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.
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!😊