Hiking California: High Sierras Part III Between A Rock And A Hard Place

September 28 – October 8, 2014

Total mileage: 1957.9

The morning after hiking up Forester, the last big mountain pass on the PCT until the Mexican border, I snooze my alarm a trillion times, before I finally turn it off. I fall asleep again, by the hypnotizing sound of the nearby Tyndall Creek and wake up around 8 am. Normally by this time, I would have put in 6 miles. Today, I cannot manage to get up. I stay in my sleeping bag, it feels so good to just be warm and cozy. When the sun finally peeks over the canyon, I get up and make myself a hearty breakfast. Clumsily I spoon up oatmeal from a ziplock bag but half of it lands on my fleece instead of in my mouth. I sip on a steaming hot double espresso. Slowly, life comes back into my body. Today, I have set another challenge for myself. I’m going to climb Mt. Whitney, with 14.505 foot the highest mountain in the United States outside Alaska. It can be reached from the PCT via an 8.5 mile side trail. Too good to miss, right?

I’m super slow this morning. Everything I do, every move I make is in slow motion style. Now I am aware how tired I really am. Exhausted is a better description. I finally allow myself to feel the state I’m in. I’ve been hauling ass for more than a week, to make sure that I make it through the Sierras in time before the weather turns bad this late season. But now I have to pay the price for pushing so hard. Somewhere around noon, I arrive at Crabtree Meadow, from where I hop on a side trail to Whitney. This trail climbs over 4100 feet towards the top. And it is steep. It’s hot today. The environment is changing, as it begins to exhibit characteristics of the desert. Less trees, the earth formed deep cracks of the draught, and the trail is so sandy it slows me down. My feet and trekking poles are continuously sinking away in the deep sand. It frustrates me deeply, I cannot make miles in the pace I’m used to.

collage_desert

The scenery is changing drastically. First taste of the desert. Exposed and dry land.

3 miles in, on the side trail to Whitney I notice a growing anxiety and unwillingness within me. I’m so tired and hey, wait a minute, for whom am I doing this actually? Other hikers told me to definitely do Whitney, because it is a great experience no matter what and I will never be in this physical shape in life again, if ever. It would be a big mistake not to do it. But am I hiking my hike for them? Or for myself? Hiking an extra 17 miles (2x 8.5) in this already demanding stretch feels like a burden, not like a great experience. I sit back. I deliberate. I cry. I feel what is there to feel. The choice is made quickly. My intuition tells me to get my ass to Kennedy Meadows. I turn around and hike back to the PCT. As simple as that. So long, Whitney. We were not meant to happen.

See you next time ’round.

In no time I’m back at the junction. Onwards to Kennedy Meadows I go! From here, it’s still 67 miles. Hiking in this slow motion pace, it will take me at least 3 more days. I make it to Rock Creek campground that evening, 7 miles after the junction. I arrive in a pitch black forest. There is nobody here. There is one bear box, to place my food in, to keep it safe from the bears. I feel ill at ease. I wish for people to talk with. To laugh with. To make stupid and silly jokes with. To feel safe, accepted and loved by. I miss my hiking buddies so much. But they all finished and left the trail a month ago. I’m looking for a way to find safety, acceptance and love within me. But doing this in a dark eerie forest, by myself, is easier said than done. I’m anxious and see predators within almost every shadow. I brush my teeth, wipe my dirty feet a little cleaner, I send out an “I’m OK” message with my SPOT device and try to get some sleep. “But I don’t feel OK at all”, I think this when my head hits my clothing bag, which has a double function as my pillow. I feel so, so alone. It’s a pain that truly hurts within my whole body. I feel into it instead of pushing it away.

Acceptance is the only way to get through the pain.

collage_desert4

The trail turns into a sandpit, when I hike out the next morning. Slow, slower, slowest I go. I must be the slowest thru-hiker the PCT has ever seen, oh, the thoughts are vicious today. Why is it so hard to be kind to myself? I always beat myself up, drag myself down, talk myself into a lower and more little version of who I really am. Why can’t I accept how it is today? Why do I want to be faster? Why can’t I just enjoy the sand, the slow pace, the drastic changes in the landscape? Why can’t I accept myself fully? Why can’t I accept the loneliness? Why can’t I accept what is? I am living in my head. I am not on the Pacific Crest Trail. I don’t see the beauty around me. I don’t hear nor feel anything.

There is a war going on inside my head. That’s where I am.

Near Cottonwood Pass, which is accessible from a little town called Lone Pine, I suddenly see a man hiking up towards me. A woman arrives shortly after. They are Canadians enjoying a short holiday. Arrived at LAX in the morning, they decided to hike Whitney in one full day tomorrow. This being their ‘acclimatizing’ day hike. I think they are either crazy for doing that, or just simply studs. I sit down with them and we talk. They are super stoked when I tell them I hiked all the way from Canada to get here. They want to celebrate this with me, and they tell me that on every hike, they take their fav drink with them: Mang-O-Rita. I never heard about this exotic sounding drink. But they carried a 17 fl oz (half liter) can up this mountain and want to share it with me! The alcohol percentage is 8%. It’s not even noon. I don’t give a damn. The can is cold, it’s sparkling. Bring it on people! Since Mammoth Lakes, 9 days ago, I only drank liters of water. Opening the can sounds like music to me. I take a few greedy sips and I gulp it down. My God, the taste is out of this earth so good! We share the can and in no time I’m tipsy! That happened fast! I get all giggly and I notice I talk louder than usual. How am I able to hike on after this?

When we finished the treat, the Canadians are hiking on. “Can we take your garbage with us?”, they offer. “It’s no problem, we will be in town later today”. Gratefully I hand over 9 days of garbage. “Wow, thank you guys so, so much!”. When they are out of sight, I realize that I never asked for their names. Neither have they asked for mine.

But they oh so made my day.

“Thank you, thank you, amazing studs”, I whisper softly while boiling water for a hot lunch, totally certain they will rock that trail tomorrow. Exactly as I am going to do, too.

 

 

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3 comments

  1. Amazing account of your feelings. I read this to Loren my husband who you met. You asked me when I saw you on your way back to Harts Pass from the border on my very last night if I was sad to be leaving the trail. I told you no, I had been all alone most of the trail and at times scared. I just wanted to be done and in Loren’s arms forever. It felt so good to be done but now I’m sad it’s over. I can now say I absolutely love the PCT and all the other hikers especially you Fox. Ghost

    1. Hi Ghostangel! Thank you so much for your sweet words. I miss you, you have a special place in my heart. What a wonderful woman and inspiration you are. I hope we can keep in touch!

  2. reading your story, first i felt sad given you were lonely and i wished i was there to join you on that part of the hike just for fun. then i had to laugh out loud and was happy your sadness turned into a fun ‘party’. thats awesome.

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