Hello again!

It hasn’t been that long since our last post, but in real time almost two months have now passed since we reached Bluff on the Te Araroa back in mid-March 2019…

As it turns out, this was more than enough time to jump headfirst into our next adventure ๐Ÿ˜‰

As some of you may have already seen from our most recent Instagram photos, we will be heading to the US to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this season!

After much discussion, we decided that if we were ever going to do the PCT, there wouldn’t be a better time than right now – coming off the back of the TA we already have a good base level fitness, and we have our gear choices and daily hiking routines pretty much locked down.

For those of you that may not have heard of this trail before, the PCT is a super iconic 4,200km wilderness trail, running along the US west coast through California, Oregon and Washington. The trailโ€™s southern terminus is on the Mexico/US border, just south of Campo, California and its northern terminus on the Canadian/US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.

The PCT is widely regarded as the pinnacle of long distance hiking.

Hiking the PCT has been on Leigh’s bucket list for a number of years now, but it was only really after hiking the TA that Adam started to give serious thought to hiking the PCT.

Leigh will start hiking solo from the US side of the Mexican border at the end of April 2019. Adam will remain at home in Australia for an extra month and a half to manage some work commitments, before joining Leigh at the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California for the remaining 3,000km of the trail.

The PCT is a considerably different trail to the TA and will bring with it many new challenges – whether it be the longer distances, the more extreme conditions (including snow and desert), the larger numbers of hikers on the trail, or the animals that we may encounter (rattlesnakes, bears etc).

We are really looking forward to facing these challenges and learning a lot along the way.

We hope you can follow our journey, either via our regular blog updates, or on Instagram (@adamleighandthetrees)!

Thursday 4th July 2019
Day: 67
Location: Bishop Pass trail (mile 831.0)
Distance travelled: 15.5 miles (+ 1 mile off-trail)

It was -4 degrees when the alarm went off at 4am.

Unfortunately this meant that our wet shoes and socks from yesterday were now frozen solid. It got worse though, as Leigh has also removed her inner soles yesterday afternoon, which now would not fit back into her shoes until they had been defrosted. I ended up having to wear a different pair of socks and managed to defrost my shoes by stuffing my feet into them.

We set off shortly behind two other hikers from France and Japan who had camped near us at the base of Mather Pass. We decided to follow their lead with the route finding up the pass, which turned out to be a very good decision, as the route we had originally intended to take would have been considerably longer and more difficult.

We ended up rock scrambling on exposed ledges in favour of walking on sketchy snow. Overall it felt like a safer route than I had expected. We made the top in under 1.5 hrs, which we were pretty happy with as the sun had not yet hit the snow.

It was another long, slow but beautiful decent down from Mather Pass with many lakes in varying stages of frozen-ness to admire.

After sharing our lunch break with some resident Marmots, we dropped down in elevation steeply via the impressive Golden Staircase, watching water running down a number of nearby waterfalls as we descended.

Once at lower elevations, the trail then took us through some different terrain complete with new smells, wildflowers and partially flooded sections.

We had dinner on trail before leaving the PCT and climbing up the first set of switchbacks on the Bishop Pass Trail, which would take us in to our first town in 10 days. We had a great view of the stunning Le Conte Canyon from our campsite and will aim to cross Bishop Pass early-ish tomorrow before hitching a ride into Bishop in the afternoon.

By the time we get back to the trail junction where we left the PCT in a few days time, we will have walked 26 miles and climbed about 6,000ft in elevation in total, just to top up our food for the next section of trail and have a comfy bed for one night. They say it is a beautiful trail though, so hopefully all that extra effort will pay off!

Friday 5th July 2019
Day: 68
Location: Bishop, California (Townhouse Motel)
Distance travelled: 0 miles (+ 12 miles off-trail)

The day started with a knee deep swift water river crossing just after sunrise at 5:30am, for which Leigh and I linked arms to get across safely. The subsequent creek crossing was bridged, which made things a little easier. Ahead of us were yet more switchbacks to climb before we would reach the snow line.

The snow was patchy and the morning light was stunning as we made our way towards Bishop Pass, passing a number of beautiful lakes on the way.

My strategy was to walk directly from melted rock island to melted rock island in order to minimize the amount of time spent walking on snow, which is normally slow going and energy sapping.

