Tyndall Creek to the Foot of Forester Pass

Day 6:  Tyndall Creek (via Forester Pass, ending at Vidette Meadow)

August 22, 2015: It’s 5:15 am. I finally gave up trying to sleep about a half hour ago and ventured outside the relative warmth of my tent into the frigid predawn darkness to grab my bear can so I could make coffee. It’s cold and windy out there, but I took a minute to stand in it and admire the rocky landscape resting serenely beneath the twinkling stars and black sky.  I’m back inside now, huddled in my down jacket with my bag wrapped around me.  My Pocket Rocket stove is set up inside my vestibule and Tyndall Creek water is heating up over the flame. I try to warm myself by embracing the air above, drawing in its heat while I nibble on tiny chunks of Bobo’s Maple Pecan Oat Bar, savoring each crumb, as I earnestly attempt to save some to enjoy with my coffee. camp at tyndall creek branded

Why can’t I sleep? I’ve been out here 5 nights and I’d be surprised if I’ve slept 20 hours. It’s getting a little frustrating. If it isn’t plain ole restlessness, it’s one of my arms throbbing painfully as it’s crushed between my body and the hard earth as I try in vain to sleep on my side. Being a stomach sleeper doesn’t work in a sleeping bag so I’ve tried to train myself to sleep on my side over the years. I’m still not very good it and toss and turns most nights. If it isn’t my arms, it’s the aches and pains in my thighs and hips pressing against the ground or jolting, shooting pains up the bottom of my feet. Yeahwhat the hell is that about?

Despite the insomnia I can’t believe how comfortable I’ve been out here at night. I haven’t been scared at all. I lay in the darkness of my tent feeling totally at peace. But then, I haven’t seen a single sign of bears yet either. No bear scat and the nights are still and silent. I like being on the rocks, you don’t hear the footsteps of nocturnal critters going out about their business: no rustling in the bushes or branches crunching and breaking beneath giant paws. Just silence – and last night a little wind flapping against my rain fly.  As I approach Yosemite – which is notorious for bear activity – that may change. We’ll see.

Coffee inside my tent on a chilly morning
Coffee inside my tent on a chilly morning

I do hope to see a bear on this trip – but in broad daylight, while it has a tummy chock full of fish and berries and is frolicking peacefully in a meadow at least a quarter mile away, alone, with no cubs and it would be great if it doesn’t spot me. Is that too much to ask? It is, isn’t it? Dear universe, I would like to see a 400-pound wild animal with fangs the size of a VW bus and claws like daggers – but could ya do it in a way that is completely non-threatening so I don’t get too scared?  Much appreciated.  – Love, Carolyn

Ok,  so maybe I am tempting fate a bit by willing the universe to show me a bear on my terms. We humans can be so vain.

On that note, it’s time to make my oatmeal and start packing up the inside of my tent.  I have a pass to climb today…


I left my camp next to Tyndall Creek around 7, rock-hopped back over it toward the forbidden “no camping for restoration” zone and rejoined the trail heading North toward the rugged expanse of the Kings-Kern Divide. Despite the lack of sleep, I felt energized and excited about the adventure those not-too-distant mountains hold for me in the days to come. The trail was easy at first as it meandered away from the creek, through sparse patches of sub-alpine conifers and faded green grasses, inching me closer and closer to the jagged peaks dominantly piercing the clear morning sky.  view toward forester from basin

As I climbed toward Forester Pass I came upon a couple of big crystal-blue tarns resting coolly at the foot of a massive granite ridge. If only I could take a break at every beautiful spot on the trail…

After a couple miles I found myself in the center of an enormous granite basin just below Forester Pass. WOW. I mean WOW. Before me was the most breathtaking and remarkable scenery you can imagine.  The sandy trail snaked through swatches of yellowing grass melded to the bottom of the rocky bowl. The scenic creek flowed gently from its source somewhere in the range just yards away and through the meadow, bubbling and gurgling in a bed of reddish rocks as it cascaded toward the Kern River to the south behind me. I’m pretty sure my jaw literally dropped as I gaped and turned in a circle to soak in every tiny detail.  It was one of those scenic moments backpackers fantasize about; the spot that’s more pristine than any picture you’ve ever seen and profoundly visceral in its majesty.20150822_094119

