Day: Saturday, July 2nd 2016
Miles: 774.7 – 794.3
Tyndall Creek Camp – Rae Lakes Remote Camp
Getting deep: I find it hard to speak of inner-emotion to any large degree. To put oneself out there in a vulnerable position and try to introspect on what you’re “deeply” feeling, is somewhat of a delicate art: balancing over-sharing against what you’d truly like to represent in words. It seems to come more easily to certain people and maybe even to certain nationalities, perhaps a feature of our collective upbringings and nascent cultures. In terms of a thru-hike, having so much time to think, to see, to feel and to internalize, is somewhat of a recipe for disaster if you’re unable to externalize or channel some of the momentous emotions you feel along the way. I guess this is why I blog. And why I attempt to describe the indescribable (with some visual aids!). Attempting to balance the inner-mind with outward expressions of emotion seems like something that’s important. To vent, and not in a negative way, is what I’m getting at. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t felt any extreme lows thus far, although certainly I have experienced moments of sadness, moments of joy. I have entertained moments of extreme personal satisfaction at witnessing simple scenes of nature in the flesh. I’ve experienced intense fulfillment at harsh mountain climbs and desert sections. I’ve shed a tear on the trail, more than once, and Im not really sure why. All that I can say is that this trail is intense in a fantastical way and the Sierra Nevada, after a few days, has been overwhelming in terms of the emotional aspect of the Pacific Crest Trail experience. Today was such a day. The trail will surprise you, even at the age of 34 years old in my case: the mental, the physical, the emotional. The views it affords me. The opportunities to see and breath. The realization of the good health I have to enjoy it. The serendipity of the people you meet, the coincidences that happen along the way. The good fortune that crosses your path. Your sense of pride. Your sense of purpose. I’ve wanted to hike the John Muir Trail for years, and right here, right now I’m in the dream-state of living that reality as I wake to rushing waters of a Sierra Nevada creek, in the shadow of a snow capped peak.
This morning I awoke refreshed, renewed and with a new found energy and sense of purpose, by Tyndall Creek. To speak to the emotions, I was excited, pensive, nervous and expectant of the day ahead, as it would entail some extreme elevation gain with my full pack, as well as navigating the first real snow hazard of the trail thus-far beyond Forester Pass. The intense sound of crashing water in the nearby rapid was soothing last night, and certainly helped gently waft me into a deep-sleep, but this morning it added a sense of urgency to the morning scene. The positive cumulative effect of intense elevation gain followed by sleeping at a lower-level certainly assists in acclimatization and ensuring energy levels are high in the morning. I’m eating my oatmeal with gusto at 10973ft, and by noon I will have crossed a 13,000ft pass as my first order of the day. That’s even including a tardy start. It was around 8:30AM by the time I decamped, the slow morning attributable to the cold cold morning air that seemed to seal me into my warm down sleeping bag.
As I began the steady ascent to Forester Pass, once again the views to the South and East were dramatic and incredible. Beyond the marmots and the crashing creeks, the only sounds were my own rattling limbs and occasional birds as the terrain began to lose all traces of vegetation, eve loving to a rocky wasteland framed on both sides with incredible peaks and small snowfields. A number of icebound lakes accompanied the views, adding a specter of isolation and a chilly coldness to the craggy peaks. Grey walls gradually closing in on all sides until a number of switchbacks led up an indistinguishable pass, hiding between the sharp crags.
As I ascended I could see a figure coming towards me from behind, gaining ground quickly as the views opened up back down the valley from where I camped. Eventually this figure caught up and identified herself as Ranger Gooch from Sequoia National Park. On duty for safety and permit inspections, she took my name and we chatted for a little, before finishing the last few switchbacks to an impossibly small crack in the mountain, where a number of hikers, including Nelson and David were navigating a short and sharp section of ice right below the pass. After a small-ballerina act of balancing across the ice, I finished the last ascent of Forester Pass, simultaneously entering Kings Canyon National Park as well as opening up an enormous winter wonderland to the north, of isolated craggy peaks, alongside magnificent vistas of snow fields and deep valleys below. Forester Pass was officially summited!
Beyond the pass, the trail rapidly descended through snowfields and some unofficial gravel/rock alternates. The descent was far more troublesome than the ascent, with one particular ankle twisting giving a split-second premonition of a sprained ankle (which luckily was avoided without any help from my bulky pack). Progress was slow and steady. Eventually the series of unofficial trails led us back to the normal PCT/JMT trail and a beautiful scene of lakes intertwined between forested and grassy meadows with a glacial granite polished valley-wall.
Cool water gushed from all sides of the valley as we descended towards our eventual target of the cutoff for Kearsarge Pass. As we lowered into the valley following Bubbs Creek, once again the mosquitos greeted us at Vidette Meadow. A swarm of excitement that I could easily pass on. As we bottomed out in the valley, the mosquitos have us a little impetus to power up the hill towards the trail break-off, something we completed quickly, with little time for admiring the view of the valley we just descended. As I bid farewell to David and Nelson, a deer wandered down the trail towards us, hopefully a good luck omen as I continued northwards on the trail in solo.
I decided to continue walking and see if I could make it to Glen Pass, the next pass on my agenda at 11947ft. As I ascended the hillside, the incredible views to the west certainly helped maintain my momentum. The trail gripped to an impossible cliff side and eventually carved into a small glen to the east, ascending gently with a delicate set of switchbacks and cut steps marking out a trail that weaved between impressive flanks of snowfields right up to the peaks on the north and south sides. A number of small and impossibly blue iceberg clad lakes sat by the edge of the valley, as I passed a number of tent sites which although alluring, were just a ways short of what I decided was possible today.
The sun was waning in the sky, the colors lightening the cliff sides as I passed a French hiker on the final switchback ascent. Glen pass was really truly truly spectacular in ways I cannot describe. So many incredibly beautiful features in an impossibly small and winding glen, the pass so well hidden as to be imperceptible until the very final push.
As I finally arrived at the gap in the mountain, the view ahead to the north and the Rae Lakes area was simply mind-blowing. A huge snowfield leading to sparsely vegetated areas of snow and rock, before a drop into an incredible series of lakes, so still and clear that even from the pass they reflected the distant peaks and valley walls on the far side of the valley. Forester Pass was a physical and emotional journey, more intense in its reputation than its physicality, however Glen Pass was the intimate and at once inspirational pass. An area of contemplation and quiet consideration of the expanses ahead, and the simple beauty of the trail behind. I sat for some time admiring what an incredible place this is. The pass I had never heard of until this morning, when I surveyed my route, truly taking my breath away. As I hesitantly moved northwards across the snowfield near the top, I couldn’t help but stumble as I gazed to the Rae Lakes and the views which simply couldn’t but take all of my concentration from the trail.
Descending into an area more reminiscent of Italy’s lakes district than anything I expected in California, I wondered how I had never heard of this area of the Sierras, such an abundance of natural riches, so deeply hidden that it seemed the secret had never been released. As I descended delicate steps along the Rae Lakes, admiring mirror-like views of the peaks beyond, navigated a tough River crossing and I eventually found an incredible spot to camp a little beyond a ranger station. The vista punctuated by an incredible shard of rock, jutting out of the western ridge and into the evening sky.
As I cooked my evening meal I tried to consume some of the images and emotions of the day, a time of intense and surprising fulfillment in unexpected ways. The things that bring you intense feelings of trepidation in advance are often not the same as the things that derive the most joy. The intensity of the views of Glen Pass and Rae Lakes were truly memorable in a lasting way. Today was one of the most wonderful days on the trail. The unexpected is sometimes the best of all. Roll on the high Sierra, tomorrow is another adventure.