From the Crest to the Coast – Day 70 – 73: Bishop to Cape Mear, OR

Miles: 1.5

My panic keeps me up until 3 am, a time of morning I haven’t seen in a really long time, but eventually I get two hours of half-sleep. Then I see Denied walk past my tent, ready at the time we’d agreed upon, and so I get out to tell him the news: I won’t be going forward.
“I’m really sorry,” I tell him.
He’s chipper in the way people are when they haven’t quite processed the situation yet. “No worries!” He says. I go back to my tent and start packing my things and he sits on a rock by the trail. He’s still there as I go to leave.
“Do you have everything you need?” I ask.
“Yeah.” He is more sullen now.
“I’m really sorry. I hope you have a really awesome hike. The others should be waking up soon if you want some people to walk with.”
“I’m probably going to have to go back to town,” he says. “I wouldn’t have brought so much food if I wasn’t following your hiking plan.”
I ask if I can bring the extra food down for him and ship it ahead but he says no. I apologize again. I hope he’s okay. He did me a favor by saying he’d hike with me and I’ve let him down. I’m not usually a flake. But as guilty as I feel, I also am feeling really hopeful about the decision. I am tired of trying to fight so hard to stay on this trail, with these groups of people. I am ready to keep hiking. But not here.
I head back down and go looking for a ride back in the parking area. As I walk, I ran into another hiker who was headed in, Aika. She’d turned around the day before, too, after trying to hike by herself. I tell her about the OCT and her eyes light up. If things don’t go well, she might come out and join me.
I get a ride from a local and he seems happy to hear I’m not headed in. He tells me the bus to Reno, where I need to get, isn’t running again until Monday. He says the highway is busy, though, and getting a hitch shouldn’t be too hard.
He drops me in Independence and I catch another ride to Bishop, and then I hang out outside the hostel for a few hours. I tell some people my plans and they’re mostly supportive. 
I go to lunch. Mark is texting me saying how much he doesn’t want me to hitch that far. He’ll rent me a car. He’ll come drive me himself. Just don’t hitch, he says. 
But a hitch seems the most simple, and Aika has turned around and thinks she’ll go with me, so I make myself a sign, “PCT Hiker to Reno.”
But then another hiker says: we’re headed to Mammoth Lakes in five, anyone want a ride? The other hikers say I should take it because it puts me 40 minutes closer. I text Aika and she says to go for it. 
When I get in the car, the hikers, Kelley and Derek, say they’re trying to get a car in Mammoth Lakes to go to Reno. They’re flipping North. They say I’m welcome to ride with them.
So that’s what we do, and I don’t have to hitch at all. We have an awesome conversation the whole way. Right outside of Reno we see a PCT hiker hitching and we pick her up. Her name is Energizer Bunny. She’s planning to flip north, too, but then I mention the OCT and she asks if she can go with me so I say yes. 
We drop Energizer Bunny off at a hostel and Kelley and Derek drop me off at Amelia’s house. It is so good to see her again. She and her mom take me to Pho and then give me a bed and I am tired, so tired – I haven’t slept more than 3 hours today. So I lay down. And it takes no time at all to fall asleep. 

Day 71: 
I wake up and hang out in bed for a while and then eat cereal with Amelia and her mom. I rearrange my bag and take my bear can, ice axe, microspikes and about 7 days of food to a local shipping store. 
After that, we relax. Amelia and I catch up on Dr Who. I am happy about how easy it is to be around Amelia. I download maps and guides to the Oregon Coast Trail. I am feeling good about the decision to hike this trail, and excited. I wonder if I will miss the PCT or not. 

Day 72:
I wake up in the middle of the night and think I’m on the edge of a mountain. I see the slope of snow ahead of me and it looks impossibly steep. I see a headlamp below me. I’m alone out here.
But then I remember: I’m in a bed. The snow is a curtain. The headlamp is a light on the floor. The edge is the bed. My brain thinks I’m outside as a default, now. It tries to make wilderness patterns out of domestic shapes. 
In the afternoon we go to REI and Sierra Trading Post. I buy a pair of Tevas and consider a better rain jacket but decide against it. 
Amelia’s brothers and Dad come home and I am surprised that this does not make me feel more out of place. I feel more welcome here than I have for a while on the PCT. 
That night, we watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Am I brave? I wonder. Would I fight? Do I know when to run?
I call Mark. I tell him how I scared I am of the end of this summer of hiking. How do I live real life after this? 
Day 73: 
I lay on the couch into the morning. I watch more Handmaid’s Tale. I take a shower and throw my hiking clothes in with a load of laundry. They smell bad so quickly, even without hiking. But I am itching to hike again, to see new things, to move forward. 
Amelia, her mom and I go to Chipotle and then they pick up Energizer Bunny, who has booked the same flight as me, and drop us off at the airport. 
Loner, a hiker who regularly section hiked the PCT and just thru hiked the OCT, picks us up from the airport and takes us to his family’s beach vacation home. We chat with his family – his dad is 91, his mother a few years younger and they still backpack – and then go upstairs to bed at well past hiker midnight. Tomorrow Loner drops us off at the border or Oregon and Washington, and then we hike south. 

