Day 7: 21 miles
Twinless and I spent the night in Bridgeport so we could get my resupply package from the post office in the morning. The other three all hitched down the other direction to Kennedy Meadows North. We've got plans to reunite 20 miles down the trail at Dorothy Lake.
In the morning, we start the process of hitching back up to the pass. A man named Ray stops for us after 10 minutes and takes us directly to the trailhead, even though he wasn't planning on going there. We're hiking before 10 am! On a town day, none the less.
Harpo, Groucho and Huck are ahead of us by an hour and a half, we are told by a pair of northbound hikers. Twinless and I climb up to the ridge where we walk in shale, gravel and sand on the side of a slope for most of the morning. With each forward step, we regress about an inch on the loose earth. The trail stretches before us for miles, passing what looks like it used to be a lake but now is just an empty bowl. The landscape is monochrome grey for as far as we can see.
We leave the land of grey and finally descend into the comforts of a pine-needle-path, stopping for water at a creek. Here, I make myself some iced coffee and chug it down real quick. Twinless has plans to stop and celebrate at mile marker 1,000. She hikes ahead while I float down the trail, high on caffeine and nature.
I see the spot where we camped last year and say hello to my past self - all cold and struggling. With my headphones in I find immense hiking inspiration. The dirt, the trees, the rocks. Nature! It's so great.
I cross a bridge, turn right at the junction and realize that I don't see Twinless's footprints anymore. I check, and double check, my map. She must have taken a wrong turn. At mile 1000 she's not there and I wonder what to do. I wait 10 minutes and decide to hike on. She'll figure it out.
The terrain is really starting to feel like Yosemite now with the yellow meadows, poised rocks and fallen logs. I imagine a fox sitting upright in the distance, but when I get closer I see it's just the silhouette of the branch on a fallen tree. Too bad. But soon the landscape loses all sense of order. Rocks are all different sizes, the terrain is inconsistent. The trail winds through this maze, finally reaching the top of Dorothy Pass.
I study the ground intently, growing impatient. Where is Twinless, anyway? I follow Huck's prints, annoyed when they get covered up by the boot prints of a weekend hiker. The prints continue past the lake where we agreed to camp. I wonder if I'll even be able to find my friends, it's getting dark. At the sign for a stock camp, I notice the prints on the trail have ceased. I turn to follow the path to the stock camp, where Huck's prints continue. Moments later I find them all sitting next to a fire ring.
"Happy 1000!" Harpo says, and Groucho hands over a flask of whiskey.
Twinless shows up 20 minutes later. She took a wrong turn, just as I suspected. She's been flying down the trail trying to catch up.
We eat, talk and sleep.
Day 8: 26 miles
Today is so steep! It doesn't start that way - we walk in a meadow along a stream, in and out of the forest as the earth's light changes around us. Once we get to Wilmer lake we take a long break. We're separated into girls and boys today. Huck ahead, then Groucho. Twinless, Harpo and I stick together up the rugged steep ascent after the lake. Our steps are slow and we pant in the heat. The way down is exposed and rocky, the trail carved into the side of the mountain. I have a memory of stopping by a creek in a forest last year and this is all I can think about in the pounding sun.
Finally we are there - at the place of my memory. I take off my shoes to cross the calm water. A few section hikers have navigated their way across on some logs upstream and they tell me about the logs. I'm happy crossing here, I tell them. They tell Harpo and Twinless the same thing. No really guys, we wanna walk through the water. It feels amazing.
For lunch I try to rehydrate some cashew cheese which doesn't work with cold water. I have to spear it violently with my spork and add dried hummus and kale chips to make it spread on my tortilla. We climb another steep, slow ascent in the heat as I tell Harpo about the crazy dreams I had on the PCT last year. Up and then down.
There's a junction where I sat with Mud last year deciding whether or not to take an alternate into Yosemite Valley. In the end, we walked into the unknown away from the PCT. This year I get to follow the PCT and see where that takes me. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure where I get to go back and choose a different adventure. And guess what - this adventure is uphill! Again!
And after the up comes the down where my knee starts to hurt more than it ever did before. Maybe I should take some days off. I don't think I can keep walking like this, I tell myself. I shouldn't have been hiking so many miles, pretending to be a thru hiker.
"You just need to stretch" says Harpo.
"You probably just need to stretch" adds Groucho.
I just need to stretch! I know they're right. I do some hip flexor stretches and feel better immediately. At least for the next few miles.
In the evening we are climbing, yet again, one mile per hour stepping over rocks while the sun sets beside us, painting the granite in yellows and reds.
For the last hour we sing to keep our spirits up, between gasps for breath. The land grows dark and we fall silent, finally arriving at our camp after sunset. Huck has been here since 4:35 reading his book.
700 calories of vegan Mac n Cheese for dinner before collapsing into my tent. And today was supposed to be easy.
Day 9: 20 miles
There's just a smidge of the steep climb left for us in the morning. After this is over we're in a wonderland of lakes and rolling rocks. At one of these lakes we sit for a break, even though it's only been 2 miles. Today is going to be an easy day, for real this time. So we waste time on the sprawling lakeside granite for a while before moving on.