I inhaled deeply and felt my body melt into the rock and grass and water. Something new was awakening deep inside me: stirring; beckoning; welcoming.  Like some invisible primordial force was drawing me out, fusing me with my surroundings.  And the sense of coming home that I get on every backpacking trip came to life and metamorphosed into a down-to-the-core feeling of belonging like I never experienced before. Deep down inside me, in some ancient and primal place I became connected to the earth – this earth that lay before me – the mountains and the lakes and the sky and the creek –  and I realized I’m not in nature, I am nature.  Yes, this isn’t just home, this is where I belong – where I fit. Where everything makes sense

I suppose some would call it god. I haven’t had much use for a god, but the feeling of peace that swept over me in that moment, realizing that I am one with nature was something I will never forget.

I wasn’t ready move on and let go of the moment just yet. I can’t stop at every spot, but I had to stop there. I decided it was the perfect place to wash my hair for the first time in 6 days.

me after washing hair below forester no smileI scanned the basin searching for the perfect site for my break and bath, finally settling on a flat patch of grass next to a foot-wide section of the creek that babbled over a couple big red rocks creating a chute of water barely big enough for me to dunk my head under. I dropped my pack, plopped down on the ground, peeled off my boots and socks to let my feet air out in the sun and unbuttoned my dingy hiker shirt, stripping down to my black cami.  I laid on my side and dunked my head in letting the pure and frigid waters cascade over my dirty grimy hair (Holy shit, a baptism?!? Ok, that’s interesting…) BRRRR. Holy shit it’s cold. I turned on my other side to dunk the other half of my head, using my fingers to comb out all the trail dirt, sweat and grime of the past 5 days. I finished off my little alpine spa treatment by splashing water over my face, shoulders, neck and arms. Ahhh. I almost feel clean again! 

With cold mountain water dripping from my hair down my back and face, I sat for a while soaking in the desolation and isolation. I don’t know if anyone can understand what alone feels like until you’re in the wilderness miles and miles away from anything that resembles ‘real’ life.

I filled up my Nalgene, dropped an orange Nuun tablet in it without treating it and laid back against my pack in the soft cool grass next the tiny creek to dry out a little before tackling the pass that lay before me….

Day 3: Sleepless nights and break ups

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

6 am at Soldier Lake

I slept a little bit last night. Not a lot, but more than the first night. After finishing my tea, I settled into my sleeping bag around 7:00 and laid awake until the sky turned black and the stars shone bright.  I finally dozed off at some point but tossed and turned through the night. Unlike my first night at Chicken Spring Lake there wasn’t a single scratch, scurry or footstep. The wilderness was quiet except for the sound of fresh mountain water traveling through the gorge, echoing against its walls as it cascaded over the rocky creek that feeds Soldier Lake. This somehow made me feel safe.

I was wide awake hours before sunrise watching the stars. I was lucky enough to witness a few meteors dart across the sky which always excites me like a little kid.  Independence Day is my favorite holiday and seeing shooting stars is like watching nature’s fireworks show.  I laid awake until the eastern sky ever so slowly began to transform from the black of night to dark blue. Is that sunrise? I’d turn over, cover my head, and peek out again a few minutes later. Yes, it’s lighterSunrise!  I was relieved that I could get up and make coffee soon. The nights can be long when you’re sprawled out on the hard cold ground. I was restless and ready to stop trying to sleep.

You think about a lot of things when you lay awake alone it the wilderness in the wee hours of morning.  And as I snuggled up all warm and cozy in my 24 degree down bag searching the sky for my own private fireworks show, I thought of Brad, the man I’d broken up with earlier in the year (a 5 month relationship- a record since my divorce!).  I thought about all the reasons we didn’t work out; all the things he is and isn’t and I wanted him to be. My gut swelled with contempt.  I don’t want to have this feeling out here – this is where I find peace and serenity, not contempt. It’s time too find a way to let this go.

