Thursday, September 8, 2016

Are We There Yet?

Are we there yet?  Little did I know this would become my mantra when I would catch up to my hiking partners, Jim and Marge, who are much more experienced and stronger than me. 

When we began this wild idea to hike the John Muir Trail, we had to apply for a permit six months ahead of our leaving date, choose camping spots, and determine when we would be exiting at Whitney Portal. 

After many faxes to the appropriate agency, we were finally accepted to begin our hike at Rush Creek Trail Head which is near June Lake and over 40 miles from the beginning of the North to South bound John Muir Trail originating in Yosemite National Park.

August 24, 2016
We look eager and ready don't we?  I did not even know how to properly wear my backpack.  We did not take an exiting photo because my camera stopped working.  Now I can point out how the hip belt is at my waist instead of my hips, and the chest strap is crossing me at the areola level and not my sternum.

We ascended more than 2300 feet the first day with continual stops for me to adjust my pack of 29 pounds.  Reaching Lake Agnew, we looked back to view the Mono Lake Basin.

At one point all my visual inputs had purple accents.  Then everything turned a hazy yellow.  Time for a shade break.

After hiking about six miles, we camped for the night at Summit Lake. No padded, comfy, warm, down sleeping bag ever felt better.

August 25, 2016
A foraging deer greeted us at the lake as we headed out the next morning.

It was a gorgeous day of relatively flat hiking past Clark Lakes heading to Thousand Island Lake.

Mt. Ritter on the left and Banner Peak are in the background.

All the lakes have wonderful names.  This is Emerald Lake.

Ruby Lake

Garnet Lake

Another view of Garnet Lake with Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak.

Lake Ediza Junction was the camp site for our second night.

Immediately opposite the photo above shows an example of the many log bridges we crossed.

August 26, 2016
Today we mostly hiked down, down, down.  Our first down took us past many pools like this one that eventually led to beautiful Shadow Lake.

Rosalie Lake

Marge waiting and resting for me before we reached

Our day was not quite finished.  We camped for the night at Red's Meadow Campground.  Jim saw this deer following me as we went up the last hill. 

Sharing a camping space with fellow hikers T and Jordan, we experienced our only rain shower as we hurriedly set up our tents.  Just .2 of mile away was Red's Meadow Resort with its Mule House Restaurant calling Jim's name for a burger and Marge's and mine for tuna melts plus all the beer we cared to buy at the nearby resort store.  I think we walked more than 13 miles today.

August 27, 2016
Today was an up, up, up day...11 1/2 miles up and 1/2 mile down.  We should have stopped after seven miles, but no, we pushed on to Duck Pass Junction.  Much of the afternoon we had these amazing views of Cascade Valley.

August 28, 2016
Jim had been throwing out the idea of turning back for the past two days.  He has hiked this John Muir Trail twice before in his life.  I think the hamburger did it.  If we had stopped at Deer Creek the day before, I would not have had the tiredness that prompted me to say that this was not fun any more.  Regardless of the excuses, Jim and I decided to turn back to Red's Meadow, a short bus ride from Mammoth Lakes.

Marge was determined to reach Duck Lake, wash her hair, and keep hiking to the finish line.  We hugged and waved goodbyes, said good lucks.

A small waterfall was within view of our campsite.

We were tired today and hiked only five miles to Deer Creek in three hours.  We spent the rest of the day napping and reading.

August 29, 2016
Seven miles in three hours was the last hike of this trip for us.  On our way down we met 26 people going the other way.  Only one person passed us.  We, and, I think, Marge had nearly no trepidation about her continuing on her own.  Many people hike solo.  She had a solar charger and was usually in daily contact with her husband.

As we were driving out of Yosemite the next day, we got a call telling us that Marge had decided to leave the trail in two days at Muir Trail Lodge, our resupply site.  She was tired and missed us.  She ended up hiking nearly 1/4 of the John Muir Trail.

Afterwards she wrote a note for this post about her experience:
"One must personally experience the hike to really appreciate the beauty and peace on the trail.  No words can describe an individual's feelings and what he or she takes away from this adventure.  I feel privileged and fortunate to be able to hike just this portion of the JMT with such loving friends."

Hiking the John Muir Trail is an arduous undertaking, and I truly admire those who manage to finish.  I expected to complete our hike, but I was doing too much too fast, and I gave out.  I really enjoyed the 6 days, 5 nights that we completed.  Instead of a thru hiker, I think I am a section hiker.  
Jim is already talking about another hike this summer.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Grapes, Grapes, and More Grapes

No journey, no travel, no hike, no vacation.  We are at Panoche picking and moving, then cleaning, destemming, crushing, stomping, fermenting, and pressing grapes in Santa Cruz.  Our guardian angel, Steve, was back to help us complete this year's grape harvest.

