Take a Trek

Day 5: Chapped Nasals

Donahue Pass to Garnet Lake
Day: 8 Miles
Trip: 51.5 Miles

Camaraderie develops fast amongst long-distance hikers in the backcountry. In your normal life, it may take weeks or months to develop a relationship with someone that you would consider comfortable and well established. Out here, the rate of interpersonal communication is catalyzed by the remoteness of your physical environment. You may find yourself spending twelve or more hours a day walking up and down hills and mountains with someone you just met. What do you and your new acquaintance do? You talk. You talk, because you obviously have something in common. You talk, because you’re bored. You talk, because conversation is a much-needed source of entertainment and distraction from the repetitive physical motions that you’re going through. At the end of the day, you decide to camp with your new friend or friends. You eat together, you set up your shelters together, and you say goodnight to one another. In the morning, the cycle typically continues. You’re obviously not going to become attached at the hip to every person that you meet on a long-distance hike, but sooner or later you’ll come across a character or two that make life on the trail a little more interesting. Your new relationships will branch out and attract others, and you may become part of a trail family or social bubble that moves through the mountains. It was never dictated verbally, but it has become obvious that Christine, Sarah, Ruby and I will be hiking together until we reach Mammoth tomorrow afternoon. How could I rush saying goodbye to such classy and entertaining company?

Once we’ve finished picking our noses with healing salve, and slapping ourselves silly with sunscreen, our group of four gets back to the business of putting miles behind us. Since we have a slightly faster stride, Christine and I hike ahead of Sarah and Ruby for much of the day, but stop frequently to regroup with them.

Descending Donahue Pass

Christine, leaving the base of Donahue Pass

Four miles south of our campsite, we traverse Island Pass, which feels more like a hill compared to the magnitude of Donahue Pass. This landmark is significant, because it is the gateway to an eight-mile section of the JMT that passes a series of beautiful lakes, which are fed by glacial meltwaters. We make a short descent down the south side of Island Pass and seat ourselves beside a body of water that none of my maps seem to be able to identify. “This is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to,” I explain to Christine and the panorama before me. It’s windy and cold here, forcing us to put on a couple layers that we will most likely remove as soon as we start hiking again. Bundled up, and entranced by the landscape that we are presently part of, we sit and wait for our friends to join us.

Ritter Range

Approaching Thousand Island Lake and the Ritter Range

When Sarah and Ruby catch up, the four of us make our way towards Thousand Island Lake, infamous for it’s breathtaking backdrop of Mount Davis and the Ritter Range. Since we’ll only be hiking eight or ten miles today, we’ve decided to take a long lunch break at this point of interest. Sarah is adamant about the idea of catching a fish for her afternoon meal, and I intend to watch her do this from the comfort of a shaded patch of grass next to the water. The wind near the lake is frigid, once again forcing us to put on more layers to stay warm. Christine and Ruby join me behind the shelter of a large boulder, and we share a modest lunch of pita bread, peanut butter, tuna, and snickers bars. Sarah has wandered out of eyesight, towards the other side of the lake where there is significantly less wind. With a full belly, I sit and stare at the pristine lake, the granite peaks, and the cloudless sky. Perfection lies within the absence of man. I ponder this idea to myself, as my eyes trace the ridgeline of Ritter Range, first to the left, then back to the right. My eyelids grow heavy, and I breath out one last time as my world turns to black.

Thousand Island Lake

Thousand Island Lake

It was a short nap, only ten minutes or so, but rejuvenating nonetheless. It seems that I wasn’t the only one who felt like there were cinder blocks attached to my eyelids after we ate lunch. I wake up, leaning on the large boulder that we took a break next to, with a half conscious version of Christine by my side. To our left, Sarah and Ruby are gleefully scraping spoons along the bottoms of their pots. Sarah notices that we’ve woken and invites us to indulge in her afternoon triumph. “Hey, you’re awake! There’s a little left, if you want to try it!” Curious and blurry eyed, I join Sarah and Ruby for what I would consider the two best tasting mouthfuls of trout that I have ever had in my life.

Sarah's Fish

Sarah’s Fish

After lunch, we pass Ruby Lake, which Ruby has already decided was named after her. Ruby’s enthusiasm, upon reaching the turquoise blue body of water, is reminiscent of a small child who has been counting down the days until Christmas. “Look! It’s my Lake!” she shouts uncontrollably, while pointing with her trekking poles. Despite being unable to figure out how or why this lake was named after our whimsical friend, we willingly agree and applaud her accomplishment.

Ruby at Ruby Lake

Ruby at Ruby Lake

We also stop and receive a short geology lesson from Sarah.  It seems that treating chapped nasal passages isn’t the only High Sierra tutorial that she has to offer. Batholiths, magma chambers, and  roof pendants, oh my.

Our day comes to an end, near a cliff overlooking Garnet Lake. We set up camp, and another evening of dehydrated noodles, whole-hearted laughs, and silliness pursues. Shortly before dusk begins to settle in, Christine and Sarah notice that Ruby is relieving herself on a completely exposed section of grass to our far left. We laugh and debate about why she would do such a thing without seeking seclusion. When Ruby returns, we can’t help ourselves from inquiring about the reasoning behind her seemingly bizarre behavior. “If people want to watch me pee, that’s their problem, not mine,” she replies without hesitation. Her response is as blunt as it is perfectly fitting in a place like this. As tempting as it is to watch Ruby’s moon hover above grass, I’d rather watch the sun set over Garnet Lake.