July 3 & 4, 2008 - Emigrant Wilderness - Kennedy Meadows to Relief Valley
This was the trip that maybe wasn't meant to be. This trip had been in the works for awhile but it was definitely ambitious (I planned it - what else is new). The original plan had been to head up to Iceland Lake and then over to Emigrant Lake for a couple of nights and out. Did I mention that day 1 included 3000+ foot gain over 10+ miles and part of that being off trail oh yeah and it was Curtis's first trip out. So I know what you are already thinking....this isn't a good idea...but let us proceed.
There is about a mile and a half of on-ish trail hiking that started the trip out from the parking lot through the Kennedy Meadows resort. A majority of the resort burned down in fall of 2007 and most of it was rebuilt by the time we went through. Of special note was the saloon which had many many...many beer boxes outside...hmm maybe I am not ready to go out into the backcountry.
The hike out of Kennedy Meadows is up and up and up and up and up. If you are looking for a nice comfortable grade this is not the hike for you. To offset the trying gain in elevation was the beautiful waterfalls all along the way. It was a great time of year to see the water flowing. We ran into a couple of young rangers who were impressed by our route and were not surprised to hear that Jim McCabe had given support for my route the week before. In addition to the gushing water there were plenty of wildflowers. Somewhere around mile 6 we had to do a hearty stream crossing...the Chacos came out and the feet got a cooling down. We ran into a number of folks working for the California Conservation Corps. We got a bit of an education from one of the crew who told us that they were on a 5 1/2 months tour of duty that started out in Big Sur. The crew had been in Emigrant for a few weeks and were on their way to establishing camp at Kennedy Meadows after working all day in Upper Relief Valley...I don't even want to try and figure out the mileage they were putting in that day.
Finally we reached the spot where we needed to start heading off trail. At this point we were both getting tired and looking up towards the lake I think it was pretty certain that we weren't getting up to the lake that day. We trudged across a meadow full of patties...cow patties and low and behold we found an established camp with 2 fire rings. Clearly someone brought their livestock out to the meadow on a regular basis. Since no one was around and we were not looking foward to another 1000 foot climb up pretty sheer granite we established camped and were rewarded in the evening by the beverage that no backpacker should be without T&T (Tang and Tequila).
As morning broke everything looked good (ah yes the fatal last words). As we started up the mountain on our cross country route it was difficult to see any route up. The Wilderness Press book made it sound like you just took a leisurely stroll up some granite....hmmmm. We scouted all along the base of the likely way up for quite awhile. There were a handful or routes identified but nothing that seemed to safe especially given that there were just the 2 of us...although it would no doubt be fun and exciting shleping our packs up. After about 2 hours of hiking and scouting we admitted defeat (ugh!) and faced the choice of hiking through Relief Valley and onto the trail I had been the previous week or hiking out. After a jovial exchange of perspectives it was decided that we would hike out (I shall leave it at that to protect all of those involved). The hike out was uneventful and once again the beer was calling to me from the cooler.
In lieu of backpacking for another 2 days we opted to go wine tasting in gold country. When the going gets tough the tough gets wine tasting..I swear that's the saying. After a crazy wild night in the city of San Andreas at the Black Bart Motel and Inn...I couldn't figure out what the Inn was all about we headed to Amador City for some yummy quiche, brioche and scones (just like the gold rushers would have had it). I had charted a route (of course) and we headed straight for the Plymouth/Fiddletown area and hit 4 wineries...anything less would have been a dissapointment...well me dissapointed in myself. The tasting was free and the wines were a plenty needless to say we bought at least a case of wine and promtly headed towards our friend's Beth and Jeff's to share that wine over July 4th leftovers.
For those of you who are planners like me backpacking can throw a lot of unexpected items at you and this weekend was no exception. So while I was dissapointed that I did not find my off trail lake I was pleased at finding a new wine tasting region. Next trip is in a few weeks I can only imagine what will happen on that one :).