Day 2.55-58: The Trail Relents

Kennedy Meadows North – South Lake Tahoe
Mile 1016.9 – Mile 1090.7

Less elevation and less snow northward!

“Congratulations! You made it through the grinder”, exclaimed our waitress at the restaurant in Kennedy Meadows. She was referring to trail knowledge she’d gathered from previous years’ PCT hikers. I was having breakfast Monday morning with HardWay, a 28 year old financial adviser from Chicago, on his way to NYU’s MBA program mid-August, and one of the handful of hikers I’d seen on and off through the Sierra. He and I had tried to hitch back up to Sonora Pass late Sunday afternoon but to no avail. Without any Wi-Fi or cellular service, the main attractions of Kennedy Meadows were the fresh food and the opportunity to jettison our unwieldy bear cans.
Failing to get back to the trail Sunday night, we did what any other self respecting hikers would do, we went back to eat some more. After dinner we stealth camped in the woods across the road and hoped for better luck hitching Monday morning. Alas not. So it was back to the restaurant for breakfast where fortunately our kindly waitress referred us to Mike, a retiree living at the campground who provides rides back up the hill for a nominal fee.

Stunning volcanic rocks of Mokelumne Wilderness

The PCT joins the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT)

Again frustrated by my own unfounded expectations of what I’d find at Kennedy Meadows, I was eager to be on my way. Three days or so would see me to South Lake Tahoe where I knew for certain I could reconnect with civilization.

The trail goes where?

Ah, cruiser trail!

I was also sensing the trail starting to ease a bit with gradually lower elevation and by slow degrees, less snow travel. Having to make a decision of where to place every footfall grows tedious in a hurry. The change did not happen quickly or completely but I began to notice more what I came to think of as ‘cruiser trail’ versus crummy route finding through snow. As a result, I noticed my daily mileage start to creep back up and with it, my sense of forward progress.

I spy Darwin on the trail, can you?

On the second and third day I played leap frog with another hiker named Darwin. I came to learn that he has about 100k(!) followers on his YouTube channel and enjoys a bit of celebrity at least in the hiker community. One of those followers apparently tracked him closely enough to rendezvous with him at Carson Pass bearing gifts of food. For myself, I was surprised and delighted to find Forest Service volunteers also at Carson Pass handing out drinks and snacks. It turns out that trail magic and road crossings are highly correlated so I’m thrilled to know I’ve returned to where such roads are possible.

Trail magic at Carson Pass

I camped just a few miles shy of Highway 50 where I could see the lights of South Lake Tahoe’s airport down through the trees. For the first time in many days I also had two bars of LTE service with AT&T which meant I could finally connect again with family/friends and update this blog!

Patterns in bark

Snow plants are way better than snow

The next morning I caught an easy hitch into town from Ewok( a former Appalachian Trail hiker) and his girlfriend Okra. I spent the day consuming mass calories, resupplying food, doing much needed laundry, getting some new shoes, calling people, and even relaxing a bit. South Lake Tahoe shines as a magnificent destination for all things outdoors. I wish I could have gotten an unlikely picture of me buzzing around town on one of the many Lime electric scooters. Scraggly backpacker meets modern technology was a sight to behold I’m sure. I wonder if they make an offroad version? Now that would be some cruiser trail!

Round one

After 1100 miles, Daddy needed a new pair of shoes! My Merrel Moab Ventilators performed remarkably well.

Day 2.47-54: The Company You Keep

Vermillion Valley Resort to Kennedy Meadows North
Mile 878.8 – Mile 1016.9

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments” The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Spectacular solitude

The quote above comes from a poem I read to Katrina when I asked her to marry me. Emotions running high, heart racing, I could scarcely finish the recital that fateful night but the words have remained lodged in my memory and resurface on occasion. Poor woman had no idea what lay in store for her and with regard to the trail after VVR, neither did I. When I set off for another 8 day stint, destination Kennedy Meadows North, I did not comprehend the remoteness, the isolation, and the challenge of the week ahead.

Sisyphus getting coffee

Around 9am Sunday morning, Ray, VVR’s boat captain extraordinaire, shuttled both Hershey and I back across Lake Edison to the trailhead at Mono Creek. Hershey, a 24 year old on his way up to Bend, OR for a new job, was on a solo mission to meet up with his friend Nightingale in Mammoth the next night. As the last leg of his section hike, Hershey meant to tackle Silver Pass that afternoon regardless of any soft snow. As for me, I was less than gung-ho for that particular brand of misery and since, oddly enough, the eastern end of the lake somehow had cellular service, I dawdled away the morning posting the last blog entry and calling people.
I only had to make ~6 miles that afternoon to get in position for Silver Pass the next morning. After Hershey took off, I saw no one all day and walked until the snow covered trail became drudgery. I made camp amid stunning scenery and enjoyed the solitude that evening.

