PCT Central CA Day 4: Recalibrating

Mile 973.42 to 982.5 — Today’s miles: 9.08

I wake to see a deer calmly nibbling the shrubs a few yards away. When it moves on, I drag myself from the comfort of my quilt, knowing a long climb awaits. It’s tough, and I have to take several breaks, but it’s not quite as bad as yesterday. Lots of deer are enjoying breakfast this morning. I reach Small Lake in an hour and a half, which is pretty slow, but still, I have arrived at this gorgeous spot. The lake is bug-free and very peaceful, and I lie in the shade for a while there.

There’s a bit more climbing after that, up to Seavey Pass. I see what is either a large weasel or a small pine martin, I’m not sure. The trail passes a few more small lakes and begins a long downhill. My right knee is experiencing some pain on the downs, and I can only surmise that it’s related to my IT band. I stretch and massage it as I can, but it doesn’t help much. I take it slow and then am delighted to find that much of this stretch of trail is flattish, only gently rolling along. I cruise. Feels like old times (i.e., last year). If only it could always be this way, I think, and then: but you wanted to hike in the mountains…

A quick stop at one creek, then another mile and a half down to Kerrick Creek, my planned lunch spot. I cross on the rocks and collapse onto my Tyvek in the shade. I make spaghetti and meat sauce again, and drink a ton of water. Just like in the desert, I am always thirsty. Unlike the desert, there’s water everywhere, and I drink all day without any need to ration, and still can’t seem to get enough. There are many ants here, but they’re not biting me, so I mostly let them do their ant thing. A squirrel climbs down a tree and looks directly at me from a few feet away. “You’re not getting my food,” I say, chasing it back up the tree. Later it comes back down to eye level and chirps at me. This squirrel is just like my troublemaker cat, who also chirps when she is about to do something naughty.

The encroaching sun and gathering flies finally push me to hike on. I have 1.3 miles of steepish climbing now, on big granite slabs in the heat of the afternoon. I allow myself to take short sit-down breaks any time I want, which is better for my mental game than feeling guilty and embarrassed about it. I’ll make it up top eventually, and why shouldn’t I take advantage of the thousands of small boulders that the Sierra Nevada offers me for trailside sitting? On one of these breaks, another northbounder comes up the trail. “How’s it goin’, mate?” he asks, and I can only reply, “It’s a hot one today!” I do not understand what he says next because my ears are not educated to parse such a thick Scottish accent. But I finally piece together “We’ll make it!” at the end of his paragraph, and agree. As he hikes up past me, I realize he is the only person I’ve seen all day. It’s 3pm. The trail feels very different when you are not in the thick of thru-hikers.

I do make it to the top, and though it’s still a struggle, I think I feel a bit stronger than yesterday, and certainly less demoralized. Now it’s a steep downhill with lots of exposed tree roots, rubble, and giant stone steps to navigate. My right knee is unhappy again. I’d planned to finish this and do another mile of uphill after, but now begin to consider camping near the creek at the bottom. As I approach the creek, a man setting up his tent says hello and warns me that the next climb is “just awful.” It’s not any steeper than what I did earlier today, but he says it’s totally exposed with no water sources. I decide to camp on the other side of the creek and tackle the climb in the cool morning air. It will be the only truly steep thing ahead tomorrow, as the later climb to Dorothy Pass looks long but more gently graded.

I ford the calm creek, set up my tent, and then wade back in to my lower thighs, hoping the cold water will soothe my knee. I message Cyn and ask her to delay my resupply pickup for one more day (thank you, Cyn, you are the best person). I was telling someone before I left for this trip about how fun the planning is but how the hiking itself is necessarily improvisational, unplannable, and how that’s good for someone like me to practice. I’m definitely getting a lot of practice this time around. All my planning has completely fallen by the wayside already.

I do my camp chores and spend a long time in the tent massaging my right quad, calf, and IT band. I take an Aleve and hope things feel better in the morning. Yet again, the sound of flowing water sends me off to sleep. Is there anything more soothing?

Morning break at Small Lake.
Sierra beauty.
Even when the water doesn’t look great, the setting makes it all gorgeous.
Top of Seavey Pass.
After Kerrick Creek, the trail winds through all of these wildflowers and other thriving greenery that grows near good running water.
It’s hard to see, but the trail continues after this gigantic blowdown, which you must clamber over/through.

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