Friday 12 July 2019
Location: Lake Virginia campsite (mile 891.8)
Distance travelled: 11.2 miles
We had over 4 miles to reach Silver Pass so were up early again, leaving the campsite by 7am.
The plan is to reach Reds Meadow tomorrow. Reds Meadow is a ‘resort’ that caters for hikers but, for us, is also a gateway for getting a ride into the nearest town, Mammoth Lakes, by Saturday evening. With only 26 miles to go, we figured we’d take today a bit easier given the amount of climbing today, and aim for about 12 miles, leaving 14 or 15 miles of mostly downhill hiking for Saturday.
The morning was definitely a bit of a slog for me but it was also spectacular. Firstly climbing next to Mono Creek, we eventually reached a junction which our GPS app told us to cross via a log about 100m from the trail rather than the waist deep normal crossing. This turned to be good advice as we managed to stay completely dry.
We then started climbing up quite steeply via switchbacks, eventually coming to waterfall which flowed over the trail. We crossed carefully, the spray cooling us off as we crossed its path.
The views started to open up as we got higher, but thankfully not much snow to speak of on this part of the trail.
We made our way slowly towards Silver Pass, the early morning sun hitting us with a lot more force than most days in recent memory. Thankfully the incline was gradual.
We passed a couple of lakes and even spotted a small frog nearby one of the lakes.
Once we reached the top of the pass, there were amazing views in all directions. It made the 4 hours of climbing to start the day feel worthwhile.
After taking a break at the top of the pass to re-fuel, we set off on the descent, curious to locate the glissading lines that other hikers had mentioned to us in passing over the last day or so. It didn’t take long to find the first one, and they just kept coming after that.
We made the most of every opportunity to glissade (ie. sliding on your bum), as it is easy and quicker to get down the mountain, as long as the path is safe. Thanks to glissading we were off the snow in next to no time, before continuing our descent down the trail to another creek crossing. This time it was bridged though, which given the ferocity of the rapids below, was probably a good thing.
Following lunch, we started our second climb of the day, up to our planned campsite near Lake Virginia.
In the hottest part of the day, this was a fairly punishing climb, but luckily it was over much more quickly than our morning climb.
Once we reached the top of the hill, we made our way around the edges of the stunning Lake Virginia, settling on a campsite overlooking the lake at the shockingly early time of 3:45pm. Plenty of time to relax, dry wet gear and have an early night.
Saturday 13 July 2019
Location: Red’s Meadow campsite (mile 906.6)
Distance travelled: 14.8 miles
Today was all about getting into Reds Meadow, where a shower, ice cream sandwich and burger awaits. After another week on the trail, we were looking forward to a few small luxuries at Reds Meadow, before catching the bus into Mammoth Lakes the following day.
The plan was pretty simple – walk 15 miles and get into Reds Meadow before the general store and cafe closed at 7pm.
We were on trail shortly after 8am, thankfully the sun had already appeared to warm us up as we walked. It wasn’t long before we arrived at Purple Lake, which Leigh tells me wasn’t actually purple. As I’m colour blind, I’ll have to take her word for it.
We then climbed about 500ft, which was the extent of the climbing that we would be doing today. It felt great knowing that it was all flat trail or downhill for the rest of the day.
The rest of the day from about 11am absolutely flew by. We were doing close to 3 miles per hour for much of it as the snow free, flat trail made for easy forward progress. I guess this it what hiking the PCT is supposed to be like in a year that is not an abnormally high snow year!
We passed the 900 mile marker and stopped for lunch about 4 miles from Reds Meadow. Leigh decided to get creative and mix liquid peanut butter with trail mix for her wraps.
We powered on after lunch to reach Reds Meadow by mid afternoon. Leigh almost acquired a new trail name along the way, as a passing hiker commented enthusiastically “sweet pants” to Leigh as he passed us on the trail. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince Leigh that this was better than her current trail name, Stacks.
The staff were really helpful at Reds Meadow, allowing us to camp for free in their closed campground and getting us sorted with showers and laundry.
We finished of the day with burgers in the nearby cafe, opting for sides of potato salad and pasta salad curiously, rather than fries or salad. Can’t say I’ve ever mixed those combinations before. Followed it up with a piece of pie with ice cream. Looking forward to hitting a real town tomorrow.
