Early on, I knew the only thing that could get me off trail would be an injury. Even with an injury, it would have to be something incapacitating to have me fully sign off on the PCT. Praise be that I am not injured enough to fly back to New York!
My group of three boys picked up two straggler hikers during our first section of the Sierras. Now it’s Beta, Shreds, Runway, and our two newbies to the Struggle Bus, Hottake and Vortex. We leave Bishop after spending two nights in town planning six days to our next resupply. I was worried that I might be extra hungry and just to be safe I pack out eight days’ worth of food. In this upcoming section, we were planning on pushing more miles to not be out there for as long. In the first section, we were out for eight days, and by the end the group morale was low and getting to town felt more desperate than ever before. So the idea was more miles each day means fewer days on trail. Beta, Runway, and I were able to get a ride straight from our hostel to the parking lot of trail. We found a picnic table to play Cribbage, drink beers, and wait for the rest of our group to find hitches over to trail. It’s seven miles from the parking lot to trail over Kearsarge Pass. The night before, we hike just a little bit up to give ourselves a nice head start on our morning. That first day we need to go over two passes Kearsarge and Glen; it’s one of our bigger days planned.
That morning, things are already not off to a good start. Shreds the night before lent his ice axe to a guy trying to do a third-class rock scramble up some mountain in the middle of the night. Shreds was worried about the guy’s safety and did the right thing, but by the time our group was ready to leave in the morning the climber had not returned, and Shreds had to stay at camp waiting for the guy to make it down safely. Then there was Vortex, who never even showed up to camp the night before. We had no idea where he went and how he could have missed our camping spot since it was right on trail.
Well, no fret, we found Vortex at the top of the first pass waiting for us and we found the climber heading back down to our camp as well. So our initial issues already worked themselves out within the first three miles of hiking. We get back to the trail right as the day breaks and we start making our ascent over to pass number two.
Easy enough time getting up. While at the top we ate lunch, I packed out bagels and cream cheese and was the happiest person feeling like the day was going to be easy. We had 6.3 more miles left all downhill. Very close to the end of the steepest snowiest section of the pass, I post hole. Post-holing is when the snow breaks under your weight and your leg can be submerged ankle, knee, or thigh deep. I was knee-deep in this hole, stuck firmly where I cannot simply just step out. As I try to wiggle my foot free, the weight of my pack starts slipping downhill. Since my leg is held in place while my body turns clockwise around my knee, the inside portion of my knee gets stretched. As uncontrolled and natural as blinking happens, I start screaming in pain, yelling for someone to help me and wailing my trekking poles around in a panic movement. Beta, right in front of me watching this all go down, calmly comes up to my upside-down body and says, “Hello, I’m going to take this now,” removes the poles from my hand, and lifts up my backpack along with my body and throws me up the hill so I am upright, inline with my leg again. I take in some slower breaths. He digs out my leg and says, “Well luckily you’re called Stretch, because a move like that would have torn someone else’s knee apart.” Beta takes my bear cannister so I have less weight to deal with. I’m in tears of pain and the fact that I might need to bail, but I have hope that maybe in the morning there will be no pain.
My pace is about .25 mph. All the boys are in front of me creating a boot path so my steps are easier. There is a ranger station and a campsite just over two miles from where I got hurt and we decide to stay there for the night. Halfway there, Runway breaks the news to me that I need to get off trail. He lays out a plan for us two to stay in one spot for as long as our food supply will allow, then hike out with my knee healed more, and our packs lighter. The other boys will continue forward because we don’t need to turn the whole party around. Runway will stick by my side to make sure I get out safe and have someone to keep me company while I heal on trail. Not to mention, since Kennedy Meadows we’ve been having a trail fling, sharing my one-person tent, kissing on mountain tops, and saying sweet things to each other. So this will be a good time for doing nothing more than staring into each other eyes since there won’t be much else to do.
Teary eyed, I accept the truth that I won’t be continuing forward and I need to break the Struggle Bus. I have a guilt that I’m stealing the leader of the group away from the rest of the team. I know they are all big boys, but losing Runway as the morning navigator, the guy who made sure we left camp on time, and the one who knew how to cross a stream the safest is a big deal. Shreds reassures me that nobody is upset with having to do fewer miles that day and making the moves to exit trail. Beta and I are crying, Shreds is pretending to throw rocks at us saying he didn’t want us guys anyway, and Runway disappears for some time. We all hug goodbye, sure that we will see each other again, but when that will be is a big mystery.
Our campsite is overlooking Rae Lakes; this beautiful frozen lake with these painted marble cake-looking mountains surrounding it. A view that will never get old. Plus, for the first time ever on trail, I stay at a spot for long enough to see the dynamics of night, day, and defrosting occurring. It’s really close to the ranger station and they knew I was injured and knew about our plan to self-evacuate. She came over the next morning to check in on us and asked if we needed anything. We got a deck of cards off of her! No service, no wifi, nowhere to go, nobody to see, and virtually nothing to do…. we had a blast. It’s the 4th of July on our second zero, and in a normal year this area would be filled with families, boy scouts, and all sorts of campers. Due to all the snow, it was us two, the rangers, and two hikers that we saw walk by on the other side of the lake… that’s it. As sad as I was to be in a situation where I can’t hike, I was pretty happy to sleep in, eat bagels and cream cheese, kiss cute boy, watch the birds fly around, watch the sunset, and lose Cribbage repeatedly. Just another day in paradise for sure.
Glen and Kearsarge… again
On the third day, we do our normal wake-up at 2:30 and get over Glen by daybreak. I was filled with Advil to feel good enough to hike out all 12 miles that one day. Runway left his bear canister with the Rangers; this way his pack was empty enough to carry as much of my stuff as possible. He planned to hike me to the parking lot, then turn right around and continue northbound. Halfway through our day, we had lunch and rested together in the sun, and it settles in for me that we will be splitting up basically after moving in together for three days. It’s sad, but the impermanence of trail is something I love and learn from the most. It’s easy to live in the moment when you don’t think the moment is going to end. It boils down to being able to have the best time you can when you can and then having the willingness to let go.
Immediately when I walk into the parking lot, I found a hitch. Runway and I quickly redistribute our packs, hug goodbye, and I hop in the car back to town and he hops back on trail up Kearsarge for the fourth time.
The Hospital Ward
No, I never went to the hospital, but at the Hostel California in Bishop, the PCT hikers that are there are all injured hikers. Therefore, the room we all shared just felt like a hospital ward. We spent our days watching VHS, playing board games, cooking meals, and puzzling. It was refreshing to be in the company of people having the same issues I’m having. We all dealt with the uncertainty of our injuries healing enough to let us continue through the Sierra portion of trail, or will we need to jump to an easier section of trail. My plan is to stay at that hostel till the day before my group was expecting to enter the next town north, Mammoth. Then I’ll take a bus from Bishop to Mammoth, meet my group there, and if I feel healed enough to hike, I will hike. If not, I will jump to another section because I would not do the rest of the Sierras without a group I can trust.
The Sierra is a risky section, and I did nothing wrong, but nonetheless, I have been eaten up by the mountain passes. I’m not disheartened or fearful of being able to finish this hike. After a few more days of resting and strengthening around my knee, I know I can continue. The only thing I know now is that I don’t finish the trail at the Canadian board instead my terminus will be when I get back to Rae lakes where I might not even recognize it after the snow melts. And possibly sit and stare at those mountains for one full day again.
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