Day 72 // 1.5 ish miles up the Kearsarge Pass Trail PCT Mile 788.5
It was so nice to wake up in a cozy bed this morning. I slept in and then headed over to Jack's with Cheer to have breakfast with the guys.
We downed our omelettes, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy, and discussed how much food we should buy for the next section. It's an interesting resupply, since it's 80 miles to Muir Trail Ranch, a remote resupply point where KoolAid had a bucket of food sent up via a mule (seriously!). None of the rest of us arranged that, but Vermillion Valley Resort is shortly after that, so we should be able to make it there on what we have.
Cheer and I went back to the hostel to check out, and thankfully they allow you to use the common areas even after checkout time. I sat in the living room and strummed a few songs on the guitar they had there. It was nice to have a little break from the chores.
Afterwards, we headed to the laundromat with Shuffles to put in our clothes, and then the coffee shop where I got a smoothie and worked on my journal entries - unfortunately I didn't have time to finish a new blog update since I was so behind.
But I was able to call my Dad and wish him a happy birthday and Father's Day! He and my mom were hanging out with the family :)
Cheer had arranged a ride to Onion Valley Trailhead for us with a trail angel, so we had to resupply quickly. Thankfully, our amazing hostel had bikes with crates attached so we could bike to the grocery store instead of walking. What a nice efficient way to travel! Haha.
We made our way over and tried to figure out nine days of food that might potentially fit in our bear cans. (Who are we kidding, of course it's not all going to fit.)
So for the next nine days, I'm eating:
6 fruit pies
2 Complete Cookies
5 Clif Bars (they were on sale...)
5 Luna Bars
2 packs of Haribo Sour Gummy Bears
1lb of Pepperoni
14 Cheese Sticks
An insane amount of trail mix
An insane amount of instant mashed potatoes
Tuna (different flavors for every day)
A jar of Nutella
With a backup ramen and leftover oatmeal for emergency rations.
The biggest tragedy is that I forgot the Snickers bars! Nooooooo.
We booked it back to the hostel and I scrambled to repackage everything in ziplocks (less bulky) and fit it all in my bear can. It all fit, except for the trail mix and some of the mashed potatoes. Not bad.
Debbie, our awesome trail angel, pulled up and we loaded our insanely heavy packs into her car. Dave also stopped by to send us off, since this is where he's headed home! It was so fun to hike with him. He was the genius behind the frog game, and we'll miss him.
Debbie was willing to swing by McDonald's for us so we could grab dinner before heading back up. Debbie lives in Bishop and has hiked the JMT before She had a sweet little mini Australian Shepherd named Poncho. He was so sweet!
When we had made it back up the mountain, she hugged us and wished us well. We made it up to the first lake as the sun was beginning to set, and we made camp. Cheer had rope still, so we hung out food that wouldnt fit in the bear can.
It was good to be back in the mountains, and I was happy to know that we would have a relaxing morning of waiting for the guys to show up tomorrow.
Day 73 // 7.5 miles up Kearsarge Pass back to the PCT
PCT Mile 788.5
This morning was so lovely! Cheer, Shuffles, and I got to sleep in since we were waiting for KoolAid, Stevie Wonder, and Snickers. The sun was shining, and I sat outside by the lake and enjoyed my breakfast and coffee.
Two waterfalls were crashing down the mountain into the lake, and we had it all to ourselves. I caught up on my journal entries, took down my tent, packed up most of my stuff, and had time to do some Bible reading before the guys arrived around 10. So nice.
I shouldered my heavy pack, and our crew started up the hill. We took lots of breaks, since the heavy packs and snow were slowing us all down and making it harder.
About halfway up, we noticed some billowing clouds - the forecast had called for potential thunderstorms today, but we were hoping we could make it up and over the pass before any thunderstorms hit.
A lot of snow had melted in the past two days. We kept making our way to the top of the pass, and a dark front of clouds moved in. Yikes. It started to rain and then hail as we picked up our speed. We finished a snowy traverse and got to a rock ledge and threw on our rain jackets.
I booked it to the top and then down to a group of trees, where we regrouped. Thankfully the hail cleared up, so we paused to eat lunch by a dry section of rocks. A few other hikers passed by, and we made our way past beautiful Bullfrog Lake.
