Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 51 : Muir Pass and Beyond

21 miles today
1794 miles to go

Woke up before the sun, ate breakfast in the pre-dawn twilight. Watched the clouds catch fire through the trees as the sun’s light reached them from behind the mountains. Started up the trail as soon as I was packed. Up, up, up, switchbacks, climbing as fast as I can to warm up my hands. The roar of the melted snow tumbling down the creek beside me drowned out all other sounds. I camped in the trees around ten thousand feet of elevation. It wasn't long before I broke out above the trees and the air cooled down. Climbing slower now so as to stay within my aerobic zone. If I go too fast I'll run out of energy. Energy, that reminds me, time to eat. I down about half of my trail mix for the day. My trail mix is pistachio nut meats, cashews, almonds, m&ms, almond m&ms, and raisins. I am tired of the taste but the energy it gives me is noticeable. Up, up, like climbing stairs. Uneven stairs, some really tall, others crooked. It really is a lot of work. The trail is wet, too warm. I don't think it got cold enough to freeze last night. The bushes and shrubs give way to snow. The snow buries the trail. It's gone. All there is to see is snow and rocks in every direction. There are a dirty set of footprints leading off to the pass, hopefully. They seem to be heading in the right direction. Where else would they be going? I follow the footprints. They climb the snow at a steep rate. I have to slow way down. I am huffing and puffing. The air is clear and crisp. It makes my nose run. I try blowing it out, it helps some. Time for microspikes. I immediately feel more stable on the snow. The snow is hard and icy. I don't think it'll stay this way for very long. Time is of the essence. Keep climbing, don't stop. Up, up, up, the sun peeks it's head around the mountain, now the snow will really start to get soft. I cross a gushing stream of water that disappears into the snow below me. I hope the snow doesn't collapse into the water because of my weight. I move quickly just in case.

The trail leads straight up the hill in front of me. The sun, at my back, has been working on this hill. It's soft and slippery, even with microspikes, my feet are soaking wet, and cold, almost numb, but they hurt too much to be numb. I keep a pace that doesn't require me to stop to catch my breath. Yes, it's slow, and I'm breathing through my mouth, huffing and puffing. Slowly, ever so slowly, I climb. I choose to not look up, I don't want to discourage myself and lose hope. Concentrate on the next step, don't slip, one more step. Don't worry about the other steps, just this next one. Suddenly I am at the Muir Hut, built a long time ago right on the pass. Bam, it's done! The climbing that is. There's snow in every direction, especially the direction I want to go. I pause, cheer briefly, and start heading down the other side. Down is a very loose interpretation when talking about heading down the north side of Muir Pass. It is so gradual that you almost feel like you're still going up. Trapsing across the snow in the sun, for hours and hours. Eventually it does go down enough for the trail to turn into a stream. Down, and down some more. The trail crosses the creek. I know it does because there is a sign pointing across the creek, it says “trail.” The rocks that are there to assist in crossing are all about two feet high. Like big stepping stones, I'm guessing maybe twenty five of them. Most of them are under water. There is so much water that the stream passes over the top of the ‘stepping stones’ by a couple of inches. Oh well, it's not like my feet were dry.

Evolution Lake is thawed, below the snow line. Suddenly it's summer again. The trail is still doing part time duty as a stream. The grass is green. Bees are buzzing. Life is happening. I don't stop. I head down over the edge and into Evolution Valley. Down, down, switchbacks, back and forth. The temperature rises the lower I descend. A warm jaunt through the forest. Always descending, the trees getting bigger and bigger. The stream turning into a creek, turns into a rushing torrent. A loud roar fills the valley as the water lets everyone know it's leaving. 

One of the more hazardous crossings on the PCT is the Evolution Creek crossing. There is an alternate above it. I choose it and I cross through the meadow and then the stream. It's wider but shallower. The water is a little above my knees but moving slowly. I follow the route back to the PCT. Now on the downhill side of the crossing, Yay! I pause and take off my shoes and wring out my socks. Then I sit with my bare feet and make a peanut butter and honey tortilla. My new favorite thing to eat. After my eating break I keep on. My only rest was that twenty minute break. I walk on until about four pm. I reach a campsite and settle in. My camp is right on the shore of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. I am about fifty miles from Reds Meadow, where I'll be able to catch a shuttle into Mammoth Lakes for my next zero. Two more full days and I should be able to hike in on the morning of the third day. I evaluate my food and it looks like I have just enough. I also can finally fit all my food in my bear canister, so I can sleep a bit easier tonight.

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