Day 60 // 0 miles
PCT mile 702.2
I woke up at Grumpy's around 6am and got up to go use the bathroom. I grabbed my phone and charger, planning to just hang out over on the porch until they opened. I had camped closer to Triple Crown Outfitters, so I had a bit of a walk to get to the cafe. I started my phone charging and sat with Hop Along and Papá, enjoying the morning quiet. They helped me get connected to the wifi (I had to pay for it, but there's no service in Kennedy Meadows, so I kind of had to).
I had heard that it takes a while to get your food for breakfast, so I got in the line that was beginning to form at the cafe door and put in my order early. The breakfast was yummy, with eggs, bacon, and unlimited pancakes. They were so huge though that I could only get one plate down.
I needed to pick up some packages, so I put my name on the list and sat in a quieter area working on the blog. After a while, someone finally brought out my boxes and I went to town. I had a full resupply box with sweet notes from home (thanks Mom & Dad, Charissa & Ryan, Jim & Donna, and Julia!)
I also got my bear canister to protect my food, which is required for the next several hundred miles. Its pretty heavy, an extra 2.5 pounds, and it will be interesting trying to fit everything in my pack with a giant, hard plastic cylinder of food. Mom also sent me extra hiking baselayers and my waterproof gloves, and I got a new teal pair of wind pants since my black ones were hopelessly ripped.
I saw KoolAid, and our group was planning on heading out the next morning, so I still had a good bit to do. I repackaged some of the extra food and sent it ahead to Lone Pine, then headed over to the outfitter on the other side of the lot. I was debating whether or not to get legit crampons/boots, but decided that I could try out the microspikes in this next stretch then make a decision. The woman who owns the store is Yogi, the hiker who literally wrote the book on the PCT. She had a great selection of food and gear, and I picked up a few extra things, including some nice waterproof rain/ski pants for the snow.
I decided to camp at the general store for the next night, because of the easier access to the trail. I packed up all my stuff, quite a task with the new gear. I had to carry my bear can since I still had a lot of things to send home in my pack. I got a ride back to the general store, and the atmosphere was much more chill. My crew was pretty much all there - Cheer, Steve, his dad, KoolAid, and Snickers.
I got a guacamole burger for dinner and some mint fudge gelato for dessert! I had time to use the outdoor shower afterwards and it was glorious. I could see the pine trees and blue skies above me, and the warm water was amazing.
Cheer had picked up my packages from the general store - my ice axe & leash, and microspikes that I had bounced ahead from Wrightwood. We sat outside our tents, trying to sort out our gear and decide what could be dropped to lighten our packs.
Eventually, the sun set in a blaze of glory and we decided to finalize everything in the morning. I was thankful for the much quieter atmosphere of the store - Grumpy's was kind of overwhelming and party central. My head hit the pillow spinning with thoughts of the Sierra waiting for me.
Day 61 // 14.3 miles (plus 0.7 mile road walk from the store)
PCT mile 716.5
This morning I was hoping to get my stuff sorted out and mostly packed up before breakfast. Because I had a lot of gear to sort through, I was up pretty early. I decided to send home my sun umbrella, extra spandex shorts (since I'll have full length leggings), my food bag and bear bagging kit, and my cheap gloves.
I started packing up my stuff, and fortunately I found a good method for storing the bear canister in my pack without having to strap it to the top.
I enjoyed breakfast at the store and ate my fill of pancakes, hash browns, and eggs. So yummy! And the vibe at the general store is super chill. I finished writing up a few postcards, made sure I had everything, sent my last few texts, and then headed out with the gang around 11:15.
Steve and his dad (Dave) had left earlier in the day to get a head start, so it was Cheer, Snickers, KoolAid and me! Poptop was potentially going to join us as well a bit later. We coordinated which campsite we'd stay at to make sure.
We started through beautiful meadows, noticing the rocky and steep inclines that were becoming the norm. Pretty soon, we were roasting in the hot sun, and we stopped by the Kern River to cool off and get water.
But the Sierra weather can change quickly, and soon we were headed towards some dark clouds. We got drizzled on for a while, off and on. We found a nice pine tree with some rain protection and lunched there, then started up the climb.
