Do you want to meet the love of your life? Look in the mirror. – Byron Katie
The Sierra welcomes me with intense, gusting wind all night, the alicoop shuddering and rattling, but she’s still upright and I’m cozy and warm. It’s a cold morning and clear – so far – as I get breakfast going, try to find my tent stake bag – a totally lost cause – and get the day started.
I head directly up onto an exposed trail over austere rock and tiny, pioneering plants, their flowers crinkly as they nod their heads in the wild wind. I’m above 9,000 feet and I can barely stay balanced, the wind blowing me over and filling my mouth. I yell into it, my voice swallowed up by the whooshing gusts. It’s exhilarating and thrills me to power up and up as the wind tries to push me back. A goshawk throws himself into the wind, heading up so he can race down it like a giant slide. Towers appear ahead, the mountains oddly shaped like rows of different sized buildings. Everything is turning yellow. Autumn is here.
Soon, I head down towards the woods, but the wind doesn’t let up, its arctic fingers penetrating through my jacket. The sun is up and heats up rocks as I walk through. “Ah, warm at last.” I come to a road and hope for hot chocolate, but only see a sign warning of cows in road. This is the Mokolumne Wilderness, no fires allowed above 8,000 feet. I’m in forest with lots of granite mixed in and I cross many big streams.
I realize it might have been useful if I was clear on what I needed from Klaus last night when my tent crashed down. It was a small emergency since it was dark and the wind was taking my possessions away, and I definitely need everything I’m carrying. He did find my tent peg, but I really needed him to help me set in a more protected location. He was cold, so after he found the peg, he went back in his tent leaving me to navigate moving everything and resetting by myself. I managed but could have used the help. This morning he wanted to ensure we’d still hike together. I’m not entirely sure why he wants to hike together since he does what he wants anyway. I sigh and try to let it go.
I meet him at the water and then move on up and out of the forest with a view back to where we crossed yesterday. There’s a distinctive Western flavor here of buttes and dry, openness. I see lots of footprints in the dust, but not a soul on the trail. Clouds are building to the north as was predicted, though still looking like happy puffy clouds. Alabama Hills type rock in odd formations lines the walls of this mountain I zigzag up into another huge, exposed bowl with a narrow, sidling trail.
I meet three backpackers who tell me they come here often and wonder if I’m aware the ‘monster storm’ should be here within an hour or two. I walk along this dusty balcony walk looking over my shoulder as my happy clouds become bigger, angrier clouds. The wind picks up, mules ears helicoptering and the storm spreading towards me, then over me. I meet a hiker who suggests a camp spot five miles ahead and gives me very good advice to carry as much water as I can in case I get stuck in my tent.
I climb up and over a steep pass with a huge rocky fortress looming overhead. It’s soon covered in black cloud. Below is a creek and I heed his advice and fill my bottles before putting on my rain gear. Klaus arrives as the first drops hit – small hail bouncing off me and the ground, gathering in pools of white. We push forward, he still in shorts without rain pants.
It’s now a white-out but the trail is obvious, up, then down into a valley as hail turns to snow. Of course I sing ‘Jingle Bells’ because it’s so beautiful, falling in curtains. We come around a bend, and a gust of wind silences me. There’s a campsite with ‘Phantom’ from Texas trying to warm up in his tent. We decide to move on because we feel good and strong, but it is steeply up and the snow is really coming down now. My feet are drenched and I’m getting cold. I move faster, ready to take any site that’s flat.
At last, there’s a spot and I throw up the alicoop as fast as possible, jumping inside and exchanging my wet clothes for dry, burrowing under my liner and bag. I shiver at first as the snow turns to icy pellets, pinging the tarp. But soon, I fall asleep waking when the storm passes and blue sky peaks out from the mist.
I venture out to attempt to dry things, purify water – with ice cold fingers – and make dinner. Klaus is determined to walk more. It’s already 5:00 and it gets pitch dark by 7:30. I am cold and wet and simply need to stay, so we part. He says he intends to leave a resupply at Sonora Pass. It’s only 36 miles from here, so if the weather holds, I should be there in two days. I could catch up to him, but I won’t leave in dark and cold, so maybe not.
I wish he’d stayed, but, to be honest, he really does his own thing and I came here alone. I talk to myself as I do my chores, packing the bear box, putting the water filter and fuel inside a bag and at the bottom of my sleeping bag in case it freezes, brushing my teeth and getting back into my bag. I’ll be ok.
Just as I get cozy, Hansel and Gretel turn up. I guess I’m never totally alone. The snow on the firs is lovely. The pink sky turns black and it’s time to sleep, hoping this storm was just an anomaly with an Indian Summer awaiting my progress through the Sierra. Sweet – and warm – dreams!