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Begins: Apr 1, 2008
Date: Fri, Jul 4th, 2008
Start: Le Conte Ranger Station (3 miles South)
End: Evolution Creek
Daily Distance: 14
Trip Distance: 2,375.2
Entry Visits: 385
Journal Visits: 69,219
Guestbook Views: 3,645
Guestbook Entrys: 9
Le Conte Ranger Station to Evolution Creek
We were on the trail about 5:40 a.m. and quickly made our way to Le Conte Ranger Station which we found locked up and uninviting. There was a note on a bulletin board to let us know that Dave, the ranger, was out on “extended patrol” and anyone with a real emergency should make the 13 mile hike over Bishop Pass to get help. I found this somewhat amusing and debated leaving a note (which one was invited to do). Then I saw several notes were already posted, the most recent from a man whose partner had been evacuated by air. He asked the ranger to get word to his wife that he was OK and he was continuing the trail alone. I thought surely it was better to try to get word to Kerry in case I was delayed instead of having him call out a search party, and I wrote a note asking the ranger to let him know. Maybe the request was unreasonable—Kerry never got a call—but it seems to me that this was a legitimate request rather than having park services engaged in an unnecessary search.
From Le Conte Ranger Station, we started the six-mile trek up to Muir Pass. Last time I hiked this section in the North-South direction and I vaguely remembered how long, and in places steep, it was on this side. At Big Pete Meadow I saw two young men breaking camp. About a half an hour later they passed me—I would not see them again until I reached Wanda Lake on the other side of Muir Pass. In fact, I would not see anyone; I was completely alone. Looking back, I see what a privilege it was to have the entire hike up the Goddard Divide and down the other side all to myself—me and my dog in this incredibly wonderful place.
Initially, we saw patches of wildflowers of all kinds and Shooting Stars were everywhere. I also saw butterflies, I think they may have been some kind of tortoiseshell: predominantly orange and edged with black. The trail was alive with the Sierra spring.
As I approached Helen Lake, the snow on the ground increased and the few trees began to disappear. I had been warned that there was still quite a bit of snow on Muir Pass, but it had already been well-traveled by thru-hikers so I thought, with some justification, that I would probably have a decent amount of footsteps to follow in, not to mention the two young men who had gone ahead this very morning. This worked pretty well for me but I made a couple of wrong turns. By Helen Lake I stayed to its West side rather than crossing to the East at an inlet and consequently found myself walking rather steeply up the snow-covered face of the mountain until rather abruptly, the footsteps disappeared. Back-tracking to the lake, I found the usual route and headed on. I did take a look at the compass on my watch and had a momentary sickening feeling when I realized that I didn’t trust it to point North. Before I left, I had reset the compass, but I hadn’t checked to make sure I’d done it correctly and now when I needed it, I had a worrisome thought that it might be wrong. Fortunately, I found more footsteps to follow.
Now I had to cross the stream above the lake several times, the last time across the outlet from the snowmelt lake above Helen Lake. This was very scary (a word I was to think quite a lot in the next couple of hours) because the rocks to cross on were pointed and far apart (for me); the water was rushing, and I had no poles for balance. Realizing that I really had no choice, I threw caution to the wind and started leaping from rock to rock until I reached the other side. I felt inordinately pleased with myself. Had Kerry been there, I probably would have stood around whining about it until he took me by the hand and pulled me over! Mr. Cody had long ago gotten over any trepidation he had about going over this kind of water and easily crossed without a paw ever coming close to getting wet.
My euphoria over my little accomplishment was short-lived. On the other side of the outlet, we traipsed through more snow for half a mile or so until we came to a high and rocky valley filled with snow on all sides and a rush of snow melt running through a wide open area of scree. I could see no trail. Since the mountains rose on all sides but the one I had come from, I understood that I would have to go up; the question was, “where?” I thought perhaps that I needed to cross the water but it was very wide and there was no apparent trail through it. I thought I saw what might have been a trail duck on the other side but it might have been a real bird. To the North East, I thought I saw footsteps in the snowy mountainside but as I approached it, they disappeared into sun cups. I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom, which I did. It was at this point that I wondered if that was where the expression being “scared s*******” came from. It certainly applied here. I took a deep breath and pushed the fear deep down and reminded myself that it would be embarrassing to die up here alone—I could see the local paper running the story on page 10, “Boy Scout Director dies on Mountain.” I’d never live it down—on the other hand, I’d be dead so I wouldn’t have to!
