Day Fifty

Today's miles: 21
Total miles: 763

I'm not sure why we kept setting our alarms for 5:00am, because inevitably our warm sleeping bags were much more inviting than the trail, and we ended up sleeping until 7:00am every day, anyway.

We had been setting up tents lately, since the weather was much colder at night than in the desert, and with Rotisserie and Sansei now sharing a tent, we only had two of them to pack up each morning.

We were on trail at 8:00 and climbing to higher elevations, hovering around 11,000 feet all day. I thought back to my days in Idyllwild when I was struggling to breathe and hike at 8,000 and 9,000 feet, and now such heights seemed trivial. We were growing stronger every day, and the trail was testing us with bigger and bigger challenges. At 11,000 feet I could feel the altitude slowly tightening my chest and my breath grow achey with each gasp, but I was determined to make it through. After all, there were much higher elevations to come.

We went slowly, and took our second breakfast break at a trail junction for the town of Lone Pine, CA. While we ate, a group of three older dayhikers came by and we talked with them for a while. When they learned we were PCT thru-hikers, they became naturally inquisitive and asked the questions we had heard many times over.

"How many days have you been hiking?" they wanted to know.
"Today is day fifty!" I crowed.
"How long does it take to finish the trail?"
"About five months."
"How do you resupply your food?"
"We stop in towns every 5-7 days to buy food."

It's funny how many people don't get that concept. I think they expect us to say that we have food helicoptered in to us, as though going into town each week is some sort of violation of thru-hiking. (What?! You're not on trail every second?!)

But it's fun to see the excitement in their eyes when they learn what we're doing. We never, never saw dayhikers in the desert, so the only people who asked about our journey were trail angels or the people who picked us up on hitchhikes. Because, honestly, who would dayhike in the desert? The only people you ever see are fellow thru-hikers, because thru-hikers are the only ones crazy enough to spend 700 miles walking through sand and Joshua trees.

But now that we are in the Sierras, we have been seeing a lot more people on the trail. Dayhikers, weekend backpackers, and section hikers. Sometimes they are traveling northbound like us, but often they are walking in the other direction, which throws us for a loop.
Wait, a hiker going southbound? They must be lost.
It's pretty easy to tell a dayhiker/weekend backpacker/section hiker apart from a thru-hiker. Usually they are wearing nicer clothing, or much larger packs, or smell way too clean and soapy. But the tell-tale sign (if you couldn't figure it out before that) is just to look at their shoes. If they're wearing any kind of boot, it's not a thru-hiker. Thru-hikers wear dirty, banged up trail runners with colorful Dirty Girl gaiters. We all know each other's footprints by heart by now because we've been tracking them in the sand for months. Dayhikers wear pristine, waterproof, leather boots that rise up above the ankle with expensive wool socks beneath them. Dead give away.

We bid our new dayhiker friends goodbye and continued on our way toward Cottonwood Pass, the portal to Mt. Whitney. After eight miles we arrived at Chicken Spring Lake, our very first alpine lake. It was here that our water report officially ended and we were on our own.

The lake was tucked beneath a steep, granite mountain and it was shockingly big and beautifully blue. We took our lunch break beside it, wading in the icy waters and enjoying the view. We were soon joined by Coincidence, Hot Tub, Sweet Tooth, 30 Pack and Outburst.
"THIS IS AWESOME!" Coincidence screamed.
We agreed. After so long in the desert, this sight was beyond amazing.

We debated about how much water to pack out and ultimately decided that 2 liters would probably be enough. This was a very difficult change for me, for I was used to carrying 5-6 liters, but I could no longer justify the extra weight that all that water created. After all, we were in the Sierras, and there was supposedly water everywhere, right? Right.

In fact, over the next few miles, we walked next to a surprising number of streams and rivers, enough that I found myself stopping and gaping at each one. At one point a tiny stream crossed the trail, and I stood, dumbfounded, watching it trickle in front of my feet. My mind was whirring. In the desert, this tiny stream would be a huge deal. Hikers would carefully record how wide it was, how fast it flowed, how deep it ran, and would dutifully update the water report to inform the hikers behind them. Those hikers would check the water report every morning and hike for hours and miles in order to reach this one tiny stream, and then they would spend precious time filling up the water containers in their backpacks in order to pack it out. This tiny stream would be a life saver for some.

But here, in the Sierras, this stream was nothing. It wasn't on any water report, it wasn't on any map. No one cared how wide it was, or how fast it flowed, or how deep it was. No one counted on it for their survival. No one hiked twenty miles through the arid desert just to get here. It was incredible. Because in just twenty more feet, there would be another river. And a mile after that, another. And so on and so on, at each turn. There was waterEverywhere. It was amazing.

I shook my head, and after a long moment, I stepped over the stream. Everything about the Sierras was sensory overload.

Our first glimpse of Mt. Whitney

We had a long afternoon of hiking. My feet grew sore and I lagged behind. After ten more miles we stopped for dinner near a river, and eating food gave me back the energy I had been lacking.

Sansei, noticing how quiet I had been in the past few hours, joked, "let's give Bramble some caffeine and see if she'll make up a song about taking a bath in the river!"
"Oh, no caffeine necessary," I smiled, and immediately launched into a made-up song about how to wash your "pits and bits" in an alpine stream. It made everyone laugh.

Eating dinner gave me a second wind and allowed me to tackle a streep three-mile uphill climb. When we stopped for the night, we were a mere three miles from Mt. Whitney, and we were all pretty  excited/terrified about our alpine summit tomorrow - for Rotisserie, Sansei, and I, it would be our first of that altitude.