Chapter 14: PCT Week 12: “Prismatic Mammoth”

Chapter 14: Week 12: “Prismatic Mammoth”
Days 78-84: 5/22-5/28/22
Total Trail Miles: 60.30
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 75.67
Cumulative Trail Miles: 942.50
From: Silver Pass to Yosemite Valley


Day 78 // May 22, 2022 // Trail Miles: 19.30 / GPS Recorded Miles: 19.09 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 901.50

~Destination // Silver Pass~

It was cold. Extremely cold. My hands went numb while carrying out the morning chores: making coffee, breaking down my sleep system, and prying the tent stakes out of frozen dirt before tearing down a crispy frozen tent. It had dropped below 32F overnight, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Hiking up towards Silver Pass, we noticed large footprints that could have been a male based on the wide stride. Was it Deuces? We imaged that he’d made the very same prints and could almost make out a ghostly image of him making his way across the frozen tundra split up by a frozen lake and the occasional boulder. The sun was already up by 8:00 a.m. when we started to climb Silver. I could just barely make out a few black specks juxtaposed on the white landscape, other hikers heading towards the pass too. We had no idea who they were, and we didn’t intend to be passed by anyone, but we were dually glad we weren’t out there alone.

We’d worn our hiking crampons to the top and found some shelter in the saddle by a few trees. We carved out small seats in the snow, put our foam pads down to insulate our bottoms, and took the crampons off. The ridge led up a few feet more before dropping off into yet another snowy expanse, but there appeared to be a treeline with less snow off in the distance. Salvation.

The one thing to note about treeline is that it provides shade. Shade creates cooler spots for snow to persist rather than being exposed to raw sun. The treeline was a snowy, sloshy mess like the last few days had been, not snow free salvation. Water flowed under snow and flooded some stretches, while other sections had us sliding on our posteriors downhill against our will. It was slippery. Though, the further we slid downhill, the more the snow thinned up until we reached a melted lake and a few exposed patches of dirt.

We unpacked our things and placed them around us in the sun to dry. A few hikers slid down the snowy hill and walked by. One wore mountaineering crampons. One was a middle-aged girl who stopped to speak with us. And then another girl slid down the hill.

“Fuck! Whoooo!” yelled out the girl before her butt left snow and her feet hit dry dirt.

It was Prism. We hadn’t seen her since Bishop, CA, but we hadn’t hiked with her since Deep Creek Hot Springs in early SoCal.

“Oh my gosh, Prism!” exclaimed Basecamp. “How are you!?”

“Holy cow! Hey you two! So nice to see you. I thought we were far behind you” she replied.

She was hiking by herself rather than with Shroom Boots and Romeo, her tried and true tramily. Apparently they were somewhere behind her screwing around in the misty mountains?

We were packing up when she slid down and suggested we all hike together. So, for several miles, on and off, uphill, and down thigh-deep sloshy descents we hiked together. On one of the climbs, I decided to hang back and give Basecamp and Prism some girl time while I took photos and sat with myself. We were so close to the end of the Sierra section and the thought of a new PCT section excited me.

Just before the 900-mile marker, we hiked ahead of Prism while she Garmin messaged her tramily, lost somewhere in the wilderness. Somehow, Basecamp and I missed the mile marker, but drew our own in the sand and posed for a photo when Prism caught back up.

The three of us camped just before the trail split leading up Mammoth Pass and to the town of Mammoth Lakes. We weren’t exactly sure how we’d make it to town from the pass trailhead, but we’d walked just under a thousand miles already, so what were a few more into a town laden with beer and burgers? Despite there being comments on FarOut about bear activity in the area we were camping, we slept soundly and never had an unexpected visitor during the night.


In the open expanse.

In the open expanse


Day 79 // May 23, 2022 // Trail Miles: 1.80 / GPS Recorded Miles: 10.03 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 903.30

~Destination // Mammoth Pass~

“Good morning!” we both rang out in Prism’s general direction.

She was up and rustling around, starting to pack while the sun was slowly filling the space between pines off in the distance. Still no Romeo or Shroom Boots. Our plan was to start hiking somewhat early and make it to the Town of Mammoth Lakes as quickly as possible to take full advantage of resting, eating, and celebrating for the rest of the day. Basecamp and I hadn’t planned on taking a full zero day in town.