Returning to the river of water, I felt calm again. I found the rock that looked like a duck again (100 feet or so away, across the water) and decided that it was worth checking out. The water wasn’t as challenging to cross as I thought it would be and sure enough on the other side, the duck turned out to be a real duck pointing out the trail right beside it. Once again I started up the mountain, and once again the trail disappeared into the snow. I had hoped to reach Muir Hut to have lunch but I had eaten nothing since breakfast and even though I didn’t feel hungry I knew I needed to eat. I stopped there in the face of the snow in every direction and opened up an energy bar for myself and took out some power bones for Mr. C. At the time, I was so focused on making it to the pass in one piece that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about Mr. Cody, but he was having a wonderful time. He loves the snow and will spend all his time rolling in it if I just stop long enough to allow him to do so.
After we ate we started up the vertical side of the mountain again (I’m sure there were switch-backs underneath somewhere), post-holing as I went and again I rued the broken light weight poles I had started with and which were totally useless in these conditions. Poles would have been very helpful. I trudged on, expecting that I must still have a long way to go when suddenly I was aware that there was the edge of a dome sticking up above the crest of my mountain, and with a few steps more, I knew that it was the top of the Muir Hut and I was close to the summit. A burst of energy took me to the top, and looking over into the valley below I was overcome with joy to be here, to be alive and I burst into tears. Here I was on top of the world in one of the most beautiful places on earth—how could anything be better than this—ever?
Cody on the other hand took one look at the Muir Hut and headed straight for it! It looked like “home” to him—a place to rest, and even better, there might be food! The two of us stayed there at the top of the pass for awhile looking out at the snow-covered mountains around us and the partly frozen lakes below. I could have stayed there forever. I reflected again how lucky I was to have the moment to myself. There was another bit of serendipity. As I had hiked up to the pass the sky had been cloud-covered and the air was cool making the hiking quite pleasant, but as I approached the pass/summit the sky began to clear until on top I found myself bathed in the warm sun—a real gift. It was July 4 and a year since I became an American citizen! This was a special place and time and I regretted the necessity of pushing on. I had a long way to go before I could stop and there was quite a lot of snow on the north side of the pass. Going forward was a lot less scary since descending now; I could see where I was headed for a long way. Now for the first time, I felt that I would finish this hike, that Cody would be fine and that I could handle whatever I needed to in the remaining week. One mountain at a time.
We set off down from the pass feeling pretty high—even Cody had a spring in his step, but perhaps he was just responding to me. We were tired and I was tempted to stop except that it was too early, too cold and no place clear enough of snow or rocks or dry enough to be comfortable. We crossed more lakes and lakelets after Wanda Lake until eventually I caught site of the two young men I saw earlier. They had stopped for the day by one of the lake outlets that I had to cross so I stood and talked with them for awhile. They were thru-hikers and brothers, Kevin and Joe. They told me they were taking their time just enjoying themselves, and I could see this was so. They each had a tent and did not seem to be traveling light, but judging by their age and appearance, the weight of the gear did not seem to be of concern. I wished them well and hiked on, I now saw a few people southbound coming up the valley and I reflected again how lucky I was to have had John Muir Pass entirely to myself.
I stopped a few hundred feet below the last lake I passed, and near a rushing creek. Again, I had planned to go further but it was 5:30; we had been hiking for 12 hours and I thought it was enough. Cody lay down and I removed his shoes, his feet looked to be in good shape but they felt a bit puffy. I think the cold snow had probably helped reduce the stress on his feet. I stripped down, washed off, rinsed my clothes and served the two of us some food. I found peanuts in my food bag; I had forgotten they were there. I discovered that they tasted good to me and I took pleasure in this little treat.
I thought about Kerry having a beer and barbecue with some friends and how I wished he could share this with me. I realized that I missed him but I was very happy to be here alone—I was getting a chance to reacquaint myself with me—to understand my limitations and even better, to learn that perhaps I had more internal resources than I had thought about. It was a powerful feeling.
That evening I covered Cody with my Frogg Toggs in an effort to give him some relief from the mosquitoes. I had trouble going to sleep. I think I was over tired and the mosquitoes kept buzzing me until it got really dark. I kept waking up to see the grand performance of the Milky Way and stars as they made there way across the sky. Every once in a while I followed a satellite and once I saw a meteor. And so perhaps one of the most challenging days of my life ended, quietly as it had begun. Eventually, I must have slept quite well and in the morning, I dreamt that I woke to a beautiful dawn and the roar of waves crashing on the beach. Disoriented, it took me a few seconds to really wake up and find myself back by the roar of Evolution Creek! It left me feeling calm and peaceful.
Confessions Of A Serial Hiker
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org
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