A week after hitting the Tablelands, and immediately after visiting my relatives further south, I was cruising up US 395 into the Sierra again! I had no plans for another long hike, but visiting the aspen wsa high on my list of things to do, so I made as many detours as time would allow. A quick visit to the Alabama Hills was soon followed by a drive I had often wanted to make: Onion Valley and the Kearsarge trailhead. It was too late in the day to attempt to reach the pass, but I still wanted to look around, and shortly after 3PM I was at the nearly-deserted trailhead. While looking at the golden foothills - more willow than aspen yet still gorgeous - a lone hiker headed for the Robinson Lake trail, hoping to make a quick trip into the hanging valley. I had overlooked this option, so I dashed back to my reference books to see how far that trail would take me. The lake was only two miles away, so my short schedule might allow me that much exercise! I hastily packed a few items into my packlid/daypack when a car pulled up, and a half-dozen dogs began dashing about. A woman who sheltered pets was about to take the same trail, and we wandered a bit before finding the trailhead behind one of the campsites. After ten minutes or so I left them behind, but ten minutes or more later, one of the dogs caught up to me. I asked it "where's Mom?", at which point it looked downhill, turned around and dashed back down to check! A little over an hour of moderate uphill got me to the lake, a pretty site with overused campsites practically surrounding it. After several photos I turned back to the golden splendor of Onion Valley, then dashed onward to Bishop for the night.<p>
The next day I would recross the Sierra and stay somewhere near Lodi, but plenty of daylight was available for exploration. I drove up Rock Creek, which crossed the peak aspen show around 8500 feet - the road-end was already finished, with more leaves on the pavement than on the trees. The McGee Creek cutoff was more spectacular (since it ends closer to 8500 feet!), with great color extending well up-valley to even the highest shrubs. Convict Lake was its usual special self, with nice color along the banks, but time wasn't available for winding among Mammoth Lakes. Instead I took the June Lake Loop, which was extremely colorful for its entire length. I waved at our July trailhead at Bloody Canyon, then proceeded to Bridgeport for lunch. I crossed Monitor and Ebbets passes, which had great views but not much color, then reached Lodi on schedule just after 5:30.<p>
After two nights there it was time for the trip to wind down - but how? Two good options presented themselves, and I decided it was time to simply shut up and climb Lassen Peak. I had often suggested doing so, since after a week of high-elevation packing it should have been simple enough, but time always forced us back to Portland too soon. Now I had time to spare, which was a blessing due to the 1-hour traffic delays within the Park! At 11:30 I began the climb, with less water than I had hoped (my bottle was half full, but no supply was at the trailhead) but plenty of energy & enthusiasm. I reached the top at 1PM, my second major Cascade summit (but Mt. Hood was 29 years before!!), took some shots, drank most of my water, and reached the bottom around 2:45. None of the tourist centers were open, so I finally refilled my filter-bottle in a local stream and drank up. Due to inept application of sunscreen, I had my last sunburn of the season in a few spots, but I was pleased with the climb: a great way to end my 2002 high-country adventures.<p>
The trip through Oregon had no high-altitude rewards, but I did take a few roads I hadn't seen before, seeking another golden species: the larch. Between Seneca and John Day I was treated to a double-feature, both aspen AND larch in the same view! After lunching in John Day I headed west to Prineville (more spectacular larches on display in the Ochoco!), and returned home shortly after 6PM. The drive was 3180 miles in two weeks, but it's not the driving I will remember about this trip. Family, new friends, great scenery and my first solo backpacking trip will long be remembered when my current vehicle is scrap and I'm scooting along in a fuell-cell-powered transport - unless I'm walking or riding my bike, of course!