September 10, 2017
2.6 mile North of Muir Pass camp – Beauty Camp South of Mather Pass
27.8 miles/12hrs 15′
Up at 3:10am? No problem. Didn’t sleep much, anyway. The wind. The dreaded wind-tunnel-pummelling-the-tent-wind. Oh well. What else can I do but end the misery and walk. Up-up-up the pass into the not so dark moonlit sky. Surreal walking into the absolute silence. I’m in such a meditative walking state I continue straight at the top of Muir Pass when the trail winds further down then along a corridor to some lakes. I realize the mistake fast when I’m in a rocky jumble up high. Easily fixed by picking my way down lower to the straight trail. Water flowing everywhere and snow still lining big swaths of land. The two times I’ve been up here in September were much, much drier, with only a big creek flowing steady to the side. It’s raging now and again, I imagine the NOBO hikers back in the Spring up in the Sierra toiling away. Many of them made it through but tragically, a few did not. I’m not certain who they were but I know clearly each step I take over water could have been the creek that took lives. Silently I pay respect to the 2017 PCT Alumni who were lost.
A day of walking without once looking at Guthook’s PCT App or my maps as to where I am at. Sometimes it’s good not to know and just go with the flow of the terrain. The weather. The birds the breeze the rhythm of each step. Today is one of those days. A long descent leads me to the Golden Staircase. I meet a lady who’s donning head to toe pink. A wild woman with pink animal print tights under pink shorts and a pink cap with a pink tank top. Did I mention the pink sneakers? Yes, pink pink pink. She compliments me on my pink dress. Says she likes me style which is funny because I don’t have much style and the pink on me is only because Montbell only had a size large in this bright hue, not my preferred (and a little less understated) blue.
It’s funny walking in a pink dress. I’m surprised and humoured by how many people comment on it. Mainly guys. They seem to like this colour. Why, I don’t know, but it is certainly a conversation starter at the very least.
So many hikers on the trail. Too many for my taste. Everyone is friendly however and I can’t help but feel happy for anyone/everyone who is out there. What I do know is I won’t be back unless trying to hike the whole PCT in the future. There are just too many less-populated trails to walk and enjoy. I’m grateful to have hiked the JMT from Mammoth Lakes to Whitney back in 1998 and 2012 when it was far less ‘known’. I even met people who are section hiking the JMT. Who knew. We do what we can, I guess. Not everyone has the luxury or creates the luxury of time to do such a thing as spend weeks or months walking. I think of many hikers I’ve met over the years, of all ages, who have given up on believing they need stuff to make them happy, instead taking to the trail and creating the experiences through this form of travel/movement that leads to pure meaning in life for most. We are all different and honestly, I remain happy and encouraging for all who enter into the Great Outdoors. At the very least you’ll get your ass handed to you and, hopefully, be humbled a bit. That’s how I see it, anyway.
The only really miserable people I encounter are some very, very lightweight hikers. They look hungry and cold and just plain miserable. Yet I meet other ULW hikers (ultra-light-weight) who are stoked on life. Again, a lesson on not generalizing any group of people. There are many different ways to hike, for each their own.
To my delight on the other side of Mather Pass is still the corridor of desert peaks that leaves me feeling like I’m walking on the moon. I remember this area well. It evokes an awe inside me each time, never dulling in its beauty and grandeur. Only thing missing is Peter.
I’m finished walking by 5:30 with ample light to hang out, rinse off, make dinner and gaze around at the shifting range of light around me. A wonderful camp though a bit exposed. I can only hope the wind doesn’t pick up too much because I’m literally in the middle of a massive valley with no trees around. But it’s calm and I soak it all in. What will be will be. The day is done.
Wind Tunnel Camp
Wind Tunnel Camp – JMT Scene Camp
26 miles/11hrs 20′
Oh my fucking gawd what a day. And it is not over yet. Massive storm has me eating dinner INSIDE MY TENT on the day I see the one and only Bear I will see in 1350 miles or so of walking. Yes, I am in the tent, eating my food. It is that kind of day. Lightening strikes fast and bright with a earth-shaking boom within a millisecond. I wonder just how close that is to may little tent that will do little to nothing to help me with a lightening strike. I take solace in the fact there are many others around. I am not on a ridge nor a peak. I am tucked within the forest hiding in this little notch of nylon. I am dry though not sure if I am safe. Relief fills me nonetheless.
