Welcome to the Sierra
Ok, Kennedy was supposed to be the beginning of the Sierra. And it was, with the meadows and snow covered peaks in the distance, but we didn’t have to ford any rivers or go over any passes. Post Lone Pine is really when it started. And holy wow.
Day 48: Lone Pine, Mile 746
I had to take a zero to wait for a package. The package that contained the stuff my mom forgot. I really hope I don’t have to zero again for a good while. I want to hike. Too much town.
Here is the thing about town, it’s great, using flush toilets and all, but in all seriousness, we just aren’t accustomed to town ways anymore. When I needa poop or pee in the wilderness I just go, I don’t have to hold it. Looking for a public restroom sucks. We have been rewired to clean out our bowels anywhere, so looking for porcelain bowls is a real stressor on the “holding it” muscles. Also, eating. Ya, ya I burp pretty much regardless of setting. But plates? And forks? Not using our hands or letting food that fell on the ground stay on the ground? I’m telling you, it’s weird. I typically eat out of a bag with an extra-long handled spork. My food often looks like baby food yet I am still licking the bag to a) clean it and b) get maximum calories from my Knorr side dishes. You can’t lick a plate in restaurants. Or eat your neighboring table’s leftovers. The waiter will get mad.
You forget that you have to press a button just to be able to walk sometimes (crosswalks) and that you can’t walk in the middle of a street. Pretty much every time we hit a road, we end up walking five across. We sit on sidewalks pre-shower eating some fresh fruit and think we don’t look homeless. You can’t blow snot rockets cause it might hit a passerby on the sidewalks that are twice as wide as the trail we walk single file on. It really is a mental switch and after 24 hours of town, we are so ready to get back on trail. Where we can shit almost anywhere, eat off the ground, be covered in dirt, and not offend anyone with our stench. I don’t even want to think about September.
Despite all of this, town can be nice. Our trail angel host was once again unbelievably kind and generous. We woke up this morning to a box of pastries (I opened and closed the lid three times to make sure they were real: berry danishes, oatmeal cookies, cherry pie), bacon and eggs with mushrooms. Hot breakfasts are the best. The best. I slept in a bed with AC. Can’t tell you the last time I did that. Just so much luxury. And she let me stay another night so I could wait for my package. Still believe thay I am antsy to leave town? Well I am.
Did the resupply thing and got my food package. I came “home” to a spaghetti dinner and salad. And I gorged on the salad. Oh to eat veggies. Fresh veggies. So good. It’ll suck to say bye to such a wonderful family but the trail calls. Mt. Whitney calls.
Day 49: Nearish Rock Creek, Mile 756.2
Hiked a whopping eleven miles today. My pack was stupid heavy with the bear can, ice axe, microspikes, and five days of food. Well my version of five days of food, which is always too much. Always always. Needa get better at self control.
The morning started off great. Really great. The trail angel bought MORE pastries and made more bacon and eggs and gave us strawberries and blueberries. I love breakfast. So much. I stuffed myself and said a sad goodbye to our host. Just to wait 45 minutes for a hitch. Three people stopped but they weren’t going all the way. Finally a car with a PCT sticker pulled over and took me to the trailhead. Thank you Steve.
I walked real slow and took my time. I was just lacking motivation. I had no ideas where the others were; Flicker and Ateam were ahead and Chopsticks and Roadrunner were behind. So I just walked. And who shows up behind me? Ateam and Flicker! Not quite sure how people get ahead and behind or how I get lucky and run into em, but I’m gonna keep picking up trash I see on the ground and hope the karma keeps coming back around.
We walked to the beginning of the Whitney trail so we could “easily” scale Whitney the next day. It was another chill day, only 13 or 14 miles with two creek crossings. Neither ford was too rough; Rock Creek had logs for us to go over and Whitney Creek was calm and not too freezing. We took the John Muir Trail junction to Crabtree and camped. And then a thunderstorm happened. Massive rain drops, thunder, and lightening while we camped at 10,000 feet. It eventually stopped but was definitely scary. All we could do is hope that it didn’t come back tomorrow.
WE CLIMBED FREAKING WHITNEY!! What??!! This was probably one of my favorite days. Talk about epic. Lordy. I was actually brought to tears it was so amazing. Twice. We are so lucky to be able to do this. Our lives are unreal. One freaking fantastic view after another. Adventure after adventure. Meeting seriously awesome people all the time. I love it. I absolutely love it.
We woke up at 4am to try to catch the snow while it was still hard. The sunrise was beautiful and we got to watch the snowfields begin to sparkle and see the world go from monochromatic to multicolored at 11,000 feet. I used my microspikes for the first time, which made me feel like a badass. We climbed above all the other rocky peaks, across massive snow fields, and saw our insane road North. The trail we would have to cover in the coming weeks, snowy peak after snowy peak. It made me think of one of my favorite poems:
Read me a story, I’ll listen.
Sing me a song and I’ll dance.
But the voice of the mountains,
From the top of the world,
Is what makes my heart soar and prance.
We reached the top and everyone was there: Two Taps, Roadrunner, Dandilion, Fire Ant, S&M. They got an earlier start than us. It was great. 14,505 feet of great. Top of the friggin world. We could see frozen lakes below us, with the outline of shockingly blue water as the ice melted. The feeling of being up there was surreal. Climb Whitney if you can. It is worth it.
The way down was way faster, and we got to glissade once. After chilling for a hawt second, we decided to walk three more miles to the first major creek crossing. We got there and searched a good while for a safe crossing. It was just Flicker and me, but we ran into two other hikers trying to ford as well. We couldn’t find a better spot than the actual trail crossing and went for it. Holy shit. It was intense. The current was strong (so much that my trekking poles were shaking) and the water was up to our crotches and splashing up our front. But we made it across and I got the BIGGEST adrenaline rush. Conquering a river like that is a big deal. Especially after climbing Whitney. The Sierra are gonna teach me a lot, especially how to push past my comfort level.
