PCT Day 40: Muir Pass/The Nature Cure

May 31

Mile 830.5-852.2 (21.7)

This morning Barking Spider set off down the Bishop Pass Trail. I continued north along the PCT.

I cried as I started down the trail. I wondered how Spider’s foot would hold up on the 11 mile side trail, whether Bishop Pass would be covered in snow and if he could manage the pain, what our insurance would cover out here in California, what the doctor would say. Was it a broken toe? A broken foot? Some other injury? How long until he was healed?

We had agreed I should stay on the trail and that he would meet me in Mammoth Lakes, 75 miles from the junction, in a few days to regroup and figure out what the next section will look like. That, ultimately, because my focus, my way to get through the sad morning: Get to Mammoth Lakes. Just get to Mammoth Lakes.

The trail wound through alpine meadows fenced in by the tall backs of mountains. Waterfalls and ice chutes claimed gaps in the stone, gushing or melting but ultimately contributing to the swollen rivers and creeks. The water was so clear. I picked my way across streams and tiptoed down soggy trail, focusing with all my might on the trees and mountains and water around me.

I started to climb up toward Muir Pass, first through rock fields, then over patches of snow. It was not long before the trail slipped under a permanent snowfield and I was navigating based entirely on the footsteps of those who had come before me. I would around boulder piles and followed creeks upstream. The landscape opened up: mountains, snow, frozen alpine lakes glowing an otherworldly blue. The sky crystal clear, the sun burning brightly and magnified by the snowfield. Peace.

I followed tracks all morning. The snow was slushy, already warm and mailable under the sun. My steps punched through the snow and sometimes I sunk up to my hip. The going was slow. It did not matter. The world at 11,000 ft is so beautiful. I would have stretched those hours out for days.

One final push and I crested Muir Pass and saw the sweet little Muir Hut, an igloo of stone, standing to greet me. Snapped a few pictures and continued on. My feet were nearly frozen and I descended a ways to a flat rock and took off my soaked socks and shoes to warm my feet in the sun. Then I continued on. Feet immediately frozen again, I postholed through the slush and gazed up at the jagged peaks surrounding me, the lakes just starting to melt, the trail that wound down and down and down, past rivers emerging from under snowbanks. I was getting sunburned. I crossed a wide, shallow river and walked for a long time along its banks, through more snowfields.

After miles and miles of snow, I finally saw dirt trail again as I descended off the alpine wonderland. Trees and shade dotted the trail. It was still wet, meltwater flooding the trail in places, but my feet started to dry ever so slightly. I walked past more green meadows and negotiated blowdowns.

I was starting to feel good, starting to get into hiking alone without constantly thinking of Spider. I thought the nature cure might work for heart-sickness. Then I had to cross Evolution Creek, impossibly high and running fast. I had ignored the high water detour because of some imposing sticks laid across the alternate trail, and now I wish I hadn’t. The creek was freezing cold and very deep. My feet had hurt so badly after I took my shoes off to cross some smaller streams, so I knew this crossing would be painful. 

I first tried to cross with my pack high on my back so that I could use my trekking poles for support. I waded in, trying to ignore my freezing feet, my legs that were so cold they were burning, focusing on taking solid steps. I got nearly halfway before the creek got too deep to keep my pack dry and I had to turn around and wade furiously back to shore. I climbed out and hyperventilated for the few agonizing minutes when I couldn’t feel the lower half of my body. 

Then I geared myself up to try again. This time I lifted my pack over my head. Forgoing the use of trekking poles, I would have to trust my steps. Holding a heavy pack over my head would not improve my balance, either. I would just have to try to reach the opposite shore as quickly as possible. I did not want to try this a third time.

I hoisted my pack up, took a few deep breaths, and quickly waded in. Now that I knew it got deep and was prepared for it, I lunged toward the middle of the creek. I got to the beginning of the deep, fast lane and the water was up to my chest. I briefly panicked. The current was so strong I was getting pushed downstream, and I was about to loose control. There was no margin for error. I could not let my pack get wet and I could not get swept downstream. I heaved my pack forward so I was holding it just above the water and used its weight to leverage myself forward. A few more steps and I was out of the raging current. I reached the bank, threw my pack on the dry ground, and crawled out. I was soaked and freezing. The water in that creek felt like knives stabbing me all over. But I was in total emergency-mode. I talked to myself very calmly, got two shoes on my feet, adjusted my trekking poles, and started moving as quickly as possible. I needed to hike and warm up as best I could and then set up camp at the first tentsite I passed. The sun was setting but it was warm enough down at 9000 ft. I hiked a mile and a half before finding a flat spot. I changed out of my wet clothes, put on warm dry layers, set up the tent, and crawled into my sleeping bag.


9 thoughts on “PCT Day 40: Muir Pass/The Nature Cure

  1. From here on, you’re in territory I haven’t hiked. I plan to enjoy every step with you. I sure hope Spider doesn’t have a stress fracture.

    For what it’s worth, and I’m not trying to back seat drive here, but I always pack my pack to be a flotation device – meaning it won’t sink and everything inside, including food, is double protected against water intrusion.

    My main form of protection is Sea to Summit compression sacks. Everything is also in trash compactor bag for each compartment. I even carry two spare compactor bags in the event the ones I’m depending on develop a leak.

    Call me jealous reader.

  2. Would you please comment on how you navigate. Previously you said you use GPS. Are you also using maps & compasses? Is it easy to find your way? What happens when you can not see the trail or where people ahead of you walked?

    • I use Guthook’s app. It combines GPS and a basic map. Snowpack hides the trail so I have relied on Guthook a lot recently. Sometimes there are also footprints in the snow so I can puzzle out the general direction.

  3. Yo Ho! I hope you mend quickly and completely Spider and that you two are soon together again and back in the groove!

  4. Hi my friend, just seeing your blog for the first time as I just learned Barking Spider has a foot issue. I broke my foot also and left just over 400 miles, however am hopeful I can go back June 24. I love you guys, you both are my hero’s!!! Let me know if there is anything you need, anything I can do. BTW – excellent posting … Love the pictures, I’ll go back and read the rest of it all.

  5. ive hiked the JMT before…but that was in late summer and when i was only 16 years old…

    i have a feeling my 2017 PCT attempt will be much harder when i turn 30 in late may!! 🙂

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