Nero in Bishop, Panic on Trail – Day 69: bishop to Onion Valley Trail Head

Date: June 29

PCT miles: no
Miles: 1.5
I get up early and ride a loaner bicycle to the grocery store. Well, first I go for a mile in the wrong direction, but I genuinely don’t mind because riding bikes is fun and the weather is perfect. 
When I get back I have to try to pack my bear can which is comical. We’re carrying 10 days of food, the biggest carry on the trail, and I have to use both my bear can and my opsack to fit it all. 
I go get breakfast and go to the gear store where I get some new shoes. Karma and Soulshine get my attention by banging on a window as I walk by. “Did you get my text?” She asks me. No. She says she’s hiking with a group and I can go with them. But that group is close with the one that just left me, and I don’t want to hold Karma back. I tell her about my plans to hike with Denied but our itineraries sound similar so we’ll likely see each other anyway. 
I go to the post office and ship myself some food to VVR, our next resupply stop. I grab lunch with Denied and then we catch a ride back to the trail with Santa’s Helper. 
I am hiking up the mountain and feeling a heavy weight in my chest. It’s just the post-town blues, I am trying to tell myself. 
We get to one of the camping options for the night, a mile and a half in, and some hikers who were close with my group are camping there. Denied wants to camp there and they say it’s okay, but before our tents are set up they have all gone to bed. It’s early, 8. Am I imagining things, or are they avoiding me? I can’t tell. 
I crawl in my own tent and try to go to sleep, but suddenly it’s like my body has forgotten how to breathe. I take a deep, calming breath and then choke on the following breaths. Too shallow ones that make my lungs tingle, like they’re collapsing. Is this altitude sickness? I wonder. I try to run through all the symptoms I know of, but this feeling feels familiar – it feels like a panic attack. 
It’s then that I notice my brain is racing. I’m imagining climbing up over Kearsarge, Glen, Mather, Muir with this bubble of people watching me, waiting for me to freak out, waiting for me to fail. I’m imagining them hiking purposefully ahead of me so that I can’t follow their paths. I’m imagining Denied, young and unsure and trying to find his own way up the mountain, trying to help me out of my fears entirely on his own. In this bubble, I am a burden, my brain believes. That is too heavy a thought to carry through these mountains. 
And this feeling isn’t new. Before starting the PCT I read on and in about trail families, how they are some of the best friendships you’ll ever have. But that isn’t what I’ve found out here, though I’ve truly wanted to. In the desert, it wasn’t a problem. The casual friendships were enough, and hiking in my own was safe. I thought a family would happen organically. But it didn’t. And for the last section of the Sierra, I’ve been left feeling lost. The trail has been perfect and enlivening and humbling. But the community, not so much. It feels like a taboo to say, really. Everyone says the people are what make the trail. But so often, for me, they are what is unmaking it. 
I send Mark a series of text messages about how I’m feeling, knowing he is asleep. In the flurry of sending them I have a moment of clarity: what I need is to by myself, so I can rebuild my confidence as a hiker. I don’t like how desperate I have felt for friendship, how small i was willing tinned in order to have people near me. But the PCT – the Sierra, NorCal, Oregon, Washington – they are all too full of snow for me to feel comfortable on my own right now. 

