Wednesday, May 7, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 25 — Big Pete Meadow to Deer Meadow

We walked into the meadow and ate breakfast in patches of sunlight, trying to shake off the morning chill.  Smudges of heavy cloud drifted across the blue sky, but the weather appeared to be clearing as the sun climbed.  On the far side of the creek we once again spotted the doe and her two fawns browsing on the rain-soaked clumps of grass, and we sat still and watched them.  Every now and then they would lift their heads to stare at us, but then they would go back to their browsing, picking their way slowly down the valley.

As we hiked the air grew hot and humid, but we walked steadily downhill all morning and our legs welcomed the valley’s gentle grade after the steepness of Muir Pass.  We stopped for lunch in Grouse Meadow beside a deep meander pool in the Kings River, dozens of small trout swimming lazily in the clear water.  Across the meadow Rambaud Peak, the Citadel and Wheel Mountain stretched towards the clouds, which were building again and darkening slowly.  Kai spotted a large skink sunning itself on a rock.

In the early afternoon we turned east and started climbing again beside Palisade Creek, thunder rumbling as the clouds darkened.  We’d hoped to hike into the high country and camp beside Palisade Lakes, but the storm clouds gathered quickly and hit with a vengeance by midafternoon, lightning cutting through the sky above the steep canyon walls, thunder splitting the air seconds later.  We hiked for about a mile in our rain gear then found a thick grove of trees and pitched our tent near Deer Meadow.

Once inside the tent, we hung our wet clothes from a cord and burrowed into our sleeping bags.  Pam and Kai snuggled together and made up scary stories while Noah read River of Doubt and I closed my eyes, listening to rain patter against the tent.

Just before sunset the rain eased to a drizzle.  I put my wet gear back on and crawled outside to cook dinner.  When it was ready the others joined me, and we ate huddled beneath a large pine, the air filled with the smells of wet earth, a swollen waterfall crashing down a nearby section of canyon wall.

Shortly after we finished eating, thunder returned and rain started spilling again.  Darkness came early with the heavy cloud cover, and I washed dishes and filtered water by headlamp in the downpour.

Once our camp was secured and we were all in the tent once more, our wet clothes hanging above us, I asked the kids what they enjoyed most about the day.

“I like being cozy in the tent,” Noah said, tucked into his bag with just his face peering out.

“Thunder and lightning,” Kai said.  “And seeing that skink.”

“I enjoyed walking and talking with Noah today,” Pam offered.  “And Kai told me some great stories in the tent.”

I liked being there with my family, deep in the mountains with a storm gathered around us, each of us snuggled in a dry sleeping bag, listening to raindrops on the tent fly and thunder rumbling through the canyon.  I felt connected—to the people I loved and to the world we shared.  I felt alive.

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.