It was only a mile and some change to the Mammoth Pass split off from the PCT. FarOut comments had mentioned some snow on the pass, but nothing intimidating. It wasn’t a terribly long hike to the top either, only about 2.8 miles. But, it felt like an eternity. The trail lead through pine forests with sand and pine straw covering the floor, but that soon turned into 4-foot-deep snow drifts covering every inch. The ambient temperature was already well over 40F, so we went straight through it. However, with the added company of Prism and laughs, it didn’t seem nearly as terrible as it could have. I could tell Basecamp was over the moon to be hiking not only with female company, but with Prism.

The top came and went, succeeded by several miles of snowy downhill towards Horseshoe Lake, and what we hoped to be snow-free pavement. Along the way we noticed blue trail markers that had to have been eight or ten feet up on tree trunks. Were those indicative of average or high annual snow levels?

We made jokes about an imaginary mountain man who’d pulled their sled along the route hammering markers in while mumbling something like, “Back in 1968, we had the highest snowpack of my lifetime. I carried my sled 50 miles up here to hammer those markers in for you.”

Nearing the trailhead, the snow completely vanished. Loose sand and pebbles remained. The area looked deserted. Only a few erected pit privies stood guard and greeted us when the trail dumped us out onto asphalt. We stopped over near the privies to grab a snack, use the restroom, and adjust a thing or two when a waste pump truck pulled up. Being the youngest single female in our trio, we suggested Prism go ask the two male drivers for a ride into town from the parking lot. Despite her efforts, and how badly it looked like they wanted to help out, they couldn’t allow three vagabonds on the company vehicle. So, we hung our heads and started down towards the Tamarack Lodge and Resort several miles away.

The walk was uneventful save for a few construction trucks and bikers who’d made their way up beyond the ‘closed road’ signs. Lakes were our imaginary checkpoints on the walk down, each one offering dramatic views and reflections of the surrounding mountains.

When we reached the lodge, it was barely open and largely under construction, but the front door was unlocked. We walked in and asked the front desk if it was possible to hire a shuttle service into town, but the outlook wasn’t promising during the current season…which would end two days later. The roads and trailheads would all open, along with the bus shuttle service. But as luck would have it, the trail provided.

A retired firefighter was getting into his SUV that he’d outfitted for long travel and living in. He was adventuring in his retirement. When we asked if he was heading towards town and able to offer a lift, he popped the back hatch open and started moving things around to fit us all in. Basecamp and Prism squeezed in the back, shoulder to shoulder, while I sat in the passenger seat.

He was a gentle soul, beer lover, and knew exactly where the Mammoth Brewery was to drop us off after a brief stop to the USPS for a package pickup. All he asked in return was that we take a photo with him to show his friends. Were we celebrities or superheroes? He waved us off while we hauled our packs over to an outdoor table at the brewery.

While the kitchen didn’t open for nearly an hour after we arrived, beer was essentially a liquid meal- carbohydrates, nutrients from the grains, and medicinal properties from the hops. It seemed a fair compromise to sit in the warm sun drinking a beer while we scoured phone apps to find a place to stay for the night.

Basecamp found a location not far from us on the other side of the main road. It was called the Holiday Haus. In fact, the deal she found was so great, we decided to stay two nights. That zero we hadn’t planned to take in Mammoth Lakes was suddenly given life. Prism was also able to book a room there, one large enough to accommodate her, and her long lost tramily once they’d made it to town. What were they doing out there to be so delayed?

Build-A-Bear walked by us at the brewery heading towards trail. Seeing us, he stopped for a beer and caught up. Beer truly made excellent fuel for hiking, in moderation. Optimist also showed up with a slight limp (almost out of recovery but stiff), and then Romeo and Shroom appeared as if from the mist. It was an amazing reunion of people we loved with beer as the common denominator. Our hearts were full.


Basecamp and Prism in the back of our ride to Mammoth Lakes

Basecamp and Prism in the back of our ride to Mammoth Lakes


Day 80-81 // May 24-25, 2022 // Trail Miles: 4.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 10.68 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 907.30

~Destination // Zero Day Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Pass~

The two-star hotel room was adequate, nothing fancy, but it had a small refrigerator, and the bed was comfortable. There was also a fir tree growing out back that made the space feel a bit more like home in the woods. Our agenda for the day revolved around town chores, the usual: laundry, a food resupply, hoping our package from Rab made it to the Post Office, buying a few needed pieces of gear, and then eating our way through the rest of the day.