The PCT and JMT share ~170 miles

I had hoped Silver Pass, at 10,779 feet, would be less snowbound than some of higher passes behind me but alas not. Fortunately I started early enough to avoid most of the spectacular post-holing that marked Hershey’s passage the day before. Some of the deeper ones looked positively life ending or at least future life limiting. Eventually I made it down below the snow line and the trail reappeared making progress much easier. Visions of cold beer and fresh food propelled me toward Reds Meadow Resort, a rustic horse camp to the west of Mammoth Mountain ski area.
It was around 4:30pm, when, after seeing nary a soul for 30+ hours, another hiker materialized ahead at a creek crossing. She was hiking the John Muir Trail headed southbound so after a quick quiz about the snow conditions on Silver Pass, she set off and I was back to my lonesome.

Ho hum lunchtime view

As much as I try to rein in my expectations of places, I failed to consider that Reds Meadow Resort might not yet be open for the season. Salivation became chagrin as I arrived at the eerily deserted camp. Boarded up cabins and disused facilities greeted my arrival and I had the whole place to myself. To be honest, staying there that night was Stephen King creepy but I escaped unharmed.

Something I’d hope to see

The next day promised a visit through Devil’s Postpile National Monument. I had visited it virtually countless times with my buddy Brad on the fancy treadmills at the Pro Club. You would expect one of America’s premier scenic trails running through a national monument would be routed to offer a view of said monument. You would be wrong. When I discovered the flaw in my expectations, I lacked the drive to backtrack. I soon forgot my disappointment however when I came upon the beautiful Minaret Falls. It’s generous cascades of water made for a tricky, wet, and all together frigid crossing. As I was attempting to dry and warm myself in a small patch of morning sun, lo and behold, three PCT hikers cruised on by seemingly careless of their cold wet shoes. I took it as a good sign that others were northbound from Mammoth, a popular hiker town that I skipped since I was already well supplied.

Minaret Falls in morning

My objective for the day was to get in position for Donahue Pass, the last pass over 11,000 feet. At only 10,226 feet, I had hoped Island Pass, 5 miles beforehand would be manageable. Nope. Soft snow stopped me just after Thousand Island Lake well short of Island Pass but the setting for my camp that night stands out as one of the most spectacular yet.

Thousand Island Lake though I only counted 17

I resigned myself to what I hoped would be my last oh dark thirty wake up. The next morning I began climbing around 4am and the snow mostly cooperated, being firm enough to walk upon rather than within. After struggling a bit to find the trail, plain determination eventually saw me up and over both Island and Donahue making it my unlooked for two pass day.

Looking down into lovely Lyell Canyon

The top of Donahue marks entry into Yosemite National Park. Looking down I could see the beautiful, glacially carved Lyell Canyon stretching its way some 10 miles north to Tuolumne Meadows. Though mud bound and still very soggy, the trail down through those meadows flew by with one idyllic scene after another.

Meadow view looking north

Must be getting close to the visitor center

As a kid I remember always watching for the gleam and flash of parked cars through the trees at the end of a hike because it meant the trip was complete. Arriving in Tuolumne Meadows, I felt the same excitement glimpsing shiny signs of civilization though, truth be told, this time may have been the promise of beer. I headed straight to the general store to find it abuzz with activity but unfortunately of the laying in new stock, ‘we open in two days’ variety. Mistaken expectations let me down again. Starved for social interaction I hung out at the store regardless swapping trail stories with a delivery guy and chatting up the driver of a beautiful new Sprinter van.

Crossing at Lembert Dome

Already having had a long day, I ventured across Highway 120, the first paved road in ~240 miles of PCT(!) and wandered just far enough to stealth camp away from the early season tourists. Next up was Benson Pass, the last pass above 10,000 feet but first I was treated to a spectacular morning walking past Tuolumne Falls and through Glen Aulin. The high backcountry of Yosemite holds every bit of the magic associated with the more frequented sights down in the valley.

Tuolumne Falls flowing well

In another rude reminder that map truth and physical reality often diverge, I was treated to my first of many Yosemite creek crossings that required fording. Walking in wet shoes became the norm. I did my best to dry and change socks often enough to prevent trench foot but the whole process took time. The upshot was just because Benson Pass appeared reachable according to mileage, the many water crossings in between made it unlikely and I camped short.

