Pacific Crest Trail Diary 4: Day 41 (Bishop, CA)
Updated: Sep 21, 2018
It may be a rare opportunity, but I've found myself with another keyboard in under a week. I'm currently in Bishop, California, which is about 55 miles off trail. I needed to come into a town for resupply, and the nearest town was Independence. From everyone I spoke with however, it was generally agreed that if someone's going to make the trek to Independence (7.5 miles of hiking off trail + a 15 mile hitch), then they might as well go the extra miles to Bishop because the former doesn't have anything worth while for resupply. Word on trail also said that the hostel in Bishop was pretty nice.
So, given all that, I came into Bishop and bought a bed at the Hostel California. It's absolutely awesome here! Absolutely full of hikers, only $20 a night (or you can work for a couple hours and stay for free) and the town has what I needed. The big thing that I "needed" was a new phone. Like I mentioned in my last post, my phone has been a real problem for me on trail because the battery won't last. Bishop was able to provide me with a new phone though, and as I type this it's uploading my old apps and pictures. So that should mean that I can take better photos and generally enjoy my hike a lot more since I don't have to "ration" my phone.
Even though I've only had four and a half days on trail since my last post, I feel like a lot has happened since then... that said, I'll never be able to put it all on page.
I've come to learn that I have a passion for chasing this elusive thing that is "the wordless." I first experienced something that couldn't be put into words when working in the oilfield. The awful things that I witnessed there and the work that I had to go through were painful, grueling, and... well, beyond words. Later in life I've experienced that in a few other places, and I'm starting to pick up patterns in my behavior that leads me to realize that I'll probably continue to chase things that can't be put into words. And as a result, I live a fairly frustrating purpose, but that is what it is.
I'm getting off point. Please forgive.
Anyways, I left Lone Pine the day after my last post. It was a pain getting a ride out of town, but I ended up splitting a $65 ride with two other guys and hit the trail at around 10am. I didn't get many miles that day. Like I've already stated, the Sierras are unbelievable and beautiful and surreal and magical and so many other things. As a result of that, I find myself hiking a lot slower because I just stop and take it in a lot more often. I also take a lot more pictures (or will be especially now that I have a new phone) and the climbs in the mountains are a lot heavier--oh, and the elevation really takes it out of me as well. So as a result of all of that, I only made about 12 miles that day leaving Lone Pine.
At about 3pm I came to the first real lake that I've seen on this hike. It was Chicken Spring Lake. I've already posted some pictures of it, but as soon as I arrived there (and even before, because I'd seen it on the map), I knew that I'd be spending time at that spot. There were already a few hikers set up on the trail side of the lake, but I wanted a bit of solitude for a few hours, so I hiked about 1/3 mile around to the back side where there was a sandy beach and absolute solitude.
I spend the next hour or so meditating beside the lake shore as the sun arched across the sky. After about an hour and a half I rose and wandered the beach and walked through the old trees along the lake. The water of the lake was crystal clear--it was like nothing that Arizona has contained for much longer than I've lived there. Like I was trying to explain earlier, it's one of those wordless things that I apparently seek out.
After I wandered the trees for awhile, I laid on what looked to be the oldest log around. I have no idea how old it could have been--maybe hundreds of years it stood over that lake before dying and then eventually falling over and laying there for another several hundred years while wind sanded it down to a smooth simulacrum of the tree that was before. I laid there for probably twenty minutes looking up at the sky and the clouds that were so much closer than I'd ever experienced before. At 11,000 feet, they really were right over my head. I wish I could have taken a picture of it, and I wish that I could put it in a bottle to show you how beautiful it was, but I cannot.
I thought a lot that afternoon about William Blake's statement that "nothing lasts." It was McKenna who introduced me to the principle, but it played through my mind over and over that this moment, just like this hike, and this life, and this universe, will not last. It will instead transform into something new like all other things that are constantly in some stage of metamorphosis.