We eventually reached the top of Bishop Pass only to find that the descent was steep. Steeper than we were comfortable with anyway. Luckily, we were able to backtrack to find that most of the switchbacks on the trail were now snow free, so we used them to descend the steepest part of the track before scrambling down the final part of the mixed snow and rock.

As a bonus, we found a foam roller halfway down, which we took with us. No idea what it was doing partially buried in the snow on the side of a mountain! We’ll donate it to the hiker box in Bishop once we get there.

On reaching the bottom of the pass, we stopped to chat to a few day hikers and had some lunch before starting on the final 6 miles of trail to the car park.

The walk was slow on account of the snow coverage on the trail but it was also a really stunning trail. It was pretty much all downhill too which was great, but a little concerning knowing that we would need to do this trail in reverse in two days time to get back to the PCT once we have resupplied for the next week on the trail.

The heat really kicked in as we dropped down in elevation and got closer to the car park at South Lake.

Once we reached the car park, we managed to score a hitch to Bishop within 15 minutes.

As we had no reception on trail, we weren’t able to pre-organise any accommodation, which turned out to be a bit of an issue. Once we arrived in Bishop, we started to ring around and didn’t have any luck for at least half an hour. In the end, we had to take the first thing we could find that was even remotely in our price range – a dodgy motel that supposedly used to be overrun by meth addicts until the new owners took over recently. Accommodation has been unexpectedly expensive here so far.

With our accommodation sorted, we set off in search of food but found we were too late in the afternoon to eat at a cafe, so had to settle for fast food instead. We made our way to a nearby Carl’s Junior and Leigh was finally able to try one of the Beyond Meat burger patties (ie. a meatless patty that tastes like a hamburger).

I can’t believe it’s not meat…

We spent the rest of the afternoon planning our next section of trail. After reading about an earthquake in Southern California only a day or two ago, it was a strange feeling to experience a 40 second aftershock while we were sitting in our motel room. It almost felt as if you were drunk, as you could feel the ground moving slightly below your feet. Fortunately for us, we were a long way from the epicentre and were in no immediate danger.

After the earthquake, we headed down the road to do a load of washing at a nearby laundromat before calling it a night.

Tomorrow will be our first full rest day since we left Lone Pine about 10 days ago.
Saturday 6 July
Day: 69
Location: Bishop, California (Days Inn Motel)
Distance travelled: 0 miles

What a treat – our first proper zero day today!

We didn’t do a whole lot other than go out for second breakfast in the morning at a local cafe, after having a classy first breakfast at our motel. We then headed to the supermarket to resupply for the next 8 days on trail through to Mammoth Lakes.

Mmm, Fruit Loops…

We also moved to a slightly nicer motel, complete with 900 channels of subscription TV! The rest of the day was spent watching movies and packing our food into the bear canisters.

Tomorrow we will be heading back out to the trail. We found out there is an afternoon shuttle bus from the main part of town that will drop us back at South Lake, where we can start our 13 mile hike over Bishop Pass back to the PCT.
Sunday 7 July
Day: 70
Location: Bishop Pass trail (side trail back to the PCT)
Distance travelled: 3.1 miles off-trail

It was a lazy morning before breakfast at the hotel, including use of their waffle machine! It’s always hard leaving town to head back out to a tough day on the trail. Especially as there is lots of climbing ahead of us later today and tomorrow.

After checking out, we headed to a cafe up the road to do some blog writing and repair the load lifters on Leigh’s backpack, which I accidentally tore the other day when trying to lift her pack up by the shoulder strap when she fell over. It was a two person operation trying to push the needle through the multiple layers of fabric. Leigh only managed to stab her finger with the needle once before finishing the repair job, which was a pretty good effort all things considered.

On our way to the bus, we dropped off a few excess things to the hiker box at the local hostel hiker box, including a foam roller we found on the way down the snow covered Bishop Pass. I ended up sleeping for much of the bus ride back to the trail.

We reluctantly started the long walk towards Bishop Pass after arriving back at South Lake. We ended up camping about halfway to Bishop Pass, in an amazing spot overlooking a lake and will tackle the pass itself tomorrow morning.

