Last night, though the body rested, I spent an inordinate amount of time tossing and turning in a hotel bed in Fresno, California. Even though I do not hear well (without hearing aids), it seems that I could clearly delineate the nuance of every sound in the nearby vicinity. Four days in the deep wilderness can do that to you. When in the backcountry, the resonance of stillness is so profound, with the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees or the river flowing becoming the entire focus.
Yesterday my backpacking trip ended prematurely and I ended up hiking 24 miles in one day. Four years ago that would have been an impossible dream as the body was in the throws of a chronic illness. Such is the magic of life. Originally I was planning another week in the backcountry of the John Muir Wilderness, deep into the Blackcap basin, 24 miles from any trailhead, on a little used and as I was to find out ‘unmaintained trail’. Just getting back into this remote region was an adventure in cross country navigation and good old fashioned luck. I saw 2 people in the first two days, both before reaching the trail that heads up 8 miles to 11,000 feet elevation and the high alpine lakes of the Granite-infused Basin and the far reaches of the LeConte Divide. Water was an intimate part of the hike in as the river was my near constant companion (and dips into the sanctuary of delight were frequent, along with river crossings, soaked shoes.
The first indication that things would take a dramatic shift came on the hike up to the Basin: mosquitoes. With the drought that had occurred this winter, I found it quite surprising that water was so readily available in the rivers, tributaries and visible through vibrant foliage dotting the trail, lush meadows, and abundant wildflowers. The mosquitoes made their presence known over a 3 mile section and like a drunken, Russian ship captain who left the Vodka cabinet unlocked, my refusal to wear Deet repellant made me an unsurpassed feast. The ‘sailors’ devoured me.
I was feeling the altitude more than usual when I finally reached camp. Just as I was starting to cook my evening meal of Pad Thai my little, remote campsite became less remote. A Mexican man straight out of the movies, riding the lead mule in a train of eight, passed by on the opposite side of the river. I turned, stunned to see anyone at all, as he graciously greeted me:
“Ahoy!” I was aware that it was a nautical term which seemed quite out of place coming from a Hispanic man riding a mule in the high mountains but it surely was clairvoyant. All I could do in that moment was turn from my boiling rice noodles and wave my hand, watching as extravagantly packed beasts marched on. ‘Such a strange occurrence and an even more bizarre greeting.’ I remember thinking.
Moments later a searing headache and nausea crept in, delivering all the markings of Acute Mountain Sickness. No matter, I crawled into my tent just before the deluge of heavy rain, thunder and lightning, struck with a fury. I breathed deeply and inserted two acupuncture needles, one into each hand at the point Large Intestine-4 (advil (headache)and charcoal tabs (acute digestive distress in emergency) had somehow gotten water damaged on day one). These amazing acupoints, probably the most well known, universal and potent points in all of acupuncture almost immediately cut the headache pain in half. Soon bigger issues would surface. The nausea began to get worse, as I sat their, feeling suddenly, like I was on a water bed. I was actually being lifted from the ground by water accumulating on the pine needle bed I had put the tent on. It was a nice and level spot but it was raining so hard and so fast that the ground could not soak it up and a fast flood like situation was taking place. This is when your tent gets put to the test and amazingly mine held up as 3 inches of water elevated the Thermorest Pad and some how did not seep in through the bottom of the tent. It rained hard for hours, finally it eased up a bit and I moved the tent to higher ground (a nearby granite slab, flat enough to perform the desired ‘makeshift’ label.
The next morning about 7 am, the rain still lightly falling, I attempted to make some hot tea only to find that my stove had failed. With one packet of green vibrance, a handful of trail mix and a cup of ultimate meal as my only ‘no cooking required’ food, I knew that a long hike out was inevitable. After packing up, I checked to see if anything had been left behind when an eagle feather, completely saturated by rain, fell out of the tree above and landed right on the granite slab where my tent once stood. I smiled and appreciated that grace flows in mysterious ways. The hike out was physically challenging while most of the energy I received did not come from my meager rations but from Nature’s bounty Herself.
In Native American Traditions water is often synonymous with the: Moon(just passed full), Feelings, and Emotions. It also relates to: Cleansing, Letting Go, Purification, and Reflection-all things happening in my life right now,