The sun began to set on the beach and I returned to the place where I'd meditated before. When I arrived I sat quietly for awhile as it first became a bit dark, and then the horizon broke with a spotlight that was the full moon. I didn't even try to put words to it. I just watched the full moon rise up into the sky and cast its reflection onto the glass-clear lake. I wish, and will for as long as I live that, I could show it to you just as I experienced it that night.
The next morning I slept in and only got to trail at about 9am. I wasn't ready to go back to a grueling day after such a blissful evening. That said, I still put on about 20 miles that day. I hiked about 15 miles until getting to the Mt.Whitney trail. Mt.Whitney is not actually on the PCT. In order to summit, a hiker has to take a 16 mile round trip detour and a VERY major climb from 9,000 feet where the trail departs the PCT to 14,500 feet which is of course the summit of Whitney. Everyone I'd talked to said that the summit was worth while, and that it was good to do in the morning if possible. So in order to summit I had to hike 5 miles off the PCT that night, set up camp at 11,500 beside Guitar Lake (photos DO NOT do justice to that place either!). I woke up at 3am, made coffee, and started climbing at 3:40. The top of Whitney was about 4 miles and a heavy climb, but I made it there right as the sun rose up over the horizon.
People had told me that the summit was worth the 16 mile detour and 5,000 ft climb, and that's why I did the hike. It was so much better than I expected though! It was... another one of those wordless things. I took pictures, and I've posted some of them, but there is no way to express the feeling of hiking through 700 miles of desert for 30 days and then climbing up to the highest point in the 48 contiguous United States. None of you may ever have the opportunity to experience the night that I had on the back side of Chicken Spring Lake, but many will have the chance to summit Whitney. Please do it! Even if it's a week out of the way of whatever you're doing, DO IT! It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I meditated up there and spent some time with the other hikers who had made the climb, then after about an hour I headed back down to my tent (marmots all over that area!), broke it down, made some more coffee, and headed back to the PCT.
That ended up being a very long day. After the summit of Whitney I had to make it over Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT) because there was a weather system moving in and I was worried that if snow fell there it could make it literally impossible to get over. I won't go into the implications that this would have meant, but it was enough to motivate me to drop 28 miles that day, and how much climbing... good god, I don't know--a lot.
I descended the pass that evening, and the scenery just became more beautiful with every step. I really feel like I'm on drugs when I'm in those mountains because after the desert everything is so bright and beautiful! The greens are so bright and the blues are so deep. Again, there are no words for it. I knew that I'd be coming into town on that day, but it was an 8 mile hike on the PCT and then 7.5 miles of hiking off the trail. This is unfortunate because it was almost all downhill and I'll have to climb back up that to get back to the PCT when I do get back on trail.
It took a long time to get a hitch to Bishop from the trail head, but I got with some other hikers and we caught rides to the Hostel here in Bishop right as snow started falling. Last night it rained a bit, then it cleared this morning. Now however it's really bad. All the mountains are surrounded in black clouds and it looks really nasty. I wanted to get back on trail today, but the weather is the factor that has made me stay another day. I'm getting my phone uploaded now and will go get that in a bit then hang at the hostel again tonight (oooooh, the food in this town is amazing!). If the weather is clear tomorrow morning (regardless of forecast [unless it looks REALLY bad]), I'm going to get a ride back to the trail (we'll see how long it takes to get a hitch) and be back on the PCT hopefully before tomorrow afternoon. From here it's about 120 miles to Mammoth Lakes (my next resupply, and hopefully I'll have access to a keyboard there) and soon after that I'll be at Yosemite National Park.
I'm meeting a lot of people, and although I still stay pretty isolated compared to the rest of the hikers on trail, I'm seeing people a lot more often and making a lot of friends. This is especially true now that I'm making an effort to cover fewer miles per day.
Well, it's starting to rain, so I need to run down to the phone shop and pick up my new toy.
Love y'all and wish that this writing did justice to the beauty I've seen. Will write again when I can.