Central California: Mather Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
June 16, 2003.
This morning I awoke refreshed after a shorter than normal day and ready to
tackle Muir pass, which was a rather distant fifteen miles from here. With the
sun on its way above the mountains ringing the lakeside campsite, I set off
first with the others not far behind. The Golden Staircase was the first
major obstacle. This was one of the last areas of the PCT to be built,
with the trail being blasted out of the granite, descending down to the
valley floor below. Ordinarily, this would be an easy and fast descent, but
the worry of snow and ice cause by the past few days built up the Golden
Staircase into a monster. As is almost uniformly true, the monster turned
out to be a pussycat and the worrying was more wasted energy. The trail
wound through deliciously warm forests and past swampy meadows, with their
attending mosquitoes, and provided a wonderful contrast to the starkness
of the rock and snow that had dominated the last two days of hiking. The
others past me by during a break, and then got even further ahead as I couldn't
pass up a most excellent spot in the sun on the banks of a rapidly flowing
river. Muir pass was only five or six miles ahead, and there was no reason for
a great rush, I thought.
The trail took a decidedly uphill turn and began to break out of the forest
which had made for such a pleasant morning. Climbing higher, patches of snow
began to obscure the trail, but never for more than ten feet or so. Perhaps
Muir pass would not live up to its reputation as the most snow bound in the
Sierra, I wistfully suggested to myself, and to the land. The snow patches
began to increase in length, though I had the recent foot prints of
Will, Sharon, and Glory to help guide me through. There were two lakes to reach
before beginning the final push to Muir pass and I was sure that I should have
passed one already. Perhaps it was that swampy pond a bit back? Maybe the
map was incorrect, for, surely, I must have moved more than two miles in the
past hour. Cresting over a low hill of snow, I found the other three
standing on the bank of a lake, which must, of course, be the second
lake. It could not be otherwise. Will was sure this was the second lake,
although he, too, admitted to missing the first lake. The trail was completely
buried at this point and we stood about trying to determine which way to go.
Up, up, and up. It could not be otherwise and we set out across the snow
as best we could, postholing frequently. Thirty minute of hiking provided
no sign of trail, but there were at least a few foot prints from previous
hikers, indicating that at least someone else thought the trail ran in this
Schism split the group, as Will thought the trail over the hill to the left,
and I thought it followed near the bank of the snowmelt creek we were standing
on. I left, determined that for once I would reach the top of the pass
first and be able to give my own howl. Stepping gingerly through the
rock and snow, I found trail two hundred yards from where I left the group.
I cried out, "Trrraaaaiiillll.." several times to advertise my minor success,
and began to plod along, sometimes following trail, other times rock or snow,
depending on which had annoyed me the most over the last few minutes. Climbing
higher, to what was surely Muir Pass, I thought of the howl of joy I would give.
Looking back, I could not see the others, but I knew they would hear me. Arriving
at the pass, I looked out not upon a drop off, but upon a gleaming white
plateau ringed with mountains and with a lake on the other side. The second
lake. It was already 1:30, and the snow conditions were worsening. Every
step I took toward the lake plunged me deep into the snow. Still unsure of
which pass was the right one, and in an effort to stay high until I did, I
managed to maneuver myself well off course, alerted to the fact only when I
saw Will by the lake, well off where I was. He was right, according to the
map, and I hustled, as best I could, back to the true course.
Meeting Will at a bit of rock near the lake, we took a break to wait for
Sharon and Glory, who were not far behind. I had been hiking for more than
three hours through snow and was tired. Muir pass was perhaps 400 feet above
us, straight up a snow slope, though one much gentler than the slope up
Mather pass the day before.
Whether or not I was tired made little difference to the pass. Up it I must
go, and so up I went, following Will and Glory and taking as much advantage as
I could of their tracks. Slowly, but surely, the glint of Muir Hut came into
view, marking the top of the pass.
It was past two when I staggered into the hut, a small, beehive like shelter made of
rocks, with rock benches inside and a register. After resting for twenty minutes,
I had the strength to look through the register to see how far ahead the nearest
PCT hikers were. There were a little more than 20 thruhikers in front of
us. I was rather surprised by this, thinking that there were far more in
front. The first three through, Rye Dog, Tutu, and Pacific Beast, were only
eight or nine days in front of us and it looked like we might run into
a few PCT hikers tonight or tomorrow. I was exhausted for a second straight
afternoon, and the thought of just staying at the hut for the night
crossed my mind briefly. However, this would make for either a very long
day tomorrow, or a short day at VVR rather than the restful one I was hoping
for. VVR is located across Lake Edison from the trail and, while you can
walk a five mile trail to get there, I wanted to take the morning
shuttle boat in. That would give me a good, long day of rest before making
the push to Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite. I had to move on.
Scanning the horizon, it became rather clear that, while the south side of
Muir pass was filled with snow for four or five miles, the north
side of the pass would provide and even longer excursion on the snow. It
was 3 in the afternoon, and the snow was as bad as it could get. I led the
way down the pass, my long legs plunging into the knee or hip with every step.
These postholes provided the others with relative decent footing, even if
it made for highsteps. The sweat began to roll down my face as the march
wore on. A name game was being played around me and I tried to participate.
With my exhaustion increasing and no end to the snow in sight, I could not
restrain my temper any longer, and had to bow out of the name game before I
began to hurl names upon the others. The banter continued behind me, although
I barely noticed it. Another mile passed slowly and my feet began to go numb.
They had been in the snow for far too long today, and the slower pace
demanded by the snow conditions kept them from warming up. A cold wind
began to blow as bits of brown and green and blue, far in the distance,
signaled the presence of a lake with a partially snow free bank. Although insight,
it would take another hour to reach this bit of paradise, this brief
respite. This bit of uncovered ground was reached just in time for the sun to
go behind the high mountains ringing the plateau we were crossing and the
temperature dropped accordingly. As a last trial, the trail began
paralleling a lake, only to end with a sign pointing across the lake with a
sign that said "Trail." Where is the trail, I thought? There is only a lake
there. I then realized that we had to ford the lake. I turned to the others,
dismayed and distraught, and hoped one of them could contradict what I thought
we had to do. They confirmed my opinion, and the ford began. The trail
builders had placed large rocks across the lake, hoping to act as a partial
bridge. The high lake levels due to the snowmelt meant that at least half of
the rocks were underwater, providing both for wet feet and for bad footing.
I crossed the lake with the last bit of strength that I had, then collapsed in a
heap in a small patch of sunlight, where the sun was shining through a break in
the mountains. With seemingly unlimited energy, the others hiked on.
