Sierra Dots Connected and Bound for the Border

Sonora Pass to Yosemite

With a little bit of runaround, we successfully recalibrate our permits to head south out of Sonora Pass. On this day, it’s a personal record for a late start: 5pm.

It’s dark by eight now, being the end of August, and Head Start and I hit some snow fields as the sun goes down. In 2023, the melt may not be complete before the winter comes.

With spikes on and a full  moon out, we get through the snow fields and go about seven more miles before making a late night camp.

Just south of Sonora Pass 

There’s a day going into Yosemite that’s full of granite steps, steep climbs, and wet crossings. I remember those funny one-star reviews of national parks. I think there was one, maybe of Yosemite, that said “too many rocks.” Maybe now I get it. These rocky paths are painful on the feet!

That Day on Donahue

It’s quite a different walk through Tuolumne Meadows with its flat, soft, dirt paths. We know that foul weather is coming and want to get over Donahue Pass before 11am, so we set up camp about six miles before.

At 5am, thunder rumbles and rain prickles the tent. It’s not ideal, packing up in the rain…better to walk in it with dry stuff tucked safely away. We hustle to get going.

The morning brings rain, hail and sleet, transitioning between each every few minutes. On the last plateau before the pass, there is a bulging creek to ford. We are cold and wet and looking up at the summit through the gray haze of the wintery precipitation. Our window of opportunity has passed for the time being.

We decide to avoid the ford and quickly set up a wet camp. It’s 11am, and that’s it for the day.

In a silver lining kind of way, this one day delay bumps us out of the possibility of making a certain bus schedule before the weekend.  Whereas we were going to hurry to Bishop before the weekend by going out Piute Pass, now we have the time to push all the way to Bishop Pass and travel the section of trail that so many have missed in 2023.

What’s left of the bridge over the San Joaquin.

People are now fording the San Joaquin River where the bridge has been out all year, prompting quite the detour via Piute for pretty much everyone.

Muir Pass: A Fitting Sierra Send-off

As daunting as this year’s infamous San Joaquin River sounds, it proves to be a rather straightforward knee-deep crossing. The same goes for Bear Creek and Evolution Creek, two other big names in the fording realm.

Other bonuses of the Donahoe delay are the ability to have a nice long breakfast (and lunch!) break at Red’s Meadow and an overnight stop at Vermillion Valley Resort. We are able to slow down and relish in our last week of the Sierra, and not be so tied to an urgent travel schedule.

But as with Donahue, the weather report for Saturday starts to get worse as we approach Muir Pass.

Thunderstorms at 1pm. No, 11am, no 9am. Rain possible at 5am. We push a few miles closer to Muir Pass the evening before and make camp near 11,000 feet, planning to walk by 4:30am to beat the worst of it over the top.

Approaching Muir Pass at Evolution Lake.

Within minutes of the 3:30 alarm, the familiar pattering of rain starts to echo through the tent. Head Start and I snap to action faster than usual and are up and out by 4am.

Sleet, rain, and wind are our companions as we climb the three miles. There is a shelter at the top of the pass and we take refuge until the sun starts to light the sky behind the clouds. There are others sleeping inside, so we sit in silence until they stir.

Peeking outside, there seems to be a break. By break, I mean we are nestled in the fog of the clouds and I don’t presently feel sleet hitting my face. I report back to Head Start and Calypso, another hiker who wants to walk with us down the pass for safety in numbers.

We are out the door at first light while the other hut-dwellers are starting to rustle themselves awake. The weather break turns out to have been a fluke, and we continue to get pummeled and drenched as we walk over snow fields, rock-hop creeks, and meander down a trail that sometimes turns into a stream itself.

Misery aside, the views are striking. The same clouds and snow and raging creeks that are hard on the body present magnificence for the eyes and soul.

The descent from Muir Pass.

Eventually, we are down in the trees and making our way to Bishop Pass, where we exited these mountains three months ago. Our last day in the Sierra has had whispers of the snow and ice we remember so well, and we will miss this rugged little rascal of a mountain range.

Bye bye Sierra!

Turning to the Home Stretch

Within two days, we will be going north out of White Pass in Washington. There are two fire closures with detours awaiting our return, and we’ll have to recalibrate our plans to account for the extra mileage.

Walking up Bishop Pass yesterday, we had already heard a rumor that they were closing White Pass as well. When we got to town, we read the forest service posting that did indeed say that they were closing a section of the trail from Dishpan Gap “to south of White Pass.” This is 200 miles!

We frantically tried to dig around for several hours for more information before understanding that there are two White Passes. So…they are referring to the lesser known White Pass that’s only closing about ten miles of trail. Phew!

The remaining 350 miles are reputed to rival the ruggedness of the Sierra. The resupplies are a challenge and the phone reception is meager. Fire closure and detour updates may have to come from friends and family via the Garmin. But we have been practicing for 2300 miles and will adapt in any way we can to finish this thing.

How I Feel

There are a mix of emotions.

Part of me is tired after six months. There is a perseverance in me that stems from commitment to see this through to the end. The wonder and glee of the early months has turned to a quiet resolve.

This is paired with the knowledge that as soon as I’m done I will be lying in bed realizing that I won’t be on the PCT tomorrow. Or the next day. It will be over and I will want it back, even just for one more day.

Hi PCT, miss you already.

This is further paired with a heightened awareness of my day-to-day out here. For months, the time may have flown by with many days feeling the same. For the next few weeks, every trail experience will be cherished as if it’s my last, because soon enough it will be true.

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