And then I remember photos from a friend’s recent hike of the OCT, that many former PCT hikers have headed there, and I feel a sense of relief. 
That relief, of course, quickly turns into desperation to plan. I make notes to myself about gear. I call my friend in Washington and talk to her about the possibility, how she might hike with me for a few days. I like the idea of being around people who like me, who I’m not constantly trying to endear myself to. She tells me some friends of a friend quit the trail because they weren’t loving the culture, too. 
You didn’t really go out there because you needed to be a thruhiker, she says. So what does it matter what trail you’re on?
And she’s right. What I wanted was to spend 5-6 months hiking, learning about myself, learning how to take care of myself. Thruhiking was the simplest way to do that. I can still do that. I can southbound the OCT and then hike north to Canada from the Oregon/California border on the PCT once the snow has melted.
I am still sad that I’m not able to test myself more in the Sierra. The trail itself has been such an incredible comfort to me. I crave it’s neutrality. But I haven’t been able to figure out how to live with people out here, or I suppose how to live without them. Maybe it’s time I do that, somewhere a little more safe. 

A Risk to Others – Day 68: Zero in Bishop

Date: June 28

I wake up and grab breakfast with Rainfly. He pays for my breakfast which is sweet and then we have a nice conversation about the trail. Afterward I go to do laundry and the whole group is there. They’re planning the next section of the trail.
“Anything I can do to help?” I ask.
“No,” they say.
I listen to their planning and put my clothes in the dryer and then they all go and sit on the floor. I think this is funny, how hikers get so used to sitting on the floor that they avoid chairs. I sit in a chair.
“I think we need to have a talk,” Sole says. I already know what’s coming.
“We’re worried about you in this next section,” she says. “And we’re worried about Co and LiterBit exposing themselves to extra risk by having to help you so much.”
She says a little more and asks if I have anything I’d like to say. I say I think I’ve grown and learned a lot from the last section but I understand if they want to move forward without me.
“I think that’s what we’re saying,” LiterBit says. 
I say thank you for what they did to help me. They go back to the hostel. Rainfly and my clothes are still drying. He sits next to me. “I wasn’t sure if I should have said something earlier.” Ah. This is why he bought me breakfast.
We get our clothes and I pack my bag back at the hostel and we’re doing that weird thing where we’re trying to be polite and casual but it’s not quite working.
I start considering my options. I can’t go into the Sierra alone. There are people doing it, but it won’t be me. I can ask Karma and Nirvana if I can hike with them, but part of me feels like if we were going to hike together we would already be doing it. I ask anyway. But I also start considering other options. Too snowy to go north. I could go west, maybe, and hike the California Coast Trail, a trail made of mostly road walking.
One thing I know: I am not going home.
But I am also sad, and angry. It hurts to be rejected, and I’m angry because I genuinely think I can do this section if I had a solid group. Not a group to baby me or cut my steps or find every river crossing – but a group I could trust and rely on and who knew they could trust and rely on me. I’m angry because I may not get a chance to see what I am capable of in the Sierra. I’m sad because I really wanted to be part of a trail family. I’m sad because I picked the wrong one. I’m sad because I wasn’t worth waiting for. 
I’m glad, at least, that the vibes I was picking up on were not all in my head. 
I spend the rest of the day trying to pull together information on the coast trail. I call Mark, and my friend Sarah, two people I know would drag me up a mountain if that’s what it took. I wish they were hiking with me. 
I get another night at the hostel. Denied is staying in the same room. I mention my dilemma and he says: you can hike with me. I try to make it clear why I am in the dilemma I am in – I am afraid of heights, I am new to the equipment, I slowed my group down. But he says he’s been wanting to hike with someone and to hike slower. He seems to mean it. So I say, okay. 
Tomorrow I’ll resupply and try to find new shoes and we’ll try to get back to the trail. 

Kearsarge Pass Day 67: Campsite before Kearsarge to Bishop

Date: June 27

PCT miles: ?

Miles: 8ish

We get up around 5 and immediately head up steep switchbacks, but they’re dry and so I’m happy to have them. The group waits for me where the snow begins and Co navigates us through trees and sun cups around Bullfrog Lake. At one point I get ahead of everyone and it’s unclear which direction to take, although I can see on my GPS the general direction we’re headed, and the pass we need to get to – but there’s no footpath and I want us all to stay together so I wait for them. 
“I’m pretty sure the pass is over there, but I’m not sure which way you’d rather go.”
“No,” Co says. “We have to go around the lake.”
But as we head around the lake she realizes where the pass is and starts taking us in the direction I’d pointed out. This is the hard part of new groups – nobody knows if they can trust you or not.