I sat and rested for twenty minutes, hoping to gather enough strength to push on
to a lower, and warmer, altitude. I had not eaten much today and had yet to
cook my daily meal, something usually done around one or two in the afternoon.
It was past six. Knowing in my mind that camping near this boggy lake would
be an uncomfortable and cold proposition, I had to push on. I was looking for
a reasonable place to cook a dinner and maybe stay the night, not wanting to
go very far or to cook and then keep hiking. I found Will, Sharon, and Glory
beginning to cook near a small stream about a mile from where I had rested.
I had no desire to camp here and neither did they. I should have hiked on,
but my friends were here, and it was not a good idea to cook where I slept,
due to the bears of the Sierra. I collapsed again in a heap to cook some
noodles for dinner.
No words between the four of us were exchanged. I think we were all too tired
to try to converse, and all of our tempers were short enough to make civilities
even more difficult. It wasn't until we were cleaning up that words were
spoken, mostly to the effect that none of us were going to be hiking for
more than hour after dinner. Leaving our stream first, I noticed a tent off
in the distance, and a tarp rigged close by. The thruhikers from the register.
I waited for the others to see if they wanted to camp with these new hikers.
Glory came first and went to investigate. Sharon was close behind and we
waited for Glory to return. Will arrived, and pushed on, followed by us as
Glory was obviously not coming back anytime soon. I didn't have much
strength to argue or to determine a good campsite, but Sharon found one, and
a good one at that. One of the benefits to hiking with others is little
things like that. I was ready to camp on the trail, where I stood, complete
with rocks and uneven ground. Instead, I was on soft grass with a view of the
heavens and the mountains and the glories of the land. We left a cairn for
Glory to find us. This was the third night in a row that I was going to sleep
exhausted and spent. The maps told me that we were somewhere near McClure
meadows. I didn't care what the name of this place was, so long as it was
home for the night. We had managed a little over 23 miles today. Twenty
three miles that were far more difficult than any thirty I had done in
southern California. The land was extracting a price for its charms.
My body had healed overnight. Nine hours of sleep had cured many of
my aches and pains and my spirit, more importantly, was charged and ready
to go. There was only one pass before VVR, and it was supposed to be an
easy one. There were several creek fords to be made, but how bad could they
be? Most of the fords thus far had been relatively safe. Even when fast, they
rarely made it to my knee cap and were usually not too wide. It was just a
matter of getting my feet wet. The pleasures of a long day off tomorrow were
calling me, providing at least some of the motivation for me to start hiking.
The four of us had planned to meet up at Evolution Creek, the first of the
big fords of the day. Glory and I got there first and scouted the river
bank for a good place to cross while the others caught up. Before I realized
it, Glory was in the water and moving across the creek with confidence. Although
deep and wide, the current was slow and the water warm. She had picked a good
place to cross and the water only came up to her rib cage. I crossed
where the trail ended, definitely not optimal, as the water came up to my
waist, despite being a good foot taller than Glory. We sat and waited on
the other side for the others to arrive. Will showed first, and proceeded to
hoist his pack above his head and began to cross in this most off balance of
positions. Repeated yells from our side of the bank convinced him that his
pack would not get wet if he just left in on his back. He came across with
little difficulty following Glory's route, and was
followed by a nervous Sharon. Fords made Sharon nervous
and cautious, the later a superb trait to have when facing fords or snow bound
passes. It was made her an excellent partner to have around, particularly
to counter Will's more driving and risk taking personality. The two
blended well together and provided for enough diversity of opinion to ensure
that the correct decision was usually made.
The lower altitude of the Evolution valley provided, again, a much enjoyed respite
after the long day crossing Muir pass the day before. The smell of green
was so heavy and fragrant in the air after the sterility of the rock and snow
and ice of the pass, that I could not resist the temptation to dawdle, even
knowing that I had to hike twenty five or thirty miles today to get within
striking range of VVR. One lake, and then other, presented itself and
it charms, trying their best to lure me to their banks for a rest. Some
were victorious, others were merely smiled at.
The others were gone, hiking ahead or behind, and
the solitude was welcome. The Sierras were a place of striking, dangerous
beauty that, according to the heart, were best crossed alone. The mind,
however, spoke of the dangers of the fords and the passes and the need for
companionship. The body was neutral, and each extreme component would have to
be satisfied in turn. The early afternoon found the four of us together again
at lunch time on the banks of a creek below Selden pass, after a long climb
up a switchbacked, dusty trail. Another thruhiker was here, after resupplying
at the Muir Trail Ranch. The MTR was an alternative resupply point to VVR
for PCT or JMT hikers, although one that only offered package pickups, and that
for the costly price of $40. No other amenities were offered to weary hikers,
the MTR being an outpost in the wilderness for horsepacking groups or
families out to see the best in American landscapes on a summer vacation.
He was a chemical engineer who used to work on disposing of American chemical
weapons stockpiles, but was now unemployed after completing his task on
some far away Pacific island. Will and I had a running argument about
boiling water and how altitude affected it. The engineer settled our
argument, although both of us claimed victory in a farcical argument that
could only happen between two people with far too much time on their hands.
Selden pass was above us and was the last pass before VVR. All of us remembered
the day before and the ordeal of Muir pass. All hoped for something
better, and all were rewarded. While there was snow about, there was not enough
to prove difficult either with footing or with route finding. Will, as usual,
was the first to the top, giving his triumphal yell. But, the echoes of
his call to the wild had barely ceased when the rest of us arrived at the
top to join him.
What a glorious pass this was: Easy to get to, relatively free of snow, and
with stunning views in all directions. The ease of ascent gave me hope for the
the trek ahead and for the last obstacles of the day: The ford of Bear Creek
and the climb of Bear Mountain. Descending the pass proved straightforward,
although this time there was no base lake and outlet stream to guide us.
Instead, forests and groves of trees, small and large, some brushy, others
clear, brought us through the snow on the north side of the pass, to where
the trail appeared, uncovered. A highway through the wilderness and our
fast lane to VVR. I, of course, took the opportunity to slip and fall on a
rock, square on my bottom. One of my water bladders burst open, leaving me
with a soggy backside and only 2.4 liters of capacity left to me. My ego a
bit bruised, but my body otherwise fine, the few miles to Bear creek rushed by.
Glory and I found Sharon and Will scouting up and down the raging creek. The
creek was almost as wide as Evolution and appeared as deep. However, the
water was moving much faster and was obstructed with rocks. Evolution
was an easy ford primarily because it was slow and the path smooth.
Deciding that there was little use in scouting out a route, I set out into
the fast, rushing waters. I was quickly in up to my knees, but moving
securely, my long, stout legs helping in the crossing. At the mid way point,
I had to maneuver past large, unseen rocks. When crossing a fast stream,
one can see underwater rocks by their effect on the surface of the water.
