I didn’t sleep very well at Glen Aulin. Maybe it was the excitement of being on the hike, maybe I was cold…I can’t really remember. But I do remember one little critter that played a big role in my sleepless night. It was a deer mouse. As soon as we jumped into our cots I started to hear a little something nibbling away at a plastic wrapper.
We spent a good amount of time explaining to the girls that we couldn’t leave a scrap of food, a single chapstick, a tube of sunscreen, even a crumb from a granola bar, in our tent cabins because of the bear situation in Yosemite. Apparently I was not clear that those guidelines included empty granola bar wrappers, because both girls left one in their backpacks. The deer mice descended on our tent and in a matter of seconds, chewed holes into the girls backpacks (Yes, this was the FIRST NIGHT of the trip) to get to the empty wrappers. I heard the noise and got out of bed, found the wrappers and hung the bags from a hook so that they would be off the floor.
That wasn’t the end of the deer mice. We would continue to see them at every camp. They left their poop in the bear boxes, where our snacks were kept, and they scuttled around in our tents each night that we were on the trail. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but at the end of our trip I had reason to think about it a lot.
In the morning, I got out of bed and as soon as my feet hit the ground I did two dry heaves into the trash can. Super fun. I made my mind accept the fact that I was not going to let this get me down, and I got the girls and myself ready for the day. After some brekkies and hot chocolate we set out on our way to May Lake. I can only guess that I had a mild case of altitude sickness. I was really surprised because Glen Aulin is not very high, in fact, we had walked to a lower altitude that first day from Tuolumne Meadows at 8775ft to Glen Aulin at 7800ft. Anyway, I felt pretty crummy when we got started but after about an hour I was fine.
The hike to May Lake was 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1470ft, from 7800ft at Glen Aulin to 9270ft at May Lake. The terrain on all of the HSC trails is such that you have to watch where your foot falls with each and every step, so I spent a lot of time with my head down, looking at the trail, stopping every once in a while to look around at the scenery. I often thought to myself that I would like to do the loop on a mule someday so that I could look around for a change while the mule concentrated on where he was stepping!
It turned out to be another beautiful day on the trail. We walked through what the girls and I thought was a fairy forest, full of ferns and kind of boggy, but thankfully without a lot of bugs except for a few mosquitoes. Soon the landscape changed and we found ourselves walking over wide expanses of granite. It was a little hot against those rocks, and we imagined that it was a place where mountain lions would live. After we crested the rocks we came to a beautiful meadow area, full of flowers and grasses and so serene that it was easy to imagine living there until you considered that food would be difficult to come by and the area was covered in snow and ice for a good part of the year.
About this time the girls were tired (and so was I!) and we figured that we were getting close to May Lake. Which leads me to another thing that I learned on this trip…a mile on flat ground not carrying a pack is something completely different from a mile on a rocky trail in the high sierras with a pack on your back. We would often check our map and see that we only had 2 miles or 3 miles or even 4 miles left to go, which sounds like nothing. At home I run 4.5 miles on hilly terrain in about 40 minutes, a pace a little faster than a 10 minute mile. For most people, normal fast walking pace is a little faster than 4 miles an hour. In some instances on the HSC loop, we were lucky to cover 2 miles an hour or less. It often felt like climbing stairs for miles.
We didn’t see any other kids who were doing the whole loop. Our girls were definitely the youngest hikers and even the staff at the camps were very impressed with their ability. Some friends asked me when we returned if I would recommend the HSC loop for a family vacation. If your kids sit around playing video games and watching TV, and are not active in some type of sport on a regular basis (both of my girls are on a swim team where they swim for an hour and a half each day from March to November) then my answer is definitely no. I’m not saying that we didn’t have breakdowns because we did. The girls averaged about one breakdown a day, each. But after a short rest their resolve was restored and we would be back on our way.
After the beautiful meadow, we walked for maybe an hour or two more before we came into camp. I was so happy to see those tents! After a nap and a shower I felt great. May Lake is a beautiful place. The camp is a short hike from a parking lot on Tioga Rd (maybe about a mile if I remember correctly) so there were a lot of kids at the camp who were vacationing with their families. The girls loved this because they had kids to play with.
We had one of the best meals of the trip at May Lake. The black bean soup was so delicious! I am a soup lover anyway, and they served soup at camp each night. The soup was always my favorite part of the meal. It was perfect in the cool mountain air and so good after a long day on the trail. We also had a really yummy dessert at May Lake that the girls and I still talk about. It was a pie with chocolate chip cookie crust, a thin layer of whipped cream, and all kinds of fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries on top. So good! I swore I would recreate it at home but I haven’t done that yet. Berry season will arrive soon here on the Central Coast so I’ll have to remember to give it a try.
Next up in the HSC Loop: Day 3 from May Lake to Sunrise Camp. A total ass-kicker of a walk.