PCT Journal: Days 135-143 (Sierra Pt. IV)

Day 135

Drive from Portland, OR to Susanville, CA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 942.5 NoBo

The first item of business this morning was getting breakfast. We walked over to Elmer’s, where we last ate when we were in the area. After checking out of the motel, we took the train downtown to grab the rental car. They didn’t have any available at the time of our reservation, so we waited for an hour at Stumptown Coffee with another guy who was in the same situation. I was able to edit and upload my blog, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Once we obtained the car, our first stop was REI just outside of the city for fuel and electrolyte tablets. Then we drove, approximately forever. We took turns at the wheel and seven hours later, we found parking at a viewpoint overlooking Eagle Lake near Susanville, CA. We blew up our sleeping pads, pulled out our bags, and slept for five hours in the back of the SUV. It did partly feel like we could be in a horror movie, so we double checked that the doors were locked before closing our eyes.

Day 136

Drive from Susanville to Mammoth Lakes, CA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 942.5 NoBo

We woke up wanting more sleep, but knew we had to start driving toward Mammoth. The windows had condensation on them from the combination of sleeping inside the car with the cold atmosphere outside. We stopped briefly in Bridgeport for food and more coffee before continuing toward our destination.

The drive was more scenic today. With the rolling hills and colors of the mountains, it truly felt like we were back in California. We passed by Mono Lake, which was a nice change from the dry landscape. We drove through Reno, Carson City, Bridgeport, and Lee Vining. When we arrived in Mammoth Lakes, we recognized it instantly.

We decided to stay at the New Shady Rest Campground to save money since we were back in a tourist town. We took advantage of the car to stop at the post office and outdoor retailers before returning it.

After we set up the tent, we ventured over to Black Doubt Brewing Company to see what they brewed recently. Dinner consisted of pizza takeout, chips, and frozen yogurt. Not the healthiest, but they hit the spot. We turned in for bed not too long after, since we were tired and knew we had a half day of hiking ahead of us.

Day 137

Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows, CA/Tuolumne Falls

Daily Mileage: 5.4

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 947.9 NoBo

I woke up with what felt like seasonal allergies this morning. It took a while to get going, but we eventually packed up the tent and our belongings, grabbed food and coffee from the gas station, and posted up at the bus stop. It was a scenic drive into Tuolumne Meadows, and the weather was perfect. It felt like Fall, with the sun shining and a certain crisp to the air.

When we arrived at Tuolumne, the first things we did were charge our phones and organize our food resupply. Steel Toe picked up his bear canister from the seasonal post office, but mine was still on the way from the main PO so we had to wait for a few hours. In the meantime, we walked over to a location where we were told there was bouldering for Steel Toe to get some use out of his shoes. While he climbed the more manageable walls of Puppy Dome, I explored the rock and enjoyed the view overlooking Lambert Dome and Kitty Dome.

After we returned to the general store, we picked up my bear canister and headed toward the trail. We checked out Soda Springs on our way out, which is known for its small bubbling springs that geologists still have trouble explaining. We thought about obtaining water there, but weren’t sure if it would still be carbonated after filtering.

We managed to hike just over 5 miles to Tuolumne Falls and found the perfect tentsite with a view of not only the falls, but a beautiful valley as well. Steel Toe went off to boulder as I ate my dinner and did some stretching before bed. Camping near flowing water is always great. It’s not only perfect for rinsing off and drinking as much water as you’d like, it’s soothing to listen to while falling asleep.

Day 138

Tuolumne Falls to Mile 970.7

Daily Mileage: 22.8

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 970.7 NoBo

Our first morning back in the Sierra was quite cold. We opted to eat and boil water for coffee from the tent again. We knew this was going to happen, but you never realize until you’re in the cold how much you don’t want to get out of your warm sleeping bag. The view was just as great as it was last night, but we were happy to get moving once we were ready.

The entire day consisted of three large climbs. The high altitude combined with the weight of the pack due to the bear canister was enough to tire us out throughout the day. On the first climb, there was one point when I started to feel nauseous and light headed. The minute I sat down, a wave of emotion ran through me and I started crying. I was so exhausted that I had no other way at the moment to deal with how I felt. Thankfully, it all subsided within a few minutes and I was back on my feet again heading uphill. I made sure to hydrate more throughout the day.

We had lunch by Miller Lake, where we ran into five older men on a ten day backpacking trip. We chatted about our thru-hike and answered all of their nagging questions. The lake looked beautiful, and was actually slightly warm, but the breeze was a little too cold for swimming.

We pushed over Benson Pass and it felt different from the other passes we’ve experienced here in the Sierra. There was less snow, if any at all, and more greenery. Throughout the entire day, we saw a total of fourteen deer – one buck, six doe, and seven fawns. None of them seemed too bothered by us, but they kept their distance.

