Take a Trek

Day 8: Stomach Problems

Reds Meadow to Deer Creek
Day: 5.9 Miles
Trip: 70.7 Miles

Sarah, Christine, and Stealth drive me to a nearby Mammoth Ski Resort, where I’ll catch a shuttle back to Reds Meadow and the JMT trailhead.

Mammoth Farewell Party

Mammoth Farewell Party

I board the shuttle, find a seat next to a window, and wave farewell to my friends. We have vague intentions of seeing one another in the future, as kindred spirits often do, but it’s likely that I’ll never see them again. The bus shifts into motion and an unexpected sigh escapes from my lungs. I reach for the hood of my parka and stare through the dirty pane of glass to my right, as a seemingly endless column of trees passes me by.

 

I'm on a Bus

I’m on a Bus

The last thing that I expect to see when I step off of the bus at Reds Meadow is a familiar face, but here in front of me now are three of them. Ruby, Ladd, and Derek spot me, from the shade beneath a cluster of redwoods, and raise their hands and voices in excitement. An unexpected reunion commences.

Ladd and Derek were delayed in Mammoth for a few days, after Derek acquired a nasty case of food poisoning. Apparently, he soiled most of their hotel room with body fluids, before Ladd took him to the local emergency room. His wife made a trip up from the coast to check on her hubby, but quitting the JMT was never a consideration for Derek. “I’m fine, we’re just going to go a little slow for a few days,” he tells me with an confident smile. Derek’s stomach debacle is unfortunate, but I’m happy to be returning to the trail with him and Ladd. Until now, I assumed they were so far ahead of me that I wouldn’t see them again.

Reds Meadow Reunion

Reds Meadow Reunion

We wish Ruby well, since she’ll be staying at Reds Meadow for another night, and finally return to our journey south along the JMT. The six-mile trek to Deer Creek passes through a forested area that looks like it was recently decimated by a fire. The sky is unusually gray for summertime in the Sierra Mountains, and I occasionally lose track of the trail for a moment or two, distracted by the ominous ridgelines all around us. “This place looks like Mordor right,” I joke to my friends who are following behind me.

Mordor

Mordor

The insect population at Deer Creek is abundant, aggressive, and voracious. From the moment I stop walking, every inch of my exposed skin is under assault. I slap a biting sensation on my right leg and watch in horror as six mangled mosquitoes fall to the ground, some of them still twitching their long, gangly legs. I consider suggesting that we move on and find another place to camp for the night, but Derek is still fatigued from his bout with the stomach flu. I set down my pack and begin digging through my gear for layers of clothes that will protect me from the little black servants of Deer Creek.

While fishing with Derek and Ladd in the various streams that circumvent our campsite, we discover that we’re not alone. Lying on the ground, across from the stream that we’re casting into, is an occupied black sleeping bag. Since it’s merely six o’clock, we find it strange that someone has already knocked off for the evening. “Maybe he’s dead,” Ladd jokes. We all have a quick chuckle, before considering that we might have something to be concerned about. Ladd volunteers to cross the stream and inspect our discovery, while Derek and I watch from afar.

Ladd in a Creek

Ladd in a Creek

Ladd tells us that the body inside the sleeping bag belongs to a northbound PCT hiker named Skyler. A few days ago, he fell ill with classic symptoms of giardia, a waterborne illness typically contracted by consuming untreated water or poor sanitary practices. Violent diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting make it surprisingly difficult to climb up and down mountains all day. Consequently, Skyler has fallen behind schedule, lost track of the group he was hiking with, and run out of food. Ladd gives him directions to our campsite and invites him to join us when he is feeling well enough to stand up and make the walk.

Giardia Sucks

Giardia Sucks

We’re midway through cooking our dinner of fresh rainbow trout battered in cornmeal, when young Skyler hobbles his way into camp. The boy is merely eighteen years old, fresh out of High School, and has a mop of dirty hair hanging over his eyes that reminds me of Kurt Cobain rolled in dirt. He stopped filtering his water, when he got into the Sierras, because “it was supposed to be safe.” I think of the endless parade of pack animals that I’ve seen drinking from and pissing into water sources thus far, and wonder why so many people believe this myth. “I guess I was wrong,” the scrawny boy continues. We inquire about his impossibly small pack and he tells us that it weighs only eight pounds. This is incredible, especially when you consider that over two pounds of this weight is a bear canister. He has no shelter of any sort, only a sleeping bag and a two-foot-square of foam padding that he positions underneath himself while sleeping. I don’t even want to ask what he plans on doing if he gets caught in a storm. Skyler is a subscriber to the ultralight philosophy of backpacking. These people carry the lightest base weight that is safely possible for any given trip, in order to maximize their ability to hike farther and faster. Carrying an ultralight pack requires a substantial amount of knowledge and experience, especially in a place as remote and desolate at the Sierra Nevada. Apparently, Skyler should have splurged a little more on weight and carried two ounces of iodine tabs, or maybe watched a few more episodes of Survivorman. I genuinely feel bad for this guy, but there is a difference between ultralight and arrogant light. I dig into my bear canister, measure out a few portions of pasta, and toss them to Skyler. “You’re only six miles from Reds Meadow, buddy,” I remind him. We also filter a few liters of water for the young man. “What’s the point,” Ladd says quietly. “He already has giardia.”