THE BLUES

I heard from a friend that the road to Blue Lakes was finally open as of this past week. I’ve always wanted to go there and never have. Until now.

I woke up while it was still dark and began packing up my tent and other belongings. As I mentioned in the last post, I forgot my headlamp. It is a bit tricky holding onto your iPhone light with one hand, while taking down and folding up your tent with the other hand. It was a one-handed tent folding extravaganza. Well, I managed to do it fairly quickly, and did not wake up any of the neighbor campers in the process. I drove down the hill and over to the Blue Lakes.

This was supposed to be a short and very easy two mile hike (one way). Of course it never works out that way for the Waterfall Madman, does it? At the first (lower) Blue Lake, I found that the road was blocked/closed. It was only blocked with a couple measly pylons that I could have easily driven around, but there was a closed sign there, and I was unsure why the road would be closed. It should be open but maybe there was a good reason it was blocked, such as snow on the road, giant mud pit ahead, road damage, etc. etc. I have never been here before, I did not know the ropes of the land so to speak, so I parked my car and walked. This would add 2.5 miles (one way) to my hike.

That is no big deal. However … now I had a sun issue. I had to be at the waterfall before the sun got onto it. By my calculations, it was now touch and go and I did not think I would make it in time. There was only one thing to do: run. On the downhill parts of the hike of course, not the uphill parts. I do not like to do this on my hikes, but I figured I had no choice. Much better to do this than to arrive at the waterfall too late and not be able to take a decent photo. So I ran and ran and ran, trying to make up just a little bit of time on the hike. Fifteen minutes or so was all I needed.

By the way, the Blue Lakes are incredibly beautiful – if I did not say so yet. The snow capped mountains in the background, and the blue colored lakes (yes, they are blue colored). Wow. A bald eagle soaring through the sky (yes indeed!). There were mosquitoes as well, the only negative thing I found there. There was snow on the trail as well, starting at 8200 ft. This created a conundrum. The trail follows a seasonal creek for awhile with steep banks. There were big unstable snow bridges on steep snowy slopes. I climbed high above the creek to get around this section. The route got much better after that, but it was very difficult to follow the trail proper with the snow cover. All of this slowed me down immensely. Could I still make it in time?

I arrived at the creek crossing. It was only a half mile from here to the falls, but I was late now. I could not jump or rock hop across this creek. I would be getting my feet wet for sure. However, to change out of my boots and into my water shoes would take precious time which I did not have. I walked straight across the creek in my boots. Two quick steps into the water. My feet were now wet but I did not care. I ran down the trail.

And promptly went right past the waterfall. You cannot see the falls from the trail, and it is difficult to know exactly where it is or where to go. I came down to the lower cascade, which is not terribly interesting, but I took a couple quick photos. Now I had to climb back up the hill to get to the main waterfall. I figured by now I would be too late, and the sun would be on the falls. I hoped, I prayed, I would not be too late. Thankfully, it was still in shade. Actually, I still had a lot of time to take my photos. Whew.

It is incredibly steep here. In order to see the waterfall you need to climb down the crumbly, near vertical slope. I did not have my rope. That was a mistake. This was dangerous stuff but I had to get a photo of this waterfall. Was it foolish to go down here with no rope? It was not ideal, but no, I was careful, very careful. I took some photos. Now I could relax.

On the way back, when I came back to the creek crossing, I saw, I glimpsed, a large brown animal running away as I approached the creek. What was that? Was that a bear? Was that a cougar? Or was that a deer? I did not see it clearly, and it could have been a cougar, but I think it must have been a deer. I hoped it was a deer. At least it was running the other direction.

I took my time hiking back to the lakes. No more running. Let’s enjoy the rest of this hike, shall we? When I got back to the lakes, I found many cars had now driven up the road. I guessed the road was now open officially, but in fact, I learned that they had driven right past those pylons that were blocking the road. I could have done this, had I known it was ok to do so. Oh well, it was a good hike. It was a beautiful hike.

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MYSTERIES

I have never been to the waterfalls on Hwy 4, Ebbetts Pass before. This seemed like a good weekend to go up there. In fact, I have never driven Hwy 4 from the Markleeville side. I drove up to the summit from the Arnold side once, but that is it. I have to say for such a major highway, the road is extremely narrow going up to the summit on the Markleeville side. You sure hope a big truck won’t be coming down as you are driving up.

Anyway, my idea was to drive up there after work on Friday, and camp in my tent at the campsite up near the waterfalls. Normally I would take the Gator (as we call it affectionately – the SUV), and sleep in the vehicle, but my wife had the SUV this weekend, so I drove the little car. No possible way to sleep in that thing so I brought my tent instead. I arrived at the campsite, found quite a few open spaces, selected one of them, paid my fee, set up my tent, then took off to find some waterfalls before dark.

I have heard this waterfall called Silver Creek Falls and Upper Cascade Falls. I never understood the Upper Cascade name. It makes no sense. Does this mean there is a lower Cascade Falls as well? I also did not know if these were two separate waterfalls or they were one and the same. Well I think I figured out the mystery now that I have finally been there.

