June 22, 2022
Campsite at mile 920 to mile 937.7
For one brief moment, the sunrise paints the mountains a deep orangey pink. I start to move to take a photo, but by the time I get to it, the clouds have rolled in and the moment is gone. It’s going to be a rare cloudy day, it looks like. It might even rain.
I feel weird this morning. I woke up at 4:00 crying from a dream and I’ve felt disoriented ever since. It takes me a long time to pack up, not that that’s unusual, but I feel all over the place. I sit on my bear can looking at the mountains shrouded in clouds, re-grounding myself.
Tribute heads out, and Jumbo waits for me. We hike together for three miles and have our typical interesting conversations. We both tend to have morning cheese. It’s nice to use that energy together as we walk towards Thousand Island Lake. It’s actually really enjoyable that it’s cloudy, too. It has that same cozy home in October feeling as the other day.
Soon we reach the shore of Thousand Island Lake beneath Banner Peak. We aren’t going super far today and it’s still pretty early, so we stop for a break. We all boil water for coffee. I’m definitely slipping back into that habit, but at least so far, it’s not a necessity to feel awake in the morning. I sit and sip slowly while we look at the lake and talk. It’s a bit of a bummer that it’s not nicer weather because this lake is absolutely stunning in the sunlight, but it’s still nice to sit here and take in the mountains.
Eventually, we all start moving again. Tribute heads out first, then Jumbo, then I follow slowly, listening to Where the Crawdads Sing. Phew, this book is getting good. I can tell it’s going to be another whole day of listening. Not long after the climb towards Island Pass, I spot Jumbo’s green pack by the side of the trail, and soon after that, I plop mine down and go jogging off into the trees.
Island Pass, which doesn’t even really feel like an actual pass, has great views. After that it’s a rocky downhill, crossing a few streams, then turning back up to start the ascent towards Donohue Pass. By now it’s starting to drizzle, so I’m forced to pull out my rain jacket and put it on. It never rains hard, though, just a pleasant, steady pitter-patter on my hood. While I listen to a story set in warm coastal North Carolina, I slowly make my way up an increasingly colder mountain. The trees thin out and level into meadow, and I spot Jumbo pulled over by the side of the trail eating a bar.
“I’ll give you ten points if you can guess what I’m going to say next,” he says.
I think about this. “Ten points towards what?”
“I dunno. Just ten points.”
I ponder for a minute. “‘I love this trail’?” I guess.
He grins. “Well, that’s the second thing. The first thing is, ‘This reminds me of home.’” Of course it is. The second a cloud rolls in and he sees a patch of grass, his brain says, “England.”
“Agh!” I exclaim. “I should have guessed! I know you better than that.”
Tribute comes up to join us and we stand around shoving various snacks in our faces. Then we trudge onwards towards our last pass of the High Sierra. Jumbo goes ahead, of course, and I walk alone, listening to my book. There are a few creek crossings that have such clear water that I have to stand there and stare for a minute. I know we have more mountains before the creeks disappear, but I really am going to miss Sierra water.
Soon the grass goes away and it’s just rocky switchbacky uphill. It’s getting colder and the climb is more intense. I see Jumbo up ahead and stop when I reach him, then unwrap a Hi-Chew and stick it in my mouth. Sweet grape flavor overwhelms me as I hear Jumbo ask, “We have about a mile left, right?”
Forgetting that I have a mouthful of Hi-Chew, I try to answer with the word “less,” but it comes out something like, “BAESSSHHH.” I hear myself and immediately start cracking up.
“That was the wettest sound I have ever heard you make,” Jumbo says between laughs. “What?”
I put my hands on my knees and try to get a grip. Two JMT hikers from the Netherlands who we’ve been leapfrogging all morning see me and chuckle. “Don’t die of laughter,” one of them says. Then Tribute comes up to join us, saying, “Y’all are having too much fun.” I try to recount what just happened and end up laughing even harder.
The energy of this silly moment carries me up the hill, where the rain has now turned to snow and the wind is coming in huge gusts. I stop to put warmer clothes on, then finally continue until I reach the summit. We take photos, then immediately start going down. Soon the snow stops and we find a little lunch spot on the side of a stream. I reluctantly tear myself away from my book and make a turkey pita, drinking in the mountains.
It’s a sharp downhill for a few miles after that, and Jumbo, Tribute, and I walk it together. The trail flattens out and then all of a sudden it’s warm and normal, away from the snowy cold. We follow the clear, beautiful Lyell Fork for miles, taking a quick break at the edge of the meadow before carrying on. There isn’t really an established campsite in our mile range goal, so we aim to camp about five miles rom Tuolumne. Soon we come across a great flat spot in a stand of trees near the meadow. We set up our tents (Tribute sets up his cowboy situation, meanwhile), then go down to the slab of rock on the edge of the river to cook our dinners.
I have to go down to the river to get water first, though. When I get to the water, I’m transfixed by how slow and deep it is. Fish are starting around in the blue depths. It’s so quiet and lovely that I have to sit down. Just sitting there, in the meadow at the water’s edge, I feel so at peace.
I return to our cook site and boil water for my pad Thai. As I’m stirring it into the bag, I hear a friendly “Hi guys!” behind us. Thinking it’s a hiker, I turn to see a Yosemite wilderness park ranger. He asks to see our permits, which I’m almost excited about because I haven’t been asked for mine yet, and then he tells us cheerfully that our campsite is one of the worst he’s ever seen and we need to break it down. I mean, he’s right. It’s right next to the trail on top of vegetation, not an established site. We’ve slept this close to the trail before, but only at existing sites. I go to take down my tent and try to fight the urge to be extremely annoyed. The ranger is just doing his job, and we were in the wrong.
After he finally leaves, we go back to the rock and finish dinner, only grumbling minimally. Tribute tells us that the ranger said we could go a few hundred yards back into the trees, and we could also cowboy camp because it has less impact and would be easier to set up and take down. We decide to do just this, finding a little spot that’s perfect.
I feel so peaceful here beneath these trees, almost like they’re watching over us, making a little room among the mosses and rocks. It’s been a while since I cowboy camped, and it’s almost nice to have been forced to take my tent down and set up right under the sky again. Jumbo is snoring beside me. The occasional mosquito buzzes somewhere near, but my head net is working pretty well. I’m in the wilderness of Yosemite in Lyell Canyon and tomorrow we will be in Tuolumne. That’s where my knowledge from 2017 ends; the JMT goes to The Valley while the PCT keeps on going north. It’s exciting that the rest of the trail will be a question mark, just like at the beginning. A new start. Fresh eyes. What lives there? What will we see? I don’t know. That’s why it’s so exciting.