Start: Showers Lake (1084)
Camp: Raymond Peak (1059)
7:30 a.m. Today I will break 9,000′ in elevation for the first time since I began the PCT on June 14th. It is late in the year to be venturing into such rugged and remote terrain for most people, but I am not most people. I am Buddha, I’ll sleep at 14,000’in the dead of winter on a school night. That said, I am still hiking in shorts and tennis shoes, a t-shirt and no gloves. The grass is white with frost and the mud frozen to a satisfying crunch. It might be time to suit up.
8:15 a.m. I stood in this same spot almost exactly two years ago, just as I stood in many spots in this section of the PCT. I was thru-hiking the TRT then, and on the western side of Lake Tahoe the two trails share tread. It felting empowering and exciting to be on that ultra long distance trail even if I wasn’t hiking it. But when I came to this spot two years ago that feeling changed to longing; this is as far south as the TRT goes, from here it turns a sharp corner and heads for the lake’s east side. I stood here looking south and wondering what lie further down that long trail. I turned and headed up the trail I’d already committed to, but in hindsight I could have just as easily followed my curiosity. It’s amazing, the things you remember when you return to a place where you’d felt a strong emotion years before, how readily those can come back to you. Now I get to satisfy my longing to find out what lies south.
9:40 a.m. I arrived at Carson Pass at the last possible moment. Wood and tools lay about and volunteer workers scurried. I walked in and asked for some water and when I walked out they began to screw on the boards that would seal off the building from the harsh winter to come. The volunteer work crew gave me a sprinkle donut with white icing and I accepted it despite my ongoing effort to eat better. That’s my favorite type of donut. I asked about the avalanche control gun house I’d seen near Echo Summit yesterday and my attention was directed to Don who, besides sitting on the county board of supervisors and being a volunteer at the visitor center, happens to work for CalTrans doing avalanche control. On occasion he snowshoes the high ridges along highway 89 and highway 50 tossing 4 kilo water gel hand charges that he “assembles in the kitchen.” A firm pull on the igniter’s exposed wire starts the charge smoking, a sure sign that the 70 second fuse inside has been lit. These, he says, are CalTrans’s third line of defense against unmitigated avalanches. The 10,000 psi compressed air guns – which is what is housed near Echo Summit and is what I’m used to seeing at the ski resorts in Colorado – these have a range of five miles. Known as “Low-cat” they constitute the second line of defense and because the projectiles travel at very high velocities they are virtually unaffected by wind. He says that 20 years ago Howitzers were used instead, but that 50% of the Korean war era projectiles were duds that had to be located and detonated on site. These days, the state-of-the-art, front line defense against blocked highways and buried motorists is a European system called GasX. This systems remotely mixes oxygen and propane before piping it to an array of permanently installed, one meter diameter, open-ended Sheppard’s hook pipes. Inside each pipe a magneto and spark plug ignite the gas mixture and an explosion is directed at a known fracture zone. This is all done remotely by computer using an encrypted connection after the highway has been closed. It is for the refueling of the GasX system that there has been a contracted helicopter flying back and fourth since last night. When I was hiking the TRT I encountered I large search and rescue operation, and so I had thought these flights to be part of something similar. “Boy a lot of people have to get rescued around Tahoe,” I was thinking. Don told me about how he’d been a gold and silver miner before working for CalTrans and how he’d once built a suspension bridge inside the mine on nearby Monitor Pass with his father. It all made me want to go back to engineering school to study mining.
To Do: Email Dennis regarding 2014 through hiker numbers, completion, north/south distribution, and the picture he took of me sitting at his table with a donut.
12:47~1:45 p.m. I took a lunch that felt like just 30 minutes.
2:10 p.m. Under cloudless blue skies I climbed to 9,100′ on approach to something labeled “The Nipple,” which was indeed quite nipple-like. From here distant peaks loomed higher – much higher. I took off my shorts. The sun warmed my skin but the wind whipped so that I did not feel an inkling of sweat anywhere on my body. I had to take off my hat and bandana and pack them away before the wind blew them off and away down the steep mountain.
6:19 p.m. Just to be here, to listen to my favorite music (Paul van Dyk,) to feel the scrubby bushes scrape against my legs, to watch the sun slowly dim and disappear, to feel the wind on my skin. To gaze up at the peaks and then watch the first star appear. To follow a glowing dot that must be the International Space Station. What a gift.
6:47 p.m. The sun has set. I have hiked from sunrise to sunset. This is the time, just before it gets too dark to hike by natural light, when I start to look for camp. I look for something east facing and high so that in the morning I can hike in the sun, and preferably uphill.
7:30 p.m. I watch the yellow-orange moon rise over distant rocky ridges as high as my own encampment – 8,600′ – and I admire the same shadowy dips and depressions I have always admired. I have eaten and stretched now, and I am tucked deep down into my sleeping bag, in down jacket and silk sheet. I hope I will be warm enough.