I like to call David "The Machine"... It is not his trail name (he still hasn't picked one yet) but he can simply flip a switch and power himself up to tackle a hill or any challenge without being phased & he can keep going until the job is done. I don't know how he does it, but I am always amazed at not only his endurance but how he never complains about the heat, aches & pains, how steep, long or rocky the trail is, or ANYthing that I find myself wanting to complain about... And usually will.
We have been going up and down mountain passes every day since we started hiking in the Sierras... These are not small potatoes mountains, we started with the biggest of them all, hiking to the summit of Mount Whitney, at 14,505'... It is the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.
The day before Whitney, we were about to eat dinner next to a beautiful stream that was gushing cold & crystal clear water.
Not a dark cloud in the sky & it was only about 2'clock in the afternoon as we wanted to be at the summit in time for the next morning's sunrise... which meant waking up just after midnight. We were planning to get to the closest base camp a few more miles up the trail after dinner when out of nowhere, huge pellets of hail started falling right on us & our hot dinner... We started to scramble to set up camp right then and there because the skies were only getting darker.
David got the tent up faster than I have ever seen him, he got me in the tent and stayed out to make the final adjustments, getting pummeled with hail, now furiously blanketing the ground in a icy white cover. We were hailed on for a good few hours, and then rain. Knowing that Mount Whitney would have accumulated some snow, we delayed our ascent until we could see... There was no moon that night & dark icy trails are not really my thing.
We climbed Whitney that day, and after dealing with the slushy and slightly terrifying descent we were exhausted physically & mentally. There was no rest for us that afternoon as we hiked our way back on to the PCT and toward our next pass.
Forester pass is the tallest point on the actual PCT measuring in at 13,200'... we were climbing it the day after Whitney. Before the Sierras I didn't really understand what hiking "a Pass" really entailed... Basically they are about 6 - 8mi of uphill hiking, sometimes steep & rocky with miles of switchbacks and other times we get lucky and the climb is a long but gradual approach with an ass-kicker of an end. Forester was the latter.
Our reward was an amazing view on either side of the pass, with blue-green frozen lakes as far as the eye could see. We treated ourselves to a 3 second dip in one of the frozen lakes... Let's call the experience exhilarating & invigorating, one of the most memorable moments of our journey so far!
The day after Forester, we got off the PCT and hiked the 7.8mi detour of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760' in order to hitch into Independence & Bishop for two nights in town... We were in need of a day off and certainly earned it!
After our re-charge, the hiker friendly owner of the Independence Inn drove us back up to the mountain and we hiked our first "two-fer" that day... Two mountains in one day. We climbed back up Kearsarge Pass, back to the PCT & then up Glenn Pass at a solid 11,968' where we had an epic dinner in the early evening with views of the strikingly beautiful Rae Lakes where we would camp later that evening.
Physically exhausted, we rolled into a heavily used camp area around dusk... just in time to spot a momma Black Bear and her "the most adorable thing you will ever see" baby cub. We were about 20' from them and they were obviously desensitized to the human presence.
Setting up camp by the lake, we were about to meet our next big challenge of the Sierras... mosquito swarms for the next 200 miles. The Mosquitos at Rae Lakes were relentlessly searching for their next big meal and we were not about to let that be us. It was here that I really got the full picture of how much David hated those little bloodsucking bastards... He REALLY REALLY hates them. We survived the night with a few dozen bites and high tailed it out of camp as quickly as possible the next morning.
There is such an abundance of water in the Sierras that hiking through you forget that California is in a drought... Then, memories of 700mi of seeking out that precious and sparse liquid through the desert will bring you back to the reality that there probably should be at least three times more water out here than there is this year. Regardless, all this water means two things...
1. We will always be hydrated
2. There will always be Mosquitos trying to suck our blood.
They serve no other purpose but to force us to hike at warp speeds and not to stop unless absolutely necessary. We had our next "two-fer", Pinchot Pass & Mather Pass, both mountains just over 11,000'... We set up camp amongst the mosquitos at the stunning Palisades Lakes.
The next morning was the first day of summer, the longest day of the year & boy WAS it a long day... the unthinkable happened, we ran out of mosquito repellant & we were surrounded by water.
The bugs were wearing on David, breaking his spirit with every bite. I am not going to sugar coat it, we had a rough day... One of David's poles broke, we couldn't find a mosquito free place to cook dinner or camp, were planning on going over Muir Pass the next morning and all the miles leading up to it were uphill & rocky and we were at our wits ends with the bugs. Hiking about three miles longer than originally anticipated, neither of us were happy campers once we found a less than ideal place to camp. We set up, ate dinner and then turned in with hopes for a brighter tomorrow.
Since beginning this journey over two months ago I can recall a handful of times where I didn't want to get out of bed or the tent... When I wanted to curl up and recover from my physical or mental exhaustion. Not David, he has always been there to motivate me to get up and out. So imagine my surprise when we woke that next morning and he turned to me and said "I don't want to hike today... My head hurts, my body hurts, I am exhausted and I don't want to go out and battle with the Mosquitos. He finally reached his breaking point and it was the bugs that did him in.
I felt helpless and wished there was something I could do other than what I had to do... Just as he had done for me in the desert, I had to coax him out of bed and onto the trail for another day of exhaustion.
We have learned that out in the wilderness, we can't just call in "sick", we have a job to do and that is to hike. I have held a job since I was 14... working for 22 years straight, I had began to feel that I worked to eat & sleep just to do it over again the next day.
Thru-hiking is our job now and if we don't do our job we run out of food before we reach our next resupply. We hike to eat & sleep just to do it again the next day. It is the same daily grind with one big difference, our reward for doing our job is not monetary gain.
It is survival.
It is magnificent views and experiences that we will remember forever.
I am grateful that we got out of bed that morning... we started our morning sore and tired, but as we hiked our aches and pains dissolved, our weary heads were brightened when we spotted a new wildflower next to a beautiful stream...
We were rewarded when we walked up to three lakes as still and clear as glass that when I lifted my head and saw them against their rocky backdrops, my jaw dropped each time...
More reward when we reached the height of Muir Pass at almost 12,000' & it had stunning views... the mountains do not disappoint.
We had a phenomenal day & did laundry together in the evening by a mosquito free creek in Evolution Valley.
The hard work out here pays off tenfold... our rewards are plentiful as we are reminded over and over again as to why we do the job we do.