Mile 942.5 – 957.3
I was tired, frustrated and bit angry last night. I couldn’t sleep so I watched a comedy special on Netflix. When that didn’t work I watched the beautiful documentary “Meru” about a dangerous climb by a trio of alpinists. Near the end of the film, with all the pressure building, the climbers struggling, and Jose Gonzalez strumming his guitar and singing wistfully, I cried. I wasn’t sure if it was a sign that I should go home, or push on.
Thanks Trooper for the photo.
The film struck a chord. Over the past year I’ve slowly realized that I want to climb mountains–that maybe I’ve always wanted to climb them. Not on trails and paths, but up sheer cliffs and ice, over snow. As a mountaineer or alpinist. It’s something that I’ve never consciously acknowledged, and am just starting to understand. This dream sleepily rose its head when a friend invited me to try rock climbing earlier this year. The rock climbing was more than fun–it felt right. And when I decided to hike the PCT, I suddenly realized that I was on a path towards mountaineering, if I chose to pursue it.
It’s 2am, an absurdly late hour for hikers, and I’m in the throes of a late night, manic brainstorming session. Trying to understand what I want and what I should do. What’s best. Is mountaineering my new objective, or a convenient excuse to get off trail? I’ve been on the PCT for almost three months and have learned about pain, fear, and endurance. I’ve experienced desert, forest, and mountains. High alpine lakes and snowy passes. My favorite times were the technical moments–scrambling, using an ice axe, and careful footwork. Those were mental challenges and tests of skill. But the vast majority of thru hiking is one-dimensional: stamina above all else. Hike until you drop, then do it again.
Maybe thru hiking isn’t for me. Is there shame in admitting that and quitting? Even after making it my life goal for the past year? On the spectrum of climbing mountains, maybe I’m more of a technical, shorter distance guy.
Admittedly, I’ve been mostly terrified when exposed to sheer cliffs and sketchy snow on this trip. Am I foolish to think I can overcome that? Or, more importantly, why do I think getting into mountaineering at age 27 is a good idea? I should be thankful to have had this PCT opportunity, then go home and get on with real life–start a career, save for retirement and secure my independence. The clock is ticking. At least, that’s what the voices in my head say.
I think I fell asleep around 2:30am last night, but I’m alright this morning. My manic energy has eased but is still simmering enough to keep me going.
I pack up and walk over to the Tuolumme Meadows store, where all the other hikers are. I order a big breakfast and slowly prepare myself to hike out. By 11:30am I’m ready, and hit the trail. South Lake Tahoe is my next town stop, but it’s 150 miles away. In about 75 miles is a ranch I’ll stop at–Kennedy Meadows North.
Most of the day I spend deep in thought about my future. We’re still in Yosemite and the scenery is nice–bridges and waterfalls and granite mountains. Though I’m constantly stopping to pour sand out of my shoes. It’s getting in through all the holes.
I eventually catch up with Trooper, Sparky, and Ghost Hiker and spend the rest of the day hiking and then camping with them.