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.

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