Categories
PCT CA Section M

Sierra City to Quincy: Keeping the Magic Alive

This post is only to be read by those able to solve the following basic trigonometry problem:

Q: I’m sitting on a one foot tall bear canister with my knees bent at exactly the right angle to make my lap perfectly level so I can roll up some fish inside a tortilla. If the length of my lower legs from my heels to my knees is exactly 22 inches, what kind of fish am I about to eat?

Categories
PCT CA Section L

Castle Pass to Sierra City: Good luck and bad

The previous section had been intended to be Echo Lake to Sierra City, the whole thing at once, but the side trip into Truckee and the whole matter of the broken phone kind of forced the section to be somewhat split. As such, this will be a shorter section/post.

Day 1

We left off in the morning with my intention to hike back to Donner Pass to get a replacement phone. I figured I could get a warranty replacement overnighted there and get a new phone for just the price of a hotel stay in Truckee.

Right off the bat, though, I already got some good luck. I chatted up Teresa and Mike as they were finishing packing up their camp. Mike was going to keep hiking through this section, but Tereza was headed back to Arizona to get some work done. She would be going right through Truckee, and her car was parked much closer than Donner Pass. So I had a ride and saved two miles of walking just by talking to everyone I passed.

She dropped me at the Verizon store (actually a Victra store), where I would end up spending most of that day. I hope I didn’t smell too bad sitting in their storefront on hold with Verizon customer service all day. Eventually, I got through and got in the offline queue to be called when a rep was available. I ran around the corner to get some taquitos for lunch and then back again to catch the call. I had gone through a whole shtick when suddenly the store’s phone started buzzing and I couldn’t hear anything the rep was saying. I asked her to call back, but the buzzing didn’t go away. There was no way to get the thing done here and I didn’t want to wait an hour in the phone queue again, so I told the store employee, “Screw it, just sell me a pixel 3a and order me a case for it to be delivered to Quincy.” I also bought a new pair of headphones while I was there.

About that time, I got some more luck. Paul came into the store and offered to wait for me to ship my old phone to the data recovery service from the FedEx store next door and then drive me back to the trail. He was retired and looking for an excuse to take his new old Jeep off-roading. He drove me all the way back to Castle Pass, way beyond where I had expected to be taken. I had to rehike at most a mile. And I was back on the trail instead of wasting the night in town spending my money on hotel rooms and town food.

I had enough time left to use the privy at Peter Grubb Hut, get some pictures (which you’ve already seen) and hike as far as Paradise Lake before it was dark.

After going down a mile long side trail and circling the rock barrier surrounding the lake confusedly, I finally found the lake’s edge when I chatted up a man who was sitting there next to his tent. The light was nearly gone, but he was interested in chatting about everything. His son was in the tent, recovering from the ten mile hike and possible altitude sickness which had led to vomiting.

I broke off the conversation to cook and set up my tent closer to the water. In doing so, I majorly bent one of my stakes trying to hammer it into the sand.

More conversation with the man ensued by headlamp light when his son came to ready to eat something. The full moon rose over the lake and I tried to catch its reflection in the water. Unfortunately, a will-o-the-wisp ruined the shot.

Total distance: 9 miles

Trail progress: 5 miles

Day 2

I woke up at first light and was leaving camp just as my neighbors were emerging from their enormous tent. He tried to ensnare me in another conversation, but I finessed away and got back to the PCT.

I stopped at Snowbank Spring, a beautiful little trickle just beside the trail, to get some good cold water and spend a little time communing with nature as it were. I ended up having lunch there before leaving.

Spent the night at a campsite near Mule Ears Creek. A couple of college boys had spread out all over the campsite, but made room for me to put my tent. Apparently they had known each other so long that the talkative one accidentally introduced himself by the other’s name. They sequestered themselves inside their tent to play a modified version of War in which they made up lots of crazy extra rules like it was Mao crossed with Nomic. They were incredibly nerdy engineers and probably lovers too, but they had come halfway across the country to hike a short section together while school was out, so I tried not to bother them too much. Also, they seemed very COVID-shy so I tried not to get too close to them.

I also took this opportunity to record a time lapse movie of my nightly cooking and set up routine.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 3

The day started with a trip down to the creek to fetch water. I packed and left the other two still in camp barely moving.

Halfway through the day, I turned down a paved road and took a quarter mile side trip to a lakeside campground to take advantage of the flush toilets and trash cans.

A few miles later, I spent an hour chilling beside the falls of Bear Valley Spring, getting some water and washing my feet and legs and just generally enjoying the beautiful waterfall cove. The two boys from camp caught up to me here as I was leaving. I let them have the spring to themselves.

Late in the afternoon, I turned down the side trail that led into the Wild Plum Campground. I thought I could hitch into Sierra City from there, but only three cars passed going that way, none willing to pick me up. So I walked 3 miles to the highway and another half mile into town. It was too late for the general store to be open, but one of the restaurants was open, and I got to order a nice meal in the garden. I paid way too much for an overcooked steak and watered down root beer, but at least the ice cream was good.

After calling around and finding that every single lodging establishment in the entire area was completely booked for the weekend, I walked to the community center and found that the bathroom where hikers can normally get a free shower had been locked shut for COVID-19 reasons. A man living next door informed me that it was no longer allowed to camp next to the church. So, it seemed, I would have to get back to the trail to stealth camp.

Fortunately, I was accosted by some hikers right there in front of the community center who were willing to give me a lift back to the hilltop and the trail. I found a singular stealth site just a few tenths of a mile from the road and set up.

Total distance: 16 miles

Day 4

After I packed up and made my way back to the road, I was moments too late to catch a likely ride into town. No one who passed on my two mile walk down the hill to town wanted to make it easier on me. I stopped at the coffee shop for a bagel and peppermint mocha for breakfast, then arrived at the general store just an hour after it opened. I needed to pick up two boxes there. One with my maps and one with my food.

There was only one box for me there.

After calling home for the tracking number on my food box, I learned it was still in San Francisco, having taken three weeks to complete 80% of what should have taken only a week. A chat with the postman made it clear that the current political situation has finally reached me on the trail. Trump’s attack on the post office (as the postmaster himself described it) had now become an attack on my wallet, as I was now forced to resupply at the general store, which had only some of the things I wanted at massively inflated prices.

Not that I blame Larry, the proprietor, one bit. He probably isn’t even making a profit in a year like this. He’s probably barely staying open. So I bought what I needed to get as far as Quincy and packed it all up.

It was around this time I bumped into Jeff. Yes, Jeff from Kennedy Meadows South. He had been hiking with Adrienne whom I met here for the first time. Her trail name is Pants. And she had decided to call him Heisenberg thanks to his resemblance to Brian ? though I would find out later that he preferred to spell it Hei-Zen-Berg. He was just as skinny but indicated he had stopped precipitously losing weight. I left them repacking food (which had arrived in time for them) beside the post office. They had disappeared when I passed that way again.

I got a hot pastrami sandwich from Larry’s deli inside the general store. It was great. Then, just before the store closed, I bought a box of beer and a bag of ice. I put the ice in my water bag and the rest in the box with the beer. I left my phone plugged in beside the store and walked the beer down to the local swimming hole on the Yuba River.

It had been a very hot day and I was finally getting cooled off, along with the closest thing one could get to a shower and laundry in this town. But I had been there only an hour–already done swimming and starting to put my shoes back on thankfully–when storm clouds came rolling in and dropping rain on us river visitors. I rushed back up the hill to make sure my phone (which lacked a case, you’ll recall) didn’t get wet, but the rain stayed light and didn’t last much longer than a few minutes beyond my arrival.

My phone, by the way, had turned itself off due to the intense heat of that day. Nonetheless, I spent another hour making sure I had enough books and podcasts downloaded, visited the trash can at the community center to clean up the remains of all I had bought, met a nice dog, then set off looking for a kind soul to get me back to the trail. This is where I got some good luck.

I saw a couple of guys sitting in front of the bar waiting for some beer to be brought out (as entering the bar was not allowed and the general store was closed). Said beer was too be taken to their campsite and they agreed to take me along.

Calvin and his stepdaughter’s boyfriend John were camped with several others at Upper Tamarack Lake on the far side of Sierra Buttes, which meant I could skip a notoriously nasty climb by riding along with them.

Few trucks would be able to make it up the janky dirt road to the lake. John had even had to walk a mile up it carrying a disk bag from the farthest point his car could reach (a feat which bought him a full day’s respite from Calvin’s teasing). But Calvin’s pickup made it.

After circumnavigating the lake, I identified a nice spot to put my tent, then went back for my pack. It was at this time I realized the belt I’d been using as a sternum strap since the first week had disappeared, probably fallen beside the road in Sierra City.

I talked to a family that had parked their camper within inches of the PCT and for my trouble got a nice beer and two of the ripest, sweetest plums I’ve ever tasted. They also told me they would keep a limit for my belt as they packed up in the morning.

From there, I walked my pack to the store I had found and set up my tent before returning to Calvin’s party’s campsite to repay their kindness by talking to family friends Greta about the trail since she was planning to do it herself once she had graduated from college. I ended up staying there for hours and learning a lot more about that family and in particular about Calvin’s brand of humor. (For example, his stepdaughter was half-Chinese and her boyfriend John was Mexican, so he referred to the pair as Rice and Beans.)

They kept me well supplied with beer until 11pm, when Calvin pulled a trout they had caught earlier out of the lake, cleaned it, wrapped it in foil, and grilled it over the campfire. So, just before midnight and my trip back to my tent, I was eating a mouthful of fresh trout grilled in almonds. What a day!

Total distance: 0 miles

Trail progress: 10 miles

Categories
PCT CA Section K PCT CA Section L

Echo Lake to Castle Pass: A series of firsts

Guthook’s PCT Guide switches from the “Sierra” section to the “Northern California” section at Echo Lake. There’s a good reason for that. There’s a very different vibe to the trail going forward. In some ways and at some times, northern California is more similar to the desert section than the high Sierras. There is far less water on the trail but many more road crossings and hiker-oriented businesses right on the trail.

Befitting such a major transition, and to celebrate another month of hiking and completion of an entire quarter of the trail, I had long since decided to take a true zero in South Lake Tahoe, a tourist town absolutely full to the brim with guests during the time I was there.

Day 0

Part of this day was to be spent on certain errands.

The day started with a visit to the 7/11 for a coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and some fruit. Then, it was on to the grocery store by foot for an easy resupply.

The biggest and most expensive task was buying new gear. Right next to the grocery store was the only worthwhile outdoor sports store in town. There I bought a new winter sleeping bag, a new mattress pad (mine was great but it kept leaking through the valve requiring waking in the night to reinflate–how do you fix that?), better insoles, and a new compression sack for the sleeping bag.

I walked these items down the street back to my room, then picked up my old sleeping bag and mattress and walked them back up to the same shopping center to FedEx them home.

In the same area was a hardware store where I bought some velcro and some laundry detergent.

Back at my room, the next task was laundry, which I did by hand in the enormous whirlpool tub in my room, then hung all my clothes on hangers from the curtain rod above the A/C unit under the window. I also got my food situation pretty much squared away so I wouldn’t be in a rush leaving in the morning.

All this worked out, it was time to play. 8 rented a Lime scooter and took to the bike trails, zooming some 5 miles down to the South Lake Brewing Company. They serve flights on child skis with holes cut in them. I soon joined up with a small group of locals: Patrick, Cameron, Alma, Keegan, Phil, and Jommy. Patrick bought a round for everyone and offered me a ride to Echo Lake the next day. Jommy invited me to his place when they were leaving for a barbecue and backyard fire, but I declined and hopped back on my scooter for my hotel.

The scooter battery died a few blocks from where I could rent another, and I had to push it there. But I could ride the last mile, went to my room, and fell asleep after spending all night editing video.

Total trail miles: 0

Day 1

The next day, I still had some errands. I had to swap out my compression sack for a larger size at the outdoors store because the new sleeping bag wouldn’t fit in the same size bag the old one would.

After that, I had to pack up and get out of my motel room. At the last, I left my headphones on the bathroom counter. I never missed them though. They didn’t quite fit in my ears and caused severe pain when not perfectly adjusted and some scarring in my left pinna that still pains me a month later.

After a long relaxing lunch at Azul (tacos) with live music, I set out to find other outdoors stores to shop for a new pair of sun gloves since the main store had none. I bought a pair of ski glove liners that were close enough and then walked over the border into Stateline to keep looking. No luck.

