Day 1 – Saturday, September 21, 2013
Today, September 21, 2013, is the first of my last five days on the mountain. The end is so near, yet still so far, and I’m sorry to say, I really want this trip of a gazillion miles to be over with.
Judging from the steel bear lockers found in the campground, I was in bear country again; normally, I’ve been sleeping with my food ever since jettisoning my bear canister at Donner Pass, and have experienced no problems other than a few mice or maybe chipmunks. But just to be safe, I stored my backpack with all its food smells inside the steel box. It must be bear proof, as it took me a few minutes to figure out how to open the box.
I was on the trail by 6:00 a.m.; I had wanted to be moving earlier, but a headlamp was now needed for early morning hiking, and all three of my headlamps have malfunctioned – so, I had to wait for a reasonable hour to begin walking
From my camp to Rainy Pass, it was only thirteen miles, not much as distances goes, but it was all uphill, nearly twenty-three hundred feet of climbing. There are high mountains on either side of the trail, so basically, I was walking in the valleys alongside flowing streams. The peaks, which rolled on forever, were capped with glistening snow, signaling that winter was fast approaching, and it is a sure sign to me that I need to keep hustling to make my eighteen miles per day, in order to exit the trail next Wednesday.
The trail followed along Bridge Creek, crossing it several times on its climb towards Highway 20, which in turn crossed over Rainy Pass; and like always, when walking alone, I was deep in thought when my concentration was interrupted by movement behind me. Turning around to see what the commotion was, I suddenly come face-to-face with a group of robust, fast-hiking teenage hikers, being led in the front and followed up in the rear by camp counselors in their early twenties. I stepped off the trail to let them pass, and they’re moving so fast that I didn’t have time to engage any of them in conversation. In a flash, they were gone, and I never saw them again.
The one thought that flashed through my mind as they effortlessly glided out of sight after turning a corner in the trail – Ahhhh youth, what a glorious time that was in my life, a time when all nine lives were still intact, a time when I dared to swim a raging river, a time when I dared to climb rock cliffs without ropes, a time when nothing bad could happen to me – then, I had to grow up.
Where the trail finally crossed Highway 20, I stopped to eat my lunch; the sun was out, but it was still cold enough to keep my jacket on. I had a new food supply which meant a new bag of frosted animal cookies, and I savored them one by one as I slowly devoured them.
Across the road and back in the trees was a large parking lot where people could leave their cars who were hiking in the area. As I made my way to the trailhead, I passed, what I assumed to be a family - husband and wife and small child making their gear ready in preparation for getting on the trail. The woman, who was very friendly, asked if I was a PCT thru-hiker, and when I said, “Yes,” she clapped her hands together in excitement and said,
“Oh, you’re almost there.”
The weather was turning foul and starting to drizzle, and the child was small. I hoped the parents were right about bringing her into the forests in such menacing conditions.
It was 4:00 p.m. when I left the parking lot, and I only hiked another three miles to a decent campground at the base of Cutthroat Pass before stopping for the night. The camp had a small stream of water running through it, so I decided to stay, having exactly made my eighteen miles for the day. My tent was almost up when I heard voices on the trail; it was the couple from the parking lot and their five-year-old daughter who was chatting and singing as she walked, paying no attention to the cold and slow drizzles. We waved at one another as they passed by, and I watched them for a while, until they were out of sight. I daresay that most children would be whining and moaning if they had to endure an uphill climb in the cold and rain, but this little girl was as happy as a lark.
It’s only 6:30 p.m. as I settled in for the evening, but I was tired and really wanted the rest. Lucky Man and Yashinka came into camp just before dark, and I motioned to them that there were additional campsites down by the stream.