A Trail Name

As expected, a trail name came out of yesterday’s story about our climb up Mount Whitney.

If you haven’t read it, go ahead.  This will make more sense.

Our good friend Salt Lick came up with one that had both Jen and I laughing for quite awhile. That’s a good sign.

My trail name is now…

G-SPOT

As in: “Gee honey, I forgot to bring the SPOT’.

It was also met with resounding approval from all of our trail crew friends, so it sticks.

Here we are, over 900 miles into this hike and I get my name. 

Jennifer remains unscathed/unnamed.

No Really, The Top

Since the Mount Whitney climb used a single trail out and back, we did something different and left our campsite set up.  It was great to have significantly lighter packs for the climb.  A bit too light.

It was a cold, clear morning, so we packed our packs and started moving, waiting an hour or so before we found a rock in the sun to sit on and have our breakfast. 

The weather was great, without a hint of a cloud.  We were expecting an early afternoon summit, which on most days would be worrisome, as there isn’t any shelter from the afternoon thunderstorms that are common this time of year.

Another hour or so up the trail, I had an odd thought.  I didn’t remember attaching our SPOT to my pack, but knowing I set it out for our morning check-in. 

Our SPOT is a GPS messenging device that lets us send preformatted text messages to specific people letting them know when we are leaving camp for the day and when we arrive in the evening, including location. Most importantly, it has an SOS function for us to call in emergency help if we need it.

Jennifer confirmed that it wasn’t attached to my pack.

Insert expletives here.

A lot of expletives.

We were almost to Guitar Lake, some 3.5 miles from camp.

A quick discussion of options led us to the conclusion that the SPOT was too important to leave out all day and hope it was there when we returned.  The mosquito netting that was attached to it?  Sure.  But the SPOT is too expensive and would be a logistical nightmare to replace.

So we set Jen up in the shade of one of the few trees left as we had just crossed the timberline.

Unencumbered by my pack, I took off down trail back to camp.

Not wanting to push myself too hard, considering the climb we still had to do, I jogged the flat spots and walked the up- and down-hills.  There were too many granite ball bearings of various sizes to risk a slip, a fall, a twisted ankle or worse.

Two hours later, I was sitting next to Jen, sipping water and attaching the SPOT to my pack.

As to my preference for terrain, it took me 58 minutes to get down to camp.  The return trip, including the 1,125′ of elevation gain back to 11,350?  The same 58 minutes.

After a few sips of water, we loaded up and resumed our ascent.  I grabbed a couple of bites of snacks at a nearby water stop, ignoring the fact that it was lunch time.

We pressed onward and upward.  Here is the approach. We’re actually at the base of Mount Whitney, but hiking southeast away from the mountain for an easier approach.

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Not long after, we met a young man who asked if we were going to the top.  We said yes and he laughed.

“Man, you have a long way to go”.

Jerk.

Climbing the switchbacks, we met other thru-hikers on their way down. A few were concerned that we wouldn’t have time, but we kept at it.

One that we met a couple of weeks ago turned around before the top.  He was freaked out by the conditions on the near approach to the summit.

Views from the switchbacks:

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By mid-afternoon we were at the top of the steep switchbacks, a spot where our trail met the trail coming up from the other side of the mountain. From there a trail ran along the ridgelines over to Mount Whitney. Only 2 miles with modest elevation gain.

Easy.

That 2 miles took 2 hours.

We figured out why the one hiker turned around. There were some very sketchy sections of slippery, slushy snow covering the trail, sometimes feet deep, sometimes leading to a very long fall off the mountain.

A not so sketchy part.  That’s Jen in the center. The summit of Mount Whitney is upper left.

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Every once in a while we could see through to the east side, down into the valley far below and the desert mountains in the distance. Even a still-frozen lake or two.

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Nearing the summit and still slogging through deep slushy snow, my decisions to not eat lunch were catching up with me.  I sat and inhaled some food while talking to the people descending.  Plenty of words of encouragement from them as we were almost there.

Plus the nice input of “plenty of snow still ahead, but no more fear of loss”.  That was heartening.

Then we were at the summit.  All by ourselves. Because we arrived so late in the day, at 4:30 pm, not a single other person was on the summit. It was glorious!

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We took pictures, celebrated reaching the summit on Jen’s birthday and ate more food. The weather was perfect, with barely a puff of a breeze, and warm enough that we didn’t need jackets.

