The PCT – The Sierra – Days 82 – 90

Day 82 – 4 miles

It’s getting harder and harder to leave towns. The comforts of showers and clean beds are too alluring. But also when I do get back on trail those desires fade quickly. My group dawdled until check out time and then went to a brewery so I decided to go ahead to the trail on my own. Once back at the trailhead the wind was kicking up and sending sand everywhere.

The original plan was to climb back up to the trail to a nearby tentsite for a relatively short day out. The walk back out was pleasant after the wind died down. I saw a pair of cinder cones called the Red Cones that looked more like red mounds if you ask me.

I got to the tentsite fairly early and it felt weird to stop so soon. I discovered there was cell service and after I set up camp spent some time downloading things. The group contacted me on my inReach to let me know that the plans had changed and they were getting on trail 8 miles further up. I was already ensconced in my tent and wasn’t going anywhere. So I’m on my own again.

That’s a Red Cone

Day 83 – 13 miles

I woke at my usual time to find that the woods were socked in with fog, so I went back to sleep for awhile. About an hour later a breeze kicked up and dispersed most of the fog so I figured it was time to get moving. There was still a bit of mist as I started walking lending the woods a dreamy quality. I was slowly meandering and not thinking about much.

By 0800 the trail started down into an open valley full of downed trees. The sun had burned away all the fog and I began climbing a ridgeline in the direct sunlight. The geological make up of the mountains seemed to change in this area. There was more basalt and towering formations.

The trail takes you by a view of the Devil’s Postpile, an impressive display of columnar basalt created 100,000 years ago by a lava vent. The view was a nice change. I kept going up through some pines that looked fake and had me questioning my sobriety. Like why did look like they just walked out a Chrsitmas store?

The rest of the day was uneventful. I climbed up a slope of sage brush, mullein and horse dung. Camp was a hidden spot on top of the mountain all to myself.

Day 84 – 10 miles

The day dawned bright and cool. A lovely rigdeline walk with a view of the valley and adjacent mountains in the soft morning light eased me into the day. Across the way I saw an alpine lake with a waterfall outlet into the valley below. I didn’t see any trails around it so I assume that it wasn’t tainted by human visitors.

The trail crossed back into the forest and spit me out above 1000 Island Lake. I took my lunch here watching the cold wind whip up the lake surface, literally making foam. I saw at least 15 JMT hikers cross by. You can yell them by their fresh happy faces.

I was feeling very lethargic and unmotivated in the afternoon. It didn’t help that the trail was all uphill in the rocks and full sunlight. I made it to Rush Creek and found a campsite hidden in the pines.

I spent most of the afternoon thinking on how I can be kind to myself and stopping early when everything feels like it’s dragging me down seems to be an adequate response. Also not berating myself for doing so. Easier said than done.

Day 85 – 19 miles

The moon was so bright last night, I had a hard time sleeping and I groggily watched the light changed in the east as the sun rose. I started walking through a large valley of alpine lakes with the stark mountains in the background, feeling tired and frustrated. I began the climb up to Donahue pass and it felt as hard as ever. I contemplated how beauty by itself means nothing to me. Here I was walking through an objectively beautiful landscape not feeling much. My cup wasn’t being filled by superficial views – my mind wasn’t allowing that. It made me further ruminate on what I do value: honesty, humor, clarity, and effort. I haven’t really figured out what that has to do with anything.

As I laboriously slogged through rocks and marsh I wondered when this would get less hard? I got to the top of Donhue Pass and noted that it was the start of the Yosemite Wilderness. I ate my oatmeal and heard another hiker yell talking to someone on the other side if the pass. She was relating some story about Colorado very loudly. I quickly moved on.

The snow coming down the pass wasn’t a problem – it was the rocks. The trail went down 3 or 4 long descents into magnificent valleys with lovely creeks and lakes glittering in the sunlight. My ankles and knees took a beating. I didn’t really care about how amazing the terrain was.

