Last night we had one of our best camp spots of the trip. We camped at mile 1,046 and our tent sits atop a ridge where I fell asleep watching the sky turn pink in the horizon, a ribbon of color above the mountains. Now, this morning the mountains are glowing again, telling us the sun is on its way. We best prepare to start our day. But it’s so comfy in our tent. My legs hurt last night, aching in my sciatica. So I’m hesitant to get up, but eventually I must rise. I summon the courage and rise.
Yesterday we did about 20 miles. The plan is to do the same today.
We leave camp around 7 am, and bid good day to a fellow hiker camped nearby. We do not see him again today.
The trail today is gentle, with easy ascents and descents that practically go unnoticed. At 2 miles in we cross Ebbets Pass which is nothing like the passes we’ve done this far. There’s a lake and a stream and we fill our water quickly, getting bitten by mosquitoes as they descend to our skin between wind gusts. From here we wind through the forest then emerge to follow a path between blooming flowers and bright green foliage. Above us giant towers of volcanic rock tilt our heads back in awe. As we walk further Kinney Lake comes into view on our right. Behind it a panoramic tapestry of mountains unfold and I cannot believe where I am.
Everyone knows the sierras are beautiful, but I never expected this scenery. Green hillsides roll and turn to stone. Lupine blooms at my feet along with hundreds of wild flowers, white and yellow and pink. The air is sweet with the smell of flowers. Lupine is walking ahead of me and as the trail turns back, I yell across to her “I love this”. After everything we’ve seen, I’m again amazed by beauty. These sights I never expected are spoiling me.
For most of the day we see few people. One man heading the opposite direction as he passes asks, “hey, do you have a YouTube channel?”
I grin and chuckle in my head, and say “yes, I do”. We stop and chat. He’s section hiking heading south to Sonora Pass. He comments that doing videos must be a lot of work and asks if I’ve seen some other YouTube channel. I haven’t. But the guy tells me his videos are “full production” with drone footage and everything. I say “now that sounds like a lot of work”. It’s funny when people recognize me, because I’ve never thought of myself as a YouTuber. I don’t even like the idea of it. But now I guess I kind of am one. But I simply started because I wanted to share our trip with friends and family. I didn’t set out to create produced videos or anything fancy. I just had a friend ask me what my PCT V Log channel was when we started. I didn’t have one, and thought they were kind of lame. But, then again I thought, maybe it’d be a fun way to share the trail with friends and family, just like this blog. By doing so, I had a lot of people who enjoyed the videos, including my Grandmother, which warmed my heart and kept me motivated to keep posting them. Now, occasionally I run into a random person on trail who has seen the videos. It’s kind of a funny feeling, completely foreign to me. I don’t entirely care for it.
We stop for lunch at a small stream and I soak my feet. We eat salmon with re-fried beans in a tortilla then follow it up with Nutella. It’s warm so we guzzle water emptying our bottles so we don’t need to carry the weight beyond our bellies. Then we set out for 7 more miles.
A mile or two later we reach a snow field. Lupine is ahead of me and she stops. She left her trekking poles in a car when we hitchhiked to Kennedy Meadows. So I hand her one of mine before she sets out to cross the snow.
It’s about 15 ft across the snow field to reach the trail in the other side. But it’s steep, turning into a chute to the right extending 200 hundred ft or so, where it ends at some rocks and a stream flowing below it. There are two sets of tracks crossing it. One more freshly trekked path picks up from the trail where we stand. The other path picks up about 5 feet below the trail. But to get to it you have to step down into some loose dirt. The dirt looks unreliable and if you were to slip you may hit the ice and keep sliding.
Lupine steps up into the upper trail and begins stepping her way across, kicking her feet into the snow, sinking her pole in as she goes. I step up to follow her and my foot slips on my second step and i catch myself. Given my sciatica and back issues I’ve been having, I decide I don’t trust my footing up here and decide to descend to the lower tracks. I gently begin to step down through the loose dirt and think “I do not like this.”