Sounds tasty…

Tuesday 2 July 2019
Day: 65
Location: Woods Creek campsite (mile 802.6)
Distance travelled: 13.7 miles

What a whirlwind of a day! Up and walking by 6:15am, we were able to take in the spectacular sunrise colors in the reflection on a nearby lake on our way to Glen Pass.

As we got closer to the pass, the amount of snow increased, forcing us to put on our Microspikes for additional traction. It was a beautiful morning, made only more beautiful by the many frozen lakes we were able to pass along the way.

After navigating a few tricky climbing sections, we found ourselves at the top of Glen Pass without too much trouble. The only thing left to do was get down the other side, which would prove much more difficult (and terrifying) than expected.

The were a number of different foot tracks through the snow, so we decided to follow the most well used tracks to be safe. We took the first few switchbacks slow but the track then got really steep for the final descent to the bottom of the pass.

We have to go down there?

Leigh was pretty terrified of losing her footing and sliding down the slope, so she let me go ahead at one point while she composed herself. No sooner had I switched places with her did I lose my footing on the descent, and ended up having to self arrest three times in a row as I slid on my side, using my ice axe to bring myself to a temporary stop. Nothing like learning how to use an ice axe for the first time than by real world experience. I was overly confident and not wearing my gloves at the time too, which resulted in some minor skin loss from my knuckles attributed to sliding on the ice. Other than that though, I got off pretty lightly.

Leigh made it down in one piece and we sat for a while at the bottom of the slope watching others attempting the same descent. When we eventually left, we ran in to the local park ranger who told us that he estimated 60% of people who take the same route that we did have some kind of slip or fall on their way down. Apparently someone fell and broke their ribs the day before on the same section. He was on his way up the mountain to establish a new safe track for the current snow levels.

Yep, looks just as dangerous from the bottom…

With that excitement behind us, we had a relatively easy day of downhill hiking. First winding our way along that magnificent Rae Lakes, the frozen surface making them look all the more impressive.

From the shores of the lake, the trail continued to wind it’s way down through a Yosemite-like landscape, with stunning granite mountains in front of us.

I unexpectedly started to develop small welts on my hands, which were annoying as they were super sensitive whenever anything touched them. Not yet sure whether these are heat related, cold related or allergy related but will need to keep an eye on them for the next few days before we get to Bishop.

We had a few more creek crossings later in the day, the last of which required 10 people and a piece of rope to get across safely after much contemplation.

Another hiker rigged a rope across the creek to help everyone cross safely

After crossing the river (and passing the 800 mile mark), we hiked on until sunset to get within 5 miles of Pinchot Pass, which we will be tackling tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 3 July 2019
Day: 66
Location: Base of Mather Pass (mile 815.5)
Distance travelled: 12.9 miles

It was a 4am alarm this morning and on the trail just after 5am, in an attempt to reach Pinchot Pass before the snow got too soft.

I may have already mentioned that I don’t enjoy walking before the sun is up as it is cold as and dark. Today was no exception. We walked with headtorches on for the first half an hour before the sun started to shine through.

There was a lot of snow on the approach this morning which really sapped the energy from me. It was a beautiful walk though.

We had been told that the Pinchot Pass was more straightforward than some of the others we have already attempted, and in some respects this was true. The trail was easy to follow and only had a few spots where a slip would ruin your day.

While we were slow on account of my lack of energy today, we both made it to the top in one piece.

The descent down the other side of the pass was fairly gentle, but man, did it go on forever. It felt like we were walking for hours in the softened snow and had to take multiple breaks along the way.

This is what happens when you aren’t paying enough attention to where you are walking…

Eventually we reached the bottom of the valley and had a few rivers to cross before we could start hiking up to Mather Pass, which we would be tackling tomorrow.

The approach was snow covered but beautiful. We were grateful for the footprints through the snow made by other hikers as it made the frequent postholing on the afternoon snow bearable as we knew that some of our steps would still be good on the compacted footprints.

We finally reached our campsite at the base of Mather Pass, on a nice dirt island shared with a few other hikers. No sooner had we set up our tent and put our wet shoes and socks out to dry did the sun disappear behind the surrounding mountains, leaving us with the prospect of wet feet to start the morning tomorrow, which is not ideal.

