Total Miles: 65.9
When dawn broke, it started by touching only the tops of the mountains surrounding our camp, before spilling down the flanks of granite to where we lie in our hammocks. It was nature opening the blinds.
When we finally pointed our steps south on the trail, we followed the din of Shadow Creek as it plunged its way toward Shadow Lake. Sitting beside the lake only long enough to wrestle our breakfast bars away from the clouds of mosquitoes, what stood out was the silence. Aside from a solitary duck making an occasional splash, the lake was as silent as the creek that fed it was cacophonous.
Turning away from the lake—and the mosquitoes—the ascent that awaited held more of the same stillness. The kind of profound quiet where even the buzz of insects, the stir of wind in the treetops, and even birdsong is absent. It was so profoundly silent, I noticed myself trying to quiet the sound of my footsteps and even my breathing, almost as though trying to melt into the switchbacks that led us higher.
Past the thickets of western white pine and stately red fir, the climb through shaded silence also brought that feeling of cold skin stretched across a body whose furnace within was coming to life. A body caught in the transition from chilled to cozy warm.
Once atop the initial climb, the rest of the morning was a simple stroll down towards the first of only two resupply stops on this hike. Situated at the end of a road winding down to the town of Mammoth Lakes, Red’s Meadow is a bustling hub of activity. Aside from the throngs of Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail hikers, it’s the jumping off point for horseback riding, backcountry fishing, and for visitors to the nearby Devils Postpile National Monument.
The monument itself is a geologic novelty where hexagonal columns of basalt create a bluff, resembling a giant pipe organ. At its foot, broken columns lie in piles as if the organ had simply molted the pipes it no longer needed.
Only a mile or so further down the trail, we settled in beneath the shady pines and collected our resupply box for the next five days. Chatting with some fellow hikers we’d met earlier in the morning, it reminded me of how quickly connections can be made by virtue of having a single common passion for life on the trail.
But as pleasant as both the shade and the company were, the miles weren’t going to walk themselves. Shouldering our now reloaded packs, I think it was the soles of my feet that registered the first objection. But groaning body parts be damned, it was off into the bright sun of the wide open former wildfire burn area that spans much of the basin lying adjacent to Red’s Meadow Resort.
Under the heat lamp of the sun, up we went until legions of red fir mercifully splashed shade across the trail. When the trail seemed satisfied with the altitude it had once again reached, we began looking for trees suitable to hang our hammocks from only to glance to the west and catch sight of an ominous sign: once clear blue sky now neither clear nor blue. A troubled horizon filling with plumes of wildfire smoke.