Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 14: On top of the world: Muir Pass!

Karolina, as I might have mentioned before, is a sleeper. She likes to sleep in in the morning, while I would prefer an earlier start. We can never be certain exactly how long it'll take to reach our minimum destination for the day, so I'd rather get an early start and maybe finish early--but still have time to reach the destination before dark in case it does take longer than expected.

And so once again, I was awake, while Karolina was perfectly happy to lounge around the morning sleeping. So we try to find a balance. I wind up staying in camp in the morning a bit longer than I'd prefer, and she winds up leaving a bit earlier than she'd prefer. But this morning, I had a new idea that might get Karolina out of bed: music. Better than being attacked by a bear, at least. =)

I looked through my smartphone and found the song On Top of the World. Being in the High Sierra, that seemed like a good choice. I started playing it loudly, making sure she had no trouble hearing it.

Karolina's wake-up call!

When it started she started moving a little bit. Clearly awake now. Then she started moving with the beats of the song. Slowly at first, but with growing enthusiasm. Eventually punching her arms out enthusiastically, and I realized I should have been recording this the whole time. I whipped out my camera and started recording as Karolina grew more and more animated, eventually standing up in her sleeping bag and wildly dancing to the music.

She was definitely awake now! The musical wake-up call worked far better than I could have ever imagined!

We ate breakfast, brushed our teeth and packed up camp. The day was still too early for the morning light to reach Poop Falls, much to my disappointment, but since the trail wound near it anyhow, I took Karolina to see it in person.

Then the trail started a relatively steep climb to Evolution Lake where we took some more videos for our upcoming music video of us dancing around with the lake in the background.

The trail was steadily climbing towards Muir Pass, to date our highest point on the trail and Karolina's highest ever altitude peaking at 11,955 feet. Not quite 12,000 feet, but close enough!

We took another break by Wanda Lake, named after one of John Muir's daughters. (His other daughter, Helen, also has a lake named for her on the other side of Muir Pass.)

Despite our high altitude, the temperature was remarkably hot. Located well above tree level, there was absolutely no shade to be found except small slivers cast by the largest of boulders. "It's a desolate wasteland!" I told Karolina. "Absolutely desolate, and a complete wasteland!" Beautiful, though. *nodding*

It was, I imagined, what it must feel like walking on the moon, although we did have patches of snow visible on the high mountain slopes.

The worst part about stopping at Wanda Lake wasn't the heat, however, but rather the bugs. There were seemingly thousands of tiny little bugs flitting around. They weren't biting, but it they were annoying as could be and I pulled out my tarp to throw over us and help keep the bugs away.

Karolina wanted a picture of her with Wanda Lake in the background, and laid down on a rock stomach-side down, propping her body up with her arms and her legs bent up into the air. A dramatic fashion statement, and an older gentleman walked up the trail as I was taking the photo asking if we were doing a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Ha! Yeah, that's funny. =) Then he asked if he could take a photo of Karolina as well. She didn't have a problem with it, so the man took a photo of Karolina and continued on his way. That was odd....

Karolina's "Vanity Fair" photo shoot.

After a suitably lengthy break, we continued our march up Muir Pass, finally arriving at the pass which was marked by a small hut that hikers could use to get out of inclement weather. We took a look inside just to see it and get some photos, but it was much prettier outside and certainly nothing we would call inclement weather. Several other hikers were standing around outside as well, chatting and telling stories.

Two of the hikers, Freja and Odin, had walked all the way from the Mexican border--quite an accomplishment in its own right. If they were thru-hikers, though, they were seriously late passing here, though. They knew that, however, and weren't actually planning to thru-hike the entire trail. They wanted to finish the section through the High Sierra, then skip ahead to Oregon or Washington and do the last part of the trail. Skip the "boring" parts--or at least what counts as boring on the PCT. In truth, there were boring days on the trail, but I don't think there's any stretch of trail longer than about 20 miles without some awesome place or viewpoint somewhere on the trail.

This hut marks the top of Muir Pass--11,955 feet above sea level.

Coming down from Muir Pass, we saw Helen Lake--the other lake named after John Muir's children--and hit a small patch of snow! On the trail! It would have been easy to walk around a few feet off the trail, and Karolina was about to do just that but I told her no. She needed to stay on the trail, and I needed to get video of her doing it for our music video. "If you slip and fall," I told her, "that's okay too, since there's that line about falling and getting up again!"

Which, as it turned out, is exactly what happened. (You're welcome, Karolina!)

Karolina navigates the small patch of snow covering the trail. This would be the only section of the entire JMT that was still covered in snow. Quite a bit different than the 10 miles of non-stop postholing I did over Muir Pass during my PCT thru-hike!

Shortly after that, we lost the trail. I'm not sure how we lost the trail. It wasn't buried in snow when we lost it. It's usually well-defined, although through fields of solid rocks, it can sometimes be difficult to see since nothing delineates it. But whatever happened, we eventually reached a point where we clearly were not on the trail anymore, and neither of us had any idea how we lost it.

It wasn't a moment to panic, however, because we could clearly see the trail on the other side of the canyon, heading down from Muir Pass. We just had to scramble over there back to the trail. With no defined trail between our location and where we could see the trail, we'd have to bushwhack it. Or rockwhack it, given the lack of bushes at these elevations.

We scrambled down into a sharp canyon with a nice little creek and waterfall, using our hands to climb up and down the rocky slopes as much as our feet, which we called "Corsica-style hiking" due to its resemblance to the rough terrain we had experienced the year before in Corsica. It took us about ten minutes, but we reached the trail again and were back on our way.

We set up camp late in the day, next to the Middle Fork of the Kings River. All of the good campsites were already taken, so we crowded ourselves into a more exposed located near some other hikers--and it would be another night for cowboy camping. We were both pretty exhausted, which seemed odd since we had covered barely less than 10 miles (9.9 to be exact). Maybe a slight case of altitude sickness? We were both at new highs for the day, and still camped at close to 11,000 feet above sea level. Or maybe the trail was just a bit more steep and rugged compared to what we had been doing thus far.

Anyhow, we set up camp and called it a night. I apologized again to Karolina for bringing her into this desolate wasteland. "Somewhere, up ahead," I joked, "I'll find you somewhere that's pretty and amazing!"

Despite this lengthy post, Karolina declared the day as "officially uneventful." She's starting to come around to my way of thinking. =)

Evolution Lake
Karolina admires Evolution Lake

I really just love the layout of this photo!
This is the photo that Karolina took of me taking the previous photo. The things I do to get a good shot! =)

Near the top of Muir Pass. The air is getting thin!
I'm about to enter the hut at Muir Pass.

Inside the hut.

Why, it's a yellow-bellied varmot--err, I mean marmot! Yellow-bellied marmot!
Helen Lake

Karolina plows through the snow on the trail!

We lost the trail and had to scramble through this rock-infested canyon, but at least we got to see these waterfalls up close and personal which we would have missed had we been on the trail! =)

Moonrise during the sunset.


Susie Huber said...

Ryan, I have not kept up with you as I should. Who is Karolina?

Ryan said...

I friend from Poland that I met while hiking the Camino de Santiago. We've done a few hikes together now.