PCT Journal: Days 75-100 (Sierra Pt. III)

Day 75

Shuttle from Mammoth Lakes, CA/Red’s Meadow to Mile 911.6

Daily Mileage: 4.1

Total PCT Mileage: 911.6

We woke up this morning with the actual intention of leaving for the trail. After taking another shower, binging at breakfast, and packing up our belongings, we checked out of the lodge. We ran into The Machine on the way out and he was happy to receive the bag of goodies we collected for a hiker box.

We walked around The Village one more time and popped into one of the outfitters for a look. I should mention we had our underwear hanging off of our packs in order to dry, but that’s nothing new for us thru-hikers. Steel Toe found a pair of Marmot rain pants and I ended up purchasing a thin long sleeve North Face shirt to fend off the bugs that are only going to get worse moving forward. Immediately after, we hopped on the bus to get to Mammoth’s main lodge, where families and mountain bikers were scattered about for the outdoor activities nearby. We waited for the next bus to get to Red’s Meadow, where we can get back on the trail, but this time we had to pay $8 per person since it’s a tourist destination with Devils Postpile Monument just a hike away.

At Red’s we indulged in ice cream sandwiches and ordered some food from the small restaurant for a hefty price. Picnic tables were filled with PCT and JMT hikers alike, as the air became consumed with smoke and ash from a nearby fire in the valley. We packed up and headed out around 2 pm and took the monument trail back to the PCT. We wore our buffs over our nose and mouth to be able to breathe a little better with the fire nearby. We asked a day hiker if he knew about it, and apparently it was 7 miles south of where we were.

We didn’t intend on hiking far and it was only a few miles up when we found the perfect potential spot to camp. We veered from the trail and crossed the Middle Fork San Joaquin River on a large log. Just up the hill we found a flat tent spot that was clearly used before. After we unpacked our bags and set up the tent, we ventured down to the river to wash up, rinse our clothes, filter water, and enjoy dinner with a view.

We climbed back up the hill to the tent area and I went off and practiced a bear hang with the thin rope we recently bought. We’ll be sending our bear canisters home before Northern California, where wildlife is more abundant, so we’re hoping to make this new method a habit that sticks.

As we laid in the tent and watched an episode of Mr. Robot under the stars, I wondered and hoped that the fire wasn’t spreading toward us. All we needed was to wake up in the middle of the night to flames. You could tell the sky was getting a bit clearer, but you could still see a bit of ash coming down.

Day 76

Mile 911.6 to Mile 924.2

Daily Mileage: 12.6

Total PCT Mileage: 924.2

We woke up around 8 am to tiny pieces of ash on and inside the tent. We didn’t put an alarm on considering we told ourselves we’d take our time on this stretch to Tuolumne Meadows. It felt good to wake up naturally to the sun, and not feel rushed. Coffee and breakfast were enjoyed by the river, especially since the mosquitos were already awake and hungry.

We noticed the smoke from the nearby fire was just as bad, if not worse, than yesterday. We wondered if it was contained as the day hiker mentioned, or if it was still ongoing. Again, our buffs made for great shields so we could at least breathe without coughing or getting a headache.

As we hiked further though, it did get better, at least near the ridge that we were on. The terrain opened up and we were hiking through a meadow filled with wildflowers and small purple butterflies. We came across a great spot for lunch that overlooked Shadow Lake, various waterfalls, and beautiful snowy mountains directly in the background.

The longer we hiked, the higher we climbed once again. We were headed toward Island Pass at 10,226 ft. Just below it, we took a break at Thousand Island Lake. I remember seeing this lake in photographs online before starting this hike, so like everything else, it was great to finally see it in person.

We chose to camp just past the lake and a half mile short of the pass. The climb has been relatively easy, especially compared to the previous passes, so we figured we’d leave the rest for the morning and camp with a lake view.

We’re above 10,000 ft again, but the mosquitoes are still pretty active. Eating dinner while trying to shoo them away is as annoying as it sounds. We even utilized what we call the walk about method, where you walk around in the midst of eating your meal. I’m looking down in the valley where we came from and I can see the smoke slowly coming toward us. Even if it’s just the aftermath of putting out the fire, I’d prefer not to wake up to hazy surroundings.

It seemed as if it didn’t get even remotely dark until 9. We watched an episode of Mr. Robot in the tent as mosquitoes stalked us right outside. Ten or so would just sit on the mesh wall as if they knew we were present. Soon enough, it was bedtime, even though we could see all around us from the near full moon.