This looks like a particularly sketchy pass from the bottom with a couple of different routes to choose from. Hopefully it is nice to us.

Day 63 & 64 – Getting high on the PCT

Sunday 30 June 2019
Day: 63
Location: Tyndall Creek campsite (mile 775.2)
Distance travelled: 8.9 miles

After another lazy start to the morning, we said goodbye to our Marmot neighbours along with Mt Whitney and got back on the PCT proper. There was a fair bit of climbing ahead of us today but it would be good practice for Forester Pass tomorrow morning, which is the highest point on the PCT at just above 4,000m above sea level.

I managed to get down a two course breakfast today consisting of a Muesli bar and protein powder mixed with water, which was sadly my biggest breakfast since starting on the trail a few days ago. I’m finally beginning to feel a bit better and my appetite is slowly coming back, even though I’m still underdone hiking at these altitudes. Whether I’ll be able to get over Forester Pass though is anyone’s guess.

The morning climbs gave us an opportunity to take in some of the stunning snowcapped mountains behind us.

We had three creek crossings to contend with throughout the course of the day. The first, Wright Creek, was straightforward and only around knee deep. Going back to our experiences in New Zealand, we opted to leave our shoes on for the crossing while everyone else seemed to change into their camp shoes to avoid getting their hiking shoes wet.

The second creek was more challenging with the main crossing point too dangerous, so we headed down river about a quarter of a mile where we had heard there was a large log running across the creek. We arrived just as another group was crossing and took it in turns to shimmy across the log.

Before reaching the final creek crossing of the day, the track led us to a large plateau at the top of a hill. In contrast to the patchy snow we have experienced to date, this plateau was still covered in a lot of snow and the wind was absolutely freezing as a result. After about half an hour, we eventually dropped back down to a lower elevation with less snow and warmer temperatures.

Occasionally, we’d still encounter patches of snow on the trail and towards the end of the day these patches can get quite soft and fragile to walk on as they start to melt. In one spot, Leigh stepped on the front edge of the snow patch covering the trail which immediately collapsed, resulting in her falling forward onto her knees. With her momentum moving forward, her heavy backpack then pushed her forward almost in slow motion, leaving her sprawled out over the snow patch with arms and legs flailing in every direction. Fortunately, no damage was done to either hiker or photographer.

Our final creek crossing of the day required us to walk half a mile upstream to cross the 3 separate tributaries individually. We decided to climb up the adjacent hill rather than camp by the creek to reduce the amount if climbing we will need to do tomorrow morning.

Only a touch over 4 miles and 580m of elevation gain now until we reach Forester Pass. We will be up and on the trail by 4am to hike under the best conditions across the snow.

We lucked out on the camp spot tonight – snowcapped mountains in every direction! Thinking it might be a cold one…

Monday 1 July 2019
Day: 64
Location: Bullfrog Lake campsite (mile 788.7)
Distance travelled: 13.5 miles

We were up at 3am to get ready for our 4am start. The infamous Forester Pass with it’s epic ice shute traverse awaits. I don’t enjoy getting up this early and hiking in the dark, but the plan was to reach Forester Pass before it got too much sun and the snow starts to soften.

As we left our campsite, we walked past some SOBO cowboy campers (ie. hikers sleeping without any kind of tent or other shelter) who had successfully completed Forester Pass the evening before. They offered a few words of encouragement as we accidentally woke them up on our way past and we were on our way.

We set off into the darkness of the night, and soon we were hiking through snow fields, following our GPS for directions as the trail was hard to find. The temperature dropped immediately and seemed to get colder as we climbed to higher altitudes.

As we approached the final climb, we were greeted by another stunning sunrise, lighting up the mountains all around us and creating an amazing glow of different colors on the horizon.

I felt surprisingly good throughout the morning and any sign of my earlier altitude sickness was gone, replaced by adrenaline to get me up and over the highest point on the PCT. The alternative, turning around and backtracking for two days to get to the nearest town was not an option that I was keen on pursuing.

Once we reached the final climb, it became immediately clear that it was steep. Luckily the snow was still crunchy enough as the sun had not had enough time yet to melt the top layer, meaning that even small indentations in the snow were reliable to stand on as you made your way up the steep slope. Using our Microspikes for traction, we slowly made our way up to the halfway point, where Leigh decided to break out her ice axe to give her a bit more confidence that she wasn’t about to slide back down to the bottom of the steep slope.