I don’t recall what we did for breakfast after brewing a few small cups of hotel coffee, but what I do recall was that we walked around searching for a functioning laundromat and subsequently individual laundry detergent pods for well over an hour. This duty was carried out in Crocs, which don’t make for the best all-day walking shoe, but sufficed nevertheless. Basecamp held down the fort at the laundromat, while I searched around at a pharmacy, two gas stations, a grocery store, and two other laundromats before finally placing me hands on a coveted box of single-use laundry powder.

“What in the actual…” I said internally to myself, “Does no one use the laundromats around here?”

By the time I’d completed my mission, the back of my heels were raw from the Crocs’ strap, not the normal Crocs, but the Crocs Swiftwater model. Basically, water shoes with mesh on top. I took the prize back to Basecamp at the laundromat where I found her on the phone with her sister. Talks with her sister, Amber, were like decompression therapy sessions for her, so I offered to let her walk around on the phone while I manned the laundry station for us. It was mutually beneficial because that also gave me a good hour to finish a blog writeup I’d been working on for weeks. There was so little time, at least for me, to sit down and blog while hiking that I took full advantage of the opportunity. To me, writing about our experience felt like my decompression therapy session.

I often did a lot of my best writing with a beer in hand. With a hyperactive, revved up metabolism on trail, it usually looked more like several beers. Basecamp was still on the phone and mentioned she’d meet up with Prism at the Mammoth Brewery for some more time to catch up. Seeing the need for ‘girl time’ in her texts, I told her I’d finish writing my blog and head over to the local pub for a pint, paying homage to my Scotch-Irish roots.

It worked out, and for over an hour I enjoyed a dark stout while recalling the past 79 days on trail. We’d accomplished so much and been through such trials that thinking about it actually chocked me up. What a life-changing journey we’d been on so far. Something from deep within me stirred, like a quieted version of myself starting to wake up. Being raised in the “Deep South” of Georgia, it was impressed on me, and every other guy I knew, to never let vulnerable emotions out. Anger, passion, and humor were acceptable to flash on your face, but everything else taboo, to be hidden under the steel blanket of cool, calm reserve. Having traveled the world, and hiked over 900 miles with my wife, I was calling all those southern expectations for the bullshit they were and are.

Men are allowed to feel and cry when the emotion strikes. I believe in God, but I don’t always believe in “giving it all to Jesus,” because I believed and still do believe, that we are given emotional intelligence to be able to wrestle with emotions within ourselves. There are exceptions to that of course, but often we need to sit with ourselves and experience our feelings rather than giving the stress or emotion away.

Once I’d reasoned myself through a labyrinth of emotions and finished the blog article, I wanted to knock out one last chore before meeting up with the crew at Mammoth Brewing. I had a tear in the side of my shorts, and wanted to replace them before it became worse. Just like the earlier project to find laundry detergent, this also became a laborious task. The town had a bus route and app showing where the buses stopped, but it was a bit more awkward than the system we’d used back in Big Bear Lake. I missed one trolley, one never showed, and I finally managed to hop on a third after walking a half mile. This was all to make it to the Mammoth Mountaineering Supply.

The effort was worth it. They were having a massive anniversary sale and offered brands that a lot of other stores simply didn’t, including Rab. For over an hour I scanned, considered, and tried on different things to finally walk out with a pair of pine green La Sportiva shorts, some sun gloves for Basecamp, a few Pro Meal Bars, and fuel can. Being a massive gear nerd, I tended to obsess over new things for a moment, or at least drool a bit. The only things they didn’t have were water flavoring options (e.g. Mio, Biosteel, Liquid IV, or even Gatorade) and chlorine tablets which we used for quick water pulls from well-flowing sources. Mission accomplished. All that was left was to grab a beer and spend time with our fellow hikers.

After what seemed like hours, the trolley pulled up near the Mammoth Brewing Co. I could spot our table of hiker trash immediately. Tanned legs, bright colors, loud laughs, and big smiles made us stand out, along with a number of empty glasses pushed to one side of the table. Shroom Boots and Romeo were there accompanied by Basecamp, Prism, and Optimist. From the sound of it, Prism had offered to make a pasta dinner for everyone in their hotel room (cheers to having a kitchenette) later in the evening, so we didn’t need to waste time filling up on pub grub when there was plenty of on tap that needed drinking. Coincidentally, the brewery was having trivia that night, which I vaguely recall. A local couple joined our group, far more sober and wiser than we were, who seemed to feed off our energy in the best of ways. Every one of us seemed to be intoxicated. Sure, beer was involved, but the intoxication came from the laughs and energy of the table. Even I, normally an introvert but an extrovert in the right company (also known as an ambivert), could feel the surge of joy from being there sharing those moments together.