Snickers left first, and we all spaced out a bit and hiked on our own since this stretch didn't have snow. We climbed up steeply, the rain still sprinkling, and at mile 711 suddenly I was craving a slurpee. Eventually, I created the hill and descended into a forest of pines. As soon as the trees cleared, I saw a breathtaking view of an open meadow and snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
Snickers was off in the distance in the meadow and I caught up to him. We paused to get water and the others weren't far behind. We hiked the rest of the way to camp together, winding over and down another hill until we reached camp.
The clouds cleared and we crossed the bridge over the Kern, arriving at a picturesque meadow where probably 20 others were camped.
We found spots near Steve and Dave, and soon Poptop showed up. The sunset was glorious, a mix of cotton candy pink and purple. We ate dinner together, excited for the adventures to come. The first taste of the Sierra was so sweet.
Day 62 // 14.3 miles
PCT mile 730.8
I opened my tent door to an epic sight this morning - a beautiful sunrise lighting up the valley with some lingering mist. I got up to grab my bear canister from where we had stowed them and I started to get everything packed up.
Our group was hoping to leave at 6:30am, so I had gotten up an hour before. Unfortunately, sleeping so close to a river meant that all of our tents were soaked with condensation. The sun was poking through a cloud, but it wasn't strong enough to dry anything in the misty river valley, so we packed up and got going.
The seven of us - KoolAid, Cheer, Pop Top, Snickers, Stevie Wonder, his dad Dave, and me - hiked quietly, appreciating the calm of the morning and the beauty around us. The trail gradually ascended into a piney area where we took our first little breather. Because Steve's dad is just joining, we knew we didn't want to push things too hard.
After around 3.5 miles, we stopped again for a long breakfast break to dry out our stuff. I made coffee, and it was so nice to sit for a while and enjoy a babbling creek. The streams and creeks are pretty high from the snowmelt - I am pretty nervous about some big crossings to come.
After our break, we kept pushing uphill until we saw some snow! Most of the snow was in a pretty flat area and it was getting slushy, so we didn't really need the microspikes.
We continued for a while until we got to a more technical traverse that had a more angled slope.
We paused at a dry patch to put on spikes, but ended up just deciding to have lunch. It was pretty slow going after that - there were lots of patches of snow right up against fallen logs and boulders, which always take more time to get around.
Finally, we reached the top and started to descend. It was tough finding the trail at a few points, but it eventually cleared and gave way to a beautiful stretch of trail. I took off for camp, enjoying the open meadows of vibrant green manzanitas and mountain views.
It was so beautiful, I had to stop myself from taking pictures every two minutes. Snickers and Cheer were behind me, and we made our way down to the valley towards where we planned to camp, Death Canyon Creek. The name sounds terrifying, but I'm pretty sure whoever named it that wanted this place to stay a hidden gem, because it was gorgeous.
There were cool rock formations among the pines and a sweet view of the crags. We all got set up then sat in a circle enjoying our dinner. I made my fancy backpacker's pantry lasagna meal, and it was delicious! I was pretty tired though, so I got to bed a little early to get some extra rest.
Day 63 // 10.9 miles
PCT mile 741.7
Today we got an early start, anticipating to hit snow above 10000 feet. We were planning to do a shorter day as well, so that we wouldn't completely wear out Steve's dad.
We started a steep incline section, but thankfully, the snow was mostly just patchy and not bad at all. We made it to Owens Valley for a breakfast break with a view. Steve, Dave and I melted snow for water since we hadn't realized how far the next stream was.
The miles went by pretty quickly, and we made it to camp by 3pm, what a treat! We set up our tents and got to enjoy the rest of the evening together, exploring camp, thinking about the next stretch, and resting our bodies. We decided it would be okay if we left for Lone Pine the next morning separately if we wanted. Cheer and I decided we would sleep in.
Day 64 // 3.6 miles (plus 2.5 mile side trail)
PCT mile 745.3
Another Cliff Notes version of this day!
Slept in and hit the trail around 9 with KoolAid and Cheer.
Some snow, made it to Trail Pass and headed down.
Glissaded a bit down the hill (sliding on your butt down a gentle snowy hill).
Bushwacked the meadow, shallow river crossings thankfully, but wet feet.
Made it to the camp, got a ride down the mountain with nice man Michael and other hikers.
