Page 1 of 1

Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2020 9:57 am
by balzaccom
We had both spent the previous three previous years recovering from various ailments--me from arthritis in my knee, and M from tendonitis in her left foot. And that one took forever. But we were now healthy, and this trip was our chance hike about 40 miles in five days, back to our good old days of more ambitious backpacking trips.

But that's not exactly what happened.

On the drive down to Lake thomas Edison, we discovered the wonderful Rancho San Miguel Market in Madera, where we found a delicious torta de jamon that exceeded expectations...and great produce at great prices...and whole hispanic foods to go section. We made a note to ourselves to stop here on the way back home!

The permit box was jam-packed at the USFS office in Prather, and we pawed through at least fifty envelopes before we found ours. From there we drove through Shaver and Huntington Lakes to find that the road to Vermilion Valley Resortwas worse than ever--just as steep and narrow and twisty, but the pavement was in much worse shape than ten years ago. We found a campsite at the regular VVR campground and wandered around, checking out the trailheads--there are two here...but the one to Graveyard Lakes and Mono Pass is missing its sign, since a giant pine fell on it.

We got a good start and were up at the junction at Cold Creek by 10 am, delighted to have seen a bear racing through the woods on the uphill section below Cold Creek. We stopped there to filter water, then continued on across the creek towards Goodale Pass. There were not many people on the trail--we met only one hiker in this first section, then two guys at the junction. And we didn't see another hiker until the Graveyard spur trail.

The good news was that the smoky air from distant fires cleared up as we hiked.
By 11:45 we were at the spur trail, and chatted with a hiker/hunter from south AFrica.
We wondered how he would get a deer out of here. That's a long eight miles to carry that much weight.

It was a tough, steep climb to Graveyard Lakes, but we arruved by 2:30 or so...and on the way we saw a deer on the way that had eluded our hunter friend.

There was only one other group at Graveyard lake, and they were camped to the left of the trail, so we camped at a large site on the right. Later we found an even more secluded site beyond ours...but didn't see any real reason to move. But next time...

We took a nap, and then wandered up to the far end of the lake to explore the trail up to the rest of the lakes...which made a steep and rocky ascent up a rough talus slope. Here there was no smoke at all. We ate an early dinner and early to bed, well satisfied with a good day's hiking and a beautiful campsite. So far, so good.

We woke up ready for another good day, hiking over Goodale Pass to Lake of the Lone Indian and Wilbur May Lake. That was the plan. But walking around camp, M was in tears. After three years of slow recovery from bad tendonitis on her left heel, her right heel was now giving her the same kind of pain.

That led to a serious conversation over breakfast. We could keep going, but if her heel got worse, that meant a longer hike out, and didn't seem like a good idea. We could hike back out slowly today...maybe taking two days...or even three if we needed them. But she was unwilling to bail completely. So what should we do?

In the end, we decided to take a lay day at Graveyard Lakes and then see how her heel felt. Without our packs we spent the morning slowly walk through the four major lakes. I fished at all four, and caught fish at all four. The upper lake was quite alpine and austere, and we were delight to see a tiny pika in the rocks. The two middle lakes are more intimate. There's a nice campsite at the second lake, and I preferred the fishing there, too.

We met and chatted with the other group at the lake, who told us that the hunter was thinking of carrying the deer out (he claimed to be able to carry 130 pounds in his pack) or seal the meat in plastic bags in the lake and make two trips....hmmm.

We were back in camp by lunchtime, and after the usual nap the afternoon went slowly. M meditated and iced her foot in the lake, I tried to fish with small success...and then we settled in for an early dinner and another long conversation about plans. We decided that we shouldn't try to go we couldn't be sure M's heel wouldn't get worse. So we would hike out slowly, taking as long as we needed, and camping along the way if her heel needed more rest. We were disappointed, but happy that we had seen this lovely place.
But a nice early dinner of ramen curry was delicious and we were in bed.

We woke up at 4:30 to the smell of smoke. That's never a good sign when you are in the backcountry. Then at 5:30 an idiot arrived at the lake and started calling for his dog Reno and giving piercing whistles. Labor Day always seems to bring out the knuckleheads.

