Day 79 & 80 – Bagels, a bear then back into the mountains
Tuesday 16 July 2019
Location: Mile 924.4
Distance travelled: 17.8 miles / 29 km
First day back on trail after a couple of days off in Mammoth Lakes and it was a damn good day back. Having missed the last trolley and consequently the last shuttle back up to the trail head yesterday we had unexpectedly spent last night in Mammoth.
We were keen to get back to the trail as early as possible today so we were up and checked out of our hotel just after 6am. Our morning started with a delicious breakfast bagel and coffee at a local bakery before we jumped on the 7.15 bus back up to the valley.
The bus ride up is a beautiful, scenic and somewhat touristy route through the valley. Unexpectedly, half way into the drive we spotted a bear cub running through the forest! The whole bus got excited, even the driver. She stopped the bus so we could watch the little bear making its way through the forest. It was startled by the bus and was doing its best to get away from us by climbing a nearby tree. We never did see the mumma bear but its sure to say she wasn’t far off. The sighting made my day. I feel so glad to have finally seen a bear, even better that it was from behind a bus window so we didn’t need to worry about correct bear protocol. We have been carrying our bear proof food canisters for a couple of weeks now and to be honest it’s felt like overkill since we haven’t seen any bears. Seeing the cub this morning was a nice reminder that we are carrying the canister for a reason.
When the bus dropped us off at Reds Meadow (the trailhead) I was still elated from the bear spotting. To top off an already fabulous start to our day, there outside the Red’s Meadow general store was my old group of friends, Safari and Sam (now named 2can), Cheesus, Magic Mike and French Ninja. They had left a couple of days before Adam met me in Lone Pine, I wasn’t expecting to see them again so it was fantastic to run into them.
To add to an already fabulous morning Adam and I ate one last ice cream sandwich as breakfast desert before heading back out onto the trail at 9am.It was only a couple of miles down the trail before we would hike by the Devils Postpile, a national monument of intricate rocks created by lava flow 100,000 years ago. We had a good view point of the rock from the trail so we didn’t take the side trail down to the bottom of the rocks.
We passed a lot of day hikers during the morning, it’s a popular area for hiking. We also walked by a trail maintenance crew who were making repairs to the trail in the area.It was largely a day of climbing in altitude and once we popped out above the tree line we had spectacular views of the snow capped Minaret Range. It felt great to be able to enjoy the snow capped mountains without having to slog through the snow.The trail from Reds Meadow is also popular for horse riding. On our climb up the trail we hiked past a group of people riding horses and mules who were going the opposite direction. One rather plump gentleman at the front of the group said to me, ‘the view from the top makes it all worth it’. For some reason it irritated me, maybe it was because he wasn’t willing to put in any physical effort but was still willing to dish out advice. I thought, tell that to your horse buddy.The day seemed to fly past, we enjoyed lunch with Safari, 2can and the crew and leapfrogged with them on and off throughout the day.
Before we knew it it was dinner time, we wanted to walk a little further for the day and try to make it over Island Pass so we had dinner at a beautiful spot with a view before continuing on for another few miles.As we approached Thousand Island Lake, golden hour was just hitting. The light over the water was magical. It felt like we had arrived there at the perfect time of the day. We took in stunning views before continuing on.It was less than 2 miles to the top of Island Pass so we decided to try to get to the top and camp there. We found the most incredible site just 0.2 miles from the top of the pass. On one side of the tent we had views out over a mirror like lake and to the other, snow capped mountain peaks. It was a truly magical day in the mountains and I feel so glad to be back on trail.
Wednesday 17 July 2019
Location: Mile 924.5
Distance travelled: 18.1 miles / 29 km
It was wonderful waking up in our magical camp spot on Island Pass. It doesn’t get much better.
We were camped almost at the top of Island Pass but you wouldn’t have know it. It was the flattest top of any pass we’ve crossed this far. This morning we hiked over the top of the pass without even knowing it.The descent was gentle, no ice axes were needed on this one, just a couple of small snow fields to cross. We then had a short descent before starting our climb up Donohue Pass.When we reached the bottom of the descent we were pleasantly surprised by a series of stunningly beautiful lakes.The water was perfectly still, casting reflections of the mountains above. The lakes were surrounded by large pieces of ice and snow, freshly uncovered by the warmer temperatures. Although the seasons aren’t abiding by the calendar at the moment, the wildlife sure know it to be sping, the lakes were teaming with large tadpoles and croaking frogs.I love watching tadpoles. It amazes me how they develop like like do. Most other creatures are formed in an egg or in utero but frogs, they sprout their little legs and drop tails once they have already hatched. It’s pretty amazing.The climb up to Donohue Pass was slow going. After Island Pass I was hoping it would be a little more snow free but we still had a bit of snow to slog through.At one point I strayed from the bootpack when I spotted the cutest little trail of Marmot foot prints through the snow and decided to follow them. As Adam kindly pointed out I weigh a little more than a marmot and post holed up to the hip on this short stretch of snow.At the top of Donohue we stopped for a long lunch break and took in the views. It was magnificent with the lakes below and the glistening white snowfields infront of us. Although the Sierras are slow going I’m really going to miss thew views when we make it through to Sonora (which marks the end of the Sierras).At the top of the pass we were joined for lunch by the friendliest chipmunk we had met on trail yet. It climbed all over our bags and up my legs in search of some stray trail mix. Although it managed to grab some tortilla crumbs I was proud that I restrained myself from feeding it. It was only a few days later that I would be reminded that chipmunks and squirrels carry the plague so it wasn’t the best idea to let the little beggar climb up my legs.Heading down from the pass we followed a long bootpack in the snow which required a little bootskiing in the afternoon sun. After a mile or so of snow fields we hit dry trail once again. The trail led us to a spectacular series of lakes before we made our way to the valley floor on a series of switchbacks.We had now officially entered Yosemite National Park! We are looking forward to the next couple of days. We plan to take a couple of days off and make the most of being so close to such a major natural attraction. While the PCT skirts around the outside of Yosemite there is much of it that it misses, including Yosemite Valley. To do some hiking in the park away from the PCT requires us to obtain an additional wilderness permit. These permits are snapped up quickly so we decided to push through to Tuolumne Meadows, camp there this evening so we could line up nice and early for a wilderness permit in the morning.We had a long descent ahead of us followed by a long flat walk through to Tuolumne Meadows. The meadow was pretty but the mosquitos and bugs were persistent.It was getting on in the evening and we were feeling tired after a long day hiking, it was a slog to make it through to the campground but we were committed. There is no dispersed camping allowed within four miles of the Tuolomne Meadows Trailhead so we would have to make it to the campground.After a couple of rest breaks and being eaten by bugs we had made it. We had just enough time before sun down to find the backpackers camp ground where we would be permitted to camp for one night. The campground was huge, much bigger than we had anticipated and difficult to navigate so we were lucky to run into a couple at the entrance who led us there. They seemed excited to run into some PCT hikers and offered us to join them for a beer but we were exhausted after a long day and after putting up the tent, crashed out for the evening.