Imagine soaking in natural hot springs when suddenly chunks of ice begin falling from the sky. Perhaps that is not everyone’s idea of a remarkable life experience but that afternoon was among my favorite on the trail. One the most dreaded features of the High Sierras is the sporadic storms I endured that day. As a rule, every morning starts with ideal weather, as if to lure you into a false sense of security. The question I contemplated all the way to Kearsarge Pass is not if the seemingly perfect weather will devolve into a raging storm rather, when it will devolve into a torrent of rain, hail and thunder.
The dramatic weather is far from being the only stark contrast that I see daily. When I started my journey three months ago in Washington I was lucky to see a handful of people each day. Now that the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the ever popular John Muir Trail I see upwards of thirty people each day. This is a shift I don’t mind, considering as I enter the southern part of this trip I shall soon find myself again alone.
Most of the people I pass are sweating heavily and cursing under their breath, this can be explained by one word; elevation. Some days I go up, other days I go down, most days I do both. Whether it be a few hundred feet or a few thousand the constant change from elevation gain to lose is exhausting. This week’s most grueling culprits where: Silver Pass at 10,781 feet, Selden Pass at 10,912 feet, Muir Pass at 11,969 feet, Mather Pass at 12,093, and of course Kearsarge Pass at 11,709 feet.
The most dramatic fluctuations I face on the trail are not physical mountains and valleys but mental ones. A few days ago I woke up ecstatic to hit the trail, the joy of being in nature overwhelming me. After several miles of hiking on cloud nine a feeling of homesickness crept up on me, yes even tough mountain men get homesick. After mopping along the next few miles I decided I had enough feeling sad for one day. As sure as any drug my always effective medicine is a cold plunge in whatever body of water is close by. The cold shock forced me into a state of awareness through bodily sensation, one of my favorite states. That feeling lasted until the uphill started to kick in. At that point I was neither happy nor sad but another hallmark feeling for thru hikers, exhaustion, emotionally and physically. Eventually I reached my campsite along the stunning Evolution Lake, I was too tired to enjoy the scenery. After forcing myself through some stretching and making a fast dinner of cold mashed potato mix, I fell asleep.
This constant contrast may seem hard to deal with, and it is, but it is also how living on the trail for almost half a year stays interesting. I do not think I would survive the trail if it were easy or static. The emotional and physical challenges are what keep me going. Experiencing hardship is why I am here, it is my direct path to growth. The more I see and experience the more I get out of this journey.
Sending my love from the roller-coaster that is trail life, Slug