There is a sign along the road near the top of the falls that says Upper Cascade Creek. So that explains the name. Actually, there are three creeks that come together here, and two more drop in below the falls (and a few more below that). One of the other creeks is Silver Creek. In fact, after they all come together Silver Creek rules the day so that technically makes the official name of this waterfall Silver Creek Falls. But if you want to call it Upper Cascade Falls, then go right ahead.

Silver Creek Falls is certainly a beautiful cascade, 64 ft. high. I walked down on the granite rocks below the highway. You come to a fabulous view of the falls from on top of the rocks. The dropoffs here are intense. I got as close to the edge as I dared, I was not wanting to slip off the edge on that slick granite.

I enjoyed the view, made it to a couple other waterfalls in the area as well, then arrived back at the campsite at dark. This is when I realized I did not have my headlamp. Doh! Where was it? Did it fall out of my pack? Or did I leave it in the other vehicle? (the latter, as it turned out). It is supposed to always be in my hiking backpack so I was a bit stressed about not having a light. At least I had my iPhone light. As long as my phone battery did not die, I would be all good for one night.

Also, as I locked the car for the night, I noticed small red lights on the doors. I have never noticed this before. I don’t usually drive this car, my wife does, but still you would think I would have noticed this before. Why are they on? Why aren’t they turning off? I had no idea what was going on. Would the car battery be dead in the morning because of this? It was a bit worrisome but in the end I decided it must be normal for them to be on. The battery was not dead in the morning.

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PLAYING INJURED

In the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs, players frequently keep playing when they are injured (assuming the injury is not too horribly serious – like a broken leg). The Stanley Cup is that important to them and their team. They can heal later over the summer. I do not watch too much of other sports, though perhaps this happens in other sports as well, but not in baseball – if a player sprains their pinky finger in baseball, they are out of the lineup for at least 4 weeks. With the big snowpack, this year is my Stanley Cup playoffs. I have to keep playing (hiking), even if I am injured – assuming the injury is not a broken leg. Well guess what? I am injured. It started with a mysterious pain in my arm last week – which is no big deal for hiking. Now it has spread to my leg. If I twist or turn the leg in a certain way, the pain is horrific and I am on the floor, howling in agony. Well don’t turn it that way you fool! I have no idea what it is or how it started. I don’t think I did it hiking or at the gym but maybe it is from that, but if it does not get better soon, I may have to go to the doctor. If this was last year, perhaps I would be resting for a few weeks. Not this year though, I have to keep on playing. I can heal in the Fall. I have a big huge and epic hike planned for this coming weekend. Let’s just pray I make it up the mountain and back down again.

Getting back to last weekend before my leg pain started … when I studied Google Earth in this area of the Potholes, I realized there was a second waterfall just a bit downstream from the popular upper Potholes. The upper Potholes may be well known and very popular, but who knew about these lower falls? It looked easy enough to get to, so off I went after photographing the upper falls.

It was a short jaunt downstream, hopping along the granite rock. The last part was a bit steep, but not too difficult. Clearly people have been down here, judging by the man-made rock cairns – unless they were bear-made. I did distinctly smell an animal as I descended. Is there a lion watching me from somewhere? I saw nothing. I suppose the cairns were likely man-made, nonetheless, I think the vast majority of people who go to the upper Potholes have no clue there is another waterfall downstream. This one is smaller, 27 ft. high, but still quite a pretty waterfall, especially with the high flow in the river. There was far too much mist right at river level, so I stepped back a bit, and changed my composition.

I thought I would have quite a bit of time before the sun came up, yet there I could see it starting to pop up over the horizon, just above the waterfall. It is rare that I get lighting conditions like this, and I took advantage of it, stopping down my aperture to create a sunstar effect, and waiting out the perfect light. I took quite a few photos, but this was the best one. I like it.

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POTHOLES

I have now officially hit my goal weight, down 20 pounds since October. This is officially the lowest weight I have been in 18 years! (since I got married in 1999). Well, I do not know exactly what I weighed back then, but I’m pretty sure it was about the same as I am now. I am also in the best shape I have been in since those days, and my incessantly bad back is healthy too. When you get to the point I am now, exercise is an addiction. You want to exercise, keep going, get even stronger, get in even better shape. I haven’t felt this good in 18 years health-wise. My highest weight was around 230 pounds or so, although it has been quite a few years since I was that high. Now I am 175. I don’t need to lose any more but I need to keep going, cuz I don’t want to gain anything back, and I need to stay in this good shape. You can do it too! It is a lot of hard work, and especially so in the beginning, but keep at it. There will be potholes but it will get better. You will do it.

Anyhow, what about waterfalls this past weekend?

When it is over 100° in the valley, it is hard to get up for hiking. Even in the mountains, it is going to be too hot to hike. Oh yeah, and there are the mosquitoes also. But this year, we have the extraordinary snow pack, and the waterfalls are going to be flowing all year long. I need, I must, I will, get out to hike at least once every week. No matter what the temperature is in the valley. So say we all.

