The stretch of trail we’re entering now may just be the most beautiful backpacking I’ve ever done in my life. (The PCT follows the JMT — the John Muir Trail — for the next roughly 200 miles, and we’ve hiked the JMT, so I’ve been here before.) We’re camped tonight at Rae Lakes, three incredibly beautiful lakes tucked among mountains high overhead; the views this evening were amazing, and I expect even more tomorrow morning when we wake up. From here, there are so many places whose names I remember well that we’re headed towards: Evolution Valley, Vidette Meadow…I’m excited to be back here in this place that I loved so well the first time around.
In this stretch of trail, you measure progress not by miles, but by passes. The trail basically just alternates between descending into lush mountain valleys and ascending to high, high passes between them — many of them 12,000 feet of elevation or more — and most people think of where they are by knowing what passes they last crossed, and which one is coming up. Forester. Glen. Pinchot. Mather. Muir. Island. Selden. The list goes on, and part of the reason they’re such great landmarks out here is that they all actually have names. Back in the desert, we’d sometimes go up and over a pass, but they never had a name. I imagine part of that is because we’re in a national park, but most of it is because people want to name beautiful things in the mountains a lot more than they want to name yet another feature of the desert.
So, what pass did we ascend today? Two, actually: Kearsarge Pass brought us in from Independence and Bishop on the east side of the Sierra, while Glen Pass took us further north. Crossing Kearsarge was relatively uneventful, but Glen Pass brought the single slowest stretch of hiking we’ve had so far on this entire trip. The north side — the side that gets the least sun — of Glen Pass has snowfield after snowfield on it. While Forester had plenty of sun, too, the difference is that the snow on Glen Pass was soft. You might imagine that soft snow is what you want, but not so, at least not anywhere near this soft: every step made you sink in, our hiking poles sank right through the snow — sometimes three feet or more, the snow was melting so the trail sometimes turned into a river, and we had to be extremely careful the entire way down. We felt a lot less badass than going up Mt. Whitney or Forester Pass, yet we went a whole lot slower; at the end of the day, we’d only gone thirteen-and-a-half miles, but felt exhausted. Yuck. I’m really hoping upcoming passes have less snow, or better-distributed snow, on them.
It’s days like this that words really seem completely insufficient, and I feel like all I can do is leave you all — my readers — with pictures instead. There really isn’t anything to explain how gorgeous it can be out here, or how it feels to lie down at night next to these amazing mountain lakes, knowing tomorrow is just going to be full of more of the same. It’s peaceful, it’s exciting, it’s alive and it’s wonderful. It’s living, vibrantly. It’s amazing.