try to back up my words with photos to prove it, except where otherwise noted.  Although, I do reserve the right to enhance, embellish and / or downright lie about anything and everything, so please take anything said here with a grain of salt, sugar or what ever adds spice to your life.

Our camping site near the Grand Tetons

Our camping site near the Grand Tetons

I think I am going to add a new segment to this blog and that is “Tips from and for the trail.”
The first tip is to add Jolly Ranchers to your Condiment Library.  (see previous post)  Not only are they a tasty little treats for a hot dusty trail, but can come in really handy when a certain unnamed person forgets to pack the drink mix for H.H.  Well, I am not opposed to doing straight shots, but it’s just not as enjoyable as sitting around sipping on a Gatorita while watching what ever gorgeous scene we find ourselves at.  I figured I’d check the library for anything we might be able to sweeten up our El Jimador tequila and that’s when the Jolly Ranchers come in.  I assorted them according to color and added 8 of them to a quart of boiling water.  After they dissolved I poured this hot mixture into a Nalgene bottle and put it in the nearby ice cold river to cool.  Ten minutes later we have a nice ice cold flavorful cocktail I’m dubbing the “Happy Camper”, since drinking a drink named Jolly Rancher seems kinda strange.

North Cascade Fork near Lake Solitude

North Cascade Fork near Lake Solitude

Today we hiked over 10,070′ Paintbrush Divide.  It was a gorgeous day with brilliant blue sky, no wind and about 75 degrees.  A perfect temp for hiking over a high divide with a heavy pack.  After quick work of the pass and snapshot at the top we descended down the back side to get our first spectacular view of the Grand Tetons and Lake Solitude.  It was a long drop to the valley floor and I’ve got to admit that I felt a little sorry for the hikers going in the other direction, since it’s now about 85+ degrees in the direct sun with no chance of any shade or water on the entire West side of the trail.

Paintbrush Divide 10,070' with Grand Tetons in BG

Paintbrush Divide 10,070' with Grand Tetons in BG

We found a gorgeous camping site on the North Cascade Fork just a little South of Lake Solitude with a magnificent view of the Grand Tetons right next to a series of water falls and glacier polished terraced rock outcropping.  After such a hard hot hike we had to jump in.  It’s basically glacier melt, so you can imagine how cold it was.  I hope no one was pumping water down stream at this time, since it was a couple day since our last shower, but felt oh so refreshing.

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park

 
 

Yellowstone National Park

15 Aug

Got wildlife and Magma?
Well this place has tons of both.  We’ve seen black bears, moose, bison, big horn sheep, elk, coyote, fox, beaver, river otters, eagles, osprey and heard a pack of wolves several times.  We’ve also seen more geysers, mud pots, steam vents, cauldrons, and rivers that run hot to last a lifetime.  Actually there are more geysers here in Yellowstone than in Iceland and Greenland combined.

Our adopted wild animal

Our adopted wild animal

I have to admit that hiking in country that I am no longer the apex predator has got me a little on edge.  I am not only not number 1, but I’m lucky if I’m forth or fifth on the food chain.  They’ve got grizzlies, black bear, wolves, mountain lions and bob cats.  Not to mention the other animals that could kill you just for being in there way such as buffalo, elk and moose.  Almost every tree in the park has the scars from some large horned animal sharpening their antlers or horns on them to let you know that you’re small and pretty much defenseless against them.  I was starkly reminded about this at midnight as the full moon first broke the horizon on our second night.  I was woken from a sound sleep by a pack of wolves howling in a chorus around our camp site.  It’s a ghostly sound and as others chimed in it had a deliciously layered surround sound effect amplified by the total silence of Yellowstone’s back country.  My guess is that the alpha male starts and sets the tone and beat while the others scattered throughout the surrounding wilderness chime in add to the rhythm.  I could tell that some where young, some old, some male, some female, some near and some far, but it’s was a sound that I will not soon forget.  This went on for 15-20 minutes four times that night.

Yellowstone has lots of gorgeous meadows in the back country

Yellowstone has lots of gorgeous meadows in the back country

As I am writing this in my sleeping bag the next morning at the crack of dawn I hear another very strange noise and from my guess it’s a sand hill crane.  A crazy sound from a bird that I would imagine would want to lie low, or maybe that’s just the risk they take to find a mate.

