PCT Day 162, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 81

September 21
Mile 782.5 to mile 765.2, 17.3 PCT miles, no off-trail miles
PCT miles: 1675.2
Running total: 1828.5
We were SUPER slow getting started today. By the time we ate, packed up, and started moving, it was nearly 845!! We had hoped to knock out 23 miles today, but with such a late start I wasn’t so sure that that was going to happen. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)
This morning we had 1,896 feet to climb in 3 miles to reach the highest point of the PCT, Forester Pass. In June, this was an incredibly dangerous pass to conquer due to the snow levels and really gnarly ice chutes- just seeing photos of people at the pass made me dizzy and anxious! {Despite being the highest pass, it was reported that it was neither the most difficult nor the sketchiest. Mather Pass was said to be the hardest & scariest in the snow, but sans snow I struggled most with Glen Pass!}
Though we had no snow (thank God!!) the trail was quite frosty this morning.

While the sun was shining down on other parts of the mountain & even on the trail up ahead of us, we were stuck in the shade for a good portion of the climb- it was so. frickin. cold. I was so relieved when I hit the sun! It wasn’t long before the combination of the toasty rays and the huffing and puffing warmed us up enough that we had to de-layer. I’m always surprised that in just seconds we can go from being completely frozen numb, feeling as if we will never be warm again, to being absolutely roasting, suffocating in our layers, and feeling as if we might overheat in any second if we don’t get some clothes off STAT! But such is life in the mountains, I guess!

I had made it a goal to reach the pass by 1030, and I made it up a few minutes early!

Matt and I took a mini-break on the top, chatting with a weekender from Carlsbad, a PCTer from Tennessee named Gravity, and a few other PCT and JMTers- I believe there were 8 of us total. {Matt and I had to laugh- a few of the JMTers were talking about washing their clothes in the rivers- one girl said her underwear froze, while the other shamefully admitted that she had taken a break from “trail laundry” ’til the temps warmed up…I don’t think I know ONE PCTer who did “laundry” while on-trail!! And an ultra-gross fun fact(/I may not have any friends after admitting this!) BUT my extra pair of hiking underwear had developed holes a while back, so I ditched ’em, leaving me with one pair to hike in and one pair to sleep in…except recently it has been too cold to change in and out of my shorts, so I have been wearing the SAME underwear and shorts non-stop, 24/7, for however many days between towns…that’s, like, a long time…}

Around 1115 I left to head down and Matthew followed close behind.

Comparison photo I found on the PCTA website. Forester 2011 vs 2012
For a good time, google Forester Pass Ice Chutes…

Looking back at the pass (middle of the picture)

The way down was quite rocky!

On my down, per usual, I started to feel off- I needed food and a break asap. I’m SO over the afternoon slump, which seems to be 10X worse at this high elevation! I long for days spent lower than 10,000feet…soon, girl.

The rocky trail continued until we eventually dropped down into a neat forest, where decided to stop for lunch.

After lunch we had a short climb that terminated in a wide open plain with some awesome views!

Mount Whitney!!! (Second peak from the left!)

The trail then dropped back down into the trees again…

In total, not including Forester, we had 4 fairly short but sometimes steep climbs today. For fear of arriving to camp after dark, we decided to cut our day a few miles short and camp at the top of the 4th little climb of the day.

Just before starting that last climb, we came to Whitney Creek. There we found what seemed to be a somewhat sketchy rock hop across (some of the rocks were wet and a few were totally submerged in water), so we decided to try and find another route. We found a decent looking log and Matt crossed first, slowly but surely. I followed, but about half way across I freaked out. What the hellllll?!?? I LOVE log crossings!!! I usually sashay across them quickly and confidently- what was going on?!? (It probably didn’t help that moments before stepping on the log I tripped on literally nothing and almost face planted hardcore…)

Ughhh. Too nervous to move forward, I slowly backed up, using all of the thin, fragile branches I could grab for support. I had been convinced that I was going to fall, so I was a bit worked up by the time I hit land. I frantically searched for another way to cross, and found a wider, thicker log nearby. As I slowly and carefully shuffled along, it became apparent that although wider, this log was smoother, more slippery, and definitely scarier!! Fucckk. With all hope nearly lost, I gingerly lowered my ass to the log, expecting to fall at any second. Once successfully seated, I took a moment to calm my nerves, forced Matt to take my picture, then scooted myself across that damn creek…guys, I don’t know who that version of me was, but I definitely did NOT like her!!