The smoke smell was still there at 6:30 when we got up...but we couldn't see much in the air.
We packed up and hit the trail before 8. We took it easy, but were still down at Cold Creek junction by a bit after ten. Stopped here to rest and let M soak her foot for a while in the icy stream. We'd already seen about fifteen people hiking on the trail in, and expected more.because of the beginning of Labor Day weekend.

Part of our plan was to camp here if needed, but after icing her foot in the stream M felt good enough to continue. But which trail should we take? We met our friends from Graveyard Lakes again here, and they took the shorter trail.

We decided to try the cut-off to the Devil's Bathtub Trail ..with the idea we could camp along Cold Creek if needed, since the trail roughly followed it. The trail was easy...albeit full of cows and their leavings, and very dusty from the cattle traffic, who clearly used it more than hikers do. But it is a good ways from the creek, and it would have been hard to find a campsite along here if we had needed it. Luckily, M's foot held out and we didn't.

By 11:45 we were at the junction with the Devil's Bathtub Trail...and had twice seen a young bear foraging through the wood. The creek here looked miserable--muddy and trampled by cows--but I suppose you could find a place to get water if you went upstream...

We pushed on, thinking that we could get M a place to soak her foot while we are lunch where the trail meets Cold Creek again. Now we were meeting lots more people...and some day-hikers to the lake as well as backpackers. But the trail and Cold Creek never really meet--and we finally gave up and ate lunch where it crosses a small tributary. From there it was an easy mile back to the trailhead...but it was a hot, smoky mile.

We made it to our van about 1:30 and decided to stay the night at the campground there, rather than driving the six hours home--an amusing consideration, as it would turn out. because we later found out that we didn't have a choice.

We napped in the van, read books, and later in the afternoon were joined by two hikers who set up a tent nearby. After their tent was up, one if them stopped by to say hello...and that's when we learned that the fire above Shaver Lake had closed off Highway 168 completely... and that was our only road out. (The guys had been camped just the other side of Goodale Pass, and from there they could not only smell the smoke...they could see the column rising to the West.)

And so what began as a restful evening before the drive out became something less--a waiting for Godot kind of existence.

The smoke was really bad this morning...and we ate breakfast in the van to avoid going out into the air. The sun is a dull orange glow.

So what began as a challenge to see if we could still get out into the backcountry became a challenge to see if we could get out OF the backcountry. We were in good shape for the short term. We had food...two more days from our backpacking trip, plus extra food we always have in the van. Water was available at the main campground, and we had ten gallons in the van. But clean air to breathe was harder to find.. and who knows how long we might have to stay here...a day, two, or more.

At the trailhead, we chatted with some hikers who come out and want to leave. Others arrive and leave on day-hikes from the campground, looking to stay busy . And we are all waiting for word from CalFire...

And then just before noon, that word comes that the entire area is to be evacuated...and the road is open. So from being trapped, we go to being told to leave.

We joined a convoy of vehicles over Kaiser Pass Road, slowly climbing out of danger. And after passing through clouds of smoke on the way--the worst was near Shaver Lake--we finally got down to Prather and relative safety.

Here's hoping that all those through hikers at VVR got to where they wanted to go---or at least got to where they could get free of the fires and smoke.

Here's a link to the photos:

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Tue Sep 08, 2020 8:24 am
by balzaccom
Here's the rest of our story---we missed this by a few hours ... 742735002/

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2020 8:04 am
by balzaccom
How bad is it in Napa?

At 8 a.m. this morning, I tried to take a photo of our backyard. On the one hand, it looked as if it were ash fell from the sky at a steady pace. But it was difficult to capture the scene on my camera. because it was so dark that the camera's auto-flash deployed.

Yes, in what would normally be broad daylight, any outdoor photos required a flash. And that flash lit up the flecks of ash falling from the sky. It was so bad that when I got up this morning I thought I had misread the clock, because it was dark outside...

Absolutely apocalyptic.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2020 8:48 am
by WanderingJim
So, after waking up, having breakfast, I looked outside and thought my clocks were wrong. The skies were dark and it looked like it was before 6am.

