[Now begin the reconstructions—without cell service, I stopped writing posts after the third day.]
After a fairly good night (despite having passed up the site I was looking for due to my lack of navigational skills), I moved along on this fourth day. The valley wended down past the Florence Lake Trail (which a few other hikers were headed out on), drawing up beside the South Fork San Joaquin River. I stopped early in the day by this, the largest river I’d come across, to rest on the rocks and wash whatever dirt I could off my legs. (I had done this a couple of other times, always an exciting event in the icy streams of the Sierra. I invented many a new and amusing curse phrase in the process.) Listening to the river roar past (even in this low-water year), resting in the shade, I thought that if I had to put up a cabin in the woods, this would be the spot. (Later in the day, I found an actual cabin.)
The trail wound through a lot of flats and drops, always opening onto more spectacular scenes—I almost started to resent every new panorama, since I felt compelled to stop and take a few high-definition photos every single time I saw one, which put a hitch in my pace. I started passing through broad meadows, but because of the drought, they were often only green-centered, with huge swaths of browning plants and dry creek beds beyond the main waterways. At Evolution Meadow I started catching sight of Evolution Creek, which would be my companion for the next couple of days.
By evening, I had reached McClure Meadow, which was the most glorious sight I’d yet seen. The sunset lit the expanse with warm gold; hillsides festooned with huge pines rose on all sides, and the granite peaks, majestic but often rather sere up close, towered in the distance. A small ranger’s cabin equipped with solar panels and a great fire pit stood hard on the meadow’s edge. In fact, the cabin got me in a bit of trouble: the PCT guide suggested that there were many good camping spots “around” the cabin, and seeing large expanses of flat, dry ground around it, I dropped my gear and started making camp for the night, since the ranger was out on patrol in the next valley. But then the ranger returned and let me know in rather decisive tones that the aforementioned camping spots were “around” the cabin in a much broader sense, and that hikers sleeping near the edifice were not particularly welcome. So everything went back into the pack and I trundled a hundred yards down to a more acceptable (and no less lovely) spot.
This night also started a turn in my fortunes. I met a nice couple camping nearby who were talking about their plans and who passed along the ranger’s warning that the following days might bring a change of weather—including the possibility of some significant snow. I hadn’t had any cell service for several days, so I hadn’t known of any changes. Being the alarmist person I am, and knowing that I could handle some inclement weather but wasn’t prepared to sit through a major storm, I started plotting where I might head off the trail a bit earlier than planned. After a great deal of mental anguish and prayer, I decided to try for Bishop’s Pass, seventeen miles south, and to get there as soon as possible. (Since the pass was over 12,000 feet and the weather was supposed to come in within a couple of days, I wanted to be over and out before anything started dropping.) As my longest day so far had been about 13 miles and I had Muir Pass to get over, I was daunted, but I imagined I had little choice. At least the sleep that night was a good one.