October 10, 2018
Yosemite National Park, Lewis Creek Trail, Elevation 9,168 ft
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” ~Lao Tzu
We agreed last night to set an alarm so we could get on the trail early, like 7:00 am early. I set my alarm for 6:00 am and that always creates a certain sleep anxiety for me, which is stupid, but I worry about waking up “on time” or worse, missing my alarm completely. So, all night long I was dreaming. I was dreaming about coffee. Specifically, about being at the restaurant where I used to work, and I was there really early in the morning and I was planning to get in there to use their epresso machine. I kept waking up, and thinking of this dream, and going back to sleep and back to the same dream, over and over again.
Each time I woke up, I noted the incredible silence of the wild space I am sleeping in. Not a drop of sound, nothing, for ever. The silence would put me right back to sleep, and then right back to dreaming. Eventually I woke up for good and it was still dark out, and really cold. I lay there trying to keep my mind relaxed, staying nestled in, and waiting for the real alarm to buzz. When it finally did, I’d fallen back asleep again. I ended up waking up by 6:24 am. “Late.” It’s time for coffee.
Hurlgoat normally likes to wake up and just go, while I need about an hour and a half, to do my full morning routine, if I can give myself the luxury of that time. When I need to, I can definitely get up and go with the best of them, but I “hate” doing that. It seems like such an abrupt way to start the day, so harsh!
Hurlgoat lay in bed while I got up and went outside, I set up my camp stove and dragged out my sleeping bag to sit inside it like a little worm while I ate my breakfast and sipped my gloriously hot coffee. The temperature was 21 F and the sky was just barely beginning to get light. All those great clouds and mist had settled into the far valley overnight, creating an ocean of white clouds. Worth waking up early for!
We knew we needed to make some miles today. We knew climbing down the other side of Blue Lake Pass was going to be tedious and time consuming. But we also knew that after the pass and talus, there should be some fairly easy cross country miles and the rest of the day held the promise of trail, lovely, fast trail. So, today was going to be a good day, I figured.
When Hurlgoat crawled out of the tent and came to sit by me to watch the sunrise, I could tell something was bothering him. First of all, he said he hadn’t slept since midnight, and furthermore, while he was laying awake last night, he discovered that we actually have 50 more miles to go, not 25.
“What?” I quipped “How can that be?”
He explained how we had been looking merely at the mile markers on the GPX tracks, and while it was pretty accurate in telling us what mile marker we were at, if you looked at the finish point, at Twin Lakes, it was mile marker 220. The Sierra High Route’s published mileage distance is 195. So, all this time, we had been calculating for 195, not 220. Dang it. I was sort of in disbelief and questioned his research, thinking something must be wrong. Surely we don’t have 50 more miles, right?
Well, he was right. We have another 50 miles. The thing is, not only are we running out of food and fuel, he has a plane ticket leaving in only three days. That’s impossible to catch unless we finish by tomorrow night. What to do? Well, my optimistic mind always likes to come up with a solution, so I offered several. But I could see that he was clearly in a state of distress brought on by lack of sleep and upset. He really wants to finish this journey to the end and right now it’s looking like that may not happen. We sat in silence looking over the ocean of clouds and witnessing a glorious sunrise. Then, we didn’t talk that much more about it. By 8:15 am we were climbing the last 200 feet up to Blue Lake Pass.
The climb to the pass was a steep 200 ft and it took us all of about 20 minutes to ascend. We scrambled over big talus and dug our toes into steep grass hillsides studded with rocks. Finally as we approached the notch, it was a lot of scree and hand over hand climbing, but easy enough for first thing in the morning! When I looked down over the other side, a wave of nausea came over me. It was all in the shadows, cold as ice, and it was a long, long, dark, and in some places snowy, way down to a rockbound lake. It’s too early for this, I thought, and gulped. Hurlgoat then informed me begrudgingly that this wasn’t the correct pass.
“Yea, if you look at the GPX tracks…. the waypoint for the pass….. is all the way down there” he said with a hesitant tone as he pointed to a different notch.
I could tell he was super bummed because what this meant, is that the easiest and safest way to get down off the pass, was from the actual pass where other people had safely descended before, and definitely not where we were now. The way we came may have been easy to get UP, but the drop was dizzying and looking down looked downright treacherous. No wonder I feel nauseus. We started scouting around to look for a way down the talus from where we were, but kept running into cliffs and steep drop off’s. It wasn’t looking good. We wound up traversing the shaded side of the pass, staying high,trying to follow along towards the actual pass and then make our way down. But we ended up at a dead end, unable to continue like this.
