Music: Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker // Chris Stapleton - Traveller
Drink: Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale // Mellow Corn with a bit of ice
Eagle Lake in Mineral King Valley, Sequoia National Park
This was my first. The first is always the hardest, the one where you have to come to terms with how out of shape you are. Okay, okay, how out of shape I was. I hadn’t really worked out since about April and I knew that doing a 7.5-mile hike right off the bat would be foolish. Especially in new hiking shoes. And at a starting elevation of 7500 ft, which by the time I left for the hike, I’d only adjusted to for about 20 hours. This is why I decided to only go out for 3 miles or so of the hike to break myself in a little and then do the full hike the next day. That was the plan anyway. But it was a dumb plan. Because, really, going 1.5 of the 3.75 miles only to turn back and do it again the next day is a dumb plan and I realized this about 30 minutes in. So, I went for it.
The beginning of this hike through the Mineral King Valley was incredible. It was steep, but doable. Walt Disney tried his very best to turn this area into a ski resort back in the 1960s. He ultimately failed thanks (seriously, thank you!) to what had to be a tireless effort by some local conservationists to preserve the area. Walking through this valley truly felt like walking through a Disney movie. The wildflowers, the waterfalls, the birds, THE GODDAMN BAMBIS (yes, there were fawns everywhere).
Everything after that was mostly an exercise in not passing out. The switchbacks on this hike were killer. And, I have a tendency to really push through when a hike gets hard. I’m not one to take a break and contemplate the flowers for 15 minutes. Especially when you get started on a hike like this around noon. I was sweaty. I was red-faced. I was out of breath. I came across two women who I’m sure thought they were going to have a medevac case on their hands any moment.
As far as hikes go, the Eagle Lake trail was pretty diverse – gorgeous valleys, big sequoias, wildflower-filled meadows, lovely streams, impressive waterfalls, dirt switchbacks, slate switchbacks (oh how I longed for the dirt switchbacks at that point), snow-speckled meadows, colorfully intricate cliffs, marmots (!!!) and one hell of an alpine lake.
This trail had what felt like 27 summits. Each one I thought surely would bring me to this infamous Eagle Lake. Most did not. Halfway through, this trail was the first of many to be christened “Holy Christ, Where Is This Fucking Lake?!?”
I got up those 3.75 miles with a 2267 foot elevation gain in like two and a half hours. Not too bad, huh? This was the trail where I learned my new shoes were a no-go (thanks again REI, for being so awesome and letting me get some new kicks!). This was the trail where I learned I needed to get back to doing my physical therapy exercises religiously if my feet were going to make it on more of these kinds of challenging trails. More than that, this was the trail where I learned I could do this again. There hadn’t been much to practice on in Austin – only one really significant trail, which got boring once I did it seven times, not to mention that after May, there is no hiking for a good six months. And, man, had I missed challenging myself in this way.
Since my first hike to Eagle Lake, I’ve put in a lot of miles. Some were painful, some were easy walks. Most were gorgeous in one way or another. One led to me skinny dipping in an alpine lake that I had all to myself, a thing I’d never done before (why I waited so long to check this off my list is beyond me). Another helped me to learn the names of all these wildflowers I’d been seeing (thanks to some of my new camp friends for clueing me into the iNaturalist app). Still another was the buggiest I’d ever hiked where I must have murdered 45 skeeters and ingested 3. My most recent (at the time of writing this, at least) pushed me to summit Brokeoff Mountain, surprising me with a view of Mt. Shasta in neon white when I got to the top. And many of them have allowed me to meet new friends, some fleeting friendships, others which might last awhile.
With each hike, I’ve watched my body change. It’s exciting to see my quads come back, notice my core muscles working again, and feel my ass in knots the day after a long hike because my glutes put in so much work on the trail. Not that I care so much about how I look, but more because it tells me I am getting stronger and faster and can take on more.
Being out on the trail truly is where I am the happiest on this trip so far. The experience of being humbled by Mother Nature over and over again never gets old to me. You forget that when you’re in the city – you forget how insignificant you are. And that is an important reminder. I’m glad to be reminded frequently that there is so much out there than what is in my head.