near soldier lake
near soldier lake

My alone-ness enveloped me in the cold morning air as I reflected on the difficult work I’ve done over the last several years to get to a place where I’m ok with not being in a relationship – more than ok, really. I love my independence – a sharp contrast from the first few years after my divorce when I joined every dating site, and treated dating like an Olympic sport that I had to train for. My first year out of my marriage I must have gone on 30 first dates. I wasn’t very good at screening at first  and had a lot of very uncomfortable and awkward coffees.  (Oh, the stories I could tell… )

Brad and I had known each other for a couple years. We’d seen each other around but hadn’t really spent any time alone together. The month I decided to close my Match.com account and stop actively searching for the “One” he asked me out.  I explained that I wasn’t really interested in dating anyone and suggested we just be friends. But he was persistent and I finally agreed to go on a date with him a couple months later.

Brad is a nice guy and would have done anything for me.  But the outcome was the same as it always was: the relationships I attract seem to smother and mute me. They extinguish my fire and tame me. I knew I had to get out or risk losing myself again.  Sure, it was the right decision and I don’t regret it. But how many relationships will I have to walk away from?  Will I ever find someone who will inspire, energize and lift me up? The one who really gets me?

My friends say I  just haven’t found the “One” yet.   I believe it’s quite possible there just isn’t a “One” for me.  I’ve come to terms with that.  I’m even ok with it despite living in a world that tells me I’m supposed to get married, have kids, get the good job, buy the big house, get buried in debt, and live for that 2 week vacation.  Honestly, I’ve never subscribed to any of that -but I chased it anyway because I thought it’s what I was supposed to do.  The reality is when I got it, I felt emptier and less fulfilled than ever.

View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)
View of Chicken Spring lake (day 1)

So then, why did I spend decades subscribing to the myth that I’m nobody unless I’m coupled?  I thought of many reasons (I won’t bore you with that much info) but frankly, one of the biggest is because I was born a woman. After all doesn’t society, media, and advertising tell us we should be obsessed with finding a man? Aren’t we groomed from birth to believe in Prince Charming and Fairy Tale weddings? They tell us if we wear the right clothes, the right shoes, the right makeup, if we’re ladylike, fun, easy going (not a “nag”), and flirty but not slutty we’ll land our Prince Charming!  I remember everyone telling me at 17 years old that I’d change my mind about not wanting to get married and have kids because, “All women want that. Just wait til your clock starts ticking.” Well come to find out, I have no clock and if I do, it certainly never ticked.

Once I came to terms with the fact that I don’t NEED a man my life, I realized I actually LIKE being alone. I love traveling alone, backpacking alone, going to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon alone. And while I also love the company of my friends who are fun and easy to be with – it’s not a requirement. It’s liberating to know that not having someone to do things with doesn’t hold me back.  How many people don’t live out their dreams and goals because they’re afraid to do it alone? Not me. Not anymore.

And yet…. as darkness turned to light this morning I had a stark realization: despite all those hours of therapy and all my talk of liberation, strength, and independence, the contempt I felt for Brad earlier had nothing to do with him.  Brad is perfectly fine just the way he is – he’s just not the right One for me. (There were a lot of reasons we didn’t work out, but when he confessed to me that REI “scared” him, I knew we had no future together – true story!) No, that feeling in my gut wasn’t contempt, it was about me still lamenting, why isn’t there a One for me? Why am I so different?  Tons of women would love to find a man like Brad. Why not me?  Sure, I may not need a man in my life, but it sure would be nice to someday find the One who really gets me.  How cool would it be to have someone to share this amazing adventure with?  I can’t even imagine… A sadness swept over me as I pondered why this has eluded me all my life and yet seems so easy for others.

Getting to a place in life where you realize you’re better off alone than spending it with the wrong people (who disrespect, drain, and deplete you without giving anything back) may be liberating, but it’s not always easy.

The sky was getting lighter and I was growing more restless laying there thinking about all this so I rolled over to check the time on my phone. 5 am! Yay, morning! I unzipped myself from my bag, did my stretches, put on my headlamp, and made coffee. It’s 6 now,  my oatmeal is soaking, and I’m getting ready to pack up to begin my hike to Rock Creek/Crabtree Meadow and the John Muir Trail!

I’m excited, it’s going to be a great day!

Read about my scariest day on the trail! 

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