PCT Journal: Days 56-64 (Sierra Pt. I)

Day 56

Zero in Kennedy Meadows

Daily mileage: 0

Total PCT mileage: 702.2

The intention of today was to do all of our chores and head out on the trail, but we definitely took longer than expected. We waited until the washing machine was open to put in a load and then jumped in the outdoor showers to clean up. Laundry and showers are only open during business hours so we had to wait until this morning to get that all taken care of.

I was expecting two boxes to be delivered, but only one made it to the General Store. Luckily though, the other one that had my bear canister and food for eight days was at a place called Grumpy Bear’s down the road. We caught a ride with a guy who was shuttling hikers back and forth. We popped into Triple Crown Outfitters next door and picked up a few items, including one of my favorite snacks, Complete Cookies.

After grabbing my package at Grumpy Bear’s, I gave my dad a call for his 60th birthday, which was going to be the next day while we’re on trail, and then ordered cheese fries, a cheeseburger (with more fries), and a strawberry milkshake. When in Kennedy Meadows, thru-hikers have the option of camping at either The General Store or Grumpy’s. The General Store is a little less than a mile off trail and has a good vibe, so we were happy with our decision to stay there, but also liked having the option of going to Grumpy’s during the day.

As we were eating, in walked Kevin, who began with me at Scout and Frodo’s. He had to go home to Oregon for a bit and then from there, drove his car down to Kennedy to provide some trail magic as he has decided to get off trail now and return to finish in another year. It’s a sad feeling running into someone every now and again, and then find out you won’t be seeing them for the rest of the hike. He was in good spirits though and mentioned Alyssa was only a day behind. Steel Toe thought that after taking so long off to recover, we would be behind everyone we knew. Turns out that’s not the case.

By the time we returned to the General Store, it was closed so we unfortunately weren’t able to indulge in more cold drinks, but we opted to stay another night anyway since the sun was beginning to set and we still had to sort through our food for the next leg. We chatted with Stormtrooper for a little while before returning to our tent to sort everything.

Bear canisters are required throughout a certain section of the Sierra, so I opted for the large bear canister, but it still only fits six days of food. Therefore, the other two days are in my opsak, which is an odor proof bag, but that should be fine for the beginning of this leg. We will be in bear country, but we’ll still be cautious by placing our bear canisters and all of our fragrant items far away from our campsite.

Day 57

Kennedy Meadows to Mile 724.2

Daily mileage: 22

Total PCT mileage: 724.2

Since Steel Toe and I stayed the night in Kennedy, we opted to wake up early this morning. They serve pancakes for breakfast, but that’s at 8 am and we were ready to go by 6:30. We hiked out for about a mile before we sat down to eat breakfast and make some coffee. We could tell the day was already going to be cooler than the last few.

Although we were gaining elevation from the 6,149 ft we were at in Kennedy, it was easy to be motivated entering the Sierra. There was an immediate improvement in the scenery- grassy hills, meadows, and pine trees. I’m already loving it! Although I must admit, there is one caveat. My pack weight has truly increased due to the bear canister, eight days of food, and extra items for this section (ice axe, microspikes, midlayer, and rain gloves), and I can feel it. I’m estimating at the beginning of this leg it’s about 35-40 pounds.

After 14 miles, we arrived at another section of the Kern River. Perfect timing at 1:30 pm to take a lunch break and rinse off. We reluctantly got back on the trail, and the scenery just kept getting better. I spotted my first marmot! Two, actually. They’re honestly super cute, at least from afar.

Even with our heavy packs, we pushed on to the peak and made roughly 22 miles for the day. The terrain will become more difficult, and snow is expected a little further up, so we were happy to get in a long day at the beginning. Our camp spot tonight is at 10,580 ft, the highest I’ve ever camped!

Day 58

Mile 724.2 to Mile 741.6

Daily mileage: 17.4

Total PCT mileage: 741.6

Last night I didn’t sleep very well at all. Maybe it also had to do with being at such a high elevation, but I do know my body was aching from that day. My legs were pretty restless and I was unsuccessful at getting the chill out of my body in what I’m guessing was 40 degree weather. So by the time 5 am rolled around, I certainly was tired, but almost fully awake anyway. Still, we didn’t end up getting out of the tent until 8:30 am, right after Steel Toe killed a mosquito with his ice axe inside the tent. Only in the alpine forest does that occur.

Oatmeal for breakfast and coffee seemed to give me the energy I needed to start the day. We began with a descent of the peak we camped at, only to approach another climb. But that’s the name of the game on the PCT and especially in the Sierra. We can expect over the next month to be constantly ascending and descending high elevation passes.

