PCT Central CA Day 6: Reconciliation

Mile 995.4 to 1003.9 — Today’s miles: 8.5

There is a deer in camp again this morning, making quite a lot of noise as it meanders through. By dawn the mosquitos are congregating hardcore, so I throw on my headnet, sprint to my bear can, and hustle it back into the tent. This breaks one of my personal rules — no eating in the tent in bear country — but I am absolutely determined to eat something and I can’t do it in a mosquito party. I hunch over my trash bag and eat one whole Kind bar! 170 calories! I pack up the tent like lightning and get outta there, trying to outpace the bugs.

The climb is not too terrible this morning, and as I approach the lake I hear elk bugling! I have never heard this in real life before! I didn’t think there were elk here, but after years of watching nature documentaries I’m quite certain of the sound. It’s even more eerie and beautiful in person.

Dorothy Lake is stunning, the sunlight just now striking it through the (unusual) morning clouds. I have to keep walking while I gape at the beauty, because the mosquitos are enjoying it, too. After trekking around the lake there’s a short steep uphill to Dorothy Pass. This marks the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park. It’s gorgeous up here, with enough breeze to keep the bugs away from my face and lovely alpine lakes everywhere I look. I message Cyn my new schedule, which I decided earlier this morning, and begin the descent. It’s reasonably graded, and I soon reach my next water stop, Cascade Creek. I eat a few small things (!!) and take a nice long break on the rocks here.

I spend part of my time by the creek contemplating the new mental approach I’m taking to this trip. I have to give up on making miles. In the desert, it was necessary in order to travel between distant water sources. But here, there’s no external requirement. I don’t want to spend this trip just killing myself to make the miles I imagined I would. Clearly, the altitude, smoke, and terrain are making that impossible. But it is indescribably beautiful out here, and I love being here, so I have decided to take my time, to really soak in this place, and to end my hike when it needs to end, not because I reached a pre-determined endpoint. It took me a while to get to this headspace, but now that I’m in it, it feels so right.

I keep heading down, stopping once for more water and then later for a long shoes-off break at Walker River, which is fast and cold and deep. There’s a footbridge to cross, and then I find some shade and doze. I eat half a protein bar and feel victorious. I do some blister surgery, the first of this trip. (I’m not surprised to find this particular blister. When I lost those toenails last year, several of them grew back wonky, and now I have a blister around/under the wonkiest one. Probably this means the toenail will fall off again, which is fine by me.)

Then it’s a hot but easy mile and a half to my campsite, next to a shallow stream. I could do a little more today, but want to rest up for tomorrow’s long difficult climb up Sonora Pass. A hiker I’ve leapfrogged with occasionally since my first day passes by and chats for a bit. His name is Coach and he’s also a section hiker, and we commiserate about how tough the hiking is here, and how poor the air quality is. I eat a tiny bit more, do a spot of trail laundry, and am in my tent by 5pm. I don’t usually feel this way, but I’m nervous about tomorrow’s climb. It is about six miles of near-constant uphill, very exposed, with few water sources. I know I’m really underfed and it’s gonna be one tough day. If the weather is okay I could camp at the top (at the end of the six miles), but it will be very windy and exposed there too. But if I go on and descend the other side, it’ll probably be a 12 mile day before I can find camping, because of the terrain. Neither option is ideal. I try to give myself a dose of optimism, think ahead to town food (yes! I am at least hungry for fresh food, if not any of the things in my bear can!), and drift off to sleep as the little evening birds chirp all around me.

Approaching Dorothy Lake under early morning clouds.
Dorothy Lake. This picture makes my heart feel like it will burst out of my chest.
Dorothy Pass, leaving Yosemite NP.
Views on the descent from Dorothy Pass.
Break at Cascade Creek.
My dirty hiker feet at my nap spot next to the Walker River. I kept hearing a rattling sound and could not rest until I confirmed it was a flying grasshopper and not a rattlesnake. The desert’s lessons never leave you…
Upstream from the Walker River footbridge. It was shallower here and you could walk out and sit on these smooth slabs to filter water.

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