Bishop, CA/Hitch to Onion Valley Trailhead to 2.4 mi prior to Kearsarge Pass
Daily Mileage: 2 Kearsarge Pass Trail
Total PCT Mileage: 788.5
Steel Toe and I took our time today waking up since we wanted to take advantage of the 11 am checkout. We organized and collected our belongings into our pack while we still had the room. Then we made our way to Looney Bean, a local coffee shop, to grab breakfast, update our blogs, and write a few postcards. By the way, Steel Toe began a blog called Two Hikers, One Pot! Check it out here: twohikersonepot.wordpress.com.
The next stop was McDonald’s to grab lunch and food to pack out since tonight wouldn’t count toward our eight days we allotted ourselves. While there, we continued to do as many chores as possible using the internet.
By the time it was 4 pm, we walked ourselves over to the Jack in the Box, since we were told that’s where thru-hikers typically hitch south to Independence. Within five minutes, a man coming out of the restaurant offered us a ride. We soon found out he was the agricultural commissioner for Inyo County.
Getting a hitch up to the trailhead from Independence proved to be much harder. Fewer people were headed up to the mountains so late. We chatted with a couple we’ve met before while we waited for a ride. We almost gave up when a man in a pickup truck with his dog offered us a ride if we would pay gas money. I’m not a fan when this happens, but we figured it was less money than spending another night in town.
This time, we wound slowly up the mountain road. It made me realize how fast we were coming down when we were in the back of a pickup truck a few days ago. At the trailhead, we met and fielded questions from a father and son duo who were out here for a five day backpacking trip that included Mt Whitney. When he realized we were thru-hikers, he shook our hands!
We only made it 2 miles up the trail when we called it a night. It was getting dark and we finally found a spot sheltered from the wind. The campsite view, as always, was perfect. When it wasn’t drowned out by the wind, we could hear the waterfall that was right nearby.
2.4 mi prior to Kearsarge Pass to Mile 799.7
Daily Mileage: 5.3 Kearsarge Pass Trail + 9.4 PCT
Total PCT Mileage: 799.7
We both woke up this morning a little stuffed up. I also felt a bit drowsy, and I’m assuming it’s all because of the elevation change. Bishop was only around 4,000 ft while camp last night was at 10,340 ft. It took us a few hours to get over Kearsarge Pass and continue on the trail to the junction for the PCT.
From there, it was all uphill until Glen Pass. We couldn’t see exactly where the pass was until we turned a corner and started heading toward it. It certainly wasn’t as demanding as Forester, but our packs this time are much heavier. With the tall stone steps we encountered, I felt like I was doing step-ups at the gym with a weighted pack. Although out here, you can’t argue with the views.
There was only a patch or two of snow on the approach, but a different story on the other side. Again, we didn’t have to walk through as much snow as on the backside of Forester, but there were some areas we had to be careful.
Coming down the pass we met a couple who was out for a 5 day trip on the Rae Lakes loop. They offered us chocolate and even held on to the wrappers for us!
Lunch was just a little bit further downhill overlooking another lake. Just afterward, we had nonstop views of the Rae Lakes. It wasn’t difficult to see Glenn Pass from where we were either. We also spotted two deer in a field that didn’t seem to care that we were nearby. And just shortly after, another deer came within 5 ft from us as she let us snap a photo.
We set up camp near Woods Creek with a few others around. Loic and Copilot, who we met at Guitar Lake before summiting Whitney, decided to camp nearby as well. As we were eating dinner, we first heard and then saw a Search and Rescue helicopter. We haven’t heard that anyone has gotten hurt recently, but they were clearly searching within a mile from us. I recall that we do have a large water crossing tomorrow about a mile from here, so hopefully no one has hurt themselves on the attempt.
The sound of the helicopter soon died down, and we went down to the water to wash up. When you have fresh water, there’s no need to waste wet wipes.
Mile 799.7 to Mile 814.3
Daily Mileage: 14.6
Total PCT Mileage: 814.3
This morning started off with a suspension bridge, the 800 mile marker, and multiple water crossings back to back. For the water crossings, we opted to leave our trail runners on for the traction, but removed our socks. The water was very cold and swift, but it wasn’t long before the sun peaked its head over the mountains. The 7ish mile climb that was in store for us followed the rushing Woods Creek for some time and then veered off into the surrounding mountains to place us at even higher elevation.