View from Benson Pass

The next morning as I was slogging down the north side of Benson Pass alone, wondering just when exactly I would again enjoy an easy trail day, behind me appeared Sunshine! I met him and his hiking buddy, Wifey, way back on the climb up Pinchot Pass. Sunshine, a graduate student from Sweden (and 24 years old just like everyone else), reminds me so much of my youngest son Keegan that my mood immediately shifted to happiness. Tall, lanky, with long hair, a quick smile and bright spirit, Sunshine even displays what I had thought was Keegan’s patented ‘lope speed’. Long legs and easy manner belie just how fast that kid can move down the trail. Even such brief encounters helped keep my spirits up after so much solitude.

Sunshine on the trail, literally and figuratively

After descending Benson, more deep, wide fords awaited at Piute Creek. Slow moving water made the experience more uncomfortable than dangerous though let’s just say that I’m glad I have already had all my children.

Wilmer Lake reflection

The PCT in this part of Yosemite goes from ridge to canyon back to ridge making for arduous days. Going over Seavey Pass the next day before descending down along the infamous Rancheria Creek proved difficult. Then it was back up and over another steep ridge only to descend once again to ford the creek in Stubblefied Canyon. I recall seeing video of groups crossing here last year, all but swimming in neck deep water, so getting across at mid-thigh felt fortuitous.

High meadow

On the second to last day, just as I began to believe progress would become easier, I encountered the cleverly named Wide Creek. In retrospect I should have just done the waist deep, slow moving ford at the trail crossing. Instead I headed upstream hoping to find something better. I eventually found a wet foot rock hop that got me 80% of the way across but was left with a waist deep crossing of swifter water than at the trail. Note to self: A pocket full of Jolly Ranchers is much nicer before submersion.

Trail through a waterfall

After drying a bit in the sun and changing what clothes I could, I headed up toward Dorothy Lake Pass. Mosquitoes had started to make their appearance and I much preferred the slow, stupid 9000 foot variety to the sub 8000 foot fast moving swarms. Unfortunately I was still relatively low and walking through more sodden meadows. Just as the fierce little buggers were starting to attack in earnest, Momma stepped in and dialed up the wind machine effectively canceling all flight ops for the day.

Woot!

At 3:19pm on Saturday June 9th, I arrived at the 1000 mile mark. I say if you are going to have an arbitrary celebration at a nondescript location in the woods, at least make it sound important. I imagined Dave, my brother, trail conscious and most stalwart supporter, cracking a cold IPA back home to mark the occasion. As for me, I had the ahi jerky and found it superb.

Changing trail

The geology of the trail changed markedly the last day into Sonora Pass becoming volcanic shale versus obdurate granite. I happened upon Nightingale on the way up one of the snowbound ridges and the poor guy told me he had lost his sunglasses. My heart went out to him as we had significant traverses of steep snow ahead and the glare would be blinding. Apparently the invincibility of youth carried the day and I lucked into a ride down to Kennedy Meadows from Momma Nightingale who was meeting him at the pass.

High highway

Beyond the demands of the trail itself, I felt very disconnected and unplugged from all that I hold dear back home. There were certainly other people out there but I’d guess maybe I had a total of two hours of social interaction for the week. Coming on the heels of my last jaunt, I look forward to having the long, remote stretches behind me now. My hiker battery, aka belly fat, has also been depleted so large quantities of fresh food will nourish me too.

I did in fact emerge from my granite cloister still on speaking terms with myself so I suppose that means the company was at least decent.

Day 2.36-46: The Three Horsemen

Kennedy Meadows to Vermillion Valley Resort
Mile 702.4 – Mile 878.8

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, or FUD as we called it in the software industry, loom large when considering any major undertaking. The marketing teams I was involved with would of course never employ such tactics to stymie a competitor but markets react predictably as do the humans that compromise them. Given free rein, these three horsemen of inaction create any number of reasons to not move forward whatever the decision.

So when I declared that I was going to again attempt this 10 day, 176 mile segment through the remote High Sierra with no resupply, my internal FUD stampeded wildly. “This is where you stopped last year. What will the weather be? How about the snowpack? Do you have everything you need? Can you really do this? Do you want to? People died here last year. What if you get hurt? No network access? …” I could continue but you get the idea. My little horsemen produced new protests constantly. When faced with challenges that threaten to daunt and overwhelm, I discovered that simply just doing the next small thing followed by the next hobbles my internal FUD.

