Part Thirteen – Out of the Sierra, Not Out of the Snow: Starting NorCal

My last night in the Sierra was very windy and therefore, sleepless. At around 3:00 am, having been only able to sleep about an hour, I decided to leave camp and hike the remaining 8 miles to Sonora Pass. The trail was partially snow-free, although it still included long and tedious traverses on snow, but nothing sketchy. I advanced quickly as the sun rose on the horizon, painting the dawn sky with a melt of oranges, reds, and blues. Up on an exposed ridge, the view was clear and spectacular, offering a glimpse of the landscape that laid miles away from me. The mountains seemed infinite as I looked in the far distance. It made me wonder where my path would lead me among this sheer vastness. It also made me emotional about the one I just left behind. Flashbacks from the past few weeks rolled through my mind as tears rolled down my reddish cheeks. I reached the road and waited for the others to catch up. I sat there in front of the road sign, content. We had done it. We had gone through the Sierra in one of the highest snow years on record. I knew the road to Canada was still long, but for the first time during this trip, I let myself feel proud and accomplished.

Kennedy Meadows North

We hitched into Kennedy Meadows North, a resort and pack station east of Sonora Pass. Running on just 1 hour of sleep, I forced myself to run all my errands and do laundry first before settling in and getting some well-needed sleep. In the small food store, I was baffled when I met professional mixed martial artist and former UFC fighter, Nate Diaz. “What the hell was he doing here?” I thought. When I told Buddy, he couldn’t believe it either. I walked into the lobby and found the log book where those who had gone through the Sierra had signed in. I was curious to see how many had gone before us. “66, 67,68…” Only 68 people had gone through, out of the thousands who started in Campo. I was the 69th. Somehow, I couldn’t resist to laugh at that fact.

Kennedy Meadows North is also where our trail family finally said their goodbyes. For a whole month, we spent every day together through thick and thin and made sure everybody made it through the Sierra safely. Our goal as a team had been fulfilled, and it was now time to go on our separate ways to pursue each of our own. Beer Slide and Buddy left first, and Shortcut and Twigs would stay on another day or two in Pinecrest. I, on my end, would leave the next morning alone. This thought both saddened me and excited me. I was leaving good friends behind, but at the same time, I was getting on a new adventure, one where I’d be fully free and independent. A recurrent theme in my life off the trail.

Time Is Running Out

I left Kennedy Meadows North a day earlier than expected. It was July, and time was running out. If I wanted to beat the early winter storms in Washington, I needed to make up for the time lost in the Sierra. So far, it had taken me three months to walk a little over a thousand miles. Now, I needed to cover about 1,600 miles in two months, and there was still snow in Northern California. Challenge accepted!


Gear Failure

Fourth of July. The snow had been still very present since I left Sonora Pass. Some hikers had coined this phenomenon the “SnowCal Blues”, in reference to the famous NorCal blues; and they were not wrong. I had enough of it, even though I was more skilled by now to walk on it efficiently enough to not waste considerable time. But it was still exhausting and required constant focus. I was mentally tired. 

While the most dangerous sections were behind me in the Sierra, snow-covered NorCal still offered some challenges with a few risky traverses. Since I was alone, I took more precautions and did my best to make up a safe path through the snow while still reaching my daily goals. I liked it, as it challenged my orientation skills. This morning, I decided to go completely off-trail and cut around a steep and dangerous traverse that was a hot topic in the FarOut comments. That decision was made after one of my crampons had snapped in two the day before, leaving me with traction for only one foot. Not ideal. Armed with my topographic map on my phone, I drew a path following a creek down to a snow-free meadow, where I found a dirt road that led me straight back to the trail. On the way, I saw a few bear footprints in the snow going in the opposite direction, fortunately. Back on the trail and happy with my little morning adventure, I decided to push further and hike over Carson Pass. The next morning, I would hike the remaining mile to the road and hitch into South Lake Tahoe to buy new traction devices.

5-star campsite

Back in the busyness of civilization, I walked into the South Lake Tahoe’s campground in the aftermath of the Fourth of July celebrations. I reunited with Beer Slide over breakfast before we went on our separate ways once again. After an afternoon of running errands for the next stretch, I retreated into my tent to avoid the crowd. The campground was filled with RV’s and loud weekend campers. I succeeded in falling asleep early enough but was awakened by flashing lights and voices around my tent in the middle of the night. “Damn tourists…” I thought, a bit annoyed. I went back to sleep. In the early morning, I got up and walked out of my tent to discover packages of food torn apart and spread around the campsite. I was confused until the hiker sleeping in the tent next to me came to enlighten me: “Yeah dude, three bears came wandering around the campsite last night and one was right by your tent so I and my buddy had to flash our headlamps at it and get it to leave…” “Holy sheet! No way! I didn’t even hear anything…” I thanked the guy. Somehow I was a bit amused but also surprised bears would venture so deep into a town for food.

Friday, July 7th. 3:30 am. I woke up in the pit toilet of an abandoned parking lot near Echo Lake. That day, I would have to walk a rough 28 miles through Desolation Wilderness since this area required a bear canister, and I had sent away mine after the Sierra to be lighter. This would be my longest day yet. The trail was for the main part dry, which allowed me to get a quick start and cover half of today’s mileage by 10 am. I caught up with Beetlejuice and Artifacts, who I had spent some time with back in South Lake Tahoe. We ate breakfast together on the banks of Lake Gilmore before I headed out on my own to tackle the pass of the day. Snow reappeared as I made my way up in elevation, slowing down my progress slightly. However as I made my way down after the pass, the snow disappeared to leave way for a trail flooded from the snow melt. Although it required some gymnastics to avoid getting my feet wet, I was happy to see that the snow was finally melting and that the probability of hiking on a dirt trail was more and more in my favor from now on. At 6:00 pm, after passing the Desolation Wilderness exit sign, I set up camp on the first patch of dirt I saw, exhausted but content.

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