Day 77

Mile 924.2 to Mile 936.5

Daily Mileage: 12.3

Total PCT Mileage: 936.5

I didn’t sleep the best last night due to acid reflux and the noise from the helictopers nearby. Not to mention, it wasn’t as cold as I would have liked for sleeping in my 10 degree bag.

I’m not a fan of insects in the first place, but I’m beginning to truly loathe mosquitoes. They weren’t around during the night since it was cold enough, but the minute the sun came up they came back to feast. We didn’t even try to eat breakfast near camp and instead pushed toward Island Pass. It was so subtle we barely realized we went over it.

Once we descended, we immediately began another climb toward Donahue Pass. As we were filtering water, we saw a woman with chaps leading five horses down the trail. I knew I would eventually see horses out here! The climb up to Donahue wasn’t as tough as others in the past, and there was only one patch of snow we had to walk through. At the top, we rested while we ate a snack and since I had service, called and applied for a permit to hike Half Dome.

The closer we started getting to Tuolumne Meadows, the more people we were seeing. We were already technically in Yosemite National Park, but not yet near the valley where it would be recognizable. We eventually stopped for the day near a large creek. We figured it would be a good spot to wash ourselves and our clothes since we won’t have either option at the campground we’ll be at tomorrow.

As our clothes were drying on the rock, we cooked dinner and talked about our plans for Yosemite. Before dark, we made our way to an established site nearby where a couple already set up camp. We chatted with them around the fire for the rest of the night. We learned that their daughter and son-in-law are also hiking the PCT, and are only a day ahead. It wasn’t long before we headed off to bed since we were tired, under a full moon this time.

Day 78

Mile 936.5 to Tuolumne Meadows

Daily Mileage: 6

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

We woke up to another campfire, which was a great sight considering how cold we were. Our sleeping bags were quite wet from the condensation during the night as well. It was 6:30 am so we made ourselves get out of the tent and get ready since we wanted to arrive at the Wilderness Center early. We planned to hike the 6 miles to Tuolumne Meadows and wait in line for a wilderness permit to hike in and around the valley.

The miles went by pretty quickly, and it helped that we were super excited. When we arrived at the Wilderness Center, the first person we saw waiting in line was Mama Duck! We waited for an hour or so while we chatted. The ranger came by and discussed with us which trailhead he could give us a permit for. Most wilderness permits in Yosemite are reserved weeks to months ahead of time, but there are a few that are allotted the day before. These were the ones we were waiting for.

We listened to the ranger give a small speech about backcountry etiquette and meanwhile, he mentioned that the forest fire we were previously hiking near was a decent size and spread over 3,000 acres.

Afterward, we were issued permits for Sunrise Lakes trailhead and Half Dome as well. So now the plan will be to hike in 10 miles or so, camp near the junction of Half Dome, then summit in the morning and hike out into the valley. Half Dome has been on my list for quite a while, so now I’m super excited that it’s actually going to happen!

We walked over to the general store and picked up a few of our packages. They were kind enough to hold the ones with our resupply until we return from the valley. We then enjoyed a few snacks, beers, and sodas from the store, and double cheeseburgers from the grill next door.

Outside of the general store there were picnic tables occupied by a bunch of thru-hikers. We chatted with Mama Duck and a few others about trail life, plans in Yosemite, etc. A man who just finished his backpacking trip dropped off a bunch of food into the makeshift hiker box. It was almost simultaneous when six or seven hikers flocked to the box to peruse the options.

Steel Toe, Mama Duck, and I eventually headed over to the campground just behind the store. We set up right near Mama Duck and immediately began spraying our clothes with the permethrin we bought. The three of us hung around the picnic table for a while, then ate dinner, which for Steel Toe and I, consisted of a box of pasta and alfredo sauce. It wasn’t long before we took a trip back to the store to get ice cream for an after dinner snack.

We’re laying in the tent now as we listen to the rangers down the hill play music on their banjos and violins for a small crowd. Tomorrow we head out to hike within the best sections of the park!

Day 79

Hiking in Yosemite National Park

Daily Mileage:

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

We let the sun wake us up again – it’s so nice, I could get used to that. Mama Duck, Steel Toe, and I packed up and headed back over to the general store to grab a breakfast sandwich and any last minute snacks. We said our goodbyes to Mama Duck and told her we would potentially see her in San Francisco, but it wasn’t a guarantee that we were going.

Steel Toe and I attempted to hitch to the Sunrise Lakes trailhead, which was 7 miles toward the valley, so we thought it would be relatively easy. Fifty passed cars and thirty minutes later, we decided to walk further along the road to a different spot. Finally, a policeman and his kids from Nevada picked us up and brought us to our destination.

