Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get. – Ingrid Bergman
It was not the best of nights. I am cold even wearing all my clothes, and using a liner inside the quilt. The alicoop has a coat of ice, the water bottle is chunky and frost covers my mini-meadow above Dorothy Lake. But the sunrise is beautiful on a crystal clear day, reddish-orange light on my mountains, mist hanging above the water.
I chip off the ice to pack and keep on all my clothes for the start, but not until I send Richard a series of slightly panicked texts through my gps to ask him to please send my warmer bag to Mammoth Lakes, plus a few warmer pieces of clothing. I walked the John Muir Trail seven years ago, but I would very much like to continue walking now through the Sierra, the PCT and JMT mostly the same trail after Tuolumne Meadows. But if the nights continue like this last one, it will be a chilly misery, not to mention dangerous.
It’s a long fairly flat walk along a Falls Creek, crystal clear, its burbling accompanying my breathing, which is a little heavy because I’m a bit off today. I’m tired because I never quite fell deeply asleep. The altitude seems to be affecting me too. I sort of mope along on this stretch, looking over as the creek comes into view golden in the morning light and crashing down a slab of granite, glowing as the sun heats up.
And heats me up too. By day, it’s pretty hot still especially as the light reflects off the white rock. Being chilled through the night seems a distant memory I can barely conjure up as the morning progresses. I was beginning to panic a little – can’t breath, so tired, I’m feeling temperature extremes. I tell myself to relax and just walk, just enjoy this gorgeous last day of summer with a blue sky, no wind and warm sun.
It takes a long time for the frost to melt in this canyon, rainbow droplets hang onto thin leaves, sparkling as I pass. Soon, I navigate huge sheets of exfoliating granite, white and pink and wonderfully grippy under my feet. Meadows appear and small ponds surrounded by grasses turning yellow. Phantom calls out to me from a sunny patch on rock. He is clearly soaking up this splendid day without hurrying and it makes me smile.
The creek ends at Wilma Lake where I dry the alicoop on a warm rock and eat an early lunch, hoping it helps with the climb up the mountain in front of me. This is surely the steepest trail yet on the PCT, nearly straight up. I keep my breathing even, even if it’s heavy and my steps slow. I power up at an adagio, the pass opening to a huge glacially carved valley, perhaps not as splendid as Yosemite Valley though with similar magnitude.
The steep climb makes me thirsty and every stream is dry all the way to the bottom, where I remove my shoes and walk in ice cold water with a glorious sandy bottom. I filter two liters and drink it all since what comes down simply has to go right back up. And that’s what I do – one mile to climb over 1,000 feet. Just as I pack up along comes Erin and Amy, friends I made on day two. I’m pleasantly surprised to see them, assuming they were way ahead. They look well and happy and, again, I assume they will pass me, but even at a snail’s pace, I get up and over before them, into another glorious valley of carved and scoured granite, mountains above shaped in perfect triangles.
Of course going up is hard as far as strength, but down is equally hard for foot placement. Trail workers create magic by placing stones, sometimes like a mosaic ramp to keep the trail from eroding, and sometimes in artistically built stairs. I use my sticks carefully to avoid falling, ending up at the bottom again in a deja-vu moment with another stream to cross.
This time, I follow it up more gradually, working my way to a pass. I come around a corner and see a bear on the trail – or more accurately, a bear behind as he saunters, front paws turned in, no hurry. He’s young, not much of a belly with long, gangly limbs. I snap a picture before he turns into the forest on another errand and disappears. I think he’s a sign of good luck traveling through the Sierra. Thanks, Mr. Bear!
Up and up I go, my third monster climb of the day in a granite walled canyon. Trees grow on crumbling shelves, but also on long sheets of stone in s perfect rectangle, like a huge portico. Muir called this ‘The Range of Light.’ Sometimes the rock has been so thoroughly scraped by ice, it glows. Other times, the rock breaks into squares and piles on top of others as though the work of ancient builders. It’s the most lovely rock I know to look at, to touch, to walk on and simply to sit.
I finally make it over this pass, coming around a tiny meadow and lake hemmed in by granite. Again, it’s a magnificent valley, this time with major peaks above, snow tucked in crevices. I slowly walk down a granite path and come to a small lake. It’s a bit early but I decide to camp right here, alone in a soulful spot surrounded by rock.
I make dinner right at the edge of the water, watching the light change to the gloaming, bringing out loud birds that caw at each other in ratchety voices. Fish touch the surface of the water in fast outward moving rings. From my sleeping bag, I see a dome glowing in the final orange of today before everything goes dark and I wish upon the first star in a Sierra night sky filled with stars.
Yes, it’s cold, but I will cuddle in and think warm thoughts until tomorrow.