Week 11: Finishing the Sierra

We are slowly making our way out of the Sierras with Sonora and Carson Pass being the last serious passes. Approaching Lake Tahoe through a mosaic of volcanic peaks and granite mounds, with mountainside meadows and alpine lakes around every turn. It’s a great end to the astonishing section of the Sierra.

PCT Day 61: Cold but peaceful

32km (19.8mi) / 8h / elevation gain of 1,446m (4,744ft)
Benson Lake to mile 991.7

We are all tired in the morning as the wind kept us awake. The sky is darkish grey and it’s quite cold today. We have a late start as we wanted to wait for one of our group members who didn’t make it here last night. Unfortunately, he’s still not coming. The day starts with an ascent and 500m (1,640ft) up is a good way to get warm. We reach a little lake and soon after the Seavey Pass. The trail goes down again just to get us up two times more and there are some steep parts in between. The sun comes out and warms us up a bit. Lunch break in the cold is no pleasure, so we don’t stop for long.

We reach beautiful Wilma Lake and from here it’s a smooth gentle ascent to our campsite. It’s still cold but I’d rather be a bit cold than have mosquitoes. This day gave us some real peace from them.

PCT Day 62: 1,000 miles done, followed by a beautiful ridge walk

30.9km (19.2mi) / 7.25h / elevation gain of 1,331m (4,366ft)
Mile 991.7 to mile 1010.8

The gentle ascent continues up to Dorothy Lake and Dorothy Lake Pass. There are some patches of snow left but nothing serious. The climb up here is even so easy, that it doesn’t feel like an actual pass. On the way down we pass a lot of smaller lakes until we reach the forest again. There are a few river crossings today but I just get my feet a little bit wet which I appreciate in the cold. We arrive at the 1,000-mile marker and have lunch soon after.

Now we start the major climb of the day, 600m (1,968ft) up. The climb is not too steep and as soon as we get out of the forest we can see the switchbacks that lead up the mountain. There are a few patches of snow, but they are easy to walk on as there are well-cut footsteps. While we walk up there a couple comes from the opposite direction that represents true ultralight love. They hold their hands in one sock. It’s the cutest thing I’ve seen in a while.

We reach the top where it’s very windy and cold but the view though. Now a beautiful ridge walk starts. We are out in the open where we are exposed to the wind. I think to myself that there is no way that we’re gonna camp here tonight. But actually, some bushes get us some coverage to block out the wind. While we set up camp it even starts to snow. It’s almost the beginning of summer and we sit here and get snowed on while having dinner. This will be a cold night as we are also up at 3,200m (10,498ft).

PCT Day 63: Reaching the end of the “bear can section”

10.12km (6.3mi) / 2,5h  / elevation gain of 253m (830ft)
Mile 1010.8 to Kennedy Meadows North

It was one of the coldest nights on the PCT as our water was frozen again in the morning. It’s a struggle to put everything in your backpack or open the bear canister with cold hands. I rush to start going. The ridge walk continues and we soon enter the other side of the mountain where the sun is already up and it’s nice and warm. There are some snowfields that need to be crossed and the trail climbs up and down until we reach Sonora Pass where we take a break.

From here it’s all the way downhill and the trail slowly meanders to the road. It’s so weird to see a road in the Sierras as we haven’t seen any since we started the Sierras. We always had to hike outside trails to get to the roads. We hit the road in the morning and easily get a hitch to Kennedy Meadows North Resort. A hitch where two of us lay on the bed in the trunk of a truck. Reminded me of the sleeping bus I took in China. It was awesome.

We have an early lunch, do laundry, shower, and resupply. We also meet up with The Italian again who we lost a couple of days ago. New people arrive all the time and it’s easy to get lost in conversations. Time flies by as it always does at these places until we have dinner. As we didn’t want to camp right there as it would be 40$ to do so, we hiked out in the dark to find the other campground. I don’t know where we ended up but we had an awesome sky full of stars and even a picnic table to sit on. And it seems to be significantly warmer today, also because we are way lower now.

PCT Day 64: Some peace from the mosquitos

Kennedy Meadows North to mile 1030.8
21.6km (13.4mi) / 5.25h / elevation gain of 723m (2,372ft)

After having breakfast at the restaurant we start walking to try to get a hitch back to the trailhead. On the side road it doesn’t work out but as soon as we hit the main road the first car stops and takes us back to the Sonora Pass trailhead. The trail starts with quite a steep ascent through the beautiful mountain landscape around Sonora Peak. It got warmer again which is very pleasant. Finally walking in shorts again. And still no mosquitoes.

On the way down we have to cross a bunch of snowfields and the way is not always easy to find as it’s covered by snow. At one point it gets swampy and both of my shoes sink all the way down into mud which reminds me of New Zealand. It’s hilarious that I’m the only one that it happens to, all the others make it out without. Somehow we make our way into the forest. There are some smaller ascents until we get to the campsite by a little creek. Here are also almost no mosquitoes and we spend a pleasant evening which is not too cold as well. It’s quite crowded though.

