Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

THE Mountains

June 15, 2000

Now we are gearing up for THE Mountains, "un gran Sierra Nevada"—the great snowy range—at Kennedy Meadows Campground. Here at the meadows, the PCTer's gateway to the Sierra Nevada, there are over thirty other hikers, all making the necessary preparations on Ray Day, June 15th. This is the key date used in all of Ray Jardine's itineraries for reaching the Sierra. Ray believes, and many seem to agree, that starting into the Sierra on this day allows hikers the best chance to avoid major snow obstacles when plowing through the mountains. So here we all are, packing up nine days of food to get to Vermillion Valley, the next re-supply location, strapping ice axes on our packs and practicing bear-bagging skills. Everyone is quite excited, most of all me.

I have been anticipating this upcoming portion of trail since the very moment we left Campo, thrity-nine days ago. Having spent parts of several summers in the Sierra, I knew what to expect and was well aware that it beat the heck out of the desert. But Angela hasn't been here before and doesn't know the difference, which means that for the first 700 miles on the trail, I have had to try to convince her that she should also be juiced to get to THE mountains.

For every twenty-mile piece of waterless trail we have suffered I have promised her that "Water is ubiquitous in the Sierra." And for every cow-patty-infested trickle that we have drunk from to relieve our thirsts I have told her, "Just wait until you see the clear cold streams and lakes in the Sierra."

As we sped the last 50 miles to Kennedy Meadows, we were not alone in eager anticipation. Casey (trail name "Crazy Legs") and Toby ("Catch-23"), boyhood friends from Seattle, were on a similar mission. Crazy Legs and Catch-23 are somewhat unconventional as PCT hikers go. They will often sleep late and make up miles in the heat of the day, and continue into the dark if necessary. Crazy Legs, in particular, has a penchant for sleeping in, and on several occasions we have seen him sprinting down the trail, pack bouncing side to side, to catch up with his buddy. These guys also have decided to retain as many civilized luxuries as possible—tape-walkmans to pump them up on the path, airplane-sized rum bottles in their re-supply packages, and nightly rounds of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire from Crazy Legs' trivia tome. Ask them why they're hiking the trail, and they'll tell you that the best reason they've thought of is "So that we can get to Canada and drink a Labatt's Blue."

Casey and Toby demonstrated their excitement for THE Mountains with a frantic pace and a predisposition for facetiously quoting the great John Muir. We first caught Casey and Toby para-quoting Muir not long after a stretch of waterless desert. Despite the lack of HFMT-SUB-OPEN2FMT-SUB-CLOSEO, it wasn't scorching hot, and the snakes were all in hiding. It seemed an appropriate time to spin a Muirism: "The desert ain't no thang," Casey shouted in triumph. Later, the immortal words of the renowned naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club were heard again before dinner: "As the great John Muir would say, 'It's time to get my grub on,'" announced Crazy Legs. Pretty contemporary, that Muir.

For those non-naturalists out there, John Muir is well-known in the PCT community as the patriarch of adventure into the Sierra Nevada. After wandering the heights of our nation, Muir finally found peace in 1869—you guessed it, in the Sierra. His journals are just about required reading for long distance hikers and day trippers alike. And despite Casey and Toby's joking, we've got our copy of "My First Summer in the Sierra" poised for some moonlight reading. I am curious to see what Muir has to say about his first glimpse of Mt. Whitney, the Continental US's highest peak. "Whoop, there it is!"?

On Saturday we will climb up from Kennedy Meadows 4000 feet past the last remnants of sagebrush to the subalpine forest at 10,000 feet in the mountains. We will admire the weather-molded peaks and the mountain forest: whitebark and foxtail pine, limber and lodgepole pine, Sierra penstemon, Sierra primrose, mountain monkey flower. We are going to be out of the desert, away from the cow patties, away from the roads, and in John Muir's world. I hope Angela likes it, because if not I may be in trouble. As Muir would say, "Don't promise a woman jewelry and give her a piece of cow patty".


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