For the last few nights we’ve been in Bishop, staying at the Hostel California. It’s a funky house full of temporary vagabonds and passers-through. It’s a place of young people, not all exclusively young.
The walls are adorned with autographed pictures of known rock climbers, likely signed as they stayed here for one of their trips to the playground of the Sierras.
Each night we hear laughter outside our window in the courtyard as the smell of marijuana drifts upward. Our room has four bunks, and a private bathroom. It’s nothing fancy, but comfortable enough. Downstairs in the living room, hikers are passed out on the couch, shoes still strapped to their feet. I prefer to assume they just got off trail and couldn’t make it any further, or spare the extra calories to unhitch their shoes. But, from the smell of the courtyard last night, I suspect they forgot how to untie them, or simply forgot to care. Nevermind where their room is.
After a couple days rest we are ready to get out of town. We are ready to return to the Sierra.
Lupine, the wonderful person she is, delivers me a coffee and cut mango in bed, spoiling me for my birthday. Today I am 40. For the occasion we will be hiking over Kearsarge Pass to connect back to the PCT. It should be a short day, with a steep 2,500 foot climb.
We catch a local bus from the grocery store that takes us south to Independence. From there we will try to hitch a ride to Onion Valley, to then begin the cruel climb back up Kearsarge Pass. On the bus we spot a slew of familiar faces. There’s Blue and Machete who we met on the bus into Bishop a couple days ago. There’s Dr. Doolittle and her friendly ferret friend she tucks away in her coat. And there’s Zach, a previous hiker we haven’t seen since Idylwild. It turns out he was about 100 miles ahead of us, and is getting off trail and is going back home. He doesn’t say much about his decision, mainly that he just wasn’t feeling it. I get it. The trail can get monotonous with it’s constant need for miles and mountain passes.
But we are slightly surprised to hear he’s getting off. He’s a strong hiker. He tells us about the 20 mile plus days he was doing through the Sierras, and I can’t help but think of the other slew of recent hikers I’ve heard of getting off trail. All of them were doing at least 20 mile days. I wonder if it just wore them out. Maybe not even physically, but mentally.
Lupine, Sriracha, Chef, Blue, Machete and I get off the bus in Independence. Blue and Machete have arranged a transit service to give them a ride. Chef and Sriracha fill the extra seats and Lupine and I hit the post office to mail some things forward.
As I sit outside the post office, I tap away on my phone trying to update our blog. A man notices my backpack and walks across the street to ask me how Forester was, and if we needed an ice axe. He’s planning a section hike over Kearsarge, Forester, to Guitar Lake and then Mt. Whitney.
“You going up there now?” I ask. “Can my wife and I ride up with you?”
Lupine and I toss our bags into the bed of his truck and hop into the backseat of the cab, and ride with our new friend and his father up to Onion Valley. Our driver tell us he’s a landscape photographer and to celebrate his 48th birthday from last week, he’s doing this hike. The truck winds around the mountains, ever rising. My ears pop.
When we reach the trailhead, we situate our gear and say farewell to our single serve friends. Then we climb.
When we hiked out Kearsarge Pass a couple days ago I remember dreading the climb back up because of the steep grade. But today it doesn’t feel as bad as I thought. I quickly fall into a rhythm, following behind Lupine. The scenery is beautiful, and it’s nice to enjoy the views with today’s more pleasant weather. I feel relieved. Today I turn 40 and I am hiking. My bag is heavy with food, but I’m doing good, and thus far my sciatica isn’t bothering me.
As we hike higher and higher, the snowy peaks of the sierras come more into view. We pass by an alpine lake and stop near Blue and Machete for a snack. Then, it’s back upwards again.
Climbing under snowy granite, marching along relentless switchbacks, I always feel like I’m in a fantasy story, such as Lord of the Rings. Reality feels unreal. It’s a common theme. I can’t believe the beauty I see. I can’t believe we’ve hiked almost 800 miles. I’m here, but I still cannot fathom our reality over the past couple months. Just keep hiking.
As you cross over the top of Kearsarge Pass, an amazing landscape opens wide. It’s as if we walked into an Ansel Adams photograph. Is this reality or is it just fantasy? I still cannot tell.
From the top of the pass, we only have about 3 more miles to go. We trot down the trail aghast at what we are seeing. Sharp peaks push to the sky, ripples of earth below them, squeezing into valleys. Lakes appear, bordered by granite and pine.
We turn a corner and there is Sriracha and Chef sitting on a large granite slab, admiring a panoramic view of the Sierras. We sit down next to them and we all absorb the view. The clouds swirl and alter the color off the snowy peaks in the distance. Minutes pass by, Lupine falls asleep, the sun cascading down around us.
We sit admiring the view for hours. It feels good to sit still and take it in. Eventually, Sriracha emerges with 4 canned Margaritas, and they raise a toast to me for my birthday. What a pleasant surprise, trail margaritas.
As the air begins to cool we decide we better set up camp. We take in the view one last time then hike about a quarter of a mile further to an opening in the forest where we set up for the evening. Today is day one, of being back in the Sierras. We better get our rest, we have a long week ahead.