Trail Tales #3 – Our ride through the Sierra Nevada
Tis’ the season for hitches from Burning Man attendees returning home and for sharing the trail with JMTers — we made it to the Sierra Nevada! After flip-flopping around, making it to the Sierras in early September truly felt like the end of the hike. The hiking was challenging and the days were getting shorter, but the views were unmatched. It was cold at night, often confirmed by frozen horse poop on the trail when we started trekking in the morning. This was the season for pants, jackets, and for finishing our PCT journey.
In this stretch I truly started to reflect on how life was going to change drastically in the very near future. Returning home meant that I would stop eating like shit, nights under the starts would be few and far between, I’d have to get a job, and all of the time spent walking would shift towards adult chores. Processing these realities was sometimes difficult and other times, a relief. My body was ready to rest but my mind refused to believe that it was almost over. Nevertheless, time moved forward and the miles slowly dwindled.
Pass after pass
In the Sierra Nevada, I was constantly amazed by the diversity in landscape of each pass. No one was the same and yet, the views at each were spectacular. Most of our mornings consisted of climbs to the top of a pass, only to head back down in the afternoon and repeat the cycle again the next day.
Some days, the only thing driving me up and over the passes was the chaotic collection of music that my tramily jointly became attached to throughout many the many months spent together. Honestly, the mix does not make sense whatsoever, but this is what kept us alive in the final miles. Songs in this list included but were not limited to the following:
- El Condor Pasa (If I could) // Simon & Garfunkel
- Helikopter 117 (Mach’ den Hub Hub Hub) // Tobee ~ this is in German (do not ask)
- Sandstorm // Darude
- Take Me Home, Country Roads // John Denver
- Yellow Submarine, Piggies, Octopus’s Garden // The Beatles
If my music choice didn’t show it, let me tell you that we were constantly on the verge of mental breakdown.
Back to the hiking side of things, I’ll go through each notable (to me) pass one by one:
This pass was a highway pass, but we’re going to count it. From here we took a bus into Kennedy Meadows North. This was a special moment because it was the official “beginning of the Sierras” for us. We quickly resupplied here and fought hard not to take an impromptu nero. The views after this point were hard to beat, rivaling some of the most iconic portions of the entire PCT (think “Knife’s Edge” level beauty).
A grand entrance into the Yosemite backcountry! Yosemite was one of the places that I had been most excited for on trail, so making it here felt surreal. The landscape in this area was lush and full of greenery. In the mornings, fog floated about smooth granite domes and sprawling meadows. We were constantly surrounded by raging rivers and waterfalls. Overall, it was a quiet time for the brain with easy hiking and great views.
On the day we made it up and over this climb a thunderstorm came through, often striking peaks less than a mile from us. We sprinted down into the valley and at 3pm, we pitched out tents with other hikers to sit out the storm for the remainder of the day.
Making it up here was incredibly scenic and somehow the views only continued to get better as we wandered into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This area had trees AND rocks, which seemed rare at this point. With a mash-up of PCT NOBO & SOBO hikers, JMTers, and weekend backpackers, the trail was a highway from here to Whitney.
It took an entire day to make it to the top of this one, but the elevation gain was gradual. Granite towers surrounded us as we stopped to take a lunchtime swim at a high alpine lake. Being in this area felt as if we were living in prehistoric times, where only small shrubbery and towering mountains existed.
I climbed this one on my own and took a solid 1.5 hour lunch break up here before seeing another living soul. I felt at peace on the top of this climb and to this day, I think it might have been my favorite pass on the entire PCT. The way up was steep and long, but I zoned out by listening to my favorite true crime podcast, Defense Diaries.
To say that I loved it up here is an understatement. The large snowfield near the top was a bit intimidating, but it was definitely doable. In the morning we had summitted Pinchot Pass, which got us to the top of Glen just as the sun was setting. In between passes, we encountered a mile-long avalanche field and some of the best views that the Sequoia-Kings area had to offer. If you’ve never heard of Rae Lakes, I suggest you give it a Google and hop on a flight to head out there ASAP.
While this pass was not on trail, it was a welcome addition to our hike (mostly because it meant we were heading into town). The climb wasn’t too difficult and the views, as always, were stellar. Would recommend this route if you’re heading into Bishop or other towns in this area for resupply.
