Evolution Valley

Official Log / South Lake – North Lake Loop / Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park

Friday, August 19, 2011 – “West Side Debutante Joins East Side Rejects” was the headline on TMZ. It was to be a defining moment for the Red Tomahawk Expeditionary Force, either a daring decision that would galvanize the RTEF’s reputation as the finest backcountry exploration force in the history of the Sierra Nevada, or a grievous strategic error (ala Operation: Market Garden) that would strip us of all east side cred. In a bold and courageous move, we invited a complete and utter high country rookie (aka “The Noob”) on a 57 mile, eight day excursion. Worse yet, she accepted.

The peak of foolishness to rank outsiders, the RTEF Board of Directors knew otherwise. This wasn’t just any rookie. Hand-picked for her mettle, toughness, snarkiness and overall fiery temperament, Cadet Kristin Moon held the fate of our esteemed organization in the palm of her hand.

While we had all the confidence in the world in this cadet, she could not have felt similarly about us. Our small insignificant error during her training hike likely shook her belief in our qualifications, and as she arrived at the RTEF San Gabriel Branch on Departure Day, Directors Jarchow and Franz were anything but the image of readiness. Surprising that she didn’t turn around on the spot and drive back to her beloved West Side.

Food and snack selections were made. Preliminary final gear cuts were made. We tossed it all into the Full Moon Fever Mobile and launched northward toward our Bishop digs for the night. Director Blakeslee, still trying to decide which tent to bring, would be driving up early Saturday morning.

Expedition Journal, Day 1 – Trailhead to Bishop Pass

Clean, cheerful faces full of naive optimism…

From the private journal of Director Franz 10:30 AM. *Knock knock* The annoyingly punctual Director Blakeslee pounds on our hotel room door; what moron gave him our room number? Wait, that was me. (Almost) final gear cuts are being made, equipment is strewn about the room. Blakeslee looks disgusted; clearly he’s ready to go. Still, we make a leisurely stroll over to Denny’s for Last Breakfast. Off to the hills we go, dropping JLB’s trusty Tacoma at the North Lake trailhead, and then the four of us set off for the South Lake parking lot.

On the trail at 1:30 PM… just about average for an RTEF-sanctioned trip. We depart South Lake and embark upon our six mile trek up toward Bishop Pass. Cadet Moon, a triathlete in superb shape, is sucking air… welcome to 10,000 feet and 47.5 pounds, sweetheart. I know, for fact, that this is the only day that I’ll be hiking ahead of her, because once she acclimatizes she’s gonna blow me off the side of the mountain. So, today, for a few meager hours, I’ll enjoy it. We gain a quick 1000 feet before reaching Long Lake, quite beautiful and pretty and a good place to enjoy our first snack. We’re soon upon our way again on what is a rather mild approach to Bishop Pass.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – Mary… mother… of…. god. Where…. is the air? Can’t… breathe. Big… BIG…  mistake coming on this trip. Both men already stink. I mean, they smell BAD. Robin is nice, though. She shares her snacks with me. I can’t wait until I get acclimated, then I’ll smoke these forty-something geezers like a cheap cigar. Especially the wise-ass. More later.

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – Backcountry lakes are everywhere upon this trail; none of us complain. Past Spearhead, Saddlerock, and finally Bishop Lake as we make our final push towards the pass. I’m actually here at the pass already, waiting for everyone else to catch up. Seems I spend a lot of these trips waiting on the slow people, Franz and Jarchow especially. Cadet Moon shows promise, but elevation plus a heavy pack equals slow pace. She’s catching on quick though.

It’s just before 7 PM when the rest of the group reaches the pass at 11,972 feet. I got cold waiting for them so I had to put on my shell. Good to keep the shell handy, you know. We trek down the other side for a quick half mile or so before finding our bivy spot for the night, blessed with our own private creek and spectacular views of Dusy Basin below.

A first night of cooked salmon and mashed potatoes goes down easily with the setting sun, and soon we get a skyful of stars at high elevation, with no moon. Either you know of what we speak, or you don’t. A perfect end to our first day.

