Welcome to Mosquitoville (Days 68 to 76, Tuolumne Meadows to South Lake Tahoe)
Start: Bushcamp near Soda Springs
End: Bushcamp near Wilson Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 20.2
Beautiful, warm morning – we got hiking around six, looking forward to a nice gentle downhill for the first five or so miles.
Our first stop of the day was Soda Springs, a natural mineral water source where the water comes out carbonated. Perhaps this is what inspired La Croix? We’ll never know. I briefly considered getting down to sip the water, but the harsh brown color eventually dissuaded me.
About a mile or so later, we were approaching a river crossing when Mango grabbed my arm and pointed. A bear cub was scampering down a thin tree on the other side of the river. A moment later, the mama bear loped into view. We watched in amazement as the pair putzed around the river for a few minutes. Eventually they moved far enough to the side of the trail that we felt comfortable crossing the river. Mango grabbed a great picture of the mama and cub staring at us as we hiked by. The mom had a red tag on her ear, which we later learned meant the bear had been identified as a problem bear.
The day was shaping up to be a scorcher. We slowly descended to the valley, ate a snack, then slowly ascended. Along the way we met Papa JR, and we hiked with him on and off the rest of the day.
The heat was compounded by the bug suits that we were both wearing. Every time we paused to take a drink, every time we bent down to filter water, every single break – the mosquitos were there, and they would swarm. It didn’t matter if you were next to a river or on top of a pass, the mosquitos were everywhere. You wouldn’t think that the bug suits would be hot – after all, aren’t they mesh? But a surprising amount of heat is trapped by mesh. And, each time we stopped for breaks, we had to put on our rain coats, since the mosquitos will eventually find a way to bite through the bug netting where it is pressed against skin. No fun at all.
The theme of the day was river crossings. We thought we had left them behind with the high Sierra, but nope! Today my shoes got wet on 3 separate river crossings, including the final one of the day, where I slipped spectacularly off a rock and landed on my butt in the river. I learned that unless a log or rock hop is painfully obvious, it’s probably better just to bite the bullet and get your feet wet.
As the day came to a close, I heard from Bushwhack via the Garmin that he, Spam, and Meals got a later hitch out of the valley than expected, and they wouldn’t make it to the planned 20 mile campsite. Mango and I pulled up at 20 miles to give them a chance to catch up tomorrow.
Our campsite tonight is a beautiful sandy spot next to a flowing stream, but it is mosquito hell. We were eaten alive as we set the tent up and ate dinner. It was an early night as we dove into the tent at 7pm. Looking at our tent bug net, I see about 50 mosquitos hanging out, just waiting for one of us to get up to go pee. Apparently Oregon’s mosquitos get even worse than this! Brutal!
Start: Bushcamp near Wilson Creek
End: Stubblefield Canyon Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 19.2
A tough, tough day of hiking today. We woke around 5:30, I grabbed my freshly dried socks from a tree (soaked after yesterday’s late river crossing) and ate breakfast in the tent to avoid the mosquitos, which waited patiently on the mesh door of the tent all night long.
Our first challenge of the day was getting up and over Benson Pass. At 10,100 feet, it felt easy compared to the 12,000+ foot passes we faced last week. But even so, the mosquitos dogged us, and our bug suits made us feel sweaty despite the early hour. Even at the top of the pass, there were hundreds of mosquitos buzzing around.
All day, we bounced up and down, in 1,000-2,000 foot chunks. The trail was very rocky and steep. It was exhausting and painful to stabilize, as there was no flat trail to provide relief to my poor ankle tendons.
The mosquitos got even worse today than they were yesterday. They were a constant drain on my energy. Hundreds would swarm us every time we paused. I could feel my mood turning as the day progressed, and I was in a very sour state of mind as the afternoon turned to early evening.
More big river crossings today. Some where we were able to keep our feet dry…
And some where there was no choice but to walk right in to the river.
We finished the day with a beautiful but steep descent into Stubblefield Canyon. It was after 7pm when we finally arrived at our campsite, a very late arrival for us. Today was unexpectedly very, very hard, and all I wanted was to get away from these damn mosquitos. We also realized that we didn’t see any other hikers all day, either NOBO or SOBO, until we got to the campsite and there were a few others setting up. This is some really remote hiking in this section.
