Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pacific Crest Trail - Tuolumne Meadows to Donner Pass

I was able to get away to hike for 9 days or so on the PCT. The photos are here. I forgot to post the one I took of a bear, though:

This guy was about 80 lbs. and had long sun-bleached hair - he looked silly, like a large-ish dog that someone had spilled bleach on.

I started out this trip with a lot on my mind, and finished with very little. I wrote previously that this trip was "going back" to continue a journey on the PCT. Almost immediately I realized the obvious - this was a new backpacking trip covering a stretch of the PCT I hadn't seen before, with almost nothing to do with the past (except the fact that I have hiked many/most other sections of the PCT). So, after briefly (and nervously) shaking hands with personal history in a nondescript part of Yosemite (there aren't many), I started on said new trip.

I was surprised how fast I fall back into trail-mind. Work fades very quickly and the limited-but-intense demands of the trail come to the fore: "Gotta make that lake before sundown. Um, law - doesn't that have something to do with elements?"

I was also surprised that I can still do 25-30 mile days without too much trouble - although (1) there wasn't any snow, and (2) I was beat-tired after a week on the trail. But after a day off, I was good to go again. Not that I want to spend a ton of time doing 25-30 mile days. I have a new goal, which is to complete the PCT before I'm 40. But hiking so far/fast is generally too intense/self-centered/time-consuming for me to consider other hikes of this sort - until/unless Will-J wants to go.

Other stuff:

-Yosemite is overwhelming. It's a difficult place for me to visit - I can't relate to the scale of some of the sights, for example El Capitan, or tolerate the crowds in the Valley. The rest of the time, my head is swiveling around like an office chair trying to take in the scenery - at the same time trying to survive the intense climbs. Many times the trail itself takes center stage. Blasting/carving/hanging switchbacks into/onto a 40-degree slope? Sure:

Build an elevated walkway around a lake out of huge granite blocks? Sure:

The incredible trails help contribute to the Yosemite scene. It's not just Matterhorn Ridge, it's "Matterhorn Ridge," from "Dharma Bums." People with old-school external frame packs ask you where you're going, yawn when you tell them, and name drop all the other off-trail lakes/passes you're missing. One woman - dressed in all black, carrying an external frame back from the 70's (Kelty?), and wearing those goofy foot-shoes, declares that she was the ONLY ONE at Smedberg Lake last night, and that I'm the ONLY PERSON that she's passed on the way out. She seems disappointed when I say there's a family of four right behind me with lawn chairs strapped to their packs.

After a few days of the overwhelming Yosemite scenery and scene, I was relieved to get out of the park and back in the regular wilderness (not having bothered with a permit may have had something to do with this, too).

-So yes, in California there are enough people backpacking that there are "styles" of backpacking. This is opposed to Colorado where everyone looks like an REI ad, no matter whether it's an REI ad from the late-80's or today. I was hiking through the Lake Aloha area of Desolation Wilderness - probably the most crowded backpacking locale I've ever visited - and a guy from a trail crew commented on my backpack, identifying me as a PCT thru-hiker: "You wouldn't be just out for the weekend with a pack like THAT!" he says.

Shh! He was dangerously close to revealing me as a poser. I was not, in fact, hiking the whole PCT, but only about 215 miles on my vacation from, gulp, being an attorney. OMG, I think, I'm like those hipsters at home in Denver riding around on fixies in tight pants. But in fact the truth is even worse. Those backpackers in Yosemite with their parents' 30-year old external frame packs are the equivalent of track-bike-riding hipsters. Using my disco ultralight pack for just a week-long outing is the biking equivalent of the Denver weekend-warrior cyclist riding an $8,000 carbon bike, wearing his Assos bibs and otherwise posing as a "serious" cyclist. However, unlike the Nu-Fred cyclist, who no one actually believes is a serious cyclist, the trail crew guy actually thought I was a serious backpacker - and I take a certain satisfaction in having succeeded in my poser-dom.

-Some experiences let me know my place in the world. On the way out, I few from Las Vegas to Merced on little "Great Lakes Airlines" plane:

There were four of us on the plane, including the pilots. We taxied out to the end of the runway at McCarran and waited for a long line of big planes to land. Every 90 seconds, a big plane flew over us, shaking our plane a little in the wash. Here comes 300 people. Here comes 300 more. Another 300. Another. After 15 planes or so, there was a gap (of 90 seconds, I think) and we took off.

-There has been an explosion sophisticated picnicking technology. Now, you need a portable folding picnic table, one of those pop-up sun-shelters, a portable grill, etc. I find this a natural and resourceful reaction to (a) closing down public picnic facilities due to budget cuts, and/or (2) jacking up the prices at said facilities, again due to cuts. You can't fool the American people - those budget cuts are required due to idiotic interest-rate swaps. And you can't stop the American people - grilling hamburgers is our way of life, and we'll keep grilling hamburgers no matter what.

-While I'm a poser thru-hiker, I had a day that for me sums up the experience. I left Echo Lake in the morning and hiked straight through Desolation Wilderness to Richardson Lake, on the Forest Service lands to the north. Yes, this is idiotically high-mileage, and not only did I pass numerous eye-poppingly beautiful lakes, but numerous other beautiful spots not on the PCT (or any trail, for that matter). Yes, you could spend months or even years exploring Desolation Wilderness and still not visit all of those beautiful places. But I hiked right out into a less-visited northern section of the wilderness that provided an interesting contrast to the popular lakes. On the way I ran into a group of southbound (real) PCT thru-hikers, and we swapped information about what lay ahead. For a minute, I connected to their larger journey, and the quixotic subculture of thru-hiking generally. I rolled into Richardson Lake at twilight, with frogs croaking and a cool wind passing through the Jeffrey Pines. I'll probably never visit Richardson Lake again, and I would have never gone there if not for committing to hike the PCT.

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