PCT Week Six: Into the Sierra

It's the day every PCT hiker waits for: we finally arrive at Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierras.
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It's the day every PCT hiker waits for: we finally arrive at Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierras.

The Sierras are my holy land. I visited Mount Whitney and Yosemite Valley for the first time last September, deep in preparations for my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike bid. The granite spires, endless mountainous vistas, and the legends of my heroes hanging in the air brought pricks of emotion to my eyes. This was the landscape of my dreams.

For exactly 703 miles, I have been thinking about the Sierras. I have been fantasizing about the land of endless water, wondering about the beauty the John Muir Trail holds, talking about the majesty of the huge granite towers, larger than anything I have seen before. For 703 miles, I have been telling myself that if I just make it to Kennedy Meadows, I can certainly make it to Canada (a motivating thought that, while sweetly hopeful, isn't entirely true).

Today I arrived in Kennedy Meadows, which, for the Pacific Crest Trail hiker, is the starting place of the Sierras. Today, right as I arrived to the ramshackle little store where all the other hikers sprawl around, I was cheered, whistled, and clapped into my promised land. It felt so right.

The last week, leading up to my triumphant arrival, was a trail trial. Heading out of Mojave, where Cheryl Strayed took her first few steps, I couldn't help but feel that I had "Monster" strapped to my weary back. I was carrying 12 pounds of water and 16 pounds of food, a ridiculous amount to carry up and over an immediate 4,000 foot climb. But carry I did, on and on into the ever deepening darkness, sweating in the 97 degree heat (at 5pm!).

The next day and the next brought more of the same. This section, it seems, offered plenty of tough climbs with plenty of incredible weight. One of the largest water carries of the trip happened in the past week: a 29 mile carry with dry camping (a whopping seven liters of water, at two pounds each). And with the water came deep sand climbs, steep uphills made steeper by the inevitable slides down in the sand.

The days following were spiced up by new shoe blisters (despite the shoes being the same as my last pair), knee pain, and full blown hiker hunger. The hunger got so great I ate through my eight day supply in seven -- and spent the last three carefully counting my Ritz crackers and divvying up my calories with hungry fear.

Lastly, to ensure I was in fact willing to go to any lengths for the Sierras (and the rest of the trail), yesterday brought two great downpours of rain. The first gently drenched me, and the second chilled me right to the bone. Huddling in my bivvy, under a haphazard Tyvek tarp, I wondered what else could happen.

Pure joy, it turns out.

Through all of the madness of the last 150 miles, the thought of the Sierras has driven me forward. And seeing pure granite, spilling up and out of the ground in strange twists and turns jumbled on all sides with me in a meadow below them all, brought such sweet happiness to my heart I forgot all of my previous misery.

And the hoots and hollers of my fellow travelers at mile 703 made it clear: I have arrived.