SHR Day 18 – July 20
Kings River Crossing to Woods Creek
Triple Rain BS Camp to Baxter Backoff Camp
Passes: Pinchot Pass (trail)
Today will surely go down as my personal low point on the SHR/SoSHR (confirmed from the comfort of my couch a week later). A route choice attacked my indecisiveness and for a few agonizing hours, I existed in a terrible limbo of self doubt. My heart, head, and gut all had their opinions, and when your most trusted advisors are at odds, how do you make a decision? SpiceRack was as supportive as ever, and the weather, at least, was on our side today. Beautiful scenery, blue sky, stormy mind.
Waking up in a soaking wet tent made sure that my first thoughts of the day were about the craziness of yesterday. Yes, that happened, and yes, that was crazy. I wanted nothing more than to feel the bright sun on my skin and hear the fabric of my quilt grow crinkly with dryness. The dense forest where we had camped would make sure that none of these things would happen no matter how long we waited, so we packed up quickly and got hiking. A little later than usual at 7:40am, but no one is keeping score out here.
The trees fell away a mile up the trail as we climbed toward the still distant Pinchot Pass. Clear skies and wide views of far away peaks stopped me a few times to appreciate the morning. It was a new day indeed, and shaping up to be a good one. The JMT sped us through steaming meadows, and everywhere fuzzy marmots galloped majestically across the brown grass. I felt bad for disturbing their morning reverie, yet delighted in watching their gooey locomotion. There aren’t too many wild animals that make me feel fast, but marmots certainly qualify. Finally coming level with Lake Marjorie, we dropped our packs on the grassy shore for a foot and gear dry out. This place had been one of my favorites on the PCT and I wanted to feel those feelings again.
After filtering water and repacking the dry tent like a crunchwrap, Spice and I loaded up for the final miles to the pass. It was relatively straight forward following the trail to the top, but I still didn’t move fast, stopping frequently to soak in the improving views. I couldn’t stop looking at the Palisades, all the way back on the other side of Mather Pass, amazingly distant now. On top, Spice and I shared some gummies, then I plopped on a rock to gaze south. Unsurprisingly, it was ridiculously beautiful in this direction too. Additionally, I teased out our route ahead. The tricky portion of an alternate route up and over Mount Baxter was in view. Intimidating as it looked, this option seemed like an obvious choice as it better preserved the character of the high route versus the ‘official’ route which followed the JMT through the adjacent valley. With many sketchy passes under our hip belts already, I had no doubt that we could do it, and it felt like the ‘right’ thing to do.
After gabbing away with another hiker for too long, I raced down the south side of Pinchot Pass after Spice who was now well out of sight below. I found her waiting on the grass next to a stream, then we hiked together while making up voices for different types of pickles – sweet pickle chips, tiny dills, hot n’ spicy, those big ones in a bag. The descending trail was hot and we craved salt, but remember, after the rain, I was happy to have the heat. Before long we reached Twin Lakes, a good spot for lunch, and another place I recalled from the PCT.
At my urging, after looking over the maps, we decided to go for the Mount Baxter alternate. A mile later, we turned off the JMT onto the unmaintained trail to Sawmill Pass and began the climb into Woods Lake Basin. The trail was in surprisingly good shape, so we made good time despite the elevation gain and heat. A dead foxtail pine, twisted like licking flame and colored to match, gave us much to ponder. Spice called it the most beautiful thing she’d seen all day, and I couldn’t argue with that. We called it the Taffy Tree and kept hiking.
My nervousness built with every step as a rising pressure in my chest. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something felt different about Mount Baxter. It wasn’t the difficulty of the climbing, we’d done harder. I’d been nervous before some of the other passes, yet this felt more pervasive, in a sticky sort of way, and I couldn’t ignore or shake the feeling. My breathing shallowed. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists. Although the hard climbing was still miles ahead, it was in my head and freaking me out. I was a bummer to hike with in this state, and I knew it. Heck, I hated hiking with myself like this!
At our last lake, we sat to consider the options: up and over this afternoon, up and over tomorrow morning, or backtrack to the JMT. I hated them all. Going up Baxter scared me for some deep, unknown reason, and going back felt like defeat. For an hour I agonized, in a sweaty state of bummertude. Spice’s prodding helped immensely, but I was in deep. The delay eliminated option 1, and eventually I became so disgusted with myself and the entire affair that turning around seemed like the best way to cut our losses. With a finite food supply and so many days and miles left to Horseshoe Meadow, keeping our momentum felt essential. I needed to put Baxter behind me, and this took care of that immediately. So 2.5 miles back to the JMT we went.
And it really did feel like defeat for me. I was a deflated balloon, emotionally drained and too hungry to eat, stumbling down the trail in a haze of self-pity and regret. I’d let us down, wasting half a day that might end up costing us big time. Our margin for success felt thinner than ever. I couldn’t identify another event in my life where I let fear turn me back. This was new territory for me, and though I told myself that growth comes from moments such as these, it still sucked. Spice helped me mine more positives and it was actually pretty cool to see the Taffy Tree again. Still, for the rest of the day, I hiked in an indifferent state of emotional emptiness.
Back on the JMT, we pounded down thousands of feet along Woods Creek back into the warm world of sage and aspen. The setting sun colored the steep granite walls a beautiful orange, then pink. It was so beautiful. We had brief and uplifting encounter with our friend Stripes, who hailed us after recognizing my pinwheel, then met some other friendly hikers coming our way. “There is too much positivity,” I half joked after all the smiling, stoked-for-life faces disappeared behind us.
We grabbed water then found a grassy spot to set up camp for the evening. Like a zombie, I ate my cold beans. I was done with the day, eager to sleep it off and start again tomorrow. With the tough decision out of the way, merely hiking seemed like an easy affair. I’d find joy again. Hiking would fix me.