Into The Wild
Leaving Lake Tahoe behind, I was southbound for one final section of trail in the Sierra Nevada. I stop to enjoy a roadside impossible burger(grilled with the works) as one last delightful gesture of trail magic. The roadways are soon to disappear entirely. At Sonora Pass, we get more rain and hail, which is a great reminder that I’m ultimately at the mercy of the elements out here. Luckily an easy hitch down to Kennedy Meadows North allows me to get a warm and dry bunk for the night. A few long and rocky switchbacks usher me into the remote backcountry of Yosemite National Park. Here, pristine alpine lakes and ample bubbling pools of bright blue river water will beg you to take a dip beneath the endless horizon of polished granite slab. Camping near Tuolumne Meadows and taking side quests up the nearby domes are the sort of perfect days in life that I hope to rekindle as a very old man.
Granite staircases precede some of my favorite mountain views, the stunning Donohue Pass and Island Pass. Ominous storm clouds interject above Thousand Island Lake, though they seem isolated enough that I can keep hiking to avoid any unwanted weather. The hiker hunger on the other hand begins to worsen, as I burn more calories in this increasingly rugged terrain. My knees hurt more than usual and my toes feel numb with temporary nerve damage, which has been an ongoing grievance. Other hikers have their own issues including broken toes and Lyme disease. At 4am I hear a massive rock slide near purple lake and I start to feel like the sierra is trying its best to push us all off trail in the homestretch.
Approaching Vermillion Valley Resort I can see my first glimpses of civilization including fire rings, benches, a small resupply store and a celebratory free beer. As it gets late, they shut off the generators and we can all get some sleep in the free campground known as “Mushroom City”. At the break of dawn, the chef puts out a damn fine pot of percolator coffee atop the cozy wood fired stove. I order some reasonably priced hash browns and life is good. Someone even decided to abandon a fluffy, buttery pancake at their table. It became clear they weren’t returning and I joined the ranks of many thru hikers before me, by shamelessly eating it. Even more trail food treasures were left behind in the hiker box that morning from JMT hikers in an attempt to lighten their packs. I leave on the pontoon boat across Lake Thomas A Edison feeling fat and happy.
Muir pass is the next immediate obstacle on trail, and while daunting, it feels reasonable without much snow left in September. Avalanche debris is definitely a mess though and a constant reminder in the area. Palisade Lakes and Lake Marjorie are easily some of the most beautiful overall sights to behold on the PCT, and it all starts to feel somewhat surreal. Almost too good to be true. After the lovely Mather Pass I top out on another favorite high sierra pass, Pinchot. My playlist shuffles to a classic Fats Domino song and I have to slow down to enjoy a breathtaking view of the dozens of small lakes below. In that moment, it was my own personal Blueberry Hill. The sun is shining over Rae Lakes and Glen Pass and every warm blooded creature rejoices, including me. It’s not winter quite yet. The nights however, insist on freezing my water bottles. Early mornings are challenging for us all.
All Good Things
Just as I eat my last granola bar, I exit at Kearsarge Pass and manage to hitch to the town of Bishop. San Francisco style cinnamon rolls, artichoke croissants and a dirty chai pumpkin latte make me feel better prepared to finish up the journey. Upon returning to trail I’m welcomed by the local black bears who have become conditioned to seek out hiker food. I convince them to leave by banging on a titanium pot. At the tail end of the Sierra, I reach the high point on Forester Pass at 13,153 feet. The days start falling quickly off the calendar as I say goodbye to friends near Chicken Spring Lake and get some much needed hot food and supplies from the notorious Kennedy Meadows South.
At this point I’m mostly hiking alone and watching the mountains crumble into sand. It’s blatantly obvious that I’m reentering the desert landscapes as more Joshua Trees appear. The smell of sage and flowers and chaparral is a heavy dose of nostalgia for me. Coyotes howl together at dusk and long meandering switchbacks trace the mountains visibly for miles. It’s suddenly my last night on trail and I’m hanging in the hammock near Owens Peak as the moon hangs over the sparkling city lights of Ridgecrest. I fall asleep quickly and wake up 7 hours later to pack up and finish this thing. The sun rises with a deep orange glow and, to my surprise, I start to cry. I can see straight down the mountain to the life below and suddenly I feel like I don’t want it to end at all. But there’s no negotiating here, and it’s obviously time to hike, so I do. Reaching the road at Walker Pass on September 29th, I officially finish this long and beautiful journey, and I’m definitely not ready to be a functional person again. But there’s still time to recover back home, and I look forward to giving it a shot.
Farewell PCT (4/10/23 – 9/29/23)
Thank you for reading 🙂
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