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 😁.

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…

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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!

Saturday 22 June 2019
Day: 55
Location: Mile 740
Distance travelled: 17.6 miles / 28 km

Today was a spectacular day on trail, from the moment I left camp to the moment I set up camp. The views were outstanding and the weather was perfect for hiking, sunny but with a cool breeze so it never got too hot.

It feels good to be in the mountains, looking out over the High Sierra’s, knowing that in a few days I will be walking amongst those mountains.

The big snow melt is definitely underway, I was meant to encounter snow on this section of trail to the Crabtree Meadows junction but I was lucky that it had mostly melted. Only a few stubborn patches remain. It amazes me that with the sun shining so strongly, these last chunks of ice are still frozen. The result was plenty of water on trail. I still find my brain resorting to the desert mindset of being vigilant about planning for water. How much I need and when I’ll next be able to get it. It is nice to know that we won’t have any big water carries with the extra weight of our snow gear and bear cans.

Having 3 days to make it to Lone Pine means I can take it slowly and enjoy the views, taking plenty of breaks along the way.

I was grateful for the relaxed time frame, I started feeling the impact of the increase in altitude. Today I would reach the highest point on the trail so far, 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters. The thinning air snuck up on me. It was only when hiking uphill that I noticed being more out of breath than usual.

The spectacular scenery more than made up for being a little out of breath. The trail descended from alpine pine forests into lush green meadows.

The trail was lined with pretty little flowers, creating a yellow and maroon carpet across the forest floor. Butterflies flitted about while birds chirped in the trees overhead and chipmunks darted across the trail infront of me. I felt like I was walking through a fairtale book.

From the meadow the trail began to climb once again. It wouldn’t be the Sierras without climbling.

I took a long lunch break near the peak of the hill, enjoyed the views while I ate, feeling incredibly greatful to be out on trail taking this all in.

Post lunch there was yet more climbing but again, I was rewarded with breathtaking views. I could see right out over the Owens valley. The landscape looked like a painting, it felt surreal to be standing amongst all of this beauty.

I ran into my aussie friends Mahni and Ben during the afternoon while I was collecting water. We walked together for a couple of miles. It was nice chatting to Mahni as we walked. They would be continuing further than me and going straight through to Independence, not stopping in Lone Pine so it may be a little while before I see them again but I hope to run into them again along the trail.

I found a nice secluded place to camp for the evening. I had beautiful views through the pine trees, looking out over the mountains. It would be my last night solo camping in the tent on the PCT. Tomorrow I would walk down into Lone Pine and from there, Adam will be joining me on the trail.

Sunday 23 June 2019
Day: 56
Location: Mile 745.3
Distance travelled: 5.3 miles / 9 km

Today I woke up from my last night tenting alone on the PCT. Hiking solo has been a great experience, I have had two months of headspace, learning to trust in my own decisions and having the freedom of walking at my own pace and to my own schedule, being able to break when I want to and camp when and where I want to. Walking solo I have forged friendships with other hikers who I may not otherwise and have overcome fears that come with camping alone in the desert and forest and sometimes even under bridges beside highways or energy farms underneath wind turbines.

That said, it is a wonderful thing to be able to share such a journey with another person, from the magical things you experience on trail, the beautiful views and adorable critters to the tough times when you are struggling uphill with a heavy pack in the blazing hot heat. It is comforting to have a companion to share the good times with and to be able to support each other through the tough times.

After 2 months apart I can’t wait to see Adam in Lone Pine. We have spent longer living apart previously but somehow being on trail makes that time feel longer or different in some way. You experience so much, see and learn so many new things that 2 months can feel like 6.

When I think back to the 29th April, when I took my first steps on the PCT it feels like a lifetime ago. I have learnt a lot and grown a lot in that time. I have so much more confidence in my own abilities and decisions and I feel grateful to have been able to have the experience.

I was camped a little over 5 miles from Trail Junction, the trail I would be taking to get into Lone Pine.

