Day 49: rough start, high ending

Day 49
Miles: 20
From South Fork to a spring at mile 736
June 19, 2014

I’m up this morning, but I sure ain’t at ’em. My lady business is cramping my style in the worst way, and we’ve got to start the day with a 2500 foot climb, to above 10,000 feet, and the small of my back hurts just looking at my bear canister. It’s a long six miles to the next water, and J and I are thirsty. We didn’t fill up at the south fork – you can only drink so much manure-flavored water. J takes the lead and I follow in pain, doubled with cramps, trying to hike doubled over AND with a bear canister in my back. Good time, all things considered, to a tiny stream with a clear spout running off a lily leaf. We finally look around and enjoy the sweet little meadow where we’ve found ourselves, until I turn around and there’s twelve of us there. Twelve! I actually like almost every thru-hiker I’ve met, but the packs of them just turn me the wrong way. I’m tired of meeting new people for a little while, tired of talking. I just want to sit in the meadow with J and Teal and Bluesman, not with this cheery, fast-moving, fast-talking crowd. “They’re ruining my wilderness experience!” I think resentfully.

I feel better though, and the climbing is done for a while. We cross over a ridge to thick-bodied alpine pine forest and white talus slopes with views to Mt. Whitney, still a long way off. For the first time, I feel like I’m really in the Sierras. Down to the meadows and up again, another 1500 foot climb. I’m so glad I have my trekking poles. This burly climb needs a full-body Gizmo attack – with my poles flying and calves pumping I cruise it on up.

About halfway up the slope we spy a full-looking grocery sack hanging from a branch. “Trash?!!” I exclaim in disgust. “Did someone really leave an entire bag of trash?”. But it’s not trash, it’s a bag full of food – days worth!
“Did someone just leave it here while they went exploring?” wonders J. We think for a minute and conclude that the likeliest scenario is that someone got exhausted by the uphill climb, decided to bail a few days early and go to Lone Pine for resupply instead of Independence, and then ditched all their extra food. Jerks. Did they think someone was just going to pack it out for them? It may not be just trash, but it might as well be out here. It doesn’t belong. J and I have packed out a lot of other people’s trash, but this is too much. I can’t carry another five days worth of food! We move on.

We make it to water, twenty miles down. The fast-moving crowd of hikers goes on for another three miles, but twenty seems like enough to me. Over 4000 feet of climbing and all of it over 9000 feet: that’s perfectly respectable. Teal and Katsumi each show up and we all set up camp. Teal pulls a grocery sack of food out of his pack. “Can you believe somebody left this here?” he says.
“Holy smokes, you picked it up!” I say.
“Teal, you’re a bigger man than me,” adds J. “I looked at it and left it there.” We can’t leave him with all of it now though, so we split it three ways to carry. It’s too much for us, still, but a few extra tortillas and pasta sides might be nice in a few days.

Time for bed – I’m happy to be here. Walking felt good today – I’ve still got heel pain but it’s worse on the downhill, and there wasn’t much of that today. It’s good to be in the pines, to set up our tarp with a two-tree pitch (instead of with our poles, like usual), good to be with friends and with J. The views have been magnificent, sweeping first from the west side of the Sierras, forested, meadowed, and then to the east side, where the mountain drops off thousands of feet to a low and desolate plain. I made it to the mountains, and now I’m climbing them, feeling strong, feeling undefeated. I can tell it’s only going to get better from here.