Today was as grueling as it was beautiful. I am crashed out horizontal in my tent, with aching feet. I ate dinner lying on my belly, too tired to sit up. I am typing while blinking my eyes open against sleep.
After a deceptively gentle morning warm up to ease us back into hiking post-Etna, the trail changes dramatically. For miles I walk towards a flower-lined basin surrounded by jagged, snowy peaks. And then I am there, struggling through its stunning ruggedness.
The basin reverberates with the sound of water hurrying downward. Waterfalls booming in the distance, streams splattering off rock faces, trickles splashing under my feet where they run over, beside, and down the trail in little cascades. A world of liquid on the move. Drips from shrinking snow patches gathering momentum as they careen ever toward the valley, striving to reach the sea.
The trail has other plans. Alone, I skirt the basin up high where little shallow lakes fill forgotten corners. Hillsides of yellow sunflowers straining away from shadows, give way to clusters of delicate pink and white flowers trembling in the wind. Up and out I go, across a snow patch, the trail changing course to dodge the worst of it just in time. Then through a tiny notch, and what a view! The sparkling turquoise pool of the curiously named Man Eaten Lake (Named after Mr. Eaten? Because a man has eaten there? Or because the lake swallows up men?), tucked up against almost vertical walls iced with snow. Here too the sound of water drowns out all others, the crash of waterfalls streaming down steep cliffs.
Already I am tired, from picking my way over sharp rocks and impromptu spring watercourses, from climbing up to this little pass. But I am far from done, with miles left to go for the day. The descent towards the lake is deceptive, followed by a surprise second set of switchbacks. I sit on the trail part way up, snacking to ease my frustration. The others are sitting at the top, having just worked out a contingency plan for the evening. We are now on the dry side of the peaks, there are campsites without water, and a seasonal spring that is dry. So on we go, marching four in a little line, heads down and mostly silent, seven miles past the point where most of us were ready to call it a day. We march until there is water again by a little old cabin, and enough flat space for three tents.
As I swallow ibuprofen to mitigate the pain of my tender swollen feet, I still concede that this might just have been the most beautiful day since the Sierra.
June 30, 2016