June 5, 2022
Dutch Meadow at mile 743 to Rock Creek at mile 760.5
It’s an uphill start today, which I guess is just something we’re going to have to get used to. We didn’t leave as early as planned, of course, but we’re out by 6:30 or so and it’s already so warm that I have to stop and take my puffy off. Today is when the real proper Sierras begin, and it feels like it as we start going up the hill in the rocky conifer morning.
Jumbo, Catless, and I walk together for a bit when we realize that there’s really no rush. We’re only going 17.5 miles today and we have plenty of time. On a ridge that looks down towards a sweeping meadow, we stop and are passed by Mash, who is trying to make it all the way to Crabtree tonight to meet up with the rest of the Step Family for summiting Whitney tomorrow. We also see Qwerty and Trash Balloon, who we’ve seen on and off for the last few hundred miles and who I really like. So many cool folks around!
There are so many views all the time today. Meadows, mountains in the distance, cool trees. We keep trying to decide if the mountain can see across the valley is Whitney or not. The ridge slowly evens out into a flat plateau, then gently keeps climbing again through more forest with twisty psychedelic trees. We’re going to Chicken Spring Lake for lunch today, but it’s still early and we only have a few miles left. We sit on a rock and eat some gummies. Then we sit on another rock. Then we find a Very Good Rock on the edge of a Very Good Meadow where Jumbo tells me to frolic. I do, and he records it. It is a frolicking kind of day! I am so frolicking happy to be here beneath thee soaring mountains! It’s not hot, we have so much time, and we’re going into the most beautiful place in the world. Frolic away.
Soon after the meadow we reach the junction of the Cottonwood Pass Trail. This is where I entered the Sierras in 2017 on the Nuumu Poyo/JMT. I get J to take a picture of me next to the sign. I feel like I’m meeting myself, in a way, that wide-eyed inexperienced me of five years ago who had no clue how to make her pack lighter or what she would or wouldn’t need. I’m her wildest dreams out here in these mountains. I nod to her at the junction. Here we are again, so much stronger.
Chicken Spring Lake is so much lower than it was the last time I was here. You can see the line higher up on the rocks where the water level would normally be, and there is a beach that wasn’t there before running around the length of the lake. This might bode well for us in regards to snow, but it is an ominous sign for California’s draught and fire season.
There’s a grassy spot in the sun, which actually feels amazing because it’s breezy and cool today. We plop down and make ourselves comfortable. I eat some snacks, then give up and dive right into lunch. After that I take a delightful nap in the warm sunlight, lizard-style. When I wake up, Catless motions to me to look at Jumbo. He’s lying on the ground with his knees bent and feet planted, sun hoodie cinched around his face so that only his nose and mouth are visible. He’s absolutely passed out and snoring, as usual. I have to bite my fist to keep from laughing and waking him up before I can get a video. I succeed. Behold the majesty.
After a few luxurious hours at the lake, we get moving again. The hill right after the stop is harder than I remember it being, but today is a slow day so it doesn’t matter. At the top, another dramatic view of the Sierras snaps into place, and we take multiple photos. Then it’s bright sandy ridges with gnarly trees for a few miles.
We start to get a little loopy. We’re quiet for a bit as we work on a hill. At the top, I stop for a break next to a rock.
Apropos of nothing, Catless blurts out, “I miss having regular access to Q-Tips.”
“I don’t know why, but as I was coming up that hill, I was thinking about cutting onions,” Jumbo replies.
I double over laughing and nearly drop my poles. The giggly mood follows us up another hill, where Jumbo starts laughing at some other ridiculous thing he says. At the top, we see the sign telling us that we’re entering Sequoia National Park. So huge! We’re really here! We take a photo shoot and, while we’re stopped, meet Tomahawk, who is a character. He’s wearing what looks like a thrift store T-shirt and leopard print shorts, and, in true Sierra style, his nails are painted. He’s hiked the AT so we get on a roll talking about that. Something about the way he repeats our names makes me sure that he won’t remember them.
We follow the ridge down, leaving the sand and entering softer wooded forest. I have to sprint up the hill for an afternoon cathole, then we take another break on a rock. We realize then that it’s almost 4 and we still have 5.8 miles to go. Shoot. We’ve been taking it a little too slowly.
Luckily, the rest of the day is really mellow. We end up in a flat, easily walkable section that goes through more forest dotted with boulders. Through the trees we get a view of a massive ridge of craggy mountains that take our breath away. I suddenly feel a strong sense of place, like I’m being welcomed home. It’s not my home, of course; I’m not from this land. I’m a visitor who can only be here because the people who know this place better than anyone were forced off of it. But I still can’t help but feel like these trees remember me from the last time. Like the rocks say, welcome back. Like the mountains know what I need better than I ever will.
The trail turns downhill after that. It starts off fine, but then it starts to feel really long. Jumbo suggests eating dinner before we get to Rock Creek, and I snap, “Let’s just get to camp. I like being done when I eat dinner.” Then I feel bad about it for a few miles. It’s really not a bad idea to eat before we get to camp. Why do I always act like my way is the only way? I start to disassociate for a while, in a bad way. I start thinking about how moody I can be, how self-centered and focused on my own needs I feel sometimes. By the time we’re within a mile of camp, I’m thoroughly convinced that I’m a terrible person and everyone hates me. I say this to Jumbo and Catless, and they look at me like I have bananas coming out of my ears. “What are you talking about? We love walking with you,” Jumbo says, confused. For no apparent reason, I burst into tears. What are feelings? Why am I like this? All I’m doing is walking.
We pass by a break in the trees on the right that reveals a grassy meadow. There are deer grazing a few hundred yards away. I watch them and start crying harder. I think sometimes I feel frustrated with my humanness. I want food and water and sex and affection and root beer and it’s so annoying to have these needs when I just want to be a tree. A mountain. A breeze. But the Sierras want us in our humanness. They hold us in all our beautiful stupidity. I’m looking at these deer thinking these things and crying and having the hardest time explaining all this to Jumbo when he asks what’s wrong. So I just say it’s complicated. And I keep walking.
We’re close to Rock Creek now and my brain is a jumble of cereal. Out of nowhere, I say, “I can’t believe we walked here from the border of Mexico.” Then, in the same breath, I say, “I really want to eat cheese.” I start laughing and crying at the same time. So do Catless and Jumbo. “That is thru-hiking in a nutshell,” one of them says. Ain’t that just the way.
By the time we get to camp a few minutes later, I’ve collected myself. Our tent sites are on soft dirt beneath conifer trees next to the roaring Rock Creek. I’ve forgotten how clear, how cold, how perfect Sierra water is. The Belgians, Smiley, and Rolls and Royce are there. We wave to them as we set up, then we eat dinner on the bank of the creek. We share our photos from the day and talk about tomorrow, when we will do short miles to get to Crabtree for Tumanguya at sunrise the next day.
We talk with the Belgians for a bit around the bear canisters. They’re playing a joke on Royce: he’d said that his bear canister was the one with the pinecone on it, so the Belgians put a pinecone on everyone’s canister so that he can’t tell them apart. The banter puts a smile on my exhausted face. I feel surrounded by good people. I don’t feel like a terrible person. I just feel like a dirty little human loving the woods however I can.