My best successes came on the heels of failures. – Barbara Corcoran
I allow myself a bit more delicious sleep next to my private waterfalls wrapped up in Big Greenie, so lofty and cozy, it feels like I’m cuddled in with a warm creature. Rich invited me for breakfast and this hungry hiker has no intention of turning him down, though I think they’re a bit surprised to see me, expecting that I’d head out on trail early. It’s ‘cowboy coffee’ with grounds boiled in a giant kettle and strained into my pot lid/wide-mouth cup, then pancakes, bacon, hash browns and scrambled eggs. I eat like a linebacker for the Packers these days, but there’s plenty of food. When I ask if I can do a chore, Rich says just volunteer to work on a trail. I tell him I picked up a bit of trash and he smiles and says, “Good start.”
As I get ready to leave, Rick offers me more food for the trail. They all laugh when I say I can’t possibly cram in any more food, but whaddya got? I take a half loaf of sourdough bread and squish it on top of my huge pack, weighed down with seven days food plus a little extra in case I get snowed in. I hug everyone and Rich tells me not to count miles I walk but how many pictures I take per mile. I really like these guys and how much they love this place. They built seven steps and a rock wall yesterday simply finding the stones that fit right here. It’s truly astounding how beautiful the trail is. Maybe I can move around some stones one day.
The trail follows Bear Creek steadily up, falls leading to deep pools, the sound my companion as I breath heavily climbing. Just as I hit a junction I see some very skinny legs awkwardly putting on shorts. I whistle because I see it’s Scarecrow. Good to see him – and his bare self – as he has only four days left until he’s walked the entire trail. He blazes past me as I stop to say hello to a hiker and pet his lovely German Shepherd, Kira, dressed in doggy boots. I enter a golden meadow, the creek snaking through and coming towards me are Fable and Tumbleweed, a couple I met in Washington who coaxed me onwards because if a man with one leg can walk this monster with a smile on his face, surely I can too. When I take their picture, I need to back up to get all of them in it and he says, “Don’t amputate me!” You really have to love a person with self-deprecating humor. I see them here because they have needed to do different sections at different times. I imagine snow could make things very difficult and they are now finished with the highest passes, all now in front of me.
It’s a long ways up on rocky trail to the absolutely breathtaking Marie Lake with rock islands scattered about, reflections of clouds and mountains and deep blue sky in her curvy figure, and mountains surrounding her as though she’s high up on a platform. I collect water and eat some of my bread here, sitting on the bright red tundra plants. This is the place I camped seven years ago, walking up all the way from VVR following Bear Creek. I ate such good food that morning, it powered me all the way here, but we arrived just as the sun was beginning to set, so it was a short visit.
She takes on a different look as I climb up Seldon Pass at almost 11,000 feet. The white rock studded with tiny green trees takes over – a classic Sierra scene. Over the top I see more lakes named for Sallie Keyes. They are lovely too, but it’s the stream tumbling down to meet them that strikes my fancy, the water crystalline, a riparian zone surrounding it as it moves over rock, clouds and blue sky looking back at me. Pink shooting stars still nod their heads here, as fresh as early spring. What strikes me most is there is not a soul on the trail with me; all of this feels mine.
The trail dips into forest and I plod along here looking for the final stream before a dry section. Now I see four hikers having lunch. I say hi but cross to collect water and one of them named Steve comes over to talk. I’m actually quite surprised as he’s a PCT hiker. We chat a bit and his friends admire the Mad Hatter Hat. I thank him for reaching out but I may not see them again as they’ll skip Muir Trail Ranch and I really must go and charge my battery – plus maybe get a meal.
As I leave the stream, the view suddenly opens to a magnificent cliff with trees turning bright yellow growing on its side. I forgot all about this huge descent on dozens of long switchbacks, that cliff always in view. It’s not steep but very rocky, so I keep my knees bent as I head down and down, then down some more. I take a spur to the ranch and it is dusty and steep, this time straight down.
The ranch is built on land that the government deemed swamp, thus useless back in the 19th century. A family took over and now the place still runs as a kind of horseback riding destination. They are actually closed for the season, but are sticking around to help with resupply, though it’s not cheap. A hiker pays the ranch $85 just to hold their bucket. The fact that hikers send themselves far too much food can be a benefit to other hikers, so many of us show up to scrounge through the giveaway buckets.
When I arrive, Bennedetta and Rob are there and the pickings are slim. I mostly came to ensure my battery is fully charged before the coming week where I’ll be without power. I do manage to find some oatmeal I cook up – sadly, the restaurant is closed – and I give a mystery meal a try, much to my companion’s amusement. Rob tells me I’m the cleanest PCT hiker he has ever seen.
Charging is taking so long, I spend most of the afternoon just hanging around this lovely location of horse stalls and friendly dogs. The staff doesn’t seem to mind. Three more hikers arrive receiving resupply, one with a fifth of Scotch he lets us take a swig from. They all have too much, so I score some meat and cheese plus a few bars and trail mix. I dare not weigh my pack as I know it’s monstrous. But each day, I will eat the food and it will get smaller.
The charging is agonizingly slow, so I head over to Blayne hot springs which requires me to cross a river first, a sort of baptism in cold water before I strip and dunk my body in a tiny pond of hot water in a meadow, bubbles rising from the muddy bottom, a bright blue dragonfly hovering over my happy self. It’s short and sweet, but feels delicious. I head back to grab my pack just as Nathan arrives telling me his goal of the day is to cross into Kings Canyon National Park.
So I make it my goal too, saying goodbye to my new friends and heading out into the afternoon light. It’s only a few miles to a bridge across the South Fork San Joaquin River and I enter the park – and enter a canyon of yellow aspen in a kind of glowing tunnel. The river is spectacular, falling into pools, but also racing spectacularly in one tight section where the trail has been carved into the rock wall. I meet a hiker named ‘Squish’ who tells me I look familiar – perhaps Washington? She assures me there’s camping ahead and I find a lovely spot under a spreading Cedar just as the entire sky turns yellowish-gold, a few clouds pink. I can hear the rapids as well as the aspen leaves in the wind as I cuddle in. Another glorious day with wonderful surprises and fun people. Yes, some snow and cold is coming, but not for a few days and I will enjoy this Indian Summer as long as it lasts.