PCT Week 6: Goodbye Desert, Hello Sierra!


Over 25% of the PCT complete. The end of the PCT Desert. The past week was fun and reflective and nerve wracking as I embraced the last week of hiking through the Southern Californian Desert. I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about others, and a whole lot about nature and backpacking. Here are 7 main lessons I’ve learned over the last 700 miles of trail:

  1. Most hard things (climbs, early wake up calls, snowy sections) are worth doing
  2. Listen to your gut feelings and follow up with a fact check
  3. Working with nature (heat, rattlesnakes, storms) is a lot easier than working against her
  4. Celebrate every milestone
  5. Be curious about the every person you meet, they may just become life long friends
  6. Savor every awe inspiring moment for rainy days
  7. You are more capable mentally and physically than you expect each day


26.1 Miles: Sunset Campsite (Mile 577.2) to Robin Bird Spring (Mile 603.3)

I woke up energized just to be back on trail and starting the push to Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert section. The moon shined bright in the sky as I packed up my backpack and started hiking. Watching the morning light transform may be my favorite thing about this trail. As I hiked, the sky gradually transformed from a dark blue sky full of stars and a bright moon to a soft blue sky to a pre dawn orange glow to the almost simultaneous sunrise and moonset. These moments lived as snapshots and freeze frames in my mind (and camera roll) and felt special each and every day. And this morning was a real show.

The sun rising over the mountains from trail

I could feel my body working as I climbed for most of the day. Today had a lot of elevation gain and at a much steeper grade than much of the desert trail had so far. My mind calculated how much water I could drink per mile to last me to the next water source 20 miles away. It felt good to challenge myself with the steep terrain and water carry. I always felt closer to nature and closer to myself in these moments. 

Part of the climb just before reaching mile 600

When I got to my campsite, by a water pipe spring, I set down my backpack and filled up my water bottle. I laid there for a while, quietly drinking water and feeling thankful. It is still funny to me that I plan my day around these essentials, like water, that I may have taken for granted in “normal life”.  


23.6 Miles: Robin Bird Spring (Mile 603.3) to Joshua Tree Cave Camp (Mile 626.9)

I could feel the chill on my legs and face even after the sun poked over the mountain top. I saw tree blazes (because there were real trees!!), and realized I was in a PROPER forest now. I smiled as I walked in the cool air and the reality of snow and the Sierra got closer and the desert got further behind me.

Tree PCT trail markers!

I turned a corner and the trail abruptly changed from pine forest to a vast desert landscape. The desert scape was dramatic and beautiful. “Wow. I may actually miss this desert.” I thought to myself.

The trail register and vast desert mountain landscape

The next few hours of hiking were some of my favorite along the PCT to date. I turned on my old running playlist and basically danced my way up the mountain the rest of the day. Every so often, when a gust of wind came through, I could feel it in my soul. I would pause, throw my arms out to the side, and feel the pure bliss of the moment.


25.6 Miles: Joshua Tree Cave Camp (Mile 626.9) to Walker Pass Campground (Mile 652.5)

Some days, you just don’t want to get out of bed. This is not something I normally struggle with (especially on trail), and it was a stark contrast from my day yesterday. I could hear the wind whipping my tent around and thought to myself “There’s no way it’ll get thaaat hot today… what if I sleep in a bit?”. I requested a weather report for my GPS location using my InReach. I was right! It wasn’t going to get over 60 degrees today! Butttt there were predicted thunderstorms. I made my carnation instant breakfast and coffee cold soak concoction hoping it would give me the spark of energy I needed to pack up and hike. The glow of the moon around the Joshua Trees was worth getting out of bed but the dark clouds and impending rain was daunting.

Starting to hike in the moonlight

“I think it’s gonna storm on us soon.” I said grumpily to Taut when I saw him on the trail. Not even 15 minutes later, the sky opened up. I put on my rain gear and hiked quickly as the rain fell. Hiking in the rain, I oddly felt more at peace than hiking with the impending rain. Head down, covered up, it really wasn’t THAT bad I told myself. When I got to the other side of the valley I felt the rain stop. I looked back across the valley and saw the rain clouds and sun peaking out. It was beautiful. The rain washed away the grumpy, and I felt refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day. 

