Getting back to the trailhead wasn’t easy. There was no consistent bus route to get me back to Independence, the nearest town to where we came off the trail, so I had to hitch. Almost 80 miles from Mammoth Lakes where I’d had to return the hire car. We’d made the difficult decision for Lisa to go home, at least for now, and I was returning to the trail alone. Her foot was getting worse and we were worried it could be a stress fracture. To be honest she was a pretty pitiful sight just limping across the airport check in hall. However she’d hiked almost 800 miles including the Mojave Desert and the highest trail point in the Sierra’s so she had lots to feel proud of. I’m very proud of her anyway. Who would have thought that posh city girl I met 11.5 years ago would be skipping around rattlesnakes and wading through rivers with me!
For me, the long climb back up the Kearsage Pass beckoned. I’d been worried that I would have lost my acclimatisation to the altitude. I needn’t have worried. I was so keen to get back on trail and make up some miles that I shot up the 2500ft climb from the trailhead to the pass at 11,800ft in just 2 hrs without stopping. I went on to tackle Glenn Pass too at 12,000ft before descending to around 10,000ft to camp at Rae Lakes.
It is hard to describe the colours here without resorting to superlatives, but they really are vivid from the blue of the sky, the yellows and purples of meadow flowers, the spruce green pines and crystal clear turquoise lakes that look so inviting (apart from the odd iceberg still floating around).
I had a series of big passes to tackle over the coming days, most topping out at around 12,000ft. Between these I would plunge back into the depths of the valleys. The air at the higher alpine elevations was so clear and fresh. The colour pallette reduced to the colours of the rocks the snow and the sky with little else intruding in this simple purity. Descending was another matter however. Below 11,000 the sweet aroma of the pine resin crept in, followed by the scent of shrubs and grass. The air started to thicken, rich with oxygen after the thin air of the summits. Humidity and a generous richness of smells flooded the senses. Once 9000 was reached the woods thickened too with deciduous and pine species, thickets of scrub, humid dark, damp earth and with it came the mosquitoes! There was no escaping them. Repellent reduced the attack but only to a level that could tolerated with grim determination. I travelled the valleys through the days and endeavoured to plan my arrival at a summit at the end of each day, camping in the frigid, clean air. The Sierra’s were a section I had looked forward to throughout the planning and dreaming period. There are few places where the natural world is so breathtaking and has influenced so many. One of the greatest of those was the conservationist and writer John Muir, after whom a protected wilderness area, pass and summit Hut are now named. It was a privilege to end one of my best days at the summit of Muir Pass and share a night in the Hut after a spectacular sunset.
The snowfields beyond Muir Hut were still deep and an early start meant they could be crossed on crisp, firm snow without postholing. It also meant that numerous creeks and streams could also be crossed on thinning but firm snow bridges which would become dangerous later in the day when the sun had been on them. The fitness that comes with climbing these passes daily was now starting to really consolidate and despite the challenges of the landscape I achieved 27 miles that day from Muir Summit to Selden Pass.