We camped last night in a river valley, so today starts with a climb. The trail is pretty and crosses several streams. We work up a sweat, strip off our layers, stop to filter water, get chilled and put our layers back on.
We climb towards Red Pass and emerge from the trees into a wide valley with a steep wall to one side, fog clouding the top. It’s beautiful, and we both stop to take photos. The fog keeps rolling in, and the air is getting wet. “Hey,” I call down the trail to Backup, and hold out my hand, palm up, looking at the sky.
“Yeah,” he says, and we both stop to pull out rain gear and check that everything important is tucked away in our packs in waterproof dry sacks or pack liners.
It never rains really hard, but everything is very wet for the next several hours. My jacket and rain skirt keep me mostly dry from the knees up, but we’re pushing through fields of lupine and heather, and the wet plants send water pouring down my legs and into my socks and shoes. The cloud we’re traveling through limits our visibility to the trail immediately in front of and behind us; we’re traversing an alpine slope that drops away into white nothingness below us.
Fellow humans emerge from the mist; one laughingly asks us, “Enjoying the view?”
I bet it’s beautiful on a sunnier day.
The trail is so well-trod up here that it’s been worn into a trench in some places that comes up past my knees. In some places there’s a slightly shallower trench paralleling the original trail, and a third footpath on its way to being a trench. Where the trail is on a slope, marmots like to dig their holes into the side; I have a several-minute conversation with one such marmot who’s hanging out on the trail as I approach. I step towards him; he ducks into his hidey-hole but almost immediately pokes his nose and then his whole head out to watch me. I step closer; repeat.
Backup catches up to me while the marmot and I are eyeing each other. He’s been snacking on blueberries as he hikes. I backtrack a bit and we sit on the trail to chat. We’re still trying to figure out how to reconcile our different hiking styles and our goals for this trip. I’m still trying to figure out what my goals for this trip are. Am I trying to hike 2660 miles and get through the Sierras before the snow comes? Is it already too late for that? Am I trying to spend some time in beautiful wild places? Am I learning how to be alone? Am I on vacation? Can I skip to the Sierras when I finish Washington because I just want to spend more time in alpine wonderland? Is that cheating? Do I care? Am I a thru-hiker? Am I putting my life on hold? Did I really quit my job and sublet my apartment and leave my cats with strangers for this? What is this?
We set up camp near a lake along with a bunch of other people and, apparently, a dog (arf arf!). We cook dinner in the tent vestibules ’cause it’s cold tonight and the air is still full of mist. The line across the peak of the tent is hung with our socks, gaiters, hats, and bandanas. My shoes are wet wet wet. My feet and shoulders are sore per usual, but it’s probably worth noting: nothing else hurts.
Maybe someday soon I’ll get to use Vonnegut for a blog post title: everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.