We were not prepared to hike nine miles up and down a mountain. Honestly, I wasn't even prepared to hike more than a few miles, considering the fact that my feet were aching and blistered from so much overuse (and inappropriate footwear) at my new hostess job. But I'm stubborn, so when the park ranger showed us one of his favorite hikes in the area, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, I'll suck it up.
This isn't a story of survival, because that would be pathetic, since this hike wasn't really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of the universe, and to anyone even mildly more in shape and aware than myself, I'm guessing it wouldn't have been very difficult, but let me give you a little advice: If your feet already hurt, don't hike up the side of a mountain. If you only have one bottle of water, don't hike up the side of a mountain. If you have no idea how long it's going to take you to hike up the side of a mountain because you haven't hiked up the side of a mountain before...go ahead and hike up the side of a mountain, just make sure you get an early start. And actually, ignore those first two statements, because sometimes hiking up the side of a mountain is totally worth it, regardless of how unprepared and ill-equipped you might be.
We were headed for Eagle Lake, a pristine body of water at the top of a mountain that promised to be freezing cold and crystal clear. As we climbed higher and higher, my thoughts oscillated between wondering if I was going to die and not being able to believe our surroundings. I couldn't believe how in the wild we were. We saw only a handful of other hikers on our seven-hour journey, and the rest of the time it was just two blonde girls in a sea of tall trees and giant rocks. Every time the wind blew through the treetops I mistook it for traffic, and when I remembered what I was doing and how far away the nearest car was, I came a little more alive with happiness.
Each person we met on the trail was on their way back down, and when I asked how much further it was to the lake, they all responded with variations of, "You've still got quite a ways to go". Eventually, we crossed paths with an older couple, and in answer to my question, they pointed behind them the wall of massive white, pointy rocks and said, "Well, first you've got to climb over that, and then you'll almost be there". After thanking them, Kalen and I contemplated our situation for a few moments, and then forged ahead.
There was a point in time where I honestly wasn't sure if the lake even existed. Perhaps it was all a big trick, and the park ranger who had given us directions was sitting in his chair at the bottom of the mountain, laughing with his other ranger friends about the joke he played on the two silly blonde girls. Sorry for doubting you, Ranger Eli.
Long story short: we made it. The lake was freezing cold, and Kalen dunked herself underwater like a champion, but the most I could manage was wading in up to my knees. We lamented our lack of forethought, semi-wishing we could set up camp for the night and sleep under the stars instead of turning right around and trudging back the exact same way we had just come. The triumph of making it to the top was glorious, but just the knowledge of how far we had left to go made my feet scream.
Luckily, going down tends to be a lot faster than going up. We made it back to the bottom in nearly half the time it had taken us to ascend. I have never been more excited to sit in a car and drive for two hours. I slathered my feet with bandaids, and we drove back out of Mineral King along the narrow, winding road that we had traversed on the way in, destined for the much busier and more touristy Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park, the location of General Sherman and all of the other famous big trees, as well as where we planned to camp for the night. I felt like I had been out of Los Angeles for weeks, in the best possible way, and we still had another day of fun planned. But at that moment, all I could think of was sleep, sleep, and more sleep.
Happy Thursday, friends.