Oh, the Brutality

It was a hot day with a fantastic swim in the Middle Fork of the Feather River.

Then Jen walked my ass off.

Seriously.

Our goal was to get in 23 miles for the day.  We had a cruisey 15 miles for the first part of the day, arriving at the Middle Fork of the Feather River by mid-afternoon. It was another warm day and I knew we had a climb coming, so I announced that I was going for a swim.  Jen thought that was a good idea, so we took a break.  Can you blame us?

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Sitting in the sun and drying off, I looked at the upcoming profile. As expected, we had the climb out of the river valley.  But I hadn’t noticed the huge climb of a few thousand feet behind that stood between us and our planned campsite.

I kept quiet.

We made the 600′ climb out of the river valley and at the top Jen expressed that she was happy that was over.  So I let her know that it was just the appetizer and showed her the upcoming profile.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we’re getting in 23 today”, she said.

I responded “get after it”.

My mistake.

Imagine a fully loaded logging truck trying to keep up with a sports car on a steep, windy mountain road.

Over the next four hours she drug me 9 miles to the campsite, up 4,100′ with about 1,500′ of descent thrown in just to keep it interesting.

If you were doing the math, you’ll note that by the time we got there, we had 24 miles under our belt.

Of that 9 miles, I hung on as well as I could. At about the 7 mile point, and interesting event happened.  My glutes decided they had had enough and went on vacation. They no longer wanted to take part in moving my legs.

Of all of my years of endurance shenanigans, the marathons and ultra-marathons, the long course triathlons and the 24 hour bike races, I had never experienced such a thing. There wasn’t any pain, just no go.

It took me almost 40 minutes to climb the last 9/10 of a mile.  But we made it to camp, got set up, fed and in bed before hiker midnight  (9 pm).

Day 101 – 24 / 1,256

We were both feeling the effort of the day before.  It was a “listen to the body” kind of day.

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We were in camp, fed and asleep well before sunset.

Day 102 – 18 / 1,274

We were looking forward to getting into Belden, as the PCT routed right through the town resort and we could take two steps off the trail and be in the restaurant.

But a conversation with a friend meant a shuffle of our resupply schedule so we could meet her before she left for vacation.  That meant resupply in Belden, a town not meant for resupply.

On the way in we mulled our limited options while dreading the return of poison oak.

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Once in town and fed, we pondered how to get to the closest convenience store, a couple of miles down a two lane road that is bounded by a river on one side and steep hillside on the other, both lanes full of speeding logging trucks and summer tourists.

Thankfully a local trail angel stopped by to drop a package for two fellow hikers.  We explained our situation and 10 minutes later we were at her house sifting through the hiker box.  Resupply complete without spending a nickel, plus a ride back to the trail. Perfect!

The remainder of the day was a long hot climb out of the river valley, heavy with the new resupply and good food in our bellies.

Day 103 – 17 / 1,291

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NorCal Storms

Getting back on trail at Donner Pass.

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It was just a good warm day back on the trail. Storms developed to the east of us and serenaded us with their rumbles, but we were in bright sunlight the whole day.

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Day 97 – 23 / 1,180

A short day so we could head into Sierra City for resupply.  It was downhill most of the way.  That doesn’t mean that it was easy going, just that we had a net elevation drop.

Happiness on a hot day is finding an ice-cold spring-fed stream from which we can drink and where we can wash our feet, pits and bits.

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Sierra City is a quaint little town, barely more than a bump along the highway. But they sure welcome hikers.  We were able to camp for free on the lawn next to the Methodist church, which was right next to the public bathrooms with free showers. All of this was right around the corner from the general store and post office. A perfect hiker setup.

Once we got our resupply and Jen brought me a very tasty 1-pound cheeseburger with bacon and avocado, we got our camp set up.  After that, the local watering hole, where we got to meet some of the locals and hear about other hikers.  Mostly good, some bad.

Mainly they couldn’t believe that we were hikers, since we cleaned up before heading over there.

It’s the simple things.

Day 98 – 15 / 1,195

We had a 3,000′ climb out of town. So we did the sensible thing and delayed our departure.

After having the hiker special breakfast at the Red Moose Lodge (3 eggs, 3 bacon, 3 sausage, 3 pancakes and home fries plus bottomless coffee) we headed out of town. 

Climbing, climbing, climbing towards the Sierra Buttes.