PCT Day 65: 12 by 12 and Trail Magic

36.2km (22.5mi) / 8.25h / elevation gain of 1,221m (4,005ft)
Mile 1030.8 to Eagle Creek (mile 1053.2)

The first part of the day leads through a green tunnel of the forest until we start the climb up the Saddle above Noble Lake. There are some incredible views of a lake and the mountains around it. When we hit the highest point we made 12 miles by 12 pm, finally again after we started the Sierras. I feel pretty good today and hiking seems to be easy. We do a long lunch break and try to figure out where to stay in South Lake Tahoe as we have a bit of spotty service up here. The Sierras don’t have many spots with service, especially not Verizon. But it’s kind of nice to be cut off from social media obligations.

We go downhill over some snowfields and after 9km (5.6mi) we reach a road where there is trail magic. I didn’t even know that there would be a road as I didn’t look at the map. And what a surprise it is! Chipmunk comes out here for 12 years now and does great trail magic. There is coke, chocolate milk, bananas, and some chili beans with eggs and hash browns. First, it’s just me and Sharkbait and we are waiting for the others to arrive. We are there for over an hour but they don’t show up. Chipmunk starts to pack up and we are worried that they’re gonna miss out on this. They finally arrive and get the last pieces.

There are just 8km (5mi) left to the campsite and there is just a little bit of ascent left. In the evening I feel even better and could go on forever. The last part goes through a beautiful open mountain landscape until we hit the forest and the campsite for tonight.

PCT Day 66: One last pass

43km (26.8mi) / 9.75h / elevation gain of 1,449m (4,753ft)
Eagle Creek (mile 1053.2) to Upper Truckee River (mile 1079.4)

The trail goes up and down through some amazing landscape around Raymond Peak until it descends into pine forest and granite slabs. We then reach Blue Lake Road from where the trail starts to climb up towards a rocky peak called “The Nipple”. We always stop for lunch at around 12 pm but as I thought Sharkbait would be in front of me I keep going to find the place where he stopped. But somehow I passed him without noticing and I’m now way ahead of the others. That way I rock 13 miles by 12 pm today and keep pushing to the top. Luckily there is cell phone service up here and we can get in contact to know where everyone is. I wait for the others at the top and enjoy the view of three lakes.

From here the trail continues down and up again to Carson Pass. On the way up there are two snowfields to cross of which the first one is a bit sketchy. It’s a traverse with some poorly cut steps on the steep slope. But with taking it slow and being very careful it is not that bad.

We descend to the next road where there is an information center that is already closed when we arrive there after 4 pm. From here it’s just a short little climb until we go downhill to the pleasant campsite at Upper Truckee River. We are nestled between the trees and a river goes by. A deer is visiting us for dinner, sneaking around us very close. And the skeeters are back as well. But look at us: From the first day of going crazy with the mosquitoes and now sitting in between them like pros and don’t be bothered too much by them.

PCT Day 67: Reaching Lake Tahoe

18.5km (11.5mi) / 4h / elevation gain of 457m (1,500ft)
Upper Truckee River (mile 1079.4) to Highway 50 and then hitch to South Lake Tahoe

We always like to have short days in town, so there is not much left today to get to South Lake Tahoe. The trail climbs up a small hill where we can get the first glimpse of huge Lake Tahoe in the distance. It’s mostly walking through the forest today, but the anticipation of going to town pushes us to go fast. It’s now mostly descending along the Upper Truckee River and then through the rock-strewn forest to reach Highway 50 at Echo Summit where we instantly get a hitch from a trail angel to South Lake Tahoe where we will spend two zero days.

We arrive there at lunchtime, having amazing burritos at a Mexican place near the hostel we are staying at, I buy new leggings after having holes in mine (and it doesn’t fit very well anymore after I lost weight) and in the evening I meet up with Nathalie, my hiking buddy from the beginning of the trail. Unfortunately, she had to quit before the Sierras because of an injury, but it’s great to see her again after a long time. The last time we saw each other at Idyllwild what seems to be a lifetime ago. When I got back to the hostel everybody was very drunk and a big party was going on. I’m not sure if I missed out on something or not.

Zero Days at Lake Tahoe

On our first zero, we make a trip around the entire Lake Tahoe. My friend Nathalie, who I’ve hiked within the first week, has a rental car and meets me in South Lake Tahoe. We visit some beaches, viewpoints, and even a waterfall. It’s a beautiful day. We even see a coyote in the woods. On the second zero, we just relax and have food. The Czech/German restaurant around the corner from the hostel has amazing Schnitzel and Appelstrudel.

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