The first couple of miles were downhill and easy walking. I was met with the same stunning views that I finished my day with yesterday. I am loving being up in the mountains in the pine forest. It has been a luxury that over the past few days I’ve been able to camp pretty much wherever I like, there are plenty of flat patches of earth which, with the recent snow melt are clear of vegetation.

Slowly but surely I made it to trail junction and excitedly took the turn off down to horseshoe meadow. There were a few residual patches of snow lining the trail but the trail itself was snow free. It is a pretty trail with streams of fresh snow melt providing plenty of water.

It was a wonderful morning, on my way down to horseshoe meadow I came across the first horses I had seen on trail. I heard their snorting before I could see them and was instantly excited. It was a couple out on an adventure, each on a horse with 4 mules in town. It was a wonderful sight. When I first started the PCT I was hoping to see some horse packing folks. After all the trail was originally created as a horse route. These days the trail is a little more difficult for horse riders, they aren’t allowed to graze their stock and are required to carry enough weed free feed for all of their animals. It sounds like a big responsibility and a lot of gear.

I had a brief and quick chat with the horsey folks as they steadily made their way up the trail. I felt like I had 1000 questions to ask them but there was not enough time.

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived in horseshoe meadow. It was different to what I was expecting. There was a large sandy area with baby pine trees shooting up and a large residual patch of snow which had somehow, inexplicably been surviving the strong sun and heat over the last couple of weeks. It was a beautiful area, a big stream ran through the middle of the meadow. The bridge over the stream had snapped in the middle but I was able to make it across with dry feet.

From the meadow it was only a short walk to the car park where, when I arrived I was happy to find that another hiker had already flagged down a lift. I was very grateful to also be able to catch a ride with Brian.

Only a few weeks ago the road in and out of this trailhead was closed due to the snow. To get in and out of lone pine people were having to walk an additional 13 miles on the steep, windy road down to the highway before they could hitch. It is an incredibly beautiful journey but one I was glad to do by car rather than on foot.

Brian was very generous to rearrange his full truck to fit 3 hikers. He was a lovely guy, out for the weekend from Orange County. He was very knowledgeable about the area, I felt like I was on a tour on the way down to Lone Pine, the view were out of this world. The mountains looked like a backdrop of a movie set.

We drove past Alabama Rocks were Brian stopped and we got photos with the plaque. It is a famous filming location where many films have been made. There is a film museum in Lone Pine which I can hopefully pay a visit to while im in town.

In town I checked into the hostel where I was happy to find I would only be sharing the 6 bed dorm with one other girl. She was planning to summit whitney the following day and would be leaving at midnight so I would have the room to myself in the morning.

A group of friends that I’ve been hiking on and off with over the last 2 months came into town just after me and booked into the hotel so after I’d done my chores for the day I headed over and spent some time with them in the pool.

They will all be heading out the day before Adam and I. I hope to see them further down the trail, they are a great bunch.

It is surprisingly hot down in Lone Pine and the sun had taken it out of me so I had an early night back at the hostel.

Thursday 20 June 2019
Day: 53
Location: Mile 709.5
Distance travelled: 7.3 miles / 12 km

I decided to have a sleep in this morning which meant that I would not be leaving early today. Instead I had a relaxing day which was almost another zero (a nero). With all my chores competed yesterday I didn’t have anything left to do but relax, eat and harass the dogs of the general store for pats and affection.

I called this one chubby. It did not appreciate it

Farewell Kennedy Meadows

I headed out onto the trail just before 5. The sun was still shining but had begun to lower in the sky and had lost its ferocity.

The first few miles of trail were the familiar desert scrub that I’ve grown used to over the past 6 weeks. Once I hit Kennedy Meadows camp ground the landscape began to change.

I had official entered the South Sierra Wilderness. As the trail climbed the vegetation morphed into pine forest. It was a beautiful change that has me excited to get into the heart of the sierras.

