Chapter 10: PCT Week 8: “At the Gates”

Chapter 10: Week 8: “At the Gates”
Days 50-56: 4/24-4/30/22
Total Trail Miles: 93.30
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 94.64
Cumulative Trail Miles: 702.20
From: Landers Meadow Campground to Kennedy Meadows South


Day 50 // April 24, 2022 // Trail Miles: 21.90 / GPS Recorded Miles: 22.61 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 630.80

~Destination // Bird Spring Pass~

The tent, and everything else had a layer of frost on it. We went back to sleep until the sun came up so it could thaw things out. We were just so tired. Birds began to chirp, and the sun rose as it does everyday. Warmth. We made coffee, crawled out of the tent, and started packing our slightly frosted gear, damp with dew and thaw.

With everything but the tent packed, a man in an older SUV drove up near us on the road, got out, and asked, “Do you guys want some hot breakfast and coffee?”

Oh, my sweet sassafras. The trail magic we’d hoped for the day prior had arrived! We’d already written the hope of it off. Biscuits and gravy, muffins, butter, coffee, and a campfire set the scene. Chris Clements was the fine fellow offering us magic, and he was wonderful company, a godsend, really. What more could we have possibly asked for? We were humbled by his kindness and just how good his breakfast was, all homemade. Coming from Georgia, Basecamp and I both knew good biscuits and gravy when we tasted it, and his was the real deal. After an hour and a half of a worth-while delay, we set out and waved Chris farewell. He’d set a truly welcomed start to our day.

Our bellies were sated, and smiles were on our faces. It was the best way we could have imagined hiking, with full stomachs. Within a mile though, the pine forests changed to desert and exposed rock once more. And then, the rock became sand and Joshua Trees. The terrain changed so quickly I just stopped saying we were “officially out of the desert”. We actually loved the desert section anyway, despite the intense heat of April.

There were still several miles to go before making camp, and the sun began to set on us. Our goal was to reach Bird Spring Pass and the water cache there. We expected to find some of our fellow hikers camping at the pass as well. Throughout the day, we climbed up and descended through dry terrain with little to no water. Luckily, the water cache at Bird Spring would give us the refill we needed. Thank God for the sweet human(s) that hauled hundreds of pounds of 5 gallon water jugs out there. If not for them, the water carries would have been long and heavy.

The sun bid us “adieu” while we put on our headlamps to hike the last mile to camp. Our sands were filled with sand from blown-out sidewalls. Our Altra trail runners had finally succumbed to the elements and we were paying the price for not having enough tape to patch them.

When we arrived at the pass and cache, we were shocked. There wasn’t a soul there. We had it all to ourselves. Luckily there was a small patch of dirt just large enough for us to pitch between sagebrush after collecting water from the jugs opposite our site. It was strange that no one else was camping there given the lack of water everywhere else.

In the middle of the night, we could both hear footsteps around our tent, but whatever created them never disturbed us, but the image of what it could have been kept Basecamp up. She didn’t get much rest while her imagination ran wild. I slept like a baby.

Chris Clements and surprise trail magic

Chris Clements and surprise trail magic


Day 51 // April 25, 2022 // Trail Miles: 20.50 / GPS Recorded Miles: 20.83 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 651.30

~Destination // Walker Pass Campground~

A beautiful sunrise greeted us with hues of purple, pink, and red. After coffee, I crawled out of the tent to pee, but didn’t notice any footprints from the “thing” that had circled our tent the night before. Crossing the dirt road to find a bush to relieve myself by, I noticed a tent on the other side of a massive rock, not 100 feet away from our tent. We never heard another hiker walk in overnight and could have sworn there was no one there the night before. Come to find out, we’d just been too exhausted to notice him. He’s been in his tent well before we made it to camp and had already fallen asleep, there the whole time.

“Steely Dan” was his name. He was a hiker in his early 70’s coming out to do a section. He was a true inspiration to us, especially given his age and how intense the heat had been lately. To think we could do something as big as the PCT that late in life…it gave me hope. We said our hellos, apologized if we’d been loud getting in the night before, and took off up the morning climb ahead.

