It’s like they were queued up for lunch. The second I unzip my tent, the mosquitos pile in. I have my bug suit top on and my pants are tucked into gaiters over my shoes. I make coffee and unzip the mouth hole just enough to sip from my pot. It feels like the suckers are sneaking in through the sides. Skeeter paranoia!
It’s just 18 miles to the road where I can hitch the 9 miles to Kennedy Meadows North, where I’ll find a restaurant, general store, and a bed (if I’m interested in staying).
I hear that the landscape will change even more dramatically between here and there. I experienced some of that yesterday when I entered the Japanese landscape painting. Now, instead of basalt there will be pumice.
I hike with Tailor through high meadow. There is already a perceptible change in the terrain. We hike and talk about philosophy, psychology, family, and work. It’s a good conversation and 8 miles fly by. In time, we begin to ascend a barren pass.
The clouds gather and provide protection from the sun on the treeless climb. To say the scale is big or enormous or even outrageous doesn’t communicate the size properly. Perhaps “geologic” gets close. I feel this sense of massiveness and I slowly find my hiking rhythm.
As I hike higher and look at the mountains to the south, I marvel at where I started from – I propelled myself from one biome to another.
I watch the clouds gather and move around the sky. The trail levels off slightly about 1/2 a mile from the top. Tailor is sitting down and rehydrating his lunch. I sit with him and chat until we both notice the clouds looming behind us. Moments later there is a crash of thunder. I’ve finally hiked to where “god water” falls.
We’re at 10,000 feet and totally exposed. We quickly shoulder our packs and head straight down, “skiing” on the loose pumice underfoot, to an outcropping of trees. More thunder and now the sky is getting even darker. Tailor and I set up his tarp and crawl under just as the rain starts pouring. After about twenty minutes it stops. We peek out and it seems the storm has moved on.
We pack, get back on the trail and continue our ascent. We meet Happy Feet who tells us that after the storm, she’s really happy to see us! We continue on the ridge together, marveling at the noticeable change in terrain and breathing in the lemony scent of the wildflowers.
As we’re climbing to the next pass, we take notice of the shifting weather. We discuss whether to continue on or head to lower ground. Will it be another 20 minute storm or pass us completely? We decide to hike up a little farther… which will also let us quickly dash down to some trees if we have to.
Crash! Lightning blitzes the sky! Yikes! We high tail it down the loose rock. Rain pours down. There’s no time to set up a tent and, anyway, the ground is loose pumice and is at a slant. Happy Feet, Tailor and I throw our tents over our heads, huddle in the “lightning position” and wait.
Earlier, a day hiker told us that storms in the Sierras rarely last more than 20 minutes. It becomes apparent that this is not a single storm, but three separate ones. They swirl around us, flashing lightning and crashing thunder. I’m sitting on mud and rocks. I wriggle under wet sil nylon, wrestle with my pack, and pull out my pad. That’s as cushy as I can make this situation. I crouch like this for an hour and a half, occasionally yelling encouraging things to my hiker buddies above the thunder crashes. We count seconds between thunder claps until it sounds safe. By the time it’s over, there’s so much condensation under my shelter that it’s just about as wet inside as out.
We crawl out from under our makeshift shelters. I’m wet and chilly and want to giddy-up the heck out of this bowl.
We race up to the pass and, on the other side, a whole new world. I hiked to another world! It looks like the Shire.
As we descend, we spy the road. Will Kennedy Meadows still be open when we arrive? Most importantly, will the restaurant still be serving? We basically run to the road and, with little delay, get a hitch from a Spanish couple in the midst of a three-week whirlwind tour of the West Coast.
Damp, chilled and hungry we arrive to find a happily buzzing “open” sign. The wood building is warm and toasty. They have beds available. Sounds good to me! An hour later, Happy Feet, V, Tailor, Pillsbury, Thumbs Up and I are eating chicken dinners. After dinner, we gather in the laundry building and laugh while sort out our wet gear. I take a shower and get in bed. At 11pm, Kennedy Meadows turns the generator off.
Lights out. ‘Night.