That’s where we are headed

After successfully getting through the snowy switchbacks, we were grateful for a snow-free path which took us all the way to the crux, the infamous snow chute.

We had watched at least a dozen other hikers already complete the traverse ahead of us, but that didn’t make it any less intimidating. Given the steepness of the shute, if you made a mistake in the crossing you’d likely end up seriously injured at best, so it demands your full attention.

Leigh went first without issue and I followed shortly behind. Given the number of hikers on the trail, there were shin deep footsteps all the way across the traverse which made it a lot easier than it otherwise would have been earlier in the season.

On reaching the top of the pass, we couldn’t believe the stunning views in both directions. Now in the full heat of the sun, we took the opportunity to layer down and prepare ourselves for the tricky snow covered descent down the other side of the pass.

It was hard to know where to look with so much beauty around us.

We had to contend with softer snow towards the end of our descent, which made for many slips and postholes (ie. when your foot sinks into the snow, sometimes up to your knee or waist) along the way.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, walking through some greener areas, occasionally seeing signs of recent avalanche damage.

We decided to push on to get as close as possible to Glen Pass, which will be our assignment for tomorrow morning. This will be a regular theme over the next few days as we have one major pass (mostly snow covered) to climb and cross every day first thing in the morning when the snow is crunchy before getting as close as we can to the next pass by the afternoon to make our job as easy as possible for the following day.

We ended the day in an unexpected snow field, complete with temporary lake from snow melt. It was a bit of a winter wonderland and was a nice surprise.

Day 61 & 62 – Mission impossible

Friday 28 June 2019
Day: 61
Location: Whitney Creek / Crabtree campground (mile 766.3)
Distance travelled: 5.8 miles (+ 1.5 miles on Whitney Trail)

We had another lazy morning today while I’m still acclimatising to the altitude, but it was undoubtedly a better night’s sleep for me compared to my first night on trail. The water levels in nearby Rock Creek didn’t appear to have dropped much overnight, so we stuck with the original plan of crossing directly opposite the campground rather than mucking around trying to find an alternate crossing point. In any case, the depth or speed of the water did not look overly dangerous from the banks.

We broke camp at about 8:30am and dipped our toes in the icy creek. It turned out to be a bit deeper than expected, coming up above our knees and wetting the bottom of my shorts. It was a fairly straightforward crossing through, with no real issues.

Once on the other side of the creek, the trail began to climb. First steeply, before a more gentle slope later on. After getting down half a breakfast serving of granola, the first part of the climb came and went without too much difficulty for me. The second climb felt like more of a struggle though as my energy levels started to drop.

Upon reaching the top of the second climb, we took a break and watched a cheeky Chipmunk come over to check us out. Not long after finishing our break we ran into Leigh’s friend, Ruben, who was doubling back to Lone Pine after changing his hiking plans.

We were presented with yet more stunning mountain views for the rest of the day.

We had been looking for a spot to practice our ice axe skills but didn’t find any good snow covered slopes until late in the day when Leigh decided to have a go on one spot that we walked passed. Unfortunately the snow was soft by then and not overly conducive to sliding.

After another shin deep creek crossing, we had our first run in with mosquitoes on our way to the Mt Whitney tent site for PCT’ers. With this year being a high snow year though and the melt underway, the worst is definitely still yet to come as the mosquitoes breed in every bit of stagnant water they can find.

On our way through to our planned campsite for the day, we stopped off at the Crabtree Ranger Station to chat through current Mt Whitney conditions with one of the rangers. We then crossed our last creek of the day before attempting to dry out our wet gear ahead of the planned 2am start tomorrow morning to give us enough time to attempt to summit Mt Whitney before sunrise when the snow conditions get sketchy for your descent.

There are probably 30+ people in the campground tonight who are attempting to summit Mt Whitney tomorrow. Everyone is in bed by about 6pm as they try to get some sleep before the early start tomorrow morning.