We first hiked 7.5 miles to Clouds Rest, where we saw a beautiful view of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome. We took a break at the peak for some time while we met and chatted with other backpackers and day hikers. One of the backpackers we met, Sam, opted to hike with us for the rest of the day. We arrived at the junction for Half Dome around 5:30 pm, so we decided as a group to head up immediately. We figured we still had enough daylight and the cables might not be as crowded considering the hike in from the valley for day hikers is 7 miles.

We stashed our packs off the trail and Steel Toe made a small makeshift pack out of rope and his dry sack. We only passed a few hikers on the 1.5 ish mile hike to the approach, and the last few mentioned we would be almost alone at the top. After a decent climb on the approach made of granite stone, we came face-to-face with the cables leading up to the very top. They were tremendously intimidating to me, as they appeared from afar to mimick the steepness of a ladder. It wasn’t until I stood at the start of the cables and looked up that I felt somewhat more at ease. It surely wasn’t a ladder I was staring at, but it was still steeper than I expected. Gloves were even laid out for our use.

I received a pep talk from Steel Toe, took a few deep breaths, and began the climb. It was quite the mental challenge, but I accomplished my goal and made it to the top! We saw one last person head down, and then it was just the three of us for the entire time we spent up there. After many photos and a few courageous peaks over the side of the rock slab, we made our way back down as the sun was setting.

Going down the cables proved more difficult than the hike up them. To prevent myself from freaking out about the height of our position, I turned around and went down backwards. Steel Toe and Sam did the same since our shoes seemed to get better grip that way. The rock slab was quite slick in some places, and I’m sure it’s partially due to the amount of people that opt to do this hike. As we were coming down, a group of three were on their way up. I thought they were brave considering it was going to be dark very soon.

When we made it to the bottom of the cables, I felt immense relief. I was so proud of myself for not only climbing to the top, but making it down in one piece! Steel Toe gave me a congratulatory hug and kiss, and we all were elated at our accomplishment. A few more photos and then we were off and headed back to our packs. We made it just in time before we actually needed our headlamps, then quickly set up our tent and headed to bed after a late dinner.

Day 80

Hiking in Yosemite National Park & Bus/Train to San Francisco

Daily Mileage: 5 off trail

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

In the morning, I realized we had a glimpse of Half Dome from where we were camping. I could see the trickle of people beginning to climb the cables. They were as tiny as ants, but you couldn’t mistake them. All I thought was, thank goodness we made the climb last night. The idea of trying to constantly pass people as you’re climbing up or down sounds terrifying.

We packed up and said our goodbyes to Sam and wished him well on his future travels. He was planning to explore Sequoia National Park then eventually head back to South America. He gave us some great advice if we ever want to travel to Peru.

On the beginning of our hike down to the valley, we passed a decent amount of people. Everyone was clearly headed to Half Dome. I wondered if they knew what to expect. After we passed the junction for Nevada Falls, we began to encounter a much denser crowd of people. It felt as if we were climbing down a pass, with the amount of large stone steps and steepness, but this time instead of avoiding mosquitoes, we were playing don’t run into the tourists. I couldn’t possibly count how many people we passed coming the other way. I expected it, but it felt like culture shock for a few minutes. Thankfully though, we didn’t encounter any litter on the trail.

After we finally completed the 5 miles to the valley, we jumped on a shuttle bus and checked out the grocery store at Yosemite Village. As we were eating our store salads and sharing a bag of chips, we discussed our next move. Do we try to get a hitch out of the valley and back to Tuolumne Meadows, which may prove difficult, or take public transportation to San Francisco? A bit of research and a half hour later, we rushed over to the visitor center to hop on the YART to Merced, California!

The bus ride was about two hours, and for the first hour I was struggling against motion sickness, go figure. That’s what happens when you walk everywhere for two and a half months. We called around to multiple motels and booked ourselves a night at the Rodeway Inn, since according to the website, the next Amtrak train wasn’t scheduled to arrive until tomorrow.

When we eventually made it to Merced, we were getting off the bus when we heard from two locals that a train was headed to San Fran tonight. We headed into the Amtrak station and discovered they were correct, so we booked ourselves on the next train and planned to be in the city just before midnight. The train was late, but was supposed to arrive in 40 minutes, so right after we cancelled the Inn, we booked it a mile down the road to Taco Bell for dinner. I’m not joking when I say we were actually running, in the heat, with our packs and everything. Thankfully, we arrived back to the station in time before the train arrived.