When we made it back to the trail, we ran into a SoBo hiker named Bluejay, who happened to be hiking with Gravity, the man we had met earlier on Forester. Both Gravity & Bluejay had hiked the AT in recent years and were out kicking butt again! Gravity was a flipper like us, but Bluejay was a straight-up SoBoer. {Fun fact, we realized a few days later that we had actually met Bluejay back @ the Big Lake Youth Camp in Oregon! Gravity was apparently there too, but we never met him.} I spent some time chatting with Bluejay while Matthew filled up his water and then we started that last climb to our tent-site.
I felt amazing on this climb!! If the sun wasn’t threatening to disappear soon, and with it any hope for warmth, I would have suggested continuing on, but alas…

We made it to our site, set up camp, ate dinner, and were snuggled into our sleeping bags by 7:45 for the second night in a row!!

Happiness is: tackling Forester Pass! It isn’t all downhill from here, but it sure as hell isn’t up as high! Cheers!!

PCT Day 161, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 80

September 20
Onion Valley over Kearsarge Pass to mile 788.9, then mile 788.9 to mile 782.5, 6.4 PCT miles + 7.3 off-trail miles, 13.7 miles total
PCT miles: 1657.9
Running total: 1811.2
We woke up at 7am and started our mad-dash to pack, clean up the Airbnb, and drop off some extra food, toilet paper, and ziplock bags @ a local hostel that houses a ton of PCT hikers. Yet another small trail moment, a guy in the hostel overheard our names and recognized them as the names of Gigs’ friends! Matt and I kept our small talk rudely brief since we didn’t want to be late for Will, who was meeting us at the Looney Bean to drive us more than 50 miles back to the trailhead!
We ran over to the Looney Bean, waited on the longest line ever, ordered pumpkin chai teas, bagels, and pastries, then went outside to meet Will.
Will was described on Guthooks as a genuinely nice, old man- and boy was that true!! He was SO kind & SO fascinating- he has had a lifetime of adventure, including surfing during his time stationed in Hawaii, skiing, climbing in Yosemite, and backpacking parts of the JMT like 60+ years ago! He was telling us about his son who was visiting from Berkeley for Will’s 84th birthday when it hit me- Will had been the man that dined across from us at Sage the night before!! Bishop is a small town, but not THAT small!

{Total aside: I know that I have said this before, but we are constantly being blown away by the kindness of the strangers/trail angels we have encountered along our journey. There is always a story about how somebody becomes a trail angel, and I love hearing each and every one. Some angels are past hikers, but many are dreamers of the PCT and live vicariously through the hikers they help. Will said that he depends on hikers to get him out of the house and keep him busy in an otherwise sleepy town. Others have told us that trail angeling is a respite from their otherwise incredibly stressful life. And, although nobody has said it and I hate to assume, it seems that some have experienced loss and find happiness and meaning in their encounters with hikers. Some just like smelly hikers & meeting/helping people from a over the world. It’s a sometimes sad and yet beautiful symbiotic relationship that I truly cherish and will forever be grateful for!! I can’t wait to pay it forward!!}

On the 13 mile, nauseatingly windy haul up the mountain to the trailhead, Will mentioned a lady named Vicky, whom he had given a ride to a few days before. He mentioned that this lady was in her 50’s, was doing a 500 mile section of the trail, and used to race motorcycles- Matt recognized the story and we are 99% sure that Will was talking about Veg’s girlfriend’s mom!! Veg was the dude who bought us lunch when we arrived to Independence two days before- Small. Friggin. World!

