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.
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. Yeah – what 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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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….