Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out. – Anita Roddick
The wind picked up at night, shooting down the canyon and rattling the alicoop. It wasn’t really cold, but things are changing and it’s defintely not summer anymore. I wake with three deer grazing by my tent. Somehow I dropped a Reeses peanut butter cup before tucking in, but it’s still where it fell, totally undisturbed. The peaks are shrouded in mist and I put on my rain coat before I start.
Fred walks with me to the Bishop Pass junction while Karen stays – wisely – cuddled in. Their son has triple crowned, meaning he has walked all of America’s long walks. He also holds records for fastest times. We talk about hiking philosophy, mine being less enamored with the ‘fast and far’ approach, but I admit I’ll move steadily today to get over Mather Pass before the weather moves in as predicted at 2:00. Silver light touches corners of the monstrous crags surrounding this valley, a scene Ansel Adams would have been waiting to photograph.
I pass many tents but people seem to be sleeping in. A meadow borders the trail, huge erratics sitting idly. A squirrel races up a tree looking as though doing pushups. He chirrups loudly at me. This valley is filled with downed trees and other devastation.
I find it interesting that its messiness makes me think of the messiness of my own life. I was so full of worry when I left for New Zealand a year ago. It did me no good to worry and the worst came to pass, so why did I waste my energy? I think about Paul telling us in one of the epistles to not worry about anything, but through prayer and supplication, make our desires known. If I set aside worry, what would I do with all that time?
Live. That’s what I’d do.
I finally hit my lowest point of my day, around 8,000 feet knowing I’ll climb over 12,000 in eleven miles. I turn up a new canyon following Palisade Creek. The colors are yellow but also orange and brown. Clouds swirl above and it begins to rain – about six hours earlier than predicted. I put on my rain gear and march on, the rain and clouds simply making everything more dramatic.
This trail slowly rises towards a rocky dead end where what’s called the Golden Staircase begins, beautifully built stairs, plus exquisite rock walls, right up the cliff. As I approach, the rain turns to hail lightly pinging my jacket with tiny icy pellets collecting in small piles. As soon as it starts, it stops and the fast moving clouds reveal a blue sky. I take off my jacket and put on my Mad Hatter hat as I pass an English couple naturally unfazed by the weather.
Within minutes, the hail starts right back up, so I put my jacket on and let the hail bounce off my hat. The stairs aren’t so much steep as big, requiring a heave-ho with sticks to push over. My La Sportivas grab well on the wet rock and I don’t slip. But it’s slow going up and up, the switchbacks getting tighter as the trail squeezes between two rock towers. I catch up to a hiker with a red nose looking very cold and ask if he’s ok. He says yes, so I crack on up into a beautiful valley of the rushing Palisade Creek and dancing fir. I can see back into the valley I came from and it’s a white out. I’m not cold, so keep pushing through the hail which is now more like snow pellets. I notice a tent set up with my guess being hikers wanting to wait this awfulness out.
I cross a beautiful stream that falls with tiny water spouts, so I break for lunch and filter water. At this point, the sun comes out for good with big clouds moving fast over the high peaks. I can feel the temperature dropping as I sit here, and that too was predicted, but I’m hoping it’s just cold ahead with no more precipitation, though Sierra ‘cold’ means very cold, like a high of freezing. I certainly hope my clothes are sufficient.
I pack up and move on into this spectacular valley, walking next to a huge lake. I see a few more hikers and ask about the weather which they confirm is going to be dry and cold. I move up on granite slabs above another lake and into trees. I camped here seven years ago next to a private waterfall. I can see it from the trail, but no one is camped here in this weather.
The trail goes up into a huge rocky bowl, now above treeline. Water comes down feeding small patches of green. It’s deceptive how far up I need to go to reach the pass. The trail moves up, then sometimes flat for a ways, then steeply up all on loose rock where I need to watch my footing. I look back and see the lakes as tiny now, to my right is another lake that must feed the creek. The crags are bleak in the distance, but the sun feels warm.
It is a long way up as I begin to walk on switchbacks carved into the boulders. I see three people catching up to me and wonder if they came from the tent I saw after the golden stairs. It’s a lot of heavy breathing, the hot sun with me still dressed in rain gear. Just when I think I see the opening, I turn and walk a few more switchbacks. Finally I make it to the tiny pass and take a few pictures in the wind. One of the three arrives and says, “Aren’t you Alison?” Ha! It’s the group that was with nice Steve the other day. This one is ‘Cat Nip’ and soon ‘Color-burst’ and ‘Steady’ arrive. They are lovely people, taking my picture and I take theirs. They are walking the PCT but running out of food, so will likely have to exit at one of the passes. I am carrying a monstrous bear canister, afraid if I exit, I won’t return.
We talk for a moment, but the wind picks up and is icy cold, so we all race down the huge switchbacks onto a stunning plateau under more brooding, snow covered mountains. I am cold and can hardly breath the wind is so fierce. I take maybe two pictures, then brace into a head wind that screams over this exposed space, telling myself just to get to the trees.
It’s sunny at one of the most beautiful places in the world and my entire focus is survival. I’m pounded straight on, then the path turns and I’m buffeted from the side. The three young ones walk much faster and race down, I see their bodies tiny ahead.
I make it to trees and a beautiful creek where I take a break from moving fast. It’s a classic Sierra stream with falls and a perfect place to enjoy in the sun. I decide I have time to walk another four miles or so and continue down into the denser part of the forest. I catch my three friends here who tell me they’re stopping because anywhere beyond here is exposed to this icy wind. Furthermore, we’re above 10,000 feet and that is high enough to sleep.
I am so glad I ran into them because those are sound reasons to set up, even if a bit early. I make dinner on a granite slab next to a double waterfall falling down a granite slide. Small fish hang out in a pool, but I’m not putting my feet in tonight. Puffy white clouds rush by, changing shape as they go. I eat a mystery meal of rice flakes from the hiker box plus dried mango. Delicious! As the sun sets, Callum arrives, then Nate and John. I’m so pleased they all made it through a hard day, but an absolutely stunning and unforgettable one. It’s 7:15 and pitch dark, all is quiet at camp except the rushing water and wind. Now I’ll turn in and try to stay warm with another high pass awaiting me tomorrow.