If you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner. – Cher
Lightning streaks the sky, but there’s no boom. Maybe we got a few drops but my tent is dry by morning. Also no visitors, neither man nor beast. Klaus uses an alarm – ugh – but I decide to let it slide. I think he has a tendency to sleep in and truly the best part of the hiking day is the morning.
I sip my chococoffee and eat Clif Bars on my yellow sit pad watching the sun rise. The valley is filled with mist. Throughout this entire hike, I would spot a mountain for the first time, then walk towards it – sometimes getting right up on it – and finally the mountain recedes into my rear view mirror. It is one of my favorite features of the walk.
The rock here crumbles into sharp pointed slices, shards scattered on the ground. I hike on the ridge with views on both sides, feet kicking up volcanic dust. I smell smoke but not certain if it’s anything to worry about. Plants grow prolific yet widely separated in this rocky terrain. Dried now, they rattle in the wind like applause as I walk by.
I seem to need it this morning. Klaus’ talk yesterday unsettled me. When I was a professional flutist, there were two orchestras where board members fell in love with my playing and my person, but the conductors decided not to keep me. One place, the president just happened to be sitting near my parents in a restaurant and overheard them talking about me. She interrupted to say how happy they were I had chosen their orchestra and my mom broke the bad news, adding I was actually away at that moment auditioning for another orchestra. She was shocked and apparently asked the conductor what was up and he said he had complete discretion and to mind her own business. Pity that it’s the board that raises the funds so the orchestra can stay in business, but she couldn’t convince him to keep me on staff.
Such a long time ago, but it stings this morning as I try to figure out how I could have protected myself. These thoughts just spin and spin and I finally have to tell myself to let it go, it’s in my past now. Or at least learn for next time. I go down to a saddle where the spring is reportedly dry. The trail goes up again, then to another spring with a steep descent. Klaus leaves his sticks to tell me he’s gone down, but I want to move so scratch a note in the dust with an arrow.
I’ve walked in a horseshoe all the way around, seeing just the tip of Lassen and last night’s site. The rock is a weird conglomerate, as though someone stuffed boulders into clay and let in set. There’s no one here and I savor my solitude, the quiet. I have longed for this the entire hike. So many PCT hikers complain about Northern California. They’re bored and in a hurry with headphones jammed in. I wouldn’t see it as well listening to something. That doesn’t mean I don’t sing or whistle or talk aloud to myself, but I feel absolutely present.
Since I decide to walk even further on only a small amount of water, I am tuned into my distance, so I can’t say I’m just walking aimlessly. I use junctions, dirt roads and campsites to give me an idea of where I am. Time works too as it takes a little over an hour for me to walk three miles. I sometimes tell myself, “You can do anything for an hour!” So I know it will be about noon when I get to the next water, and I ration what’s left over that space.
I’m mostly in trees now, studying the bark and needles to identify them. There’s so much dead brush and fallen trees, some absolutely huge. The trail winds around and I’m not quite sure why exactly. I cross two dirt roads, a person driving all out in an ATV, stirring up choking dust. A split rail fence comes into view and I follow it around to a trough with piped spring water. Two liters go down fast and I pack another for the final uphill.
This time, I leave an A and arrow with sticks for Klaus and continue, first through a burn zone where I see black clouds building. The wind refreshes and I raise my arms to dry out my body but also in a kind of giant embrace of all that is. I cross a flattish area with a few tent spots, then climb a rocky edge with grand views but also beauty at my feet. Suddenly, a huge flapping ruckus as I flush a few quail. The trail enters woods again, but works straight up over a pass.
This takes me to a heavenly canyon that’s bone dry at first, later filled with streams, bright green with plants, pouring into Chips Creek. I walk down, then up crossing several landslips, the freshly broken trees fragrant. There appear to be no sites, but I know there is one tucked right above pools feeding into more pools then into a large waterfall.
I’m here before Klaus so go right into the icy water, cleaning the cling-on dust off my feet and legs and rinsing my hair. Richard sends me a note on my gps to tell me my friend Norm requested my absolute favorite symphony on Steve Staruch’s radio program. It’s Mahler’s First Symphony, where in the first movement he describes the music ‘like a sound of nature.’ This is the final piece I played before going to New Zealand. I am deeply touched to be missed on air.
The alicoop is up and dinner is made on the rocks right in the center of the action. What a sound it makes, lulling me to sleep. Two hikers join us and I am not shy about explaining we are already in our tents and to please be quiet. Thankfully, so far, they are.