Day 65
Miles: 22
From Ansel Adams wilderness to Tuolomne Meadows

Fell asleep hard last night, but I’m still tired. I’m tired all the time now. I sort of thought I’d be used to this? That my body would catch up? Instead, it seems like every time I get a little stronger that the trail gets a little harder. I hoped my new shoes would help, but after a one-day reprieve it was straight back to foot pain. Blast.

Our morning takes us up and past Thousand Island Lake. It’s beautiful, in classic High Sierra fashion: white mountains, pink flowers, green trees, blue lake. We crossed into the Ansel Adams wilderness area yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about his photos, and how he could hold the soul of this place on a black and white print, this place of blue green white.

We’ve got our last pass of note coming up, Donahue Pass, then onto Tuolomne Meadows. Onto a real day off! Maybe with just a real day off I won’t be so tired anymore. Maybe I won’t feel so thin.

Up and over Island Pass, which I didn’t realize was a pass, or that I was crossing it, until just now, where the sign marks it. I keep thinking we’re going to be out of the high country for good, but the smooth, glacier-polished land of marmots and green grass and knife-edged peaks reappears. The pass is a wild tumble of boulders and stone, with a trail blasted and built into an infernal stone staircase, with every step either too high or too short or too long or too shallow. “Right or left?” I ask J, pointing at the ridgeline. “Which I’ve do you think is the pass?”
  “Really? I thought left.”

It is left. For someone used to looking at rocks, J has maintained an astonishing record of zero correct guesses on the passes.

Up at the top another hiker hails us: “Welcome to Yosemite!” We’ve made it to the park. J and I sit down next to a teeny melt lake for lunch.  There are two guys, David and David, eating there as well, and next thing you know we’re chatting about gear. I love talking gear. It drives J crazy. I can’t help it. If he’d ever been to a reunion with my dad’s family he’d know why. Talking gear is what I was born to do… Even if the gear in question is poop trowels and butt wipes. (Of course I carry butt wipes! A little heavier, sure, but you don’t need ’em until you do!)

A David pawns off his book on J. He wanted a new book, but maybe not a hardback. As we leave the same David tells us – “when you get to the waterfalls beyond Tuolomne, tell it hello for me. It’s where I was baptized by the universe!”

Down Donahue Pass turns out to be a different endeavor from up. Much longer, for one thing. Endless, to be more exact. Unending. Brutal. They must have built this trail in the thirties, because there surely has been no other time since when backbreaking physical labor has come so cheap, so abundant, as to even imagine what they have done here. Miles and miles of carefully built stone stairs, hand cut, hand blasted, hand laid. I don’t even appreciate it, this rocky stumbling ground of stairs that are, every one, the wrong size.

The downhill is endless, but somehow passes. It always does. We begin the second infinite section of the day, the flat, easy walk along the Lyell River to Tuolomne Meadows and friends and rest. It’s a storybook meadow, a green corridor between forested mountains, a wide, blue meander winding through. For nine miles. Easy, if the entire High Sierra hadn’t come first.

Tuolomne Meadows is a teeming tent city. Fourth of July weekend. I thought the JMT section of the trail felt crowded, this is a metropolis! We make our way, limping, the message board. J’s long-time friends Dan and Christina should be here to meet us, and hopefully they left a note.

“Hey!” Hollers a car behind us.
  “Dan!” J hollers back. We found them!

Dan and Christina live in Berkeley, and they’re here camping with a big crew of climbing friends. Everyone is fit, strong, stylish, clean. I feel like a schlub, a dirty, tired one. They welcome us and feed us all the same. I’m so glad I don’t have to walk anywhere tomorrow.


Thousands Island Lake


Coming down Donahue Pass


Whose idea was this??


The Lyell River


One thought on “Day 65: the stone staircase

  1. Your photo of Thousand Island Lake would make Mr. Adams proud (although a lightning bolt would have been nice). Zone System, baby!

    Keep on walkin’!

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