This is what it looked like at 8am today in the Bay Area (Concord):


Sky has the same hue as it did at Trail Camp on Aug 24th and it's very eerie. No ash here, but other parts of the Bay Area are reporting ash falling.
No morning bike ride for me today. :(

Stay safe out there.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2020 5:41 pm
by balzaccom
You did well to capture those images, Jim. I tried with my phone, and the camera simply adjusted light and color to make it look more or less like daytime....

It was, and still is, much more like nightime!

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2020 6:34 pm
by Phil
I'm an early riser normally, so I got up about 4 am this morning and did my usual coffee, news, putter thing. I love the solitude and quiet of the predawn. I was really surprised when I looked and it was 8 o'clock. Looked like 6:15. Checked every clock I own, including my computer and cell phone. Even called my girlfriend to see if I had maybe missed a time change. 10 am wasn't much better. Microscopic ash on everything. From 120 degrees and AC yesterday to 50 degrees and turn on the heat this morning. Bad juju...wrath of God type stuff going on. All we need is an earthquake to make it complete.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2020 7:48 am
by WanderingJim
I did have to tweak the color on those photos a little to get closer to what my eyes saw.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2020 3:19 pm
by balzaccom
This doesn't show smoke but it is an excellent interactive map from the NY Times showing where the West is burning

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Tue Sep 15, 2020 6:46 am
by balzaccom
"September 14, 2020 – Sequoia National Park is implementing a full park closure at 6 am on September 15 in response to the Castle Fire on the SQF Complex. Many park staff have been evacuated from the area and for visitor and resource protection, park managers have decided to close all entrances to Sequoia National Park.

During this unprecedented fire year, park managers have had to evaluate how to best balance the responsibilities to the public as well as the mental welfare and physical safety of the staff. “With Three Rivers and the park headquarters under an evacuation notice, staff is focused on preparing to evacuate.” Acting Superintendent Lee Taylor “To ensure any pending evacuation goes as smoothly as possible we are closing the park to visitors.” Park managers send their sincere thanks and gratitude for the support received during this incident.

Kings Canyon National Park remains open at this time. Visitors will not be able to access Sequoia National Park from Highway 198 or Highway 180 out of Fresno. The Giant Forest and sequoia trees will be inaccessible to visitors. All park campgrounds will be closed with reservations cancelled and refunded. Mineral King Road remains closed at this time."

So you can enter Kings Canyon...but not via Sequoia---which means the only route of entry is via a trail...and Inyo National Forest to the east has announced that its closure will continue until at least September 21. That leaves entries from the West (Sierra National Forest...but Florence Lake and Thomas Edison are currently under evacuation orders,. or the North. The John Muir Trial would still be open..but only until you get to Sequoia National Park.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2020 11:50 am
by balzaccom
And the hills east of the Napa Valley are on fire again...this time towards the Adventist communities of Deer Park and Angwin, which are being evacuated. 800 acres burned so far, with the fire described as aggressive, and red flag warnings for the area through tomorrow night.

Very sad.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 9:03 am
by balzaccom
What is it like to live in Napa these days? You never really get used to the strange sunlight through the smoke. You dread the weather forecast, with its high temps, high winds, and low humidity, And every hour your phone pings with yet another notice from the Office of Emergency Services: new evacuation orders, new evacuation warnings: That's where Mark and Ann, live, that's where Fred lives. I hope Sheldon is OK. They've even evacuated the hospital...

And you think through, one more time, what you would take with you if you have to leave in a hurry...

This is the image from this morning. Heartrending. ... 2%2C102100

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 6:36 am
by balzaccom
City of Calistoga is now under mandatory evacuation orders. Napa Valley College, where I teach a few classes, is now an emergency shelter for refugees from the fires. 68,000 people in Napa and Sonoma counties have been evacuated.

My own home is fine, the fires are a good ten miles north of us, but so many friends have been affected.

Re: Fires and avoiding them

PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 9:59 am
by AlmostThere
I've lived here all my life and fires have always been a fact of life. But it doesn't seem to me that we had nearly as many big, bad, evacuation inducing ones til the last decade or so.... and we keep having them in the same places in some cases, so it's just not as simple as fuels reduction.

I'll think positive thoughts - after watching the Creek Fire blow up the way it did, ten miles doesn't seem all that far....