(Day 1 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 2 – Dusy Basin to Big Pete Meadow

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – We roll out of sleeping bags (Jeff is a real tent hog), peered from our tents and were greeted with the above view of Dusy Basin. Today, we really have to hop to it with 8-9 miles to make as we drop down through the basin, to Le Conte Canyon, and back up to Big Pete Meadow. So we bound from bed (hah! only after Jeff brought me hot chocolate in the tent, woohoo!), quickly packed up (nope), scarfed down a quick breakfast (what’s the rush?), and I almost brushed my teeth with Benedryl!! D’oh! It was on the toothbrush, but I noticed just in time!! We finally hit the trail at an early… 11:15 AM. It would be our second earliest departure on any day of the trip. To heck with it, we’re on vacation!!!

The descent into Dusy Basin is a treat, as the transition from open tundra and skree and back into the treeline is always a delight. We find a suitable small lake at 10,742 feet and take our first sanctioned RTEF lounge break of the trip. Packs off, little snoozes upon warm granite, chocolatey snacks. Back on the trail, we reach the edge of the basin and get our first look down in Le Conte Canyon, 2000 feet below. Our aged, creaking bodies (well, except for the young and spritely Cadet Moon) slowly ease down the steep trail, and we soon realize we’re moving downhill at the same pace we’d gone uphill the day before!!! Such is the toll a lifetime of running and soccer has taken upon our ankles and knees.

Finally at the bottom, we reach the Le Conte Canyon trail junction and turn right, joining up with both the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail. The trail immediately starts gaining elevation again, causing Cadet Moon, not for the first time, to mutter, “What is this madness?” We sympathize- “flat” trail in the Sierra just doesn’t really exist. You’re either going up, or you’re going down.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – What is this madness? We spent yesterday climbing up, we’ve spent most of today going down, now we’re going up again!?!? I sure hope the whole trip isn’t like this!! Frankly, I blame Jeff. OMG A SNAKE!! I HATE SNAKES!!!!

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – We knock out another mile or so before reaching the south eastern edge of Big Pete Meadow, where we find a massive flat rock that is absolutely perfect for cooking, dumping gear, resting, etc. I immediately set about gathering wood while Franz just sits and does nothing, of course. Soon I’ve got a welcome blaze going. It’s a good offense against the evening’s mosquito swarms. We cheer triumphantly every time a mosquito flies into the flames. Well, at least Jeff and I do.

With nightfall come the stars once more, along with a very bold deer that ventures within five feet of our positions around the fire. She seems quite content to investigate us before moving away just as quietly as she’d approached. I’m the last one to turn in. P.S. – That tuna I ate doesn’t really agree with me.

 (Day 2 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 3 – Big Pete Meadow to Muir Pass

From the private journal of Director Franz – Sheesh. My wife smells like Jungle Juice. That deet really stinks up the tent. Looks like I’ll have to get up ahead of her… again. And make her hot chocolate… again. This is to be our “real early” start, as we’ve got about eight miles to do today, including the 2700 feet of elevation gain that’ll get us to Muir Pass. We’re on the trail at a respectable 10:45!! Blakeslee’s been packed and ready for an hour, he looks a bit annoyed. I don’t blame him.

Okay, so all three photographers saw the same thing. It would happen more than once.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – Getting a handle on this backpacking thing, and today is pretty view after pretty view. These people aren’t so bad after all, for older folk. Though they keep talking about movies from the 70s. Not everyone has seen “Star Wars” or “Patton”, okay?

It’s just gorgeous out here today, so many lakes and jagged peaks. I’m really glad I came. I wonder how far it is to this Muir Pass? Maybe someone will teach me how to read a topo map at our next stop for snacks?

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – Cadet Moon is a quick study; I taught her the basics on how to read a topo map while we had a snack break. I think she gets it, but it is afterall a highly complicated process, and not easily learned. It’s taken me years to accurately pinpoint our position on a map.

Our exquisite climb up towards Muir Pass continues. We wondered aloud if this stretch of trail would be worthy of the great man’s name, and it most certainly is. I announce our arrival at Helen Lake, confirmed somewhat quietly by Director Franz, and that leaves us with a final stretch of 350 feet of gain before reaching the pass. It might rain, good thing I have my shell handy. P.S. – That tuna REALLY doesn’t agree with me.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – WHAT THE *&)@#$@#$!?!?!? That WASN’T Helen Lake back there? I thought we were almost to the summit, and we’ve actually just NOW reached the real Helen Lake? These people can’t keep track of time, they can’t be ready to leave L.A. on time, and now they can’t read the map? Hell, they probably can’t even make a simple tuna alfredo dinner. Next thing you know, they’ll be making me slug, slug mind you, across hundreds of yards of snow fields. My mother is going to kill these people when we get back!

Okay, deep breath, deep breath. The REAL Helen Lake is actually quite beautiful, and I’m smiling again. Should I drink some water? Nah. Looks like another 90 minutes to the pass. I got this.

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – Woohoo, we made it! What a stunningly beautiful day on the trails, Jeff and I rank it as one of the most scenic days we’ve ever done. The sun stayed hidden behind clouds during most of our ascent, keeping it nice and cool, but the sun has broken through and we have the pass and Muir Hut completely to ourselves. It’s been a tough day but it’s been so beautiful. We loiter around the hut for awhile, enjoying our solitude. Late starts do have their advantages after all! Everyone is taking tons of pictures, and we get a couple good ones of all of us in front of the hut.

After about 45 minutes or so, we reluctantly put on our packs and begin our trek down into Evolution Basin. We travel about a mile before dropping our packs on the rocky shores of Wanda Lake. If we look back over our shoulders, we can still clearly see the Muir Hut, perched upon the pass. It’s a light dinner for everyone, and then oh my, the stars here at 11,400! The moon isn’t up until the wee hours, meaning we have 360 degrees of stars, every horizon, and a powerful Milky Way. Shooting stars for everyone! We call it a night and crawl into our cozy bags, but I sure hope Jeff doesn’t snore tonight.

I’m a little concerned about Kristin. I don’t think she drank enough water today, she looks a little pale, and she’s been flat in her tent since the moment we got here and made camp.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – Tristan? Is that you, Tristan? I can save you! I can save you! Gummi bears! Gummi bears!!!

(Day 3 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 4 – Wanda Lake to Evolution Lake

From the private journal of Director Franz – This trip marked the debut of my new superduper lightweight Therma-Rest: the Neo Air All Season. It lasted exactly two nights, and when I went to bed last night, it was flat. I spent most of the night blowing it up every 45 minutes, or just sleeping on the rocks using my $149 Therma-sheet. In 24 years of backpacking/camping, this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem with a Therma-Rest. I am not impressed. At all. JLB and I take the “No Air” down to the shores of the lake and do a submerge. There it is… right on one of the folded seams. While I never bring much first aid for myself, I always bring first aid for my gear. A patch job ensues, and I’ll know tonight if it holds.

By design, the first three days of this trip were our “gotta make some miles” days. But it’s pretty much all downhill from here, or at least for a few days! We have a late breakfast and we’re not even on the trail until around 12:30 PM or so. We’re looking at an easy 4 downhill miles or so today, with highly tentative plans to stay on the far side of Evolution Lake.

Do you have what it takes to join the RTEF?

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – For the past hour as we’ve been packing up, there’s been a small bird poking around our campsite. Jeff and I tried feeding it some small pieces of cracker, but it showed no interest. It seems only interested in eating bugs, which is fine with me! Better yet, as we’re now on our way and walking along the shore of Wanda Lake, the bird is following us as we go! If one of us falls behind, he/she waits with that person, then flies on ahead to the group as the backmarker gets moving again. We think it’s highly intelligent and social for choosing to protect and escort us, but we also suspect that it enjoys how our heavy feet upon the ground causes lots of bugs to move and scatter… a perfect snack for the bird! She follows us at least a mile or so before a stream crossing seems to mark the end of her territory. We are all sad to see her go. She reminds us of another bird who did the same thing as we worked our way down the Narrows on our ’07 expedition.