Getting around them is, however, much more difficult than knowing that they
are there. The ripple on top of the water indicates there presence, but
does not show their relative positions, and moving past them becomes a matter
of small, probing steps. My feet bounced, searching, from one rock to another.
My body strained to keep its balance and my mind engaged in a fight to stay
under control. I was in up to my waist and a slight fall would result in my
going under, soaking me to the bone and wetting out the gear I needed to stay
warm at night. Slowly, the danger passed, as my feet found the
right combination of steps to get across. I plodded through to the other side,
to the cheers of the others, perhaps now imbued with a bit more confidence for
their own effort.
Glory started across, struggling with the current, her shorter
body and lighter weight making the crossing more difficult. I was ready to get
into the water for a rescue effort, but despite a few tense moments, she
came across in fine style. Will, although sixty pounds lighter than I,
was only an inch shorter and with equally long legs. Finding a very stout
stick to act as a brace, he came across slowly, but without incident.
Sharon was still searching for a better crossing point, but there was
none to be found. Will hurled his stick across for Sharon to use as a
brace and I positioned myself downstream, ready again to go into the water,
though confident that Sharon would manage the ford without incident. Mostly,
I wanted to act as a cheerleader. She moved slowly out into the middle of
Bear Creek, where she met the rocks that had given me pause in my own
crossing. A few twitches. A couple of desperate steps. Her face twisted into
one of mixed concentration and terror. Despite the reassurances we were
all shouting to her, I knew that she did not hear us. All of her being was
focused into her next step. One step at a time she negotiated the rocks and
her face began to lighted. Arriving on the opposite bank, she was clearly
spent from the mental effort of the ford. It was something that I thought
she would remember for the rest of her life: Her triumph over Bear Creek.
With Bear Creek behind us, the mosquitoes made their presence felt. The
swampy creekside provided them with ample breeding grounds and the summer
had progressed to the point where they were strong enough to bite through
the thin clothing we all wore for hiking. This dictated a certain speed to
our hike, one that I declined to engage in. As if to thumb my nose to the
mosquitoes and their appetite, I sat against a rock to have a smoke while the
others raced on. I was determined not to go running through this last part of
the day. Five minutes at the rock were enough to convince me that the
mosquitoes were, perhaps, the stronger of the two of us and I set out at a
tremendous race through the flat lands along the banks of Bear Creek.
My pace was rapid enough to track down Will, who was confused by a side
trail. Sharon and Glory had gone tearing by it without worry, chased by
the clouds of mosquitoes. Will and I consulted the maps, thought things
through, and kept hiking. With the incline of Bear Mountain, the mosquitoes
began to die off, their clouds diminishing along with my pace. Up the
switchbacks I went, climbing out of the lush, green vegetated zone
close to the river into the drier, evergreen dominated flanks of Bear Mountain.
The light came out. That light that I had every day at this time in southern
California made one of its rare Sierran appearances. The pinkish gold of the
sun flashed off the granite in the distance, illuminating both the land and
my appreciative soul. Bear Creek was gone, the ordeal of Muir pass a far
off memory. Everything was perfect again and my entire being relaxed and
untensed. It was a fitting end to the most difficult part of the High Sierra.
There were still several hundred miles of mountain hiking and pass hopping left
before the granite of the John Muir country ended and the volcanic influences of the
Cascades began, but the hardest, most dangerous part was over. The light of
the heavens seemed to proclaim that I had come through, that I had passed to
a new phase of my trip.
I came to the top of Bear Mountain to find Will, Sharon, and Glory standing about
at a potential campsite; one where the guidebook indicated there was
water. I had a full 2.4 liters with me, but Sharon and Glory had been counting
on a water source. None was to be found. It was past 8 and we had at most an
hour of light before the darkness forced a campsite. This place would not
do and we powered on. Our pace increased to nearly four miles an hour, quite
literally flying down the trail hoping for a random water source. Nothing
was found, and the trail ran along the flank of the mountain, which meant that
there was no flat ground to camp on. Eight thirty passed, and I told Will that
I was stopping in five minutes, no matter where I was. Nine o'clock rolled by,
my previous declaration meaningless. Once there was no light to see by, finding
a campsite large enough for four people in the middle of the woods would prove
very difficult. A small hill to the right of the trail promised a bit of flat
ground at the base of some trees on it. It was perfect given the situation.
Four people could, almost, fit on the relatively flat ground around the
trees. It would have to do. We found a few tent stakes,still in the ground;
evidence that previous hikers had had the same problem as we did.
Thirty miles had gone by today, and we had
only five miles to hike tomorrow to make Lake Edison. Not knowing when the morning
boat came, we wanted to be at the lake shore as early as possible.
Knowing that the lake, and the pleasures of VVR, were only five miles away in the
morning, gave the night a special feel. I gave some water to Glory and
drank down a bunch myself, followed by my evening cookies. It was the
night before Christmas all over again.
There was no pause this morning. No struggle to get out of the sleeping bag.
No, this morning was Christmas morning. Like a child overly eager for the
treasures underneath the tree, I was off and rolling early. I was not alone in
this, with Will and Sharon well ahead of me already. The trail down to the lake
was a long descent, done 55 some-odd switchbacks, carrying us from the dry
evergreen mountain to the green, swampy land next to the lake. Several thousand
feet of descending took us from one eco-system to another in an hour and
deposited Glory and I on Lake Edison by 8 am. A sign indicated that the
morning boat would not be coming along until 9:30. Will had seen the sign and
decided to hike the four miles along the lakeshore to VVR. Sharon decided not
to suffer the swarming mosquitoes and took off at a frantic pace. Glory and
I walked down to the sandy shore to await the boat. She had the marvelous idea to
built a smoky fire to keep the insects at bay. I did bring a few handfuls of
needles and sticks to feed the fire, but mostly lounged on my sleeping pad,
in the sun at times and in the shade of a boulder. Glory took the opportunity
and went for a swim, while I tended the fire and made a pot of couscous with the
extra dinner I was carrying for emergency purposes. Not counting the
side trip to Mount Whitney, we had covered 175 miles of hard mountain hiking
from Kennedy Meadows to get to this spot. I needed some time to recover, and
would have almost a full day at VVR to relax and rest and to do the few chores
that I had to do. Laundry and a shore and packing up my resupply box that
I had sent from Agua Dulce. Agua Dulce? Four hundred miles ago, but the small
desert town on the edge of the Los Angeles megaplex seemed as removed from
here as Heathrow Airport in London. Only my presence connected the two
in my mind.