As we neared the junction where we'd rejoin the PCT, we heard voices. It was the Tennessee crew and Songbird! It was good to catch up with them and hear about the past few weeks for them.
The skies were darkening again, so we rushed to find a camp spot and set up. Thankfully there was a dry patch nearby, and we got set up just in time. Glen Pass is tomorrow!
Day 74 // 7.0 miles
PCT mile 795.5
Oh man. Today was hard. And beautiful. But really hard.
We didn't get going until around 7am to do Glen Pass. It was only 2.6 miles away, how could it be that bad? WRONG.
It took us the next 5 hours to do the pass and get down. The trail was super steep, and the footprints led straight up the mountain. But even worse, they led us to a spot that wasn't really the official pass, it was too high up. So once we reached the top, we headed down on an extremely steep "trail" of loose rock. At one point, I was sitting on my butt and sliding down do I wouldn't fall forwards.
Near the bottom of the rock section, I was holding onto a boulder that looked secure. But the two little rocks below it wiggled loose and it started a rock slide. The boulder I was holding rolled forward, and I quickly whipped my foot out of the way before it got pinned or crushed by the boulder. So scary. I think I was more scared in that moment than on Forester Pass.
I made it to the snowy descent and put my crampons back on and got out my ice axe. It was that steep. We made it down safely and stopped for lunch, exhausted.
We continued downward, towards the incredibly beautiful Rae Lakes. We crossed a stream and I don't think my feet have ever been so cold. The water still had some ice chunks in it - must have been like 35 degrees.
At the ranger station, we heard about some of the more sketchy crossings ahead. We made it to the next crossing, and after getting through successfully, we dried off on a rock ahead.
Shuffles let us know that the altitude was getting to her and she had a headache and was hoping we could camp close by. We weren't very close to Pinchot Pass, but we decided that we had enough food to camp and just camp tomorrow near enough to Pinchot to get over it early.
We found a good spot with an incredible view, and got settled in. I had more instant mashed potatoes for dinner with dehydrated veggies, and KoolAid even offered up some of his 1lb bag of bacon bits!
He cracks me up. His resupply on this stretch also included 1lb of parmesan cheese, 1 lb of Hot Tamales, and a giant bag of black licorice. Hahaha.
Shuffles decided she wanted to bail out - after talking with us and KoolAid, she decided to backtrack over Glen and Kearsarge passes over the next few days. I finally managed to get all my food in my bear can, and drifted off to sleep!
Day 75 // 5.8 miles
PCT Mile 801.3
Today was definitely the scariest day on the PCT for me so far. Read on to find out why.
I woke early, since our group had agreed to leave at 5:30. Shuffles told us she was definitely backtracking, so Cheer got her InReach contact info so we could make sure she was doing okay every day. She planned to just do two miles back to the ranger station today.
I had a blackberry fruit pie for breakfast (yay calories!) and got a bit more water before we took off.
Not long after leaving, we encountered a super steep downhill section that was all icy. KoolAid showed us how we could use our ice axes and crampons to climb down. It was pretty nuts going down an almost vertical wall of icy snow at 6am! I jabbed the shaft of my ice axe in to use as a handhold, then kicked the points of my crampons into the steps as I backed down the wall. Crazy stuff.
Once I got down, there was more snow leading down to the valley. Cheer and I had already taken off our crampons, but ended up deciding to put them back on because it was icy. The suncups (welts where the sun has melted the snow) were hard to walk on.
Soon we reached Baxter Creek. We had heard from the rangers at Rae Lakes that this stream had turned me some hikers back. It was definitely pretty strong. There was a log that stretched most of the way, but not completely, so that was out.
Upstream was a huge waterfall coming from a gorge, so we knew hiking upstream would be really difficult. The guys found a spot a bit downstream with an island that was easy to get to, but the other side looked really strong. After about an hour of them trying to figure out the best way to go, Steve crossed without his pack and made it across a spot with some branches to hold on to.
He and KoolAid rigged up a rope to use as an anchor/pendulum for the rest of us. KoolAid got across, then Steve went back to show us the way across and grab his pack.
