Monday, August 17, 2015
Cottonwood Pass! I can see Cottonwood Pass! How many times over the last 7 months have those two words crossed my thoughts, flowed from my fingertips, and slipped through my lips as I shared my plans with people both on and off line. I’d ask on Facebook “I’m taking Cottonwood Pass out of Horseshoe Meadows, has anyone done that?” and tell my backpacking buddies, ” Yes, I’m starting at Cottonwood Pass, 22 miles South of Mt Whitney”. All full of anticipation and excitement, I’d long for the day my feet would carry me over that promised land of Cottonwood Pass – the gateway to my JMT journey.
And today, as I passed a fellow hiker who asked me which trail we were on I got to say, “we‘re on the Cottonwood Pass trail. Look over there, THAT is Cottonwood Pass!”
Cottonwood Pass! It slid off my tongue and through my lips so smoothly – as if I owned it. As if Cottonwood Pass was sacred land that had been in my family for generations and was a part of me.
As the day elapsed my feet took me where my thoughts, voice, and fingers had ventured in name only for months. They carried me through the velvety green Horseshoe Meadow, through lodgepole pine forests, and up twelve hundred feet to the 11, 200 foot Cottonwood Pass, making my dream a reality.
And now, I’m one day and 5 miles closer to the John Muir Trail.
At camp – night one
I finally hit the trail around 10:30 am after picking up my permit at the Eastern Sierra Visitor’s Center, eating a hearty breakfast of a veggie omelet without cheese, potatoes, dry rye toast, and surprisingly decent black coffee (the one cheat I allow in my vegan diet is eggs from time to time- they are so full of protein and other great nutrients. I figured I’d need all the nutritional help I could get for the journey ahead) at the Seasons Cafe in Lone Pine, and driving the long windy road up several thousand feet to the trail-head. I parked at the wrong parking lot and had to walk along the road about 1/4 mile to another parking lot and the trail-head. I got there and realized I’d lost my map, so had to walk half way back to my car before I found it lying on the side of the road. Wow, I’m off to a great start, I thought and vowed to keep a closer eye on my important stuff – which, when you’re carrying your life on your back, is just about everything.
With the lost map incident and my parking lot blunder I ended up hiking about 5 miles today, slowly making my way up and over Cottonwood Pass through forests of lodgepole pines, past trickling streams and wide-open late-season, drought depleted yellow-green meadows. The elevation is a bitch, I felt it as soon as I got out of my car at the Horseshoe Meadow trail-head (OMG I can’t believe I’m actually here! How many times did I think about Horseshoe Meadow? And now, sadly, it’s a memory.). Every step was onerous and heavy. And to make matters worse the thin mountain air is polluted with smoke from the Cabin Fire just 8 miles east in Sequoia National Forest, making it even more difficult to breathe. I’m glad I decided to take it slow the first few days. I’m only at 11,200 feet, Whitney is 14, 500 feet. I’ll need the extra days to acclimate before I tackle that climb.
After 4 hours of hiking I crested the last rocky hill, getting my first view of my Day One destination – Chicken Spring Lake. It’s a small crystal clear mountain lake nestled in a small cirque surrounded by sheer granite cliffs on the opposite side and scattered with rocks and the mystical and rare foxtail pines on this side. It’s perfect!
As I worked my way along the path toward the lake I was disappointed to discover I wouldn’t have it all to myself. There were two or three other tents scattered around the shore. I walked upon a promising site but soon realized it had already been claimed by a man I found standing next to his pack propped against a rock eating an energy bar. We said our hellos and introduced ourselves, his name is Scott. He told me the two women down by the water were with him and they were headed to Mt. Whitney. We made small talk for a few minutes while his friends hung out lakeside trying to muster the courage to jump into what we surmised by their shrieks, to be pretty frigid waters. He asked where I was headed and when I told him, “Yosemite” a look of shock flashed across his face and he said, “Wow! That’s impressive!” I never know what to say to that. It doesn’t feel impressive to me, it’s just walking… Besides, he should have seen what a mess I was two days ago! I said thank you and wrapped up the conversation so I could move on and find my home for the night.
Several hundred yards away around some clumps of trees, I found a flat sandy spot that lent me enough privacy. I dropped my pack and immediately headed down to the water to test it out. I wanted to get my first swim in and wash the trail dust off me before the sun dropped too low. I realized Scott’s companions had good reason to shriek, the water was pretty damn cold. But I’m on an adventure! I wasn’t going to let a little cold water stop me! I stripped down to my underwear and cami and dove in. It wasn’t too bad actually. I swam around for a while before getting out to sit in the sun to dry off. Once I was dry I got dressed, filled my Camelback bladder and Nalgene bottle and took a walk around the lake to explore and take some pictures.
I’m now sprawled out on the sandy ground wedged among the rocks and oxtails a couple hundred feet from shore. There’s supposed to be the tail end of a meteor shower tonight and it’s a gorgeous evening so far, so I’m going to cowboy camp. I’m heating water to rehydrate my homemade dinner of white beans and cabbage, journaling, and taking time to look around and soak in my surroundings. I’m in awe of these magnificent foxtails; so barren and ancient looking. Foxtails are said to reach 3000 years old, I can only imagine the things they’ve seen. There is one about 20 feet from my bed that is so majestic, sparse, and simple. I’ve decided it’s my favorite.
The sun is setting over the sheer rocky cliffs on the other side of the lake and I’m enjoying the scenery as the fading sunlight continually changes the landscape around me. I breathe in the fresh air and think of the journey ahead. At last I’m excited. I’m here and it feels like home!