Pacific Crest Trail: part ii
I had made it to Kennedy Meadows, the symbolic marker of the "end of the desert." The High Sierras lay ahead. I couldn't wait to see their beauty. To enter the next phase. And, to have an abundance of fresh, running water.
Right off the bat you hit Mt. Whitney—the highest point in the contiguous United States. It isn't technically on the PCT, but it's only a day trip to the peak and back. Lucky for every thru-hiker, you've already acclimated to the elevation, and by now you're in prime shape to hike just about anything.
The world was very alien at the top. No growth of any kind. Just rock and more rock. Ice and water. And a quiet that save for the other hikers, might have been quite peaceful, or might just as easily have been eerie.
The Kearsarge Lakes and Pinnacles were easily one of the most picturesque pieces of the PCT. Again, they technically weren't on the PCT, but as I needed to get to town for resupply, I passed them on my way over Onion Pass. It was also one of the only places I saw cloud cover and rain, which only made them more scenic.
Pinchot Pass is of no true significance to the PCT. Most hikers probably won't remember it after some time away from the trail. I crested the pass just before sunset and pitched my tent a half-mile down the slope. Upon sunrise, I was greeted with a view of a lake below me, surrounded by mountains, and my morning drink came from an ice cold creek a hundred yards to my right. And I would be hiking downhill! It was a good morning. Yet, it was on this morning that a new thought penetrated my mind—as if spoken by someone else: "What would happen if I quit the trail?"
The Sierras were proving to be every bit as beautiful as I had hoped. Their only downfall, as far as I could see, were the godless mosquitoes that swarmed you at every minute. I remember swatting my arm to get one mosquito, and coming up with four. The other downfall was the destructive side of nature revealed in the form of severe blowdown that decimated acres of forest.
The PCT cuts through Yosemite, but doesn't lead into the Valley. I would have been a fool not to venture down there. My PCT thru-pass automatically served as permit to ascend Half-dome. As one who greatly fears exposed heights, climbing up that stone face was one of the most terrifying things I have done (actually, it was the going down that was far worse).
It may sound strange, but it wasn't until I was in the valley of Yosemite that I felt small. I had recognized that I was small many times on this trip, but that recognition hadn't transcended into comprehension. Finally, with sheer granite walls rising on all sides of me, I felt it. I felt my insignificant scale.
I distinctly remember the approach to Sonora Pass. The next morning I was to meet Paul, a family friend who has known me all my life. He and I would hike for a few days and leave the trail together. My time on the PCT was almost done. I had had enough. I was and am very glad to have been able to have spent my last miles on the trail with such a good man.
When we hit Echo Lake our hike was done. We grabbed a milkshake and copped a ride to Reno where we spent the night, and caught a bus the next day to San Francisco. From there we spent a couple of days at Paul's brother-in-law's home, before we each set back for Michigan.