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Then stopping at this milestone for lunch.

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Then donning the umbrellas for an afternoon of rain and thunder.

Day 99 – 14 / 1,209

A warm, humid morning in the trees, giving way to a warm, rainy, stormy afternoon in the trees.

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Looking back at the Sierra Buttes.

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Day 100 – 23 / 1,232

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Skirting Tahoe

Back on the trail after our resupply/Zero at South Lake Tahoe.

A few miles from the trailhead at Echo Summit, we came upon Echo Lake, a popular lake near Lake Tahoe. It’s at Echo Lake that the PCT community considers the end of the Sierra Nevada section and the beginning of the Northern California section. It’s not that we are leaving the Sierra Nevada, but the terrain is not as harsh and we will be spending a lot more time in forests.

But before we got to mile after mile of trees, we first had to traverse the Desolation Wilderness.

Aloha Lake.

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Then this a few miles later.

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Looking south, back at the terrain we’ve crossed over the past week.

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Looking northeast, catching a glimpse of Lake Tahoe from our campsite.

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Day 93 – 17 / 1,107

After yesterday’s miles, we had 50 miles to cover in the next two days, as we were meeting a friend at the I-80 rest stop at Donner Summit at mid-morning on the third day.

That meant that we put our heads down and moved.

But we still took time to appreciate the scenery.

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And note that in the past week we’ve finally started finding that wonderfully soft natural toilet paper, Old Man’s Beard.  It just didn’t grow on the trees down in Yosemite and further south.

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We knocked out the miles, but knew that the following day would be even longer, the longest that we had hiked so far.

Day 94 – 23 / 1,130

Another day of beating feet, our longest so far. But this day we were going to thread together a few of the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe, including one where, after I learned to link turns on skis, I learned the steeps, deeps, chutes and cliffs – Sugar Bowl.

Notice I didn’t say trees.  Those were over at Heavenly Valley.  So I was quite familiar with the scene when we heard on the radio that Sonny Bono died there.  But that’s a different time now.

So we enjoyed our views of Lake Tahoe.

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Looking for the top, knowing that it’s not far thanks to the light in the trees, but knowing that it will take another 30 minutes of climbing.

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Cutting through a mountain meadow.

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Our last view of Lake Tahoe.

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Catching a glimpse of Donner Lake.

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That was a nice cap to a solid day, our longest so far.

Day 95 – 24 / 1,154

We had a purposefully short day so we could get to the I-80 rest stop on Donner Pass, where we would meet a long-time friend.  He has been following every step of the adventure and was waiting for us to get close to Reno so we could meet.

The original plan was to just have him take us into the nearby town of Truckee for a quick resupply and so we could mail out our bear canisters.

We were no longer required to carry the canisters after Sonora Pass. Most folks took that opportunity to hitch into a town and get rid of theirs. We had plenty of food at that point, so a town visit was unnecessary. Most folks acted as if a 10-ton weight had been removed from their packs after that, but at just over 2 pounds, the canister was no more burdensome than a liter of water.  As we found out during the wet week leading into Tahoe, it was a great place to store our sleep clothes and down jackets to keep them dry. Besides, it’s not like the bears and little bears (squirrels) magically disappeared after crossing Sonora Pass.

In the days from South Lake Tahoe, it became clear that I needed a new backpack. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a great backpack with a recommended max load of about 35 pounds.  I know that I exceeded that a few times out of necessity. With a 17lb base weight, plus 2lbs of food per day for 8 days, I would be right up on that max.  But throw in the bear canister and a couple of liters of water and the bag would be overloaded.  So it started breaking down.  I kept sewing it back together, but that would only last so long. 

Reno would be the last place for a long while where we could replace it and my shoulders wouldn’t last until that next opportunity, so we threw a wrench in our plans and made the trip into Reno instead.

I’m now carrying an Osprey Aether 70 liter backpack. It’s heavier than the Mariposa by about the same weight as the bear canister, but it can carry the extra weight needed for the longer food carries of the rest of the trail, plus the very long (30+) mile water carry at Hat Creek Rim in a couple of weeks.

Once we got the shopping and resupply done, we spent the rest of the evening catching up.

It was a great time.  Thank you, Richard!

Day 96 – 3 / 1,157

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Oh Hail Snow! Will We Ever Dry Out?

