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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

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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
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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
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Two Days in San Diego

I’ll be straight. We spent the vast majority of these days in our hotel room.

But there were nonetheless some errands to run and a few fun meals to be had.

Thursday began with a breakfast of cold pizza, candy, and Coke. Then it was off to Wal-Mart in National City to buy supplies. Which was miserable. Poorly stocked. Poorly organized. Crowded. Loud. Rude people blocking the aisles. But they had nearly everything I needed to pick up.

Except for a fuel canister. Which mean a mile down the road to another Wal-Mart. One that was the opposite in every way. Well-stocked. Organized. Less crowded. Polite people. I wish we had known to go there in the first place.

Then it was time for lunch and a touristy visit to Coronado Island. Mexican food at Miguel’s Cucina. Because it’s San Diego. You have to get Mexican.

Then we went back to the hotel, so I could pick up some boxes from the post office next door and a package from the front desk containing all my section maps for the trail.

After a brief break in the hotel room, we decided to spend the evening out by visiting a brewery. The Gaslamp Quarter was surprisingly happening despite the various current events conspiring to shut the city down. It’s probably for the best that this place wasn’t open:

But Knotty Brewing was open and a great time. Two flights of craft beer and a chicken sandwich dinner passed the next two hours in a flash while the neighborhood joggers and dogs paraded around us.

We also hit up a Ralph’s around the corner for some breakfast food and snacks, then back to the hotel to start putting map/guide/water report packages together, and a little bit of TV in bed to finish out the night.

Today didn’t involve nearly as much driving or traveling far at all. We started off the day by grabbing take-out breakfast from the Panera across the street and eating in the hotel room. Then, I spent the rest of the morning finishing putting together all the map packets for my bounce box and a food package for my first resupply. By early afternoon, I was ready to return to the post office to ship them.

But we were also ready for lunch, so we just continued out into the neighborhood to visit another brewpub: The Local Eatery of Resident Brewing. Nachos, beer cheese pretzels, Cuban sandwich and fries, and two amazing IPAs. My mom said the first was the best beer she ever tasted. (All Together IPA for future reference.)

Back to the hotel. After a short digestion break on the bed, I repacked my pack for tomorrow. Then, we went down to the pool area to sit on lounge chairs and chill as twilight disappeared. I had my laptop and downloaded 20 audiobooks from the library and a couple dozen podcasts for my mp3 player to listen to while walking. That’s how I always roll as you might know by now.

And now it’s blogging while a Julia Roberts movie from the 90’s plays on Lifetime. The big show starts tomorrow. The nervousness is all gone now–but I still hope I’m not forgetting something. Something always gets forgotten.

Next update to follow within two weeks. Best I can do.

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Getting ready

I’ll be straight with you about this. The name, tagline, color scheme, icon, and background image for this blog come from an anime. Go ahead and call me a total weeb if you like, but I’m going to tell you what it has to do with this trip anyway.

The anime is called Laid-Back Camp, and it’s about a bunch of girls that go camping. It focuses on food, fun, gear, exploration, and beautiful scenery. The theme song, Shiny Days, is a straight-up ripoff of the Jackson Five’s oeuvre, as YouTuber TripleQ has demonstrated with this mashup:

Shiny Jacksons by TripleKyun

The song ends with San Diego from South Park…but my journey begins here in San Diego.

I got my gear packed just a few hours before it was time to go to the airport. Here it is spread out on the garage floor:

You might notice some new items here that weren’t on my AT hike. In particular, I have a new ultralight tent,

From Tarptent

a new ultralight shovel, a new ultralight pillow, a new ultralight sleeping pad, and a new bear canister.

I took most of this new gear to northeast Georgia to do an in-and-out 25 mile section of the Bartram Trail over the first weekend of May. Although there was a decent amount of rain the first afternoon, the rest of the weekend was beautiful, and I only saw a handful of people for obvious reasons–except an enormous family completely taking over Warwoman Dell. I had a heck of a time getting through the crowd while maintaining social distance, and couldn’t even get close to the waterfall. I also severely blistered my left foot in a boot I didn’t realize was so ill-fitting. Anyway, here are the pictures from that trip:

So that’s what spring looks like in the temperate zone. Look back at this post once I start uploading pictures from the Socal desert for a stark contrast.

Modifications made and packing complete, it was time to catch a flight. The Atlanta airport was surprisingly easy to navigate in spite of, or perhaps because of, coronavirus adjustments. We were the only people in our Plane Train car.

The Delta lounge was open with more limited food availability. And it was full. The flight was an easy four hours,

but we arrived to find San Diego basically completely shut down. The Gaslamp Quarter is half boarded up to ward off riots. There’s nothing riotous happening, but it still manages to feel like we’re halfway to the zombie apocalypse.

2020 man. This is the perfect time to go get lost in the wilderness away from all this crap. Or it would be if it weren’t for the tremors under Yellowstone….

So what’s left? Wal-Mart trip. Package sending. And a drive to Agua Dulce to start. I should be on the trail by Saturday at the latest. Let’s do this.