Sunday, August 15, 2010
Highs and Lows
Early in the morning, four us had to cross a wide stream. It wasn't dangerous or deep, but we still had it in our minds to keep our feet dry. I examined the possible routes across and caved immediately--I just walked through. My feet were wet, but hopping from rock to rock seemed a bit sketchy. If I missed, I'd be a heck of a lot more wet than just my feet. Sneezes examined the options, and decided to do the rock-hop method. He almost fell in once, and still ended up getting one foot wet at one point after losing his balance. Charmin examined the river, sat down, took off her shoes and socks, then walked across. And Hasty followed the stream upriver for quite a lengthy distance until he found a better place to cross. Four people, with four completely different methods for crossing a creek. We all made it across, however, some with wetter feet than others. =)
Hasty and Sneezes hiked on ahead, which left Charmin and I alone, which I took the opportunity to use for a little talk. The day before, it became painfully obvious that Hasty had a huge crush on Charmin. He hiked 35 miles out of Kennedy Meadows in a single day to catch up with her (using the flimsy excuse that we wanted to "get away from the Michigan boys"--hikers that hadn't even arrived at Kennedy Meadows yet). It was also painfully obvious that Charmin enjoyed his company. And he had this annoying habit of following Charmin around like a lost puppy dog.
So now that there was a brief period of time when I had Charmin alone without Hasty hovering nearby, I asked her if she still wanted to hike with me through the Sierras. Given the surprising lack of snow, it didn't seem as important for us to watch each other's backs anymore, and I didn't really want to get between any budding trail romance between Charmin and Hasty. That's just awkward.
I turned around. "What?" This was news to me. Mount Whitney was only about a 12 mile hike away from where we camped, and I expected us to do the full round-trip from the PCT and back. I didn't want to hike a measly 12-mile day. Fine, if the snow hindered our progress or something, but to intentionally hike only 12 miles? And why? To camp on a cold, exposed mountaintop for the night?
As the trail ascended ever so higher, the snow got progressively more challenging. We finally lost the trail completely in the snow, but navigating its approximate route wasn't particularly challenging. It wasn't even particularly dangerous. The blanket of snow we walked on was relatively flat. We could slip or fall, but it wouldn't lead us down a steep slope to death. For the highest peak in the contiguous United States, the trail seemed remarkably flat. A little postholing was happening, but even that wasn't especially bad.
Further up, we stopped to rest and eat a few snacks. Hasty continued to hover over Charmin, asking about additional symptoms she might be having of altitude sickness. Which annoyed me to no end--I'm the one who's supposed to be watching her back. Charmin went on about feeling guilty that she was slowing us down, and Hasty replied that it wasn't a problem, "We have all the time in the world."
As we got closer to Mount Whitney, the trail's slope increased dramatically. The tread itself was still gradual, but the slope along the mountain rose to near-vertical positions. This had two effects: It cut the amount of snow dramatically (it couldn't pile up very deeply on such steep slopes), but it make the little bit of snow that was sticking to the slopes considerably more dangerous. The "you slip here, and you'll slide down a long, long ways before your body comes to a stop" kind of thing. To avoid the snow, I'd cut switchbacks and scramble directly up the mountain. Which had its own little dangers. The rock was not solid--much like a sand dune with a bunch of larger (and still unstable) rocks piled on top. I caused more than one rock slide in the process, but it still felt safer to me than going across the treacherous snow traverses.
I let Hasty and Charmin pull ahead of me. I was in a foul mood and didn't really want to be around either of them at the moment, and I certainly had no rush to get to the top just to sit around for hours to wait for the sun to set. I hadn't mentioned it to Charmin, but I suspected I was starting to feel mild symptoms of altitude sickness myself--fatigue, and even a little dizziness. Walking across a field of boulders where I lost the trail, I'd have to carefully set my foot down, make sure it had a firm setting, then put my weight on it.
I had failed to fill up with enough water to last the night--I kept thinking I'd find another creek. At the last patch of snow I could find, I realized that there were no more creeks, so I filled up my bottles with snow right then and there so I wouldn't have to come back down for snow again later. And I rested. I sat around for a half hour or so, admiring the view. And it was a beautiful view. On top of the world.
It took a moment for me to process the unexpected pile of snow in the doorway. It was rather a surprise. The room in the hut was a lot smaller than I expected, like it had been divided into several compartments, and why would they have done that? And the inside was dark. None of the windows were open, and almost all of the light coming into the room came in through the door I had open. On the other side of the pile of snow, Charmin and Hasty were sitting down, shivering. I scrambled over the pile of snow--more challenging than you might have expected--and Charmin told me, "We're going back down."
I was thinking slowly, I guess. "We're going back down Mount Whitney?"
"Yes, it's too cold up here. Drink and eat what you need, then we're going back down."