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – Jeff and I agree… we need a swimming spot. And, we need some warm sun and warm granite to lay upon. And, we can tell, the ladies are getting a bit miffed at the lack of the promised swimming/bathing holes. Is it our fault the snowpack was so high and the runoff still cold? The wonderfully clear waters of Sapphire Lake are impossible to resist, so we abandon the trail and work our way down to the shoreline. It’s a gorgeous pool with rushing water at each end. We dump packs and our squad immediately sprawls out upon the granite. This is what we’re all about. You want strict schedules, two minute warnings, regimented breaks and 7 AM departures,  call somebody else.

I swim a lot here, Jeff swims a little, and the girls wash their hair and do other private maintenance that, as a gentleman, I don’t care to discuss further. It’s well past 4 PM before we’re back on the trail, having walked a grand total of just over two miles today. Perfect! P.S. – I’m never eating tuna again.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – Clean hair! Wooot! Okay, this experience is really looking up now. We leave Sapphire Lake behind and do a fun stream crossing before we reach the south end of Evolution Lake (elev. 10,852). Places like this, it’s why I’ve come on this trip. Stunningly gorgeous, Evolution Lake welcomes us to its far shore, and we gleefully choose campsites, believing we have this magical lake to ourselves. Drat, within just 40 minutes, a slew of people arrive from the west and start pitching tents near us. Fortunately, they are mostly quiet.

Robin and Jeff have been doing a reasonable job of trying to feed me, up until tonight, when they try to poison me. After making me wait for 90 minutes while they prepare dinner, they present a tuna alfredo pasta dish that tastes like ass cheese with noodles. Even my horrific sugar free pomegranate juice tastes better. I’m starving, so I eat some, I even have seconds, and would have had more except now they’re not just trying to poison me, they’re also trying to starve me. Keeping me underfed and weak is the only thing that keeps me from blowing them into the weeds on the trail. Well, that and my good Texas manners, of course.

(Day 4 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 5 – Evolution Lake to Evolution Meadow, via Lake 11092

From the private journal of Director Franz – Good news. The patch job on the Neo Air has held. I slept over 9 hours. Robin has yet to bring me hot chocolate in the tent, though. What the hell? And why does Cadet Moon look hungry? I can’t imagine why, she happily stuffed herself with that miserable meal we made last night. I think I had three bites at most. Bleck.

The good mileage we made the first three days has earned us a day to loaf around (as if we weren’t doing that already), wash some clothes, maybe even stay here another night. After finishing up our laundry, the women take some time to shave their legs (thank god) while J and I fix HIS Neo Air, it having a tiny tear of its own. We decide to divide and conquer for the day: Jonathan and Kristin are going to head down trail and then off trail to the heralded unnamed lake at elevation 11092, where fabled 18 inch trout are known to thrive. Robin and I will meander downtrail and aim for a camp on the far side of Evolution Meadow. Once again, we’re off to a blazing start, as Rob and I hit the trail at 1:30 with J and Kristin about 20 minutes ahead. We make a lazy pace, stop for a late lunch and a great swim, then reach the ranger station in McClure Meadow at about 5 PM. We learn that J and Kristin have dumped their packs just downtrail, so we leave them a note before we make another 2 miles to the far end of Evolution Meadow. It’s already 6:30, and we wonder if we’ll see them tonight. It will certainly be late by the time they get back from their blast up to 11092, and it’s not like Jonathan is going to force Kristin into a night hike with headlamps. I mean, christ, it’s the girl’s first-ever backpack trip! We’ve put her through enough already.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – “Layover day,” they said. “A day of rest,” they said. My day of rest includes plunging into a freezing cold river, which apparently is some geeky right of passage among these RTEF misfits. Right now I’m climbing (again, always this up and down!) to a lake with no name on a non-existent trail and Jonathan is making me find the way! Oh, and it’s already getting dark!! My mom is REALLY going to kill these people!

Director Blakeslee, back where he belongs…

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – It’s been over 20 years since buddies of mine told me about the lake at 11092. And finally, here I am on its shores.  It’s about 1.5 miles off the John Muir Trail, and the cadet did a fine job of getting us here on our off-trail excursion. Two big fish snapped off my line; been a long time since that happened. So very pretty and isolated up here, we should have brought our packs and just spent the night. All too soon, Kristin and I start back down the mountainside to retrieve our packs which we left at a campsite in McClure Meadow. I bet Franz left some smartass cryptic note.

