Day 67 to 70 – A much needed break from the Sierras
Thursday 4th July 2019
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
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).
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
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.
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
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.