While on the train, we got to work finding a good deal for a place to stay downtown. Priceline became our best friend when we came across a steal at the Van Ness Inn near the Fisherman’s Wharf. It was booked immediately after we verified we could check in late. Roughly four hours later, we found ourselves in Oakland! A short Uber ride over the Bay Bridge and the Inn was in sight. We quickly showered, cleaned our clothes in the sink to wear tomorrow, and hit the bed around 1 am.

Day 81

Zero in San Francisco

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

Waking up was a bit difficult today, but the thought of being in San Fran was motivating. We walked a few blocks to Fisherman’s Wharf and caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. People were scattered all over the streets, some leisurely walking and others on bicycles. We checked out the famous Pier 39 as well. It was both a thrill and a burden to be around so many people.

Shortly after, we ventured over to Chinatown, and then continued our way down to Soma to check out the REI. We picked up some Nuun tablets and bug spray, and Steel Toe tried on a rain jacket and long sleeve sun shirt.

An Uber then took us north to the Marina district for Mexican food. The guacamole and burrito we had at Los Hermanos really hit the spot. By the time we walked back to the Inn, we were exhausted. After a short nap, we ordered and picked up Chinese at Thai Chi. Takeout and Ironman on the TV made for a perfect night of relaxation.

Day 82

Zero in San Francisco

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

It was 11 am when I opened my eyes. I think Steel Toe had been awake for some time, but he didn’t mind letting me catch up on sleep. Our breakfast included the leftovers from yesterday’s Chinese food, but it was still delicious. Our first task of the day was to check out San Francisco Brewing Company. We tried a few of their beers and appetizers for a late lunch.

Our next stop was going to be Fort Point, near the Golden Gate Bridge, so we rented JUMP bicycles (which amazingly are semi-motorized) and pedaled ourselves northwest of the city. Fog rolled in early that day so our view of the bridge was obscured, but it was still pretty neat to see up close. We wandered around the fort and took a bunch of photographs.

The chilly breeze was enough to get us back on the bikes and moving toward the wharf once again. We explored the Musee Mechanique, an antique arcade, and played a few games like Skee Ball and Down the Clown. Being in an arcade on the pier reminded me of the show we’re watching, Mr. Robot. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

A small, quick dinner was enjoyed at the Chowder Hut. We ate fish and chips fireside on their patio. After the sun set, we walked around the streets looking for the best view of the city. From the top of one section of Lombard Street, we could see Coit Tower lit up. We walked down the famous steep, windy street and watched as cars eased themselves to the bottom. Afterward, late night dinner consisted of more leftover Chinese food. Then it was off to bed with the intention of actually waking up at a decent time tomorrow.

Day 83

San Francisco/Train to Merced, CA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

It’s such an odd feeling when sleeping in a real bed. I keep waking up in the middle of the night or early morning and being confused about where I am for a few minutes. Steel Toe and I grabbed a few items from the continental breakfast in the lobby then made our way over to the Patagonia outfitter down the road. After some window shopping, we stopped at San Francisco Brewing Co. one more time for a beer and french fries. We enjoyed our last hour in San Fran while watching the Belgium vs. Japan World Cup game.

After a short walk on the pier, we hopped in an Uber headed toward the Amtrak station in Oakland. The three hour train ride involved a few calls to family and more episodes of Mr. Robot. Just as we arrived in Merced, I received an unfortunate call from my Dad. I was told news that my mom had broken her hip and needed surgery.

Knowing that we were a bus ride away from Yosemite where we wouldn’t have cell service didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to know that she would be okay, and more importantly, if I could do anything to help. If we were on trail without service when this occurred, I would be ignorant of what was happening, but being off trail I was fully aware of the situation and wanted to do everything in my power to be there.

We grabbed food at the grocery store then walked the mile and a half to the Inn. I tried to clear my mind to be able to make a decision about getting off trail temporarily or not, so we watched a movie on the TV in the meanwhile. Just before bed, we discussed our options for moving forward and decided to sleep on it.

Day 84

Merced, CA/Train to San Francisco

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

I woke up with a strong desire to be at home. I knew my answer, that this trail means a lot to me and I don’t want to leave it just yet, but family means more. So I told Steel Toe my decision was to fly home for at least a week to help my mom with the initial part of her recovery, then get back on trail afterward. He knew it might mean that we would have to flip up to the Canadian border at some point and hike southbound due to the weather window, but he wanted to support me and only continue the trail when it was feasible for both of us.

After taking advantage of the continental breakfast, we checked out of the Inn and took an Uber back to the Amtrak station. We were in line once again, except this time purchasing train tickets back to San Fran instead of bus tickets to Yosemite. While on the train, we purchased our flight to Connecticut and called gear companies about our packages that were sent ahead.