Elk skull

Elk skull

Speaking of crazy sounds and how one’s imagination runs wild when you think you’re being stocked by wild animals.  I was lying in bed just this morning and thought for sure that I heard foot, hoof or paw steps just outside our tent.  I worked up the courage to open the tent flap thinking that a grizzly bear is just waiting to bite my head off, but there wasn’t anything there except the beautiful warm morning light, dewy green leafs and brilliant blue sky.  I crawled back into the tent to catch up on some missed sleep from the night before.  As soon as I get settled in and everything again is quiet I hear it again as loud and clear as ever.  This time I think for sure it’s the ranger coming over to check our permits just as he did the morning prior.  I open the flap and again exasperated there is nothing out there.  I go back to bed and come to realize that my heart beating, a little louder than normal is causing my sub zero sleeping bag, which has a hood is pushing against my whiskers and ear to cause a sound that closely resembles the pace and sound of foot steps.  I think I am going to just get up and make some coffee.

Heart Lake Yellowstone National Park

Heart Lake Yellowstone National Park

Does anyone know what “Beaver Fever” is?  No, not that kind you sicko!  The reason I ask is that we have beavers in our front yard so to speak and have been swimming and drinking filtered water what I come to find is down stream from no less that 5 beaver dams, and probably more.  The night prior I noticed that we were about out of water and went down to pump some more before dark.  I was surprised that Mr. Beaver swam right up to me within 15’ or so and just paced back and forth in the water watching my every move.  I’ve never had that happen.  Usually they’re just pissed that you’re in their territory like our first night when we camped on the beach.  Jen was reading late into the night when she woke me up tell me there was some thing big out there throwing something into the water.  I immediately can tell it’s a beaver slapping their tales against the water to let you know that you’re trespassing.

Another interestingly haunting sound happened just prior to the beaver incident and that was the sound of a loon imitating the howling of a wolf.  I’m from Michigan and so I’ve only hear loons do one type of call before, so I was unsure what the hell that sound echoing across a deadly silent lake was. It wasn’t till the next morning when I asked the ranger what it could possibly be and he tells me that they can sometimes sound like an elk as well.

Today we have to just hike a couple of miles to our next camp site, from 8H5 to 8H1 at the South end of Heart Lake.  More beautiful meadows and lodge pole pines.  No wildlife sighting on the hike, but it was nice none the less.  We have a nice new camping site and the ranger tells us that there is going to be a meteor show from 12 – 3:00 am this morning.  It starts to rain so we opt to take a siesta in preparation to try to wake up for the show tonight.  We wake just in time for H.H. of Tequila and Country Time Lemon Aid down by the lake and watch the storms roll on past.  The clouds and rain coming down in the distance is impressive scene, but I am too lazy to run back to the tent to get my camera.

Woke up for the meteor shower, but it’s been dropping down into the low 30’s so we only stayed out for a 15 minutes, but saw a dozen or so good ones streak across the sky.

I was awoken by the howl of a lone wolf this morning at the crack of dawn.  After the second howl we got out of the tent to scan the near by mountain side, since it was so loud and clear that we could tell it was near by.  Jen sees movement on the mountain side, and yells there they are, but it was only two deer running, probably for their lives.

Got packed up quick and sloppy for a two mile hike to our next camp site @ 8H6, so we can summit Mt Sheridan, which is 3,000’ in 4 miles.  An ass kicker for sure, but the 360 degree view of the South side of Yellowstone and the North side of the Grand Tetons was worth it.

View of Yellowstone from the summit of Mt. Sheridan

Summit of Mt. Sheridan

Our last morning we were awoke by the loon again at dawn and this time decided to get up and get out watch the morning light on the mirror smooth lake and watch a family of river otters eat their breakfast of fresh caught trout.

I know I’ve skipped Bryce and Capital Reef, but I didn’t write much, so please check back soon for an update.

