Wednesday I got going a little more slowly than others and was feeling the weight of that pack along with struggling to fight off insects swarming my face. I thought they were mosquitos and so I took time to stop and dig the hat net I’d borrowed out of my pack. But when I put it on I could hardly see. So, I took it off again. I later found out that the insects were only “eye flies’ which don’t sting. Putting on this net involved taking the pack off. I normally tried to do this by locating a boulder, tree stump or log at the right height so that I could put it on again without lifting it. This process was one of the many ordeals which most of the women in our group struggled with. I guess I should have done more weight lifting in preparation! Asking each other for help was another strategy that underlined the group/community nature of the trip. But often we became strung out along the trail so there wasn’t always someone there at the right moment to help.
The trail at that point went along very close to the river and I enjoyed it after the insects stopped annoying me. Except when I had duck under a tree branch at a tricky narrow part and had my hat knocked off. I managed to get my hat gear back on but lost my sunglasses! Patience and determination were greatly needed. Julie came along at that point and we went back and found my sunglasses. Then we hiked together for a while enjoying edifying conversation. We passed many more waterfalls named Water Wheel Falls (below), Le Conte and California.
Later we came to a long, steep climb up away from the river, by which time I was hiking alone again. I listened to my iPod and found my music to be hugely helpful. Although the going was tough, I enjoyed much of it. But I was aware at every boot-step or placement of a pole that if I put one wrong I could take a serious tumble and probably break something. Somehow I managed to pull a muscle in my left leg and had some pain to cope with as I continued on. Even so, the views from the top of the mountain pass were astounding. When I caught up with one of our group near the top we took a few photos.
Coming down again on my own having passed her, I stopped to take a break on the trail and enjoy the solitude. This was the wilderness. No tourists here. Only serious hikers. The entire week we encountered only a small number of people coming the other way. It did seem though that most people hike this trail the opposite way than we did. At one point I was surprised to see a Park Ranger coming along who asked to check out my bear canister which was one of her official duties. She just knocked on it to verify that it was in my pack. None of us saw or heard any bears even though their scat was prevalent. This indicates that the use of bear canisters has become effective in preventing bears from searching for food from humans in their camps or tents.
A long series of switchbacks eventually led down to more shaded forest and an amazingly beautiful ‘grotto’ with a wispy waterfall and a pool providing an oasis – the perfect place to take a break. Most of the group was already chilling there and refueling water bottles using our shared pumps. It was exhilarating removing my boots and plunging my cooked feet into the pool. After all the group caught up and prepared to go on again we were getting into an even hotter part of the afternoon.
The grotto waterfall and creek from it was a tributary of the main river. This tributary soon joined it and when we saw the river gushing again far below us, the view was exciting and welcome. Our ‘friend’ had been missed. However, the trail continued up and up away into hot baking sun and then down once more near it and a little refreshing shade. At this point I was so overheated that I found a rock the right size to lean against to remove my pack and then I went over to the river to splash water on my face, soak my bandanas, wrap them around my neck and my head. This helped me to keep cool for a while, but once the trail led up high again I began to feel that I was being roasted alive and wondered how much longer I could plod on. Not long after this I looked down to the southeast and noticed the river again. Then I saw a crystalline, jade pool with members of our group already swimming in it and even sliding down the smooth granite formed by the cascade. Ah, hope! I was going to make it. My pace picked up and I could hardly wait to get down there to wade in. I had completed one of the hardest hikes of my life thus far.
We swam, played and chilled there for a couple of hours hesitant to leave. We chatted with a father and daughter resting there too who had come from White Wolf. They told us of rattle snakes and bears they had encountered. They also said how horribly hard the switch backs coming down from White Wolf were. It was reassuring to consider that our plan of going up on Friday really was a better idea than going down.
The last part of the trail that day was much more pleasant as we hiked on a level path through the river meadow with flowers on softer ground. After an hour or so we arrived at the camp ground chosen by one of our guides and set up camp. We were then in Pate Valley, which was to be our resting place for the next day. It was a wide, flat area with the river to the south of our camp and the trail crew’s housing on the other side. To the northwest there was a broad expanse of forest and large boulders. We pitched our tents on whatever soft ground we could find and formed a ‘kitchen area’ in the center. I thought it would be great to rest that evening, to look forward to having a day to relax and not need to get up early to pack up. I needed time to rest my sore leg and to regain some energy. Some of the others felt the need of a rest as well, but a few wanted to move on and camp farther west so that the big challenge looming before us on Friday could be lessened. It looked like our day of rest might not be complete after-all.
To be continued…