To be completely honest, I was nervous about this one. It was the second highest I had ever climbed and our last pass before Mt. Whitney, so I was hoping to remain altitude-sickness free. Alas, I was just being a nervous nelly and everything was fine! Everyone we encountered was happy to have made it up here.
To hitch or not to hitch
For whatever reason, our hitches between South Lake and Bishop were the best we had gotten on trail. Well, at least the ones that we actually ended up getting.
The hitches we got…
My favorite hitching story from trail happened in Yosemite.
After an early morning 7-mile hike into Tuolumne Meadows, the plan was to pop into Lee Vining for resupply and promptly return to hike another 14 miles. Puffy and Scraps had already been to Yosemite Valley and with a tight schedule, I had reluctantly agreed to skip the longer hitch into the valley. Within 5 minutes, a couple who lived and worked in Yosemite Valley offered to take us into Lee Vining but were shocked to hear that we had no plans of going to the valley — this is where the plan changed.
After driving 30 minutes to Lee Vining, we were now going to hitch 30 minutes back to where we came from and another 1.5 hours into the park. Almost immediately, a couple driving a sprinter van offered to drive us back to Tuolumne. From there, we ended up scoring a hitch all of the way into the park with a guy named Cameron.
Cam or “Marsha” (his Burning Man name) had what looked like a box truck on the outside but was actually a converted living space for up to 4 people! For the next 90 minutes, the four of us chatted while squished in the front of “Big Betty.” We exchanged stories from the PCT and learned about Cam’s time as a guide on Denali and Rainer, learned about Burning Man, listened to Sandstorm by Darude, and gasped in awe at the beauty of Yosemite Valley together. Cam was by far the best hitch on trail and the trip to see Yosemite Valley was absolutely worth it!
At the end of the day, we hopped on a bus back to Tuolumne with other hikers. At 8p, we hiked 10 miles and had a good laugh about our most chaotic day in a while.
While the Yosemite hitch was my favorite, Bishop absolutely gets an honorable mention.
On the way out of Bishop, a group of guys in their sprinter van took five of us part of the way to trail. Needing a second hitch and knowing that groups of five tend not to land you a ride, we split up to better our chances.
As soon as we split a man approached Puffy, Scraps, and I to see if we needed a ride, which we gladly accepted. As we walked towards the SUV at the pump, we realized that the man was actually heading towards the back of the gas station. This felt suspicious until realizing that we had just landed a ride in a semi-truck! Checking off a square on hitch hiking bingo, we made our way to Independence to wait for our friends to arrive.
Later, Dilly Dally and Bachelor Party arrived, shocked by our vehicle of choice and their hitch took us the rest of the way from Independence to the trailhead.
…And the one that we didn’t
Puffy and I hiked our hearts out to make a 25 mile day into Devil’s Postpile National Monument. We expected to show up around 6p and find tourists filtering out of the parking lot ready to give us a hitch into Mammoth, where we had already booked a hotel room for the night. We were absolutely wrong about this.
When we showed up around 7p, the parking lot was empty. There was no service, so we used the payphone to phone a friend, who then went to work on finding us a ride. By the time we finished our call, it was pitch black. We walked up the parking lot to the main road where we sat for two hours waiting for a ride. Running out of food, we ate my backup mashed potatoes and hoped desperately for our satellite devices to ping with the news of a ride. This never came and by 10p, we decided to give up and found a spot to camp a couple of hundred feet from the highway.
After a night of panic followed defeat, we got a 7am hitch into town. We went to our hotel to shower and charge our devices before going to the Ridge Merino store (a must stop for hikers dropping by Mammoth!) and the grocery store for a frantic resupply. In the end, everything worked out and we made it back to trail that evening. However, let this be a warning that hitchhiking is not a reliable form of transportation (obviously, we all knew this, lol).
Next up, Mt. Whitney
Coming down from Forester Pass, we felt relieved that all of the passes were in the rearview mirror but knew that the next day, we would be at the foot of Mt. Whitney. The lower 48’s highest peak was going to be the grand finale of our 5-month long hike.
A month after summitting Whitney and wrapping up my hike, I’m finally getting around to writing about the last few days on trail. Soon I’ll be releasing new posts to talk through my tramily’s summit of Whitney and our final miles into Kennedy Meadows South. While I have finished my hike and these updates are not “live,” I hope that detailing these experiences will inspire others to get outside and provide insight into life on trail for future hikers. So with that, I want to say thanks for reading and that I look forward to sharing more stories with you all soon!
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