Goodbye Sierra Nevada

When the first reports came in January that it would be a high snow year, I asked Nasty Cheese if she would like to stay Nobo, or if she would like to flip. She agreed to at least try to hike the mountains.

First patches of dry trail, south of Ebbets Pass

Now, five months later, we stand at the shores of a full South Lake Tahoe, and we cannot believe that we made it here.

We learned so many skills

When we left Kennedy Meadows on the 23rd of May, we already had some experience in snow hiking and climbing (we also climbed a lot before coming to America).

Beautiful Flowers as soon as the snow is gone

Follow our journey on Instagram!

But what we should learn during the following five weeks was more than we ever expected. This fact got revealed to us through an almost tragic incident.

It was Kennedy Meadows North, where we got asked if we could “adopt” another hiker. He hiked the PCT in 2021 and now wanted to fill some gaps, so he came here to walk the Trail to Tahoe.

The mountain beavers at Ebbets Pass road

When he asked us, we felt like we couldn’t say no, because of the special conditions out there. We were afraid that he would try it alone. A major mistake, because we did not know about his skills and gear setup.

A mistake we should almost regret

So we started hiking from Sonora Pass and up to the mountain pass with the same name. Up there, I checked the map and told the others to take a last deep breath, as we would never be above 10,000 feet again until Lake Tahoe. A bit later, Trailangel Chipmunk told me that it was the last time EVER on the PCT.

Traverses will hopefully soon be over

The conditions were the same as before, still a lot of snow and deep sun cups, but also many dry spots and even more dry trails every now and then. We never had to sleep on snow, we always found dry spots. Spring was starting heavy in the dry zones, covering the floor with wild garlic and many small flowers.

The creeks we crossed, were easy, calm, and small. Nothing compared to the raging monsters of Yosemite and more of the stone-hopping kind.

A very old tree

On the second day, we recognized that we returned to the old PCT schemes: The trail would no longer follow deep valleys and high passes, it would now wind along the mountains, being steep again, like in the desert.

It was one of these steep slopes, where we all just did our personal business, wearing microspikes and not even thinking about our ice axes, when it happened:

Our new Party-Member slipped and slid down the slope for about 30 yards and hurt his knee while doing that.

Magpie was helping him back up and we all finally realized: It is not normal what we did.

Skills need to be learned

For the last five weeks, we thought that we were doing normal stuff everyone could do, if being brave enough. But we found out that we are all of a sudden not just us anymore, there was a new weaker member, who did not know where to put his feet before and after a log to not posthole.

Skills need to be obtained before enjoying these views

Suddenly, we realized that we were worried for him. Until then, I was of course worried for Nasty Cheese’s health, but I always knew that she was very stable and safe on the snow. We also all slipped several times during the day, so it was the daily business for us. Once I even had to steer myself into a treewell to not end up in the Rancheria Creek.

All of us also learned so much about navigating in the snow. Instinctively we know now what is a melting track and what is a real one or two-day-old footstep. Also, we realized that not everyone can navigate with a phone or read from the topo map if a shortcut is doable, or would lead us down a cliff.

Better avoid this mistake in the future

These bits of knowledge make us proud, but also showed us our mistake: We expected too much from our new member and would have to lead him out of here to Ebbet’s Pass. We would cross this road a day later, but til then we would have a lot of steep traverses left.

Hiking became fairly easier on the way to South Lake Tahoe

Luckily, our new member was more aware now and also always had Magpie at his side to assist him and to show him where to step. So we traversed icy slopes and passed many dry spots and even had some miles of dry trail, before hearing the first car motors in the distance. A month ago, I would have hated that noise, but now it made me excited. I was longing for signs of other humans. I wanted to see them, living their casual lifestyles, driving cars and going for a walk and whatever.

Trail magic just for us?!

So we stumbled down the still five feet high wall along the Highway and what do we see? Tables, a tent, and cars lined up next to the road, looking like being ready for a garden party. We slowly approached the guy standing next to that, asking him: “Is this for the bike race?” “Why don’t you first sit down?” he replies, washing our hands and letting us take off our backpacks afterward. The guy is called “Chipmunk” and he drove three hours up here, to catch up with us few hikers and give us some trail magic. I was very close to crying, as our food reserves were a bit badly calculated for this stretch.

Trail magic!!

Chipmunk served us cornflakes, Jelly Beans, chili, eggs, hashbrowns, and even steak! All that was followed by his wife’s brownies. We felt like rock stars. Cars were stopping, asking if we were hikers, a motorcyclist gave me a fistbump and a dude shouted, “You guys are doing great!” out of his car. No wonder we spent four hours there.

Easier terrain ahead

From Ebbet’s Pass on, the Trail became significantly easier. The mountains became rounder, flatter, more like hills. No more high and steep peaks (we shortcutted a very steep traverse, like many other groups. We had enough of gnarly stretches), so it was easier to walk and we took more time to relax. Also, because I was very done with the snow. The last five weeks sucked up a lot of my energy, the muscles above my knees were in constant pain, and wanted to have more proteins and brakes to grow.

Carson Pass

No wonder the visitor Center at Carson Pass was a welcoming stop. In the early morning, we crossed the Pass, which was like saying goodbye. We put on our crampons, took out our ice axes, and traversed the last steep section, which was like a miniature of the big passes in the High Sierra. From up there, we looked back towards all the snowy mountains that we passed within the last weeks and said goodbye. It was a goodbye to the loneliness, to the cold and the fears that guided us, and we turned our heads northwards.

The visitor center opened 3 days before we arrived

The Visitor Center welcomed us with snacks and sodas that were left by another trail angel, Laurence. We were in contact for two weeks and I guessed he would hunt us down somewhere. Again, we felt like stars, being spoiled and helped by another good soul. He even gave Nasty Cheese mosquito repellent, as she is allergic to these creatures from hell. Again, we spent way too much time here, but we still managed to hike all the way through almost to Echo Lake.