As we we prepared to leave, a sole hiker came over the edge.  We cheered her arrival as she explained how scared she was coming up and needed to hurry to get down.  After pics, she exclaimed “if you hear about a dead British tourist up here, you know it was me.

We left the summit promptly at 5pm, giving us over three hours before sunset to get through the sketchy snow parts.  It actually turned out that it was plenty of time to get back down to the stream feeding Guitar Lake, where we had left 8 hours prior. 

The only scare was when Jen slipped and fell.  We each walked very gingerly for a few minutes.

Any guesses where Guitar Lake got its name?

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After that it was a headlamp lit hike through the forest, arriving back at camp at 10:15 pm, 16 hours after we left and the latest by far that we had arrived at camp.  Thankfully the tent and bags were already set up, so after a quick dinner, we were out cold.

My body hadn’t felt that destroyed in a few years.  I actually miss that feeling.

As for Jennifer, she was beat, but not so much to not say – “OK, that was also a bit out of my comfort zone”.

Day 66 – 17 + Bill’s 7 / 766

After the late night, we slept in, knowing that we had a short day.  It would be short only because our next challenge, Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT, was 14 miles away. 

Had we wanted to get over the pass, we would have had to get up at our normal time, push to reach the bottom of the pass by mid-afternoon, get over the pass, then a couple of miles past it to the first tentsites.  Not likely, considering our effort of the day before.

Waking up when the sun had been up a few hours was a treat.  As was watching the mother marmot and her trio of pups hopping around the rocks and trees nearby.

Taking advantage of the stream and our distance from the trail, we both enjoyed a good rinsing of dirt and funk.  That was our first chance to do that on this trail. The water was brisk, but refreshing.

Once we hit the trail, it was just miles of scenery.

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Our dining room view.

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Day 67 – 9 / 775

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The Top

Our sunrise view from our all-granite dining area.

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A high mountain meadow with the high desert mountains stretching off in the distance. Death Valley would be behind the third range.

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Another meadow that Jen called a golf course.  Our destination was a lake tucked at the base.

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Chicken Spring Lake, 11,200′.  Jen sat and took in the view for a few moments.

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Day 64 – 18 / 751

A nice view to wake up to

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Another “golf course”, as Jen called it.  With a hole like that, anyone could make a hole in one.

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Entering SEKI.

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Lots of rock, including the big ones in back.

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Alpenglow over the meadow.  We would be hiking up that valley the next day.

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Day 65 – 15 / 766

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High Country

Two months ago today we stepped off from the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Today we step off on the first day of the Sierra Nevada portion of the trail.  Here is Jen in Kennedy Meadows.

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In the distance you can see the tops of rain showers. Just a little while later they had built into thunderstorms, giving us a soundtrack to hike by as we kept an eye on the threatening sky that never amounted to anything for us.  At least the mammatus were impressive.

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After several miles of steady climbing, we reached the high mountain meadows above 8,000′.

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A small climb over a ridgeline and we were at our campsite on the bank of the South Fork of the Kern River.

We watched and listened to the storms all around us, but other than a few drops of rain, they never amounted to anything for us, but sure put on a show as the sun set.

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In the lower left corner you can see a swallow flying by.  The bridge over the river is host to several dozen nests and the sky is full of swallows hunting insects to feed their starving hatchlings.

The sun has set and they are still at it, flitting all around the tent.  The river doesn’t have enough flow here yet to have a babble, which means we can hear the native trout sipping insects off the surface.

A perfect end to a great day.

Day 62 – 15 / 716

Jen, cattle wrangler.

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Jen, cat napper.

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Jen, Goddess.

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Jen, tired from all that work.

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A day of climbing and descending  (like every day) serenaded by the frequent rumble of thunder.  Even a few drops of rain, enough to break out the umbrellas for a few minutes.

We found a great campsite at the end of the day, tucked off the side of the trail, marked but secluded enough that hikers passed without knowing we were there.

The best part was the large granite outcropping that served as our dining area and entertainment center.

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We were hoping that the storms would clear enough for sunset.  We set about our chores and kept an eye to the northwest. Luck worked in our favor and the clearing began in time for a great light show.

This was the view from our all-granite dining area.

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That will do.

Day 63 – 17 / 733

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Arriving at the “Gateway to the Sierra”

A little dirty, a little grimy, but a whole lot o’ smiles.

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A day of climbing, then descent, leaving the desert world behind and entering the true Sierra Nevada.

Day 60 – 16 / 697

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Our sunrise view across the Rockhouse Basin, just miles shy of Kennedy Meadows, the “gateway to the Sierra”.

We purposefully stopped short so we could continue resting before hitting the big mountain passes.  Had we gone all the way into Kennedy Meadows, the hiker party there would have likely kept us from resting.

We’ve noticed that if there are three or more hikers in the same location, someone is not getting rest.  Another observation is that if one hiker is awake, everyone must be awake.

We try to find secluded camp sites.

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Our early morning departure worked well, as we got to the Kennedy Meadows General Store a bit after opening to the cheers of the hikers relaxing on the deck, then
caught the last of the pancake breakfast.

Perfect timing for second breakfast.

After that, it was time to pick up and divvy our resupply boxes.  One was full of dehydrated food that we had packaged before the hike.  Neither one of us can bear the thought of having any of that (I quit eating it during week three), so it will get tossed in the hiker box.  Someone will enjoy it.

It’s fun to get here and see faces of hikers we thought we would never see again, whether they were ahead or behind us on the trail. The record for us was a hiker we last saw just as we crossed mile 300.  That was 400 miles ago!

The danger of this place is that it can be Hotel California, with a well-stocked beer cooler and an attached burger stand. We ran into a few hikers who had been here a few days and we’re packed to leave when we arrived, only to see them setting up their tents before sunset.

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“Such a lovely place”.

Day 61 – 5 / 702

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One Quarter

After our three Zeroes, it was time to get back on the trail.

On the trail, our bodies reminded us that more than one Zero is tough to bounce back from.  Especially when the first few miles are a climb out of the pass.

At least it was the transition from desert to forest.

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Then another milestone.

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That’s one quarter of the trail, 662.5 miles.

Then to our water source, the talk of the trail.  Especially with signs like this.

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The spring tests positive for uranium, as most do around these parts.  No big deal.  This one warrants a warning because the uranium content is above the safe levels to drink if this was your water source for life, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

But we only grabbed a few liters each.

Of more interest was the bear sighted at the spring just a couple of hours prior to our arrival.  We didn’t see sign of a bear at all while we were there, but passed the warning to the next guy coming down for water.

A while later he passed our camp and confirmed that the bear was there. Not only did the bear visit the spring once while he was filling up his bottles, but the bear came back for a second drink.

Some guys have all the luck.

Day 58 – 13 / 665

Before leaving Ridgecrest, we saw that the forecast for the week had the remains of a tropical storm off the coast of Baja California would be moving into southern California and Arizona while a separate low pressure system would move onshore into California. We would be in the middle.

We were expecting thunderstorms in the mountains, so we got moving early as the clouds moved in.  Nothing threatening, just a solid overcast with some occasional light rain.  Luckily it stayed that way the whole day.

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At this elevation, the blooms were everywhere, including on Jen’s favorite cactus.  This one even more so, as the plant took on the shape of a heart. 

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As we get deeper into the Sierra Nevada, the landscape is changing rapidly.  I tried to convince Jen to climb this rock in the foreground, but she was having none of it even though it was only 12′ high.

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Day 59 – 16 / 681

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Unscheduled Off-trail Days

Flexibility and adaptation.

We both had a rough week mentally.  As we departed Tehachapi, we learned of the suicide of a friend.  Without connectivity the following five days, the mind was free to wander.  In a situation like this, that’s not always good.

Issues with equipment – my pants started falling apart after 600 miles and we had wholesale battery failures for our GPS emergency beacon, limping it in with our headlamp batteries, swapping individual cells out until we could get it to work. 

The former was fixable on trail, the latter not.  The latter was critical, especially as we head into the high elevations and backcountry of the Sierra Nevada.

But most importantly, we needed the mental reset we could only get by talking to friends and getting details on what could be knowable about a senseless loss.

We hopped off trail at Walker Pass, mile 652.  The majority of hikers head to Lake Isabella to the west.  We opted to head to Ridgecrest instead, the same distance east but down on the desert floor.

Another reason to head that east was that I used to live in Ridgecrest as a kid and hadn’t been back in 35 years.

It was views like this that helped plant seeds that grew into treks like this.

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That was a sunset view from the main boulevard in town.  Yes, town surrounds this plot of land and I had to cross four lanes of traffic to get this shot without power lines.

It was a bit surreal to be staying in a hotel just a few minutes walk to the elementary school where I went to 5th and 6th grade, one of the eight (that I can remember) schools that I attended before graduation. The house that we lived in at the time was just a few minutes past that, but the parcels have been scoured down flat and all that remains of those neighborhoods are the streets.

