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Highs and lows


Trail day two. I woke up to general soreness. Which, if you read up on it, is a perfectly justifiable diagnosis to sideline NFL football players. My feet hurt. My back hurt. Mostly my feet hurt. My shoulders were sore, but nothing horrible. It's something I'd felt before. It's something you feel when you carry 40lbs on your back for 8 miles at elevation.

We had become what I thought was acclimated to the altitude by this time, though. I felt pretty good.

Days on the trail, or maybe just days in September when it's cold in the morning, start with sunlight. And sunlight takes a while to make it over the various ridges and peaks that surround you at any given time. So because of soreness, because of coolness, and because the sun is slow, we got a late start. I'd tell you when if I took better notes. The next entry from my notebook took place 24 hours from this setting. I'll end this entry with the notes.

Probably most importantly we awoke to the sight of a huge gang of NPS workers carrying their tools down the trail. Maybe they would know about that sack of trash reroute…

We broke camp, and thus closed the book on the first night of real backpacking for all of the new gear. The North Face Mica 2 was legit now.  It had seen an overnight in the backcountry.

Quick aside about the tent- When we were shopping, we went to an REI and were looking at tents. We had pretty much narrowed it down to the Mica 2, Fly Creek 2, and the MSR Hubba 2p. We asked one of the employees if we could set the tents up in store to compare. She happily obliged.
Another guy comes along at some point and offers up his irrelevant opinion. He was an employee. He did a real hard sell for the Fly Creek. His selling points- "that’s the one I own." Hell, I'll buy two. I'll lie and say I don't remember the guy's name, but we'll call him little-show.  I shamefully admit to know something about "professional" wrestling. There is a wrestler named "The Big Show." This guy who owned the Fly Creek looked like a little version. So- little show. Google it if you want a visual. After a little bit of dialogue about what we wanted in a tent (two doors, two vestibules with usable space, and willing to carry the oh-so-burdensome few extra ounces) we decided on the Mica. The Fly Creek is probably the most popular light weight tent out there. There were tons of them on the trail. But I hate the design. And I hate the vestibule. And the floor plan. And the rain fly. The Mica isn't perfect, but a well engineered compromise. Moral of this story- little show is a douche factory who shouldn’t be gainfully employed by any customer service oriented business.  More on the tent and its performance and features later. Point is, the tent saw live action out in the field and all of our gear as well as our trip was 1 day old.

Our gear was shoved back in our backpacks. I'd carry the tent body, footprint, and stakes. Lindsey would carry the poles and rainfly. We'd never trade. Not that we would need to, I just think it's interesting.  We'd learn to pack the first aid kit near the top.  The rest of our belongings would be squeezed into small spaces and pockets surrounding our bear vaults. 

The NPS crew that had passed in the morning was lingering in the area doing work. I walked over to investigate the status of this stupid re-route and ask where it is. It turns out the re-route trail was about 20 feet from our campsite. I discovered it without ever saying a word to a crew member because in the day light, and having the knowledge to head in the vicinity of the crew, the rerouted trail showed itself. 


For perspective.

The green dot is about where we camped. The green arrow indicates the direction we walked for 1 mile looking for a cut off trail. Orange is still the "reroute." Here's the good part- The trail reroute wasn’t even open. That stupid ass sign was just put there to say, "hey, look at us and what we do." Not even that…what they are "planning" on doing. Nowhere on that stupid sign did it say "Open 2014." "Open after September." "Not currently open." "Don't try to hike the reroute because it doesn't exist anywhere but on this laminated sheet of paper."

We move on only literally. I'm still hung up on that dumb sign. Not over it. But down the trail we go for a couple of miles before the ascent to Donahue Pass begins. Mountain passes are interesting on the trail in that you know you're going over them, but you can rarely tell where they are from as little as half a mile away. So much of the hiking experience was conjecture of where we're going, where the pass is, how far away we were.  Not long after leaving camp, we stop to readjust packs and things of the like.

You learn to take advantage of good boulders that are conducive to sitting or leaning.