Steel Toe and I discussed more of what lies ahead in this stretch. We plan to camp a few miles out from the peak of Mt Whitney in just three days and then wake up around midnight to summit in time to catch first light at the peak. Then we have another challenging day just after that one when we ascend Forester Pass. We’re more than excited to get there and see it all for ourselves!

My bathroom break today included a run in with a lot of gnats, and now I’m lucky enough to have bites all over. I should probably get used to that now that we’ve entered an area known to have more bothersome bugs.

Affer we took a lunch break, we came across a really neat rock formation and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some bouldering. I love rock climbing, but I’m certainly not as confident without a rope. So Steel Toe got a bit more into it than I did. That’s okay though, because then I could play photographer.

When we eventually got moving again we pushed ourselves another 6 miles to make it to water before dark. We set up camp in a large, flat, woodsy area and Steel Toe even made a small fire since there was a fire ring in sight. Camping tonight is at 9,660 ft. Bedtime talk included all things about bears, which was fun but also probably not the best idea when you inevitably will have to get up to go to the bathroom in the dark.

Day 59

Mile 741.6 to Guyot Creek

Daily mileage: 20.1

Total PCT mileage: 761.7

Steel Toe and I woke up today without any bear incidents. Breakfast was great because we were able to utilize a small area with rock chairs and a fire ring. Then yet again, we began another climb. After we made it to the peak, we stumbled upon a beautiful alpine view, Chicken Spring Lake. We filtered water, rinsed clothes, and ate lunch. Steel Toe even jumped in, but I was okay with being a bystander considering it felt like 40 degrees! Just shortly after, we met Baloo and chatted for a few about all sorts of things.

The views the entire day were just unreal. It’s crazy to say, but now I truly feel like I’m on a backpacking trip. We would be days away from towns while in the desert, but there always seemed to be dirt roads intersecting the trail. Even if they weren’t often used, it didn’t feel as remote as we are now. Here in the Sierra, there’s no easy way to leave. For us to get to Independence in four days, we have to hike about 9 miles off the PCT on a side trail that includes a high elevation pass just to get down to the trailhead for hitching. It’s a pretty neat feeling though, being so removed with such beauty surrounding us.

Our goal for the day was to make it at least 18 miles to a large creek. When we finally arrived around 6 pm, we noticed how many other thru-hikers were camping nearby. After our first major water crossing, in which we chose to cross on a large log to remain dry, we cooked dinner, filtered water, and were on our way.

My acid reflux was acting up today so we didn’t want to go much further. We hiked up pretty steep terrain to get to another creek and thankfully, flat ground was abundant. So now we’re camping at 10,371 ft with views of surrounding mountains every which way. Unfortunately we can’t see Mt Whitney just yet, but tomorrow we’ll be camping at the base, so we’re in for a treat.

Day 60

Guyot Creek to Guitar Lake

Daily mileage: 4.6 PCT + 3.8 side trails

Total PCT mileage: 766.3

We got a late start this morning knowing that we didn’t have a long day of hiking. After about a mile of uphill, we had smooth sailing until the junction to head toward Mt Whitney at Whitney Creek. We succeeded at another log crossing, although I don’t have much confidence in myself with them. After I unbuckle my pack for safety (in case I happen to fall in the water), I tend to have a hard time with balance as I cross. Suffice it to say, there will be times I’ll prefer to just get wet.

Just after the crossing, we rested for a bit and chatted with Baloo, Cribbage, Hobbit, Caveman, and Hot Lips. Cribbage and Hobbit were telling us how they began early in March and had to flip up to Northern California for 100 miles or so while waiting for the snow to melt in the Sierra. Now that’s where they said we’ll most certainly experience bear sightings.

Shortly after, we ran into Breezy and Finn, who we haven’t seen in quite a while so it was great to catch up. We kept going uphill and could tell we were getting closer to Guitar Lake, which sits below Whitney and the surrounding mountains. In one of the open rock fields, we could see a few resilient trees above and heard a howl. Steel Toe thought it was other hikers joking around, until we heard multiple in unison. It was clear there were wolves in the area!

When we reached the lake, we couldn’t believe the view. This was the moment we’ve both been waiting for, to feel like we’re actually doing something truly amazing. We set up camp right near the lake, unfortunately in the wind, and got right to our chores. Most people around crept into their tents early while it was still daylight since they will likely be summiting Whitney early.

Being in the tent right now feels great. The wind has halted, but it’s still chilly up here as we’re at 11,453 ft tonight. Marmots are everywhere you look here. They’re adorable, but if we’re not careful they won’t hesitate to steal our food. The alarm is set for 2 am, so bedtime it is.