Although Will dropped us off at the Onion Valley Trailhead before 10, Matt and I didn’t get started until 11.

I felt GREAT as we marched up the 4.5 mile, 2600 foot climb. I kept a steady pace and made it to the top of the pass a little before 1:15, but unfortunately this feeling of invincibility was short-lived. On our climb down, I started to feel like shit again. :/ I am SO over the afternoon slump! Ugh!

All shitty feelings vanished, though, when we ran into sweet Melissa. We hadn’t seen her since we headed up Muir Pass & didn’t think we would see her again until we visited her in Hawaii, so this unexpected reunion was exciting! Melissa was heading up over Kearsarge Pass and calling her hike for the year- she totally kicked ass for some of the most difficult stretches of the JMT & plans to return with a friend to finish the remaining few miles. We are SO impressed by her!

Since Matt and I still had a ways to go, we said our goodbyes and continued on. Just as we were nearing the junction to return to the PCT, we passed a female backcountry ranger; a ranger whose name had been whispered(and sometimes screamed) through the PCT grapevine. We had heard that she’s pretty strict when it comes to permits & had kicked numerous people off of the trail this year, BUT she was nothing but nice to us and didn’t even ask to check our now valid permits! {She may have been off-duty- her season had ended that day and we passed her on her way back into society!!}
We stopped for lunch shortly after returning to the PCT, then continued trekking onward. Right before the start of our LAST big climb of the Sierra, we ran into Tumbleweed & Fable!!! We had leapfrogged with them throughout the desert, then ran into them randomly at Snoqualmie Pass- it was SO fun seeing them again!!! Tumbleweed’s daughter and her friend were also hiking the PCT, but for whatever reason the girls decided to hike south thru the Sierra, while Tumbleweed & Fable were hiking north to Truckee. Should they reach their endpoint, Tumbleweed will be the first above knee amputee to complete the PCT!!! Go, Tumbleweed, go!!!!

After catching up and taking a selfie, Matt and I began our climb up Forester Pass. As planned, we set up camp 3 miles shy of the pass, where we found a beautiful, extremely well-protected site at about 11230 feet. This was our highest campsite yet and dang was it cold!! Thankfully once I crawled into my sleeping bag I was warm and cozy!

Happiness is: another chance run-in with familiar faces!

The trail is full of so many serendipitous and synchronous encounters and experiences that I will never be able to fully comprehend, but I try my hardest to appreciate; it’s so, so magical.

PCT Day 160, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 79

Sept 19

Zero day!!
Off-trail miles: 3
PCT miles: 1651.5
Running total: 1797.5
Zero Day Chores(/Stress) & Fun!
Today’s stress:
•We had to call the PCTA to change our permits since our NoBo permits did NOT cover us for being in the Sierra now, heading Sobo. While PCT permits are technically NOT required, they take the pressure out of having to stop at ranger stations along the way to secure permits for the particular sections where permits are required.

The PCTA provides both thru-hike and section hike permits when the section hike is greater than 500 miles.

Our hike from Echo Lake (where we restarted) to Tehachapi (where we were ending) was greater than 500 miles, but unfortunately the PCTA could not administer any more “section hikes” through the Sierra. When I accidentally disclosed that Matt and I didn’t actually tag the border in Canada, the PCTA lady told us that she couldn’t give us a SoBo thru-hike permit either. Shittt. She suggested we stop by the local ranger station to see if we could get a permit for our upcoming section.
• We had to call the local Rangers station to see if we could get a permit from Kearsarge Pass to Kennedy Meadows South. They luckily had permits available, so Matt and I walked over to the station to obtain permits. Phewww. No longer delinquent “tru-hikers”
• Resupply: I think we finally figured out our resupply!! We now go solo through the grocery store and reunite at the check-out, only sharing a few staples like cheese crackers and the occasional pack of poptarts.
• Arranging a ride back to the trailhead- I called a man named Will, whose number I stumbled across in a comment on Guthooks. Will hesitated at first, as his son was coming to town for the weekend, but he eventually called me back to say that he would drive us. While we could have tried to hitch, having a ride makes the return to trail so much less stressful (and forces us to actually return to trail!! No more accidental zeros…)
Today’s fun:

• sleeping in a bit! Always a pleasure…

•Breakfast at the Pupcafe, a tasty little joint in the back of a bookstore.
•Shopping around local outdoor shops- we have no self control when it comes to outdoor gear! We were excited to run into Mark & Sandy again, who apparently also share the same vulnerability!
•A trip to The Great Basin Bakery. Matt has a new method for optimizing our bakery experiences: we each pick a treat, then we agree on a treat to share. We must have had a little trouble counting (/lacked self-control…) ’cause we accidentally purchased a scone, a large ginger snap cookie, a giant choco chip cookie, & a humongo-jumbo choco lava cake cookie…we destroyed the evidence in record time.
•A trip to the Looney Bean for pumpkin spice chai tea fraps…we have no shame in our pumpkin spice season game!

SO glad we weren’t in the mountains!! IT SNOWED!!

• Lunch @ Erik Schats Bakkery, a bread-lovers paradise! Imagine aisles and aisles of fresh, delicious bread AND free samples. Oh be still my heart! {One day Matthew and I were driving through Bishop on our way home from Mammoth & we purchased a loaf of bread from Schats…only a piece remained by the time we got home!} This time we controlled ourselves and only ordered big ass sandwiches ’cause we didn’t want to ruin…
• Matthew’s Birthday Dinner at Sage! Possibly the highlight of our day, we dined at this too nice for thru-hikers restaurant in an area of Bishop we had never explored before. We had about 284 courses of yummy food, including 2 bread baskets, a shared appetizer, soup, salad, dinner, & dessert…nomnomnom. While we were dining, we saw two other underdressed thru-hikers stumble in looking for some tasty grub- because I’m me, I initiated convo, and within minutes I thought we were experiencing some sort of glitch in the matrix- I literally turned to Matt and asked, “are they us?!!?”
I was seriously so taken aback by how similar this couple, Fortune Cookie and Turtle, were to us!! Some of the similarities that I remember:
They live in SoCal (✓)
Injury took them off trail for a month. (✓)

They flipped and flopped. (✓)

They said that once they realized they couldn’t finish, they started to slow down and enjoy it more. (✓)
They said, word for word, “we only did ONE 30 mile day to see if we could do it.” (✓) {I cannot tell you how many times I have said this!!}
They said, “we aren’t here to be miserable.” (✓)
They are missing the 27 miles in Oregon from the CA/OR border to Ashland because they couldn’t figure out the logistics to get there (✓)
When I told them that we knew somebody who got a ride from Ashland to the border they asked, “was that Mango?” Yes, yes it was!!!
Literally everything that was said was a shared storyline! Nuts!!
We let Fortune Cookie & Turtle escape back to their table while we ate and I people-watched/eavesdropped. Apparently the two ladies who dined next to us met while hiking the Grand Canyon 20 years ago, and the table across from us was a father/son duo- the son was visiting for his father’s 84th birthday…cute!
After dinner and our shared creme brulee for dessert (I like the custard, Matt likes the crunchees), we headed back to the Airbnb for Netflix and bed…back to the trail tomorrow!!

Happiness is: an overall enjoyable zero day!

Our Airbnb:

Our Airbnb flatmate!

PCT Day 159, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 78

September 18

Mile 788.9 over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley, NO PCT miles, 7.3 off-trail miles
PCT miles: 1651.5
Running total: 1794.5
My feet were SO cold last night, which prevented me from getting any decent rest- I was frozen to the bone! When we woke up, a thin layer of frost lined the inside of our tent and when I “accidentally” banged on the roof of the tent, it snowed down on us. Brrr.

We took our time getting packed up, knowing that we only had a little more than 7 miles to go.