With a great howl, I announced the presence of the boat. I could see it slowly
powering its way to the shore. Glory and I packed up quickly and put out the
fire with several liters of water. The boat discharged one hiker as we hopped
aboard. Despite wanting to meet other hikers, all we could manage was a polite
hello. The boat driver was a man near 30 who worked at VVR during the summer, and
local ski resorts during the winter time. Although I had the summer to look
around the wilderness, he had the entire to exist in it. While he did have to
work, I thought about how different his winter and mine in south-central
Indiana must have been. Accompanying him was a young boy, whose grandfather
owned VVR. Assuring the driver that there was no one behind us close enough
to make the morning boat, he took off early, putting the boat at full throttle
for a rapid ride across the lake to the resort.
The fifteen minute boat ride took ages to complete, and when we reached the
shore and had tied up, I found that most of my strength was gone. My body
had no reserves of energy left and the difficulty of the
short uphill walk to the main complex of buildings can be understood only
by those who, having completed a long and physically demanding task,
are presented with one, final, exertion: The body gives all it can for
the difficult part, and nothing is left for the easy part. Glory and
I were escorted to the main area, where we found Will and Sharon finishing
a breakfast. Of course, we joined them for another breakfast. Will frequently
ate twice in towns, and this was no different. The delight of having an
well cooked meal was immense, and the chef even came out to chat. A large
man named Roy, he had cooked across the country and seemed to hop from wilderness
resort to wilderness resort, cooking up feasts for the guests and enjoying a
life lived in the woods. Roy would become our hero for the next
twenty hours and tales of his meals would reach up and down the trail for
miles to come.
With a full belly, I learned about how the resort was run. Bedding down in a
tent cabin (complete with bunks and mattresses) was free for the first night.
The first beverage was free (I got a nice microbrew). Phone was via
satellite and ran $3 a minute (the same for internet). Laundry was
$5, but could be split with other hikers. Showers were $5 and could not
be split with other hikers. It cost $15 to pick up my resupply box. There
was a tremendous amount of food in the campstore, all for about the same
price as a regular supermarket. Sending a resupply box to VVR was a mistake,
although I did greatly enjoy the nutella. White gas and denatured alcohol
were available by the ounce. Would we please make sure to have our
pictures taken before leaving? After all, there were several thick photoalbums
from years past documenting every hiker that past through VVR. That meant
almost every hiker on the PCT for the past five years. All of this
was explained to us by the manager, a young man named Casey who was about as
happy as could be with his job. Or, at least it appeared to me. Being in
love with what you do and where you do it must be one of the hardest
things to bring about in life, and he had it.
I sat for a while on the front porch, drinking my beer and not doing anything.
A sign above me proclaimed that Mexico was 850+ miles away in one direction,
and Canada another 1750+ miles in the other. Distances, today, did not matter.
I was not going any further than the tent cabin. It was a forty second
walk between the main complex and the cabin. Cooked food was
available all day long. All I had to do was nothing. Finishing my
beer, I found Glory and Sharon showered and sitting in front of the cabin in
the sun, chatting away.
I striped off my filthy clothes into a heap by the cabin and went to take a
shower. Upon my return, Sharon already had all of our laundry going in
the washing machine, and so I sat down to sort my resupply box into
my food bag. I had planned on way too much food in Agua Dulce, and had five
days of supplies to get me three days down the trail to Tuolumne Meadows.
It meant a heavier than necessary pack, but also a fat, full belly every day.
The day drifted by. The sun warmed the tent nicely, which became a
wonderful napping den.
I could feel a slight disturbance in the
air, and knew that the afternoon boat had arrived. Sauntering down
with Will and Glory, we found Tin Cup, Jeff, Troll, Laughy Taffy,
Dawn Treader, Shiver, and the Red Lantern in town. As they engaged in the
same ritual of utter rest that I had gone through earlier, Will, Glory,
and I sat down to afternoon tea. A massive
dish of blackberry cobbler, one of the noontime efforts of Roy, and ice cream,
with coffee was the perfect start to an evening of gorging. Retiring with a
full belly to the cabin, I found the new arrivals in various states of
cleansing and eating and talking. I had little chance to converse with
anyone other than Will, Sharon, and Glory since leaving Kennedy Meadows,
and it was nice to be in such a crowd.
Tin Cup proved to be the master conversationalist, with Jeff chiming in at
exactly the right moment with a witticism or two. The Red Lantern had traveled
about the world and I spent almost an hour talking with him about Nepal and
Mongolia. The afternoon light began to fade and dinner was calling. Unfortunately
for us, Roy had the night off. Still, the half slab of ribs, followed by more
cobbler, was a treat. I bought a bottle of wine from the camp store and we all
returned to the cabin to chat, while I swilled wine. It was a wonderful place,
this VVR. The stars came out and the hikers went to bed. I had to resist as
long as possible, though. Tomorrow morning I would have to leave this place and
start hiking again. The world would change again, as it had changed this morning
when the boat showed up at the shore of the lake. I wanted with all my heart to
keep hiking, but I also wanted this night to go one for just a little while
longer. The security of the chair in front of the cabin, the now empty
bottle of wine at my feet, and my clean clothes and body all spoke
volumes about my trip precisely because they were in such great contrast to it.
Their difference highlighted the important things on the hike. With the
moon in the sky and the thunder of rockslides in the distance, I slid into my
sleeping bag and drifted off into the land of dreams, sleeping the sleep of
the truly contented.
Hunger. True, desperate, driving hunger. It wasn't even light out, and I
was already dreaming of what Roy might be cooking for breakfast. I didn't
have to get it right the first time around, as two breakfasts were proper
for this morning. I hit the light on my watch. Five in the morning.
I had at least two more hours to kill before this gnawing pain in my
belly could be satisfied. I should have been well asleep on the comfortable
bunk after drinking a bottle of wine the night before. Having only
walked five miles the day before, my body was did not know what to do with
all the excess energy. I suppose it turned inward and the hunger was the
result. I sat in bed for an hour before getting dressed as quietly
as possible and moving outside. Others were stirring now as well. I
wanted to be on the morning boat out of town, which meant I had to
have my first breakfast in the first wave of diners. I milled about in front
of the tent, waiting. Waiting. No climb ever took this long, it seemed
to me. Finally, Will emerged from the tent and we went down to the
grill area. No luck: There had been a power failure during the night and
only some items could be had for breakfast. In particular, there was no
coffee. I gave my belly a massive Fresno omelet with the fixins' and
retreated to pack up and give the stomach a rest. Will was thinking the
exact thing I was: There is still time for another breakfast before the boat.
Packing took twenty minutes, after which I returned to the grill and ordered
up another omelet, this time with mushrooms. Will had the pancake special.