It’s a mostly uneventful walkup except for a steep snow shoot surrounded by rock scrambles. At first Sole and I try to scramble up some boulders but I quickly decide it’s more effort than it’s worth and cross the snow, where LiterBit and Co are scrambling up some loose rock and dirt – my least favorite. They try to tell me how to get up the scramble but I’m looking at the snow thinking that it seems way more secure. After debating a bit with myself, I decide to go for the snow, even though it’s steep. It’s the right decision for me. My spikes are grippy and Forester has taught me how to work with my ice axe and I move slow but I feel confident on the ice. We get to the top and I feel redeemed – I am not a helpless hiker in the snow. I am capable. 

Of course, heading down Kearsarge is slushy and steep and scary and LiterBit heel-kicks steps into the snow for me to use. There are a few glissades that are fun and a little sketchy and we take turns almost running into rock walls or almost sliding off edges around corners.
It feels like it takes forever to get to the Trailhead, but I’m still happy to be headed there because I know I’ll be getting to town. The last switchbacks in particular, even though they’re dry, seem never ending. 

My feet are wet from snow and streams that run down the trail and they start to hurt from being wet for so long. When I get to the parking lot I put on dry socks and walk to the end of the road closure without shoes. 
There, the Swiss Boys and Taylor are climbing out of a car. It is good to see familiar faces. The man who gave them a ride is Santa’s Helper, a section hiker who took time off trail to shuttle hikers around. I ask if he can give me and the group a ride and he says yes. We wait for them and eventually they turn up, but they’ve already found another ride with a day hiker. Another hiker named Denied starts to walk by and I ask if he wants a ride and he says yes and climbs in. Yoav and Dean pull up and we hug and Yoav shows me a video of him glissading for a solid 2 minutes down Whitney Portal, which is insane. Then they hike on. Denied and I chat with Santa’s Helper while waiting to see if any other hikers come by. They don’t. So we head to town. 
Santa’s Helper drops us off at the hostel but the group is having lunch at a diner so I go join them. We’re all unshowered and when I walk in a man waves his hand in front of his face as if to say, “you stink.” Ah, to be hiker trash. We all go back to the hostel and decide to share a private room. I shower last because they’re headed out for drinks and I’m going to stay in to call Mark.
The call with Mark is good. I miss him, but I know that I want to keep walking, that there is something about being out here and having the chance to walk, to carry everything I need on my back, that is necessary right now. I am not ready to go home. 

Forester Pass, aka The Trail Made Me Cry, Part 2 – Day 66: Tyndall Creek Campground to Campsite Before Kearsarge

PCT miles: 774.5 to 787.2
Miles: 12.7*
We wake early and are hiking around 4:30. I’m feeling apprehensive but the pass has to be climbed, so onward we go. 
Last night I told the group I would really like to not be left alone, and they do a good job of waiting for me when I lag behind. Rainfly joins us as does another hiker, Nick, and Diggs. Diggs is normally a pretty fast, confident hiker but today she’s lagging. Someone asks if she’s okay and she says she feels weird, a little dizzy. I tell to the others that we need to wait, but she insists she’s fine. She tries to keep pushing but has to keep stopping, and eventually Rainfly takes off his pack and insists she eat. This seems to help and she’s able to continue.
The approach is honestly kind of fun. The snow and sun ups are firm and I mostly just stare at my feet as I walk and then look up to gorgeous sunrise views.

But then we get to the approach of Forester. I can see that the switchbacks are largely covered by snow and there are a series of footprints winding up or going straight up the ice. I follow them, and eventually they run out. Sole is ahead of me going straight up, but I start to get nervous. Co catches up to me and starts telling me to take one step at a time, leading me toward a loose rock scramble. At the scramble, I start to really get afraid – the dirt falls beneath my feet and I’m having to have Co test out safe spaces to step. She’s patient. “One step. Good job.” When I finally get back to ice she has me take out my ice axe, which we haven’t had any time to practice with and feels strange in my hands. I still can’t seem to move and I don’t trust my microspikes on the incline. So Co starts creating steps with her ice axe for me, and LiterBit follows behind. I can see how much effort they are putting in for me and I am insanely grateful, while also having a sense that this will count against me. 
When I finally get to dry trail, I sob. I know I’m safe but I need to let go of the fear I was tamping down in order to get through it. I take my spikes off and put my pack on and walk up the switchbacks. The ice shoot that everyone talks about is nothing compared to what we just did and I walk across it without issue. 
We get to the top at 9am. Hikers are taking pictures. 3 women get naked and pose with their crampons and ice axes. Nature Monster climbs up the ice shoot. But we don’t stick around for long – we head down to get the descent started. The descent is scary too, slushy snow and steep drop offs. We hope for glissades but they are few and far between and don’t relieve us of much walking. Sole’s head starts to pound again and I stick near her to make sure she’s okay. The descent seems to trigger and altitude headache for her. 

