Wednesday, June 25, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 32 — Bubbs Creek to Tyndall Creek

The morning passed slowly.  We watched a couple deer browse across the river as we ate breakfast, and we lingered in the sun enjoying warm drinks, not leaving camp and starting up Forester Pass until almost eleven o’clock.

After only a couple miles we stopped again for lunch, and with the food we’d received from the nurses and the rangers we were actually able to eat until we felt full—peanut butter, olives, fresh M&Ms, spicy jerky, a grape electrolyte drink that tasted like Kool-Aid…  I can’t tell you what a luxury it was!

Afterwards, as we climbed to the summit of Forester Pass, we felt stronger than we had in days.  Pam and Noah hiked like they had wings on their feet, beating me to the summit by nearly half a mile, and Kai chatted enthusiastically with me about everything under the sun as we climbed, never looking tired or complaining.  It was the highest pass we’d encountered, but with all that food nourishing our bodies and spirits, sweeping away the hollow gnawing that had plagued our stomachs for days, the climb felt almost like a cake walk.

The views from Forester Pass were stunning enough to stop you in your tracks, an endless sweep of granite—razor-sharp ridges, spiky crags, and cliffs diving hundreds of feet to emerald pools in cirque bottoms.  We sat on a narrow band of rock at the top, the world giving way to thin air beneath our boots, and looked back at Karsage Pinnacles, Center Peak, and an endless army of mountains stretching to the north and west.

“You guys hiked through that sea of mountains,” I said, putting my arms around the boys.  “That’s pretty awesome.”

“Yeah,” Noah said.

“Now we’re like on top of everything,” Kai added.

“We sure are.  You guys have done so well.  And now you’ll always know you can do really big things in your lives.  You can make big things happen.  Just take one step at a time and keep going.”

A few other hikers arrived to share the ridgetop with us, and we celebrated with them, swapping stories and taking pictures.  One of the men looked at Kai and smiled.  “You look like you’ve lost a couple teeth on this trail.”

“Yep,” said Kai.  “I buried two of them already, and I’m going to bury the third one on Mount Whitney.”

A grin spread across the man’s face, up into smile lines at the corners of his eyes.  “I’ve heard some good stories on this trip, but that’s the best one yet.  I love that!  You’re seven years old.  You’ve hiked two hundred miles and left a trail of teeth along the way.”

Kai grinned back like a jack-o-lantern.

The ridgeline we sat atop is named the Kings-Kern Divide, and it was definitely separating things on that day.  Back the way we’d come, to the north and west, the sky was clear and blue and perfect-looking.  But to the south and east, the direction we were heading the air was gray and hazy, choked with smoke.

“I heard there were some new fires, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad,” I told one of the men.

“I talked to a ranger yesterday, and it sounds like there’s a terrible fire north of Yosemite.  There calling it the Rim Fire.  I’m afraid it’s going to be smoky like this all the way to Whitney.”

“Darn.”

On its southern slope, Forester Pass dropped a sharp thousand feet to a wide, u-shaped glacial valley called Diamond Mesa.  Smoke hung trapped in the valley like a dirty fogbank, and we descended into it down countless switchbacks.  Kai started experiencing minor asthma symptoms, and I hated the fact that the kids had to breathe such unhealthy air.  “I sure hope it doesn’t stay this bad all the way to Whitney,” I told Pam, and she nodded.

We hiked approximately five more miles, making our way across the barren, windswept mesa, finally making camp at dusk in a dry patch of forest beside Tyndall Creek.  It was a picturesque campsite, the creek running swiftly through a band of willows along the valley bottom.  A breeze had kicked up and blown some of the smoke away, and as we ate dinner a light drizzle started.

Later as we lay in the tent it rained for real, and we read the last chapter of The Hobbit serenaded by drops on the tent.  I woke several hours later, and the rain was still falling gently.  It was a soothing sound, backed by the chanting of Tyndall Creek, and I lay staring into the darkness listening.

Keep raining, I thought.  Soak the forests and stymie the flames.  Get rid of that nasty smoke so my kids can breathe.

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.