Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Collapse CXIX: Statiera


Dear Mr L.,

It’s funny, writing a letter to a person name Mr. L. I would have written out your full name, but...Young Xerxes (that is a funny name as well) insisted that as that is what he called you, it would be okay if I did it to.

My name is funny as well – Statiera? It’s fancy and all but hardly the sort of thing that rolls off the tongue at all. Mr. S. from what Xerxes has told me, likes to use these names instead of our real ones to protect our privacy or something – as if now we worried about it.

It has been five days since Xerxes, Mr. S, and everyone else left. We haven’t heard a thing. I kept bothering Mom about it to the point that she suggested I write to you – probably to keep me from bothering her about it. It is keeping my mind off everything else for the moment.

Proper introductions. That is something Mr. S. always says, proper introductions. He can be so weird about some things. Again, not something I think we should be worried about, but he seems worried about a great many things that don’t seem like they matter anymore.

You know (I guess) that I am Pompeia Paulina’s daughter (another one of those funny names. He is a character) and that we have lived here know, it is hard for me to remember quite how long we have been here now. Probably shorter than I think, because it feels like we have been here for a large portion of my life.

When we moved here originally, I had no idea what we it would be like. My Mom talked it up – It would be great, she said, lots of Nature and different weather, even snow, so different from Arizona where I had grown up.

I think – looking back – that it was a lot tougher on her that she ever let on. She has never told me why she decided to move, even though I have asked and even pestered her. She maintains it was just for a change of scenery. I don’t believe it. She had a successful business, friends, a life – that was completely upended and abandoned to come to what seems like the middle of nowhere.

I met Young Xerxes maybe three years ago? I had picked up a Summer job in the larger town at a store – if you do not have a ranch here or are not employed by the government, you work in the tourist towns. It was a coffee shop; he walked it all puffed up and self assured and asked for two things: coffee and a date.

The coffee he got. The date took longer.

He grew on me – mostly because of his attitude. People that live here fall into four categories, those that have lived here all their lives and won’t move, those who have lived here all their lives and are looking to get out as quickly as they can, those who moved here from somewhere else and are looking to move away, and a very few who moved here and make a life of it. Xerxes is one of the fourth kind.

He said at some time he had written you a letter too (I would look in this journal, but I have been strictly told to read no pages but my own), so you probably know his story. He did not really strike me as dating material the first time we went out, or the second or even the third. It was only as we started to do things outside of “dating” – fishing, hiking, just driving the roads here – that I began to actually appreciate him and fall in love.

I have come to love it here. Yes, the weather can be cold and there are not a lot of people around, but that is okay with me – I like the silences and the wide open spaces that are easy to get to and the skyline that has nothing on it but mountains and clouds. And Mom and I have learned to do all kinds of wonderful and silly things here, gardening and learning to fish (and how to clean them) and canning and preserving food and the sorts of things we never would have done if we still lived in Arizona.

And now, he’s gone and there’s no word.

I see my Mom every day – either she comes over here or I go over there (it’s weird that she lives somewhere that is not here now). She tries to cheer me up, but I can see that she is sad inside as well and putting up a brave face. She has always been passionate about everything – her work, her relationship with me, and her dating relationships to the extent she had them, although they never seemed to last too long.

I think she misses Mr. S more than I miss Xerxes.

I really hope that someday we get to meet you. Mr. S has made you out to be quite a character; if you are half the character he is I can only imagine the two of you together.

Your Friend, Statiera

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

2023 Mt. Goddard: Black Cap Wilderness

Typically in writing my hikes, I go in chronological order of days, not in locale.  But for this location - Rainbow Lake, located in the Black Cap Wilderness, I am making an exception.  The views here were beyond magical; they reminded me of Tolkien's writing in The Silmarillion of when Arda was young and untrammeled by evil.

These pictures are evening and morning of Days 4 and 5.  This, for me, made the whole hike worth it.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

2023 Mt. Goddard Day 4c: Confusion Pass To Rainbow Lake

 After a celebratory snack at the top of Confusion Pass (it always seems like we are eating at the top of passes), it was time for us to continue our journey - in this case, a long descent into Black Cap Wilderness.