There's another small climb and we find it's appropriate to take yet another break at the top. I make myself eat granola even though I'm not hungry again yet. Even though it tastes like carrots because I used orange-carrot juice to sweeten it. Harpo and Groucho talk about their hopes to trail run in the dessert, wondering how they will find a trail angel to support them, meeting them at roads along the way. Post a request to Facebook? Ask a hiker-hostel owner?
I think about this for a moment. Who do I know in California who has nothing going on and would want to hang out by the trail for a while.... Me! The answer is me! I've always wanted to go back to the desert. I can go pick up Sprout after I finish in the Sierras and drive to meet them in the desert. I'll spend my days walking, writing, (studying?), meeting up with my trail friends and sleeping in my car. Perfect.
I get so excited about all the possibilities in the world and before I know it I've walked right into another meadow - a deep round lake spreading glamorously ahead of me. I quickly drop my pack on the sandy beach and dunk myself in the icy water. My muscles tense up, my breathing is fast and shallow... I can only stay in for a few seconds before clambering out through the mud and tadpoles back to shore. I'm in the midst of drying off and making corn chowder when my friends show up. Another lazy break.
The last nine miles of the day take us along a winding Yosemite river with smooth, eroded rocks making all kinds of zen patterns with the flowing water. I stop to take it all in and Huck notices a bird dancing across the creek. It's standing on a rock looking down, bouncing up and down and occasionally diving into the water. Looking for dinner. Every now and then, it swims over to the adjacent rock to continue this routine. We spend a while entranced by the dancing, swimming bird.
In the evening the sky turns grey and five raindrops fall on me. We arrive at camp with plenty of time to set up tarps, make some food and read books on our small devices.
Day 10: 16 miles
We're well into Yosemite now and it sure is looking like it. Glacier-carved rocks tower in the distance right next to pointy, un-carved formations which rise above where the glacier must have sat. At our morning break by a river, we realize that three of us all had similar dreams last night about getting married for reasons we don't know to people we don't understand. Trail dreams are crazy.
The path wanders and meanders through tourist-territory with photo-ops around every bend. We reach soda springs where carbonated water is bubbling out from the earth. We drink some of this water after running it through steri-pen radiation. It is indeed carbonated, metallic tasting too. Twinless has a single-serving of whiskey she's been saving for this occasion. Three of us share this, mixing it with the metallic carbonated earth water. My stomach is so empty. We all get tipsy on 1/3 of a whiskey shot.
We walk into Tuolumne Meadows, claim a picnic table and go about our town activities. The most important of which is eating a big black bean burger with steak fries. After a while all the tourists become too much, I get anxious to walk again and leave ahead of everyone else.
It's a lazy walk through more meadows, past lots of section hikers in the smoky heat. I claim the camp spot that Mud and I had last year before anyone else can take it, eat some curry and listen to the squirrels alarming for most of the evening.
Day 11: 20ish miles
More meadow walking. More transforming morning light and crispy air. Walking and waiting for those first rays of sun. We climb up through the woods and break through to a brilliant alpine flatland. There's a creek to be crossed before a climb full of switchbacks between crumbling talus fields.
On the way up, a crazy-eyed marmot comes sprinting towards us from beyond the rocks. Stopping for a moment to stare at Harpo, he scampers across the trail and disappears. We speculate as to what he was running from. The cops? A rabid chipmunk?
We can see down to Tuolumne Meadows now, the river snaking through the yellow path, speckled with green pines. A tantalizing, crystal blue pool appears in front of us and we can't help but stop to take it all in, do some head stands and chat with a few JMT hikers. Then we leave behind the world of color and enter the grey, granite planet of Donahue Pass.
In the afternoon it starts to seem as though it may rain. But maybe it's just smoke, we can't tell. I stuff my sleeping bag and clothes into my bear canister to protect them from getting wet, feeling like I'm outsmarting nature... Because of course, now it won't rain. The rearrangement of my pack makes it feel heavier and I plod along past Thousand Island Lake.
Here, Twinless turns left to follow the PCT while the rest of us take the JMT alternate. This immediately becomes rocky and steep. Up and down and up and down. One lake here, another lake there. But the trail is very clear with methodical switchbacks. We progress like marbles rolling down a track - each of us walking in the opposite direction of the one ahead of us. Soon we're back in the woods with these impeccably organized switchbacks. Groucho and Huck walk ahead. Harpo and I hang back and hash out the struggles of effective communication in relationships.
Camp is next to Gladys Lake where I settle down with a pot of beans that I accidentally burn. We fall asleep as the sun settles behind the horizon. The world is still, silent.
Day 12: 7 miles
The walk out to Reds Meadow is gentle and welcoming. The path is wide and covered in soft dirt and pine needles. When the sun comes up I can see that there are more trees lying sad on the ground than standing tall. Some with their roots exposed, still holding on to the rocks that they wrapped around while rooted in the earth. Eventually we leave the land of fallen trees to cross the bridge towards Devil's Postpile. This is a rock formation made entirely of hexagonal columns. It has something to do with glaciers and gravel and hexagons being the strongest shape. I don't know - ask Huck.
We find a road and consider calling a taxi due to the lack of traffic. Luckily, a friendly woman drives by just before we resign ourselves to making the call. We pile into the backseat with her dog named Cody and are whisked away to the comforts of town.
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