Evolution Lake to Upper Paradise Lake
To bed in the dark and to rise. It was cold and windy. We broke down camp like a well-oiled machine,this was our sixth morning and our system was down pat. We would wake with the alarm at 4am and hit snooze once. It was never a good snooze because I'd always end up lying there thinking about what I had to do once the alarm rang. While Jason made oatmeal - his insistence for a hot breakfast - I'd lie an extra twenty minutes in my sleeping bag and munch on a bar, having to pee really bad, and would sort through my bear bag for the days allotment. Then came the clothing change out of thermals and into the day’s gear. It was always cold in the mornings. One of us would stuff the tent while the other stuffed the bags. There are always a million little tasks to do, whether it was remembering to check the map, grab the drying clothes, put on gaiters, load your food pockets for the day, mix your drinks, braid your hair, sanitize your hands, or lube your nether regions. We were always moving between 5 and 5:30 and would usually have to stop in the first few miles to pump water, the never ending bane of thru hiking.
That morning as the sky brightened we passed Sapphire Lake and overtook another couple. We exchanged photo ops and chatted – they were doing the Evolution Loop hike which we had done a mere three weeks earlier. They talked about their desire to do the JMT and their admiration of us. How funny it was to be able to say to them, ‘Don't wait. Just do it.’ Six days prior we were novices to this too, but here we were.
|The unmistakable Muir Pass|
Hiking this morning was pleasant. I felt confident on the familiar trail, and strong. We were passed by a trail runner going north with the tiniest backpack – perhaps on a supported trail run? I was excited to summit at the Muir Hut again, a special place. We chatted with three guys at the hut who seemed impressed and disbelieving at our pace – a familiar reaction. I felt extremely confident descending Muir Pass. We passed our friendly rock monster but didn’t stop this time. We passed a thru hiker with no arm. I always felt bad for the northern hikers, they always looked so lonely with few and far inbetween.
It was exciting to see the sign at the Le Conte Ranger Station. This marked another start upon untrodden territory. The last time we were at this sign we met a husband and wife hiking the JMT with their two little boys, age 9 and 11. Absolutely amazing. They had been on the trial 11 days. The couple seemed interested in what we were doing and asked if we were hiking the High Sierra Trail, which they had done the previous summer. They were all covered up, wearing long sleeves and pants, gloves, brimmed hats and neck gaiters. They had to be dying of heat. The littlest kept asking his mom for a drink. I was jealous and the amount of sun damage they were escaping, while I stood there in short sleeves and spandex, but resolved that there was no way we could sustain our pace all bundled up like that.
The last stretch of the day was the long canyon walk to the famed Golden Staircase. At the next intersection we popped an ibuprofen. We hiked through a burnt out section of trees and wondered what happened there. We tried to spot the backside of Middle Palisade as we approached the bottom of the Staircase. It really is a trail engineering marvel. Out here, in the middle of the wilderness, many men puzzled together a maze of steps winding up a choked canyon, solely to deliver passage to hikers. The fact this was done in the 1930s blows my mind even more. Later in the trip, descending Forester Pass, we would see a plaque mounted in memory of an 18 year old trail worker who lost his life during a rock blast - just for a hiking trail -out here where so few people come. It makes me wonder what the amount of tax dollars and manual labor adds up to, considering how few people use this recreational corridor. The ratio between effort and use seems so large. What it proves is how important access to these remote places is, and it speaks volumes of the originators who had the foresight to know the importance a recreational opportunity like this is in building a great society and country. Access is the key. Without these trials these environs do not exist.
Appropriately, we hiked the Golden Staircase in the golden light of the waning sun. By the time we got to the top at Lower Palisade Lake the sun was cutting a sharp shadow on the ground. We passed a fly fisherman wading in his pants, casting gorgeous turns silently over the water. I wanted so much to rest and relax with him instead of rushing to find a campsite. This is where we first introduced ourselves to Joe, who we had been leapfrogging with all day. He was extremely friendly and optimistic, and I got the feeling he was wildly naive to the backcountry (and the world) despite his awesome mileage. He also tried to hook us for a ride home when he finished which we found odd and annoying. Nevertheless, it was nice chatting with him that evening while we looked for campsites.
|Near LeConte Ranger Station|
With found ourselves hiking all the way up to Upper Palisade Lake before realizing the trail did not tangent the lake. We immediately stopped to camp in situ and were directed to a perfect little nook by two campers with Russian accents, who shouted down to us from the top of a nearby cliff. I love the people in the backcountry. That evening while cooking dinner we heard a guy calling for Joe. We introduced ourselves and told him of Joe’s whereabouts. He said he was waiting for him earlier on the trail and threw some casts to pass the time, adding another reference to my growing obsession with fly fishing. He told us about himself and a few other fastpackers he and Joe were in step with. For the first time I felt like we were part of a little group. Almost all of them were doing 20 mile days. It made me feel a little bit of nonsensical pride to be doing 25s. I was excited that we might meet some fellow fastpackers on the trail the next day, but we never crossed paths with any of them again.
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