Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 64 (7/20) Seasons in Fast Forward

I started today on top of Muir Pass, still held in the clutches of winter under a thick blanket of snow. Wanda Lake below the pass was just beginning to ease into spring as the edges of the ice were slowly starting to melt. Descending further, Sapphire Lake showed a full springtime beauty, with a variety of plant life pushing up from the soil recently vacated by snow. And if that was spring, Evolution Lake was the epitome of summer; a deep blue lake nestled in the trees, with the bright sun beating down everywhere. I walked through three seasons in the course of 5 hours and 7 miles, and I was smiling the whole way.

At the bottom of the descent I came to a register at the McClure Meadow Ranger Station and discovered I was now only a day behind Fool, Good Karma,  Boyscout, and Molder (formerly Jeanie). My big day yesterday must've helped me close the gap. I'll probably see them all at VVR resting and eating. I ran into some interesting people today, including one guy originally from DeKalb, which is just about an hour from where I grew up. Small world. There was also a pair of girls who asked "How far do the trails go to the south towards Muir Pass?" I first gave the facetious answer of 'all the way to Mexico' but then answered their actual question by describing where the trail becomes obscured by snow. They thought they would need serious winter gear to go further, but I showed them my trail runners and trekking poles which were the only pieces of gear I needed to get to the pass, even with the snow.

Snow has been probably the biggest obstacle so far, but that changed today when I encountered Evolution Creek. This stream is swollen with snow melt, and there is even a sign advising a safer crossing point in case of very high water. I had ben advised that this alternate crossing wasn't necessary given the current conditions, so I went ahead and took the normal trail. Approaching the river, and yes I'll call it that because on the map it wasn't represented by a thin blue line but was instead shown as an actual body of water, it was that wide. In fact, I think I've seen lakes that were narrower than this creek/river. I would be doing a solo crossing, so patience and care were critical. I put all my electronics into bags in case I fell and got my pack wet, then I eyed the water.

The first 5 and last 5 feet would be easy as it was slow moving at the shore. The rest looked deeper and faster moving, but definitely not as fast as the Kings a few days ago. I mentally reviewed the course of action - face upstream, poles planted wide and out in front, knees slightly bent, leaning slightly forward into the current, test each step before committing, eyes only at my feet and towards the other shore (never downstream), and be willing to turn back if it goes over my belt. Okay, I'm ready, I thought to myself. The water was chilly but not numbingly cold. I was right about the first 5 feet, actually the first 10 were fine. Then the water level started rising. From my calf it rose up to my knees. Another step. Now mid-quad, and pushing hard on me. No thought if turning back yet, I still felt stable. Another step. I feel a damp sensation between my thighs - its cold (not warm - I never got that nervous!) and I realize the water is all the way up to the inseam of my pants. I steady myself, then take another step. The water recedes 4 inches. Another step, once again into shallower and slower water. With care I finish the last few feet to the opposite bank, where a massive sigh of relief pours out. I just made it through one of the most challenging crossings on the whole trail, and solo at that! I make a promise to myself not to get cocky, and to treat every one of the future crossings with caution and respect. Shockingly, I nearly got in trouble at one of the smaller crossings just a few miles later when my sunglasses slipped off the top of my hat and into the current. Before I could even curse at myself for my stupidity, my hand darted out and with my pole I snagged then before they made it more than a few feet downstream. I was so shocked and relieved, because in the snow there its no more critical piece of gear. If you spend too much time staring at the snowy trail without eye protection you're likely to get temporary snow blindness from the reflected sunlight. Definitely not good and something I'd like to avoid if possible.

I made a few more miles before dinner, and before I knew it I was ready for bed, though I had wanted to do a few miles after eating. I threw down my sleeping bag since the bugs didn't seem bad, and tried to sleep. As though summoned by an invisible force the moment I laid down, a horde of mosquitos descended on me. I tried putting on my bug net  and sleeping with that, but keeping the bag buttoned up tight with the net cinched over my face caused me to overheat. Summoning a massive side if courage I tore out of my sleeping bag, set up my tent in record time, and slipped inside, suffering only a dozen or so bites in the process. I guess this is the real sign of summer - small biting insects. Too bad I can't rewind to spring or winter until I climb the next pass...

Miles Today: 16
Trip Mileage: 854

Photo: Evolution Creek - Yeah, I walked across that

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