Alabama Hills Cafe for lunch, Dow Villa motel, laundry - Random guy who had leftover food from Whitney gave me free goodies while I was sitting on the curb outside the laundromat :)
Pizza hangout at the hotel and planning the next stretch with the trail fam!
Day 65 // 0 miles
PCT mile 745.3
Zero in Lone Pine! Didn't write down much about this day, but I was able to enjoy the coffee shop, resupply, and nap. Cheer, Poptop, Stevie Wonder and Dave headed out in the late afternoon and we planned to meet them at Crabtree Meadows to go for a Whitney Summit.
I napped off a headache in the hotel room and then got some dinner with Snickers and KoolAid.
Day 66 // 4.7 PCT miles (plus 2.5 mile side trail)
PCT mile 750.0
I enjoyed the extra sleep today, even though it was super hot and our hotel didn't have air conditioning. I got up to get my stuff organized and then headed to McDonalds for breakfast with KoolAid. We headed to the post office to pick up our stuff after that.
I brought my pack, knowing that I had to replace the hip belt and send back the old one with the broken zipper to ULA. Thankfully, I got everything, including my extra food I had shipped forward from Kennedy Meadows. And magically my 6 days of food fit okay in the bear canister. Whew!
Around 10:30, we got out to the road to hitch up to Horseshoe Meadows. It took about a half hour, but eventually two guys in a pickup truck pulled up and asked where we were headed. They were going up to the trailhead too to check out conditions for their upcoming JMT (John Muir Trail) hike and could take us.
The JMT overlaps the PCT for most of the Sierra, but veers off into Yosemite Valley to the north, and the Southern Terminus is Mt. Whitney. It's a super famous long distance hike, and it's nice because it's shorter than the PCT for those who can't take 6 months off of work.
The guys got in the back of the truck with our packs, and I sat in the cab between these two funny retired guys. They were pretty hilarious! We talked gear, conditions, and resupply strategy as we made the hour long drive up. We made it there at 12pm and started our way back up Trail Pass. We took KoolAid's bushwack way across the meadow again, having heard that the official trail actually crossed at a sketchy snowbridge that had melted out.
We crossed safely in the shallow bit and made our way across the meadow. When we got to the bottom of the hill, we started up, and I tried out my crampons. They took some getting used to, but they feel super legit and give you much better grip in the snow. It was starting to get soft though, which made it tough as we climbed basically straight up the pass.
The trail of footprints got even more slushy, and we made it to the top completely exhausted. Traversing along the ridge was we reached the top was just as tiring. We were postholing in the snow, making just about 1 mile an hour.
Just before the turnoff for Cottonwood Pass, we found a dry patch with a nice view and decided to camp.
I set up and made dinner, and as the sun set, I was completely in awe of the colors. Again I was reminded of the majesty and creativity of our God. The struggle of the day was made more worthwhile getting to take in such a lovely sight.
We planned to get up and start hiking at 6 the next morning for some better snow conditions.
Day 67 // 12.1 mile
PCT mile 762.1
Snickers, KoolAid and I started early this morning, hoping that we could still reach Crabtree Meadows where we had planned to meet the rest of our group. It was 16 miles ahead, and we weren't sure how much snow was ahead.
I put on my crampons to walk on the frozen snow, and we made our way down through a bowl near Chicken Spring Lake. We came up the other side and climbed a ridge, where the wind was blowing and it felt super epic.
Next, we passed a pretty alpine lake that was melting, and you could see the baby blue outline of the water below. We took several breaks, still winded from the elevation. Realizing how difficult it is to make miles in the snow was difficult for me. It takes way more physical effort to keep your body from slipping on snowy trail, and you make less progress.
We reached a traverse that alternated between boulders and snow, which is super annoying and slow in crampons. The spikes are so big that walking on rock is tough/sketchy and it also dulls the points. We took an early lunch, needing some energy, and at last, we hit some dry trail. It didn't last that long though, and soon we were back in the snow, bushwacking our way down a steep hill toward Rock Creek.
The creek was flowing strongly, but we found some good logs upstream and made it across safely. Backtracking through the marshy meadow on the other side, we reached the trail as it started to climb upwards.
