Reddit AMA on r/ultralight

Dear readers, things have been… intense in my life lately. Good and hard. I’m working on my second book in an airstream in the Sonoran desert and there are kind, wonderful people to hang out with here, and that is good. My dog Pinto Bean passed away a few days ago, and that is very hard. I’ve been posting about recent events some on my instagram- instagram.com/carrotquinn , and I’m going to write more about it here, soon. In the meantime, I’m doing an AMA (ask me anything) tomorrow (Tuesday January 9) at 12 noon EST/9 a.m. PST/10 a.m. AZ time on reddit r/ultralight, and you should come ask me q’s!

Here is the link- https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/7nwhz9/special_announcement_ama_with_hiker_author_carrot/

My 3-season base weight right now is 11lbs, so I’m not technically ultralight (ultralight means your baseweight is 10lbs or less) but I still love answering q’s about gear, preparing for a thru-hike, hiking as a woman/queer person, dealing with fragile male ego and toxic masculinity in the hiking community (both on trail and online), blogging/creating media/writing about hiking, eating on trail with dietary restrictions, etc etc. So come hang out! 

KCHBR Day 16: sprint to the finish

9/9/17
30 miles
184.6 miles hiked

Getting up to Dumbbell Pass in the morning is chill- just some frosty grass and slabs- but once on top we find a long snowfield headed down, and since it’s early in the morning the snow hasn’t yet softened. The snow is too icy for our One Microspike Each trick so I take the set of microspikes while Kodak goes around the snowfield on some massive talus. It’s fun to clomp down the steep, icy snow on my magic spike feet- what would’ve been a skating rink becomes a casual walk and soon both Kodak and I are at the ethereal blue of Dumbbell Lakes, cooking late breakfast next to the stream. As I eat my mush with its generous helping of olive oil I will it to turn into fuel that lasts for hours and hours. I feel like a car whose gas guage is on E but the gas station is still thirty miles away and maybe I’ll make it there?

.

.

.

.

.

Another nice grassy ramp leads us up to Amphitheater pass, where we find… a snow cornice. Another impassible overhanging cliff of snow. Of course. To the left of the cornice is some very steep dirt and talus, and we ease ourselves down this, and it feels like we’re moving about two inches per hour. We continue at about this pace over truck-sized talus far above the lake, whose shore we’re avoiding in order to steer clear of… talus. A boulder rumbles as I pull myself up onto it, and I accept that my leg is about to get broken, but then the boulder goes silent again. This happens multiple times per day out here. What are routes but a large collection of such moments. And yet I make my way. Despacito.

cornice

.

That inverted white triangle on the ridge is Amphitheater pass and the cornice we just came over

The boulder-chunks turn to slab-chunks and we’re walking on shapes some more crushing flowers beneath our feet hopping over wild rivulets of water butt scooting and jumping and making our way down, down.

.

.

Down alongside Cataract creek, where there is supposed to be a use trail. Kodak finds it but I do not and we make our own ways around a cliff and once our lines rejoin we regale each other for half an hour with tales of those forty minutes spent apart. The use trail leaves its corporeal body and we are deposited in a burn snarling with undergrowth through which we push until we reach Palisade creek, on whose opposite bank is the motherfucken John Muir Trail.

We sit in a trampled spot of dirt next to the JMT and eat peanuts and take off our shoes. A man comes walking up the trail towards us. He’s got a beard and looks to be about twenty-five.

“Is this the start of the golden staircase?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “What’s that? We came from over there.” I wave vaguely at the forest.

“The golden staircase climbs 1,500 feet in two miles,” says the man. “It’s the hardest part of the whole JMT!” He takes off his hat, wipes his face with it, and then he is gone.

I look at Kodak and start to giggle. Soon we are both laughing, and then we cannot stop.

We realize then that we’re twenty miles from my van, and all of these twenty miles are on trail, including a four thousand foot climb up and over Bishop pass. We’ve already done ten miles over two passes cross country, Dumbell and Amphitheater, with who knows how much elevation gain and loss. It is four p.m. We have three hours of daylight left.

I think of the small handfuls of food still in my food bag. If we make it back to the van tonight instead of tomorrow, I can gorge myself on my two remaining dinners. If we hike all the way back to the van tonight, I won’t be as hungry.

A thirty mile day on this route, though. It that even possible?

I put in my headphones and crush the seven miles on the JMT to the ranger station, where I find the junction to the Bishop Pass trail. At the junction I sit on a rock in the rain and eat my very last bar. I feel fucking incredible.

We mash the switchbacks up towards Bishop pass as the sun sets in a glory of pink clouds, remembering walking these same switchbacks our first day on this route.

When we get to where we camped that first night we make a hurried dinner in the last of the light. Mine is really two dinners, and I dump the remainder of my olive oil into it.

The dinner warms my insides and keeps morale high as the sky turns to a million stars and the air, as we gain in elevation, turns to ice. It feels like fall is here and the weather in the High Sierra is turning at last. I think of that song that was always on the radio when I was in high school. Closing time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. At one point Kodak has us stop and take a long-exposure star photo together which requires me to stand still for a few moments and afterwards I’m so cold I can’t seem to get warm again. We hustle up the icy trail as fast as we can in the dark, the batteries in both our headlamps near dead, and soon we reach the snow patches that are Bishop Pass. Now that we’ve reached the top, and we only have to go down, exhaustion hits us, and time slows nearly to a standstill. The path is rocky but clear and the air warms as we descend but I’m so tired I’m delirious. I haven’t had any water in a while because I haven’t wanted to stop and treat any and my tongue feels heavy in my mouth. We’re so hungry, but neither of us has any food. We stumble down the trail, occasionally shouting encouragement at each other. The black silhouettes of the mountains echo our encouragement back.

we’re gonna make it!