Our canyon campsite, next to a stream, was a soaking mess when we woke up, as condensation covered everything. In that situation we have two choices – stay put until the sun dries everything out, or pack up and go, setting up at lunch or late afternoon and letting things dry out before we settle down for the night.  Neither was a viable option, so we carried the wet gear.

By mid-morning the thunderstorms surrounded us again.  Little did we know that when it started, we would endure six non-stop hours of rain and thunder. As the storm overhead moved north and the thunder faded in the distance, we would hear the next storm coming from the south. We would know the next storm had arrived when the hail started to fall again.   Luckily it never got any larger than pea-sized.  But there was enough to accumulate in spots.

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Here I am, modeling the latest in hail-repellent gear.

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Sponsor-provided gear pictured: Euroschirm umbrella, Leki trekking poles, Lightheart Gear rain skirt and Dirty Girl gaiters.

Some have already cracked wise about my wearing a rain skirt.  Whatever.  Rain pants mean my shorts are soaking wet from sweat within minutes, defeating the purpose of the pants. The skirt provides plenty of airflow, preventing those swampy conditions.  I will never wear rain pants again.

The umbrella was great in the hail.  I would laugh watching the stones bouncing in all directions off Jennifer’s umbrella.  But none ever came close to touching our head.  Hikers that had only a hood were definitely feeling them after an hour or two.

Regardless of the conditions, we could still appreciate the volcanic landscape. 

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We made it camp and found another couple already had a fire going.  That was a pleasant surprise and very welcome.  We don’t normally get a fire going, because as soon as we have camp set up and have finished eating, we’re in bed.  But since they had one going, we took advantage and enjoyed the warmth for a bit before bed.

Day 88 – 18 / 1,040

Soon after we woke up we gave up any expectations of drying out.  Thunder rumbled to our south as we packed the tent.  Within 30 minutes of starting our hike, we were back in our hail-repellent gear and hiking in the rain.

While we knew it was a cold night before, we didn’t realize how cold until we saw that the snow line wasn’t far above us.

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The rain didn’t stop us from appreciating the beautiful trees.

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By late morning the rain gad stopped and breaks were appearing.  By lunch we were able to set some things out to dry while we ate.

But that was short-lived. Other hikers were rejoicing that the rain was done,  but we knew better as the sun was just heating everything up.  You could look everywhere and see the water vapor rising off of everything. Within an hour the afternoon showers had started.

Then the wind.  Then the walks along exposed ridgelines, feeling the wind-driven rain sting every inch of exposed skin.  Then the loss of dexterity. Then the concerns about hypothermia.

Afters days of this, even a dry sleeping bag in an almost dry tent didn’t seem to be sufficient. But it would have to be.

Once we picked a campsite and got set up, the sunset once again provided hope that we would dry out soon.

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With the clearing skies, we hoped that we would have the opportunity to get the sun on our gear in the morning and dry us out.

We have got to realize that hope is not a technique.

Day 89 – 21 / 1,061

A 5am look outside showed clear skies, a bright moon, some stars and the hints of a bright morning.

With sunrise came the clouds, dashing that hope.

A morning visitor to camp was a surprise. A ground squirrel that we would call Scritch came for a visit.  We weren’t worried, as all of our food was packed away in our bear canister. But Scritch wasn’t interested in food, we soon realized.  Scritch was looking for a spot to take a dirt nap.

Which he did.  Right in front of the tent.

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It really was an inconvenient place, as we had to step around him.  To avoid any messy mistakes, we set rocks around him until it was time to leave.

Alas poor Scritch, we barely knew ye.

It was during this time that I learned that I was to never mention a certain Elton John song, not even the title.  Those with children now in their early- to mis-twenties know exactly which one I am talking about.  Well, it’s a song that I can’t mention in front of Jen.  Bit she never said that you couldn’t mention it, so if you can, share your favorite version with her.  Just don’t mention that I told you to.

It never did rain on us, even though it threatened most of the day.  But it was humid all day and nothing really had a chance to dry out, even with our late mid-morning start.

Many of our views reminded us of the Scottish Highlands.

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Crossing the meadows was fantastic,  as they were in bloom.  The downside was that the plants overgrew the trail, meaning a fresh soaking.

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This meadow surrounded the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River.  I really got interested in trout fishing as a kid while fishing the lower Truckee River, so I made sure I dipped my toe in the “mother river”.  Heck, everything was still wet, so no harm.