Day 61

Guitar Lake/Whitney Summit to Bighorn Plateau

Daily mileage: 12.6 Mt Whitney Trail + 5.7 PCT

Total PCT mileage: 772.7

It was 3:30 am by the time we started getting ready. I began to develop a sore throat the night before so we allowed ourselves to sleep in a little so as not to hike too long in the dark when it’s much colder.

We only took with us in our packs our extra layers, microspikes, water, and snacks. The rest we left in the tent at the lake. The pack was maybe 10 pounds but felt like nothing compared to what we’ve been carrying.

As we started our hike in the dark, we could see the headlamps of other hikers on the mountain. Even though my throat was hurting and I was a little nervous knowing how that progressed into tonsillitis just over a week ago, I was extremely excited to be summiting and felt as if we were truly on an expedition.

Our official start time was 4:30 am, so it was about an hour before we could begin to see the surrounding mountains. At every switchback we approached, we could see an even greater view of the Sierra. It wasn’t long until we were almost at the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 ft, and man could we feel the altitude! Neither of us felt sick from it, aside from the pressure in my ears due to whatever was going on with me, but we were more out of breath than we were used to.

The climb from the lake wasn’t as difficult as we imagined, but it did feel long for 4.6 miles. Regardless, it was certainly the most scenic hike I’ve ever experienced. We could see the small shelter on the very peak from afar and knew we were getting closer. Patches of snow and ice took over small sections of the ridge, but solid foot holes were in place from others before us so we didn’t need to use our microspikes.

At last, we made it up the 3,020 ft in elevation to the peak in roughly 3 hours and we were celebrating! The wind was brutal so we weren’t the warmest, but we took a bunch of photos, ate a snack, and chatted with weekend backpackers coming from Lone Pine on the other side of the mountain. It was difficult not to admire the 360 degree view as we could see the Sierra range to the North, South, and West, and the desert to the East.

After quick FaceTime calls to our mothers (yes, somehow there is service on top!), we decided to head back down. The views were still breathtaking a second time around, and 2.5 hours later we made it back to our tent. Lunch and a nap were definitely called for.

When we finally had the energy to get moving, we made our way back to the trail junction. We ran into Blue and Gift Horse, which was awesome. Gift Horse’s brother came out to hike the Sierra with them, and he was doing his best to acclimate to the elevation. After the junction to get back on trail, weren’t sure how far we would manage to hike, but we went an additional 5.7 miles after the junction. We finished the last climb before the approach to Forester Pass and camped atop a plateau right next to a lake with breathtaking views all around.

Day 62

Bighorn Plateau to 1 mi prior to Kearsarge Pass

Daily mileage: 15.8 PCT + 1.7 Bullfrog Lake Trail

Total PCT mileage: 778.5

It was an early day since we wanted to get to Forester Pass before any snow warmed up. We took off around 5 am and after going downhill for a few miles we immediately came to a large water crossing. We walked up stream to see if we could find a dry spot to cross the creek, but the best we came across was an area where the creek was split into four smaller crossings. The first three were fine, but the last was clearly going to get us wet up to our knees, so we put on our sandals and went for it. The water was so cold that I had to keep lifting my feet up to ease the burn!

Shortly after came the approach to Forester Pass. Small snow fields and running water were everywhere we looked. We could see the pass very clearly from where we were and it definitely looked intimidating. There was one spot where we could watch tiny hiker specs cross a section of snow that was right near the ledge. We started our climb up the switchbacks and avoided the snow when we could. When we reached that one sketchy spot I was a bit nervous, but the snow was packed down enough to create footholds so thankfully we didn’t have any issues.

We took a few photos at the top and then saw what we were coming up against for the descent on the other side of the pass. We put on our microspikes and continued our hike down the pass. It was tiring, but the views were simply amazing. We timed it right since we postholed in the snow only a few times. I also glissaded down the side of a mountain today for the first time! I went way faster than I imagined, but it was fun. The only downside was I didn’t put my rain pants on and because I only had shorts, I developed nice large scrape on my thigh.

I truly felt like I was on a different planet today. The flowing water through the grass and falling over the rocks, the glistening snow fields, the mountains painted with snow here and there – it was hard to believe what my eyes were seeing. The trail continued through the valley and then climbed up and over a ledge where we took Bullfrog Lake Trail toward Kearsarge Pass. Bullfrog Lake was picture perfect as it was set against beautiful snowy mountains. We pushed on just a bit further to get closer to Kearsarge Pass for the morning and set up camp near another breathtaking lake.