There were a few snow fields on the approach to Pinchot Pass, but not as many as we were anticipating. It was 10 am and we were worried we would be postholing by now, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. Steel Toe realized he dropped his sunglasses back where we took a break, and failed to pick them up. I know how that goes. I lost mine in Julian and just recently ordered a new pair. He didn’t feel like turning back but it wasn’t long before we realized he should have, if only for the upcoming snow on the passes.
We reached the pass by 11 am and were again stunned by the beauty before us. We were also happy to see that there wasn’t much snow to be dealt with. The switchbacks were covered here and there, so we decided to glissade. This time I made sure to wear my rain pants, but I could still feel the scrape on my right side from glissading down Forester. It saved us time though and before we knew it, we were down the pass and relaxing for lunch by a beautiful lake. We did have a visitor, a small chipmunk who came right up to our feet while we were eating.
I can’t even count how many water crossings we had today. Some were small and only took a bit of rock hopping to cross, while others required careful maneuvers over logs. For those that we couldn’t find a dry place to cross, we just forded the water while being careful not to slip on any rocks.
After descending into the valley, we made our way back up to 11,000 ft for the night and camped just before Mather Pass. The pass is right in our sight, and we also have a beautiful view of snow capped mountains just across the water that’s running 50 ft from our tent. We washed our clothes and laid them out to dry while we washed up, cooked dinner, and took in the beauty around us.
Mile 814.3 to Mile 832.5
Daily Mileage: 18.2
Total PCT Mileage: 832.5
Every time the alarm went off this morning, I kept pushing it forward by a half hour. Before we knew it, it was 7 am. That was okay though because there was so much condensation last night from being near the creek that everything, including our bags and clothes hanging outside, were covered in frost. We waited until the sun rose over the mountains to get out of bed and lay everything out on the rocks to dry.
Mather Pass was 2.5 miles away and supposedly one of the easier ones. The approach had very little snow, but the back side had a few large patches similar to the other passes. Steel Toe led the way and glissaded a few times. The first time he scraped up his thighs like I did before and quickly understood the pain I was feeling! I only glissaded once since I’m still getting comfortable with it.
We continued the descent into the valley, and the view in front of us the whole way was breathtaking. We could see the jagged snow capped mountains just beyond the steep green valley. Our lunch view was superb, probably one of our best ones yet. We passed two large waterfalls that we were so close to we could feel the water spray.
The trail followed Palisades Creek for quite some time until we began climbing again. We decided to push until 7 pm to put ourselves closer to Muir Pass, which was rumored to have snow for miles before and after. We came across a deer that was roughly 5 ft away and just stared at us.
We found a spot to camp just off the trail in a woodsy area of a valley, and we noticed deer tracks so we assumed there must be a decent amount of wildlife around. Steel Toe built a fire in the pit that was available while I set up the tent. By bedtime, we realized we were correct in our assumption about the wildlife in the area since we had some visitors. As I was walking toward the tent at dusk, Steel Toe warned me I had an admirer behind me and I freaked out for all of 30 seconds until I ran over to the tent. It was apparent that three deer walked into camp and started sniffing around. They clearly weren’t phased by us, until we would get out of the tent and start walking toward them. Thankfully they were of the docile variety.
Mile 832.5 to Mile 847.6
Daily Mileage: 15.1
Total PCT Mileage: 847.6
This morning we woke up to the same three deer strolling into camp. One was insistent on licking the straps to our packs. We tried making all sorts of noises to ward them off, but they didn’t bother leaving until we stepped out of the tent.
It was a cold morning, per usual. It’s only our fourth day out of eight on this stretch, but my body feels exhausted. The Sierra really makes you work for the views. These passes, especially with some snow, take a lot out of you.
We continued the climb we started yesterday as we headed toward Muir Pass. About 3 miles out, we hit snow. It took us a while to get to the top where Muir Shelter lies, but we barely postholed. It was noon by the time we started the descent, and we prayed the snow would still be solid.
We hiked through another 3 miles of patchy snow on our way down. The rumors were true. Muir Pass wasn’t technical due to the terrain, but it was certainly the most snow ridden pass we’ve encountered yet. Toward the bottom of the northern approach we hiked past a gorgeous alpine lake, with patches of ice throughout. We continued on and reached another body of water where we took our lunch break. As our clothes were drying from being rinsed in the water, Steel Toe took advantage of the opportunity to sunbathe.
