Saturday, October 12, 2013

Yosemite! Half Dome!

Transcribed:  October 12, 2013
September 24, 2013
The packing and the putting on of the pack were daunting this morning.  I have a vendetta against my bear canister and we are at higher elevations than we have been (so far).  Just south of Sonora Pass the trail climbs to nearly 11,000 feet!  There is some snow on the trail, which makes for careful walking since we are on steep terrain.  Once we climbed up, the trail stays high on the ridgeline for miles, which made for spectacular walking.  We are just surrounded by snow-covered peaks as far as the eyes can see.  It is how I imagine the Alps to look.  The winds raged and the clouds grew thick and hovered over us, but, miraculously, all we got was a few snowflakes.  The clouds stuck around and made for some awesome photographs.  Sadly, we did eventually have to descend off the ridge and continue our walking in relatively lower country.  This evening we walked past the 1,000 mile marker, we have less than a thousand miles to Mexico!  This feels pretty darn exciting!  As the day went on, I am getting used to the heavier pack and the altitude.  We have walked over 21 miles today – which is good given the new conditions our bodies are adjusting to.  It is cloudy and windy again tonight, so we shall see what the trail delivers tomorrow.

John Muir Country
September 25, 2013
The morning started off sunny, cold and crisp, the kind of day that makes September my favorite month.  The trail followed a creek for a good many miles, which was very peaceful.  Ben has been fighting a cold and started feeling progressively worse as the day went on.  It got colder and started snowing lightly and it got to the point where he was just trudging along.  We stopped after 14 miles and got some soup and tea in him.  Hopefully he will feel better after a good night of rest.  It feels like summer is taking her curtain call, I’d rather we were past the high country.  It’s stressful, but we are doing all that we can.  We don’t have much, if any, control over weather, exhaustion or illness.
September 26, 2013
Today went very slowly as Ben is still quite sick and working hard to stay moving.  It was a quiet day, walking in a comfortable silence, enjoying the vast landscapes that surround me.  At lunch, we met Special Ops, another south-bound thru-hiker.  We haven’t seen another Sobo (South Bounder) since Central Oregon, so it was very exciting to swap trail stories.  We forged on in the afternoon as snow began to fall.  It was so quiet, watching snow cover the granite peaks. As darkness fell, we caught up with our new friend who had a fire blazing.  Ben and I were very low on fuel and had planned on a cold dinner, but soon we were having cocoa and tea and dehydrated chicken enchiladas.  Special Ops is one hell of a trail angel!
September 27, 2013
This morning, I woke up to an ice-crusted tent from our condensation freezing.  It was 22 degrees (inside the tent).  Motivated to get to Tuolumne Meadows, we were up and walking before sunrise.  It was freezing.  We started walking in our down jackets.  Eventually it did warm up and we had some very beautiful walking today.  Expansive granite domes tower above the trail and we walk alongside water rushing over granite slabs.  We made it down to Tuolumne Meadows by 6 pm (about 26 miles, proving we can still do decent miles at altitude with bear canisters).  All services at Tuolumne are closed, so we had planned to walk down Yosemite Valley in the morning until I realized that tomorrow is Saturday and the Post Office would only be open for a few hours and so we began the task of hitch hiking.  The sun was setting and we were about to give up hope when a seriously awesome couple squished all three of us in the back of their car, fed us fresh fruit, cranked up the heat and delivered us to the heart of the valley.  We got to watch the sunset as we made our way down.  Once there we went to the super market, had soda and sandwiches and then realized we had nowhere to sleep.  We were tired, it was dark, and all the campgrounds were full.  And so we stealth camped in the bushes.  Usually I feel like a back packer, but tonight I feel like a vagrant.