Then a piece of apple pie. With ice cream. For a 140 lb rake, he really
put the food away. The power was back on and I sat sipping my coffee before
settling up with Casey: $130 well spent I think. The four of us posed for
out picture out front, said goodbye to the others (who were either leaving
on the afternoon boat or staying a full day), and walked down to the lake
to await the boat. Will and Sharon had no desire to repeat their walk along
the lake, a sensible idea, I thought.
The boat sped across the surface of Lake Edison at a seemingly much
faster rate than on the trip across, although my watch told me it
actually took more time. I suppose I was anticipating Silver Pass,
only a few miles away and reportedly buried in snow. Upon reaching the sandy
shore opposite VVR, we walked past the charred remnants of the bug fire
that Glory had built to protect us from the mosquitoes just a day before.
The others quickly got in front of me, my double breakfast requiring a
slower pace. The trail led, naturally, uphill toward the pass, crossing a
ford that the guidebook repeatedly warned as a potentially fatal one.
A creek was cascading down a rock face, crashing down onto various
levels along the way. The trail crossed one of these levels, and I
found the others looking around for a rock hop. The danger of the ford
appeared to me to lay in an attempted rock hop and not in the ford itself.
Plunging across the water, surprisingly gentle given that it really was a
waterfall, and moving as quickly as I could through the spray, I reached the
other side without incident. Glory followed as easily, although Will and
Sharon were bent upon keeping their feet dry just a little longer.
Continuing toward Silver Pass, I waited in anticipation, in dread maybe,
of the coming snow and the battle with the pass. Winding higher and
higher on the dry and dusty trail, the headwall of a cirque of mountains
appeared on the horizon. The pass must go through them, but where is the
snow. Shortly before cresting out on this easiest of Sierran passes,
a bit of snow was encountered. Just enough to go crunch under my shoes,
but not enough to do much of anything else. The north side of the
pass was something else entirely.
As uncovered as the south side of Silver pass was (uncovered, I suppose,
relative to the other passes crossed so far), the north side was
covered. Buried in a shawl of white, the snow stretched forth for
a considerable way. But, it was unobstructed. Few rocks, no trees.
The perfect sled run, if only a sled was to be found. Not to be
deterred from our fun, the glissading began, with Sharon taking the lead
down, and Will and I following. Trying to keep my backside dry, I
went down mostly on my feet, skiing as best as I could and only landing
on my bottom once or twice. The glissade brought us rapidly down to the
plateau on the north side of the pass, whose carpet of snow presented
few difficulties. It was a whole new world, I thought: Even the passes
were getting easy. Snow was melting and my body was strong again.
Thoughts turned to other things, now that the route was easing up.
As the afternoon rolled by, my desire to be by myself intensified. I
had not spent a night by myself since two nights before reaching
Kennedy Meadows. While I had some time during each day to hike alone,
the nature of the land seemed to dictate that group travel was best.
But, now, perhaps I should strike out on my own. Will seemed to have no
problem traveling alone. Indeed, he would usually be out in front much
of the day, waiting a top passes, or at a lunch spot, or just before
turning in for the day. He seemed to like hiking alone, but wanted a
spot of company when the time came. Perfect, I thought. Sharon
had the same desires, it seemed. She would do the little things to get a
bit of solitude when she wanted it: Stop to tie her shoes, or maybe go
to the bathroom. Will got his solitude from speed, Sharon from
slyness. Glory, though, really seemed to like being around others during
the day. She hiked the Appalachian trail last summer and spent a large
part of it by herself. So, why the attachment out here? She was too
strong of a hiker for me to out pace, and seemed not to mind stopping
when I would stop. Whether waiting for me to finish going to the bathroom
or to get a drink of water, she was there. I wanted to be on my own for
a while, for more than just an hour here or there, but Glory was always
there. I did not have the heart to tell her directly that I wanted to
be alone. The others understood and wanted the same thing. She was hiking
the trail in the way that she wanted to: With others. Unfortunately,
that desire was beginning to interfere with the style in which I
wanted to hike the trail.
The sun began to sink and the temperature drop. The four of us were together
after being strung out for most of the trail after Silver pass.
A nice, dry meadow was found and became home for the night. The time
was right and the place was right. Until many bear prints and various
piles of bear scat indicated that perhaps this was another creature's
home. We pushed on in the waning day light. The trail took us around the
flanks of a mountain, the absolute worse place to be when looking for a
campsite. Glory raced ahead in a burst of some unknown strength. I do not
think she was even looking for a campsite and, indeed, this proved to
be the case. With nine o'clock on the watch and Duck Lake near by,
a small, slightly unlevel campsite appeared, out of the wind and
with room for four. Glory was somewhere ahead and had motored right
by it. We called out and called out, and she eventually returned to the
spot. I wanted to camp alone and scoured the area for another reasonable
spot out of the wind. None was to be found and I returned to sleep amidst the
others by our little wind break.
The cold of a early summer Sierran night descended upon us, and the blackness
settled in for the duration. Unlike the previous night, I did not fall asleep
contented. I knew in my mind and my heart that I had to make a change, to
break away from the friends that I had been hiking with. This was important
to me, but I did not know how to do it. Will and Sharon would understand without
a word being said: Their agenda was the same as mine, I thought. Glory would
be more difficult. How do you tell someone you care about that you no
longer want to be around them? How, indeed.
The cold night could not chase away the problems of the previous day, and I
awoke with the firm desire for solitude. I quickly packed up and was out
walking well before the others, trying to get some time to myself in the
early morning light and stillness. The trail ran by Duck Lake and then around
the flanks of another mountain side. With the warmth of the sun driving the
chill of the night away, I scampered up the side of the mountain to relieve
myself, hidden behind a clump of pine. Because of the bears in the area, I
had taken my pack with me. I saw Glory and Will go hiking by, unaware of
my presence. It dawned on me that now I could have some solitude, at least
up to Reds Meadow: Will and Glory thought I was ahead, and so would push
hard to catch up. I could stroll leisurely all by myself.
Sharon caught up with me a few minutes into my stroll, but I did not mind it.
We talked for a while and the subject of solitude came up. We were of the
same feeling, as I suspected, and she also had the same difficulties in
relation to Glory that I did. We both liked her and cared for her and
enjoyed being with her in towns, but while on the trail her style of hiking
intruded on what we, as individuals, wanted out of our own hikes. I
felt better knowing that I was not alone in my difficulties, but it
did not make a solution any more apparent. Our talking done, Sharon
drifted behind me as we made our way toward Reds Meadow.
