I'm not much of a photographer - I generally just set the dial to "Auto," point at what I want, and snap: seat-of-the-pants all the way. (Come to think of it, I take the same approach to playing piano, writing, and an embarrassing number of other things.)
Consequently, for me, the best way to take a good picture is to take a lot of pictures. This approach works best with a digital camera, for obvious reasons. (I used disposable cameras for years before I realized how horrifically uneconomical they are. Of course I also took fewer pictures, which means I got fewer good ones.)
I'll throw a couple pictures in this post as teasers, but check out the slideshow for the real goods. Those are the winners out of 200-some shots.
We loaded up Wednesday morning and drove about an hour and a half up to the trailhead. From there, it's a rough-and-tumble downhill of several thousand feet into the San Joaquin River Gorge. Starting out, I felt some minor twinges of the knee pain I experienced last year, but it went away and didn't come back for the remainder of the trip, which I was thankful for. Out there, it doesn't matter what else you have going for you if your legs give out.
At the bottom, we broke for lunch, which consisted of trail mix, granola bars, and dried fruit. I tried something new this time and mixed a handful of Dark French Roast coffee beans into my trail mix. A bit hard-core, I'll admit, but quite good.
We had about 4300 ft. of climbing to do before we could break out the camp stove. We got out of the gorge in good time and found the junction for the lake, but had a little difficulty tracing the trail near the beginning because of a recent fire and a large amount of blowdown. Trails that show up as a nice dark line on a map can suddenly vanish without warning into the blown sand. It can be a real challenge, but it definitely makes you pay attention, and the drama of uncertainty breaks up the monotony of hiking nicely. It's always fun to break out the compass, furrow your brow, and act the adventurer.
The trail got better as we continued, and required less concentration. During our last hour in the forest, before we broke out into the alpine zone, Jesse, hiking in front, sighted two bears. I saw neither, and was disappointed. Seeing a bear in the backcountry is always a rush.
We reached the lake tired and found a campsite, not without some difficulty. This is the highest I've camped in the Sierras - or anywhere else for that matter - and smooth horizontal real estate was hard to come by. But we found some, and got the tents up and dinner on in short order.
One of the great ironies of backpacking is that you work and strain to your limits all day and all you get is a measly cup of instant soup. Sometimes you wonder who talked you into doing this for fun.
Yes, that's the moon - and no, it's not Photoshopped. What can I say: sometimes you just wind up in the right place at the right time.
The night was quiet and not unreasonably cold. In the morning we headed up to the top of the East ridge to see what we could see. We had planned to scale Iron Mountain, but it was fairly technical and would have been foolhardy to attempt with the dog.
We packed up camp, swatting mosquitoes, and started back down. We had originally planned to spend both nights at the lake, but since we weren't able to do the mountain, we elected to spread the return trip across two days and make for the campsite in the gorge.
One advantage to going this early in the season is being able to enjoy all the wildflowers in bloom. It's really quite amazing, especially when contrasted with the surrounding alpine terrain which is so craggy and austere.
On more "laid-back" trips like this one, I'll usually bring a book. I wanted a hardback, and one that wasn't too large, so I selected Greg Boyd's Letters From A Skeptic, which is a series of letters between him and his father which resulted in his father's conversion at the age of 73. I redd it in camp Thursday afternoon and it turned out to be exactly what I needed to read. Boyd's theology won't appeal to everyone (he's not exactly reformed) but I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it as a singularly accessible introduction to everyday apologetics.
After a leisurely afternoon, we took care of dinner and hung the rest of the food. In the morning, we broke camp and climbed back out of the gorge to the truck, lingering for a moment to enjoy the last vista.
"Would you fall to pieces? / Would you fall to pieces? / Would you fall to pieces? / In the high countries?"
- Sandra McCracken (Caedmon's Call)