 The Evil Bear Canisters!
Picking up packages and mail at Yosemite Village
September 28, 2013
Since we did not get arrested last night we went and got breakfast this morning, complete with a coconut soy latte.  I perused the Ansel Adams gallery while we waited for the Post Office to open.  I wasn’t sure if our packages would be there, but they were, with so many treats from Mom, Karen and our Zydeco family, and a letter from my Grandpa.  I got really emotional thinking of all of our loved ones and the support we have.  I feel very lucky.  After going to the store and grabbing lunch, we headed back to the trail.  We parted ways with Special Ops who is hitching back to the PCT.  Ben and I are walking back up to the PCT on the John Muir Trail (JMT), with hopes of going up Half Dome on the way.  There are hordes of people, but the crowds thinned as we got farther from the trailhead.  The guy that we hitched with last night referred to Yosemite as “Nature Disneyland” which is an exceptionally accurate description.  I admired the majestic granite domes, our first view of Half Dome and beautiful Nevada Falls.  We are now two miles from the top of Half Dome, which we will try to watch the sunrise from.  We weren’t able to get a permit, so we are hoping for either a kind ranger or hikers with extra space on their permits.  Either way, it is mind blowing to be in this spectacular place.
September 29, 2013
It has been an exhilarating and exhausting day.  We were up and walking toward Half Dome under a crescent moon and brilliant stars.  We reached the base of the cables that run up the last 500 feet of rock just as light was entering the sky.  As soon as I started up the steep cables with my heavy pack, I knew it was a mistake to bring my pack up with me.  It was pulling me backwards and I felt like I was just heaving my way up these cables while making sure my feet didn’t slip on the granite, which was slick with my trail runners.  We did make it up without incident, just in time for sunrise.  It was amazing to watch light fill the valley and stare down the climber’s side of Half Dome, a 2000 foot vertical cliff.  Next time I’m up there, I hope it will be by this route.  Overlooking this awe-inspiring valley I let BJ’s ashes sail into the abyss.  And then we headed down…..coming up was scary but starting down the cables was truly terrifying.  And I love rock climbing!  It’s not the exposure but the fact that if you fell, you would have very little control or ability to stop yourself.  I normally can control my climbing mind space, but I got really scared and it seemed like a bad idea to go down with my pack on.  Ben encouraged me to leave my pack at the top, and I had minimal problems descending without it.  At least I was able to maintain my composure.  Ben was awesome and went up and down to retrieve my pack.  He was the only person on the cables, and I was able to get some great footage of him.  We headed safely back to the trail to share a celebratory Dr. Pepper and cookies from Mom.  And then we began our ascent of Yosemite Valley.  It was a beautiful day and we were walking through Heaven’s country.  I’m not sure I have seen such vast and striking mountains.  Granite domes and spires fill the valley, calling out to be climbed.  I wish it was summer so I could stay and play.  The clouds were awesome today; stacks of lenticular clouds filled the skyline.  We took our time, taking lots of pictures and time to soak in the views.  Of the day, I think Cathedral Peak was my favorite.  From afar, it looks like a steep needle, but as you draw closer, it is actually comprised of giant Lego blocks of rock stacked atop each other.  We got back to the road leading back to Tuolumne Meadows in time for a vibrant sunset in which all of the lenticular clouds turned orange and pink like giant pastel flying saucers.  We will hopefully get good rest tonight and jump back on our trail in the morning.  Yosemite made for an unforgettable side trip, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Half Dome
 The final, cable ascent of Half Dome
 Looking down from the top of Half Dome
Paintings in the sky

Friday, October 11, 2013

South Lake Tahoe to Sonora Pass

Transcribed: October 11, 2013
From the Journal:  September 19, 2013

Yesterday we took a full day off, and it was amazing.  I slept in without guilt, had so many cups of coffee, and ran a few errands.  South Lake Tahoe is more challenging to negotiate than most of the towns on the PCT, but they have a decent bus system so it worked out.  Mom sent brand new shoes to me, which felt like Christmas and my birthday combined.  My old pair had about as many holes as I have toes and were starting to feel too small.  I got 500 miles out of them, which I was happy with.  Ben and I walked down to the lake to watch the sunset.  I got to do some sun salutations and watch the water ripple with golden rays.  Then we had a lovely Italian dinner and headed back to the hotel.  This morning was leisurely as well, and I feel like we almost didn't leave town.  After a very late bus, me nearly leaving my sleeping pad under the bed in the hotel and eating way too much at a Chinese buffet, going back to bed seemed like the very best idea.  Instead, we were good thru-hikers and headed out to the highway to hitch-hike.  We shortly got a ride with a kind local woman and her yellow lab.  Per usual, I was grumpy walking out of town with a too-full belly and too-heavy pack.  A couple hours into the woods now, I am content and feel right back at home.

