Shiny Happy People and the Gifts They Leave Behind

Day 15 Sapphire Lake in Evolution Basin to Aspen Meadow on Piute Creek.

7:30 am.

It’s still too cold to venture out into the stone cold morning. I’m snuggled in my bag, eating breakfast and choking down my Starbucks Via French Roast. (Instant coffee is good for about a week, then it’s very very bad – what I wouldn’t do for a cup of Peet’s French Roast right now!).

I got to Sapphire Lake late yesterday afternoon and decided to make it home for the night. (I get to camp in Evolution Basin!!!- I’m actually here!). I hiked the half mile or so along the lake searching for my perfect site.  Everything to the right (east) was too close to the trail and/or the water so I had to climb up the rocky hills on the west. I found the perfect spot at the base of The Hermit, high enough to give me a muted smoky view of the lake, and the dramatic peaks of Mts. Huxley and Warlow directly to the southeast of me.  Another perfectly picturesque camp on the John Muir Trail!

Sapphire Lake Evolution basin
Morning view from Sapphire Lake looking North toward Evolution Valley

There’s just one other solo backpacker on the far south end of Sapphire Lake. His camp rests between two pools of water- it looks gorgeous, but too close to the water for me. I like my perch –above the lake resting in the now-familiar rocky terrain of SEKI Wilderness.  I feel at home in the rocks with unobstructed views and dramatic ruggedness that speaks ‘earth’ and ‘wilderness’ to me.

The chill set in early last night.  As soon as I got to camp I put on my Merino Smart Wool base layer (lightweight: I wish I’d gotten medium-weight, at least) my tank top, down jacket and beanie – and I was still chilled to the bone. I headed down the hill from camp to the edge of the frigid Sapphire Lake, which wasn’t able to live up to its name under the heavy burden of smoke-gray skies.  I plunged my hands into the icy-cold outlet creek and splashed water on my face in a vain attempt to wash the day’s dirt and grime away.  Next I filled my Nalgene, challenging myself not to fall in and soak the only clothes I have to keep me warm.   I rinsed my hiking pants and shirt, which I instantly regretted as my hands turned numb trying to wring them out.  Despite the dull smoke corrupting the views, it was amazing. I was surrounded by stark jagged mountains piercing the sky, a peaceful lake and the outlet creek gently running north into the valley. It was all I’d imagined it to be

Back at camp I made tea and soaked my dinner of curried chickpeas and sweet potatoes, found a rock to lean against and watched the sun lazily seep away, painting the mountains in hues of amber and red.

As soon I finished dinner before darkness even had a chance to steal the sky, I retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag and tent. I knew it was going to be a miserable, cold night. I remembered reading somewhere that fat gets your metabolism working and warms you up, so I choked down a packet of (not very good) olive oil. I’m not sure how much it helped, because I still froze my ass off.

Morning view of Evolution Basin from my tent at Sapphire Lake
Morning view of Evolution Basin from my tent at Sapphire Lake

I’m wishing I’d brought heavier base layers. It’s September now, the weather very well could have turned,  and every night might be below thirty.  That would be miserable. My 24 degree down bag and lightweight wool aren’t enough –  I’m not sure I can handle two more weeks of this level of cold.

I also wish I’d brought a cone filter and Peet’s coffee. OMG, I can barely choke this instant crap down…. what happened? I used to think it was pretty good for instant! 

Ok, I need to think about getting a move on, the sun is almost cresting the eastern peak and camp should be flooded with warmth any minute (please, please, please). The plan is to get as close to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) as possible for my resupply tomorrow (Yay, resupply!!! – Booo, heavy pack…). It’s about 15 miles and they close at 5, so there’s no way I’ll make it today. It’ll  be best to get there in the morning. Besides I heard the hike out over Sallie Keys is long, hot and miserable and best done early before it gets too hot.

The Guthook app says the last camping spot is about 3 miles before MTR, but trail rumor has it that there is camping closer, where the San Joaquin river meets up with the cutoff trail about ½ mile away. I may try my luck depending on the terrain.

Lunchbreak:  McClure Meadow @ Evolution Creek

I must be near an easy entry point, there are casual hikers and their disgusting toilet paper piles everywhere. It infuriates me.  What makes them think they can come into MY wilderness and leave their garbage all over MY trail? That’s how I feel. When you spend more than a few days hiking, you begin to feel like the wilderness is your backyard and it infuriates me that people come in here and disrespect it. In what universe is it OK to leave used toilet paper everywhere for the world to see? Grrrr…  I want to find out where they live and go poop and pee all over their yard, leaving my TP behind. See how they like it!

A smoky view from tent at Sapphire Lake
A smoky view from tent at Sapphire Lake

I’m sitting on the edge of the Evolution River absorbing the warmth of the sun, soaking my feet and nibbling on trail mix, dried mango and a GoMacro Cashew bar. The cool water feels good on my swollen achy feet.  I passed a cowboy resting his mules in a large camp and groups of day-hikers relaxing and sunbathing on the warm rocks that, in the spring are covered with snow melt. I know they aren’t backpackers because they have real towels – giant, fluffy, clean towels – ohhh a real towel. Soft and warm right out of the dryer…  Sigh, the luxuries of life that I miss…   If I had a towel, maybe the whole back of my lower body wouldn’t be chapped from not drying off enough.

I’ve decided that the collective trail name for day hikers is “Shiny Happy People” (or SHP, for short). They happily bounce along the trail with their dainty little day-packs and ultra-bright clothes looking well rested, well fed and well quaffed. With skin so clean and moisturized that it glows. I mean, it utterly glows!

