PCT Day 59: (D)evolution

June 16, 2022

Campsite at mile 848.4 to Marie Lake at mile 866.3

17.9 PCT miles

3 non-PCT miles to Muir Trail Ranch and back

I’m determined not to be the last one ready today. I never want to get up, but we are going to be walking by 6 and make the most of the day, I’ve decided. I’m in focus mode as I fold my tent and shove it in the bottom of my pack, place my sleeping pad and quilt on top of it, and squish in my clothes around the side. I’m pretty much ready to go in 20 minutes. I take my bear can and eat some peanut butter straight out of the jar while sitting on the rock next to the river. This meadow really is stunning. It’s a shame there were so many mosquitoes last night, but this morning I’m enjoying the view before they get too unbearable.

We’re walking by 6 almost on the dot. None of us is particularly awake, though. We don’t talk much as we set out through the lush rolling forest. We follow the meadow down over rocky hillsides and through wooded patches that break my heart. I need to live somewhere like this, I think. I have to be in a forest like this. It’s alive and knowing and glowing in this early morning.

My mental state isn’t great this morning, despite the beauty. I’m really in my head about things. Do you ever get tired of your own brain? My thought loops are really bringing me down. I think Carrot calls it “imagine unpleasant scenarios.” That’s what I seem to keep doing today and I want to take my head off and put it on a shelf.

I’m shaken out of it when we reach the sign for the Evolution Creek alternate. This deeper but slower moving route goes through the meadow instead of right across the notorious stream. We took it in 2017 and it was lovely, but today we’re going to ford the creek because so far the crossings have been really manageable. We follow the flat, soft path through more forest until we see the wide, gurgling river. It is beautiful. Even little eddies bounce downstream and sparkle in the sun. Tribute is very excited. He loves river crossings. He does a little dance—mostly to fend off the dark cloud of mosquitoes, but also out of happiness—and then crosses easily.

I’m second. I start off right where the trail goes, but the frigid water quickly reaches my thigh, and a woman on the opposite bank yells to me that it’s shallower upstream. Sure enough, a few yards to my left it only reaches my knees. I finish the crossing, sloshing water. That was fun! Jumbo crosses next, looking like a majestic purple elk, and then does a little dance. Easy peasy. This year, the notorious creek was a piece of cake.

We start heading downhill on annoying steps with rumble rocks. We start walking on the larger rocks to the side to avoid the painful little suckers. We take a coffee break on a rock part of the way down, where we meet the hiker Long Story. He is taking photos of thru-hikers and writing down a quote or saying from each of them, which he plans to turn into a coffee table book about the PCT. So cool!

The downhill is less annoying after that, though still very rocky. Jumbo zooms ahead. When it gets flat at the bottom, I walk with Tribute for a while. We take the bridge over the San Joaquin river, then we follow the canyon of the river for miles. I love this part. It’s a raging torrent and the rock is weathered in all sorts of wild ways by the water.

Photo by Tribute

I lose Tribute at one point, get water from the gushing and terrifying Piute Creek, then continue alone while listening to the Talking Heads. It’s drier here. My mouth keeps being uncomfortably cottony no matter how much I drink. It’s also going to be a hot uphill afternoon. Oh boy.

I find Jumbo and Catless sitting under a tree at the junction to Muir Trail Ranch. I honestly did not love this place when we went in 2017. They had one little shade tent set up for hikers, a hiker box, and a store where you could buy a handful of things. Hikers were treated like second-class citizens, and it was $80 to send a bucket there. It annoyed me. But Jumbo is running out of food, and we’re hoping to get rid of some of our trash, so we go.

It turns out to be worth the extra detour. They have a totally new area set up. There’s water, a well-stocked store, charging ports, and a huge area under some trees where hikers can hang out. I get an obnoxious pair of sunglasses to replace my sad Goodrs, and we fill up on water. Trinity, the worker, is super friendly and helpful. Another hiker gives me a small bottle of permethrin that I can use to treat my clothes while in town. There’s no hiker box, unfortunately, but we figure out that we still have enough food between the three of us to take us right to Mammoth, so we’ll be bypassing VVR.

After trudging back up to the trail we have lunch in the shade of a massive pine tree, then force ourselves to get up and keep going. It’s a very long, steep uphill for a few miles. I walk with Jumbo for a bit until I can’t, and then I resort to Alt-J followed by King Gizzard, which is a very large transition, to get me up this hill. It’s awful. It’s maybe the worst climb of the trail so far. The switchbacks are long, rocky, and hot. I’m so slow. This weird thing is happening with my right foot now, too. It’s almost like a nerve or tendon pain all the way through the bottom of my foot, but I can also feel it on the top. I think maybe my shoe is too tight, so I loosen it, but it doesn’t do much. I hop from shady patch to shady patch. Shade blazing. Every time I stop I think I can literally feel the lactic acid gather in my quads. I’m breathing hard and sucking down water. This is not fun. I want this to be over.

It ends at Senger Creek, where Jumbo and a group of hikers we’ve been seeing are resting and drinking water. I limp to the water and fill up, then guzzle it down. Tribute comes to join us when he’s finished the hill and we sit there in stunned recovery for a few minutes.

There’s still some uphill after that, but we do it slowly, trudging together. At one point, I say to Jumbo, “My legs are completely devoid of cheese.” “Cheese” is what Tribute uses to describe his energetic spurts because one day he ate a lot of cheese and then felt great. Cheese legs are good legs. Cheeseless legs are tired and slow. Jumbo has cheeseless legs now too, as it turns out, so we pull over for a quick snack.

The mosquitoes immediately attack. There must be hundreds of them here. We manically swat at them, pacing and swinging our arms in between spoonfuls of peanut butter and bites of melted gummy bear clumps. We throw everything back in our bear canisters and rush away from the evil insects. I feel a little better, but my foot is still killing me despite ibuprofen, and I’m so tired.

We pass by the beautiful Sallie Keyes and Heart Lakes on our way up to Selden Pass. It’s not supposed to be one of the hard passes, but I am wiped after today and I trudge up it. I stop to take in the views behind me every once in a while. It’s a lovely pass, full of trees and water and interesting rocks.

By the time we summit, we’re all a blubbering, exhausted mess. Jumbo points vaguely to Marie Lake down in the valley and asks somewhat sadly, “Is that the sleeping water?” It is, in fact, and it feels like an eternity before we get down the switchbacks to get there.

Jumbo is going on about how Christmas songs in England are so much better than in America. Ahead of him, Tribute’s pants are falling down.

“Ooh, wherever your pants fall down, that’s where we camp,” Jumbo proposes.

Tribute spins around, makes eye contact with Jumbo, and pulls down his pants. “Time for bed!” he exclaims.

We dissolve into laughter. “For context,” Jumbo gasps between laughs, “A man I met less than two months ago just looked me in the eye, pulled down his pants, and said, ‘Time for bed.’ Passport, write that down.”

We make it to our actual camp not long after. It’s on the shore of the lake, and it is beautiful but frigid. The temperature is supposed to be going down for the next few days, and the wind is nasty tonight. We set up our tents and then cook behind a tree that does a great job of blocking the wind. Jumbo gives me his cork ball so I can roll out my sad foot. We crawl into our tents and get cozy. I’m wearing all of my layers and I can still feel the cold. Oh, Sierras. How you challenge and humble us.

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