The PCT – The Sierra – Days 69 – 81

Day 69 & 70 – 0 miles

Spent some restful time in Bishop. Some of us moved over to the Eastside Guesthouse and Bivy which was some primo hostel accommodations. There were hammocks for me to laze about in. My new pack showed up finally and now I kinda feel like I’m abandoning my old pack lol.

I heard from Mick the Australian after he got to town. He’d been behind me the day we went over Forester Pass, but I kept going to get out of the weather and didn’t see him again. Apparently he stopped to help with a medical emergency on the way up Forester. A hiker fell and they had to start CPR as well as call for rescue. I heard that she had an aneurysm and didn’t make it. I kept wondering what I would have done had I been there. There isn’t much back country first aid you can do for an aneurysm bleed.

In other news, everyone has been stressing out about the food carry (8-10 depending on who you ask), the passes, the snow, and the overall difficulty of the upcoming stretch. And by everyone I mean me. I’ve got 10 days worth of food crammed into my bear cannister so I guess I’m ready to find out what I’m capable of.

Day 71 – 8.5 miles

We managed to find a ride back to trail pretty early which was nice because it was about an 8 mile climb back up to the PCT. I’d have to cross Kearsarge pass again. The naming of this pass has an interesting history. The USS Kearsarge sunk the CSS Alabama during the Civil War. Southern sympathizers named the rock formations around Lone Pine the Alabama Hills in honor of the Confederate ship. Northern sympathizers named a Pass, Lake, and Town after the Union ship. So I guess it was their own little naming feud.

The climb back up went surprisingly faster than I thought it would. It seemed to go on forever when I went down it, but I’m guessing that’s because I was extremely tired and hungry that evening. I got to the top of the pass in much better circumstances than before. The sun was shining and the breeze was cooling, not punishing.

Back on the actual PCT I started climbing towards Glen Pass. The original plan was to cross it, but I was glad to see my group stopped about a mile before. Everyone was feeling tired and not quite acclimated to the elevation.

A lot of hiking in the Sierra is determined by crossing the Passes. Conventional wisdom is to ascend the pass early in the morning so that the snow is still crunchy and stable. Crossing these passes can often involve traversing very steep slopes where one misstep can send you down the mountain to injury and possible death. Added to this is the element of higher elevation with its less pressurized air. So it has been the plan of most hikers to do one pass a day. This in turn makes hikers slow down and have to carry more food. Where some hikers may have been doing 25 mile days in the desert, now they are down to 12-15.

I was glad everyone had stopped. I’ve never hiked in the snow and never at elevation. I was having some severe anxiety about crossing Glen Pass in the afternoon after the sun had all that time to turn the snow into slush. Stopping early also had the added benefit of getting some choice spots only a mile from the pass.

I noticed on my way up how my new pack carried the weight better than my old one. I’d not noticed how much the padding and straps were worn down and so wore me down. It’s much more comfortable to have the weight dispersed appropriately. It even helps to splint my left chest that still hurts. I’m fairly certain it is a pulled muscle and you never realize how much you use your pectoral in everyday movement until it hurts.

Day 72 – 12.6 miles

I woke up super early and then fell back asleep. Finally got going around 0530. The climb up to Glen Pass (11,957 ft) wasn’t so bad. There was only one snow patch to cross and then a bunch of dry switchbacks. At the top was a small knives edge walk and then the beginning of the descent. There was no sign or plaque like on Forester. They just expect you to get on with it.

I put on my microspikes and began to pick my way across a steep slope of snow. There was already a path of steps tamped down by previous hikers. It led to an island of rocks that I had to scramble over (which is not fun in microspikes – it actually makes walking on rocks slipperier) and then began a knee crunching descent straight down.

I made it safely to the bottom and then looked up. It didn’t seem believable that I started way up there. I sat down to take off microspikes and eat my second breakfast. Incidentally I also almost got into an argument with another hiker about whether we were in Taurus or Gemini season. It went something like this:

Dude bro Canadian: Blah blah something something new moon in Taurus….

Me: No dude we’re in Gemini season now.

DBC: No it’s Taurus

Me: No it’s Gemini

DBC: What do you mean Gemini? It’s Taurus!

<Me being baffled at why I’m even engaging in this stupid argument.>

DBC: *pauses and then pompously* oh wait! you’re following Western Astrology. I follow Ayurvedic Astrology. [His words not mine]

<Me looking at this very white dude up and down very irritated, like is he not Western?>

DBC: Do you want me to explain the difference?

