The first thing of the day was a long climb, 4500 feet or so, away from the Middle Fork and back up into to timberline country so that I could cross the Monarch Divide, a major ridge of mountains between the Middle Fork Canyon and Kings Canyon where I end. There was no water for 8 miles, and in case it was a hot day I wanted to start early so I could do at least some of it in the beneficent shade. I was beginning the climb just as the morning made that clear change from dawn light to day light, even if the sun was long over ridges to the east. The climb was mostly light forest, with some open patches of manzanita that reminded me to marvel at the generosity of a trail. It was a steady climb and I made good progress, appreciating the ease of it, even though the footbed was pulverized to powder by stock (last night, I often heard the clattering cow bell hanging off the neck of a horse set loose to graze in Simpsons Meadow). I wasn’t in any particular hurry today. In fact, the opposite was true: I was trying not to get too far.
Morning over the Middle Fork
Looking at Goddard Creek from across the Middle Fork Canyon (it’s the left channel)
By noon I had arrived at Upper State Lake, the first water since the small creek beside last night’s camp. I tried to take a long lunch there, envisioning perhaps a swim, resting in the sun on the warm glacier-polished granite slabs, stretching, napping. But the day turned out to be quite brisk, and by noon heavy clouds blotted out the sun for long durations before it would peek in again. It was a little too cold to linger for much more than an hour, but despite the chill it was a lovely lunch break. I walked slowly from there, down hill for a bit on a trail, before turning away from the trail into my last stretch of cross country. Whenever I had even the slightest impulse to, I would stop somewhere, sit on a log or a rock, and simply be there feeling the air and the sound of that place. After twenty minutes or so, I’d pick up and move on, and in this manner I went from rock to rock, place to place, slowly making forward progress. I heard flocks of birds in complex conversation; watched a hawk soar high above a canyon; listened to the wind hum as it passes over trees and then great rock escarpments.
After following a stream up a valley for a time and then scrambling up a two hundred foot head wall, deliberately choosing a route that involved more climbing than walking, I arrived at Lake 10429, where I planned to camp, by 3pm. I tell you, practicing slow is hard for me. I spent the next two hours sitting at the lake as I had sat at various rocks and logs on the way today. I watched the water sparkle with such distinct flashes in the sunlight it was like watching the deaths of hundreds of stars. I listened to the harmonies between distant cascades and the wind in the pine boughs. I felt the sun. I felt the shade when the sun went away. It was an emptying kind of day. While I was certain it would rain, by four all the heavy clouds had blown away without a drop, leaving a crisp blue sky and sun glowing on grass that has become crisp and golden now that fall is here.
My route up the headwall
Watching the lake
I ate dinner around five, delighting as I do every night in the steadily dwindling contents of my bear can. Only one dinner remains. Shocking.
Now that the sun has dropped behind the ridge west of the lake, I can feel how quickly the cold comes on. It will likely be a chilly night, and probably my last above timberline.
I was asked what is happening inside my head as I walk, and I wanted to briefly answer that here. It is probably similar to the usual cacophony we all have in our heads, but I have very little out here to distract me from being acutely aware of it. There are lines of thought, fragmented and messy but usually headed towards a coherence that I can make sense of later. These thoughts are often interspersed among pieces of song running through my head. Random ones will just appear and then accompany me for a while, and I used to wonder where they would come from. Sometimes it’s an obvious phrase or play on words that inspires the song, but many times I think it’s derived from the rhythm of my footsteps. Apparently we are incredibly sensitive to tempo, a fact that has made CPR training more memorable by using the Beegee’s Staying Alive to help people administer chest compressions with the correct timing–counting out the time is hard for people, but everyone can almost precisely nail the tempo of a song they know. So my feet make a rhythm and my mind knows a song at that tempo, and then that song is with me, at least until I change speeds. Ultimately, with the chatter of ones own mind for companionship, it is hard to imagine how we ever get lonely, until we realize that perhaps loneliness is an expression of the desire for something else besides ourselves. Yesterday I spoke to no one, and only saw the horse packers, whose jingling horse I heard wandering in the night, from a distance. The day before I saw some folks in the morning but not again. Today I encountered someone early in the morning on the climb away from the Middle Fork but not otherwise. I’ve had a lot of time with myself out here (or perhaps I should say ‘selves’ in honor of our multitudes), and I will be happy to start spending some time with others again soon.
Trying out a new way of putting my pack on