September 15 (~08:00 – ~18:20)
Cottonwood Pass – after Gomez Meadow (22.3 mi / Total: 727.9 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2627.2
Weather: Cold morning. Overcast during the day, sunny, with some wind. Good hiking temperature. Some strange grey clouds in the afternoon that disappear with the wind. Colder again at night.
It’s cold again, and everything is slow when I get up. It doesn’t matter. These are my last few days on trail, and they’re easy days. Once I get going I immediately notice my leg barely hurts. What a relief. It stays the same throughout the day, and it makes such a difference.
The scenery is much the same as yesterday. I go up and down in forests of trees and rocks that look like stacked cookies, but today I can see Mt Whitney in the distance, and she stays with me for most of the day, peeking out over and over again. I think about how my expectations for this stretch were so different. I thought that without the mountain passes I would be left frolicking around alpine lakes, and I would enjoy the same landscapes I had these last weeks, just without the elevation change. I thought I would be enjoying a little holiday before the very end, but the scenery has changed, it’s nothing like it was anymore. Even the weather’s different, it’s overcast most of the day. If it wasn’t for the pain in my leg I could’ve sped up these last few days and made it to Kennedy Meadows sooner, but it’s a loss now – I guess it doesn’t matter anymore anyways.
Instead it’s a relaxing day without the pain, and there’s just one thing that stands out – the views across the valley, where I can see plumes of smoke rise from several spots. Wildfires. I didn’t know there were wildfires around here. Are these new, or old? I don’t see any helicopters, and I wonder when this started. Now and again I can smell the smoke, the strong wind carrying it towards me.
In the afternoon I break to a high point and I get the first views across to the east, featuring Owens Valley, all pale and desert like, and I watch the road, the 395 that follows the desert floor and bypasses the entire Sierra Nevada in the far distance. The road I hitched up months ago, to get around the snow. Soon I’ll be down there again, in that different world.
I walk a little longer, down the hill, to a hidden spot in between the rocks. It’s still quite early, but I’ve walked enough. This is my last real campsite on the PCT. I set up and listen to the wind howl, the light change, the fabric of my tent crackle.