I didn’t stop for lunch because I was trying to hurry to the Tuolomne Meadows Post Office and General Store. I suppose if I had stopped to eat I might have felt better. But I’m so slow I needed to keep a faster pace to make the goal. I did manage to get there on time and pick up my package. I also bought a cold soda and it immediately made me feel better. I sat there outside the store for a few hours, but I soon had to get moving. Hikers had to camp 4 miles outside the meadows which meant another 2 hours of walking for me.

The flat path along the a Tuolomne River was a soothing change. The trees offered shade and the path was soft. I was rounding one corner and heard my name called out. It was TJ, Kat, and Genna from the group, already setting up camp. I decided to stop and camp with them. After eating I laid down, thinking about my day. I wonder if I’ll ever be good at this?

I had a very optimistic ETA.

Day 86 – 16.2 miles

I slept in until 0600 which was nice. The sun dried my tent before I broke camp. The trail walked through some big boulders and rock formations. They made me think of Planet of the Apes. I came to an overlook of a massive valley that I’d be walking through. The trail descended Tuolumne River with a bunch of waterfalls. However with big descents a big ascent must eventually come. The rest of the day was climbing.

At the end of the day we stopped Miller Lake to enjoy the water. The wind kept most of the mosquitos away. I just soaked my feet as I didn’t want to get my clothing wet. After a relaxing hour on the beach, me and Kat kept going to catch up with Genna and TJ.

On the way up one incline, another hiker passing by shoved his beshirted elbow next to mine and said “Nice shirt!” It took me a second to process that he was wearing the same shirt as me, but his was entirely brown and crusty. I exclaimed and jumped away from him, but he’d already moved along. There is a sub-contingent of hikers that think it’s a badge of honor to not wash or launder. They’ll do these unhygienic challenges for reasons only known to them. I think it goes without saying that I do not subscribe to this ethos. We made it to a camp full of horse dung and I settled down for a fragrant night of sleep. And yes I recognize the irony.

Mosquito HQ

Day 87 – 17.7 miles

Today started out very dark and windy. The climb up Benson Pass was very cold and I began my final push up the mountain it began to flurry snow. Kat caught up with me on the way up. We stopped at the top where a fiesty marmot kept edging towards our snack crumbs. By then the weather turned sunny and windy.

We started down to Smedburg lake and the trail was hard to follow. The rock face didn’t allow you find foot prints and there weren’t really any cairns. We had to rely heavily on the GPS map. At one point the trail sharply switchbacked and we couldn’t find the trail anywhere. Me and Kat decided to go around and find the trail further down in elevation. This proved to be a mistake.

Our attempts to find the trail only less than .2 miles later proved fruitless. So then I suggested something really stupid. The trail made a large U turn and we could go all the way down the mountain and meet it 2 miles later. Basically it was just cutting a straight line down. The issue here is that we didn’t know what the terrain looked like at all. Kat said she trusted me and well, that was worrisome.

We went down into the brush and soggy marsh. A creek led us to the open face of the rocky mountain cliffside. I looked down searching the safest route and it seemed doable. We creeped down some natural switchbacks to another overview. We had to squeeze between a tree and rock wall to jump down to another shelf of granite. From here we could see some massive waterfalls that would form the creek the trail would cross. The rock cliff became steeper but I could finally see some trees ahead (which meant the bottom of the mountain). I was lucky to find some steep stone blocks that formed steps all the way to dirt. However I’d have to jump 6 feet down. I took off my pack and dropped it down first as I didn’t want its weight pushing me down. After an hour of tension and anxiety, Kat and I made it back down into the trees and found the proper trail. I yelped and danced around a bit. It was exhilarating to go off roading and survive! I don’t ever want to do it again.

Once back on trail we cruised down to a lunch spot and tried not to freeze. It was getting colder and the leaden sky didn’t offer any warmth. That afternoon was another huge climb down and up to Seavey Pass. On the way up were large rock steps that made it impossible to get a rhythm going. I was tripping over rocks everywhere and getting very frustrated. Got up to the top and found a old horseshoe near a lake.