The second part of the crossing was at least waist deep in whitewater, but narrow enough that it was only two or three steps. Steve and Cheer made it across okay, and then it was my turn.
KoolAid tossed me the rope and I put my wrist through the loop and grabbed it. I grabbed some branches in front of me, but with the long step down, I couldn't get my footing and slipped. Chest deep in raging whitewater, I could feel the current pull me downstream, but I was anchored with the rope. Steve reached out, and I grabbed his hand and managed to plant my foot and make it up the bank. Soaking wet in freezing water and still sort of in shock, the others made sure I was okay and told me to sit in the sun and dry out. Thankfully it was a warm morning!
Snickers made it across okay and we all took a while to collect ourselves. It started to sink in how bad that situation could have been without the rope and my group. I was still a bit shaken up, but managed to pull it together and enjoy the dry trail on the other side.
We found a nice spot in the sun for a longer break a bit later and had snacks while drying out. The trail afterwards wound down the valley with sweet mountain views, and through some beautiful forests with giant pines. It was beautiful.
We even saw a few wildflowers poking out. We made it to Woods Creek, where a beautiful suspension bridge greeted us. What a great sight, a bridge!
The water raged underneath, but up here we were safe. Just before I crossed, I saw Jan from the Czech! I hadn't seen him since the hot springs, so that was pretty cool! We had lunch on the other side of the bridge, and Jan told us about his past few weeks. He took a helicopter ride off My. Whitney after dislocating his shoulder, earning him the trail name Skyrider. He had taken some time off, but he and two other guys with him had come from Lone Pine and were pushing all the way to Bishop Pass.
We started up some nice dry trail, hoping to make around 4 more miles towards Pinchot Pass. The views were great, and we saw a mama grouse and her 7 babies on the trail. We also passed the Woods Creek Waterslide, an incredible flat slab of rock with water crashing down in waves. The sheer force of the water was incredible.
But soon our breezy hiking was over as we reached White Fork, another raging river we had to cross. And this one fed into Woods Creek, so getting swept away here meant almost certain death. We couldn't quite tell how deep it was, but the current was swift.
Jan and his crew were there, also unsure of how to proceed. There was a log, but it was towards the waterfall side and had water running over it. After studying the maps, we decided to look upstream for a better place. It was straight up a mountain, but we hoped we could find something. After some scrambling, we didn't see much that looked promising.
Snickers, Cheer and I paused l for a break and Stevie Wonder and KoolAid went ahead without there packs to scout further.
Jan's group came up as well. They didn't go much past us and said they didn't see anything. We napped and waited awhile for the guys, and eventually they came back with reports of a big snowbridge that looked good.
We started talking about options, everything from backtracking to bailing out after Pinchot Pass. It was a bit overwhelming. I felt trapped between two scary rivers, White Fork and Baxter Creek. We decided that we'd try the snowbridge in the morning after it had time to freeze. Since we were already a bit upstream, we decided to camp on the side of the mountain in a semi-flat spot.
Cheer decided though that she'd camp at the bottom and let us know if the water level went down before heading up in the morning, just in case it was better down there. I set up with Steve, Snickers, and KoolAid, a beautiful view behind us.
We tried to relax and eat dinner, although the conversation drifted back to what we would do about our situation. Snickers and I talked about potentially bailing out at Taboose Pass, the next exit pass after Pinchot. We were both feeling in over our heads. I hoped that I would have a clearer head in the morning and got some sleep.
Day 76 // 8.9 miles (plus about a mile of walking upstream and back downstream after crossing)
PCT Mile 810.2
This morning I woke up and started packing up, but also checked my inReach to see if there were any messages from Cheer about the stream crossing below. I didn't get anything, so I was hoping that she had just decided to come back up to meet us and try the snow bridge.
Sure enough, she appeared just as I was packing up the last of my pack. She let us know that the water hadn't gone down much, and a group of 8 had crossed it by the trail without a thought. So crazy!
After that, Jan and his buddies went across as well. But it was still a waist deep whitewater crossing that had a raging waterfall below. No thanks.
