Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Little Pete Meadow

I made hot tea in the morning. I ate my cereal and then set off around 7:00. The walk up to the third and final bridge over the San Juaquin river was pleasant. I never did see where Little Foot camped. She probably knew all kinds of secret places.

After crossing the bridge, I climbed steeply up toward Evolution Basin. I passed a powerful waterfall tumbling deep into the San Juaquin river canyon. I stopped to take pictures. There were some Japanese backpackers also taking pictures here.

Soon I reached the crossing of Evolution Creek near the meadow. This was the scary creek crossing everyone worries about. It looked so tame. I walked through knee-high water to the other side. I imagine that it could be dangerous because this water fed those falls plunging straight down into the canyon. I was glad to be hiking at a time when creeks were more reasonable to cross.

I meandered along Evolution and McClure Meadows. I smelled hot sausage cooking as I hiked near McClure Meadow and found it coming from the ranger station. I stopped to take pictures and heard someone talking inside.

Somewhere along the way I passed the turnoff to Darwin Bench. The ranger had left a note pointing the way. Some people had recommended I visit Darwin Bench, but the trail looked too faint and I didn't have a map of the area. I didn't want to get lost so I skipped the side trip and stuck to the PCT.

I also kept bumping into a man with a big pack. He hiked pretty fast, about as fast as me. He told me I was the strongest hiker he had ever met. I laughed and said it was because of my tiny pack. He said that didn't matter and I replied that it sure did for me. I see all these people laboring under huge loads, especially women plodding with half their body weight. I could never do that. We leapfrogged each other all morning until I lost him beyond Evolution Lake.

After the meadows, I climbed up to Evolution Lake. I crossed other difficult creek crossings along the way. One of them looked like it might have been in the movie they showed at Kickoff 2009 with Scott Williamson trying to walk across shady forest that was nothing but water everywhere.

Evolution Lake was really pretty. There were dozens of people camped there. I was sure the lake was a human crapopolooza. I wouldn't want to camp there. There were also llamas and horses there.

The trail went along one side of the lake and climbed to the next lake and the next. I stopped at Sapphire Lake for lunch. I was supposed to stay here tonight according to my official itinerary. I wouldn't want to camp here, though. It was rocky and barren and the sun seared my skin.

I continued upward to Wanda Lake. I was above treeline but the lake seemed surprisingly alive. I startled big frogs who leaped into the lake. Hoards of little flies enveloped me and sat on me as I walked or were inhaled into my mouth. Perfect wildflowers dotted the trail and the grassy bank next to the lake. The trail went along the shore but I didn't feel tempted to swim. It looked very cold.

I could see Muir Pass and the tip of the hut in the distance above me. The climb up seemed easy and I didn't feel the altitude much at all. If anything, it felt like the clean air was easier to breathe than the heavy, polluted, foggy wet air back home. I felt like skipping and singing.

When I reached to summit I was alone. I went inside the hut and looked around. I felt happy to be here. This was my last big Pass on the PCT. I felt a sense of triumph. I took my own picture using a Stickpic.

It was already 3:00 when I reached the hut. I needed to head down. It would be a long way down. I soon learned the way down was not as easy as the way up had been. There were only two or three snow patches, but I could try to imagine how awful and scary it would have been had I not gone home in June 2008 but continued on to attempt this pass. The trail was rocky and steep and crossed outlet streams at precarious locations over slippery rocks. It was difficult enough now in August. I would have been terrified in June. I was very glad I didn't continue in 2008. I would have been in tears.

It was very rocky and austere up here. I felt like the only living thing in the universe. The sun burned harsh like in old Twilight Zone episodes shot in the desert. I didn't know if it was the altitude, the solitude, the lack of living things or all of these things, but the old feelings I had back in 2008 attempting all these high mountain passes returned. A deep panicky feeling, I've got to get out of here repeating in my head. Everyone loves the High Sierra so much but my heart sings in the gentler, greener forests of Northern California or the stunning beauty of the volcanoes of Oregon.

After an hour I saw two people getting water and didn't feel so much like being on the moon. I continued to descend and small trees appeared. Then a nice alpine lake with grass appeared. Two men were there saddling up for the long drop into the Kings River canyon. It was still early enough that I figured I'd probably end up all the way down there.

The descent was grueling. I fell twice, reopening the scab and re-bruising my knee from a fall the other day. I passed lots of people headed up with huge, heavy packs. I felt sorry for them. It was a difficult descent so I could only imagine what a tiring ascent it was.

I reached an area with lodge pole pines. I felt a sigh of relief. I took a picture. The pines, the flowers lining the trail. Who wouldn't feel happier here than on the moon?

Down down down. Pretty soon all I wanted to do was at least get to where the trail was just a trail again and not a gravelly, slippery stair step.

I reached the canyon bottom and campsites appeared. Now to choose one. I found a nice one but it seemed too on display. I found another but it was next to Big Pete Meadow and had a lot of mosquitoes. Finally I found a bench above the river and between Big and Little Pete Meadows. No mosquitoes here. A warm wind blew and I hoped for a warm night's sleep. For sure it would be a lumpy sleep since it wasn't an established camp.

I set up my tarp over my net tent so people hiking the trail above me wouldn't be able to see me inside. I ate dinner, played my Strumstick, washed my legs in the creek and enjoyed the warm evening as I drifted off to sleep.

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