I wonder how much water will be out here for the drinking. There’s a ten-year drought in California, as everybody knows. But I am pleasantly surprised. I am always “upgrading” my water, meaning I dump out what I have and replace it if I find a better source. I am a devotee of the small tributary that comes in from above, of the trickle of glacial melt, of the inlet before it hits the lake. But springs are best of all, more exciting than finding a twenty-dollar bill in the trail: the grotto laced with mosses and wet wildflowers, dark and cool inside, tiny music of water dripping down. I don’t care how long I have to squat to fill a bottle. It’s worth it. Unlike other water, I drink it without treatment. Six to twenty days later we will know that I did not drink anything giardia-infested!*
*I didn’t. Joy!
Water pickiness is not a consideration to many folks. They cheerfully filter water pulled from lakes so low that the outlets and inlets are dry, and in which other (stinky, sunscreen-and-DEET-covered, dingleberry-having) hikers wade and bathe. Or out of creeks flowing directly from similar lakes, creeks with many upstream miles where people and horses cross with dung on their shoes, where ducks and deer relieve themselves… such sources are my last resort. I hike three extra miles to avoid camping at Lower Cathedral Lake, where I had expected to stop, because it is that kind of lake. (Plus there is a lightning-caused wildfire smoldering not two miles off, and its smoke falls over the shore… no thanks.) I blaze on to Tuolumne Meadows, fill my bottles at the tap in the visitor center, then head back into the woods and off trail by 150 paces, camping deep in the forest where no one will find me but a few late-season mosquitoes.
The worst water I drank wasn’t hazardous so much as vegetal. It tasted of onion, some plant it must have flowed past, up the spur from Ediza Lake. I dump half a packet of cheap, neon powder into the water and mask the (nutritious?) vegetable aftertaste with cheap, sugar-free strawberry lemonade– a dubious improvement, maybe, but it feels like a treat.
On the other end of the aquaspectrum, John Muir’s favorite water source is mine as well: Soda Springs. It is in Tuolumne Meadows, day 3. Out of a dozen pinholes in the earth bubbles naturally carbonated, cool water that stains the rock orange from its minerals. The tangy, sparkling water is the perfect beverage for a hot afternoon. I dip a liter and savor it for miles.
The effervescence floats me along the flat, golden meadows of Lyell Canyon, then up and over Donohue Pass. It is the most beautiful pass I have crossed in my hiking life, and will prove the most beautiful of the entire JMT. Narrow blue snaking rivulets, tiny flowers sizzling open between stark rock, hidden ponds, clear air, views for miles. My eyes are thirsty and satisfied all at once.
Unfortunately, I did not take a single photo of Donohue Pass. Some fool notion of spiritual purity had me with my phone off and packed away in a double Ziploc that day. Of course, that was also the day an adorable pika scampered up to my feet and gazed at me photogenically for thirty seconds. I don’t feel any more evolved or pure as a result of that screen fast, but maybe it isn’t totally bull. Could it be possible that beauty (and a pika) shows itself more abundantly when it has no way of being captured? Or at least it seems more precious, being ephemeral? Or maybe it’s just Murphy’s Law.
In any case, to make it up to you, here are a few of my doodles from my 3″ x 5″ Strathmore Visual Journal. I drew one page a day, and wrote on the reverse. They are not things of beauty, certainly, but… forgive me?