Start: Disaster Peak (1035)
Camp: N. Kennedy Meadows (1018)
7:00 a.m. Woke to my alarm and a surprisingly bright world. Discovered it was overcast and I had diarrhea.
10:15 a.m. Crossed into a large granite valley.
11:00 a.m. The last chill of morning leaves my skin. See my first cottonwood. Golden aspens become commonplace.
11:15 a.m. Discover I have a 2,300′ climb over the next six miles and will be higher than ever before.
11:55 a.m. Explored a short but sculpted section of granite narrows at mile 1026.4. Did a low exposure free climb. Took lots of photos. This would be a great spot to come back to with gear to build a top anchor to do a couple near climbs in the narrows. With high water I see a potential for a heroically narrow cliff jump.
2:45 p.m. Reach new highpoint, 10,400 ft.
4:00 p.m. I hiked straight through, without a break, 17 miles, until I reached the Sonora Pass trailhead. I laid down on a picnic table and rubbed my feet and it felt so good, so intense, that I had to hold onto something. My free hand found my backpack. As I rubbed my stomach heaved with the intensity.
11:52 p.m. This was a day worth writing about. I felt almost revered, even honored. As I climbed to the summit of the day’s highpoint, just a few feet before reaching 10,400′, I met a couple of guys out on a day hike. They live a couple of hours away with their families. Anyway, the reason I felt so revered is that when they discovered how far I was hiking they wanted to ask me all kinds of questions. I was hesitant to answer, lest I seem gruff or fail to paint the whole picture; it takes a lot of background to explain living for six months with only eight pounds of gear. They kept saying, “One more question, one more question,” and this was flattering but I had to excuse myself. They didn’t know I’d hiked 13 miles without stopping and had not eaten lunch. There’s something I’ve finally learned about interacting with day hikers and car campers: they usually have way better food than you, and, more importantly, they’re usually happy to share it. The problem is they haven’t been hiking for four months. They don’t know what it’s like to be eternally hungry or to be under the gun having to constantly hike to make 25 miles each day and beat the snow. Slowly then, in tiny steps over dozens of interactions, I have internalized the conversation-guiding phrases that trip the “I’m hungry” idiot light on a person’s internal dashboard. Sure, they’re true, but I want to focus on the way stating the truth is rewarded: “I’ve got to get going so I can make lunch,” I told them. As I headed down the trail, the dark haired fellow hollered after me, a disc golfer whose name escapes me now (and if you’re reading this please don’t hesitate to remind me your name if you’d like to be called by it,) he yelled to me a question.
“Hey, you want a mountain house meal?”
“Fuck yea.” I turned on a dime, reversed direction and smiled broadly all in the same instant. I’m not in the habit of cussing, especially not to my elders, but it wouldn’t have been honest to hold it back. I was excited, and it gets better. Gary, the taller fellow, handed me something amazing: rolls of provolone wrapped in salami, about a dozen of them hermetically sealed in a clear, sterile bubble. I tore into them immediately and offered them up but Gary declined. Meanwhile, the disc golfer poured peanut M&M’s into my hipbelt pocket and ate his own salami rolls. I thought I might save a couple for later but that thought was only fleeting. After a couple more questions the lack of exertion set in and, cooling off, I once again excused myself. I liked those two guys and I hoped I’d see them again. Realizing I’d just consumed far more calories than 4.5 oz of dehydrated potato flakes contains even when prepared with butter, I summited, checked for cell phone service, and started the descent down the other side. There was no cell service here or anywhere since I’d left Tahoe. I had hoped to be able to call my uncle, my dad, maybe mom too, as I’ve not talked to any of them in a great while and my phone will shut off tomorrow. I need to save money though and this is one way to do it.
I took a seat at a picnic table at the trailhead, or rather I lay down massaging my feet, and watching for anyone likely to be amenable to taking me west with them. My resupply would be waiting at the Kennedy Meadows North Pack Station 9 miles to the west on the scenic biway. The parking lot was quite full but no one came until my generous friends returned from their 10k day. Gary asked how far I needed to go and then said, “We’ll take you,” and that was that.
I dallied at the restaurant as I had all day. I took a table and perused a menu halfheartedly. I felt bad eating without my companion. I got up and walked around the porch to the store and bought an ice cream sandwich. There were rigid pounds of ground beef of an unknown grade and vacuum packed new York strips in freezer bins beside the picked over ice cream selection. The pack station closes soon. The ice cream is half off, the meat is not. I picked up my box and dug through to see if there was fuel. None. I dug through the hiker box and pulled out a can with a few burns still in it. I wandered around back of a nearby cabin where two barbecues were going and introduced myself. A friendly fellow from Livermore was tending the ribs and chicken. This was Mark. He said I could certainly use his barbecue, so I went back to the restaurant, shouldered my pack, apologized, and walked around to the store. I inspected each strip steak until I reached the bottom of the bin and then I took the one with the thinnest fat on the outside and the marbling I liked most. In my other hand I held the runner up, squinting at it intently as if it might be revived and then coerced into telling me the whereabouts of Girly Girl. I thought back to the defacement etched into the beautiful new sign I saw at the edge of the wilderness today “Carson Iceberg Wilderness +cattle grazing.” It was true, decimated trails abounded there in a wilderness trammeled as any, squishy brown calling cards prominently left lying about. I thought back to three days before when I’d last seen Girly Girl and wondered why she’d slowed down. Realizing my fingertips where quickly sustaining frostbite I set the runner up back into its lonesome bin and took first place up to the register. On the way out I realized how difficult it might be to work with a frozen steak in heavy vacuum sealed plastic so I went back in and defrosted it in the microwave. When I returned to Mark’s barbecue I met Walter and their wives, Julie and Lorrie. Mark burned his chicken and ribs, and my steak turned out about as tough as it should have, but all of it was delicious. The company was great and I love all of their dogs, particularly a French bulldog named Emma. She was gray, and very snorty. They also had cute little Yorkies with darling haircuts. Girly Girl did eventually show up. She ordered the prime rib special at the same table I’d walked out on but didn’t like it the way she’d liked the prime rib last week. She ordered a cheeseburger and slid the other dinner platter to me when I arrived. The pink slab was an inch thick and must have weighed nearly a pound. I ate the tender parts. The rest I cut up, soaked in au jus, and dropped into my gallon ziplock of protein rich leftovers. We did laundry and took showers and I realized how terribly out of practice I was when I tried conversing with the Mexican kitchen staff. The two, one young, one old, had come from Agua Caliente in Michoacán together. They ate steak and potatoes from Styrofoam to-go boxes while standing in the institutional laundry room, like they probably did most nights, and once they’d had their fill they dropped there sprung-open clamshells into a clean and empty trashcan. I was packing up my laundry and brushing my teeth. I pointed out the untouched rib eye to Girly Girl, then I pulled it out and ate it. We went and found a small flat spot and camped by the river.