September 12, 2014
Distance: 14 miles
Traveled: Near Vidette Meadows to Tyndall Frog Ponds
“Weariness rested away and I feel eager and ready for another excursion a month or two long in the same wonderful wilderness. Now, however, I must turn toward the lowlands, praying and hoping Heaven will shove me back again.”
– John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
I woke up with one thing on my mind: Forrester Pass.
I had slept great with the little babbling brook that ran through our campsite providing soothing background noise, but at 5:30am I was awake.
We went through our morning routine and motions moving on autopilot, Friz gushing about how much he loved this campsite all the while. Everything on this morning was uneventfully similar to the past 15 mornings – except there was a shift. It started small, and nearly unnoticeable…
Civilization was calling.
We left camp with Forrester racing through our minds. The 13,118’ looming beast. The last pass of the trail.
We had 8 miles to the top of Forrester, and for the most part we just kept moving. We took a few small breaks, but overall we just marched upward. When we reached the treeline, Friz began to move ahead at his typical ease, while I took my time, and savored the decreasing oxygen.
Walking up Forrester was incredible. The ruggedness, the overwhelming amount of rock, the intimidation of the surrounding jagged peak walls.
And somewhere on that stretch of the John Muir Trail trail as it marched relentlessly up a mountainside, somewhere amongst the piles of talus and occasional marmot chirps – it hit me. Not only would I finish this trail, but I would finish it SOON.
I kept walking, feeling pulled in two mental directions. Part of me fighting to be present – to savor every step on this encore pass….and the other part of me dreaming of my blowdryer.
No joke – I couldn’t stop thinking about my blowdryer. Most people start dreaming about food, about cold beers and pizza, about sleeping in a bed with pillows….I just couldn’t shake the daydream of how amazing it would be to have clean, soft, nice-smelling hair again that I could wear down and would blow in the breeze. I had taken a total of 3 showers in the past 15 days, and they were all great. But something was notably missing from each of these showers: the ability to blowdry my hair.
My hair had been tied up and stuffed inside some sort of hat for the past 15 days and I wanted to feel some fucking wind on my scalp. I wanted my greasy helmet of hair to move in the breeze again. Once I got the craving in my head I couldn’t shake it. At the end of this trail was my car with my blowdryer in a suitcase in the trunk, and from 32 miles away, I’m pretty sure I could hear it whispering my name.
I had to keep roping myself back in. Stay on the trail, Erica. Stay on the trail.
Walking higher and higher towards Forrester, I kept eyeing the mountains around me for where we could possibly be headed. Each time my eye settled on the direction of where the trail appeared to be headed I would think to myself “we can’t possibly be headed all the way up there?”. Standing in the basin below Forrester you can clearly see how difficult it must have been for them to construct this section of trail – it is a daunting landscape.
At one point I crossed a small stream, and realized I had just crossed the tiny headwaters of what would become roaring Bubbs Creek, and eventually the impressive Kings River. Hiking up a bit further I found I could see the exact point at which the trickle of water emerged from the mountain. So cool.
This teeny spring from the mountainside would eventually become the river that churned through Kings Canyon. Seeing huge rivers at their infancy is one of my favorite things – like seeing the tiny headwaters of the Tuolumne River after having witnessed it’s deafening roar in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne months earlier, or being back home in Colorado and seeing the tiny, and unimpressive headwaters of the Colorado River and feeling in awe that the gentle stream in front of you would eventually become the beast that carves through Utah and the Grand Canyon.
Shortly after passing this the headwaters of Bubbs Creek, a sizeable rockfall on a slope to the east shattered the silence with it’s eerie rumble echoing through the cirque – leaving a huge dust plume in it’s wake. Rockfalls, when witnessed from a safe distance, are awesome. There’s a huge feeling of luck for being in the right place at the right time to witness the landscape shifting in front of your eyes (of course, the feeling of luck only happens when no one is in danger from it…).
Friz kept hiking far ahead, and watching him along the base of the switchbacks gave an awe-inducing sense of scale to where we were.
