There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going… you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there. – Taylor Swift
I need to put this in writing – I love my sleeping bag. It’s the Western Mountaineering Versalite, 10 degree bag or in our household, ‘Big Greenie.’ I was cozy warm all night and the Sierra is definitely the place for a full, wrap around the body, down bag. Yesterday, Patricia told me her daughter wanted to trade sleep systems since she too found her quilt inadequate for autumn in the Sierra. Yes, it’s bulkier in Olive Oyl, but being warm at night is crucial.
The truth is, it isn’t really cold yet, but it’s coming. For now, I can still have exposed skin when I get up to make breakfast. Nathan is up too, but clearly on his own schedule. I like to get going so tell him I hope we meet again and take off going up right away on crunchy ancient ash. It’s funny the things you remember and the things you forget, like this whole uphill section through fallen trees. Trail crews have worked hard to clear the path, but it is a mess in here of monster trees downed by something. The bus driver told me it was an earthquake. Definitely not a fire.
I feel much better than yesterday and keep a steady pace up and up. I meet Deer Creek Crossing, a place I camped alone seven years ago. An odd spot in the forest used mostly by groups with horses. I love the creek tumbling through a riparian zone. Horses are tethered now and all is quiet in the tents as I walk by.
Soon, the views open to a huge valley, then snow covered peaks above. I meet an Englishman named Paul, happy to be here and very friendly. I chat only for a moment since I have such good momentum. Out in the open, I remove my jacket and suit up for the intense sun. The wind is up, so I’m not hot, but at altitude, the solar rays are intense. I soon reach the spot where I asked a man to take my photo. It’s Blissful Hiker’s homepage picture. Paul is way behind, so I attempt a selfie. The view is simply beautiful surrounded by these mountains and my smile is huge.
This balcony walk goes on for some time before dropping into a hanging valley with a luscious stream pouring out. Two hikers eat breakfast on a rock and ask where I come from. I really want to say something snarky like the planet Zenon, but instead tell them where I camped and take on a steep, rocky stair-like ascent that threads the trail through huge rock sentinels and takes me to another long balcony headed down. A man comes up and tells me he knows me from Washington. “We met on switchbacks. I recognized the hat!” We give each other the customary fist bump and I congratulate him as he will soon be finished, then head on to another camp spot at Purple Lake.
It’s a very distinct shade of turquoise, so I’m not sure where the name comes from. I walked here and my friends met me after resupplying in Mammoth. I was on the far shore and still remember seeing them pop over the rise. I waved my arms and there was a split second before they recognized me and waved back. We saw the most extraordinary sunset here that night – pink, orange, purple and red. It’s a special place.
But it’s only 11:00, so I head up to Lake Virginia to make lunch. It’s steep switchbacks through forest that feel like I’m on hydraulics lifting me up slowly above the lake. Then it’s another threading of the trail through a kind of rocky destruction. A huge peak erodes at my feet boulders the size of cars. It’s still right now, but I’d hate to be here when one decides to come tumbling down.
Once past, I go down towards the lake, an impossibly deep blue surrounded by tiny plants wearing their autumn red. I collect water and choose a boulder to sit against while I cook. I’ve worked hard and my energy is flagging, so I make a hearty lunch. Sitting alone in this incredible beauty I realize why I’m here. It’s a chance for me to reset myself, to get balanced and take a break before the next chapter of my life begins. There is nothing I would want to do more than to be in this place – a place I had to work hard to get to – and simply feel the sun and wind, touch the tiny leaves of this tundra plant turned a bright red and contemplate the simplicity of nourishing my body as well as the fleetingness of this moment as in a month or less, all of this will be covered in deep snow and all of this will be just a memory.
That’s how hiking and life are. You find yourself in an extraordinary moment, but it passes into the next moments. I pack up and move on since I hope to cross over Silver Pass today. I come back onto a balcony walk, this time seeing a dead end ahead of granite mountains, but also volcanic peaks in blacks and reds. I try to remember which one is the pass as the trail begins to go down rather than up.