Launching point for Southern Sierra

I had no problem spending a relaxing day in Kennedy Meadows hanging out at Grumpy Bear’s, ordering food and drink like a teenage boy (they didn’t even card me!) There were many hikers milling about catching up, telling stories, making plans, swapping FUD, but mostly just enjoying each other’s company. The hiker community ebbs and flows so interestingly and you just never know where or when you will see someone again. For example, I met NoNo sitting at the bar that day at Grumpy Bear’s and saw her next on the summit of Mt Whitney, at 5:30am no less. While I was sitting there catching up and meeting new folks, I watched the UPS guy carry in my big resupply box from my truest angels back home.
“Uh oh”, I thought, the box said it weighed 36 pounds as I casually tried to heft it over from the bartender. To be fair it was not all food that I had to carry. Along with the required bear can were my micro spikes for steep snow, mosquito net, toiletries, yummy home baked banana bread from Anne, and even sweeter notes. Even so, getting everything into my pack proved quite a challenge and resulted in an unwieldy monster I didn’t have the guts to weigh.

Glamour shot of the beast in a meadow

The only thing to do next was shoulder that beast and set off early. I told myself it would only get lighter as I ate my way through all that food. I made good progress those first two days, steadily gaining elevation, and even managing a single bar of cell service at Cottonwood Pass, the one oasis of connectivity I remembered from last year. It would also be my last for the next 8 days.

Chicken Spring Lake

Entering Kings Canyon

Just after Cottonwood Pass, the PCT enters Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. With names like ‘The Hermit’, ‘The Citadel’, ‘Dragon Peak’, and my favorite ‘Wotan’s Throne’, the austere majesty of the High Sierra makes an indelible impression and passage through feels like a revocable privilege.

Blissful, barefoot crossing of Whitney Creek

On the third day out I made my way to Crabtree Meadows, the launching point for a side attempt to summit Mt Whitney. At 14,495 feet, Mt Whitney’s summit marks the highest point in the lower 48 states. After making camp and trying to sleep well before sundown, it was just barely the next day when I set off around 1 am. Without my food and other unneeded equipment, my pack felt nonexistent as I picked my way up the trail using my headlamp in the clear cold night. Employing more of her clout upstairs, Momma hung me an all but full moon that reflected an ethereal glow off the surrounding snowbound peaks.

Timberline Lake in moonlight

Summit plaque

Completed in 1930 and marking the southern end of the exquisite John Muir Trail (JMT), the remarkable steep trail sports breathtaking exposure that thankfully became more evident only on the way down after sunrise. I arrived at the bitterly cold and windy summit around 5:30 just as the sun was trying to break through the boiling mass of eastern clouds. After some quick photos and shared congratulations with the handful of other hikers, I wasted no time boogieing my way back down before the mountain weather gods noticed interlopers in their midst.

Top of world Momma!

Good morning Whitney

Eastern exposure

Timberline Lake in morning

It made for a very long day but once down, I packed up and set off to see if I could get in position to get over Forester Pass the next morning. Wallace, Wright, and Tyndall Creeks lay between me and that goal. Those names have haunted me since last year when the water levels running dangerously high during my visit. Crossing Wright Creek in particular took me the better part of a day, miles of hiking upstream, and some clenching moments. This year I crossed Wright dry about 50 yards upstream hopping rocks and logs. What a difference a year makes!

Snowless Bighorn Plateau
In what would become the pattern for the days ahead, I got underway at oh dark thirty to go high, get over the pass, and down the other side while the snowpack remained firm.

Forester switchbacks

Top of the PCT

Early morning success

At 13,200, Forester Pass marks the highest point on the PCT and I enjoyed having it all to myself in the dazzling early light. By the way, if you have Facebook, you can see 360 degree photos from both Whitney and Forester here. I now have about 130 video highlights that, fingers crossed, can become a PCT VR experience after I return home. Just like being there without the cold, the walking, the early wake ups,the pack weight, …

Mile 788 was notable because it was the first new mile for me after having exited over Kearsarge Pass last year at mile 787. My FUD rodeo kicked back into high gear and I found it difficult to bypass the known comforts of Bishop, CA for the uncertainty of what lay ahead. The only thing to do was the next thing and that was to get in position for Glen Pass, wake up early and start climbing though this day a surprise awaited me. In another most unlikely coincidence, at the top of Glen Pass, I hear someone call “AppleJack?” Turning, I see Tumnus née Sinatra from last year! He must be all of 20 years old now but I remember him well. He’s from Portland, likes to sing on trail, and was the photographer behind the dubiously popular ‘International Hike Naked Day’ picture last year. We had fun catching up at almost 12,000 feet.

