Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Day 53 : Silver Pass to Deer Creek

22 miles today
1749 miles to go

First one awake in camp, only one awake in camp, only one in camp. Slept in! Woke up at five twelve. Started out the day right, with breakfast. Almost out of food. Good thing tomorrow is Mammoth Lakes. The air is already warm. Should be a comfortable day. I pack quickly. I should pack quickly I know where everything goes by now. There are a number of things I'm off loading as soon as possible, I don't use or need them. That's good, it'll make my pack lighter.

The day starts with a climb. It has to because I hiked to the low spot last night. Today I climb Silver Pass. I don't know where the name comes from. There are a bunch of lakes near the pass with American Indian themes, squaw, warrior, chief, etc. Not sure why and or if they are related to silver somehow. So climbing is the plan for the morning. I climb about thirty minutes and come to a big creek of rushing water. The trail goes through the creek. There is no bridge, tree, or any obvious place to hop across. This is one of those get your feet wet fords. In fact it looks deeper than just feet, maybe knees? The sun isn't even shining light this low in the canyon. Nothing to do but to go for it. If I don't make it you won't be reading this. I step in to water that is halfway to my knees. This is the slow moving part close to the shore. As I wade out, the water quickly becomes deeper, like above my knees deeper. The water is rushing past so fast it's white water. I assumed that if I crossed where the trail was that the bottom would be smooth. Bad assumption, there are boulders to negotiate around. I am trying to find crevices to wedge my feet. The water is mid-thigh and freezing cold. My feet hurt. I search for the next foot hold. What a huge boulder! I am facing upstream and leaning on my trekking poles. I have to back downstream a couple of steps to get around this boulder. The water is hitting my legs and splashing up to my chest because of the spread and force of the moving water. Too bad there’s no one to video this, it certainly feels dramatic. Especially if my foot slips. One more step, ah calmer water. I climb out of the water with my pants sticking to my legs. The warm air doesn't feel so warm right now. I immediately start hiking up the hill. Switchbacks of course. Back and forth, trying to get warm. Up and up I go, finally I reach the sunlight. Instant radiant warmth. I stop and pull off the trail by some flat rocks and take off my shoes and socks, my gaiters and zip off my pant legs. Ah warmth. I wring the water from everything. My shorts and shirt are wet too, but I leave them on, after wringing out the water I put everything back on. My feet are still cold and wet, but I'm a lot warmer. I continue my climb up the switchbacks. Less than a mile, what's this. A waterfall! Splashing down five feet above the trail and blowing thru the trail. Water a couple feet deep courses across the trail. The mist from the force of the water hitting the rocks is blasting across the trail. This is crazy! I look across and there are two JMT hikers looking as perplexed as me. Well at least there'll be witnesses. They can tell the authorities something like, “Yea, so this PCT hiker starter coming towards us and whoosh the water blasted him right off the side of the mountain.” The water is easier to negotiate than the earlier crossing but it's still plenty exciting. I didn't bother with stopping to wring out my socks. After that dual soaking I finally fully succumb to hiking with wet stuff on. Streams in the trail, splash through them. Then snow drifts. So what! Mud, standing water, whatever. I continue climbing but without the usual reserve that I used to take trying to keep my feet dry. After the trail streams, the pass becomes visible. Across fields of snow mixed with sopping wet ground. I slosh across both. I climb the snow to the pass. I see Blazer, Wrong way, and Headfirst there. Last time I saw them was in Independence. After chatting a few minutes and eating graham cracker crumbs, I don my microspikes and head down the other side. I briefly check the map so I have some sort of idea of where the trail might be under all this snow. Following footsteps brings me face to face with some JMTers coming up. They suggest veering around to the left. Instead I plow straight on and to the right. This is where the trail is. Right at the bottom of this slope. A perfect slope. A long steep slope. With plenty of flat at the bottom and no visible rocks. Woo hoo! Down, down, down! Zipping along on my butt, poles held high in the air. Wow! That was fast! Wow, that was really fun. I shaved about thirty minutes of snow hiking in about fifteen seconds. Here's the trail. The trail drops down, down below the snow level. It does the typical trail with a stream on it. There are occasional snow drifts. But I splash and plow, my feet are already wet. What's a little more water? Miles and miles of downhill before finally reaching the steel bridge across yet another raging torrent. I'm really glad there is a bridge because I don't think crossing this one is possible. The bridge is the bottom, now it's time to go back up. 

I'm in the forest. The snow and rocks of the past are far above and behind. The warm zephyrs of summer waft through the trees. It would be so much easier just to stay here by the bridge. The splashing roar of the water has a lulling effect. Perhaps if I just sit here in the grass soaking my feet in the rushing water. Perhaps I would if there were a snack bar where I could purchase a hot dog and an ice cold lemonade. There isn't. There is only a trail, the sign says ‘Tully Hole.’ The PCT begins a serious uphill climb here. Switchbacks that send a clear message of why they're here and where I'm going. In a word, Up! Up and up and up, across the face of this exposed slope. Looking down it looks like a giant could use these switchbacks as steps. It's only an illusion of perspective, each one is much too steep to be of much use as a step. I didn't bother to count the switchbacks, I'd have lost count by now anyway. Up with no reprieve. As if we are in a hurry or something. The switchbacks stop as soon as the crest of the pass, unknown name, and without snow, thus insignificant, except to the climber of the switchbacks, who is grateful for a pass and not another switchback. Yay!

What is that sound? A chorus of frogs, through the trees below I glimpse a turquoise sparkling blue lake. It's off trail and down a slope I doubt less than one in a hundred, no a thousand, ever venture. I'm not about to be that one and perhaps become a statistic. I only imagine what type of summer paradise it must be to camp by that lake and be lulled to sleep by the happy lovesick frogs. The entire hollow of the bowl the lake is nestled in is echoing with their chorus. I move on past and reach the deep blue expanse of Virginia Lake. Frogs sing on its western shore too. I skirt the southern end wand follow the trail around the east end. The lake is more than full, the stepping stones are submerged. I hop from one to the next. Each foot landing in about a foot of water above the stone. This is better than walking on the ground about three feet below the stones. 

The trail goes up as it leaves the lake, then down to the next. Up and around again I am mostly following the top of a ridge along a deep canyon to my left. I can look down into it as I walk, but my eyes are focused on the trail before me. Taking my eyes from it while walking is an invitation to stumble on an unnoticed stone or tree root. I don't think there is anything more sapping to my forward momentum than stubbing my foot against these camouflaged menaces. So if I look elsewhere, it's only when I stop. It's along this ridge that it dawns on me. My PCT mileage is approaching nine hundred. I stop and check my phone. Another half mile. I hate watching mileage as it causes time to slow and steps to shrink and it takes longer to hike that half mile than the entire rest of the day. But I watch close, holding my phone. Bam! Nine hundred miles and there to greet me is a nine hundred laid out with rocks. I bet most JMT hikers never even see it. I saw it because I expected to see it. Nine hundred, longest hike of my life.

Downhill and the trail smoothes out, settles down, rocks are nonexistent, this is great trail. I turn from the ridge into the fold of land that shelters Deer Creek. I find a perfect campsite on compacted sandy gravel. Flat and well drained. Far enough and hidden from the trail and the creek. Awesome end to a good day of hiking. I've had to reuse one of my dinner bags from a previous day as I am out of ‘meat-in-a-bag’ bags. I cook a vegan black bean chili supplemented with rice and olive oil. Dinner is great! I am becoming quite the trail gourmand, or perhaps I'm starving and would eat just about anything. I fall asleep to the sound of the creek gurgling in the distance, not the loud roaring I've become used to. 

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