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Shaken by a shake-down

Our backpacking season has started out slowly this year. We did some day hikes in May in Kings Canyon, but didn't strap on a pack. And then June we were in Alaska, also without packs, and now at sea level. Our serious backpacking year was supposed to start in early July, when we had a permit for Yosemite. But we both caught COVID, and that knocked those plans out of the water.

Tuolumne Meadows in the smoke of the Oak Fire.

That means that instead of having a couple short trips under our belts already, we were tackling a five-day trip into the John Muir Wilderness up McGee Creek. And even though we've done a ton of backpacking trips, it's always a good idea to start with a short shake-down hike before tackling anything too adventurous--just to make sure that you didn't take a key piece of equipment out of the pack and forget to replace it, or forgot how all the gear works, etc.

Well, we didn't do that.

Instead, only about a week after getting our negative COVID test, we were hiking seven miles and up 2500 feet to camp at a lake well over 10,000 feet, with packs we hadn't worn in about ten months. What could possibly go wrong?

Not much, really. Yeah, the hike up the lake was more than we should have tackled in our condition. It took us six hours to hike seven miles--which is about an hour and a half more than it would normally take us. By the time we got to the lake, we were utterly bushed.

Luckily, we were so tired that we immediately set up the tent so that we could take a nap. We were still in the final stages of that, with gear scattered all over the ground, when the rain hit. In a couple of minutes, we were inside, dry, with all of our gear. And so we napped. A couple of thunderclaps added to the fun, as did the sound of four or five rockfalls on the cliffs above.

About forty-five minutes later, M noticed that there were a couple of inches of standing water right outside the foot of our tent. Only the small bathtub floor of the tent was keeping our gear dry. And the rain was just hammering down. I slipped on my rain shell and water shoes, and raced out to dig a small drainage canal to give that water somewhere to go. Which worked. And then we sat in the tent for another hour as the rain pummeled down.

When it finally let up, we poked our heads out to find another couple camped just above us. They had arrived at the lake in the middle of the storm, and pitched their tent on the first flat piece of ground they saw. They then waited it out with their two dogs...

I got our water system set up , and promptly dropped the large one-gallon bladder on the ground, where it burst a seam. Hmm. With some duct tape and patience, we rigged a system that would still work.

And so we wrapped up the day, eating dinner amid the smaller puddles left from the rain, and enjoying the stunning scenery of McGee Lake. I even dropped down to the lake to fish for a bit after dinner, and caught a nice brookie on the first cast. And then nothing else for the remaining half an hour that I fished. Oh well. The scenery from the edge of the lake was still glorious.

The next morning we had a council meeting. M wasn't feeling well. And while the sky was clear, the forecast including the possibility of more rain. We had three options: We could hike up over McGee Pass (12,000 feet) and into the wonderland beyond. We had food for that, but we were sure we had the guts for that. We could hike down two miles, then up a spur trail for a steep mile and camp at Steelhead Lake. Or we could hike out.

After a short conversation, we agreed that we weren't really ready for a longer trip--not the way we were feeling. So we hiked down to the Steelhead Lake junction, took one look at it, another look at the sky, and decided to hike on out.

It was only three hours from the trailhead to our cabin, and we got there in time for a hot shower, a warm dinner, and a soft bed--exactly what we needed at that point.

We'll get back out on the trail soon. After all, we've already had our shake-down hike, and we have the rest of the summer to enjoy the mountains.

Here's the link to ALL the photos:

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