We sat by a waterfall and ate again, realizing we probably wouldn't all make it to Crabtree Meadows. I hoped the others wouldn't worry too much. I started to come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn't be attempting Whitney. It made me sad, since it's a big milestone, but it's also a side trip that I could come back and do. We had also passed a girl who had done it the day before and was completely shaken up by how sketchy it was in the melting snow.
I was pretty sure I would skip it, but I still had hoped I could make it to meet up with the others. We had a big climb ahead, but since it was on a south-facing slope, it was pretty dry. We started up the steep climb, and it was really intense, but I still had a bit of a second wind. About halfway up, Snickers and I made it to Guyot Creek. I decided to go on, and Snickers and KoolAid were pretty well spent for the day. I filtered more water and hit more patches of snow. In the evening, the snow was so soft and wet, so in some places I began postholing with every step. I wondered if the whole climb would be like this, and started to rethink hiking into the late evening. I noticed several nice flat patches of dirt. Exhausted from the postholing and unsure if I would find anywhere better to camp, I decided to stop just a half mile or so after the guys.
I enjoyed my dinner and snuggled back into my quilt. When I went to check my inReach, I saw a message from Cheer! She had gotten my contact info from Pineapples, so thankfully, I could let her know what was going on and that we were behind. She said they had only made it to the junction to Crabtree and were moving slowly as well. It made me feel much better to know that we could communicate. I told her we'd decided to skip Whitney and she said that Poptop and Steve were thinking the same. We decided that tomorrow could be a day to rest up and enjoy a near-o on the trail.
Day 68 // 5.1 miles
PCT Mile 767.2
Since today was going to be my day to summit Mt. Whitney, technically a zero PCT mileage day, it ended up being a really chill and fun day. I wanted to reunite with my group at Crabtree Meadows sooner rather than later though, so I still got up early enough to get some miles in before the snow softened. I left just before 7, unsure if Snickers and KoolAid had gotten up early or if they were also taking it easier this morning.
The harder snow was much easier to walk on, although the trail was heading up the rest of the steep hill I had started last night. But the snow quickly disappeared and I powered my way up on mostly dry trail. When I reached the top, I found snow again and put on my crampons to avoid slipping. I made my way down towards an incredible beautiful valley of snow.
It was an incredible and empowering feeling to be alone in a snow covered valley surrounded by mountains. It was quiet and peaceful until I heard a few other hikers making their way down.
It was Boomer and Gavin, two hikers I had met yesterday, and they let me know that the guys were still behind me. The snow thinned out, so I took off my crampons again. I'm getting better at using them, although I've realized there are definitely pros and cons, one con being the time it takes to put them on and adjust them. The traction is amazing though!
I made my way across another valley of snow, and I heard my inReach buzz. Cheer let me know that they had camped before the ranger station at 766, and Steve and Poptop we're going to skip Whitney as well. It was nice to know we didn't have to do a pointless 1.2 off the trail to the station! I ate a Clif bar and continued on, only about a mile away.
I started a snowy traverse down a hill, and the snow was softening quickly. I wove my way around rocks and logs, and finally caught a sweet view of Mt. Whitney.
The hill was getting pretty slushy, and I took the opportunity to glissade (slide down on your butt) where I could. I made it down okay and took a moment to rest on a log before rounding the corner and seeing the rest of our group. Yay! They had camped before Whitney Creek with a stunning view of the mountain.
I let them know that Snickers and KoolAid weren't far behind, and I enjoyed a nice break in the sun. They were wanting to continue on a bit and at least cross the river together.
Once Snickers and KoolAid showed up, we caught each other up on the happenings of our last few days. Snickers and Poptop decided that they still wanted to try for a Whitney summit tomorrow.since they had enough extra food. I was pretty exhausted from the past two days and wasn't sure if I could stretch my food that much, so I decided that Whitney is an adventure that will have to wait for another time. As bummed as I was, I think I made the right call. The snow conditions up there are pretty risky right now for my experience level.
Once we all packed up, we found a slow moving, wide section of the creek to cross. It was almost thigh deep in some places, but didn't feel sketchy.
We found a nice flat rock area on the other side to dry out and eat lunch. It was definitely the most beautiful lunch spot of the trail yet!
