One Last Trail Crew...

posted Sep 19, 2019, 10:10 AM by Paul Wagner
This post is by P:

It was supposed to be a three day trip, but I bailed.  First we were supposed to hike into Scout Carson Lake, where we would set up a spike camp and work on the Horse Canyon Trail.  But with the weather report calling for a series of showers, Ranger Chip opted to play it safer and set up camp near Silver Lake. at the Silverado Camp.  That's where I met him on Wednesday morning.

My day had started much earlier, when I got up before 5 a.m. (after teaching my class at the college the night before) and drove up to Silver Lake near Carson Pass.  When I arrived Chip was just getting ready to hit the trail, so I threw a few things into my day pack and followed him up the trail.  The weather was cool (50 degrees) and overcast, but there was no rain, and the showers were only predicted for the afternoon.  But hiking uphill at a good pace quickly encouraged us to strip off a couple of layers on the way up. 

After about two miles, we met the first group of young workers from the East Sierra Conservation Corps--a great group of young people from all over the US who had spent the summer doing trail work in the Sierra.  This was their last week of work, and we were hoping to get most of the Horse Canyon Trail in shape.  This is a big project, because the trail is open to mountain bikes and dirt bikes--and those can really tear up a trail that would normally stand up to simple foot traffic.  Every section had to be overbuilt to withstand the impact of a dirt biker racing along. 

During the morning, Chip directed the six members of the ESCC on various projects along the trail, while he and I tackled others.  At one point we were carrying large rocks between the two of us so that we could protect the exposed roots of some ancient junipers on the trail.  These were large, flat slabs of granite, and I used some muscles that I hadn't used in a while...One rule about rock work--always choose rocks above the trail.  It's much easier to roll them downhill than it is to carry or roll them up!

Lunch was chilly, as we sat among the rocks with the ESCC team and chomped down our food.  There was just a hint of sunshine from time to time, and the showers we had seen were very light, or headed to the peaks north of us.  So far, so good.

In the afternoon, Chip suggested that we tackle a series of water bars on a long straight section of trail. (Water bars are angled dams that direct water and erosion off the trail and down the hill.)  Again, given that these were going to get hammered by dirt bikes, they had to be built to last.  And as we  worked on the first water bar, the rain showers became slightly more frequent, and heavier.   By the second one, it was a steady cold rain, with temperatures in the low forties, and gusty winds--since we were working at about 8500 feet near the top of the ridge. 

Over the course of the next two hours. we watched the rain get more consistent, and the peaks above us disappear into the clouds, until we, too were enveloped in the mist and gusty winds. What fun! And it didn't get any warmer, either. 

At 3:30 Chip suggested that we begin to pack up and head down the hill. back to camp  Most of the tools were left on the job site, carefully tucked into the shelter of some dense juniper trees, and we struck off down the hill at a brisk pace for what was now nearly a three-mile hike in the rain and wind.  By the time we got down to Silverado Camp at 4:30, it was still raining, the temperatures were dropping, and I was soaked to the skin from the waist down.  (Note to self: water resistant pants are not water proof.  In fact, they are simply pants.)

I thought about what I had in the van.  My hiking boots were soaked.  I had clean, warm sock and undies, and I had brought along a nice warm sleeping bag.  I had food and a stove.  But the thought of spending a night in the van, hoping some of my gear would dry out, and then doing it all over again, had me thinking hard--especially because the weather report called for more showers the following day--and lower temperatures. 

And so I bailed.  I thanked Chip for a fun day on the trail, and he laughed.  I congratulated the kids of the ESCC for being better people than I am.  They were.  And I got in the van and drove home, with the heater and defroster on high. I drove through another 25 miles of cold, miserable weather before I got down below the cloud cover.  By the time I got to Sacramento, it was almost sunny, and I was toasty warm. 

And today I read the weather report: Partly cloudy in the morning then becoming mostly cloudy. At lower elevations, a slight chance of rain showers. At higher elevations, a slight chance of rain showers in the morning, then a chance of rain and snow showers in the afternoon. Highs 43 to 58 higher elevations...57 to 67 lower elevations. Snow level 7500 feet increasing to above 8000 feet in the afternoon. Prevailing southeast winds up to 10 mph shifting to the west in the afternoon.