We only have a handful of miles left but these miles stretch out until they are everything, the entire world, and I feel empty inside, a shell of a human being propelling itself forward. And then we’re at a tiny footbridge and then the parkinglot, and still we have a mile and a half on pavement to get to the van, which is parked in the overflow parking down near Parchers resort. This 1.5 mile roadwalk is unbelievably long, the longest stretch of earth we’ve covered all day. We reach the van at midnight and climb inside. I’m too sick with hunger and dehydration to eat, too cold to ever be warm again. I force myself to eat some chips and put on extra layers and burrow into my sleeping bag until I stop shaking, relieved and elated and exhausted, grateful for this adventure to be over, and so grateful for it to have happened at all.

This photo of Kodak’s really sums up our final day, and the glory of the whole route, really

Post trail thoughts:

I loved the KCHBR. It was enchanted, magical, and otherworldly, and felt incredibly remote, especially for how accessible it is. It was also the most consistently difficult trail I’ve done, as far as how many miles one is able to cover each day and how many obstacles one must problem solve around, and I learned a lot from it. I also gained a great deal of confidence from the route- I feel like now that I’ve hiked cross-country in the high sierra, there isn’t anything I can’t walk on. If I did the route again, I would bring a complete set of microspikes, I would send myself a box in Lodgepole, and I would definitely attempt King Col. I would probably still hike it as a loop, because that was really fun and made the hike longer that it would’ve been normally, and leaving a car at Bishop Pass was logistically simple.

11/10, would walk over all that talus again. Thanks Skurks!

KCHBR Day 15: hunger

9/8/17
10.6 miles
154.6 miles hiked

In the morning we hike out of the towering lodgepole forest to a bowl, the source of White Fork, and above us is a narrow ridgeline made entirely from scree. Skurka’s notes say to “look for the bronze band,” as that will lead one to White Fork Pass. We locate this band, a vertical stain on the scree just below the ridge, and begin to climb the escalator of loose, dusty rock- one step up, one half step back.

It kinda looks like the brooks range up here

.

The sun is bright and cold and the scree is steep and infinite and I’m feeling the exhaustion of this route in my legs, today, so I play Miley Cyrus’ The Climb from my phone and sing out loud, which never fails to cheer me up. I’m also dizzy from hunger, as I’m attempting to ration the last of my food. Basically, I am nearly out of snacks, and most of what I have left is meals that need to be cooked, but I’m also running low on stove fuel. I know exactly how many boils I have left in my little plastic fuel bottle, and if I play my cards just right I know I’ll make it, although I will probably be fairly hungry in between meals. Which is what is happening right now.

woo

At last we attain the ridge and go plunging, running, wooping and hollering down the scree on the other side, towards a fantastic dreamscape of lakes and bright granite and green clusters of forest. When we reach some grass we stop to eat lunch and I cook up a mush of sweet potato powder, instant refried beans and olive oil, which fills the cavern that is my stomach, at least for now.

another of the goddess’ perfect tarns

Massive talus interrupted with bits of steep lodgepole forest, doing the work it takes to move across this earth, feeling grateful for my two magic legs. We’re contouring around some massive shit above a river with some more massive shit in the far distance. Myriad drainages create folds in the fabric of reality- our planet is mysterious and labyrinthine. It’s so fun, every day on this route, to look ahead and at the maps as one walks and make guesses on which drainage one is heading to. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, often I reevaluate as I round a corner and a new hunk of topography is revealed. I zig and I zag slow like an ant, but I always get there, eventually.

what u know abt talus

By and by we descend all the way down to the South Fork of the Kings River, which we’ve been hearing for a while. I was worried that the river would be too strong to cross but I find a spot where the river is braided and cross easily. On the other side of the river there’s supposed to be an abandoned trail, the Cartridge Pass Trail, with Real Switchbacks, but we don’t find it, and the fastest way from point A to point B, anyway, is straight up, so up the slabs we go, like climbing a staircase. Stormclouds gather as we ascend, and on several of the slabby landings are nooks where animals make their homes. Coyotes? Mountain lions? Squirrels?

We take a break at the lake just below Cartridge pass and sit in the lee of a boulder sheltered from the cold wind as the sky rumbles and it starts to sprinkle. Kodak has a big bag of peanuts from Winco left and he gives me some of them. Usually peanuts are the last thing in the world I want to eat (when you’re a hiker and you burn out on trailmix, you burn out HARD) but right now I am fucking hungry and the peanuts are literal gold, like you couldn’t buy these peanuts anywhere for a million dollars, especially sitting next to this lake in these lean mountains far from everything.

We do find a faint trail at the top of Cartridge pass and said trail leads us in fits and starts down the talus and patches of bare scrambly ground where everything that could’ve slid off has already slid off, towards Lakes Basin.

We reach Lakes Basin as the sky blackens and the wind picks up and suddenly a real brusier of a storm is rolling in. It’s only 5:30pm but our next task is going up and over Dumbell Pass, which is another exposed climb on slabs, so when we find a flat spot sheltered by a few gnarled pines we throw up the tarp in storm mode and call it a night.