The trail turned through a burned out area, intersecting a spur trail
leading off to Reds Meadow. I plopped down in the dirt, pounded into a
fine dust by the hooves of the many horses, ridden by tourists, who
were led through the areas. With Devil's Postpile National Monument
close by, this area received heavy visitation and it showed. The use
trail was wide and dusty and showed the tracks of many people, amongst
them Will and Glory's tracks. I debated going into Reds Meadow. I
didn't need anything and I wasn't particularly hungry after gorging at
VVR. If I hiked on, I could have the rest of the day to myself and
gain the solitude that I was seeking so desperately this morning and
the day before. Sharon arrived. We walked the five minutes into
Reds Meadow together.
In Reds Meadow we found Glory and Will, who had been in "town" for
the past hour and had already eaten. Glory was very excited to see us.
I took a look through the campstore and found few things to buy, though
I suppose it would be possible to get enough food to make it to
Tuolumne Meadows. Will, Sharon, and I made out way to the grill as I
was not going to let the opportunity for a bacon double cheeseburger
pass and Will wanted some more pie and icecream. Sharon settled for
a smaller lunch and I added slice of cherry pie with ice cream for
desert. While as expensive as VVR. the food was not up to Roy's
exacting standards. A nap in the sun on the grass ensued.
Determined to have the solitude that I had sacrificed for a cheeseburger,
I quietly packed up and tried to sneak out of Reds Meadow in the confusion of
the departure of a shuttle bus to Mammoth Lakes. During the summertime,
visitors are required to park at a depot near Mammoth and ride the shuttle
bus in. I didn't get very far before Glory, then Will and Sharon caught up.
Determined to get my time, I lagged behind, taking an excessive break.
Glory went along with Will and Sharon, and I was able to be alone for a while.
The time passed far too rapidly, as I thoroughly enjoyed the easy, snow
free hiking that the lower terrain provided. The quiet of the pine forest
was broken only by the rushing of the creeks and streams and by the bark of
an occasional squirrel, warning of my approach or just gossiping with a
friend. It was warm and I was well fed and as happy as could be with the
easy trail. This, too, would have to end as it was a long climb up into the
highlands of the Ansel Adams wilderness, the prelude to Yosemite.
Cresting out after leaving the San Joaquin river, I spotted Glory ahead, coming
up from some other trail. I had assumed, due to my slow pace, that she would
be far ahead. Instead, she had slowed down and gotten separated from
Will and Sharon and had taken a wrong turn, descending where she should have
ascended. Now she was spooked and did not want to be alone, did not want to
risk getting lost again without someone to share it with. Perfectly
understandable, I thought. The problem was, I did not want to be around her.
I did not want to be around anyone. If Britney Spears, whose face was
plastered on my olive oil bottle had appeared, I would not have wanted to
be with her either. I just wanted to be alone for a while.
There was no helping it for a while. I hoped that Glory would recover and
be able to forge ahead on her own if I was quiet and slow. In the midst of
a variety of trail intersections, we took, apparently, the wrong way, though
we did not know it at the time. Coming into a developed campground, we
ran into a caretaker who pointed out that we needed to walk down a
road a bit to get back to the trail. Without worries, we walked the
road, in silence, to another developed campground where there were
toilets and water. Hoping Glory would simply hike on, I stopped to fill
up my water. She also filled up. So, I went inside one of the outhouses to
use the bathroom, hoping she would move on. She also went to the bathroom.
I came out before her, and stood around the backside of the outhouses, hoping
that she would come out and go off on her own, thinking I had already left.
When she came out, I could feel the dejection coming from the other side
of the outhouse. I could feel the sadness she was feeling, even without
seeing her. It tore at my heart, and I could no longer continue my
childish game. I walked around in front, and saw her smile. She had
thought that I had abandoned her and was upset at first. Hoping that now
she would press on, I sat down to have a smoke. She sat down to wait. My
heart had hardened again, and I was determined that Glory should lead the way
out of here.
Next to us was a large sign announcing that the trail five feet away from us
was the Pacific Crest Trail. One arrow pointed in one direction and said North,
another arrow pointed in the opposite direction and was labeled South. Shouldering
our packs, I waited. Glory waited. A Mexican standoff straight out of
a Sergio Leone movie. I was not going to give ground. Glory looked at me and
then looked at the sign. I didn't twitch or blink and I could hear the
soft, sad wail of a cornet, blowing with the wind, "Waa waa waa".
Where was Angel Eyes? Glory repeated her move, and still I stood remained
Twenty seconds passed, and she asked me if I understood the sign. Yes,
I told her. Which way do you think it is to Canada, I prodded. She
moved off in the right direction as waves of frustration passed over me.
It was nearing the early evening when I passed Glory getting water. I had
most of the climb into the highlands to myself, and wanted more. She
was on my tail again, although further back than usual. I think she
innately sensed that I wanted to be alone and so gave me a bit of space.
But, not wanting to be alone herself, she never let me get far enough ahead
to gain real separation. She was too strong of a hiker for me to outpace,
and so I was stuck. I had to be alone when I got to the top of the climb.
The perfect canvas for a sunset was being formed in the heavens above. Just
enough clouds to provide some reflective material, but not enough to
obscure anything. We were rapidly leaving the forest behind and soon
would have the unobstructed, three hundred and sixty degree views that
made hiking in a sparsely vegetated land so special. With Glory
forty yards behind, I rounded a corner and walked ten feet off the trail to
go to the bathroom in plain view. Glory came by with her head down and
did not see me. Deciding that this was a good time to cook dinner, I
climbed up some small rocks and sat down for a macaroni and cheese dinner,
all alone with my light. I felt like a child.
Although still feeling less like an adult than usual, I enjoyed the
end of the day immensely. Shortly after leaving my dinner-with-a-view
rock, I crested out and began following a trail dug into the side of the
mountains, the Ritter range standing out prominently. The sun was
fading and the world was again bathed in that perfect light that I thought
could only happen in the desert. I passed Will, Sharon, and Glory sitting
underneath a tree. Glory was eating dinner and the other two resting
after finishing theirs. I said hello and kept hiking, wanting to have this
land all to myself. Around and around the trail ran, sticking to the
side of the mountain and with little elevation change. The now-black
rock of the Ritter range with their white peaks of snow and ice stood out
in the orange and pink light of the sunset. A gathering storm was stuck on
Mount Ritter. I watched it fight with the mountain to get past. The mountain,
though, was a formidable gatekeeper and the storm was locked in solid, unable
to cross the valley and pour its rain down upon me. On my side of the valley,
it was still warm and pleasant and clear.
