The Sierra: Part 1
The Humbling Welcome
a beginning story
Departing from Echo Lake on the late morning of September 17th my stomach turned with a rush of emotions. Excitement for the section every PCT hiker looks forward to. Hints of anxious thoughts for the high altitudes and strenuous passes. A tad bit of exhaustion from the miles it took to arrive here and an unbreakable determination to finish this section. A solid recipe to kick The Sierra’s ass.
My ass would end up receiving the kicking.
The smoke from the Mosquito Fire cleared and the skies were blue and speckled with looming grey clouds. Me and two others set out for the first pass to enter The Sierra: Carson Pass. The hike would feel familiar and yet, I was nervous. The trail I now called home gently started to rise towards higher elevations. Gazing out on top of Carson’s Pass I caught my first glimpse of the mountain range I would be walking through. As cold gusts of wind slapped my face I grabbed a quick photo and started the descent in to the woods.
The wind would continue for the next five miles. Eating my dinner next to a low flow stream I started to dream of all the excitement that was to come. I was finally in the section I had been waiting for and was ready to walk south through the Sierra. Making it to camp the wind continued to pick up speed and the sound became that of crashing waves.
I drifted off in to sleep as the wind brought me back to the coast line: lapping waves rhythmically pulling at the shoreline. I felt at home and the next three weeks would be unforgettable.
I awoke to a sound that was no longer a soothing crash of waves but a violent battle of tree branches overhead. Their bark let out a tense groan under the wind’s violent attacks. It had became worse overnight and the blue sky was now completely covered in those intimidating grey clouds.
Gathering my wind gear and packing my backpack up with a bulky bear canister, I started to walk. The day would shift its mood from serene to miserable with each passing mile. The wind that had sung me to sleep was now a blistering mess that brought with it new snow.
My Floridian soul felt a warming sensation in my belly as the first snow flakes touched my exposed hands. Snow! I had hiked in snow only once before and this was exciting for me — although I was warned about early snow and I could tell the group felt a little uneasy. Was this going to continue to become worse?
We rolled in to camp just as the sun slid past a mountain peak. Looking at the potential sites I looked at one of the people in my group, Carlit (pronounced: Ka-Leet) and he bluntly said what all of us were thinking:
“This is shit.”
Indeed. No other choice, but to stay. We were tired and night hiking in a snow and wind storm was not ideal. As I attempted to stay warm in my quilt and eat my tortellini dinner I knew I was in for a long night.
A continuation of the night before.
A sleepless stretch of agonizing hours with hurricane force winds batting against the strength of my thin neoprene tent. I kept peering at one of my tent stakes holding a corner of the rainfly terrified it was about rocket off and me in turn, would be soaked. Throughout the dark early morning hours the wind had a haunting rhythm— a woosh of air that sounded far above, rustling the trees.
Then complete silence.
What followed the stillness was a sudden gust that rocked my tent poles side to side causing the tent above to hit my face! Starting to feel some warmth under my quilt some manic laughter escaped my mouth. This was miserable and I still felt a sense of enjoyment.
Once the 6:00 o’clock alarm went off — moments after all the shivering underneath the quilt stopped — I accepted defeat. No sleep only choice was to hike and make it as close to Sonora Pass as possible.
Despite this string of seemingly unpleasant days my determination did not falter and I thought this was the worst it could be. A test. An exciting start to a section I had been yearning for.
Descending the final miles in to Sonora Pass, all I could hear was the sound of my shoes crushing the fresh snow beneath. Tears rolled down my cold face as the sun began to illuminate the mountains beyond. I was ready to walk the rest of this hard stretch full of long climbs up rocky, uneven granite steps and slow descents through an ungodly amount of switchbacks. I had past the test I just didn’t know there would be more.
I felt ready. The Sierra was ready.
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