Today's miles: 17
Total miles: 722
My alarm went off at 5:00, but it was surprisingly chilly this morning, so we slept until 6:00. It was our first full hiking day with bear vaults, which proved to be a new challenge. It took longer than usual for us to pack up in the morning since we had yet to learn the best way to pack our bear vaults, but soon we hefted our awkward, overloaded bags into the familiar hollows of our shoulders and hips, and we marched forward.
Truth be told, I barely even noticed that my pack was bigger and heavier than usual. Nor did I care that I had to carry that extra weight for another 500 miles before I could send the bear vault home. All I cared about today was that the sun was shining, the weather was cool, the trail was calling, and the mountains were ahead! Everything I saw was beautiful. Rocks! Trees! Mountains! Rivers! Every step we took drew us further into the Sierra Wilderness. Nothing could shake my good mood today.
We were all in high spirits, trying to make light of our heavy burdens, filled with seven days worth of food. We joked that we should eat all our food today so we'd have less to carry tomorrow.
Sansei joked, "ok guys.... it appears we got really high last night and ate three days worth of food. So.... we're going to have to hike forty miles today."
But as the day wore on, the packs dragged at our shoulders and we sighed beneath the weight. I tried to make up a new song to keep everyone's spirits up. Since making up the "Uphill Song" (soon followed by the "Downhill Song") in Idyllwild after a good dose of caffeine, it was habit of mine to make up funny ditties on trail and sing them to my hiking mates, as Rotisserie and Sansei had become well aware. It was a running joke that if you gave me enough caffeine I might make up an entire Broadway musical about something ridiculous, like pancakes.
Today, when we stopped for a break and everyone stood quietly trying to catch their breath, I piped up,
"So I made up a new song about my bear vault! Who wants to hear it?"
They agreed, so I launched into my verses:
"This is my bear vault song! I hope you sing along!
It's full of really heavy food! And it puts me in a bad mood!
Carrying it is not a thrill! Especially when we go uphill!"
They found it funny.
When we had hiked eleven miles, we came across another turn of the South Fork of the Kern River. It had a beautiful bridge spanning it, beneath which hundreds of swallows were swooping and diving from little nests they had built. The river itself had a long, grassy bank, perfect for resting, and we couldn't pass up such a beautiful spot, not after so long in the desert.
We laid out our sleeping pads in the grass and waded knee-deep in the river, letting the cool water run over our feet and the gritty sand sift between our toes. We relaxed on the bank, had lunch, and listened to a hiker named Monk play his Didgeridoo while Sansei played his bear vault like a drum. We stayed for a few hours and then kept hiking. The grassy hills gave way to steeper terrain, and soon we were climbing from 8,000 feet to 10,000 - the highest elevation we had been to yet. We took it slow and steady, and though it was difficult, when we made it to the top for a break, Sansei said,
"That's how you know you're a thru-hiker. Can you imagine trying to climb that hill on your very first day? And here we are, having made it to the top barely stopping the whole way."
As exhausted as I was, I knew he was right, and it was a good moment.
We found a beautiful campsite that night on a ridge with a gorgeous view of the sunset, but it was incredibly windy at such high elevation, so we went a little further until the trail dipped into the pine trees and we found a flat spot protected from the elements. It was very strange to be so cold, and we enjoyed bundling up in all our warm clothing before bed. How novel!