That night after consuming three bowls of tortellini in meat sauce I passed out on the floor of Prism’s room. At one point I crawled onto a nearby bed and fell asleep on Shroom’s leg. He was also out cold. I suppose when you’re used to sitting on rocks and leaning against trees for back support, a hairy leg for a head rest wasn’t too far off the mark. Basecamp hauled me up after a collection of pictures were taken of my cuddling a furry leg, against my will, and we walked back to our room. From their front porch, Optimist walked out and let us know he’d be making crepes for breakfast at 8:00 a.m. They sounded delicious, especially coming from a Frenchman, but waking that early in the morning felt like an insurmountable hurdle. We’d see.

We woke up the next day around 8:00 a.m., completely missing the crepe showdown, but I said a silent prayer there’d be one or two left over for us. It was a struggle at first until the coffee began to work its magic. We were learning that, at the ripe old age of 34, we couldn’t drink and recover like we used to. A small collection of grocery bags and trash lined one wall of our room, so we left a note for the cleaning crew to thank them in advance. We could only imagine what they must have thought walking into a room recently inhabited by thru-hikers. We were the relatively well-funded homeless, after all.

The front door to Prism, Shroom, and Romeo’s room was propped open. Trash bags and gear already piled along the wall of their porch. Optimist came out when he noticed we were awake, and he had what appeared to be a small roll of paper towels in his hand. In reality, he’d saved us a crepe. Bless that guy. Sweet chocolate goodness lined our mouths with each bite while we ate it there on the porch. He wanted to hike out with us. It would be his first time back on trail after almost three weeks of recovery from his incident on Forester Pass.

Prism and her crew were staying another day to get more rest. We were sad to see them stay behind, but also wanted to get back on the trail wagon. Our time with Prism and Mammoth, our Prismatic Mammoth saga, had been great.

We waved them goodbye and headed out while Optimist stayed back to clean and get his things together. It wasn’t long before Basecamp had found a local shuttle service that would take us back to the lodge for a small fee. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take us back to Horseshoe, even though the roads were open. That was apparently reserved for bus and personal vehicles. So, we were forced to hike back uphill on asphalt the way we’d descended 2 days before. Bikers and cars passed us along the way. We were tempted to stick out a thumb and ask for a hitch, but never did.

It took hours to hike back up and over Mammoth Pass again before reconnecting with the PCT. The snow had melted more since we’d last seen it, but we still post-holed up to our knees in some sections. The PCT, however, was snow free for the 4 miles we hiked on it. A few large blowdowns slowed progress, sure, but that allowed us enough time to watch a doe grazing in a small meadow before she noticed us.

We weren’t exactly sure where Optimist was, or when he’d finally gotten back to trail. He had a Garmin, but we’d yet to actually exchange contact info on them. Despite how we’d felt earlier in the day, we were relieved when he appeared on the other side of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River where we’d decided to camp. Camping near a water source was everything. Of course, we’d hiked out beers from Mammoth Brewing and stuck them in the water for a quick chill. We were a bit shocked at just how fast Optimist was going after being sedentary for three weeks. I suppose I’d expected his posterior to be tender and stiff from healing, but he seemed to be his old self once again. For that, we were grateful.

The river roared during the night. Deep gurgles and splashes broke the steady cadence as water crashed against the bank. The next day, we would hit a large John Muir Trail (JMT) split off. And that split, well, we intended to take it.


The forest welcoming us back on trail

The forest welcoming us back on trail


Day 82 // May 26, 2022 // Trail Miles: 18.50 / GPS Recorded Miles: 18.69 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 925.80

~Destination // JMT/PCT Split, Unnamed Pass, and Island Pass~

He was still asleep in his tent by the time we were packed and ready to start our day, so we left him a message along the trail. I wondered if we’d see him again until the next town, but there was no way to be sure. As long as he was okay our minds would be at ease.

The birds we already chirping, filling the morning with melodic birdsong and warning sirens. The land to our right abruptly disappeared into a drop. On the other side of the ravine was a magical site, the Devil’s Postpile, basalt stacks. The stones shot straight up like bookends, each one adjacent the other, bending together. Hues of blue, gray, and brown were highlighted by bright green moss and lichens. It was a stunning change from the normal mountain or forest we’d become accustomed to.

