First Taste of the Sierra
Being as I was at a Resort with a general store downstairs, I treated myself to a large hot coffee. I drank it downstairs in the living room while perusing an article about the oldest National Parks. It made me want to visit all the parks! Then I went upstairs to pack and chat with my roomies. Happily the bear canister fit in my pack with room for the Ursack alongside.
At 10 am, Gary gave seven of us a ride back to the trail. We had an immediate climb up the south side of Sonora Pass. Though it added two extra pounds, my bear canister felt okay in my pack. The views as I ascended were magnificent, but the view down the other side surpassed them. Latopie Lake was a turquoise sheet edged by a snowy slope. In the distance were the darker blues of Koenig and Leavitt Lakes. The trail curved around the valley and met a steep snowbank, which I climbed, thankful for the large cleats on my new shoes.
I ate lunch beside snow melt runoff, gazing across a green valley into which I would soon descend. In the afternoon, I left the barren slopes and entered forest. At Walker River, the bridge looked wonky, yet held as I crossed. Rounded rocks mixed with trees where I made camp. I was so excited; I hiked 16 miles and my strained muscle didn’t hurt once! It was the new shoes!
First night that I used a bear canister on the PCT! Can you spot the Ursack in this picture? I know everything was supposed to go in the bear canister, however I couldn’t fit my cold-soaking overnight oats in their Talenti jar.
The day’s first five miles took me past a series of lakes with female names: Harriet, Bonnie, Stella, and Dorothy. As I passed Harriet, a breeze rippled the surface. At the top of Dorothy Pass, before dropping down to the lake, I entered the Yosemite Wilderness. Dorothy was a busy lake, with an elaborate tent camp and a couple fishermen.
After 14 miles, I joined a group of five thru-hikers for lunch at Wilma Lake. Mostly I chatted with a gal from California named Trudge. We met once in the desert, which felt like forever ago. She was curious about my lentil tacos and shared that she mostly cold soaks rice and beans.
Once before lunch and once mid-afternoon, I removed my shoes to cross knee deep, slow-moving, wide streams. The rest of the many streams I crossed by rock hopping. In an unnamed lake, I discovered spotted frogs! Following lunch there were several steep uphills so I started Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
I considered stopping beside the crystal-clear waters of Kerrick Creek, but pushed on to the next tent site; a 23 mile day. It was preferable to the creek spot, on a ledge with a great view; my favorite campsite feature! It was my second day with no muscle pain. I did feel a bit lonely. It’d be nice to share dinner or chat about the day.
Following two days of brilliant sunshine, I woke to an overcast day. As I descended Seavey Pass, I encountered Dance On. We caught up for a bit. It reminded me of a podcast that I listened to yesterday about adventuring alone, how seeing a familiar face can bolster your spirits. Over the day’s entirety, I met quite a few NoBo hikers, yet no other SoBo’s.
The descent from Seavey brought me into a valley and I caught a glimpse of Benson Lake. Then I began the long climb up Benson Pass. When I got 1/3 of the way up it started to drizzle. At 2/3, I passed stunning Smedberg Lake and wished it was sunny enough to swim. One mile from the top, I heard thunder. Reluctant to go over the pass in such conditions, I sheltered under a giant tree and ate lunch. It began to hail and there was lightning 3-4 miles away.
In the midst of the storm, two guys came running down the pass and stopped to chat. Unfortunately, their Garmin predicted the storm would continue for hours. So when the rain ceased and I hadn’t heard thunder for a bit, I went for the top. The rain and thunder returned and it hailed on me, but I made it up and over the 10,100 ft. pass (pausing under a tree near the top when I saw a lightning flash). Even though I was fairly wet at that point, I wasn’t cold.
After the pass, I went 3.5 miles. Eventually the rain stopped, there was fleeting blue sky and a couple minutes of sun. My clothes mostly dried. However, I didn’t trust it… and right after I set up my tent and filtered water, rain came pouring down. Though it didn’t last long, I was happy to be cozy inside my tent. I didn’t feel lonely like the last two nights. Perhaps it was surviving crappy weather in good spirits?
