June 6 – Our stay in Bishop turned into an extended one due to the vortex that is The Hostel California. Such a fun and laid back place that it’s hard to leave. Last night we got a ride back to the trailhead with pizza and beer so we could get an early start today. Our first obstacle was the climb back up Kearsarge Pass, 3000 feet up in 5 miles. It’s not as strenuous as we remember it being, but Wonder Woman still managed to take a fall as we were nearing the pass. Up top all the snow we encountered four days ago was gone and the lakes were thawed. The summer melt is taking the Sierras over quickly, I’m glad I got to experience the last bit of winter these mountains will likely see this year. We eat lunch back at the PCT before heading on up and over Glenn Pass. The ground below me turns white once again as we make our approach around the rim of an icy blue alpine lake and then kick steps straight up a snow chute leading to the pass. Seeing what’s on the other side of the mountains you’ve been staring at all day is my favorite part of the passes, today an excellent vista of the snow covered valley and then the Rae Lakes lay far below me. The trail follows the ridge of the mountain before going straight down a large and steep snow wall all the way to the bottom. As soon as we begin descending, Wonder Woman begins to complain about her foot hurting, likely from her earlier fall. With every step she screams out in pain, completely out of character for a tough girl like her. Walking behind her is heartbreaking, eventually we’re forced to split up her pack weight and carry her to camp. After taking a look it’s pretty obvious that her foot is pretty messed up, swollen and bruised. We decide to let her sleep on it and figure things out in the morning.
June 7 – We wake up at Wonder Woman’s screams as she attempts to walk a few feet away to use the bathroom. Our only option is clear, use oolong’s spot device to call her a helicopter. It’s a rough morning as we all say our goodbyes, reassuring her that she will heal up quickly and be back on the trail in no time even though none of us know that for sure. The rest of the day follows the same mood, we hike a few miles around the majestic Rae Lakes just to say we put in some miles. Wonder Woman would have loved it. That’s all I’ve got for you today, hopefully better spirits tomorrow.
June 8 – The day is bright and the birds are chirping when I open my eyes. I hear everyone else outside eating breakfast together but instead of joining them I put on some morning music and eat in my tent. By eight I’m packed up and join everyone else for a brief moment before we each roll out one by one. From camp we cross a rickety rope bridge missing multiple planks, perfect to get the heart pumping early in the morning. Shortly after the bridge stones mark 800 miles, nearly a third of the entire trail. This past 100 have been without a doubt the toughest hiking I’ve ever done but making it through all the challenges is such a rewarding feeling. I’ve felt vulnerable, invincible, and inspired. I’ve seen scenes so beautiful they invoke tears. I’ve been cold, wet, tired, scared, the list goes on. This trail has tested me in ways the Appalachians never did.
From the 800 mile mark, the PCT climbs straight up 4000 feet through a wooded valley to Pinchot Pass. Even the small streams are swelled up to the size of rivers making dry feet something we can only dream of. I reach the snow fields at the base of the pass before everyone and after waiting for a while decide to head on solo for the first time on one of the passes. The trail is mostly dry on the way up until about a quarter of a mile before the top where a sketchy incline covered in ice lies between me and Pinchot. Micro-spike time. Slowly but surely I make my way across and feel triumphant with the pass all to myself. I sit to wait for everyone else who end up not being too far behind. We decide on 8 more miles for the day to stage ourselves for the next pass. It’s a downhill hike past lake marjorie and into the tree line before I arrive at the south fork of the King River. It’s long, deep, powerful, and the trail goes right through it. Not wanting to cross alone, I wait for the others who end up being only Saint Nick and Oakley after everyone else set up camp early for the day. We head downstream and find a better crossing but the current is still strong. Without much weight on me it’s not easy to get across, I’m thankful for my friends who helped me at the strongest part. After fording the river we’re all freezing and waste no time getting a move on up through beautiful green meadows and more streams. We reach camp near 7, pitch tents, make a fire, and eat dinner. We all agree that it feels good to be tired again, it was a long day filled with endless river crossings.
June 9 – We start our day walking on solid ice for a change, happy not to be post holing on our way up Mather Pass. It’s a cold morning and the ford half a mile in leaves my feet numb for fifteen minutes. The day goes as they all have in the Sierra up to this point; steep ascent into snowfields leading up to a final snowy and likely terrifying climb to a pass, then long afternoons post holing down thousands of feet until reaching the wooded valley once again. Mather Pass was the least sketchy of the passes so far, for the first time I didn’t even bother with my microspikes. Saint Nick, Oakley, and I took a long break up top drying out our gear and watching the marmots run around. On the other side of the pass a 4000 foot descent and endless switchbacks await us, being back in the forest is a wonderful feeling. The valley is thick with pine forests, just before the very bottom we make camp and are happy to be reunited with the others when they come rolling in a few hours later. It’s day 4 in the woods since Bishop and we are all exhausted. Our food is running low and our bodies ache. Rebo announces that he will be getting off trail tomorrow from Bishop Pass due to the wet conditions, it doesn’t seem real that after 800 miles I’ll finally be saying goodbye to such a dear friend. Without him my experiences would be nowhere near what they are not am I sure I would have made it this far. He’s the craziest person I’ve ever met but also one of the most caring, he really goes the distance to keep everyone together and make sure we are all doing good. This is the quality I hope to take away from him after all of our time spent together. I’ve known this day was coming, but it’s hard to believe it’s actually here. The hike is changing once again.