Let’s see how this altitude sickness thing goes…

Saturday 29 June 2019
Day: 62
Location: PCT/Mt Whitney trail junction (mile 766.3)
Distance travelled: 0 miles (+ 1.5 miles on Whitney Trail)

Our alarm woke us up at 1:30am. The plan for summiting Mt Whitney was to cross the snowy sections of trail before the sun starts to melt and soften the snow. Thankfully, as we would be returning to the campground afterwards our summit attempt, we were able to lighten our packs and leave the excess items behind in our tent.

I didn’t sleep so well. Not sure whether it was the altitude or stressing about how things would go on Mt Whitney but I probably only got 2 hours sleep in total. I also couldn’t force myself to eat anything when we woke up, which was not ideal as I really needed every bit of energy I could muster for the summit attempt.

We headed off into the darkness at 2am, following the beam of light from our head torches. It was an eerie feeling not being able to see anything around you other than a small circle of light.

We made good progress during the first hour on dry trail and had reached the first patches of snow in what seemed like no time. The existing foot tracks were often hard to find in the snow though, so we spent a lot of time checking back to the GPS to make sure we were on track.

As we started to climb, our paced slowed as the increasing altitude kicked my butt again. Even the smallest climb would leave me completely out of breath. I didn’t feel great and started to think that it was not going to be possible for me to get to the summit today. The large sun cups in the snow also made the surface hard to walk on as you had to be careful with your foot placement to avoid falling face first into the hard snow.

As the sun started to rise, I reluctantly made the call that I didn’t feel up to the more challenging section of the climb so we turned around and headed for home instead.

Once we turned around, the early daylight views ahead of us were stunning and we couldn’t believe that we had walked past all of this beauty in the dark.

Further along the trail, we saw the sheer power of snow, which appeared to have recently destroyed and knocked down every tree in its path, probably via avalanche.

Once we got back to the campsite it was stinking hot and our tent was no longer in the shade, but we were tired so we tried to grab a quick nap. We decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and give me one more day to acclimatise, as we were due to go over the highest point on the PCT, Forester Pass (4,009m), in two day’s time. This would be the crux for me because if I wasn’t up to that climb with my altitude sickness, our only option would be to backtrack all the way to Lone Pine and skip the rest of the Sierra mountains.

We headed back to the PCT trail junction in search of shade and some space from other hikers and set up camp opposite a picturesque stream, complete with possible bear claw marks on a nearby tree. It was a chilled afternoon but the mosquitoes started to come out in force once it cooled down in the early evening.

Day 59 & 60 – A shock to the system

Wednesday 26 June 2019
Day: 59
Location: Chicken Spring Lake via Trail Pass (mile 750.8)
Distance travelled: 5.5 miles (+1.5 miles off-trail to reach the PCT)

For what would be our last day in town for over a week, we had a fairly relaxed morning, heading to the local McDonalds in Lone for a light breakfast, which ended up being surprisingly more expensive than at home (USD$20 for both of us).

Some hotcakes with your butter?

The rest of the morning was spent putting the final touches on the packing of our bags and figuring out the best way to attach our bear canisters and ice axes to our packs. Both of our packs ended up being a touch under 20kgs each, including 8 days of food and 2L of water. This should be the heaviest our packs will be for the entire trail, so I picked a good place to start my journey! No such thing as an easy introduction to the trail ๐Ÿ˜.

Once we were ready, we checked out of the hotel around 11am and headed up the road to find a spot to hitch from. We were still over 20 miles and 7,000ft of elevation gain away from the side trail that would take us back to the PCT and didn’t particularly want to walk all that way.

Sierra mountains ready…

The road we had planned to hitch from looked very quiet, so we tried the highway instead. After the best part of an hour without any luck, we gave up on the highway and headed back to our original location. Within about 20 minutes we had a ride in the back of a ute, which was going to take us about halfway to our final destination.

We jumped into the back of the ute and held on to our hats as we wove our way up the hill towards the stunning mountains. We jumped out once we reached the drop off point and waited for another ride to take us all the way up to the campground at the top of the hill.

Here we go…


Waiting for a ride

After waiting in the scorching sun for another half hour or so, we were picked up by a family on their way to the same campground we were headed. After stopping to reorganise their car just to fit us in the back, we were off. The views back down into the valley were amazing as we started to climb. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos during the drive!