By the time we were ready to go it was warm enough to strip down out of our rain pants and puffys- I don’t remember the last time we were able to start the day in shorts!!

Our day started with an easy-enough climb up to Kearsarge Pass, gaining 1047 feet in 3 miles- the last few switchbacks were butt-kickers, but when are they not?!

It was such beautiful morning.

Matt beat me to the top, and when I arrived I found him chatting with a group of JMT hikers. When Matt introduced himself, the group got excited- “you’re Jaws?! We heard about you!!” somebody exclaimed. Guys, Matt’s famous!! As it turned out, the group had camped with Kenny and Chuckwalla the night before and somehow our names had come up. We shared tales of trail names and trail trials before starting our journey down from Kearsarge Pass to the Onion Valley Trailhead, where we had hoped to catch a ride to town.

With Mr. Gourmet, one of the guys that had heard about Jaws!

It seems that no matter how close we are, the hike into town always feels like it takes forever and a day. From the top of the pass we only had 4.5 miles to go with a 2600 elevation loss, but holy hell did it never end!!!!! At least we were blessed with incredible views.

The trail was super crowded with thru-hikers, weekenders, and day-hikers, but only the thru-hikers were headed towards the trailhead- ruh-roh! Who was going to give us a ride?? We had hoped to make friends with a day-hiker on the way down to secure a ride, but we appeared to be shit out of luck. Now we had to hope that SOMEBODY was leaving the lot and would be willing to drive us down the mountain, otherwise we would have an additional 15 miles to walk!
As we were approaching the trailhead, Matt nodded towards the parking lot and said, “white pick up.” He honed in on our target and sure enough he scored us a ride to town from the lovely couple in the white pick up, Mark and Sandy.
Mark and Sandy were packing up their truck after a week-long backpacking trip (and before a week-long kayaking trip!) and agreed to drop us off at the bottom of the mountain in Independence. They were on their way to Lone Pine, a town 15 miles south, but when they heard that Matt and I had planned to spend our day off in Bishop, 40 miles north of Independence, they got excited- they were only headed to Lone Pine to pick up some good craft beers and then were heading back to Bishop for the night. They took my phone number & offered to pick us back up on their way through Independence and drive us to Bishop- awesome!!!! As we were saying goodbye, Mark took me off-guard with a surprise hug & I ended up dropping and cracking my phone- ahh! I’m notorious for breaking my phone but somehow made it 1650 miles without incident! Then all it took was an in-town hug…oops & oh well!!

{Fun!! When Matt and I were in Leavenworth, we stopped by the local farmers market and fell in love with these hats called Recaps- they are hand-printed designs on recycled fabric and overall super cool. Matt and I promised the owner/designer that we would buy a hat after our hike (/part of Matt’s bday present!!) & Sandy happened to be modeling one! Check out recaphats.com- you can design your own rad hat!!}

After getting dropped off, Matt and I walked over to the new sub shop in town for lunch. As we were waiting in line, a guy walked in and asked me, “SoBo or NoBo?” Turned out this guy, Veg, hiked the trail in 2014 and offered to buy us lunch!! We each enjoyed a foot-long sub while bonding over trail-life. Fun fact: Veg and his girlfriend both hiked the PCT in the same year, one NoBo and the other SoBo, but they never met until post-trail! And now the girlfriend’s mom is hiking 500 miles of the trial solo! So cool!!

After lunch we received a text from Sandy- they were headed back towards Independence and wanted to see if we still needed a ride. We jumped on the offer, jumped in their truck, and continued with them towards Bishop. Mark and Sandy are such a neat couple!! Mark works as an avalanche predictor for Colorado & Sandy teaches avalanche preparedness. Long story short, they are both outdoors loving ski bums who made a living out of their passions!! Heros!

