The good thing about the last hike, in Tuolumne Meadows, was that it was almost level. The usual Sierra hike involves a lot of elevation. To quote Ecological Subregions of California by the US Forest Service, "In west-east cross section, the Sierra is shaped like a trapdoor: the elevation gradually increases on the west slope, while the east slope forms a steep escarpment." In other words, to get into the High Country fast, you have to start on the east side and walk up the "steep escarpment".
Once again, Richard remembered a trip from his distant past. Gibbs Lake. In Lila, Robert Pirsig writes about how we see what we already believe. Which is why the birthers can look at Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate and see proof that he was born in Kenya, or some Republicans can read the new Healthcare Bill, see " NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." and think it says "illegal aliens sign up for free healthcare here".
Anyway,as Richard remembered it, Gibbs Lake was a short hike and looking at the trailhead map seemed to confirm that. We began to entertain thoughts of going past Gibbs to Kidney Lake, a small lake, above Gibbs, in a cirque between Mount Gibbs and Mount Dana. The guide (for snowshoeing trails!) said that it was a hard hike….but that seemed to be from Hyway 395 – which was as high as anybody could be expected to get in the winter – and we were driving to the summer trailhead which cut out most of the hike. You know where this is going: It turns out that Gibbs Lake is three hard miles and 1600 feet from the trailhead.
To make matters worse, most of the trail is right up the "steep escarpment". Even the parking lot at the trailhead is steep, and then it just starts uphill with no switchbacks. I think this is the steepest trail I have ever been on with out even one switchback. After about a mile, and somewhere in the neighborhood of a 800 vertical feet, the trail became more normal, paralleling a bubbling stream.
We continued up, up, and more up. Gradually, now, but still up and up. By now, Richard was way ahead, it was getting cloudy and colder, and I was starting to think of a good reason to quit. My mantra became "I may be slow, but I alway get there." Finally, everything started to level out. Most of the lakes like Gibbs are in cirques caused by glaciers so, below them, is an end or terminal moraine. The leveling out should mean that we are getting into the cirque and the lake is getting close. After a short, sort of flat, walk through the woods,
there was the lake. With Richard waiting. And a light rain starting.
After a typical trail lunch of hunks of cheese and salami, we started back down. It still seemed long, but much easier.
The Junipers were in full fruit and "smelled of unadulterated Gin".
Actually, they didn't smell at all, but I have always been taken by that line after reading it it Basin and Range by John McPhee. As we got to the steep part, steep down now, the clouds got thicker and blocked out the view of Mono Lake.
It was getting colder and windier as we ended the hike, glad we were down and not camped 1600 feet higher at the lake.
But, back at home, Gibbs is the lake I would like to go back to – hummm, if we went for two nights, the three mile hike in would be fairly easy and we could hike up to Kidney Lake during the middle day. Piece of cake!