Clouds Rest

From the summit: the Clark Range rises over Little Yosemite Valley.

Last Saturday I finally got the time to head up to Yosemite for some hiking. This has basically been a lost year in terms of peakbagging due to car troubles that weren’t resolved until late July (and even then, I was in no hurry to be outside of easy tow distance from the Bay Area), high gas prices, and other weekend obligations. But with the dip in fuel costs last weekend, I set the 5:45 ᴀ.ᴍ. alarm and was off to Tioga Road. This late in the season, traffic was mercifully light—I had no traffic to contend with on Priest Grade, and the electronic signs that usually warn of Yosemite permit restrictions or the need to arrive early to find parking simply said that the passes were open.

I got to Tenaya Lake (8150′) around 10:20 ᴀ.ᴍ. and was off on the Sunrise Lakes Trail. It’s a bit over seven miles to Clouds Rest, with the elevation gain coming in bursts. After the first couple miles out of the trailhead, there’s a steep stretch of stairs that leads to a trail junction at about 9220′. I paused on these stairs to take my jacket off (temperatures were maybe in the 50s, but sunny) after getting passed by a large group. Who apparently (per a conversation I had with a member on the summit) hadn’t been hiking up a bunch of mountains recently. Well, they still seemed to be in better shape than I was, even though I did get back ahead of them later. (There were a fair number of people on the trail—most of the trail may be in the Yosemite Wilderness, but it’s still a fairly easy dayhike in Yosemite and even this late in the season it’s not really a wilderness solitude experience.)

After the Sunset Lakes trail junction, there’s a brief downhill stretch and then the trail levels out for a while before making the final ascent to the summit. The last stretch is notably fun because the trail peters out and the ascent route goes directly over the rocks of the summit ridge. It’s all very easy (I maybe used my hands for balance once or twice?) and not particularly dangerous; I’ve seen trip reports from people who got frightened by the alleged narrowness of the ridge—and in fairness, the dropoff to the west is stunning, nearly five thousand feet into Tenaya Canyon—but I find it hard to imagine any real risk except on a particularly windy day. And it’s not long before one reaches the the 9926′ summit of Clouds Rest. The views in all directions are the stunning vistas of Yosemite, from the aforementioned drop into Tenaya Canyon, to Half Dome (only a couple miles distant), to Little Yosemite Valley and the high country beyond (Mt. Clark is particularly notable, but Lyell/Maclure are also distinctly compelling, as is the Cathedral Range). There’s no register that I found (it’s too popular a mountain) but I did spent quite a bit of time at the summit just soaking in the views. I ran into a woman, also from Sunnyvale, who said that she spends every weekend in Yosemite. Must be nice.

Alas, this late in the season, there’s a solar clock ticking that stops one from resting for too long. One can, with a car shuttle, continue ten more miles along the trail past Half Dome and descend all the way to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (a mere 4105′ in elevation), but that’s an option for another day. The worst part of the trip back to Tenaya Lake was climbing back to the aforementioned Sunset Lakes trail junction—it’s only about two hundred feet of gain, but, with my lack of conditioning, I took it way slower than I would’ve been happy with. The steep descent out of the trail junction was no picnic either. At least it was finally pretty quiet (I did see a few people going up, and I have questions since you’re not allowed to park overnight in Yosemite after October 15). Due to the crepuscular hour, I began singing snippets from show tunes to keep the bears away, which was only mildly awkward when a group of other people caught up to me. I finally got back to the car at 6:11 ᴘ.ᴍ., and while it was just nine minutes after sunset, it had already gotten uncomfortably cold; had I not been in the home stretch, it would have been time to put on the jacket, gloves, and beanie I had in my backpack. (The alpenglow on Tenaya Peak was really pretty though.)

The drive home was mostly uneventful, and I once again had Priest Grade mostly to myself—the car I was behind at the very beginning pulled over, which I appreciated. The one off-putting moment was at the Kwik Serv in Big Oak Flat, where I stopped to refuel. Not only was it playing extremely Jesusy music, but the card reader at the ATM was displaying a “Let’s Go Brandon” message. (Do they realize that Dark Brandon is ours now?) And to top it off, I couldn’t even get into the bathroom. At least the gas prices weren’t too bad.

This week, the first storm of the year hit the Sierra. Tioga Road, along with all the other seasonal Sierra passes, are now closed, and while it’s officially just closed for the storm and not the season, it’s entirely possible that I got this hike in just in time. While strictly speaking it wasn’t the only time I visited the High Sierra this year, a drive-through over Tioga Pass on the way back from Westercon barely counts. Hopefully next year will be better.

One Green Eye and One Black Eye

What grabbed me the moment I opened Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, her 1975 World Fantasy Award-winning novel, was the sheer evocativeness of the language. Like, just read this opening paragraph:

The wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once, in the king’s city of Mondor, and she bore a son with one green eye and one black eye. Heald, who had two eyes black as the black marshes of Fyrbolg, came and went like a wind out of the woman’s life, but the child Myk stayed in Mondor until he was fifteen. Big-shouldered and strong, he was apprenticed to a smith, and men who came to have their carts mended or horses shod were inclined to curse his slowness and his sullenness, until something would stir in him, sluggish as a marsh beast waking beneath murk. Then he would turn his head and look at them out of his black eye, and they would fall silent, shift away from him. There was a streak of wizardry in him, like the streak of fire in damp, smoldering wood. He spoke rarely to men with his brief, rough voice, but when he touched a horse, a hungry dog, or a dove in a cage on market days, the fire would surface in his black eye, and his voice would run sweet as a daydreaming voice of the Slinoon River. 

