Monday, August 23, 2010

Lemmings! We're Lemmings!

June 22: I'd been hearing rumors about hiker injuries and mishaps along the trail, and it's sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction. Now that I was in town and reading hiker blogs, I was starting to get more details about some of these events. For instance, Half Ounce was rescued by helicopter after suffering from high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) after climbing Mount Whitney. Another member of Team Zero, Ten Spot, then lost his pack while crossing the Tyndall river, finding himself in the Sierra wilderness with nothing but the clothes on his back. (That's the river I crossed without my pants on.) Other hiker I heard had chipped a tooth goofing around in the hot springs hundreds of miles back on the trail. Then there's the story Charmin told of another thru-hiker being bitten by a rattlesnake. Other hikers had just plain thrown in the towel and quit.

And I started thinking, "We're all lemmings." There we are, following this trail mindless of where it takes us. That's our job. It leads us into all sorts of hardships, and the trail is taking us out one at a time. Despite all these stories of other hiker injuries,  however, we carry on. Like the mindless lemming. In my younger years, I used to enjoy playing Lemmings, the video game. In my head, I imagined an endless line of thru-hikers, and clicking around trying to save as many of them as I could from walking into disaster.

We're all lemmings, in the grand game called Thru-Hiking the PCT.

I was pondering these thoughts as I walked into the dinning room at the hotel for breakfast. It was a bed and breakfast, and I had already used the bed. Now it was time to get the breakfast. I started some bread in the toaster and ordered waffles, scrambled eggs, and bacon.

The one other couple in the hotel walked in as I was waiting, and they started asking me about my hike. The couple was older, from Atascadero, just a few miles from my home town of San Luis Obispo. We ate breakfast together, and after asking about my stove, I went to my room and retrieved it to show them. They asked how I was going to get to the trailhead, and I said I'd try to hitch a ride. "Unless you want to drive me up there?" I asked, hopeful.

The woman said sure, seemed even a little excited at the prospect, but her husband clearly didn't like the idea. It was out of their way, and they didn't have room to take a passenger. I refrained from suggesting that one of them could stay at the hotel while the other dropped me off. After all, if they did drive me up to the trailhead, they'd have to come back down anyhow. No reason that both of them had to drive up, and clearly their vehicle had room for at least one passenger.

Mostly, I think the husband just didn't want to be bothered driving out of his way, which I could understand, but he stuck with the "there's no room to take another passenger" excuse. Oh, well. I didn't really expect to yogi a ride to the trailhead, but it didn't hurt to try!

I walked to Subway and bought a sandwich for the trail, and on the way back I bumped into Peanut Eater. He hiked the trail the previous year and was now spending a couple of weeks camped at the trailhead for Kearsarge Pass shuttling hikers all over the place. He was at the post office when he spotted me, and I asked about a ride to the trailhead. He had to drive down to Lone Pine to drop off some hikers, but that he was going to stop at the Courthouse Motel to pick up Trouble, Dude, Granite, and Tarrapin at 11:00, and that he'd pick me up there and then as well. Excellent!

But I decided to try hitching to the trailhead in the meantime. I was ready to go, and didn't really feel like waiting around for an hour for a ride. I walked out to the road to the trailhead and spent a half hour trying to hitch. During that time, only two cars passed by, and neither of them picked me up. Given the severe lack of traffic, I finally gave up and walked to the Courthouse Motel to wait.

Peanut Eater arrived and we all piled into the vehicle, finally arriving at the trailhead at 12:15. It was much later than I had wanted to arrive, but at least I was finally back in action. The other hikers hung around Peanut Eater's campsite, but I wanted to get a move on and left the behind.

The nine mile hike back to the PCT over Kearsarge Pass was largely uneventful. I caught up to a park ranger--the first I had seen on the trail--who didn't even ask to see my permit or bear canister. I was a little disappointed not to get 'carded.' I hadn't been carded on the trail yet, and I still wouldn't.

Since I had hiked out two days before, a considerable amount of snow had clearly melted. This was the first time I had to backtrack on trail I had already hiked before, and there were two places that I clearly remembered snow being a significant factor in a route I chose, and in both places, the snow had already melted. There was still a lot of snow on the ground, but I was impressed with how much had melted away in less then 48 hours.

I ate half my Subway sandwich sitting at the top of Kearsarge Pass, admiring an amazing view, and the other half at the trail junction upon reaching the PCT. I passed a family from Florida who were out backpacking for a week, and they seemed a little disoriented at all the snow and high altitudes. No kidding!

I lost the trail shortly after getting back on the PCT in the snow, and lost it for several miles. The trail might be lost, but I wasn't, and used my maps and compass to navigate over Glen Pass--a 12,000 foot pass. I was confident at first--I already passed the 13,000-foot Forester Pass without too much trouble! But I took one look at Glen Pass and quaked in my shoes. The pass looked impossibly steep, covered with a slick layer of snow, that--if one were to slip and slide down--would end with my body falling into a partially frozen alpine lake. I suddenly found myself wishing I had a hiking partner. Or at least wasn't out here completely alone.

I approached the pass, prepared to turn back if I felt it got too hairy. The snow was slushy which helped calm my fears. Slushy snow gave my shoes a lot more grip and the confidence that I could arrest a slide pretty easily. The pass looked scary, but as with Forester Pass, it's bark was worse than its bite.

Going down the other side went quickly. The day was getting late, and now I was rushing ahead to find a good place to camp. By Arrowhead lake, I saw a couple of tents set up, and I called out asking who was out there. It had the feeling of thru-hikers, and I was right. It was Shang-hi and Hurricane. I didn't recognize the name Shang-hi, but I did know the hiker. I always called him Yellow Pants for the blinding yellow shorts he usually wore, but he didn't have a trail name at the time I met him. I guess he finally got himself a proper trail name. Hurricane I was also familiar with, though I  hadn't seen him since the Andersons.

I set up camp near them and called it a day.

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!


sarcasmo said...

Yogi a ride? New one! ?? I've really enjoyed reading your adventure in progress. I'm vicariously hiking with you. Thanks for sharing your photos!
AQ Sarcasmo

Goofy girl said...

I could never be a thru hiker. It is fun to read your adventures as it's been too hot in OK to do anything lately. Take care the rest of the hike. We like having you in charge verses our other choice.

Anonymous said...

That's a gorgeous photo ~
I think an excellent candidate for "2011 Project X"


veganf said...

Hahaha! I had totally forgotten about Lemmings! Loved that game! I wonder if there's an iPhone app for it yet...

Sue KuKu said...

I didn't see any hikers being lemmings behind you when you hiked naked!


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Those alpine lakes are so beautiful. We're they frozen over or could you use them as a source of water?

sarcasmo's comment reminded of a word I've been meaning to ask you about from a previous post: nero day

You've used zero day before, but not nero day. What does nero mean?

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers