The original plan for today was to hike over both Pinchot Pass and Mather Pass (only 8 miles apart) to the Palisade Lakes. That’s where Chef and Sriracha are heading. But after yesterday, Lupine and I have our reservations. Or, at least, I certainly do.
Yesterday was only about 12 miles and I was exhausted. I started the day feeling great, charging ahead over Glen Pass and then down the snow field to Rae Lakes. Then I hit a wall. The elevation sapping my energy, all I wanted to do was nap. Then as we descended, my sciatica began to fire up shooting jolts down my leg. Aside from the sharp pain, it also rubbed on my mind, wearing me down. I thought I was doing better… But am I?
The original plan for today would involve 18 miles, and two 12,000 ft plus passes. After yesterday that sounds exhausting. And I have to be honest with myself, my body is not ready for it. My back needs more time.
Its one thing to do this kind of mileage in the desert, where it’s often 16-20 miles between water sources. But here in the sierras, water is plentiful. We travel with one liter each and never worry about the next water source, always nearby, dripping from the melting snow.
Uninspired for a long day with two passes, we take our time to crawl from our tent, as we hear the fellow hikers outside packing up early. When we emerge most of the other hikers are gone. Chef and Sriracha are eating breakfast. I tear down our tent as Lupine makes coffee, then I join them to eat breakfast. By that time Chef’s tent is already packed and he quickly departs, heading up trail. We eat breakfast and chat with Sriracha then the three of us head out.
The trail is steep from the get go. It’s about 2,300 ft to the top of Pinchot Pass, which is about 4 and a half miles away. As we climb we spot some Ptarmigan running across the trail, the male with his feathers poofed out behind him, showing off for the ladies. We soon stop to delayer as we heat up. Sriracha continues upward. It’s the last of him we see today.
As we climb above the treeline, more landscape comes into view. Large granite walls of grey. A smaller segment of red. Upward we move, one foot then the other, the rhythm of our feet on sand and rock. Our trekking poles tap along in accompaniment – titch, titch, titch.
I stop on occasion to admire the mountains and feel short of breath as my lungs lose the rhythm of my feet. As I stare off at the granite mountains, I find myself pulled into the small details. I notice cracks and crevices, rock tones that change in color. I could sit here all day admiring these mountains and still miss so much. But if I hadn’t stopped to breathe, I’d have never seen any of it. I feel lucky to see what I’ve seen.
Lupine mentions her back is bothering her as well and we stop so she can stretch. She takes some ibuprofen and we come to a conclusion that we’ve both already internally accepted but have yet to speak out loud. We do not want to climb two passes today. We want to take our time. Our bodies don’t feel like rushing, and there’s too much beauty to enjoy.
We will travel at our own pace, allowing us to take breaks and see all we can. When we hiked these passes in 2018 as part of the Big SEKI loop, it was one of my favorite sections of trail. I’m lucky to be here again. What if I never return? These mountains are magical, and the forecast is clear. We have been granted a gift by the Sierras – the opportunity to take our time.
At the top of Pinchot Pass we rest in the sun, with no wind. Blue and Machete catch up to us and join us eating lunch. They also have slowed down for the Sierras. Blue comments on how lots of people are just rushing through them, doing 20 mile days like we did in the desert. But, why? The Sierras are the crown jewel of the PCT and before we know it, they will be behind us. We need to slow down.
I think to myself, isn’t slowing down what this is about? Isn’t that the point of leaving our traditional life, of taking a pause, a timeout? Isn’t the point of hiking for 6 months to slow down and enjoy life and nature?
Life is full of rushing around. When we get off trail, life will rush back. Why rush now? It’s easy to get carried away with what others are doing and to begin chasing miles. In some ways, it’s harder to slow down, to take your time. For us, that’s the point of this trip. I’m not here to “crush miles”.
“What are we rushing to anyways?” I think to myself. We’re already here. We’re in the land we’ve come to see. Now’s the time to enjoy it.
We stop at the South Fork Kings River and setup camp, not even entertaining the idea of continuing one step further. Blue and Machete aren’t far behind us. I tell them I can’t imagine doing a second pass today, and they comment that they were just saying the same thing.
Lupine and I spend the afternoon by the river. I soak my legs then recline in the sun, drying off. I zone out as the sun warms my skin, hypnotized by the sound and sight of water flowing over itself, over rocks, off the riversides.
Dark clouds blow over dropping occasional drops of rain, but no rain ever comes. The clouds blow over as we crawl inside our tent and fall asleep to the song of the river.