At one point just before the JMT split we’d planned to take, there was a water crossing fairly wide and flowing quickly. I made it across without much effort, but Basecamp couldn’t find a spot with logs or rocks close enough for her shorter legs. She went straight in. It set a sour mood for the rest of the morning, and little did we know it’d be the tone for the rest of our day.

The JMT split was just ahead. We took it. There was no camping along the 13.4-mile JMT stretch without a permit, which we absolutely did not have, so we had to make it through in one push despite hiking sections of the PCT that merged with the PCT. In my mind, we should have had an unspoken right to hike anywhere we wanted out there. We had no car, no easy way out, so to me that place was our temporary home, free for us to roam.

It wasn’t terrible at first. We climbed through thick forests of fir. Limbs littered the trail and forest floor. Then the blowdowns started. Huge 100 and 200 foot trees were downed everywhere. It slowed our pace, but they were navigable with a bit of route finding, and straddling.

In true fashion of the trail, almost like a video game, another challenge presented itself. Snow. Deep snow barely trafficked. It gradually became deeper the more we climbed. South faces weren’t terrible, but shaded north faces posed a dangerous hazard. We passed several lakes I was sure would’ve been beautiful in the summer, but they were frozen over for us. At one point about a mile in the distance, we could just make out what looked to be a pass. There wasn’t a pass name or icon on any of our maps. To this day we call it the “Unnamed Pass”. When we saw it we threw our hands up in the air. Mini boss after mini boss stood between us and reconnecting with the PCT. Why the hell had we taken the alternate instead of the real route? We’d read FarOut comments stating how beautiful the JMT split was, and it was truly magnificent, but nothing about the intense snow and blowdowns.

We’d chosen our route though, and we just needed to plow through. After the unnamed pass, we started a descent in thick slush up to our thighs. A group of three early-season JMT hikers were heading towards us beaming with excitement. They were overflowing with joy to be hiking the Sierras, and there we were pissed out of our minds from the snow and soaked shoes. We exchanged hellos and, I’ll be honest, their energy recharged us a bit. Not completely, but some. It was enough to, despite bursts of swearing, push through the last few miles. Our feet had been soaked for so many hours we didn’t bother rock hopping, or walking around snowdrifts, we just went straight through. One lake on our left, and then another, and then a massive lake with little islands of land speckled within. It was Thousand Island Lake. We were almost back.

On the far right in the distance we could make out a trail skirting a completely snow free ridge. There was no snow along the route as far as we could see. We, on the other hand, were standing in ankle deep water flowing under a layer of icy snow.

“Damn!” I said to Basecamp, “We should have taken the actual PCT. There isn’t a lick of snow on it.”

”Yeah,” she replied, “I’m just so over this, and ready to be done.”

When we reconnected with the PCT, the dirt was dry and snow free, so we stopped to have a snack before climbing Island Pass. From what we could see, it was also covered in snow, but we had a good half mile to dry our feet before jumping right back into the snowy fray. There was another hiker there with us, a JMTer. The three of us sat there staring out over the lake with tiny, snowy icebergs bobbing here and there. Despite how miserable we’d been throughout the day, that moment erased the frustration and the dread of more snow to come. The saying that “beauty comes at a price” flashed in my mind. It was true.

The sun hadn’t started to set yet, but it was getting late in the day, and we had no idea what camping conditions would be like, so we wanted daylight to search for the best real estate. We were still soaked but we were alive. Some of the drops and deep snow along that JMT stretch could have caused some serious injury, but there we were, unscathed save for a few scratches.

True to what we saw, the first half mile of trail was dry, and abruptly became snow covered near the top of the pass. It was a gradual climb, and the pass was essentially a huge snowfield between two high points. A slog, yes, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t done before. In the middle of the pass near a downed tree and a few firs, a couple was setting up camp. We hadn’t met them before but stopped to say hello. They’d been plowing through snow as well, but hadn’t taken the JMT, so there must have been at least a bit on the actual trail, right?

Beyond their site, the path appeared to hook to the left, hug a wall, and descend. It was difficult to follow a specific footpath, however, because the footsteps and rough, melting snow all blended together. We stared at our FarOut maps for the rest of the descent, hoping we didn’t miss a turn and add on extra mileage that we didn’t want to hike. Near the bottom was a campsite icon engulfed by water. Overflowing streams cut through islands of marshy land, flooded by days or weeks of thawing snow. So that was where we’d opted to make camp huh?