The reset was good and we got the things taken care of that we needed.

Now to resume the trail, crossing trails I hiked as a Scout when we lived here.

Again, the seed.

More Impressive in Metric

The morning view a couple of miles from our campsite.

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A fun marker that I had forgotten about. I’m glad that someone else remembered.

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A late afternoon view from Sequoia National Forest, amongst the trees and cool wind, looking east over the Mojave Desert and the town of Ridgecrest.

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Day 53 17 / 635

After 27 miles since the last water stop, this sure looks good.

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Someone was kind enough to leave behind a snow stake for digging and a couple of scoops to make collecting the water easier.  The spring was a seep spring, meaning that the water seeped from the ground and ran along the surface.  Digging a hole like this made it easier to scoop out before filtering.  Later in the season there won’t be any water on the surface, so hikers will have to dig deeper pits to access the water.

By the way, that was 27 miles between natural water sources. We carried water for that distance. However, there were a few water caches along the way, meaning that local folk would place gallon water jugs out for the hikers.  If we ran across one in the afternoon, we would take half a liter each so we could enjoy a Nuun, our favorite electrolyte drink.  But if there wasn’t one, we used what we had.  The caches were a surprise and treat for us, which means they were true “trail magic”. Some hikers rely on them, which is a fool’s folly because you can’t rely on the caches to be stocked, especially on these hot, dry stretches.

Some fun with desert symmetry.

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Jen has been amazed at how fast the transition between forest and desert occurs.

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But the best part was having this view while lying in our tent, ready for the show to end so we could sleep.

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Day 54  16 / 651

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Heavy Water

The southernmost Sierra Nevada, the driest section for us hikers, starting with a 17-mile water carry, followed by a 21-mile carry, then a 27-mile carry.  For that last one, we each carried 7 liters, which is 15.4 pounds. Normally we carry 3 liters, so we can feel the difference.

Meet Sssteven.  Sssteven  played possum, letting Bill get one step away from striking distance. Sssteven never rattled, nor shifted, when Bill prodded Sssteven with a trekking pole. Sssteven  was patient for his portrait session and did not move until Bill walked around behind Sssteven. Sssteven still didn’t rattle until he was headed away into the grass. Very odd behavior for a Sssteven.

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Almost full moon.

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Desert rock sunset.

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Day 50 – 14 / 580

Sunrise potty view.

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Stacked southernmost Sierra.

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Another hundy down.

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Day 51 – 20 / 600

Starting the day in Sequoia National Forest, then transitioning back to high desert.

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Back in the desert, some 8 miles into our 27-mile water carry, even the Joshua Tree was saying “hold the phone”.

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Home sweet home, our fantastic Yama Mountain Gear 2-person Swiftline tent.  It weighs in at a paltry 35 oz and is quite roomy for the two of us.

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Day 52 – 18 / 618

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Tehachapi Days

We originally intended on “slack-packing” an eight mile stretch between local highways in order to cut down a very long water haul through a very dry stretch.

The pull of the hotel bed won.  So we ran errands and bought our food for the next leg of our journey.  Even though it was a Zero day, the town is spread out enough that we put in about 7 miles of walking.

Here’s our latest portrait, thanks to a tractor-trailer on the side of the road.

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Day 48 – 0 / 558

Although the pull of the bed was strong once again, we managed to get out to catch the one morning bus running through the region.  We asked the driver to drop us off where the PCT crossed the highway, which she did.

We were slack-packing, meaning that we were staying in the hotel before and after, so we left most of our gear in the room and were traveling light.  That would help make for a quick 8 miles.

But we did have extra weight in our backpacks.  We loaded a couple of packs of cold Coke and started south, against the flow of the northbound hikers like us.  Within minutes we met the first of many thru-hikers, many of whom we recognized.  Needless to say, the Cokes were a welcome surprise and a smashing success.

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With the completion of these 8 miles, geographically speaking we are now done with the desert as we enter the very southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Climatologically and traditionally, we have another 140 miles to go before we enter the Sierras, as this next stretch is the driest, with several 25+ mile hauls between water sources.  Couple that with a full week before our next resupply and the packs will be heavy.

As we leave the desert, gone are the frequent town stops and access to phone networks.  The updates will become less frequent, certainly not thrice weekly as they have been for the past seven weeks. But we will post when we can, likely in a more condensed format.

Day 49 – 8 / 566

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