On our way to Bishop I researched Airbnbs and found ONE in town. Thankfully it had availability for two nights & I booked it. It happened to be a few blocks from the Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, so we had Mark and Sandy drop us off at the brewery and treated them to beers.
After beers, Matthew and I walked to the Airbnb where we showered, started laundry, and relaxed. We then walked into town for dinner, stopped by the brewery again (running into Pick!), stopped by a wine and cheese bar for frozen yogurt and two mini pies, picked up some beer and iced tea (my latest obsession!), and headed back to the house for Netflix & sleep. Cheers!

Happiness is: an all-around amazing day.

PCT Day 158, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 77

September 17 (Happy Birthday, Matt!!)

Mile 802.6 to mile 788.9, 13.7 miles
PCT miles: 1651.5
Running total: 1787.2
The wind died down overnight and was completely non-existent by the time we woke up. We were the last ones to leave camp, which shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. We discussed trying to knock out two passes in one day again, but we agreed that we should play it by ear as the day progressed.
We were hiking by 0830, starting with a 1230 foot rocky descent over 2.4 miles.

Our morning descent ended at Woods Creek, where Matt & I both took a bathroom break, filtered water, and had a small snack.

We then continued one at a time over the suspension bridge, which was actually pretty gnarly! It started off okay, but by mid-crossing the base of the bridge had such a strong bounce and swing that I felt like I was going to slip off the side of the bridge! (I asked Matt to help me describe what it was like and he said, “rotation about the longitudinal axis of the bridge deck”…got it?? 🤷) I’m usually the jerk that will rock bridges on purpose to freak Matthew out, but this bridge seemed so unsteady and unpredictable that I ended up holding on- I never do that!!

I waited for Matt to cross before we began our 6.8 mile, 3400 foot climb up to Glen Pass.

The trail alternated between being really fuckin steep and hard to being a lovely stroll in the wilderness.

As we climbed we passed Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake…

We admired Fin Dome…

And around 2pm we settled in at the stunningly beautiful Rae Lakes for lunch.

It was a bit chilly and breezy while we dined, so Matt got creative with our Tyvek “ground sheet.”
We started up again a little after 3 with an immediate climb. From Rae Lakes we had just under 1400 feet to climb in just under 2 miles, which I could already tell was going to kick my ass: my afternoon slump was in full-force. We realized that conquering two passes today would be ridiculous, so we agreed to settle for only one.
A waterfall from a tunnel in the rocks flowing onto the steps

We didn’t get far before Matt, who was ahead of me, got stopped by a ranger. I held my breath as I approached (actually, I didn’t…I was huffing and puffing…) but I WAS nervous- we had heard rumors and horror stories of people being escorted out of the Sierra by the rangers because their permits had been rendered invalid for one reason or another. Apparently the permits are only valid IF one takes a continuous footpath (strike one), doesn’t take any time off beyond the occasional zero day (strike two), and is walking in the direction stated on the permit (strike 3)- were we shit out of luck?!?

