That Creek Fire

September 8, 2020

As of a few minutes ago, this is the report on the Creek Fire:

Officials are calling the fire an “unprecedented disaster” as flames spiral in all directions of the Sierra National Forest. The blaze has scorched nearly 144,000 acres and remains at 0% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

It’s located east of northeast of Fresno, southwest of Yosemite/Mammoth:

And, I actually have quite a number of photos that I took of this area just one year ago.

An Aside: I’d dropped Peter off in Yosemite on September 17th to hike as many days as he could squeeze in on the John Muir Trail before having to return to UCSD for the start of his senior year. We’d just flown in from a week in Utah — Bryce, Zion — celebrating Teri’s 70th birthday, late on the night of the 15th. And, I kid you not, Peter was hell bent on hiking at least some of the JMT, so on the morning of the 16th, we got up and drove to Lee Vining–stopping at REI on the way to rent a tent and bear box, and at a store in Copperopolis to load up on food. And just for a little extra drama, the winds were so high and the fire danger so great, PG&E had shut off power all over that part of California as a safety measure, so zero electricity in Lee Vining, which meant Peter was packing his bear box and practicing tent set up in the dark (we had head lamps and the hotel front desk had provided candles).

At the crack of dawn on the 17th, we lined up with other hopeful hikers for one of the limited same-day permits the Park Service issues for the JMT (most will have reserved a slot on this iconic Sierra trail a year in advance… and prepared for this once in a lifetime adventure accordingly!). He got one (which.. don’t ask what he’d have done had he not gotten one).

So.. yeah.. he was definitely pushing the calendar, and pushing his luck, but had really wanted to fit in at least some time on the JMT, and it worked out. Here he is (with a shoe lace from my shoe in place of a missing bootlace):

Excited … and quite nervous … was he.

At the end of his third day of hiking, we got the text via his InReach Garmin that he was ready to come out. He let us know there was a resupply point at Vermillion Valley Resort (resort is an interesting word to describe this place), and that he’d meet me there at the end of day four (approx 80 miles from where he’d started four days earlier).

So, I made the 5-hr or so drive down there, he hiked another 20+ miles and we both converged on VVR at about the same time (he actually got there an hour before I did, checked in and was showered. We had a great dinner then played some gin rummy.

Here’s a picture of us in our rented trailer (that’s one of the options at VVR):

Anyway…. this is all a great story, very worth telling.. and I will! But this is a blog post about the Creek Fire. So.. back to that.

When I looked at a map of the fire boundary this morning, I realized the fire was destroying that gorgeous swath of the Sierra I’d passed through last year to pick Peter up .. so went back to look at some of my photos:

This is somewhere just south of Shaver Lake, I believe. I actually pulled over for this shot and got out of the car. Kind of reminded me of the Smoky Mountains with their layers and layers of ridges.

This is along the way.. perhaps passed Huntington Lake and making my way up to Edison Lake and the Vermillion Valley Resort (where Peter will meet me).

These are a few shots from what was one of the most spectacular roads I’d ever driven.. narrow, and in parts cut straight through granite ..

And eventually–it was a long and windy road–you pass Mono Hot Springs, wend a bit further, and finally come to Edison Lake.

I just read that there were about 50 JMT thru-hikers huddled at VVR waiting to be rescued today. While they expected to airlift them, it turned out most were able to be guided out in a car caravan — perhaps because the fire had already passed through this area. Not exactly sure. The pictures of fire damage are horrific.

I know fire is a vital part of a healthy forest. Jim told me tonight that something like 80% of the forest that burned had been infected by bark beetles and was just a giant tinderbox. So maybe there’s a silver lining in there somewhere. Still… the devastation from these fires is breathtaking and heartbreaking. California has watched a lot of forest burn in the last few years. And we haven’t even started this year’s official fire season.

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