Day 98-101 (Kersage Pass/bishop to Mount Whitney/Rock creek campsite)
Miles hiked this section: 42
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 760
Miles hiked so far: 1900 ish
*please forgive the lack of spelling, punctuation or editing. As usual, I am typing with my thumbs on an creaky iPhone 4, laying with my sleeping bag over my head so no one can see the screenglow… Much like a 9 year old reading comics after bedtime
We wake anxiously in Bishop. Half our friends are packed and gone. It is 6 am. We believe they are at the coffee shop and hustle to join them. We reconvene and then, after an hour-long hitch attempt, we walk a mile to the bus. For $6.50 they will take us as far as Independence… 40 miles closer to the trail. As we leave Bishop we see our new friend Future Dad trying to hitch, and failing… Cute tho he may be. We convince the driver to stop and we offer to pay his fare. Future Dad is elated and geekily keeps talking about how great it is to finally be in the Wrong Way Gang. That he’s been following us for months and can’t believe he’s here. He is like a high school freshman oogling the seniors. Although we will soon learn he is a smart navigator, fast, a keen story teller and up for absolutely any challenge.
In Independence we walk to a campground with shade and, for an hour, attempt to hitch the remaining ten miles. No cars even pass by. After calling all two of the local hotels, Twinless comes across an angel -Anna and her dog companion Chewie-willing to take us the remaining ten miles for $75. Anna is grey haired and sharp with hiking tales to tell herself. She advises us to never say no to the offer of adventure.
We hike five miles up the pass and then an easy 3 down by pretty lakes. Then… Finally… Around 4pm, we are back on the PCT, loaded with food and ready to hike the rest of the Sierra.
We press on about 6 more miles, and I talk to Twinless and future dad about family and my belief that when you let go of the fear of being yourself around your folks, when you attempt to self actualize, you open the possibility for more love and respect from them. Future Dad resolves to ask his parents again if they will come to Campo to see him finish.
At camp, Groucho is in a terrible mood about losing his buff and handkerchief in a group laundry attempt in Bishop. The group dynamics in general are all encompassing and growing challenging as we gain more members of of our fellowship. I sometimes feel the brunt of the tension from Groucho… Maybe I know him well enough to pick up on even subtle signals of discontent. I go to sleep sad and strangely feeling alone. If I feel this alone, maybe I should just hike alone. I’m tired. I’m in one of the most remote regions of the U.S. And I am surrounded by chatter. In a few days Bug will be done with her hike and leave… the group is starting to fracture in more ways than one. I don’t know what the future holds for the 6 of us.
Today we climb the highest point in the actual PCT… Forester pass. The morning is freezing again. Groucho Leaves camp early and quietly tells me he will see me at the top. I listen to John Muir’s “my summer in the Sierra” as we ascend. It reminds me of the feeling reading Whitman the first time. Another brother from another era. His description of lilies companionably resting on poison oak. His anthropomorphic take on the sovereignty of plants and animals resonate with instincts I’ve had since a child. Shouldn’t we all have a chance at freedom and happiness no matter our species?
I am moved and turn up the LOTR soundtrack as I do the last ten switchbacks. Crying as I summit… thinking about world… Human sorrow, loyalty and love.
Groucho isn’t at the top. I am listening to the rocks and they tell me he just needs his solitude. It’s not personal. I walk down the rocky path into the beautiful valley. I am alone but peaceful. After 2 hours Bug catches up. I have coffee with her. I feel because she is leaving I can confide in her the strains on my heart. My longings and confusion about the group dynamics and the struggle to stay upbeat. She reciprocates. We walk together the rest of the day.
Around 3pm we all reconvene at the intersection for mount Whitney. An 8 mile side trail up to 14500 feet… The tallest peak in the lower 48. We will summit tomorrow early. We cache food at the campground bear box so we can lighten our load. then hike to Guitar Lake… Leaving just 5 miles to hike in the morning. We aim to wake at 2:00 am to reach there by sunrise. We set up camp, eat and fall asleep by 7:30 pm… 4 of us cuddling up under Huck’s tarp.
