The place where I lived for sixteen summers (1988–2003) was a choice part of an utterly spectacular landscape of National Park caliber. In fact, Yosemite Park lay on the far side of the several craggy peaks visible from the cabin, only a few miles distant. These peaks—Tower, Ehrnbeck, and Hawksbeak—are situated on a section of the Sierra crest that takes an anomalous west-to-east jog in the otherwise northwest-to-southeast trending range. This meant that the peaks along this stretch had directly north-facing walls. Winter storms from the Pacific drop large quantities of snow when they slam into the crest and it piles up on the lee side. In addition, the north sides of the precipitous granite peaks are deeply shaded and hold snow significantly longer. The net effect is that, through the millennia, accumulating snow formed glaciers that were both deeper and flowed farther than others east of the Sierra crest. The country between Bridgeport and Sonora Pass, in particular, boasted some of the deepest and longest of these valleys. ◦◦◦◦ My summer residence was located at the lower end of mile-long Upper Piute Meadows, which fills the bottom of this deeply cut glacial valley like an emerald-green lake in early summer, slopes on either side rising in excess of 2000 feet high. These slopes are themselves the flanks of towering ridgelines rimming other glacially-hewn valleys. Mostly smooth-sided, dotted with rocky outcrops, the ridges are topped with several jagged-edged peaklets that, during the last ice-age, were the only points protruding from a virtual ice-cap that almost buried the entire region. ◦◦◦◦The cabin is located on a small rise above the meadow’s outlet, where the meandering West Walker River cuts through solid bedrock before plunging down a rocky gorge. From my porch, looking up at the mountain peaks, the slope on the left (and on the river’s far side) was granitic. The right-hand side, rising directly behind the cabin, was of a slatey, metamorphic rock. Both slopes were heavily timbered but with different kinds of trees and the terrain was different based on its substrate. ◦◦◦◦ The slope behind the cabin was over a mile and a half broad, meeting the head of Tower Creek to the south. It was a wilderness within the Wilderness—a place where virtually no one ever ventured. (Aside from me and a few friends.) I called it “Piute Wilderness”. Because of the nature of the slatey rock, which was carved by glaciers along natural fracture planes, it tended to form flat benches—a joy to stumble upon unexpectedly, providing stretches of gentle strolling on the otherwise steep and rugged mountainside. These sporadic benches harbored several secret ponds and small lakelets—heavenly spots. I dearly loved exploring the nooks and crannies. ◦◦◦◦ After leaving the cabin and scrambling up several hundred vertical feet, there was a tiny valley with a lovely snowmelt-fed brook flowing down it, fed all summer by permanent snowfields higher on the mountain. It flowed through this charming little secret valley, parallel to the slope, through shaded forests of red fir, mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine. The tumbling brook was lined with flower gardens in places, carved rock slabs in others and it was surely one of my favorite haunts of all. It had a feeling of utter solitude and an untrammeled, primal quality that I cherished…food for my soul. ◦◦◦◦ This first entry is from an early exploration; the second tells of starting (for the first time) from where the little creek flowed into the West Walker a half-mile downriver from the cabin. It was this particular jaunt that led me to name it “Dinky Creek,” having realized that I’d be spending more time exploring this gem and wanting to make it my own. ◦◦◦◦ The Sierra Nevada has hundreds of such pockets of untouched wildlands.
7 Aug (Wed) …needed to walk so in the afternoon I headed down the gorge, then cut up toward the snowmelt-fed brook that spills into Cranney’s meadow. ◦◦◦◦◦ Hit the little creek lower down than I have before. (Usually climb straight up from the cabin and run into it much higher.) Passed through a painfully beautiful scene: a large dike of layered, exfoliating volcanic rock runs down the mountainside through there. The creek cuts a gap through it, forming a narrow, twisting defile about 30 yards long, its entrance flanked on either side by a veritable grove of monkshood (rare around these parts) in full bloom. The mini-gorge’s vertical walls crusted with moss and ferns, and the creek hurries through on a naked slab of tan-colored andesite. Sometimes when I catch a glimpse of genuine natural perfection in a place such as this I feel the urge to sit down and stay awhile (like…for a few days). It somehow feels wrong to just walk on by. ◦◦◦◦◦ But so much more to see so I wandered on upstream where the creek alternately disappears into the mountain and reappears when it flowed over solid rock hidden under the rubble. The display of flowers was one of the finest I’ve seen this year as I knew it would be. Corn lily and columbine being attacked by aphids. Followed it to the mouth of the tiny cirque where this creek originates and found a fine viewpoint on a rock with Piute Meadows and all down-canyon laid out. Contoured across the slope onto benches and found four beautiful tarns. Followed their drainage down steeply and hit the trail past the head of Piute Meadow. An inspiring jaunt into pure wilderness, to places where no one ever goes.