When we made it back to San Fran, we immediately jumped on the subway and headed toward the airport. It was early considering our flight was the next morning, but we figured we could check in and save ourselves a night at a motel. After rummaging through our packs and condensing them into one checked bag and one carry-on, we wrapped the one to check in saran and made a bee line to the check-in counter. It turns out you can’t drop off a bag until roughly 3 hours prior to a flight, so we were left with carrying around my wrapped pack until 3 am.

Food, people watching, and social media kept us entertained until midnight. We then found a spot with decently comfortable chairs to relax and nap on for a few hours.

Day 85

San Francisco/Flight to Connecticut

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

We obtained minimal sleep last night, but it was enough to keep us going. As the morning emerged, more people began to trickle in to the airport. We checked my pack around 4 am, went through security, and grabbed breakfast. The initial flight was five hours, but thankfully we slept for most of it so it only felt like a few.

One more two hour flight landed us in Connecticut. One of my best friends, Meg, picked us up from the airport and I felt so happy to see her face. It’s only been about three months since I left, but trail time can be obscured. Some days it feels like the time that has passed is so minuscule, while other days it feels like a year.

Meg first drove us straight to the hospital to pay a visit to my mom. I was quite anxious to see her. We met up with my dad in the parking lot, gave him a big hug, then headed inside. It took my mom a second to comprehend that I was standing in front of her. She was both relieved and upset to see me. I assured her that the trail would be there when we return, and how important it was to me to be here for her. She wasn’t in the clear yet as surgery was still a few days away, but I felt relieved to be nearby and see for myself that she was going to be okay.

Days 86-96

Connecticut

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

Steel Toe and I spent 10 days at my home in Connecticut. Once my mom came home from the hospital, most days involved looking after her and helping out around the house. It was incredible how many people we saw in such a short amount of time. We met up with some of my best friends and also had relatives coming by the house everyday. It was great to see how much support my mom had nearby.

When we occasionally took a break from the house, I made sure to bring Steel Toe to some of my favorite food spots. If he remembers anything about Connecticut, at least he’ll have the impression that good food exists. At home as well, I had fun cooking when possible. That’s one thing I miss on the trail. Cooking fresh ingredients just doesn’t happen on the trail.

It wasn’t long before Steel Toe and I had to sit down to decide what we were going to do in terms of getting back on trail. Do we head back to where we left off in Tuolumne Meadows and continue hiking northbound or fly to Washington and start hiking southbound? The problem is the short weather window. When hiking toward Canada, you need to finish the trail no later than the end of September since the Cascades in Washington can get hit with winter storms as early as mid-September.

Many people who find they’re behind choose to flip. This means getting to the Canadian border and hiking southbound until you reach where you left off. At least in our situation, hiking southbound gives us more time since we would only need to make sure we finish at Tuolumne Meadows before end of October due to the timing of the first snowfall in the Sierra.

After much discussion, we opted to make our way to Seattle. Although neither of us like the idea of not completing the trail at the northern terminus monument, we figured we would end up having to flip at some point anyway, so this way we save ourselves a flight. The idea of not seeing friends anymore is sad as well, but we would be so far behind anyway that it wasn’t a relevant topic any longer. At least hiking southbound, we’re more likely to run into them.

As we were about to book flights to Seattle, we thought of another idea. After a short discussion, we decided to first book flights to Florida to visit with Steel Toe’s parents for a few days, then to Seattle to return back to the trail. As with mine, we thought it was best to keep it a surprise for his mom.

The rest of our time in Connecticut was well spent. I was able to help out with my mom’s recovery quite a bit. We also bought food for our resupply stops in Washington and boxed them up so they’re ready to be mailed out. After that was taken care of, we were able to relax a bit more. We eventually packed all of our belongings and made our way to the airport once again. Saying goodbye to my parents was difficult, but they seemed to be in better spirits with my mom on her way to recovering.

Days 97-100

Florida

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 942.5

Steel Toe and I spent 4 days in Florida with his parents. It still felt as if we were on vacation from our daily job of hiking. We swam in the pool, went to the shooting range, climbed at an indoor gym, as well as watched movies and went out to dinner with his parents. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and then were off again to the next location.

3 thoughts on “PCT Journal: Days 75-100 (Sierra Pt. III)

  1. Carol marcella says:

    Great to see you and meet Ethan. What a wonderful adventure. Can’t wait for the next post and pictures. Stay safe,love living vicariously through your post.

    Liked by 1 person

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