The descent here was all on snow and ice-scrubbed granite, with none of the greenery that had both lightened our way and softened the steps going down the Hell for Sure Pass.  Step, step, start to slip until one gets one's walking poles under one, step again.  Progress was, for me, slow again as I carefully picked my way down the mountainside.

We took a break about halfway at the Alpine Lake above (no record of what the name is).  The lake was serene, but barren like Martha Lake, deprived of any greenery surrounding it.  I do not think that many people understand just how essentially barren the high Alpine country can be.

As we passed the lip of the lake, the outflow became a cascading stream down the granite face as we continued to descend.  Trees - Pine trees - began to appear, solitary survivors in a rock landscape.

Each of us came to the last lip, and suddenly we were at the top of Rainbow Lake.

One comes to appreciate the appearance of Alpine meadows as one hikes the High country of the Sierra Nevadas more and more.  Coming down, they come to represent the equivalent of a desert oasis - not in this case of water, but of vegetation and greenery and life.

By the time we arrived at camp, the rain had appeared and gone, so camp sites were staked out not only with the general eye to the levelness of the site, but to the likelihood of being flooded in a downpour.  Our planning was put to the test when it rained, just after we had started a fire and were making dinner.  We huddled under trees while The Brit masterfully managed to keep the fire going through the rain and into dinner - at which point we put all the wood we could find on it.  A fire after a long day of hiking and rain is not to be underestimated.

For the first time in three days, I was able to eat dinner and interact with the group.  Even for myself as general introvert, the comradery and interplay was welcome, after two days spent effectively trying to recover.

And the sunset...well, you can see for yourself.

Monday, September 18, 2023

2023 Mt. Goddard 4b: The Wall

The rest of the group made their way down to camp around 1030, their attempt to summit a failure after hitting a snow-choked pass at 12,000 feet with a 1,000 feet to go.  We all began packing up, but then were derailed by yet another of 20 minutes or so. As soon as it ended, we hurriedly paced up our wet tents and loaded up.

Today we were headed up The Wall.

The Wall had loomed over us ever since we neared Martha Lake, a 12,000 foot rise that dominated one side of the valley facing Mt. Goddard.  The estimate from The Commissioner was that it should take us no more than one hour to scale it.

At the base we found ourselves clambering over granite avalanche scree, which transitioned into an upward climb as we created our own traversing lanes (there was no path), pulling ourselves up with poles or even sometimes grasping with our hands. In some places we started hitting and walking across small snow fields.

We were about a third of the way up when the wind and rain returned.

Re-gearing up with backpack covers and rain jackets, we continued on.  The rain did not make the hike impossible, but it did require greater care as we continued to climb up, at some point literally climbing up as if we were rock climbing.  

It was the moment that we hear the thunder boom and lightning overhead that things got exciting.

The picture is etched in my brain:  the nine of us strung out climbing up, rain whipping around us as we clambered up and everyone freezing for a moment when the thunder boomed - followed, of course, by a series of laughter, groans, and the inevitable "How could this possibly get worse?"

Somewhat surprisingly it did not:  Within a few minutes of the thunder the rain and wind disappeared, leaving us to continue to traverse in relatively silence.  At a few points, we put on micro-spikes - basically rubber slip-ons over the shoes with metal spikes, a sort of "shoe chain" - for covering the snow, which removed all slipping and sliding and unsteadiness.

For all of my concern - both for the general climb as well as my ability to make it - neither fear manifested itself; it was hardly the worst ascent I had made and I manifested no issues from any sort of altitude sickness.

The top of The Wall put us at Confusion Pass, 12,000 feet above sea level.  On top of Confusion Pass is the cleverly named Confusion Lake, so called because it is the divide between the Kings River and San Joaquin River Watersheds and streams flow to both sides from the lake.