I walked back over to South of North Brewing Company’s beergarden to sample their wares. For legal reasons, I had to order a hot dog I didn’t want, but then I proceeded to spend the next several hours trying all their beers, cutting the fingers off the gloves I had bought, writing a blog post, and listening to the live band.

Late in the afternoon, I decided it was time to hit the trail. I left Patrick a message, and he called me back to say he couldn’t actually give me the ride he offered. No problem. I only called to be polite anyway. Just as easy here to summon an Uber. It was probably 6pm by the time we arrived back at Echo Lake.

Then I realized I was supposed to have a permit for Desolation Wilderness. I hopped on my phone and bought one, but I wasn’t going to be able to print it. The site wouldn’t even let me download a pdf. I crossed my fingers and hoped if I met a ranger, I’d be forgiven for not having a paper copy.

The sun had set by the time I reached the far end of Echo Lake and entered the Desolation Wilderness (marking the boundary of where I was allowed to camp again. I got out my headlamp and cruised along in the dark, seeing no tentsites for another mile. I turned down the side trail for Tamarack Lake and stopped as soon as I saw a clear spot next to the trail. I threw up my tent there.

I wasn’t the only one out late that night either. Several more headlamps came floating by and an entire family came down past me looking for a place to camp. Apparently the traffic had been horrible coming up from wherever they’d driven from?

Total distance: 4 miles

Day 2

Most of this day would be spent hiking past Aloha Lake. It’s huge and the trail near it is nothing but broken rock that you cannot move very quickly over. Also, it’s swarming with people. Every quarter mile of shoreline was occupied by groups and families and crowds were flowing up and down the trail.

As soon as I came near it, I stopped to soak my shirt to ward off the heat of the day. When I went to leave, I saw a ranger coming up and arranged to get ahead of him so I didn’t have to talk to him.

I reached the end of the lake where a large rock created a small shady cave. I stopped to have lunch, wondered what time it was, and realized I had left my watch and gloves beside the lake where I’d stopped miles back. I stashed my pack under the rocks and started hiking back to get them. I hiked right past the ranger, but I was able to deflect his questions with irrelevant nonsense and since I had no pack on, he wasn’t concerned about whether I would need a permit.

Anyway, an hour and 3 miles later, I was back at my pack and starving. I took my time with lunch in the shade of that rock, collected water, and soaked my shirt again before leaving.

The trail didn’t get any less rocky before I began the climb up to Dicks Pass an hour or two later. It got worse and it was a hell of a climb too. It was the last place the trail went above 9000 feet, and just when it looks like you’re about to reach the top, the trail turns right and makes you keep climbing along a talus pile for another quarter mile. Right here is where I saw my last marmot.

Coming down the other side, I settled into a pace with another guy who was coming down and we chatted. He was only staying one night at Dicks Lake in support of his girlfriend who was beginning a circuit of the Tahoe Rim Trail. He was getting to camp first to set up their hammocks. I set up right next to them and we hung out that night and talked about her first long distance hiking trip, food, and how she would adjust to it. I shared some Christmas in a Cup with them and they shared some cookies with me.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 3

Time to put on some speed. I was leaving camp not long after that couple was just getting up.

Past the last couple of lakes, where I soaked my shirt again, I entered a forest with a smooth dirt track trail and could really put on the speed. It was mostly downhill. I saw my first bear here. It didn’t care about me at all. I also saw my first trail crew, breaking big rocks into fist sized gravel.

I stopped for a snack next to a creek that had been reduced to stagnant pools. I needed the water. But I didn’t stay long. I really wanted to get to Richardson Lake for lunch.

And I did. There were lots of folks there. Some of them were willing to swim, as did I. The water was murky and home to some massive freshwater crawfish, but it was also perfect swimming temperature, especially on a day that hot and muggy. I didn’t want to leave.

But leave I did. I climbed up to Barker Pass before sunset, made and ate dinner there, took advantage of the unlocked pit toilet (having been informed by sobos that it was an option), strapped on my headlamp, and kept going. The sun had well set by the time I reached my intended campsite, in which the best site was already occupied. I made do with a slanted campsite up the hill behind them because I did not intend to go any further that night. I didn’t sleep well, both because of the tilt and because of the woman’s annoying laugh that continued well after I was in bed.

Total distance: 19 miles

Day 4

I woke rushing to take pictures of the sun rising over Lake Tahoe.

Then, I packed up and got out of camp before the other couple, heading down to the nearby stream to get water. They passed me while I was doing this, but I passed them within the next mile and practically ran up the next big climb with them chasing me. I wanted to get it done so that I could enjoy the ridgewalking while it stayed cool.

I also found some cell service above one of the ski mountain areas and downloaded some more podcasts. Then it was downhill into Squaw Valley and the creek where I would stop, along with some others, to eat lunch. Had a nice chat here, then began my climb out of the valley, stopping once to sit in another stream and soak my shirt–the sun continued to be relentless all day.

Eventually, I made my way to the tentsite beside Squaw Creek (just beyond the Granite Chief ski area), a nice spot with several wrapped condoms spread out on a log, just in case.

Unfortunately, while I was trying to get to sleep that night, a couple of women came hiking through (as there was another campsite not too far away) yammering at each other at the top of their lungs. It was well after 10pm, which everyone knows is quiet hours in the wilderness. No respect!

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 5

Most of the morning was spent walking along exposed ridgelines, many with good views of Big Blue. These were sometimes the tops of ski slopes, and I walked under some chair lifts. At one point, I found some cell service and stopped to download some information about where I was headed.

I was headed, in fact, to the Donner Ski Ranch for lunch. This was a very exciting goal because there would be tasty hot sandwiches, beer, device recharging, and even flush toilets. Once I made it in, I spent most of the afternoon there.

Eventually, I set out to hike the little piece between the Skranch and the interstate at Donner Pass (yes, those Donners), go through the tunnel under the highway, and swing around to visit the rest area, where the restrooms were open. That big lunch needed some room to expand into, I guess.

Then, it was a quick two mile climb up and over Castle Pass as the sun went down. One more mile and I was at Peter Grubb Hut. It has electric lighting! But I didn’t need it. I just used my headlamp.

I noticed then that my phone was rebooting. And then it just suddenly collapsed to black in an uncontrolled power off. Oh well. I wanted to turn it off anyway. I had the place to myself, but I didn’t realize it until I climbed into the attic and found no one else there. I had been trying to keep it quiet for no reason.

I made up a bed on the attic floor and went to sleep.

Total distance: 20 miles

Day 6

I tried to plug in my phone when I came down the ladder in the morning. The charging icon briefly came up, then the screen went black again. Then it would not respond to anything. A brick.

I popped outside and scared away three does near the woodpile who didn’t expect any people to be around. I went down to the creek to get some water, and met a hiker headed through.

I learned that my best bet for getting a working phone was back in Truckee, off the interstate I had crossed the day before. So I went and packed up my stuff and set off back up the trail I had come down the previous night.

That’s where we’ll stop for now. And now you know why there are no pictures and videos in the last few posts. They didn’t get backed up before the phone died. I remain confident they will soon be rescued and I will be able to update these last few posts with the illustrations they deserve. But I’m still waiting on that to happen. From here on, though, the posts will go back to having pictures in them.

To kick things off, here’s a few pictures of Peter Grubb Hut:

Categories
PCT CA Section J

The weather goes to hail: Sonora Pass to Echo Lake

I was pretty much ready to go by the time I woke up in my bed at Kennedy Meadows Resort, so early, by habit, that breakfast wasn’t even being served yet. Really, all I had left to do was apply for and download my permit for the next section.

Eventually, I did get a good breakfast in the restaurant, with eggs and sausage and a pancake or two, and bought my ticket for the shuttle for the trail leaving at ten. I also bought a good cream soda and perhaps some other last minute things that I just plain wanted.

But I had an hour to wait, so I went up to my room again and spent an hour playing online taking advantage of the Verizon booster node outside my window. At 9:55, I carried my pack down to the back of the building and ran into the bathroom to pee. When I came out, I ran around looking for the shuttle. It was 10am on the dot, and I was sure the driver would have been told I had purchased a ticket. But the old man working the bulldozer told me the shuttle had already left, and there was no way to call him once he left the property. My five dollar ticket was now worthless. I had waited around for no reason.

I hitched a ride in the parking lot with a woman who drove me the mile back to the highway, where I made a sign and eventually got a hitch from a slightly kooky business man who wanted to drive over a different pass every time he had to go to Nevada. This time it was Sonora. So I got back to the trail before 11 anyway.

The first couple of miles were just climbing up and over a ridge near Sonora Peak down to the headwaters of the East Fork Carson River. I hadn’t really even made it that far over the hill when it started raining, just sprinkling really, not as torrential as the previous afternoon. Even so, I found an alcove under a giant rock and sat there for a while eating Hi-Chews and hoping it would go away. It let up somewhat and seemed like it would stop soon, but I got out my pack cover/raincoat before I started hiking again anyway.

Said rain gear didn’t much protect my head from the hail that kicked in some time after I stopped for lunch. It was bigger chunks than the day before, maybe a centimeter in diameter. I found a tree to hide under that didn’t complete protect me but at least kept my noggin safe.

Eventually, the hail subsided into a heavy and continuous rain that continued nearly until nightfall. I was glad I had brought warm gloves and rain shells to cover them as my hands would have frozen otherwise. And the rain and slowly melting hail was turning the trail to running mud.

The temperature plummeted all evening, which meant that I could hike faster, yes, but it also meant I had to put on all my available clothes as soon as I stopped for the night, and as the temperature continued to fall at night, my supposed zero degree down sleeping bag began to really show its age. It was a cold and fitful night of half-sleep. Not so bad I dad to get out the emergency blanket, but not at all comfortable.

Total distance: 14 miles

Day 2

Nothing happened worth going into detail about. Not too many people on the trail. It rained a decent amount in the afternoon but no hail. Expecting another cold night, I boiled water for my water bag to go in my sleeping bag with me. At some point in the night, I rolled over and loosened the cap and got one side of the sleeping bag and my arm wet, but the water stayed warm with my body heat so I went back to sleep. Too bad about having to reset my “days since last wetting the bed” counter.

I think this might have been about the tone I ran out of Apple Cider to make Christmas in a Cup, but I had found some herbal tea packets in the Kennedy Meadows North hiker box called “Valerian,” which smelled like some of the fragrant plants that grow along the trail in this section. It also vaguely reassembled dill. I mixed it with some fruity Great Value energy drink mixes I found in the same box to make a new nighttime drink I called Pickled Fruits.

Total distance: 11 miles

Day 3

Not particularly interesting terrain through the morning, though I do remember climbing into a rocky creek at one point.

Crossing the road at Ebbetts Pass meant a great increase in the number of day hikers. I stopped at a small pond just over the hill to lay my sleeping bag and gloves in the sun to dry while I ate lunch, and one random guy shouted at me and came over to bother me about the pond water.

Many day hikers were caught off-guard that afternoon by the arrival of another storm cloud bringing marble-sized hail, the largest and most painful yet. I found a tree to hide under until it stopped twenty minutes later.

Walking on, I passed a couple of guys building an illegal fire and waiting for the rain/hail-swollen stream crossing the trail to go down. I tossed a log across it, stepped on it, and kept going.

They caught up to me and passed me on the next steep climb, one fast climber and one out of shape one that hadn’t backpacked in years. I paced them up the hill chatting about hiking and stuff, using that to increase my pace.

They were looking for the next tentsite with adjacent water to stop at, but there kept not being such a site, so we went on several miles past where the slow guy would have liked to have stopped. Eventually, we came to a long downhill and a promise on the map of a spring and site another mile and a half away. I took the lead, picked up my poles, and practically ran down the hill. They stopped a little down the hill while I kept going, leaving them way behind. I saw them coming down behind me but never talked to them again.

I came to the next site next to water and could see how tiny and tilted it was. Not enough room for all of us, so I kept going towards the site I had planned to reach that morning. But not before scratching the words “LAME SITE” in the sand to let them know they could have it.

And the site I went to did end up being a lot better. Spacious, shady, flat, and right next to a cold stream. It was a good night, even if I did get to sleep late.

Total distance: 19 miles

Day 4

Looking ahead, I had 32 miles to get to Echo Lake. Easy two day trip if cut in half. Unfortunately, the halfway point was right in the middle of Carson Pass, an area with strict restrictions on camping and a lot of day hiker traffic. On top of that, if I did the two day plan, I’d come in to Echo Lake late in the afternoon, missing out on the deli at the Echo Lake Chalet. So I decided to go to the last campsite before Carson Pass this day and the last campsite before Echo Lake the next day, and finish up in the morning of the third day. This would turn out to be a good and fortunate decision for unexpected reasons.