It’s 8:30 PM and dark when we return to our packs, our headlamps the only light in this dark valley. Rob and Jeff are about an hour up the trail, so I ignore the incredulous looks of Cadet Moon as we put our packs on. “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “Headlamp hiking is just fine. Jeff and Robin will have a large fire going for us. The beacons of Gondor will be lit! They know we’re coming!”

From the private journal of Director Franz – “They ain’t coming,” I say to Robin. “It’s 9:15. Pitch dark. He won’t put her through that. We’ll keep the fire burning, but it’s just you and me tonight, baby. Where are those M&Ms?”

And though it’s now 9:30, I keep my eyes on the patch of darkness I know to be the trail, just in case. And sure enough, in the distance, bobbing and weaving through the forest, two headlamps dance among the trees. Our friends approach! We greet them with hearty welcomes; it feels like we haven’t seen them in days, though it’s been just eight hours. And the cadet, justifiably, is glowing with triumphant confidence. She knows she just kicked some ass under difficult conditions, and Director Blakeslee confirms the cadet’s performance in off-trail/pitch black conditions. This one’s a keeper.

(Day 5 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 6 – Evolution Meadow to Piute Canyon

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – Another lazy start and it begins with a stream crossing of Evolution Creek. We laugh as we watch two frat boys from USC nervously waiting on the other side, unsure of themselves and their ability to make the crossing. Of couse, after Kristin and I come burning across it with no problem, they puff up their chests and plunge into the water with all associated machismo. That is, until one of them loses his flipflop and he watches, petrified, as it floats downstream. Heck, either Kristin or I could have just reached out and grabbed it, but he dared not take the chance. Men. Pfft!!!

After just a mile or so, we reach a trail junction and are now headed northwest along the south fork of the San Joaquin River. It’s raging! This 3.5 mile stretch is very pretty, and of course we find a spot to go swimming. The San Joaquin is much colder than yesterday’s water, though, but we’re at a lower elevation (now 8200) and the sun warms us quickly. Kristin is great- she always shares her Gummi Bears.

A rough trail up Piute Canyon.

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – We reach the Piute Canyon trail junction and say our goodbyes to the JMT and the PCT. The difference in trail quality is rather startling- at first, we weren’t even sure that the large chunks of granite and loose skree actually WERE the trail!! It’s steep, it’s rocky, it’s gravely, it’s sandy, we lose 75 feet for every 100 feet we go upward. It’s one of the most challenging trails we’ve seen in all our years. And it’s hot.

After about a mile of this, we step off the trail for a break and see a lone figure making his way up the trail behind us. Large pack, moving fast against the wind. Some young person, undoubtedly, in superb shape, we figure. We’re still sitting and breathing hard when the figure catches up to us. It’s an older fellow, late 60s at his youngest, carrying a pack about as large as mine. Without a bead of sweat on his brow and not a heavy breath in his lungs, he stops to acknowledge us. “Beautiful day!” he says cheerfully. “I started the day at Evolution Lake! You guys?”

“Errrm, that’s where we were…. yesterday morning,” I respond weakly. “We just need to find a campsite for tonight.”

“Well, if I come across one that’ll fit 2-3 tents, I’ll leave it for y’all!” he offers generously, without a hint of ego or smugness. We thank him, and then watch for many a long minute as he works his way up the canyon without a hitch in his pace, sporting 20 year old boots and 15 year old backpack. I am both demoralized and inspired.

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – Daaaaaaaamn. That old guy just waxed us.

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I could use a pep talk about now.

From the private journal of Director Franz – Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Tonight, he’ll probably be fishing at Golden Trout Lakes.

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – I muster the troops and attempt to rebuild morale. Jeff has appropriately named the old man, “Chingachgook.” We limp along for another hour or so; we have not yet encountered a single suitable campsite along this canyon trail. Finally, we come across an overlook spot that Chingachgook bypassed on our account. We have a great view of the canyon that we just slogged up, and it’s a fitting spot to shoot an arrow straight and true into the sun. Robin builds a “pre-existing” fire ring and we soon have a worthy blaze, where I carefully massage the wounded egos of our group. That man will forever live in RTEF lore for the damage, and the good, that he did for us.

