Day 2.63-67: NorCal Dayz

Donner Pass to Belden
Mile 1157 – Mile 1284.3

Wet passageway beneath Interstate 80

Leaving town or worse yet, leaving behind family, makes the first few miles back on the trail challenging. All that comfort and companionship dissolve around the first bend in the trail and spartan trail life resumes. After Dave dropped me off, I tried to focus on just making ten miles that afternoon. First off, I had to cross Interstate 80, the major freeway connecting Sacramento and Reno. Fortunately two dank culverts pass beneath the high speed thoroughfare and wheeled travelers remain oblivious of the foot traffic moving beneath the pavement.

Creepy Peter Grubb Hut

Once on the north side, the trail climbs up and over Castle Pass on its way to the famous Peter Grubb Hut. Owned by the Sierra Club and ostensibly rented out by reservation, I took a moment to check out the accommodations. The second floor entrance is gained by climbing a steep ladder. I opened the door to see a sleeping porch of sorts and an interior ladder descending to the kitchen area. The musty air and generally spooky atmosphere of the place made further investigation unnecessary. I imagine hikers do actually stay the night there but this hiker said a quick ‘no thank you’.

View from ridge camp

After making my miles for the day, I camped on a high ridge in a makeshift site that I created. I rose early the next morning with my sights set on distant Sierra City and my next resupply box. I made good progress walking up and down ridges adorned with blooming mules ear while viewing many small lakes far below.

Mules ears in bloom

Water water everywhere

Squadrons of orange and blue butterflies patrolled the trail asserting their brief dominion. Despite seeing lots of water from afar, the trail proved surprisingly dry resurrecting the need to plan around water sources. By 4:30 I made it to Highway 49 and caught an easy hitch down into Sierra City.

Big, fancy, new PCT sign

Sierra City General Store and Post Office

For some reason I had it in my head that my box had been sent to the post office and so groaned to see the hours posted there, 10am-2pm. I chatted up Larry, the kindly proprietor of the general store and a Jon Voight look alike, who referred me to Herringtons where I could find a bed and a good meal while I waited. Part of the PCT charm for me lies in discovering these small town places that would otherwise remain unvisited. I enjoyed a surprisingly fine meal of fresh trout, netted daily from their large pond out front. I was not able to do laundry but settled for a couple hot showers and cotton sheets.
I strolled back into town the next morning unhurried and biding my time for 10am. I met up with TootsieRoll, an anomalous thru hiker at age 35 who hails from San Diego, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Red Moose. During breakfast it dawned on me that maybe my box had been sent to the general store. Sure enough, at 9am the store opened and my box had been there the whole time. Oh well, the trout was delicious!

My sister Lisa outdid herself again sneaking treats into my box along with another great note from the kids. This time three precious little bottles of Grand Marnier, my Momma’s favorite, were stowed along with the other things. TootsieRoll, an Austrian hiker named Rambler, and I were psyched to enjoy an early morning toast.

Long climb up to Sierra Buttes

One of the old time locals who had been breakfasting at the Red Moose went out of his way to give me a ride back up to the trail and the notorious long climb up Sierra Buttes that awaited me. A pack full of food and a stomach full of pancakes made for slow going and the warm day didn’t help much. Though I made it out of town well before TootsieRoll or Rambler, their much faster pace soon had them past me.

Milepost this time

Sierra Buttes from the north

I was super fortunate to follow the guidance of my mapping app along the ‘old PCT’ versus the incomplete trail signs that suggested a new reroute on the north side of Sierra Buttes. Apparently mixed use had developed on the PCT with mountain bikers also using the trail. TootsieRoll and Rambler followed the new signs and arrived where I had camped about an hour after me grumbling about the steep, crazy new trail. Glad I missed it. I encountered a few mountain bikers who were nothing but friendly and courteous and I was happy to share the trail with them.

Anyone trade me an ‘i’ for an ‘e’ ?

