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Mule Deer above Rocky Basin nowhere near the JMT

August 1, 2000
Chicken Spring Lake to Crabtree Meadow
On the Pacific Crest Trail overlooking Kern Plateau ...

0530-0645 — Chicken Spring Lake (55°F; smoky, sprinkles in the night)

          Shall we try the routine of getting up before the sun and hiking on the trail while it is still cool? I feel good; I love the morning. Irene is still suffering but tries not to "wear it." The smoke that covers everything is a little depressing. The Cottonwood Pass to Siberian Pass Trail Crossing segment of trail has some wonderful views to the south of the Kern Plateau but we cannot see anything today through all the smoke. It makes for lousy pictures as well. Sierra skies are supposed to be a perfect royal-blue not smoky brown-orange. I shoot a panorama just for the record anyway.

          We see our first marmot, a kind of official welcome to the Sierra. Marmots are like guardians of most mountain passes. Related to the groundhog woodchuck and called a rockchuck this alpine species is known as the Hoary marmot. Supposedly they are social animals and live in large groups. We usually see singles; probably because, they are the sentries for the whole clan and are supposed to "bark" to warn others when there is danger like an eagle (never seen an eagle up here). Marmots aren't bothered by people; they commonly look to people for a handout.

          The trail here is practically level but slow going through heavy sand. We are in an open forest with old avalanche debris, that is, boulders strewn all about. Much of the JMT could be considered avalanche territory, old and new avalanches. I suppose, there is an element of risk anytime you hike on a trail etched in the side of a mountain but you don't worry about avalanches getting you, much like you don't worry about being hit by lightning. And, somehow we think we can win the lottery?

          I am a little concerned about water since we did not tank up first thing this morning. It is hot and dry. The first opportunity for water is a dry creek that once fed what is now a dry meadow. This is not promising. The next creek is dry as well. We must leave the trail and climb up two hundred feet and a third of a mile to a supposed permanent lake (pond). Fortunately, the pond is there ... just barely there. It is a good four feet low. This water situation is disconcerting so early in our trek. Theoretically, water is not an issue on the JMT since the trail was designed to follow the lakes through the Sierra (technically, however, we are not yet on the JMT). I knew our rainfall in San Diego was extremely low this year but I was not aware that the Sierra had such a dry winter also. Anyway, from here on out I am more careful with our water supply.

0815-0930 — dry creek bed 36°28.406 / 118°15.202 - 11.3K' (70°F)

          We rest and air our feet. A Clark's Nutcracker joins us. The Clark's Nutcracker is another telltale sign you are in the Sierra. We call the Nutcracker a John Muir bird since John Muir loved this species so much. They are large black and white birds who like to talk. Don't know what they are saying but they've always got something to say. This time it probably had something to do with our snacks or our smelly feet.

1000 — Siberian Trail Crossing 36°28.727 / 118°15.202 (73°F)

          First chance to check my calculated lat/long coordinates with an actual on-site reading. The latitude is off by 0.2 mile and the longitude is off by 1.1 mile. That is not too good if you were trying to find this place in a snowstorm (or a "smoke storm"). Fortunately, the smoke is not that thick.

          We see the first "other" people on "our" trail and pass five with simple "howdies" all around. Puffy clouds begin to roll in. We continue down toward Rock Creek Crossing over a wide, flat, gently descending ridge of foxtail and lodgepole pine with scant view of surrounding mountains. My mind wanders with thoughts of what this trek is all about.

          What do I mean to accomplish? How will it affect my "after life"? After the trek that is. What do I want to include in this journal? Although the log is a simple compilation of dates, times, locations, temperatures, people counts, animal sightings and unusual daily events, so much more happens on the trail and in your mind. You always dream the weirdest dreams and remember quite a few each morning because you are constantly waking up all night long. During the day when the trail is a simple chore of getting from point A to point B without much other excitement, you day dream. You think about the folks at home who are probably worried. Of course, we are more worried about you folks back home in "civilization" than we are about ourselves in the wilderness. Everything seems so "in its place" and at peace here (except the ugly veil of smoke ... which as a matter of fact, was probably the result of some "civilized" creature and cigarettes).

          I think of my ambition in life. My only real goals have always been to create stuff. It would be good to someday make meaningful art. I'd like to accomplish a major painting (dare I aspire to a masterpiece?), write a book (this journal is rapidly becoming a book), compose a major musical score and write an epic poem (just added that last one to my list because I just thought of it). Seems to me now, this trek on the John Muir Trail can be inspiration for any one and all these works. As I walk a few lyrics of a song, lines to a poem, dance in my head. I do not stop to write them down so the specific words are lost, but the idea lives. I listen to the unique sounds and rhythms that fill this special place in and around the crescendo-ing silence. The music of the JMT needs be metaphoric since much of the time there is only that total silence and the click, click, ching click, click rhythm of my steps and my spring loaded walking stick. Philosophical thoughts are born here; it is the natural habitat of such ruminations. I have no new revelations, just a pervasive affirmation of belief and knowing. It is so simple and real "to be."

Crabtree Meadow

Crabtree Meadow crossing with Mt Whitney in the distance

          "a glorious wilderness that seemed to be calling with a thousand songful voices  ...  Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever." — JM

1215-1515 — Rock Creek 36°29.662 / 118°19.713 - 9.6K'

          We stop just before Rock Creek Crossing for a lunch/bath/nap break but I cannot remember it. I don't know if there is a bridge here or what. I draw a total blank. Maybe I nap too well or maybe my mind is still contemplating "the grand scheme of things" rather than actually "being" here. I vaguely remember a short sun shower during this three-hour break.

1630-1700 — Guyot Creek 36°30.421 / 118°20.608 - 10.2K' (74°F)

          As yet, I am not completely squared away with the "log thing" so the details through here are a little sketchy. Truth be told, the details are totally missing. I am still warming up to a process. Maybe the smoke has me in a daze?

1750 — nameless saddle pass 36°31.117 / 118°20.929 - 9.6K'

          The climb out of Rock Creek got our attention but then it is easy going to a saddle pass just south of Guyot Flat, a large, very prominent, sand flat in the middle of the woods. We stop just to take in the view and consider our day's end destination. When you bivy rather than tent camp, any 6'x6' flat ground will suffice. Our final destination each day could literally be when we drop, too tired to go on.

1915-1945 — ridge south of Crabtree Meadow 36°32.595 / 118°21.950 - 10.9K'

Today we will not camp at Guyot Flat (where there is plenty of flat ground). We continue north on level trail to a clearing on a ridge just above Crabtree Meadow (see above painting Crabtree Meadow). Since it is late when we stop hiking, we don't eat dinner and simply snack again (Irene is still not quite herself). Our water is low but sufficient to get us through the night. The sky is clear now after periodic clouds and showers during the day. The stars are magnificent. Although it is cool, it is not so cold as to discourage me from staring up at the heavens face exposed each time I wake in the night. I watch the star formations rotate across the dome of night sky and now and then catch a falling star. August is meteorite season. Seems like an action packed night but somehow I have a restful sleep.

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