The trail in the morning was ugly, rocky, and annoying, but later it climbed up the side of The Nipple and gave a gorgeous 180 degree view overlooking Upper Blue Lake. At the bottom of said hill was a smaller lake with dead trees standing in its midst. During a long swim there, I watched a white husky circle the water trying to predict where its owner would land her Stand-Up Paddleboard, totally ignoring me as he passed. As soon as she pulled ashore, he climbed on board and rode around the corner. I guess that makes him a SUP Pup.

Though there were some afternoon clouds, it did not rain at all. I stopped a quick 3.5 miles after my swim, just as it was getting too dark to see without a headlamp.

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 5

Easy walk down to Carson Pass but so many day hikers coming up. Some hikers starting out there gave me enough water to make some morning lemonade. Porta-potties in the parking lot saved me some digging.

There is one big hill after the pass where I was accosted by a day hiking woman who wanted to chat about the trail. She informed me the trail ahead would be miles of flat valley with a creek (Upper Truckee River) and the bad weather every afternoon was done for now. In a stand of trees near said creek, I had lunch surrounded by flies.

The valley ended with a short climb up to Showers Lake where I, of course, had a brief swim, then hiked on another 5 miles, taking a tilted site on the side of a hill across the stream from a man camping with two preteen girls. We didn’t really talk after I inquired about where to camp, but they were good, quiet neighbors.

Day 6

Town day! Definitely a reason to leave early! My neighbors were just emerging from their tent when I was leaving.

Not a very pretty hike down to and along the highway. I crossed it after just 4 miles and entered a sort of residential area, with one last hill to climb before the descent to Echo Lake.

Near the top of the hill, who should come up behind me but the Midnight Crew, Benroy and Segolene. Rather than catch up on the middle of the trail, I suggested we wait until we were at the Chalet and had some snacks. It was only another half mile or so down the hill.

The deli was closed, but we got some good snacks from the store and took them out to a picnic area nearby. I learned that they had been two days behind me for weeks and had met several of the people I had. Also, this was their terminus. They were to be picked up by a friend who lived in Truckee, drove to San Francisco to tour it, then back to St. Louis, and then to France where S’s sister was due to give birth any day. In short, if I had not decided to take an extra day to get into town, I would never have seen either of them again.

After several hours and rounds of drinks and snacks from the store, it was time for me to head out. I climbed back up to the parking lot and stuck out a thumb. Eventually, Genevieve picked me up and took me to the Trailhead Inn in South Lake Tahoe. She told me a lot about the place, including the work she was doing arranging funding for operations to cut trees around the lake to keep it blue in the face of erosion.

After checking in and cleaning up, I rented a Lime scooter to head down to the original Tahoe microbrewery, The Brewery at Lake Tahoe. They had sunny seating, mediocre pizza, and a couple of decent beers out of the four or five I tried in the 4 hours I sat there. Then a surprisingly brief walk back to my room and bedtime.

Categories
PCT CA Section H PCT CA Section I

Learning to Walk: Red’s Meadow to Sonora Pass

Note: No videos or pictures for this post for the time being. I will include an update in a future post if and when they are added.

Naming Guide for the High Sierras: Every marmot is named “Marmie,” every chipmunk is named “Chippy,” and every mouse is named “Stop chewing on my |=\/©×¡%& straps, you little §#¡†!”


I left you last at the Mammoth Lakes Motel 6.

Day 1

The day started with a walk to the Von’s to do my food resupply. I got back to my room just in time to move all my things out into the breezeway so I could check out of my room in time. There I sat for a few hours repackaging and packing all that food.

I learned that there were four other thru hikers staying there that night on the same side of the hotel, two couples. One I recognized but couldn’t remember where from. I gave them the tea and coffee I didn’t need. They were moving hotels to weekend another night in town while her injuries healed. The other was the couple with the cat I’d discussed audiobooks with. They told me which free bus could take me back to the trail and which store had some sun gloves. I told them to try the Mammoth Brewing Company.

Once I had packed and visited the party office to send some things home, I went down to the store I’d been recommended and indeed found a pair of sun gloves. Then I went to the discount grocery store to get the tortillas I had forgotten. Outside the store, I caught the free town trolley up to the Village, right across from where the bus that went up to the lakes trailhead and Mammoth Pass picked up. Using it would mean hiking three miles to the PCT/JMT and then repeating the last three miles to Red’s Meadow, but it was free and a sure thing. It left every thirty minutes, and I was in no hurry, so I got on the waiting list at a nearby Mexican restaurant called Gomez.

I got a burrito, some guac, and a tequila sampler, and drank a gallon of tea while I wrote a blog post, called home, and recharged my phone. Several hours later, I paid my bill and went to the bus stop to catch the 5:30 bus. Unlike when I had scoped it out before, there was a line. I got in line.

When the bus arrived, the driver informed us that his was the last bus of the day, and COVID-19 restrictions meant he could only take 16 passengers. He counted us off. I was number 17. I would not be going to the lake trailhead that day.

Plan B was a bit less of a sure thing. I walked across the street and asked some men standing there if that was where I could catch a bus to the mountain adventure center. “Sure, but the mountain bikers have first priority.” There were only a handful of mountain bikers looking to get one last run in so late in the day, so there was room for me on the bus. It took me halfway up the road to Red’s Meadow.

I stepped off the bus, walked to the road, and made a hitchhiker’s sign. Ten minutes later, I had a ride from a man who was headed up to Devil’s Postpile to pick up his brother. He took me all the way to the trailhead where I had stepped off the trail the previous day. No extra mileage, no repeated section. Thanks, line of 16 mountain bikers for bumping me off the lakes bus!

I hiked down to Devil’s Postpile, worried by a threatening thundercloud. By the time I had gotten all the pictures I wanted from it, all that town food had caught up with me, so I stashed my pack and went out of the way to the parking area to use the toilets there. There was no toilet paper, so I flagged down a fishermen who gave me a few paper towels.

Back up at my pack, I collected some water from the river I had to cross to get back to the trail, then took the long way around to get to the trail so I could get some good pictures of the Postpile from above. I hiked as far as the split where the JMT separated from the PCT, took the JMT branch because it was supposedly better, hiked a little bit up the hill, and stopped at the first place that looked like I could put a tent on it. It was a terribly tilted patch of ground in an ugly forest of snags, but it was getting late. The sleep wasn’t very good, and I kept waking up all night.

I should mention this was the night I invented a hot bdessert drink I named Christmas-in-a-cup, a blend of Bigelow vanilla Chai and Alpine Spiced Cider. I would keep making it every night hence as it was better than either ingredient alone.

Total distance: 2.2 miles

Trail miles: 1

Day 2

I slept late and left camp even later. Soon, I had to go well out of my way to find a place to rock-hop over Minaret Creek. By the time I reached the Minaret Lake junction and stopped for a snack, I realized that I didn’t have any waypoints on Guthook for this JMT detour because I hadn’t purchased the trail. I had had some cell service near my campsite that morning downloading audiobooks, so I walked back to the pond I had passed to get some clear sky and a signal. I used up even more battery to purchase the trail and download the map data.

The trail continued to be ugly until I reached Rosalie Lake. I stopped for lunch at Gladys Lake before that, but it wasn’t a very nice lake and I didn’t swim. Indeed, I didn’t swim in any of the lakes I passed. I was still clean from town and wanted to make up for my late start by keeping on hiking.

The sun was setting as I came around Garnet Lake, a large lake and a popular spot to camp in spite of the restrictions on where that was allowed. All the good sites were taken. I thought I was going to have to hike on to Ruby Lake in the dark, but I went down a side trail and found a spot high above the water with a wide, clear view and no one else around.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 3

Everyone had told me I should spend some time at Thousand Island Lake, so I got going as quickly as I could, humping it over the hill to Ruby Lake, then down to Emerald Lake and Thousand Island Lake beyond it. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as some of the lakes I’d just passed, so I again skipped taking a dip. Besides, it wasn’t all that hot out yet. I decided to get back to the PCT and into Yosemite as soon as possible by doing Island Pass and Donohue Pass right in a row, a nice double pass day.

I was really trucking all the way up and Island Pass, an easy one with not much of a climb, all things considered, and kept up that pace over the next few miles even as the day grew hotter and the shade scarce. I found a rock perfectly placed in the shade that I could lie back upside-down and submerge only the top of my head in the creek. That’s an experience everyone ought to try at least once. Very peaceful.

I stopped for lunch before the big climb up Donohue Pass (although it really wasn’t that big of a climb compared to all the passes that had come before), then noticed a big, dark cloud coming from behind the mountain. If it gave me some shade, I could certainly climb the pass with great haste.

Almost an hour later, I was on the top of the pass and the cloud was even more ominous, though it hadn’t really moved over the Yosemite boundary. I saw lightning strike the adjacent peak and decided to descend from there as quickly as possible. I passed a couple hiding under an overhanging rock who claimed to be scared of the lightning. I advised them that was probably not the safest place to be if it were going to strike and continued hurrying down the hill.

I came to a stream with some deep pools and, knowing my water bag was getting close to empty, stopped to fill up. While I did this, it started raining, but not very seriously. Just light sprinkling. I got out my Packa just in case, but I didn’t really need it. It was the first rain of my entire hike and it hardly lasted five minutes. I later learned the same storm system had battered the rest of the valley with hail earlier that afternoon. And still the cloud refused to cross Donohue Pass, as if it were respecting national park boundaries. I joked to some hikers I met further down the canyon, near where the Lyell Fork made a small alpine lake, that “on this side, it’s the Sierra Nevada; on the other, it’s Sierra de Luz.”

But I left that pair there after a 30 minute conversation about what was ahead for them going south and my hike so far. I wanted to get to the bottom of the canyon before I slept.

And that was no problem since it was all downhill. The bigger issue was that the bottom of Lyell Canyon was absolutely overrun with people camping. All the tentsites were full. Even when I found one, it was in full view of a much better campsite just up the hill. I didn’t care. I just wanted to eat and sleep.

The pack mules let loose to graze just seemed to want to run up and down the trail ringing their bell. Including a few times in the middle of the night.

But that wasn’t really that bothersome. The bigger issue wouldn’t come until morning.

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 4

When I woke up, the inside of my tent was soaked with condensation. The Lyell Fork turned the entire canyon into a cloud of mist. There was no way to avoid it. I wasn’t even close to the river. So I ended up starting an hour later than expected after wiping down the tent. I packed up my sleeping bag wet.

After a conversation with my neighbors (as one of them was wearing Perry the Platypus onesie pajamas and would later pass me hiking in them), I set out to get to the Tuolomne Meadows Store and associated food stand for lunch.

The store was not only closed but 90% disassembled. It was boarded up and lacking a roof. No hot lunch for me. But there were picnic tables, so I laid out my sleeping bag in the sun to dry and started making lunch.

While I was there, a couple came in to provide some trail magic to a trio of JMT hikers who walked in off the trail. He was making them blackberry pancakes and handing out beers. Of course, as they had set up at the next table over, I began to ingratiate myself as soon as feasible.

I managed to swing three cans of beer from them, some liquid carbs to keep the hike going. I drank one immediately, gave one to John when he arrived looking for a bus, and saved one for later.

Some notes about John: old guy; loud, close talker (hard to have a conversation with anyone else when he is near); wants you to know about his keto diet; fan of Spam singles; very fast hiker.

Some notes on the guy doing the magic: works for the forest service surveying land before and after controlled burns, possibly educated in biology; the job mostly entails counting sticks. The girl he came up with was unknown to the three hikers, but seemed to have had some work counting or watching owls at some point.

Two hours later, I left to enter the meadow proper, where all the tourists were, but soon dropped my pack and returned to the (closed) campground to avail myself of the (open) flush toilets before heading off into the wilderness again. Then I walked back into the meadow, read all the info signs about who had owned and herded sheep in the meadow. I put my hand in the naturally carbonated soda spring inside the century-old structure built to keep out the animals. Then I found the PCT and hiked down past the falls to Glen Aulin just before dark.

Glen Aulin is normally a Sierra backcountry camp where you pay a fee to reserve a site, and get dinner made for you and can use a shower and a privy. But it’s 2020 and all those services are shut down, disassembled, and locked up, which meant anyone who came there could claim a tent site and spend the night for free. And there must have been more than twenty of us there doing just that.