Poptop and Snickers headed towards the ranger station after lunch - hopefully we can reunite in Bishop! Our crew decided to camp up the next hill since the ridge looked snow-free. We trucked up the hill and soon got to the junction where the PCT joins the John Muir Trail for the next several hundred miles through the Sierra. We made it to our camp spot in no time and spent the rest of the day enjoying the rest and the beautiful blue skies.
We ate snacks, chatted, looked ahead at the next section of trail, and played a hilarious game with these plastic frogs that Dave brought.
It was such a fun on-trail nearo day. Tomorrow we have a 7ish mile hike to where we'll start Forester Pass on Friday!
Day 69 // 8.3 miles
PCT mile 775.5
Whew! Even though today was only an 8-mile day, it was a challenge, and full of beauty. We headed out around 6:30, and started down a traverse that was pretty icy, so Cheer and I put on our crampons.
Even though putting them on takes a while, I always feel so legit stomping through the snow with giant spikes on. We got to an open area with an incredible panorama of the snow covered peaks - I've lost count of the number of times the word "beautiful" has escaped my lips. It seems to fall so short.
And the photos can't begin to do it justice.
Eventually we reached Wallace Creek, the first of 3 bigger stream crossings. The spot where the trail crossed was actually a really good place to ford, since it was wider and the current wasn't as strong.
We each went across, our feet going numb from the cold of the snowmelt stream. On the other side was a nice sunny meadow where we ate breakfast.
Soon, we heard a familiar voice - it was Snickers! He had decided not to hike Whitney. When he woke up at midnight to do it, he realized it was still pretty warm and was doubting whether or not the snow had frozen again. Apparently Poptop at least attempted it, since her tent was still there when Snickers left.
It was good to see him, and we continued on together. None of us expected the second stream crossing, Wright Creek, to be that challenging, but when we got there we struggled to find a good spot.
At first, we began to attempt a crossing that Dave found. It was a log crossing to an island that seemed safe, but the second half of the river was raging, and the log there didn't seem like a good idea. it was slick, and water was splashing over it occasionally. Dave made it across, but the rest of us decided to go upstream.
We tried another potential spot, but the current was still a bit too strong. Finally, almost a mile upstream we found a safe spot. It was wider with an island, and the water came up to about mid thigh at the deepest on me. It was a relief to be across.
We had spent probably an hour and a half getting to the other side, and we knew we still had 3 miles ahead of us. I was proud of our teamwork though. We didn't push each other to do anything we weren't comfortable with, and we listened to each other.
Stream crossings have always made me the most nervous out of all the challenges we're facing in the Sierra this year. In 2017, also a high snow year, two different female hikers died at different crossings after being swept away while crossing alone. It's not something to mess around with, so I was glad we took our time. Thankfully the trail had followed the stream the same direction we did, so we weren't far off track.
After a lunch break we made it up the next hill and saw an incredible snow-filled valley. We continued to walk up until we hit the plateau, a crazy beautiful expanse of white surrounded by mountains.
I felt like I was in another world. Hiking in the snow is tough, but the alpine beauty makes it all worth it. It also definitely helps to have a fun group with a sense of humor. We could see Forester Pass from the plateau, and Tyndall Creek in the valley before that.
We made our way down, postholing in the slushy afternoon snow. I sunk waist deep at one point in snow between some boulders. Not fun. But after an exhausting descent, we could hear the rushing of water and got to Tyndall Creek.
It was raging at the place where the trail crossed, so after a break and a snack, we began to hike upstream for a better crossing. We considered waiting until morning to cross, when the water would be lower due to the overnight freeze, but we wanted to be able to start our ascent up Forester Pass early. Eventually, as we kept going, we found a safe spot. The river had widened and was only about calf deep.
Once we made it across, most of us booked it for a dry rocky spot out of the snow where we could let our feet warm up in the sun. We had made it to the base of Forester Pass, where we had planned to camp before making it up to the highest point of the PCT tomorrow.
We set up camp on a dry, flat patch of gravel, managing to fit all our tents together. What an epic spot! This is Forester Base Camp. Tomorrow will be an early wake up so we can get up and over before the snow softens.
Day 70 // 10.2 miles
PCT mile 785.7
Bleary eyed and sleepy, we woke at 3am to get a good start on Forester Pass while the snow was still hard. We packed up our little camp, layered up, put on our crampons/spikes, and got going. We were still a bit off trail from the river crossing, so we headed up the hill that direction and had to slow down a bit to keep pace with each other.