We decided to check out the snowbridge the guys had scouted out yesterday. We hiked upstream along a rocky ridge, but we got there sooner than I expected. And when I saw the bridge, I felt really good about it. It was thick and wide, but it did have a dip in the middle.
KoolAid set up a semi-belay with his ice axe and the rope, and then crossed without an issue. We all followed, super thankful to be on the other side!
We made our way down the rocks on the other side back to the trail, and finally, we had some nice snow-free walking. Little streams were draining everywhere, so often the trail itself would become a stream until the next drainage point.
The trail started a long gradual ascent towards Pinchot Pass. Thankfully we had heard it was a milder one! As we climbed, eventually we hit snow again. It was exhausting, so we took some short breaks for morale and snacking.
The trail passed by some pretty lakes and started to go up a ridge. I was thankful for the slow climb - kind of a nice change.
The snow was getting softer, but thankfully the bootpath we were following was pretty well packed down. We got closer and closer, finally making the final climb and traverse. We pulled out ice axes near the top since it got steep, and finally made it up.
It was super windy, unfortunately, so we couldn't eat our lunch there. Pressing on, we started an easy descent down some rocks and hiked for another 45 minutes until we found a good lunch spot with wind protection.
We talked about what we wanted to do next - Snickers and I were still thinking we should bail out at Taboose Pass. Cheer and Steve were open to continuing on, but also were okay with heading to town earlier. KoolAid was also up for continuing, but he didn't want us to go down an unknown pass that we didn't have good maps for by ourselves. We decided to camp at the junction for Taboose Pass and decide in the evening on our game plan.
Coming down towards the junction, the snow was really soft, and we were postholing pretty badly. There was a stream crossing ahead, but a wide snowbridge looked solid above it, so we were able to cross safely again. Once we made it across, we found the sign for Taboose shortly afterwards, then started looking for dirt patches to camp in.
The selection of flat dry ground was limited, so we ended up managing to cowboy camp on the best little dry spot we could find.
We ate dinner in our sleeping bags and enjoyed the rest of our evening on the island of dirt that was home for the night.
Day 77 // 6 miles of Taboose Pass (plus about 4 walking down and back up to avoid the stream)
PCT mile 810.2
I woke around 5:30 and poked my head out of my sleeping bag. It was still freezing, and everyone was asleep so I rolled over and got a little more sleep. Eventually, I heard Snickers stirring and I saw that Steve was awake.
After shoving my feet into frozen shoes, I ventured out to go to the bathroom and retrieve my bear can, and we all sat in our sleeping bags and made breakfast while we discussed our next move.
Snickers and I were still wanting to exit at Taboose Pass, while Cheer and Steve were open to either continuing or heading out. KoolAid was hesitant to send Snickers and I down an unknown pass, so we all eventually decided to head down the pass and bail out together.
I was super thankful that the others were coming with us. Eventually it would prove to be extremely helpful.
KoolAid starts a teaching job in China in August, so for him, this is going to be the end of his hike. Snickers will probably flip soon, and Steve, Cheer, and I are discussing the possibility of a "trail-cation" to Yosemite Valley before flipping to somewhere up north.
We packed our things and headed out. Since this trail isn't really in our navigation apps besides being on a topo overlay, we were glad that KoolAid had taken it before (albeit 20 years ago). I got my crampons on since the snow was still icy, and we climbed the hill.
Eventually, after we wove our way through the woods, we reached a flatter part at the top where the slope was pretty gentle. The suncups were really bad though, making it a slog still.
Happy first day of summer.
But as far as passes go, the climb on this one was really mild. We saw more dirt patches at the top, then looked down at a view of the dry Owens Valley below. What a different landscape!
This pass was much more arid and rocky, so it was great to see dry stretches of trail beneath us! We started down, and though there was a lot of loose rock, it WASN'T SNOW. Sadly however, the talus rock was very hard on my trekking poles and one of them actually snapped near the bottom.
We met a guy eating lunch who mentioned a rough stream crossing that he avoided by staying to the left of a tree. We didn't really get what he was talking about though, so we obliviously kept going.
There were a few small sections of snow we were able to glissade down. Yay!
And then we got to a larger stream crossing. It was fast-ish, but shallow, and overall not too bad. We assumed (wrongly) that this was the sketchy stream crossing the guy was talking about, and went across to stay on the trail.
