September 6, 2022 Comments Off on Lake Hume-iliation
National parks are funny places. Unlike state parks or USFS campgrounds, people really make sure to have their best car fashion and outdoor costume when they show up, especially when it’s a big name brand park like Sequoia or Yosemite. Four-wheel drives with extra gas cans, a huge jack, and a shovel for digging out of the Sahara are ubiquitous because you never know when you’ll need the extra torque and traction on these finely manicured roads, or when you’ll have to dig out from your immaculately maintained camp site.
Likewise, national parks are not the place for clothing that looks like it has ever been worn, much less sweated in. As with the car costume, the outdoor costume achieves its effect by looking prepared for crazy hard physical activity, not for actual use during crazy hard physical activity.
The customers here at Sequoia National Park are presumably more outdoorsy and active than the population at large, but that presumption seems demonstrably false. Customers here are fat, barely mobile, and concentrated almost exclusively on sitting, driving, shopping, eating, and alcohols.
In the four days since entering the park I have seen exactly one cyclist, a local ARC riding out of Three Rivers doing the climb to Lodgepole. Despite many cars with bikes strapped to the back, again, giving off the appearance that hard core riding was in the offing, not a single bicycle have I seen up here with a rider atop it.
What this has meant is that on Labor Day weekend, the busiest weekend of the year, the gift shop, cafe, and convenience store have been madhouses and the campgrounds have been full, but the trails and roads eerily quiet. I took the opportunity to explore yesterday and rode down to Hume Lake. Since I don’t have anywhere to stash my stuff I rode with full pack and fully loaded bike. It’s about a thirty mile loop and it took just over 3.5 hours. The last eleven miles were a significant climb back up to Quail Flat. By the top I’d been humbled once more by the harsh ascents here in the park.
That evening I found a closed forest service road and followed it to where it forked; the left branch was an abandoned road blocked with logs and stones and dense brush. This looked like the path to the perfect camp spot, so I navigated the obstacle course and found myself on a gently sloping road covered with a soft bed of pine needles. It seemed cozy, but I noticed that its appeal wasn’t limited to cyclists-errant. A large pile of very fresh bear shit attested to the seclusion of the place. A hundred feet up there was another, larger, wetter pile, so I set up camp in between the poops, ate dinner, and stretched out to watch the sunset.
And magnificent it was. If you can stand the annoyance of the gnats and the ants, sleeping without a tent is so nice. The sun put on the most amazing show, making me think of Albert Bierstadt and the Hudson River school of painters in the late 1800’s. They were critically not well received, especially those like Bierstadt and Moran, who painted many of the iconic California landscapes, because their colors were overwrought and fake; sunsets don’t really look that way.
But lying on my mat in the dirt I realized how wrong the critics were. The colors used by Bierstadt were exactly the colors beneath the sequoias, so intense, so vivid, so cruelly saturated that if you didn’t see it with your own eyes you’d never believe it. I captured the little that I could on my phone and went fitfully to sleep, every snap and crackle waking me in anticipation of Br’er Bear.
No such thing happened though. My only guest was moonrise and the giant white face through the firs and pines, company enough.