There was a rather intense flow of water, Rush Creek, cutting straight through the campsite, but two large, downed trees with obvious signs of cutting and smoothing spanned across it to make a bridge. We were thankful for all the work it must have taken to hike that far into the wilderness just to fashion a bridge. As we carefully started to cross it hopeful for dry camping on the other side, we heard voices. Laughter. About 100 feet away just off trail were a few tents pitched and hikers sitting outside on a log having dinner. It was Azul, Candy Moonbeam, and Old Lady! It had been a while since we’d seen them all, well before Mammoth, and they were the perfect sight to see after the stresses we’d endured all day. It was just another day on the Pacific Crest Trail filled with extreme lows and the highest of highs. Everything seemed to be amplified. It was either the end of the world and pending doom, or inexplicable joy.

We hugged them all and ran short stories of the trail back and forth, but we still needed to make our campsite. We broke off from conversation after discussing a 5:00 a.m. departure to climb Donohue Pass in the morning and walked a bit back towards the makeshift bridge. To its right was a lumpy plot of damp grass and dirt, but it wasn’t flooded, so it was perfect. We made camp with the intent to walk over and have our dinner with everyone but never left the tent again that night.


Devil's Postpile

Devil’s Postpile


Day 83 // May 27, 2022 // Trail Miles: 12.10 / GPS Recorded Miles: 12.64 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 937.90

~Destination // Donohue Pass~

My body was sore and ached terribly, but a few cups of hot coffee and ibuprofen fixed that issue quickly. We wanted to be up and packed by 5:00 so we could hike with Azul, Moonbeam, and Old Lady. They ended up leaving right around the same time, so we leap-frogged a little in and out of snow. While the overnight temps hadn’t been freezing, the white trail was packed down and cool enough in the early morning for us to walk on.

All we had to do was make it over Donohue Pass and to the meadows before Tuolumne. The next day would be a gift, a gift from Amber and Ryan, our family and angels in our eyes. They’d be picking us up from Tuolumne Meadows and driving us to camp for two nights in Yosemite Valley. Neither of us had been there, and we were sparking with electric excitement. In my head I knew there’d be disgusting amounts of people in Yosemite, like the Disney World of nature, but we would be off our feet with food and a campfire in front of us looking out over the valley. It felt impossible to be petty when we had so much goodness to look forward too.

The climb up Donohue was a bit worse than we’d expected. Large boulders protruded through snow and ice. Boulders usually meant rocks nearby, and all stones big and small tended to mean post-holing through air pockets. We had to watch our step the entire way up, avoiding boulders but making gambles toward large slabs of rock to walk 20 feet on without snow. Along the way we met an elderly couple Pa’at and his wife. He’d been a ranger for most of his life, and she was a former thru-hiker. Between that couple and Steeley Dan from way back in the SoCal desert, I was filled with the hope of us hiking even into old age.

The trail hooked right and hugged the side of a mountain. Boulders covered the side trail, but they were exposed and snow-free. Two other hikers were out there as well. Day hikers. How the heck had they gotten themselves into such a place? The nine of us were in a loose clump, making our way up. When we had to step back on snow, large chunks 2 to 3 feet wide broke off and sunk down with us, like impromptu snowshoes keeping us afloat. And then, we were only a few hundred feet away from the saddle that looked to be the top. It was. Donohue. We were there. And, it was still early morning. But the two male day hikers made me nervous. One of them seemed particularly on-edge.

The descent was long and partially washed out. Several boot packs took both safe and risky routes simply trying to get down quickly. By the look of it, the hikers that had made them were over the snow about as much as we were. Down we went. There was one path which followed the edge of the valley (likely the safest route) and one that shot straight across the valley over a partially melted water crossing. That crossing flowed straight down into the spine of the valley along small, cascading waterfalls. We took the more direct route straight across.

While my eyes were telling me not to cross the partially collapsed snow bridge over Lyell Fork, my gut was telling me we’d be fine. One slow step at a time across the bridge, careful to distribute weight on both feet and across our trekking poles, and we were across, as dry as could be expected. We stood there for a minute and gathered ourselves looking down to just where the trail was and then I caught sight of the two men out the corner of my eye. They were following our tracks straight across the water.