Meanwhile, Co is doing an excellent job of navigating us safely down the mountain. My muscles are getting used to sliding on the snow and moving in new ways. The river crossing continue to be completely manageable. The trail goes from completely snow covered, to mush, to thick patches, to small patches as we descend. It is nice to end the day stretching out my legs on relatively dry trail at the end of the day. 
It feels like a week of trail life packed into one day. We camp a few miles short of the junction to Kearsarge and make a campfire and try to dry our shoes and eat dinner. 
Even though it was hard and very scary for me on the traverse, I feel like I learned a lot for next time. I hope this group would still be comfortable hiking with me because they’re a solid team in sketchy situations. But I don’t know that they will. I don’t feel like I’m growing closer to them, and I’m feeling a strange sense of… pity? Patronization? I’m not sure. I don’t feel like an equal, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is a problem and how much of it is just a function of being new. 
But I’m not dreading tomorrow. It’s hard to think of anything stopping me, because tomorrow is town day. There’s only one pass between me and hot food and a shower. 
*at this point these are estimates – there is enough snow coverage that we’re often traversing across snow without trail and so may be going less (or more)… just in case you’re a stickler for these things 

Still A Little Shaken – Day 65: Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station to Tyndall Creek Campsite

PCT Miles: 767 to 774.5 + 1 from campsite 
Miles: 8.5
We get a later start, because we don’t have passes, just creek crossings. We’re trying to get as close to the notorious Forester Pass as we can do we can do it early in the morning while the snow is still hard.
I hike by myself for a while because the terrain is still dry. LiterBit and Co wait for Sole Sister and I at the crossings. I feel bad – I’m happy to scout crossings, but because I’m not as fast I always arrive later, and I also get the sense that the group doesn’t trust me to find them. I’m feeling weird about my position in the group, like a hanger-on, not someone who is contributing and capable. I try to tell myself this isn’t the case and just be grateful that their judgment is good and they are finding safe places for us to cross. 
Patches of snow slow us down, as does the and altitude. I’m struggling to figure out how to take care of myself while also group hiking – I feel guilty when I need a break to eat so I often keep pushing and then start crashing, and even when I push I lag behind. 
We cross our last Creek for the day, Tyndall Creek. We get back to trail and find some shade/sun and eat while we dry out our shoes and socks. We want to try to do a couple more miles to get nearer to the pass, but Lysol, who has been hiking with us, is encouraging us to stay. Rainfly gets his stuff together and goes to find his own campsite in the next few miles. There are already several campers setting up camp where we are. Eventually Co and Sole take a look at the upcoming section, which they can see with a little walk ahead, and realize it’s largely snow covered and slanted. That settles it. We’re staying. We set up our tents. 
Just as I’m finishing up getting camp ready, Karma and Nirvana walk up. “How did the stream crossing go?” I ask. 
“Eventful,” Nirvana says, and I look closer and see that Karma is crying. She’d fallen in, lost her poles and banged up her knees. She’d caught herself on the bank – she’d only been a few steps in – and gotten back on shore, and then Nirvana had gone back to cross with her. She was okay but shaken. I got up and hugged her and tried to keep from crying, too. Karma is one of my favorite people out here and an incredibly strong hiker and it hurt to see her hurt. A little later, after she’d gotten set up and started cooking, I went over to chat with her. We caught up a little. I tell her I’m nervous about Forester, especially because of how Whitney went with my group where I was by myself for some sketchy sections. Soulshine says I should be clear with the group that I don’t want to be alone. Karma tells me that after the crossing she’s feeling nervous too and it’s nice not to be alone in that. I really missed her and Nirvana, and Soulshine is really nice too, and I’m really glad we’re traveling in the same bubble again, even if I’ve attached myself to another group. 
I hope I feel a little braver tomorrow. I feel like I haven’t had time to rewrite the story of Whitney into one of triumph (I made it up and down despite my fears) and instead it’s replaying in my head as a series of what-ifs – what if Forester is worse, what if I’m alone again, what if I’m not safe?
But there are only three options on the trail, really. You stay put, you turn around, or you move forward. And I intend to keep going. 