It was a climb straight out of the pass that took us back into high desert. Sweat began to bead on our faces as the sun blazed. There was no shade other than what the occasional large rock or mountain provided when blocking the sun. But, once the blistering ball of fire was at its height directly above, there wasn’t much avoiding it. We were hot and there wasn’t much water to speak on.

Our goal for the day was Walker Pass where FarOut mentioned a tiny water cache by the highway. We’d heard rumor of trail magic there as well but didn’t want to get our hopes up again. Mainly, we just hoped there’d be a pit toilet and trash can to dump our waste in. We weren’t asking for much I thought but you never know when the trail will provide, or make you figure out something different than you’d hoped for.

The path wound downhill towards the pass and hit tree line. When we turned the corner and saw Walker Campground in the distance, there were vehicles and about 10 people under a covered picnic table. Amen! Our hopes for trail magic rose. A hiker named Spanx was there. Her parents had come to visit, and brought a bounty of food, drinks, and water. It was her mom’s birthday.

We didn’t know Spanx that well yet, but when we arrived, we were greeted and offered a plate of chicken, salad and cupcakes accompanied by beer and tequila. I may have drank more of the birthday tequila than appreciated (sorry Spanx and family!) but it was a great time getting to know her and the rest of her tramily, including Robby, Magnet, Cherub, Mach 5, Tuna Juice, Big Marmot, Boomerang, Crush, and Dan (who still didn’t have a trail name).

While most people there stayed up to play cards after dark, Basecamp and I longed for the comfort of our tent and sleeping bags. It was our safe space, and our everything needed it for some reason. The day had been long, rewarding, and we were ready to wake up early to write a new chapter.

Trail magic from Spanx and her parents at Walker Pass CG

Trail magic from Spanx and her parents at Walker Pass CG


Day 52 // April 26, 2022 // Trail Miles: 21.50 / GPS Recorded Miles: 21.70 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 672.80

~Destination // Saddle Campsite at MM 672.80~

We only had another day and a half before Kennedy Meadows South, and the official start of the High Sierras. It was close. We were ready, and also ready for the burgers and pancakes renowned at Kennedy.

Spanx and her crew were sitting around enjoying breakfast with her parents when we walked up. The sight was tempting, but we wanted to get a start on the day while it was still cool. We thanked everyone again for their wonderful hospitality and headed over towards the highway crossing the PCT.

There was indeed still a small cache just by the road with only a few gallons left. We grabbed a liter a piece and left. It was a fine balance- carrying enough water to get by while keeping the pack light, versus carrying an excess of “just in case” water and weighing your pack down (aka moving slower).

We were up in the mountains. Big mountains. It was beautiful. The jagged rocks blossomed with color: purples, reds, grays, and even greens from moss. The area was dry, but there’d be water coming up according to the map. On an exposed ridge, Basecamp and I sat for a snack and found we had a bar of service. It was a welcomed treat when out in the backcountry. Dan, Tuna, Magnet, and one or two others appeared behind us and also stopped to soak in the view, send a few text messages, and reapply sunscreen.

We continued on with Dan for a while, but he suddenly stopped and stated he was going to bag a peak. He was taking blue blazes to peak bag all the time. Maybe there was a trail name in that?

Later in the day after repairing my blown-out trail runner with medical tape (the last tape we had) we reached a campsite near water where most of Spanx/Robby’s group was setting up. At some point they’d caught up and hiked ahead of us. It was cozy but maybe too cozy. It looked a bit tight, so Basecamp and I decided to head up trail. There was a campsite icon in FarOut app just past the same water source we were at, only a few hundred feet higher, and 2 miles further.

The campsite we had in mind wasn’t to be. When we arrived, two male hikers had claimed the space. Even with some ingenious trail engineering there wouldn’t have been enough room for us unless we’d pitched directly on the trail, so we had to keep going. The next listed site wasn’t for another 2 miles or so, straight uphill. It appeared to be in the saddle of a ridge which, from experience, would likely be windy. While it was a low point to come across our first fully booked campsite, it was a great learning experience to be expected. At some point, we’d bear witness to “the bubble” of hikers and knew that campsites would be limited when we did. The trail was a teacher.

