When Injury Almost Derails Your Thru-Hike

One loose rock can be all it takes to undo weeks of walking.
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One loose rock can be all it takes to undo weeks of walking.
silver pass

Silver Pass. Photo by Amanda Jameson.

A single day on the PCT can hold enough physical and emotional ups and downs to make your head spin. Some of that's out of your control, but a lot of how the day turns out is how you deal, in the moment, with what the day throws at you.

I'd camped just before Silver Pass, had a solid, hard-but-fun morning of climbing before Mammoth Lakes. I clambered up the last uphill stretch above the pass to some rocks to eat breakfast, feeling on top of my tiny world. As I climbed down, though, the first step I took was onto an unstable rock that gave under my foot, levering the other side up and slamming it into my ankle.

It left several scrapes and a bruise, but I wasn't sure if it had done any more lasting damage. My ankle hurt to walk on as I limped down silver pass. Every other step was another question: Can it bear my weight? Does it not like ups or downs or sideways movement? Can it bear the more technical maneuvering the Sierra require?

I walked on it for over an hour before I was convinced it was going to be alright, but that hour was filled with concerns about having to get off trail, about having ended my hike with something as stupid as stepping on a rock wrong. But looking back, that happens all the time: Someone doesn't pay attention to a particular step, and they roll or twist their ankle, spraining it or worse. It's so frustrating that a moment of inattention can undo a thru-hiker's ambition.

But I kept moving, slowly, trying to work through my nervousness and fear. It paid off after I stopped to eat a large meal in the afternoon; I finished feeling refreshed and ready to go for it. While I had initially decided to aim for another 18 miles past Silver Pass, I arrived so early and was feeling so much better that when I met my friend at the spot we'd agreed on, we decided to push three more miles into Red's Meadow to try to bus into Mammoth Lakes for the evening. We managed to catch the last ride into town.

I'll have a lot of decisions to make in the next few days—like whether or not to finish the John Muir Trail in a two-for-one thruhike deal—but for now, I'm happy to be enjoying the niceties of Mammoth Lakes.