Sometimes tough days end spectacularly well, with new friends and grand vistas. But first you have to get through the tough parts.
Our day begins well – too well – with an excellent breakfast at the Cornerstone Bakery, and a ride back to the trail practically built in.
Back at the I5, Skippy has decided to catch Atlantis and K2, so he’s off and running at a pace that even few thru hikers can match. I have a few things to get sorted before I leave, so I tell Speed not to wait, that I will catch him when he stops.
But I outdid myself with breakfast (giant veggie omelette, hash browns, toasted fresh baked bread) and walking feels terrible. Of course the trail is all uphill for the foreseeable future: gentle forested up; rocky switchbacks up; exposed steep up; shaded up with mosquitoes; and up with gnats. And it is hot today, too, somewhere near 100°F where my climb began. So I take it slow, waiting for digestion to do its thing, until I am moving so slowly I cut my losses, and take a nap by a creek.
I wake to hot sun shining on my face, but miraculously feeling much better. Except I am far behind Speed, and it is now even hotter.
I pause on the many switchbacks to “look at the view” (aka catch my breath), turn back around, and hear chkrrchkrrrchkrr. I look down and leap backwards in the same instance. Yes, that is a rattlesnake, and oh yes, I almost stepped on it. Only a few feet long, the rattler slithers off, shaking its discontent as it goes.
I start walking again, extra vigilant, but feeling a bit overly cautious, since I have only seen a total of five rattlesnakes in 1500 miles. And then, maybe five minutes later, ANOTHER FREAKING RATTLESNAKE!!! Shaking its tail in an unhurried, yet disgruntled retreat. Seriously trail?
As happens when you keep putting one foot in front of the other, I get past the worst of the hot exposed up without further reptilian interruptions. Each set of switchbacks conquered rewards me with another layer of distant ridge lines, and then what is definitely the most epic view of Shasta so far.
I arrive at the campsite I very much hope Speed has chosen. There are four hikers there, but no Speed. I look at the view – Shasta AND Castle Crags fully visible – and worry about Speed worrying about me. And then look at the view. The others said they did not see him go by, that he was last spotted back at the water. I can’t stand the idea of passing up such a perfect camp spot, and since there is phone service, I can text Speed and hope he checks.
I cook dinner and lay out my sleeping bag, as the light glows warm on nearby rocky outcrops, and distant ridge lines fade to pastel pink and blues. Tonight I shall cowboy camp eye level with the Castle Crags as Shasta stands guard. As the bright snowy peak fades to shadow, as the last light gives way to the stars.
June 25, 2016