We set up camp at the end of the day on our way downhill. Steel Toe did some more bouldering as I cleaned up for bed. It’s getting dark out earlier now, and combined with the cold, it doesn’t take long for us to get in the tent.

Day 139

Mile 970.7 to Mile 992.5

Daily Mileage: 21.8

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 992.5 NoBo

I could feel the soreness in my feet and legs when I woke up. It was warmer outside though, so it made it easier to get going. We finished two out of three climbs for the day by lunch time, which was nice. We ate by a decent size stream and soaked our feet. Our entertainment while relaxing was to watch six or so trout swim around nearby.

We barely saw any other hikers today in comparison to the amount we usually pass by. We actually saw more wildlife than people. The ratio was fourteen deer to six hikers. The day was really enjoyable in that sense, plus the constant breeze and cooler weather make for easier hiking.

The climbs, however, were brutal. By the third one, I was exhausted. Upbeat music helped to move me along, but it seemed like I was out of breath the entire time. On the descent, my legs became jello and at one point I rolled my ankle and fell on my butt. It only hurt just slightly, but it was one of those times when I was crying and laughing at the same time. Steel Toe saw it all happen so he was laughing, too.

The last few miles of the day dragged by. My feet were starting to ache and my knee didn’t want to cooperate. We finally found a spot near a creek, so we were able to hydrate and wash off. During dinner, we watched a doe pass close by and barely even notice us. There’s definitely a nip in the air at night now, so we made a bee line to the tent after we finished up with all of our camp chores.

Day 140

Mile 992.5 to Sonora Pass

Daily Mileage: 24.3

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1016.8 NoBo

I swore I could smell ramen wafting through the air last night. It woke me up, so I let my imagination run and decided it was likely a highly intelligent animal that opened our bear cans and was cooking. I eventually fell back asleep and when morning came, it was freezing once again. I jumped out of the tent to grab the bear cans, which were untouched, and brought them over to the tent to eat and make coffee. Our breakfast of champions consisted of a strawberry poptart, which I’m mostly sick of now, and Steel Toe’s included summer sausage in a tortilla.

We finished the climb we began yesterday to Dorothy Lake Pass, which was pretty mild. As we were approaching the lake, we could hear bells on the horses at the stock camp nearby. The view was pretty, with rugged mountains in the distance, some covered in a bit of snow.

We only saw four other hikers throughout the entire day, which was really nice as we became closer to Sonora Pass. We didn’t expect the miles before the pass to to be as scenic as it was. It felt completely different than anything we’ve experienced thus far. We hiked along the ridge covered in rocks of all colors – hues of purple, red, and green – it felt like we were on a different planet. Today has definitely been my favorite hiking on this stretch, and it has proven once again that the Sierra has a special place in my heart.

On our last descent toward Sonora Pass, which is actually the highway, we stopped for dinner at the final water source. We were exhausted after about 24 miles. We ended up having company – a doe perused the bushes nearby. We eventually ended up camping less than a quarter mile from the road, and we’ll attempt to get a hitch in the morning.

Day 141

Hitch to Markleeville, CA

Daily Mileage: 0

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1016.8 NoBo

We only had to walk one hundred feet or so to get to Highway 108. It was a cold morning, but I wasn’t about to complain since we weren’t hiking. Steel Toe even kept his sandals on for the walk.

Our goal today was to hitch East toward the main highway and then North to Markleeville. The trail is closed for 31 miles North of Sonora Pass due to the Donnell Fire, which began one month ago. So instead of hitching West to resupply at Kennedy Meadows North, we’re heading Northeast in order to get back on the trail North of here at Ebbetts Pass.

Two cars passed by, but the third pulled over around 7:30 am. A retired fireman from Arizona was in the area to help with the Donnell Fire. He dropped us off at the main highway and we saw him pick up two other hitchikers on his way South. We then attempted to hitch North and within ten minutes, a couple headed to Coleville picked us up.

Once in Coleville, we had a much more difficult time hitching. After almost 45 minutes, an older man offered us a ride to Topaz. When in Topaz, it was maybe 20 minutes later when a young Marine in a Ford Focus RS, which Steel Toe highly admired, pulled over and said this was his first time picking up hitchhikers. Four hitches later and we finally made it to Markleeville!

The town was super small, but very hiker-friendly. We walked to the post office to send our bear cans home, then hung out at Alps Haus Cafe, where they had WiFi to check-in with family and update social media. We ordered coffee, smoothies, breakfast bowls, and sandwiches. I’m pretty sure we were their top customers today.

Our next stop was the general store to resupply. I’m excited about this two day stretch to South Lake Tahoe since my food bag will be extremely light. The selection was slim so I grabbed bagels, cream cheese, tuna packets, ramen, pasta sides, cheez-its, rice krispy treats, and a bag of chips. Afterward, we headed over to Cutthroat Bar to indulge in burgers and chicken sandwiches. The bartender was very friendly and even made us a cardboard sign that read, P.C.T., to help us get a hitch back to the trail.

