Wednesday, November 27, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 7 — Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork River

The sky was all sunshine as we hiked southeast along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.  A bit of haze still hung in the air but the wind had shifted, a gentle breeze moving towards the fire, blowing the smoke away from us, and I hoped it would stay that way.

Lyell Canyon proved to be my favorite section of trail to date.  We spent the day passing through a long finger of meadow pocketed with wetlands and scattered rock, bound on both sides by steep, forested hills.  The river meandered lazily beside us, sometimes slipping playfully over small falls and gliding across slick slabs of granite.  We spotted deer, marmots, squirrels and countless birds.

Around midday, we stopped for a lazy lunch of trail mix, jerky and snack bars.  The kids played in the river while Pam and I waded out to sit on rocks in the middle and soaked our feet in the cold water.  I felt more peaceful than I had at any point on our trip, and I let that feeling sink into me along with the sun’s warmth, knowing this was what I’d come for.  This is what it was all about.  I was finally slipping into trail mode, a way of being that I hadn’t experienced in too many years, and I’d missed it.

We camped that night near foothills at the base of Donahue Pass, pitching our tent in a cluster of trees near the river.  From our campsite, a shelf of granite ran out to the river, forming a small cascade that spilled into a perfect swimming hole.  I stripped and lay down in the water, hooting a few times at how cold it was before I was able to scrub the trail grime from my skin.  Afterwards, I lay in the sun, letting my body dry while the kids explored a long section of the river.  They pretended to be some sort of monkey creatures, hunched and hopping, and I closed my eyes and listened to them grunt, snort and laugh.

That night we ate dinner atop clustered boulders, looking down at the river as light from the setting sun blazed orange and pink on ridges of the Kuna Crest.  The boys and I decided to sleep outside the tent, so after brushing our teeth and securing the bear canisters we spread our sleeping bags on a flat rock and read The Hobbit by the light of my headlamp.  Eventually we turned out the light and lay on our backs watching stars emerge.

Noah put on his glasses so he could see the stars better, everything about his face alive and awake.  Kai on the other hand, looked completely exhausted, and I actually though he’d already fallen asleep when he muttered, “Dad, will bears come right here while we sleep?”

“No.  We did a good job keeping camp clean and putting everything away.”

He was quiet again for a long time, and once again I thought he’d fallen asleep when he suddenly stirred.  “Dad, can I get in the tent with Mom?”

“Are you sure?  You can scoot right here against me if that feels better.”  I reached out and pulled him into a cuddle.

“I think I’ll just get in the tent.”

“Okay.”  I got up, helped him move his stuff and Pam snuggled him into the tent.

As I got back in my sleeping back Noah said, “Shooting star!”

“Really?”  I hurried onto my back and looked up, hoping there’d be a second.  I’d only waited a few minutes when another shot right above us, leaving a bright, long tail across the sky.

“Cool,” we both said.

And the meteors just kept coming.  We saw at least ten more before I finally got too tired and had to close my eyes.  I was almost asleep when Noah said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“Thank you,” I answered, and I scooted closer to him.  It gave me the happiest feeling, just knowing that he was laying there beside me soaking up a sky full of stars and feeling alive.  I’m not sure how long he stayed awake watching the sky.  I dozed off long before he did. 

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.