Sunday 14 July 2019
Location: Mammoth Lakes – Moderne Hostel (mile 906.6)
Distance travelled: 0 miles
We were up at 7am this morning to catch the bus from Red’s Meadow to Mammoth mountain, and then from Mammoth ski and mountain bike park to Mammoth Lakes village. It was interesting to see so many people out skiing and mountain biking when we changed buses at Mammoth given how hit it is at the moment.
Once in Mammoth Lakes, we headed straight to Good Life Cafe for a late breakfast before checking in to our hostel. Next on the list was to scope out the nearby supermarkets and organise our food for the next section of trail. Mammoth Lakes has an awesome free town trolley which does laps of the town all day and we made good use of it, even though the timetable wasn’t the easiest to understand and definitely caused a few arguments.
We found a discount supermarket selling $2 tubs of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and made sure that we ate our fair share while in town (including one in the nearby car park).
The rest of the evening was spent catching up on messages and touching base with friends and family.
Monday 15 July 2019
Location: Mammoth Lakes – Motel 6 (mile 906.6)
Distance travelled: 0 miles
We had a pretty simple plan today – spend most of the day going through photos and entries for the blog at the local library before catching the bus back to Reds Meadow in the evening.
We also started planning ahead for the next section of trail which doesn’t have any nearby supermarkets and organised for a company to ship our food resupply to us in the mail.
Everything was going to plan so we stopped off at Carl’s Junior again for some burgers before catching the town trolley back to the Mammoth Village. It wasn’t until we reached the Village that we realised that while the bus to Reds Meadow would still be running for the next hour or so, the bus that we needed to catch from Mammoth Lakes back to Mammoth mountain had already finished for the day. Rookie error.
We attempted to hitch the first leg of the journey for about 15 minutes but it was already after 6pm by then and we didn’t like our chances of getting a ride as there was hardly any traffic headed in the right direction at that time of day.
We decided to stay in town for another night at the cheapest place we could find at short notice, Motel 6, before catching the first bus to Reds Meadow tomorrow morning at 7:15am.
Wednesday 10 July 2019
Location: Sallie Keyes Lakes campsite (mile 864.0)
Distance travelled: 15.6 miles
How nice to walk on snow free trail for an entire day! Not only did we manage to walk over 15 miles, but we didn’t need to get up early or arrive at camp late in order to achieve it.
We packed up and left our campsite on Evolution Creek by 7am and headed towards the notorious Evolution Creek crossing about 2 miles further down the trail. We had heard stories of this particular crossing being anywhere between waist and chest deep, so we wanted to hit it first thing in the morning to make sure the water level was as low as possible before any snow melt later in the day.
Not wanting to get our clothes wet so early in the day, we decided to strip down to our undies for the crossing. We joked that it would probably end up only being ankle deep and people would wonder why we were walking around in our undies, and it turned out to be not too far from the truth. The crossing ended up being thigh deep and cold, but not dangerous at all. We must have got it at a good time.
The rest of the morning was spent following the river downstream until it joined up with another river. This made for some spectacular rapids but the walking was easy for once and didn’t require too much energy.
We stopped for lunch at the bottom of the descent. We had dropped below 8,000ft in elevation for the first time since Lone Pine but would be climbing back up to 10,500ft later in the day. By the time we had lunch and dried out our wet shoes and socks in the sun, it was scorching hot. We delayed leaving our lunch spot for as long as possible but the time eventually came for us to get moving again.
The climb was long and hot with only small patches of shade. It was draining but we eventually made it to the top of the climb and had a break near a stream.
The incline mellowed out for the rest of the day as we passed a number of lakes and found a spectacular campsite with lakeside views. Tomorrow morning we’ll tackle one of our last major passes of around 11,000ft, Selden Pass, before dropping down again to lower elevations later in the day.
Thursday 11 July 2019
Location: Mono Creek campsite (mile 880.6)
Distance travelled: 16.6 miles
Our latest morning yet – 8:30am start! No great rush as we have plenty of time and food to get to Reds Meadow later in the week.
It was a beautiful start to the morning from our campsite overlooking Sallie Keyes Lake. The trail then took us up to Hearts Lake which was even more spectacular.
