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.

One reply on “The weather goes to hail: Sonora Pass to Echo Lake”

We are burning up here in Georgia and you are freezing! So strange. And, hail. That seems to be a “thing” this summer. Happened to me in North Carolina.

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