After the mishap with my hiking poles/ice axe I decided to go home to Los Angeles to get my gear straightened out.
When I got home I ordered food from two of my favorite local restaurants and got a chance to relax and catch up with LA Aaron and his brother Steve.
While we were eating I described my off-and-on stomach pain to Steve. This conversation introduced a rabbit hole of unhealthy internet searching, leading me to believe I might have the water born illness, Giardia. At midnight LA Aaron and I decided to go to Urgent Care (again) just to get another opinion.
At Urgent Care the nurses seemed confused about what I was doing, "I'm currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and I've had consistent stomach pain." I'd say.
They would nod with confused approval, "Okay, yeah...I understand you're concern, I'm going to take your temperature and the doctor will be in shortly."
The doctor seemed confident in his knowledge of outdoorsy experiences. He said, "Ive watched Naked And Afraid and Bear Grylls...I know what you're talking about." He decided there was nothing major to worry about and that my stomach issues could be due to any number of things given my current lifestyle. His professional advice was to buy some Powerade and return home to sleep.
After a late night at Urgent Care I decided to continue to relax and took a zero at home.
This morning LA Aaron's car was broken into. His window was broken and a few of his cameras were stolen. It was devastating. After getting the window patched, we headed to Zpizza to stuff our emotions down with carbs, and then started our road trip back to the trail.
Throughout the car ride I struggled with mixed feelings about heading back. It's dangerous to go home in the middle of a journey like this. The past few sections have been tough, and home is easy, comfortable, and has cats.
When we got to Horseshoe Meadows I was happy to see my trail family, and grateful that they waited for me.
LA Aaron and his brother Steve joined us for most of this evening's strenuous hike. All of our packs are filled to capacity with 7-8 days of food and new mountaineering gear. I felt gravity pulling me back with every step, but somehow we managed to make it about 8 miles to Cottonwood Pass where we camped.
We left Cottonwood Pass around 8am and hiked a couple miles before stopping to fill up water and eat breakfast (immediately after which I threw up part of that breakfast and then kept hiking).
Today was a great day. It was physically challenging, but the scenery was Sierra-gorgeous and Cosmo and I took breaks often. We spent time sitting and chatting with fellow hikers, many we were meeting for the first time. We also had two of our first river crossings. We were able to cross them fairly easily using fallen trees, but there were still moments of panic and fear. These crossings are mellow compared to the ones coming up.
We were supposed to meet Ya Ya and Utah Aaron at the juncture where the PCT and John Muir Trail (JMT) connect. By the time we ended up 0.7 miles from the juncture, it was late, dark, and we were exhausted. We guessed that the others were about an hour ahead, so we decided to camp and cross our fingers that we catch up to them before our Mt. Whitney summit tomorrow.
An hour into our hike we found Ya Ya and Utah Aaron not too far away. The day started off perfectly for a big mountain climb. The sky was clear, the weather was warm, and our backpacks were light. Before taking off for the day we set up our camp at Crabtree Meadows and emptied the heavy contents from our backpacks, leaving behind our bear vaults of food and miscellaneous gear we didn't think we'd need for our Mt. Whitney out and back.
The first few miles were breathtaking, with snow-capped peaks surrounding green meadows, and everything alive with plants, animals, and a raging river.
We stopped at Guitar Lake (appropriately named for its shape) and filled up on water as we gazed at the beauty around us.
As soon as we left Guitar Lake we noticed some dark clouds in the distance - we didn't think much of them at the time.
I was hiking behind my crew when I passed two women setting up camp by the lake. We said hellos and they told me that they spoke to a ranger who warned of a storm coming in today. I thanked them for their info and hurried off to share the news with Cosmo, Utah Aaron, and Ya Ya. Everyone seemed to agree that we would push on despite the ominous news.
We climbed up the rocky trail and carefully crossed sun cupped snow fields.
My first big challenge was the snow crossing on the mountain chute. I felt myself begin to panic as I looked down. 'Charlie...' I whined. 'You got this!' He replied.
I suited up with an ice axe, gaiters, and microspikes. I carefully placed my hiking poles down in the snow and ice, and then picked up my feet, one at a time. The crossing ended up being easier than I thought, but it still took a minute to calm myself afterwards.
I grew more wary of the incoming dark clouds and the sporadic snow and hail droppings the further we climbed up. I think I asked every descending hiker that passed me their thoughts of the storm. Some said turn back now, while others said it should be fine to continue. One girl who passed me got scared enough to turn around just below approaching the summit. Still...I kept going.
Eventually we made it to the top. We signed the log book, took a picture, and shared a celebratory shot of Jameson with two day hikers that happened to be standing next to us (right place, right time).
We spent about ten minutes at the summit before the dark clouds above us sounded loudly with thunder.
I was so concerned with beating the storm that I led us down the wrong way taking a slightly longer snow field detour.
On our way down the thunder grew louder and more frequent while our bodies were pelted by rain and hail. It didn't take long before the storm was officially pouring down on top of us. We descended as fast as we could, Cosmo especially in a rush since he had neglected to bring any of his rain gear with him.
Getting back to tent was the greatest relief. We were soaking wet, but safe and soon to be warm.
The rain fly kept most of our stuff dry, although other hikers weren't so lucky. Mellow Yellow, a quiet young man from Connecticut, found his tent had collapsed into a puddle.
