Day 6: Gladys Lake to Devil’s Postpile National Monument: 7 miles
We awoke to a pleasant nip in the air that triggered some discussion of the unusually chilly and windy days we were having. We’d find out later that a near record breaking cold front in California was passing through.
Today we’d step on brand new trail to us that would connect the dots between the areas that we had hiked over the years. We’d be hiking out today, concluding our first leg of our trek.
We hit the trail and quickly began to see trees blown down, everywhere. One massive tree after another, ripped out at it’s roots and toppled over on top of other massive trees like Lincoln Logs. We marveled at the intense work the Forestry crew must have put in to clear the trail of thousands of down trees spread over 40 miles of trail.
All this catastrophic damage happened in 10 hours on November 30, 2011 where the forest sustained winds of 100 mph with gusts topping 190 mph. To make it worse, 90% of the winds through the area blow in one direction, so trees develop their root structure to defend against what they know – the familiar. A surprise attack of hurricane force winds blew through this one day from a completely different direction then the familiar. Root structures holding down 400 year old trees lost the fight that day.
At times the tone of our hike turned somber as we quietly walked through a historic, living (or not living any longer) museum. Awe at the massive level of destruction mixed with sadness as we walked through this silent graveyard of sage old trees that had weathered hundreds of years of storms to be caught off guard on one fateful day.
But perhaps sadness is misplaced. In my human lifetime I will not see this forest return to what it was before Nov 30, 2011 but the beauty of the wilderness is that it changes by it’s own forces that can look like death at first but really are opening up pathways for new life. Landscapes changing over the millenniums is what shapes the land beneath our feet and the soaring peaks that line the horizon. By the time we exit the trail, I have made peace with the epic storm of Nov 30.