Active-duty U.S. Army Soldier Matthew Courtney (formerly Spinetta) joins his longtime mentor, Ledger Dispatch reporter Dave Gebauer, for a U.S.-Army style edition of Mother Rucking.
While on leave after completing a tour in Afghanistan, Matthew revisited a memorable, remote wilderness lake located below Tragedy Springs; the infamous “Bare Boy Meets Bear” Lake, where he was stalked by and came face-to-face with a full-grown black bear while swimming.
Due to the snow levels, the duo rucksacked into their chosen campsite in the high upcountry, off Highway 88; Matthew with his large 95-pound rucksack and Dave with his 55-pound medium rucksack packed with food, water, camping and survival gear. After a hearty fresh salmon and roasted potato dinner cooked right on the campfire, Gebauer and Courtney rested up for their hike the next morning.
Searching for their destination, a remote wilderness lake, had started as a 2-hour hike that quickly turned into a 6-plus hour hike due to unforeseen obstacles of raging snowmelt streams, and icy snowdrifts covering rocks and changes in terrain.
“In the Army, you are taught to read the terrain, survive and navigate, so that is what we did,” Matthew said. “The whole area, including our campsite, was saturated with water and snow … Foster Meadows was more like a marsh than a meadow, so we had to move to higher ground. Hiking down through the canyon to the wilderness lake took longer than we expected. Our hike, which started at about 7800-foot elevation, ended up being an 8-mile hike round-trip, in the wilderness … there was no path, we were walking through snowdrifts, through creeks and over rocks. Tragedy Creek was running high from snowmelt, and we had to walk upstream to find a safe area to cross- we sometimes had to walk a quarter mile out of the way because there were areas too dangerous to cross, so much snow and water meant it took much longer. And we carried 40lbs of survival gear.”
Even four years after the “Bare Boy Meets Bear” run-in, Courtney had little trouble finding the way to the lake; trees had grown and snow had moved rocks and other debris, but there the hidden gem stood: between granite boulders, shale and volcanic outcroppings.
“I carried the 40-pound pack for the first 6 miles and Matthew carried the water,” Gebauer said. “When we stopped for lunch, we were going to split an MRE, which was decided before we started hiking. I carried the food and Matthew had scouted ahead to make sure we were able to get to our destination. We got it cooked up and he wanted to know what I was going to eat because he wanted it all!”
“I reminded him that not only was I carrying the food, but also the 40-pound rucksack, plus he is 22 years old and in the Army, and if he wasn’t careful, he wasn’t going to get any at all,” Gebauer laughed. “It was a full meal, a chicken pesto pasta MRE with sides of bread and cheese, granola, a cookie, and blueberry cobbler for dessert. He ate 2/3 of it anyways.”
The way back to their campsite had the men in awe; Gebauer had never seen anything like it.
“The terrain was rough, but so beautiful … the most beautiful terrain I have ever seen,” he explained. “Just pure wilderness, different than anything I had ever seen before. There were these incredible granite boulders the size
of a house cracked perfectly in half from ice and snow breaking it apart over hundreds of years, that had a 6-foot gap between the halves. It’s definitely not somewhere you can visit yourself, it’s too dangerous, no trails, nothing. We had to be prepared for anything.”
“Coming out was slow, it took two times longer than it should have been,” Courtney finished. “It was all pure wilderness and at a high altitude. Our 2-hour hike ended up being a 6-hour hike. You certainly didn’t want to get hurt hiking back there; there are big animals out there … I can vouch for that myself. The biggest obstacle was the snow, as we couldn’t see what was under it and it could be deceiving. At one point, I fell through a snowdrift up to my waist. Dave was relieved when we got back to Highway 88, to say the least, but we had a great time.”
Join Ledger Dispatch reporters Dave Gebauer and Sarah Spinetta, along with other guests, as they traverse through the natural beauty of Amador and Calaveras counties in Mother-Rucking. Be sure to download the Interactive News app on your mobile device to watch this week’s Mother-Rucking Interactive News video featuring Dave Gebauer and Matthew Courtney hiking at high altitudes upcountry between Silver Lake and Kirkwood Mountain, in the Devil’s Garden Wilderness. Look out for the next installment of Mother-Rucking to see what adventures we get up to.