Where to begin with this day of days of what a fucking day?
After a night of little to no sleep in that glorious spot on earth that felt like the moon I had all to myself that turned into the pummelling wind-tunnel-nightmare that kept me up all night long. I must have slept for a minute here and there but fatigue tells me it wasn’t much.
I am so grateful it did not rain because I have to admit I did’t put too much effort in getting the tent pegs firmly and securely into the ground. Not that I didn’t have the time I was just lazy and enjoying the daylight left and surrounding peaks changing colour and mood with the setting sun.
I’m up at 3:45am and walking by 4:50. Less than an hour later I reach the water crossing I thought I’d camp next to before I decided yesterday was enough and made my wind-tunnel camp. I scan the creek with my headlamp and though it looks a little tricky, I decide it’s doable with some caution and care. What leads me to think I can try is that the water below should I fall is only knee deep. Not that I want to fall in. Nor do I want to do the smart thing and take my shoes off and wade across. Oh no that would take up waayyy too much time.
I rock hop over little boulders to the halfway point where the downed tree lies horizontal, up above the flowing creek. For some stupid reason that defies the experience I have crossing creeks and rivers on this trail, up in the Arctic, in the Rockies and the Appalachian Trail, too, and never having fallen in, I decide sitting on this downed tree is the best bet, so I can shimmy along on my bum to another little boulder in the creek where I will step and rock hop the rest of the way. Sounds good, right? Only problem is this downed tree is a sapling at best, and is tapering down the direction of my shimmy.
I undo my belt and sternum strap on the pack as I always do. Especially when alone. You just never know what you might take a swim or do a face-plant in a creek. If your hands can’t get to the buckles to undo the pack and you are pinned, well, it doesn’t take much water to drown.
I shimmy along and as the tree narrows my pack tips me back. I respond my leaning forward. The pack pulls me back. I tip forward. Next thing I know I am like a bloody human teeter-totter swinging wildly back and forth. Futilely I try to hook my feet onto something but the problem is there is only air between me and the creek below. The next thing I know I flip backwards…yes, BACKWARDS, and land splat into the ice-cold flowing mountain water creek.
I don’t remember doing this but I am out of my pack before I stand up. In shock. Swearing like a truck driver to the night sky. FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck. I cannot believe I fell in the creek and it’s pitch black the water is ice cold and where the hell is my pack anyway. Oh, here it is. I grab it and slip and slide and try to start walking to the other shore of the creek to assess the situation. My situation I got myself into. Rocks line the creek bottom making me swear some more. I look down and see a funny light shining up at me from the water. What is that I wonder and stop swearing. ‘That’ just happens to be my headlamp, shining up as if to say ‘well hello, fancy meeting you here this fine morning.’ I grab and grasp at the light below the surface of the water and it’s harder to find than I think. All I can say is thank gawd it didn’t crap out because then I’d be without light at 10,500 feet at just after 6am in the cold dark mountain air soaking wet mad at the world. Mad at myself for making that decision that led to this predicament.
I am on the other side of the creek, take my soaking wind pants off, my jacket off, swear some more, wonder what the heck to do when I look over to my right and realize with headlamp shining I am not alone. There is a tent 5 feet from me. A man gets out and looks around. Oh I am so embarrassed. He must be wondering what on earth is going on. Sheepishly I say hello, grab my things and walk on by. Soon I realize I am not on the trail. Where is the trail? I do the walk of shame back to his tent where he stands and I ask ‘Umm, excuse me, do you happen to know where the trail is?’. Right over here, he replies, showing mercy in not laughing or making fun or even asking me hey are you okay? Instead he walks me over to the trail and says in a thick British accent, ‘Have a good day, okay?’.
Pride before the fall and still I don’t learn. I walk up the trail until I think I am out of earshot. Place my pack on the ground and yell ‘FUCK’ as loud as I can.
I strip down in the darkness. Ring out my dress. Ring out my jog bra socks and underwear. Put it all back on and get out my rain jacket. Put this on and cinch up the cups and hood. I know the sun will soon rise and bring warmth. I know I am hiking uphill to Pinchot Pass and the effort will bring warmth. My rationale is that if I do get cold, I can stop and have a boil-up, hot chocolate and tea. I can put on the dry camp clothes that are still dry in my pack because of not only my pack liner I always have in there but the stuff sacks that each have a plastic bag used as a liner in case of rain or the odd chance of falling in a creek.