When it was all said and done, however, we reached our site just after witnessing the most beautiful display of sunset we’d yet to see on trail. The sky was pink, orange, red, yellow, and shades of blue before burning out into blackness. Basecamp and I stood there on the ridge taking in the grandeur of the land we were immersed in. Our campsite was huge, protected from the wind, and had cell service. It was a gift. In that moment, I felt we’d been pushed a bit harder that day to reach such a reward. Hard work pays off sometimes in the most magnificent of ways.

That oh-so-epic sunset

That oh-so-epic sunset


Day 53 // April 27, 2022 // Trail Miles: 29.40 / GPS Recorded Miles: 29.49 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 702.20

~Destination // Kennedy Meadows South~

It was finally time to reach Kennedy Meadows South (KMS), but not without effort. Almost 30 miles separated us from the road to hitch into “town”.

KMS is less a town and more an establishment with a General Store, Grumpy Bear’s Retreat, Triple Crown Outfitters, and a few homes. Small, but it has everything a thru-hiker could ask for. KMS marks the beginning of the Sierras Section for PCT hikers; the geographical starting point for big climbs, true isolation in the wilderness, and the official exit from the desert.

The day grew monotonous. Intense sun beat down on us along repetitive, desert ridges and switchbacks. Along the way we stopped at a small ranger station conveniently stocked with water for a refill before several more hours of intense heat. Other hikers showed up there and cooked a small lunch before tackling the next stretch of exposure. It seemed to me like everyone was over the desert heat, but dually excited for the next chapter of their hike.

There was a small stream reported to still be flowing at the bottom of a long downhill comprised of the same repetitive ridges we’d already endured the first half of the day.

Along the route we met Renee again and hiked with her. I kept noticing just how blue her eyes were, and that she wore/used a lot of blue items. In addition, Steely Dan had mentioned her eyes the day before. There was definitely a trail name there. We hiked on while I wrestled with a few possible names for her.

“Hey Marie,” I asked, “How do you feel about calling Renee, Azul? It means blue in Spanish.”

“Oh I love that!” she replied. With a smile she added, “We should knight her when we finish this climb!”

We waited for her at the top of our climb and presented the name to Renee. She thought about it for a few seconds and the switch flipped. She loved it. And so, Azul was born, knighted on a desert ridge and the last climb we had before descending towards the blue stream. It felt appropriate.

When we finally reached said stream, a tiny squirrel greeted us and walked straight by, uninterested, but I’m sure even the squirrel was grateful for the small stream there. It was one of many critters we’d already seen on trail completely unphased by the presence of people. We had a short snack with Azul, and a hiker named “Walter White” before deciding to make the final push; 8.7 miles to KMS.

We Garmin messaged “Grumpy” our contact for the pub in town and our ride out. He agreed to pick us up at 7:00 PM and make us some dinner, burgers. We needed motivation, so we hauled ass for those burgers. In 2 hours, we hiked just under 8 miles, which was extremely fast for us. We blew through woods with signs of bear activity, riverside trail with puma prints, and bagged the 700-mile marker dancing a jig. We looked in awe at the world we were now in. As if conjured by magic, we were staring at gushing rivers, forests, huge mountain peaks, and nothing but excitement in our bones.

Grumpy picked us up reluctantly, thinking we were trying to prank him, but quickly warmed up to us when he realized we were honest, hungry hikers there to give him business. Apparently, he’d been receiving several ‘bogus’ requests for pickup, only for him to arrive at the trailhead without hikers desperate for town. Was it really hikers doing that, or someone else? That night we inhaled the largest burgers on the menu, and several mugs of beer to celebrate the effort we’d just put into the last week of hiking. It was our victory meal, but oddly accompanied by the presence of “Gueno”, the same guy we’d met at Mike’s Place hundreds of miles ago who’d offered us whiskey, beer, and Everclear. It was a bit odd seeing him there in the partially lit pub, but we were in Kennedy Meadows, grateful, and humbled by the last 702 miles we’d successfully hiked together.