The sun began to rise at 5am and light up the mountains behind us beautifully. The snow was staying nice and hard which was great, and we reached the base of the climb at the same time as Leah and Daniel, the sweet couple from Canada that we met at the river crossing yesterday.
We pulled out the ice axes and began the ascent into the steep snowy ridge. It was a little scary but my gear made me feel secure as my crampons gripped the icy steps. The only sketchy spots were when the path reached boulders we had to climb around. Eventually, we reached a rocky ledge that was melted out and got a break.
We hiked up towards the infamous ice chute. There was a snowy ledge with a rock overhang leading to the chute. Some taller members.of our group had to crawl on hands and knees just to get up there. I watched Snickers and KoolAid go ahead of me, then I made my way up the ice ledge to the chute.
There were some good ice axe holds, but in other places, I had to hammer the pick into the ice until it held for me to take the next step. I moved slowly, breathing deeply.
The chute wasn't as bad as I thought, but when I reached the end I saw that the challenge wasn't over. The snow on this side created a narrow gap for my feet by a boulder that I basically had to bear hug and edge around. SO scary. My pack weight was making my center of gravity so that I felt like it could topple me backwards. I used my ice axe as a handhold though and made it around. AHHHH. It felt so good to be on the other side.
We all made it across and celebrated! Going up from here, there were a few more dry switchbacks, then a little snowy climb that was a bit slushy. But over the side, we saw the top of the pass and the famous sign! Woohoo!
We breaked for a while, thankful that the ascent side had been in the shade where the snow was hard the whole way up. The descent looked slushy but was more gentle... Or so we thought. We made our way towards a ridge, following the main footprint path, but when we reached the end, the footprints disappeared.
To the right of us was a slope where a few brave souls had traversed - it was ripe for an avalanche in the wet snow. To the left was a rocky scramble down through scree that none of us were prepared for with heavy packs. We sat on the ridge trying to make a plan for a while. We seemed to be stuck. So we ate food to get ourselves less hangry, then revisited our options.
Leah and Daniel decided to walk back up the ridge to see if they could avoid the cornices of snow that could cave to the right. We walked a bit further up as well then noticed that the bowl to our left was less steep and also had snow that was less slushy. We wove our way toward the rocks and KoolAid tested out the snow. It looked safe, even though It meant going down the opposite side as the actual trail was going. The stressful situation turned fun though as we found safe sloping spots to glissade.
Sliding on our butts down the slope, we whooped for joy! I felt like I was in elementary school again, playing and tromping around in the snow. We were able to get downhill and rejoin the trail after traversing and glissading about 7 times, and I was flooded with relief. We continued down and saw that Leah and Daniel ended up taking our way down as well.
We moved down the snowy valley and crossed a stream that wasn't bad. We hiked with Leah and Daniel once they reached us. Exhausted from the adrenaline and stress of the day, we tromped through the snowy woods, postholing and sliding around until we could find a dry patch that fit all our tents.
Following the mighty Bubbs Creek, we were in awe of the waterfalls roaring around us. Once we found a good spot, we set up and circled around, eating dinner and reminiscing on the crazy events of the day. We had conquered Forester! Together.
Day 71 // 2.8 trail miles, plus 9 mile side trail out of the Sierra via Kearsarge Pass
PCT Mile 788.5
Our group headed out at 6:30 this morning, thankful for the extra sleep. It was town day! Because the Sierra is so remote, we knew we had to take a 9 mile side trail up and over Kearsarge Pass to get to the trailhead where we could get a ride.
The morning hiking was nice on harder snow, and we passed some beautiful views. Waterfalls, sunlight on granite mountains, deer grazing in the newly green foliage.
We reached an overlook of the valley and I stopped to soak it all in and thank my Creator for his beautiful work.
We met some other hikers at the Bullfrog Lake trail junction who gave us an idea of what to expect. Passing the slowly melting lakes, we walked through a valley towards the snow, bumping into more people we knew, including Ketchup and Pineapples! It was so good to see them and hear that they were doing well as they headed back in from town.
We took a break for food after my stomach wouldn't stop growling. I shoveled down some cold oatmeal before we continued straight up the hill in the snow.