Sometimes you’ll find adventure in the places you go, but sometimes you’ll find it in the people who join you. Sometimes you’ll find peace in the solitude of a lone peak, but sometimes you’ll find it in a few select friends camped with you by a lake. The High Sierra is the place to go to meet that aspect of yourself that hangs off the edges of cliffs and climbs up the face of a glacier. The Emigrant Wilderness is the place to go to meet that other primal self, that person who walks quietly through the woods, over ridges, and past still lakes, who tends a campfire by night and bathes in the sun by day. It was this bit of our humanity that we sought.
John, Glen, Mark, Sal, Maggie, and I left the Gianelli Trailhead around noon. This was Sal and Maggie’s first overnight backpacking trip, and they hiked like professionals. We crossed over rolling ridges, each presenting a view into a new creek drainage. The area is characterized by rolling open granite pockmarked by lakes and creeks. Perhaps the scenery is not quite as dramatic as that of the Sierra south of here in Yosemite or Kings Canyon, but what the place lacks in drama it makes up for in quiet hills and endless vista.
After a few hours and a few breaks, we got to the Eastern end of Y Meadow Reservoir. Here we made our camp for the next two nights. John set up a camp fire. Sal and Maggie pitched their tent. Mark and I prepared dinner. Rather than freeze-dried, over-preserved, overly-salted backpacking food, we made our own meals. The first night’s dinner was pasta in a creamy mornay sauce made with gruyere, parmigiano reggiano, and sharp cheddar. John had baked us sourdough rolls to go with it, and a friend of ours baked us snickerdoodle cookies for dessert. After dinner we sat by the fire and watched the sun go down, telling stories and sharing our lives.
The next morning we woke up with the sun. We ate a loaf of John’s bread with some homemade blackberry jam. I went for a run out to Toejam Lake. On the way, I ran through Whiteside Meadow, one of the larger meadows in the area. Despite the dryness of the winter, the area was still green, and as I ran the trail through the meadow, grasshoppers and butterflies burst out of the ground and into the air around me. The trail was dubious in places, but I found my way to the lake, took it in for a few minutes, then turned back to camp. This was my first run in a few weeks, since I had bruised my heel climbing, and it was amazing.
Back at camp we mostly lounged around for the day. People went for little hikes around the lake. John swam across the lake and climbed up onto the ridge opposite our camp. I took a sleeping pad out onto the lake and swam for the middle. Later in the day, Mark and I walked out to Granite Lake. I had not taken a day as peaceful as this in the wilderness all summer. For dinner we cooked a curry with chickpeas and sausage. We finished off John’s breadrolls and the snickerdoodles. This was good wilderness eating.
The next morning we hiked out. With lighter packs, a few nights of acclimatization, and a greater understanding of what it means to hike six miles with a backpacking pack, everyone did really well on the way out. We stopped at the ridges and vistas to take in all that we could of the wilderness before we’d return to civilization. We reached the trailhead by mid-afternoon, then drove into Oakdale for pizza. Although there were no fourteeners, no twenty-mile hikes, no cross-country, this hike was an adventure, and I think we all came back with a little wilderness absorbed into our spirits.