When we awake it’s still cold. But, with muscles ready to move, I poke my head from the tent. The ground is frozen and frosted. I look to see small sheets of ice clinging to Sriracha’s tent, just a couple feet from us. Our camp site last night was cozy, given it’s size. We crawl from our tent and cook coffee, talking with Sriracha and Chef as the sun begins to warm us, thawing out the ground, slowly drying our tent, still wet from last night’s rain.
We take our time to pack, knowing we have fewer miles today. Lupine and I are planning for about 15 miles. Sriracha and Chef however are planning for 20, because they want to get as close as possible to the Mt. Whitney cutoff. Tomorrow they will get up early and summit, then try to catch up with us in a day or two.
Lupine and I have decided not to climb Mt. Whitney. Lupine was never too interested, given she doesn’t care for the feeling of being at high altitudes. I was hoping to climb it but have decided against it given the back/sciatic pain I’ve been experiencing. Overall I’m doing much better, almost back to normal. But, I don’t want to push my luck. If I were to do Mt. Whitney, I’d have to do about three 20 mile days in a row, with several steep descents. I should be close to 100% before taking on something like that. I’m not. I’m still recovering, and I’d hate to push to fast, and end up back where I was a week ago or worse. That could threaten the trip. And it’s not just my trip it threatens. It’s Lupine’s as well.
We slowly sip our coffee as Sriracha and Chef leave. We wish them luck and wait for our tent to dry in the sunshine before setting out. We enjoy a second cup of coffee. It feels good to have a relaxing morning, soaking up the views and coffee.
We climb from Poison Meadow Spring, stopping at Cottonwood Pass. Soon we arrive at Chicken Spring Lake. It’s our first alpine lake of the Sierras! We break here for some snacks. Small patches of snow erode in the rocks.
I watch as a gentle wind ripples the water. Sitting in the shade I get the shivers and move to the sunshine. Pine trees tower over us, with their shed pinecones strewn in the granite dirt. The air smells refreshing.
It feels good to hike the trail, taking our time to enjoy the scenery of the Sierras. Our decision to bypass Mt. Whitney makes us less under pressure to do high mileage. If we wanted to do Mt. Whitney, today we’d have needed to hike 20 miles to get below it. Then we’d hike 16 miles round trip the next day to the summit and back, plus several miles to place us below Forester Pass. With our choice, we’re able to take our time more leisurely, and at the moment I’m enjoying that decision as I listen to the water ripple off the rocks edge, and the birds singing in the pines.
“I can’t believe there’s water” I think to myself. “I can’t believe we’re in the Sierras.” Thus far we’ve hiked 750 miles and it’s hard to fathom. I can’t believe we’ve done what we’ve done. I can’t believe the scenery is real. All of a sudden the desert feels so far behind us.
I frequently stop to admire the alpine vistas. As we climb above Chicken Spring Lake, an amazing landscape emerges, each Sierra summit a dot connecting and pulling the ridgeline tight. I hike with satisfaction as twisted trees point out the sky to me.
As my pain subsides from my sciatica the Sierra opens like a blooming flower. The trees are speckles on the valley below, spreading along the hillsides, with snow etched mountains layered behind them. One hundred miles ago this would have been barren brown landscape as far as can be seen. No shade of pines. Perhaps the spikes of sporadic Joshua trees.
The trail turns to sand, stone, and pinecones, twisting under twisted trees, etched by the will of the wind.
I lift my legs over giant roots and lift my eyes to the neverending horizon that shapes and shifts around ever corner. Always meadows and mountains, they never get old.
Ahead I see the park boundary sign for Sequoia Kings Canyon and I stop to take a picture. It’s good to be back in SEKI, I think, and shed a tear. I can’t believe we walked here all the way from Mexico. We were last here in 2018 when we hiked the Big SEKI loop, and man is it sweet to be back.
Down the trail I meet up with Lupine and we revel in the beauty, celebrating our return to SEKI. “We made it” Lupine exclaims. “All the way from Mexico! We walked here!”
The moment is sweet. The scenery is bountiful. I am thankful for my good fortune. Lupine heads down the trail as I sit a few extra minutes, absorbing in the sound. A headwind in the trees. A bird zooms over my shoulder. A fly and then another buzz by. I am back on my feet, pack on my back, ready to continue my walk through paradise.
After walking along the ridge with bountiful vistas, we descend for several miles. The trail is rough, with boulders, loose rubble and large steps requiring me to brace with my poles to reduce the impact on my knees.
At the bottom of our descent is a beautiful meadow, with the trail tracing a line in the fragile soil. There is so much beauty to behold. I am lucky to see it.
Beyond the meadow the trail traces along the side of Rock Creek through trees along the creeks edge. There are meadows to my left, and meadows to my right. I am in awe. Today we are in the Sierras and my mind cannot fully absorb the beauty I am beholding.
We reach where the trail crosses the creek, and see a couple tents of fellow hikers, and a bear box for storing food. Given the meadow and presence of a bear box, I assume bears love this area. After all, what’s not to love?
We spot a camp site down stream in the sunshine, and we plop down our bags. We originally planned to hike one mile further, but this place is too perfect to pass up. I spot a herd of deer in the meadow beyond our site and we admire them from a distance as they chew on grass, lifting their heads to look at us.
We soak our feet then cook near the creek, eating in the evening sunshine. It’s hard not to feel spoiled. We finish the evening with tea, and return to observe the deer yet again. They are closer now. Some of them lay in the sunshine. Hello deer. You are wonderful. We love your home. Thanks for your hospitality, allowing us to drink from the stream, rest our heads, and pass through. We are just tourists here. Thanks for allowing us passage.
We crawl into our tent at 7:30, keen to rest our weary feet. Little birds sing in accompaniment with the creek, as I relive what I’ve seen today. I’m thankful to have hiked less miles today, to have enjoyed the tiny limited moments I had in this vast and endless landscape.