Still found the time to take a pic of the beautiful morning reflections soaking wet and all
So up, up, up I climb. I walk faster than usual with adrenaline flowing. I warm up and even begin to laugh as the day lightens. I make it up to Pinchot Pass fast and am finally in direct contact with the morning sun. It warms me as I laugh some more.
I walk-walk-walk down the pass along the creek that leads to the bridge that brings me up the climb to Rae Lakes then finally over Glen Pass and down to the approach going to Forrester Pass. I see a trail crew moving a massive boulder with crow bars and minimal tools. I thank them as I do all trail crews and continue on my way.
Up ahead I see the biggest dog known to man. I think ‘wow that’s a big fucking dog where is it’s owner wait a minute dogs aren’t allowed here that’s not a dog it’s a….BEAR…’ And realize holy shit there is a big beautiful cinnamon coloured brown bear NOBO-ing the PCT/JMT and she/he is coming my way. The bear walks with purpose. It’s on some kind of bear mission and I am soon going to be in its way. I tap my poles but no response. I am upwind of this beautiful bear and up higher on the trail as it winds its way up towards me. What to do? I am usually with Peter when this sort of thing happens and he ALWAYS knows what to do. I am alone and think ‘THINK, CLARA, THINK FAST’ where upon I walk backwards not breaking eye contact with the bear who has not seen me, go back around a little bend then cut to my left into the trees as far and fast and quiet as I can go. I crouch down and peek up over a boulder and see Bear walking right on by, continuing on its NOBO way. Fortunately this bear’s mission didn’t involve a Red-headed RedFeather today. Rationally, I know had the bear seen me, it would have bolted. Irrationally, my heart is pounding and I spend the next number of miles glancing back at my own shadow.
I see many hikers at the bridge. Most seem new on the trail. Most are young. I see three older hikers a woman and two men. They walk SOBO in my direction and I ask them if they saw the bear back there. ‘Oh, they are all friendly bears here’. The woman share with me how I had nothing to worry about blah blah blah. She is a park service worker off-duty and I cannot help but wonder if it’s a good idea to let people think bears are all friendly etc. etc. Living in bear country up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with Grizzly and Black Bears always leaves me full of respect and humbled knowing we really know little about the bears. It’s best, in my mind, to respect these animals when you are in their territory, not see them as friends nor foes but as wild animals to be left alone and respected. She finishes with ‘did you get a picture?’. Uh, no, I did not.
The hike up to Rae Lakes is in pouring rain but I’m warm from the effort in my rain jacket and hood up. I don’t over heat because my hiking dress keeps me cool with ventilation. Distant thunder booms all around. The skies are epic but I make the decision to book it up over Glen Pass, grateful when they don’t unleash until I’m over the southern side down by Glen Lake, the little water filled bowl below the pass. It rains and hails while I pass the little lake, speed walking and reminiscing of the times Peter and I have camped right there along the shore at the end of a few very epic days of walking. Sheer exhaustion making us lay down right there for a night of interrupted slumber as it often is while sleeping up high.
Stormy skies on Glen Pass
I miss Peter.
Down, down down I walk until there is water. Where there is water there is people I soon realize as every outlet of liquid is lined by hikers. It is a scene I have not yet seen on this trail and oh is it a sight I did not want to see at the end of a long and eventful day. It is like Vegas for hikers, the natural world of water wind and trees being the ultimate jackpot for the abundance of folks in this forest.
I ask a couple if I can camp on a flat spot above their area. No problem, they say. Soon another two young guys ask the same. Then more and more. I have seriously never seen so many people on a trail, including the entire Appalachian Trail.
I walk up into the forest and have a wonderful water bottle rinse. Not soon after I’m back in camp do the skies unleash. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Torrential rain. Wind. I forget Mr/Mrs. Bear and as I mention at the beginning of this long drawn out day I’ve just used hundreds of words to describe, I cook in my tent vestibule area when the rain lightens a little. Peter would not be impressed and to be honest I am pretty embarrassed writing this. The storms rage on all night long. I sleep like a rock from 9pm to 3:10am and it all begins – minus the creek dip and bear – all over again.