The plan was to go another 2 miles to a tent site, but when I got there someone else had already set up and there wasn’t anywhere for us to set up. So I put on the jets and hoofed it down the trail to any place to set up. It was getting darker and cooler quickly. I kept turning a corner and going up-down in search of a some small plot to lay down. I kept finding nothing which was making me angry. On top of already being hungry, I was singularly focused on finding a tent site. I lost the group behind me for once and apparently they stopped at one place I’d deemed not-good-enough. I hangry hiked to Kerrick Creek and found a festival of sites. I set up and cooked my food. While it rehydrated I huddled in my sleeping bag with the hot bag of food cuddled against my chest. I’d been cold all day and finally felt warm for the first time. No one else showed up from my group, so I slept alone in the pines.

The only picture I took in that hour off trail.

Day 88 – 13.5 miles

Today started with a big climb out of Kerrick Canyon and down into Stubblefield Canyon. It was very steep up and down. I took a small break down at the creek in preparation for the immediate climb back up. I found a dead baby bird by my feet. I noted how unsurpised I was to find a dead animal near my person and kept eating my second breakfast. As I left I covered it in sand as a little burial.

Everyone caught up with me as I was climbing the second peak. It wasn’t technically a pass but it sure felt like one. We all had lunch at Wilmer lake where we all talked about how tired and frustrated we all felt. It has been a grueling section so far and validating to hear I’m not the only one feeling it. I had a nice nap in my sun warmed sleeping bag and woke feeling more energetic.

It was still cold even with direct sunlight. We ended the day with some gentle meadow hiking. The sky darkened and it started to pelt snow on us again. It looked like pretzel salt. I came up with a little song while wading through the freezing mud in the meadows. It is as follows:

To the tune of Elvis’ “In The Ghetto”

A creek runs through it

A mosquito is born

My shoes are muddy

And my pants are torn

In the meadow…

in the meadow…

Day 89 – 13.5 miles

I woke up to a tent covered in a thick layer of frost. I was slow to get moving. The freeze made it easier to walk on the mud as it wasn’t all squishy. The climb up to Dorothy Lake was mild and the pass right afterwards didn’t even seem like one. On the northern side I left the Yosemite Wilderness and it seemed like the terrain immediately changed. The far off mountains looked more arid and less green. The rock composition seemed less granite and more volcanic.

I came upon the 1000 mile mark. My group had brought airplane bottles of some violently colored liquor to drink. I made it little “shot” of Mio water. It had caffeine in it so afterwards I shot off like a bullet. For the next 5 miles I practically flew up the trail.

Me and Kat decided to stop and camp while TJ and Genna went on ahead up a huge climb. We nestled into a stand of trees on a bald part of the mountain. It had an excellent view of the sunset. I slept pretty warm for once.

Day 90 – 10 miles

Today started with a big climb up a sandy incline partially covered with snow. I fell trying to avoid the snow and slipped on rocks. Once up top, the dramatic views really diverged from what the Sierra had been. On one side was the green and blue Sierra and in front of us was a brown red rocky landscape. We were definitely coming to end of the Sierra.

There was a long line of easy ridgeline walking with occasional snow patches. Finally we made it to the climb down Sonora Pass and where Kat and I would try to hitch to Kennedy Meadows North.

On the way down I got caught in a mini tornado. I heard some odd noises in the bushes in front of me and I saw a weird dusty tail coming towards me. Before I knew it I was in a chaotic wind tunnel which was trying to lift everything off of me. I just sat down right in the trail and held onto my hat. Just as quickly as it came on, the wind died out, and I was left wondering what the hell just happened. What was even weirder was that there were no wind at all before this.

Kat and I made it down to the road and found a hitch with a nice man named Liang. He stopped because he though we had a flat tire or something and didn’t know we were hikers. At Kennedy Meadows North, an overwhelming crowd of vacationers crowded the general store. It’s funny to see the mixture of thru hikers, horse people, and casual vacationers. I procured a bunk and quickly took a shower. It’d been 8 days since my last one. This is also the place where most hikers get rid of their bear cans and pick up a resupply. I was going to spend the night here and try to compose myself for more hard stuff to Lake Tahoe.

The best of pooping views
The Sierra in the background
Right after the mini tornado

One thought on “The PCT – The Sierra – Days 82 – 90

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