Even with out late start, we kept focused and moving, knocking out 21 miles before sunset, when we found a campsite near a lake that was reported to be very beary, populated with “problem” bears relocated from Yosemite. We never saw a single one.

The view while collecting water to filter.

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The clearing showed promise, but we didn’t have hope that we would dry out. 
We took all the steps we could minimize condensation, but everything in sight was still sopping wet, so there couldn’t be much hope.

Day 90 – 21 / 1,082

We woke up to a surprise.  There was enough of a mountain breeze all night long to keep the condensation at bay.  We weren’t any drier, but we weren’t any wetter.  That was a good start.

A short day, we just needed to get to Highway 50 and catch a ride to South Lake Tahoe for resupply. We had some nice views along the way.

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We got to the trailhead to find a nice couple from Berkeley set up with fresh fruit, baked goods and beverages, all for PCT thru-hikers. What a welcome surprise. We caught up with hikers we had met along the way, including one we last saw over 800 miles ago.

A short stand by the side of the highway and we had a ride in a great old Volkswagen bus.  The driver was a local who, we found out, hiked the PCT back in 1998.  We were regaled with stories from the trail in a heavy snow year until he dropped us off at a casino in Stateline, NV.

Our dinner view at an all-you-can-eat buffet, where our intents were larger than our stomachs.  But I did some damage to their prime rib supply.

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Day 91 – 11 / 1,093

A Zero day of chores, equipment repairs and resupply.

That and a morning of watching the Team Time Trial (TTT) stage of the Tour de France. For me, there is little more beautiful in the sporting world than watching a well-executed TTT.  I was not disappointed.

Day 92 – 0 / 1,093

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Exit Light

A fantastic day.  We both woke up feeling refreshed and hit the trail.  Other than the first 1.5 miles of climbing, we knew we had a cruisey day ahead of us.  We were right.

After the climb, we dropped into a broad canyon and worked our way to the high end.  It was broad meadow after broad meadow.  Jen set a pace that would have had us close to 11 miles by noon.  But hunger and a nice stream beckoned.

Within minutes of setting down our packs, I was in the stream, refreshed by the ice-cold water. Jen had her lunch and then we napped.  Perfect for a strong follow-up to a good morning.

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Looking back at Yosemite National Park right after we exited the north park boundary.

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Then we ran, OK walked, across this little marker.

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It’s just a bit crazy to wrap our brains around that.  One thousand miles of continuous footsteps.

Day 86 – 20 / 1,003

Our first day out of Yosemite was quite an experience. Straight out the gate we climbed a couple of thousand feet to above the timberline, saw some of the most astounding landscapes, raced thunderstorms for hours while totally exposed, had a surprise afternoon sugar-laden snack, then spent the rest of the afternoon racing thunderstorms and losing.

Climbing above the timberline.

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A nice overview of Leavitt Lake.

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A look back at some of the terrain we had covered quickly as thunderstorms chased us.  We hiked along the same elevation for quite a while.  No trees grew at this elevation and the rocks were mostly scree, so there wasn’t any shelter.  This notch in a sawtooth ridge was our pass that finally let us descend a few hundred feet and get some shelter while we had lunch.

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The terrain through this stretch was, for me, the most astounding of our trip so far. Unfortunately the battery in the phone was almost dead (down to 6%), so I couldn’t take more pictures. You’ll have to take my word on the beauty, at least until I return with my camera kit.

For those inclined to look for yourself, park at the Sonora Pass parking area, then head south on the PCT.  To make it a nice loop, take the Leavitt Lake trail from the PCT.  You could probably make it a long day hike, but to really appreciate it, make it an overnighter.

At Sonora Pass we ran across Craig, the Sonora Pass Resupply guy.  He had a truck full of food, snacks and a station to recharge phones.  It was a nice break after hours of being chased by storms.

But it wasn’t long before we were back in the thick of it.

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It didn’t stop raining and hailing until right before sunset, when we got to camp.  Being in a narrow canyon, we knew we would be in for a damp night.
Day 87 – 20 / 1,023

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Range of Light

We slept in a bit at the crowded Tuolumne Meadows backpacker’s campground, which wasn’t as crowded as all of the surrounding drive-in campgrounds, which were completely full for the upcoming 4th of July weekend.

