Miles: 16 PCT; plus three from Kearsarge
The Sierras are beautiful, but they are also tough. Yesterday’s valiant resupply effort plus the mega ups and downs have left me barely hanging on. The few remaining miles back to the PCT are beautiful and gentle, but then the rocky ascent of the next pass begins.
At the top, I am shocked by how little snow is on Glen Pass. I had to cross far more snow when I was here in mid-July of 2009. This does not look at all as I imagine June should. The ease of passage for hikers is a worrisome sign of the drought.
I walk down from Glen Pass, almost in tears the whole way. My toes feel all curled under and unstable in shoes now slightly too small. But it’s more than that. I think I get post-pass depression, sinking spirits as I carefully navigate down hoping knees and ankles hold, and looking toward the next massive hill to be climbed. Flat does not exist here; the elevation profile is all sharp zigzags. I contemplate quitting the PCT. All I have to do is take a left at the Woods creek bridge and walk down and out for good.
My horrible mood is juxtaposed against the incredible scenery of the Rae Lakes. Sun twinkling on the blue-green waters, granite peaks and domes rising from the far shores. Wildflowers bloom, heather and some kind of iris (?) purple and pink along the trail. But I just want to be curled up at home with tea and a book. Retreating to my sleeping bag indefinitely seems like a good substitute, but I settle for a short nap in the sun, rolled up in my dirty sheet of Tyvek to keep the UV rays and mosquitos at bay.
There’s so much down, all the way to the rickety suspension bridge over Woods creek. But I do not take the easy way out, the downhill path to Road’s end with showers, and food and a way home. Without pause, I follow the PCT to the right, already knowing I will keep going, even on this tough day. Then the rock-pocked path goes up again, way, way up. Giant stone steps, some higher than my knees, breaking any sense of even stride. And there are creeklets to cross on stones and logs. I push forward, conscious of every step, every slip of shoe on sand on rock.
Still my pack is so heavy today. It looks nothing like the bright oversized loads that tower over the heads of JMT hikers, but I lug the expectations of big PCT miles over Sierra terrain. Going up is such a struggle that I am not sure how I ever managed yesterday.
But there are a few things that help me through. The groves of Aspen, that I had forgotten would be here, rustling their support. And then a large group of John Muir Trail hikers on their way down, pull off to both sides of the trail, making arches of trekking poles and cheer me through, offering encouragement “you’re doing amazing!” I smile and thank them, mentioning that I just passed the 800 miles mark, and there are looks of awe.
Soon after, I catch up to Shenanigans, friend-footsteps to follow always help me through rough end of day miles. Just as I am about to stop, too tired to go all the way over the next pass, we run in to Bad Camper and Double Step and Power Thighs (Greg’s now official trail name) tents already pitched. Everyone was struggling today. Even in my worst moments, I am not alone. Because the Mosquitos are out and they are with me always.