Me: No. *turns my back to DCB after throwing an epic bitch face at him.*

Cue awkward silence.

After that weird encounter I kept going down towards Rae Lakes. The raw beauty of fresh snow melted lakes, green pines, open blue sky, and fierce granite mountains brought out some raw emotions. I’ve noticed that such epic views bring up some junk for me and it doesn’t always correlate with my current situation. It’s like – oh were crying about that now? Okay I guess.

I saw Mick down on a peninsula between lakes just hanging out. Apparently he’d been there all morning catching some trout. I kept going to find my group and eat lunch by another lake. The rest of the day was a walk down into the valley that was just full of water everywhere. I crossed mile 800 towards the end of the day. Ended up camping 4 miles before Pinchot Pass.

Glen Pass
Mile 800

Day 73 – 11.1 miles

I got going a little late: 0600. The climb up to Pinchot Pass (12,127 ft) was a total slog fest. There were a couple of snow fields that were easily traversed. It was the climbing up on dry land that was so tedious. Also I just felt like a slug.

The landscape was harsh, all gray rock and frozen lakes. No trees or greenery to soften the austerity. I’ve noticed that the animals are smaller in this environment too. The chipmunks, pikas, and squirrels are tiny. The marmots however have no problems eating judging by their fat butts.

I couldn’t keep my breathing under control and my left chest still hurt. I found myself thinking about it was hard to see all the beautiful nature when you are in pain. All you begin to see is the way in which the rocks, snow, and water can hurt you. But it’s not nature’s fault that I’m hurting, it’s mine for putting myself in this situation.

Pinchot Pass

Day 74 – 17.8 miles

Mather Pass (12,094 ft) is the boogeyman of this section. Everyone talks about how dangerous this pass is and how you really have to be careful. It wasn’t too bad. There was one section of sand and rocks that were more sketchy than the snow, but I made it to the top with relative ease. Either I’m getting better at this or the whole thing was a blown up idea in my head. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Coming down the other side of the pass was easy and the snow was cooperative with my efforts. The trail walked along the mountain walls to Palisade Lake. The slate gray sky reflected on the clear water. I ate lunch with TJ and Kat before descending 1000ft in one mile.

The rest of the afternoon was a mostly flat walk through a forested valley floor. The fragrant pines and quivering aspen framed a thrumming creek overfull with snow melt. Small deer (in relation to their fat southern cousins) idly grazed near the trail with seemingly no concern for the smelly humans passing by. I think I spotted a pine marten among the rocks. It was a lovely soothing walk amongst the trees and I barely noticed the miles. The enclosure of the forest seems more human scaled and make me feel sheltered with friendly trees.

Mather Pass

Day 75 – 14.3 miles

Muir Pass (11,970 ft) was a slushy slog fest from hell. Three miles before and five miles after the pass are covered in a thick blanket of snow. The way up was long and deceiving. Each time I’d round a mountain corner I’d find that I had another 1000 feet up another snow covered slope. The last push up to the very tippy top was a vertical wall with foot steps cut into the snow. By the time I reached the hut on top of the pass the snow was slushier than an Icee.

I ate some snacks but didn’t want to linger because I knew I’d have five more miles to push through and the longer the sun bakes the snow pack the slushier it gets.

My first step down the pass I postholed up to my knee. To be clear, that’s when your footstep punches through the snow to the ground beneath. Sometimes you might sink an inch, sometimes it’s a three foot drop. Sometimes you might hit rock, sometimes you’ll step in the creek beneath. It’s a miserable roulette of painful options and there was no other way but to go forward. It was tediously frustrating. At one point I started to preemptively kicking out the snow with high steps. It didn’t last long, because that’s very tiring. The sun reflected off the snow and despite the sunblock I put on I could feel my nose and lips cooking. In fact, later on I’d develop blisters on my lips.

Eventually the snow petered out and I found the actual trail. My feet dragged though the mud and rocks. Evolution lake laid out glittering in the sun looking all fresh and pretty but I didn’t care. I had less than zero energy and zombie walked around half the lake. Nearing the end of the lake was a small knoll of grass and four deer appeared out of nowhere. Their calm acceptance of my haggard form made me sit on a nearby rock and just stare at them. I took out a Clif bar and munched on it while the deer daintily picked through the greenery.

I found enough energy to continue a few more miles to camp with the group. It was a shelf of rock jutting out of the slope facing an epic mountain called The Hermit. I fell asleep the sounds of the creek rushing down the rocks.