We discussed our options fitfully. We were loosing time, precious time. We finally crossed back over to the other side, working our way back into the sun. From there, we foud a way to backtrack yet again, then drop down to a level that led us nicely up a grassy ramp and then a slab, right to the pass. I was so relieved when we got there. We knew we were in the right place because there was a little jar with notes inside, like a trail register, surrounded by a pile of rocks. Frustrations were mounting throughout this whole deabacle. Especially beacuse we were “supposed” to be zipping up the pass, making our way carefullly but efficiently down the talus slope, and then zooming off into the wonderland of Yosemite trails, making oh so many miles. Clearly the day was not off to that kind of start. I hoped we could make it up.
Once we got on track to make it down the other side of the pass, it was simply scrambling over talus. Lots and lots of talus. Slow going. And this morning I just didnt trust the rocks. They seemed menacing, my body felt weak, not confident. Since we were in the shadows, it was quite cold. Touching all the rocks was like touching ice, my hands were getting so cold. It was hard to tell where there was ice and what might be slick again. So tension and anxiety mounted in me. “I hate this” I keep thinking. “This is just not for me.” I started having thoughts of getting off trail at Tuolomne Meadows, and letting Hurlgoat continue on his own. I have all these mixed feelings while I am out here. I love so much of it, and then I absolutely hate parts of it. Is this normal?
You just can’t rush talus. I took my time, placing my feet and hands only in places that would take my weight. Thank god my ankles are strong, thank god I have really good balance. Thank god I can do this with a backpack on my back. I have learned to incorporate the pack as part of my body, it presses up against rocks, rests high on my shoulders when I am at a crawl, and it slides sideways when I am thrown off balance but I am able to catch it. This pack is part of me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do this without it.
Hurlgoat helped me over a few icy sections and I was really glad that he waited for me. I have been trying to share with him my feelings about how important it is that we stick together in sketchy places, because if one of us falls, we are both fucked. Pardon my French. Specifically, if we can’t see eachother, or don’t know which way the other person went, if something happens, how quickly can we get to their aid? It’s totally unintelligent in my opinion to proceed so separately when you are in such dangerous terrain.
I know we aren’t climbing Everest or anything, but we are taking quite a big risk and we are in a very austere environment, very far and a very long time from assistance from the outside world. If I learned anything from my Wilderness First Responder course and the accident that happened earlier this Summer, is that when something goes wrong, it goes wrong really fast. Then, time slows way down, and it can he hours, or days before you get help.
On that note, Hurlgoat waited for me to get through a couple icy patches, and then went on ahead where the talus was pretty stable. We were now in the sun, aiming for a giant mound of glowing white quartz.
Suddenly, it was like being in Narnia, with yellow grasses glowing in the fields in the distance, big misty clouds floating around the heavens which were lined by the Clark Range of Yosemite. Once I no longer had to keep my haed glued to the ground, I got smacked in the face with this beauty! Crossing over the Pass, we crossed into the Boundary of Yosemite National Park. Looking at the views ahead, I started to feel hopeful that everything was about to get better.
Oh did it ever. The rest of day was like a dream. We left that quartz mound and pranced over fields of grass and rock that seemed like a sidewalk compared to the talus. It was just so lovely. And we weren’t even on a trail yet! Little meandering streams layed themselves down in front of our feet, and we soon descended into a forest where we followed a creek for a couple miles. We crossed through a giant meadow with a stream snaking through the middle, with the clearest water, and it was filled with trout.
From the meadow we ducked back into the forest and soon crossed paths with the Isberg Pass trail. Well, we jumped happily right on that. From here, it would be trail all the way to Tuolomne and Highway 120, Tioga Road, about 17 more miles. Sweet! Oh my god it felt amazing to be on a trail again. We were both so excited that we could just walk and let thoughts wander, or even just to be able to not think and not worry. We talked about how so much of the hiking we’ve been doing requires so much intense focus all the time, every move you make has to be intentional and clear. You simply can not afford to drift off. Back on the trail, we could let our minds be lazy and take a much needed break. Not only that, we could allow our bodies to get into a rhythm that we had not felt for days. That 3mph rhythm that gets your blood flowing, your breathing synced up and you can just cruise.
