I pulled into the familiar bustling village at Tuolomne Meadows. Here, tourists and backpackers of all levels converge to take advantage of the camping, park information, day hikes, store, grill and post office. It's a popular resupply spot for hikers on the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. I grabbed a fifty-fifty softie ice cream cone and chatted with some hikers at the picnic tables under the tall conifers outside the grill. The day was spectacular--crisp and clear--but a young woman cautioned of the upcoming cold spell due that night that was to last for three days. As I headed out, I verified the expected temperatures with the weather report posted on the message board--lows in the mid to low twenties. Hmmm, last year I was there in July and hadn't really thought about the potential difference in the season.
After I picked up my back country permit, I took a leisurely walk around the flat meadows. I witnessed a large hawk on the ground near the creek bed tearing at the flesh of a small critter. I'm always conflicted when I see a feast --I'm sad for the critter but happy for those that get the meal. It's always a good reminder of the interconnectedness of everything.
I perused the store for any last minute items I could have forgotten or not known were even in existence, as is my wont, and headed up to the backpacker's campground. I loved this campground, as right next to it was the amphitheater where nightly ranger led programs around a big fire pit came to life. I was thoroughly impressed with last year's programs--I didn't recall being as fascinated when I was young, and certainly hadn't noticed that the rangers were deep ecologists. Had they changed or had I? Or both?
I'm appreciative of the fact that backpackers can camp the night before their wilderness permit starts so we can get a fresh start on our journey. It's also a great opportunity to make sure we have all the equipment we need and to test whether it's in good working order. Being in the back country is not the best time to discover that your stove or water purifier isn't working properly.
I pitched my tent and stashed unneeded supplies and equipment in the car. At least I thought they were unneeded for the night. I hadn't prepared for super cold weather--my gear was rated for three seasons--so I rifled through the car and found a bulky pair of wool gloves/mittens and grabbed my jammies I used at the Airbnb the night before. They were way too heavy to take with me on the hike--my pack was weighing in at about 36 pounds--but I'd at least have extra warmth and comfort for the first night.
After the engaging and entertaining campfire program that included poetry and song, I tucked myself in for the night. Clothed only in my base layers with a scarf around my neck, I climbed into my 30+ year old down sleeping bag. The bag was rated to 30 degrees, so I felt pretty confident I would stay warm through the night. Rarely do I have to 'mummy it up.' In fact I mostly use it as a blanket and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning I'll need to zip it up.
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