PCT Day 9: Four Days from Anywhere

Wow, nine days already. Where had the time gone? This morning I talked to a Euro PCT hiker camped nearby, a nice, quiet guy. He said he did 24 miles yesterday and was doing 20 today, holy shit. I said 10 was a big day for me.

He told me that there’d been a deer grazing about a meter from my tent last night. That would explain the vibrations. I’m just glad it wasn’t a bear. I’ve seen plenty of bears in my lifetime and don’t need to see them on this trip. Mountain lions, either.

The girls and I went through our usual morning routine, the last to pack and leave as always. Out by 10:00, my appointments for the day were as follows: 2-hour lunch at Benson Lake, hike to Kerrick Canyon and find a place to camp. This would set us up for back-to-back, 10-mile-apart lake camps for the next two nights.

Today we’d go 9-10 miles depending on how we felt at the end of the day.

We started uphill. Hiking around the base of Volunteer Peak through more gorgeous alpine terrain, we transitioned into another basin surrounded by huge granite mountains. The trail headed mostly down, the girls hiking ahead.

Volunteer Peak
Walking around the base of Volunteer Peak, another beautiful day on the trail.
Looking across lake basin
Heading down and across this basin to cross those mountains beyond.
glacial meadow goodness
Glacial meadow goodness, don’t know why I love these so much, but I do!

At one point the trail led me through what can only be described as Snow White’s Forest. I should have taken a photo.

Picture perfect, it was like the Disney animators themselves had come to this very spot for all their ideas. Big, lush, fir trees towered over dwarf-sized, mini ones, with carpets of pink-flowered ground cover beneath, accented by perfectly placed boulders and the occasional sitting log. I half expected to see birds and squirrels singing and dancing.

Dappled in sunshine, a picture probably wouldn’t come out, so I committed it to memory instead.

Soon after I ran into a clean-cut older guy coming from the opposite direction, who provided an unsolicited river crossing report for the next 15 miles. They all sounded doable, much to my relief, and he gave me some tips for getting across Rancheria Creek in Kerrick Canyon, known to be a terrifying ford during periods of high snow melt.

I passed several other people hiking uphill as well. I was glad we weren’t alone. Down at the bottom, I walked through a giant, overgrown forest just begging for a fire to clear out the undergrowth. Where the trees thinned out, grass and ferns took over.

Trail to Pate Valley
Ah, Pate Valley, home of The Hell Hike, just a day’s walk away. Muir Gorge is located in The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. I took this picture right after passing through Snow White’s Forest.
Looking Back Volunteer Peak
Looking back toward Volunteer Peak, making progress in the Yosemite backcountry.
Approaching Benson Lake
Heading down to Benson Lake, you can see a peek of it on the left, the water a gorgeous midnight blue.

Squarepants and Fish Nugget waited for me at the junction to Benson Lake. Half a mile off trail, I’d been looking at this lake on maps and in pictures for something like 26 years. It was a bucket list destination for me, and I couldn’t wait to see it.

Deep, dark blue, surrounded by windswept, granite cliffs, it was a stunning lake, one of the prettiest I’ve seen in the Sierra. Though I must say, that big, white sandy beach it’s famous for was not as perfect as I expected due to a little strip of messy marsh separating the big beach from the lake. Still, a great spot for lunch.

The girls sprawled out on the beach in the sun and napped.

The backpacker camp in Tuolumne didn’t offer shower facilities, so I hadn’t showered since Mammoth. (I know, yuck.) In my head I had this romantic notion that I’d come off the trail all dirty, hot and sweaty, peel off my clothes and jump into this, my bucket list dream lake, cleansing body, mind and soul, hiking like a superhero forever after.

In reality it was way too windy and cold. But desperate to clean myself and my clothes, I waded in anyway. Yes, fully dressed. I sat down on my knees, shrieked at the freezing temperature, then settled in to let the waves lap over me.

I dipped my head in the water and rubbed this beautiful, course sand through my hair to scrub out the oil. It felt scratchy and wonderful, like a Ritz-Carlton head massage. I splashed all over like a toddler in a bath but could not bring myself to submerge due to the cold. I sat there for a while, reveling in the spectacular view.

To anyone watching, it probably looked like a baptism.

After sloshing myself clean, I stepped out, collected my stuff and went over to lay in the sun with the girls. I felt alternately cold and warm as the wind swept through my soggy garments, slowly drying them out. I dug fingers and toes into the grainy, hot sand, digging them in circles for a mini-hot-rock massage. Knowing I’d soon be miserably torrid on the trail again, I didn’t mind the intermittent shivering.

My thoughts drifted. So remote out here, it was four days to anywhere. If I had a heart attack, I’d be done. No one could save me.

Benson Lake
Benson Lake, where I took my little splash bath, truly a piece of heaven on earth.
Benson Lake 2
Another view across the lake, slightly to the right. Wind kept the mosquitoes away, making it easy to relax.
Squarepants Napping
Squarepants dozing in the sun, poor thing had a headache from the glare after losing her fifth pair of sunglasses.

Back on the trail, I thought more about my fear of heart attacks. There was no rational reason for it, as I’ve always been rather skinny with low cholesterol.

Still, twice in my life, I seriously thought I was having a heart attack. The first time was back in my high-flying real estate days. I had seven deals in escrow, more in the pipeline, issues flying left and right. As The Hubby prepared to leave on a business trip, the tension in my chest intensified. I checked myself into Washoe Medical Center.

One night and $11,000 later, I learned I was fine. Just stressed, that’s all.

The second time I thought I was having a heart attack happened during my real estate days, round two. I had gotten back into the business after a few years hiatus, and there I was, back in a doctor’s office, getting an EKG, wondering if this was it.