The first day out of Sierra City was also the first day in almost a month that required no snow travel. Elevations had gradually lowered and a hypnotic sameness took hold as the trail made its way through the Plumas National Forest. Tree lined ridges and steep valleys became the norm and stunning views around every corner lapsed. At one point, to cross the Middle Fork of the Feather River, the trail went below 3000 feet for the first time in many miles. The steep valley walls created a dim world of leafy green plants I had not seen for some time. I shifted my focus from the big wows of towering mountains to the small wows of the forest floor. In an effort to amuse myself, I made up little games to play. For example, on uphill switchbacks, instead of turning the acute angle into the hill, occasionally I would pivot outward performing a full pirouette before continuing uphill. It felt like the difference between dancing and just moving my feet.

Cool leaf patterns

Red salamander named Easton Thomas, E.T. for short. So close EJ!

Bear Creek but no bears

June 21st, Summer Solstice, and also International Hike Naked Day, passed unobserved though I sorely missed having at least a lake for swimming. I went so far as to free style off trail a bit through dense underbrush to a nearish lake that turned out to be a stagnant pond covered with a film of tree pollen. Sigh. I was also hoping for water enough to diagnose my still leaky air mattress but alas not.

Forest in morning, the best!

Feather River and Belden way down in the canyon

There were more steep descents to canyon bottoms followed by long ascents back up to the ridge tops. The last was a punishing long set of switchbacks down to the North Fork of the Feather River where Belden is situated alongside Highway 70. I had planned to wait out the heat of the day, forecasted to be 96, but a lack of cell service and dysfunctional Wi-Fi demoralized me. I did a brutal 3 mile road walk to another hiker haven up the highway that advertised Internet access but that also proved inaccurate. I did at least manage to do laundry, shower, eat/drink twice before heading north once again.

Day 2.59-62: What Fools These Mortals Be

South Lake Tahoe to Donner Pass
Mile 1090.7 – Mile 1157

Sunrise over distant Lake Tahoe

Just like the satisfaction of turning that last page of a book well enjoyed, heading north from South Lake Tahoe meant it was time to switch to a new map file. I use an app called Guthook to navigate the PCT and they break the trail into five parts- Southern California, The Sierra, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Heading north from Tahoe meant it was so long Sierra and hello NorCal in an arbitrary but nonetheless momentous occasion.

Windswept Echo Lake

I checked out of the delightful Paradice Motel in South Lake Tahoe early Friday morning. In addition to providing great hospitality, the manager there, Mei, also dreams about doing the PCT someday. She wanted to know all about my hike and declared ‘next year!’ for her own journey. Go for it Mei!
Hitching out of town on a Friday morning against the tide of weekend visitors proved difficult. I resorted to that best friend of travelers everywhere, Uber, and soon had my new boots on the trail. Many PCT hikers who choose to postpone the Sierra section skip north to Echo Summit. In addition to day hikers and weekend backpackers, traffic on the trail stood in sharp contrast to what I had become accustomed. Though it was only 9:30am, I paused at the Echo Lake Chalet for a beer and bag of chips to allow time for the congestion to abate. (How’s that for convenient rationalization 😉)

Lake Aloha why?

Fueled up with second breakfast, I set off and made good time entering Desolation Wilderness. A string of beautiful lakes chain together and made for a scenic morning hike. One of the largest, Lake Aloha, appeared to me as misnamed as the wilderness in which it resides.

This one’s for my father

After the many lakes, I was psyched to tackle Dicks Pass, the last of the high passes and the last time the PCT goes over 9000 feet. I didn’t even mind to mushy snow slog coming down the other side because I could tell my days of slippery travel were waning.

