Maybe you think you’ve seen lots of mosquitoes before. If you’ve been to Alaska or northern Minnesota at the right times, maybe you have. But, otherwise…the experience we’ve been having the past couple of days is probably unlike any other you’ve had before. Imagine great clouds of mosquitoes, hovering above the trail, just waiting for anything warm-blooded to come along so they can descend on it. (Now’s the point where you think I’m exaggerating…but I’m not.) They’re everywhere, there are incomprehensibly many of them (like: how in the world can they possibly find enough mammals to support them?), and they just don’t stop, ever.
If you’re hiking and you don’t stop, and you’re going through one of the less-horribly-infested areas, you can actually be OK for a while. It takes mosquitoes a little bit of time before they realize where you are, so you’ll be past before they react. But if you stop for even a short time, you’re lost. Making camp is an exercise in insanity: from about two minutes in, they’re just all over you, and certain things you do — like cooking, which produces CO2, which is what attracts them — just make it all the worse.
We defend against these awful creatures in several ways: DEET (the active ingredient in insect repellent) works well for small areas or in less-potent situations, but the real stalwarts are our raingear — which they can’t get through — and our headnets. Headnets make you look completely ridiculous, but, after about sixty seconds of the mosquitoes out here, you don’t care one whit. And, besides, everybody else is wearing them, too, except for the poor suckers who didn’t bring one. Raingear is great, except on days like today where it’s also hot — hiking up a steep hill when it’s 81° and humid, covered in your raingear, basically just turns you into a giant sauna. When we stopped for lunch, we set up our net-tent just to keep the bugs off. When we stop to camp in the evenings, the very first order of business is putting on rain pants, a rain jacket, gloves, headnet, multiple pairs of socks, and camp shoes. Without this, you’d be eaten alive.
Today wasn’t actually all about mosquitoes, though, believe it or not — we actually saw some pretty interesting stuff. What seems biggest of all to me right now: just this evening, when we crested Dorothy Lake Pass, we exited Yosemite National Park via its northern border. I realize I’m on a trip of vastly greater proportions and this is a bit silly, but it still feels pretty cool to have crossed all of Yosemite on foot. It actually made me wonder what the ratio is between the number of people who enter or exit Yosemite via this trail, and the number who do so via car to Yosemite Valley. 1:100,000? I wouldn’t be surprised. This side of Yosemite continues to be gorgeous, and it seems like almost no people ever see it. What a shame!
Two very weird finds for today: one was an enormous mushroom, at least two feet in diameter, that Bucket found sitting next to the trail. We looked all around and couldn’t see anything it’d come off of (as it wasn’t attached to anything at all, and seemed dead)…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. The other weird find: along a fair stretch of trail, way up high on trees — maybe twenty feet off the ground — were halves of old license plates, embedded in the trees. And by old I mean from the 1940s and 1950s; one plate (that had fallen) was from California, 1941, and had room for five digits on it. (Were there really fewer than 100,000 cars in California in 1941? Seems credible to me.) We eventually figured out that they were actually ski-trail markers, set that high so that even with a dozen feet of snow they’d still be visible. There were also a few modern markers, too, of the highly-reflective red plastic type, but it was much cooler to see these really old license plates.
And, finally, along with the mosquitoes seems to have come something really good: there are flowers everywhere! Some stretches of trail we’d turn a corner and have a hard time believing just how many flowers we saw; there’d be patch after patch after patch, white, purple, orange, pink, blue, yellow. I don’t know what any of them are, but they’re all really beautiful and unusual. I’m sure those who know more about such things would appreciate them even more, but, to me, they’re just simple, pretty, and wonderful.
One more day (or thereabouts) until we get to Sonora Pass (CA–108), our next resupply stop. This one is nothing more than a truck dropping off our resupply package for us, although the big deal is that we get to find out if this potential fire closure we keep hearing about is for real or not. Again, it’s funny having information be in such limited supply in this age of smartphones and the Internet — we’re just going to have to get there, see what signs are posted, and ask people we see.