The day started well. It was 3/4 of a mile from my tent site to the day’s first climb. On my way up, I passed PBS, and we chatted about yesterday’s crazy weather. It was nice to see another SOBO, especially one that I knew. After eight miles, I’d finished all the big climbs for the day. Late morning, I took a break in a sunny spot to dry my tent and a couple other items.
A long, gentle downhill brought me to White Cascade and Tuolumne Falls, both scenic. It began to drizzle so I took a snack break under a tree. The trail crossed the Tuolumne River on a neat two segment bridge with a large rock in the middle. Afterwards it meandered alongside the river, the terrain alternating between large flat rocks and trees. It downpoured and hailed; I hid under a tree for the worst of it.
Eventually I reached Tuolumne Meadows and dumped my food trash in a trash can, yay! The rain would not let up and I had to hike so I got soaked. At this point the trail wasn’t well marked, FarOut is almost impossible to use when both your finger and the phone screen are wet. Under an awning, I had a mini breakdown. I was cold and had ~5 miles to go before I was permitted to camp. Part of me wanted to quit, though I know not to quit on a bad day. I remembered the AT; how Cricket & I walked 20 miles and set up tents, all in the rain. If I did it once, I could do it again.
Back in the rain, I went on. I cursed the rain for its annoyance and smiled at a few bedraggled people that passed. Eventually it stopped raining and there were patches of blue sky! I hiked the last 2-3 miles and camped at Vogelsang Junction, a 26.7 mile day. After collecting water, I settled into my tent, piling damp clothes in one corner and changing into dry ones.
From my campsite it was 6.5 miles, the first three fairly flat, to the top of Donohue Pass. I rocketed out of camp since it was cold and I was slightly damp. Happily, it was a sunny day! The pass had a picturesque valley near the top. At the summit, I found PBS. She got a shepherd’s pie burrito from a passing horse rider and I pulled out a couple snacks. We sat, commiserating over yesterday’s poor weather and sharing audiobook suggestions. She took off while I sent a few texts.
Suspicious clouds appeared on the horizon, so I descended the pass quickly. Near the Davis Lake junction I caught up to PBS. We put on rain gear and began climbing Island Pass, chatting about the AT. Unfortunately, it began to rain and thunder… again. Luckily Island Pass was shorter and less exposed than Donohue. Still, when I descended it and caught sight of the very impressive Thousand Island Lakes, I wished I could see it in the sunshine.
Through judicious ducking under trees during the heaviest rainfall, I managed not to get soaked. I met a perky section hiker who was cruising along, un-phased by the rain. He said I was lucky to finish the PCT in the Sierra. I’d feel luckier if it stopped raining every day! Then I met two older guys, the second of whom was having a hard time. Eventually the rain & thunder stopped, blue skies blossomed, and the sun came out. My gear and I dried.
Late afternoon I was running out of steam, so I stopped to eat a snack, mix electrolytes, and start my dinner cold soaking. The trail traversed a canyon wall, high above the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. After a 20 mile day, I camped at a site with a good view and cell service. PBS joined me and we ate dinner together. I’m excited to have a new friend!
It was ~9 miles to Red’s Meadow, mostly downhill. At the damaged bridge over the San Joaquin River, I took the detour through Soda Springs CG and did a couple mile road walk before cutting west to the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. It is an amazing columnar basalt formation of volcanic origin.
The shuttle into Mammoth Lakes ceased operation two days before my arrival. Happily, I got a hitch from two ladies in a pickup who put me in the back. I enjoyed the rush of air and scenery without the filter of a window. In town I got my resupply box at the post office. I took it to a coffee shop for incorporation into my pack. My sister added GF mint Oreos and my parents added Jalapeño Lime tortilla chips. Yum to both!
On my return to Red’s Meadow, I first got a hitch to the Mammoth Ski area. Then an avid hiker gave me a ride the rest of the way. He was on his way to pick up a lady he’d only met online, who was getting off the JMT due to issues with altitude. They were then going to backpack together in Yosemite.
Ideally, I’d have gotten on trail immediately, however, my battery pack only charged 33% in town. I plugged it in at the hiker building and called my parents. Then I met this cool guy Elliott, who was hiking the north half of the JMT, his first long trail. He asked me gear and trail life questions, gave me home-dehydrated miso soup to try, and had me sample his tofu jerky (chewy). Afterwards, I hiked three miles to camp, setting up my tent after dark.
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