Chapter 1 — Wilderness
Startled awake by muscle spasms, I disengage from the tightly tucked mummy bag. Nothing is warmer on an early June backpacking night than a form fitting down bag. And nothing is more frustrating than a fabric-stuck zipper caught in the folds of polyester. Releasing the zipper, I curse yesterday’s huge egg-carton-shaped snow cups on the north slope of Mt. Donahue.
Finally free, I stretch sore hamstrings and an aching back. Sunrise streams through the tidy little tent. Unfettered pink and golden rays play above the eastern escarpment of California’s Sierra Nevada. Merrie Munroe, the world’s best backpacking partner, lies in her bivy nearby.
“You ready for a second death defying day?” I ask.
Her tousled blond head lifts slightly from her sleeping bag. “Ah, Demi! Another day, ‘nother adventure.”
The two of us love backpacking in the midst of wildflowers, boulders, and bears. Today, we intend to separate entirely from civilization. I love to trek, to accept the challenges of wilderness. I know she feels the same.
Half an hour later, we sling on packs and tighten straps. Tuolumne Meadow and Donahue Pass behind us, forty miles of the John Muir trail ahead, we trek south.
“Three more days of paradise.” Merrie jokes.
“Anything’d be better than where we’ve been. Late June or not, we started too soon.
Muddy progress slows our advance along a trail where snowmelt carves a two-foot deep ditch. The roar of water echoes across the meadow as we approach the ponderosa and white pine forest.
“Must be big,” I shout above the racket.
“Oh, my god; it is!” Merrie responds.
Stunned by the amount of water swirling before us, I stride ahead. Turning, I call back to Merrie, “Looks more like a raging river than a Sierra creek. Can you see a crossing?”
Sweat drizzles down moist cleavage. Curly brown bangs cling to my forehead breaking out in a rash of tiny beads. This is precisely the scene I battled in nightmares before we left home.
A few yards in front of us thunders the fastest moving water I’ve ever seen in the Sierra. Tall, angular red pentstemon peek past the greenery wherever the water slows enough to allow them to anchor to the soil. Water clambers over fallen timber on the edges of the confluence of three creeks. Cyclonic pools create eddies. As we walk closer, soft spongy mountain soil grabs at our boots sucking them into the slushy mud. We either stand on dry ground or instantly in a foot of water.
Agitated, I trip over downed limbs and step into holes created by rushing streams washing away the soft Sierra duff near the shore.We search for shallow, slower moving waters to ford. On the higher ground of the opposite shore, the trail heads off to the left.
“All I can hear is churning water; can’t believe there’s a crossing.” shouts Merrie.
“Didn’t your thighs hate yesterday’s climb, Merrie? I don’t ever intend to climb out of a whole ridge of ice encrusted three-foot-deep egg cartons again. Even so, maybe we ought to go back and wait a couple of weeks.”
“Not a chance. Bring your hiking poles. We can use ‘em to measure the depth of the water.”
“Impossible. Look at the current. We’ll be swept downstream before we swim half way across.” I yell over the roar.
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