The sun rises right into my tarp – I squint an eye open at the fabulous dawn, then settle back into a content morning snooze. It’s going to be a town day anyhow.
We finally all get up and start the stiff hike up Kearsarge Pass. For some reason, I failed to connect the word ‘pass’ with ‘really steep climb up a mountain’. The trail is catching me up to speed on my vocabulary though – I’m huffing and puffing and about to bonk. J feeds me some snacks and we keep going. The grade on this section is ridiculous. The traffic on the trail is also something new too. Mt Whitney marked the start of the Pacific Crest Trail’s intersection with the John Muir Trail, and we pass dozens of JMT hikers, day hikers, section hikers, and weekend backpackers in a day. After having a trail all to ourselves for weeks now, it’s a bit of a shock. Especially since they are all going the other direction. 800 miles of looking at north pointing footprints, and suddenly they are all the wrong way. I feel like a lost salmon.
Up and over the pass, next to the incredible Kearsarge Lakes. The trail down to Onion Valley faces east to Owens Valley and the White mountains, down to dry country. It looks hot down there.
Motivated by visions of milkshakes and burgers, we burn the downhill miles. My hipbones are feeling especially abused these days, so I unbuckle my hipbelt and let my pack hang on my shoulders, where it feels about ten times heavier. For the first three days with my bear canister, I was packing it at the bottom of my pack. At the end of the third day, I only had to look at my pack to feel the implacable round case in the small of back, and putting on my pack had developed into a long, complicated process of layering extra clothes and dirty socks around my waist for some extra padding. It finally occurred to me to change how I was packing my pack, and my life instantly improved. I’m using the ULA Ohm 2.0, and it’s a tall, narrow pack, lightweight pack. It works great if you pack it right… For now, I pack my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and net-tent in the bottom, using socks and gloves to fill in the gaps. The bear can slides in (upright) on top. Rainpants go between the can and my back, long johns fill in the sides, extraneous clothes squeeze in the cracks. So far, so good. It doesn’t collapse around the middle anymore; I no longer hate my life; I can get into my food without unpacking everything; it carries like a dream again. However, my hipbones are raw and deep purple from the first couple days, and they don’t seem to be recovering while I carry a pack on them for 10+ hours a day. Maybe a rest day will do the trick.
There are trail angels waiting with food at the Onion Valley trailhead – Uber-bitch and Bristlecone – far lovelier people than their names suggest. They feed us tortilla soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and give us a ride down to Independence. We emerge into a hot, dusty town – we’re an entire mile lower than we were this morning. Teal and Tess pull up to the Chevron and pick up Bluesman, Dirtnap, and me – trail friends, reunited again.