PCT Week 12: Entering the Northern California section

The section of North California starts nice with lots of mountain lakes. But after we hit Donner Pass I somehow injure my foot which puts me in a lot of pain for the next days. This turns out to be my biggest challenge on the trail, physically and mentally.

PCT Day 68: Beautiful mountain lakes

Highway 50 to Lake Aloha (mile 1098.7)
13km (8mi) / 3.25h / elevation gain of 470m (1,541ft)

After two zero days in Tahoe, we go back to the trail. Crazy Ukulady, who gave us a ride into town, takes us back to Highway 50. It’s just 2.5km (1.5mi) left to reach the end of the current FarOut map and the official end of the Sierras. We thought we could get some food at the Echo Lake Chalet but they close at 5 pm and we are 30 minutes too late. What a disappointment. So we continue and the trail meanders along the shore of Echo Lake. It climbs up from here and the landscape gets quite alpine. There are a lot of rocks and scree on the ground. 

Some people come down from the mountains with skis mounted on their backs. I have no idea where they went skiing as there a just some patches of snow on the mountains around us. I mean, we carry our skis in springtime too, to get to the snow, but not in June. There are too many mosquitoes to stop and ask them. Even while walking I have multiple mosquitoes on me, especially on my shirt. It’s driving me crazy, always waving around my face and killing skeeters on my arms. We walk 12km to Lake Aloha where we spend the night. It’s beautiful here. The sun had already gone down when we were still hiking, with a beautiful view over the lake. The only bad thing is the mosquitoes. I’m so annoyed by them.

PCT Day 69: Day of many lakes

Lake Aloha (mile 1098.7) to mile 1123.3
40.5km (25mi) / 9.5h / elevation gain of 1,036m (3,398ft)

Right after we start walking along Lake Aloha we get lost. There is a little snowfield and you are supposed to follow the footsteps through the snow, but we took the more obvious route on a trail to the right. We try to go cross-country to find our way back to the trail but that doesn’t work out very well. In the end, we go the way we came from and find the right route. We lost 30 minutes on that for sure as the terrain wasn’t easy to walk.

The first miles lead us slightly downhill before the trail starts to climb up to Dicks Pass. On the way up we have a beautiful view over some lakes and the snow-covered mountains around us. As soon as we reach a saddle we can see Dicks Lake on the other side. The trail continues uphill to the Pass and then drops down over some smaller snowfields to beautiful Fontanillis Lake which looks very inviting for a swim. It’s also quite hot today. But we want to cover some more miles until lunch, so we continue. We get back into the forest and pass one more lake until we stop for lunch after 12 miles. 

The second part of the day basically just goes through the forest with just some occasional views of some peaks and more lakes. It’s very easy though as there is not much of a climb. The trail mainly goes downhill or flat and we can easily crush the miles to the campsite near a little creek. On the way, I see a marmot again and one of us even saw a rattlesnake. They are back. I also see lizards and that black beetles from the desert again.

The mosquitoes at camp are really bad today. Every time I think it can’t get worse than that it’s getting worse. And I’m afraid this will continue for a while now. I hide in the tent early as it’s driving me crazy. Try to eat dinner when thousands of mosquitoes trying to get all over you. I always cover my lower body with my sleeping bag and my upper body with my rain jacket. Maybe I should start wearing a bug net as well but I still reject it as I think it looks stupid. I know, looking stupid is nothing you should care about out here, but somehow I still think I can make it a little bit further without one. Am I trying to be tough or am I just stupid? I don’t know.

PCT Day 70: Endless ridgelines

Mile 1123.3 to mile 1146.6
37.2km (23mi) / 8.5h / elevation gain of 1,617m (5,305ft)

We continue the ascent from yesterday up the ridge where we have a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe. For a few miles, we follow the ridgeline where there are colorful flowers and great views of the lake. Northern California doesn’t disappoint so far. It’s quite windy up here. My indicator for strong winds is always when it blows my cap off my head. But at least there are no mosquitoes all day. We descend to a little river where we take a lunch break after 12 miles. It’s like a little oasis in the shade by the water. There is a light breeze going and no skeeters are bothering us. We stay here for quite a while and just enjoy the peace.

The trail continues a bit downhill to then start another climb. This one is very hot in the blistering sun. It’s not steep but it’s still exhausting because of that. Further uphill it gets windy again and it cools me down. The views are amazing and all around me are blooming flowers. We reach the next high point to descend once more. There is a water source at the bottom where I camel up for the final climb for today. This one feels much better as it’s not that hot anymore. Almost halfway on the ascent, there is a last water source because it will be dry camping tonight. We reach the Tinker Knob, the highest point at 2,672m, and then follow another ridgeline down to the campsite. It has a great view, no mosquitoes and we see a nice sunset. It’s very windy up here but some trees provide shelter. The wind is so loud at night, but it doesn’t affect our tents at all.