With 8 o'clock having passed on my watch, thoughts of bedtime soon crept into
my head. I did not want the day to end, but my wants would not keep the
sun from setting nor the light from going. I put it off as long as I
could, finally exploring around the cliffs by the valley drop off near
Agnew Pass Trail, finding an acceptable location for a camp in a little
dry clearing ringed by wild onions. My ten minutes of scouting before had
cut the distance between the others and myself and Will showed up shortly,
having spotted my orange anorak through the trees. We had seen many warnings
about bears in the area and we were officially required to carry bear cannisters
here. None of us had them. Remembering a movie from my childhood, I set about
marking off the campsite. I'd water down a small bush, then hop a few feet to
another and mark that one as well. Will's laughter turned to amazement, it
seemed, as he watched me mark off a substantial area. It really was rather comic,
thought I don't think Sharon or Glory were nearly so impressed when they arrived
and heard the tale.
I felt better after having much of the day to myself, despite my poor
behavior at the outhouse and my battles with Glory. They were battles
she did not know were going on. If only she had some crippling personality
flaw that would allow me to dislike her. If only she were dishonest or
boastful or otherwise saddled with some negative characteristics.
I would not feel bad telling her I needed separation. But, she did not.
She didn't have anything inside of her that I could call negative or
flawed. She just wanted something other than what I wanted. I decided
there was nothing to be done until after clearing the High Sierra,
roughly near Sonora pass, on the other side of Yosemite. This was the
last dangerous area and I thought Glory would not feel quite so abandoned
if I left her after this. Before that, though, I thought she needed the
company for safety reasons, at least. Tomorrow would be June 21rst,
the summer solstice and hike-naked-day. It was also the entrance into
Tuolumne Meadows, one of my symbolic distance markers on my hike; one of
those places that, sitting at home over the cold winter, I thought would
mean something significant. It was a Saturday, which meant that Sunday
would be a day off as I had to wait to pick up my bounce box from the
postoffice. Tomorrow was a big day. Yes, indeed it was.
The cold and dark of the early morning in the highlands of the Ansel Adams
wilderness is not conducive to sleeping in, nor to getting out of ones
sleeping bag. It is this paradoxical dilemma that occupied my morning
thoughts: It is too cold to sleep comfortably in my thin sleeping bag and
flat pad, yet it is surely warmer than the outside air. Sharon was up early
and was on the trail early in the morning. Will followed shortly and
Glory declined to wait around for me, something I was thankful for. The
early morning light is almost as special as the early evening light, and
I wanted a little time to myself this morning; this summer solstice.
The black rock of Banner Peak, towering over Thousand Island lake, was
not something that was rushed past by anyone, except perhaps the blind.
Photos were taken. Vantage points scampered to. This scene may be the
most photographed of any along the entire 2650 miles of trail between
Mexico and Canada. Everyone has a picture of Banner peak, and for
good reason. This place would be thronged with hikers in a few weeks,
once the rest of the snow melted out. We were already encountering
John Muir trail hikers and other section hikers, though in much
fewer numbers than must flock to this bit of granite formed Eden
on a warm, late summer weekend. Signs confirming this appeared
near the shores of the lake. Warning signs about regulations concerning
camping procedures. Regulations implied popularity. Unpopular places,
or difficult to access places, never carried restrictions, no
matter how sensitive. There was no reason to bar the few people
who took the trouble to visit them from camping near by, or eating
fish out of the lake, or having a dram or two in the evening.
Our little group began the slog up toward Donahue Pass and Yosemite
National Park. Sharon forged ahead, while Glory and Will lagged
behind, providing me with the solitude that I had so craved since leaving
VVR. Quickly, the trail dove under the still lingering snow in a
move common for the past week that it was no longer disturbing.
The rotten snow provided terrible footing, but a long finger of rock
seemed to offer quick and easy access to the plateau below the pass.
Not being anyone's fool, I took the easy route, thumbing my nose at
Frost, and clambered up the rocks, taking them straight to the top of
the plateau, where the ran out and I was confronted with a vast
stretch of white, broken only by a few other islands of rock. Ringing the
plateau were the usual mountains and the usual myriad of possible passes.
I was far off trail, or at least completely ignorant of its location.
Perhaps I was someone's fool after all.
The map and the compass came out and provided little help. Deciding
that the pass must be the easy, non-snowbound one to the far left, I set
out across the carpet, postholing repeatedly until reaching another
island of rock. Consulting my map and compass again, I reached the
opposite conclusion: The snow free pass could not be the right one,
as from this vantage point it was not oriented in the right directions.
Surprisingly, Will snuck up on me and announced that he, too, was lost.
Together, we settled on another snow free pass and started to head in
that direction, again across the rotten snow, and hopped a creek to
reach some more rock. The scene repeated itself: The pass we were
heading to could not be the right one.
A long, silent conference took place, with no clear winner. We could
only reach a negative conclusion: The pass was not in the direction we
were heading; it could only be back toward where the finger of
rock ended. The both of us had jogged left, when we should have
taken to the right. As if in confirmation of this fact, I spotted
two small figured slogging there way through the valley below, far
to the right. With Sharon ahead, it was unclear who the two people
below were. Glory had to be one, but who could be the other?
Will and I cut directly across the plateau, heading for the snow bound
pass that the two hikers below were heading toward. We evidently were
much closer than they, as Will and I topped out after fifteen minutes of
slogging, reaching a sign welcoming us to Yosemite National Park, and
seeing Sharon's cold, wind bitten form nestled beneath a large
rock. She was trying her best to stay out of the wind and in the
sun. No, I would be doing no naked hiking for a while. Aside from the
obvious sun burn problem from the harsh light reflected off the snow, it
was damn cold up here. Will and I settled in for a rest and to find out
who the hiker with Glory was. Twenty minutes and a King Sized Snickers
bar later, we met Tyson Fisher.
Tyson came up over the rise leading Glory to the pass, who instantly
proclaimed, "I could have done it myself!" The three of us didn't
say anything in response and instead focused on who this new person was.
Tyson was a PCT hiker, having started out two weeks before us, but
had to take a week off in Lone Pine, east of the Sierra Nevada, in order
to wait for the snow to melt off a bit. Well tanned and in shorts,
it was clear than the female members of our little group were a bit stricken
with Tyson. Friendly and interesting, Tyson indeed charmed Will and I as well.
It was hike-naked day, and I was not going to be denied the opportunity.
Coming down from the pass, Will and Sharon dropped back and Glory raced ahead,
as we picked our way down the heavily switchbacked, snow covered trail. which
would flatten only in the great floor of Lyell Canyon. Leaving the snow
behind, I bared myself to the warm sun and light breeze, and strolled down
the trail clad only in my shoes and my hat, the rest of my clothes
stuffed in the outside of my pack. I waved to Sharon and Will, above
me, who appeared to slow down drastically, not wanted to overtake me.