Once the general store opened, we stocked up for the upcoming 8 days to South Lake Tahoe. This is what 8 days of food looks like.  We have to repackage and consolidate so that it all fits, along with toiletries, into those two blue bear canisters near the center.

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After getting packed and then waiting way too long for a cheeseburger from the grill, we hit the trail.

More storms in the distance.

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Tuolumne Falls. It’s only about 4.5 miles by trail from the overly crowded Tuolumne Meadows, but there wasn’t another soul in sight or earshot.

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Since we got such a late start and we w were loaded down with food, we only made it 8 miles.  But we got quite a show at sunset.

Looking south:

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Looking east:

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Day 83 – 8 / 951

Although the trail north of Tuolumne Meadows is not as challenging as much of the John Muir section to the south, this was one of those days that just beat us up.  We were asleep before sunset.

Granite mountain abstracts:

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I love big rock.  It’s even better when the atmosphere cooperates.  This was not long before we took shelter under a tree while the hail ran its course.

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Tree abstract.

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And a very handy addition to this trip.  Thanks Mom!

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Everyone, look for these stoves on Amazon. They run well under $10 and work great.  We don’t cook our meals, instead cold soaking almost everything. But on a night like this, a bowl of hot instant potatoes with tuna mixed in is great.  Or, like the next morning, when a cuppa joe is in order,  which happens only a few times a month out here.

Why get one?  They are perfect for winter car emergency kits, home emergency kits, etc.  At just under 4oz and no bigger than 3 matchboxes  (excluding fuel), they’ll fit anywhere.

There isn’t a specific brand name. It appears that one factory makes them and many companies rebrand them.  Sure, it’s not your Jetboil or MSR stove, but at 1/10 the price, it’s a great bargain.

Day 84 – 17 / 968

Going to sleep early didn’t help in the morning. We hit the snooze many times more than we ever have.  Even when I jumped out of my bag to get dressed, we both could have slept a few more hours.

Random Yosemite view.

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Lunch view.

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Dinner view.

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We were dragging all day long.  With the sawtooth climbs and rocky descents, we just didn’t get too far.

Day 85 – 15 / 983

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Entering Yosemite

After a Zero day in Mammoth Lakes for resupply and to fix equipment issues, our incredible hosts and new friends dropped us off so we could hop  we hopped on the bus to Red’s Meadow.

Although we were already starting late, we grabbed burgers and beer at the grill before heading up trail.

Alternate forms of transportation.

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Choices and orders.

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A quick detour through Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

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Then the remainder of the day in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

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An afternoon of thunderstorms, rain and hail that had us salivating for a phenomenal sunset.  That didn’t quite happen, but it was still nice.

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Jen taking in the view.

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We settled down for a beautiful night with an almost full moon.  Everything was clear, including the radar that we could access with a strong signal.

Except we were in a gap in radar coverage. Soon after sunset we were zipping up the tent and wondering how safe we were in our chosen campsite.  Beautiful for an evening and morning view, incredibly exposed for the night of thunderstorms we were about to endure.

The only thing to do at that point was sleep, which we did.

Day 81 – 13 / 920

After a night of almost continuous rain, the sunrise wasn’t what we were hoping, but it was still quite nice.

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Peaks, glaciers and 1,000 Island Lake.

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Classic Ansel Adams Wilderness.

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A close encounter with Alan.

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Why Alan? Because of this little video, which always makes us laugh.  Watch it and not laugh.  I dare you.

Donahue Pass, the southern trail entrance to Yosemite National Park.

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More glaciers and beautiful water.

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Due to a combination of camping restrictions and suggestions to avoid bears, we decided to push all the way into Tuolumne Meadows, where we would resupply.

That decision meant that we would get in our biggest day of hiking, 23 miles.  We had a couple of 20.4 mile days as we approached Tehachapi a month ago, but never anything we could round up to 21 miles.  The past couple of weeks here in the Sierra really strengthened the legs, so we were comfortable and cruised into camp.

Day 82 – 23 / 943

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A Rockin’ Rollin’ Time

A slow day of climbing toward Selden Pass (10,910′), the easiest of the passes in this stretch.  But clouds of pine pollen made breathing a bit more difficult than normal.

Golden trout queuing up for the prime spot in the seam of the stream.