Once again we were treated to amazing views:  behind us lay Mt. Goddard, ahead of us lay The Black Cap Wilderness.

The great part?  I can now start stories with "There I was, climbing on the side of a mountain in the wind and rain, when the lightning and thunder started..."

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Renouncing The Hidden Things Of Dishonesty

 "Have you 'renounced the hidden things of dishonesty' - the things that your sense of honour will not all to come to the light?  You can easily hide them.  Is there a thought in your heart about anyone which you would not like to bring into the light?  Renounce it as soon as it springs up; renounce the whole thing until there is no hidden thing or craftiness about you.  Envy, jealousy, strife - these things arise not necessarily from the disposition of sin, but from the make-up of your body which was used for this kind of thing in days gone by (see Romans 6:19 and 1 Peter 4:1-2).  Maintain a continued watchfulness so that nothing of which you would be ashamed arises in your life."

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

(Comments:  There are many, many things that are hidden in my own heart.  It is not that they do not spring up, it is that I do not renounce them as soon as they do come up.  That is where I, at least, get into trouble, by allowing them to remain in my consciousness instead of immediately ushering them out the door.)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

2023 Mt. Goddard Day 4a: Martha Lake

Sometime in the middle of Day 3 hiking with The Commissioner, I had mentioned to him that it was obvious that there was no chance that I would be able to attempt the ascent of Mt. Goddard. It was patently obvious, of course; what I wanted to spare him from was him having to tell me that I could not go.  No sense in adding one more uncomfortable conversation to an already difficult situation.  

(This is - literally - the headwater of the South fork of the San Joaquin River)

Thus, before I drifted off to sleep on Day 3, I received my (non) marching orders:  rest up, eat breakfast and wait for everyone's return.

I vaguely heard everyone else stirring around 0430 as they got ready to leave; I rolled over in my sleeping bag and awoke again sometime in the 0630-0700 timeframe.  It was a leisurely wake up with none of the "I need to be about packing up and getting ready".

(An iceberg.  In August)

Everything was quite still - there are few birds at this altitude and other than the wind blowing, there was really no other noise than the sounds of the stream nearby. I ate my breakfast of granola - my appetite was back at almost full strength, a good sign - and took a stroll around the area that we were encamped.

It was odd, being the only person there - or likely within two miles at that point.

After a stroll, I went back to my tent and laid back down.  I apparently drifted off again, only to be woken up by a sudden stiff wind and a gray sheet of clouds overhead.  I pulled things back under the rain fly and within 5 minutes, a hard downpour with wind started (so hard, in fact, it blew someone else's tent over).

There is nothing quite as snug as lying in one's sleeping bag as the wind blows and the rain falls, being warm and dry with nowhere to be and nothing to do but listen.  

Admittedly, not being able to try for the summit of Goddard was a disappointment as that was a sort of goal of the hike.  On the other hand, how often does one have an alpine lake all to themselves?

Friday, September 15, 2023

2023 Mount Goddard Day 3: Disappointment Lake To Martha Lake

Rising the next morning, I definitely felt more like myself:  better mood, more energetic, and I had an appetite.  Which was great - because today was another day of ascending.

Our ascent (after breakfast and packing up) took us further up towards Mt. Goddard.  We passed by Hell for Sure Lake, which was our original destination until my untimely health incident.  It was relatively straightforward enough now, but I did tell The Commissioner there was no way I could have made it last night.

It really was a very serene lake.

From here, we continued until we were on our way up the Hell for Sure pass - names, as it turned out, from shepherds coming up the others side of the pass (from where we were) and commenting it was "hell for sure". Not quite the story you want to hear as you continue up, although ours was arguably the easier ascent.

Oddly enough given the previous day's outcome, I do not remember the ascent being particularly taxing beyond the general fact we were going up.

For all of the "going up-ness", I have to admit that I have come to love passes in general. The sense of reaching a point and suddenly whole new vistas opening up is amazing and never gets old.  Who knows what lurks beyond the top as you come up to it?

Yes, that is snow.  It was the first time we encountered it, but not the last.

