35 miles hiked total
I wake off and on all night, my dreams mixing with the milky way spinning above me until it’s dawn, and I’m heating water for tea and smacking my frozen shoes against each other in an effort to loosen them.
Our first project this morning is to traverse around a lake whose edge, most years, would be talus, but this year there’s a very tall snowfield encircling the lake, and this snowfield angles steeply up from the ice-rimmed deep blue water to some cliffs way above. Yesterday, in the afternoon, the snow was soft and sticky and easy to traverse- now, in the morning, it is frozen and very slick. We have one set of microspikes between us, so one microspike each. A fall on this snowfield would mean a fast bumpy slide into an ice-cold, partially frozen lake. Oh boy. Here goes.
Type one fun is fun that is enjoyable in the moment. Type two fun is fun that is enjoyable in retrospect, when one is telling a story. Type three fun is never enjoyable, not even in retrospect. (“So why,” a friend once asked, “is type three fun even on the fun scale?” I don’t know the answer to that question.)
Crossing this sketchy steep snowfield towards some cliffs with only one microspike is definitely type two fun. I take a step forward with my microspike foot- so solid! Much secure! Magic ice-gripping feet! Feels amazing! Once this foot is planted, I stab my trekking poles a few centimeters into the icy crust. Then, I must take a step with my non-microspike foot. So slippy! Sticks to nothing! Glances right off the surface of the earth! Below me, the snowfield angles away, towards the cold ice-lake. I kick and kick and kick with my spikeless trail runner, until I have a small step, a few inches wide. I shift my weight onto this non-microspike foot. My whole body tenses, as I lift my spike-foot from the steep icy crust and take another step. Relief, as my spike-foot comes down and sticks back into the slope.
Above me, Kodak is having his own slow struggle with his one microspike. We chose our own lines across the snow, and he’s aiming for the cliff a bit above where I’m headed. He reaches his cliff sooner than I reach mine, but between the snow and his cliff is a gapping crevasse- the dark nothing where the edge of the snowbank has melted away from the rock. He must walk to the edge of the snow here, in order to pull himself up onto the cliff. I can see his crevasse, from my position below. If he breaks through, he’ll fall at least thirty feet, onto the rock.
“Holy shit, holy shit,” I hear him say- his foot goes through the snow, but he does not- and then he’s on the rock, and safe. What relief! My line across the snow does not have a crevasse, but it does have its own problem- the snowfield becomes steeper just below the cliff and then I’m stuck, the snow is too steep and I’m unable to move forward with my one microspike without falling. Kodak downclimbs the cliff until he’s just above me. He then removes the guylines from his tarp, ties them together to make one long cord, and tosses me the second microspike on the end of this line. I put the microspike on, and a minute later I’m scrambling onto the rock next to Kodak. Success!
Now we’re squatting on a narrow ledge on a cliff, and we must ease our way up its cracks (that’s what she said, ha ha) in order to find our way over, around, in order to see our next obstacle, to size it up, to move forward on this wild slow journey we’re on. We do this, despacito, like the pop song- handing up our packs, finding handholds and footholds, hoisting ourself upwards into space. This is fun. This reminds me of the Hayduke. With each new landing spot on the rock, a new cliff appears, and yet when we poke around it always goes, we are never actually cliffed out, although it seems, again and again, as though we will be. This will become the theme of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, for me. For the Hayduke, my motto was “There’s Never Really Not Water.” For the KCHBR, it’s fast becoming “It Never Really Doesn’t Go.”
It goes, and soon we reach some “slabs” which is when the ground is made of sticky wonderful granite sloping downwards and broken with tufts of flowers and the tread on one’s shoes attach magically to this granite, even at an impossible-seeming angle, and one becomes a gecko and the world is a jungle gym. This reminds me of the slickrock on the Hayduke, and I am so happy.
Kodak is happy too. This hike is FUN. No matter how slow our morning has been, with the one microspike each and the cliff. Now we’re dropping from slab to slab like super mario brothers and presently there are waterfalls and knee-high wildflowers and we’re crushing them beneath our feet and their mint-lime smell is all over us, and then we’re side-hilling on a steep scree slope down, down to a lake ringed in pines and gentle grass where I jump in the water to rinse off the fear from the morning and we hang our bug nets to keep off the feasting mosquitos while we eat lunch and I almost fall asleep in the sheltered space under the clouded midday sun with my hat over my eyes after consuming a great quantity of salami.
Afternoon finds us weaving our way through the open forest at what feels like lightning speed but is probably just under 2mph. One hour of this gentle walking and then begins our descent down the Goddard Drainage, where we will drop six thousand feet in fourteen miles, one steeply-angled, quartz-infused, slippy talus field at a time. Cliffs, cliffs, everything looks like a cliff until you are right on top of it and then it goes, it always goes. Unlike the Hayduke, there is no line on the map telling us exactly where to drop down these steep rock ledges. We must make our own lines, find the grassy fissures ourselves, the places where the animals get through. Does it go? It always goes. We lose hours in this slow careful work, this making one’s way down the crumbled bits of cliff and rock.
At 7pm we have gone just seven miles but I feel as though I have traveled through galaxies of talus and there is a perfect campsite on a high shelf that overlooks a waterfall and Kodak pitches his flat tarp over our cowboy camp, again, and we make our dinner noodles and watch the light fade and the wind comes up just as the stars come out, and we sleep.