The last epic part of the day was that I finally used up my first fuel cannister. My little propane tank lasted me 780 miles. Pretty damn good. We camped on the grassy banks between piles of snow hoping the water level would go down.
Day 52: Before Kearsarge Pass, 787.3
Another really, really intense day. I was EXHAUSTED by the end of it. We did seventeen miles through rivers, over a pass and through snow. We forded four “streams”, but now with the melt they are raging rivers. We crossed Forrester pass, the highest point on the PCT, and walked through miles of snow.
We woke up ar 4:30am to ford Wright’s Creek before the water got too high. It gets higher as the melt occurs throughout the day. We found an island with a decent crossing on one side and a log (that was submerged yesterday evening) on the other. So not a bad ford. But the water was unbelieveably cold. When you are moving it’s fine but then you stop and your legs just hurt. And usually we get to walk in snow after. Constantly wet shoes.
A group caught up to us – Unger, Bamboo, Wasabi, plus more – so we were massive. Twenty-five ish people taking on this section. We obviously didn’t all walk together but did the crossings together. Tyndall was the next ford and we walked a good bit up stream to find a safer crossing. Also not horrible. But still freezing. And then we did Forrester.
Pretty sure most people do passes in the early morning when the snow is hard. We hit Forrester around 10? We crossed snow to get there, more frozen lakes, and climbed to 13,200 feet. You pretty much have to follow foot prints from the people before you to know where you’re going cause the trail in underneath all the snow. Trailblazin’. I’ve gotten better at orienting myself when I lose the tracks and I’m always trying to know what direction I’m walking in. All the mountaineering skillz.
The first couple switchbacks were covered in snow, so we went straight up with our microspikes and ice axes. Ice axe, step, ice axe step. Up, up, up for maybe 200 feet. I ended up rock scrambling on my hands and knees the last bit to the first switchback. Snow really makes you grateful for switchbacks. There was one last part, the last switchback at the top, that was covered in snow. There was a good trail beaten in but I still did not let myself look down the stupidly steep chute that was below us. Not gonna psych myself out. And then we were at the top. Boom. Tallest pass done. I couldn’t believe it. Of course, then we had to go down, down, down, all in snow. Slushy snow. We got to glissade a couple times again and crossed two more rivers. At the first crossing, we ran into Fireball and crew and they helped us over the two log crossing. The second crossing was sketchy. We threw, well, ok, Two Taps threw my pack over, and then I jumped over the river from a log. It was a lot. But we all did it and we are all alive.
And then we finally got to camp. My knees and ankles were sore and I was so zonked. It was worth it cause it set us up well for Kearsarge pass the next day. And I got to camp with Pony Express for the first time in a long time!! We caught up to a lot of people cause we did so much in one day. Champions. Kind of.
Well I am an idiot. Did 3.4 extra miles today cause I missed a junction and went down, down, down, for 1.7 miles only to realize I was NOT on the PCT and had to go back UP. To then continue UP to Kearsarge Pass. Oy. I was extremely lucky in the fact that Chopsticks and Max also went the wrong way and I ran into them. So we goofed up together. Thank god. Count my blessings on that one and again, be grateful for the small things. That’s not the worst that could happen.
All of us were real tired by the time we got to the junction, and Kearsarge is a 7.5 mile detour from the PCT. Because of the snow coming up, almost everyone is doing it. Our days are gonna get so much slower. We took the Bullfrog junction and Chopsticks and Max decided to fish so I continued on with Wasabi and Unger. They pretty much blazed trail the whole time and we ended up going straight up a rock field (better than snow I guess?) to get to the switchbacks.
The North side was a bit sketchy, a lot of slushy snow with not the best run out. I can ski but I am a dork when it comes to walking on snow. Hopefully I get better. More glissading happened and then we skinny-dipped in an alpine lake. I think that is the fastest I have ever gotten into cold water, thank you stream crossings. Normally, I ease myself into it for a good half hour. We got a guy to take a photo of us (sorry I’ll show it to all of you personally) and he was real stoked to do it.
Cruised the last miles into Onion Valley to get a hitch to Bishop. Santa’s Helper, who is a current PCT hiker waiting for the snow to melt and doing trail magic in the meantime, gave us the looooong ride to Bishop. About an hour in the car. Weird to think we traveled three times as far in an hour on wheels than we do on our feet. Yet it still seemed like a long car ride.
We’re staying at the hostel and I ate another child-sized burrito. So damn good. And still got hungry two hours later. I did my laundry in the shower cause I am cheap and wore loaner clothing – a dress and massive, massive shorts that did not stay up no matter how many times I rolled them. I shared a bed with Wasabi who I met two days ago, that’s trail life. And you don’t think anything of it. We have the gnarliest section coming up, passes, stream crossings and so. Much. Snow. We are gonna go for it. There is still a chance we’ll flip flop depending on danger. I’ve been pushing myself for sure and am loving the challenge. It is intense what we are doing out here. You have to be smart, react quickly, and constantly be on the lookout for your friends. There is no being cocky in the snow-covered Sierra. They will get you. The people I am with are unbelievable I am so excited (and nervous) to do this thang with them. It will be so much more than an adventure. The obstacles are bringing people together like nothing else and creating a comraderie that can only happen out here. I will remember these amazing humans forever no matter what happens. Here we come Sierra. Let’s do this.
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Good post about your adventures in the High Sierras. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77