Day 4: 6 miles from Red’s Meadow to Deer Creek
I considered leaving this all out but I promised to be honest about everything. I don’t have a good feeling about this trip. While yesterday was nice, Brian and I are dealing with what I can only assume is mild altitude sickness. I was up al night with a headache and Brian is always lightheaded and is having trouble breathing. These would be totally manageable if we were just lounging around a ski resort for a few days until they subside but we’re about to head to higher altitudes and there will be no turning back for the next two weeks. I just don’t feel good about this.Rachel and Stephen seem to be fine. They left for breakfast this morning and few minutes before we did and Rachel indicated that her stomach is feeling better. Brian and I went out for breakfast shortly after packing though neither of us had an appetite. After that, we stopped in an outdoor store and I was very happy to find a vey light weight white long sleeve shirt I can wear while hiking. I’m hoping it will keep me from burning but keep me cool enough in this heat wave. It’s really big and you can see right through it but I always look ridiculous when I hike so this is nothing new.
When we got back to our room we saw Stephen and Rachel. Rachel said she still feels like crap and hopes it’ll pass. Brian admitted that he’s experiencing some moderate altitude sickness. We all agreed that we would be honest about our condition and take it one hour at a time. Stephen recommended Brian and I start taking the diamox now. So we popped some pills.
Brian’s been in touch with his AT friends who are on the PCT or JMT right now and they’re all dropping out. They’re just not enjoying themselves with the hot dry weather and other elements we’re dealing with. I’m not prepared to call it though. I need to know for sure what’s out there. We’re going to take things really slow.
The bus took us higher up the mountain where we saw people taking ski lifts up. They’re still skiing at 11,000 feet. Though most people we saw were there to mountain bike. We picked up tickets to the bus that took us from mammoth to Red’s Meadow. On the way we talked to a few people on the bus who were interested in our adventure. We explained that we hiked up 6,000 feet of elevation in two days and then took a day of rest.
Red’s Meadow resort is a nice area. There are little cabins for campers, fully functioning clean bathrooms, a general store, and a place to pick up your resupplies. Even though we just got our first resupply at Mammoth yesterday, we still opened our boxes and pulled out four days worth of food. When we packed our resupply boxes, we thought it would feel like Christmas when we opened them and for most of the hikers here, it was. They tore into their boxes and gobbled down the special treats they packed for themselves. Any extra stuff they brought they threw into the hiker barrel where other hikers could rummage around and take whatever they like. They were so excited. I wasn’t feeling it though. I wanted to but it was hard knowing that Brian wasn’t feeling well. We packed our bear canisters and gave much of our food away to other thru hikers. I’m only eating about half what I anticipated. The good news is that means I don’t have to carry as much.
The start of the hike was super difficult like it usually is after taking a day off. Stephen offered to walk behind us but Brian told him that would stress him out even more so he and Rachel walked ahead of us but at a much slower pace than before. Brian was having difficultly breathing and had to stop every few feet. We started walking at 1:30 so it was wicked hot. There were no trees as we worked our way up the incline. I wasn’t into the views at first. It felt like a tree cemetery. There were thousands of dead trees and downed trees all around us and we were walking on a dusty path. I tried to prepare myself for the fact that Brian may decide he can’t go on. I decided that I would be 100% ok with that decision. I can’t stand to see him in so much misery and not be able to do anything about it. But still there is the tremendous pressure to keep going because Rachel and Stephen are counting on us and they’re doing everything they can to make this as easy as possible for us.
We did walk through a gorgeous fern patch. It appeared that there was a forest fire there a long time ago and ferns grew up strong and tall after. They were so tall that I could barely see over them and the smelled so good.
Only 2 miles in, the four of us stopped for lunch. None of us were actually hungry so I smacked on my dried bananas and strawberries. As I sat in the shade and felt the cooler air breeze by I realized that I don’t want to stop yet. I don’t want to let this go just yet. But if Brian doesn’t get better, we may have to.
The diamox apparently makes you go to the bathroom a lot so while we were all sitting there I attempted to find some privacy. We were sitting on a very steep slope and below us were some big bolders. I began climbing down very carefully when Brian yelled at me. The slope was covered with scree which is a bunch of loose rocks that if shifted the wrong way could let the entire shelf loose. I realized privacy wasn’t worth risking my life so I climbed back up and tried to find a tree above the trail.
The second half of our walk was not quite as bad. Our muscles were all warmed up and there was more shade to protect us from the brutal afternoon sun. I was feeling much better but Brian was still struggling. What makes me nervous is after tonight’s stop, there’s no going back. We will be way too far into nature to change our minds. It really struck me today just how wild Mother Nature is. There is no other way to describe her. She is WILD. Mother Nature does NOT care if you live or if you die. Generally in your life you assume that you’ll make it through the day alive. But out here, you become very aware of your mortality. There’s no reason to believe you’ll survive unless you’re willing to work for it. And that’s what makes this a difficult decision. Do we turn back and ensure that we will be ok? Or do we carry on and trust that we have what it takes to survive?
I prayed for Brian as he struggled. I prayed that he somehow finds strength to get through this and that he starts feeling better soon. About twenty minutes later (during yet another bathroom break) I heard someone yell “Owl!” Which is Brian’s trail name. I ran back onto the trail to find Brian embracing another hiker. It was Taz! Taz is an Australian man who Brian hiked a part of the AT with. The two talked for about twenty minutes. They were so excited to see each other again. What are the odds? Taz told us about what to expect of the trail since he was traveling from the opposite direction. He said the river crossings are pretty high right now with all the snow melt so he explained to me the best way to cross. Turn your body towards the current and walk sideways like a crab. He also said there are some pretty rough passes with snow coverage but that we probably will not need our microspikes. He also said that the last four days of our trip will be the most breathtaking. They talked a bit about altitude sickness. Taz said its normal and it will pass. I thanked God that Brian ran into a man he knows and respects and hoped that would give him the strength and courage he needed to push on.
The rest of the hike wasn’t too bad and we even skipped the first tent site and went to one two miles farther out. When we arrived, we met several other PCT hikers and hung out with them just a bit before setting up camp.
I’m getting better and camping. For example, I’m learning to remove every potentially smelly thing from my pack early on and place it in my bear canister. The first night, I was just about to fall asleep when I realized I had chap stick in my bag. I had to trudge all the way out of camp to where we placed our bear canisters to secure it. You are required to keep the canisters at least 50 feet from your tent. We put ours 100 feet out just to be safe.
Brian has to stop to take a breath every couple minutes still but he said he’d like to continue tomorrow. Of course we have another uphill battle but we will start early in the morning. Stephen said he likes our idea of starting early, taking an afternoon siesta for a few hours and then finish in the evening.