I crossed the South Fork of the Kern River via a pretty foot bridge. The river was pumping, also a sign of things to come further on in the Sierra’s. It is likely that our entry into the Sierras will coincide with the big melt of the heavy snow pack which has hit the mountains this season. It will mean challenging river crossing which we will need to take extra precautions for. It will also mean slower travel and shorter days.

It was dinner and almost bed time when I arrived into camp. It was a busy campsite so I enjoyed dinner with the company of a few friends I have been hiking on and off with over the past few weeks, Cheesus, Huckleberry and Next Level. I enjoy the solitude of hiking on your own during the day but having friendly company of an evening.

Friday 21 June 2019
Day: 54
Location: Mile 722.4
Distance travelled: 12.9 miles / 21 km

It feels good to be out of the desert and into the pine forest. I was up and walking fairly early this morning and it felt peaceful and quiet out on trail.

I had a climb ahead of me but had the time to take it slow and steady with plenty of breaks.

As I walked I could hear the chirping of a baby bird in the trees above me. I stopped to have a look and spotted a mumma bird feeding a baby bird in the nest of a tree hollow high up in a burnt tree. Sometimes it is the smallest things on trail which can bring you the most joy.

Mid morning I ran into the Fonz. We chatted for a while and I learned that he is planning to walk part way through the Sierras before flipping forward. Part of his reasoning for flipping forward was to avoid the crowds. We have definitely been in the hiker bubble over the past few weeks and whilst I sometimes wish for a little more solitude on trail I have come to the decision that you can’t control where everyone else is on trail and what they do, you can only control how you react to the trail being busy. I have decided not to let the crowds bother me. To enjoy the best parts of there being more people around and seek alone time when I need it. Eventually you find your people on trail and you don’t have to hang around people that you don’t mesh with if you don’t want to.

After chatting with The Fonz for a while I continued on, the pine forest opended out into a beautiful meadow. Lush grasses in the foreground and the snow capped peaks of the sierras in the distance. It was a beautiful scene.

The trail skirted around the meadow, climbing back up into the mountains where more stunning views awaited me.

The trail dropped back down again as I approached Monache Meadow. It was picturesque with a quaint footbridge crossing the river. Swallows were using the bridge to nest, swooping about eating the bugs that swarmed the area. The small flies have been driving me insane so I appreciated the birds for keeping the area bug free.

I was reluctant to leave the meadow, it was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. The trail continued on and predictably, climbed back up into pine forest once again.

Interestingly, today was hiking naked day. I had heard this before leaving Kennedy Meadows. I’m not sure if it is an international day or just an American thing. While there was no way that I was going to hike naked I was on the lookout for a bear butt cheek or two. While I didn’t run into any nudists I did run into Ian Tuttle, a photographer who was writing an article on naked hiking day for Outside Magazine. I took Ians details and eagerly await the article. I had seen some of Ian’s work previously when he did a series of portraits on PCT hikers during the 2018 season. It was great to run into him out on the trail.

It was a spectacular days hiking and my day got even better when, during the afternoon I spotted a few marmots running about in some vegetation near a stream. I hadn’t seen a marmot before, they are a bit like a very fat, very fluffy, red coloured squirrel. They aren’t as agile as a squirrel and waddle when they run. Google them, it won’t disappoint. They are probably one of the cutest things I’ve laid my eyes on.

The higher I climbed during the afternoon the more spectacular the views became and the more excited I became for the Sierras.

I found the perfect little campsite for the evening, set back amongst some boulders looking out at the mountains through the pine trees. I fell asleep looking at the stars and moon above me, feeling incredibly grateful to be out here on the trail.

Tuesday 18 June 2019
Day: 51
Location: Mile 702.2
Distance travelled: 19.1 miles / 31 km

After waking up to a spider on my shoes yesterday, this morning I woke up to a spider web built on the top of my shoe.

I wanted to make sure I got up and over the steep climb into Kennedy Meadows before the sun came out and the heat developed so I was walking by 5.30am this morning. I hate waking up early but love walking at first light. The day is cool and it’s peaceful and quiet out on trail.