It was 4:30 pm and we wanted to hike at least 5 more miles to put us around 15 miles for the day, so we packed up to head out. We passed Evolution Lake on our way down and man, was it beautiful. As we continued down into the valley, the mosquitos became ubiquitous. We hurried to find a place to camp and came upon a perfect spot right near the creek with a fire ring and rocks to sit on.
Like last night, Steel Toe began and tended to the fire while I set up camp.
About five minutes later, after I walked over to the fire and was sorting through our bears canisters, Steel Toe calmly said, Kate look at me… and that’s all I heard before I glanced behind me and saw a black bear on all fours sniffing near our tent 35 ft away. Since this was the first bear I’ve ever seen in the wild, my heart started racing and I slowly walked the 5 ft over to the fire to sit on the other side of Steel Toe as I kept repeating, What do we do, should we yell, should we sit here? The pepper spray is in the tent!
He told me to calm down as he handed me his phone to take a photo. I only somewhat felt better that he wasn’t freaking out. He mentioned it was technically a cub and that it was now heading toward the trail, so I shouldn’t be worried. We watched as it slowly walked past the trail and climbed up the mountainside. I was put at ease for now, but all I could think about was, where is mama bear? Only ten minutes later, two deer strolled by on the trail and headed up the mountainside as well. Apparently we’ll be seeing more wildlife in the Sierra than we imagined.
We wanted to put the fire out before bed, so I kept running back and forth to the creek to grab water as Steel Toe mixed the ashes. It was dark out by now, so I kept using my headlamp to look for any bears wandering around. On my way back from my third water run, I must have been rushing and I tripped over a slight incline and landed right on a large rock surface. The water went everywhere, but luckily I only managed to bruise and scrape my shin. Finally we called it quits and went to bed, but I would be kidding if I said I wasn’t highly vigilant of our surroundings all night.
Mile 847.6 to Mile 873.8
Daily Mileage: 26.2
Total PCT Mileage: 873.8
We woke up with no incidents or visitors that we knew of last night. The bear canisters were still upright and in their place. It was late by the time we got out of camp, but it felt good to sleep in a little since our bodies are constantly trying to recover from the prior day.
The goal for today was to get over Seldon Pass, which was about 18 miles ahead. We had 10 miles of downhill that we enjoyed as the trail followed a ridge that lied just above a rushing creek. The pass itself wasn’t as demanding as the others, but it was still hard work. We had to deal with very little snow, so losing the trail, like what has happened with the other passes, wasn’t an issue this time.
After we hit our goal for the day, we decided to push on until dark. We crossed the infamous Bear Creek, which is typically quick moving and about waist high, but our experience was much better. Even by the end of the day, it was up to my shorts and I turned toward the rapids but they weren’t too strong. Right after, we ran into Loic, Copilot, and one of their friends sitting around their campfire. We told them about our bear sighting the night before.
It was getting dark, but we must have had a second wind because we kept going. We always wanted to night hike in the Sierra, so we figured why not give it a shot. We pushed until we couldn’t any longer and set up camp midway up a climb.
Mile 873.8 to Horshoe Lake/Hitch to Mammoth Lakes, CA
Daily Mileage: 29.5 PCT + 3.4 side trails
Total PCT Mileage: 903.3
We woke up before light and couldn’t fall back asleep. Steel Toe and I discussed the fact that Mama Duck would only be around for so much longer. We came up with the crazy idea that we could potentially make it to Mammoth Lakes tonight if we pulled another 30 plus mile day. We decided to see how far we could push our bodies with this goal in mind. Besides, the parts that we were hiking through now didn’t compare to the scenery we encountered just days before.
We completed Silver Pass, which had more snow than Seldon Pass, but was completely doable. The mosquitos today were bad though, it seemed they’re getting worse with each day. The heat certainly wasn’t helping. We came across many locals on 5 to 6 day backpacking trips that told us the bugs would be bad for a little while. Good thing we have bug nets for our face at least.
We also kept passing southbound JMT hikers. The JMT, or John Muir Trail begins in Yosemite, runs along the PCT for some time, and is completed upon summiting Mt Whitney. I’ve heard in the past it’s beautiful, and I’m so glad that the PCT runs along most of it.