The man in front had an arrogant feel about him and seemed aggravated by his more cautious partner. He hiked on across the snow bridge without much concern, but his partner stood frozen just before it. He was ridged with fear, and I didn’t blame him. By that point in our hike, we were calloused to most fears, more easily annoyed than anything else. But for that fellow who obviously wasn’t used to such dangerous terrain, well, it must have been terrifying for him. We stood there and watched on as the man in front yelled at his friend telling him to hurry up. They had to get back to their car by the sound of it. I felt bad for the other fellow. He’d likely been talked into hiking there by his friend and was being treated like he was the problem, the hindrance. I knew all too well how he must have felt. We both wanted to help them, but it looked like the snow thinned out just below us, so we figured they’d be fine. And, there was a small army of other hikers coming behind if they did end up injured or in need of help.

The thinning snow turned into flooded trail, as it usually did. We were high on the thought of Yosemite, so we just blew through it all. Azul, Moonbeam, and Old Lady were still behind, but they caught up. We leap-frogged with them on and off all the way down, across deep river crossings without rock hops or slogs, knee deep snow, and submerged trail up to our ankles. And suddenly, like the next chapter of a book, everything changed.

That same flooded trail and all those water crossings fed into one single flowing creek bisecting a valley towered by mountains. We’d made it to the last stretch to Tuolumne Meadows, and it was flat as a pancake. If the trail continued straight like we observed it to, we’d have a straight shot to Amber and Ryan without much vert gain or loss. The home stretch.

Most of the day was on dry trail with a bit of mud, footprints of hikers before us temporarily carved into the Earth as if plaques in their memory. We reached a sign of trail happenings and closures. Apparently we weren’t able to camp within 4-5 miles of Tuolumne Meadows, so we had to readjust our plans of camping just outside. At around 5 miles from our pickup point, we noticed a flat clearing with patches of pine spread around Lyell Fork. Wedged between two clusters of trees was a flat spot with worn grass. We were the only ones to camp there.

Water was a few hundred feed away, and we were protected on three sides from the wind. We couldn’t have asked for a better campsite. Just behind camp was a 15 foot wide boulder, flattened on top, as if nature had created a dinner table for us.

We set up on the stone prepping our meal of noodles, peanut butter, and soy sauce; our pad thai recipe. Without much warning, a dark cloud rolled in and the wind picked up. For a few moments we sat there hoping it would calm down, but it was insistent on interrupting dinner. Given that, we crawled into our portable home and ate in the vestibules protected from wind, and the rain that followed 10 minutes later.

The rest of the night rain fell and “plopped” on the fly of our tent creating a sort of soothing rhythm, broken up only when we heard the slapping and rustling of what sounded like our food bag. I haphazardly put on a headlamp and shot my head out of the tent several times to look, but never saw a thing. Assuming the worst, we went to sleep expecting a bear to visit us later during the night.


Donohue Pass

Donohue Pass


Day 84 // May 28, 2022 // Trail Miles: 4.60 / GPS Recorded Miles: 4.54 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 942.50

~Destination // Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley~

It turned out that there wasn’t a bear, but rather the creek had been slapping against the bank giving the illusion of a crinkling bag savaged by 400 pounds of black fur and muscle. The tent was soaked, inside and out, but with only 5 miles to hike before our “evac”, I just stuffed it and strapped the fly to the top of my pack. Basecamp was grinning most of the morning, despite the thick mist that would have normal worn her down.

5 miles flew by. We knew when we were close to Tuolumne even without checking our GPS or map because there were bridges over the creeks instead of logs or a hopeful rock hops. Civilization was nigh. And then the day hikers started to appear, alongside the slightly more seasoned “weekend warriors”. Their packs were huge, and coming from us, that meant something since we had the largest packs of anyone we knew.

It was Friday and the parking lots were full, but our pit privy favor was overflowing. They were everywhere, like something out of a beautiful dream. I took advantage of the amenities, and we both tried to contact Amber and Ryan. Unfortunately, there was no cell service to speak of. Even if I could get a Garmin message sent over to them, odds were they didn’t have cell service to receive it. And sure enough, none of the messages sent received a response. We sat just off the main road for a half hour…a half hour past when they should have been there.

“I think one of us needs to go look for them.” Basecamp said. “They could just be running late or driving around looking for us.”

It was the logical thing to do.

“I’ll do it.” I replied.