Careful with each step I slowly make it down to where the tracks meet the snow and then seen Lupine slip. She’s almost across the snow field when it happens. She’s sliding down the snow chute, facing the snow, with her one pole in front of her. At first she’s just slowly sliding and I think she’ll stop. But then she begins to pick up speed. “Oh shit” I think assessing the length of the chute and danger if she cannot stop. I begin yelling “pole in, pole in, pole in!” It’s the only thing I can do as I watch her slide away from me. I know her only hope to stop is to get her pole through the snow to slow her so I yell it over and over. Then Lupine screams, and she comes to a stop. Her pole is stuck in the snow in front of her, and she is sitting still in the middle of the snow chute.
I yell to her “good job dear. Now just take a few breaths. Try to stay calm. You’re doing good.”
There’s a stone outcropping to her right. “When you’re ready, do you think you can get to those rocks on your right?” From there she’ll be in a more secure space and can make her way back up to the trail. But first and foremost she’ll be off the snow, off the chute and out of the most danger. She takes some breathes and then begins slowly moving to the right kicking her feet into the snow and using her pole to secure herself. Smoothly she reaches the rocks. I ask her if she’s okay there, and tell her to just take a moment to catch her breath. She stands on the rocks, clearly shaken as I encourage her. “Good job dear, you’re doing good.” She’s about 40 ft below the trail. “Okay, it looks from here like you can follow up these rocks to the trail.”
She takes her time to establish her feet on each rock and climbs back up the dirt to just below the trail. She hands me her pole, gives me her hand and lifts herself back onto the trail. I give her a hug and hold her, both more relieved than ever to be rejoined. I tell her let’s just take a few minutes for her to catch your breath. She bends over, breathing heavy, clearly rattled. An older woman arrives from up the trail who saw the whole situation. She had turned around at the snow field, wisely unwilling to cross it behind her husband. She encourages Lupine and tells her she got very lucky. “Let it out dear” she says, seeing the emotion overwhelm Lupine.
Once lupine has begun to slightly calm I suggest we walk further down the trail to some trees. We walk to the trees and toss down our bags then sit on the ground. I clean and bandage up her elbow which is skinned from the snow. Her arm hurts from snow burn. She’s still rattled and I tell her “it’s okay. You’re okay. You did the right thing”. And it’s true. She did the exact right thing. I take comfort in that. I take comfort she had the trekking pole. I take comfort she reacted quickly and was able to stop. After some rest she says she’s ready to continue down trail.
We walk along the trail coming to the spot in the opposite side of the valley where we can see where she fell. The tracks are in the snow. Looking at the chute from this angle we realize just how bad that could have been and again we are thankful. A group of people are at the crossing now. One yells across, “are you okay?” We give the thumbs up and he hoots a celebratory noise. He asks her name and she responds “Lupine”. As I recognize the voice he confirms what I’m thinking “It’s Shroomer!” – the Santa Claus of thru-hiking.
Lupine and I laugh recognizing Shroomers voice, a boisterous and kind man, who has seemingly hiked every trail in the world and maintains a stoke for hiking rivaled by no others.
Down trail Shroomer catches up to us with a friend, Coyote, who is Wilderness first responder trained. She checks Lupine’s back out and asks her some questions just to confirm that she’s okay. We hike with her for a mile as she tells us about trails she’s done (the PCT, CDT, and AT included). We ask questions about the PNT. Then when we reach their planned camp they offer us to camp with them. But the area is full of mosquitoes and Lupine chooses to continue.
We continue another 6 miles eventually arriving to our camp site, bordered by slabs of granite. We each give a sigh of relief. We reached our goal destination, even after a long intense day. I’m just relieved Lupine is okay. And I’m relieved were here at camp together. We eat dinner as the sun goes down then collect into our tent. The sun turns the horizon pink then slowly the sky turns dark and the moon takes its place. I’m thankful to be here now. I’m thankful for my wife. I’m thankful to hear her breath as she softly drifts off to sleep.
Love you Lupine.