Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 19 Mather Pass - and how to recover a pole

What a day!  My experience and practice paid off. I got up at 5:45 and by 6:45 I was on the trail.  The sun was just starting to paint the tops of the mountains red and didn't hit the valley floor yet.  Once it did, it would take a few hours before it found its' way to the golden staircase.  I don't know why it is called golden but a staircase it is. The trail is surreal.  It climbs almost vertically up the cliff at the end of Palisade Creek and switches back in small sharp turns alongside the tumbling, falling creek.  The water gushes and flows and jumps and then sometimes disappears underneath the rocks.  There are steps and pebbles and at times the trail seems to disappear into the rock like a dead end only to twist in some unexpected turn through an opening, under a cave or behind a tree.  I actually loved it - it was cool, I took my time, it was steep and I knew what I was in for.  I had not expected such an adventurous, exciting, bold and interesting trail.  Once I came to the first ledge, the sky and the landscape opened up and I saw the valley below me, now touched by the sun and turned golden.  Ah, that's the pot of gold at the end of the staircase:)

I was starting to catch up with other hikers who had started at 4:30 or were coming towards me from Palisades Lake where they had spent the night, heading North where I had come from.  I had a lovely interaction with one of the female Park Rangers and was roped into the bush telephone.  She asked me to relay a message to the head of the work crew maintaining the trails at the South Fork of the Kings River.  Doesn't that just sound like a Jack London tale?  We chatted for a while and she told me all about her job and a bit about her life, gave me great news that the weather was to be great for at least the next 3 days and we headed our separate ways.  

The trail now moved gently up through one of the loveliest alpine stretches of trail I had been on.  Water gently running over rocks, grass and moss and flowers forming borders as if some grand designer had planted wild flower boxes.  Rocks like in Japanese gardens selectively dropped into the river and a blue sky to top it all. I have breakfast among this beautiful alpine world and many steps later arrive at the lower palisades lake.  I meet up with some hikers and they are amazed how fast I made the climb up and impressed that I would do it all in one day.  I feel very strong this day and my decision to rest and get up early was once again the right one for me.

I climb higher and higher alongside the lake, past the upper palisade lake and the mountains around me grow higher as well.  Fortresses, peaks, some small snowfields, remnants of glaciers, tarns among boulders and scree slopes, the evidence of glacier activity and hard winters.  I can see the pass and it looks oh so close. I can almost touch it.  It takes another 3 hours to get there.  After 6 hours of non-stop climbing with some short breaks to rest, drink, catch my breath I am close enough to make out the clothing of people on the pass.  Then another switchback, it levels out and I turn around a rock and there it is.  Mather Pass.  6 guys of all ages are sitting, chatting, eating and I announce to them - you must excuse me but I have to holler.  They smile, tell me to go ahead and then I throw my arms into the air and shout with joy, pride, excitement and just sheer amazement to have made it and be alive on such a brilliant day. What else is there than to make it up to this pass into this amazing day - I am on top of the world and fully in my body and life:)

And then I get my trail destiny by making magic - most of the guys carry too little food - and I of course carry too much.  So I hand out snickers, german chocolate, probars.  They are ecstatic - one man jokes that he will call his wife and divorce her and marry me instead, another man becomes a friends and we will keep running into each other, eventually he will even meet Sharon when he resupplies and we will meet for a drink in San Francisco. Down the trail, people will stop me and hug me and remember my name and the chocolate and probars I gave them.  Not a bad destiny.  One of them calls me sunshine girl - even though I don't want or adopt a trail name, that is not too shabby of one.  I like Christiane as my name. Period.

After a long time soaking in the landscape, I descend FOREVER.  Miles and miles of downhill over rocks and in the hot sun, among lakes and streams, finally hitting the tree line and ending up at the South Fork of the King's River.  I get to relay my message from Dina and have a nice chat with the head of the trail crew.  What amazing work they are doing and how dedicated they are.  The trail is in incredible shape and well designed - except when I am hot and complaining:)

And then I discover my dancer again:  the most difficult crossing yet is ahead of me.  The river is fast and flowing in various channels, wide and the stones very far apart.  The logs are all over the place and wet and slippery.  It;s too deep to take off my shoes and wade through it. I go up and down and don't find a better spot.  Some of the guys from the pass encourage me to cross where they crossed and I take throw my heart ahead of me into the river, muster my courage, cinch my belt tighter and get on my steady mountain goat feet.  I lengthen my poles to give me extra stability and keep going, testing the rocks, going lightly and fast over the logs, never resting too long, never putting too much weight on just one foot, one place. And then, I am almost across, my left pole, the one behind me, gets stuck in a crack between a rock and a log.  I am balancing precariously with one foot in front of the other on a slippery, moving log, water rushing over it and under my shoes and my pole won't budge.  I can't afford to lose it and I can't afford to fall and hurt myself.  So I let go of the pole and decide to move on, hoping I can save the pole further down the river.  And then the pole doesn't fall. It very slowly and gently moves towards the water.  I then move without thinking.  I pirouette around until I face the pole,  I use the pole in my right hand, and threat the tip into the handle of the pole that is almost touching the water.  At the last moment, I fling it up and catch it.  Now I have both poles in one hand.  I then pirouette around again, leap over the remaining rocks and make it to dry land.  The guys are thunderstruck and all I can think of is to take a bow and laugh with glee.  I find a great camp site, wash in the river, sit on a rock eating mhy dinner, wash all my clothes and socks and enjoy the sunset.  

In the process of washing up, I loose my one spoon.  This is where McGyver comes in.  I walk through the woods and find a great tree where a piece of bark hangs loose.  I whittle it into a useable spoon with my knife and find a small branch that will act as my stirrer.  It works for the remainder of the trip.

Tomorrow is another pass and another long day - but I'll think about that tomorrow.  

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