Getting ready to hike

Those bears are crafty…

Before too long, we reached the campground and headed off along a connecting trail back to the PCT. We didn’t have far too walk today but the altitude really kicked my butt. We started at about 10,000ft and climbed up to 11,000ft over the course of the next few hours, and boy did I notice it after spending the last day in Lone Pine at about 3,000ft elevation.

Drinks break

The trail was absolutely stunning but I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it in the moment. To begin with, I was out of breath slightly during the climbs and was finding the intermittent snow walking quite hard going as you had to really concentrate on every step or risk slipping over.

Learning how to walk on snow

The hazards of strapping a bear canister to the outside of your pack…

I eventually ended up with a banging headache, and was unsure whether it was due to the altitude, dehydration or my heavy pack with the bear canister strapped to the top. We had a break at around 6pm and I forced myself to eat light something for dinner but my appetite had completely deserted me. I felt shot after only about 5 miles of walking in total.We walked for another hour after dinner, reaching a nice camp site near a lake just as the sun was setting and the temperature dropping.By the time I went to bed, I felt sick in the stomach and was unable to sleep for most of the night during to combination of nausea and a headache. It wasn’t a fun night for me. Leigh tells me I didn’t even manage to get into my sleeping quilt properly, I was so out of it.Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for me. Leigh’s been awesome looking after me, but I am a bit concerned that my struggles are going to negatively impact Leigh’s ability to finish the trail if I’m going to be really slow over these first few weeks of high altitude hiking through the Sierras.

Our first campsite, near Chicken Spring Lake

Thursday 27 June 2019
Day: 60
Location: Rock Creek campground (mile 760.5)
Distance travelled: 9.7 milesA long night turned into a late start as we set off for my first full day on the trail after 8:30am.After my shocker yesterday, we decided to scale back our ambitious plans for the next 8 days into Bishop – instead of doing a 16 mile day as originally planned, we would only do an 8 mile day to give me a better chance of acclimatising ahead of our summit attempt of Mt Whitney (4,421m), the highest mountain in mainland US, the following day.Thankfully today the trail was mostly downhill, with a lot more snow-free sections than yesterday. After again struggling to eat anything in the morning, I took a short nap before lunch time on a rock during a drinks break and tried one of Leigh’s Gatorade satchels. I felt an immediate boost in my energy levels, which was a nice feeling.

That sign is not supposed to be buried in snow at this time of year!

A temporary lake formed by snow melt where we stopped for some lunch

What the trail is supposed to look like when it is not covered in snow

After the break, we made decent time through the stunning alpine landscape, reaching Rock Creek by 3:30pm, which was supposed to be our first significant creek crossing.

To cross, or not to cross?

It was definitely on the early side to set up camp, but I felt like I shouldn’t push myself too hard after my day yesterday. We decided to settle for an early finish and take advantage of the large metal bear vaults at this campsite for storing our food overnight. We’d tackle the freezing creek crossing in the morning. As an added bonus, we’re hoping that the river levels drop a bit overnight, as is normally the case when they are fed by snow melt as the river levels would generally be lowest first thing in the morning before the sunrises and highest late in the afternoon.

Monday 24 June 2019
Day: 57
Location: Lone Pine, California (Mile 745.3)
Distance travelled: 0 miles

After travelling for the best part of 20 hours yesterday from Sydney to Reno, Nevada, I was feeling ok jet lag-wise. I would only be staying one night in Reno, before catching a bus down to meet Leigh in Lone Pine at the southern end of the Sierra mountains the following day.

I had a few things to organise in Reno before getting on the bus, so had set my alarm for 6:30am to give myself enough time to grab a few things before my 1pm bus departure. When I managed to then sleep through my alarm until 8am, things got a little bit more frantic than I was planning!

I had planned to finish packing up my gear before walking down to Walmart to buy my food for the first section of trail as my destination, Lone Pine, was only a small town and probably wouldn’t have the same grocery options. It was a good 30 minute walk down to Walmart in Reno. By the time I left the hotel for Walmart, it was just after 9am and it was already stinking hot outside! It felt like it was at least 30 degrees Celsius.

