The next day dawned full of promise, the rising sun casting its golden rays across the serene alpine meadow. The cool, fresh air seemed to sing with seductive invitation, beckoning us towards the distant mountains. A speckled fawn drank cautiously from the river, unaware of our presence.
I'm just kidding. The next day didn't bring anything but heat and even more mosquitoes than there'd been the previous day. They were swarming around the tent-- perhaps sensing our body heat, or maybe our fear. We looked around in horror, and decided that we would try to pack up as quickly as possible and get out of this demonic meadow. As soon as we left the tent, they were in our eyes, our mouths, our hair, and all over our things. We grabbed our stuff (including our pitifully hung bear-bag) and hightailed it out of there, slowing for neither breakfast nor a proper packing job. With paraphernalia stuffed into all corners of our packs, we scrambled out of the meadow and up a steep hill, where we reasoned the mosquitoes would relent at higher altitude. And relent they did-- but not because of altitude, temperature, or any other factors we'd hoped would keep them at bay. Though the bugs weren't too bad while we were moving, stopping to rest for more than two minutes brought the swarms back onto our heads (and everything else). After an hour of hard climbing and vain attempts to escape the tiny terrorists, we ran into another couple of hikers coming from the opposite direction.
"You don't want to go that way," I cautioned them. "The mosquitoes are just terrible."
"They're terrible everywhere," one said grimly. "We just came from Gem Lake and we hid in our tent all night." The other nodded in assent.
Gem Lake had been our next destination, where we were hoping to be able to relax and recover (and eat!). The news carried by our fellow mosquito-sufferers was the last straw. After a brief discussion (brevity necessitated by the angry swarms that quickly found us), we turned back and moved out the way we came. It took us about five very unpleasant hours to leave the bugs behind. The scenery was truly majestic, and I tried to appreciate it-- but all I was thinking about was getting OUT. OF. THERE. Soon we arrived at Camp Lake again, where the mosquitoes were just barely tolerable. We cooled our feet and lamented our failed expedition before hiking the last hour back to the car.
As soon as we got to the car, we remembered that we were nearly out of gas. Wondering whether the universe would see fit to heap more misery upon us, we started the car, praying that we'd be able to make it to the main road. And make it we did, coasting with the car in neutral for most of the drive. We filled up and stopped, utterly exhausted, for a late lunch-- our first food of the day. For a while we toyed with the idea of finding another campsite for the night, since we still had the car for another day. However, the memory of the incredibly hostile Emigrant Wilderness was still too strong. Beaten and battered, we finally admitted defeat.
In the end, we salvaged the trip-- we decided to drive west until we hit the coast, and find a place to stay there. We ended up at a tiny bed and breakfast in Stinson Beach, only about 45 minutes away from Berkeley. I don't think a hot shower ever felt so good. We found a local bar and ate fish tacos while the locals and their dogs gossiped on the front porch; eventually we hauled our weary bones into bed.
The following day was the last of our three-day weekend, and instead of spending it hunkered down in a tent or fighting off thousands of bloodthirsty airborne savages, we took a leisurely stroll through Stinson Beach's small downtown and drove up the coast until we found a beach that was warm enough to sit for a while (no easy task-- contrary to popular belief, California's beaches aren't all like Malibu. In northern CA, beaches are cold, foggy, and windy most of the time). The sunshine slowly eroded the memory of our backpacking debacle, and we returned to Berkeley in triumph.
It's interesting how we purport to have such respect for nature; we prepare to the point of absurdity for its vagaries in temperature, weather, and geography. We even take precautions against megafauna like bears and wildcats, as much for their sake as for ours, and we try to avoid damage even to plant life. However, we often forget to be respectful of Mother Nature's smallest denizens, even though they have the power to make our lives utterly miserable. I haven't lost my desire to do "real camping;" in fact, oddly enough, I think I'm more excited than before. However, next time you can be sure I'll bring some mosquito netting.
stay tuned for a story of our next backpacking excursion, which was every bit as wonderful as this trip was horrendous! I'll try to post about it here (though I have a couple of other stories to tell first).
Stinson Beach aerial view (from the internet)
Dillon Beach (from the internet)