[to 2.7 miles below Pinchot Pass, ~9 miles hiked]
Day 10 was not really one of our best, but when you commit to hiking 26 days in a row up and down mountains, it’s inevitable that on some days you are just not going to feel like it. Everything started out pretty well. We were up and out of camp around 7 a.m. [Even though Dollar Lake was one of the most beautiful places we camped, we sure did find a lot of trash around there. This morning, Cyn came back from a bathroom trip and reported finding two pairs of socks and some underwear! We’d packed out most of the garbage that we found along the way so far, including some random pieces of plastic near our tent site at Dollar, but didn’t take these discarded clothes with us. If I had to do it again, though, I’d probably try to stuff them into my ziploc garbage bag and just not think about it. –Toby] We had to take a few breaks early on for the bathroom and filtering water (though we were camped right by a lake so not sure why we didn’t leave camp with full water?), but for 3 or 4 miles it was all easy downhill cruising. This was a heavily trafficked portion of the trail because it’s part of the popular Rae Lakes Loop. We passed so many people on this downhill portion, many of whom were carrying huge packs. As we stepped aside for one guy I said the usual, “How’s it goin’?” and he said, “Winded.” I had a deep appreciation for his honesty in this land of “say ‘fine’ no matter how much you’re dying inside” mentality. A little later on we passed a pair of people who used our approach as an excuse to take a break. We started chatting and found out that most of the people we were passing were part of one big family trip; I think she said there were 16 of them. That might explain why some of the younger people we had passed looked less than willing to be lugging all of this stuff up a giant hill. When she heard we were doing the whole JMT, she said “way to go!!” and high-fived us and for a second we felt a little like rock stars. It was a good moment.
At the bottom of the decline, we crossed Woods Creek on a suspension bridge. A lot of people find those nerve wracking, but I haven’t really. They always sway and feel unstable, but I figure they’ve held up to hundreds of hikers crossing, what are the chances that it will give out on me? But it was less fun when in the last 20 feet or so, the wood under my feet started making cracking noises. I held on to the cables a little tighter when I heard that. Toby crossed right after me, and I watched as his face changed at the exact spot where I’d started hearing the creaking. We were both glad to have made it to the other side.
The rest of the day was going to be climbing to set up for Pinchot Pass the next morning. It was getting to be pretty hot, but there was nothing to do about that. We started climbing at a slow but steady pace, and once we got going, I realized it was not that bad. For a while it was shady, and there were lots of big steps but it felt okay. Eventually the trail bent back around to parallel Woods Creek and the views were incredible. The creek surged down over granite, without a defined creek bed. It looked like the most fun and most dangerous water slide ever.
We had counted on the fact that we were paralleling a creek for most of the day for water sources, but it was almost always inaccessible. In places where it looked like you could walk out to the creek, our guidebook told us that the rock could get unexpectedly slippery from the splashing water, and one slip out there could be a deadly mistake. In other places we would have had to climb down ravines, sometimes with heavy underbrush. We were starting to get desperate so we asked a SOBO hiker if there were water sources ahead. He said in about 15 minutes we’d find a place where Woods Creek would be accessible. We were hot and cranky and climbing had started feeling really hard; 15 minutes sounded like a long walk at that moment but we’d take it. However, we were surprised when not two minutes later we came across a little stream that literally ran over the trail. Another lesson in the futility of asking other hikers about the trail ahead. I’m sure I did it to other people too — it’s just so easy to momentarily forget little details or to have things be much closer or farther than they seem in your memory. Anyway, we were happy to have such easily accessible water, but there wasn’t a good shady spot to sit. There hadn’t been shade for a while and there wasn’t any that we could see ahead. So we sat in the baking sun and ate a quick snack while we filtered, and then moved on.
A little while later a woman stopped me and asked me if I was a member of Ladies of the JMT, a facebook group for women hiking the trail. We were supposed to wear a turquoise bandana to signal that we were part of the group, and she noticed mine around my neck. I was so excited because this was my first time meeting another person from the group! We exchanged a few details about our trip and I would have stayed and talk to her longer, but she told us there was shade ahead and Toby and I took off like a shot. We were desperate to get out of the sun. (I think I remember that her name was Alice. If you ever read this, Hi, Alice!! Sorry we basically ran away from you! [I’m sorry too! –Toby]) Shade, however, often comes with mosquitos and they were relentless. Toby put on his headnet and I think I even pulled out mine. I didn’t like wearing it because I felt like it messed with my depth perception, but it was such a necessity. We trudged along, starting to think about where to camp. We were aiming for a campsite at Twin Lakes that was marked on our National Geographic map, and we had maybe another two miles to go.
At the junction for the Sawmill Pass Trail, we decided to take a break to drink some nuun. We only had about half a mile to go to our expected campsite, but we were just wiped. We were not the only people with this idea. There was a large group of southbounders spread out under the trees, resting after having come down over Pinchot Pass a couple of hours before. We were keeping to ourselves but enjoyed eavesdropping as they talked about lake swimming and sang some songs together. As they were packing up, we struck up a conversation with one of the guys — he was a professor in Tacoma and when he heard that Toby was a gender studies prof, he started asking questions about a gender theorist whose work we all were familiar with. It was a strange combination of being excited to be able to talk to someone about stuff that interests us, and not wanting to talk about work at all. But overall it was nice to have that connection, however brief.
Finally we packed our stuff back up for one last push. Tacoma Prof had warned us that Twin Lakes was well off the trail, but there was a pretty tarn on the trail a half mile beyond that would be good for camping. We thought we’d feel refreshed after our break but we didn’t, and that mile was one of the hardest and crankiest of the whole trip. Once we realized that Twin Lakes was indeed too hard to get to, we slogged along that last half mile, hoping with everything we had that the tarn would appear. It felt like it took forever. [This half-hour might have been the worst I felt on the whole trip. I was overheated and thoroughly exhausted, and it took all of my concentration to just keep moving my legs forward. This was even beyond regular zombie hiking for me. –Toby]
But we did finally get there. [I think we both yelled “TARN! Thank god!!” in relief when we saw it. It reminded me of our super tough second day on the Wonderland when we finally made it to Nickel Creek. –Toby] I went to get water from the tarn/lake (I still need to figure out what the difference is) and started to feel better. It was so beautiful and peaceful. We were in a spot with a lot of tent sites so we expected company, but none came. Toby realized that we really hadn’t eaten much that day; we were so anxious to just get the day over with in the afternoon [and it was so hot! –Toby] that we only ate a couple of light snacks, but no real lunch. We decided that that was almost definitely part of the problem, why we were feeling so irritable and exhausted, so we made a pact that we would have a real lunch, even if it was hot or the weather was otherwise terrible. Eating is mandatory, not optional, when you’re burning upward of 4,000 calories a day. So we pulled out some Mountain House chicken and dumplings (YUM) and a bunch of snickers and other snacks, trying to restore our energy for the coming day. But as we finished eating, the mosquitos descended and drove us into the tent early. We would have fallen fast asleep if it weren’t for some very vocal jays and something else that sounded just like a chicken, a grouse perhaps. [Maybe it’s because of my ornithophobia, but I think Cyn is really underselling these birds. More and more seemed to join in, and they got really loud, and it started feeling pretty Hitchcockian up there on the ridge. Not cool. –Toby] We eventually fell asleep, both questioning our choices and hoping that tomorrow would be better.