June 10 – After two months of hiking nearly every day with him, saying goodbye to Rebo didn’t feel real. I hike on in his honor thinking back on all the good times we’ve had together as well as all the things I’ve learned from him. The first seven miles is gentle and winding through beautiful forests along the Middle Fork Kings River. It was such a morale booster to be reminded how I can hike when there’s no snow on the ground, after two and a half hours I had already finished the seven and was at the base of Muir Pass. The trail changed dramatically at this point as it steeply shot up 4000 feet, the same grade as the AT in New Hampshire and Maine. Above the tree line everything was covered in snow, and with the afternoon heat setting in post holing slowed me down a lot. At 11,000 feet we crossed the Middle Fork King River near its source, a melting pond surrounded by snow. The final two hours to the pass was straight up a snow bank, it took nearly three hours to get up it but at the top the view and warmth of the stone hut erected in honor of John Muir were glorious. I hang out with Climb High at the top while I wait for everyone else to show up. Another two hours later nobody had made it and I was pretty sure I’d be sleeping up here by myself. I was so happy to see Oakley as she trudged up the hill to the top of the pass, Saint Nick, Oolong, Meta, and Shepard shortly behind. We spend the afternoon hanging out outside the hut and eating while we wait for the sunset, truly a spectacle at 12,000 feet. The clouds turned purple and then bright red, the sky seemed to be on fire. We’re now packed into the hut like sardines, nice and toasty at 12,000 feet.
Muir Pass to Mammoth Lakes – I must apologize for my lack of writing lately, the extreme difficulty of this trail is largely to blame. Every day when I get to camp my levels of exhaustion are at an all time high, it’s all I can do to pull my stove out of my backpack and heat up water before stuffing my face with whatever pasta side I happen to pick out of my bear canister. Once in my sleeping bag all bets are off and before I know it I’m waking up to the sunshine of a new day.
From Muir Pass we descended on hard ice in the early morning hours. The entire area was snowed in, leaving the landscape looking like what I imagine Antarctica to be. Without postholing the descent went by quickly and soon enough I was back in the forest, continuing to drop in elevation for over twenty miles to Muir Trail Ranch, a sort of “resort” kind of place deep within the mountains. On the way down we would cross Evolution Creek, an easy waist deep wade despite being told it was chest high and powerful by two southbound era earlier in the day. Because we are going through early season, MTR was still closed when we got there so onwards we went with our food supplies dwindling. The mosquitos at camp that night were terrible. Immediately upon stopping at least ten would swarm every exposed area of my body, not at all deterred as they watched me squash their brethren over and over again.
The next day we climbed up and over Seldon Pass, the first pass below 11,000 feet. Even with the lower elevation snow covered everything for miles on both sides, no easier than the 12 or 13 thousand foot passes we had already conquered. After Seldon I made a downhill beeline to the Bear Ridge Trail which would lead to Vermillion Valley Resort. There was no beds or service there but once again I got to fill up my bear can and order a real meal from their grill. (Bbq night when I was there!) Shorty after we arrived it began to rain and didn’t stop for two days. After waiting so long to get here I felt defeated, instead of a reward I was given a curse. The temperatures stayed super low and rivers flowed through the area where everyone’s tents were set up, it was honestly pretty miserable. On the third day the sun came out again. Oakley and St Nick decided to take the Nationl Scenic Hot Springs Trail for the next section while Shepard and I returned to the PCT together, it would be Shepards last section of trail this year as he had run out of money.
I realize I haven’t explained quite enough about Shepard. His name is Gabe, and he’s a friend from back home. After finishing the AT last year he told me how down he was to hike the PCT this year. Thinking he was all talk I didn’t take him too seriously, but a week before I started he was at the Mexican Border taking his first steps. I didn’t know how to feel about someone from my outside world coming into my trail world. This is my escape from that place, and at first he was a constant reminder of the land outside the mountains. As we hiked on though our bond strengthened, it became much stronger than it ever had been before. I respect Shepard, because he’s the only other person I know who has the guts to step out of the ordinary and do something extraordinary.
The trail got easier from VVR. The only real obstacle in between us and the town of Mammoth Lakes was Silver Pass which was still snow covered but no harder than the rest of them. I crank out my first 22 mile day in weeks to reach the side trail that will take me to civilization.
Mammoth Lakes is a bustling ski town with all the services you could ask for. After crushing my deluxe breakfast from McDonald’s I head to the Davidson Guest House to pick up my package. I reunite with Red Riding Hood for a brief moment before she heads back on trail, but seeing her for a second was good enough. I’m so happy that everyone has come out of the section safe, even Wonder Woman is back on trail already after a non eventful doctors visit. My friend and owner of the guest house, Fedex, hooks me up with a much needed bunk and shower. Feeling rested and relaxed as I type this up, ready to get back on the trail and looking forward to what will hopefully be easier terrain.