The rain clouds in the valley below


2.5 Miles: Walker Pass Campground (652.5) to Saddle Campsite (Mile 655)

Waking up and knowing that we only had 50 miles and 2 days until the Sierra felt CRAZY. And sleeping in. I thought my body would wake me up at my normal 4AM but NOPE, I slept in like a baby until 6AM (this still sounds early, but normally I have at least 3-4 miles hiked by 6, so this truly felt glorious).

We hitched into Lake Isabella for breakfast and groceries. As we were half way through eating our pancakes and omelets and cinnamon rolls, a women walked up to us. “Hey guys! I used to backpack a bit and wanted to wish you guys happy trails! Your breakfasts are taken care of.” She walked away before we could ask any questions. I have experienced so much generosity from strangers while on the PCT, and it still never fails to amaze me. I truly believe that the community surrounding this trail brings out the purest parts of people. 

Nelda’s Diner in Lake Isabella

We hitched back to trail in two separate trips. Taut and I were sitting at the trailhead picnic table waiting for Iron Will and Scurv to arrive. “Is that someone trail running?” Another hiker at the table asked. “I mean it’s not a PCTer, he doesn’t have a backpack on.” They said. “Guys!” We hear Scurv’s voice from afar. “I knew you didn’t have service here, and we got dropped off at the road a mile up trail!” It sank in that he backtracked an entire mile, and I laughed in amazement. “Did you just run a mile to get us? That may be the nicest thing anyone has done for me.” I joked… another weirdly comforting moment as we marched toward the Sierra together. 


27.3 Miles: Saddle Campsite (Mile 655) to Chimney Creek Camp (Mile 682.3)

25% of the Pacific Crest Trail complete. I typed the total trail miles into my phone calculator and divided it by 4. 663.5. It didn’t seem real. Was I really that far along? I was still in California. Heck! I wasn’t even out of the first section yet.

Some days I still feel like a novice hiker out here. Some days I feel like total hiker trash and feel every bit of the 40 days on trail. If I’ve learned anything out here, it is that moments and feelings are fleeting, but it is important to listen to each one.

I stared at the 25% rock formation trying to make it sync in and trying not to be overwhelmed by the many miles ahead. 

The 25% trail marker and some very dirty shoes!


21.1 Miles: Chimney Creek Camp (Mile 682.3) to Kennedy Meadows South (Mile 703.4)

“I CANT WAIT TO BE OUT OF THIS DESERT” I bent over and screamed louder than I expected. I was standing with Taut and Scurv at the top of our last desert climb and staring at a horizon filled with the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. All three of us stood smiling ear to ear. “I can’t wait to be living up in there.” I said.

The “Sierra Skyline” in the top left corner!

Miles flew by throughout the rest of the afternoon as we approached Kennedy Meadows South – the town deemed the gateway to the Sierra. Here, hikers would gather and figure out their next move, to pursue the Sierra or to flip to a different section of trail. Over the years, I had seen many pictures of hikers next to the green Kennedy Meadows town sign. When we got to the sign, we all took pictures with it. I stared at the picture of me underneath the sign… “Oh my gosh, that’s me!” I said to the boys. It was so crazy to see ME in the picture with the sign. I smiled as we walked further into town.

The gateway to the Sierra!

When we walked up near the porch of the Kennedy Meadows General Store, we were met with cheers and clapping from other hikers and town residents, a PCT tradition. I had chills as the others helped celebrate our arrival and the end of our PCT desert chapter. I have learned to celebrate every single milestone out here – and when you know what other hikers have been through to reach this moment… you celebrate them too.


0 Miles: Grumpy Bear Retreat

Today was my first ”true” zero day of trail – a day with absolutely zero miles to hike. I had come close to zero days throughout the desert, hiking less than 3 miles, or just up to trail. It felt great to have absolutely no hiking responsibilities for the first time in 42 days. I slowly rolled out of my tent at 8AM to the promise of giant pancakes. They did not disappoint.

“The hiker breakfast” at Grumpy Bear Retreat

The rest of my day was filled with fun reflections from the PCT Desert and sitting with and processing my fears and anxieties about the Sierra section. My hike is about to look a lot different. I am excited to embrace the more raw and remote nature of the trail ahead.

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