Working together on a row, it took us 13 hours EACH to pick all the grapes.  Individually we had our own method of picking...sitting, standing, find each and every little, itty bitty grape; well, most of us, most of the time.  No fingers were cut off, but there was one serious snip to a left pointer finger.  We were really glad to see the last of 18 rows...233 malbec grape plants.  In one of my sections, I found a beautiful bird's nest tucked in among the leaves and grapes.

The pickup was loaded.  You can only see the top layer.  The bigger containers are deep, and the cartons are two deep.  We harvested about 600 pounds, but it seemed like much more.  Indeed we had a bountiful yield due to plentiful water in the winter and accommodating winds and weather during budding and pollination.

Recently we broke down and purchased an Italian destemmer/crusher and a grape press with the realization that we were going to harvest a lot more grapes than in the past three years.  Jim had to figure out how to use the destemmer/crusher.  Time to read the manual.

Inadvertently while picking the grapes, we collected a lot of leaves in the containers, too.  We decided to remove most of them before putting the grapes into the hand-cranked destemmer.  Next time we will try not to pick leaves.  Steve was quite cheerful about it.

The boys took on the job of feeding the destemmer and cranking it to remove the stems.  Cranking can be challenging.  Jim and Steve took turns cranking and lifting the containers of grapes to slowly feed them into the hopper.  Hmm, well, it is not the be all, end all of destemming and crushing.  The machine really removes a lot of the stems, but they do not always fall out where you want them to fall out.  Many stems wind themselves around the paddle arm and, consequently, periodically need to be pulled off before pouring in more grapes.  You have to stop, remove the cover, reach in to pull out the errant stems, and replace the cover.  But I have to say, it is timelier to do this than to destem the grapes by hand.

Adjusting the crusher part of the machine to the desired result is a tiny bit problematic and imprecise.  We solved that problem by giving me the job of stomping the grapes with my feet.  In past years I did only one round of stomping.  This year I stomped the grapes in our cooler at least eight different times.  Our setup is not ideal, so each time I stomped, we had to move the destemmer and the cooler then replace them to continue destemming. It was not quite so romantic this year.

Finally, the grapes were put into two food grade blue barrels to ferment.  We fill the barrels 2/3 full.  After adding the 7 1/2 packets of wine yeast, the contents swell up to near the top.  Twice a day we must push the "must" down into the fermenting juice.

It is an upper body workout to push the must down into the juice.  We use a hoe to push it down.

This year we have doubled our harvest because all of the plants are at least four years old, and all of them produced grapes.  We should bottle more than ever.  One of our "malbec" plants is white.  Three years ago, we had enough grapes on that plant to produce two bottles of extraordinary wine.  This year we have enough for maybe one bottle.

Having a half full cooler of crushed grapes left over after filling the two blue barrels, we decided to make malbec grape juice.  Our new press does an incredible job of pressing grapes.  I will admit I was a bit skeptical after having rented a bladder press the last three years, but this press does its job remarkably well.  And it is good practice for when we press the fermenting grapes next week.  We pressed well over five gallons of juice.

Today we pressed the fermented grapes.  It took us about four hours not counting clean up.  The crank is actually a ratchet and not a wheel.

Since we had so many grapes to press, we had to stop to take the press apart to remove the grape skins and seeds at least five times.  The remains are like a brick and about as heavy.  It took both of us to carry the filled tub to the compost.

The grand total of new young wine poured into carboys with airlocks was 44 gallons.  In about a month, we will rerack the wine, which means we will siphon it off the sediment that builds up at the bottom into clean carboys.  If we did not do this, the sediment would rot and eventually spoil the aging wine.  Come the new year, we will rerack the wine again.  Finally in June we will bottle and cork the wine.  We expect to have well over 200 bottles from our 2016 malbec grape harvest.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Pinnacles National Park...Our Newest National Park

On our most recent hiking trip, we explored our newest national park, The Pinnacles, which are east of Soledad and south of Paicines, California.  There are two distinct entrances which do not connect. We entered from the East side where there is a spacious campground.  The West entrance is parking only for day hikes.  Leaving the parking area, we followed a mostly dry creek through a pretty canyon.

We took a combination of trails including Bear Gulch Trail, Moses Spring Trail, Bear Gulch Caves, Rim Trail, High Peaks Trail, and Condor Gulch Trail to walk a little over six miles.  The following photos are some of what we saw along the way. 

 This is just before we entered Bear Gulch Caves.  It really does get dark inside, so have a flashlight or app on your phone.  The Bear Gulch Cave is home to roosting bats part of the year.  Fortunately, the cave had recently been reopened for visitors.

Yes, we saw a condor.  A volunteer at the top of  High Reaches Trail monitored condor flight trails. We viewed this female several times before she disappeared.

At a backward glance, the Pinnacles do not seem too imposing, but we climbed up and down and up and down.  This loop was listed as strenuous.  The elevation gain is just over 1400 feet. The rock formations, talus caves, trails, trees, and condor were amazing.

 "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."  -John Muir