Highs, Lows, and Some Track Haikus: PCT Days 54-59

To note: I’m getting a bit behind on the blog, so this post contains a few days described in my regular journal entries and some condensed into a trail haiku to help me catch up. Enjoy!

Day 54. Miles: 20.7 Total: 855.7

Today we tackle Muir Pass. It’s not as steep as some of the other passes, but it’s by far the snowiest. I use my microspikes and weave my way through wide fields of snow, grateful to have good sunglasses to filter out the sunlight that reflects in all directions. It’s hard to reconcile the warmth I feel with the snowy landscape. I’m careful not to post a hole and eventually end up at the top where Muir Hut provides shelter in inclement weather. There is no bad weather today – no wind at all, just hot sunshine.

I feel better today. Still inordinately tired, but it could easily be the altitude. A little sinus pressure, but that could easily be allergies. It’s hard to disentangle possible COVID symptoms from the normal minor complaints that come with hiking, especially in the Sierra.

I jump with Liz in the early afternoon, but she ends up getting ahead. When I can’t find the Second Breakfast Club – they’re not at any of the campsites they told me they’ll stop at – I have lunch alone, then set off for the river crossing, not knowing if my friends are in front of me or behind. I like to hike alone most of the time, but this is supposed to be one of the most dangerous parts of this section. Even in a low snow year, some FarOut reviews refer to water above mid-thigh. Given the option, this is not a time I would choose to be solo.

Luckily, just before the water, Jackrabbit, Poseidon, and Captain Something bump into me again, explaining that they’ve found a place to have lunch a few hundred yards from the trail to seek respite from the mosquitoes. Sometimes it’s tiring always trying to find the group rather than taking breaks when I feel like stopping, but for now at least I’m glad I’m not alone at the river.

Turns out my concerns were unfounded. The river is wide but only reaches my knees. It’s such a sunny day that I don’t even bother to take my shoes off. My Altras don’t take long to dry.

My phone goes off in the afternoon. I still have juice in my power bank so I can charge it tonight, but right now I have nothing to listen to but my thoughts. I’m thinking of quitting. I’m so, so tired. Not well tired, the kind of exercise induced fatigue that makes you sleep well at night, the kind that makes hiking so satisfying. It’s a different kind of fatigue, deep and demoralizing, the kind that makes you feel old. I reflect on the fact that there is nothing in my life that I would be particularly excited to return to if I did leave. Makes me reconsider wanting to get off the trail, but not in a good way.

This time, when I reach the camp, Jackrabbit is careful to point me out so I notice where the group is stopped. I appreciate the gesture after missing them at lunch, and I try to banish my negative thoughts and have a good evening. We watch a train of pack horses pass overhead on the trail, heavily laden with supplies. The runners guide them to Muir Trail Ranch, which opens this weekend.

I remind myself that it is impossible to enjoy a hike 100% of the time. Ups and downs are inevitable, and this is just a low point.

Day 55. Miles: 17.9 Total: 873.6

best day today

But I still feel very tired

Beautiful here though

Day 56. Miles: 20.0 Total: 893.6

Overnight, I wake up with a start when my hip locks. I dislocated my left hip when I fell off my horse when I was 19, and sometimes the old injury still bothers me, especially when the weather gets cold and wet. (It makes me feel like a grizzled old sailor – “Argh, a storm is coming, I can feel it in my aching bones!”)

But this pain is different. It’s my right hip, not the left, and the pain isn’t dull. It’s sharp and cramping, radiating from my hip to my groin and down my thigh. I guess I pinched a nerve in my sleep, and I’m tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, but I stay awake for hours.

I consult Captain Something about this in the morning, and she recommends stretching and walking slowly to see if it improves throughout the morning. After taking acetaminophen, I hike, wondering if I should abandon the trail at the fork to Muir Ranch to ask for help.

However, the hip hurts less the more I move. My sore ankle after Idyllwild and my sore knee after Wrightwood got better with some rest and a slower hiking pace. Here in the Sierra, on my longest food haul ever, I don’t have the supplies to add a day to Mammoth, but it’s mid-June. The days themselves are long. I can walk slowly today.

Approaches in bad weather

I pass the junction and go up Silver Pass. As the morning progresses, I fall behind my friends and I reach the heights of the pass alone, as it begins to snow. The wind is violent and my feet are soaked from fording a stream. My toes are cold, but I decide to keep moving until they go numb. If I have to stop, I can put on dry socks and add hand warmers to my shoes, but the safest option is to keep moving and get back below the treeline before conditions deteriorate. any further.

Silver Pass is not steep, but it is long. I cruise over more creeks and periodic snowfields, my hood pulled tight around my face to keep the snow squalls out. It occurs to me that this – being here, exposed above 10,000 feet in a snowstorm, alone – is probably the most dangerous situation I’ve ever been in on the PCT.

“I have the knowledge, the equipment and the physical fitness to get through this safely,” I said out loud to no one. I repeat it in my head, thinking about snowshoeing in sub-zero temperatures in New Hampshire, taking shelter from lightning on trail projects in Wyoming, taking Wilderness First Responder training for my work with REI. It’s true. I am an experienced outsider. I have the proper gear for the adverse conditions. My legs can carry me over this pass, even through the snow, even on the verge of exhaustion.

Oddly enough, the gravity of the circumstances is helping me stay clear-headed and focused, and I feel better mentally than I’ve had for a few days. My hip hurts and I lean heavily on my walking poles, but I keep moving. I feel stable and determined. In a few hours, I descend into the pine forest. The snowfields have disappeared. The wind filters through the vegetation until it’s just a cold breeze. Finally, the sun rises. All evidence of the storm over the pass is gone. I expect to find my friends having lunch at each campsite, but they are nowhere to be found. I give up and eat alone near a bridge.

By late afternoon my hip is much better and I pass many JMT hikers on the switchbacks of the next climb. The views are phenomenal.

I pass a few lakes as the temperature begins to drop. I arrive at camp feeling exhausted but accomplished. Despite the weather, despite the hip problem, I rode exactly 20 miles today. My friends are already squirrels in their sleeping bags, hiding from the cold, but they’re going out to cook dinner. We are all excited to reach Redd’s Meadow and Mammoth tomorrow.

Day 57. Miles: 13.0 Total: 906.6

The hip is fine today

Shuttle to Mammoth Lakes

So much sweet city food

Day 58. Miles: 0 Total: 906.6

This morning, pancakes

In a place called Breakfast Club

It seems supposed to be

Day 59. Miles: 9.3 Total: 915.9

COVID negative

I guess I’m not sick at all

Just the altitude

About Ethel Partin

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