June 20, 2018
I woke up a lot that night even though I was so comfy in my tent and the sound of the rushing river was so soothing. My alarm was set for 5:30am as I was trying to adjust my schedule a little more to suit Couch Potato, but I was wide awake at 4:00am and started getting up around 4:30. The sky was already getting light and by 5 I didn’t even need my headlamp anymore. Good thing we weren’t trying to get over Donahue pass before the sun, because we definitely missed our chance. The days are getting longer. I can’t believe it’s almost July already.
After a 3-mile climb that felt like twice that, we made it to the summit of Donohue Pass, the last major pass in the Sierra. Not realizing how close we were to the top, we actually stopped to take a break about .1 from the summit! When we reached the top there were about a half-dozen other hikers already there eating snacks and taking a break, so we took a short break with them before continuing on. Couch Potato is a big one for taking breaks and I tried to learn from his example, but what I didn’t realize at the time was just how much physical pain he was dealing with. He was having trouble with his knee and had been having a terrible time with his feet for weeks, but he never said anything about it. He always just smiled and said things like, “Let’s do it!” about the next pass or river-crossing, so I didn’t think much of it.
Anyway, the descent after Donahue Pass was pretty easy. We crossed a crystalline stream between two mountain lakes and continued descending, and after that, it was a flat, almost straight shot to Tioga Pass and Tuolumne Meadows. I have to say that the section between Donahue and Tuolumne was, and still is, one of my absolute favorite sections. Even though we were plagued by mosquitoes and had to wear our head nets, the trail was an easy, well-maintained path through a long, green meadow, running alongside an aquamarine creek of glacier runoff and bordered by evergreen mountains with snowy caps. We stopped for a long break in a meadow and I chilled my feet in the icy river. I would have loved to jump in and take a swim, but the water was honestly so frigid that my toes became numb after just a minute or two in the water.
I’m not sure how many miles we did that day but by the time we got to Tuolumne Meadows, we were both beat. We’d taken a wrong turn somewhere close to Tioga Pass and ended up in a very populated parking area getting strange looks from tourists. We had to backtrack until we found the right turnoff, then it was a short road walk to the Tuolumne Meadows campground, general store, and restaurant. There was a small parking lot out front and a somewhat enclosed area of trees with 4-5 picnic tables full of hikers, their backpacks leaning against the trees and all manner of food and gear seemed to be strewn about as people re-packed their things after resupplying in the store. It was a welcome sight to see so many thru-hikers in one place again. Several of them we recognized from the hostel in Mammoth Lakes.
Couch Potato and I shed our packs and immediately went to the restaurant, where I got a soft-serve ice cream I’d been craving for days. I wasn’t sure I could stomach solid foot at the moment. The pain in the balls of my feet had localized and it felt like I was walking on a nerve. I had no cell service so I wasn’t sure where Sparky and Ghosthiker were, so I used a payphone and left Sparky a voicemail, saying I’d be at the campground whenever he arrived the next day.
Back in the general store, I bought a beer and sat down at a picnic table, feeling suddenly drained. It was early in the day and the shaded hiker area was wonderfully devoid of mosquitoes, so we stayed there for a while chatting with other hikers. I eventually laid down on the picnic table bench and almost drifted off to sleep. Eventually, we hauled our packs over to the campground. The ranger there gave us directions to the backpacker camp, an area at the very back of the campground for any hikers who didn’t come with a vehicle.
“It’s like they’re ashamed of us,” Couch Potato joked as we headed that way. “Hiding us in the trees at the general store, putting us at the very back of the campground.” It was funny because it was true.
What wasn’t funny was how rude the park ranger was to me. When I asked if their bathrooms had showers, he looked at me like I was some kind of an idiot. “This is camping. There are no showers. I thought you said you were a backpacker?”
“Then you should be used to being dirty.” And with that, he turned away. I was shocked by his response to my very civil and reasonable question. Just to spite him, after we set up camp I hiked back to the bathroom and washed some of my filthier laundry items in the bathroom sink despite the signs forbidding it, and then filled my 2.5 L water bladder with warm water to have a sponge bath later. I made sure not to leave any sort of mess behind.
After we’d set up our tents, Couch Potato came over to see how I was doing. I’d really been dragging ever since we hit that last mile coming into Tuolumne Meadows and was actually feeling like I might pass out before I got my tent completely set up. I could tell he was exhausted as well. Such is hiker life.
“I’m alright, you?”
He mentioned being tired and having a little knee pain, but otherwise, he was feeling good. Like I said, I later learned that it was a lot of knee pain, but he didn’t say it at the time. I wish he had. He said he was gonna see how he felt tomorrow and maybe take a zero here. I’d already told him it would be another day before Ghosthiker would be ready to hike again, so I was secretly glad. It sounded like he might want to join our group! How fun would that be! Like having another Lil’ Bro…although, really, who could ever replace our Lil’ Bro. I wondered how Alias was doing.
I shuffled down the little hill to the campsite privy one last time, hoping I would not wake in the night needing to use the restroom in the dark (my least favorite part about hiking). The little climb back up to the backpacker camping area felt long and arduous. There were little tents everywhere, but the camp was mostly quiet. Everyone here must be as tired as I am. It was still light outside when I crawled into my tent.