KCHBR Day 14: JMT and White Fork

9/7/17
15.5 miles
144 miles hiked

I sleep so hard and when my alarm wakes me it’s so cold I can’t get up. I forgot how meadows are freezing deathtraps. They seem so innocent in the daytime…

Yesterday we made the tough decision not to attempt King Col. King Col has a very difficult snow cornice on it in normal years, and has a reputation as being the iffiest pass of the KCHBR. This being a high snow year, King Col will be even iffier, the snow cornice larger and likely impassible. We have just one microspike each and no ice axes, and we’ve already heard of one group, this year, that was unable to get over King Col and was forced to turn around. If we attempt King Col and fail, it will add another day to this section, and I am already running very low on food, as well as stove fuel. If we had two sets of microspikes, axes, and plenty of food, I would definitely give King Col a shot. But we don’t have any of those things. I wish that Katherine was in front of us, and that she could relay information to us somehow- it’s always hard to know how seriously to take information about other groups turning around when you don’t know how prepared they are, or what what their experience level is. But Katherine got off at Kearsarge Pass to resupply, and will now be a day behind us. I’ll have to wait and read her blog to see whether or not she makes it over King Col. (spoiler: Katherine makes it bc she’s incredible. Read abt her King Col experience here. And then read the rest of her posts bc they are amaze.)

Luckily, there’s an alternate to bypass King Col wherein we replace fourteen miles of the route with fourteen miles of the JMT. So that’s cool.

We escape the freezing meadow and I’m euphoric on the climb up to Glen pass on the JMT- it feels so good to stretch out my legs and I feel like I’m ten feet tall. I got my period in the night and it’s no longer my birthday nor the full moon and the storm in my heart has broken, what joy. The JMT is bumpin- there are nineteen people on the top of Glen pass and a young man named Justin is making instant coffee for everyone so we sit down and stay awhile. What joy, eating chips and salami on Glen pass. What joy, passing Kodak’s titanium cup of bitter instant coffee back and forth. What joy, talking to sunburnt strangers. What joy!

We descend the other side of the pass and I derive even more joy from seeing the beauty of Rae Lakes absolutely blow Kodak’s mind. We take another break next to the lake, because yeah we’re on the cruiser JMT but how are we supposed to hike when everything is this beautiful? The gentle sun and the clear water and that cute island out in the middle of the lake. We jump in the water but it’s ice-cold, even this late in the season, so we shiver our way out and lay on the rocks and in this way midday becomes afternoon.

Kodak and Rae Lakes

Kodak is thrilled by the Woods Creek suspension bridge as well. A narrow one-person bridge with rickety planks that shakes when you walk across it, while Woods Creek rushes below. What joy! Not long after the bridge we reach the drainage where we’ll leave the JMT to rejoin the route, traveling cross-country up White Fork. At first I feel apprehensive but soon the methodical work of ascending jagged talus wipes everything from my brain, and I am soothed.

Ascending White Fork

The White Fork of the Kings River contains some sort of mineral salt, and all the rocks along its banks are coated in white. This reminds me of the Hayduke, where many of the water sources contained alkaline salts that would give you diarrhea. I’m worried that we won’t find another water source until tomorrow, when we cross over into another drainage, but then we reach a still lodgepole forest and find a small, clear stream winding through the grass in a meadow. I squat on my haunches on the damp ground and dip my bottles into this cold black water, feeling gratitude so strong it makes my whole body sing.

Kodak pitches his tarp in “flying diamond” formation among the pines as the last of the warmth slips away and we eat our dinners wrapped in our sleeping bags, watching the forest grow dim around us.

KCHBR Day 13: Birthday blues

9/6/17
10.5 miles
128.5 miles hiked

The full moon is like daylight and it wakes me again and again, in this magical meadow far removed from anything, and at 5:50 we pull down the tarp and watch the perfect silver moon sink into the pink and turquoise dawn, awed.

Today is my birthday. I have a complicated relationship with my birthday. Birthdays make me think of my completely fucked relationship with my family, and I usually end up feeling really sad. Although I’ve also had awesome birthdays- it just depends on where I am and who I’m around. There are so many people in my life who love me and care about me, and if I’m around those people or able to reach out to those people on my birthday, I can usually keep the awful feelings at bay. For the last few years, though, I’ve been in the wilderness on my birthday- and today I’m in the middle of a nine-day stretch without reception. I just met Kodak a few months ago, I’m not about to ask him to hold space for all my Heavy Birthday Feelings. That being said, if I asked him he’d probably be really nice about it. But I don’t say anything. I let my self sink into a deep, exquisite melancholy, until my heart feels like a thunderstorm that’s about to break.

What a beautiful world to be walking around in, though, melancholy or not. The climb up Longley pass is kind gradual scree and at the top we are greeted with one of the best views of the entire hike- spiny mountains on every horizon, with the clean morning light stretching its way across them.

can u spot tiny Kodak

Kodak is feeling better today, after our day of rest, and that’s awesome. On Longley pass I take out the two helium balloons I found in the wilderness and have been carrying, crumpled, in my pack, and unfurl them. One is in the shape of an “S”, and the other says HAPPY GRAD. My birthday balloons! This cheers me a bit.