PCT Day 71: The day of injury

Mile 1146.6 to mile 1164.4
29.6km (18.4mi) / 6.5h / elevation gain of 788m (2,585ft)

We continue along the ridgeline until we descend to Donner Pass where we hit the road. There are a lot of rocks and gravel on the way down and I am careful where I put my feet. There are some snowfields left too, some a bit steep but never in dangerous places. From the road, it’s just a short walk to the Donner Ski Ranch, a restaurant and bar. Unfortunately, it opens at 11 am and we are here way too early as we had the wrong information that it would open earlier. So we spend the time charging our stuff until it opens and we can order food. 

Somehow we get stuck at that place with two other hikers. There is a free 40oz beer for every PCT hiker and that might be part of the reason. So it’s already late when we finally start hiking again and we can’t make many more miles today. We decide just to go 11 miles further. The trail climbs from the road through some boulders and drops down to go up again in direction of very noisy Interstate 80, where a flooded tunnel leads to the other side. There is so much water that it’s impossible to keep dry feet, so I just need to wade through it. Didn’t see that coming after the Sierra.

On the other side, it’s dry again and the trail climbs up to Castle Pass. It’s a gentle climb but my left foot starts to hurt a bit on the section of the toes. I keep going to the top where I wait for the others for quite a long time. I change my wet socks to the only other pair I have left after having holes in the third one. And actually, I got bad holes in two of the left socks so I threw them away and kept the right side socks which work as good but they still have holes in them, just not in a bad spot. But yeah, I need new socks. And new shoes as they have holes in them, too. And they get bigger every day. In Sierra City, new shoes are waiting for me. Somehow this pair only made it 450 miles after the first one made it over 700 miles and they were in better shape after it as this pair now is.

When I start walking again the pain in the left foot becomes much worse. It hurts on every step. I have no idea what that is, but it worries me. I keep pushing up the next hill and down to the campsite. It gets a little bit better while walking but still hurts. At the campsite, I cool my foot in the river while thousands of mosquitoes swarm around me. And just like that, I put my bug net on, finally. I can’t deal with it anymore having other problems. I really hope that my foot gets better after resting. By the way: We are camping right at the place where The Italian, who is like half a day ahead of us, saw a bear today. Let’s see how that goes. As we got rid of the bear cans in Kennedy Meadows North our food is not protected anymore. Bear cans make sense but as they are not compulsory anymore and are very heavy nobody carries them after Kennedy Meadows North.


PCT Day 72: Being in pain

Mile 1164.4 to mile 1187
35.9km (22.3mi) / 8.25h / elevation gain of 932m (3,057ft)

No bear visited us last night. Today is the toughest day for me on the trail so far. It’s actually a nice and easy hike and you could easily do big miles. But my left foot still hurts like hell. It’s okay after like 20 minutes of walking but after every break, it’s hard to get going. Every step hurts. I don’t know how I manage to do that many miles today as I’m slow and in pain. 

The trail goes up and down today, no big climbs and there are some occasional nice views from the top of the hills. I don’t care much about the landscape today as I’m just trying to get through. When I have reception I tried to google what the problem with my foot might be but I can’t find out. I guess I need to go to the hospital in Quincy.

I get to a lonely-looking road in the middle of nowhere and exactly at the moment I arrive there is a car coming and it even stops and we talk for a moment. Man, I was tempted to ask if they could give me a hitch to the next town, but I’m too proud to do it. I suffer through it.

Towards the end, we catch a glimpse of a big lake between the trees. I fill up water at the second last source as the next one would be a climb down and I don’t want to do any extra distance today. I’m happy when I finally arrive at the campsite. I’m done for today. The entire day I was worried about it. The only good sign is that the pain gets better when I’m walking, so it can’t be that serious, I guess. Uneven surfaces suck though, it’s so much pain.

Also, this is the last night with Sharkbait as he is leaving our group to make more miles and to catch up with another group. We feel like parents and the kid is leaving the house for college or something and you are happy for him but also gonna miss him a lot.

PCT Day 73: Making it out

Mile 1187 to Sierra City (mile 1195.4)
13.6km (8.4mi) / 3.5h / elevation gain of 142m (465ft)

Ok, I thought yesterday was the worst day but actually today it gets even worse. It takes me 1.5 hours until I can properly walk again and all the uneven surfaces cause a lot of pain. This 13km (8mi) feel endless and I don’t have any eyes for the landscape. I’m just focused on walking. I even took just one picture today which is an indicator of a bad day. Popeye even takes my backpack for a while so I can walk without any weight.

The trail goes mostly downhill and is actually easy, but I’m very happy when we finally reach the road and get a hitch into Sierra City, where I pick up my new shoes and the best and biggest breakfast burrito I ever had. We then get a ride to Quincy, where we will spend the weekend at a music festival. We stay at a trail angels house with lots of other hikers and he even gives me a ride to the hospital to get my foot checked. 

It’s my first experience with the American Health System and it was actually pleasant. It just took two hours of waiting, everybody was very nice and I didn’t have to pay anything as they dealt with my travel insurance directly. They couldn’t really tell what was wrong with my foot, the x-ray was fine and it seems to be a sprain. So I need to give it a rest for a few days and see if it improves. If not I need to get an MRI which is not available here, so I would need to go to a bigger city. I’m worried. I try to put the thoughts about “what if” away but it’s hard. This is the biggest challenge on the trail so far. 



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