“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
-Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
I remember the first time I went fly-fishing with my siblings and Dad up in the creeks in Lassen. We would hike up over the ridge and get to Kings Creek or Grassy Swale, step in, and feel the rapids, the bends in the river, and the tails of the hole, thinking like a fish, and learning to live in the river. Maclean described this sequence in detail, and how repeated over and over, as I first encountered in the living water as a kid with a fishing pole, it makes a river. When we step into the water we interpret these stages not as isolated pieces, but rather as working together in unity, as a whole.
The section from Independence to Tuolumne is modeled on the flow of a river, with different stages that pulled and pushed, and revealed the underlying currents that needed to bubble up to the surface.
After the initial elation of being in out in the mountains, with snow covered peaks and valleys, frozen lakes, raging rivers, and little bits of trail here and there, the euphoria evaporated into an elegiac routine. We went over Kearsarge Pass and Glen Pass in one day, and slogged down to Rae Lakes, postholing the whole way. Our group had been whittled down to five, and we were exhausted from the slog. 12 miles had never felt as hard as they did then. That part of the trail, over a series of passes with miles between, sucked me dry. After Glen we had Pinchot, which turned out to be pretty nice in the morning, and then Mather. We reached the bottom of Mather Pass in the afternoon and looked up to an intimidating mess of rock and wet slide avalanche covered slope with a sinister cornice where the pass was. We started up the slush and quickly came to the conclusion that it would be pretty scary to attempt that afternoon. Discouragement was in the air, and we were all listening to that doubt-filled voice, questioning if we could really keep going. I think that was the lowest point on the trail. These low points, which are certain to hit everyone, are the hardest to mentally overcome. This is when you start to doubt what you are doing, when you start to feel weak and fragile, and vulnerable. I think that’s the hardest part. Not the physical exertion, which certainly is hard, but to keep wanting to be out there. It’s in that dark valley that the need to answer why, not for anyone else, but for yourself, surfaces. The need to keep the doubtful voice at bay, the need to pull yourself out of a funk, and remind yourself of why. And the why for me is, simply, that the challenges, and rewards from facing and overcoming those challenges are raw and taut, powerful and tangible.
After Mather, with our food supply looking short to make it to VVR, we decided we had to resupply in Bishop. The trail to South Lake was 11.8 miles off the PCT, and included walking through Ducy Basin, and over Bishop Pass, with a 30 mile hitch in. We slept at the Motel 6, got some resupply, and hit the trail the next afternoon to set up for Muir. Took three “zero days” even though we didn’t actually get a day off from hiking.
That little break turned out to be just what we needed, and was a curve in our journey, pulling us out of a funk. We had our first tough stream crossing going up to Bishop Pass, which of course wasn’t mentioned since it isn’t even on the PCT, and I ended up falling in to my chest the first time. It was cold. And a little scary getting a dunk in that 34 degree water before the sun peaked out, but all that was left after the constricted capillaries, and a few bruises from the boulders in the water, was a scare. I managed to get my feet under me, grab Stephane’s hand on the other side, and immediately strip off the wet clothes and put on my sleeping clothes to warm up. The silver lining was that it was good practice for what was and still is, ahead. Pyrite, in all his ingenuity, has devised a method using 3 mm cord, which allows us to have a rope to hold on to when we cross, providing a safety line as we step into the living water. It does involve him crossing first, holding on to a rope tied around a tree, and then setting it up on the other side so we can go hand over hand as we cross. This method has proved to work well for us thus far, with the exception of one crossing, at one of the three crossings at Mono Creek, right after VVR.
We made it over Muir Pass and Selden Pass without a hitch, both a nice walk up. And since we camped right below Muir Pass, we were able to walk up in the early am, take the obligatory pictures at Muir Hut and hang for some breakfast, before making our way down. No postholing for us. It was glorious.
Evolution Creek was like wading across a kiddy pool, since we went through the meadow and crossed where the water was slow moving. Although it was about waist deep, it wasn’t moving, so made for a nice afternoon wash. Bear Creek was swift and about thigh deep on me, but was manageable with the rope method.
We made it to the dock at Edison Lake early on June 21st, and by the grace of luck, and because a couple other hikers yelled across for the ferry, we were able to get a boat ride over to the resort. The food was good, Roy, the cook, made pasta with vegetables and lot’s of olive oil. Filling and delicious. We had showers, hung out, did laundry, and caught up with some other hikers we haven’t seen in a while.
We had just got back on to the trail the next morning when we came across another raging stream. There were three hikers ahead of us, and as we watched them cross, it didn’t appear to be anything more difficult than what we had seen to that point. Pyrite went ahead, and then I followed, careful of the steps, feeling the current, feeling the rocks below, and taking my time through the faster stretches. Snowcone went next, and through the series of stream crossings, we learned that she had never learned to swim, and consequently, was terrified of water. These fears that are encountered on the trail, rational and irrational, are tough. There isn’t a way to run away, there isn’t a way to avoid them. They can blanket you in a moment, tying you to that moment so tight, either immobilizing you, or forcing you to break through. My fear of heights has been pushed many times, and I can completely relate to the intensity of the moment Snowcone went through when she started across that stream. She made it through the first part fine, but once she hit the current she slipped, tried to regain her footing but was unable to, and was swept away in a moment that must have been petrifying. The last thing I remember was her scream, arching out, and the result: Pyrite was still barefoot with his pack off, so he jumped into the stream, Stephane rushed across as he was already crossing, Liam went in, and Redneck went in, and 8 hands were grabbing on to her, pulling at her, keeping her from being completely taken under. Her pack, heavy with water, was weighing her down and she didn’t undue the waist or sternum straps, so that was the first thing that needed to be taken off. She was unable to get her feet under her, so it took 5 of us, to get her to a tree, pull her out, and get her on to solid ground. Everyone was shaken. And more than everyone, she was shaken. Shaken so much that at each subsequent crossing, and there were others, she relived that moment in the first Mono Creek Crossing. But she didn’t turn around, and she faced it, and she got through it.
People are strong and fragile, courageous and scared, and this is all illuminated in the backdrop of a mosaic of inanimate forces which are far greater than us. We are there in the mountains, and in the rivers, but they don’t care if we are there. Water would flow if we stepped in or not. The stages of a river, would go on in their sequence with or without us. I am haunted by waters.
Pyrite and I were picked up in Tuolumne Meadows by his ever-giving parents, and we are taking our planned break to go up to see my family at Drakesbad for a few days. We plan to get back on the trail around the 1st or 2nd of July. Snowcone got off at Mammoth and will continue up North, or end her journey. Stephane and Elodie are continuing on. We had an abrupt, and bittersweet parting with all three of them in the last couple of days. Not only do you get tied to moments, and the mountains, but the people you experience them with are connected to you with just as much force and intensity.
And so it seems we are moving into a new chapter, with a brief hiatus before continuing on.
With love and peace and happy trails to friends on and off the trail,