Being free and easy in the wind
is a most refreshing feeling, though one which, perhaps is best
experienced without the presence of small children. Coming down
toward the valley floor, I recalled that it was almost perfectly flat
all the way to Tuolumne Meadows, and that the chances of encountering a
family out from a stroll, on a Saturday, in one of the busiest national
parks in the US, was exponentially increasing. I spotted Glory up ahead
sitting on a boulder munching on some sort of snack. She did not see me
until I was going by. The beginnings of a standard greeting started to
pass from her lips, broken off suddenly when she saw that I had no clothes
on. I waved and kept going.
My freeswinging jaunt was soon to end, as I thought the danger of
running into a family with children was becoming too great to
ignore. I stopped and put my clothes back on and the others
soon came by. We shared a good laugh and began the hike through
Lyell Meadows together. I soon stopped for a lunch break, which none of
the others wanted to do. Besides being hungry, it gave me an excuse to
hike the last bit into Tuolumne Meadows all by myself. Tyson came rambling
by in mid-slurp of ramen noodles, waving as he went. There was no one
behind me and no one in front that I could catch up with. Except for the
day hikers strolling up the valley, Lyell Meadows belonged to me.
It was warm and pleasant and the trail was as flat as could be imagined.
Only an occasional leap over a small creek was required, and I cannot
imagine an easier hike in the world, except perhaps the hike from my
futon to my kitchen to get a beer when I was at home. Everything was green
here, from the swaying grass to the pines, it was a bonanza of life after
so long in the alpine environs of the High Sierra. With the exception
of the land around Lake Edison, this was the most lush land that I
had passed through since...Well, since April when I went for a weekend
hike in the Smoky mountains in North Carolina. I passed several large
groups of hikers carrying far too much gear for their weekend in the
wild, but even those were few. Maybe they were hauling large canvases and
oil paints to sketch out the impression this land made on them. Maybe
their packs were stuffed with cases of beer. Perhaps a collapsible
trampoline. Something, anything other than bits of shiny new gear
that a salesman or a magazine had convinced them that they needed to
enjoy the outdoors. That would be far too mundane. I knew in my mind
that they were, but my soul hoped for something better.
All too quickly I began to hear the sounds of civilization. A car
engine. The whine of electricity. The low hum, that background
noise, that signals the presence of mechanical devices; that
announces the presence of what Edward Abbey so denigrated as "culture."
A bridge, then another. Some kids out fishing in the creek. A
woman sitting, sketching with charcoal. People out enjoying their
lands. Not an RV to be seen. I was happy for them, happy that they
were using this treasure. The woman with the charcoals didn't have to
walk far from her car to find an idyllic spot to record. The kid
with the fishing rod was probably no more than five minutes from his
parents' tent cabin. It wasn't hard or expensive to do and there lodge
here where people could have food cooked for them. Why wasn't
this place packed with people? Perhaps it was still too cold for the
RV people to come out in force. Maybe they would get here in a few weeks.
I would be long gone by then, thankfully.
I reached HWY 120, the first road I'd crossed since leaving Kennedy
Meadows, two hundred and fifty, or so, miles ago. Where else in the
developed world can you walk for two hundred and fifty miles, in more
or less a straight line, and not cross a road? Where in the undeveloped
world, for that matter. I could think of some places, probably, in Canada,
and most likely there were such places in eastern Russia, but where else?
I could think of nowhere else, and certainly no place with as many
people living close by: San Francisco and Silicon Valley were a four
hour drive from here. Walking the road, I quickly found Sharon and Will at
the postoffice-grill-store circus tent, chatting with a woman named
Pat. Pat was married to Walt, who was thruhiking this summer,
and combined they became Happy Trails. Or, sometimes,
The PCT Express, depending on whether one was looking at the
cards they had or the decals on the cargo van that Pat Was driving.
Walt and Pat had set out several times before to thruhike the
PCT together, but had been turned back each time for a variety of
reasons. Pat had recently had surgery on her knee and was not able
to hike this summer. Determined to enjoy the experience of hiking
the trail together, Pat was driving the van in support of Walt, meeting
him at various road crossings and helping with logistics, both for
him and other homeless hikers this summer. Walt had hiked out of
Tuolumne Meadows this morning, along with several others, but Pat
was staying behind to drop off some supplies for hikers behind us
who had, for some reason, stopped in Mammoth. She was spending a
summer getting to explore the small towns and state parks along the
trail and experiencing much that I was missing. The little, winding
mountain roads and isolated hamlets that make up so much of America
were hers to explore and experience, meeting up with Walt every
few days. A wonderful way to spend a summer, I thought.
Pat drove the three of us to the Tuolumne Lodge, which was decidedly
un lodge-like. Rather than a bustling, overpriced hotel where one
might get a pleasant room, the lodge consisted of a main building
housing a family-style restaurant, a shower complex, a fire ring,
and a bunch of tent cabins equipped with wood-fired stoves for
heat. All for the low price of $70 for two, without meals.
Dinner, however, was a different story. We found Tyson and
Glory inside, finishing up dinner and made plans to meet them
later. We were seated around a circular table with several
well scrubbed families and proceeded to dinner. The salad and
rolls, we were told, were all-you-can-eat, a dubious business
practice in a place that thruhikers might frequent. Not wanting
to take from the others, and not quite believing that the AYCE
condition was in place, Will and I eat took a small bit of salad
and a single roll. The families assured us that the servers would bring
more. Before my double cheeseburger arrived, four tubs of salad
were emptied. Three baskets of rolls had to be replaced. And two
bins of butter had to be refilled. It got to the point where
I was using two packages of butter per roll: One package per half roll.
With light fading quickly, the subject of lodging came up and we
decided to try to get a single cabin and sneak the five of us inside.
Unfortunately, no cabins were to be had and we were stuck with another
night in the woods, a prospect that was no more frightening that
a package of butter. We stashed our stuff in the bear lockers in the
lodge's parking lot, and walked off into the woods, finding a secluded
spot amongst the trees to throw out our groundclothes. The cold set in,
and the first night of summer was decidedly uncomfortable on my
flat foam sleeping pad. It was not the lack of padding, but rather the
lack of insulation. I had to get something else in the near future,
as the casual nights of southern California had been replaced, for the
past ten days, by a dread of sleep. That was a task for tomorrow, however.
Tomorrow would be my first day without hiking for quite a while. In
fact, ever since leaving Agua Dulce, five hundred miles ago, I had not
had a full day of rest. Instead, I had taken partial days off in Mojave,
Kennedy Meadows, and VVR. But, a day without hiking is something to
be treasured: There is nothing to get up for other than breakfast, and
nothing to do other than get fat and watch people go by. Yes, tomorrow
would be sweet.