I continued up the switchbacks behind him – my head lost in a whirlwind of everything. I reflected on the past 15 days, and everything that had come to pass, all of the things I had learned, all I had seen, all I had yet to see, how next week I would be back staring at a computer for 8 hours a day again, my husband, my animals. All of this hit me at once and swirled endlessly in my mind mixed with huge amounts of gratitude where I was and the entire experience.
As with all the passes and climbs on all of the days before, my breathing on the climb up Forrester was tortuously tough. No asthma attacks – but I stopped to catch my breath many times, I thought there was no way in hell I could ever do the PCT in the future…not with these dysfunctional lungs. A bitter pill and thought to swallow.
I reached the top with a sense of relief, and quite a bit of sentimentality. Around this point I also hit the 200 mile mark. Pretty awesome.
Friz and I were both hoping to have cell service from the top, but alas there was none. We could even see bits of the Owens Valley peeking between the mountains to the East – yet no phone signal was breaking through. I hadn’t had service since the top of Bear Ridge 120 miles ago, and I really wanted to be able to call my husband. Oh, well.
We snacked on the pass, and a couple from Germany made their appearance on the top. They were lugging the heaviest looking packs I had ever seen, and I immediately felt grateful for my lightweight pack. I had them take a photo of us at the top of our last pass.
We started down to the basin below, and as we reached the headwaters of the Kern River I was quite hungry. We were still far above the trees, and I was hoping to reach the shade before we ate lunch, but Friz was getting grumpy and hungry so we found a spot along the river and settled in for lunch.
Once we sat down, I realized how incredible the landscape around us truly was. We were around 12,000 feet, Tyndall Creek babbling next to us, the sky was perfectly blue, it was the perfect temperature, and we were surrounded by impressive granite mountains in all directions. Friz lay down in the sun and closed his eyes after finally eating and fixing his hangry-ness, and I just sat staring at my surroundings and taking it all in. Don’t get me wrong, though – I was still very much thinking about my blowdryer – yet, it was really hitting me that the day after tomorrow I would be done, and because of that I was trying to bask in the moment.
I looked over the remaining maps and miles, as I always did on my lunch break, realizing I was now on the last couple pages of my guidebooks and the last pages of the Harrison Maps. The last 29 miles and 2 days were starting to feel flimsy.
After lunch we continued on. Friz was in slightly better spirits having finally eaten, but still seemed a bit ‘off’. Perhaps it was hitting him as well.
Following Tyndall Creek south, the Sierras felt different once again. It was dry, very dry. It felt like a desert. The ground was sandy like we hadn’t seen before, and it was yet another shift in the Sierra landscape that made me feel so far from where I had come in lush Yosemite Valley. It felt like the Eastern Sierras. It felt close to Whitney.
I had hoped to camp on Bighorn Plateau, but we were exhausted and decided to stop for the night at the Tyndall Frog Ponds. It was relatively early when we stopped compared to the past couple nights, and it felt odd having all this extra time to kill before sunset. Neither of us really liked the campsite at all, it had a weird vibe to it – but we were too tired to look for something else.
Friz was in a funk, and I tried to give him his space. We had been hiking together for 11 days, and I had not seen him like this the whole time. I tried not to take it personally and to give him his space, figuring he was more than allowed to feel however he was feeling after 200 miles of walking, and 11 days of being stuck with me…the trail is full of ups and downs, and I would be the first to attest to that.
I brought my journal and Kindle to the lakes and found a log to sit on and write and read – and tried to be present, but my focus was somewhere else. My mind was walking up Whitney and driving down to Lone Pine. My mind was getting a veggie burger at the Whitney Portal store. My mind was feeling the wind in my clean, blow-dried, hair. The sun was golden, I heard what sounded like thunder from the other side of a ridge, though I couldn’t see any clouds, Friz was back at camp in his tent writing. It was an odd evening.
I was in my tent before complete darkness hit, popping melatonin, and having one last look (for the 80th time that day) at the few remaining miles on the maps before closing my eyes.
Tomorrow would be my last night on the trail. It would be the last night of setting up this tent, making dinner, seeing the sierra stars while rushing out to pee in the middle of the night, sleeping in a beanie, studying maps by my headlamp before bed, waking to deer and alpenglow. Tomorrow was the last full day on the trail. Wow.
Or so I thought…