After enjoying our lunch at the the tent spot on the other side, we continued making good time down the trail. It was a bit overgrown in spots, and pretty steep downhill, but we were ready to get to town.
Unfortunately, that's when we found the actual raging river. The current was very strong, and it was hard to tell how deep it was with all the whitewater. But there were a ton of obstacles sticking up, and it was pretty wide. We couldn't see a good place to cross. And we knew from our trip down that there hadn't been any better places to cross nearby.
After some more analyzing, we all decided that the safest option - as frustrating as it was - would be to hike all the way back up to our lunch spot, recross the stream, and scramble down the talus rock on the other side. Everyone was feeling pretty demoralized.
Steve took off, heading up the trail faster than I'd ever seen him hike. I was also channelling my frustration to get me up the hill... we joked later that we were "rage hiking" because of having to backtrack so much.
The uphill was steep and I wasnt sure I had enough energy for rock scrambling with my pack all evening. I did notice some nice flat spots for camping pretty close to where we would recross the stream.
Once I made it to the lunch spot, I sat next to Steve and waited for the others. Cheer and Snickers came up and we all were feeling like it might be a better idea to just camp and tackle the way down tomorrow.
KoolAid made it up and was sort of surprised we were all wanting to camp - I think he was really ready for a beer and some town food, but he was okay with our decision. Cheer and I offered to take the camp spots that were a bit further down, and the guys camped by the crossing.
It ended up actually being a lovely evening - we had a great mountain view and the weather was warm but beautiful. A fitting way to spend the evening of the first day of summer. Cheer and I talked for a long time about life and how we've changed since starting the trail.
I think I've come to realize that it's okay to not have a straightforward career path, and it's also totally fine to work a less cushy/well-paying job if it allows you to have time to do what you love.
I still have no clue where I'm headed after the trail, but I'm trusting that the Lord will lead me step by step. I don't have to have it all planned out.
P.S. I think I have found the holy grail of ramen recipes - cheesy buffalo chicken ramen. 1 chicken ramen + 1 packet of Chicken Creations Buffalo Style + 1 cheese stick = amazingness. You're welcome.
Day 78 // 6 miles? of Taboose Pass
PCT mile 810.2
Cheer and I had a relaxing morning, then packed up and met the guys at the river crossing. We got back to the other side and began what turned out to be 5 HOURS of trying not to break an ankle or start a rockslide as we crawled down the side of the mountain on loose talus rock.
I think I might actually prefer snow to talus scrambling.
It was pretty exhausting and mentally taxing hopping from boulder to boulder, trying to make sure my steps and handholds wouldn't dislodge something bigger, and using my limited climbing skills to maneuver around.
But AT LAST we saw a familiar strip of dirt that was the trail. We ate our lunch there and happily realized we had service.
Cheer contacted Debbie again and found out she was willing to give us a ride from the trailhead. Hooray! We continued down the steep trail, and it slowly became more reminiscent of the desert as the temps increased. Snickers lagged behind a bit - the talus had done a number on his knee.
Eventually, we reached the trailhead, literally just a sign that met up with a dirt road. We had time before Debbie was coming to get us, so we literally just laid down on our mats in the dirt. Yep.
I was able to contact Debbie since I had service - she wasn't sure if she was in the right place because of the maze of dirt roads. I assured her she was, since we could see her Jeep way in the distance!
The road was rougher than we realized though, so we walked down to meet her. We squashed into her Jeep (with her dog Poncho, of course), and caught her up on the happenings in the past week. She dropped us at the hostel and we all have her a hug. What a sweet lady!
When we went to check availability, the Hostel California was totally booked, along with the hostel further down the road. We decided to stay at the Townhouse Motel and try to get hostel bunks tomorrow. Cheer and I wanted to treat KoolAid to dinner for all his help, so we went to the brewery and had a nice time enjoying the food and good drinks.
We also saw Pineapples, who had bailed out at Bishop Pass. She is flipping up to Chester for better conditions as well.
It was such a relief to be back in town. While I do have mixed feelings about skipping this next 521.1 miles (for now), I know it's the right call.