I jumped in the tent to get away from the bugs, and only then did I realize just how bad a mood I was in. My whole brain was in a fog from the grueling day – it was a hard day both physically (lots of steep up and downs, constantly, without any smooth trail) and mentally (dealing with the mosquitos). Thank god for the safe zone the tent provides. I was able to take off the bug netting for the first time all day, and get my head right again.
These mosquitos are taking a lot out of me – much more than I expected. I think this will continue for the next few weeks? Until we get out of the Lake Tahoe area. We will see if my sanity can last that long… for now, as I fall asleep, I can still see those little bastards buzzing around behind my closed eyes… will I never get any rest?
Start: Stubblefield Canyon Creek
End: Bushcamp 1.5 miles south of Kennedy Canyon Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 22.1
We set our alarms for 5am, anxious to avoid the late-evening hiking we did yesterday. Our first task was ascending ~1,200 feet on rocky terrain, which was no problem in the cool morning air.
Back in mosquito hell this morning. We tried stopping for a snack on the way down, only to get swarmed again. The good news is that we seem to have figured out a system that keeps us from getting destroyed. We hike with bug nets on, but when we stop, we immediately put on our rain jackets for extra protection. I tuck my pant legs into my socks. We eat by shoving food into the mouth zipper of our bug suits. It’s not an elegant look, but hey, it works! The only thing I haven’t quite figured out yet is how to go to the bathroom without my sensitive bits getting all eaten up. I wish my pants came with a butt flap.
The day flattened out considerably after our first 5 miles. The next 17 miles were a gentle uphill to Dorothy Lake, and then a gentle downhill to our campsite. Really, the trail today was night and day compared to yesterday. Most of the trail was smooth dirt, and I found I could actually look up and enjoy the views today as I hiked, unlike yesterday.
About halfway into our day, Meals and Spam hiked up from behind and passed us. It was good to see some friendly faces, given how remote and lonely yesterday felt. We hiked on and off with Meals for the rest of the day. Spam, of course, sped ahead. They caught us up on the past few days, and let us know that Sorority Steve was sick. He tried to hike out from Tuolumne, but turned back after a few miles and hitched to Mammoth to go see a doctor. Hope he’s ok, Meals says he may be waiting for us in Tahoe when we arrive.
Lots more river crossings today, and we got wet 3x throughout the day. I keep hoping the river crossings are over, and I keep being wrong.
We passed the 1,000 mile mark late in the day. Mango made the comment that this feels more satisfying than hitting the halfway point. Personally, I can’t believe we’re still in California, with hundreds more miles to go before we cross our first state border. We snuck down the mosquito headnets for a second and quit swatting around our heads for long enough to get this picture.
As the day went on, it seemed like maybe the mosquito apocalypse was coming to an end. I could hike for minutes at a time without my head net on, and it felt like I was seeing the world in true color for the first time in ages, instead of a fuzzy, shaded view through my head net. Around 4pm my legs started feeling the strain of yesterday, and I started stumbling down the trail, feeling very, very tired despite the soft downhill and good footing. We arrived at our planned campsite around 6, not bad for a 22 mile day. And miraculously, (maybe because we weren’t camped near water?), we could sit outside, stretch, eat dinner, and chat without being eaten alive! Sure, there were some mosquitos – but it started to feel like we had exited mosquito-land, which is a huge relief. We still crashed early, wanting some extra sleep to make up for yesterday, and knowing we would we waking early again tomorrow, to maximize our time at Kennedy Meadows North.
Start: Bushcamp 1.5 miles south of Kennedy Canyon Creek
End: Sonora Pass / Kennedy Meadows North
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 12.5
Another very warm night last night, wearing just the silk liner. If it’s this warm at 8,500 feet, it must be insanely hot down at normal elevations.
We were up early, ready to get to town as quickly as possible. But first – a pretty big ascent, and our longest dry stretch since we entered the Sierra! We hiked a few miles to the last water source, filtered a few liters, then started hiking up.
