If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. – Oprah Winfrey
The night is cold even if I melt the snow under the tent. My breath gets the top of the quilt wet and I would be just fine not moving.
But I do anyway, first dressing ad putting the rain gear over my clothes. My pee rag is frozen as are my shoes. It takes some doing to open the bear canister. I have no fingernails for the snaps, so use my spoon. Filtering water freezes my fingers and when my chococoffee is ready, I place my boiling pot right in my palms. Ah!
Packing is interesting since everything has an icy attachment with extra dirt and pine needles. I shake things out as best I can, bundle up and head on down the trail straight into a winter wonderland. We got just under an inch of snow and it crunches underfoot from a layer of freezing rain. Every plant is topped with white in long fingers and little hats. Tiny footprints appear from chipmunks and chickadees. I’m cold even as the sun sneaks over the horizon, but mesmerized by the beauty.
I meet two women, ‘Lake’ and ‘Donuts’ thawing out in the sun, a bit shattered by the experience but happy it was short and concentrated. The wind is dying, but it bites at the exposed skin of my face. I feel nervous walking alone, and slightly irritated I was left behind even if it made more sense to start fresh on a sunny morning. My nervousness arises from insecurity that I won’t make it. I see the miles I walk and still, each day at its end, I’m amazed I can go so far. But now the days are shorter and it’s getting colder. I move slower too with my bear canister and warm clothes.
The icy trail takes me to a road, the American flag waving high up on a crag. I see no one as I head up into the sun, remove my jacket and put on sunglasses. I sing songs to make myself feel braver, Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ makes me cry a little. Then I remind myself that I have all of this beautiful day to go where I can, and I can only do as much as I can do.
It seems to take the pressure off as the snow that made such a magic fairyland melts and disappears. I stop at a stream for water and take off my rain pants. The trail goes up from here, elephant leg rocks and oddly shaped hoodoos frame snow capped mountains in the distance. Noble Lake reflects the mountains surrounding it. From here, it’s a steep rise to 9,400 feet and glorious views beyond of peaks, lakes and meadows. I hear cowbells from far below and walk through a barbed wire gate just in case one decides to go NOBO on the PCT.
I enter the Carson Iceberg Wilderness and think of the iceberg of my shoes this morning and trying to jam in my poor feet that have worked so hard for these views. I make lunch at a creek of tuna and tortilla, backwash my water purifier and tape my toes – all in gloriously warm sunshine. Then it’s back up and over another pass, two shark fin mountains swimming amidst snow dusted crags. As I move up, the finale of Brahms 1 comes into my head, like a new beginning. I’m working but feel good.
I swing around the rocky bits in a kind of sneak attack, getting a view of their magnificence from the safety of a grassy area. At the pass, I camel up at what I think is the final stream for some time. Suddenly ‘Phantom’ appears. He’s the young man from Houston I passed in the middle of the snow storm who later, after the storm, passes me camping. How is he behind me now, I wonder. He tells me he hikes slowly and can’t get up early. I guess I never saw his tent this morning.
We walk together for several miles. He’s a computer scientist and tells me he just quit his job to walk this, but really never has to worry about getting another. I am jealous. He started July 2, but walked too slowly, so skipped from central Oregon to here. When I tell him I walked it all, he says he’s jealous of me!
We come up one more steep part passing a kidney shaped snow bank and big granite boulders seemingly welcoming us to a full-on Sierra view, Muir’s ‘Range of Light’ of white granite mountains. Three pyramids line up facing us. And of course, we walk right into it. We talk about all sorts of subjects including animals and how they are treated as well as music since he has a band.
We also talk hiking and I tell him how I prefer to hike in the daylight and arrive with time to make dinner and set in the light, harder to do as autumn takes hold. He is amazed by how fast I’m going. I don’t walk all that fast, I simply walk all day. I tell him how yesterday I set my tent while it snowed and then freezing rain covered it in ice. Once it stopped, I tried to reorganize, as well as eat and make a better space for sleeping. It made no sense to pack up and go just to gain a few hours. He told me that Klaus had said he was ‘walking away his fear.’ Everything makes better sense now. He was cold and afraid of getting through the Sierra. Maybe leaving was the only way to exert control. I think it was not smart and would have been safer to stay together in case one person begins to exhibit symptoms of hypothermia, the other could help. He walked with me to feel safer until he didn’t need to walk with me anymore. In the end, I’m just fine.
It’s in the past now and I know I made the best decision for me to stay put, get warm and sleep. It gave me the energy to go far on this extraordinary day of snow magic, high passes opening to new views and my own power.
I pick up two liters of water at the final creek before a spectacular view. The alicoop looks right out to it – a huge rock face, lined with deep gullies and topped by towers. She’s orange when I arrive, pink as I eat, then one last alpine glow as the sun disappears, stars twinkling and temperatures dropping. I am all alone, the distant of Carson Creek far below lulling me to blessed sleep.