[to 3.2 miles below Mather Pass, ~9.5 miles hiked]
I woke with a start just after midnight, as the sounds of a big rockslide echoed across the ridge. It was clearly far away, but noise really carries out here, and I was amazed by how long the rumbling lasted. Cyn slept right through it. The birds were back at 5.30am, cawing incessantly — not my ideal way to wake up. The mosquitos were also up with the sun, refreshed and ready to swarm me for another day. And Cyn had an only-funny-in-retrospect bathroom mishap first thing in the morning. [So, I had had my period for a few days at this point, and it was a total pain in the ass to deal with so I was already cranky about it. That night, we had camped on a ridge, so the only private-ish (there’s really no such thing as actually private out there) place I could find to go to the bathroom was down a pretty steep ravine on the side opposite the trail. So there I am, squatting in the woods. I had taken out my Diva Cup and set it down for a second, but when I went to get it, I accidentally knocked it with my hand and it started rolling down this ravine. I absolutely panicked because I didn’t have much by way of backup supplies if I lost the Diva Cup, but forced myself not to chase it for safety reasons. Instead I just stood there watching it roll, squealing “No! Oh my god no! Please stop!” And then it stopped about 100 feet away (or something, I’m terrible at gauging distance). I was relieved for a second, but then instantly annoyed again because I was going to have to go get it. So I scramble down this super steep hill, pick up my now filthy Diva Cup, and then haul myself back up to my original spot, grabbing roots and trees to help myself along. And then I had to decide what to do about all of the dirt. The best thing I could figure out to do was rinse it off with water and then coat it with Purell, let it dry, and pray that that is not some sort of recipe for a yeast infection. Moral of the story is, having your period in the back country massively sucks. Menopause is going to make backpacking so much more awesome –Cyn] So we were both pretty cranky as we left camp and started our climb to Pinchot Pass.
Actually, I was feeling unusually irritable this morning, grumbling (sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head) about every stop we made, frustrated by how hot it was already, annoyed about mosquitos, wishing we could get to the top of the pass faster. So I was grateful when Cyn finally just named what was happening and initiated an attitude adjustment for both of us. “I think the end of yesterday really felt like a chore, and I don’t want to feel that way again. Let’s just focus on enjoying the days we have out here. I’d rather take our time and really appreciate everything than make ourselves miserable just for the sake of finishing the trail.” She was totally right, and I could see how the previous afternoon’s struggle had set me up for a negative mindset this morning. I took a few deep breaths, looked around, and realized that the climb up to Pinchot was beautiful. Why would I want to rush this?! [Yeah, these pictures are reminding me how out of control beautiful this morning was. –Cyn]
We hit the top with not too much trouble, only about two hours after leaving camp. I think this was the day that we figured out a new strategy for the final push to the top of passes: almost always, it works well for us to hike with Cyn in the lead, but we soon realized that our hiking styles differ near the end of long climbs. Once the goal was in sight, I wanted to speed up and push through, but Cyn was often already hiking at her top speed (and I think didn’t really feel the urgency that I did) [It’s true. Seeing the top of the pass had the opposite effect on me. I felt like I knew I would get there soon, so why rush? –Cyn]. So on the last set of switchbacks, I would pull ahead of her and then wait at the top to celebrate together. I was glad we worked this out, because it meant I wasn’t frustrated by a slower pace than I wanted, and I wasn’t frustrating Cyn by pushing her along from behind. (I mean, not physically pushing, but I’m sure she could sense my desire to go faster! [I could. It was palpable. –Cyn]) Anyway, the top of Pinchot was gorgeous, and the cold air up there was a welcome relief. We were both in great moods now.
There were quite a lot of people hanging out up top. A group of guys to our left discussed on-trail fishing, and a group of folks to our right had discovered they were all part of the same religious denomination. I was still waiting to see if we would find other hikers we really clicked with. One of the dudes up there didn’t seem to be carrying a bear canister, and as Cyn and I both noticed that, I felt some judgement silently pass between us. Bear cans are heavy and bulky, but they really do help keep bears safe (because they reduce habituation to humans and human food, and therefore reduce the chance that bears will become threatening — “problem” bears are typically killed by the parks service). Much later in our trip, we would overhear some other hikers laughing about how they don’t fully comply with food storage rules, and I would feel a similar kind of surprised anger. Bear canisters can be a hassle to carry — though honestly I found the extra weight to be a fair trade-off for the simplicity and peace of mind — but their efficacy requires a collective effort on the part of hikers, and I guess I just don’t get how a few people think they’re somehow an exception to that. [Seconding this righteous rant. –Cyn]
This was the speediest and easiest descent we’d had so far, and we made good time down toward Lake Marjorie. Past that, we found two unnamed lakes, and took a lunch break at the edge of the second one around 11am. I wondered if I could ever be out here long enough for this landscape to seem “regular” instead of jaw-droppingly beautiful. At some point on our trip, Cyn joked that all of our photos were just lakes and mountains, mountains and lakes. Technically true, I guess, but every spot seemed to have its own personality and special beauty to appreciate.
After the agony that was yesterday afternoon, I was determined to never again bonk due to lack of calories, so we ate a hearty lunch [I think I had tuna for lunch this day. Mmmmm tuna. –Cyn] before continuing downhill past the Bench Lake junction and ranger station. Beautiful views all around us. Once, as we stood to the side for a quick water break, a woman passed by and asked if we were going up or downhill. “Down,” I said, “and then up. You know.” She did, and continued uphill while we descended deeper into the trees. Around 1pm we hit a wide crossing for the South Fork Kings River. We’d done seven miles so far and decided to wait out the hottest part of the day on a shady boulder by the river bank. We watched other hikers try a variety of strategies to avoid fording. This seemed like way more trouble than it was worth, so after an hour or so we waded right on through in our water shoes and thoroughly enjoyed the cold water on our legs.
After that it was just 2.5 more miles of fairly gentle uphill along the South Fork Kings River to set up for Mather Pass tomorrow. We passed a few SOBO hikers that I wished we could chat with more, including one pair heading to Bench Lake for a zero day, who told us Mather was really great…on the way down. Heh. And we squeezed by a set of folks resting in the tiny sliver of shade right on the edge of the trail, who jokingly asked if we had enough room to walk through their “living room.” [I was nervous about all of this uphill in the afternoon, but it was indeed gentle. And I found myself having an actual good time. I put on my shuffle and popped a Jolly Rancher in my mouth and could not have been happier to be out there that afternoon. –Cyn] When we found the campsite that was marked on the map, it was literally right next to the trail, so I scouted around until I found a nice private site tucked behind some trees. Unfortunately that site was also hosting a mosquito convention. Well, you can’t have everything. We weren’t too far from the river, so I filled our silnylon bucket and we did a little trail laundry at camp. We’d been sweating so much that Cyn’s hat was fully encrusted with salt, and my shirt had big white salt rings on the back, tracing the outline of my pack.
We quickly ate dinner and jumped into the tent to get away from mosquitos. It was like a steamer basket in there, but as soon as the sun began to dip below the mountains, the temperature dropped dramatically. Mosquitos still buzzed at the mesh doors; I was getting used to seeing them congregate there every night, and again in the morning, no matter how early I woke up. I proudly announced to Cyn that I’d managed to eat all of my daily rations today. I’d hiked over 100 miles so far and we had officially finished our 11th day, making this the longest trip we’d ever done. I wasn’t even remotely ready for it to end.