Back to the Sierra, Day 10: Dance Slow Decades

September 6, 2018
Aspen Meadow to MTR to Hutchinson Meadow
PCT855-858 (and back) + Piute Pass Trail

1.

My alarm blares on at 5:30, and I beat the light out of bed.

The idea this morning is for me to leave early, run to Muir Trail Ranch to resupply, then run back part way, to Piute Creek, where Krista will be waiting. So I boil breakfast by headlamp, and rush onto the trail, just as the sun is rising.

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The San Joaquin’s rushing quietly below. Birds are just waking up, swooping down from the trees, and skimming the water. It smells like juniper and wet summer rock.

2.

Soon I’m exiting Kings Canyon National Park for the John Muir Wilderness, then following the river through sleepy waterside camps to MTR.

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I get to the ranch just as it’s opening, but there are already a few hikers there—all southbound JMTers. At first all dudes, all chests puffed out. Just like last time. I feel strangely separate from the whole situation, watching it like a TV on mute.

A solo woman shows up just after me. She’s sent herself a pound of Halloween candy, just to share here. She looks almost nervous as she asks if I’d prefer a Twix or Snickers. And she fiddles with her fingers as I fiddle with the wrapper, which proves startlingly difficult to open. “Are you solo?” I tell her no, I’m just picking up a resupply for my partner and I. “Figured only one of us should have to deal with this…” I trail off. “I know!” She looks conspiratorial. “This place is kind of awful.”

3.

The world has woken up on my way back, as has the sun. It gets kinda hot. But soon I’m back at the creek. Krista’s waiting. We eat some small snacks I snagged from the hiker boxes at MTR as a wall of clouds climbs over the Le Conte Divide.

It starts to rain lightly as we leave the JMT and start up Piute Canyon, toward Humphrey’s Basin. I’d expected today to be mostly about making miles, but the Canyon is absolutely gorgeous: steep granite walls, lined with occasion stands of stunted juniper.

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There’s lightning in the distance, but we stay just at the edge of the storm, walking through sun and rain at even intervals.

4.

The canyon consists of several steep glacial steps, interspersed with narrow, nearly flat meadows. We stop in one, at the water’s edge, and eat in the fleeting sun with our feet in the slow, smooth stream.

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After lunch, things turn. We’re walking through old avalanche tracks now, stumbling over blown down trees, torn from the wooded ridges above. And the rain comes on strong, accompanied by close lightning and thunder.

We rush up to Hutchinson Meadow, and find a massive old camp at the edge of flooded flower field, with a sheltered space for our tent and room enough for many more. Rain turns to hail, and we hide inside for a happy hour, relieved to be safe and dry.

5.

Evening comes and the weather wanes, until it’s sunset on an almost open sky. We ramble around the edge of our field out to the creek, then up onto a rocky prominence. This place feels strange, like a prairie several centuries out of time, soon to be filled with new settlers.

Deer come down at dusk to nip at the meadow’s edge. And bats swoop for bugs along the creek, like the birds this morning. Krista puts her head on my shoulder. It feels still here. Again: out—or maybe outside—of time.

6.

From Piute Creek:

The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.

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