As we are resting and adjusting shoes, the rare and distinct sound of another human becomes audible. The metallic, earth muffled clank of trekking poles and the stiff tone of nylon swishing on someone's back. A man hiking from North to South (same direction as us) comes up and says hi. We exchange standard info- Name, where you from, where you going.

Greg. This was our first encounter with Greg. A man of about 58 years young, in decent shape. He carried two 16oz Gatorade bottles in each side of his pack.

"Hey, how are you?" or something like that is how I initially greeted him.
"Good, thanks! The first mile or so is always a little slow…"

The hell? I thought. Miles are miles….

Greg went on to tell us about the others he'd met on the trail. Another couple he described as about our age. They were right in front of us. A young lady hiking alone. And a group of British military guys who were training. Turns out Greg camped  a few hundred feet from us. He said he saw us walk by earlier in the morning.

Good or bad, old Greg and we were speed partners. We hiked at about the same pace. So for the next 4 or 5 hours we'd pass him, or he'd pass us, or we'd hike together.

For the life of me, I can't really remember one thing Greg said specifically, but I know I enjoyed talking to him and sharing the experience with him. He'd started from Yosemite (exactly where I don't recall) and was hiking to Red's Meadow. After our first initial meeting, we hung back for about 30 seconds and Greg took the lead.

Just before the ascent begins up the pass,  I we stopped for a break at a river bridge. Two unique things happened here. One- I saw a pine martin for the first time. I thought  it was a weasel until Lindsey looked at one of her mammal/bird/plant guides and suggested pine martin. I'm going with that.

Pine Martin

Second- I made the best worst lunch ever. I was really hungry. So I opted for wheat tortilla with a healthy dose of peanut butter.

With some pepperonis mixed in.

With some taco bell hot sauce on top.

And a packet of grape jelly.

And some crunchable that I've forgotten. I swear it was goldfish. (It was definitely chili cheese fritos, and they were the food highlight of the trip -Lindsey )

At the time, I was very hungry. After eating it, I felt very sick. Shocker of the trip. I'd learn a lesson from this, though- eat smaller things more often. And don't listen to your stomach when it says it's hungry by eating a huge delicious meal. Not unless it's dinner and you are done moving.

The bridge marks the start of the ascent of a good few thousand feet (2500 feets, all told) and we catch up with Greg. The ascent up is slow and steady, but not what I'd classify as grueling. It's supposedly a tough one because it's a fairly significant pass and it was our first big elevation gain after the flat terrain in Lyell Canyon. Slow steps and time lead us to the top of the pass, but not before we stopped a few times to filter water from the glacial lakes and rest to repair hot spots and foot issues.

The day prior the afternoon would blow some pretty foreboding looking clouds right over the pass. It was much the same on this day. Puffy, white clouds that weren't much higher than the peaks blew the opposite direction of our travel with great speed. Winds were stiff, but refreshing.

Drinking water with Greg

Now we were getting in to it. We filter water from a lake and start ascending the other side of its outlet and we're in barren granite fields. No trees, no grass. Here we go. This is what I was expecting. The trail is marked by sparse cairns and well-worn foot paths of thousands of people who've hiked the trail.  We press on to the saddle that is the pass and we take an extended break to enjoy the view, eat reasonable sized meals that pair sensible foods (not pepperoni and peanut butter) and watch the one marmot that guards the trail.

Something about the notion of climbing a pass paints this grandiose scheme of unlimited views and 360 degree panoramic vistas. With the Sierra Nevada and much of the JMT, you never get that. You get to the top of a pass and you can see as far as the valley you're heading back down in to. No grand peaks, no steep drop offs surrounding you (some steep ledges on a few, though) but mostly the passes offer only so much as a glimpse as to where you might be going. The landscape is so vast and rugged it's almost too much to decipher. At the top of Donahue, we look down into a lush valley sparsely populated with small trees. It's punctuated by the glistening of streams and thousands of granite boulders that look tiny from where we are, but are the size of school buses.

