Wednesday, May 21, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 27 — Upper Basin to Lake Marjorie

The storm system stuck around all day, cloudbursts rolling over us in waves.  We hoped to hike about ten miles and make it beyond Pinchot Pass, so we put on our rain gear and walked several miles along relatively sheltered tributaries to the South Fork of the Kings River.  Throughout the morning the terrain stayed fairly easy.  We spotted a doe with a young fawn, and the damp air felt refreshing and smelled good.  However, as we reached treeline in the afternoon, the temperature dropped dramatically and an aggressive burst of hail and lightning hit.  For a while we took shelter in one of the last clusters of gnarled pines, waiting to see if the storm would pass, but the sky just grew darker and we decided it was too sketchy to climb any higher.

We made a quick camp in the low meadow of a glacial cirque, but just as I unpacked the tent and started connecting poles a downpour hit, rain falling in icy sheets.  We tried to hurry but our fingers were stiff and clumsy with cold.  It was like trying to set up the tent with chopsticks, and by the time we got the rainfly on the inside was completely soaked.    Pam crawled in and used our dirty shirts to dry it the best she could, and then I quickly carried our bed pads and sleeping bags to her.  Somehow the bedding and most of our clothes managed to stay relatively dry, and Pam and the kids were able to get in the tent and warm themselves while I covered all our gear and secured it against the storm.

Afterwards I went to stand for a few minutes beside the small pond near our tent.  Wind blew little whitecaps across its surface, and they slapped against rocks at the water’s edge.  I turned my face up into the rain and let it pelt my cheeks.  The stone flanks of Mount Pinchot, Mount Wynne and Crater Mountain loomed around us like citadel walls, leaden clouds cloaking their peaks, veils of heavy mist hanging down into the valleys.

Inside the tent, we hung our wet clothes from bits of nylon cord and cozied into our sleeping bags.  Noah and Pam read while Kai drew pictures and I looked over our trail maps.  It rained steadily for hours, but in the early evening a break came and I got out of the tent to cook dinner.  We’d barely finished eating when another wave of heavy rain rolled into the valley, and we hurried to wash dishes, brush our teeth and secure camp before crawling back into the tent.

After reading and talking some more we turned off our headlamps to sleep.  “I loved this day,” Kai said, “just hanging out in the tent and relaxing.”

I felt antsy, but I figured it had been good to rest a little.  Our bodies needed it…  Unfortunately they also needed food, and the more the weather delayed us the hungrier we’d get.

We were quiet for a while, listening to the rain in the darkness.  Then Kai spoke loudly.  “Turn the light on!”

“What is it?”  I fumbled for my headlamp, and when I turned it on Kai was holding another bloody little tooth out for me to see.

“My third one on the trail.”  He grinned toothlessly at me, looking as proud as if he’d just wrestled a bear.

“I bet nobody else has ever buried three of their teeth along the John Muir Trail.”  I grinned back at him then turned my light off.  “Sleep tight Jack-o-lantern.”

Pam and I woke sometime in the middle of the night, both of us chilled.  “You think the boys are warm enough?” she asked.

We touched their foreheads and reached into their sleeping bags, and they were putting off heat like little ovens.  “Why do they have better sleeping bags than we do?”

“I think they just have better bodies than we do,” I answered.

Pam and I nestled against them and tried to suck some of their heat, and eventually we fell back to sleep.

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.