Day Fifty Nine

Today's miles: 17
Total miles: 848

Sansei, Rotisserie, Katie, Papa Bear and I woke up at 8:30 to discover a whole herd of deer in our campsite. They weren't skittish at all and seemed to enjoy licking the salt off all our gear and from our pee spots. It was fascinating to watch them moving easily among us.

We started our hike up Muir Pass this morning. As usual, it was a seven mile uphill climb, and since we were rising from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, the first three miles were brutally steep. The weather was also much warmer than we were used to, so climbing the exposed ridge beneath a beating sun was exhausting. I was out of caffeine drinks and moving slowly. Sansei took off ahead of us, but Katie, Rotisserie and I moved at a slower pace, and Papa Bear was far behind us.

As we hiked higher, we discovered that Muir Pass was deceiving. All the other mountain passes we crossed had a definite notch in the granite that you climb toward, and once you reach it, you pass through to the other side of the mountain. Not so with Muir Pass. It was sneakier. It went up and over mountains, into valleys, around lakes, through granite notches, and still it climbed higher. It had so many false summits that I began to lose track after a while and just began assuming that we would never be at the top. There was always another mountain hiding behind the one we were climbing. The trail also proved to be very rocky, snowy, and confusing. I don't know how anyone finds the trail in high snow years. As it was, we were making our own trail half the time, trying to find the stacked cairns to point us in the right direction. We navigated around icy lakes, knee-deep snow, summits, valleys and more summits. It was hands-down gorgeous scenery, but exhausting.

Finally, after several snowy ascents and some shady make-shift route finding, we climbed a final rock face and found ourselves next to the Muir Hut at the summit. The Chain Gang and Sansei were already relaxing there, laughing at a very curious marmot who was trying to steal their food. We joined them, putting on warmer layers since the wind was very cold at the top. We had lunch on the rocks and enjoyed the phenomenal views over the mountains. It was truly stunning.

Back row: Sunshine, Dog
Middle row: Rotisserie, Sansei, Dance Party, Scooter, Boulder
Sitting, front row: Buffalo, Bramble, Honey Bunny

The Chain Gang took off soon after, but we stayed a little longer to take photos and explore the stone hut, which was built as a mountaineer shelter from storms in John Muir's name. Once rested, the four of us hiked down the north side, and the scenery for the next ten miles was some of the most beautiful I've seen yet on trail. Jagged, granite peaks, green meadows, clear rivers, and lakes so blue that we thought such colors had never existed before that moment.

I was in awe - I wanted desperately to jump into a lake, despite how cold it must be. The crystal clear blue of it called to me, though, and when I mentioned the idea to Katie and Rotisserie, they seemed to be thinking the same thing. Sansei had hiked on ahead, so we had no qualms about stripping down to our skivvies and standing poised at the edge of a turquoise lake, trying to muster the courage to jump.
One, two, three!
We launched into the glacial water and came up shrieking. It was so cold, so cold, so cold. But so wonderful at the same time.

We lay warming ourselves in the sun, stretching our toes in the grass as we basked in the view. I soaked in the scenery, feeling completely content.
"You know what?" I mused aloud, "today most of the country is going to work eight hours at a job they hate, while we climbed a 12,000 foot mountain and jumped in an alpine lake. Life is good."
And it was. Really, really, good. I felt so lucky in that moment.

Once dry and dressed, we continued walking, albeit slowly, because we couldn't stop taking photos and marveling at the beauty of our surroundings. We caught up with Sansei on the banks of another lake. He had stopped for dinner with Dance Party, Buffalo, Sunshine, and Starfox. We plopped down beside them, cooking our own meals while enjoying the view.

"See that beautiful meadow out there?" I asked, "Rotisserie and I figured it wouldn't be complete without pooing in the middle of it."
The others groaned and laughed. Buffalo said, "well, if you're going to poo, you might as well have a good view! Usually at home I'm just stuck looking at my shower curtain."
"When I get home, I'm going to turn a photo of this place into a shower curtain!" Sansei said, "so I can always have a great view!"

It was 6pm by then, though we had only gone twelve miles thus far. The next five were all downhill, though, so we made great time and arrived at the lovely McClure Meadow to camp for the night. The rest of the Chain Gang was already there, using their inflatable sleeping pads as rafts to float in the river. We set up tents and got a special treat tonight: a full super moon rose above the mountains, showering our meadow in a beautiful moonlit glow.

It was a great day.