Sunday, August 31, 2014

Raging Winds and Parched Lips

I awake to the sound of a small trickling from out in the meadow next to the small grove of trees where we have made camp. The darkness is less now and I can see the distinct individual pieces of gear surrounding me. I was so tired last night that I didn't spend a lot of time organizing my things. They are sort of just pile up around me like a fortress wall of stinky socks, sweaty clothes, headgear, various electronic gadgets, and my Platypus water bladder. The cool morning air is almost perfectly still and I am completely relaxed and rested.

Up and out of the tent, attend to the morning rituals and breakfast. As we eat the sun begins its sojourn across the azure sky. we see it's progress behind the trees rimming this meadow above the deep blue of Lake Tahoe. The recuperative powers of a good night's on a human body are incredible. From last's night's stumbling plodding into camp to this mornings readiness to take on the final twenty seven mile leg of this mini thru hike.

We pack quickly, well sort of quickly. Jon packed quickly, I seem to have innumerable little tasks that keep me from getting packed. I need more water, my socks need washing, The maps for today need to be arranged, etc. Then finally we are off. We hike at our own pace with the agreement that we will stop at the trail junctions and re-group. This means that Jon quickly pulls out in front with his long gait. I watch the dust reflect the morning light in the spaces between the trees as I scurry as quickly as I can getting further and further back.

On relatively flat or downhill trails I am relegated to the back. I take pictures, I eat snacks, I enjoy the fact that I am still healthy enough to do this. When the uphill starts, Jon's stride shortens up to the point that I can catch him. My favorite kind of hiking is going uphill. The grind of pushing out another step and another, while the landscape drops away beneath me. Switchbacks are especially enjoyable as I get to watch the same scene slowly change as the perspective increases and the ridges and valleys morph into a vast panorama to the horizon.

We make great time this morning and we replenish our water at Five Lakes Creek. The water is still flowing, and it's cold and clear. It's downhill so Jon is out in front as we head deeper into Granite Chief wilderness. I stop for water at the last water until the other side of the mountain. I had mentioned it to Jon at our last water stop, but I don't see him now. I quickly drink all of the water in my water bottle and fill my three liter Platypus and also my twenty five ounce water bottle to the top. I also need to poop.

This climb is the first of the two significant climbs for today. We climb the backside of Squaw Valley ski resort, specifically, Granite Chief. The air warms as the day transitions from cool morning to dazzling mid-day. Jon is somewhere out in front but since we are heading uphill it's simply a matter of time until I catch him. The canyon is as remote and untrammeled by civilization as anywhere that I have been. The trees are immense and I don't see any stumping that would indicate that it has ever been logged. The water and any indications of water are far below in the valley. The trail is dusty and dry. The air is still so the dust hangs there in the air above the trail as you pass by. As I look back along the trail it looks like my own dirty, dingy version of a contrail that a jet leaves across the sky, except mine wends and winds around the trees and bushes of the trail.

I catch Jon about three quarters of the way up. Actually I don't catch him at all. He is waiting for me at the trail junction. We climb the rest of the way to the top together and drop over to the water source at PCT mile 1143. We stop for lunch as I watch the backside of a bear with blond highlights in his fur scurry away from us down the hill. I have heard that there are bears in the Sierras. This is the first one I have seen in years. At first I thought it was a dog, but he was much to nimble on the boulders to be a dog. Then he was gone.

We sit in the sun and chat with the day hikers coming up from Squaw Valley. This is definitely the busiest part of the trail so far. We've done fourteen miles so far today and we only have twelve more to go. We replenish our water and eat our lunch. Mine is salami and cheese with Fritos. I also restock my trail-snacks taking the last food out of my pack and stuffing it into the cargo pockets of my pants. We crawl under some boulders and reach way back into the dark to a cold and clear little waterfall to refill our water bottles.

I am waiting at the top of the trail at the junction by Tinker Knob. The wind is howling over the ridge and I duck down below a rock outcrop to avoid being in the path of the full force of the blasts. I look at the blue waters of Tahoe and the boats which are white specks that move so slowly across it's surface. I'm sure the experience is much more exhilarating to the occupants that it looks from my distant vantage point on the top of the ridge. I have a perfect view of the trail so I will see Jon at least twenty minutes before he arrives.

When I took my phone off of airplane mode I receive a text from Jon. He lost the trail and bushwhacked up to the ridge. He is actually in front of me by about a mile. I gotta go...
I wonder how this got here? In someone's pack? A practical joke perhaps?

