Sept. 22, 2015: Lake Vernon to Tiltill Valley
Mileage: 11.51 miles
‘Floors’ ascended/descended: 74
In the morning, I went to filter some water at the edge of the lake. A loud whooshing noise approached, like a swiftly moving plane or train. I looked up into the sky; three birds in formation, their wings steady in a V, swooped down over the lake at an incredibly high speed. In seconds, they were gone. “What was that?” Kurt called from inside the tent where he was rolling up our sleeping bags. “It sounded like a car driving right at us.”
As we finished packing up, we spotted a bear across the lake near the water, our fourth sighting in 24 hours. It was time to hit the trail again, and it was a 750-foot climb to get over the ridge surrounding the lake. It didn’t feel as hard as I thought it would be; as they say, you get in shape on the trail. As we climbed higher, we got a great view of Lake Vernon, including a bear walking along the water (probably the same one I saw earlier continuing his stroll).
At the top of the ridge, the trail flattened out and we found ourselves in an alpine forest. “It’s the forest moon of Endor!” Kurt said. In the fresh mud, we saw a bear print and what could possibly be a mountain lion paw print. The trail meandered through a high meadow, and as we entered the deep brush we heard a crash to our right; we had startled a mule deer. It hopped away from us about 25 yards, then looked back to check us out, hanging around to nibble on grass while keeping an eye on us.
When we reached the far end of the ridge, we started a long climb down (1800 feet, to be exact). The switchbacks took us back and forth through thorny bushes that made me wish I had left the legs on my convertible pants. At the bottom of the steep descent, we reached Tiltill Valley, our destination. However, in the search for a perfect campsite, we continued another .75 or so of a mile to see if we could find a scenic view on the other side of the valley. It turned out there wasn’t a decent water source, so we backtracked closer to the trail marker, where we ended up finding a pretty cool well-hidden spot across the river and over a large rock. Tucked away from the word, we set up camp then took a dip in the bubbling creek to clean up. The rocks created a small pool, our own personal spa (that happened to have freezing water).
While climbing up the rock to our ‘kitchen’ area where we cooked dinner/kept our bear cans away from the tent, I heard Kurt exclaim “Snake!” I ran over to check it out; he had found a Sierra Mountain kingsnake, which is very colorful but not poisonous. After the sun set, we went into the tent (we were now at too low an elevation to legally have a campfire) for a “tent party,” which basically meant that I journaled by headlamp while Kurt went over our maps, and then we both read our books until falling asleep while listening to the hooting of owls.