Cooked dinner and ate next to the waterfall then went to bed.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 5

While there weren’t any more car tourists around, there were still, like the last couple of days, far too many people on the trail this day. I started hiking around 7, but after a couple of hours hiking across a flat, exposed plateau meadow, I was already getting hot. I stopped to soak in a deep pool in the middle of the meadow at one point, just me and the tadpoles and the bugs and a baby snake. Had half a lunch.

Stopped next to Return Creek for lunch part 2. Some dark clouds threatened rain but never made good on that promise, and I dared them to by never getting out my pack cover.

Then a nice long climb to Miller Lake. It was dinner time when I arrived but I hadn’t quite done the miles, so I cooked and ate by the lake and then hiked down into Matterhorn Canyon by the pink light of the setting sun. I was marching by headlamp by the time I crossed Matterhorn Creek.

A ton of campers were already there with, what I would later learn, was a mule packing tour. An old man signaled me and said there were plenty of campsites in the woods, so I found a relatively flat spot up the hill and went to bed.

Day 6

By watching as I packed up and talking to some of the employees, I learned a good bit about the mule tours. Apparently an 8 day trip costs two grand. The campsites are planned in advance and about 13 miles apart. The only work you do is setting up your tent when you get to camp. The packers unload your gear, dig the latrine, cook the food (breakfast sandwiches that morning), and handle most of the logistics. You just day hike to the next site. The perfect way to retire from backpacking without giving up on camping.

The climb over Benson Pass was quick and easy as I had my heart set on lunch and a dip on Smedberg Lake. I was already there before any of that crowd in the camp had come up behind me. But one person who had shared that camp was already there.

Maggie was a young thru-hiker with pink hair and a round face. She seemed in good condition but low spirits and spoke of getting off the trail in Tahoe and skipping ahead. The Sierras had apparently worn her out. She also said that the people in the pack camp had given her dinner and she wanted to follow them and try to yogi some more treats. So she left ahead of me to get to Benson Lake where they were going to spend that night.

After lunch and a brief dip in the cold lake, I hiked on, leaving behind a handful of hikers from the camp to face the marmot who stalked the shores.

It was basically all downhill to the Benson Lake junction, though I did have to stop briefly to put on my pack cover when it started raining in the mid afternoon. I passed a ranger who didn’t ask to see my permit but was interested in the mule packers and thought the weather would get better the next few days. Further down, the entire mule train and the rest of the hikers passed me around the time I was picking my way over a pile of logs that crossed the Benson Lake outlet creek.

I followed their tracks to the incredible ocean beach-like shores of Benson Lake. Maggie was already there, hiding from the mosquitos in her tent. She had heard the mule train go by but had no interest yet in visiting the camp. I made and ate dinner right there on the beach in front of where they were making camp. Once they looked settled, I went up to strike up conversation with some of the guests, but no one offered me any of the wine or sake or scotch they had packed in.

So while they all bathed in the lake, I packed up and hiked out to climb a two mile hill and reach a small beautiful pond before sunset. I had the whole thing to myself, so I set myself up on opposite ends of two adjacent campsites and ate supper on a rock in the middle of the pond accessed by a log bridge. Little flies kept dropping and bouncing off the surface of the water for an unknown reason. There were a few mosquitos, but they weren’t too bad as long as I kept moving.

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 7

I woke with the sun and packed up moving things from one side of the area to the other. Before I left, I realized a mouse had chewed on several of my pack straps, even chewing one loose nonessential bit completely off. I spent some extra time melting the frayed edges and fashioning a new zipper pull to replace one the mouse had stolen. The distraction meant I didn’t pay enough attention as I was packing camp, but I was eager to get moving.

Seavey Pass was just a mile ahead and didn’t even require a major climb on the south side, though there was a steep bit right before it where I looked down and saw Maggie chasing me at a pretty good pace. Clearly she had gotten up earlier than me.

Down at the creek in Kerrick Canyon, I sat and had lunch part 1 while watching a trout that was bigger than the rest constantly bullying and chasing off every other trout it saw.I sat and had lunch part 1 while watching a trout that was bigger than the rest constantly bullying and chasing off every other trout it saw.

When I was ready to go, Maggie arrived behind me. She said she never did go visit the packer camp and still wasn’t particularly enjoying herself, though you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong by looking at her. I left her there and never saw her again, though I figured she was always right behind me.

Over the next grueling hill was another creek that needed crossing. There was a log there, but it was hard to find. Charlie Horse had hiked up behind me on the last stretch before it and we would have kept walking on the wrong side of the creek had a couple not pointed out that it was time to cross. John had come through earlier and informed them, and they had just settled in to relax in hammocks beside the water.

Charlie Horse was a name I was familiar with because John had told a story about how they had hiked together for a while, but John had abandoned him because he had bought up all the Spam singles that he knew John wanted after John had shared so much of his food with him. However, they later made up when Charlie Horse had given John most of the Spam in return.

Anyway, Charlie Horse had been hiking with Maggie for some time and was worried about her. We thought she was going to hike down behind us at any moment but she never did. We chatted for a bit over my lunch part 2, where another pee-hungry doe kept edging in way too close to my stuff.

Charlie went on over the hill while I stopped just before the climb to find a deep swimming hole in the creek to cool off. I followed his lead an hour later, beginning the climb absolutely soaking wet.

And both the climb and the following descent were possibly the easiest and most joyous I had yet experienced. Part of it was that I had eaten through most of my pack weight, and part of it was that six weeks of hiking had finally passed, so I finally had some trail legs, but mostly, I came to discover, it was that I can hike a lot faster and easier when I’m soaking wet. The 5 miles from the creek to Wilma Lake seemed to pass in an instant.

Charlie Horse was already there and set up, so I set up next to him. Which is when I realized I had no tent stakes. I had apparently left the entire stake bag in my previous campsite while distracted by the chewed straps. Fortunately, he had three spare stakes to lend me (including one I had seen but not picked up in my previous campsite) and for the fourth, I made do with a stick and a rock. I shared some of my Christmas-in-a-cup with him in gratitude.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 8

Charlie Horse left before me and I didn’t catch up with him all day. He let me hold on to the stakes though.

It was a nearly level trail, ever so slightly rising. It was easy to keep a good pace. Until I saw a rock in a creek that looked like a water slide and had to stop to try to slide down it. I managed it at least once and got some halfway good tries on video before picking the crawfish larvae off my belly and hiking on, intent on reaching Dorothy Lake for lunch.

It was here I was accosted by the Bakin’ Ladies: Patty, Mary, Jane, and Katharine. They were glamping by the lake, having hiked packers to bring in all their gear. They gave me a chair, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, peach pound cake, red wine, filtered water, and conversation.

Them: Would you like some Pringles?

Me:

Them: Some sausage and gnocchi?

Me:

Them: Peach pound cake? Cookies? Brownies?

Me: Did you bake all that at home?

Them: Of course, who do you think we are? Do you think we but anything at the store?

Me:

Them: Be careful what you say now!

Me (thinking, not out loud): Are those homemade Pringles then?

I still ended up fixing myself lunch from what I brought. I gave them their moniker when they told me John and Charlie Horse had come by earlier and eaten the last of their bacon. Charlie Horse had nicknamed them the Bacon Ladies. So, obviously, after eating all their baked goods, I have to call them the Bakin’ Ladies.

But there were still miles to do and I had nearly worn out my hospitality by taking some of their red wine, so I hiked on. I hope Maggie came up behind me and spent the night with them and had a better day overall.

It was only a mile later, just over Dorothy Pass (and therefore just outside of Yosemite) that I realized I wasn’t wearing my sun gloves and had, in fact, left them by the creek I had played in three miles back. They were wonderful sun gloves, way better than the ones Yogi had sold me, complete with palm grips that don’t fall off and leather-like tabs on the middle fingers to make them easy to remove. But I was low on food and couldn’t spare the time to walk six extra miles to retrieve them. And they hadn’t been all that expensive, so I wrote them off and kept walking.

A few miles later, I collected some water from a nice waterfall that fed a subrerranean stream and camped at a crappy little site right before the beginning of a long climb I wanted to save for the next day. I got my feet covered in pine sap walking barefoot to hang my pack from a tree but camp was otherwise uneventful.

Total distance: 17 miles

Day 9

The climb was rough. I stopped only a couple of miles in for a snack. Soon, the trail went out into the sun and began working its way straight up a huge exposed hill. About this time, I realized that the creek I had crossed a mile back was the last guaranteed water on trail for the next 10 miles.

Fortunately, I could reach the upper part of the creek just a quarter mile away by walking down a long rocky talus slope. I grabbed a couple of liters, drank some of it, and returned to the climb.

With the steep rocky trail zig-zagging under the direct aim of the blistering sun, I started getting winded and dizzy. I stopped in a switchback to hydrate and eat some Clif Bloks and that seemed to solve the problem. I made it up onto the ridge at a much better pace.

I stopped under a random tree on a random rock for lunch. The views from the ridge were spectacular but the trail was often just loose pebbles. Fortunately, the shade from a dark thundercloud made hiking a lot easier.

When the trail turned into a scattered pile of red (sandstone?) foot-sized platters of rock, the cloud decided to open up and dump a solid ten or twenty minutes worth of hail on me. They were only pea-sized bits, so it didn’t hurt that bad, and it cooled me off enough that my spirits were actually lifted.

I crossed a small snowfield and circuited a couple of glacier lakes. Soon, it started raining, steadily but lightly. I didn’t bother with rain gear. The more I got soaked, the faster I went. I was flying, giddy with the speed both up and down the sides of the ridge. Anyone who saw me would not have been able to guess I had been struggling just to put one foot in front of another just hours before.

Finally, I could look down and see the highway through Sonora Pass. But I still had several miles to go. As I descended the long final hill to the pass, the storm clouds decided to get serious. I still shunned my rain gear, not wanting to take the time and knowing it didn’t matter if anything got wet since I was headed to “town” anyway.

I had been told the Kennedy Meadows (North) shuttle came at 4:15pm, so I could, I figured, find a bit of shelter at the parking area, change clothes, and wait. I had been told wrong, though. The shuttle came at 3:15pm.

Which was exactly the time I stepped off the trail onto the road. Moments later, a van pulled over and asked me if I was headed to Kennedy Meadows. I got in. It was the official shuttle. A man and his two (grand?) boys had the other seats. I was the only hiker going in

Kennedy Meadows gave me a room to myself upstairs and access to a shower and laundry. There was a ton of good stuff in the hiker boxes, but limited goods in the store. I had to make some substitutions, but I managed to get enough to keep going, including a new set of tent stakes.

John and Charlie Horse had arrived before me and shared the room next door. I returned Charlie’s stakes and joined them both for dinner: a huge tourney dinner with dressing, potatoes, beans, and gravy for me, a second round of burgers for them (as they had already eaten in the restaurant at lunch). Curiously, I was able to eat indoors for the first time since Lone Pine. I don’t know if the restrictions had been lifted or if the resort was just doing its own thing, but the Bakin’ Ladies relayed that, due to COVID-19, the resort’s bar would “remain open until it could be safely closed.” Obviously, I went over there after dinner and ordered a beer, then joined in a game of cornhole work some local boys out front. My team got creamed.

And that was how I ended my night. I returned to my room and put out the lights, working on this blog until the bartender turned off the generator some time in the wee hours.

Total distance: 13 miles

Categories
PCT CA Section H

Passes and Failures: Kearsarge Pass to Red’s Meadow

Day 0

Breakfast was leftover pizza. Still had some gear to buy but the main goal was laundry. After figuring out how to withdraw some cash, I washed my clothes while I finished the shopping and then dried them while I had lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe next door.

A ride back to the trail was solved by the outfitter when I called Mark, a former shuttle driver that hadn’t been seen around. He’d been working full time as a mechanic but had the 4th of July off, so he took me to Onion Valley that afternoon for the cost of filling his truck with gas.

I realized that one of my sun gloves was gone. Eaten by the laundromat.

Had to hike the first half a mile twice because I had to run back down to the toilet at the bottom. Always go before you leave, kids.

Halfway up, I encountered Stanley running back down from his last fishing day, headed to his truck to get wasted.

The climb up the pass is about 5 miles long, and late in the day, with a fully loaded pack, I didn’t make it to the top before nightfall. I stopped a mile or so short of the pass and made camp. Propane ran out just as the water boiled.

Total distance: 4 miles

Trail miles: 0

Day 1

The German couple that shared my camp area agreed to hike out my empty propane can. Made it to the top of the pass just in time to encounter the Midnight Crew ready to head into town for a zero. Taylor came up right behind, and we had a bit of a pass party before we went our separate ways for the last time.

