I woke in the middle of the night unable to breathe. It wasn't a gasping sort of problem, it was a lack of oxygen problem. I laid still and listened to the girls; they were sleeping soundly and breathing deeply. A self-inventory revealed no issues. My head did not hurt, my muscles were not cramping, my stomach was not upset. I simply didn't feel like I was getting enough oxygen.
The thought of waking the girls, packing everything up, and hiking down in the middle of the night...in mountain lion territory no less...did not appeal to me. I therefore closed my eyes, mentally reached out into the unknown, and connected with the force of life that flowed around me.
I am not a religious person, but I do feel connected to what I feel is a power greater than myself when I am in the midst of nature. I do not call this higher power a god or goddess. Rather, it is what I termed it above, a life force. The life and the power and the energy from all the living things around me -- the birds, the trees, the insects, the marmots, the spiders -- the hum from every living cell -- it all flows and travels over and around and through everything. I never feel this way inside a building, surrounded by dead materials. I almost never feel this way surrounded by other people, either -- too many people carry too much vanity, insecurities, and preoccupation with things that don't matter. Outside, however, in the midst of the wilderness -- that is where the honesty is. That's where I feel at home, connected. It's where I feel most alive, and most safe.
When I awoke, it was dawn..and freezing...but I felt fine. The girls and I broke camp and began ascending Mather Pass. Don and Debbie had packed up and left before us. Phil was still sleeping in his spot down the hill from the trail.
The sun didn't reach our part of the trail until we were most of the way up. The climb to Mather Pass was therefore chilly, though the climb warmed us enough to necessitate a delayer break.
We caught up with Don and Debbie near the top. Once at the pass, Sage took one of her Beanie Boo photos.
|Photo by Sage Herr|
Debbie graciously took this photo of us --
We ate snacks up top and chatted with D&D for a while. A couple of fellows approached from the other side of the pass, and we spoke with them for a while too. The morning was gorgeous, and we all felt on top of the world. More people arrived, and everyone felt like we were part of some secret, spontaneous party. Eventually, D&D said goodbye and headed down the pass, then other folks came and went, and, finally, we decided we'd better get a move-on too.
Down we went, down steep switchbacks into a gorgeous valley. Near the bottom of the switchbacks, I realized I had left the day's map at the top of the pass. I had the guidebook, so the map wasn't crucial, but I asked some folks who were on their way up if they could look for it and pack it out for me. They agreed, and we carried onward.
At first, the valley was pretty. We kept leapfrogging D&D until they stopped for a snack and we got a ways ahead. We walked and walked and walked...and the valley began to feel monotonous. At one point, I worried we had missed a turn, but just when we began to panic, we ran into a fellow named Stewart. We had seen Stewart before, most recently near the Palisade Lakes. He assured us we were on the right trail, and he let me take a photo of his map. Relieved, we carried onward.
The dry, steep switchbacks up toward Marjorie Lake felt difficult for some reason. Thankfully, the immediate mile after the switchbacks was flat and easy. We passed the lake, checked the time, and felt strong enough to continue up and over Pinchot Pass.
|Beautiful lake near the top of Pinchot Pass. Photo by Alex.|
Pinchot Pass looks easy on the map, but there are many false "summits." There came a time when I wanted to shout, "Aren't we there already??" Finally, we made it to the top. The wind was fierce, but there was a little nook where the boulders created a natural wall. We squished in there together and refueled/rehydrated.
|Alex drinking water on Pinchot Pass. Photo by Sage Herr|
3.8 miles later, we reached the intersection and looked for the camping spots. They were along the Sawmill Trail, 50 feet or so from the JMT. We took one of the very few spaces, then discovered three tents perched above us, on a shelf of rock. They belonged to some older gentlemen who were hiking the Sawmill Trail.
Didn't see anyone from the night before -- we weren't sure who traveled over Pinchot Pass and who camped near Marjorie Lake. More peanut butter and Nutella wraps, then we fell asleep rather quickly. Two passes and 18 miles...we were beat.