I’m 35 now- what is time

There’s a cornice on Longley pass, blocking our descent. We knew this might be a thing, as sometimes there is a cornice here, and since this is a high snow year in the Sierras there was almost certainly going to be a cornice here. The cornice is essentially a slightly overhanging cliff made of snow. On either side of the impassable snow-cliff are impassable rock-cliffs, and seeing this sends a flood of adrenaline through my body. I know it’s just another KCHBR puzzle, and that there is most definitely a way to get down without dying, one only has to find it, but just seeing how sketchy it LOOKS sends my heart racing, and I have a hard time calming my thoughts.

We walk to one side of the cornice and then the other. We look over the cliffs at the yawning abyss beyond. Sheer rock followed by acres of scree, glittering lakes far below. We weigh our options. Is that a way down over there, possibly? Or what about over this rise? No, the slope becomes even steeper over there. Beyond the rise are still more cliffs.

left side of the cornice

.

right side of the cornice

.

Then we see a set of footprints in the dirt on one side of the pass. Katherine? We follow the footprints- they go to the top of the rise, return, and head straight for some boulders. On closer inspection, there is an opening between the boulders where one can lower oneself down- to more boulders. A tiny landing made of dirt, worn and trampled by many feet- animals, most likely, and Katherine. And then another drop through another couple of boulders, to another tiny dirt landing. And so on.

I crabwalk and downclimb my way from landing to landing, handing my pack to Kodak as I go. We found the way down! I can’t believe it. Everything is always fine in the end, isn’t it? Thanks invisible Katherine!

Kodak descending

.

It me. Photo by Kodak

We attain the steeply angled screeslope of infinity and scree our way down, hooting and hollering, our shoes filling with pebbles as the ground falls out from under us and the glittering lakes rise up to meet us. I stop to take in the view, the dramatic spires of the granite mountains against the clean blue sky, and soon Kodak is just a tiny dot way below.

By and by the scree gives way to steeply angled slabs and I feel like I’m in a video game again, sidling along the mountain testing the exact angle at which the tread on my brooks cascadias lose their grip on lichen-spotted granite. There are openings between the slabs and each slab is at a slightly different angle, so as I make my way along their faces I hop from slab to slab, attempting to find the exact combination of slabs that will take me where I want to go without cliffing me out. It turns out that my confidence is higher going up that it is coming down, because suddenly I’ve dead ended at a too-steep slab but when I turn around to go back the way I’ve come the path has been erased, and there’s only a cliff.

My brain decides that this is a good time for a panic attack. My birthday, the full moon, PMS, and now I’m stuck on a cliff and I can’t find the way back down. Why not a nice panic attack as well? I sit on my little landing and sob and hyperventilate. I don’t have panic attacks often, but when I do, I always have them when I feel like I’m about to fall off a cliff. Way down below me, Kodak is eating snacks at the edge of the lake. Fuck my birthday, I think, as I struggle to gain control of my breathing. Seriously, fuck it.

Eventually I cry it all out, as one does, and can think clearly again. I am able to problem-solve my way down a slab or two. I get cliffed out again, and have to backtrack, but I find another way and eventually reach the lake, and Kodak. We make our way down a drainage towards another lake via the slabs, talus and brush above its edge- there’s supposed to be a “use trail” but there’s not, at least not that we can find.

We just have to make it down to and around that lake…

We chose our own lines, and Kodak weaves in and out of my field of vision. It’s raining- it’s been raining all day- although I haven’t really noticed. We are always either going steeply up or steeply down, and it thunders and rains almost every afternoon, but I have stopped really noticing these things. There is only the problem in front of me, that blessed distraction; that boulder or slab or bush or stream that sharpens my focus to a laserbeam and blocks out the rest of the known universe.

We keep seeing these cairns that aren’t really cairns- just one small stone placed on top of a much larger rock, as though accidentally. Like, look at that small rock that fell just so on top of that larger rock from, like, the wind- how about that. I wouldn’t think they were cairns at all except there are so many of them, placed all along where the use trail is supposed to be. We start to call them “Skurka cairns”- because Skurka hates cairns and maybe this is his way of having cairns without really, like, having cairns. You know?

There is a little green plant that smells incredibly good when we crush it beneath our feet. All day we are smelling it, and I am starting to think of its scent as the official scent of the KCHBR. I pick a handful, and look at it. What are you, little plant? I put it in my hipbelt pocket to find out later.

We reach the other end of the lake, where we are meant to cross its wide outlet on submerged logs. There are dozens of these logs, floating just below the surface of the clear green water. When you step out onto one of these logs it sinks, or rolls, or maybe it does nothing, but either way it’s a surprise and you have no way of knowing what it will do until you step onto it. Kodak begins to make his way delicately across on this logs, hopping too and fro, but I opt to cross in the water. Except, the floor of the waist deep outlet is several feet of muck. So if I attempt to walk across I’ll just sink up to my neck and have to swim. Why is everything so hard today.

I follow the outlet downstream, where it becomes wider and even deeper. At last there is a shallow spot and I wade across to the glorious trail on the other side. Kodak meets me, having successfully navigated the logs. We’ll follow this Real Trail all the way down to Bubbs creek. Now that we’re on a real trail and I’m not worried about becoming irreparably separated from Kodak, I tell him I need a moment by myself, and I’ll catch up to him at the junction. He hikes on and I duck into the woods and sit on the soft duff in the rain and cry and cry as thunder claps overhead and then I take a shit and afterwards I feel a thousand percent better, as one does.

