The Grey Kingdom

July 20th

Miles: 10.9 (46.6)

For the second night in a row, I camp at the junction to Cloud’s Rest.  Again, I fall asleep to the shrieks of “Bear!  Go on!  Get, bear!” but it doesn’t revisit my campsite.  When I wake everything is damp.  A brief early morning rain fell and now mist is lingering everywhere.  I pull on slightly wet socks, underwear, and pants, then I shiver.  In a moment, my gut cries out in distress.  My bathroom cycle in the woods is always on one end of an extreme: fine-pleasant-feeling-good, or oh-no-get-to-a-bathroom-spot-right-now.

I leisurely pack my things, as is my routine, and feel grateful for bringing coffee with me.  I thought about going without, but its proven to be the second biggest morale-lifter in the mornings.  Nothing beats the scenery for lifting morale.  Starbucks Via is a wonderful invention, and one I’ll probably be returning to again and again.

It feels good and right to be back hiking on the JMT.  Half-Dome and Cloud’s Rest aren’t part of the actual John Muir Trail and so hiking them felt like being off-task.  I tell myself that hiking is hiking and either way I’m hiking in Yosemite, but a strange thing comes over me while attempting a thru-hike: it becomes my sense of purpose like a job or school, and any deviation feels frivolous.  But this morning I begin making progress once again toward a destination and my spirits are lifted even higher.

Before I set out I look again at my campsite for the past two nights and think: “Good riddance.”  My only associations with the place will be the loud and frequent shouts of “BEAR!”  I smile to myself as I leave and stifle a laugh while I think about one man’s bear shout, which was simply, “Bear in the camp! Bear in the camp!”  over and over.  I imagine him cartoonish,  running around with his hands in the air, not really accomplishing anything.

The climb to Sunrise is gentle and uphill.  It feels leisurely.  The world is peaceful and quiet and my legs feel strong from all the uphill hiking I’ve done the past few days.  I see no one.  I feel an odd sensation, as if I’ve left the planet.  For a time, no other places exist outside of this one I occupy right now.  My old home feels imagined, as does my life in it.

The trail to Sunrise

Soon the sky is clouding over, with low grey clouds building and moving in a south-west direction.  Strange, I think.  A weather pattern not often seen in the mid-west.  Regardless, the sky is moving toward me.  I stop shortly in a heavy grove of trees and it feels like dusk.  I decide to wait and see what the weather does, not wanting to continue higher if lightning starts.  I’ve just begun eating lunch when thunder rocks the atmosphere.  Soon, more follows.  Now the thunder is constant and rain begins coming down hard.  I sit and eat from my bean-pot until a crashing noise from the underbrush nearby makes me get up and lock my bear canister.  I decide to walk on, as the immediate trail around me seems content to stay in thick forest.  The rain makes me cold and I stop to add layers of clothing and look at my maps see how far I am from higher elevations.

Then, I realize my maps aren’t in my pocket.  Today’s map and tomorrow’s map.  I check again.  Then, I check my back pockets.  I go through my backpack.  Nothing.  I check my notebook, and find it empty.  I quickly put on the extra clothes and begin to backtrack, asking a few people I pass whether or not they’ve seen them.  The answer, “No. Sorry.”   I return to my lunch site and poke around.  Nothing there either.  I realize I’m wasting my time and walk back to my pack.  I tell myself its not a big deal, which it really truly isn’t.  The trail is so well marked that I have only the slightest chance of getting lost.  It’s just a nice comforting thing to have a map, and to be able to look at it whenever I want.  It’s nice to know mileage between points.  Oh well, I think.  I’ve had three maps since I began, and I’ve managed to lose all three.  I decide my system is broken and resolve to put them in a better place: right next to my phone in my pants’ pocket with a zipper.

As I trudge on the rain grows steadier, the wind stronger, air colder, and my mood meaner.

“I thought it was supposed to be sunny all the time in the Sierras this time of year!”  I say.  “I thought any rain that came was supposed to blow in and out in thirty minutes!”  Since arriving in Yosemite five days ago, rain and thunder have been in the area each day.  I begin to worry about the weather pattern.  What if I’m locked into wet weather?  I become frustrated and for a while I can’t fight it.  Self-pity and resentment take over and soon I can feel tension in my neck tightening like a screw.  The weather is now a personal affront to me.  And me alone.  I try to think about positive things: a dry sleeping bag, dry clothes somewhere in my pack, the transience of weather, a healthy non-sprained ankle, the fact that I am still not a lightning rod.  The clouds begin to break.  Slowly.  The storm has lasted nearly three hours and as I approach the top of Sunrise the rain stops completely.  A man is sitting on the rocks.

“Hello.”  I say.

He nods and smiles, “Oh, hello!”

I can tell he isn’t from this country.  “Where are you from?” I say.

“Ahh…Japan.  Tokyo.”

“You live in Tokyo?  You came all the way over here to hike the JMT?”

“Ohhh…yes!  The JMT!  I hike the JMT!”

“Wow.”  I say.  He wears a camera around his neck.  A nice camera.  I ask him about it.

“Photographer,”  he says. “Take pictures.”  We talk for a while and he pauses frequently to find the English words for what he wants to say.  We speak of the mountains in Japan, the hiking trails in his country.  He tells me I can walk all over, spend months backpacking through the countryside.  I tell him maybe someday I’ll meet him again walking in the Japanese mountains.  He smiles, laughs, says “Yes. OK,” and then I hike on.  His pace is much slower than mine, so I won’t see him again.

The sun clouds over.  The rest of the afternoon is spent with low grey clouds hovering over the landscape.  I meet a woman with two young boys and she looks ready to break.  The boys are full of some strange endless energy and they keep howling like wolves and chanting about Mt. Whitney.  I feel badly for her; she looks ready to quit.  As I leave them I can hear her saying over and over again, “Boys!  Boys!”

This is a hard place.


I leave Sunrise behind and enter a series of beautiful alpine meadows.  The clouds hang over all.  The Grey Kingdom!  I imagine Arya Stark and The Hound walking through these fields.  Green grass grows recklessly, right up to the deep rut of the trail.  The fields extend for hundreds of yards, and jagged mountains sprout up from their edges.  Pools of water form everywhere, including the trail.

Cathedral Peak and The Grey Kingdom

Cathedral Peak comes into view, and soon the lake below it.  It will be my campsite for the night.

Upper Cathedral Lake.

Big granite ledges border some of the lake’s beaches and in other areas large rock slabs appear to be sliding, casually, into the rippling glistening water.  The sun is out again and I make camp back away from the shoreline.  I take my dinner kit and the Kindle and spend the remaining evening hours on a boulder next to the lake eating pasta, reading, watching the sky, soaking my feet, feeling alternately hot and cold.  I sun myself and feel my skin and clothes drying, drying.  Leaving the wet day behind.

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