Day 28: I don’t even

Mile 389.6
Highest elevation: 9406 (Mt. Baden-Powell)
Current: 6747

So many things happened today, I don’t even know which is the most important. It was like a month.

First up: hiker grapevine! Apparently there are two ‘things’ going around. One is a cold-type thing, and one is a stomach thing. When I heard this, I immediately stopped using outhouses (which have appeared periodically in this section at ranger stations and such). At one water source, a young fresh-faced hiker said, “Want some skittles?” and offered me her giant baggie of them. I wanted to say No, no, no, that’s how you spread the plague! But there seems to be a general lack of awareness of hiker-type things like that. Trail sense, trail etiquette.

Also, a lot of hikers apparently got sick after the hot springs. Dudes, did you not see the ‘fecal coliform bacteria’ warning? Also, I hope none of you ducked your heads.

There are cougars around. I don’t tend to fixate on that because 1) they feel as passingly exotic as unicorns, and 2) they’re nocturnal, and I couldn’t be more diurnal. But at the hot springs, apparently a hiker spotted cougar tracks. He bent down to look at the tracks, then noticed the actual cougar, plus a cub, about 25 feet away. He stood up carefully, didn’t take his eyes off the cougar, backed up slowly–and went right over the cliff. He tumbled. His poles were on his wrists, through the loops. Other shenanigans ensued, but eventually he got himself to a hospital via a ride from kind strangers. I think he had a sprained wrist, among other injuries, but no breaks, if I eavesdropped correctly. And he’s back on the trail. Whew.

And on to the day.

Last night I was camped a mile short of the Baden-Powell summit. After I settled in, a pair of hikers joined me. It was close quarters. I had to restrain myself from my usual boisterous collection of sound effects, like coughing, farting, and talking to myself in language that would make a sailor blush. Still, it was a good site–no wind! I slept really well and woke up at 4ish, and actually managed to be on the trail by 5:15 or so.

Then the shit hit the fan.

That whole climb up Baden-Powell was tough, but the last mile felt super steep. The wind had picked up, and it was frigid. I still had on my Cap 4 baselayer under my wind clothes. I hadn’t bothered with the fleece gloves because I figured I’d be up and over, and then the trail turned into this narrow harrowing strip and there was no place to open my pack.

At 8000 feet the snow appeared.

Now, this was only patches. But they were exactly the sort of thing I’m expecting in the Sierra: rock hard snow, slick as ice, too hard to jam your poles into, with a vertical slide down to the left that would result in a very bad injury, at least. And you know what? I was absolutely terrified. The whole mountain had tapped my fear of heights, but this snow thing, when it felt like the footing was slick and unsteady? That was special. I managed about one step forward every 30 seconds, by sticking my poles in other pole holes, checking the stability of my foot, and obsessing over having three firm contact points. This was only a couple of patches, maybe 10 to 20 feet wide, and for the first time I thought, “Holy shit. There’s no way I can do the Sierra.”

I wasn’t alone, I found out later at a water source. Those snow patches on that vertical trail scared the crap out of everybody I talked to. Indra’s thinking of flipping.

After the snow, my feet were blocks of ice, and the wind was just horrible. Windbane! Except up on top, the drop off the trail was a fall into nothing, if you happened to get blown in the wrong direction.

I spent a couple of icy moments with the 1500-year-old tree, and I was overwhelmed with the emotion of that. It was a deeply spiritual experience.

And I apologized to the tree for leaving so abruptly, but I wanted off that freaking mountain! It’s taken me 2600 long-distance hiking miles to realize that I don’t like mountains at all. I like forests. 🙂

But the mountain had other plans. The wind had me blowing sideways. I was going to skip the 1/10 mile to the summit because I just wanted off. But the trail kept going up anyway, and all of a sudden, BAM! I was at the summit. I’d inadvertently taken the spur trail

But then… I couldn’t find the trail back down. I fought that frigid wind for 15 minutes. Where the fuck was the trail? I started to panic because I was so cold, and I knew I needed to eat something, get my gloves out of my pack. regroup… but there was no place to do that. It was bald and exposed, with a vertical rock slide on one side and a drop off the mountain on the other.

Then I finally saw it–a 6-inch ribbon that was a slightly different shade of brown, going straight down like a drainage ditch. I made it about a half-mile before I found a place between a couple of trees where the wind was merely howling, and I had my snack and got my hat and gloves sorted out, then after that I made decent progress except where the trail went uphill.

It took me 7 hours to do 7 miles.

At Little Jimmy Spring there were a dozen hikers. It was a beautiful summery spot, surrounded by wild mint and tucked away from the wind. It was the first time I’d felt warm all day. I didn’t want to leave! Indra was there, and Kelly, and eventually Rolf and his crew, and a bunch of others. We talked about the Sierra. Personally, I think it’s too early for all this panic. We’re still 350 miles away. And at the rate I’m going, I’m still looking at getting there way too late rather than way too early. (There were two girls at that spring who started the 16th. They took off 3 days to go to Disneyland. One of them was from Australia.)

After that, I started to chew up the miles. I’m making great time when it’s not uphill, which is the only thing that gives me hope.

I thought the clouds were looking a little ominous.

Next up was the Endangered Species Detour–if I ever managed to get to it. There was another massive uphill, and then a truly massive downhill. I had maps, Yogi’s info, Halfmile’s info (which didn’t match Yogi’s), and Guthook. At about 4 PM I reached a highway intersection, and I couldn’t find the trail, and I had a meltdown. The trail just ended at that stupid highway. I didn’t know what to do. All the other hikers had vanished. I didn’t know why. Did they take the other detour? There are two choices.

I was ready to scream. I went back across the highway and looked around with deep intent–limited by the fact that I can’t see 20 feet. But I thought I saw the little triangle symbol, so I headed in that direction… and sure enough, it was the trailhead.

It went up. Steeply. Yay.

I got about a half mile, spotted this not-stealthy site, and I was done. I couldn’t face a 3-mile roadwalk tonight. I just couldn’t. I’ll tackle the road walk and the rest of the frog detour tomorrow.

Will I ever get a 20? Will I ever get 17 again?

Hey, but at least I’ll be at Agua Dulce in 3 days! And today was totally stunning, visually speaking.

And I forgot the last absurd thing: I sat on a rock that was covered in a special kind of pine sap like tar, that wouldn’t come all the way out with hand sanitizer, so now for the next 50 miles I get to look like I crapped myself! Yay, hiking! 🙂


12 thoughts on “Day 28: I don’t even

  1. Bwahahahahahaha. Sorry. Adter the emotion of today your last little note abt the sap just had me crying with laughter!!

    So I was reading this blog during a down tume at work and was as the intenae summit with now way down. I was feeling the panic… And suddenly I had to put the blog away bc it got busy at work!! leaving you (us) up there alone cold and hungry for like four hours!!! OMG!! I was so glad to start reading again and get you down!!! Phew!! What a day you had. The weather changes are incredible. Xoxo


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