Mt Whitney Day, aka The Trail Made Me Cry – Day 64: Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station & Back

PCT miles: 0

Miles: 14ish

We gave up on hitting Mt Whitney at sunrise and instead get up at 330 and are hiking by 445. I’m happy for this because I don’t do well when my sleep schedule is messed up. 
We’re hiking in the dark briefly and then the sun rises, but it doesn’t take long for me to realize my group is moving much faster than I can sustain. 

After a few miles I am crashing – we haven’t stopped for a break and I’m moving on 200 calories from a breakfast bar. I see some rocks ahead and yell out that I’ll be stopping for a break. They continue on. 

Soon I’m moving alone on snow. There is a track in the snow of footsteps going in the right direction so I let myself follow them. It is both peaceful and disappointing. I don’t think it’s smart to be alone out here, and I don’t think it’s a good group dynamic to leave people behind in the Sierra, regardless of the terrain. There are too many things that could go wrong that we’re all new with, more remote, more spread out. But we’ve all been told to “hike our own hike” and we’ve taken it to heart and we’re used to the desert where none of us were beholden to anyone. 

And anyway, I’m moving slow. The altitude, the snow, it all makes me take smaller, slower steps. People who left an hour, two hours after us are starting to pass me. 
I’ve told the group I’m afraid of exposed, sketchy places but they’re not there when I get to an ice shoot that must be crossed. I put on my microspikes and go gently across and it’s fine. I am glad I practiced with steep, sketchy terrain before coming out here, to learn how to push through my terror. After that there are dry switchbacks and I think: well, at least the sketchy stuff is over. 

And then there is a rock scramble. It’s been created by hikers to avoid an even sketchier snow shoot with poor foot steps that few hikers are choosing to attempt. I hate scrambles on terrain like this – loose, rocky dirt with big boulders that look secure and then slide beneath your weight. But there isn’t much choice so I start moving up. I get about halfway when I don’t see any good choices and the fear is getting to me. Some hikers above who had passed me ask if I’d like them to stay until I get to the top and I say yes. 
They try to tell me where to step. Then they see another hiker, Couscous, coming up behind me. 
“Are you okay?” He asks me.
“I’m pretty freaked out,” I tell him. So he guides me up until I reach the trail again. When I’m on solid ground I start crying. It’s just the release of the fear and adrenaline. I know I’m okay. The tears need to happen anyway. 
Couscous offers to hike with me and I accept. I try to move fast and he tells me to slow down and he’s patient with me. But I’m getting more and more pissed off at the mountain. I am not a peak bagger, I’m telling myself. What the fuck is the point of this, I’m thinking. I’m not even moving forward – I have to go back the way I came. I get to the point where I can’t stand my own brain anymore so I tell Couscous I’m going to take a break. 
“Do you want me to wait for you?” He asks. 
“No, there are plenty of people, I’ll figure it out.”
He moves on and I sit for a break and collect myself a little. My brain is still pissed, but calmed a little, and after a few minutes I keep hiking. I only get about 200 feet up the trail when I see Couscous. 
“I felt really bad about leaving you,” he says. “So I waited.”
It’s a sweet gesture and we continue up the mountain. There is more rock scrambling but it’s stable rock and it’s slow going because of the altitude, but not scary. 
And then I’m at the top. 

I see the hut, still half filled with snow. I write my name in the log book and see that several people have written notes about how hard the hike was and I feel a little better. It’s 10:30 am. I sit near my group and Karma and Nirvana and Soulshine. My group only got there 30 minutes before me, which is comforting. 
I call Mark from the top and it is good to hear his voice. I try eat some snacks but I don’t get to relax much before we start to see some clouds roll in. 

The group decides they’re headed back down so I pack quickly and go after them. The downhill is much better for me – I can breathe and move. But I see that Sole Sister had fallen behind me and some hikers say she’s struggling with altitude sickness, a bad headache, so I wait for her and make sure she doesn’t lag far behind. We pause at the scramble down and Couscous and Physsie help Sole and I navigate it. 
At the end of the switchbacks is a glissade and the group is waiting at the bottom. It’s fun and I go fast, and then I try to learn to walk on slushy snow. I get better at sliding. Thunder starts to rumble nearby. A bunch of hikers are behind me but most don’t ask me to move. The snow seems to last and last and last. 
Then it starts to rain. People stop to out on their rain jackets but I push to a dry piece of land to put mine on. 
Eventually the trail appears again and about am hour after than I’m back at camp. It’s early, 4pm. I had my rain fly on my tent but had left the door of it open but luckily nothing inside is wet. I grab my bear can and get in my tent and put on dry clothes and eat food. A group of hikers is gathering outside my tent chatting. But I don’t feel like chatting, so I lay there. 
I’m exhausted and feeling the leftover fear from Whitney. Forester Pass is in two days and I’m nervous. But it’s also cool to know it’s done. I hiked Mt Whitney. I brought my body to incredible, oxygen-deprived heights. 
But I don’t know what else the Sierra will hold for me, and that makes me hesitant. I fall asleep around 6. 