Day 63

1 mi prior to Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley Trailhead/Hitch to Independence, CA

Daily mileage: 0.6 Bullfrog Lake Trail + 5 Kearsarge Pass Trail

Total PCT mileage: 778.5

I still couldn’t get over the view in the morning. The sun rose up over the mountains, exactly over where we were headed through the pass. We managed to make our way over it before the sun hit the west side. At this pass there was no snow to be seen. I made it to the top and gave a woo, as everyone does.

At the peak, we met and chatted with Frodo, Duckies, and Shoes. They started the trail in early March and told us how much snow was on Forrester and Kearsarge when they had to climb them. They ended up bouncing up to Northern California as a lot of people do to complete some of the trail there before heading back down after a majority of the snow melted.

4.4 miles later we made it down to Onion Valley Trailhead. We passed more beautiful lakes and a waterfall on our way, and I finally had service so I gave my mom a quick call to assure her I’m still kicking. Steel Toe and I also made a few calls to motels in Independence and Bishop to figure out where we were going to stay for the next two nights.

At the trailhead, we were surprised with amazing trail magic! The bear box at one of the reserved camp spots had soda, beer, sandwiches, chips, and apples, all for thru-hikers. We didn’t know who this person was, but we were super grateful.

We sat around the picnic table and got to know Crystal Meth, Sage, and Pinion. It didn’t take long for another thru-hiker to run over and say there was a guy in a pick-up truck who could take us all down the valley to Independence. We ran over and as I hopped in the back, I saw Hitch and Dingo. I was super excited to see them, and little did I know at the time, they got engaged on the top of Mt Whitney!

The ride down to Independence was interesting. When you’re in the back of a truck bed winding down mountain roads at a quick speed, especially after having only gone a maximum of 3 miles per hour on trail, you feel a bit of exhilaration mixed with fear. The view was beautiful though as we drove out of the mountains. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and what was right in these towns’ backyards.

We picked up a few packages at the Post Office in Independence, and then it only took about a minute for someone to pick us up on their way to Bishop. We decided to stay there instead since it has more grocery stores, outfitters, and restaurants. We walked into the Townhouse Motel to book a night and already saw that other thru-hikers were staying nearby.

After a trip to the laundromat and McDonald’s (not my usual, but it’s cheap food when you’re on a budget), we were walking down the street and ran into Jeremy and Parmesan! I was ecstatic to see them since it’s been a while and we thought they’d be so far ahead. The two of them and The Duchess were hiking together now, since they took a side trip to the Grand Canyon, and were headed back on trail today. We caught up with them and then walked down the street to Smart and Final to pick up the first half of our eight day resupply for the next leg.

On our way back to the motel, we picked up Japanese at the restaurant next door. Dinner included a Philly roll (my absolute favorite and I haven’t had it in 2 months!), gyoza, and veggies with ranch, yum!

Day 64

Zero in Bishop, CA

Daily mileage: 0

Total PCT mileage: 778.5

Most of today consisted of running around and completing errands. I had to make a call to Cascade Designs to arrange for a replacement sleeping pad. I received a loaner from them that I picked up in Independence, but with my luck it wouldn’t hold air. So the plan now will be to receive a completely new pad at our next stop in Mammoth Lakes. My next chore was to head to the library to print out forms for my medical claim to submit to World Nomads, from my tonsillitis incident in Lake Isabella.

Around lunch time, we checked out Mountain Rambler Brewery. I indulged in two delicious IPAs, and shared rosemary fries and a lamb empanada with Steel Toe. The day was incredibly warm in the valley, around 100 degrees, so we were happy to be out of the heat.

During our stop at Eastside Sports, one of the employees told us about his thru-hiking experience on the PCT in 1977! It was neat to hear about his take on it and how different it was then – paper maps, heavy packs, less distinguished trail, one pair of boots that were consistently resoled. We had fun chatting and listening to all of his stories. Just afterward, I received a call from one of my very best friends, Ali. It was so great to hear her voice.

Before the day was over, we made our way to Von’s to finish our resupply, and grabbed Chinese on the way back. It was just what we were craving! We finished dinner at the motel as we watched Van Helsing, and topped it off with a pint of cookie dough ice cream. I really can’t get used to this diet.

4 thoughts on “PCT Journal: Days 56-64 (Sierra Pt. I)

  1. Cathy says:

    Kate, I am just in awe at the amazing photos and hearing about your daily adventures. You really are inspiring. I can’t thank you enough for taking us all along with you during your adventure by keeping these daily blogs. Stay safe and be well.

    Like

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