The drastic landscape change entering Kennedy Meadows South

The drastic landscape change entering Kennedy Meadows South


Days 54-56 // April 28-30, 2022 // Trail Miles: 0.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 0.00 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 702.20

~Destination // 3 Zero Days in Kennedy South~

There’s a weird energy about KMS. Grumpy Bear’s Retreat (aka Grumpy’s), Triple Crown Outfitters (TCO), and the General Store all have some level of back-and-forth feud. We loved each place individually for what they were, but don’t mention one to another or you’ll see what I mean. You either go into town loyal to one spot, or choose to be neutral supporting everyone, like we did. Maybe one day they can sort it out, but our experience left a bitter taste in our mouths.

We stayed at Grump’s for 3 nights/2.25 days, but as soon as we requested a ride to the General Store, it was like we’d turned coat and sworn allegiance to the enemy. TCO didn’t care much for Grumpy’s and the feeling was mutual for Grump Bear’s. Each place offered something different and you’d be remise not to visit each location, but just tread a bit lightly.

We’d planned to stay in KMS for three days resting and then hit the Sierras on May 1st. It had been our plan since the start, and we were right on schedule. We spent most of our time at Grumpy’s. They had a phenomenal hiker breakfast of all you can eat pancakes (though they are so large most people couldn’t tackle more than one), an outdoor shower facility, laundry machine, and a designated space (1/4 mile walk away) where hikers could pitch their tents free of charge. The camping was free given the unspoken expectation you eat and drink there. But the burgers and beer selection were so on point, I think a famished hiker would be making a mistake if they skipped Grumpy’s over. They had a limited resupply there including fuel cans, tuna, ramen, and a few other small items.

TCO had all the gear and food needs a hiker could imagine. They are the property adjacent Grumpy’s. It’s an unassuming shipping/freight container that’s surprisingly spacious inside. It’s definitely a gem in the middle of nowhere offering lightweight equipment, ice axes, bear cans, Topo runners and high-tops, clothing, and specialized hiking foods. A huge shout out to Yogi and company for being there to support the wild world of thru-hiking!

The General Store was much quieter for us than Grumpy’s, but there was also a bit less happening there. They did have hiker facilities to use for a small fee, and a tiny restaurant, but the camping was free. Their resupply was decent, and they offer a solid selection of bottled and canned beers. All in all, we wish that we’d have stayed at the General Store an extra night over Grumpy’s only because the campsites were a few hundred feet away rather than a quarter mile, and the vibe was a bit more chill.

Over the course of three days, we caught up with old friends, talked about our strategies for the Sierras, ate well, drank beer, played darts, crafted gear from the hiker boxes, and mentally relaxed. Deuces, Optimist, Cuppa, Jedi, Azul, Buil-A-Bear, Prism, Shroom Boots, Romeo, Boondoggle, Robby, Cherub, Mach 5, Dan (still nameless but possibly Dancakes?), Magnet, Big Marmot, Spanx, Boomerang, Tuna Juice, Crush, a new Crush who’d hiked the AT, Yukon who’d hiked the AT with new Crush, and a slew of other hikers buzzed around town knocking out chores, resting, and planning. However, after dealing with the local drama for a few days without any hiking, we were ready to get ‘outta-dodge’ and back on trail. The wilderness was quiet and removed from petty nuances. Sure there were hazards and wild animals, but those seemed less intimidating. With bear cans, ice axes, and boots weighing down our packs even more, we just wanted to hike.

We planned to hit the trail with Optimist Prime next day. The High Sierras stood in the distance, daring us to come forward. We were at the gates and ready to enter.

Hiker breakfast at Grumpy Bears

Hiker breakfast at Grumpy Bears

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High desert terrain Heading to Kennedy Meadows South Deuces at the General Store Cuppa loving his tea Optimist loving his bear can

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