Staging for Whitney – Day 63: Chicken Spring Lake to Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station Camp

PCT miles: 750.8 to 767.0 + 1 mile to camp 
Miles: 17.2
I get up early and set out. I tend to get on trail by 6am and the group tends to be more like 7 or 730, but they don’t really take breaks other than lunch and I like to break somewhat frequently, so I figure we’ll catch each other, and if not, we planned to meet up for creek crossings to tackle them. 
I haven’t been hiking for long when I see Karma, Nirvana and Soulshine still at camp. They’re all sitting around in their tents eating breakfast so I join them and chat a little. Nirvana is goofing around with his ice axe and making us laugh and a little nervous.

It’s interesting the different dynamics out here. I feel more myself with Karma and Nirvana but I’ve also known them longer. They seem willing to laugh and my jokes and acknowledge my comments in a way my new group isn’t necessarily. But.. maybe that will come with time? I don’t know. The people part of the trail – where do I fit in, how do I be myself, who is my family – continues to be a point of uncertainty. 

It’s nice to talk to them and a few other hikers join and I’m there for about 45 minutes, but I have more miles to do and I don’t want to slow my group – who passes by while I’m there – down, so I keep hiking. 

The trail is patches of snow and I have to learn to walk on them. I take them slow and it’s mostly fine, and then I take solid ground for granted and slam my knee into a rock. Oops. I take a break to soothe my ego a little and then move on.
Later, Sole Sister and I are hiking together and come to a glissade and take it. A glissade is just sliding down snow on your butt, like sledding. The first glissade of the trail. It makes me feel like a little kid. 
We cross a river where they’re waiting for me and show me where to go. Everyone seems to be standing around and it’s straight up a mountain to camp so I get started. I’m about halfway there when I realize they were standing around because they were waiting for more of the group — oops. I get to camp and set up and when they arrive I apologize. Next time I’ll clarify. 
Tomorrow is Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US. 14,505 feet. We’ll be leaving most of our food, tents, etc behind and slack packing to the top. I am nervous when everyone else seems excited. I’m not sure exactly what kind of terrain we’ll face. I hope I am able to reach the top. 

Into the High Sierra – Day 62: Lone Pine to Chicken Spring Lake

PCT miles: 745.3 to 750.8 + 2ish miles up Trail Pass
Miles: 7ish

This morning our trail angel makes us breakfast – eggs and bagels and fresh fruit and juices. We eat outside on her patio (we did this last night when she ordered us all Chinese food) and her desert tortoise wanders around entertaining us. 
It takes us a while to leave the house and I can tell the group is getting antsy. On the way out of town we split up – I go to a cafe for a sandwich, some others grab Subway, some others are just going to try for a hitch. 
In the cafe while I’m waiting for takeout two older men start asking me about backpacking. Their names are Scott and Mark and they ask where I’m trying to get to so I tell them I’m headed to the Horseshoe Meadow Trailhead. 
“We can take you there,” they say.
“That would be awesome.”
We wait for our food and on the drive they take a couple detours to talk about cattle ranching in the area because that’s what they do. They ask me about hiking and it takes me a while to realize they don’t know I’m thruhiking – when I explain that I’ve been walking for two months (!!) from the border of Mexico and California, Mark says: “So you’re kind of a badass.”
And Scott says: “Like Reese Witherspoon!”
They have a back and forth because Mark hasn’t seen the movie but for the rest of the drive they call me Reese, and when they drop me off they take a picture with me and give me their cards and then take some other thruhikers – “more Reese Witherspoons!” – back to town. 
These are the kinds of interactions I really like out here. I am grateful for any kind of kindness or magic, but because there are so many hikers many trail angels are too overwhelmed to see us as individuals. Bumping into people who aren’t familiar with what I’m doing, who aren’t meeting their 500th thruhiker but their first, kind of breathes some life back into interactions off trail. 