In the late afternoon, we could see Lake Tahoe in the far distance, the big Check Point. A goal we would have never believed to reach. It took us three months to get here. 450 miles in snow, (including San Jacinto and Baden-Powell). Several falls, slides, bruises, and cuts. I lost a lot of fat, we lost three of our four hiking sticks. The shoes are destroyed, the microspikes almost dull, and I am losing two toenails, but I believe we reached the biggest achievement of our lives: crossing a whole mountain range in winter conditions while staying Nobo.

Next goal: Oregon

A new section

Since we reached Tahoe, we will now take two zeros, to strengthen our bodies and to resupply and organize our gear. We will stay in Nobo to Canada. We even already have the entry permits. The next goal is Donner Pass (still with snowy conditions) and there we will lighten up our packs, sending away the snow gear and the bear cans. They have been our trustful tools, that have somehow protected us and served us well.

I am sure we won’t have any problems with the Norcal blues, as we cannot wait to see normal forests and trail conditions again.

I am so grateful that we all made it through alive and well, that we learned so much and could always find a way around problems. My first goal was always to make it home safe, the second goal is Canada. Thank you for that, whoever helped protect us.

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Comments 24

  • Laurence : Jun 29th

    Trail Magic at snow banks is an entirely new thing this year. I cannot express enough my great respect for your perseverance combined with good thinking and preparation. And after Donner Pass, except for the coming mosquito plague, the thru hike NoBo should be more satisfying in a balanced way.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jun 29th

      Hey Laurence, as always, thank you very much! I believe you are the same Laurence from Instagram? Yes, we hope to survive the Mozzies 🥴

      • William Anderson Kifer : Aug 25th

        This was a good read, you guys are gnarly! Looking forward to the next article! Cheers

  • Tom : Jun 29th

    You have much to be proud of. Many would have thought it a mistake to hike in those conditions and maybe you did also at times. After all this , I think the PCT will be much more meaningful to you. Stay safe and good hiking !!

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jun 29th

      Hey Tom! Yes, in Yosemite, I had two moments, when I really thought, that we should not be there. It was definitely the endboss of the Sierra!

  • Susie : Jun 30th

    Congrats on this big accomplishment of getting thru the Sierras this big snow year!! Good luck w/next parts & Enjoy!

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 3rd

      Thanks Susi! We hope to be through soon, the snow is becoming more and more annoying

  • Phillip J Lavios : Jul 2nd

    Good on you and crew Bjorn! We did the Trans-Sierra route a few years ago and it was awesome! Good Luck! Regards, Phil

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 3rd

      Hey Phil! Thank you very much! It was beautiful, but also very hard, I still am not rested completely. That will come once we are back on 100% dry trail.

  • Michael : Jul 2nd

    The Sierra, already pluralized in it’s native language, extends well north of South Lake Tahoe. It extends to Fredonyer Pass.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 3rd

      Yes I know, right now it would not let us free, as there is still so much snow on the north faces. It makes us sick

  • Jeff Greene : Jul 2nd

    Damn impressive. I wasn’t sure anyone was going to get to do the Sierra this year on the normal NOBO schedule.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 3rd

      Well, I was wondering as well, but thank you very much! 😅

  • Rick E : Jul 2nd

    I grew up in South Lake Tahoe. Thanks for sharing your incredible adventures. When I was a young teen, I became a YCC (Youth Conservation Corps) worker. I’ve hiked and camped on many of the trails you mention. If you have space on your bucket list, you should investigate Desolation Wilderness.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 3rd

      Desolation was absolutely beautiful and there were almost no other people. But it was also very anowy. About 70% of the area were still under a blanket.

  • Kurt : Jul 5th

    From this South Lake Tahoe local and Eagle Scout who has been backpacking for decades: thank you so much for taking the time to observe, record, and write about your PCT trek. It’s super inspiring. I just wish I knew about it sooner so I could’ve helped y’all with anything in South Lake!

  • Chuck Findley : Jul 6th

    Wow this article would have been enjoyable to read if it were written in proper understandable English instead of gibberish. Try hiring an editor next time you will find they are well worth the money to make your article sound intelligent! Just saying.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 7th

      Wow, my first Hate-Post, LoL. Thanks man, will try better next time, meanwhile you could try to learn and write in a second language. Or you just read posts from native speakers.

      • Kile : Jul 10th

        For a non-native English speaker, I thought you did really well. Nice job on the PCT! The thought of a six month hiatus from society sounds fascinating. I’m left wondering how people are able to balance the trip and employment afterwards. Be safe out there.

        • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Jul 15th

          Thanks Kile! I think I know what was going on. These post is somehow going crazy, so he probably thought that it was a professionel post by the trek themselves. I can’t blame him for that.

    • Scott Boggs : Jul 17th

      Whadda ya talkin’ ’bout, Dude…Bjorn reads just fine, no major problems ‘tall. Are you a Cornell or Dartmouth A.T. geek now hiding out in the Humanities Dept. until it’s safe to roam the Presidentials for an afternoon?

      • Joe Landis : Jul 26th

        I would call it trail talk. Keep it simple. Even Pig Latin should be scholar

  • glenn : Jul 30th

    Glad to have met you today along the PCT just before Ashland, My wife and I talked to you and Nasty Cheese for a few minutes as your were surprised we knew about the snow in the Sierras. Stay safe and have a great “rest of your hike”.

    • Björn "Refill" Dziambor : Aug 1st

      Hi Glen! Pleasure for us as well and nice to meet you again here! Thanks for the nice chat!


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