Tumnus and AppleJack reunited

Gorgeous Upper Rae Lake

Trail wisdom suggests rising early, tackling one pass per day, and stopping when postholing in soft snow becomes the only way forward. I am convinced that most anyone exposed to both experiences would quickly forgo an hour of sleep rather than endure even 15 minutes of sinking thigh deep with every step.

Woods Creek Waterslide

Pinchot Pass on day six followed the pattern without incident and given its relative proximity to the next pass, Mather, separated by *only* 10 miles, it appeared that a 2 pass day might be possible. Uh no. I have come to learn that studying maps and actually traveling the miles can contrast greatly.

Ascending Pinchot Pass

Case in point, I was game to see if Mather was doable the same day as Pinchot so I proceeded up into the Upper Basin that guards Mather’s southern approach. Below about 10,000 feet the trail was mostly bare rocks and dirt. The higher I went snowmelt did its best to obey gravity and find the path of least resistance down, that being the trail more often than not. Hiking up in such conditions becomes a tedious side to side rock hop in a futile attempt to keep feet dry. I’m not entirely sure how it happened but I think my boot slipped off a rock at the same time as my trekking pole skittered off its intended spot. The result was a hard tumble into the rocky trail creek. I wrenched my left wrist, bruised a rib, and arose with wet feet and pants. Only close to midday, soft snow ahead halted further progress in any case so I found a last patch of dirt and spent the afternoon in my tent. Conditions were prime for another FUD stampede. As I baked in my tent become reflector oven, there was at least plenty of snow to ice my swelling wrist and plenty of time to consider what to do next. Make dinner emerged as the next thing.

Approaching Mather

Melting patterns on Palisade Lake

I found Mather Pass the most challenging with its long snowbound approach and difficult route finding on the way down back to dirt. The next pass, Muir, seemed to take forever to ascend with several false summits but finally I spied the chimney of the famous Muir Hut appear over the ridge ahead. It took another 7 miles or so of snow travel to get back under 11,000 feet and blessed dry trail.

Muir Hut money shot

After Muir Pass the PCT enters Evolution Valley where resides, not surprisingly, the infamous Evolution Creek which must be crossed. In high water years slogging through an alternate high meadow makes passage possible but I decided to try the ford. Crossing solo is not ideal and that first step took some gumption but it was the next thing and so I went. Thankfully the water never rose much above my knees and soon the ~30 yard crossing lay behind me.

Sometimes blessed technology appears

One of the last challenges was the distance to the last pass, Selden. It was too far to get close after Muir so I decided one more early morning would have to suffice, hoping I’d get over before the snow softened. Walking with a headlamp in the predawn, I somehow missed a trail junction adding an extra 4 miles and killing any early advantage I’d hoped to gain. Grumpy Bear does not begin to describe my mood at that moment. Once again Momma stepped in and ensured a good overnight freeze at about 10,000 feet so I escaped over Selden and down by 11am with only a score of bad postholes.

I had not known it when I set off but day 10 was also June 1st, the opening day for ferry service to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). The race was on to make the 4:45 departure but I missed it by about 15 minutes. No matter, I had enough food so I just camped near the dock and spent a pleasant evening knowing that I could catch the 9:45 run the next morning. I luxuriated in a leisurely morning watching early fishermen ply their trade.

Crossing Edison Lake

I will take a day off at VVR, resupply, take a much needed shower with soap and shampoo, do laundry, and plan my next leg. The trio of horsemen don’t have much to say on such days. I am satisfied.

Mission accomplished

Let the horses run as they may, I’m on to the next thing.

Day 2.29-35: Learning To Fly

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows
Mile 566.4 – Mile 702.4

“A soul in tension that’s learning to fly, condition grounded but determined to try” –Pink Floyd

The segment of the PCT between Tehachapi and Kennedy Meadows presents hikers with a final exam of sorts before entering the Sierra. The trail runs some 136 miles through remote hills and desert with no nearby towns, scant network coverage, and the scarcest water of the entire trail. Most people plan to tackle it without resupply which means carrying a week’s worth of food for the first time.

Many calories crammed here before the test

So it was with a heavy pack that I prepared to leave the comforts of Tehachapi. As my luck would have it, I ran into MudFoots, SafetyChute, YourHighness, and MilkShake all gorging themselves at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. MudFoots was giving MilkShake a ride back to the trailhead and offered me a ride too. I powered through an embarrassing amount of food and we were soon on our way back to the trail.
I was not looking forward to the climb that starts immediately after the trail crosses Highway 58 but falling into step with MilkShake, we proceeded to have the most uplifting conversation! She graduated from Missouri State two years ago, had never been further west than Texas, works with troubled teens, and hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound last year. Between all the shared stories and her way of speaking that reminded me of my Kayla Bear, the uphill failed to register as hardship.