 
 

Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon California

30 Jul

Kings Canyon 1st night

Kings Canyon, Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most raw, rugged and awesome displays of pristine nature that I’ve seen in all of my years of hiking back country wilderness.  It doesn’t have the sheer beauty of Yosemite, but it’s untamed, untrampled and unspoiled wildness seems more wild than pretty.  The sheer size and magnitude of the surrounding mountains and rock faces are hard to put into perspective since everything is so enormous.

The first part of the hike was very hot, sandy and kinda boring, but within 2 miles we were into a green and lush forest with the raging Kings river running next to us the entire 10 miles to our first camp site at Paradise Valley.  Nothing to note worthy except the glacier polished cliff faces and the unforgiving treacherous roar of King’s river.  The water pouring out of the mountain with such force and volume was frightening at times.  There seem to be a pulse or a rhythm to its sound and flow that if I sat back at watched it for a few minutes I could see it like waves in an ocean.

Baby squrrils running around our site

Baby squirrels running around our site

We met a young kid that kinda looks homeless named Ryan.  I actually met him when I noticed he was trying to get a fire going with just pine cones and needles the night before.  I took pity and offered up some extra wood that we could not possibly go through in one night.  I offered up a few nice pieces and introduced myself.  It wasn’t until I was up close did I realize this could possibly be a big mistake.  He had that sort of crazed look on his face like Charles Manson and he had the long hair and equally long beard to reinforce my stereotype of a crazy person.  This guy had literally nothing with him.  He had a day pack that wasn’t even full and was wearing what looked like old ski pant and extra heavy winter jacket.  I made this initial introduction as brief as possible and said good night.  We sat around the fire for an hour or so more and had another drink before bed.

We had a nice camp site surrounded by giant Ponderosa Pines near the beautiful river and a view of cathedral like peaks in the back ground.  It was nothing outstanding in our experience, but gorgeous none the less.

Kings Canyon, California

Next day after coffee and breakfast of instant oatmeal we set out for another hard day and a couple thousand more feet of elevation gain in the hot sun to Woods Creek.  More high Sierra terrain that I’ve come to really enjoy, which is glacier polished granite, monstrous Ponderosa pines and some Bristle Cone Pines sprinkled in sparingly.  Another thing that I’ve really come to enjoy is that every day is the same; a strictly blue sky, warm sun and no clouds.  Perfect!  I am really starting to fall in love with Northern California.

The Woods creek campground isn’t anything spectacular, but very nice none the less.  We camp next to the suspension bridge, which has a good fire ring and some flat rocks that we use as a dining table.  It’s hot and we’re tired and dirty.  We head down stream for a dip in the freezing cold snow melt river.  It takes my breath away as I submerge myself in the only deep spot available in a very swift pool behind a large boulder.  I go under again just to wash up the privates and get one good rinse through the hair and clothes.  Ahh man oh man that feels good.  I get out and sit on a rock naked to air dry.  Jen get inspired and does the same after a lame attempt at a dunk under earlier.  I don’t blame her, since growing up on Lake Superior I feel that I’ve built up a tolerance to freezing cold water.

Kings Canyon, California - Rae Lakes

We sit there naked by the river side and are dry within minutes.  This is a very new experience coming from Seattle where it’s never this dry or hot.  At least in the mountains it isn’t.  I tend to jump into any water available while camping in the Northwest, but to be warm and dry within minutes is a big surprise to me.  Oh my look at the time.  We’re missing H.H. by 15 minutes, so we get dressed and head back to camp.  We make the first of our 2 drink limit and head down to the river side again to sit by another crystal clear fishing hole under the suspension bridge.  Jen seems to be getting into this nature thing by going Au-natural.  I have a nice view, so life in the back country is good.

We invite our neighbors over to enjoy our small fire.  Luckily this time I get to see them in the day light and have a brief chat before making the same mistake as last night.  Actually we see Ryan come into camp a full 3.5 hours after us wearing the same old ski outfit when it’s at least 85 degrees out.  He isn’t the first person we’ve seen like this either.  It seems like everyone is dressed head to toe in long sleeves, long pants and some sort of sombrero type sun hat.  It’s bizarre, but what do I care.  I found that my method of bathing and washing out my clothes as soon as I get to camp keeps the mosquitoes away.  If that doesn’t work I usually smoke myself out next to the fire and that does the trick.  These people would rather suffer under what seems an unusual amount of clothing in hot sun while climbing thousands of feet in elevation than get bit by one or two bugs.  Have you heard of Deet before?  I mean that bugs are bad, but for crying out loud man get a clue.  Wait, I forgot I’ve stopped trying to figure people out.  It’s a waste of time, but sometimes I  have a good laugh.

