I wake up, decide it’s still dark out, roll over. I wake up again and realize that my puffy jacket is on my face and that it has been light out for quite some time. Oh well.
I walk the hour and a bit down to McClure meadow, eager to see if Dario is there, the ranger I randomly met roadside with Chef a few weeks back at Walker Pass. The shutters are open at the small cabin and he’s sitting right out front in the sun finishing breakfast. I walk up and remind him that we’ve met (PCT hikers really do look alike and goodness know how many he sees every year), and his face lights up. “You’ve made good time,” he says, “that was less than two weeks ago.” He had been driving up to hike in the for the season that day, in the car for hours when he saw us beside the road.
I get a tour of his tiny cabin, a bed, table, chair, some cupboards and not much else. The yellow cereal box of Joe’s O’s is looks brightly out of place in the rustic, historic cabin. “I never light the stove,” he explains of the chill,” it helps the produce last longer. And then I am given one of his precious oranges. My first fresh fruit since Kennedy Meadows.
Dario fully understands the value of the fruit-gift (the first fresh fruit I’ve had in almost two weeks). Rangers get one food drop, either by mule train or helicopter at the beginning of the season. They shop for themselves and have the supplies delivered. Dario has 750 pounds of provisions this year. Anything else he will pack in via a 15 miles trek over a very high pass.
Siren and Stretch, two new friends from sunset last night, join us outside in the sun, and we all chat for an hour, eager to hear ranger stories. Dario has been working for Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park for decades, rotating between the many backcountry stations. He tells of hikers breaking legs at remote lakes, found and rescued after four days. And of a Ranger colleague whose body was found above Woods Creek a few years back, final moments still unknown.
I could stay and listen all day, but I did some food inventory last night and will soon by quite hungry if I don’t want some serious miles. Snack supplies have been disappearing at an alarming rate, and last night’s skimpy dinner left me awake cold and hungry early this morning. It’s not that I failed in my planning; it’s just impossible to physically carry enough food up and down these passes at this pace, especially not having already walked off any body fat reserves.
Down through the valley I go, shoes off to ford Evolution creek. There’s more water than last September, but nowhere near enough to make the safer ‘high water’ meadow alternate at all necessary. The water is only knee high, with moderate current, but painfully cold. The kind of cold that shoots up your legs and exists your mouth with an audible yelp. Even though JMT hikers are watching are you are supposed to be all tough.
Soon after the ford, I run into a group headed up to the valley with mysteriously light packs. “How are you!” Yells, the man in the lead. “Great, but hungry I reply” opportunistically. They stop and ask what I need. I say not to worry, they are just headed out, I will be fine. But when they mention that they have a whole mule train behind them with supplies, I give in, overwhelmed and slightly embarrassed by the offers of almond butter packets, cliff bars and even a mountain house meal that spring from packs and pockets. Then I realize that my yogi-ing (through hiker term for getting people to give you things without quite asking directly) is being filmed on full size professional looking camera equipment. This must be the group that Dario mentioned would be up in the afternoon, the film crew headed to Muir hut to make a documentary for its 8th anniversary. And here I am caught begging for food.
Amused, embarrassed and relieved all at once, I continue on with my small bounty. In the next few hours I barter for things I am not allergic to, and manage to trade a bar for a phone charge (thank you Clark Kent!) My solar charger no longer does its thing and the phone was near dead – though it could have been amusing to do a few blog posts in sharpie on map pages.
Down in a narrow valley afterlunch it is desert flashback hot, but the San Joaquin river is never far. I dunk myself in a cool eddy to rinse the sense back into a heat-fogged head. Friends I have not seen in weeks have stopped to do the same. Revived, I head on, so slow with all the breaks today.
Pushing past the junctions for Muir Trail Ranch, I reminisce longingly of the hot springs baths and plentiful food; I spent a luxurious night there last year. But this evening I settle for memories to distract myself on a long late afternoon climb with Sally Keyes its own reward. Lung-shaped lakes with camping on the peninsula that dives them down the middle. The sun has ducked below the ridge and hikers have already set up in the main capming area. I don’t recognize friends because they are all in tents and wrapped up in headnets hiding form mosquitos that I have been swating for the past few miles. I head on a bit further, to camp alone. I guess I wanted quiet tonight. Or to test my nerves. And on that note, I just heard the strangest night sound of the whole trip. Like a herd of stampeding hooves over cobblesotnes, or the rolling of big rocks. Too loud, hopefully, to be my bear can rolling into the lake. But I have no plans to leave my tent to investigate.