I was camped at the bottom of the hill overnight so I was climbing as soon as I set out on the trail. The views were beautiful in the early morning light and only got better as I climbed.

When I reached the peak of the mountain I had views out the high Sierras. I could see Mount Whitney and where we would be hiking over the next few weeks. I had a rush of emotion and excitement all at once. After a beautiful 6 week adventure I was ready to be finished with the desert, the dust, the heat and the now somewhat repetitive views. I felt excited for the Sierra’s, despite the high snowpack and unquestionable conditions it would be an adventure and a challenge and I’m looking forward to it. On top of that I would be meeting Adam in Lone Pine in under a week and am looking for to having him join me on trail.

I took a break to take in the view and have a snack before I began my descent into the valley.

The views on the way down into the valley were just as spectacular as the views on the way up. I could see right down into the Kern River.

The further I descended and the closer I got towards Kennedy Meadows the more excited I became. The miles were flying by. I’m not sure if it was the early morning, the cool weather, the spectacular views or the fact that I was almost done with the desert.

The Kennedy Meadows Valley was spectacularly beautiful, surrounded by rolling hills and covered with wildflowers. It felt so good to be here.

I was elated when I hit the 700 mile mark, just over 1,126 km. It is a solid achievement and although I’m only ¼ of my way through the trail. I feel proud of making it this far.

I had a couple more miles along the valley floor, soaking in the views until I hit the road and the turn off to Kennedy Meadows.

Kennedy Meadows represents a milestone on the PCT. It marks the end of the desert section and the start of the Sierra Nevada. Stopping by the general store has become an institution among hikers. The store has resupply options and allows hikers to camp for free behind the store. They have cooked food, burgers for lunch and pancakes for breakfast and on weekends show movies on an outdoor screen.

The store has a large wrap around porch where hikers relax and hangout. It has become a tradition that hikers welcome each other in with a round of applause. It was a busy day at the general store when I came in, there were over 50 people out on the deck so I was greeted with a huge round of applause, hooting and cheering. It is a beautiful tradition. I felt emotional, from the cheering and from reaching this epic milestone.

Having slowed down over the past week or so many of the people I had been hiking with were ahead of me so I wasn’t expecting to see any of my friends at the store. I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar faces, Sofari and Sam, Sarah and even Jeff. Kennedy Meadows is known to be a bit of a vortex where people get stuck for a few days and it sure felt that way when I arrived. The place was teaming with hikers.

I had a relaxing afternoon catching up with my friends and enjoyed a burger and an icecream, because you have to endulge while you can. Even though I’d got into KM early, around 1.30, it was a big morning walking through the heat of the middle of the day. Without my mid day nap I was feeling tired and opted for an early night.

Wednesday 19 June 2019
Day: 52
Location: Mile 702.2
Distanced travelled: 0 miles / 0 km

It’s always exciting when you wake up on zero days knowing you have a big breakfast ahead of you. After a sleep in I caught a lift to Grumpy Bears Tavern where they do an egg breakfast with all you can eat pancakes. The pancake came out first and was larger than the plate, and my face. I gave it a red hot go and got through most of the pancake and all of the eggs and potatoes. It was a solid effort, I was proud.

Next on the agenda was buying some gear I would need for the Sierra’s, an ice axe and warm gloves. I had already bought my spikes in Wrightwood for when I climbed Mt Baden Powell.

We are lucky that these days there are outfitters located on trail, I checked out Tripple Crown Outfitters who are situated right next door to Grumpy’s and then Two Foot adventures, a mobile airstream situated back at the Kennedy Meadows General Store.

I will also need a bear canister for the Sierras. It is basically a big plastic, supposedly ‘bear proof’ jar used for storing food that is required for the stretch of trail from Lone Pine to Sonora Pass. Many people pick these up in Kennedy Meadows but given it will add an extra kg to my pack and I’ll be going into Lone Pine anyway to meet Adam, I will be buying mine in Lone Pine.

The remainder of the afternoon was chilled. I enjoyed my first rootbeer float and organised my bulging food bag ready for my departure tomorrow.