Took a different trail that avoided Bullfrog Lake and came over Glen Pass into the Rae Lakes area, where I, of course, had a bit of a swim. There were gobs of trout, bigger than I’d seen elsewhere.

Hiked down to Arrowhead Lake to make camp. Mosquitos were bad enough, I had to eat inside my tent so I could take off my head net unmolested.

Total distance: 11 miles

Trail miles: 6

Day 2

Made it to Woods Creek Waterslide by lunch time. All the falls and carved of alcoves of swimming holes were like a playground begging me to spend some time in it. So I spent several hours there. Long enough without my shirt I would end up with a sunburn.

Although I’d lost several hours of daylight, I still absolutely intended to get over Pinchot Pass before I slept. 7 miles, all uphill, with a still pretty heavy pack. It was 10pm when I was coming over the pass. The moon was coming up.

The next few tentsites after the pass were occupied, so I had to walk another mile or two before I stopped, but I was still in high spirits the whole way. Didn’t get to bed until after midnight though…

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 3

…And still woke up by 6am. But the minimal amount of sleep did affect me. The whole day I felt sluggish and lazy and unwilling to hike hard. So I ended up taking long breaks to chat with people or just sit and eat snacks.

But I still wanted to get over Mather Pass that day, so I ended up crossing the pass late as sun set and rolling into camp as twilight was ending. Again, several miles past the pass because the first several tentsites were taken. But this time I was asleep well before midnight.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 4

Started the morning with a marmot coming to lick up my morning urine, digging into the gravel to get the last of that salty soil up. I guess salt is hard to come by in the High Sierra.

With more sleep, I felt a little better and had an easy downhill day along the creek. In the afternoon, I met a thru hiker who had injured her quadriceps and had hiked miles in severe pain and was looking to leave the trail. Luckily, another man had taken on the weight of her bear canister and was watching over her, so I hiked on.

I found a nice spot far back from the trail with a small meadow and a creek nearby. Mosquitos were not that bad, especially after dark, but I still needed to cover up and use a head net. Ants were crazy though, and anything that touched the ground or a log instantly had at least one ant on it.

Total distance: 12 miles

Day 5

Starting the morning with a mule deer doe doing as the marmot had done the previous morning. I left her there with my urine salt lick while I went down to the nearby creek and came back to find my head net completely covered in deer saliva and the doe gone. I guess it was salty too? So I went right back to the creek to wash it out.

The morning was spent on a long climb up to Muir Pass. A lot of people and a little bit of snow on this section, but it was still an easier climb than any pass so far. Going from south to north, every pass is lower and easier than the last. I reached the top early afternoon and spent some few minutes snacking in the hut on top, leaving my name in the register there.

I passed up Wanda Lake (and I think this is where I first met the couple hiking thru with their cat) and Sapphire Lake to end my day in a site at the outlet of Evolution Lake, a short walk from the top of a high cliff/falls with a great view of Evolution Valley and the sunset (and a couple of eager photographers of same). Soon after I arrived in camp, a small weasel-like predator whose species I’ve not been able to confirm walked by carrying a mouse it had caught and killed back to its nest. I was too enthralled looking at it to get my camera out in time.

The mosquitos here were again not too bad but still annoying enough to keep me on the move during dinner and water collection.

Total distance: 12 miles

Monstro the rock!

Day 6

The day started with a sudden descent into Evolution Valley, a long staircase that I was glad to be going down instead of up. Indeed, it was to be an easy downhill day all the way and a good day overall.

I soon found myself chasing the cat couple here, but let them go ahead when I spotted two old men stopping by a nice swimming hole in Evolution Creek. A trail bath/laundry was on my agenda for the day already, so I stopped too.

I don’t remember their names anymore, but those two old men were not shy about going skinny dipping in front of a stranger. They were nice enough not to appear in the pictures they took of me in the creek though. They had been wandering the Ionian Basin, way off trail, and had connected up with the JMT at Muir Pass, and so were on their way out.

I left them there and hiked down to the first mandatory creek ford on the trail. Evolution Creek had to be crossed and there was no rock hopping or fallen tree route available. So I changed into my Sockwas and went across, then set them in the sun to dry while I had lunch. Then I packed up and started walking down the hill into the San Joaquin River Valley.

A mile later, a short conversation with a woman taking a break beside the trail reminded me that I left my Sockwas at the crossing a mile back. A bit of calculus told me it was worth hiking an extra two miles for them, so I stashed my pack behind a tree and started back up the hill. I passed the woman I’d spoken to and the two old men. My shoes were where I left them, and I passed everyone again on the way back down. After a thirty minute detour, I was back at my pack, and by the time I had repacked and had a snack, the old men had caught up again. We walked the rest of the way down to the river together talking before I stopped for lunch riverside.

Down in the valley, the mosquitos were still annoying, so my headnet went back up. But once I started walking again they went away, so I pushed it up onto my head for some cool air.

Soon, I realized my headnet was gone, fallen off my head and my pack without my realizing it. Luckily, it was in the trail only a quarter mile back. I only lost ten minutes retrieving it.

The plan was to spend the night at Blayney Hot Springs behind Muir Trail Ranch, so I turned off on the appropriate side trail after just another mile or two, still relatively early in the afternoon.

Below me, I saw some folks setting up camp on the side of the hill. I stopped and turned to greet the one closest, but thought better of it because he was in the middle of brushing his teeth. I turned to continue but impaled the side of my shoe on a pointy broken root coming up out of the trail. It was like trying to drive over those one way tire piercing speed bumps the wrong way. Not only did it tear a whole in the side of my two-week-old shoe, it prevented me from taking a step or putting my foot down to keep my balance. My trekking pole bent to slow my fall, but down I went anyway, starting to slide off the edge of the hill. I cut my leg open, releasing fresh blood and its scent just as I was entering mosquito country. How annoying.

But the campsite wasn’t too much farther. I had to wade across the San Joaquin and wander around a meadow crossed by barbed wire fences before I found the campsites ensconced in a jumble of tall boulders in the woods, but there was a couple already there sharing a tent who had been there before to explain things to me. I could camp anywhere around, and the small pools I had passed in the meadow were in fact the hot springs.

While I made dinner and camp, those two went for a soak and around four more folks showed up to camp there. One ended up coming to join me when I was finally ready for a soak (as the couple was already getting dressed to go back to camp by the time I was arriving).

I discovered that the grassy muddy path leading from the back of the pool I chose led to a small but very deep pond that was swimming pool temperature (as compared to the ice bath temperature more prevalent in the alpine lakes). I could have floated in it for hours if there were that long left in the day. But it was much more fun to walk barefoot back and forth between the pond and hot pool over and over.

It should be noted that the meadow was home to a myriad mosquitos, and so I did my soaking with my headnet on. My second trip to the pond, I noticed a large rock at the back above the deepest part of the pond. I swam back there and stood naked atop that rock, visible clear to the river if anyone had cared to look, gave a shout and launched myself into the pond.

But I should have tightened the net around my neck. I had submerged with it on several times without incident so it never occurred to me to do so. But at speed, the surface of the water tore it from my head and it promptly sank into the invisible murky depths.

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t going to keep soaking without the net, and it was getting dark anyway. I headed back to camp and to sleep.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 7

I started the day with a photo shoot of the pools and pond, finished packing, and waded across the river in my Sockwas. I kept them on as I went up to MTR to investigate reports of a stockpile of unwanted shoes. That was a bust. It had nothing over a size 10, but it was worth a shot. On the bright side they had headnets and repellent for sale, so I left once again mosquito resistant.

What followed was a long, annoying, three mile climb in the sun. Nothing worth seeing on that hillside. But it was only a couple more miles to some of the most beautiful lakes yet. But they were too crowded, so I went on up to Heart Lake for a quick dip. It was a strange lake, where half was shallow and only cold, but once you walked out to the end of the “continental shelf,” it rapidly dropped into a deep, painfully frigid “ocean.”

Dip achieved (and trout chased out of the shallows) and lunch eaten, it was only a few more minutes before I was at the top of Selden Pass and hiking downhill.

The view got a bit less beautiful and the mosquitos more aggressive as I came down, especially when I stopped to collect water. Nonetheless, I made it down far enough to be within striking distance of Vermilion Valley Ranch for a bit of resupply before dark.

Total distance: 12 miles

Trail miles: 11

I estimate all these pools to be about 100F
The most fairy tale like hot sorting, where the hot water flows in from behind a rock instead of up from the bottom
This repair would not make it to Red’s Meadow, even though it’s “extra sticky”
Above the second mandatory creek ford at Bear Creek

Day 8

3.5 miles to the Bear Ridge Trail, the beginning of a 5 mile side trail to VVR. Part of it was road walk, but a nice family in a pickup did exactly that to me to save me the last mile. Came in around 1pm.

A lot of hikers there, some with tents up. Jeff, the dangerously skinny fellow from Kennedy Meadows was there, as was the cat couple.

I had a steak salad and a cherry pie a la mode, resupplied from the hiker box and the store, bought a trip on the ferry, then repacked in time for the 4pm ferry out. With no wifi available, there was no reason to spend the night. There was just enough time, though, to use a real toilet. The total cost of my three hour stay was $81.18.

On the other side of the nearly empty watershed Lake Edison, I refilled water from the creek (having forgotten to refill at the resort) and hiked on another two miles, past where every other nobo seemed to be stopping, before making camp.

Total distance: 10.5 miles

Trail miles: 5.5 hiked and 4.5 skipped=10

Day 9

Now that I had a few more days of food, I just needed to get to Red’s Meadow within three days, where a bus, I was told, could take me into Mammoth Lakes.

First thing was a quick and easy climb over Silver Pass, but it was a crowded section, and several people wanted to chat. There was also a bit of snow to walk across on the way up, but no real trouble.

Coming down the other side, I stopped to chat about audiobooks with the cat couple, then hiked on past Lake Virginia (where I met a nice man with a new puppy in training who gave me some trail mix and a long conversation) and Purple Lake (where I met a lady while collecting water whose means was actually, no joke, Judy Judy) and around the next hill (where I passed a strange man pushing a bicycle down the trail who seemed excited to see me and unconcerned about the fact that bicycles aren’t allowed on the PCT, possibly a bit crazy?) to a dry site nestled among some boulders just shy of the Duck Lake outlet. The sun was already nearly finished setting by the time I arrived, so I made camp by headlamp light.

Total distance: 15 miles

It’s not a pika, it’s a Belding’s Ground Squirrel (“picket post”).

Day 10

The section from there to Red’s Meadow was relatively easy but not very interesting. A lot of walking near creeks, but I was in too much of a hurry to take a dip. The last couple of miles was an exposed, ugly, bushy area full of dead trees that seemed to have been victim of a burn.

But still I rolled into the resort not too late in the afternoon and bought myself a sandwich and a salad and several drinks, but I couldn’t finish that enormous salad. Too sad considering how expensive it was.

I was lied to about the bus. I had to hitch into Mammoth Lakes. But Lorenzo and Lindsey graciously took me all the way to the Motel 6, where I booked a premium room overlooking the empty pool and got my first real shower in more than a week.

And then I walked to the outfitter to buy some new shoes and a few other small items, dropped them off in my room, and walked up to Mammoth Brewing Company’s biergarden where I slowly drank samples of every brew they had on tap there (including a root beer!) over a burger, fries, and mountain slaw. Then back to hotel to sleep after dark.

The resort’s official truck
I think he wanted to steal our food
Categories
PCT CA Section G PCT CA Section H

Temperature down, elevation up: Kennedy Meadows to Kearsarge Pass

Day 1

Woke up with the sun again to head down to the Grumpy Bear’s deck to plug in and figure out the permit situation. Based on Yogi’s advice, I finally found the correct web page and starting registering a permit. They gave me 20 minutes to guess where I would be spending the night each night for the next three weeks, so I flicked through the map making wild guesses. But I got it submitted and paid for. Promptly at 8, I called the forest service agency and got the verbal rundown of all the rules, after which my permits were emailed. I forwarded them to Yogi, hoping she notice the email and print them before she came to open the store.

Then it was breakfast time. I got the breakfast burrito this time. A much better choice. And it came with another beach Frisbee-sized pancake, and this time I made the wise decision to eat only the one. Taylor ate there too, but the Midnight Crew were too busy packing up to leave to arrive before 10, when the kitchen closed to prepare lunch. They were extremely disgruntled about missing breakfast, and decided to stay there in the restaurant until lunch was being served. So we all sat together at the window bar, plugged in. I finished and published the last blog post and downloaded some podcasts.

