I opened my eyes and looked out the side of the tent. Frost on the grass. I turned my head and looked at my socks, where I'd laid them out to dry overnight (hiking through snow yesterday had soaked my shoes and socks). Frost. I picked one up. Frozen solid. Aw, crap...
Rather than change back into my hiking socks, I left my sleeping socks on. I crunchily forced my way into my still-frozen shoes, feeling them thaw, then soak my sleeping socks as they melted. I piled on just about all the clothes I had and started tearing down the tent, which, like everything else, was covered in frost. By the time I was done, my "waterproof" gloves had soaked through. I switched to my mittens, not because I needed the warmth, but because at least they were dry. Headed down the trail.
It was a bright, sunny day, but it would be about an hour of hiking before the sun made it over the mountains and started shining down in the valley. Only about five minutes after I started hiking, I noticed there wasn't any frost on the grass. So if I'd hiked an extra five minutes yesterday, I would've made it to a low enough elevation to miss out on freezing temperatures? I dunno if that was true or not, but since it was only 7:30 and the sun wasn't out yet, it seemed possible that was the case, rather than the frost had melted in the last five minutes. A frustrating thought. But at least the view was nice.
Once in the sunlight, I shed most of my layers, keeping on a sleeveless base layer, a wool T-shirt, and some arm warmers. Had there not been a lot of trees, keeping me in the shade most of the time, I probably would've gone down to just the T-shirt. All descending, until I crossed one of the flimsiest bridges I've ever seen.
Even walking gingerly, it swayed like crazy. But I wasn't so much worried about the cables snapping as I was about the wood planks breaking out from under me. They were noticeably creaking and cracking, and I'm not even a big guy.
From here on out, ups and downs as I followed the river. More downs than ups, but the trail did its share of meandering and rolling. Saw a handful of people coming the other way. A few of them were carrying fishing poles. Most of them asked about Glen Pass.
It was only 11:00 when I was halfway back to the car. I hadn't planned on finishing the loop until tomorrow, probably around dinnertime, and here I was on pace to finish it a day early, in mid-afternoon. I crossed another river and found myself at Upper Paradise Valley. If I wanted to camp out tonight, I would have to pick a spot in the next three miles.
Paradise Valley has three designated camping areas, and each time I passed one, there were people still at their campsite, after 11:00 in the morning. Seriously, what do they do all day? Just after noon, I was at Lower Paradise Valley. Camp here? Nahhhh. What am I gonna do for the next eight hours until it gets dark? I considered stopping for lunch, but I remembered that there was a waterfall about a mile and a half up ahead. Sounded like a good spot for lunch, in my last few miles, have a minute to myself, enjoy the view of the waterfall, and take it all in before I head out.
Looking at the map, I'd had the notion that the waterfall was from a different river than the one I was following. On the left was a nearly-vertical rock face, and the map showed water somehow coming down it. Meanwhile, the river I was following had a little whitewater, but was relatively flat, though it did have a fairly high volume. Then the terrain changed and I started wondering if the waterfall might actually be on this river after all.
Arriving at the waterfall, it was clear that I wasn't stopping at the top of the falls for lunch. So. Many. People. If I wanted to hang out somewhere with this many people, I wouldn't've gone to the Sierras. And since we were only 4.5 miles from the trailhead, that's day hike range for a lot of people. That meant large families. Loud, obnoxious city-dwellers. Kids! The horror.
"Nope," I thought to myself, and kept walking.
There were a lot less people at the lower falls, probably since you had to scramble off the trail a little bit to get to where you could see them. Not a bad spot for lunch. I had to wait in line after a couple groups to get a picture without people in it.
I found a nice, shady spot at the base of the falls and started setting up for lunch. It was then that one of the photo groups, about seven strong, decided to come stand about ten feet away from me for no particular reason, and talk. And talk. And talk. And talk. Why did they have to stand and talk here, while I'm trying to enjoy a lunch by myself? Why couldn't they start down the trail and talk there, or, I dunno anywhere but ten feet from a stranger? Especially when I clearly set up away from everyone else. <long sigh> I think some people don't get that there are different rules of etiquette when you're not in an urban setting, when serenity is a viable option.
Bounded down the last 4.5 miles. After seeing people about once every three hours for the last day and a half, I was now seeing people about once every 30 seconds. Must be a popular day hike. Most people were polite. Some weren't (sat down for a water break in the middle of the trail, made no attempt to get out of the way). I figured it would get even more crowded when I made it to the junction that closed the loop, but just the opposite happened. Weird. The last two miles were very quiet and uneventful. Somehow, from two nights ago, I didn't remember this part of the trail going on for so long, nor did I remember the trail being that sandy.
Made it back to the car at 3:00. I'd get home in daylight. A nice, long drive back, followed up with meeting Ruben's parents, visiting from Pennsylvania, and I even got treated to pie.
So I'd set off with the goal of cramming what's usually a four-day hike into three days, and I wound up finishing in two. 45 miles in 44 hours. I guess I forgot that I make good time when I'm on my own. Still, I was moving at a slower pace than I did on the AT and PCT (at least most of the time). Probably coulda ditched some of the gear I brought, but oh well. Next time, maybe.
Can't decide if I should do another backpacking trip for the Fourth of July, or a short bike tour. We'll see.