Once we hit snow and the sun hit us, we were warm enough to shed our layers, all our layers. We've been talking up Naked Hiker Day since before we ever got on the trail, and it had to happen today in perfect PCT tradition: climbing Mount Whitney, and on the solstice. We weren't exactly super relaxed about it, we were checking over our shoulders every 30 seconds to see if Jack Straw, Abby Normal, and Norway were hiking behind us, it took about half a mile of Sweet 16 and I nekkid before Microburst succumbed to the peer pressure, and we kept saying things like "Don't look at my butt while I step up!"
But it felt so nice! Our packs were light since we left all but the day's gear in Crabtree Meadows, the sun was warm (and we had put sunscreen EVERYWHERE), there was a tiny light breeze and we were surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful cliffs and spires and awe-inspiring mountains. The only person we did see before the breeze picked up and we put our clothes back on was Anicca, way off in the distance. Later, at the top of Whitney, he said he could tell we were naked, but he couldn't tell if we were women or men, much less who we were. I was terribly and shrilly offended, though I suppose it just means he definitely did not see any personal and particular details.
The switchbacks that cover most of the elevation gain were covered by a couple chutes of snow: and true to form, I super psyched myself out on the steep ones. I went way slower than was probably necessary, but I took one step at a time carefully and methodically because that's how I have to get through stuff like that. It was obvious to me that my fear was tangible to everyone else, who were talking and encouraging me in that careful way you do to someone who might flip out at any moment. I wasn't about to flip out, I had myself under control, excrutingly slow step by excrutiatingly slow step. I started making faces and once sang "Summertime and the livin' is easy" to break the tension.
By the time we got to the junction with the trail that comes up on the east side of Whitney, it was later than we wanted, we were all tired, and I was sick of picking my way across snow. It made me start wondering: what is the difference between summiting and not? I mean, we had already gained most of the elevation at that point, we could see some spectacular views from the ridge we followed, and we were through the worst of the snow. So what if we didn't summit? The experience is almost the same, but we wouldn't have bragging rights. Is that our motivation then? What does that say about us and our values? Well, we wanted bragging rights and the 360 view, we summitted and turned around twenty minutes later since the friendly fluffy clouds were quickly turning into angry dark clouds.
On the way down, the snow was soft and slushy rather than hard and icy. I like slushy snow worse because it feels like I could have a chunk of wet snow slide out from under me, but it is possible to actually get the ice axe in up to the hilt, and I'm sure self-arresting would be a simple matter of making a butt-indent into the stuff or digging toes, knees, and elbows in. With the angry clouds though, and the groppel that started falling halfway down, risk management kicked in: I am more scared of being hit by lightning than walking across snow. I kicked my speed up a notch.
Finally, most of the way down the switchbacks, there was a nice wide semi-mellow chute that the switchbacks crossed a few more times below. Microburst and I took deep breaths, discussed the theory of butt-glissading, and I tucked my rain jacket into my rainpants, then we were off. It was so much fun! We went as far down as we could slide inthe mellow chute, then moved over to the steeper one. When that one leveled out, I attempted to row myself further with my ice axe. Having fun on the snow and realizing how bad one can and cannot fall and slide was a major boost. Yay!
Tao of the day (8.1):
"The highest good is like water
which benefits all things
and contends with none.
It flows in low places that others disdain
and thus is close to the Tao."
First I think of Ghandi, who was a truly good man in many ways, and how he stooped to do good in ways that others disdained. Then I think of volunteer opportunities: some just let people play while letting them feel good (Onion news article on rebuilding New Orleans after college students come destroy it in volunteer groups), others, usually much closer to home, are very helpful but unpleasant. Can a semi-high good be good too, even if it doesn't meet the standards of the highest good? What can I do as a volunteer to do the highest good? Probably something I don't want to do. How about finally helping out at a soup kitchen? Does donating blood count? A lot of people don't like it, but I'm good with needles and I really like it when they tell me I'm healthy as a horse every time they take my resting heart rate and blood pressure. If I enjoy it and get personal satisfaction out of it, am I being selfish, not selfless? What the hell am I doing hiking the PCT? This is the most ego-driven, self-centered thing I've done (and I'm having a blast).
- Typoed on my iPhone