Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 18 To the foot of the golden staircase

I had dinner with deer and I had breakfast with deer. This morning a young buck hovered around my camp site so close that I felt worried about my fragile tent fabric and my not so solid stove.  After a few determined Shoos and hand movements, he remembered that he was a deer and not a dog or human and joined his family in the meadow.  It is strange to have animals be so devoid of any behavior that I am used to in the wild.  I was not entirely comfortable. 

True to my prediction I was hurting everywhere.  I felt sluggish and just couldn't move fast.  At 10 am I was still playing around in the meadow, sitting on this perfect granite slab with my final cup of tea.  I finally made myself move around 10:30 and hiked along one of the finest valleys of the hike, Le Conte Canyon.  I was now in the Kings Canyon National Park, having traversed the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness.  I came upon one of the lovliest meadows I have ever seen and was tempted to stay for the night.    It is called grouse meadow and I took an hour to just look around, sit by the stream and lie in the grass.

I had some time to play with, however, I didn't feel super comfortable to take another rest day so early.  I didn't quite trust the weather yet and I had 3 more high passes to cover before the resupply date of August 20th.  And so I moved on, reluctantly.  The valley divided and I turned sharply to the left, along another river and up towards Mather Pass.  Everytime I went over a pass I had to descent to about 8000 feet no matter how high I had climbed before.  The river crossings were always close to a fork in the river or the junction of a trail.  Today I was actually a bit cross with the trail designers, they could have easily spared me a few hundred feet by intersecting with a trail much further down for no apparent reason.  But nobody asked me or took my opinion into account and so I complained to noone in particular, was hot, bothered and not at all inspired.  My hiking was turning into drudgery and one valley looked like the next.  No one was around and I was feeling quite sorry for myself.

So I stopped under a pair of beautiful aspens and took a break, snacking and drinking.  Ah this might be just the day for a dip in the river.  It was and it helped tremendously.  I even swam for one or two strokes, given the cold water quite an achievement.  I felt better continuing on.  I passed deer meadow where I initially had wanted to camp but it was not inviting.  Lots of dry and burnt trees and not much shelter under trees.  I then came to the last set of trees before the golden staircase which is the first major ascent on the way to Mather Pass.  

Many hikers had been passing me this day to make it to the top of the golden staircase and camp at Palisade Lake to be closer to Mather Pass.   Mather Pass is 12100 feet high and a long haul and a tiring one at that.  Being at Palisades Lake cuts time and distance significantly for the next day. I kept calculating time and milage and cross-checking it with other hikers.  I seemed to be the only one not in a rush, not wanting to make it up to Palisade Lake, which never feels so good.  I kept wondering, what am I missing?  Am I making a mistake?  Do they know something I don't know?  Should I push myself for another 2-3 hour, should I risk camping in the exposed landscape, maybe not finding a good camp site this late in the day.  Am I risking a thunderstorm and being caught on the way to or from Mather Pass? I kept weighing the risk of not going with going.  I really struggled. It is at times like this that being solo is really hard. I saw the couple who had inspired me to make it up to Evolution valley just a few feet ahead of me starting up the golden staircase. And somehow, that made the decision for me.  I saw the tiredly staring at the ground, heavily lifting one foot in front of hte other, sweating, sun beating down on them, walking in slow motion. Without thinking, I turned around and went back to the campsite I had seen a few minutes earlier.  4 pm, I was tired and whatever others did, it was not my hike.  I could get up early the next morning and cover the extra miles when I was rested and it was not hot.  I could enjoy the morning light and enjoy the evening right here and now.  More hikers were passing, barely glancing at me as I was setting up my tent.  

It was not until I had made a cup of tea and took in this amazing spot I had landed on that I felt content and comfortable.  I rehearsed my routine for the morning, packed my snack and breakfast for the next day, treated extra amounts of water and had my blister care kit ready.  Mather Pass, here I come.

My campsite:

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