The clouds descend in the night, filling the valley until there is nothing but crisp sunshine above by morning. A short walk from my solo camp, I emerge on a point of jagged lava formations to one of the most breathtaking views of my life: early morning light illuminating a flood of clouds below, with a over hundred miles of peaks poking through the mist, marking the way back to a tiny mount hood off in the distance. What is this place? Opie Dilldock Pass taunts my map, with no further explanation. It sounds like a made-up name, syllables conjured by the vista when no existing words could encompass the absurd beauty of it all.
To the South, the snowy faces of North Sister and Little Brother dominate the near horizon. My siblings are mountains, I think, we live in the sky. Today we will walk together, wanting for nothing. I take a family portrait and send it to my actual sister who lives to the North, and to my little brother.
As I walk, the single best day of scenery for this year continues to unfold before me. Snowy peaks at every turn, constant variety and changes in volcanic landscape, forest to desolation to pastoral meadows where horses graze, red to black to gold and back again. And a completely unexpected dazzling landscape of glassy black obsidian sparkling in the morning sun that must be a sacred place for those who have been here since before European settlers.
Somewhere between North and Middle Sisters, familiar shapes appear over a ridge, faces grinning with recognition. It’s Jessica and Grey Beard, hiker friends from Southern Oregon. “I though you quit” says Grey Beard. “Yes, but then I quit quitting,” I reply. Jessica and I take a break for a whirlwind catch up session. “I did a thirty mile day” she announces, glowing with the giddy-humble pride of someone who has just realized they are so much stronger than they ever knew. A feeling I will forever associate with the JMT.Later in the day there are other friends too: High Mileage now sporting a hefty hiking staff after being stalked by a cougar on the way into Seiad Valley (only hours after I walked the same trail).Counting down from mile 2000 is like walking back in time. I’m in the 1950s now, thinking of perfect housewives with perfect hair, when a shovel-wielding ranger pops out of the bushes startling me. “Are there more of you,” I ask, peering cautiously toward other bushes. She asks to see my permit, insisting that I dig it out from the bottom of my pack while mosquitoes assault my bare legs. It’s the first time I have ever been asked in 2000 miles, I explain. “I hear that a lot,” she replies, squinting at the font of the permit I printed out in miniature.
On I go, deciding between trying for a thirty mile day and making a side trip for beer. I power downhill, half-running to Elk Lake only to learn that there is dairy in the veggie burger. Cutting my losses, I make a vegan exception in the form of pulled pork and invite myself to dinner with three section hikers dudes who already have a table. I end up with excellent beer, some hilarious company and a free campsite.
The thirty mile day can wait for tomorrow.
July 22, 2016
Miles: 24 + 1 to Elk Lake