The doctor said my heart seemed fine but that the only way to know for sure was to go down to Washoe Medical Center and do all the tests. Chest pressure persisting, I drove over the hill, parked the car and went inside to speak with the admitting nurse.

Was this for real? Or was it all in my head again?

After much hand-wringing, I opted not to spend who-knows-how-many-thousands-of-dollars-this-time to learn that I was possibly just stressed. I took deep breaths and went home. Maybe I didn’t belong in real estate.

Amazing Benson Beach
Check out this amazing beach, a great camp spot. It had some of the oldest living aspen trees I’ve ever seen.
Giant Tree at Benson Lake
Look at the size of this tree trunk, it’s got to be older than Jesus!
Inspecting the Plants
Fish Nugget inspecting plant life along the trail.

My mom died of cancer at 48. My uncle died of a heart attack at 52. Why are some people suddenly taken away, while others allowed to remain?

A client who had become a friend died last year.

A delightful, snarky ray of sunshine seeking truth and justice in a corrupt world, years ago we’d commiserated about how we didn’t get Facebook. He was always pissing someone off, and nobody ever liked my posts.

We eventually figured it out—I learned to post the kittens and crap people liked, and he found an appropriate use for his twisted sense of humor. He would change his Facebook profile to whoever the dead celebrity of the day was, which actually became a valued public service. Then he was gone.

I felt terrible for his family. I felt terrible for him. He would not get to see his daughters marry or meet his grandchildren or hold his wife again.

I felt terrible, too, in my own selfish way.

We had collaborated in the past, and I’d been counting on him reviewing the draft of my book when I finished. Because surely he would make it funnier. Now he’d never get to read it, which is too bad, because I think he’d deeply appreciate the context, and I’d never get the benefit of his incredible editorial talent.

Given what little was said, I presumed he died of a heart attack. I wondered how it happened. Where was he? What was he doing? What were his last encounters with family like? Why him? Why not me? Not that I wanted to trade places, but it seemed so unfair. He was building a business, following his dreams.

But life isn’t fair, is it?

All we can do is the best we can with whatever we have, enjoying as many moments as possible along the way. That’s all there is to it, right?

I sent good wishes to my friend and his family, with a side of thanks that I’d been allowed to remain, so far, for whatever reason, hiking through these majestic mountains in the deepest wilds of Yosemite.

Looking Back from Benson
Looking back at where we came from this morning toward Volunteer Peak.
Farewell Benson Lake
Farewell, Benson Lake, maybe I’ll see you again sometime.
Seavey Pass Lake
Another pretty little lake near the top of Seavey Pass.

For the rest of the afternoon, the trail went up. Fortunately it came with an impressive array of views as we climbed out of the lake basin. A string of solo female PCT hikers passed me by, one of them doing the section from Acton to Ashland. We chatted for a bit, bonding over the fact that we were both supersize section hikers.

The trail topped off into another glacial wonderland, this one with several small lakes. Reconnecting with the girls, we decided that although it was pretty and late and tempting to camp here, we decided to press on and stick to our original goal, so that we wouldn’t have to hike extra big miles tomorrow.

We trudged onward. Or rather, I trudged as they strolled.

The girls talked about boys, farms and food, but mostly about food. They discussed the amazing properties of truly fresh food, recipes they’ve tried or wanted to try, what they wished they could eat right now, what’s the first thing they’d to eat when they got back to civilization and so forth.

Fish Nugget worried she hadn’t brought enough food for this leg of the trip, an eight-day stretch. I think she had trouble estimating what she’d need to eat for more than a few days out because she didn’t like to do actual math, preferring instead to eyeball things as she threw them into her bear can.

I also think part of it was because, since she’d dehydrated, prepped and mailed all her food ahead of time, she’d become sick of her own stuff and didn’t want to eat it anymore. Horse-trading at every meal, she’d be like, wanna trade those bacon cheese potatoes for this yummy spirulina granola? (Um, no).

As for her food shortage, of course I had extra and said I’d share. It’s a mom thing.

I also had some loose memory of an alternate route, where, if necessary, I could duck off the PCT via some pass I forgot the name of and hike straight into Kennedy Meadows. I’d give them most of my food so that they could get to Sonora Pass and catch a ride to Bridgeport where they had packages waiting. I figured I still had fat reserves to burn, so I didn’t worry about starving. The girls didn’t have that luxury.

Near Seavey Pass
Looking back, heading from Benson Lake to Seavey Pass, where the pain and misery really kicked in.
Seavey Pass
Beautiful vistas like this make all the suffering worthwhile as we climb up toward Seavey Pass.
Little Woodsy Lake
Another pretty little woodsy lake near the second top of Seavey Pass.

Seavey Pass turned out to be a fake-out-double-top. You think you’re done, like you’ve made it, only to find a second mountain to climb. Luckily, some nice old guys warned us in advance, so we were more mentally prepared. We talked ourselves over the whole thing to get through it.

Coming down the other side into Kerrick Canyon, my feet and legs really started to hurt. I picked my way slowly over the rocky trail as the girls went ahead.

They waited for me at the bottom. After a short rest, we continued on, looking for a place to camp. Fish Nugget complained about my being picky about campsites, lobbying hard to settle for anything. It was 7 pm, way past her 5 pm preferred camp time, so she was getting cranky. I said fine, just find something. I was too tired to argue.

I started to worry, were we screwed?

We were in a narrow canyon surrounded by steep terrain. There weren’t any official sites marked on the map. We were simply looking for a spot where things leveled out, hoping to find a stealth camp in the brush big enough for all of us.

A half mile further the girls finally found something just off trail. Okay, so it wasn’t that pretty and had a bit of a slope, but whatever, it was a place to collapse.

Fish Nugget was happy, thank goodness, goodnight!

30 Days on the PCT
Day 9: July 11, mile 977