Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Setting Forth on a Journey

You never know who you are going to meet or what you might find when you set out on a journey. That is the thing about journeys. They are defined by the unknown, by mysteries and surprises. If you knew what was going to happen it wouldn’t be much of a journey at all. Perhaps that is why the notion of a journey appeals to me so much. Some journeys are epic in scale and others are much smaller. In the midst of the greater journey of life I enjoyed some unique smaller ones here in the park in the last couple of days.

Alison got a job nannying this week which meant that she could not come out to visit me and it made no sense for me to go into DC to visit her since she would be busy for more than 10 hours a day.  So that meant I had the much needed opportunity to both rest and catch up on things here after nearly a month of largely being absent. It also meant that I could do some longer and more demanding hikes here in the park. I decided to do the former today and the latter both Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday I hiked a six mile loop that included the most demanding ascent that I have undertaken in the park. It was ridiculous. One ranger has dubbed it the “Stairway to Heaven” because it seems as though the steps carved out of the steep face of the mountain ascend indefinitely all the way out of the earth’s atmosphere. It feels like that climbing up them too!

So there I was climbing and climbing up these steps when I saw someone coming down toward me at a much greater rate of speed. As he passed he stopped to say hello and in the conversation that followed I learned that I was talking to him in the midst of his third trip up and back down the mountain that day and that he intended to do a fourth. I was struggling to make it up once and he was going both directions  four times consecutively?!?!?

I went on to learn that he was conditioning himself  because at the end of the month he was going to hike to the summit of the highest peaks in Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada.  He had also recently returned from climbing Everest.

Quite an interesting person to run into out on the trails! Oh, and did I mention he was in his 60s?!?!
Yesterday I decided to tackle a demanding loop in the Northern section of the park that travels up to a summit and down to a beautiful stream, which the trail follows for more than 5 miles as it works its way back up the canyon. It is a hike I have wanted to do for a while, but the loop is 14 miles so it is not exactly possible after getting off of work!

I decided to add a bit extra to the hike and actually did a 17 mile circuit, all of which on trails I had never been on before. I saw two bears and four people in that 17 miles. I also saw two rattlesnakes. I have not seen a rattlesnake in this park before, but within ¼ mile I came across two, or rather the two guys in front of me did about two minutes before I arrived. They were still trying to figure out what to do about the first snake when I arrived and came across the second with me trailing about 200 yards behind. In both cases the snakes were right next to the trail, coiled and ready to strike. With a little encouragement both the snakes elected to move further away, thus allowing us to pass safely. But in either case it would have been very easy to step right on the snake if one was not paying attention! I sure was glad they were in front of me!

But it wasn’t the snakes or the bears or even the distance that was most unique about the hike, it was the berries. I started that hike about 1200 feet lower than the elevation of Big Meadows where I live. That meant that the berries were much riper there than they are here. And since it is perfectly acceptable to consume berries one finds in the park I proceeded to do exactly that.

It began with blueberries, which I picked and ate as I traveled down the mountain to the stream. I was happy with that and figured that would be it for the day, but as I came back up the other side I discovered that the blackberries there were beginning to ripen. So I enjoyed several handfuls of tasty blackberries. I came out to the drive about ½ a mile from where I was parked and could have just walked down the road to my truck, but I knew there was a trail about 1/10 of a mile on the other side of the road and decided to take that instead. It was well I did for on that trail I discovered Raspberry bushes, also with many berries ripe for the picking.

In fact when I first paused and moved toward them I suddenly heard grunting and a great deal of rustling in the bushes about ten feet away and realized that I had unwittingly disturbed a bear who was in the midst of enjoying the berries himself!

So in the space of a single hike I found and enjoyed blue, black, and raspberries, all straight of the bushes as fresh and tasty as one could desire.

You never know who you are going to meet or what you might find when you set out on a journey.

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