We very quickly broke out above treeline, to an incredibly different view than the sort we’ve been seeing since Tuolumne. We were hiking on a smooth dirt, with very small pebbles, almost sandy trail under our feet. And, no trees or mosquitos – this was wide open mountain, with views stretching a hundred miles in all directions.
We marveled as we climbed – how could we go from the tree-heavy views of yesterday to this?? It was smooth sailing up the incline.
As we hiked, I couldn’t help but think of how scary this section of trail would be if it was snowy or icy. The cliffs were steep and the drop was far. In a normal snow year, we would certainly not be hiking this section in such casual comfort. As it was, we enjoyed running the ridge.
As we reached the north face of the mountains, we began to hit snow fields, which were no problem to navigate. Almost all the snow has melted, aside from maybe a half dozen patches.
We reached Sonora Pass around noon, and easily got a hitch from a man and woman who were coming up for a mountain picnic. They let us know that it’s been over 100 degrees for over a week down in the towns at lower elevation. It began to make sense why we had seen so many day hikers as we descended to the trailhead – everyone is fleeing the hot weather!
Kennedy Meadows north was a wonderful oasis for me and Mango. This resort was PACKED with non-hikers. Lots of horses putzing around the parking lots, and maybe some kind of child summer camp? There were a suspicious number of middle schoolers in cowboy hats running around. We found Spam and Bushwhack, and we had a fun dinner. It was prime rib night, so Bush and I gleefully ordered the “thick cut”, which ended up being 2 pounds of meat, along with soup, salad, baked potato, and desert. I lumbered out of dinner, up to the bunk room, to pass out. I don’t think one man is supposed to eat that much red meat that quickly.
I love that these sections are getting shorter. The back-to-back 6 day food carries broke my back. But the last section was only 4 days. This next section is 4 days. We mailed home our spikes, so that brings down our weight by pretty much a full pound. This all lets us be more freewheeling with our food choices, because it won’t break our backs. It just feels good to not stress as much about resupply.
Start: Sonora Pass / Kennedy Meadows North
End: Bushcamp a half mile south of Paradise Valley junction
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 16.8
The bunkhouse was basically an oven last night as we tried to fall asleep. It was 90 degrees in the room, with no air conditioning. We had to just suffer and wait for the open window to bring in cold air after nightfall. Still, sleeping in a bed is amazing compared to a blow up camping sleep pad, and I passed out pretty quickly, likely due to the 5 pounds of prime rib in my digestive system.
After how difficult the last few days have been, we decided to treat ourselves and sleep in. We had a very slow morning, heading down for breakfast in the restaurant and eating a ridiculous number of pancakes with Bubbles, Knockout, Spam and Bushwhack. Lots of yelling and laughing as we ate – I’m sure we disrupted the whole restaurant, but it was a fun and rowdy lot.
Bush’s parents flew to town to take him off trail for a night of relaxation in South Lake Tahoe, and he offered to have them shuttle me and Mango back up to the trail at Sonora Pass. When they arrived, we actually all ended up hanging out together for about a half hour, walking around the resort and chatting. They even bought us all ice cream! It was a real pleasure meeting both of them, and I could tell Bush’s mom was incredibly happy to see him.
We wound our way back up the steep road to Sonora Pass, with the rental car transmission only slightly overheating from the exertion. We got hiking around 11:30 – a very late start for us, but emotionally and physically, I think we needed a half day off this morning. Bellies and spirits full, we started hiking up towards Sonora Peak.
It was steep, exposed and pretty hot, but luckily we had an amazing breeze to keep us cool as we climbed. My legs felt a million times better than they did in the last section. A few days ago, I would begin a climb, and immediately my legs would get that sore, flushed, tired feeling. Today, trail was steeper, but our legs weren’t complaining as we hiked up, up, up.
We walked the ridge for a bit, then the next 6 miles were walking down into a beautiful valley, filled with trees and flowing streams. The trail was smooth and we were very happy.
About 10 miles into the day, Bubbles caught up, and we hiked the rest of the day with her. Knockout’s foot was hurting her, so she is taking a day at KM North to let it heal up, and hopefully she will hike out tomorrow and meet back up with us in South Lake Tahoe.
