Jul 28, 2014

Feet of a Runner, Part I

Echoes of the Past

The following is Part I in a trilogy of posts concerning my recent experience on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Each part has been adapted from journal entries written in the wild. The date and time listed are when the journal entry was originally written. To read my previous series about the PCT, "A Chronicle of Limits", start here.

7 July, 2014: Monday

I had strange dreams last night.

In part of one dream, I wandered through a large church, vague and yet also familiar, that I could not seem to leave. A student in a wheel chair approached me expectantly at one point. We apparently knew each other as friends, but I did not recognize him. He left me in the middle of our conversation—left me feeling dejected. I am not sure why.

I woke from this feeling very troubled. My mind meandered and my eyes had trouble focusing as I sat up to sharpen my senses. I prayed for peace and clarity of thought. What to make of it all? Inconclusive in that morning stupor, I instead sought to shift my attention to final preparations for setting out on what would be a three-and-a-half-day journey along Section K of the PCT, what I have often called "the Tahoe Section". It was an unsettling mood to begin with, but I found hope in the fact that I would not be hiking alone. My friend, Nathan Martin, was joining me for the adventure. We had completed final preparations the night before. It was time to begin. 

It is hard to believe that it has been two years since I was on the PCT. At 8:00, Aunt Minja and  my six-year-old cousin Daniel, drove Nathan and I up Highway 50 out of South Tahoe to Echo Lake Resort, which is the official start of this 64-mile section. It was surreal to be back, or at least to a place that I have thought about often.

Nathan and I had a slightly delayed start due to a leaky water bladder in his backpack, as well as my waiting for the bathroom to be cleaned so that I could relieve my previous night's efforts to be well hydrated. (There may have been some nervous energy in the mix as well.) Waiting by the restroom, I felt the humility of a new recruit as I observed a group of PCT thru-hikers lounging outside the Echo Chalet. I am not part of that rare community, I remembered, though I still long to be. I am somewhat surprised to have seen none of them today during our hike.

Nathan and I set off at a good pace at approximately 9:00.

It was not long, however, before his stomach started to bother him. This would be the theme of the day. We had a reasonable 13.3 miles planned. We reached beautiful Lake Aloha at 11:55, averaging a solid 3 miles per hour. Being encouraged by such progress, we stopped for a restful hour-long lunch. Bare feet were included—do not underestimate the enlivening affect of taking off one's shoes and socks to let the feet breath.

Unfortunately, Nathan's condition worsened as the day progressed. The traditional beauty of high sierra lakes like Heather, Susie, and Gilmore did not improve his situation.

Note: I have concluded that the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California are more stunning than the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The Sierra Nevada's just seem to offer greater ecological diversity, especially considering its granite pinnacles, bountiful lakes and cascading waterfalls. I will always love the Rocky Mountains. It is just that the Sierra Nevada's have wooed me considerably.

The mosquitoes were bad in areas, but not terrible. Wishing to get a head start on the final 2-mile ascent to Dick's Pass, Nathan left me at Gilmore Lake to finish filtering and building our water stores. Though the pests were persistent, the general mood was light. A few day hiking groups passed by. I was surprised how their presence actually added to my slightly discouraged, lonely mood. I was discouraged because Nathan was likely not going to make it. I was lonely at the prospect of continuing on alone, and because of the memorable impact these kind of adventures have on couples, of which there were a few to be seen that day.

Presuming Dick's Pass to be dry (i.e. without any water source), and cautious of both Nathan and my inability to quench our thirst that day, I added an additional liter of unfiltered water to my pack. That gave me three liters to work with, though presumably a half liter would be consumed during the final ascent. Some rangers that we had come across earlier mentioned that there would be snow on the pass, but I wanted to be sure to have enough to drink our fill. Water is greater than gold out here.

The ascent to Dick's Pass offered grand views of the land we had just traversed. Gradually, we reached the top. Seeing no good spots for camping, however, I decided to leave my pack in order to scout the trail ahead. A quarter mile revealed that the true pass was actually not where our National Geographic maps indicated, but rather up the remaining 400 meters of ascent from what was apparently just a saddle. There was a trail post officially marking the location as Dick's Pass. Very tired, I managed to jog back down to my pack as well as Nathan who had just caught up—he had to take frequent breaks to keep his tense stomach in check.

Setting up camp, no longer needing to wear our packs, improved our spirits—or at least mine. The views from both sides of the pass are phenomenal. This is one of the best campsites that I have ever witnessed. At 9300ft, it is also the highest point of this PCT section. The northern landscape stretches out before us. Patches of snow offer an additional source of water, not to mention a frigid, but refreshing "bath" (i.e. scrub down). Mercifully, it has been cloudy most of the day. The sun did shine through enough to provide more inspiring views, but alas the sunset was rather anticlimactic.

Nathan is still not sure if he can continue hiking the trail. How he feels in the morning will decide. He did manage to eat something for dinner, but not much. Ultimately, if he needs to retreat, we have decided that Eagle Lake to Emerald Bay will be faster than backtracking to Gilmore Lake and then east around Mount Tallac down to Fallen Leaf Lake.

o take frequent breaks.  location. Very tired, I managed to jog back down to my pack and Nathan who had caught up--he God, may he awake fully refreshed tomorrow. We have a 21-mile day ahead, fortunately mostly a descent, but still . . . I hope the sunrise is glorious. I hope that we can both finish this section well.

Meanwhile, the wind stirs. Some raindrops fall. Trees hush the growl of the plane passing overhead. I am at peace. I am at home. Hallelujah.

To bed.