…so it’s time for another photo essay from Zippy’s camera roll.
As you can see, Zippy encountered a lot of snow as he hiked up from the New Mexico desert to the San Juan Mountains, which are having a very high snowpack season. It’s been some of the most difficult hiking he’s ever done, even with snowshoes, sidestep crampons, and an ice axe.
Fortunately, he has fallen in with a great group of people to brave and enjoy the astounding terrain together, including the president and vice-president of ALDHA West (the American Long Distance Hiking Association)… Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, who held the unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail for five years… an international mountaineering guide, a backcountry ski guide, and other super experienced hikers. Usually he prefers to hike solo (or with me :-), but for safety’s sake he’s buddied up, and these folks are his tribe: serious, skilled, dedicated, but fun.
He has also stayed in town a bit more than expected, as he and his fellow travelers resupply and rest, so don’t feel too bad for him up there shivering. They have enjoyed lots of restaurant meals and friendly barbecues. Plus, Allgood is a champion yogier. (Yogi-ing, according to that font of wisdom, urbandictionary.com, is “the art of politely gathering food from other hikers/campers by means of conversation without actually asking for it. If one asks for the food it is no longer yogi-ing, but rather it is simply begging, which is shameful.”
They even did a bit of sightseeing, including the Museum of Mining:
This wasn’t even the creepiest tableau. I don’t know who made those mannequins… stuffed with love, no doubt, but this museum could pull off one hell of a haunted house come October.
And in their spare time, one of the hikers is doing gear reviews, so J. and his companions got to help test out sleeping pads:
After town, smaller groups of hikers split off to take different routes: some are waiting for snowmelt, three took the high route, and Zippy, Allgood, and Buttercup are taking the lower route, the “Creede Cutoff.” Here’s some wildlife from his last stretch…
That’s it for now. Zippy is now in town celebrating the birthday of POD, one of the hosts of the popular Trail Show podcast, with a gaggle of other hikers. Further updates as events warrant! And if you can’t wait for more, Zippy got himself an Instagram account, so to see extra photos, follow him there–under Zippy Morocco, of course.
Awareness crowds in, whispers with every mile that ticks from ahead to behind: this will not last forever. Appreciate every step. A few more days, one last town stop, then the scramble to Whitney. I get teary thinking about a ground squirrel, or unrolling my gear, obvious symptoms of pre-nostalgia: missing something while it’s still happening.
Also, the nervousness that dogged me so often has mostly dissipated. I got used to living outside, and hadn’t even noticed. The nerves’ absence creates a vacuum, which draws in observation, reflection, whimsy, and just being. I’m getting past the smoke, both the literal stuff and the haze of fretting. The smallest moments begin to glow:
A guy runs breezily up Mather Pass with an Arc Blast and a silver sunbrella.
A crazed meteor streaks through nightly light show that is the silver lining of having to get out of a warm tent at 2:00 am to pee.
A waterfall plunges into a stain of lipstick red at its base. Graffiti?Here? My confused, civilized brain automatically categorizes shapes in the woods as urban things: a rectangular stone reads as an abandoned mattress, what looks like a cigarette butt is actually a two-inch snap of branch, and the graffiti? A dense cluster of crimson flowers. Much better. (The exception: whenever I hear a rumbling in the sky, I still assume it is a thunderstorm approaching, although invariably it’s just another airplane roaring out of LAX.)
Sometimes I don’t photograph the glowing moments, even if my phone is handy. This is just for me, I think, predicting that Dollar Lake will, under the influence of memory, expand into a mythic beauty greater than two-dimensional reality, amplified by being unquantified. Perhaps some things are best left unshared.
Helping other hikers, even in very small ways, also gives a good feeling that lasts for miles. How satisfying to be able to provide from the small amount carried on one’s back in the middle of the John Muir Wilderness. I am able to do this twice:
Crossing Glen Pass, I find four extremely tan people lounging on top. They are waiting for the fifth in their party, a woman I ran into on the way up– almost literally. I was sweating and grunting and staring at the trail beneath my feet so intensely that I didn’t notice her until she was practically underfoot. She’d found a tiny column of shade under a rock and was breathing hard, resting. She gave a few words of encouragement, and I squinted through a stinging mix of salt and sunscreen and chirped my usual “Beautiful day!”
Up top, while I chug water, they wait for their friend and discuss caloric miscalculations. They hired a pack mule string to deliver a resupply, but it won’t arrive until tomorrow morning. All they have to feast on is the view. They casually, carefully intimate that they are out of food for the rest of the day. This is called yogi-ing, probably after a certain bear of “What’s in that pic-a-nic basket?” notoriety. It’s not outright asking… just apprising passersby of one’s situation and… and… ?
Fortunately I have lots of pemmican to share. A fellow shakes my hand enthusiastically, then slices each bar into five rectangles with a tiny knife. Thus divided, it doesn’t look like much, but maybe it’ll take the edge off. The caboose hiker appears at last, to cheers and a snack.
Later, I meet a father and son from LA, hiking for a week. They just started, but already the son’s trekking pole is failing. “Do you have tape?” he asks me, by way of greeting. My repair/first aid kit is tiny but decent. I hand him two feet of duct tape carefully wrapped around an eighth-inch diameter metal tube that encloses a sewing needle. (Got to keep the needle safe, else it’ll put a pinhole in the groundcloth, the tent, the inflatable pad, or one of a dozen other sensitive items. This is the stuff you tinker with obsessively during the long winter before a journey, when it’s too cold to hike.)
The man’s father speaks little English, and they talk softly with each other while the son twists tape around the pole joints. The son’s accent makes his gladness all the more appealing: “Thank you, thank you!” he shouts. “I will tell everyone that I have been saved by a beautiful hiker!” I’m not sure he’s saved– the duct tape probably won’t hold all week, but maybe for a few days… or at least until he meets the next beautiful hiker with tape to spare.
The trail passes through different neighborhoods, so to speak: here’s a scrubby, run-down patch where the working stiffs live, there a fine Japanese garden, next palatial old-money estates of old money, and now an abandoned lot. Nature wears many costumes.
Considering this, I pass a couple of guys hiking north. “It’s even prettier upstream,” they tell me. Not half a mile farther, I hear a “whoop!” as four pale, skinny-dipping men flail for cover when they see me coming. “The world’s smallest towel!” one moans, dodging behind a bush with a hankie. Was that what they meant by “prettier upstream”?