Rachel finding peace at Lake Tahoe at sunset

September 20, 2013

It has been an exceptionally hard day, and I’m not exactly sure why.  We woke up at 6 completely exhausted and ended up sleeping in for several more hours.  We didn’t start hiking until 10.  I know we need to make forward progress but my body feels like it is pushing against a wall.  I have done other hard things – marathons, climbs, long distance bike rides, but this is different.  Month after month of daily physical challenge is different.  We walked 17 miles today and are camped above 9,000 feet.  It is very windy and snow is in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow.  You can feel the changing seasons in the air.  This afternoon we did have a wonderful surprise at the Carson Pass Visitor Center.  The volunteers there were big fans of the PCT; they gave us fresh water and snacks as we sat by the warm fire.  On days like this, it is kind people that lift your spirits immeasurably. 

September 21, 2013

Well, today is the last day of summer and we are huddled in the tent at 5 pm, watching snow fall. The wind kept us up much of last night, and although our tent pole got bent, the tent stood through the night.  Needless to say, finding the energy to start walking this morning was a challenge.  At first we just had wind to contend with, but the clouds looked ominous and soon we had rain, then grapple and then snow.  The winds were gusting at 30+ mph, throwing consolidated snow in your face and threatening to push you off the ridges we have been walking along.  At first this was pretty discouraging, but as the day went on I felt more purposeful and determined.  The problem is, we get most of our cold weather gear in two days, at North Kennedy Meadows.  We have pretty limited clothes to walk in and still have dry clothes to sleep in.  So we were walking in wind pants and a rain shell over shorts and t-shirt with light gloves and light socks.  About 4 pm fingers and toes started getting cold so we called it a day at just over 19 miles.  From what we last heard, this weather system is supposed to be short-lived, so with some luck, hopefully the weather will improve.  I am certainly intimidated, with hundreds of miles of high country ahead and September rapidly drawing to a close.  There is a different kind of beauty to days like these.  The pure white of a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains or a red-tailed hawk effortlessly riding the gusts of wind.  The clouds swirling around rocky spires up above conjures up images of a dark and mysterious castle.  Hopefully we can stay warm and get some rest, and be able to safely carry on in the morning. 
September 22, 2013                                                                                                                                              

I woke up to a perfect morning for first snows.  The sky was a bright blue and the whole world sparkled.  With the clouds gone, I have an unobstructed view of the rocky cliffs all around us, and they are covered with just a thin layer of snow.  Brand new snow on the ground allows us to see who we are sharing the trail with.  I spotted deer, rabbit, coyote, cougar, and bear tracks.  It looks like there was a mama bear with two cubs frolicking around and having a great time this morning.  It is amazing how a fresh dusting of snow gives the mountains a whole different appearance.  They are absolutely breathtaking today.  We were traveling up high with gorgeous views for most of the day.  When the sun set the sky was ablaze with orange clouds, giving it the appearance of being on fire.  Shortly after sunset, we heard a pack of coyotes singing together.  It was hauntingly beautiful.  We are camping under the stars, watching the moonrise and eating split pea soup.  It is cold tonight, but I love cowboy camping whenever we can, there is no better way to fall asleep than star gazing. 

First Snow of Fall

September 23, 2013
Perhaps it is not the best idea to cowboy camp when there is snow on the ground; it was 26 degrees when we woke up this morning.  Also, my shoes were frozen solid, and I had to force them onto my feet since I had neglected to loosen them the night before.  We got walking in a hurry with almost all of our clothes on.  The trail climbed above 10,000 feet for the first time.  This served to warm us up as well as being beautiful.  I am so glad for the snow we got; the contrast of the white on the rocky peaks is quite striking.  Just as we were walking to the trailhead, a car was leaving.  I frantically waved them down and a very nice couple gave us a ride to the Northern Kennedy Meadows resort.  This was so lucky, as this hitch is supposed to be one of the more difficult on the trail.  We spent several blissful hours eating hot food and ice cream, calling home and organizing our gear for the next leg.  Ben and I were so excited to get our cold weather gear – warmer long underwear and socks, down booties to sleep in, and rain pants.  We were not so excited to receive our bear canisters.  They are required for about the next 300 miles of the trail, weigh in at over 2.5 pounds and are made of a rigid and space-consuming plastic that proved quite difficult to pack around.  We walked back to the highway with aggravatingly heavy packs.  It was nearing dusk and the road had almost no traffic, but we lucked out again and got a ride back to Sonora Pass just before dark.