Latest Tales from the Tinman -2021


Email Contact: tinknees@charter.net

Living in an Age of Stupidity: "Let's Go Brandon"

This year's backpacking began in mid-February, returning to the PCT section along the Hat Creek Rim in northern California. I had convinced Carla, aka Gabby, to accompany me on this early season adventure, optimistic that ground cover snow would not be a problem on the Trail from Old Station to Cassel. With my previous experience that water along this section was limited, we drove the parallel forestry road, placing one-gallon drinking water containers at locations where we expected to camp. This included hiding a bear canister of food near Road 22. Using only one vehicle, which we would leave at Old Station, the plan was to hike along the Rim to above Cassel, then return on the same route over five days.

Although expecting light snow on the ground or showers, mid-February in northern California still had a Winter climate with forecast temperatures down to 18-degrees at night. We were equipped with four-season tents to handle these conditions:  an MSR Access for Carla and Gore-Tex FairyDown for me. The tents proved themselves the first night, car-camping behind the Gas Station near the intersection of Hwy 44 and 89. Waking in a freezing morning, the local forecast was for occasional snow showers, so I decided to drive onto the Rim using Road 22 and wait out the expected snowfall near Cache 22.  Two hours later, in minor blizzard conditions, we decided to bail out and drive back to Reno, collecting the cached water containers on the way along the parallel forest road to Hwy 44. My Toyota 4-Runner 4WD did an excellent job handling the snow-covered forest roads, despite taking some wrong turns, but we did have trouble finding all the camouflaged water containers. I explained to Carla that I would return sometime in March for another attempt along the Rim, with better weather, and find and use the containers then.

Six weeks later, I did return to the Rim, sadly without the company of Carla. My hiking plan was basically the same as before, using only one vehicle, based at Old Station, and making a round trip from there to above Cassel. There would be no snow on the ground, and none expected, so it would be a lightweight hike with stashed water and food hidden along the parallel road. Blessed by good weather, warm days, cool nights, and a superlight backpack, the hiking was easy and enjoyable.  Unfortunately, I’d chosen a water/food cache site below the Rim Lookout Tower that was close to a public road in the belief that my associated campsite would not be visible from the road.  However, with the surprise appearance of a beat-up pickup truck and its quick return past my location, I began having doubts that my tent was hidden from view?  Being in a setting of isolation, I went into full defense mode, expecting these rough-looking characters to return after dark.  Unwisely, I had left my handgun in the vehicle parked back at Old Station.

 

 

  • Car camping at Old Station with Carla.  A freezing night and morning. Car camping at Old Station with Carla. A freezing night and morning.
  • Carla and the 4-Runner parked off Trail above Cache 22. Carla and the 4-Runner parked off Trail above Cache 22.
  • Me and the 4-Runner parked off Trail above Cache 22. Me and the 4-Runner parked off Trail above Cache 22.
  • Carla looking unhappy in the falling snow that had us bailing out. Carla looking unhappy in the falling snow that had us bailing out.
  • My tent back on the Hat Creek Rim on the second attempt My tent back on the Hat Creek Rim on the second attempt
  • Along the Hat Rim, a fire artist idea of a ground to air missile Along the Hat Rim, a fire artist idea of a ground to air missile
  • My furthest point north along the Hat Rim. My furthest point north along the Hat Rim.
  • My campsite below the old Fire Lookout tower. My campsite below the old Fire Lookout tower.
  • Great view of Mount Shasta (14,100') as seen from the PCT along the Rim. Great view of Mount Shasta (14,100') as seen from the PCT along the Rim.
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Like last year, I had planned to do what I wanted in the mountains, but thanks to black ice on our driveway in early April, I slipped and came crashing down on my butt, broke a toe, chipped an ankle bone, but thankfully didn't hit my head.  So in early May, I went into the Golden Trout Wilderness with Carla and her friend Chris (64).  Apart from little or no water, Carla and Chris carried most of my heavy pack to get me out.  Had some Chiropractic adjustments to my lower back, which worked, so I returned to the Sierra in mid -June, over Mono Pass and down Mono Creek to VVR – to check on the fire damage from the Creek Fire.  Even though Jim Clements had sold VVR, he was still there doing a handover.  I've known Jim for 20 years, and his stories of how he and others saved VVR from the flames were incredible.  Anyway, I hiked for 4 days, planning to take a day off at VVR, resupply, and return to my vehicle at Mosquito Flat.  The problem was, on my day off, my lower back locked up, and I realized that I couldn't hike back to my vehicle at Mosquito Flat – consuming eight Advils every 12 hours.

I should have called for a helicopter lift from VVR to my vehicle (22 air miles away) and paid the cost, but Jim offered a ride by road to Fresno, north through Yosemite, down past Mammoth Lakes to his home at Crowley Lake. It was ten hours of agony before being dropped off at my vehicle, accompanied by a half-blind Sikh (Bruce) and his Guide Dog (Wookie).  Like all Indian families, Bruce had Uncles everywhere, so the three of us stayed in great comfort at a residence in Mammoth.  Wookie had guided Bruce for 100-miles on the JMT, from Kearsarge to VVR and his front right leg was in pain limping in on arrival.

Back in Reno, a month later, in agony, I had Chiro adjustments that reduced the pain but didn't fix the underlying problem, so I had X-Rays and MRI images taken.  Discovered I had a compressed fracture at L2.  Oddly enough, the lower back pain was very mild, but I knew that the real problem had to be fixed before I could be out there backpacking again.  Once I knew the extent of the problem I'd faced after the fall, it became apparent why the severe pain issues developed while backpacking but were absent on day hikes and general moving around at home.  My 30-pound backpack was compressing the fracture, mainly downhill, followed by inflammation around the affected region that led to additional days of pain.  Thanks to Fate, I'm living in the USA, in Reno/Tahoe, a center for dealing with all the accidents on the many ski fields in the area, a highly specialized Spinal Surgeon fixed my problem on August 23. This one-hour operation could have me back in the mountains with a backpack within three weeks.  Unique procedure:  drill a small hole above the L2, push in a straw-like tube with a balloon on the end, blow up the balloon, which opens the vertebrae, squirt in a thick fluid that hardens like cement, collapse the balloon, pull out the straw, put a band-aid on the hole – and the jobs finished – and my lower back pain was gone.  Medical Magic!

 

 

 

By Vehicle, Back to VVR - My Latest Backpacking Base

 

So, I began planning how to maximize being out there again before Fall/Winter set in but allowing a period of healing from the operation.  Because of Forest closures due to Fires, the result was limited activity.  Why did I drive all the way around the High Sierra to get to VVR?  After being caught on the wrong side of the high eastern Passes, like the 12,000' Mono, I figured that if I began my hikes from VVR, I wouldn't be trapped in the event of further back problems or early snow, I'd have my 4WD 4-Runner to escape to Fresno and beyond.  The concept was good but began having misgivings about my cavalier approach to backpacking too soon after the operation – supported by an MD hiking the JMT.  The result was limited by what I did attempt, however there are amazing adventure stories associated with what I did, and who I did it with – a 76-year-old Triple Crown Thru-hiker!  My final trip into Miter Basin was cut short by snowfall at #2 Lake, and low temperatures.

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