Day 17: Charlotte Lake to Vidette Meadow (≈7.6 mi.)
August 13: My first day of walking by myself with no map. As a precaution, I study Tony’s and Debbie’s maps assiduously and scribble down some mileages between landmarks. The trail is usually very obvious and most junctions clearly marked, so I’m not worried about getting lost. I just like to have a good idea of how far I have to go and where the campsite is. (I don’t want to do what Dina has done—walk a mile past the campsite.)
Today should be easy without a lot elevation change. We’re just positioning ourselves for the granddaddy of passes tomorrow—Forester. Of course, that was the story on Sunday and it didn’t work out that way, so I’m not overly confident about today’s walk.
I leave camp around 8:30. It’s a little over 2 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain back up to the junction in the sandy flat (10,710). From here the trail heads generally south and suddenly descends steeply into the canyon of Bubbs Creek. While on these switchbacks, I begin to see trail crews. At one point, I have to stop and wait as they move some materials into position.
As the trail nears Bubbs Creek, it levels out and turns more easterly following the creek from Lower Vidette Meadow (9,550) to Vidette Meadow. Along the way I meet more trail workers. First there’s a woman with a chain saw working on a very large fallen tree that had left a gaping pit in the trail, then a group of men moving rocks either from a rock slide or blasting. Arriving at Vidette Meadow around 11 o’clock, I stop to eat a Power Bar and take in the breathtaking views of the jagged Kearsarge Pinnacles to the east and the East Vidette to the west.
From here the trail starts to climb as Bubbs Creek falls in cascades alongside the trail as it heads toward upper Vidette Meadow (9,900).
Around noon, I see two people just off the trail eating their lunch under a solitary tree. They turn out to be trail workers, and they tell me that a woman passed by about 20 minutes ago asking them to tell a woman with red hair when she had gone by. Okay, it must have been Dina. Given my usual rate of hiking, I should get to the campsite in 20-30 minutes.
I continue climbing gradually and more than a half hour later see a campsite that’s down off the trail next to the creek. I can see that it has bear boxes and people at it, but, although it’s pretty far away, the fact that there are tents there implies that it’s not the right place. Besides, it doesn’t quite match the description of our site which is supposed to be right after a stream crossing. As I round a corner as the trail bends up a draw, I meet another trail crew. I ask them if they’ve seen any hikers in the last half hour and get a negative response. Hmm! Now what do I do? I decide to continue on. If I don’t find it in another 15 minutes, I’ll stop, eat and hope for inspiration on whether it’s in front of or behind me.
Luckily, the draw turns out to be the canyon of the sought for stream. As soon as I ford the stream, I hear Mark calling from a campsite (10,600) that’s over on a small bluff above the creek. But he’s alone. Where are the rest of the advance party, especially Dina and Steve whom I thought were just ahead of me, but behind Mark and James? Mark has a map, so we know we’re in the right spot.
It’s 1 p.m., so I eat my lunch, guessing that sooner or later James, Dina and Steve will eventually figure out they’ve missed the campsite (again) and return. After Kris, Tony, Andrew, and Eric show up around 1:30, we know the others can’t be behind us at the wrong campsite.
After eating their lunch, Andrew, Tony and Eric leave to hike up to Golden Bear Lake. I settle in to read with my back propped up against a tree. (I knew enough to bring a book today!) Sure enough, the others eventually arrive. When they had gotten to the timberline, they figured out that they’d gone too far.
Later in the afternoon, before Tony returns but after Debbie arrives, a ranger stops by to warn us—after she checks our permits. Some time earlier in the season, several large boulders fell onto the trail on the south side of the pass making it very narrow and difficult for stock. She describes and diagrams the position of the boulders to Debbie and gives some advice on what might be done to get by. To complicate matters, there is another stock party coming over Forester Pass tomorrow—from the opposite direction. It consists of horses with riders and their supporting mules. There is no way for the two sets of animals to pass each other near the top of the pass—on either side. Since we hikers are usually way out in front of the pack animals, we will have to inform the other stock party of our trailing stock party. We then go on to talk about the campsites at Tyndall Creek. She diagrams their location and gives Debbie a map. There are two good stock camps, one is about a mile down the trail past the ranger station and the other is another ¾ mile further. Another stock party is leaving Mt. Whitney tomorrow and will be vying with us for the two sites.
After the ranger leaves, we discuss the various problems. There’s not much we can do about the other stock party except warn them when we see them that our horses and mules are a couple of hours behind us. On the other hand, we can do something about securing our preferred campsite—get there before the other party. Given the speed of our advance party, this should not be a problem, but James sees it as a challenge. He is going to make sure we get the upper site by leaving very early in the morning.
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