Gene Dilley was my boss (the best boss I ever had) and an ultra-light backpacker. What
is an ultra-light backpacker? That’s a person who goes to great lengths to minimize the
weight of his loaded backpack. Those guys want to cover a lot of territory, and the only way
to do it is to go as light as possible. They do things like sleep in an Elephant’s Foot sleeping
bag and a down jacket instead of taking a full length bag, cut their tooth brush in half, take
the minimum amount of food (they can eat again after the trip). No stove, no utensils, no tent
(a plastic tube tent will do), etc., etc., etc.
Anyway, Gene invited me to join him and his friend Warren Storkman, another ultra-
lighter, on a weekend backpack trip. I immediately said no thanks. He asked why. I told him
that I didn’t want to die of exhaustion 50 miles from the trailhead.
He laughed and said, “So then you plan the trip you want to go on, and we will join you.” “Oh,
okay.” I replied.
So I planned a relatively easy trip, one on which I could carry in lots of heavy items like
canned goods, wine, fresh fruit, frozen steak (transported in dry ice), cook stove, pots and
pans, that I could flaunt at them as they eked by on their minimalist nibblies, ha, ha, ha. The
plan was to start off from Tenaya Lake, head southwest, go up to Clouds Rest, pass by
Pinnacles and Quarter Dome, and end up at the base of Half Dome. We’d climb Half Dome
the next morning, then make a loop to the south and then head back to Tenaya Lake.
On Saturday morning we parked at the Tenaya Lake parking lot and headed out. All day
long we were going up and down and up and down. By the time we got to Sunrise Creek at
the base of Half Dome, I was all done in. Son-of-a-gun, I got the mileage right, but I screwed
up the elevation change. It was not an easy trip. It was a hard trip, not one on which to be
carrying a heavy load. But I was there now and about to enjoy the look on their faces when
they saw the luxurious dinner I had brought for myself.
I pulled the cork and set the wine bottle by a tree to let the wine breathe. Then I enjoyed
some canned smoked oysters and crackers with my premade martini. The steak was
completely thawed and ready for the pan. I sautéd home fried potatoes and onions, heated
the peas and carrots, and then sautéd the steak medium rare. But when I went for the wine, I
found the bottle lying on its side, almost empty. Rats! Or rather chipmunks! Nevertheless,
there was enough left to allow me to “refresh my palate” after every several morsels of steak.
I didn’t want to be blatantly smug, so I tried to be nonchalant as I thoroughly enjoyed my
meal, and occasionally snuck furtive glances at my audience. The open-mouthed gaze of
Gene and the dagger eyes of Warren did not disappoint. Aaah, life was good.
But God was watching …
In the middle of the night, I heard a metallic click. What makes a metallic click in the
middle of the night in the middle of the woods??? I sat up in my sleeping bag to look around. I
was just in time to see the big fat rump of a bear in my face, making tracks down the trail, with
my backpack in its mouth. I gave out a startled yelp and started to get up to give chase. Then
I realized that the worst thing I could do was to catch that bear.
After a restless night, I got up and started down the trail that the bear’s rump had taken,
looking for my backpack. A short while later I found it. I’d been robbed! The bear must have
turned the bag upside down and dumped all the contents onto the ground. All of the food was
gone. Breakfast, lunch—kaput. The only thing left was an empty tuna can, with its lid skillfully
zipped off by a claw of the bear. Looking at that empty can made me feel sooo hungry. I was
sad and forlorn. Not even the beaming faces of my good buddies could cheer me up. But life
goes on ...
After the beaming buddies finished their handful of gorp for breakfast, we started up the
hill to the east side of Half Dome, leaving the packs behind. It was a steep trail to the east
shoulder of the dome and an even steeper assent on the monolith itself, but we made it to the
top with the aid of a handrail that had been put up by the NPS. Wonderful views. We stayed
at the top for about 15 to 20 minutes and then headed down. Going down face first was
almost as hard as going up.
We got down to the campsite and picked up out packs. Per the plan, we went south and
downhill at first and then looped around to the northeast and went uphill all the way back to
Half way there, we encountered a pleasant small grassy meadow with a stream running
through it. In the meadow grew wild onions. Guess what I had for breakfast/lunch — wild
onions and all the water I could drink. It was better than nothing. Of course when we got back
to the car we headed straight for the nearest restaurant for a real meal.
Those darned bears …
|Tenaya Lake with Half Dome
in the upper left.
|Half Dome from the
southwest, with Clouds Rest
|The Easy Trip