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Head in the Clouds, or Thank You for Being Low-Impact

David and I headed for Yosemite after we watched Christopher and his housemate drive off to start their junior year at Davis. We planned to hike Clouds Rest, but didn’t get to the Wilderness Station soon enough to snare one of only 12 permits handed out daily.  So we hiked to Ten Lakes instead.


Piece o’ cake, we thought, only 6.3 miles.  Once we were into it, we realized that 4.9 were straight up and rocky, and the final 1.4 miles were straight down. It was gorgeous and grueling.


Time to Move

We flung our packs down in exhaustion near one of the lakes—all are unnamed—and thought we’d make camp there, too tired to go any farther. But an officious sort approached, claiming we were too close to the lake. I must have still been in city mode even after my all-day hike in the wilderness, because I felt like fighting, despite her iron-gray hair, down jacket and her pitying tone as she asked if we knew we had to be 100 feet from the lake.

I glared and pronounced that we were well within that limit.  “Do we have to move?” I asked, sounding, I’m sure, aggressive and angry. She wasn’t a ranger, just another camper who didn’t like our looks, I guess. “Thank you for being low-impact,” she told us. We picked up our packs and stumbled on for another quarter-hour, until we came to another site along the lake where we could be solitary and invisible, so she actually did us a mitzvah.


These icy lakes are untouched, pristine.  No car, plane, or other machinery has ever been up here. Lots of backpackers apparently get lost on their way, but Dingman is a pro at reading topo maps.




We took way too much food—my fault for not planning each meal but instead stuffing miscellaneous edibles into our packs. This dumb move weighed us down and made it hard to store all comestibles in the required bear-proof canister.


Other backpackers had evidently done the same thing, judging from this makeshift rock bear box we found. We used it to stash extra food, knowing full well that a determined bear could have torn it apart in a second.


David threw his fishing line into several of the lakes, pulling in five trout, but throwing all back but one, which he quickly and expertly gutted and cleaned. He tossed it into a pot with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and we feasted on it, a nice break from nuts, dried fruit, and jerky.


Things Got a Little Wild

We saw ptarmigans, bats delicately skimming the lake’s surface at dusk, red acorn woodpeckers, ubiquitous chickarees, a frisky mule deer splashing in the Merced River, a stealthy blue heron sneaking up the river at night, hawks scoping out Half-Moon Meadow, raucous stellar jays, and plenty of alligator lizards doing pushups on the rocks. No encounters with bears.


An unwelcome run-in with wildlife came after three days, when we hiked from Ten Lakes back down to the Valley floor where we stayed in Housekeeping. An uninvited rodent made its way into our tent cabin the first night, prompting me to scream and kick my feet wildly.


We stopped by the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley. Adams’ original photograph of aspens in northern New Mexico was slightly out of our budget at $48K, so we settled on a more modest and practical souvenir, an (overpriced) Chapstick wrapped in a photo of Half Dome.

Yosemite Chapstick

Advantages of Home

The house seems empty without Christopher. But we don’t have to worry about getting sap all over our clothes and can leave food around with no fear of bears snatching it (or us) up. I briefly considered telling my clients today that I feel like I’m coming down with plague in order to get out of going back to work, but that would be tempting fate a bit much. I’ll settle back into city life and routine work, keeping images of sunwashed rocks in my mind.



About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

9 responses »

  1. I’m not a camper, but after reading this piece you almost had me convinced to give it a try…right up to the rodent in the tent part! I’m glad that the gray-haired woman did you a mitzvah. Sometimes, there is no other word. Love it! Sounds like you and David had a wonderful weekend!

    • Oh try it, Jan! Maybe you and Bill will come out and hike Yosemite. Just don’t go to Housekeeping where the rodent joined us. That’s a raggedy part of the park, but it has hot showers which were much needed after backpacking. There’s nothing like being away from everything and really way out there.

  2. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing all of it, the pictures, the story, and “thank you for being low-impact”! I will definitely remember that!
    You are fortunate to have had such an experience together.

    • Isn’t that a funny phrase, Linda? David was off filtering water from the lake when she approached and didn’t witness the encounter. When I told him about it he said, “I bet she’s from the Bay Area.” So “thank you for being low-impact” must be Bay Area speak for “get the %&*# out of here!” 😉

  3. Looks like a beautiful trip. Love the photos and, of course, your always wonderful way of telling us a story! xo

  4. Oh, thank you so muchfor talking the time to share the experience here. They say jealousy is a guide to our inner desires. I’m feeling that happy-for-you brand of it rigjt now.

    I’ve never backpacked like that, but am reading “Wild” right now and experiencing cravings. Wonderful photos!

    There’s something about earning this views (I have day hiked some) that you know only a small percentage of humanity has witnessed!


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