Eventually it was nearing dark and we realized we had a chance of making it to Horseshoe Lake in time to get a hitch into town. We missed the shuttle that runs until 6 pm, but we miraculously were offered a ride by a couple who had two kids that completed the PCT in prior years. I was extremely happy considering the thought of road walking another 5 miles made me want to cry. It was late by the time we arrived into town, but we managed to grab snacks from Von’s, a slice of pizza from a local pizza shop, and book a room at Alpenhof Lodge. I was internally jumping for joy at the sight of a shower and a bed, but on the outside I probably looked like I was going to crumble in place.
Zero in Mammoth Lakes, CA
Daily Mileage: 0
Total PCT Mileage: 903.3
I abruptly woke up in the dark last night around midnight thinking we were cowboy camping outside. I saw light coming in from the door and immediately thought it was a headlamp on a thru-hiker, so I questioned why someone would be hiking so late. It took a full three minutes for me to realize I was actually in a bed.
Laundry and continental breakfast were first on the list today. We also ended up booking another two nights and moving rooms since the one we were in was on the third floor and had a tendency to get warm during the day. The employee at the lodge was extremely accommodating so we were happy to continue our stay there.
After we got settled again, we completed some chores. I sewed the holes in our gaiters, taped up the mesh holes on my pack, and took inventory of the leftover food I had in my bear canister. Being productive while sitting on a bed and watching HGTV felt great. Both my mind and body were enjoying a few of the comforts from home.
We took the town trolley (which was free!) to Von’s and the outfitters in town to finish our resupply and shop a little. Just before we got back to our room, we ran into Kodex, Moses, Whoopie, Splifford, and a few of their friends eating pizza and having a few drinks outside on a porch at the lodge. They offered us a sip of their bourbon and a few beers, which we didn’t turn down.
Soon after we headed off to Mammoth Brewing Company a block away to meet up with Mama Duck! She told us how she plans to leave the trail after spending a week in Yosemite, so we were super happy to see her. I had an IPA and delicious chicken schwarma tacos with a side of waffle fries that I split with Steel Toe. We all enjoyed ourselves and after Mama Duck took the trolley back to the hostel she was staying at, Steel Toe and I grabbed another beer and hung around listening to the country music they were playing.
We finished our night by organizing the groceries that were thrown on the bed before we ran to meet up with Mama Duck while listening and dancing to some tunes.
Zero in Mammoth Lakes, CA
Daily Mileage: 0
Total PCT Mileage: 903.3
Sleeping in felt so great today. My alarm went off at 8:30 am to have enough time to grab breakfast, but apparently Steel Toe was awake since 6:30. We hobbled our way over to the main building of the lodge to sip coffee and indulge in as much protein and carbohydrates as we could get while chatting with Splifford.
It feels good today that we already completed our resupply and tended to the major gear needs. We walked over to Motel 6 to pick up my two packages – dinners from Omeals and my new sleeping pad from Cascade Designs.
The rest of the day consisted of lounging around and exploring the area of Mammoth Lakes that we’re staying in, known as The Village. They’re having a two day festival centered around the motocross finals here, with food, drinks, and all types of vendors. We grabbed some food and drinks at Shelter Distilling, then lounged in front of the stage to listen to a few bands.
More time was spent relaxing again in the room while rolling toilet paper, updating social media, and blogging. For dinner we went back across the street to the brewery since we enjoyed ourselves so much last night. Then we organized our belongings and hand washed any clothes we wore the past few days before heading to bed.
Zero in Mammoth Lakes, CA
Daily Mileage: 0
Total PCT Mileage: 903.3
So we woke up today with the intention of leaving, but Steel Toe somehow convinced me to stay one more day in Mammoth. He made the point that we were two days ahead of schedule by getting here as early as we did, and that we didn’t utilize the hotub at the lodge just yet. So here we are, but I can’t complain. Once you feel a soft bed again and taste fresh food, it’s difficult to leave.
After another great breakfast at the lodge, we relaxed in the room and made calls to friends and family. When we eventually mustered up enough energy to go outside, we took the trolley to the other side of town to check out the outfitters one more time. As we were walking around afterward, we spotted another brewery and decided to check it out.
Black Doubt Brewing Co. was its name, and I was in love. We tried all that they had to offer. Now I’m someone who typically only likes IPAs, but I can say I truly enjoyed even their peanut butter stout and raspberry sour. We ended up spending the a few hours there as we petted the dogs that came in and people watched. Motocross was still going on so lots of people were coming and going, and we also saw a wedding party come in for a little.
When we returned to the lodge, we finally spent some time in the hotub and then ordered Domino’s for dinner before collapsing into another restful night of sleep.