Miles hiked this section: 41
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 847
I wake with dew on my bag – created by the condensation of my own breath…. And ice shards in my water. It was around 32 degrees last night. Although the dawn comes later and later, we wake at the same cruel hour every morning. Hardly any of us set alarms… Inevitably someone starts the squeaky, crackling process of packing up around 5am. The stars are bright and it’s the coldest part of the night. The trick is to keep your eye on everyone so you are finished packing up precisely when they are. Finish too early and the precious heat you’ve conserved from sleep will evaporate and you have to do push ups to stay warm while you wait to get going. I hate to start the morning shivering. Sometimes I can’t feel my toes for 45 minutes.
This day we walk down the river valley before ascending Silver Pass. The cold air shoots thru the valley and I feel colder and colder as the ground grows frosty. We can’t wait for the sun to come. Huck starts to jog and his bear canister jostles free and goes flying down a ravine. I loan him my flashlight and he descends after it. We cross the river and watch his headlamp and the flashlight moving erratically almost drunkenly down the steep bank to the river. He finds the canister nestled in a bush at the rushing bank. A yard to the left and his canister would’ve been lost down stream.
At silver pass we find sun and take a break. On the descent I chat up Huck learning a lot about the Iditarod. We get to our lunch spot in good time. Twinless arrives a bit late and confesses her body feels out of whack. She will camp a few miles early tonight. I power up the LOTR soundtrack to make it up a legitimately steep climb after lunch. Dozens of switchbacks. I worry about Twinless and whether we should slow to keep the group together. It’s unclear if she wants some more autonomy… we all feel the frustrations of group decision making at times.
The afternoon holds a mighty pretty section of trail along bear creek with so many swimming spots… Although I fail to swim in any of them. Staying warm is becoming a priority. Around 5pm we make a final push up to lake Marie and our first pass around 12,000 feet – Selden. There we are greeted by a pika buddy. I sing him my pika song. We descend quickly and camp at sallie Keyes lake. Huck McGyvers a wind shelter from his tarp that we all sleep under to be warmer tonight. We are perched high enough above the lake to avoid the cool condensing night air but the sky is brutally clear and crisp. The moon sets early and we see so many stars.
We sleep in a few hours because we don’t want to arrive too early at Muir ranch and we want Twinless to catch up. We arrive at the remote horse camp around 10am. We scour their famously organized hiker box (free discarded resupply items) scoring powered hummus,tortillas, peanut butter, cliff bars, and 16 Starbucks via packets which alone are valued at $20. Jackpot. It’s a good thing because the cold weather and climbing terrain ramps up our appetites and we will go into town on utter empty in 5 days, even with these bonus treats. We find a large hot spring bubbling up from the meadow behind the ranch and soak for an hour before hitting the trail again.
In the afternoon Huck gives me a lot of training. It’s not embarrassing as much as charming … but he looks at my body like he would a husky he is conditioning to race… so I learn about my idiosyncratic movements … How I bounce when I walk and use my dancer’s reléve (half point) to power me up hills which is why I am sporting Popeye-style calf muscles. He offers tips how to improve my stride and pace. He also suggests I would go into fat burning mode if I took fewer breaks but maintained a more relaxed pace for the whole day. I am skeptical about the benefits of not taking breaks but intrigued by the process of testing my body.
At 5:00 we run into Twinless who is hustling but exhausted. Her pack is easily twice as heavy as mine and so I give her a quick Thai massage on her aching leg and then steal her tent. Groucho steals her stakes, Huck steals her maps. We lighten her load cause we want her to make it up camp tonight. We pass the gorgeous Evolution Creek Falls before fording the Creek itself. It is shin deep. It dawns on me how many scary fords Northbounders must encounter in their hike as the streams swell with snow melt. We see a distinguished gentleman in a leopard print version of our exofficio shirts and cutoff short shorts. He has amazing legs that gave probably seen thousands upon thousands miles. He is our hero.
We get to another ideal creek side camp spot with a fire pit. Groucho reveals forgotten marshmallows. As I brush my teeth, Huck finds my secret mascara. I bought it in a moment of crippling self doubt in mammoth and tried to hide it in my ditty bag. Two steps forward one step back in the journey of radical self acceptance.