Tilting at more windmills

Itend to eat on the go so after MilkShake stopped for lunch, I was back to my lonesome for the walk to first water source, Golden Oak Spring roughly 12 miles ahead.
As I have started to do whenever possible, I loaded up with extra water for my camp shower and continued on several more miles before stopping for the night amid yet another wind farm. By now, making and breaking camp have become second nature and I enjoy the efficient routine of it all. An economy of motion with everything in its place and all tasks completed in turn satisfies me. Having everything I need to be safe and comfortable (and nothing more) provides a sense of well-being. Life has become very simple.

Tent life selfie by request

Easy to remember these

Clouds obscured most of the next morning and I was challenged again to remember the trail I had walked less than a year ago. I recalled bits and pieces, the 600 mile mark, where Santa’s Helper was doing magic, the stream where I collected water, where I camped, but last year’s heat must have addled me a bit because other parts were vague at best. The relative cool weather has held and I was able to cruise through what can be very challenging piece of trail though I went a good 24+ hours without seeing another soul.

Peaceful solitudeThe only instruction, follow these

A month in to my hike I have also noticed the sun rising earlier each day. My practice of rising when the sky begins to lighten means I’m walking earlier and consequently longer each day. If nothing else, it makes for good progress.
One of the last desert stretches starts with a trail register at a place called Kelso Road. I remember it well because it was there I started tracking SilverFox last year. As an early riser I am often the first to sign in the morning but suddenly there was someone named SilverFox signed there before me and a fresh set of footprints leading away. It took me a day and a half to track him down finally at the aptly named Walker Pass where he was munching gleaned bakery items someone had left for hikers. “Let me see your shoes… SilverFox I presume?” (Shout out to Campbell River, BC!)

Not much shade or water to be found

This year I wandered into a deserted Walker Pass Campground that thankfully held plenty of cached water and less exciting, a loaf of days old bread. SkunkBear and Sashay soon joined me and just as I regaling them with the tale of last year’s delicious stale donuts, a white pickup truck rolled up and we heard a friendly hail of “Anyone hungry?”

Carlos, Ann, me, and Mike

Carlos, Ann, and Mike had driven up from Bakersfield and set a new high bar when it comes to trail magic. Dropping the truck’s tailgate, a flood of deliciousness came forth- coolers full of soda and beer, chips, Mike’s homemade smoked beef with all the fixings, baked potatoes, cantaloupe, rice crispie treats, candy- it was heaven on wheels. I enjoyed visiting with them and answering questions about the trail. Carlos and Ann were making noises like they too may someday make their way to Campo for a trek north. Should that happen, they can be assured their large karmic credit balance with the hiking community will serve them well. They were anxious to meet more hikers and I assured them more were on their way. Lady MeowMeow, GoodKarma and two more angels from nearby Lake Isabella soon joined and the party was well underway with more hikers arriving by the time I said my goodbyes around noon. I had about 50 miles left in the exam, about two and a half days, that included a fair bit of up and down before I could declare Southern California complete.

Carry water! (it says below this sign)

The rewards of climbing
You can’t hear them but the wildflowers were cheering

Suffice it to say the trail asked its questions and I answered as best I could. Armed with notes cribbed from last year, Momma’s whispered help, the encouragement of the wildflowers, and a terrific run of weather, it almost felt liked cheating. I flew through the last days and landed in Kennedy Meadows.

A proctor for my examEnd of the beginning!

I plan to take a zero day to prepare and plan my return to the Sierra. After last year’s disappointment, I am super stoked to have another chance (and ‘I’m not throwin’ away my shot!’)If all goes well, the next leg will be a ~10 day jaunt, about 190 miles without resupply, and include a summit of Mount Whitney. I won’t be able to post anything for maybe two weeks so don’t be alarmed at a lack of updates. The ‘Where’s Johnny’ tracking will continue to provide real-time progress.
The Sierra are calling and I must go!

Day 2.24-28: Followed Footsteps

Agua Dulce – Tehachapi
Mile 454.4 – Mile 566.4

“I roamed and rambled, I followed my footsteps, to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts” – Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land

Unable to finish the veritable mountain of fish and chips served at the Sweetwater Bar and Grill, I threw on my pack and turned right up the street. The PCT runs smack through the center of Agua Dulce so technically, anyone who has strolled the sidewalk there can call themselves a PCT section hiker! I attempted a pace below the sweat threshold but my nice clean clothes were soon rehydrating in the warmth of late afternoon. I moseyed only about 5 miles up into the hills before camping on a small bluff overlooking a distant farm.