Even if it is just a short hike, I still need to get out and do it, and that is what I wanted to do this week, a short hike to a new waterfall. Thanks to a friend of waterfallswest, I learned about this waterfall at Silver Lake called the Potholes. It looked to be pretty nice, and I have never known about these waterfalls before now, so I wanted to get up there and check it out this weekend.

I checked earlier in the week for the status of the Mormon Emigrant Road and found that it was still closed. Jeepers, it is almost the end of June. This is one of those roads that should be plowed, at very least in the spring (like they do on other roads such as Tioga). Why don’t they?? The road closed meant I would have to go the long way around to Silver Lake. It is not that much longer, but it is definitely a longer drive. I checked one last time on Friday morning, it was still closed. But then, on Friday night just before I went to bed, I got a Facebook notification saying that the road was now open! (you see, Facebook “is” good for something). Praise the Lord! Now I could take the shorter Mormon Emigrant route on Saturday morning. I was not the first to drive the road this year, but I’m pretty sure I was the first to drive it on Saturday morning. (at 4:30AM!)  There was still snow along the side of the road at the far end, but the road was all clear. No damage from the winter. No potholes.

Once at Silver Lake, it is a very short and easy hike down to the Potholes. It is also fun walking along the granite rock. In the summer I guess this is a popular place to take a dip, but right now the river is raging. You won’t be taking a dip here for awhile. I measured the waterfall to be 37 feet high, and it is definitely an impressive one when the water is high like this. I can’t believe I have never been here before. What was I thinking?

But wait, there’s more…

 

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DAY 4. THE LONG ROAD HOME

It was a much much warmer night compared to the previous night at Lord Meadow. My alarm did not go off for some unknown reason, and I wanted to get an early start, as I still had a big hike ahead. Also, I wanted to go back to the middle falls on Cherry Creek and photograph it. This was one waterfall I was not expecting on this trip. It is always nice to get a bonus waterfall. And it’s a good one too, about 40 ft. high.

It was a quick hike up to the falls. To get the best view of it, I had to cross part of the stream on Cherry Creek (not the huge and deep part of course). Not wanting to get my feet wet, I crawled out on a big log across the stream. I could not walk across it, so I had to scoot my butt along it. It was kinda funny looking. No one saw me. Not even the bears. Maybe a squirrel saw me, but I cannot be sure about that. Anyway, this got me into a much better angle to photograph the waterfall.

When I got back to the camp, it was still early. I packed up, ate breakfast, drank coffee, and relaxed a bit. Then I headed up the hill. It is a 1500 ft. climb to the top. When I came to the brushy section, I decided to stay more to the left of the stream. There were rock cairns here, and I assumed this was the proper way up instead of through the brushy part. At first it seemed a good route, and not too brushy. Near the top, however, I lost the rock cairns. Where did they go? Back through the brush? I decided to keep going straight up. It was much steeper, and a little brushy but far better than going back to the other side of the stream. I was concerned, though, that I might get blocked out by a cliff, or too much brush above me. Then what would I do? I’d have to go all the way back down. That would suck.

I pushed up ahead. I made it all the way up to the top above the brushy section, and eventually up to the trail again. From here it is downhill all the way back to the car and trailhead, but it is still 9 miles away. I felt really good in the beginning, and was ahead of schedule, but before long I started to become quite tired. It was a very hot day. My feet were hurting. I had to keep on going. It is a long road home.

Surprisingly, I happened upon some rangers who were doing trail maintenance work, clearing out trees on the trail. Overall, this trail is in bad condition. Many fallen trees on the trail, and a lot of brush. I do not think it has been maintained in many years. Thus it was quite a surprise seeing anyone up here, and so far up the trail. They were at least 7 miles from the dam. I made sure to thank them for clearing the trail. Although, it would not help me at all as it seemed they were just getting started. At least I hope that was it because I still encountered a heckuva lot of brush and fallen trees on the way down.

One of them asked if I had my wilderness permit, and he also asked me if I had packed out all my trash. Okay, I can understand asking about my permit, but asking if I packed out my trash is insulting. Clearly, I am a responsible backpacker and pack out my trash. Don’t all backpackers do that? I asked him in return if he wanted to see my dirty toilet paper. I was joking of course. I’m kinda glad I said it though, after that insulting question.

I wondered if the rangers had driven up the closed road and parked at the usual trailhead. I could not imagine they would hike 7 miles up the trail from the dam to do maintenance work. I was betting they had driven up the closed road. Perhaps they left their vehicle unlocked with the keys in the car, and I could steal it and drive back to the dam, saving me 4.5 miles of hiking. It would serve them right for insulting me. I’m kidding. However, I was very tired and delusional. Who knows what I would really do. It did not matter. I did not see their vehicle at the normal trailhead. I did not see their vehicle at the dam either. Perhaps they had driven partway up the closed road to where it was damaged badly (supposedly).

The last half mile walking along the dam seemed to take forever with the heat beating down on my poor head. Finally I made it to my car. I soaked my head with water. Then I made the long drive home, but of course stopped at Pizza Factory in Groveland first. I sure needed that.

 

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