I ran into a three generation family of SHP (let’s call them the Shiny Happy Jones Family, just for fun!) in their brand-spanking-new fluorescent pink (for the girls!)  and green (for the boys!) breathable hiking shirts and crisp hiking pants, that probably hadn’t even been washed yet. The brightness of their clothes was dulled only by their artificially white teeth (that shade of white just doesn’t exist in nature). After spending fifteen days in dirty, grungy, earthy nature, they looked ridiculously out of place- I’m serious, their teeth were blinding me. I had to put my sunglasses on to talk to them – and I never wear sunglasses!

All day I had to deal with SHP who enthusiastically scampered along the trail with huge unfatigued, un-trail-weary, artificially-white smiles painted on their dirt-free faces, stopping for brief moments to exchange pleasantries with me; like spectators at a wild animal exhibit at the zoo. Seriously, it was more brutal than climbing Glen Pass!

The conversations usually went something like this:

SHP: “HI!!!!”

Me: ‘hi.”

SHP: “Where ya headed?”

Me: “Yosemite.”

SHP: “Yosemite!?! Wow, that’s far! Where’d ya come from?”

Me: “Cottonwood Pass, 22 miles south of Mt. Whitney.”

SHP: “Have ya seen any bears?”

Me: “Nope.”

SHP:  Showing obvious disappointment that I hadn’t had a life-threatening encounter with a wild beast to entertain them with, they’d flatly reply,  “Oh.  Well, have a great trip!”And with a flash of their blindingly-white smile, they’d bounce off into the woods like a clueless fawn.

About five minutes after my encounter with the Shiny Happy Jones Family (they were either Smiths or Joneses, I guarantee it!), while my pupils were still trying to undilate from their blinding brightness,  I nearly stopped dead in my tracks with a thought: Shit!!! Shit, shit, shit. Why didn’t I realize this sooner?   I’d passed a mule caravan about a mile back – why didn’t I realize the Shiny Happy Jones family was  with that caravan??  Already hating the day hikers for invading my space with their blinding smiles and clothes, perfumey soap and dirty toilet paper, this gave me one more reason to despise them: Fuckers can’t even carry their own gear!

And I mentally kicked myself for not thinking on my feet. Dammit, if only I’d put two and two together sooner!  A retrospective sinister plot began to tale hold in my brain…THIS is the conversation I would have had: 

SHP: “HI!!!!”

Me: ‘hi.”

SHP: “Where ya headed?”

Me: “Yosemite.”

SHP: “Yosemite!?! Wow, that’s far! Good for you! Where’d ya come from?”

Me: “Cottonwood Pass, 22 miles south of Mt. Whitney.”

SHP: “Have ya seen any bears?”

Me: “Nope, but watch out for that pack of wild coyotes about a mile back.”

SHP: “Coyotes? REALLY?”

Me: “Yep, there was a pack of at least 15 barbarous coyotes back there feasting on a mule! I saw it charge out of the forest and take down a pack mule in a split second and then drag it off the trail and just start feasting on it, not more than ten feet away. It was gruesome! They ripped right through the gear and flesh like it was nothing!”

SHP: “Gear? The mule had supplies on it???”

Me: “Yeah, pretty sure the supplies are history, I wouldn’t go near those coyotes, they were scary! You should have seen them tearing that poor mule limb by limb. I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought they’d come for me next so I practically ran the last mile. You better be careful out there! Happy Trails!”

I amused myself for several miles over my missed opportunity to have some fun with the SHP.  OMG it would have been hilarious. I bet that would have taken the pep right out of their step! Hee, hee.   This is what two weeks without proper nutrition and sleep will do to you!

5:30 camped on Piute Creek, about 3 miles from Muir Trail Ranch

I’m a few yards off the trail in the woods. I don’t like the woods. They still scare me a little. There are too many shadows and the possibility of things lurking that I can’t see. But it was either this or collapse right on the trail. After twelve tough miles, I’m done!

Piute Creek camp near Muir Trail Ranch
Piute Creek Camp in the Aspens

Oh – and I have officially banned the phrase ‘easy day’ from my vocabulary – forever and ever.  Really, I mean it this time!   It was twelve miles of a lot of not-so-easy downhill. I have never had so many different parts of my body hurt all at once… seriously I could list what doesn’t hurt much easier than what does!  I’ve been pushing hard for the last five days. It’s time for another rest day.

I passed several backpackers today who ranted about how wonderful MTR is if you stay there. Apparently there have been a lot of cancellations because of the fires and rooms are easy to get. The backpackers looked so clean and rested (backpacker clean – NOT SHP clean!). They said it exceeded their expectations: the food is delicious and fresh, there are nice hot showers (oooh, a shower… *sigh*), laundry and private hot springs for guests. They talked me into it. If there are vacancies I’m going to splurge! I could use a little R&R –  and a giant fresh salad (they said the salads are amazing)!  And shampoo! And a hot shower! I’m sick of smelling myself, clean will be nice.

My fingers are crossed they will have an opening, I can’t think of anything else! Hiking down those endless switchbacks from McClure Meadow to Evolution Valley, I was obsessed with it!

My site is cozy, surrounded by aspens. Only about 8000’ feet so it’s a lot warmer! No rainfly so I can see any wild beast lurking in the thick forest (I know that makes no sense- like I’d be able to stop it from lunging at me and making me dinner!). Anyway, I’m hoping its warmer tonight and the patch of sand my tent is on is soft enough to cushion my aching bones against the ground. I’m hoping for a rare good night’s sleep. I want to get up early and hightail the three miles to MTR before they sell out of cabins! I’ll be dreaming of salad and hot showers!