The wind continues to howl over the ridge and the trail follows the ridge for miles. I put the strap of my hat under my chin to give myself the dorky hat-wearer fashion statement but at least I still have a hat. The brim of my hat is pushed up on the side from the wind. So I look like a dorky Australian bush hat-wearer. My face is exposed to the sun. Ah yes, that task I forgot this morning, applying sunscreen. I can feel the heat irradiating my exposed face at the same time as the wind is blasting it with dust and grit. My lips are cracking and feel swollen and the stick to each other when I try to open my mouth to take another swig of water.

I am using my trekking poles because the trail traverses a bunch of boulder fields and loose rocks that make it really easy to roll my ankles, slip, or misplace my foot on an unstable rock. I look for the big rocks and place my feet on them in hopes that they aren't going to shift on me.  I am moving as quickly as I can, first to get out of this wind, and second to catch up to Jon. There is slim hope of catching Jon as we are going downhill.

I meet a solo female hiker heading south and she shouts, "Are you Scott?" I can barely hear her, but I read her lips. She is the only hiker I have seen on this entire sand-blasted ridge. "Yes", I croaked out. The wind quickly grabs my voice and tosses it over the edge of the ridge and into the abyss. "Your buddy is waiting for you drop there behind the rocks," and she points to a dark spot on the rocks below. The spot seems to be waving it's hands.

I have finally met up with Jon. His tale is his story to tell but suffice to say, he is a better hiker now with more experience under his belt. We finally escape the ferocious gusts when we move behind Mt Lincoln. Our water is essentially out. Not unexpected, but it's still a bit unnerving to be low on water. The last bit of the trail is a series of treacherous switchbacks across giant boulders and through crevices between them. There are steps but they are all sideways and sharp. Each step is made for a giant so I feel like a mouse trying to negotiate my way down. I meet up with Jon at the trail-head. A friendly generous family has given him a couple of gulps of water. We made it, and we still have daylight.

Let's go home.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Losing the Forest in the Trees

We are up before the sun, we have a long way to go. As soon as we can see without headlamps. We are on the trail before seven. We are climbing, climbing, climbing. The trail from Gilmore Lake to Dick's pass is only one way, up. We meet the sun about halfway. The brilliant blue of the sky is startling to the eyes. The clouds from last night have dissipated to where ever they go.
In the light of the morning it is stunning to see how close we camped to the lake. We walked big circles last night when a straight shot from our tents to the lake could be reached with the toss of a rock. 
Today we walk north for halfway the distance to Donner Summit. Depending on your source that's twenty five to twenty seven miles. 
It's the middle of the day. We are traversing the supposed eight miles from Fontanillis lake to Richardson lake. Traipsing through the forest without views or scenery becomes boring. The miles seem to grow longer. The day slows down. The only indication of time passing is the tired and achy feeling that brings to seep throughout my body. 
Snacks, I need snacks. I have my pockets stuffed with all of my favorite snack, M&Ms, cashews, almonds, Oreos, pretzels, dehydrated fruit. I have portioned them out into hour-sized portions. As the hours pass so to does my stash of goodies. 
Richardson lake is unappealing I don't want to get water there. It's green and stagnant looking. This means another half hour without fresh water. 
Miller creek is a huge disappointment. The water isn't flowing and there are only a few puddles remaking. The water is cool and we camel up enough to get us to the next watering hole at Bear creek.
The climb to Barker pass is breezy and exhausting. I seem to have run out of energy. Our pace has has dropped to maybe two miles an hour. My legs ache, they feel like they will not move again of I were to stop moving. So I don't stop. It doesn't matter how slow you go, it's still faster than sitting still. We'll never get to camp if we stop. 
We are at Barker pass, only another mile and a half or so to camp. A generous guy on a day hike asks if we want some Gatorade. I chug my thirty two ounces and hand him the container. After a quick thanks and a visit to the only pit toilet on the route we are back at it. Let's finish this thing. Another forty minutes and with twenty seven miles for the day we are at camp. There is cold flowing water here. One of the few places on the route with moving water. 
Ah, dinner is bean burritos and cheese with Taco Bell Fire sauce. For dessert I have my favorite trail brownies. Wow, what a long day without any chance to build up to it. Just ten miles yesterday then Bam! Let's crank out twenty seven miles. I don't think I have ever been so happy to be laying down as I am right now.
Good night!