September 5 – 7, 2016
Lyell Canyon Backpacking Trip
Roundtrip distance: 16.8 miles
Backpacking—I love everything about it: from being outdoors all day and observing the flora and fauna, to the star-studded sky at night and the mysterious sounds outside the tent.
That being said, I was ready to quit backpacking altogether during our last trip to Waterwheel Falls. After seven miles, I unstrapped my bag, fell to the ground and lay prostrate in the dirt, exhausted. Pack weight is a significant attribute of backpacking, and mine was too heavy, a change was needed. Chris and I share the weight of our communal items and carry our own personal gear. To be comfortable on this trip, I cut out the ancillary snacks: banana chips, trail mix, beef jerky, and a dry salami stick. Also, there was no reason to carry eight pounds of water (one gallon) since a creek runs through Lyell Canyon. Those adjustments shaved off a considerable amount of weight.
Day One: With lighter packs, we began our journey. Andy, Chris’s brother joined us.
It was a glorious walk through the meadow, the day bright and cool. We stopped and watched a coyote catch a ground squirrel in the field across the river. He shook it and played with it while two other coyotes with dark, penetrating eyes watched us.
The afternoon wore on and by mile five Andy, heavily laden with equipment, lost steam and struggled to continue to the campsite. I empathized with him.
His pack weighed nearly twice that of ours. Wanting comfort, he brought a nine pound tent and various other weighty accoutrement.
Daylight began to fade. At sundown, we cozied into our tents for a long slumber. Late in the night a great horned owl, wise to our presence, hooted loudly above us.
Day Two: Morning was cold. A thin layer of frost covered the bear canister. After breakfast, I donned a lightweight daypack that held my lunch then headed south towards the end of the canyon. It was a busy trail with dozens of friendly north- and south-bound thru-hikers.
The trail skirted Potter Point and Amelia Earhart Peak.
Looking back, there was an impressive view of the canyon.
Walking south, I approached rugged peaks, beguiling mountains that I had not seen before. They enticed me to continue walking closer.
The trail climbed into the mountains. Not up for a steep hike, I turned back and retraced my steps to camp, stopping along the way to have lunch.
One of the special things about this trip was the wildlife. Like the many hikers on the trail, there was plenty to see throughout the canyon from insects and birds to rodents and cloven-hoofed animals.
A yellow-bellied marmot with a mouthful of grass scampered over the rocks and disappeared, probably constructing his burrow for hibernation. There were many picket-pins standing sentry in the meadow. This little guy munched the morsels of green grass that surrounded him.
Deer wandered the meadow and drank from the streams.
As I wound my way back to camp, I heard a clanking of cow bells. To my surprise, tethered to the grass were two llamas feeding on the vegetation.
They lifted their heads, batted their lavishly fringed eyes and looked in my direction.
Later in the day they strode past our campsite loaded down with packs. Their owners—who had led them nearly 200 miles across the JMT—were unburdened by pack weight thanks to their animals.
Day Three: Our adventure had come to an end. We re-stuffed our packs and headed out on the long, flat walk through the canyon.
I am so thankful for my husband who does not enjoy backpacking, but joins me wherever I go. Without him I would be on my own left to carry a hefty pack, or most likely not be out at all.
This was the last backpacking trip of the summer for us, but we will continue our outdoor adventures this fall with car camping. Stay tuned…