Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 86 (8/11) Going the Extra Mile(s)

After the town-stop shortened day I had a few miles to make up today. Plus, as I mentioned yesterday, the menu for today was a massive climb of 6,000 feet over the next 20 miles. This meant I’d be slowly working my way uphill all day without any super steep sections. The day started out with a climb up the Grider Creek valley, crossing the creek four separate times as the trail weaved around solid rock bluffs on each side of the creek. This was highly reminiscent of the hiking I did with David in the Ozarks last year over Thanksgiving, with the only difference being the altitude out here, and the scale of the climb. Cresting a ridge I had a short reprieve before I starting switchbacking up another adjacent ridge. About 8 miles in I took a short lunch break, then pushed on higher and higher. I didn’t want a long break as anything more than 20 minutes would give my legs too much time to cramp up and I didn’t need that today. Near the top of this ridge I came across a trail crew working on putting up new trailhead signs with maps of the area on them. And right after that I entered the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

This was one of the three areas I’d been told about by northbound hikers. They all raved about either the Marble Mountains, the Russian Wilderness, or the Trinity Alps. Well, as the first of the three, I relished the opportunity to see what all they were talking about. At first this seemed to be no different than any other part of the trail, but slowly I came to see what they were talking about. There were a bunch of marble pieces littering the trail and I was tempted to take one as a souvenir (I didn’t because that is against Leave No Trace; plus its extra weight!). A few miles in I ran into an interesting problem. I was looking for a small unsigned spring, and the directions I have are for a northbound hiker. Therefore, any landmarks described would necessarily be PAST the spring I’m looking for. My solution was to walk a ways, then look back to see if anything matched what I should be seeing as a northbounder. This went on for a frustrating mile as I looked for the “large 3-forked tree” which should be just off trail before the turnoff to the spring in a large meadow. I became frustrated, and wondering if I may have passed it, considered my options for other water sources - none were good choices and would require that I ration heavily on the way. Walking along in this contemplative state I suddenly came to a new wooden sign pointing straight to the spring! Turns out the guidebook wasn’t quite up to date on this improvement. I got water then came back to the trail, where I looked up and saw the MASSIVE 3-forked tree. Had I understood exactly how big this tree was, I would’ve been absolutely sure I hadn’t missed the spring. Each of the three forks was the size of a normal tree. Pretty awesome, especially with the campsite right underneath. I stopped there to treat my water, and chatted with a local hiker who had already made camp there. He was recovering from back and knee problems and this was his first trip back out on trail. Good to see him out, and we had a nice chat about all kinds of things. Though I enjoyed his company, it was far too early to stop, and after my requisite 20 minutes to purify the water, I drank my fill then headed off again. Many, many miles were still ahead of me.

Coming out of this break I had a fantastic vista of the trail winding around the side of a ridge with the large Marble Mountain standing across the valley. I took it all in with a huge grin, then was off again. Over the next two hours I started running into all the folks who had left Etna yesterday morning. This was not good news for me. The Etna Post Office doesn’t have Saturday hours, so I need to be there by Friday at 5pm to get the box with all my food. All these people have spent 1.5 days hiking to get this far out, and I have just about a day to do that section in reverse... I decided that merited a strong push into the evening to make a few more miles. My stomach though was unwilling to go along with that plan without first being fed a full meal. I usually prefer to eat around 6 or 7, then get a couple miles of hiking done afterwards, but that does mean valuable daylight hours are spent on dinner. Today I would’ve liked to walk until dusk then made camp and eaten, but it just wasn’t going to happen as hungry as I was.

Following dinner I ran into more of the hikers who departed Etna yesterday, so it seems like I’m coming across another big cluster of people. They report that a whole bunch of people are behind them yet. Around 8pm I found one of the most beautiful spots of the whole trip; a field of white wildflowers with a scattering of blue/purple flowers, accented by a few red ones. What a great sight, and I literally walked straight through this field as I followed the trail. And just minutes later I had a good laugh as I had the opportunity to yell out “It’s August 11th in California, and I’m still walking on snow!!!”. Granted, this was only 100 yards of trail covered by snow, but nonetheless I was amazed that it had managed to stick around for so long. That’s just a testament to the amount of snow they got this year, and why its been such a struggle for thru-hikers to stay on track and finish on time this year. At the 26 mile mark (another marathon, yay!) for the day I called it quits, leaving a full 24 mile day ahead of me tomorrow to reach Etna.

Miles Today: 26
Trip Mileage: 1229
PCT Mile Marker: 1630

Moon over Black Marble Mountain

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