8/10/2018 Vidette Meadow –> Shepherd Pass Trail
I woke up around 5, having to go to the bathroom, but then went back into my tent for the warmth and ended up falling back asleep until 7:30! I stretched a little bit and made some breakfast then got started with my day. It is crazy to me how quickly one can fall into a routine, wake up, eat, hike, sleep repeat. It has only been 17 days, but I feel like this is what I’ve been doing my whole life. It will be so weird to have to adjust back to the “real world” in a few days. It doesn’t even feel real.
I’ve talked a bit with people about how after such a long time on the trail, the beauty kind of becomes commonplace, and you stop appreciating it quite as much as you should be. This phenomenon, which is kind of similar to the purple cow ‘parable’ that Seth Godin talks about in this TED Talk hit me in full force today. The beautiful scenery was my ‘regular cow’. They didn’t phase me. Seen it, next! I took pictures anyway, knowing I would appreciate it later on, but I was kind of apathetic as I approached the ascent to Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail, and second highest on the JMT, at 13,200 ft.
I started out my day by refilling my water and making some tea, then I realized my gas canister was empty. I had another one but the empty one took up a lot of space in my bag. I had learned that Ramiro flattens his empty gas cans by smashing them with a rock, which saves a lot of space, and honestly looked pretty fun too. He was able to get them packed down into a cube of metal, I don’t know how, but I figured I could at least flatten mine. I found a large flat rock and a big heavy rock and heaved it down onto the gas can. It smushed down halfway, so I tried again. After a bit of smashing (which was actually pretty fun) I had a flat gas can. I decided to try to fold it in half and make a cube like I had seen Ramiro do earlier in the trip. Well, I had seen the aftermath but not quite how he did it. I threw my rock and it broke and cut my finger a little bit. It was barely bleeding, but I decided not to tempt fate and went back to my tent with my flattened gas can, and my hurt pride, and looked for a band-aid.
Once I got going, I found that because I was sleeping at around 8000 feet (I think) I had a lot of elevation gain to go through, and much of it took the form of endless switchbacks. I started to feel like I was walking in some weird type of zig-zagging circles, never going to be getting where I was trying to go. They just kept going on and on, with no end in sight. My band-aid kept coming off with the sweat, so I wrapped my whole finger in medical tape, making it look like a much worse injury than just a small cut. You’ll be able to see it in later pictures, it kind of looks like I broke my finger. People kept asking what happened, and I wished I had made up a crazy story, but it was almost funnier just to say what had actually happened.
I took my time going up, partly because there was a lot of up, and partly because I really just didn’t feel like walking anymore! I got up to a lake that marks the beginning of the actual ascent to Forester Pass, and as bad as I was feeling, I was still struck by the beauty of the lake. I set my pack down and ate lunch: tuna wrap, electrolyte tea, chocolate shake, half of a payday bar. Then I loitered at the lake for a long time. I walked around, refilled my water, drank straight from the clear water in the lake, took a nap, and charged my devices. I think I was there for around 2 hours! I watched people come and go, turning into tiny dots up at the top of the pass, wishing for an elevator to spontaneously appear so I wouldn’t have to follow them on foot. Maybe I need to become better friends with Willy Wonka, no magic elevator for me.
Eventually, I noticed some dark looking clouds coming over the top of the pass and decided I had better get a move on. The thing about thru-hiking is, even if you don’t feel like walking there are only a few ways out of there and my only option was on foot, I could either quit and walk out one of the exit trails, or finishing the trail. Either way would require me to walk, plus I’m not a quitter and besides, I don’t have the money for a helicopter exit, so onward (and upward) it was.
It only took me an hour to reach the top of the pass, I could have gone up and down in the time I lingered at the lake! When I got to the top there were a few people up there, looking up at the storm clouds that were gathering. Thankfully, they didn’t look as bad once I got to the top, and they seemed to be quickly heading in the direction I had just come from, leaving mostly clear skies above the place I’d be going soon.
There were a few people up at the top, and one of them saw me taking a selfie and offered to take my picture for me, which I appreciated. He somehow got his finger in the picture, I didn’t know that was even possible anymore with cell phone cameras since you can see what you’re taking a picture of…but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
Forester Pass is very steep, with switchbacks heading almost straight down and then a narrow trail cut into the side of the mountain, held up by steel beams. If you are afraid of heights, it is not a fun place to be. Yet, standing at the top, looking down, I didn’t feel afraid. I mostly wondered who had brought those steel beams up there to build this trail for me and many others to be able to experience this. I silently thanked whoever worked hard in these dangerous conditions and continued on down.
I went down the pass and across the long flat plateau, running a little bit just to get it over with because it was flat and boring, and soon the sun started to set. I knew I had to make it to the Shepard’s Pass Trail junction so I found a nearby spot on my map and headed in that direction. Once I got to the spot I had picked out, I found several people already camped there so I kept going, through a stream crossing and into a little clearing where there were only two groups camped, one group with two tents and one solo tent. I picked a spot just a little further away from them and started setting up camp. Despite the big lunch I had earlier, I was really hungry.
I was pulling out my food and stove when the hiker from the camp next to me walked over and introduced herself, and said that she was having dinner with the two guys in the next camp over and invited me to come along,
“They’re nice guys, aerospace engineers, they’re harmless.”
I said I’d be right over, thinking back to my conversation with the other three female hikers a few days ago and noting how sad it was that she had to reassure me that these guys were ‘harmless’ but at the same time grateful for the gesture. I joined their circle and made my dinner. I had more of the homemade chili mac that I had packed and some quinoa-bean mixture I had picked up from one of the hiker boxes earlier in the trip. It wasn’t as good as it had looked at the time, it didn’t have as much flavor as I would have wanted, but it still filled me up.
All three of them were heading in the opposite direction I was and had summitted Mt. Whitney the day before. We swapped stories and they gave me advice for summitting Mt. Whitney. They weren’t doing the JMT, the guys were heading out to Rae Lakes area, and the woman was finishing up a 7-day trip, heading out of Shepard’s Pass in the morning. She gave me some trail mix and some other snacks because she wouldn’t need them anymore and the guys gave me some mashed potatoes that they were sick of already, along with some Jolly Ranchers. I think they may have regretted telling me to “take as many as you want! We have a ton!” but I was happy and my pockets were full of Jolly Ranchers. I was super excited for the mashed potatoes as well, they had bacon bits in them! Yum! Because I was planning on waking up early, I thanked them all for sharing with me and went to bed.
It was really nice to hear some stories from people who had already gone through what I was about to do in a few days, although it is still surreal to me that I will be standing on the summit of Mt. Whitney, and finishing my journey, in just a few short days (if all goes according to plan anyway). Realizing how few days I have left on the trail made me more grateful for the beauty that surrounded me and I promised myself that I would be mindful of how I was feeling and enjoy it while it lasted. Soon enough I’d be surrounded by manmade buildings, noisy cars, and annoying people once again. I don’t know how ready I am for that.
Thanks for reading,
Stats: Coming soon!