I arrived at Onion Valley around 11am having left R & LJ as I bombed down
the hill, and began working the parking lot. Most people were just getting
there and wouldn't take me to town.
The only shade near the parking lot was at the toilets. And the toilets,
while being sturdy cinderblock, are pit toilets, so it stunk.
R & LJ came in while I was working the campground for a ride (with no
luck). They were transferring food from their two small Garica bear canisters
to the one large Bearikade. They were not coming to town, but had a big
list of town chores that I was happy to do, including shipping their ice
axes and Garcias back home.
We were eating and cleaning up wondering about trail magic when a SHINY
minivan marked Wilderhouse Shuttle Service pulled up with an older guy
driving. I was in some ways disappointed. I wanted big-time trail magic.
(In retrospect, it was magic that he appeared.) LJ decided to go work
him with no results. I had spied a sticker that would let him into military
bases on his windshield. I worked the DoD aspect of it and was soon chatting
up a storm. Now we really didn't need to work this ride if we were going
to pay, but this was a test of next year, so I went for it.
Skip had showed up for hikers that had blown him off at Whitney Portal
earlier that week. As noon approached, he could see that they would not
be coming down the mountain at their appointed time, and offered to give
me a ride to town for $15, half his normal rate for a one-way trip. I
accepted and we shot out of there.
It was HOT in Independence. Everything was off kilter: I had been dropped
in a hot, flat but normal (non-trail) world, I didn't have 50 or so pounds
on my back, and I was strong on my feet. It all came together, along with
Independence's 'urban' fabric, to make me think I was in a David Lynch
film. I kept looking for a short man near a red curtain singing backwards.
I think it was way over 100 degrees. Can you tell I live on the coast?
I first hit the post office. I was happy my first resupply package and
bounce box were there. I then set out to find cardboard to wrap up and
ship the ice axes. Stepping back out into the heat, I couldn't believe
how hot it was. Plus, I was amped up because I had a lot I wanted to get
done in this strange town. I created a sturdy but awkwardly-shaped package
with the ice axes and slapped labels on both the empty Garcias. I mailed
them and got that task done.
As I was diving into my boxes and thinking how brilliant I'd been to include
any number of items that I couldn't remember if I'd put in, but when I
looked for them, they were there, a man came up behind me and said, "It's
a terrible habit." I soon discovered that I was talking to Dennis Coffey,
someone I knew from email lists as the man who was hiking the high Sierra
with a double lung transplant. He'd been in town a day, so that meant
he knew the ropes, so I asked about showers. He offered to let me shower
in his hotel room, which was totally cool.
I enjoyed talking with him and seeing his homemade incredibly lightweight
gear. Although he reported that he and his doctor felt he was healthy,
the rancor around some legal issues with his ex-wife didn't feel very
healthy to me. I felt kinda guilty cutting out there quickly, but I had
to get other stuff done. I thanked him and was on my way to do laundry.
The laundromat in Independence is why people have washing machines in
their homes. The building itself was designed to make the inside unbearably
hot, and the added humidity and heat from the washers and dryers worked
to create an unimaginable environment, made worse by the fine dust from
the desert of the east side. I felt like no one had done laundry in this
place for 10 years; that this place was waiting for me to come along so
that it could finally breath its last breath and collapse. It did have
a utility sink. It's strange to note it, but the presence of a laundry
sink lifted my spirits in that laundromat.
My waiting for the cycles was not idle time. I used the folding table
to sort my food. I had plenty of room to lay out each day's food. The
pattern of days in front of me, I could see where I needed more food,
what I could ship ahead, and what I could ship home. I then put it all
in my gigantic Garcia bear canister, borrowed from Robin W. I had room
in it when I was done.
The main incentive for a box going home was my MRS Dragonfly stove. It
was going home because I was in love with my alcohol stove and the HEET
had come through the mail just fine. That homeward bound box got some
other stuff in it too, mostly extra food.
As my food dance was coming to an end and the dryer was doing its thing,
I happened to look up. On top of the long-empty laundry soap dispenser
was a bottle of HEET. I used the rest of it to top off my fuel bottle
and put three baggies of my 8-grain breakfast mix, hoping that someone
(a hiker) wanted some change of pace for breakfast. Finding the HEET was
trail magic, pure and simple.
