John Muir Trail – Rejuvenated

7/7/2017: Day 9

I woke up above Flower Lake to a sooty grouse calling.  About the size of a guinea hen or a chicken they open yellow air sacks and emanate a whooping sound that can be heard over great distances.  This particular grouse was just outside my tent.

A big day.  Hopeful and rejuvenated, with some good omens and good conversation, I would need to summit Kearsarge pass and Glenn pass – a double summit day.  Up to Kearsarge in the early morning. At the top, a deer crossed the summit with me. On the way down I first ran into Mike, who said his daughter quit.  I ran into Drippy and his girlfriend.  Their words: “You got this!”

I took the high path back to the JMT, and then towards Glenn Pass. As I increased in elevation on the lateral side of the mountain above Charlotte Lake,  the snow drifts started and I lost the trail.  I followed various boot tracks…the wrong ones. I ended up 200 feet above the trail and had to climb down using my ax and crampons.   Thunder started as did the rain and lightning.  I sheltered in the open, with my pack 20 yards away, and just sat in the rain.  It passed quickly, and the storm clouds looked to be moving to the East.  I started out again.  I crossed an ice chute that dropped into a glacial pool.  The blue hue from the snow and ice matched that of the glaciers I saw in Alaska.  A pure blue unlike anything we have at lower altitudes.

Around the corner all dirt and rock just about disappeared.  I ran into two Chinese hikers southbound.  In broken English they asked me to get word to their group on the other side by the lake: “The climb is very strenuous, there are two 70 year-old people, ask them to call helicopter.”  This was not the pep talk I was looking for.   I climbed up through snow for about an hour.  I reached the ascent.  Instead of a zig-zag switchback to the summit, there was a mountaineering route straight up an ice chute.  The intensity of focus I needed to avoid slipping and falling wore me out.

I made it up, to the summit.  I could see 20 miles in every direction at least.  I heard more thunder, saw clouds, and decided: “Enough with the viewing, down I go.”

An ice traverse with 300-400 foot drop into a glacier required my upmost attention.  Then it turned down.  It was a steep decent.  I saw some trail, then more snow and ice.  I lost the trail at an out cropping and followed what I thought was the direction.  It took me to a soggy campsite across an ice bridge.  I rested and admired the view of Rae Lakes. The ice on top was starting to shatter and melt.  Waterfalls from all sides poured into the Rae Lake basin.  I got a little lost in the wild again.  I followed some mountaineering tracks that put me towards the Mount Gardiner junction.  I doubled back and headed down and eventually made it to the island that joined the Rae lakes.  The crossing here wasn’t on my radar and I wasn’t keen on getting wet this late in the day.  It was afternoon and with the day’s melt, the flow was heavy and deep.  I stayed on the biggest rocks there; even so it was still waist deep.  If I slipped off the rocks, I would have gone up to my neck for sure.  I took my time and went slow.  I felt obligated to get word to the group of the Chinese travelers.   On the other side of the waterway, I saw tracks everywhere but no path.  I wandered to the high point to get my bearings.  I saw the path submerged by water on the East end of the peninsula, and went to the other side.  I saw the family and gave them the message and hoped they understood.  I recalled meeting the ranger who was stationed at the ranger outpost on Rae Lakes on the Kersarge pass.  I double timed it to the station to pass notification to him about the family as well.  There was a sign on the door saying: “Cross at Arrowhead lake inlet, not outlet”.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant.  I settled in at middle Rae Lake, by a pond of choral frogs.  How beautiful they sounded….at first.  At 1am, 2am, 3am, and 4am the rib-biting frogs lost their charm.

As I settled into my tent, I reflected again on my choice for the day.  Could I possibly make it? I barely made it today.  The trail was much tougher than the earlier seven days, and the mountaineering scared me quite a bit.  Unaccustomed to being lost, getting lost in the wilds made me uneasy.  Yet, my legs were better, and this was some darn beautiful country.

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