(Day 6 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 7 – Piute Canyon to Humphreys Basin

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – We’ve been on the trail a while now, and there are dark and menacing clouds chasing us up this canyon. Some rain catches us; we put on our shells. Jonathan takes his off. Then puts it back on. We encounter a cranky woman coming down the trail wearing a poncho, and Jonathan decides she looks like a plastic moose. She grumbles about her husband’s lack of navigational skills (don’t I know about that, sister), and she’s hoping there’s a lake downtrail. Jonathan breaks the bad news to her, and she grumbles more. Her husband appears, looking mostly happy and content just being outdoors. They continue onward downhill. I remember downhill. Vaguely.

Given how often Jonathan and Jeff are taking on and off their shells, and other apparently necessary stops, Robin and I decide to leave the boys in the dust. We’re spurred along by this stretch of trail in and around Hutchinson’s Meadow, where the mosquitoes are the absolute worst of the trip. Robin mentions, once or twice, or maybe more, that her stomach is growling, an apparent hint that she wants lunch. “No. Too many mosquitoes!” I declare, pushing onwards and upwards. “We’re not stopping!”

From the private journal of Director Franz – “Well, it was bound to happen,” I state to JLB. “The women have been sandbagging for a week. Now that they’re in front, they’ve left us in the dust. I can’t believe Robin hasn’t stopped for lunch. It’s almost 4 o’clock!” J and I have been making excellent progress up this canyon, having thought the girls were just around the corner. We haven’t seen them for almost two hours. I’m on empty. I require sustenance.

Finally, we come across them, sitting casually on a rock and enjoying girlish laughter and some good-looking snacks. We complain about female treachery and vow revenge. Sensing our mutinous nature, they offer us some of their snacks. We might forgive them.

Final stretch of Piute Canyon.

We’re now on the homestretch of this canyon climb, and it’s a great moment for J and me. Three years ago, on the first-ever RTEF Summer Solstice Trip, he and I stood near a waterfall at the drainage of Lower Golden Trout Lake, and stared down the expanse of this canyon, praising its beauty and vowing that someday, we should climb up from the other end. “Someday” has arrived. That it also coincided with Jonathan’s 20 year desire to visit 11092 has made this expedition all the better.

We gaze across the basin at that same small waterfall, and immediately head off-trail as we tromp in the direction of our campsite from four years ago. The heavens open up above us and let loose the first real rain of our trip. We travel less than half a mile before coming across a site that will fit all three tents, and we’re 30 yards from our previous campsite. All previous navigation errors, minor as they were, are atoned for. Quickly, all the tents go up, though for the third time this trip, one of the Y pole sections of our faithful Hubba Hubba has failed, this time perhaps fatally. After 45 minutes of attempted repairs, I finally manage to fix it. Overall, it’s been a poor performance from Cascade Design companies on this trip.

From the private journal of Director Jarchow – Here at day’s end, the storm has moved on, the evening skies are mostly clear, and we’re treated to the most gorgeous of sunsets on this, our final night. I sit upon the shore of Lower Golden Trout Lake, filtering water and watching the sun dip into the canyon we just ascended. We have not seen another soul since we arrived into Humphreys Basin, and I understand now why Jeff and Jonathan have always spoken so highly of this region. We could easily spend five days just here, exploring it from edge to edge, with all its lakes and rugged splendor. But… it is true. I am ready to go home tomorrow. I miss my babies.

(Day 7 photos, click to enlarge)


Expedition Journal, Day 8 – Humphreys Basin to North Lake

From the private journal of Cadet Moon – All I can say is, Jeff better not have oversold the greatness of the chocolate eclairs from this Schat’s Bakery. I’m going to eat five of them. And while cleanliness and real food sound very appealing, I’m glad to hear that we’re in no hurry to get moving this morning. For whatever these RTEF people are not (navigators, chefs, timekeepers), they certainly are fine judges of scenic beauty.