Kings Canyon, California - Rae Lakes and the Painted Lady

Rachele, Rachele and Tim who are from England stop by for socializing and to enjoy our glorious fire.  It’s funny, but when you’re out in the middle of nature you come to really appreciate the little simple pleasures of life in the back country.  For example clean clothes, a cold drink, something sweet, a good fire, good food and friendly conversation with someone new.  These two have been on the trail for 3 weeks doing the John Muir Trail aka JMT.  Within minutes I could tell that had some interesting stories to tell, so I offer them a drink to share.  They tell me they haven’t had a luxury item for 12 days, so they gladly accept.  I make them one of my now famous Lemon Lime and Fruit Punch Gatorade combos with cold freshly pumped water, so it’s cold and strong.  They tell me the next day after we unexpectedly run into them on the trail that they’ve never slept so well in weeks.  Went right to sleep afterward, which 10,000’ + can sometimes be a challenge.  The night is filled with tales of the JMT and a glorious stop off at the JMT Ranch, which offers hot spring and hot meals for a hot price of $150 per person per night.

Next day is the much anticipated Rae Lakes.  It’s another brutalizing hike up in the hot sun and thousands of feet gained, but it’s beautiful as ever.  Glorious crystal clear lakes that are as blue as the skies above only darker.  The mountains look like a 3rd grader drew them with steep vertical lines rising straight out of the lakes and with lots of snow on top.

Once again I spot a camp site from a mile off and tell Jen that “I want to camp there.”  It’s a glorious spot at the tip of a small peninsula that is in the middle of upper Rae Lake.
It comes complete with a high cliff for jumping into the lake, along with a glorious view of the Painted Lady, Fin Dome and other 12,000’ peaks that surround us.  More skinny dipping and happy hour ensues soon afterwards.  The bugs are really bad here and even though we’ve gone in twice they’re still thirty for fresh blood.  We break out the Deet and they’re gone like that.

Kings Canyon, California - Rae Lakes

The next day is the dreaded hike over Glenn’s Pass.  It’s 12,000’ and we’re at 10,000.  From our camp site I have no clue of how we’re going to get over this enormous mountain, but we have to do it.  We pack up camp and get going.  The trail is gorgeous with High Mountain lakes that are mirror smooth reflecting the ginormous peaks that surround us.  It’s another glorious day and the bugs aren’t too bad this morning.  We start to climb.  “Oh it’s not too steep” I say, but then at the top of one ridge we see what we are about to climb.  It’s straight up.  No fucking way in hell can we do this.  We see people a thousand feet above us that look like ants lost in a snow field.  It’s intimidating to say the least, but I am more worried since we do not have any ice axes and there looks like a lot of snow at the top.  We climb and climb switch back after switchback and never seem to be getting any closer.  We finally make it to the top after a few sketchy snow field crossings, but we took it slow and made sure every step was solid.  The view from the top of Glenn’s Pass is truly impressive.  There is only one peak that is keeping us from having a full 360 view, but that only adds to the sense of scale.  We can see for hundreds of miles in almost all directions.  We sit and have lunch of made of Albacore tuna and surprise, surprise mayo and sweet relish from the condiment library along with some Triskets.

Kings Canyon, California - Glenn Pass

Kings Canyon, California - Jim Mercure on Glenn Pass Summit

The hike down is just the same switchback after switchback.  We pass a lake that looks like it’s been plugged in.  It’s so blue it seems to be glowing.  We trudge on up and up after taking the advice of the ranger that the upper trail is worth the elevation gain.  I am cursing that bastard as I can see a nice low trail with little to no elevation gain below us.  Yes, the view is amazing and after a long day I am glad we’ve made it to Kesearge Lakes.  This lake will go down in my memory as one of the best places I’ve ever camped, at least the most scenic.  Again, I spot the place I want to camp from high above and miles away.  This is where we run into our new friends Rochelle and Tim who decided to bail a few days early and have to go over two passes in the same day.  A big feat for those who’ve never done it and at elevation above 10,000’ where there is 70% of the oxygen at sea level.

