Mileage 10 (102.5)
I let myself sleep in again, this time until 7:45. Last night was very cold and I had trouble staying warm. When I step out of my tent I am all alone again. The two guys camped with me had already hiked out.
The crisis from last night seems to have passed: I am glad to be on the trail and not in a hotel bed in Mammoth. I begin breaking camp and decide to have a hot breakfast of oatmeal, which feels like a luxury at this point. It tastes good.
I am still not myself. Not 100%. I get the same feeling a have after a near-crash while driving: extra perceptive and a little shaky. As I set out I can feel myself recovering. “Just do what you’ve been doing for days now, which is simply to walk,” I tell myself. “It’s that easy.” I cross a woman who is hiking the PCT. Intuitively, I know that PCTers should have passed this area a month or more ago. I anticipate what she’s going to say before the words even leave her mouth.
“I’m leaving the PCT at Red’s Meadow,” she tells me. Then, she starts crying. She apologizes. I almost say, “It’s OK,” but I stop myself. To her, it might not be OK, and I don’t want to discount what she’s feeling. I just let her cry and after a while she tells me,
“I’m sorry. It’s just been a dream of mine for a long time.” I begin to ask her about her gear and what she’s seen. She seems enthusiastic about this, and out of our conversation I glean that she’s not done hiking, she’s just going to skip around the trail for a while, which I think is a fine idea. I’ve never thru-hiked a trail before, but I know for many people it becomes an obsession. So in a way I think getting off the trail, unburdening oneself, and just doing what feels right is a beautiful thing. I wish her well and we part.
Late morning I begin climbing up to my first true ridge walking experience on the trip. For miles the trail lies just above 8,000 feet and looks down into the Cascade Valley. After the initial ascent my path is flat and smooth and I stop frequently to just stare out at the empty space in front of me, to the mountains in the distance.
I begin to get thirsty. A man hikes by and I ask him about the prospects for water.
“Ohhh. It’s dry. Zip, zilch, nada, none. Maybe another 5 miles to the source,” he says. He offers some of his, but I decline and thank him. I realize, just like my earlier map situation, that my system is broken. Water fell heavily on the first 100 miles, but now the trail is turning dry again and I decide to always carry at least a liter of water with me. I’ve been drinking a lot, so I know I’m not at risk for dehydration, but I don’t like being thirsty if I don’t have to be. I’m already carrying over 30 pounds on my back, so whats a couple more.
I hike along, not feeling great anymore, and soon I’ve gone into a trance. The miles fall off and a couple hours later I meet a pair of hikers who tells me the source is 10 minutes away. Its past 2 p.m. and very hot. I haven’t been able to re-hydrate my hummus so I’m hungry as well. I rush to the stream, stand on a rock right in the middle of it, and begin filtering. “I’m surrounded by water,” I think. “How strange…” I sit on the rock and drink down a liter. Then, I re-fill my bottle and go sit in the shade.
I rest for a long time and eat my hummus. The father and son from yesterday join me. They stayed at Red’s Meadow last night. I ask them where the daughter/sister is.
“She was hurt, so we had to put her down,” the dad informs me.
“Oh.” I say.
I talk with them for a while and then begin climbing up the trail to Purple Lake, my campsite for the night. When I arrive, a little after 4 p.m., I’m the only person there. I find a campsite with a great view and easy access to water. Plus, its nice and sheltered. I like being sheltered under trees when I sleep for some reason, even if one did fall down near me a few days ago. The sky has grown partly cloudy, but I don’t think it will rain so I walk down to the beach to soak my feet. The water is ice cold. The lake is guarded on three sides by high rocky peaks, and one of them has let loose with an avalanche of rocks that stretch all the way to the water’s edge.
More and more people begin showing up, and I imagine all the camping spots at the lake will be filled tonight.
Somehow, I’ve found peace again. I realize I am living in a world where realism and romanticism mix in equal parts. I think about this 50-50 equation and wonder if I threw the balance off somehow yesterday. As I walked through the burn, as I sat and watched people join together and laugh, I lost the mysticism of this place. I looked out and saw reality, then projected that reality on myself and magnified it. Sometimes reality can tear a hole in your heart.
Luckily, these mountains have a way of mending those wounds.