June 13, 2022
Woods Creek at mile ~799.7 to campsite below Mather Pass at mile 815.7
It’s warm when I wake up, which is a pleasant surprise. It’s also 3:45, which is less pleasant. I groan and get out of my tent to pee, then have to re-inflate my air mattress before I sleep for another hour and fifteen minutes. I snooze my alarm and wake up for real when I look over and Jumbo’s tent is gone. I hear him packing up and panic. Ah, shit. At least I slept really well. So far the Sierras have been helping me out with that at least.
The rush to pack up combined with remembering how terrible I felt last night does not put me in a great mood. Everything feels like it’s taking forever, and it’s kind of gray and sad this morning. I don’t remember that from the JMT. It was always lovely in my memory, but then again, I didn’t do it in June. I feel like I have to do a cathole, but it’s a false alarm. I haul my pack and my bear can up to the bear box where Catless and Jumbo are waiting, then I throw everything on the ground and get my extra food (I still have food that won’t fit in the canister, good god) out of the bear box. I really don’t want to hike. I don’t want to suffer like I did yesterday. Dramatically, I curse, “I fucking hate hiking,” then try to shove everything into my bag while fighting tears.
“Everything okay, Passport?” Jumbo asks, somewhat unnecessarily.
“No. I don’t want to do this. Yesterday sucked and I don’t want to go through that again.”
“Today will be better,” he says optimistically. “Before you put your pack on, want a hug?”
I accept, take a deep breath, and face the day.
First we go over the very impressive suspension bridge spanning the creek. It’s more wobbly than I remember, but it gives great views of the water and the surrounding mountains. Woods Creek really is amazing. After that we go uphill and pass the 800 mile marker. I try to muster some enthusiasm and feel a little better. “I’m sorry I had a tantrum in front of you guys,” I say. “That’s embarrassing.”
They seem to forgive me. We continue walking up the start of the seven-mile incline that will eventually take us to Pinchot Pass. I can’t keep up with them today, and I don’t really want to anyway. I’m in sad slug caboose mode this morning. I admire the amazing Woods Creek slide, then stop at various points along the way to gawk at the power of this water being pulled irresistibly to the valley floor below. There are flowers everywhere on this slope, including the familiar wild paintbrush.
At one point, I notice that columbine is sprouting from the side of the trail. It’s a beautiful, complex reddish-peachy flower with yellow stamens, and between the soft gray-blue sky, the roaring water, and the beauty of this columbine, I feel something start to soften in me.
The second half of yesterday did suck. I didn’t want to get up this morning and yes, I threw an embarrassing tantrum. But now as I chew on this mountain and look at the columbine and paintbrush, it’s almost like the mountains are saying to me, “We never promised you it would be easy. You know parts of this will suck. But you already know you can do it. And the difficulty is what makes it even more beautiful.”
So, I trudge slowly upward and try to remember that even though not every moment will be great, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I put in some music, which helps. Woods Creek keeps following me up. I catch back up with Catless, then we find Jumbo and take a quick break before continuing the last three miles of the trek upwards. I lose them again, have to dig a cathole, have to eat a snack, and then finally keep moving. I finally find the boys again, waiting for me on a rock surrounded by slushy snow.
“I’m sorry I am a slug today,” I say up at them.
We continue through the snow, across a creek, and up the last sluggish mile to the top of Pinchot. There we go. It wasn’t the most fun, but it was totally snow free on the steep parts compared to the socked-in version of 2017, and the view from the top is unbeatable.
On the other side, we take a lunch break at Lake Marjorie. It’s windy but beautiful. After that it’s a gorgeous afternoon passing lakes and lake outlets and all the way down to the South Fork of the Kings River. I walk with Jumbo for a bit, but neither of us talks. We’re simply looking around and drinking it all in. Soon we come upon the South Fork of the Kings River, which is one of the more notorious creek crossings. It’s fast, but not too deep, and we all cross it safely.
We walk mostly together for the next few miles up through lovely meadows into an alpine environment surrounded by craggy mountains. Our plan is to reach the campsite a mile below Mather Pass, but we agree to look for campsites along the way, ideally ones below the treeline. I fall behind a bit because I’m wearing out, but I catch back up when there’s a surprise creek crossing. I manage to only get a tiny bit wet, but it’s still frustrating.
Jumbo walks with me while Catless goes ahead a bit. We keep seeing spots that look promising, but don’t pan out. Every time Catless sees Jumbo come back to the trail, he goes a little bit ahead. Then Jumbo finds a spot below the trail that’s out of the wind. I try to signal to Catless that he should come back, but he doesn’t see. So I sit at the spot while Jumbo goes ahead to try to get Catless to come back. I take off my hiking shoes, add more layers, and wait. But too long goes by, and I start to think that they’ve decided to camp up there and I need to go meet them. I walk back up to the trail and soon see a tiny purple figure on the horizon coming towards me. Jumbo, no pack. Ugh. I prepare myself to hike another mile.
When he gets to me, he says that Catless didn’t see us signaling and is already set up. “I’ll carry your bear can,” he says, and nothing I say can dissuade him. So off we go, down the trail, Jumbo on his second extra mile of the day just to come back for me. As we walk it hits me: most people would have just stayed in place and assumed that I would figure it out, but Jumbo ran back to me, a whole extra mile, and then walked that same mile again with my bear can back to camp.
When we meet up with Catless finally, we start setting up our tents. Jumbo looks at the way the wind is moving, and then says, “Passport, make sure you set up as in line with me as you can. That way, my tent will block the wind.”
I just stare at him. “Do you realize how nice of a person you are?” I ask, somewhat dumbfounded. That, folks, is the kind of person you want to be hiking with in mountains like this.
We all eat dinner in our tents (an in-tents dinner, if you will) because it’s so cold. The mountains are beautiful, though, and Jumbo gets out to take a stellar shot of our three Duplexes in this basin beneath Mather Pass. I’m tired, chilly, and worried how I’ll sleep tonight, but I know I’m with good people, my bear can is slowly getting lighter, and everything is going to be just fine.