Day 87 & 88 – The Sierra’s, a final hurrah
Wednesday 24 July 2019
Location: Mile 1004.4
Distance travelled: 21.3 miles / 34 km
We hit the 1,000 mile mark today! It feels like a huge achievement walking 1,600km. It’s a long way. When I think back to when I first started on the PCT I have learnt a lot in these 1,000 miles and gained a lot of strength both physically and mentally. I have survived the hot, dry Mojave desert and together Adam and I have tackled some extremely dangerous and challenging mountain passes in one of the highest snow years in the history of the PCT. We have learnt how to use ice axes and microspikes and how to deal with snow and snowmelt.
Still after 1,000 miles we aren’t yet at the halfway point and we are still in California. Yup, California is a LONG state. While I don’t feel disheartened by this I am starting to worry that we won’t make it Canada before the winter snow storms hit. While I keep saying, “we can’t worry about the weather in the future because it’s out of our control”, I would be devastated if we got snowed out and couldn’t finish the trail. So for us this means keeping a good eye on the situation and if necessary, flipping up north and walking the trail south to give ourselves more time to finish it. We will arrive in South Lake Tahoe in under 1 week. It marks the end of the Sierras so we will be able to make some more solid plans then.
Today was our longest day hiking in a while, mileage wise. We officially left Yosemite National Park as we hiked up and over Dorothy Lake Pass. The Lake and the Pass were both gorgeous but we had a hell of a time getting there.
The trail was a nice gentle incline but with a huge amount of snow recently melted the area was very wet. We were in and out of streams all day and walked a mile through a meadow from hell. I normally love meadows, they are beautiful, green and lush and a prime location for spotting deer but this one was more like a boggy swamp. There wasn’t a proper trail to walk on so we were slopping through mud. It was the worst mosquito experience we’ve had on trail yet. The air was thick and buzzing with them. There was no pausing for breath, a drink or photos because they would bite the moment you paused. The mosquitoes here are so vicious they bite through clothing so even with headnets, long sleeves and long pants we are covered in bites. It makes it hard to enjoy the scenery in conditions like that. After today’s experience im feeling grateful that we went through the most of the Sierras while the snow was still frozen and didn’t have this bug problem.
We had a little reprieve when we got over the pass and were able to enjoy the lakes and views headnet free for a little while.
The trail into camp dried out somewhat and we could feel the scenery change as we start to make our way out of the Sierras. The distant mountains aren’t so high or so snow capped. It has me intrigued as to what Northern California has in store for us.
The condition of the trail itself improved as the afternoon wore on and it felt more like the smooth easy hiking trail of the Southern California section once again. I’m hoping that as we make our way out of the Sierras we will be able to make up some time by walking longer days once more.
Thursday 25 July 2019
Location: Mile 1,016.9
Distance travelled:12.5 miles / 20 km
Today we hiked the final 12.5 miles to Sonora Pass. It is the first road crossing we have hiked to in over a month. Sonora Pass is a highway crossing, not like the type of passes we have been hiking over during the last month. It is nearing the end of the Sierras and today we certainly felt that as the scenery changed throughout the day.
Today we had plans to get to the camp and lodge at Kennedy Meadows North, nearby Sonora Pass. The lodge has dorm rooms for rent to hikers, resupply shop and a hiker friendly restaurant. It is a descent drive away from the trail head so the lodge runs 2 shuttles per day, to and from the pass. It makes things a little easier for hikers. We had plans to jump on the 3.30pm shuttle down to the lodge, pick up a resupply box we had sent to ourselves, get showered, wash our clothes and head back on the trail the following morning.
The final stretch of trail to Sonora Pass was like a pass in itself. While our maps showed us we had a climb ahead of us they didn’t show us how epic this final stretch would be.
Most of the snow had melted from the trail and the hills we would be climbing over but there were still some large patches that tested us.
There was a steep climb to a ridge where we had expansive views back over the snow capped mountains of Yosemite.
As we hiked on we could see rolling hills in the distance, an insight of what we would be walking through in Northern California over the next couple of weeks.
The juxtaposition of terrain flet like a farewell to the Sierras. It feels sad to be leaving such beauty behind us but it has been challenging and exhausting, I feel like I am ready for the next chapter of this hike and ready to move a little quicker and put away some bigger mileage days.
We ended up hiking the majority of the day with another hiker, Aurora. I had seen her on and off throughout the desert but hadn’t really spent any time with her as she was hiking with a larger group. It was nice to spend some time getting to know her.
The trail traversed along a ridgeline for a good while before wrapping around the back of a peak. There was a short stretch that traversed a patch of ice. It was here that we ran into another couple of hikers. One of them was trying to walk high across the ice. It meant not needing to drop down in elevation and hiking back up to meet the trail again but there was no established boot pack where she was walking. We chose to take the lower route where there was an established boot pack but we would have to hike down to it and back up again. The route we chose was much quicker and safer since there were already steps cut into the snow. We were gaining ground on the lady who was traversing above us. Adam was in front, I was in the middle and Aurora behind. At one point I looked up and saw the lady above us sliding down the ice. It was perfect timing, she had fallen just above Adam and as she slid down he was able to catch her to stop her sliding further down into the valley. It looked like it had been choreographed. “Nice catch” I called out.
Our adventures for the day didn’t end there. It felt like the Sierras were sending us off with a final horrah. On our descent from the mountain we had three epic glissades. All of which were extremely painful on the butt, but very fun and worth it to save some miles walking.
It was a slippery slidey event on the way down. There was mud, snow and at several points a combination of both. Although it was challenging it felt like a good way to end the Sierras.
Once we reached the road we headed to the trail head car park where I was happy to find Sonora Pass Resupply. They are a company who meet hikers at the trailhead with resupply boxes. We had planned on using them to resupply but unfortunately when we went online to order they were sold out of most things. But they do however buy used bear cans! Sonora Pass is the first place we can get rid of our bear cans after carrying them for the last month all the way from Lone Pine. They weigh about 1kg so I was very happy to offload mine and receive $20. I probably would have paid the man $20 to take it from me. Given we bought them used for $50 I felt OK getting $20 for it. Later when we arrived at Kennedy Meadows North I found 3 in a hiker box, people obviously more sick of weight than they are worried about losing money.
From the trailhead we managed to get a hitch after a few minutes which was all Aurora’s work. A guy in a truck who had been climbing in the area had already picked up two hikers and was happy to fit us in the back also. It was perfect timing. We were a few miles down the road when a storm which had been threatening all day finally hit. We copped a little hail and heavy rain in the back of the truck but were mostly protected by the cab.
Arriving at Kennedy Meadows was a delight. Hot showers, laundry, a bed, very slow but existent wifi, hot meals, a store, a comfy place to sit and hang out and best of all a menagerie of dogs who strolled in and out of the place. It felt like every time I turned around I saw a new dog. It felt like a home away from home.
It was a cultural experience to boot with a myriad of taxidermy bears and deer on the wall and real life cowboys strolling around in stetsons and spurs. As well as running the lodge they also run horse rides and pack rides with mules. We could definitely smell the horses and mules from the building. Adam and I were lucky enough to get a private room and could even see a donkey in the yard outside our window.