We all hurriedly got in our tents, into our sleeping bags, and remained curled up and happy to be "home" for the rest of the night.
We took our time this morning, waiting for the morning sun to make its way to our camp and dry our soggy clothes from yesterday's storm. It didn't take too long for that to happen, and we were on the trail by 9:30am.
In retrospect, drying our clothes this morning might have been a moot point since today would be the first of our true river crossings.
We first tested our water skills by maneuvering around the flooded sections of trail, usually secluded to the valleys. By midday we approached Wallace Creek. Luckily, there was a fairly wide log not too far down the trail. First across was Utah Aaron, then Ya Ya, and then me. The white water rushed beneath the log and it took me a second to calm my breath. I looked forward at Utah Aaron and Ya Ya who both nodded in affirmation. I looked behind me at Cosmo who without hesitation said his usual, "You got this!".
I stepped onto the log and put one foot in front of the next, trying not to think too hard or panic. Eventually my steps led me to safety, high fives, and sighs of relief. Cosmo was up next, but he practically danced over it...fearless.
The next part of our hike was breathtaking. Up above 10,000 ft and surrounded by the beautiful, snow-capped and jagged peaks of this range were the Kaweahs, a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada composed of rugged peaks made of mostly metamorphic rock.
Finally the meadow opened up and revealed a roaring river. We made it to our second crossing, Tyndall Creek.
Tyndall didn't have any log bridges or seemingly mellow spots, just rushing wide white water. We hiked downstream about a mile searching for the best place to cross, or at least a place where the water wouldn't be over my head. Cosmo and I crossed together, mostly because I used my death grip on his hand, relying on him to help me not get swept down stream. The water wasn't as high as I expected, only coming up to my knees. Our shoes, socks, and feet were wet and cold but we all made it across unscathed.
We hiked as far as we could without losing the shelter of trees (which was less than a mile), and set up camp early in the evening, staring out at our next task, Forrester Pass - the highest point on the PCT. There were more giant storm clouds rolling in, though they only lingered above us briefly before moving north.
Tonight we have the luxury of time and our group all together. We cooked, we ate dinner, and we worked on a crossword puzzle I had brought along. It was nice to be hanging out and relaxing as a group.
I've been thinking a lot about fear and stress. Stress, although it may feel like something outside of our control, is nothing more than our own internal perception. Fear is the same as stress, a concept we make up in our minds. On the PCT there is a lot of fear-mongering chatter, about weather, mountain conditions, rivers... Today we approach Forester Pass, a mountain pass I have long feared. I've allowed other people's stories of steep mountain drop-offs and sketchy snowfields to stressfully swirl around my mind. But I realized, it's not the mountain that is fearful or stressful, but the way I approach it.
However, the stories weren't wrong. This day was one of the most challenging yet. The climb began by slowly crossing sun cupped snowfields and frozen streams. The trick is to try and choose the hard snow to walk over, but every once in a while your leg may plunge unexpectedly through feet of soft snow, known as postholing. Early in the day I postholed into a nearly frozen creek running beneath the snow - and thus began my day of wet, cold feet.
The next task was to get up to the part of the mountain where we could see the trail. This required a scramble up loose rock or an icy climb up a steep snowfield. Though we had no previous mountain snow experience, Cosmo and I confidently chose the latter. On this climb I learned to trust my gear, trust myself, and to just keep pushing.
By early afternoon we made it to the pass and were rewarded by scenic views, friends, and photos.
We assumed that we had had enough adventure for the day, but we assumed wrong. A few miles down the trail we were met with a raging river crossing.
Everyone searched for a way to safely get across and most folks decided upon a fallen tree. I watched Newsfeed and Five Star straddle the trunk of the tree and scoot across to the other side. I sat down and attempted to do the same but quickly backed up and got off my seat, too scared to follow suit.
Meanwhile, Ya Ya found a thin fallen tree further upstream and she carefully walked across. I stood paralyzed by fear in front of the task at hand. I didn't like either option, but I had to choose one. Hesitantly, I started to walk across the same tree as Ya Ya. Utah Aaron walked back to get me and with him in front I felt much better moving forward. I made it across and our new large troop carried on down the trail.
Mellow Yellow reached for his signature foam sword. Eventually the bear wandered off into the woods and we all moved our tents a little bit closer together.
We woke up safely in the morning, with no late night bear visits, and hiked up and over Kearsarge Pass. This was a detour offtrail to get to the town of Bishop where we would all be resupplying. This pass was beautiful, yet steep, and it was hard not think about the climb back we will have to do once we leave town.
Towards the top of the pass LA Aaron surprised me once again. It was nice to see him and we were both happy that he was able to get some footage of us crossing snow paths, glissading down chutes, and me falling several times in the snow.
LA Aaron gave Cosmo and I a ride down to Indepence and he filmed us trying to hitch to Bishop. After about 20 minutes of no luck, LA Aaron drove us to town.
We settled in at the Red Roof Inn, plopped down on our beds and felt grateful to have a roof over our heads and bad reality television at the push of a button.
After feeling beat up from this last section, It wasn't hard for all of us to decide on a zero day.
I slept in late, ate breakfast, and spent most of the day sitting in a local coffee shop.
Utah Aaron relaxing in the cafe