We wound our way through the valley, with small ascents and descents, but nothing too strenuous. Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year – and we absolutely took advantage of all hours of daylight to hike as far as we could. The late start hampered us, but when we rolled into camp at 7, we had crushed over 16 miles, which we felt great about.
We’re camping with Bubbles tonight, and we’re really enjoying her company. I continue to be impressed by the quality of thru hikers out here this year. Sure, there are a couple of shitheads who are only interested in smoking or drinking, but most of those shook out in the desert, and the vast majority of hikers who have made it to this point are kind, funny and thoughtful individuals. Each time one of our friends drops off for one reason or another (in this case, Bushwhack spending a night with his parents and being a day behind us), we wonder if we will meet more quality people to spend our days with. Every time we’ve easily found new friends. The Appalachian Trail is known as the social trail, but surprisingly, the PCT is a much more social trail for me than the AT was in 2016. I’m enjoying the social scene out here much more than I thought I would.
Start: Bushcamp a half mile south of Paradise Valley junction
End: Bushcamp 1.5 miles south of Raymond Lake Junction
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 22.5
The night turned warm, and by the time we woke up, no puffy needed as we hiked out. We were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we packed up.
We started our day by descending into Murray Canyon. The trail was smooth and we cruised along quickly, passing a surprising number of section and day hikers. There must be a trailhead nearby.
After a quick and easy 1,000 foot ascent, we descended into some amazing valley walking. The trail wound its way past small rivers tucked into the rocks. We ate lunch, surprised that we had already done 12 miles on the day. Though we had aimed for 20 today, we agreed to shoot for 22 or so.
The afternoon provided more gorgeous views and meadow / valley walking. Unfortunately my right knee joint started to hurt, and with each step, I was reminded of the new shoes waiting for me in South Lake Tahoe, just a few days away. We have stretched our current shoes since Acton, at mile 450. The support is definitely all gone on mine. Mango’s shoes are even worse – both sides of her toe box have blown out in the last 100 miles, so now her toes stick out on both sides.
We met up around 21 miles into our day to strategize. We definitely had a few more miles left in us, but the terrain had turned from meadow walking to steep, rocky mountain walking. We decided to push on to see if we could get lucky and find a flat spot to camp. As we got to the top of a saddle at mile 22, there were two beautiful spots – but the wind was howling, and we knew it would be tough to sleep up there. We kept hiking, and eventually Bubbles found a really nice spot hidden down below the ridgeline. We bushwhacked down to it and are very happy with the site – it required us to pitch our tents literally side by side, but we’re all friends here, so we didn’t mind.
We have an interesting morning tomorrow. We have heard for the past few days that there is a steep, snowy ice chute along a ledge that hikers have had to get creative to hike around. A forest service ranger confirmed to me earlier today that it’s still there, and that most hikers are climbing the rocks to get above the steep snow patch. So, we will see in the morning what we’re up against. One last snow challenge, then hopefully we will be done with them for the season.
Start: Bushcamp 1.5 miles south of Raymond Lake Junction
End: Upper Truckee River
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 24.1
Up early again this morning, at 5am. We want to make good mileage to help shorten our day tomorrow into South Lake Tahoe. Our sections have been steadily getting longer, and now we try not to lose days with nearos heading into town. Unfortunately that usually means long days into town, and not getting in until afternoon.
The mountains have steadily been getting smaller and more rounded, leading to easier ascents. It feels like we’re in the foothills around Lake Tahoe, which is exciting. From our time on the Tahoe Rim Trail a few years ago, we know that the west side (Desolation Wilderness) has sharper peaks. But we’re clearly hiking through an “in between” zone. I’m appreciative of the easier hiking, after the past few sections.
3 or so miles into our day, we reached the snow chute we’ve been hearing so much about from other hikers and from the forest service employee yesterday. 1 week ago, this was a very scary 50 feet to hike, requiring hikers to scale the steep rocks to the left of the trail in order to avoid steep and slippery ice. To the right was a drop of a hundred or so feet. Thankfully, the heat wave of last week melted the majority of the snow on the trail! We easily scooted by, but looking back, I can see how sketchy this must have been for earlier hikers. Another bullet dodged! Our timing this year has been impeccable.
