Falling into a tree is one of those things I’m placing on a list of stuff I never want to do again.
You read that right. Falling “into” and not “out of” a tree.
It happened Sunday when I decided to do some off-trail rock scrambling in the vicinity of Cathedral Lakes near Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.
I need to make it clear this wasn’t on a ridge line such as between mountains east of the mouth of Titus Canyon in Death Valley where I once was forced to crawl/slide 300 plus feet down a steep incline. Nor was it like a more recent hike near Sonora Pass where perhaps 50 yards from the summit of Stanislaus Peak — a volcanic plug — where I backed off after deciding the scree was too steep and risky for me to try. I know my limits and when to stop.
No this was a series of granite outcroppings and boulders riddled with trees. Pretty tame stuff.
I decided to explore a waterfall on a small creek I got a glimpse of from the trail. It’s not unlike stuff I’ve done before. I always take my sweet time doing such maneuvers as I’m one of those people who is a tad over cautious. That is a good thing especially when you solo hike often in the middle of nowhere.
But on Sunday I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere as there were probably close to 60 hikers I came across, I’ve hiked the general area twice before, there were no steep drop-offs along any trail, and scree was at a minimum.
So there I was just after cresting the granite and boulders cutting back toward the trail when I came upon a straight drop of about five feet onto another slab of granite that had a small flat area and then a nice short 45 degree drop until the next relatively flat area. Usually I’d just sit and ease myself down. But then I noticed an area to my left that was about a 3-foot drop that required for me to brush past two scraggly “Charlie Brown” trees that were about six feet each. A piece of cake, or so I thought.
Had I taken a closer look I would have noticed both were either diseased, dying or dead.
So as I started down — mind you we’re talking three feet with a nice large flat area below — I went to brush aside the limbs. Imagine my surprise when they barely bent. By this time my 170-pound frame plus backpack came into play as several limbs gouged me. Anyone who knows me understands I have a fairly high tolerance of pain. The poking branches pushed my pain threshold and then some. Perhaps the pain caused by the gouging branches caused me to react the way I did. At any rate, I tried to back up after I started heading down. I would have not been able to do that if it hadn’t been for my use of hiking poles. They stopped my forward motion but as they did, the branches kind of whipped up from one tree knocking me by my right shoulder and then back first into a fall into the other tree.
I always make it a point when I get into situations to worry first about not losing my footing. So my next move was to make sure my feet were on firm ground. This required bringing my legs toward the base of the other tree and using the hiking poles to get stabilization. It’s hard to explain but I was able to contort my body so I went from literally being almost sideways near the top of the tree to the point I got my feet onto the ground. This had the same result as someone throwing a cat on your back.
To make it clear, I was never in any real danger of falling any distance. When I got through with my tree tango, I was standing on both feet cursing myself for making a bonehead move.
I was bleeding a bit on the legs, but no big deal. So I continued on, got back to the trail and went up even higher above Upper Cathedral Lake to a meadow on the way to a High Sierra Camp before turning back. It was only when I got back to the SUV that I noticed the cut and blood under my right arm pit and bruises that looked as if I went two rounds with a tree.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it, but the bruises and the fact when I got out of the SUV after an almost three hour drive back to Manteca I was so stiff that I was moving slower than Uncle Joe of Petticoat Junction fame made it fairly obvious that I had done something stupid.
Making matters worse, for some unexplained reason about eight miles east of Oakdale the cartoon song “George of the Jungle” started playing in my head. You know the one: “George, George, George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree.”’
What happened might explain why my preferred hikes are either at 10,000 feet and above or in the mountains of Death Valley were trees are either few and far between or non-existent.
It goes without saying the next time around I will think twice about how I go through trees descending rocks.
And — in case you’re wondering — the pain is more than worth it. You’d understand that if you’ve ever stretched out in the sun on the granite ledge at the lip of Lower Cathedral Lake or gazed toward Cathedral Peak.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.