We looked over the Nat Geo map we broght along and confirmed our route. Then, Hurlgoat hung back a bit so he could listen to music while he walked and I went on ahead, almost racing. We reached the Lyell Creek fork within about 2 miles and rock hopped across. We found a lovely smooth white granite rock on which to sit and have lunch. Once again, laying all our gear out on display to dry out in the sun. Today was a sunny day, but not without clouds and not without a biting cold breeze from time to time. When the sun was obscured by the clouds and then the breeze picked up, it went from t-shirt weather to down puffy weather instantaneously. It was easily a 20 degree drop. Then the sun would come back out and roast us.
Similar to yesterday, while we sat eating lunch, we watched clouds build and some of them got quite dark too. By the time we set off for the afternoon, we were feeling a little chilled. I dressed in layers that were adjustable, and had my gloves handy. The trail from Lyell Creek climbs up a ridge that ends up paralleling the Merced River from several hundred feet above. I was super excited about this because down below (not that I could see this) there was Washburn Lake. I camped at that lake back in October 2012, it was my first “solo”‘ backpacking trip. Ah, the nostalgia! Hurlgoat had spent time in Yosemite back in 2014 as well, and we both got excited sharing stories from each of our previous adventures.
Yosemite, for me, has a long history, growing up in CA like I did, I visited the park often. In college it was a weekend trip, and in recent years, it has been the inspiration for my longer hikes, from the JMT to the PCT and now the SHR. It’s funny to think back to that first solo hike, how scared I was, how I cut a 5 day hike short by 2 days and how big and overwhelming the space, the silence and the energy felt to me at the time. But no matter how many times I have been to Yosemite, it never fails to stop me in my tracks. Her beauty is like an infusion into the soul. No wonder famous artists like Ansel Adams and naturalists like Muir were so moved by her beauty. She is simply breathtaking.
It’s been really fun over the course of this hike, too, to approach areas that I’ve visited before, but from an entirely different angle, and see it from the “other side”. Like, for instance, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak, or even earlier on when we came into Upper Basin from Frozen Lake Pass. Super. Cool. Well, today was like that also. Coming up to the ridge over the Merced and Washburn Lake, and later Merced Lake, was a totally different vantage point. I knew exactly where I was, yet I was seeing it all for the first time.
The vast expanse of granite from up on this ridge is immense. We meandered through an idyllic forest with green needled groundcover, little creeklets, waterfalls, granitic cascades, massive ancient Juniper trees, Red firs and lodgepoles all twisted and old dead trees that had fallen to the Earth and who’s body had become hers. The cycles of life so visbile here in this forest, the season turning all to gold, and with a background of hundred million years old chunks of rock, leave one only to feel very special. The Magic is innate in this place. What a place to be. You can’t rush talus, and you don’t want to rush Yosemite.
We enjoyed the sublime hiking all afternoon and into the golden hour at dusk, watching the light pour through a break in the clouds just in time for us to catch a glimpse of Half Dome through the trees. We reached Lewis Creek and now followed the Lewis Creek Trail up a steady climb, paralleling the water.
Overall today we covered 9 trail miles and 4 cross country miles, coming in at 13. Funny fact, our lowest mph on the SHR has been .7 with an average at 1.0 but this afternoon, in the first two trail miles, my GAIA recorded my pace at 3.9 mph. Ha! It felt too good!
We found a spot to settle in for the night, near the creek, who’s gentle yet persistent rushing sound sings us to sleep. As we cooked and ate our dinner it began to rain on us. We waited it out as long as we could but eventually got pushed inside the tent. Tap tap tap….sitting inside, dry, warm, belly’s full. It was a tough morning but turned out to be a good day. I guess they all do, really.
Tomorrow, we have formed a loose plan, which involves getting to HWY 120 at Tioga Pass road in Tuolomne Meadows. We have to hike up and over Vogelsang Pass and through Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, then down into Tuolomne, over about 8 miles of trail. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. From there, we are thinking that we will try to hitch into Yosemite Valley. The Valley is always fun and we both agreed we wouldn’t mind going back there again. Then, we have to see if we can get Hurlgoat’s flight back to Canada changed, so he can stay long enough to finish the SHR. If that all goes well, we will celebrate by getting “hot food cooked by other people” and taking a shower to boot! Fingers crossed he can work everything out, and we will have a little break into YV, and get back on the SHR in a couple days.