At 10, I left to see if Yogi had brought my permits. She had. Which meant I could leave that day. I started packing and purchased a couple more items I had just learned I would need.

All packed, I went back to Grumpy Bear’s for a strawberry syrup topped mini sundae, and Taylor and I arranged a ride to the trail together.

And then I realized the season finale of a show I was following had released, so I pushed back our departure a half hour.

Finally, Wayne (again) drove Taylor and I to the trail in the van to start about 2pm. Putting my pack on, I realized I couldn’t find the belt I’ve been using as a substitute sternum strap. So Taylor hiked out and I rode back to Grumpy Bear’s to search around there and TCO again (and we picked up a new arrival on the way). No luck. Yogi wasn’t selling anything I could use as replacement either. Tore my shirt while searching. Gave up and rode back to the trail.

The hike started through more flat sandy desert scrubland. Lost the trail for a bit. Saw tons of car campers all over including right next to the trail. On the other side of KM campground, the trail followed the Kern River to a bridge. Yogi had suggested I acquire my water here, so I stopped. There was also a swimming hole that looked just like the kind of thing a water park would try to emulate, with a cave and a waterfall to stand under. There was a group of four young hikers and a very skittish dog camping here and I sat with them while filtering water. One offered me whiskey. I declined.

At the same time, MC showed up again. They had hiked out an hour or so before me, but I had passed them while they were swimming in a different hole. They stopped to collect water here also, and we would end up hiking close together the rest of the day. Of course, I was usually chasing them because they hike much faster, but they would stop and I would pass them.

They decided to pass up the campsite 2 miles in and put in an extra 3 to the next area. So I went along. Bad idea. The next three were extremely rough, climbing straight up the side of a creek lined with what I can only describe as rough grit sandpaper bushes. They soon stopped and I past them, keeping well ahead by following the trail in spite of the dying twilight. We were nearly at the campsite before I stopped to get out my headlamp and they caught up.

We made camp nearby one another, and after cooking and doing all the things one must do before going to bed, it was nearly midnight. The Midnight Crew strikes again.

Also, when I unpacked to make camp, I found the missing belt. Woo-hoo.

Total distance: 11 miles

Grumpy Bear’s Retreat
A nice swimming hole on the Kern

Day 2

MC and I left camp together but they stopped soon after and I didn’t stop until I reached the swallow bridge over the South Fork Kern River. There were lots of golden trout here. I had a snack and got some water and talked to a lot of people hiking by. Eventually, Taylor, who had stayed not too far from our camp, caught up to me. I went ahead and left him there.

Taylor passed me when I stopped to cool off in a creek later, but I caught up to him at the top of a long annoying hill climb, where he had had to stop to led a herd of cattle pass. They had really chewed up that section of trail, but it improved a little ahead. We walked roughly together to the top of the hill before I stopped to get some water and lunch. We saw our first marmots in the meadow there. MC also caught up to us.

I passed them making camp together later that evening, but hiked on another three miles to a nice protected campsite near Gomez Meadow. The last mile I was about to collapse and had to really struggle through it.

Total distance: 17 miles

There is a blurry marmot on that rock

Day 3

The look of the trail was clearly different at this point, but it looked basically the same all day. More up than down, lots of sand. Nothing really exciting. I stayed just ahead of Taylor and MC all day, then called it quits when I reached the campsite near Dutch Meadow around 6pm. I had eaten and was ready for bed by the time they rolled in and set up nearby.

Total distance: 14 miles

Day 4

MC left camp first by waking up earlier. I slept in a bit.

The highlight of the day was Chicken Spring Lake, our first alpine lake, just before entering Sequoia National Park. I ate lunch on a rock in the middle of it. Taylor took a nap on a rock next to it.

I caught up to MC in the campsite next to Rock Creek. We camped there. A park ranger was there suggesting things for another man to do (and clearing trash out of the bear box). Said fellow planned to be out in the woods without resupply for weeks just rambling around and checking things out. He made a campfire and we spent some time near it before I turned in just after 9. MC stayed up late by the fire, as expected.

Total distance: 17 miles

The view from my campsite with Benroy packing up

Day 5

As a result, I woke up first. Even so, I saw a guy cruise through camp at top speed while I was getting ready. I saw him instantly find a way to cross Rock Creek without getting his feet wet as if he’d been there before. There was a lot bridging the creek just downstream of the trail crossing.

I was ready to leave by the time MC was awake. I informed them of the golden trout in the creek and where the log was and told them I still didn’t have the food to spend a day climbing Mt. Whitney then set off without them.

By the time I reached Whitney Creek and Lower Crabtree Meadows for a late lunch (having spent an hour or more earlier doing various things around Guyot Creek), I had a crazy idea that I could summit Whitney that evening before sunset. I told MC and Taylor so when they caught me up there. So I hiked up to the PCT/JMT junction and made camp, left my pack there, and took my day pack full of snacks and water as fast as I could up the Whitney trail. Soon after I started, I was assaulted by a squirrel vaulting off my legs like I was a stunt actor in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I passed another ranger who clearly wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to try to summit Whitney at night. I assured her I wouldn’t.

I was getting winded from the altitude as I climbed the 3 miles up to Guitar Lake. By the time I reached it, I looked up at Whitney and saw the 4 miles of climbing I had ahead of me and decided I wasn’t interested in it anymore. I met some guys by the lake who had just come down and jumped into the lake myself, then followed them back down to Crabtree Meadows chatting the whole way.

I couldn’t find MC or Taylor camped anywhere in the meadow even though they intended to summit Whitney the next day. I figured I had seen the last of them and went back to my campsite. Along the way, I found Kaleidoscope setting up camp. An annoyingly optimistic type who didn’t stop for anyone or anything. We had chased him down from having summitted Whitney that day also. I’m pretty sure he was the same guy who had sped through camp that morning on a mission. Another PCT thru-hiker.

It was dark by the time I had finished supper and got to bed, but it would have been after midnight if I had gone ahead with climbing Whitney. I ended up being glad I saved my strength.

Total hiking distance: 13.5 miles

Total trail miles: 6.5

Brown trout in its own demesne

Day 6

Started real early this time. Out of camp by 6:30. Kaleidoscope passed early on and I expressed excitement about some of the things we would see that day. After another creek crossing where he pointed out the best path, I would never see him again. He did not slow down ever.

There were a couple of early ascents and descents that morning, including crossing the Big Horn Plateau, but the big deal of the day was the miles of climbing I would do that afternoon with no shade approaching Forester Pass. I took way too many pictures of the approach. When I stopped for lunch, I was accosted by a way-too-friendly marmot looking for handouts.

It was late afternoon by the time I was coming down the other side of the pass, and there were places where I had to slide to snowfields and circumnavigate 10 foot snow banks to find the trail. Apparently the north side of Forester is almost never clear of snow.

With all the climbing, it had taken me 12 hours to do 12 miles when I stopped to chat to some fellow travelers about options for getting to town. I walked on another mile and pitched my tent in a little site just beside the trail.

Total distance: 13 miles

Day 7

Time to get off and resupply. Up early to find a layer of frost on my pack, but luckily my Sawyer filter was still wet. Not frozen. Phew.

Easy 5 miles down to Bullfrog Lake Trail. Stopped for lunch at the small lake below Bullfrog Lake, walking all the way around it and then jumping off the rock. Two hours of relaxation before the steep climb up to Kearsarge Pass.

Just over the pass, was accosted by a day hiker needing matches for his picnic. I tossed him my lighter and walked on. He shouldn’t be out without a lighter anyway and I could get a new one for 50 cents in town.

Further down from the pass, a man stepped into the trail moving quickly, so I started talking to him. He was sleeping on his truck each night and hiking up the trail to random lakes to fish, catching his limit each day. Also, he was a Marine squadron leader on July 4 break. His name was (Connor?) Stanley. I screenshotted his picture from the official marines Instagram below.

At his truck in the parking lot at the bottom, traded my last lime for a shot of a very nice Canadian whiskey. Then, he agreed to take me to the Lone Pine grocery store in exchange for filling up his gas tank. He actually went to the grocery store first and followed me around before taking me to the gas station and then the historic Dow Villa Hotel.

I went out looking for a barbecue that was supposed to be happening in town that day but couldn’t find it. So I took a pizza from the place across the street to my room. It would serve as dinner and breakfast.

A long bath, a beer, and a phone call ended the day.

Total hiking distance: 14 miles

Total trail miles: 5

I have it on good authority that the cameraman heard at this exact moment “Stop being such a vagina!”
Mt. Whitney
A city so grounded in filming western movies, it named a street after Gene Autry
An historic hotel room
Categories
PCT CA Section G

Limey Dipper: The End of the Desert

The nice thing about skipping the southernmost 450 miles of the trail is that I get just enough time in the desert to get a good understanding of what desert hiking is like and how to approach it but not so much that I get bored with it. Ah, but I didn’t leave off with hiking, did I? I had just fallen asleep in town.

Day 1

I woke up at a reasonably early hour in my motel room, unwilling to emerge from cover thanks to the efficacy of the swamp cooler. So I just got up and turned it off.

As soon as I had myself put together enough to go out, I walked across the highway to Dam Korner Cafe (the other side of Dick Weed’s, where breakfast is served) and had two full glasses of orange juice with my breakfast. Then back to the motel to pack up. Check-out was 11am, but I left at 10 because I had errands to run. The lady who operated the motel let me leave my pack in her office.

I had three goals for the day, the first of which was straightforward: pick up my package at the post office, get my new maps out, and bounce it forward. The second was to get access to a computer to put more audiobooks on my mp3 player. Unfortunately, the library was closed and the motel didn’t have one.

So I decided to continue with my third goal: to catch the bus to Kernville to have lunch at the Kern River Brewery. The motel lady gave me and my pack a lift to the bus stop, where I waited 20 minutes past the posted time without an arrival. So I called the bus company. They informed me that that route was no longer operating, but they could schedule me via dial-a-ride. Turns out the next bus that could take me to Kernville wouldn’t go for most of an hour, and the only one that could get me back in time to catch the bus to the trail would leave as soon as I arrived. So I gave up on the lunch in Kernville idea. This is how life works when you go to rural towns without a car–no such thing as Uber out that way.

So back to goal 2: walk through town looking for a computer. Strangely enough, the same company that screwed me out of a brewery visit solved my computer problem for me. A man who worked in the local office for the bus company offered to let me come inside and use his computer. I thought it would not take long, but their internet was so slow that I ended up staying over an hour downloading using my phone’s LTE then transferring to the mp3 player using the computer. The two guys that worked there were really chill and the work was light, so they chatted with me about everything from diet and exercise to current events while I waited on the downloads.

Finally, just before 4, I thanked them and left to return to Dick Weed’s for my last town food and a parting beer. One of the waitresses was the same that had served me breakfast. I had 3 pork sliders and half an order of fried green beans–even the appetizer portions were way too big–so that I was busting at the seams when I walked back to the bus stop just before the bus to Walker Pass left.

The bus driver clearly wanted to be a race car driver because I tried to work on my last blog post only to very rapidly become motion sick as she tried to throw me from my seat around every turn. I gave up and spent the rest of the trip staring at the horizon, gripping the edge of the seat, and breathing deeply. I was grateful when she finally dropped me off, and spent the next few minutes just sitting on the roadside and breathing.

I hit the trail around 6 with a plan to hike up the hill and camp at the campsite 4 miles in, at which I expected to arrive around the middle of civil twilight. 3.5 miles in, the huge lunch I’d stuffed myself with on the way out decided it needed some more room in my intestines, so my arrival at the campsite as soon as possible became an emergency. I barely managed to hold on long enough to reach the spot and dig the hole. (Yes, Jimmy, I know, but this event is actually significant.) A couple of minutes later, I had finished, cleaned myself up and was about to put my shorts back on when a pair of headlamps came spinning into the campsite.

“Hello?” I called.

“Hi there,” one answered.

So I hurried to put my shorts back on and go introduce myself more properly to the main other dramatis personae of this post: Benroy and his wife Segolene. He was from all over, including Japan, Washington, Texas, and, most recently, St. Louis. She was from France. Following her passing the bar and his quitting his job, they decided to head off on a string of adventures, the most recent of which would be a large section of the PCT. It was their very first night out. We both made dinner and camp. I offered them each a wedge of one of the limes I packed out and we traded apple cider for hot chocolate. Total distance: 4 miles

Dick Weed’s

Day 2

Looked like it would be a hot day so we all got up as early as we could to do the 7 miles to the first available water source. After filling up, I went down to Joshua Tree Spring to have a bath in the water trough. About 2 feet deep, 3 feet wide, and 25 feet long, it was perfect for a private skinny dipping soak on a hot day. Just me and the water skimmers. Best idea I had that day. (The worst was leaving and hiking on just as the day was reaching its hottest.)

