Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 10 — Island Pass to Shadow Creek

We’d camped at a high point with no ridges or peaks to the east, so the sun hit our campsite early, warming our tent and making it easier than usual to emerge from our sleeping bags.  I crawled outside and stood for a moment staring at Mount Davis, its granite crags and scattered snowfields enlivened by the early light.  I was relieved to see there was no longer any trace of blood when I peed, and I forced myself to drink another full liter of water.

Kai came out a short while later, his hair a confusion of sun-streaked tangles, his face smudged with dirt, and he smiled at me like a jack o’lantern, a new gap where his loose front tooth had been.

“You lost it.”  Just seeing him made me smile.  He looked like the epitome of boyhood—all frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

He held the little bloody tooth between his thumb and fingers to show me, looking as proud as if he’d just invented the space shuttle.  “I’m going to bury it on the mountain.”

“Cool. Then there will always be a part of you here.”


He went off to find the perfect spot to enshrine his tooth while I retrieved the bear canisters and put water on the stove to boil.  When he returned he squatted down beside me, looking satisfied.  “I marked the spot with a rock, so I can come back and find it when I’m grown up.”

“Perfect.”  I loved picturing it, Kai returning to Island Pass when he was my age and feeling an extra bit of connection because a tiny part of him had been inearthed in these mountains when he was seven years old.

Pam and Noah lingered in the tent, relaxing and cuddling until the water boiled and I told them oatmeal and hot drinks were ready.

“Can I eat mine with the frogs?” Kai asked, and he went to sit barefoot beside the shallow water, while Pam, Noah and I sat close to one another on a large boulder, soaking in the warm morning sun.

When we finally broke camp and hit the trail, we ventured through a world freckled with lakes.  We passed Thousand Island Lake first, enjoying views of its deep blue water and forested islands as we descended from Island Pass.  We stopped for a lazy lunch beside Emerald Lake, which lived up to its name, its water vivid as a jewel tucked into granite cliffs and towering pines, inviting us to soak our blistered feet as we ate.   After lunch we passed Ruby Lake then descended across an open, rocky hillside to Granite Lake, its steel-blue water stirred by afternoon winds, scattered whitecaps rising in open stretches and slapping against rocky islands.

We had to hold onto our hats to keep them from blowing away as we crossed the stream at the lake’s outlet, but the wind eased as we climbed a ridge to the south and once again entered the shelter of large trees.  The kids joined each other and walked side by side again, sharing more dreams about their futures, and I walked behind them quietly listening.  Noah decided to have a farm in Tennessee, where he could play guitar and sing in a rockabilly band while working a day job as an astrophysicist.  Kai decided to hang his hat on a farm in Colorado, where he’d work in search and rescue and have a million pets… before retiring in Malibu.

When they tired of dreaming about their futures, then entered an imaginary world of their own creation, a world filled with two types of monsters called butt crack monsters and stretchies (which interbred to create a third type of creature called a stretchy butt cracks).  As they waked they imagined several individuals of each type—assigning each one its own name, personality traits and history.  They kept at it, elaborating on each character in their magical world with growing excitement as we crested a ridge with unimaginable views of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter—sheer cliffs, knife-edged ridges, jutting peaks and the remnants of age-old glaciers. 

We’d experienced some smoke in the morning, but the afternoon wind had cleared the skies, leaving them blue and cloudless and perfect.  We pitched our tent on a knoll above Shadow Creek, which rushed wildly down a narrow canyon, all falls and rapids.  We ate dinner on a rock overlooking a cascade, then got in the tent early, each of us exhausted from the ups and downs the trail had thrown at us all day.  Noah wrote a story about a wolf man in his journal while Kai drew cartoons of characters he’d imagined during the evening named Fleece Man and Flipper Froglegs.

I closed my eyes and listened to the rush of water outside our tent.  As I listened the sound seemed to grow until it was everywhere—underneath and on top and inside me.  I reached out and touched the people I loved, and then I slept.

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.