25 Aug (Sun) OFF. ◦◦◦◦◦ …in the afternoon I took a walk. Headed across the river and down the gorge to where it bends north again near Bart’s old basecamp. I followed what I’m now calling “Dinky Creek” from where it dumps into the West Walker to its very source. (Went as far as the mouth of a little cirque a couple of weeks ago.) I’ve never done the bottom section before…usually hit it higher when hiking straight up behind the cabin. The lower part is quite steep and in a series of steps…lovely meadows almost finished blooming. Got to where I’d intersected the creek on my last hike. Then through that marvelous mini-gorge between its rock walls. Barely a trickle over the slabs now. Climbed up to the top this time to look down into it. I was standing on a tiny ledge when I decided to head back home instead of do the whole hike. But was on the wrong side of the creek—I’d have to traverse and clamber down into and back out of the thing. Then I noticed a small ledge on the other side and a bit lower than me. Hey! I could jump that! It was only about ten feet across but a sheer 25 foot drop to the slabs. Inched down to a really good take-off point and sampled the jump in my mind just to get the adrenaline going. Then I got the wild hair and my brain said, Just do it! Just because you can! And I allowed myself to be tricked (again) and leapt. It was one of those deals where you feel complete certainty but know that you can’t stop and think it over—immediate action is required. ◦◦◦◦◦ The ledge was small with a thin plate of rock on it that looked like it might possibly skate so I landed with one foot on the slate-y piece and the other on soil right on the rim. It was a good, solid leap; unfortunately, my right shin came into contact with the edge of a sharp flake above my landing pad. I came to a stop, then started to sway backwards. Was mostly conscious of a brand new pain in my leg but then noticed I was slowly starting to sway backwards. The body was in balance though so I just swung back over my feet again. Good thing. But I’d de-barked my shin pretty good and the blood ran down my leg, soaking my sock dramatically. “Only a flesh wound!” [Monty Python reference…to be read with mock-British accent.] Headed home and walked it off. [Somewhat later, added this note to the side of the page: “Days later, noticed a small piece of cartilage or bone sticking out of the scab. The thick scab didn’t fall off for a solid month.”]
As a sort of postscript: this mildly curious incident—a sort of follow-up to my wild leap. (Which, I should explain, was not an isolated event; as a climber, I’d many times been in situations where a big jump was either necessary or preferable to a long detour. “Calculated jumps” are one of a mountaineer’s many skills, and something I happened to be good at.) This happened five years later, 1996. At the time I was in a committed relationship with a woman. She had two children and they’d all come visit. They were staying at the cabin at this time and, after lunch one day, we all walked up the mountainside directly behind the cabin to a remnant snow patch for some “glissading.” (Skiing with just your boots on; it can actually be great fun when the snow is right.) I’d been to this spot some says before and knew the kids would enjoy it. Johanna was ten; Sage, fifteen, was already a gonzo skier and went on to be something of a star, featured in many films doing truly crazy stunts on skis.
8 Jul (Mon) …. After lunch we tromped out to the outhouse and on up the hill toward Ranger Notch to go glissading. The place I’d been to a week ago was not as good this time (snow surface rougher plus rocks and willows now poking up in the runout zone). We had many fine runs, though. Sage going nuts of course; he and I shooting down the steepest pitches while Katie and Johanna took lesser slides. But we got them both on some steeper bits—the snow was better there—and I thoroughly enjoyed having Jo slide down into my arms, catching and whirling her around. Sage was doing airborne 360° jumps off the lip and then him and I took turns standing like a statue while the other shot past as close as possible going probably 20 miles per. Had a great time! This is something I’d never do alone…one of those things that’s better when you can share it. ◦◦◦◦◦ Jo was pooped. All of us were. We marched back down the hill. A curious incident: Got to Dinky Creek, intersecting it right at the little rock gorge in the andesite. We’d been there last year and I’d showed the kids the place where I jumped across the gorge on a complete whim, just because “I knew I could.” When I made the jump (which was downward and maybe a bit less than ten feet, onto a tiny ledge near the top of the cliff) it went as planned but my right shin met a sharp edge, which tore off a chunk of my leg, ouch. So…the “strange event” was that we crossed the creek just below this gap where I’d leapt and, doing a little hop-across from a rock in the water to the far side, I landed on a flat rock “platter” that flipped up unexpectedly and caught me on both shins. I bled very little but it hurt. It was a couple of minutes later when I realized that the very last time I’d barked my shins (which, I should note, are both covered with similar scars) was that time, probably five years ago, not fifty feet away.
© 2017 by Tim Forsell 12 Feb 2017