Once you come up of course, you have to head down.  And for me, descending is actually the more difficult task (I get the impression many of my fellow hikers felt that way).  Ascending is mostly just brute endurance and pulling one's self up; descending is going down over uneven surfaces or taking larger drops from one level to another than one typically does.  It is hard on the knees and the risk of turning an ankle or a mis-step that creates a knee injury is much higher.  I always, inevitable slow down on the descent.

Our descent took us to down to where we met the south fork of San Joaquin River, which runs 366 miles total - although not nearly the size and scope of the river that it achieves much lower in the Central Valley.

By the time we hit the river for our lunch break, it was clear that my Altitude Sickness of the previous day had returned.  Yes, I felt slightly better than the previous day and yes, I had a bit more of an appetite - I had carrot sticks and a tortilla - but the lack of energy, upset stomach, and general feeling of unease had returned (although, thankfully, no throwing up this time).

I was helpfully stripped of most of my items (but retained my pack this time) and started my 50 step ascent up the valley.

We covered a total of 9 miles that day; I cannot with any clarity tell you precisely how many of those miles were covered after lunch.  Not 50% I am sure, but maybe 40%?  It does not really matter in that sense of course; much like the previous day I kept my head down, counting out 50 step intervals.  I did get a chance to look up more (thus more pictures) and the merry sound of the river did make for a better companion than my own misery.

The last part of the ascent consisted of about a half mile of a semi-steep rise up granite.  The Commissioner forewarned us that we would see essentially hit two false "tops" before we reached the final one.  I appreciate that sort of information; there is nothing more depressing than reaching what you think is the top only to find there is more to go.

I easily took an hour or more to cover what took everyone else 20 to 30 minutes.

By the time I arrived at Martha Lake and the base of Mt. Goddard (pictured below), I was completely beat.  

Someone had set my tent to the side and this time I put the tent up myself.  It was very slow; I did not time myself but it easily felt that what should have taken 15 minutes took 45 or more minutes.  Much like climbing, putting up the tent was a series of short bursts of activity followed by active rest; getting up and down was especially taxing.  

Taxing or not, of course, I got the tent up.

 Upon getting the tent up, I immediately crawled into it and my sleeping bag and again had a series of fitful naps and waking events. Again, The Commissioner made sure that I got soup down and had water available and told me that my one job was to rest.

It was an assignment I was again grateful to receive.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Collapse CXVIII: Departure

21 June 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

This message is written in haste.

Young Xerxes knocked on my door early this morning; we would be departing in three hours hence from his visit.

Suddenly there was a wealth of things to take care of and not enough time: not just the practical morning chores of course, but now that I have a wife, prepping her on the same – thankfully she has seen much of what I do, but not everything, which necessitated sketching out notes as well.

And, of course, updating my will, appropriately witnessed by Young Xerxes while I had him there. A one-page document, essentially saying “I leave everything to Pompeia Paulina. In the event of her death, I leave it to Young Xerxes and Statiera. In the event of their deaths, I leave it to the community. Find a nice home for the rabbits, quail, and bees. Signed, Seneca.”

To be honest, I have no idea where my last version of my will is. Certainly it has passed beyond any point of being useful.

Although we are getting a ride closer to where we will need to be (as I am informed), we will be walking some fair amount of distance – so my packing was as minimal as I could make it. It has been some long years since I actually hiked out into the wilderness, but apparently the skill in packing light does not fully leave one.

And weapons. I have never before hiked with weapons. More than I had anticipated carrying.

This journal I am leaving in the care of Pompeia Paulina against my eventual return. I will take a second journal with me to document as I am able (or willing), but there is no sense that this entire correspondence series disappear.

Somewhere here, I suppose, is where I am supposed to comment on how much your friendship has meant to me over the years and say anything I had left unsaid and things of this nature – but like most things, if it has come down to speaking those words only now, I have failed. Not that I believe I have – we have spoken in the past of those things that need to be spoken of; the rest, as they say, is a series of news updates.