Stupid Muir Pass

Day 76 – 17.7 miles

My tent was wet with condensation this morning and my sleeping bag was damp. Still, I slept pretty well. I started out earlier than everyone else because they tend to move faster than I do. The forest was serenely quiet as I passed meadows with the lazily flowing Evolution creek. I was determined to take it easy to today because there was no pass to cross.

The trail went down through a forest of cedars, pines, and aspens. The aspen leaves created a flickering shadow on the gravelly path before me. The cool air was thick with the mixed fragrance of astringent pine and musky cedar. I caught up with Kat and we wandered along side the San Joaquin River.

The trail ran along a canyon with the river rushing through the bottom. From above the water looks so clear and crisp it makes you thirsty just to look at it. The colors range from sky blue to Coke bottle green. After lunch Kat sped along and I was alone again. I crossed the Piute Creek on the newest looking bridge I’ve seen I’m back country.

Then began a long hard climb in the direct sun. Up until this point I’d only carried one liter of water because in the Sierra water is everywhere. Except for on this climb apparently. I got down to the last dregs of my water when I finally got to the top and a creek there. I flopped down on a rock to catch my breath and mosquitos immediately started their attack on my precious blood.

Camp was by the Sallie Keyes lake outlet or Mosquitoville as it’s better known. The estuary-esque creek had lively rainbow trout running up and down to eat their fill of the bugs. I ate my fill of dinner in my tent away from the bugs.

Day 77 – 17.4 miles

In the morning the surface of the lake was glassy and reflective of the mountains and trees. I thought the pictures I took looked like sound waves and wondered if they could somehow be transcribed into actual sound. The climb up to Selden Pass (10,913 ft) was relatively easy and didn’t seem like a pass at all. The switchbacks were easy and there was very little snow.

I bounced around the group most of the day but walked by myself. At lunch I had a Goldilocks spot: water, sun and shade, and flat spot – it was just right. It was a peaceful spot where I was able to do some trail laundry and dry out my socks. The rest of the day was a forested walk with occasional far off mountain views.

The climb up to camp at the end of the day was a real bummer. 900 ft of rocks in less than a mile. The last bit were some stone stairs of death with the late afternoon sun beating down on me. Finally made it to camp next to Mono creek and the mosquitos.

Selden Pass
I thought this tree looked like roast beef.

Day 78 – 14.9 miles

Silver Pass (10,778 ft) was the last pass of this stretch. It had a fun amount of crunchy snow and easy climbing. However, the acutal pass wasn’t the end of the climb. The High Point was and another 0.2 mile up. There was some more snow on the other side, but it stayed blessedly crunchy.

After the end of snow, the trail began an up and down through the forest. I saw some crows just chilling on a tree. There were lakes everywhere and creeks popping out of every corner. I began to think about how nature is supposed to be healing, but it seems the Sierra are all about tough love with surgical precision – not the hippy dippy love fest that most would expect. They strip away everything but the essential – the things you know you can’t live without. It unravels the lies you tell yourself and forces you to answer why are you doing this? What do you want? There is no looking away, because then you are standing still and stuck in the dangerous wilderness.

The deep thoughts soon gave way to daydreaming of town things: showers, hot food, and clean beds. My nose and lips were raw and peeling and I was yearning for some moisturizer. I planned out my first food purchase in town for a good 30 minutes while climbing a hot exposed hill to camp. For reference it included a lot of pancakes.

Camp was about 7 miles from the junction to Mammoth Lakes and it felt relaxing to not worry about passes or snow in the morning. The creek nearby provided water for dinner and a half hearted wipe down. There is no amount of creek water that could wash away this stink. It requires a fire hose.

Silver Pass

Day 79 – 10.6 miles

It’s town day! I tried to explain “It’s Rex Manning day!” to these kids I’m walking with, but I don’t think they got it. Where’s my 90s teens?

It was mostly down hill to the trail junction that would take us to the hamlet of Mammoth Lakes. My bag was light and my feet were fleet. Visions of buttered pancakes danced before me.

In a surprising amount of time me and Genna made it to the trailhead where we could board the free trolley into town. The group I’ve been walking with have an Airbnb in town that I’m staying at. We’ll rest up for a few days and most importantly GET CLEAN! Wooh.

Mile 900

Days 80 & 81 – 0 miles

Town stuff: showering, laundry, and food. Back into the Sierra soon.

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