Mules & Smoke: Day 4 (High Sierra) 09-Sep-2020

On our layover day, a stiff wind from the north had pushed almost all of the smoke away from Miller Lake. The wind had abated by evening, giving us a quiet night in camp – something we all needed after the drama of the previous 24 hours. Because of the unexpected layover, the trip’s itinerary had to be changed. So today we’d proceed as planned to a camp in Matterhorn Canyon then, the next day, cross both Burro and Mule Passes in one day to a camp at Crown Lake. So, with a plan in hand, we headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on a bright and clear morning toward Matterhorn Canyon. From Miller Lake, the PCT rises a bit before plunging some 1,400 feet down to a junction with the trail up Matterhorn Canyon.

John and Maria leave Miller Lake
The LovedOne starts north on the PCT
This tree simply kept growing until its roots broke out this massive chunk of granite 😮
Moon over granite
Matterhorn Peak from the PCT above Matterhorn Canyon
Contemplating Point 10622

Once the PCT got us to the bottom of Matterhorn Canyon, we turned north up the canyon. Ahead the skies were brilliantly clear but, behind us, we could make out a scrum of brown smoke underneath some high clouds. Nothing could be done about that so we looked ahead and enjoyed the canyon’s scenery. With the smoke out of the way (temporarily 😦 ) the walk up the canyon was an absolute delight. The light granite of the canyon’s walls and of Sawtooth Ridge in the distance was radiant in the crisp, clear High Sierra air. It was the kind of day that makes being in the high country a total joy.

Into Matterhorn Canyon
Crossing Matterhorn Creek
Matterhorn Canyon
Matterhorn Creek
Across a meadow in Matterhorn Canyon
On the trail with Fingers Peaks in the distance

About 5 miles from Miller Lake, we passed what looked like a large campsite suitable for packers. It was also at the coordinates given on the original trip itinerary. We were ahead again, so we waited near there for the pack train to catch-up with us. When they did, they just kept going. ❓

The pack train arrives…and keeps going…

What we didn’t know then (but would soon find out) was that there had been some miscommunication between the packers and management as fallout from the rescue. The packers had been instructed to look for a suitable camp somewhere higher in Matterhorn Canyon than their usual camp, but weren’t given clear directions as to exactly where such a higher camp might be. The best directions they had were from another pack train that said just go until you see a lot of mule poop. Which is like saying walk the beach until you see a lot of sand. :/ So the packers went past us looking for this mythical higher camp. We followed them.

Onward…in search of mule poop
Sawtooth Ridge was a very impressive sight at the head of the valley

After two miles of further climbing toward Burro Pass, we saw the pack train coming back! Seems there were no suitable camp sites past the one we’d stopped at originally. 😳

The pack train goes back

We were, to understate the situation a lot, royally pissed by this turn about. 😡 Which could have been avoided with a short recce on horseback up the canyon. So we started back until we ran into the rest of the group who had over-shot our eventual campsite by varying degrees too. Substantial venting occurred. Words unsuitable for tender constitutions were uttered. Mutiny was discussed (but failed due to a lack of breadfruit trees). By the time we’d all trudged back down to camp, passions had cooled considerably and the matter was put aside in furtherance of group cohesion. Hugging a soft, warm mule helped too.

A kitchen mule goes for treats (Tangerine peels are a favorite – who knew?)

So we settled into the camp we’d originally stopped at, which, putting aside the irritation of walking four miles out of our way, was a very nice place to camp. Not including the backtrack, we’d only hiked 5.1 miles (with 660 feet of gain) today, which was good considering we were facing an approximately 10 mile day over two passes on the morrow. We’d also had an almost smoke-free day with great scenery – which is something we’d look back on wistfully in the days ahead.

Our route from Miller Lake to Upper Matterhorn Canyon
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9 comments

  1. My thought about the communication issues always goes toward less experienced hikers who might have gotten lost or not had the stamina to monkey around.

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  2. I don’t disagree. Every trip that takes clients into the wilderness without any means of rapid communication is just a law suit waiting to happen. I just may not be getting as worked-up about this lack of comm as I should mainly because we were personally equipped to deal with it (I’m overlooking the $$$ it’s going to cost me to refurbish my used PLB). Were we not, and had the remainder of the trip been cancelled as a result, I might be inclined to seek legal advice about recovering most of the cost of the trip.

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  3. Another person on our trip had gone with Rock Creek twice before and said they did a great job on those. Ours might just have been that one trip where all the bolts came loose at once.

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