I had a decent sweat going on by the time I reached Walmart and was grateful for the air conditioning inside. The shop was absolutely massive and took me a while to get my bearings as the layout felt quite different to supermarkets back home, almost as if it was back to front. I eventually found most of the things I was looking for within about half an hour and raced back to the hotel with about 5 minutes to spare for my 11am check out.

I quickly dumped everything I had into my bags and checked out after having to wait what felt like 10 minutes for a lift that wasn’t already full with people on their way to check out at hotel reception.

Check out was my first experience of American taxes and service charges with my room being almost USD$50 more than I had been quoted at the time of booking online through a third party. Guess it pays to read the fine print. After checking out, I waited in the lobby for another hour until it was time to head across town for my bus to Lone Pine.

The taxi across town was about 15 minutes and gave me a good opportunity to pick the driver’s brain about what was in store, particularly in relation to bears and snow.

I waited in a random bus stop for the bus but did not realise at the time that it was running the best part of an hour late. It eventually arrived about 10 minutes late to drop off its last batch passengers from the morning run from Lone Pine to Reno. The driver normally then takes a 30 minute lunch break. As I had nowhere else to be and hadn’t had lunch myself, the driver let me jump on the bus and join him for lunch at a local taco shop, which was cool.

Once we were finally on the road, the 6 hour bus trip went by pretty quickly. I slept for a decent chunk of it, but when I was awake, I did get some spectacular views of the nearby mountains that we would shortly be walking through. After changing to a smaller bus in the town of Bishop full of happy locals on their way home from work, I reached Lone Pine around 8pm, just before the sun set.

It was great to see Leigh again after almost two months apart. I’ve been so proud to see how far she has come on her own, but I’m glad to be joining her now on this journey onward to Canada. The Sierras are supposed to be one of the main highlights of the entire PCT, so I would have been disappointed to miss out on seeing them.

It’s probably going to be a rough introduction for me, with the combination of lack of trail fitness, high altitude, mountainous terrain and heavy packs on account of large food carries through the remote mountains, meaning that I’m probably starting with the most difficult part of the trail. On the plus side, if I manage to get through ok, the rest of the trail should be a breeze!

Our plan is to hitch out to the trailhead the next day once we have our food and packs sorted, starting our first 8 days on trail through to Bishop by the afternoon.

Tuesday 25 June 2019
Day: 58
Location: Lone Pine, California
Distance travelled: 0 miles

Today was all about final preparations for our entry into the famous Sierra mountain range. We spent the morning sorting through 8 days worth of food and packing our bear canisters. The involved repackaging most of our food into snaplock bags to allow all of our food to fit inside the canister.

The bear canisters are mandatory for the Sierras, the idea being that you put all your food and other scented items into the canister each night and place it downwind of your campsite so that if a black bear is nearby and manages to smell your food through the canister, it will be searching for the bear proof canister rather than your tent. It is supposed to be very difficult for the bear to break into the canister. The end result is that the bears don’t associate hikers with food and instead maintain a healthy fear of people in the backcountry.

Excuse the mess…

The reorganising and packing process was taking me longer than planned, so we took a break to head out for breakfast at a nearby diner for an authentic American experience. The walk to the diner was a great opportunity to take a look at the mountains we would be shortly heading into. Both of our meals were big enough for three people, so we had to box our leftovers which we had for lunch later in the day.

Hello there, Sierra mountains…

With breakfast out of the way, we finished sorting our bear canisters as well as our bounce boxes with excess gear that we would be sending forward to a post office ahead of us on the trail. It was pretty clear by this stage that we wouldn’t be ready to get out on to the trail today, so we extended our stay at the hotel for an extra night.

Some memorabilia at our hotel

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner

We spent the rest of the afternoon going over our planned hiking itinerary for the next 8 days until we would reach Bishop and also swung by the local outdoor store to pick up a few things and make some hiker box donations of things that we were going to throw away otherwise. Leigh switched over her shoes to a brand new pair for the first time since starting the hike 2 months ago.

Can you spot the difference?

In preparation for the higher than average snow levels in the Sierras, I spent the evening watching self arrest videos on Youtube to learn how to use my ice axe in case of a fall on a snow covered slope. It’s going to be a steep learning curve – hopefully we can ease ourselves gradually into it. Looking forward to it though!