Day 3, July 12th: Garnet Lake to Red's Meadow Resort. 14 miles. (Note: these entries are from my trip last summer. I am writing them after-the-fact)
I wake up to the sound of my mom moving around camp. I closed the vestibule near my tent entrance last night because we're camped next to other people, and now condensation is frozen to the inside walls. It's melting and covering my sleeping bag with droplets where the warm bag has brushed against the drooping silnylon. I do my best to brush it off with my handkerchief and wiggle outside. My bear can is frozen shut and I hurt the cold tips of my fingers against the frost when trying to open it. It takes a while for my mom and I to pack up. We eat our cold breakfast and go down to the lake to dip our dirty water bags into the frigid, lapping water. It had been slapping against the rocks along the shore all night, sounding like voices or the filling up of water bottles.
I've been feeling really good hiking-wise, but because of that also mildly impatient with having to compromise on where we stop each day. I want to go further, always a little further. even though I know that we're going at the right pace. Most of this probably stems from the fact that I dislike the camping part of backpacking and would minimize it as much as possible. I don't like sitting around camp, and having to unpack and repack my possessions each day, and doing all of the little camp chores that seem to take up so much time.
I express this to my mom, and I can immediately tell that I've upset her. Even though she's doing well on this hike, it's still harder for her than me, and I feel horrible and awkward. She goes to filter another bag of water by the lake and doesn't talk to me.
When we start hiking the tension has mostly dissipated. We cross the outlet of the lake on a high footbridge, the water streaming in glittering, sinewy rivulets across the granite. I talk to a group of JMTers who are also from Reno and then pass them, following the trail up tight switchbacks up the side of the ridge bordering the lake.
My mom hikes fast in the mornings, and so it's the time when we hike the closest together, up the ridge still in shadow, the sun not yet high enough to reach us here. We crest a small saddle between granite ledges and down a small gully.
I stop to go off trail to pee while my mom goes ahead. When I come back to my pack the guy and his friend I met near Donahue come down the trail. They say hello and hike on. We end up leapfrogging them the rest of the day.
After a quick elevation rise near Shadow Lake, the rest of the day looks like it's all downhill. There's a worrying dark patch of compressed switchback squiggles on the map that corresponds with the Shadow Lake elevation change, however. Shadow Lake itself is shallow and silty around the shore, with the skeletons of pine trunks toppled into the water. I pause before turning into the first switchback.
The trees are dense here, and before too long the lake shore is receding between tree trunks far below me. My mom follows a half switchback behind me, and I wave whenever I pass her going the opposite way. At first I stop to catch my breath, but soon decide to try and get this ridge out of the way. My mom falls one, two, four zigzags below me. "How'd you get so far ahead?!" she calls, and I send a shrug. "I'm getting to the top without stopping. It must be close," I shout back. I can't see the lake anymore- nothing but trees and an endless brown slope of pine duff stretching up and down.
It must be close, I think. But it's not. I trundle up, using my legs to lever my body forwards, upwards. After what seems like forever I finally reach the top to find the guys we've been leapfrogging with sitting there. "That was a ridiculously long climb," I say. We start talking. Their names are Tanka and Bebak and they're originally from Nepal, but they've been working in Germany as doctors. No wonder their accents seemed so familiar; my grandparents hiked extensively in Nepal and have always had Nepali friends visiting them in the States.
They hike on and my mom and I follow, into an equally interminable downhill. It's hot, sandy and dusty, through an area that looks like it might have been burnt except that the trees are still whole, scattered intact like behemoth toothpicks across the forest floor. No shade. I fall behind and am out of water, and start tracking my mom's footprints in the dusty trail. The bottom of my feet ache. I catch up to my mom and we shuffle down the dusty and steep trail.
Where the JMT rejoins the PCT a PCTer with a smiling plush flower wrapped around his shouder strap, the kind you win at fairs, passes us. The first PCTer of the day; it's been odd to not have the steady stream of Nobo'rs passing us, beards, small packs, ear buds, and trail runners all blending their impressions into one in my mind.
We reach the boundary for Devil's Postpile National Monument, and cross a bridge over a river. We're both out of water, but with only 2 miles to go until Red's Meadow and the cafe there, we decide not to stop. Immediately we enter into a maze of paths, none of them marked for either the JMT or PCT. We stop a ranger and ask how to get to Red's on the JMT, and she cheerily points us forward, telling us to make a side trip to a waterfall. We pass under Devil's Postpile, which is an interesting geometric rock formation, but definitely NOT where we're supposed to be, as it's a side trip we had decided to pass on. Clean tourist people in hiking boots and t-shirts stare at us as we pass through. After climbing up a ridiculously steep hill we finally decide to turn around and go back to the bridge. I try to stay positive but we're both tired and irritated.
We find the PCT where it inconspicuously turns right up a slope. My mom is miserable in the heat and wants to continue without stopping for water. "No," I say, "go down to the river and let's filter some water."
We filter a liter each and then go. The trail is littered with horse manure and churned up until it resembles beach sand. It's just as difficult to walk on and the sand starts sifting into the mesh of my shoes until it collects just beneath the arch of my foot. We reach a road, and I'm not sure if that is the way up to Red's or if it's further up the trail. My mom sits down and starts crying. We agree for her to wait there while I check out the road. I pass some people with a screeching toddler, see the sign for Red's Meadow Resort, and call for my mom to follow.
It's early in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, and I stumble around, sweaty and disorientated, to find somewhere safe to leave my pack. When it's off I feel light and airy, adding to my dream-state. My mom has disappeared, and when I find her in the store, she's just bargained with the cashier to get one of the A-frame cottages for half the price. I get a chocolate ice-cream bar that's dipped in chocolate, then peanut butter and then chocolate again, and eat it as I follow my mom to our cabin.
I take my shower second, rubbing my legs in attempt to get the layer of dirt off, but it still clings in little dots to my pores. We go over to the cafe and get burgers, chips and potato salad. Then top it off with more ice cream. Tanka and Bebak come in and sit with us, beers in hand, and we talk.
More talking, sitting around in a tired daze, and then sleep.
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