“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” —Edmund Hillary
September 3, 2018
Start of climb from Lyell Canyon to Rush Creek trail junction
Total distance walked: 7.6 miles
I woke at 5 AM. Darkness surrounded me and all was quiet save for the soothing sound of rushing water. I expected to hear a chorus of birds as the sun rose, but the morning was still. Forty minutes later I emerged from the tent not hungry, but needing a cup of coffee to keep from getting a caffeine headache. I gathered water, purified it, then easily lit the stove to heat it. Things were going well.
While sipping my hot cup of joe, I looked over at the nearly empty Beast sitting in the tent’s vestibule. There were tiny sprinkles of white paper on the ground next to it. Taking a closer look, I realized that I had left four mini PayDay candy bars in the hip belt pocket overnight. A rodent had chewed through the pocket and eaten half of a bar leaving a mess of shredded wrapper on the ground and a quarter-sized hole in the pocket. Luckily I brought Tenacious Tape and was able to patch the hole. Lesson learned: unload all food and keep the pack inside the tent at night.
Repacked and ready to go, I told my trail family that I was heading out. They were much faster hikers than me and would pass me soon enough.
At an elevation of just over 9,000 feet, I began the climb out of Lyell Canyon on a series of rocky switchbacks. The trail was shaded by lodgepole pines, and elderberry bushes fringed the path. It felt great to be out in the cool morning air. When the switchbacks ended I was happy as a lark at having climbed the mountain and was ready to conquer the next.
My legs felt strong and capable. I didn’t think of my pack as The Beast and I no longer wanted to go home, or dump food and belongings. What a difference a good night’s sleep made! I chatted with a group of hikers then pranced with joy over the bridge. From there the trail climbed again under the dappled shade of mountain hemlocks until reaching a meadow and a little lake.
My trail family reached the lake just as I changed into water shoes. One by one we rock hopped across. Even with the rocks, my feet got wet (thanks to short legs). On the opposite shore, I collected more water then dried my feet with the bandana and changed back into hiking shoes.
Leaving the lake, the trail climbed a sunny slope with many trickles of water to cross and several streams. On one stream crossing I accidentally dunked my foot to the shin on a loose rock. I was a little shaken because my hefty pack made it difficult to lift out of the stream. Instead of trying that again, I wandered a bit until I found a log to walk across. Once across I took off my shoe, dried my foot with the bandana and wrung out my wool sock hoping it would dry quickly and not cause blisters.
The trail rounded a corner seeming to double-back on itself. It dropped down to another creek which had boulder-sized rocks making it an easier water crossing. I could see Lyell Glacier, which is now considered a permanent snowfield, not a glacier. Once on shore, the trail climbed a few more switchbacks where I found my trail family sitting in what little shade they could find having lunch. I stopped and ate too, though I still had no appetite. While I sat and rested, the others picked up their things and continued on, confirming that they’d wait at the top of Donahue Pass.
Slowly I made my way up a faint trail that climbed broken granite slabs along sandy passageways. Surrounded by granite and fully in the sun, instead of slathering on more sunscreen, I changed into my long-sleeved shirt and continued the grueling climb up Donahue Pass. There was no getting out of it. This was going to be a physical, mental and emotional trek. There were many tall steps, knee-high for me. Drenched with sweat, I stopped every few feet to catch my breath and to see where my trail family was. Looking up, I saw Dan way up high. Oh my gosh! We’re going up there? How? The trail to where Dan stood was not visible. My heart pounded as I prayed my way up the mountain: Lord, please give me strength to continue uphill, wisdom to discern the trail, and confidence to climb it. I prayed it over and over during the 40 minutes it took to climb to the top. As I began to summit, I saw my trail family cheering me on. I picked up speed and tears filled my eyes. Emotion took over. I cried my way to the top thanking God for all He gave me that afternoon.
I was flabbergasted at what a body can do. Just yesterday I was ready to go home and today I climbed up Donahue Pass, out of Yosemite National Park and into Ansel Adams Wilderness.
We congratulated each other at the top before making our way down the opposite side of the pass. The trail going down was much easier to follow with its well-defined switchbacks and a view below of the meadow-covered basin. Dark clouds filled the sky. It was a long way down and my trail family pulled farther away disappearing into the meadow as I negotiated the steep steps downward.
They had been waiting 45 minutes in the meadow before I reconnected with them. Dan found an okay campsite but the water situation was bad. We decided to camp at Rush Creek trail junction instead, still a couple of miles ahead. Together we entered the dark forest, but my shaky legs couldn’t carry me as swiftly as the others. While descending the many switchbacks to Rush Creek, it began to rain and I heard a roll of thunder. Then I came to a log crossing (one of three) over the quick-flowing Rush Creek and thought, the Lord only gives us what we can handle. I can do this.
If truth be told, I am an absolute chicken when it comes to water crossings and this was a day filled with them. I found it amazing though, that fear never entered my heart and I crossed them with ease.
It was nearing 6 PM when I reached the campsite accessible by another log crossing. My trail family was already set up, but they saved a space for me. My brain was so fatigued that it took two tries to pitch the tent. It was a different type of fatigue than yesterday, fatigue from a day of hard work not lack of sleep. I was beat and my body was sore. I still had no appetite and ate only to lighten my backpack before turning in at 8 PM. The camp was filled with people who chatted and laughed and coughed. By 9 PM (hiker midnight) all was quiet except for the coughing. Some poor guy coughed all night long.
TO BE CONTINUED…