Kings Canyon, California - The Southside of Glenn Pass

We spend two nights at this glorious little camp site that has just about everything.  It has a great view, it’s on the Eastside of the lake so we get an extra two hours of sunlight and has a glacier polished granite point complete with jumping off spot with a nice exit onto the hot rock to warm back up on.  What is so great about this spot is that alls that anyone would have to do is get their feet just a little wet to get here, but we’ve watched several people attempt this and turn back.  Ha, ha, we have the whole Eastside of the lake to ourselves and it’s just glorious.  We are bathing in the late afternoon sun while I look at people across the lake bundled up in the shade swatting flies.  I jump in to the lake naked again just to show that we’re living large over here with our cocktail and sun.  I feel like a rock star on some tropical island or something.

Kings Canyon, California - Kersearge Lakes

Kings Canyon, California - Kersearge Lakes

Kings Canyon, California - Kersearge Lakes

The next day wasn’t so glorious.  We decide that we’re going to try to make it out in one day which is 20+ miles and 4,500’+ elevation loss.  It’s brutally hot and dry and one of the hardest hikes I’ve done.  As were hiking down a baby bear gets between Jen and I and gets frightened and is running right toward me.  I have no clue because a mouse fart is louder than Jen’s loudest voice.  I miss it and am a little tiffed that she didn’t tell me there was a baby bear just a few feet away, and even more so that I have a camera around my neck.  Oh well that’s the way it goes.  She got a special treat by this encounter and that’s good enough.  A couple miles down the trail I hear the unmistakable sound of a baby bear’s cry.  I tell Jen “That’s a baby bear” and she’s like yeah right.  I tell her that I know for sure that there’s a baby bear just a few yards away in the brush somewhere, but she still doesn’t believe me.  All of a sudden just feet away the ferns start to move and then there we are face to face with big momma bear and baby bear right behind.  She gives me the stare down that gives me goose bumps.  Its fight or flight here.  I start talking, I am not sure what I said, but with all of the literature that we’ve read says that you should talk and fight back with black bears.  I try to get big, but she gives me that look that she’s not gonna take any BS from me.  They mosey on and cross the path just a few feet from us.  We try to sneak by, but I don’t know if she know that we’re just trying to pass since we see her again, but this time she doesn’t have that same look as if no problem, but more of a I gonna eat you for dinner if you take one more step closer.

Kings Canyon, California - Momma and baby bear

Well, we make it back and I have a cold beer in hand as I write this.  It’s hot out, I mean really hot and the beers are going down like they’ve evaporated before it hits my lips, so naturally I drink more, but to little relief of my thirst.  It must be that we need food, so we order up a bacon cheese burger and that does the trick.

If I could offer just a few tips for anyone who might be going on this hike is to do the loop clockwise.  Counter clockwise would just be so brutally hot and steep that it would just suck the fun right out of it.  Another is to go light as possible.  It rarely rains in the summer time, so just pack a large garbage bag in case it does and save the weight of a rain jacket.

We head back to the previous camp site just outside of the park, because after touring the available campsites in the park it just isn’t worth the $20 camping fee which is next to screaming kids, loud generators and probably the high fivin white guys we’ve seen before.  It’s always the price we have to pay coming back into civilization.

 
 

Clouds Rest to Yosemite Valley – Yosemite National Park

29 Jul

We still cannot believe this campsite we have here below Clouds Rest.  Its probably one of the best camping sites we’ve ever had.  The view is just unbelievable.  We reluctantly pack up and head up to the summit of Clouds Rest.  Now this is an even more impressive view.  It has a 360 view of the entire Yosemite National Park.  It is a clear, calm and warm sunny day, but there’s a forest fire to the West and the cloud is slowly filling the Yosemite Valley, which adds a nice visual effect kinda like a photoshop filter.

