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DAY SIX

While feasting the previous evening, I pointed out that we were three short days, or two long ones, from the car. That quote dispersed at the time, but it never completely went away. We had taken a hard route, working ourselves to exhaustion on several consecutive days, and the trail was within an hour's walk. We were about to be rewarded with three short days of travel.. but not quite the way we had hoped for twenty-four hours previously. It seemed that we could not camp in the Lyell Fork Merced valley as we had hoped, since that would make the next two days far longer than our plans or bodies would allow. We therefore set aside plans to see the Lyell Fork, but still hoped to at least reach Half Dome's summit on the way to the car (Clouds Rest, however, appeared out of reach). Another glorious sunrise revealed the Clark Range in all its multicolored glory, and a few lenticular clouds - the 'Sierra Wave' - formed and dispersed as the sun advanced. Even with the trail so close at hand, we steered north instead of west: at the very least, we would get a look at the Lyell Fork from high above its southern rim! After all, what's another hour of off-trail travel to the Talus-Men? We reached the precipice and found a lovely view below us, and we explored the valley with our eyes since our feet would not have the chance. Perhaps another time ...

Clark Range at sunrise from Camp Five

We retreated from the edge and now moved west, and in less than a half-hour we were on trail again! Not since Island Pass had we traveled on a genuine trail, and we were greatly relieved that we could take our minds off the near horizon and concentrate merely on keeping our feet on the path. At the Lyell Fork we found bugs and a swift stream, so we de-booted and crossed in our water shoes before moving on. Several huge junipers gripped the granite firmly along the path, a most impressive sight. Soon thereafter we passed what several guidebooks refer to as one of the Sierra's best camps: a splashing waterfall, level ground, and picture-window views of the entire Clark Range. We continued north with a vague plan of camping near the junction of the Isberg and Vogelsang trails, but somewhere in here that old quote came back to us. Scott suggested that, with a bit more of a push, we could in fact be at the car by the following afternoon. I was pooped but willing, and Larry agreed that we had seen far more than our share of beauty; we therefore advanced our schedule and aimed for Merced Lake, which would leave just over 14 miles of work for day seven. This would cut Half Dome from the schedule, but we had been on several viewpoints just as awesome, and without the crowds or cables. [The fact that these two final days would be harder than if we had camped in the Lyell Fork valley was conveniently ignored at the time..]

We dropped down to the junction at Lewis Creek, only to be confronted with several new sensations. Among the first was a string of horses, each with a helmeted visitor bouncing along between guides. I had expected that this junction would effectively mark the end of our isolation, yet this was still a surprise! The next new sensation was even worse: cobblestones? For reasons that don't seem to appeal to horses OR hikers, the National Park Service had employed a great many people in the construction of trails that forced a slow pace on everyone - just what we did NOT need for our sprint to the car! We worked our way down to the Merced, then camped at the first available site as darkness tried to catch us walking yet again. A short way past the ranger station we found a huge and unused camp area, which we promptly made use of. Our plans were to be awake and ready to move by 6AM, so we turned in rapidly in order to recharge our weak batteries for the final push. Before turning in I wandered back to the ranger station for news. We had seen smoke further down the valley, and we needed to be sure that our route wasn't blocked. I returned with two important pieces of news: the path was clear, and beer was still being produced (the ranger station had a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on its table). Since we had stopped a mile short of our goal, we had fifteen miles to go; the ale news put Larry in the proper frame of mind! A good night's rest would recharge us for the last long haul.


Fletcher Creek beyond Lewis Creek jct.


NIGHT SIX

So much for recharging! At 2AM Larry found himself face to face with a good-sized black bear; his shout sent it wandering in a new direction (toward MY shelter!). I woke up, retrieved my whistle and lamp, and tooted him on his way - even though I didn't actually see the bear as I was blinded by Larry's light. Larry suggested that I grab his walking-stick for his defense in case of a closer encounter, so I swung my lamp to our gear to find his stick. Either the same bear or another one was exploring there, so I whistled and flashed my light until he moved toward the river (which he probably did regardless of my actions). All our food was securely stuffed in bear canisters, but any damage to our gear would make life on the last day pretty miserable. At last we saw no trace of the bear(s), so we tried to relax and get back to sleep. Needless to say, it took a while!


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