As the evening approached, we relaxed at a picnic table in the middle of town before packing up. Just as we were about to try to hitch back to the trail, an older man named Lars parked by the general store and waved us over. He said he lived halfway up the pass so he was headed that way anyway. We could pitch our tent in his yard tonight and he’d drive us up to the pass tomorrow morning.

When we arrived at his place, we were greeted by five large, howling bloodhounds. Two horses and two goats roamed out back behind the cattle fences. There was an old cabin and bus on the property that he was fixing up as living spaces. We almost set up our tent near the horses and goats, but thought twice about that idea. Steel Toe has a distrust for goats that was instilled in him at a young age, and I generally am not comfortable sleeping around such large animals.

We chatted with Lars before pitching our tent in front of the cabin and calling it a night.

Day 142

Ebbetts Pass to Lost Lakes

Daily Mileage: 21.3

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1069.7 NoBo

We woke up early and petted the dogs while Lars gathered his stuff for the day. He drove us up to the pass while telling us stories about the history of the area and the gold rush. We wrote down his information before thanking him and heading off on the trail.

It was a cold morning, so we hiked a half mile before sitting down in the sun to enjoy bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. Once we were on our way again, we realized the terrain would be pretty mild today. It was chilly for most of the day, even in the sun. The breeze was strong, especially when on the ridges.

We saw few people again, maybe six or so. The day went by pretty quickly due to the terrain and cool air, but I unfortunately dealt with a headache for the majority of it. I’m blaming it on allergies, and hoping they won’t be around for long.

We set up camp next to Lost Lakes, where trees were growing out of the middle of the water. It was scenic, but a bit windy. We washed up while trying not to shiver and ate dinner by one of the fire pits. Dark began approaching and we were in the tent early enough to get warm.

Day 143

Lost Lakes to Hwy 50/Hitch to South Lake Tahoe, CA

Daily Mileage: 21

Total PCT Mileage: 505.5 SoBo + 1090.7 NoBo

I finally received some quality sleep last night. It was cold out, but I was nice and cozy in my lightweight thermals and quilt. The hike out from the lake was mild and the air remained cool. By late morning we reached Carson Pass Visitor Center next to the highway. The volunteers working in the cabin welcomed us with sodas, tangerines, and Oreos. We hung around by the fire and chatted with them for a while before moving on.

A few hours later, we relaxed for lunch by Showers Lake and spotted a few horses nearby with their owners. We were motivated to keep moving afterward since we were only 8 miles away from the highway that leads to South Lake Tahoe. Steel Toe and I chatted about the food we were craving and which cuisines we wanted to indulge in while in town.

Just before the highway, we stopped at a creek to rinse off and soak some of our clothes that were ridden with sweat and dirt. The water was flowing much slower than expected but we made do with what we had. I should mention it has been about nine days without a real shower.

We attempted hitchhiking and it was only five minutes before a local woman pulled over. She drove us down to the lake and dropped us off near one of the campgrounds. Our original plan was to take a zero in town, but due to the holiday weekend, most places are either booked or outrageously expensive. So then we thought we’d camp on trail and hitch in the morning, but our hunger got the best of us and we couldn’t wait. Not to mention, we called the local police department to inquire about stealth camping and they didn’t seem to care if PCT hikers did so in the woods surrounding the town.

We walked up behind the cars that were in line to enter the campground. We thought we might as well just double check to make sure there was no space left. Before we made it to the window, a woman with a clipboard turned to us and asked if we had a reservation. We said no, and before we could even ask about walk-ins, she rudely told us they were full and asked us to move out of the way of the cars. Of course as we stepped onto the curb, Steel Toe backed into a tiny metal pipe coming out of the grass and cut his heel pretty badly. I then stepped on one of the same invisible death traps, but luckily it only hit my sandal. We both walked away pretty irritated and upset about the way we were treated.

We figured our only option was to stealth camp, but we were still secretly hoping to find a cheap motel. We gave it one shot. Steel Toe walked into the Beverly Lodge and asked for a discount. Since it was last minute, the man was willing to bargain and let us stay for a decent price if we paid cash. We jumped on the opportunity when he mentioned we could also check out late tomorrow.

After throwing our packs in the room, we walked over to Stateline, the touristy area, to grab a bite to eat. We decided on Poke-Rok, and I was super pleased to indulge in a fresh poke bowl. The Baked Bear, an ice cream sandwich bar, was our next stop before poking our heads in at Stateline Brewery. It was eventually time to head back, but not before Steel Toe convinced me to stop at McDonald’s for one more snack. Then a shower and a bed hit the spot.

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