Following footsteps in the clouds

I was surprised to wake the next morning to moderate condensation on all my things. As the sun was preparing to makes its appearance, I set off further uphill noticing a bank of clouds rolling up the valley toward me. Little did I know then, the sun’s appearance would be canceled for the day.
I soon became engulfed in cloudy mist blowing up and over the hills and spent the day trying to remember the trail from last year. With visibility never more than a few hundred feet, all context was lost save for the familiar track of footprints and trekking pole marks leading ever onward. The day became surreal with only a few familiar landmarks flashing briefly from the clouds. A particular spring here, a shovel signpost there, the road crossing where Joel brought me doughnuts last year, all else was obscured by weather that felt more like hiking in Washington. It never really rained but enough moisture blew about to dampen everything except my spirits. I finished the day enrobed in water and had to quickly pitch camp before losing body heat.

A memorable signpost from the Boy Scouts

The next morning was a dreary exercise in donning wet clothes and stuffing wet everything else into my sodden pack. I wandered through the unseasonable cloud bank most of the second day too, fortunately with less moisture content, and passed the 500 mile mark some time after noon. Woot! Only as I was descending in late afternoon out of the hills did the sun break through and provide a chance to dry my things. As the last practical stop before the 10 mile drop down into Antelope Valley, my camp spot proved popular with Voon, Professor, Taiwan Bob, Ping, Irene, and a few others grabbing whatever flat spot they could find.

Momma’s a 500 miler!

Camping below the roiling clouds

Mother’s Day dawned in brilliant blue majesty with hundred mile views out into the Mojave Desert from our hillside camp. An easy walk down soon had me back in HikerTown, a quirky, dusty stop for most hikers, full of derelict vehicles and miniaturized facades of an Old West town. Conventional wisdom says cool your heels in HikerTown through the heat of the day and only then set off for the 17 mile waterless jaunt along the California Aqueduct. Most people attempt it only at night. Indeed I remember last year stripped to my skivvies laid out behind the ‘saloon’ trying to beat the heat before setting off some time after 6pm.

Roaming and rambling

But did I mention it was Mothers Day? This time around it was in the mid 70’s under a bright blue sky…at noon…with a tailwind. The invitation from above did not fail to register and I set out just after noon. I somehow missed the same turn I missed last year, though in broad daylight this time, but already wary, was quickly able to course correct. It turns out the sign there has gone for a wander of its own. In any case, I arrived at the Cottonwood Creek Bridge (and more importantly the faucet tapping the aqueduct) before the sun had set. I pitched my tent, took my camp shower, made dinner, and enjoyed my providential evening.

The armies of Joshua have the technology surrounded

Beautiful Tylerhorse Canyon

Benign weather only enhances the privilege I feel for being out here. The pleasant contrast with last year’s extreme heat and wind made the climb up through the giant wind farm a relative joy. I smiled and shook my head as I passed the low scrub juniper bush I had huddled under last year for its scant shade. At the most unlikely mile 549.5 way-station- chairs, water, shade, fresh fruit(!), all seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I met up with another group of hikers. MilkShake, Mantis, ChillBill, Bohica and his son Mustang (14 years old!) had been hiking together since Warner Springs. MilkShake, who hiked the Appalachian Trail last) mentioned she had hiker friends waiting for her at the road crossing 8 miles ahead.

Looking east towards Mojave and Edwards Air Force Base

Profuse wildflowers blooming

Sure enough, when we got there MudFoots, SafetyChute, and YourHighness were there set up with hot dogs, doughnuts, sodas, and my favorite, cold beer. Note, these were not trail angels. These were current thru hikers that have already made it to Kennedy Meadows at mile 702 and who had backtracked to support the community. They are taking some time out to allow the Sierra to melt out and having fun doing it. Somewhere in the clouds I had also enjoyed a beer with Yankee, a CPA from Boston and also a current thru hiker, who had already made it over Forrester Pass and was taking two weeks to allow more snow to melt before resuming. He had visited Las Vegas, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and was now back doing trail magic for his fellow hikers. I love how the trail’s bounty folds back on itself. Should you ever doubt the essential goodness of humanity, I’d suggest try hiking.

