Fourteen Miles…Oops

4 June 2014 in Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

We both slept well with the Milky Way as our nightlight and awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to hit the trail and see what beautiful sights today had to offer. We seemed to be the first to do so as we passed a couple other groups of campers still leisurely eating breakfast and sipping coffee. But before long we were all alone again. The sun was still hiding just over the canyon wall as the shadows slowly receded towards us.

It was cool and a light breeze graced our skin as we followed the well beaten path this way and that, up and down, away from the river and back to its shores. We put in a few good hours of hiking before the allure of the water was simply too inviting. Traipsing off trail a short distance we took a little break at the water’s edge and dipped our legs in knee deep, providing a little relief to our tightly wound muscles.

After the break we began a long climb that carried us above an unseen—except for on the map—gorge called Muir Gorge. Apparently John Muir was one of the first people to successfully navigate his way down into the gorge and back out. From what I’ve read it’s quite challenging and so we decided to pass. The climb up and around it was presenting enough of a challenge for us.

It let up a few times, but for the most part the trail steadily led upward, sometimes at a reasonable grade and other times at a body grading pitch. And of course by this time the sun was beating us down from the high noon sky. I felt like I was being compacted, the sun crushing me from above and the trail grinding away at me feet and legs. Less than halfway through our hike, maybe seven miles in, I was ready to call it quits.

But we continued on. There’s no quitting on the trail. It’s survival. It’s a self-imposed hardship with no easy way out. And it’s sadomasochistically (not a word but it should be) wonderful! In most of our privileged lives there’s very little physical struggle. We’ll complain about a tough day at work or the stress of traffic, but those crusades are menial and trite with alleviation in the form of a couch or bed awaiting you shortly. They are the slow erosion that will eventually reduce us to dust, but they require sufficient time. The trail has an insatiable appetite for toil and if you are not constantly feeding it then it just may consume you.

So we fed it, our sweat dripping and instantly evaporating in the dust below our feet, our bodies screaming like banshees engulfed in flames. We peered up at each imposing dome of rock, carved with the signs of future switchbacks and cursed our infatuation with nature. Why are we addicted to wild places that ask so much of us? Why can’t we just be happy touring the countryside from the comfort of a car like the majority of visitors to the park? Is this really worth it?

Simple answer – yes. It is totally worth it. Each utterly unbearable step up, every backbreaking mile rewarded us handsomely with another wonderful view of the massive, tree bedded canyon or the untamed rapids and pools of the Tuolumne River. Not to mention the small swell of pride and accomplishment slowly growing and glowing like a tiny ember in the wind. We were capable of overcoming great obstacles. Mentally and physically we were strong and could log this confidence and retrieve it in times of doubt.

When we arrived at Waterwheel Falls we took another break and prepared some lunch. Ramen noodles was just what our drained fuel tanks needed. We found a little spot at the top of the falls where we could peer down upon the valley we had just climbed out of and there was also a pool of rushing water in which to submerge our feet. It was like a cold whirlpool with small jets of water gently massaging away the miles of hard trail. We spent a couple hours at this spot – eating and dazing off in lost stares as we took in the scenery.

After such a relaxing siesta we thought we had the gusto to proceed on for a few more hours and cut into the miles we’d have to surpass on our final day, but almost immediately lethargy rolled over us and we were once again forced to push our spent bodies to new extremes. We laughed madly as we approached each new wall of granite and carried our burdensome bodies up and over. I hadn’t felt this tired since hiking and running the Grand Canyon. I didn’t want to move another foot, let alone another 20,000, but I did. We both did.

We passed Le Conte and California Falls, but also several other smaller falls. None of them had signs so we were forced to ponder our exact location. We wanted to make it to a spot near the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, but without identifying which falls was which we had no other points of reference to use to assess distances. Finally, as the sun approached the cliff’s edge we found a flat area where others were setting up tents.

A gorgeous falls cascaded down into a tranquil pool and was bordered on one side by bare rock and on the other side by a sandy beach. This was it. It didn’t matter where we were or how far we had to go tomorrow. We were camping here. Our bodies wouldn’t have it any other way.

I built a fire as Lindsay set up the tent and fetched water. We spent the rest of the evening making trips to the river for cooking water and drinking water. We were out of purifying tablets and so boiling was our only alternative. We were both tired, but we knew it was best to take care of this issue now, rather than in the morning. We planned to get up and going early in hopes of beating the beating the sun would be handing out tomorrow afternoon.

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