Pompeia Paulina reminds me I have 30 minutes left and there are still things to attend to.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

2023 Mt Goddard Day 2: Post Corral Creek To Disappointment Lake

Rising early on Day Two (between the sun rising early and the general noise of people moving, one almost always rises early), we found these friends wandering in our campsite:

They were completely fearless.  Likely looking for salt.

At breakfast we got our first surprise of the day:  one of our members, the outlier, had decided not to go on.  His alternate plan was to stay at the camp for the remaining 4 days and wait until our return.  The guides chatted with him but he felt he could not go on.  We left one bear canister of food with him and started on our way.

I would tell you that it was a rapid ascent and that there was lovely scenery- except, frankly, I do not recall much of it.  About two hours in I started to feel not well:  low energy, upset stomach. slowing down.  We trudged on up the hill  until we reached a meadow for lunch, approximately three hours total hiking.  I sloughed off my pack and collapsed onto the ground - where I was mauled by mosquitos, even though I had applied mosquito repellent.  I found a ready made solution:  with my raincoat on including the hood and zipped up and a bandanna over my face, I was relatively impervious to them.  I lay there for almost an hour like that.  From what I heard later, the trout fishing there was amazing.  I, on the other hand, managed to eat a tortilla.

After lunch we started out again.  Within a quarter of a mile there I was getting no better, to the point that I got slower and slower - until I threw up.

Welcome, my friends, to the wonderful world of Acute Mountain Sickness, also known as Altitude Sickness.

The amazing thing - after I recovered a bit and took a drink - was the reaction of the group, most of whom I had literally met 24 hours prior.  I soon found myself stripped of my sleeping bag, tent, clothing bag, and bear canister (and eventually, my backpack). There was no question or issues; everyone just pitched in and put something in their bag.

Leaving me and one other person, either a guide or an experienced hiker, to make my way up the remaining two miles.

Could, The Commissioner asked, I do thirty steps?

I started out and counted thirty as I moved.  To be clear, these were not big regular steps (or at least as big as I could make them for me); these were almost literally shuffles.  But I got to thirty.

Could I do forty?  After that, could I do fifty?  We almost got up to seventy before I ratcheted back down to fifty, which seemed to be the sweet spot.

And so, fifty steps at a time, I advanced into the Sierras.

The fact that this was happening was a shock to me - in all my life I had never had my body fail me the way it was.  Sure, I have tried to lift things that were too heavy or to distances longer than I should have - but even then the spirit was there but I simply did not have the strength or stamina - but I still fell I had the energy.  Now I was deprived even of that energy.  

Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.  Stop, breathe, gather strength.

One, two three..

You may note my picture selection seems a bit thin for this post.  Literally, these are all the pictures I managed to take for the day - and most of them were before lunch.  The beauty of the Sierras was lost to me; not surprisingly, if all you are doing is looking at the ground and putting one foot in front of the other.

Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.

The second person with me switched out from time to time.  Every one of them was encouraging and sympathetic - not in a syrupy sort of way, just acknowledging that there was an issue - and appreciating the fact that I still continued to move forward.

After the fact - when I was back where I could read up on such things - I learned that ascending too fast (more than about 1,000 feet a day) can bring it on - certainly with my two other experiences (that I recognize now) that was the case:  the first was hiking in 2022 when we crossed a pass at 11,000 feet, the second was Mt. Whitney when I reached the top.  And it is not stamina that determines it, but rather the rate of the ascent (thus why no issues except ascending Mt. Whitney itself, where our ascent was more gradual and we spent more time at altitude).  Turns out some people are more prone to it, and it it appears that I am one.

By the time we reached our goal - the aptly though ironically named Disappointment Lake - I was thoroughly spent. The Commissioner very kindly had erected my tent for me.  I crawled in and almost immediately went to sleep. My late afternoon and evening were spent drifting between sleeping and wakefulness, forcing myself to eat a bowl of soup and drink water, and just generally being miserable.

At least the sunset was spectacular.