The world of Eldwold feels lived-in and real just on the strength of those similes. We don’t lose focus from what is ultimately a character-focused narrative for lengthy discourses as to the setting; even the titular beasts’ deeds are initially related compactly, by way of introduction. But we get enough from the sheer language of the novel to sense that we’re reading in a world that’s fully copulated and has a deep history even while the first half of the book is set almost entirely on Eld Mountain. We don’t actually visit Fyrbolg, but we have no doubt that it exists.

This is also a novel that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It tells the story of Sybel, the two she loves, and her quest for vengeance; it has no need to sprawl beyond that. I have nothing against the occasional fantasy epic but I certainly wouldn’t mind if the 217-page standalone secondary-world fantasy came back into vogue.

File #63. McKillip, Patricia A. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. San Francisco: Tachyon, [2017].

Mount Jefferson

Mount Jefferson and vicinity.

I left Sunnyvale at around 11 ᴀ.ᴍ. yesterday—a bit later than I had hoped, what with having to deal with rental car confusion. (Turns out just because the repair shop’s paying for it doesn’t mean the rental company won’t put the full price, plus security deposit as a hold on your card!) After a quick stop at the Dublin Half Price Books (they had a copy of the Bierbaums’ Legion of Super-Heroes sourcebook) I took my usual route through the Sierra over Sonora Pass (Yosemite, alas, not even allowing passthrough traffic until late afternoon this year) and sure, it’s nothing I haven’t done a dozen times before, but when I got south of Bridgeport and the High Sierra rose to the left, it felt almost like coming home. It’s been almost ten months since I’ve seen Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets in my rear-view mirror, or Mt. Tom guarding the entrance to Bishop, and that’s way too long. (It has not been too long since I’ve had to refuel at Lee Vining. $98 to fill up, yikes!)

Okay, so driving all the way to Bishop might have been a bit out of my way. I pulled into Tonopah at around 8 ᴘ.ᴍ., dropped some supplies off for Westercon, and then headed out to the Pine Creek Campground. I was not prepared for the road conditions. Route 82 very quickly deteriorates into possibly the most pothole-filled road I have ever seen. I was actually relieved when it turned to dirt/gravel, because that road was actually well-graded. (Today, when returning, I was able to drive a good 40 mph on it. But of course that was during daylight.) I finally made it to Pine Creek just before 11 ᴘ.ᴍ. and went to sleep as quickly as I could.

I’m obviously not completing the Nevada county high points this year (turns out you need a working car for that, not to mention the new dispute about Churchill County) but I’ve been loosely planning on tagging the Nye County high point in conjunction with Westercon 74 for a couple years now. There are actually two ways to approach Mt. Jefferson—the more traditional approach does cut off more hiking mileage but is a lot more of a driving adventure, and I certainly didn’t want to risk a road in questionable condition in a rental. (The Nissan Rogue mostly handled everything I asked of it nicely, although it slowed to a crawl over Sonora Pass—is this the CVT?) Pine Creek, at about 7500′, is a good 4500 feet below Mt. Jefferson’s 11,491′ of elevation and about 6½ miles from the trailhead, as the hiker walks.

So yeah, it was a long day. I got moving at 5:40 ᴀ.ᴍ. and, honestly, after the vim and vigor of the start wore off, made terrible time on account of being really, really tired. I actually lied down on a rock and closed my eyes for a bit a couple hours in (at about 9200′), which helped—I made quite a bit better time after that. Well, until the elevation started to get me. The Pine Creek Trail is straightforward and clear (with a couple of minor exceptions, which are ducked and generally still pretty obvious) up until around 11,000′. It’s got a good amount of tree cover, since it tends near the creek—in fact, there are no less than eighteen stream crossings of various widths (some trivially jumpable, some requiring rock hopping or branch balancing) on the trail—which helped keep the morning heat off. It’s honestly really pretty—not from a scenic vista perspective, but the trees are nice and there are a lot of wildflowers. Predominantly lupines, I think. Shame about the cows audible in the distance at around 9700′, and their fruit.

At 11,000′, the trail ends and you have to make your way up easy rocklined slopes (I’ve seen this described as Class 2, but it’s only Class 2 by the “some navigation required” definition—at no point did I need hands for balance, although I suppose the trekking poles helped with that) to the summit. I was definitely feeling the elevation by this point. To my mild surprise there was a group of two other hikers (from Salt Lake City) already there, who were gracious enough to take a summit shot.

The views are magnificent in all directions, as you’d expect from an ultra prominence peak. (Mt. Jefferson’s the third-most prominent peak in Nevada, and the sixth highest.) Various Nevada ranges rise in all directions, everywhere you look. Unfortunately I was a dumbass and forgot to bring my Nevada county high point guidebook, so I wasn’t really able to identify which parts of the Kingdom of Nye I was surveying. Gonna be fun going over those pictures. (And speaking of looking at my pictures, when reviewing this I realized I was also a dumbass and dated my summit register note the same as the person above me, who I guess I thought was one of the other hikers. Nope, they summitted on the 25th. If you’re reading this and happen to visit Mt. Jefferson, feel free to fix this!)

The hike out was uneventful if annoyingly warm, and the drive out was likewise. (There was one other party—of three—that I encountered on return.) It took me 6:06 to summit and 4:13 to return to the car, including brief campground bathroom stops in both directions. That’s county high point #69 for me (13/17 in Nevada), and ultra #11. Nice.