Day 38: Muir hut day

June 1
Mileage 18
Mile 820.5 to mile 838.5

We wake at 6 a.m. I’ve only slept four hours, but I don’t care. I’m so glad to be back with the group, so glad to not be wandering alone in the seemingly empty wilderness that is the Sierras in spring. It’s strange how that happens on the trail- the desert can feel so crowded and then you enter the sierras and poof- where did everybody go? It’s also hard to stay with your group in the sierras, if you do have one. Those granite peaks have a way of scrambling communication, of exacerbating differences in hiking speed and style, of breaking clumps into their finer, individual particles.

We’ve got an easy day today! Only 18 miles. We’re hiking to the top of Muir pass and then we’re all gonna stay in the hut there- the Muir hut. I’m stoked about this short day- yay for slowing it down in the Sierras! I eat caffeinated fruit snacks (thanks Egg!) and try to put on my frozen shoes. I got into camp so late that they didn’t have a chance to dry at all and now it takes three people, taking turns working them, to get them to a point where I can put my feet inside. Putting on frozen shoes- one of the unique joys of the sierras. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The others head out at a clip but Twinkle and I hike slow, wandering through the sunlit forest until we find a grassy, flower-filled meadow next to a flat, winding stream. The ground is hummocky and the water is aquamarine and it all reminds me very much of alaska. We jump in the frigid water and then lay in the warm sun and I think of how seldom I stop, on the trail, and just look at the flowers and listen to the air move, and notice the light all around me. Insects crawl over me and across the stream a couple of deer are browsing. Oh, the luxury of an eighteen mile day in the Sierras! What joy is this!

We reach the three miles of snowfields that lead up to Muir pass in the early afternoon, peak postholing time. We march bravely into our snowy doom and soon we’re all sinking and swearing, the thin crust on top of the ice scraping and cutting our sunburned calves. Twinkle and I are already at the back and then I stop to take a shit and fall behind everyone- I cross an achingly cold stream to where the footprints continue in the snow but a shelf of snow has fallen off into the water and I can’t get up it, onto the snowfield. I cross back to the other side and cross the stream again, further down. Three crossings have my feet screaming in pain and I start to cry, suddenly overwhelmed, once again, by all of it- not knowing where the trail is, being behind my friends, the endless postholing ahead of me. The panic comes back, for a few minutes. Apparently this scares me more than almost anything I’ve ever done- this navigating over mountains in the soft snow, without a trail. The PCT will do that to you- throw your fears in your face. So, then, this is one of mine.

I posthole on, dried tears crusting up my sunglasses, and finally reach the Muir hut right after Wiki Wiki, a super happy, high-energy hiker who we’ve caught up to in the last couple of days. Everyone is there, huddled on the rocks around the hut in their bright down jackets, shoes and socks spread to dry in the sun.

“Did anyone remember to get water?” I say. The last water was a ways back, down the steep, slushy mountain.

“I made a well,” says Coughee. Coughee was here first, as is his style- powering through to the end and then fidgeting, waiting for the others. He’s been here for hours already and while waiting he carried some rocks down to where he heard water running under the snow, tossed them in until the snow broke, made a well.

“You made a well?” We exclaim. “That’s amazing!”

We sit out in the sun next to the stone hut all afternoon, eating, shouting, cooking our little dinners. I feel anxious on account of the caffeinated fruit snacks I ate, like I could hike forever, like I should be. But the descent from muir is five miles of snowfields- best to tackle it in the morning when it’s frozen and we won’t posthole. I’m still hungry after dinner so I eat a king size snickers and my heart begins to race. The sun is sinking, throwing long bands of light over everything. The boys hot box the Muir hut- I go in there and they’re all giggling, sitting on the stone ledges in their sleeping bags. There’s a sort of altar to Muir above the bricked-over fireplace- a set of deer antlers, a plaque, little trinkets that people have left. Outside the sun is setting in the most incredible way imaginable and we all try to capture it on our cameras, and fail. With the dusk comes the cold, up over the frozen mountain. We shuffle into the hut and I spread my bedroll on the stone floor, blow up my neo-air. Eight hikers wriggle into eight sleeping bags and fill the hut with endless rustling. The hut becomes stuffy and airless; eight hikers begin to snore. I sleep.

Photos on instagram.

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