The remainder of the climb to Selden Pass was fairly snow free and relatively gentle – definitely one of our easier passes so far.
The views from the top of the pass were unexpectedly stunning. We took in the views for a while before heading down the snow covered northern side of the pass. The snow went on for a couple of miles, which got annoying as we were now in the slushy part of the day on account of our late start.
We walked along the edge of more frozen lakes before descending down to a meadow. There was even more descending to do though before we reached the notorious Bear Creek.
Upon reaching the crossing, we ran into Fig Bar, who we had first met a couple of days back on our way over Bishop Pass and have been running into daily ever since. Fig Bar had been waiting for someone else to do the crossing with, so the three of us linked up and crossed the thigh deep creek.
We had a short lunch on the other side of the creek while being attacked by mosquitoes, before continuing our descent to the low point on the trail today. We passed a bunch of southbound hikers and stopped to chat with them as long the way.
We got our timing wrong for the big climb of the day again, doing it in the hottest part of the day. The climb itself wasn’t too bad though. Once we reached the top, we found that there was a small amount of phone reception, so we used it to book some accommodation in Mammoth Lakes, our next town stop, to prevent a repeat of the Bishop incident.
It was now mid-afternoon and we followed the switchbacks all the way to the bottom of the mountain. It literally took 2 hours – I’ve never seen so many continuous switchbacks in my life.
Once we reached the bottom, we crossed a raging creek on a massive fallen log, before starting our climb up the other side towards Silver Pass. We hear this pass is also fairly easy, so have camped about 4 miles from the top. We will have a bit of climbing to do first thing in the morning though.
Monday 8 July 2019
Location: Middle Fork Kings River (mile 835.5)
Distance travelled: 4.5 miles (+8.4 miles off trail)
We woke up relatively early as we still had over 2 miles of snow hiking before we would reach Bishop Pass again.
When we reached the bottom of the pass, it was fairly clear that snow conditions had not changed much from when we descended the pass a few days ago.
After assessing the options, we decided to rock scramble up the switchbacks again rather than attempting to climb up the snow covered slope.
Going up seemed slightly less intense than the way down and we had reached the top of the pass before we knew it.
We made our way down the other side of the pass, stopping to chat with a few other hikers on their way through to Bishop.
The switchbacks down seemed to go quickly, and before we knew it we were back at the spot that we camped at on the way up to Bishop Pass. We stopped for lunch and a break (and a nap, for some of us).
Once we reached the PCT again at the bottom of another set of switchbacks we had to change gears as we were done with downhill and would now be climbing again for the rest of day. My legs weren’t happy about this and the afternoon dragged on as I pushed myself up the hill one step at a time.
Eventually, we reached patchy snow and my pace slowed again.
After crossing one final river, we set about looking for a campsite which was harder than expected with all the snow and damp ground. Eventually we found a nice flat spot just big enough for a two man tent and decided to call it a night.
Tomorrow we would be going over another pass, Muir Pass.
Tuesday 9 July 2019
Location: Evolution Creek campsite (mile 848.4)
Distance travelled: 12.9 miles
We were up with the sun again today to get the best conditions for Muir Pass. The going was pretty good all in all as this was the most gentle incline of all the passes so far.
The trail took us past a number of frozen lakes on the way up and we stopped from time to time to watch birds walking on the frozen surface.
We reached the top of Muir Pass by mid morning and stopped at the emergency shelter to chat with a few other hikers.
We had been warned by a southbound hiker that there were 5 miles of snow to contend with on the other side of the pass. As it was all downhill though, it wasn’t too much of a concern initially.
As the day went on though, the sun started to soften the snow and the walking became much more difficult for me. I lost count of the number of times the snow would give way under my feet, causing me to topple over. It was super frustrating.
As beautiful as it was, I was glad to see the end of the snow after reaching the stunning Evolution Lake and put my feet back on to solid ground. We still had to drop a bit of elevation to reach our campsite for the night, near Evolution Creek. It was a nice change of scenery to leave the alpine environment for more foresty areas.
We heeded the advice of some local hikers to camp a bit back from our planned campsite at Evolution Creek in order to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes. They were still out in force where we ended up camping so I can only imagine how bad they would have been further on down the trail.
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.
Tuesday 2 July 2019
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Sunday 30 June 2019
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
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.
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.