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From Selden Pass, looking north towards Marie Lakes.  For the previous two days we heard horror stories about the clouds of mosquitoes. We got lucky with gusty winds and didn’t have issues.

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A few more hours of hiking and we aimed for a campsite next to a seasonal stream.  We crossed several good streams and gambled on the one we were aiming for. We bet wrong, so I got an extra mile of hiking in. 

We also bet wrong in that the cloud of mosquitoes up on the mountain was astounding.  I had to build a fire before heading out for water so Jen could set up the tent without donating too much blood.  Luckily our campsite was below 10,000′ so we could build a fire, which helped immensely. But as soon as we put the fire out so we could sleep, the cloud of bloodsuckers chased us into the tent.

There’s something about laying in a tent, looking at a wall of mosquitoes on the netting, just wanting a taste.  And we haven’t even hit the bad mosquito sections yet.

Day 77 – 18 / 874

Another day, another pass.  This time Silver Pass (10,747′).  Another slow climb, enveloped in clouds of pollen.

Everything, including us, had a yellow coating.

The morning meadow views were fantastic. Blooming flowers, stands of aspen and sequoia and distant mountains ruled the views.

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The view looking south from Silver Pass, watching storms build.

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During a quick break at the summit, we were talking to a young hiker who we have been leapfrogging for the past 500 miles.  She admitted that she wasn’t lightning savvy, especially in the backcountry. As it started to rain and I attached my umbrella to my pack, she asked “so when would be a good time to get off the summit?”, to which I replied “about 5 minutes ago”.  She beat feet down the trail and we soon followed.  We weren’t but 100′ below the summit when the first peal of thunder rolled overhead.

We were several hundred feet above and over a trail mile away from the timberline.  Until then, we were the tallest things around.  We moved fast.

The rain started coming down in buckets.  Rivulets started flowing down the trail.  Bright flashes filled the sky and the cracks of thunder reverberated off the high granite cliffs.  We raced past a small grove of ancient Bristlecone Pines, some scarred by past lightning strikes.

At one point I turned to check on Jen.  She asked if I was laughing at her, as I was grinning ear to ear. I did laugh, then reminded her how much I love thunderstorms in the mountains.

This was exhilarating.

Things eventually quieted down and we pressed to camp, where we were treated to one of the most amazing sunsets, courtesy of the debris from the thunderstorms.

Looking southeast:

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Looking northwest:

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A great light show to finish off the rock show.

Day 78 – 17 / 891

Finally, a day without a pass.  Just a few minor climbs, then descending a few thousand feet to Red’s Meadow, where we could catch a shuttle bus into the town of Mammoth Lakes for resupply, showers and town food.

Purple Lake, a popular camp destination. I think you can see why.

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Then some great vistas as we traversed the side of a mountain instead of going over it.  It’s easy to see why this is part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

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Then we cruised past the 900 mile mark before stopping for lunch. Time for another selfie to mark the occasion.

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Then a reminder of the forces that shaped this land.

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A few miles later, we finally got a phone connection. We were able to make contact with a friend of a high school friend who was gracious enough to open their home to us while we were in town. 

Then a look at the radar.

Here we go again.

Rushing downhill through groves of blown down trees from previous microbursts, through groves of bent redwoods adapting to their environment and groves of burnt, snapped trees, we raced the storm and lost.

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Once we got into Red’s Meadow, we saw that we were better off (and better prepared) than the throngs of tourists who headed out into the mountains on a beautiful morning.

Ummm, it’s June in the Sierra, people.  Always have wet-weather gear handy.

Once in town, we were met by these wonderful trail angels, friends of friends, with open arms and an open beer.

A perfect ending to a great day.

Day 79 – 16 / 907

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Pass after Pass after Pass

Our home, with that morning’s backyard.

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Our next checkpoint was Mather Pass (12,047′), a pleasantly gradual climb, even during the steepest parts.

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After the descent off the pass and a traipse through the valley below, we came to what we learned is called “The Golden Staircase”, a stretch that, for us north-bounders, drops 1,600′ in about two miles.

We learned the name from one of the Park Service trail workers whose crew was rebuilding the staircase, removing all of those blasted 18″ tall steps and replacing them with something more manageable. No doubt that the southbounders appreciate that.

The view of the valley we were about to drop into.

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The Lombardi Street of the Golden Staircase.