When I catch up to Kodak again I tell him it’s my birthday. He tells me Happy Birthday and gives me a ziploc of gummy worms, which is basically the most incredible birthday present anyone could possibly give me, on this day, and suddenly everything feels light again. Bubbs creek is a chill ford where it branches a stone’s throw upstream from where the trail crosses the water, and then we’re mashing uphill towards Vidette meadows. Dang I feel strong going uphill on trail. I’m hungry though, as I started rationing my food today, and emotionally exhausted, sort of empty inside.

Vidette Meadows has a Real Campsite complete with flat spots for tents, bear lockers and logs around a fire ring. Kodak makes a huge fire against the dusky chill and cooks both our dinners over the coals, his second incredible birthday present to me. Which is awesome, because aside from food, I’m also running low on fuel. And toilet paper. And power in my battery pack…

bless

My dinner is gluten-free dairy-free mac n cheese from the winco in Visalia- the daiya kind with the liquid cheese in a packet. I put these in our cache boxes on the Hayduke, too. They are incredible, and they make me feel full to the point of stupefaction. Thus stupefied, I know that I will sleep well.

And I do.

KCHBR Day 12: More or less an on-trail zero

9/5/17
3 miles
118 miles hiked

The night is perfectly still with a bright silver dollar moon, almost full, whose glory I witness when I wake in the dark to string up my mosquito net. I lie awake for a while, watching the moonshadows move on the tarp and experiencing deep wonderment at the magic that is, like, planet earth, man.

Chill granite slabs with just the right amount of grip for our shoes and tufts of grass here and there take us up like an escalator to Thunder Ridge Pass, where we find a cliff that ends in some very steep and unstable talus. We need to make it down this talus. This is what we expected, though, this is what we came here for. I want to feel like an insect tiptoeing on the back of a dragon, trying not to wake it. Light as a feather, light as a feather, I think, as I make my way from large precarious boulder balanced just-so to large precarious boulder balanced just-so. Beneath each boulder is a black void, a dim nothingness waiting to swallow my ankle. Time disappears, as do my thoughts. Occasionally the deep rumble of a boulder as it shifts, but does not quite fall. These boulders have felt the weight of winter snowpack, I am nothing to these boulders. Right? Light as a feather, light as a feather.

.

.

At the bottom we reach a string of lakes set in a bowl built from talus and we stay up near the rim of this bowl, contouring around it until we reach a beautiful high forest of foxtail pines. Kodak woke up this morning feeling as though he’s coming down with something, maybe from being around a thousand people in Lodgepole and then our sleepless night in the storm and the taxing next day in the wind. We discuss our options as we drop out of the foxtail pines to Cunningham creek, which is an absolute paradise of clear water wending through a long, grassy meadow in the warm gentle sunshine. We stop to take a break and Kodak immediately begins to fall asleep in the grass. He proposes that we stay here for the rest of the day, basically take an on-trail zero. If we do that, he thinks, the thing he’s fighting might not make itself all the way present and tomorrow he’ll feel 100%. Rest. He just needs to rest.

I have never taken an on-trail zero before, although I have always thought about how nice it would be. Normally, zeros are actually pretty stressful- laundry, emails, resupply, stuffing oneself, the overstimulation of town, etc. Here, though, there is none of that. The rest of our day would consist of lounging on the grass in the warm sunshine, napping and eating snacks. That’s pretty much it.


The amount of food I have is starting to worry me a little- I already felt that I barely had enough to cut it for this section, what if we take a day off? But I decide not to worry about it. Which is pretty easy to do, because this particular moment in this particular meadow is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever had the privilege to experience. I mean, yolo, right?

KCHBR Day 11: Katherine Motherf*ckin Cook

9/4/17
11 miles
115 miles hiked total

We’re a ship. We’re a ship that’s lost on the black, stormy sea, and we’re being tossed around by the waves. I’m sitting up in my sleeping bag in the pitch black gripping one side of the tarp with all my might and Kodak is gripping the other while the most insane winds pound us and buckets of water run down the sides. The noise of the storm overwhelms my senses in the heavy darkness and then zip! Three of the tent stakes are ripped from the ground and the tarp flies out of my hands and the sky cracks in half with lightning and we are plunged directly into the cold black sea. Kodak leaps up and races into the storm while I gather the loose tarp edge and wrestle it back to the ground, leaving our sleeping bags only partly soaked. It’s so good that it’s not colder, I think, as I hear the tap tap tap of Kodak pounding tiny titaniums stakes back into the ground. Kodak crawls back inside, his rainjacket drenched, and I dig my tarp from my pack and tie it haphazardly over the opening at the end of our tarp to stop the sideways rain that’s pouring inside. We scooch back down into our sleeping bags and lay on our sides, each of us gripping one side of the tarp, as the wind continues to beat us in staccato gusts.

I don’t think I sleep at all. Time collapses into the repetitive percussion of the wind and the irregular startles of rain. The night shakes our tarp as though to shake us out of it. The storm wants to swallow us. The rain stops before dawn but the angry wind continues, and I pass the sleepless hours by reading Katherine Cook’s blog posts (http://katherinerosecook.com), which I have downloaded to my phone. Katherine Cook is currently solo-hiking the Sierra High Route, the South Sierra High Route, and the Kings Canyon High Basin High Route, all in one season, one after the other. In case you’re not familiar with those routes, Katherine Cook is a fucking badass. She’s also an incredible writer- introspective and clever and great at finding unique ways to talk about nature. As far as I can tell from her most recent batch of blog uploads, she’s finished with the SHR and the SSHR, and should be starting the KCHBR from Lodgepole soon. I wonder if our paths will cross?