I wake 3 times before 2am because of tarp stakes failing and coming out of the ground in the wind. Finally Huck storms off at 1:55 am…. Having only slept a few hours. We all hustle to join him… grabbing our day packs and all our warm layers and Water.
Together we trod in the dark, uphill. I am in front and set slow pace. There is so much wind and it is just above freezing. If we walk too fast we will sweat and then we will freeze when we get to the top and find ourselves cooling down and waiting for sunrise in wet clothes. So, slow and steady she goes. The trail is dimly lit from the near-full red moon. It sets several times behind the hill, but as we keep ascending we keep seeing it reappear.
At the junction we see a man descending… Having just thrown up from altitude sickness. He didn’t make it this time… He drove from LA that night. Going from sea level to 14000 feet in one day is no joke.
It is the darkest before the dawn as the moon sets finally and completely. The rock face is sheer downhill on our left (west) and uphill on our right. Then occasionally, The rock face parts and we can see to the East… The lights of Lone Pine far far down the valley. We are really high up and it’s a long way down. I become more concious of my footing.
I pause to go pee. I’m excited like it’s Christmas but nature calls when it calls. There are rocks on both sides… I make due on a large flat rock and the pee sprays everywhere, but mostly on my left shoe. A fact I begin to notice ten minutes later when it drops below 32 degrees and my left toes go numb.
As we approach the summit the wind takes on a bitterness and minor fury. The famous metal and stone shelter is inhabited by a flip flopper in his tent. We pile in anyway. It is still dark and so cold. We get warm, eat a snack and prep trail magic.
Groucho and I have been talking about hiker on hiker magic since Oregon and since Whitney is the terminus of the John Muir Trail, Groucho has orchestrated a trail magic plan to help JMT hikers celebrate the end of their hike. We bought airplane bottles and candy in Bishop and have carried this extra weight up nearly 40 miles and at least 8000 feet.
We crack open an airplane bottle and add it to hot water and coffee, passing it around. We present Bug with her own pint of whiskey and vegan candy corn. Her special treats for finishing her 400+ mile section. We will miss her.
Eventually we see thru the window that The horizon seeps orange and we rush out to the rocky outcroppings – freezing but happy. We see forever horizon stretching as wide as it does deep. As the sun comes closer and closer to creating a new day.
My toes are so cold they hurt. I almost can’t feel them. I am seriously worried about permanent nerve damage so I go back to the shelter with Twinless. We do jumping jacks. Is this sunriseworth nerve damage to toes? Yes. I return and dispense more magic with Groucho to JMTers and day hikers. Everyone is delighted. And then suddenly an explosion of hot pink sun on the horizon. Future dad, Groucho and I sing thru my medley of patriotic tunes. People are giddy and taking selfies. Folks touched by our magic share whiskies and cigars with our group.
Soon we are flying down the mountain- chattering, shivering and passing out renaming magic to day hikers looking green in the face, and JMTers looking relieved and excited. We reach the Whitney portal junction and suddenly sadness… Bug leaves us. I am never good at goodbye. What will we do without our spirit animal?
As the rest of our group descends to Guitar Lake, bug descends alone down to Lone Pine… A balloon bobbing on her back pack and a mandate to Pass out the remaining trail magic which we hope will help her find a speedy hitch.
I hang back thinking about what we’ve accomplished. I’ve never considered myself outdoorsy or particularly adventurous and yet here I am and I’ve never been happier. And yet I miss my friends and art and family and collaborators. and we still have so far yet to finish this particular thru hike.
We are back at the PCT by 1pm and hike a quick few hours to a campsite by a creek. We run intoSOBOs soaked and black sheep who we haven’t seen since Sierra City more than a month ago. Here we pass out by 7pm… Exhausted. And wondering what the hell can possibly top this?