Once you figure out what respect tastes like, it tastes better than attention. – Pink
The day opens pink, cold and just a shudder of wind on the alicoop. I’m in an exposed spot and taking my chances, challenging the wind in my mind to return. Of course, I will lose this fight. But my night was still and lit by a gibbous moon illuminating every scar and furrow on the giant cliffs facing me. And the best part, I was all alone in this soulful perch.
The trail heads down where I pass Phantom who gives me a lopsided smile and says he just can’t deal with mornings. There are many campsites next to the Carson River, but everyone is up and out. I feel good today, moving well and ready for the climb out of here to my highest altitude of the trail so far at 10,500 feet.
I follow the loud, melodious river for a long time, moving up far more gradually than the very steep descent into this gorge. I’m still in my jacket as the sun is still hidden behind clouds, that, much to my consternation, seem to get thicker and blacker, blowing fast overhead. I rise to one false pass after another, snow clinging to crotches near white granite boulders and steeper sections.
My body is a breathing machine. I focus on the rhythm, staying right at the edge of exhaustion in this thin air, my legs and feet doing their own thing. After so many miles, they know exactly what to do. I pass Donuts, surprised I’m able to pass anyone. She’s happily pushing up into low, shrubby willows tucked into boulders, the pass in site.
I take off my jacket and put on hat and glasses, assuming this is the pass when I notice a figure moving higher up to my right. The view is extraordinary in icy wind. I spy my first marmot since Washington, fat and waddly, soaking up the warmth on a rectangular boulder. I make a mistake not putting my jacket back on. I’m moving so well, I try to muscle through it, but merino is no wind block and I have to move fast here, sidling a mountain that opens grand views to snow dusted peaks.
I meet the figure who tells me she’s ‘Squeaks’ or ‘Morning Star.’ Funny how we get different names in different circumstances. I offer to take her photo and she takes mine, then I run off into the wind. A man coming up at the true pass wishes me a good ‘zero day’ and I wonder if he knows something about the weather I don’t know.
The wind hits me like a locomotive and I brace against my sticks, awed by even more mountains that are even more spectacular. This is Sonora Pass, a mountain range surrounding and goofy hoodoos in between for interest.
The trail is a long balcony here with only a few trees as minimal shelter from the wind. I just keep moving, knowing below is a resupply that Klaus and I will split. Eroded cliffs mix with light brown foothills below jagged blue peaks. The sky is heavy with clouds. I pass two women coming up heavily loaded. One asks if I’m Christina. I say no, but ask about the weather. Rain is moving in, snow at elevation. Ugh.
I thank them and move lower to the road where Casey has parked his truck and camper. He tells me Klaus – he pronounces is like Santa Claus – went to Kennedy Meadows and took the resupply with him. Well, I guess that decides things then since I don’t have enough food for another three days. I ask if I might come in out of the cold, and interview him for my ‘Peeps of the PCT’ series. He’s obliging and his dog Lucky is sweet. And he agrees that I really ought to go down to the Meadows and wait out the rain.
I notice Squeaks walk to the road for a hitch as Mary picks up her resupply and bear box. The hope being get it here from Casey and move on, but she too gives up for the day. Shrink appears and Phantom and we’re five looking for a ride on a cold, deserted road.
We’re passed by a few cars, then one stops – a big, black SUV. It turns out to be Hansel and Gretel’s mom meeting them for some day hiking. We’re shivering and looking pretty desperate and the kids are far behind, so she offers to take us all in her packed car. It is a seriously overloaded packed car, but we manage to get all the packs in, hiking sticks, four crowded in the back seat with groceries on our laps for the long, winding and stunningly beautiful ride into the valley.
Patricia takes us to the hiker-friendly campground with cabins, dorms, a shop, restaurant, laundry, showers and roaring fire – all the amenities a cold thru-hiker could want. I take care of my body, mind and soul and all five of us – plus Klaus – share one of the dorms, Phantom willing to pay half price for the floor. I have lunch and dinner, add food to my bear box and am ready to give the Sierra a try taking a shuttle at 10 am. Yes, a late start but will at least it will be light.
I am so happy to have run into such a lovely group of people, many I only just met. We support each other and share some gallows humor at the weather, mixed precipitation, then sunshine? One can only hope.