We dipped down into a valley for a few miles, then broke back out above treeline and ascended a hill humorously named “the nipple”. We circled the nipple which felt pretty good, and got some great views of deep, mysterious lake down below, but unfortunately had to stay up high for the day. I tried to contain my disappointment – although not the philosophy I personally subscribe to, others have told me that waiting to take the plunge feels better in the long run.
Ok, enough of that – back to the real updates.
We quickly ascended to Carson Pass, and as we cleared another mountain after crossing CA 88, we got a glimpse of Lake Tahoe off in the distance! Not enough to even point out on a picture, but it was still exciting for us. South Lake Tahoe is so close!!
We hiked down a gentle decline and found ourselves at the intersection where the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) joins the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We had been at this exact same trail juncture in summer 2019, as we wrapped up the TRT. It was super cool to hike the same segment. I got a little bit of deja vu! We actually camped in the exact same spot as we did during our TRT hike, right next to the Truckee River.
Mango and I are so ready for a town day tomorrow and a zero day. I think if I had to sum up our mental state in one word, that word would be “tired”. We want to lie down and rest. My joints hurt. My feet hurt. I’m still excited to be out here, but dang, the last 200 miles since Bishop have really hammered me. Tomorrow, we finally get the chance to recover.
Days 75 and 76
Start: Upper Truckee River
End: Echo Lake Chalet / South Lake Tahoe
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 12.0
Yesssss, town day! We woke and flew out of camp, pushing pace so we could get to town as early as possible.
It was both amazing and bizarre to be covering the same trail miles that Mango and I covered in 2019 as we hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail. Memories came flooding back as we hiked – we took a water break here, we got lost and had to Bushwhack back to the trail there. It made me appreciate the hike we had – it prepared us well for hiking the PCT this year!
We arrived at Echo Lake, grabbed a snack, then headed to the parking lot to try for a hitch. This is one of the longer hitches, so we weren’t surprised when a car offered to take us down the mountain but not all the way to town. We got another hitch within 1 minute from the bottom of the mountain, though, and before we knew it, we were in South Lake Tahoe, with all the craziness that we have come to expect from a big town!
Honestly? South Lake Tahoe was amazing. It was loud, overwhelming, and exactly what we were craving after weeks of being in such remote wilderness. We alternated our time between lying in bed at the hostel, and cruising the town looking for places to eat and drink. We went to a nearby movie theater to watch the new Fast and Furious movie (a total gem of a movie, we couldn’t understand almost any of the plot), and ate enough popcorn to make me physically ill for hours afterwards. We were treated to dinner by Meals’ parents, which was an absolute gem of a night – what fun to meet other hikers parents – first Bushwhack’s, and now Meals’! We saw Meals in cotton town clothes, and almost didn’t recognize her. Trail does weird things to your brain. Bush, Steve and Knockout all hiked in and plan to hike out with us tomorrow, so we have a group again! Bubbles is unfortunately leaving trail for a few weeks for personal reasons, but will hopefully be back and will skip ahead to hike around us again.
I tried to impersonate Vin Diesel’s scowl, but I don’t think I succeeded. Guess there’s a reason he’s a billionaire actor and I’m unemployed.
We feel completely recharged after an easy section and a zero. From here, we will do 5 or 6 days to Sierra City, then we will fly to a wedding in Denver. I think having a little break will be good for my legs, heading into NorCal. Get ready to bump out 25s every day! Maybe a few zeros before we start will repair my legs enough to keep up with the other hikers!
Until next time, happy trails!
P.S. If you like this post, check out Mango’s trail podcast, Take a Hike!, now available on all major platforms (except Apple for some strange reason, probably due that time I loaded a completely silent album to Apple Music and got my rabid blog fan base to stream it constantly for days. With the millions of streams, I made approximately $49 from Apple, which I immediately spent on Chipotle. Seems like artists are getting a raw deal from the streaming revolution, now that I think about it.) https://anchor.fm/takeahikepodcast
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