Manache Meadow/Kern River to CS732.2 (716.5 to 732.2)
Daily miles: 15.7
Leave behind the sparrows swooping through sunbeams in the early morning air and begin the 3000 foot climb. Enter, like a stranger, this new land. Walk slowly and gather water when I cross a stream. Gasp and pant and struggle and stop at least once every hour. My body is using up fuel faster than I can replace it. Lungs can’t keep up. On a ledge I stop and lay out my tent, which is still soaked from the heavy morning dew. I eat cheese and sausage on a tortilla for lunch and look out over the valley I slept in.
After six and a half hours I finish the climb. No mountaintop, no ledge, just walking across a brief, flat, tree-lined plateau until there’s nothing left to do but head back down. This is the way of the mountain trail.
Unless, of course, it’s not. Because this trail levels off an stays level for a good bit. Rocks and meadows and brief jagged peaks that go up maybe only 1000 feet line my path. The going is easy. I come to Death Canyon, which has yellowish brown water that I need. I take a few liters since it’s 5:30 and I still feel fresh, so I’ve decided to walk a few more miles and dry camp. After an hour I’ve knocked out 600 or so feet of elevation I would’ve had to climb in the morning, so I’m happy. All alone tonight among the boulders and the huge sweeping valley. The wind dies with the sun, which has crossed slowly over the distant mountains.