It was so hot (110 in the sun, so I am told) that I decided to stop at the bottom of the next hill for a snack and a siesta under a Joshua Tree. Around 3, wanting to make it to my intended campsite before dark, I climbed the hill to find B&S hiding in the shade of a bush at the top. Just beyond them was another rattlesnake, this one more peaceful.

B&S caught up to me again at the next creek 5 miles on where I was having a late lunch and had already finished collecting water. Told them I was planning to camp at the next tentsite and left them to finish their collection. Walked another 1.3 miles, found the spot big enough for just one tent, set up, cooked, went to bed. B&S woke me when they came through an hour or two after dark, paused, then continued up the hill. Total distance: 14 miles

Day 3

I got up as soon as I woke up the next morning, hoping for an early start for what would be a very hot day, and the first 3 miles was a hill climb I very much wanted to do while the sun was on the other side of the hill. I succeeded. I left camp just after 6 and reached the top of the climb by 7:30. I continued around the ridge 4 miles before stopping for lunch. Another 4 miles downhill to the next water source, Chimney Creek, caught me up to B&S who had already finished with their collection. Also, there had been a man who came by to pay Hiker Taxi signs and handed out Bud Lights. Benroy had saved me one. I squeezed one of my limes into it and drank it with my feet in the creek. B&S apologized for waking me–explained they didn’t make camp until midnight the night before, but felt very accomplished with their nearly 17 mile day/night. For this reason, I will now refer to them as the Midnight Crew, or MC for short. After I did my collection and MC left, took my shorts off and took a seat in the creek and scrubbed my legs, then just lay in the water with my shirt on and everything, both on my front and back. 

Caught up with MC at the next spring. They had eaten so I stopped to eat too. I figured I had enough water still and skipped collecting any more. Intended to hike on with B&S for another 3 miles or so, but couldn’t keep up with them, started losing my balance (not dizzy, just random balance), found a random flat spot way off the trail and made camp. Total distance: 14 miles

Bud Light Lime?
It doesn’t really taste like kombucha
An elephant!
Benroy & Segolene

Day 4

Got up early and out. I had almost run out of water making dinner and such the night before and it was nearly 10 miles to the next water source (all downhill thankfully). Blew right past MC’s campsite and cruised into Manter Creek by noon, having hiked the last three miles completely dry. Had already eaten lunch (including a lime, of course), bathed, and collected water by the time MC showed up. Turns out Segolene had twisted her foot, so they would spend the next several hours at the creek deciding whether to hike on.

It was just a few miles down to South Fork Kern River and I was eager to get there quickly. I found an easy access about a half mile up from where the trail started following it, which turned out to have a nice, deep hole for a dip. So I stripped and plunged into the cold water and chilled for an hour or so. Then I collected some water, ate some lunch and hiked on.

A few miles later, the trail passed an even better section of the trail for swimming: a beaver pond! So I stopped for another hour long swim.

Finally, I got moving and got to the shortcut to Grumpy Bear’s Retreat and sent a text for a ride as soon as I found a shady spot. I must have gotten the wrong number because I never got a reply. Around 6:30, I decided to start walking again, and just as I got to the main road, Wayne drove by in his truck looking for people like me and gave me a ride in. I got in at 7, just as the restaurant was closing, but that was no problem because I still had some food (as the previous section had been shorter than expected).

Taylor was already sitting in front of Triple Crown Outfitters trying to download maps on the slow satellite wifi. He had camped at Manter Creek the night before and arrived before me and already set up a tent. I made dinner and chatted with him. There was a scale there and I weighed in as 20 pounds lighter than when I started. I didn’t believe it, but someone later confirmed the scale’s accuracy. Then I found it alarming. I do have the weight to lose, but 20 pounds in three weeks would seem to indicate I should be eating more. It’s just hard to want to eat most things in that dry heat. A signal to mix up my food options.

Eventually, MC arrived as well, having delayed a long time at Manter Creek owing to Segolene having injured her foot and their considering spending the day there to recover. We all set up tents around TCO as well and then toured the area around Grumpy Bear’s as the sun set to locate the shower and bathroom. I ended the evening with a hot tea and a lot of rearranging of gear, ready to hit the ground running on acquiring permits during my zero day. Total distance on trail: 17 miles

Day 0

I woke up at sunrise and went over to Grumpy Bear’s to plug in my devices. My main concern was figuring out how to get permits for the next section. Much floundering was done on the web looking for information and no conclusions were reached.

At 8, Grumpy Bear’s opened, and it was time for a Hiker Breakfast. The eggs weren’t great, but the pancakes were truly cake sized. Or pan sized. They were all-you-can-eat pancakes, and for any normal person, all you can eat is two.

Then came showering (one at a time–MC went first) and laundry (free at Grumpy Bear’s including soap).

Finally, TCO opened at 10 and I got my shopping done. Got some sun gloves. Got some new shoes and socks that would clear up my blistering issues over the course of the next week. And even got information from Yogi about which permits I would need.

Several more hikers arrived in the afternoon, including Jeff, who was taking a trail vacation when his wife arrived that night, and who was having eating issues because he seemed to be losing weight he didn’t have to lose. Meanwhile, I ordered a small case of beer and ice to put in a bucket and carry up to TCO to share with the other hikers while we passed the hot part of the day under the awning.

A trail angel from Ridgecrest (Paula?) brought in some hikers and later took me over to the General Store, which didn’t seem to have much to offer compared to Grumpy Bear’s or TCO, but I got a turkey wrap there for lunch. When she drove me back to Grumpy Bear’s, MC had a pizza they’d just been gifted and offered a slice. I took it, of course, even though I’d just eaten, and ordered a margarita on the rocks to sip while I uploaded pictures for this blog.

Later, just before they closed the kitchen, I ordered a half dozen chicken wings for dinner. The whole restaurant closed soon after and the hikers moved onto the deck. After my blog post was posted, Taylor and I moved back to TCO to continue finishing off my bucket. When the darkness had fully settled, we started getting ready for bed, leaving one beer in the bucket for the next day.

I went to bed with no permits as yet and still no idea about how to continue my hike. Everyone else had PCTA long distance permits and would certainly be leaving the next day. Taylor said I should just hike on and risk it without a permit. Yogi said the rangers had been known to turn hikers around and make them walk back to Kennedy Meadows for having no permit. So, needless to say, I was buzzed but uneasy as I went to sleep around 11pm.

Categories
PCT CA Section F

Tehachapi to Walker Pass

Day 1

It was mostly a town day, which meant running errands. After a relatively slow start with breakfast from the hotel, there was laundry in the hotel coin laundry, followed by a trip to a local laundromat with larger washers and dryers to do my sleeping bag. While that was going on, I went shopping at the sporting goods store and got tent stakes, canister gas, freeze dried food, etc. then went and got some takeout in the form of a knockoff facsimile of shrimp pad thai as imagined by someone who had never tasted the real thing. I’ll blame it on a lime shortage as there had been none at the Walmart either.

It took far longer than expected for my sleeping bag to dry (and I ran other errands at my hotel and Walgreens while this was going on), so I called it good enough (if still slightly damp) at 3:30 since I had to be out of my hotel room by 4. Got back at 3:55 and threw everything on a bell cart just to get checked out as quickly as possible. Called Ted again to get a ride to the post office and then the trail. Wasn’t quite repacked when he arrived, but only five more minutes were needed.

Long line at the post office and they didn’t have the package I had ordered either. Plus I couldn’t ship home the heavy mobile battery I had replaced in the box I had selected nor could I change boxes with the post office closing, so I just left it with Ted to give to anyone else who wanted it. After buying a final goodbye Coke, he drove me down the highway to the spot where Cheryl Strayed started the trail. I climbed until dark fighting knockdown gale force winds until I found my tent site with its barrier wall. The mice came hunting my food as soon as it got dark.

Wind barricaded campsite
World’s boldest mouse

Day 2

Kind of a boring day but the weather was good (if still somewhat windy) and the trail was pretty easy (except for the annoying dirt road walks). Lots of wind farms. About 12.5 miles to a Golden Oaks Spring, the next water source, where I made camp.

Day 3

Another hiker (Allan) showed up at the spring while I was packing up the next morning. We chatted a bit about nothing and then I left him there. We leapfrogged a couple of times when he took a siesta on the trail. Met a man who wants to run the whole by parking at a different place each day and running up and down the trail to connect up where he’s been before. Wanted to talk about how the PCT compared to the AT. Dry camped at a random flat spot beside the trail when it started getting dark. No wind all night. 15.5 miles.

Horned Toad Lizard

Day 4

Used up remaining water for breakfast and proceeded the remaining 3 miles to Robin Bird Spring dry. Had to modify the pipe intake to get the spring to flow reasonably. A little time to collect and filter but left soon with a half full bag to pump out the 7 miles to Landers Meadow campground and spring as quickly as possible. Hiking was easy with low rollers through a forest along a creek.

Campground had privies (a rare treat) and the most powerful flowing spring I have yet seen. Took a nice hour-long siesta by the spring before doing another half-full bag and back on the trail. Met another hiker coming down to the spring as I left. Walked through an interesting area capped by “granitic plutonics” right out of Disney Land’s Big Thunder Mountain.

The hiker I saw caught up with me on the final stretch down the hill to Kelso Road, my final destination. Two more were close on our heels. Two more had past me during my siesta and were already set up by the road. Two more arrived while I was cooking and making camp. And another in the middle of the night. All told there were about 8 of us thru-hikers camping at or near the road that night. Some names I remember: GT, Circus, Sleeping Beauty, Cammy and Zack/Free Dose (a trail couple), Flash. I chatted a bit with most of them, but after the next day, in which they intended a supermarathon 28 miles, I wouldn’t see them again in this section. 17 miles total.

Someone wrote 600 in the road and then a car scattered the 6
This cable barred the road to Casa de Oso, a small cabin on the trail. Clearly, 8 different households have access to it.
Cammy and Free Dose
GT and Sleeping Beauty

Day 5

Left in the middle of the pack, but was soon passed by everyone. Miserable, exposed section that started with an annoying climb. Met my first angry rattlesnake. Stopped at a road crossing that randomly had 4G cell service for a call home and some research for my next town stay. Stopped under a shady Joshua tree for lunch and a long energy recovery at midday. Trail remained completely exposed with almost no shade for the entire 15 mile stretch. Came into Bird Spring Pass (a road crossing with a water cache and a few tent sites) so drained I had a hard time mustering the energy to make camp and dinner. Knowing that the rest of the gang had blown through this section, immediately surmounted the following 3 mile climb up Skinner Ridge and continued another 13 miles wore me out even more. Eating supper helped bring me back closer to normal (though not quite human perhaps). Slightly windy night but not too bad.

View from siesta spot

Day 6

Slow, lazy morning. Out by 8am and playing music to help power through that steep 3 mile climb to Skinner Peak. Still had to stop a couple of times on the climb for breaks. Took well over 2 hours.

Following trail was a long descent followed by some rolling sections with trees. Stopped for a break before another climb but decided not to make it a long one. Joined an annoying rough dirt road around 2pm already so close to my destination that I was seriously considering pressing on the last 8 miles to Walker Pass and hitching into town early–even though I had no good reason to be there yet–figuring whether there would be enough daylight by the time I got there for drivers to see me. Passed a couple of dune buggy drivers but they had no beer.

Arrived at McIver’s Cabin (1920s gold prospector, cabin preserved/maintained as hiker/camper shelter) and Spring to find a giant customized Toyota Tacoma ($28000 in offroading and camping gear built into it) and three guys who were out for the day ready to offer me a beer and a Louisiana hot sausage with grilled onions. All intention to keep hiking immediately evaporated and I spent the entire afternoon with them–John (Huang Jun) the IT guy and truck owner, John Jones, and the Amazon worker whose name I forgot–eating what food they were willing to offer and charging my phone.

Sometime later, a man arrived alone in a Lexus SUV. After the OHV three left, I went over to hang out with him. He had set up a campsite right out of a magazine, with his tent on a ledge and everything, and was escaping his domestic life for a weekend for an opportunity to see the Milky Way. I shared an apple cider with him and then went to cowboy camp on the front porch of the cabin. I woke up at 10pm to the sound of mice inside the cabin scraping at something. I got out of my sleeping bag to brave the mice and bats inside the cabin to retrieve my pack (in case that was what they were chewing on) and hang it from a nail outside. And then I saw the Milky Way.

