Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day 91-That's Not a Chipmonk

Mile 1512 to mile 1535

Once again my watch alarm work me. This time it was 4:45 in the morning and the plan was to get up and watch the space station go past among the stars and then go hiking (beat the heat kind of thing). It took a bit of looking to find the space station (we were looking the wrong way), but I spotted it. Once I saw it the station was hard to miss. It was bigger and brighter than any of the predawn stars still out and it moved at a steady pace. It only lasted a couple of minutes, but I think it was worth getting up for.

Our plan to beat the heat didn't really work-it was already kind of warm watching the station. That made it all the more important to get going.  The trail had about thirty miles of low grade uphill in store for us today. We planned on getting as much of it done as possible and an early start would help.

Castle Crags in the early morning light
I had worried yesterday that I wouldn't have more views of Castle Crags, but that wasn't the case today. The trail followed the ridge below the crags switchbacking its way slowly upwards.  The sun was rising on the other side of the crags and they looked just like a castle dark against the blue sky.  I think I'm lucky I didn't get a kink in my neck or trip over something from looking at the crags so much this morning.

We passed a few water sources and stopped for two snack breaks while the sun was still being blocked by the crags. When it did finally light up the trail I could feel my skin trying to shrink away from the heat. The cool of the day was over.

The trail crossed Disappearing Creek. From the looks of the bleached boulders the creek pulled its vanishing act awhile ago. The forest around the creek was very noisy with birds and creatures stirring the underbrush around.  I rock hoped across the creek bed and continued on my way uphill.

We weren't talking while climbing. I'm sure Portrait could easily carry on a conversation while hiking up hill, but I prefer to just breathe while hiking up.  The forest filled our silence:  something was moving off to our left. Something was galloping away from us. "That was no chipmunk," I whispered loudly to Portrait with a grin on my face.

We had stopped walking about ten feet apart; I was in front.  He saw the bear first but my view was blocked by scrub trees. With some ducking and weaving I got a clear view of a black blob running away and a small fuzzy baby bear running after its mother. From the looks of the baby it was this year's cub.   I could hear the mama talking to her little one-a low guttural beat that sounded almost like a heartbeat when you press your ear against some one's chest.  We heard mama's soft reassurance for awhile after we lost sight of them down the hill. When they were gone I did my I saw a bear dance (Portrait had no such dance).

It was hard to hike on afterwards. It would have been nice to sit and wait for them to come back, but chances of that were slim. At least now I can tell people in town that yes, I saw a bear.

The trail seemed a little less exciting after the bears. It seemed hot and dry. I kept hearing water off the ridge, but didn't see it and couldn't drink it.  About a mile before the next water source we were passed by two thru-hikers. They didn't even break stride while zooming past.  We did catch them again when we got to the small spring. Not long after we sat down a third new hiker joined us for water and snack time.

Portrait had met two of them before while I hadn't met any of them. They caught us up on the where's of those behind us. I mostly just ate my snack. I've probably only met about 10 percent of the class of 2012 so most of the names were new to me.

We left the water first to hike another mile to the last water source for 13 miles. When we got there it was a tiny stream in a boggy area. Getting water my feet got wet for the first time in a couple of weeks.  It was almost noon, but we left the water with five new pounds of weight and decided to have a late lunch.

Castle the Hiker and Castle the Crag
While walking along a stretch of side hill I could see Lassen way off in the distance and Castle Crag was starting to slip behind. I just happened to look over my shoulder and there was Shasta without a cloud covering her or haze blurring her. It was probably the best view of the volcano I had yet, and the view kept getting better.

At lunch time we had done 12 miles and still had to do another 10 to reach water. Lunch was on the short side. I wanted to get to camp at a reasonable time.

It seemed like after lunch my mood took a nose dive. I had been loving the day in my wilderness, walking along the Castle Crag, seeing bears, and seeing Lassen and Shasta. After lunch it was just a long slog up hill under the oppressive sun.  There were times on the AT where I was so happy to see the sun I could feel it nourishing me. I could have almost lived off the sun and blue sky those days. Not today. I think the sun was stealing my energy to become even hotter.

We took short breaks in the shade that made the next mile more pleasant but the effects didn't last long.  Castle Crag hid behind the ridge we were on, but Shasta still kept us company.

A road appeared and I hoped for a trashcan, but it wasn't to be. After crossing the road it was back into the woods. About five minutes later Portrait looked back at me and told me.there was a cooler ahead.  I tried not to get my hopes up, but of course they were up. And the cool was not only newly filled.with ice and drinks, but it had bananas and chips.  It was the second best banana I ever had (the first being right outside of Tehachipe).

The magic did what my other snack breaks weren't able to do. It lifted my mood, the sun felt dimmer, the uphill less up. And minutes after leaving the cooler we crossed a road and there were two five gallon buckets with one soda left. We packed it with us for dinner.

Not long after that the trail was in shade and the last couple of miles were pleasant. We got to the spring, filled up (three more liters to last for dinner and eight miles) and went just a tenth of a mile to the ridge where everyone we saw today were camped out.

We joined them for dinner with Shasta watching us. The sun started to sink and turned Shasta a soft gold. We watched until the sun had set and then set up camp.

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