Book Three, Chapter Three – The End of Yosemite
I am trying something new: a little bit of blog every night before bed. I feel like it works better, but might simply be more wordy. Comments welcome. This is also a pretty long post, since Mammoth to South Lake Tahoe is around 190 miles.
Faceplant gave me a ride out of Mammoth at around lunchtime. I did the 3.5 miles of side trail pretty easily, my pack is only mostly heavy and not ridiculously so. On the way out I ran into Goatman, a guy I had hiked with on and off between Mt. Laguna and Idyllwild. It was great to catch up with him and see what he had been up to along the way. It was crazy to think that I had not seen him in 700 miles. We both agreed that the Sierra were just ridiculously beautiful, and the most fun part of the trail. He had an interesting story about camping overnight in the Muir Hut. Apparently two thru-hikers decided to catch and eat a marmot, but let it go in the end after he protested.
I also ran into a woman skinny-dipping in Crater Creek. She was far more embarrassed then I was.
I also ran into the first horses I have seen on the PCT. A couple of folks were doing trail maintenance, and the horses were doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
I took the alternate route through the Devils Postpile National Monument. This is a neat rock formation formed when basalt slowly cooled and created naturally hexagonal structures in the rock. I think it’s like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
I’ve got 31 miles to go to get to Tuolumne Meadows, so I’ll split it evenly in two days. This way I can take it easy, rest my foot, and enjoy myself.
I camped at Soda Springs Campground. From a day hiker, I heard the story that when the river is low, there are certain springs that can be found and these springs are sparkling water. The campground was almost empty. There was water from a faucet that tasted like metal and a bear box. Good enough for me.
Heading up Island Pass
All morning I got to walk high along a ridge on one side of a valley. Easy trail, plentiful water, and awesome views. As the trail wound higher and higher it came out to Thousand Island Lake.
I realized that because it was a weekend, and the area was full of day hikers and weekend campers. Let’s just say the rules of Leave No Trace were a bit relaxed.
I even got a nap in. With only 15 miles to walk, you can really take your time.
About around mile 926, there is a flattish area, where if you are resourceful you can find a tent site. The trick is not to camp on any of the grass. However, this means you can on a flat granite slab.
Donahue Pass, the Last 11,000 Footer
After a cold and windy night I managed to get on trail at around 6:30. Two hours later I was atop Donahue Pass, the last 11,000-foot pass on the trail. Despite the wind and cold, it was gorgeous up there, with views of high crags on one side and a long, green valley on the other.
I made my way down the snowfield, losing and then finding the trail, finally ending up at a lake below a glacier. Predictably, the water was ice cold, and I had to walk through it. I chose to keep my shoes on for both warmth and safety.
By noon or so I was down in the meadow. Then it was about eight miles of flat, easy walking along the creek. I tried to go swimming at one point; however, before I could find a deep enough place my feet and legs were numb with cold, so I bailed.
Despite the flat terrain, my feet were killing me. I think these shoes have reached their lifespan. Unfortunately, I do not get new shoes for another 150 miles. More turmeric will be needed.
Twa-loom-ee. I have been told that this is the wilderness side of the park, but the campground is still pretty full and redolent with thru-hikers – a mixture of optimism, hormones, wood smoke, B.O., and, of course, weed.
Faceplant and her husband went back to Mammoth tonight, and the rest of the gang will be here tomorrow. They are all taking a few days to go down and explore Yosemite Valley. Because I am old and slow, I am using those days to make miles on the trail. Next stop, Kennedy Meadows North.
The Lone Wolf
I woke up feeling pretty good and got right on the trail. I think my sore feet were helped out by the fact that about the first five miles of the trail were flat today. The trail followed the Tuolumne River for a while before dropping down into a canyon with a series of pretty big waterfalls.
The trail wound back up into the really big pine trees and across some gorgeous alpine meadows. You can really see the impact of foot traffic.
I kept waiting for my feet to start hurting, and in the meantime I just ground out more miles. Before I knew it, I had passed my originally planned campsite and was pushing on. I realized that the combination of rest, turmeric, and great trail footbed meant I was going to be able to do some big miles today. Big for me is anything over 20. A lot of these youngbloods don’t consider anything less than 30 to be a big day.
I’ve done 22 miles. I really hope I don’t pay for it tomorrow.
Because why not, I ended up doing a 23-mile day. And 5,500 feet of climbing, along with 6,600 feet descending. I pushed on to almost 7:30 p.m., the last two miles of which had pretty intense mosquitoes. Almost like Maine. I think it is because a lot of the lakes up here are shallow enough that they winter kill, meaning that no fish survive in them. Because of this there’s nothing to eat the mosquito larvae.
After yesterday’s long day, I had a hard time getting out of bed at 5. But there are miles to walk, so I walked them. First on the agenda was Benson Pass.
I did two official passes today, Benson and Seavey. I followed these up with traversing two canyons for a total of four major climbs.
When I was not hiking up steep mountainsides or descending similar treacherous paths down, I was fording streams. The logjams left by winter’s floods are sometimes helpful.