The wind finally gentles a little at first light, and we’re hiking by 7:15.

lonely lake

We circle Lonely lake beneath the tower of “The Horn” and climb easy slabs to Horn Col, a narrow ridge of stone where the wind reappears out of nowhere in 40 mph gusts; Kodak stands too close to the edge with his arms out, wind tearing at his jacket, and I shout at him but my shouts are swallowed by the wind.

.

In my imagination he is blown right off the mountain- I blink but he is still there. I scoot on my butt to the edge of the precipice, fighting with the wind. We drop down ramps on the other side of the col like super mario brothers to a seemingly random line in the talus where we hang a right- boulder, boulder, boulder, here is where I will contour. We choose different lines and then although I can see Kodak above me I am lost in my own world, consumed by the problem that each differently-shaped hunk of tilted rock or patch of wet snow presents. The next time I look up Kodak is so far above me on the slope that he’s just a dark spot on the white snow, and he’s talking to… another spot. Katherine?! My heart begins to race. I struggle over the talus, trying to get up to them as fast as I can.

.

Katherine?!

 

“Katherine!” I shout, but the wind carries my words away. Katherine, the only other person who we know of on this route! Katherine, who shares this world with us! Katherine, our only friend!

Katherine is wearing brightly patterned pants and all of her layers. She hiked from Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead to Lodgepole on trails, and at Lodgepole she discovered her food box hadn’t arrived at the post office, so she had to resupply at the tiny expensive store. Her maps were in her box that didn’t arrive, so she doesn’t have any, and has been navigating via the section descriptions and a large overview map (which is insane). We have two sets of paper maps between us, so I give her mine, since we also have the route on gaia. While we talk we are standing on a steeply angled snow slope being beaten by the wind, but Katherine seems relaxed and unhurried. She has also been hiking much faster than us.

I know from her blog that Katherine relishes hiking solo so, I don’t want to crowd her but, I am very excited at the prospect of leapfrogging with her for a time.

The views on the slopes of Copper Peak are insane- great upliftings crumbling with bright granite, gunmetal stormclouds on one side and on the other side a bright rainbow, arcing over everything.

We choose different lines up the talus to the summit of Copper Peak and mine ends up being a terrible route- hand over hand on too-steep scree that slides out from under me and it feels like I could die but who knows what would happen if I actually fell and the uncertainty of it has me sweating and saying oh fuck oh fuck and then Kodak (who has very generously followed me on my line after just one half-hearted “I don’t think this is a very good idea”) and I are at the narrow ridge on top, panting in the sun and the wind, and Katherine is disappearing around the corner like the rabbit in Alice and Wonderland.

.

.

.

Descending off Copper Peak into the next drainage over is some steep-ass shit, shoes sliding on dirt-coated rock and here and there an embedded bit of talus to grip but not all the way or it’ll come loose from the mountain and tumble down onto your hiking partner.

Slow and steady gets me onto gentler grassier slabs, knees creaking like rusty door hinges from the sheer volume of talus and also from lack of sleep. The adrenaline of the morning starts to cool and exhaustion takes its place. Kodak and I stop at a stream to get water and eat second breakfast behind a boulder where we’re hidden from the wind and Katherine disappears around another divot in the mountain.

Some old mining switchbacks lead us downward in an organic, indirect way to cloud canyon where the walking is easy on wet grassy tufts and bushes alongside the stream. We catch up to Katherine and I try not to fangirl too hard as we leap over braids in the creek and crash through the brush like blackbears.

“Where did you camp last night?” I ask her. “Which do you like better, this trail or the Sierra High Route? What’s your favorite trail?”

“The Hayduke is my favorite trail,” says Katherine, as she leaps effortlessly from boulder to boulder in a short stretch of talus.

“Oh my god,” I almost screech, attempting, and failing, to leap effortlessly as well- “That’s my favorite trail too!”

Eventually we break out of the brush and talus into legit forest, where the understory is open and clear and a Real Trail appears, the Colby Creek Trail. Kodak and I stop to rest again and Katherine waves goodbye. Kodak gives me gummy worms- he has a huge sack of them from our Winco trip and he has begun doling them out at random intervals, which greatly increases my morale.

“Motherfucking gummy worms!” I say, as I eat them. Why are gummies so fucking good while hiking, and other questions that have no answers.

The Colby Creek trail takes us up in the warm still sun to cross-country on gentle slabs along Pleasant creek. I listen to music and hop over the water as the route wends back and forth. The sun is doing wild things with the light and I am really starting to feel the delirium. We arrive at aptly named talus lake and stay above it on talus lest the lower talus dragons consume us and descend some more talus, talus talus talus, towards a patch of forest below talus pass.

.

 

Walking on Shapes. That, I decide, is what I would call a book about this route. Imagine a huge pile of shapes. Now, imagine yourself walking on that pile of shapes. Congratulations- you’re on the Kings Canyon High Basin Route.

We reach the trees but we’re too tired to settle on a campsite and instead we just walk in circles, eyeballing various clear spots in the grass and rejecting each one in turn. I find a helium balloon crumpled in the stream. I squeeze the water out of it. It’s in the shape of a large silver “S”. I ball it up and put it in my pack. I found another helium balloon a few days ago, and am carrying that one as well. They’ll come in handy in a few days, when it’s my birthday.