I see a beautiful meadow hundreds of feet below, a stream snakes through flashing as it reflects the sun. Surely I don’t go all the way down? I think just as I notice dusty switchbacks lined up on the side of the mountain. Yes, Singet, you go all the way down in order to go up. Of course, it’s pretty easy on dirt to fly down, though I pull to the side for a hot, tired hiker ascending. I meet the stream and follow it tumbling down granite blocks until I finally cross it on a bridge.
Above is an enormous cliff, the polish glistening in the sun. I take a deep breath and head on up. It’s steep forest, then flat meadow, steep rock, then a ramp next to another tumbling creek. I press into a tight canyon and finally see a kind of granite dam that holds this hanging valley in along with another lake – and another campsite from seven years ago. I moved a lot slower on that hike, maybe more like John Muir, sauntering and looking more closely at things. I can’t say I’m not looking closely now even as I walk further. I’m just in a very different space. When I crest and walk up to Squaw Lake, I remember a hail storm that sent us diving for our tents. It didn’t last long and we had another amazing sunset that night.
Right now the sky is cloudless and bright. Two men using ski poles as walking sticks ask me if I plan to cross the pass and before I answer, they tell me I can do it. I can’t help myself asking how they know and then walking like my legs are made of jello. They do not laugh. Ah well.
But I do, heading up again and remembering that I had my breakfast with sunrise up here, even though it was a bit drizzly. Now, the views are clear to Chief Lake – all of these lakes have somewhat inappropriate Native American names like Squaw – a deep azure directly beneath a sharply pointed mountain. It’s windswept and lonely up here, even if startlingly gorgeous. Do people camp here? I wonder. Perhaps in the middle of summer, but there are no plants at all, just rock and a little snowpack I have to step around. The peaks are all rock, creased and broken. The wind is up, but probably its average speed. I snap pictures, breath it in, then head down the other side into another rocky expanse, through sedge and white fir – bent like action figures – grow here and I see one hiker found a spot tucked into trees. The lakes have a temporary feel, as though each winter’s snow determines if they’ll exist come spring.
As I descend, the landscape slowly changes becoming more verdant with tiny creeks flowing on rock. I stop at one for some water and a man says hello then tells me I’m the first hiker he’s caught up to. I grimace and he says, “That sounded wrong.” I tell him that yes, it dif because it sounds like a contest. He apologizes and offers me a Clif Bar. Peter and I talk a bit about hiking, the weather – hopefully lack thereof – food and how we plan to get what we need. Another hiker called ‘Bullet’ arrives too and says he’s carrying all his food for the entire Sierra.
They eventually peel off, planning to camp at the bottom of this descent because tomorrow will require ascending it all over again. I continue slowly through a magical creek valley that gets greener and more fairylike in the afternoon glow. It is definitely not winter yet as I spy some fish in a pool, a tadpole plops in and a mosquito tries to extract my blood.
The trees here are especially beautiful, huge twisted trunks in a deep shade of orange and gnarled branches reaching out. The trail veers right and I wave to a few hikers setting up. The ground is granite, curving like the top of a rollercoaster and disappearing into a gorge. I follow along, sidling steeply on zigzags. I hear waterfalls, but next to me is dry, just long black stains running down a huge face. Jagged pinnacles rise up as I descend. Even in this grandeur, a bouquet of yellow flowers asserts its quiet loveliness in a small crack in the rock face.
I begin to look for a camp spot when I reach the bottom and see places I can access water. I choose an obviously well used area – not my first choice as it’s so big, but I figure the two men went further and the trail is thinning out. I set up the alicoop then take my bear canister, cookstove and water purifier to the creek. And what a surprise awaits me! I have a huge piece of granite as my own and a private waterfall. I wash and soak my feet, then make dinner out here in this gift of a place. A giant boulder leans on a stripped log, my feet rest in the ice cold, I fill my bottles from a perfect stream leaping down a two-foot fall, a bat flutters overhead.
I stay on my granite slab until dark. No one joins me here and it is silent but for the splash of the falls. I cannot imagine a better way to end this marvelous day of beauty and memories. I am deeply blessed.