Doing ( for me) big miles means I just put my head down and walk. Not super enjoyable. I probably sound jaded but this part of the park is a little boring. Not boring, I suppose, but monotonous. The canyons are all this sort of featureless gray granite, so while the views are good, it’s all lumpy and gray. Down in the valleys things get better and more interesting. There are massive trees, like some kind of hemlock. At one point they were so thick, the shade was so dense, that I had to take my sunglasses off to see properly. I’m starting to worry that doing the miles I need to means missing out on views, swimming, resting, etc.
The day ended on a high note. Despite a killer climb, all the flowers were blooming along the many steps and waterbars. Its good hiking after dinner time because the light changes and it cools off a bit. Birds come out, and deer get more active. Tons of deer in Yosemite.
Grinding out the last few miles, I walked along the edge of Wilma Lake. I am convinced that if some day they do a science fiction movie about killer mosquitoes, they will shoot it here, as this seems to be the origin of all mosquitoes on the planet. There were also amazingly large trout in this lake, easily a foot long.
I made it across the ford to the campsite while being swarmed by mosquitoes. At the site, Flowers had built a small, smoky fire, and so Wallet and I joined him, trying to keep the mosquitoes away while we ate dinner.
Despite the mosquitoes, I took the opportunity of the deep, swift-running stream to go swimming. It was great to get fully submerged in the water and feel at least the water-soluble grime washing away. The real stuff might take a Brillo Pad to get off me.
Tomorrow is likely another 20-miler because the closer we get to the road, the easier our resupply is going to be. Also, I have done the math, and I need to average 20 miles a day for the rest of the trip. It is becoming not really an option to do less.
Not Quite 20
A combination of tired legs and simply amazing views combined to cut my mileage to just under 20 miles today. There’s really no excuse because the overall elevation gains and losses were not that great today. What was great was coming to the official end of Yosemite. It’s a purely psychological thing, but anytime you come to some sort of landmark, boundary, or other waypoint, it’s a little shot in the arm for your morale.
Of course, crossing the last snowfield in the park I managed to completely posthole and sink my feet in the stream below.
I also went for one last swim in the park to keep the dirt level low and in honor of naked hiking day (tomorrow, June 21). Don’t worry, THAT picture will not make it to the blog.
Once out of the park, I was in the Dorothy Lakes pass. There I took advantage of the breeze and bright sunshine to dry out some things and sew up my pants. I now have five different colors of thread holding the butt together. Maybe it is time for new pants?
Hello, Northern California.
The second highlight of the day, probably the best one in a while, was crossing the 1,000-mile marker.
The group I’ve been hiking with decided to spend a few days in Yosemite, so this is another mile marker solo selfie.
I think the heat and the effects of several long days in a row started to sync in at this point. I ate a lot of snacks, drank water, even made dinner, but by the time I got to the campsite at 19.7 I was just toast. Also, the view is pretty ridiculous so I’d like to enjoy it.
Tomorrow is a “quick” up and over 10,000 feet, and a ten-mile trek down to the road. There at KM North I can finally get rid of my Sierra gear, including the hated bear can.
Kennedy Meadows Resort
The day started off well enough with a 1,000-foot climb, some off-trail ice field traversing, and, of course, epic views.
There was still a surprising amount of snow. After the last few days, I had figured that snow would be just a curiosity at this point. As it turned out, the final descent to Sonora Pass was so snow-covered that I put on my Microspikes. Of course, the trail got completely confused and lost, or maybe I did. But there was an upside to it, as I was able to do a glissade on what I think is the last real snowy pass. Because it was so warm out, my butt only stayed wet for about 15 minutes.
When I reached the road, another hiker was there by the name of Lush. She’s from Denmark. The prospects for hitchhiking looked bleak. The road really is in the middle of nowhere. While a number of tourists drove by and gave us strange looks, Baywatch and McSkittles, two former hikers, arrived with some trail magic.
After a bunch of chocolate chip cookies, a beer, and kisses from their two dogs, I decided to walk the road to the trailhead parking lot in hopes of getting a hitch. By the time I got there, a trail angel had picked up Bandit and Tinker, and then they stopped for me too. We had a slightly harrowing ride in the back of the pickup truck down to the resort. I use the term resort loosely.
Kennedy Meadows North is basically a giant campground with some bunkhouses, a restaurant, and many horse stables for the horse campers. It’s not as PCT-focused as the southern one seems to be. That’s not all bad, but it just took some getting used to as we were asked to stay off their front porch and hang out in the back by the laundry.
In the hot weather, the resort dogs have the right idea.
I bought some snacks and paid $15 to pick up my food supply. After getting all of my stuff sorted, it was time to make the decision on what to send home with the bear can. I sent the spikes, my gloves, my thermal underwear, and believe it or not, my compass. Sadly, since I had just gotten all new food, my pack ended up weighing more than it did when I got here despite getting rid of four to five pounds of gear. Once I get to South Lake Tahoe, I will make a second pass at eliminating extra gear, including the ice axe and maybe the umbrella.
At the rate I’m going I will end up with a lot of extra food. I need to get better at shopping, and planning.
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