I did have my white gas to get rid of. I wasn't going to pour it down
the drain. I ended up buying a Nalgene-like Coleman bottle for almost
$9, putting the white gas in it, fiercely labeling it, and giving it to
the guy at the gas station.
With the white gas gone, I could send my packages, leaving just a few
things to pick up and a few calls to make. What seemed to be the only
supermarket in town was on its way to closing. They were strategically
ordering and restocking the shelves, but it was down to bare bones with
an odd assortment of items. I found what I needed though, and the people
were very friendly.
While on the phone, I managed to place a Campmor order without a catalog,
check my messages, Richard's messages, and leave a message for my Dad
(Packages were here. I'm alive.)
As the day passed, I'd been noticing the very dark clouds building over
the Sierra. It wasn't long before saw lightning. It was clearly raining
I was ready to leave town. I headed up to the road to the portal and tried
to get a ride with no luck. It was getting late. I asked some kids if
they thought it was going to rain down here. They all though it would.
Normally, it wouldn't be that big a concern for me, but I realized I'd
made a tactical error: I'd stashed a lot of my gear, including my pack
cover, insulating layers, and cursed Gore-Tex parka beyond Kersarge Pass.
Plus, I hadn't really thought of my stash in terms of waterproofness,
just security. I also realized my headlamp was up there.
I gave myself until 4:30 to get a ride, then I was calling Skip. At 4:30,
I called Skip who was there in a flash with granddaughter Katy in tow.
We got some raindrops going up, but the drop off was dry. I was ready
to hit it in about a minute.
I was chomping at the bit to get to my gear and regroup with R & LJ, who'd
had a leisurely hike back to the Bullfrog Lake area and were waiting for
me. I set a mean pace and headed up toward the black clouds and lightning
fighting the approaching night even though it was only 5PM in the middle
of the summer. I set the goal of not stopping to rest until the big lake,
and I didn't. I wasn't frantic; I was determined and focused once I had
made the decision to get back on the trail and not stay overnight.
I continued to roar up and stopped once more to gulp down some water and
food, and put on my wind shirt against the increasingly cold wind coming
off the mountains. It was about this time that I realized that I'd forgotten
to eat anything while I was in town. I thought about how much time it
would take to got into a restaurant and sit down, but didn't get past
that. I was hungry and running on adrenaline.
As I got to the final approach to the pass, I became elated. I even thought
I saw R & LJ at the top waiting for me. It turned out to be a park boundary
I reached the top at 7PM slowing only like a roller coaster pauses when
the tail is still going up while the front is beginning to be pulled by
Pass achieved. Next goal: get to gear.
I'd taken mental snapshots of where the gear was and found it after a
few short miles. Everything was there, and dry.
I repacked and set off for my next goal: find Richard and Lori Joy. I
stopped to pump enough water for a dry camp and put on my headlamp. I
was singing part of a verse from Krishna Das over and over. I didn't know
the Hindu words, but it was comforting.
The trail was easy on the other side of the pass, and soon I saw a message
formed in small rocks: JOHN with an arrow pointing west into the continuing
trail. I saw one or two more signs as I pressed on into the night. I knew
I was OK, but had a primal urge to be at home, which, on that night, was
with my friends. They'd asked for tortilla chips. My pack was full, so
I was carrying the delicate cargo up front tucked under my sternum strap.
I finally saw another message with an arrow pointing off trail. Home!
I said hello in stride, but got no reply. As I turned into the trees,
I saw a tent, and I immediately thought, "Oh no. The signs were for a
different John." R& LJ have a tarp. I'd been wiping the messages out with
my foot as I walked to eliminate the visual impact. The other John would
be lost. My feeling of mistakenness evaporated with the next turn of my
head. My light illuminated Richard and Lori Joy's tarp set up but unoccupied.
No sooner had I determined that the bags under the tarp were empty, than
I saw their headlamps nearby coming from the west. They'd walked with
Brian (?), the tent owner, to Charlotte Lake to get water.
My first priority was eating. While I told the story of my day, I cooked,
and we ate chip and laughed. They hadn't been in any rain. I calmed down
having achieved my goals, visited with friends, eaten and made my home
for the next 10 hours.
14 miles out to Onion Valley and back in.