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Day 74 – 15 / 823

Our next target was Muir Pass (11,978′).  But first we had to drop 2,000′ so we could climb 4,000′.  That’s the name of the game here in the Sierra. Thankfully the trails were good.  The views were fantastic.

Our lunchtime view, next to a cold creek that became very handy for a refreshing bath.

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Looking down a fantastic water slide, dropping a few hundred feet.  It sure looked fun, yet terminal.

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We lived the light- and shadow-play as we approached the pass.

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The John Muir Hut located at the pass.  Jen provided for scale.

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A view of the lakes below, looking toward the west.  We would spend the night on the shore of the large lake.

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Day 75 – 17 / 840

Our morning view, without leaving the comfort of our sleeping bags. 

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Our home, provided by Yama Mountain Gear, with that morning’s backyard, Lake Wanda, named for John Muir’ daughter.

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This was the second morning in a row that smoke from distant wildfires gave us hazy views.  Nothing is close by, but the fires will increasingly become a fact of life as we move through Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

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The Evolution region of Kings Canyon National Park is astounding, and quite popular.

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After our first stream fording across Evolution Creek, which can be dangerous after a normal snowfall winter, we walked downstream and saw this fall.  Jennifer mentioned that if she saw this before the fording, she would have been quite upset.

We then discussed lines to take in a kayak.

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Our last night in Kings Canyon, right on the northern edge of the park, next to Paiute Creek.  The colors were great.

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It has been a while since the last selfie.

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Day 76 – 16 / 856

Please helps us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j

Pass on the Passes

A relaxing morning in Bishop, but we had to pick up a rental car to get to the town of Mammoth, 40 miles away.  That was the only place we could get Jen a doctor appointment on a Saturday.

Nothing serious,  she has just been plagued by a cough whenever we were climbing above 8,000′.  It was no big deal down south as we didn’t spend much time above that elevation. But here in the Sierra we were well above that, often sleeping at 11,000′.

As expected, the doc diagnosed exercise induced asthma and gave her an inhaler.

The drive was on US395, a road that sure feels like home.

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Day 70 – 0 / 788

A real Zero, with no errands other than return the car and then hitch a ride to Independence, where we would stay overnight.

But before leaving Bishop, we had to stop at the Mountain Light gallery, home of Galen Rowell’s fantastic landscape photography. Rowell has been an inspiration of mine ever since I took up photography in the late ’80’s.

Once we got to Independence and checked into our hotel, we watched a light show worthy of a Rowell print.

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Day 71 – 0 / 788

Our morning started not too early, as we had a 7am breakfast call at the Mt Williamson Motel.  Once we were done, Strider, the owner of the motel and a hiker, shuttled us up to the trailhead.

If you’re ever driving on US395, do yourself a favor and stay a night or three at the Mt Williamson Motel. Strider calls it base camp for good reason, as Mt Whitney, Bristlecone National Monument and many other places are a short drive away.

Our climb started immediately and lasted for just over four miles.  It was a slow climb as we were both loaded with eight days of food, the amount of time we expected to take to get to our next resupply in Mammoth.

Even with the load it quickly became apparent that having Jen on the inhaler was a huge success.  Only a handful of coughs the whole way up.

We lunched at the top of Kearsarge Pass (11,790′), then beat feet towards the PCT, a few miles distant.  As soon as we got back on that trail, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.

We were approaching our second pass of the day, Glen Pass (11,968′).  The approach left a lot to be desired, as it was an old trail full of rocks and steps ranging from 12-20″ tall.  So it wasn’t just the climb, but a hundred or so weighted step-ups, all above 11,000′.

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We were glad to have decided to eat dinner on the summit, as we descended into a valley with a couple of lakes and at least 83 bazillion mosquitoes. That meant we just had to set up camp quickly once we found a spot.

We knew we found the right spot when we passed a bear on the lake shore noshing on a fish.  We knew we had good company.

Day 72 – 13 / 793

In al honesty, neither of us enjoyed this day. The weather was perfect and the scenery continued to be breathtaking, but for the majority of the day the trail itself left a lot to be desired.

We did cross 800 miles without fanfare.  Not even a rock sign to signify the point.

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Our dinner views atop Pinchot Pass (12,142′).  

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Plus a view of where we would camp that night, next to the second lake in the picture.

Day 73 – 15 / 808

Please helps us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j