We’re off! Setting out from Crescent Meadow, the trail climbs a gentle knoll through carpets of fern fronds shaded under giant sequoia stands. After about a mile, we emerge from the forest and hike along the open slopes, passing Eagle View Overlook. Across the valley, Cathedral Rocks provide a steady landmark throughout most of the day.
Near Panther Creek, we take our first real stop for lunch. Today’s lunch is romaine lettuce with party mix and Dubliner cheese. Mark calls these lettuce wraps. I guess that name works, although to me, lettuce wraps conjures up P.F. Chang’s tofu stir-fry with the drizzling mixture of soy sauce, chili, and mustard.
At this point, Mickey asks Mark, pointing to me, “So, do you call still call him Dr. Wongworawat when out here?”
“I told him to call me ‘Danny,’” I interrupt.
But for nearly the rest of the trip, perhaps out of awkward deference, Mark simply avoids addressing me altogether. Instead, it’s, “Um, would you like another lettuce wrap?”
In the cool shade around Mehrten Creek, we stop for much longer, eating more lunch and getting water. “Um, do you need more water?” Mark uses his SteriPen for the first time here. It takes much less effort than filtering water. Meanwhile, Wayne and Mickey decide to head off first. The trail, overall being level but actually rising and falling hundreds of feet like an undulating ribbon, cuts across steep granite sheets. Much of this section is exposed.
By the time we arrive at Buck Creek, Wayne and Mickey had already scouted out camping spots. The sites are tightly spaced, and there is one spot that is claimed by an unmanned tent. Mark and I find a relatively flat spot near the main trail and pitch the single-pole tent. Wayne and Mike set their own tents nearby, while Mickey, as he will be doing for the rest of the trip, rolls out his ground cloth to bivvy under the stars. They both ask me how the homemade tent came to be. Mickey wants to see if there are mesh pockets to hold loose objects. Mike finds his own spot near the fire pit.
Buck Creek is cold, and some of us bathe in its flowing waters. Mark gets out his fishing pole but catches nothing. Even if he did, certain fishes are protected here.
I get dinner going. For tonight, we have our fresh head of cabbage and chili peppers cooked in red curry over rice. Before the trip, Mark and I had decided to partner up for meals; otherwise, everyone is pretty much on their own. Even without fresh fish, there’s something luxurious about a cold bath and now steaming curry while sitting on broad granite slabs. The only thing missing is the pink bucket to do dishes in, but we manage.
Across the bridge, I find a large piece of downed wood that I haul back for burning. Looking down Buck Creek’s drainage, I glimpse the waxing crescent moon rising over the clear southern sky. As cold air flows down the slopes along this basin, the warm fire feels amazing.