Creek flowing down from Fontanillis Lake

Rounding the shores of Fontanilis Lake, the trail soon crossed the lake’s outlet which was flowing swiftly when I arrived late afternoon. “Nah, I think I’ve had enough for today”, I thought to myself while the trail gods took note, chuckled, and spun their wheel of mayhem. Oblivious, I found a nice flat slab of granite near the creek and pitched my tent securing the corners with large rocks. It had been windy off and on all day but nothing unmanageable. “Watch this”, one capricious god snickered and sent a sudden vicious gust of wind that both relocated my fully loaded tent and ripped the air mattress I had been inflating right out of my hands. I watched dumbstruck as my yellow kite flew hundreds of feet into the air, swirling ever higher in a vortex, and out over the creek. “Please, please, please land on this side”, I hoped aloud but no such luck. I watched it fall from the sky a good distance downstream and on the opposite side. “Looks like I get to cross the creek today after all”, I commiserated with myself. After collapsing my tent and weighing everything down with rocks, I set out to find my wayward gear. Donning my flip flops and grabbing just my trekking poles, I soon found a freezing but doable ford across the creek. I was super lucky to find my Neorest wedged between some boulders about a quarter mile downstream. Had it not been bright yellow or if I had already closed its valve to keep it inflated, I’m sure I’d be in the market to replace that spendy piece of equipment. The only good news was able to practice the ford a second time returning to camp so I’d be really good at it the next morning.

Crossing at the lake outlet

Day 60 began with frozen feet in the creek but soon relaxed into a pleasant stroll through the woods. For the first time in weeks, I found myself on trail below 7000 feet and was convinced that at long last I’d have a whole day of snow free travel. That didn’t happen but it was close with only a handful of mushy crossings. I camped just on the edge of Granite Chief Wilderness.

Good morning deer

A walk in the park

An unwelcome souvenir from its maiden voyage aloft, my air mattress now had a tiny hole somewhere that caused deflation overnight. I needed to find a lake or at least some standing water large enough to submerge and locate the leak.

Morning sun on distant Tahoe

Anotherof only a few glimpses of Lake Tahoe from the PCT

Unfortunately there was a marked lack of any water as the trail followed the dramatic ridge line through Alpine Meadows and then Squaw Valley ski resorts. As I was picking my way down the still snowbound slopes of Squaw Valley, Wifey appeared behind me. It’s always awesome to encounter someone you know out on the trail. He’s on a mission to meet his girlfriend in Ashland early July so we didn’t talk long but of course I asked about his hiking partner, Sunshine. Apparently Sunshine stayed in South Lake Tahoe nursing a sore knee. The day was already cold, windy, and overcast but ain’t no Sunshine too? I was bummed.

An uplifting vestige of civilization

I did however find a large puddle of snowmelt in which I eventually located the tiniest of air leaks in my mattress. I marked it for later patching and set my sights on Tinker Knob, the final climb for the day. The climb up was common enough with innumerable switchbacks but once gaining the ridge things turned extraordinary. The trail hugged the ridge line for miles north affording sweeping views in all directions. The cold, blustery wind did its utmost to intrude but failed to ruin a simply beautiful stretch of trail.

Not quite 9000′

Idyllic mountain scene

North from Tinker Knob

I pitched camp just ahead of an afternoon rain shower and woke the next day disappointed to find my mattress half deflated. “Rats, there must be another small leak somewhere” I complained to myself but then I remembered the date was June 18th! My brother Dave had to be in San Jose on business and so had hatched a plan to drive the almost 500 miles(!) round trip just to meet up with me on the trail. Suddenly, the cold, wet morning couldn’t touch me as I all but jogged down to Donner Pass where the trail crosses Interstate 80.

Breakfast of champion hikers everywhere

Just as I was drying my things in the morning sun, Dave arrived bearing doughnuts and beer! Oh baby! Celebrity guest appearance on the trail are my newest favorite thing. We hopped into his rental car and drove to nearby Truckee, CA where he helped me accomplish all manner of town chores. We had my glasses fixed, bought more stove fuel, resupplied food at Safeway, all before sitting down to a mondo burrito lunch. I took in a deep draught of family sustenance from Dave and life was good.

To brothers!

The visit was over all too soon and he drove me back to the trailhead where he left the rest of the two dozen doughnuts along with a bunch of Gatorade for other hikers. He’s got the angel blood in him for sure. Thank you David for going above and beyond yet again to make your little brother a happy guy!😊

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.