It sounded like thunder, only it just kept going on and on for a full minute or so, just after we’d made camp for the evening. It took us a few moments to realize what we’d just heard: part of a mountain falling down!
The Sierra are full of faces that are just loose scree (large piles of rocks just piled on top of each other), and, often enough, you’ll see rocks in the trail that clearly have fallen there since the last trail crew came through. Just looking at the sides of mountains, it’s evident that they must sometimes fall down — but you imagine that must all happen on a time scale that means you’ll never see it.
Not so, evidently, because we heard not once, but three separate times — at about five-minute intervals — that same sound: like thunder, but going on and on, and unmistakably the result of enormous amounts of rock falling down the mountainside. We actually weren’t able to see the rock falling, which I figure is either good or bad: had we seen rock falling on the far side of a valley, that would’ve been incredibly cool…but had it been anywhere near where we were, that would’ve just been terrifying. I’ve never heard of a hiker being killed by rock falling on them (leaving aside actual mountain climbers and people doing profoundly stupid stuff), so it can’t be that much of an actual risk. Still, I imagine whatever people might’ve been in the next valley over, where we heard the sound coming from, might’ve had quite a bit of adrenaline going right after that moment.
We’re camped tonight above 11,000 feet, on our way back up Kearsarge Pass, with an amazing view of the valley below and the sky in the east — I’m really looking forward to sunrise, because it should be spectacular. We’re actually only a few miles in on the trail today, because we spent the day running necessary errands in Bishop, CA — and, just like back home, everything always takes longer than you expect it to, particularly when you’re hiking. Towns are generally laid out for cars out here, and that “quick three-mile drive” to the UPS store on the other side of town becomes a two-hour round trip instead once you have to do it all on foot.
Running errands is profoundly unexciting, so I’ll tell you the results of them that I do love: I no longer look like a crazy homeless person! My hiking shirt — the one you see in pretty much every photo of me — had started out both brand-new and this intense orange color, yet recently has become deeply faded and with black stains from my pack everywhere…that don’t change one whit after laundering.
It was only after some of my hiking companions started referring to me as “Homeless Jesus” (because of the billowing shirt and increasingly-lengthy beard) that I knew something had to change. So, when we went up to Bishop today, I replaced it with a brand-new, dark-blue lightweight Smartwool shirt. I think that not only will I offend other hikers’ sensibilities less — just kidding, it’s literally impossible to offend a hiker’s sensibilities — but I’ll probably have an easier time hitchhiking, too. 😉
Tomorrow, we head back into the mountains in a serious way. First up is Kearsarge Pass, then, back-to-back, Glen Pass…and it’s much more of the JMT and the spectacularly beautiful parts of the PCT. I’m really excited!