Wednesday, November 20, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 6 — Rest Day at Tuolumne Lodge

I woke early in our tent cabin, snuck out the screen door while the others slept and went to get a coffee—a coffee for which I didn’t have to filter water or light my stove, a coffee that tasted like a cup full of heaven and ran down into my belly like some  liquid bear hug.  I carried my warm cup to the Dana Fork of Tuolumne River and hopped out to a flat rock in the middle, the water rushing playfully all around me.  And for a long time I just sat there in the chilly morning air, letting the cup warm my fingers, watching the world wake up.

Finally I dug out the maps and journal I’d brought with me and started planning our next few days of hiking.  We weren’t regimented about where we camped each night.  Most days we didn’t have a defined location that we felt we had to make it to.  Rather it was a matter of figuring out approximately how many miles we had to hike each day to make it to our next food supply before we starved.  Then I looked for places on our map that would give us enough mileage and were likely to have a water source, and we made those spots our goals.  Often, though, we’d stop somewhere other than our map goal because we’d spot the perfect swimming hole or a view we could never soak in sufficiently… or because we were just so darn tired.

After breakfast, we all showered again and spent some time washing the dust and grime from our clothes, hanging them on a rope outside our tent cabin, giving it a certain hillbilly aesthetic.  Then we rode the shuttle back to the grill and ate another huge lunch before picking up our resupply box from the tiny post office.  It was like Christmas when we returned to our cabin and I tore into the box.  Pam and the kids went to play by the river, and I spent more than an hour sorting through the various food items:  freeze-dried meals, nutrition bars in the most colorful packages, dried nuts and fruits, hot chocolate, coffee, oatmeal and large chocolate bars.  Most of it wouldn’t have excited the average Joe, but I’d been hungry for several days, and to me it was the most wonderful assortment of calories!

It was also a heavy assortment of calories—enough food to last us nine days, and it felt like it.  I loaded our packs, bent to heave mine onto my shoulders and groaned.  Then I bent to try Pam’s and groaned again.  Uh oh.  In two days we’d be slogging our way up Donahue Pass, our first pass over 11,000 feet, and it was going to be a struggle carrying these beasts!

After packing, I walked a mile or so to the ranger station to ask about the Aspen Fire.  Although it had improved for a couple days, smoke still hung in the air, moving in from the south, and it was obvious that flames still raged in that direction—the direction we’d be heading tomorrow.  From talking with rangers and other hikers we’d passed in the previous days, I’d learned that the Aspen Fire was burning in the Sierra National Forest, not far from a section of the trail we planned to pass in about a week.

When I walked into the small cabin that housed the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, a ranger with tired eyes looked up at me.  “Can I help you?”

“Yeah.  I’m just hoping to get an update on the Aspen Fire.  Are they getting it under control?”

“It’s burned more than 14,000 acres and it’s only thirty percent contained,” she answered as if she was a recording that had relayed the same message a thousand times.  Then she started shuffling papers.

“Darn.”  I stood there for a minute, trying to soak in what that meant for us.  “We’re heading south on the John Muir Trail.  Is there any other info you can give me?”

She kept moving the papers.  “It’s going to be smoky.”

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.