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Thunder and Lightning and More, Oh My!

We’re back from a memorable trip up into Buckeye Canyon on the East Side of the Sierra, just north of Bridgeport. Memorable for torrential thunderstorms, infestations of ticks, and some absolutely great hiking.

DAY ONE: We left our cabin and drove over Sonora Pass, stopping to pick up NOBO PCTer Prospector, who told us of a horrific hailstorm the night before, and warned us of clouds of mosquitoes. The weather reports had been all over the map, from high temps to thunderstorms to perfect weather, so we plowed ahead and hoped for the best.

After dropping off Prospector at the General Store in Bridgeport, we drove into Buckeye Canyon, parked the car, and were on the trail by 10:45, keeping our eyes on some clouds that were building up behind us. We stopped for lunch at the ford of Buckeye Creek (water was slow moving and mid-thigh) and promptly lost the trail. No worries, as this trail just goes up the canyon, and that’s what we did.

But by 1:30 it was raining enough, and we’d hiked far enough, that we called a halt and set up the tent. Not exactly the way we’d planned the day, but Mother Nature is in charge. There was some thunder, a few flashes of lightning, and about three hours of steady rain. But then the rain let up, and we decided to try to hike a little farther. And as we packed up, I found the trail, just thirty yards above us. We could see the storm as it proceeded ahead of us up the canyon.

But a half-hour later, it came back down the canyon, and we decided to call it a day, camping in a beautiful grove of aspens. It rained for another two hours, with more lightning and thunder, and we were only able to get out and stretch our legs as dusk fell. I went down to the creek to get water, and came back soaked from knees down from all the wet grass and bushes.

That night we took stock—I had only one pair of dry socks, my trailrunners and other socks were soaked, and as we went through our gear we found a tick climbing on my arm…a result of that escapade down to the creek, no doubt. A tough first day, all in all.

DAY TWO: I decided to put my wet socks back on, so that I could save one pair of dry socks for camp. And the trail was bound to be soggy after the rain. We climbed up past the Roughs, passing a lovely waterfall, and then meandered through the tight canyon of Buckeye Creek, reaching the cabins and trail junction to Yosemite before noon.

We had no further plans for today, so we found a wonderful campsite back down the trail a hundred yards, and set up the tent. After lunch, we took a rest, and then got out of the tent to see clouds building once again. I fished for an hour, catching lots of spooky brookies from 7-12 inches, and then it started to rain. And this time it was serious. Huge claps of thunder, some only 5 seconds away, gusty winds, and torrential rains for about three hours. Just when we thought we had most things dried out from the day before—including my socks. Sigh. For a second night, we ate dinner in the tent-although near dark we had time to get out and take stock of the massive lodgepole pine nearby.

At this point M had just about had enough. The bugs were not bad at all, despite Prospector’s warning, but the thunderstorms were taking a lot of the joy out of the trip—that and she was feeling a bit poorly in general.

DAY THREE: M decided that we’d stay one more day, to day-hike up to Kirkwood Pass. It turned out to be the best decision of the trip. The day was sparkling clear, and I was still wearing that same pair of damp socks as we hiked the narrow trail through bushes dripping wet. Within a few minutes, my shoes and socks were soaked again!

But this trail is magic, following a cascading stream up into a small alpine valley, then crossing the valley to switchback up granite ledges to views of the Sierra Crest, from Tower and Forsythe Peaks in the North back down towards Grouse Mountain and the whole canyon below us. It was magnificent.

But as we were enjoying the view, we noticed a few tiny clouds in that canyon. We hiked back down to camp to eat lunch there, and the waited and watched, as the clouds slowly built. M soaked her sore heel in the stream, and I fished a bit less successfully, and we took life easy until about four o’clock when the first few drops of rain fell. Back into the tent, where we found four ticks...probably a result of my bushwhacking after good fishing spots.

This was a milder storm, only light rain and distant thunder, and it only lasted long enough to have us eat one more dinner in the tent. Grrrr. It cleared in time for the sunset, and we enjoyed the rosy glow on the nearby peaks. And my socks almost dried out.

Over these first three days we had seen a total of two people—and our campsite was so discrete that they didn’t see us—and we felt like we had the whole canyon to ourselves. It was stunning.

DAY FOUR: M was sure. It was time to hike out. So we packed up and were on the trail a bit before eight. But those first two miles through the narrow canyon took us longer that we expected (we did see a family camped here on our way out) and we began to worry about our final goal. It was slow going.

Coming through the section just below the Roughs, we were startled to see that a massive channel of rock and mud had avalanched down from above, and it took us a few minutes to find a way through the mess. Luckily, most of the mud had dried, and it was all fairly stable.

And then it was all downhill. We flew down those miles, only stopping a couple of times to chat with a few hikers coming in for the Fourth of July weekend. We were across the ford and well down the canyon by the time we stopped for a shady lunch overlooking a verdant meadow with towering peaks in the background. This is lovely country.

We were back at the car before two, and drove out Buckeye Creek Road, only to see some worrisome smoke to the north. If that fire was near Sonora Pass, we were in for some complicated solutions to get back home.

But the fire was east of 395, and we were safe. And as we drove over the pass, we once again hit a thunderstorm pounding the crest—and certainly drenching Buckeye Canyon one more time.

And my socks? Before we started this trip, my daughter had given me some HappYak socks for Father’s Day. Four days on the trail, all four days getting soaked to the point of squishy hiking, and by the end of our trip they had dried out and were, frankly, just about like new. Absolutely amazing. If only we had fared so well!

Four days, 24 miles of hiking, and more thunder, lightning and rain than we’d ever had on a single trip. And it was still a great trip.

The photo-log of the trip is here:

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