Water cache
View from the cabin front porch
The cabin has a thermostat (face plate)

Day 7

That guy was leaving by the time I got up the following morning. I left around 7 with just the last 8 miles to Walker Pass to go. All downhill, I was there by 11am. Made a sign and hitched a ride to Lake Isabella with Lisa and Alex, who had never given a ride before. They left me at Lake Isabella Motel. The owner did everything, infusing charging 5 dollars a head for all the locals using the swimming pool–kids and their beer swilling parents. After getting a room and a shower, I headed out to walk the town. I got a popsicle and a tea from the Shell station and walked a mile to Nelda’s Diner for a burger and a shake. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back for resupply, plus some plums and a bunch of limes and an iced tea. By the time I walked back to the motel, the last of the locals was leaving the pool, so I took a plum, a lime, and the tea down there to have a solo swim. This is where I learned that when Timex says “100m water resist” they mean “water will get trapped under the face plate if you submerge it more than a few inches and your indiglo backlight will never work again.”

When the sun started getting low, I went back to my room to change (and hang shortly wet shorts from the TV directly under the swamp cooler in the ceiling), I headed out to Dick Weed’s for fish tacos and a massive salad and some craft beer. I left just before closing time to return to my room and that was my day in town. My second day in that town will begin the next post, which may be a very long time coming due to internet unavailability.

Lisa and Alex
Lake Isabella is falling apart… Looks like a movie set
Swamp cooler in every room
Isabella Motel (pool to myself)
Dick Weed’s bar
Categories
PCT CA Section E

You Need Sweet Water to Hatch a Pea

First day

Long climb out of Agua Dulce starting at 3pm. Passed by three thru hikers. 8.5 miles. Weather very cool and cloudy. Camp by 9pm. Cold night. Bright moon. Hard to stay asleep.

Trail register

Pipe gate

Second day

Clearer and warmer. Hiked out by 8:30am. Was just past noon by the time I had hiked far enough to be unable to see my first campsite on the other side of the valley. Lots of wildlife on the trail: rabbits, chipmunks, big and small lizards, horny toads, birds of all sizes, ants literally everywhere. Hiked until 3 then tried to nap on the bench. Too cold in the shade with the wind, even with down jacket on. Left an hour later and pitched camp at 6 two miles further on. 10 miles total. Laid in tent as sun set trying to get a warm nap. As soon as the sun was gone, it was freezing again.

How to keep the sun out of your face when napping

Day 3

Hotter day but still breezy. Broke backpack chest strap when about to leave. Left camp by 8. It was out of sight by 10. Followed/led a family down the hill to the road and stopped for a snack in a small clearing near the trail register. Climb up grassy mountain not too bad. Had lunch on opposite side. Lots of wildflowers. Long dry exposed section followed down to next road. Climb up was tough and still exposed. Explored a tunnel. Filled up at spring and made it to the top of the hill before having to give up for the day. Total distance about 14 miles. Camped in clearing with rabbits and hummingbirds. Made double supper. Accidentally squirted water all over the tent floor and through sleeping bag and had to panic clean it up.

These lizards are everywhere on the trail all the time
Very few snakes about so far
Along with an abundance of spring wildflowers comes an abundance of bees and other flying insects

Day 4

Up after six and going. Soon found headphone was crushed in my sleep. Next six days will be without audiobooks. Had trouble finishing bagel. Had to stretch water for 5 miles from camp. But two old men with three dogs arrived at nearby parking area and one donated most of a bottle of water! Arrived at Maxwell Camp guzzler after 5 miles of relatively easy hiking. Foul smelling stagnant water, but cold. I filtered it and took as much as I could, but left my Buff smelling awful from using it as a macro filter. Laid on the concrete for a couple of hours just to relax before moving on. Five more miles to Sawmill Camp to stop. Beautiful site with luxurious amenities such as a pit toilet and cell service. Tried to sit and enjoy the dusk by candlelight, but it blew out. Broke a tent stake and the remaining half would not hold. Had to get up in the middle of the night to weight the ropes with rocks. Also one strap on my pillow stuff sack came loose. Starting to lose track of all the things that are breaking this first week.

Can you spot the hummingbird?
Maxwell Camp guzzler
Sawmill campsite
Sawmill camp toilet
Water tank near Sawmill camp

Day 5

After taking my time getting up and spending an hour filtering water at the tank, I didn’t get out of camp until 10am. Immediately had to do a huge mile-long climb. After 4 miles, stopped at another tank and climbed under the metal roof to wait out the hottest part of the day in the shade.

After a couple hours napping on the tank, was joined by section hikers Tailgate and Gidget, who spent some time under the tank roof with me. They’re ending at Tehachapi this year. After some discussion, I convinced them to join me at Horse Trail Camp 6 miles further on.

They left first, but after one more big climb, I passed them making dinner trailside, then pushed through the meadows and down a steep hill to arrive some thirty minutes before them. I had already cooked dinner and was ready to set up my tent, so I told them I needed a huge rock to weight the cables in lieu of the broken stake. Instead, they offered me one of their stakes since they were nearly finished with their hike and hardly used them anyway for their freestanding 3-man tent. Stayed up well past dusk enjoying the Verizon LTE the campsite afforded.

The 500 mile point on the trail is around about here
This is probably past Mile 501, but it does mark the top of an annoying hill climb
I don’t know what these spiky pods are or do, but when they are on the ground cracked open, they are mostly hollow
The desert toward which I am headed
Tailgate and Gidget’s tent at Horse Trail Camp
Casa Mia at Horse Trail Camp

Day 6

Gidget’s voice woke me at 3 am: “Can you hear it?” I managed to doze off a bit until 4am, at which point I could sleep no longer. I laid awake until 4:30am, then crawled out with my water bag and filter to go down the steep trail to the spring by headlamp.

While there, I was repeatedly swooped by bats presumably attracted to the insects drawn to my headlamp. I also brushed my thumb against some stinging nettle, which would continue to nettle me for the next 24 hours. The sun was on the verge of rising by the time I climbed out of the ravine with my full bag of water. I drank my breakfast at the picnic table and watched the sun rise. It had risen by the time my campmates crawled out of their tent. They still managed, by dint of delaying breakfast and having two people to pack up one tent, managed to leave a half hour before me. Before leaving, they offered me an extra belt they didn’t need to use as a chest strap on my pack, thereby solving another of my problems. I left just after 7 and very quickly passed those two on the downhill section of trail. I did the 10 miles to Hiker Town without a major break (even though the trail was very annoying with constant ups and downs). Phone battery low so no pictures of that section. Arrived around 11:30

No one was active at Hiker Town to greet me or explain how the shower or anything else worked or where I could get the package I had sent there (nor did anyone answer the phone), but G&T arrived shortly and had called the Market Cafe that was (I soon learned) owned by the same people that owned Hiker Town. Tino took all three of us to the market where I got some popsicles, some beer, a salad, et al. Because Jimmy would be disappointed if I didn’t, I ordered a burrito too. Already there was Mike (Sea Egg), and we sat there for a couple hours just eating and drinking and chatting. Learned that Gidget hadn’t slept much due to a probable mouse running around their tent crunching on the Tyvek all night.

After Tino took Mike and me back to Hiker Town, I got a nice cold shower for a hot day. I met Marta, the hardest working woman I’ve ever met. She offered to wash and dry my laundry for free, gave me a can of Coke, made Mexican ceviche tostadas for everyone there, made grape agua fresca, and would have made pancakes for breakfast the next morning if I had been there.

When G&T returned from market, we ask chatted on patio for a while until Mike started preparing to leave to start a night hike across the desert. Soon after he left, Tacoma Tomato arrived, called Tino to get a ride to the store. I rode back with him to get a Powerade and the free ice cream they give to people who stay at Hiker Town. Soon, we were all back at the patio chatting until the sun went down. Bad microwave pizza for supper. Tacoma Tomato stayed out there until late waiting for his girlfriend to come pick him up. I went on repacking and preparing for the next day until past 9, and took to my bunk to fall asleep some time after 10.

Tailgate and Gidget
Tino, dog, and Mike (left)
Mexican ceviche tostada filling
Quails
Mike
Grape agua fresca
Cactus blossom after dark

Day 7

Awoke by alarm at 3am. G&T were up as well. After morning routine and two microwave pancakes on sticks for breakfast, began desert flatland trek at 4:30. Most of it went along the LA aqueduct or down straight dirt roads. Around 6, already 2.5 miles in, stopped to put on sunscreen, sunglasses, and eat 2 granola bars. Would eat nothing but Starburst for the next 6 hours. Very boring with only a few highlights:

  • the man sitting alone on top of a pipe bridge loudly reading from a book (like a history or philosophy book) in a broad-brimmed hat and bandana up to his nose, occasionally telling his dog to shut up and stop barking at me so he could keep reading. Like something you’d only see in a western movie.
  • This three-pawed mama taking her pups for a walk, following me for about a mile while hunting lizards and ground squirrels
  • Passing G&T when they stopped for a snack
  • Finally arriving at the bridge around mile 17 where the first bit of shade I’d seen since sunrise met the first water source, the aqueduct hiker faucet.

So, of course, Mr. Just Walked 17 Miles On 5 Hours of Sleep laid out his sleeping pad for a nap in the shade. G&T arrived a bit later, then left by 1:15 just in time for me to chase the shade across the dry creek bottom to where they had been sitting to continue my nap. We spoke of meeting up at the next campsite, but this was the last time I saw them.

A couple hours later, the shade was threatening to run off without me again, so I got up, fetched water, drank a lot of it, ate some cold soak ramen, and left by 5 to cross the wind farm. The wind was strong enough to threaten to push me off the trail when it gusted. Too sleepy to climb the remaining 1.2 miles to the creek in the dark after a 23 mile day, I camped in the first ravine after the wind farm ended. Discovered a tent stake had gone missing by means unknown. Weighted the tent end with rocks (never enough) and slept through the buffeting tent flapping that left my sleeping bag covered in a crust of fine dust by morning. Crawled out of the tent naked after 10pm to try to reseat the rocks, watched by unflappable deer, little success, rushed back inside to stave off hypothermia.

Open LA aqueduct
People like to walk on this pipe, but I didn’t
A long straight dirt road. Exciting hiking!
Notice the right rear paw is missing
Being outpaced by G&T
The only shade available all day. Good nap spot.

Day 8

Left camp by 8 with no water. Climbed the 1.2 miles to Tylercreek and spent several hours playing in it, soaking in it, collecting water from it, and sadly bidding it adieu when I finally got moving again. Stopped again 3 miles later in the next ravine, having spent the entire time watching the dirtbikes make circuits up and down the hills. Amazing how steep the sandy trails they climbed were when I could barely climb a relatively shallow sandy trail on foot. Stopped for lunch and watched the water in the little stream dry up as I sat there.

Gorilla came running down the hill behind me just as I was getting up to investigate. Said he was speedrunning the trail like most crazy things he’d done in his life. 35 miles a day ultralight with no zeros and a plan to reach Kennedy Meadows without stopping in a week. We chatted and he said he might see me at the next trail magic after a straight four climb at the end of which I intended to stop for the night, but I knew there was no way he would still be there by the time I crawled up the hill over the course of the next four hours.

It was not an easy climb. It caused some chafing. A blister on the bottom of my right foot popped midstride. The “549” trail magic was great though. Cabinets with food and many many gallons of water. I ate a lime, a jar of strawberries in syrup (and drank the syrup in water with lime juice), and a cookie. Then I made supper and drank as much water as I wanted…several liters worth. The sleeping experience was identical to the previous night… the rock was heavy, but the wind easily pulled the ropes from under it.

Observe my hydroengineering prowess
Goodbye Mr. Creek! I’ll miss you!
When you can clearly see the four mile climb that is waiting for you
The desert flatland I crossed the previous day

Day 9

A relatively easy downhill 10 mile hike without breaks down to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road… if it weren’t for those weeping sores between my legs. Found a number for the only remaining trail angels on a post at the roadside. Called. Picked up by Ted Johnson and brought to a hotel in Tehachapi about a half hour later. Very nice man. Showered and went to T-K’s for supper  (pizza, salad, local craft beer). Did a bit of Wal-Mart shopping and went back to hotel for a phone call and very quickly arriving asleep. I would leave Tehachapi late the next day… but that is a story for the next post.

Peach Creamsicle
Fruitsicle