A final descent to North Lake.

From the private journal of Director Blakeslee – It’s the typical last day of the trip. Once we’re finally packed up and on the trail, one’s heart is reluctant to leave the high country, though pizza in Bishop and a bakery stop sounds mighty good as well. We blaze the two or so miles up to Piute Pass, taking fond looks over our shoulders at Humphreys Basin and at the approaching storm nipping at our heels. From the pass, it’s five miles from here to North Lake, and this trail has become familiar to me. It’s the seventh time I’ve walked it in the past four years.

From the private journal of Director Franz – We’ve made it. J, thoughtful as ever, burned the last couple miles alone so that he could retrieve his truck from the lower parking lot, and was waiting for the three of us as we reached the trailhead. Boots came off, never to be worn again (well, at least not for a couple weeks). Off to South Lake we go to retrieve Kristin’s Full Moon Fever Mobile, though we were distraught to learn someone had poached our extra snacks (and extra Gummi Bears!!!) from the bear locker. Bastards.

We scarf pizza and bottomless Cokes at The Pizza Factory in Bishop (We toss ’em, they’re awesome!), followed up by an invasion of Schat’s. The drive home consists of me perusing Kristin’s iPod and choosing songs for us to sing aloud. She has a reasonable singing voice. Though, she keeps swatting at phantom mosquitoes on her face and legs, and every time she swings her arm she swerves her Jeep closer and closer to the roadside ditches. Somehow I survived eight days on the trail but I’m gonna die on the way home?

A final rendezvous with J in Santa Clarita as Kristin unceremoniously kicks Robin and me to the curb along with all our gear, before doing a long jubilant smoking burnout as she leaves the gas station parking lot on her way back to the West Side.

Will we ever see her again?

(Day 8 photos, click to enlarge)


  1. Expedition Analysis/Notes

    Date: August 20-27, 2011
    Miles: 56.9
    Attendees: Directors Blakeslee, Jarchow, Franz; Cadet Moon

    • Cadet Kristin Moon received accolades galore on this, her first-ever backpacking expedition. The cadet showed considerable aptitude in all relevant categories, including navigation, packing her pack, tent construction, photography, water filtering, and smart-ass remarks.
    • There was far too much food left over after the trip’s conclusion. Extra emergency food is fine, but 7-9 meals? Really?
    • Sugar-free pomegranate juice tastes like ass.
    • Cascade Designs continued its poor showing on this outing; Director Jarchow’s MSR Mini-Works had a crumbled ceramic element upon post-trip inspection.

  2. My compliments to all three photographers and to Jeff for his extra efforts at putting this all together (even the smart-ass commentary)! I can’t imagine three other individuals I’d rather have had on this wonderful journey. My sincere gratitude!

  3. I second what Robin said. You guys really made the trip great for me! And I enjoyed the recap – after being back a couple weeks now it’s nice to relive the trip (minus the tuna casserole).

  4. All I can say is, this ranks as one of my top-three trips, all time. Just incredible scenery. Oh, and the company was pretty good, too.

  5. Jeff you really outdid yourself on this write-up and photo journal. I read that and said, “I want to GO on the trip!!!” And the truth is we laughed more than even this can convey. You really captured everything. I loved your, “Large pack moving fast against the wind..” There were many, many delightful things I had forgotten. And you are right that he HAS been cemented into RTEF lore…. It was about as fun an 8 days as anyone could possibly have (as long as we keep in mind that misery and jubilation are two sides of the same coin in the backcountry). Another spectacular pelt on our wall of accomplishments. And Robin you continued your unmatched record of like 25 trips in a row without a complaint. How do you do it??? Sheesh that’s hike 80% of Jeff and my game! And as for Cadet Moon, you may only be a cadet and you may never want to go with us again but you get lifetime RTEF membership in my book for making that your first pack trip. I think Jeff and Robin would concur.

  6. “Cadet Moon, you may only be a cadet and you may never want to go with us again but you get lifetime RTEF membership in my book for making that your first pack trip. I think Jeff and Robin would concur.”

    Well, yah. Once she does her snowcamp, of course…….

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