I started doing the math in my head. It was already late in the afternoon, and there weren't exactly a lot of places to stop and camp halfway down the mountain. If we go back down, we had to make sure we could get all the way down before dark. Frankly, I was happy at the idea of not camping at the top of Mount Whitney since I never liked it in the first place, but I found myself annoyed once again that Charmin is making decisions without even consulting how I feel about them. And once again, Hasty seems to already know about these decisions before I'm even aware of them. Guess Charmin forgot to bring her 22-season tent.
Even trying to keep warm in the hut seemed like a bad idea on Charmin's part. It was like an icebox with the pile of snow in it. A dark, cold icebox. She'd probably be warmer by finding a windbreak outside and laying down in the sun. She'd probably have found it warmer had she arrived earlier in the afternoon instead of taking her sweet old time hiking up in time for the sunset. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed by her.
I stopped for a few minutes to rest at the top, then left the hut to take photos of myself at the tippy top of Mount Whitney and to look for a letterbox. Admittedly, I was anxious to get back down the mountain before dark, but Charmin's attitude had pissed me off enough that I liked the idea of spending time to look for the box if for no other reason than I knew she was freezing her ass off waiting for me to finish. And thinking, how ironic--because I thought we were spending the night up here, I probably took a good half hour longer getting to the top than necessary. Charmin spent the last half hour freezing for no other reason than bad decisions she had made. It was petty, but it made me feel good. Even then, had she stuck with me instead of Hasty, she could have told me that she changed her mind much earlier and she still wouldn't have had to sit around waiting for me to show up.
I found the letterbox, then went back to the hut to stamp in where I didn't have to fight the wind. When I opened up the door, Charmin and Hasty had each other in a hug, and jumped back from each other like I caught them having sex. Hasty stuttered something about Charmin being cold and trying to keep her warm, and I just rolled my eyes thinking, "Yeah, good line. That's why you two look so guilty. I don't want to deal with this @*%#*"
I stamped in and rehid the letterbox, then the three of us started down Mount Whitney. We were the last ones left on the mountain, and would likely be the last visitors of the day.
Going down, Hasty stuck to Charmin like glue, and I took my own route off-trail through the rocks to avoid patches of snow. I'm not sure exactly when it hit me, but somewhere coming down that mountain, I knew Charmin and I wouldn't be hiking together anymore. Mentally, I tallied up the reasons:
* She had Hasty watching her back. She frankly didn't need me for anything. I was feeling pretty darned useless at this point.
* The snow in the High Sierras hadn't been anywhere near as bad as I feared, and I wasn't entirely convinced that I needed someone watching my back anymore.
* It was awkward getting between Hasty and Charmin's budding trail romance.
* Charmin's making decisions--big decisions--that I not only think are stupid, but she's not even getting my opinion on the matter. Hiking together was supposed to be a partnership, but I was feeling more like a lap dog trotting after wherever she told me to go.
Basically, it wasn't working out anymore. I wanted to talk to Charmin about the problems, but held off since it was important that we get into camp before dark, and I didn't really want Hasty around to listen in either.
Eventually, I passed Charmin and Hasty in my quest to make camp as quickly as possible. Charmin told me that she'd like to camp in the trees, which I would have liked too, but I eventually stopped short of the tree line. The sun had set and it was getting dark. I didn't want to set up camp in the dark. But I found a nice piece of dry ground next to a creek and set up.
I wondered if Charmin and Hasty decided to camp further up the trail than I did, also choosing to stop at sunset, but they eventually passed through my camp a half hour later. It wasn't pitch dark yet, but it was getting close to it when they arrived, and I expected that they would want to stop and set up camp, but Charmin didn't.
"I want to camp in the trees," she said. Hasty wore a blank expression on his face that seemed to say, "I want to camp wherever Charmin camps."
This really pissed me off some more. I don't think Charmin would have continued on by herself, but with Hasty hovering over her, she wouldn't be by herself. I felt outvoted, two to one, and Hasty didn't actually put out a vote. Charmin came over to me--I was in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm--and whispered that we really needed to talk, and I agreed whole-heartedly, but that she really needed to get into camp before it got any darker. "We'll talk tomorrow," I told her.
#*@$! I didn't want to sit around two hours waiting for Charmin so we could have a "talk." I want to do MILES! I waved Charmin off. "Fine, I'll meet you there in the morning." I was pissed at the idea that I'd have to wait for her for a couple of hours so she could sleep in late, but I swore it would be the last time I would ever wait on Charmin again. Tomorrow morning, I we'd have our "talk," then I'd start hiking on my own, at my own pace, as far as I wanted to each day.
Charmin gave me a hug, then her and Hasty were off to find some trees to camp in.
During the month of August, I'll be participating with Amanda in the Washington Trail Association's Hike-a-Thon. If you haven't already, please consider sponsoring us. (Especially me!) The folks do great work helping to fix up and maintain trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail and help make thru-hikes such as mine possible. If you enjoy reading this blog, consider giving something back to the trails that make it possible. Thanks!
Posted by Ryan at 5:00 PM