I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. – Diane Ackerman
My day started early as the resort crew was up before 6:00. I cuddled on the couch in the lobby to catch up and an older gentleman carried on with the ladies about storms coming. I tuned him out since the forecast only calls for spotty showers. At the moment, it’s pitch dark and a few hikers are waiting for a lift back to the pass. I’m happy to go mid-morning and warm up some more.
Soon, the cowboys come in wearing ten gallon hats, spurs, jeans and attitude. Several dogs come in with them, tails wagging. One cuddles in with me. Our little group sits down at the restaurant again, all ordering what’s listed as a ‘cowboy breakfast’ and multiple cups of coffee. The sky is clearing but the air is cold. I take a long, nearly scalding shower to wake up then we all compare our bear canister packing technique. My pack is heavy with several days food crammed in, but I have practice now carrying it, so feel just fine.
We all love this break at Kennedy Meadows. I certainly needed it to set my mind on making it through the Sierra. I feel a bit jittery wondering if I’ll be warm enough and the weather will hold off for a few more weeks. Resupply is a bit of a concern but I decided not to send any packages, planning to buy where I can – and take free stuff from the hiker boxes – as I move through.
Our shuttle is packed with many people I have not met until now. It’s so strange to walk a thru-hike because of this particular phenomenon. You can be ahead or behind even by a few days and never see certain people. The ride up is lovely, winding through granite walls, trees taking purchase on cracks and ledges. Christina (Morning Star) and I both feel nervous getting back on trail. Her friend ‘Lala’ has just finished this part and gives us good information on where all the hiker boxes are kept. She fully resupplied just from cast off food by hikers not wanting to carry too much weight.
The pass is cold and blustery, big puffy clouds moving fast and changing shape in the wind. We all fall out of the van, grab our packs and, for some reason, I’m the first up the trail. I don’t stay in front long as Mary, Phantom and Shrink soon pass me, but I get into my high altitude breathing and slowly power right up into this glorious mountain. Ice melt sparkles on wildflowers as reaching near 11,000 feet exhilarates me. The snow underfoot is sticky and pops with each footfall. The sun reflects off rock and ice, hot when out of the wind. But just around a corner, it smacks me in the face. The clouds are ominous, but change so fast, I wonder if it will snow. I don’t care because I am so happy I have this day.
I enter the Emigrant Wilderness crossing a pass that feels like walking through a door into even more wildly spectacular mountain scenery – huge, black, snow-dusted peaks, one after another into the horizon. The snow collects on the trail through rock and leads straight up. My steps slow to a crawl, the sun darts in and out of cloud, snow pellets fall and I am grateful because they simply bounce off of me and I stay dry.
As I reach the top, a gust throws cold iciness at my exposed skin, but the view of three lakes below a bowl of mountains brings tears to my eyes. All my life I have wanted to walk this high on snow and see this kind of beauty – to be in and a part of it – and here I am. Flurries fall and I begin to cry tears of absolute joy. Scarecrow is having a smoke with the view and snaps my picture. I tell him I’m overwhelmed because I walked here – and I feel like I’ve come home.
The trail sidles high above the lakes and I sing ‘All Good Gifts’ from Godspell working my way around, a huge black cloud blowing over the mountain right as I need to cross a snowfield. Scarecrow catches up and I follow his deep steps over then up and through another door-like pass showing me new views of mountains eroding, the snow filling in the cracks. I am still so high here, only a little climbing but mostly weaving through these ranges. As I turn, the wind finds me and my mood changes instantly from elation to fear. I have to talk myself out of panic as the wind sucks my energy and warmth away. I tell myself that the cold won’t last, that I’m so lucky the snow pellets and showers are just squalls and not a storm, that this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life.
In the distance, the mountains disappear in a gray mist of precipitation. It is a little terrifying to see from this exposed place, but in the time it takes me to walk towards those mountains, the shower ends and the sky above is blue with a few harmless puffy clouds hanging at eye level.
I see the trail zigzag ahead heading down. This ten mile walk was spectacular, but I’m ready to get out of the wind and have some lunch. It’s tuna, peanuts and chocolate before I decide I feel good and the day is superb, I want to walk over the pass that will take me into Yosemite National Park – the beginning of so many things that matter to me. With Yosemite, John Muir introduced to the world the at-the-time alien concept of setting aside land just to enjoy. It’s also the place that sparked my love of hiking when I was thirteen years old. It is one of the most magical places I know and I will sleep there tonight.
To get to Dorothy Lake Pass I have to first go down into the forest. I cross creeks and wind through granite outcroppings. I meet many hikers and it makes me feel safe knowing others are walking through now hoping to make it all the way before the first big snow. With everyone, there’s an energy and excitement seeing this and knowing our time is limited. Ice pellets like styrofoam packing material begins to fall in heavy waves. It’s not too cold, in fact I overheat a little going up.
I pass several ponds so perfectly placed with plants, trees and rocks you’d think it was landscaped. Someone spells out in rocks at a bend in the trail ‘1,000 to go.’ I’ve really walked far and now it’s triple digits left. I think back on so much that has happened, so much I’ve seen, the wonderful people I’ve met and the lessons I’m learning. Mary told me last night that a tree fell in her campsite just a few feet from her tent. Talk about a wake up call. She shared the story at dinner where I ate a little too much. Thru-hikers are always hungry but our stomachs shrink because we can’t get all we want inside. I hurt a lot after eating a big serving of pasta. It was gas pains probably, but you know how it is – you think this is the end. Both Mary and Christina helped me out by putting my things away so I could get in bed then signing my bill. It was small but meant so much. A kindness goes a long way. Mary is ahead and Christina behind, so we may not hike together, but their spirits give me courage and a kind of peaceful living-in-the-moment feeling that’s really made today a special one.
I have an idea of where I want to camp just above the lake once I cross the pass. But this means I’ll have to carry water so I stop at the last stream to fill up just as Phantom arrives. I’m pretty heavy, but he slows down with me as we come into the full-on Sierra of granite crags, Jeffrey pine and small lakes. He is such an interesting young man asking me about beauty and how we can’t remember it when we’re not here. I tell him philosophers ponder these subjects and if we try to capture how beauty makes us feel in word or song, it helps us remember. It’s so nice to walk with him into Yosemite and see the last of the sunlight glowing on the mountains. I tell him I will ponder his question, hopefully see him on the trail again soon, and to have sweet dreams as he continues down to the lake now turning a deep purple and I find my soulful single spot just above.
Food is eaten, everything is in its place, I am wearing all my clothes inside just in case it gets bitterly cold, the stars are twinkling and I am about to fall asleep in my home.