We three descend the other side of the pass for some much welcomed gravity-aided hiking. Again, we all talk and share stories on the way down but the contents of them I don't remember.

I'm built for going downhill. It doesn’t hurt my knees. I don't use trekking poles. I'm agile like fox, strong like bull. We gradually pull away from Greg after saying a formal farewell until next time.

After descending a few hundred feet off the side of the ridge and into the beginnings of the valley, Lindsey informs me that she doesn’t feel well. Like dizzy and nauseous not-feel-well. Like altitude sickness not-feel-well. We stop to rest and to see if she stabilizes. The good news is we're going down in altitude no matter what. Bad news is that we may have to descend really fast.

By this time the sun is getting lower in the sky and is painting this whole valley with bright golden rays of light. At the boulders we stopped at, mountain blue birds flew around and darted through trees chasing each other. I think they were playing because I'm optimistic. For all I know they were fighting. Beautiful birds though. The Mountain Blue Bird is my favorite of birds.

I found a glacially scoured granite boulder. The top of this rock was worn almost glass-like smooth from the weight and pressure of ice. It makes for a good bed.  This rock was about 30 feet away from the trail. It stood on a small hill and was about 6 feet tall. It had a slant of about 30 degrees that faced away from the trail. Think of half of a roof of a house. The slope,  I figured, would make laying down even better.

So go to lay down. And in characteristic Chris fashion, I don't do so gently. I do so with a slight jolt. I know this to be true because in the process of laying down, my phone fell out of my pocket. I go to take a video some minutes later, and the phone is unresponsive.

I've successfully broken the screen on my phone for the second time in about 2 months and it's a digitizer, which means if there's a tiny crack in the screen…nothing works. 2 days in and I'm without aux camera, audio recorder, video camera, gps, phone. It made me somewhat happy, to be honest.

I still enjoy my perch and overlord over the valley. The blue birds have gone elsewhere now as the sun has gotten lower. I hear voices way off in the distance and see some people hiking on a ridge where there is not a trail to my knowledge.   A guy and a girl. I think I hear one say  "Is that the trail down there?"

Lindsey is feeling marginally better so we take it slow and descend to wherever our next campsite will be. The sun sinks behind the ridge from which we climbed over earlier in the day. Winds pick up a good bit. Rather, they don't stop. The relentless gales of 30 or so mph that started on the North side of Donahue maintain through the valley, and they maintain throughout the night.

The winds of Donahue Pass. And Greg 


We take shelter in an area and use a square granite boulder of about 8ft by 8ft as a wind block. We guy out the tent and I make dinner of Pepperonis. In the distance, we hear the acoustic chop of blades through the air. A helicopter is flying half a mile away from us making passes. Someone is being search and rescued.

It was proper dusk at this time and cold, so we settled in to the tent after placing the bear canisters far away. Lindsey didn’t eat any dinner. I put my journal in the tent and drifted off to sleep. Sleep came easily after an 8 mile day.

I had a dream. There was a helicopter. I swear I could hear it.

I woke up at midnight. A god damn helicopter was hovering over us shining its search light on our tent. I feel like I can partly empathize with alien abductees. Having a bright light shine on you when you have no idea what's going on is freaky. I expected to start hovering. For a quick minute, I thought that was the end.  The helicopter from earlier must have been 50 feet directly over our tent and it was shining its light right on us. This was no dream. Lindsey woke up as well and asked what we should do, as if I'd been faced with such a scenario many times before.

I told her we'd wait and see if they say anything. They didn’t, and so I went back to bed not really knowing what happened. The next day we woke up with the sun. I got up and out of the tent first and sought the spot where light shone down first. Lindsey stayed inside still not feeling well.  I encouraged her to eat and hoped she'd start to feel better.  After eating part of a Clif bar, she started packing up camp. I wrote in my diary.

Route for day 2

8 MILE DAY 1. 9+ DAY 2
DAY 3- 20 TO REDS.

We'll see...

Photos from day 2


Best since Day 1.