Date: 8/23/17 | Miles Hiked: 14
The sounds of coyotes paired with a particularly chilly evening made for a difficult night’s sleep. A thick layer of frost on my bear canister in the morning made me feel justified for freezing in my tent the night before (apparently I needed proof that it was cold?).
Today’s hike took me along a section of trail my husband and I had done northbound last year. I already think about him often on the trail, and today he was on my mind constantly.
I took a long break at Purple Lake for lunch, stopping at the first lakeside opening that was clear of other hikers throwing down their packs for the same reason. I wound up at the same section of the lake where my husband and I had jumped in the year before, losing our breath to the cold water as we submerged.
There would be no jumping in today.
I ate lunch, waded up to my knees into the ice cold water, watched some trout and closed my eyes on a rock. It was nice to take such a long afternoon break.
Then I continued to Lake Virginia, singing an altered version of Train’s “Meet Virginia” along the ascent. “Lake Virginia. I can’t wait to… get to Lake Virginia yeah e yeah, hey hey hey.”
I remembered camping at Lake Virginia last summer and being swarmed by mosquitoes while filtering water. I paused to take pictures at this beautiful, marshy lake surrounded by wild flowers. But I decided to descend to a warmer (and just as buggy) spot before setting up camp.
As I hiked down to my campsite, I remembered how much of a struggle it was to ascend the same section the previous year. I thought back to that trip — four days and three nights traveling north along the trail — and how different it felt from my current backpacking experience.
The details of that trip overwhelmed me, so I stayed out of the planning process completely. The goal was to meet a friend who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He was behind his expected itinerary, so my husband and I got to experience the Sierras on our own.
I was merely a passenger on that trip. I didn’t do any route research prior to arriving at the trailhead. Elevation gain, loss, terrain… I was oblivious. I didn’t even realize the trail would lead us over a pass until we were standing on top of Silver. I remember it being difficult, but I didn’t think about it until we were doing it.
Maybe that’s the preferred method.
On my own, I know everything. I know how many miles I have to hike. How much elevation I have to gain. How much elevation I will then lose, only to gain back the next day. Where I need to be before I can set up my tent. How many days I have left of climbing and descending and climbing again.
It’s almost too much to bear. I am a chronic over-thinker, and I have a lot of material to work with on the trail. I feel mentally defeated on ascents because as I’m struggling to climb, I think about all of the ascents I have ahead of me before finishing the trail. It is nearly impossible to stay in the moment. To take things one day, or even one hour, at a time.
A long descent after Lake Virginia brought me to a campsite near a loud stream — white noise at its finest. Mosquitoes and rumbles over Silver Pass chased me into my tent early.
It’s incredible how quickly the landscape in the Sierras can change. From a gravel desert spotted with giant boulders — a place I imagine to be barren of all life — to a lake surrounded by wild flowers, complete with ducks, trout and far too many insects, all within just a few miles.
What joy these hidden surprises must have brought the original inhabitants of this land.
Not just the sights, but the thought of survival. Imagine being in a rock desert, thinking, “This is it. I’ll never eat or drink again. It was nice while it lasted.” And then, a few hours later, seeing a lake teeming with life.
Even now, without the threat of death so palpable, my days are filled with highs and lows based purely on human comfort.
The despair of trudging up a pass, the sheer giddiness of being at the top, the pain caused by a heavy pack, the relief of nearing camp, the contentment of eating and sitting, the loneliness before sleeping. The thought of how many more days like this must be endured before completing the trail.
Trail life is beautiful and horrible at the same time. It’s the complexities of life stripped to their bare minimum, exposing you to the unavoidable pains and pleasures of being alive.