None of the spots seem good enough and finally we just throw the tarp up wherever and of course the spot is perfect. Katherine is camped nearby and I walk over to tell her goodnight. Tomorrow we might end up in the same spot to camp as well, or maybe we won’t. It’s been fun having a friend for a bit.

Down here in the trees the wind is heard, but not felt. Woo woo woo it rushes over Talus pass above us but we are safe, it can’t touch us. I make my hot noodle refried bean dinner from my winco resupply, and it is incredible. We’ve set up the tarp in storm mode, just in case.

KCHBR Day 10: Kings Kaweah tablelands

9/3/17
10 miles
104 miles hiked total

I sleep late- I guess I needed it? And we don’t start hiking until 8:15. I am deeply superstitious about starting hiking after 8, as in my experience this means that one is totally fucked, as far as miles goes. Oh well, I guess I’ll see how today pans out. I did need the sleep.

There are some cliff bands between us and our pass, an unnamed pass near Silliman peak, and we take on the puzzle with great enthusiasm, happy to be problem solving again. A little class four, a little handing up of packs, some huffing and puffing up slabs and and ramps and chunks of earth and then we are at the top.

going up silliman pass- photo by kodak

.

photo by Kodak

.

.

The cold rain comes again, clearing the smoke from the air. We’re on the tablelands of the Kings Kaweah Divide, which Skurka describes as “shockingly easy”. I would describe them more as “regular hard”- tilted chunks of stone, slippery from the rain, that one must make one’s way across/over/around, spreading in all directions on a broad plateau. The tablelands may not be easy, but they are beautiful in a soothing, otherworldly way.

.

lol

.

.

 

.

Thunder claps as it likes to do each afternoon, and we are on the most high and exposed place we can possibly be but oh well, there’s nothing to be done, and eventually the thunder moves on. We both get lazy with navigation and suddenly we’re way off route in that way that happens more quickly than it seems like it should, and getting back on route somehow takes a lot of time/frustration/getting genuinely cliffed out and having to backtrack. I start to feel like a fuckup, why can’t I go more miles each day on this route? Why did I start hiking after 8 this morning? Ah, PMS.

At last we’re back on the route and I feel kind of irritable and burnt from the effort but there’s plenty of opportunity to zone out in my head alone until I’m calm again as we choose our own lines and I’m up high traversing grassy cracks in granite slabs while Kodak is below, in a squishy basin. I like how we do this, sort of weave in and out, always (mostly) keeping within sight or shouting distance. It works for my introvert nature, as well as Kodak’s- it gives us time to rest and be alone with our thoughts as well as do whatever introspection we need to do. Our lines converge again at Lonely lake, which sits in a bowl beneath Horn col, and I’m feeling much better at this point.

Lonely lake is ringed in talus but there’s a good campsite up the bank a bit, next to a wee tarn that reflects the pink clouds of sunset. Kodak pitches the tarp in chill flat mode but as we’re cooking dinner some of the most brutal stormclouds I have ever seen begin to roll in, darkening the entire sky. Kodak re-pitches the tarp in storm mode and we crawl inside just as the last of the light is sucked from the earth and a heavy blackness envelops us. Then the wind rises up like a ghost, and rain begins to fall. I curl in my sleeping bag, listening to the storm arrive. Maybe it will wear itself out quickly, and we’ll be able to sleep?

KCHBR Day 9: Out of the valley, back to the cool mtns

9/2/17
4 miles
94 miles hiked total

I wake at six and make gf df mac n’ cheese on the tile floor of the motel shower, because it’s the only place in the room where I can use my alcohol stove without setting anything on fire. I eat the entire pot and, thus stuffed with 900 calories of goodness, I walk down the street to the Hampton Inn with Kodak because not only is there a seven dollar shuttle from Vasalia back up into Sequoia Kings Canyon Park (!!!) but it stops just down the street from our motel. The shuttle, which also has free wifi, scoops us up at ten a.m. and is supposed to reach Lodgepole at 12:30. There’s construction on the winding narrow highway up into the mountains, however, as well as a few spots where emergency vehicles are blocking the road, so we keep stopping and idling in the bright sunshine. The high today in the valley is 107 degrees, and the shuttle driver turns off the AC in an attempt to keep the bus from overheating, and we open the tiny rectangular windows above the seats and suck in air and sweat runs down our faces. The shuttle overheats anyway, and we pull off the road for a long time and I sit hugging my pack in my lap and watching the construction-slowed traffic creep past. When we finally reach Lodgepole at 3pm I’m so carsick I feel like I could vomit.

Today is Saturday, the first day of labor day weekend, and there are thousands, thousands of people at Lodgepole. The feeling is of being at a very, very crowded amusement park that is also sometimes a mall. I buy a bowl of chili and a can of diet pepsi and we sit at one of the dirty snackbar tables for a bit, spacing out and charging our phones in the outlet next to the trashcan. Then, it’s time to hike.