SafetyChute, Bohica, MudFoots, Macro, and MilkShake doing and receiving magic

Momma already knows the way home

A short 8 miles through yet another wind farm saw me to the junction with Highway 58 leading to Tehachapi. I walked the last few miles with Yoda, a guide from Flagstaff, AZ who has been waiting 35 years for his chance at the PCT. We compared notes and laughed about my ice cube story from last year. What a difference a year makes!
Today marks the end on my first 4 weeks and I’m celebrating with laundry, a shower, fresh food, and cotton sheets in beautiful Tehachapi, CA. Cheers!

My Ultimate Angel

In loving memory of Patricia Rose Betz, August 1, 1942 – December 29, 2017

Still on the job

With her new vantage and clout among the other angels, Momma has eased my way this year. A sprinkle of trail magic here, a dash of cool weather there, I can’t imagine a better beginning. She doesn’t even need to worry the GPS tracking, she need just look down. 😇

So here’s to Momma and all the other fabulous mothers in my life: Katrina, Beth, Kathryn, Ellen, Caroline, Karen, Joanne, Lisa, Robin, Annie, Jen, Heather, Liz, Sonjia, Sue, Madeleine, Bev, Chris, Heidi, MaryJo, Michelle, Suzanne, Beth, Linda, and mothers everywhere.

May the many blessings of this day be upon you as you have been upon the world.

With love,

AppleJack

Day 2.21-23: Like a Killer in the Sun

Wrightwood to Agua Dulce
Mile 369.3 Mile 454.4

Definitely a high point of the trail

The Angeles Crest section of the PCT starts spectacularly with a summit of Mt Baden Powell within the first 6 miles or so after leaving Wrightwood. The steep uphill climb, about 3000 feet in 4 miles, required all my best tricks including my secret weapon, Jolly Ranchers! I keep a pocketful handy for whenever I need a little juice to get up the hill. It works remarkably well and I’ve coined a new verb; ‘to jollyrancher’, to use a hard candy boost in difficult situations. Used in a sentence, ‘I jollyranchered my way up Mt Baden Powell.’

Fuel

I was rewarded with sweeping views and while on the summit, I heard a loud whooshing that turned out to be a glider soaring directly overhead. The pilot’s quiet command of the mountain updrafts treated this dirt bound human to a wonderous spectacle of freedom. I hope I caught some of it in 360 degree video but won’t know for months.

Wally Waldron Tree- 1501 years old now

At the bottom of the trail spur leading to the summit, near a tree purported to be 1500 years old, there’s a sign that says 9200 feet, High Point of the Angeles Crest Trail. I know that to be literally true and I remember now that it is also figuaratively so. I recall being grumpy about the next 70 miles last year. I will say what it lacks in scenery it makes up for in sheer mileage.

I love me some Little Jimmy

Which could underpin my affection for a little place called Little Jimmy Spring. Water bubbles out if the mountain, clear, cold, and unexpected in an otherwise uniform landscape. Grabbing a couple extra liters because I camped nearby, I initiated a new ritual that I’ve come to love. Aftet sweating through your clothes day after day without laundry, a camp shower tops the list for pleasurable ways to end the day. I have a 4L water bladder with a small flip spout that, when hung in a tree, produces a glorious stream to rinse away the day’s grime. With apologies to the poor woodland creatures who fail to avert their eyes as well as any wayward hikers, this great white beast will continue the practice every chance he gets.

Bliss at day’s end

I have been super fortunate with the weather. I know it can be much, much hotter and even so, hiking long days under bright sun still drains me. Using my umbrella, snacks, and determination I hammered out the miles. People continue to ask ‘why did you start over from the beginning?!’ and I think I have a better answer now. Say you want to climb Mt Everest but only get to Camp 2 on your first attempt. Trying again does not mean flying a helicopter into Camp 2 and resuming the climb. So too I feel like I am trekking back to basecamp including the drudgery miles that some folks simply skip. If you want the summit, you gotta do the trek. By the way, the word is that the Sierra are already actively thawing and I can’t wait to return!

Look Easton! Young rattlesnake!

Lots of this

But also some of this

After a brief respite at the noisy Acton KOA, I wandered into Agua Dulce, home of Hiker Heaven. Along the way the PCT winds through Vasquez Rocks, the backdrop for many a Western movie. Hiker Heaven operates as an oasis for hikers offering showers, laundry, mail service, and camping in the middle of not much. I was thrilled to pick up my second resupply box complete with treats and sweet note from my sisters, nieces, and nephew. Y’all are the best and I am blessed by your generosity. Thank you! 😍

Anybody got any dimes?

The best resupply of all