Jim & Jen on the summit of Clouds Rest

Jim & Jen on the summit of Clouds Rest

Today’s hike is going to be another ass kicker.  It’s about 800′ of elevation gain and about 4,000′ lost in 17 miles.  It gonna be hot and even hotter as we descend, but it’s either that or hang out with the over crowded, over amped and over caffeinated kids waiting to climb half dome in Little Yosemite Valley campground.  We opt for cold beer and hot pizza and push on the extra 5 miles to the valley floor.  After spending so much time in the peace and quite of pristine nature I find people to be very annoying, but C’est la vie.

A view of Half Dome from Clouds Rest

A view of Half Dome from Clouds Rest

The view of Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest

The view of Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest

 
 

Sunrise to Clouds Rest – Yosemite National Park

20 Jul
Our camp site at Clouds Rest

Our camp site at Clouds Rest

Wow what a beautiful view.  I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but it is so true.  These National Parks that we have in our own backyard are just gorgeous, but it seems like they’re enjoyed by way more foreigners than Americans, which should be a national embarrassment.  You would think that it would be over run by us traveling near and far across our great country to get to them, but in my 2 month’s experience it’s been a majority of people from other countries that we see and hear on the trail, view point or parking lots that are enjoying them the most.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it seems to me that Americans are either too damn lazy or just don’t appreciate what we have.  It’s kinda of scary when you think just a couple years ago one of the Bush Administration’s many disastrous ideas were to privatize the National Parks, which would have done irreparably damage to these pristine lands.

What a wonderful idea and it is purely an American one at that.  Other countries have copied us and I congratulate them for doing so, but it is in my opinion one of America’s greatest ideas.

The view from our camp site

The view from our camp site

Anyway our trip from Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Clouds Rest wasn’t unusually spectacular until we found our last camp site.  We were out of water and since we were so high and still climbing it wasn’t likely that we’d find any without a long hike back down the mountain to a stream about 2.5 miles and 1,000′ below or we could hike up higher and melt some snow.  I was dreading both ideas since I was beat from a long, hot day of hiking.  That’s when I noticed the ravine below us was a little greener than the upper part, so I dropped my pack to investigate.  Sure enough there was a small pure crystal clear spring emerging from the white granite gravel, so we drank our fill and filled our water bottles.  Now to find a camp site.  As we were hiking up I noticed that I could see the land dropping off of the other side of the trail and asked Jen to “trust me” I can guarantee there is a good spot just over this next hill, but she wanted to continue on up the mountain.  I finally convinced her that this would be the last spot before our finally ascent to the summit of Clouds Rest, which is just under 10,000′ and what a spot it was.

Another view of Echo Valley 5,000' below

Another view of Echo Valley 5,000' below

OMG, it was our best camping site by far.  We had a spectacular view of our previous spot in Echo Valley that dropped off some 5,000′ below and 180 degrees of unobstructed view looking North and South.  It came complete with a nice tent site, camp fire ring and some wood.  Oh boy, the fresh trout I have on snow is going to taste good tonight.

The site even had our little fuzzy buddy neighbor the new born fawn that was just in the camp site next to us.  He was adorable and would not move even though we made a lot of noise before I hopped over the log it was hiding behind.

Here is some info on Clouds Rest copied from the web.

“Clouds Rest, a massive granite formation just northeast of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, is one of the defining hikes in Yosemite National Park (YNP). For casual visitors, it ranks with Half Dome and North Dome as one of the most recommended hikes in the valley and for viewing the valley. Geographically, Clouds Rest lies in the center of nearly every interesting feature in Yosemite. Great views are to be had of Half Dome, the Clark Range in the south, nearly all of Cathedral Range, and even out to Matterhorn Peak and the Sawtooth Range.

Our fuzzy little buddy neighbor

Our fuzzy little buddy neighbor

From Clouds Rest’s airy and cozy summit, the most undeniable natural feature is the Northwest Face, a stunning 5000-foot drop into Tenaya Canyon. This is Yosemite glacial geology at its finest. Imagine virgin Sierra Nevada granite, uplifted from its deep burial place by compressional tectonic forces, canyons eroded rapidly by generous spring runoff, and finally, the odd glacier to smooth the slope. Behold: an endless mid-angle slab climb of truly epic proportions! The views of this face from Olmstead Point and North Dome are simply stunning.”