Kodak’s pack, with eight days of food and six pounds of camera gear, is very heavy. My pack, suspiciously, is only a little bit heavy. We switchback up out of the hot smoky crowded paved lodgepole and within a mile we’re in the cool cool forest and there is nobody, absolutely no-one. We see a bear, clawing up grubs on a slope below the trail and watch it for a bit, but it ignores us. Shortly after, we leave the good trail to hike on use trail up Silliman creek- we’re back on the route!! Wooo!! The use trail is steep, crumbled and rocky but straightforward to follow and it feels good to be climbing again, climbing until the trees start to thin and there are good granite slabs to scramble up and above us are some austere, jagged ridgelines. As we climb the hot busride fades away, the sprawl of Vasalia. It feels like home up here. Like the land that we know.

when yr waiting for yr hikin partner to put down his camera so you can use him as the subject in the photo, but he’s waitin for the same thing

A few hours later thunder claps and rain begins to fall, but it’s not too cold. It’s still gentle summmertime in the Sierras; the weather hasn’t turned yet. We find a sheltered campsite in the trees below Silliman peak and Kodak pitches the tarp in storm mode. We drift off to the patter of rain on cuben fiber, the dark night holding us.

KCHBR day 8: zero in Visalia

9/1/17
zero miles

I wake too early (again) in our nice stealth spot in the forest below the gas station and we pack up and sit outside in the cold as the morning warms looking at our phones until the doors open and we buy two hot cups of coffee and eat the bananas and look at our phones some more. By and by we figure maybe we should hitchhike to Visalia, where neither of us has ever been and which is two hours away on the winding mountain highway, because it’s a real town with a grocery store and we should be able to reasonably buy eight days of food there. Our first ride is an SUV being driven by a couple from Mexico and in the backseat with us is the nicest, most velvety pitbull with the most somber eyes full of bottomless longing (dogs have the yearning on lock), and our second ride is Alicia. Alicia drives an old Toyota tacoma with a campershell and she’s lived in the truck for six years (warm Anza Borrega in the winters) and she works in Sequoia Kings Canyon on a trail crew running chainsaws and she’s got her bike on the back of the truck and it’s her weekend and she’s wearing a cute skirt and she’s headed down to Pismo beach to skateboard. It turns out that Alicia and I know a lot of people in common, folks I haven’t seen in years but which place both of us in the early-2000s west coast anarchist punk scene. Alicia fills me in- people I remember as having small babies now have teenagers, etc. How time flies/how malleable is time. Looking backwards and forwards, walking in meditative circles, standing still. Alicia and I do summersaults through time as the truck rattles us downhill (no AC, windows open ruffling all our hair) out of the giant sequoias and into the hot San Joaquin valley where it’s 102 degrees today. Remember when people rode freight trains and bike toured everywhere? Remember when people lived in shacks that they built out of scrapped lumber? Remember when people taught themselves to sail?

Alicia!

Our new best friend Alicia drops us at the motel 6 in Visalia but as soon as the front desk clerk sees our busted asses he says he’s sorry, contrary to what he told me on the phone his current cheapest room is $120. We wander out into the blistering smoky heat, confused, but then spot a motel next door that looks just as nice as the motel 6 and is called either the Majestic Inn or Marco Polo Motel, depending on if you go by google maps or the sign. They are very kindly and have a tidy room for us for $60. Next door is a chinese restaurant that, luck would have it, has some of the best ratings of any restaurant in a five mile radius, and we feast on glorious meat and glorious vegetables. Shortly after we are wilted indoors with the air conditioning on blast and the curtains drawn shut against the light. We fall asleep in this manner against our best intentions and it’s dark when I schedule a Lyft to take us the two miles to Winco because, fuck walking in this heat.

I have neither resupplied nor shopped in a Winco, although I have heard tell of it. Turns out the massive store is everything I ever imagined, and more. Winco reminds me of Shop N Kart in Ashland, aka the best grocery store on earth, only with fewer niche brands and zero deep-discount expiration date edgeplay. The bulk section is out of this world, having, for example, bins of gummy bears sorted by color, as well as instant refried beans. Kodak and I have fun filling our carts with what may or may not be eight days of food. Kodak buys a great quantity of granola, peanut butter, gummy worms, bulk fruit snacks, cheese, tortillas, coffee, hot cocoa powder, ramen, mac n’ cheese, a giant bag of peanuts, two kinds of discount sandwich cookies, two boxes of pop tarts, fruit leathers, one box of cheez-its, instant refried beans and a giant summer sausage log. I buy a party-size bag of wavy lays, figs and goji berries, twenty-five bars, dinners consisting of rice noodles, instant refried beans, olive oil and curry powder, two pounds of salami, jerky, dark chocolate, and two boxes of the daiya gf df mac n’ cheese (one for the motel, one for my birthday). If you’re noticing a discrepancy in the amount of food I bought for eight days versus the amount that Kodak bought, you’re not mistaken, and that will play out later in this story, as well as the fact that the next section actually will actually take us nine days…

Since today is a zero day and we’re not doing any hiking, here are some things I’ve learned about Kodak so far. From age twelve to seventeen, he was a nationally ranked competitive archer, in the olympic recurve style. He’s also a bow hunter, by extension, and enjoys eating the deer. He’s super dedicated to his photography, and on our hike so far I’ve watched him stop, whip out his camera and change lenses during sketchy stream crossings, on steep snowfields, in bushwhacks, while crossing talus… In the regular world he works as an arborist, climbing up trees for pay, and he’s very good with knots, always rigging up his tarp in wild technical ways.

We fall asleep (again) in the dark motel room with the AC blasting surrounded by our plastic shopping bags of food and empty chinese takeout containers (we had chinese food again for dinner) after doing every phone errand that needed done and outside the cars roll past on the highway like whales sounding in the ocean, serene.