I kill some time at the trail head hoping the group will show up, so I get hiking. I’m not sure if they’re ahead of or behind me and I ask several southbound hikers if they’ve seen anyone, but no one has. Eventually I get to our planned meeting spot and wait and they catch me. 
“Show me the bottom of your shoes!” Sole Sister says. I do. “I knew those were your prints!”
We do some hemming and hawing about whether we should hike further, but ultimately decide to stay at the lake because we heard the next section wasn’t too bad for snow. Soon others – Whoopie, Nature Monster, Campo – join. We all eat dinner by the lake. Campo gets his trail name – Rainfly – because he accidentally sent his tent rather than his damaged rainfly to Big Agnes. 
We talk about how heavy our packs are. Mine weighed in at 30 lbs – and it was the lightest of the group. It has to be food – everyone else’s pack is at least 37. Did I carry enough? I’m wondering. Am I going to starve? 
It’s our first cold night in a while and it’s delightful. We’re at 11,200 feet. I don’t feel any issues with the altitude and I feel hopeful that it won’t be a problem for me. 

Reunions with Friends – Day 59: 10500′ Foot Tent Site to Lone Pine

PCT miles: 735.1 to 745.3 + 2ish miles on Trail Pass
Miles: 12ish

In my dream I see my mother. We are in the kitchen and she is cooking and I am washing dishes but she’s talking to someone like I’m not there. “Colleen needs to go back to the trail,” she’s saying. “What is she going to do here?”
I wake up and my head doesn’t hurt and the sun is rising and I watch it from my tent as I pack my things. Today I am going to Lone Pine – the rest of my group is camping at Horseshoe Meadow to avoid paying for an extra night in town, but I don’t like rushing and I also know I have a lot of phone calls to make so I’ll be trying to hitch.
The hike is uneventful. In my head I bitch and moan about a short climb, but really it’s my head and not the trail. I am leapfrogging with a German hiker named Jon who plans to leave the trail in Lone Pine. I am trying to be positive and supportive of other peoples hiking choices – leaving for good, skipping, hitching, whatever. There can be some noisy hikers, online especially but even on trail, who seem to look down on what other people are doing. But I don’t know that I’ll be a perfect hiker, and I hope someone is kind to me about whatever choices I have to make. 

We talk about his trip to LA that he’ll take after the trail and how he has a job to go back to. We hike on and come to Horseshoe Meadow, which is stunning, and I ask him to take a picture of me which he does. Then we get to the Trailhead. It’s mostly empty but a few cars. It’s Monday, not a popular day for dayhikers and campers. We come across two Asian hikers I’ve been bumping into who say they have been waiting four hours. Four hours!! I see a comment saying that if you walk a ways down the road, there is at&t service. So I start walking. Almost immediately a car heading to town says he can give me a ride – but I don’t have my pack. And why did he pass by the four hikers sitting at the road? There is one girl in the back with a backpack but he seems to think there isn’t room for both me and my pack. He offers to drive me until I have service, but I don’t like the idea of being away from my pack. We have an awkward exchange and he continued down the road.
Soon the road got steep and still no service. I hadn’t brought my pack or water. Boo. So I sit in the shade to gather myself when I hear a car coming and I stick out my thumb – I know this likely won’t be a hitch to town, but I’m hoping at least for a hitch back to my pack. Inside is a man name Mark who had gone mountain biking in the morning and was coming to see if any hikers needed rides. Did we ever! I jumped in and he took me back to my pack, Jon jumped in and the two Asian hikers were jumping in a hitch of their own. On the way down we picked up another hiker, too. 

Mark told us about the history of Lone Pine and the dried up Owen’s Lake. It was a long, winding drive and a drop of over 5000 feet in elevation. Which also meant: Lone Pine is hot. 111 degrees. Luckily it’s a short strip of amenities. Unluckily much of the air conditioning in the stores is sub par. 
Mark dropped us off and I went to the Whitney Portal Hostel. I’d just gotten my room key code when who do I bump into by Cadi and Hobo! They tell me about their bear encounter outside of Kennedy Meadows and that they have decided to leave the trail and complete it next year instead. I am sad they’re leaving but happy they’re making the right choice for them and a little jealous of the road trip they’ve planned around the area. 

The view from the hostel doesn’t suck 

I put my stuff in the hostel room and shower. I get lunch and call my family and spend about four hours on the phone, and then it’s bedtime and my head hurts and I go to sleep.