I have to go away for a bit to get my head clear. This is really the last week I’ll have a shot  at the High Sierra. I expect a Labor Day rush to set in week after next and then I’m going back to subbing to avoid bankruptcy. School has already started here which should cut the crowds a little bit. (I’m skipping working the first couple weeks.) Winter arrives early and leaves late in the high places. Beyond September it may be too chilly for this elderly bag of bones. I’m not made for the cold anymore.Current highs are low to mid60s. Lows are in the 30s. No rain is predicted all week. Which means I should be prepped for rain.

oliver_zpstz9uqptb (Small)
That’s Oliver

Last time I backpacked in the high country the forecast was for perfect weather. That afternoon there was a tremendous thunderstorm with noticeable accumulations of frozen rain and small hail.

I won’t be alone. I will be accompanied by my faithful hound Oliver. He will be carrying more than his own supplies. There is lots of water. the area is full of creeks and lakes. On the left side of the map you can see the Pacific Crest and the eponymous trail. Along this section of the Crest the ridge line averages 12,500 ft.

Here we see two obvious cirques. One has a small lake called, appropriately enough, Cirque Lake. The cirque to the right just has a bit of marsh.

You see what look like semicircular bites out of the peak? They are called cirques. They mark were glaciers once flowed down the side of the crest. and are formed by erosion  At the bottom of the cirque you often see a lake.  If a lake is formed at the bottom of a glacier it is called is call a tarn. The low ridge of rubble that keeps the lake from draining is called a moraine. A moraine is formed ahead of a glacier as it piles dirt up like a giant bulldozer. It is left behind as a ridge whenever a glacier stops advancing and starts to retreat.

There are two small walk-in campgrounds, Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes. The rule is that the sites are first come first served. You can park as long as you need but you can only pay for a campsite one night at a time. You only get to camp there again the next night if the site hasn’t been claimed by somebody else.

The idea behind this is to allow the maximum number of people through. Everyone gets

Mountain sickness.

24 hours but nobody gets to hog the location. Also backpackers get to spend a full day acclimating to the elevation before moving on. This is how you reduce the risk of mountain sickness. If you remember, in Encouragement of Climb, Aoi failed to reach the top of Fuji because of that. Should have added an extra day to the trip.

The only true cure for it is to drop elevation. The best preventative is to acclimate by gaining elevation slowly. Oxygen bottles are used to treat acute mountain sickness if the victim can’t descend for some reason.

There are 3 passes I could hike up to, Cottonwood, Army, and New Army. I read reports that they were still snowed in as of July and that crampons were needed.  If there is still more than scattered snow, I’m not going to try it.

Each site has a bear box to store food. Since I’ll be backpacking, I’ll be carrying my food in a bear canister. I hate bear canisters. They weigh a ton and are not shaped well for fitting into a backpack. Their tops are big child guard caps. They are very difficult for me to open with my arthritis. I do whatever I need to do to neutralize them on my medicine bottles.


The Google Photo site for the campground is here.

cottonwood_lakes_trailThe elevation profile for the area looks moderate. Two miles on relatively flat ground and then a slope that climbs 1,200 ft over 4 miles. Three hundred ft. gain per mile sounds easy but we’ll see how long it takes. The air up there is pretty thin and I’m even more decrepit than I was last time I hiked this elevation. It isn’t a matter of “if”. It is a matter of how long it will take. You can climb any mountain if you have the freedom to take as long as you need.