I left Basecamp and all of our worldly possessions there on the side of the road while I ran around a mile down the road. On my left, I passed a parking area. Nothing. Then I ran by the Post Office and small shop, closed. Still nothing. Amber and Ryan weren’t parked where I expected them to, but there were a string of cars ahead they may have been at. Nothing. I kept going determined to at least hit a mile, and then their car turned around the corner far off in the distance. It was there’s, not someone else driving the same car. A young dirty blonde sat in the passenger seat (Amber) and an equally young fellow with glasses and black hair (Ryan) was behind the wheel. They slowed down and pulled over on the side of the road.

They looked at me smiling and Amber said, “We thought that had to be you with those huge white legs! Wesley! It’s so good to see you!”

And with that, we all exchanged hugs and drove to pick up my wife off the side of the road. Outside of the hiking community, doing something like that would have looked like our car had broken down, or that we were homeless. The homeless bit was partly true, but I felt like, when on a thru-hike, just about anything went.

Basecamp jumped up when she saw us. She was elated. Her sister was her best friend, and the fact she’d driven so far just to see us meant something. Ryan and I hauled our backpacks into the trunk of their car while Basecamp and Amber continued to hug and jump in excitement.

“In some ways, you never grow up.” I said to myself with a smile.

They were both adults, but when you got them together, their childhood selves came right back to the surface.

We started our drive towards Yosemite Valley with a few bathroom breaks mixed in. One spot was a small convenience store in the middle of nowhere. Our stomachs were growling, so we decided to step in and grab a snack. Two beers and a sandwich later, we went to the cash register to pay and noticed they had Liquid IV packets for sale. They were our favorite next to liquid Mio flavoring for our water. The display read, “$2.99 per pack.”

“Whooooooaaaaaaa…” I said looking at Basecamp. “That’s insanely overpriced for ONE Liquid IV packet. I hope that’s not a prelude of Yosemite pricing to come…”

Finishing the last leg of our drive to Yosemite, the cars started to pile up on the road, side of the road, and in parking lots. Thousands of people lined sidewalks, meadows, and souvenir stations. The campground Amber and Ryan had booked was in the heart of it all with a view of monstrous, jagged mountains. El Capitan and Half Dome stood off in the distance hidden by trees and mountains that paled in comparison. It was stunning to look at, but difficult to focus on with so much stimulus.

Each campsite around us had its own conversation, its own fire raging or a camper struggling to start it. Coolers, excessive amounts of food, drinks, gas-powered vehicles, generators, RVs, barking dogs and crying babies. All these sounds were familiar, but also new after being in the woods for almost three months. There was a lot happening, and it gave me a bit of anxiety. While I was sure the feeling would cease soon enough, when we arrived at camp, all I wanted to do was pitch our tent and crawl inside with a beer to quiet the noise. So many people. So loud. So much excess. That was the part that hit me the most, all the excess. I wondered if people there even knew what it felt like to go without. Surely they did in different ways, but I couldn’t shake the thought.

The first thing we ended up doing was cracking a beer open to set up camp, close enough to what I already wanted to do. They were brews from the Mammoth Brewing Co. It seemed we couldn’t get enough of their beer. Amber’s friend Julie was there as well, with her husband. Julie was like a rare mythical creature who could conjure up whatever foods we wanted. She had it all with her, meats, veggies, musubi, and an array of other foods we’d have never expected to see at a campsite. Food was clearly her love language, and she was nailing it. In our little 25×10 foot space we wedged 3 tents around our picnic table, bear locker, and two vehicles. It was cozy to say the least, and it was perfect.

We all started a fire in the pit when “fire allowance time” began, sometime around 4 or 5:00 PM, and prepared dinner. The campground filled with smoke from all the other fire pits, but as the sun began to set, darkness descended on all the noise. Campers quieted. Dogs began to bark less. Babies went to sleep. The night was comforting in a way, driven back only by our fire, and the orange glow of fires around us. Our own personal bubble of life was what existed. With a glass of whiskey in one hand, and food in the other, I reclined back in my chair and stared up at the starry night sky.


El Cap

El Cap

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Comments 2

  • Jon (Pa’at) : Jun 9th

    Great to see another post from you. Wonder has recovered from her pain. We are doing training here hikes preparing for walking the Washington section of the PCT in August. Wonder was in too much pain to do any of Washington last year.
    We used to think people 71 and 70 years old were elderly but now that we are that old we don’t think that anymore.

    • Wesley Black : Jun 11th

      You are both a huge inspiration. We wish you and Wonder the absolute best on you WA PCT section!!!


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