Thankfully Ranger Mike was understanding of our circumstances and let us continue on BUT he did tell us that we needed to get our permit changed to reflect our current direction of travel. Apparently this is easily done with the PCTA, so we promised him we would contact them the next time we were in town. {We had meant to do this before restarting on July 3, but clearly that didn’t happen!}
Once I realized that we weren’t going to get kicked out of the Sierra, our break with Ranger Mike was very much welcomed. I am extremely fascinated by and interested in seasonal ranger life, so I attacked poor Mike with a million questions. He has been a seasonal backcountry ranger for 3 years, but apparently had worked with the National Park for 13 years before getting that position- my ship has TOTALLY sailed for that opportunity, unfortunately! But gosh does backcountry ranger life sound so cool!! Mike’s fiance, who works for a school system, also spends her summers in the backcountry as a volunteer! So. Friggin. Awesome.
I had Matt dig through the back of my pack to grab a walkie-talkie and a small bag of food that I had picked up from a creek a few days earlier- I had found the items in a Garmin bag that was completely submerged in water and lodged between two rocks. I had originally thought that the bag contained an InReach, which is a hiker’s very expensive SOS/communication/GPS device, and had hoped to return it to whoever had dropped it. When I opened the bag we found some protein bars and the completely water-logged walkie-talkie.
I had debated what to do- pack the bag out or leave it? I didn’t want to leave the food in bear country, but I also didn’t want to worry about having to stuff more things into my already full bear can. I didn’t want to litter, but I also didn’t want to pack out that dirty, gross, water-logged walkie-talkie. I didn’t want to carry the guilt of leaving the things behind, but I also didn’t want to carry the weight of the things…
I also struggled knowing that when we come across things that might belong to a missing person we are supposed to take pictures and note coordinates and leave the items behind…was there a missing person around here? Did I just fuck up an investigation?
Thankfully Ranger Mike didn’t know of any active missing persons in that area, but he happily took the items off my hands. This lead to a discussion about the book The Last Season, which I would definitely recommend if you have ever gone hiking in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The book is about a very experienced backcountry ranger who went missing while on-patrol in the mid-90’s, and according to Ranger Mike, it paints a pretty accurate picture of what backcountry ranger-life is like.
Mike had mentioned that a fleece belonging to the missing ranger had been found after his disappearance but the person who had found the fleece had assumed that it belonged to a dirty backpacker. Mike also informed us that just last year, TWENTY-TWO years after the ranger disappeared, the ranger’s government-issued keys were found in a creek…it’s soo unnerving to me that people and things can go missing so easily in the Sierra(and anywhere, really), and that these people and things often remain missing. It’s also unsettling that even when things don’t stay hidden, they might get overlooked…
It made me wonder- have we passed and overlooked things on the trail that might have belonged to a missing person? Shutter.
After a lengthy convo with Ranger Mike we continued up the climb. Matt flew up the switchbacks in his typical fashion while I nearly died. My afternoon slump hit an all-time low. Nausea. Headache. Exhaustion. Was that chest pain???! Fuck. Matt was too far ahead of me. Is this the end? Just keep walking. Right foot. Left foot. Watch the rocks. Step. Breathe. Water. Smile. Pretend to not be dying as the NoBos pass going downhill. Keep eyes on Matt, that ant-size dot at the top of the pass. Just Keep. Walking.

It was a slow, slow climb up to Glen Pass, but holy shit were the views incredible at the top! The trail briefly followed along the knife-edge before heading down.

Since I had been feeling so iffy on the way up, Matt refused to go ahead of me, so we walked on down together. Matt told me about the family he had met at the top of the pass and how they had hiked the PCT a few years back and had offered to help us out with a ride whenever we reach the northern terminus- so cool!

But shit…we have been walking too long. We both needed water and were counting on a source 0.5 miles south of the pass- there was NO way we hadn’t passed it yet- either the stream was dry or we were so distracted by our convo that we totally walked over it! Shit!! AND my phone still said that we were on the other side of the pass, so there was no way to be sure. Thankfully off to our left we saw a pond and were able to orient ourselves on the map to determine where our next water was.

We then made one of our poorest decisions on-trail thus far: the next reliable water was far past where we had planned to camp, but according Guthooks there was a tent-site in 0.2 miles that had flowing water in JUNE (you know, when it was covered in snow!!?) SO we decided to skip the small climb down to the pond we were standing right next to and walk to the tent-site. We weren’t shocked when we didn’t find water- a. It wasn’t listed as an official water source b. June was, like, 3 months ago. c. The water source we had planned to use had had a “strong flow” as of August 25 & now it was dry- if THAT was dry, no shit the small flow from June was dry! Ugh. {We last had cell service on September 9, so our phones were not able to update recent comments on Guthooks- turns out the stream we were counting on had had a “slow flow” on Sept 7 and was noted as dry as of Sept 12- wish we had known and planned accordingly!!}

SO, 0.2 miles isn’t far at all- it’s all of 4-5 minutes of walking- but this 0.2 miles had some steep ups and downs, making that pond seem SO much farther away. We both cursed ourselves for not climbing down to the pond when we were there- what the hell were we thinking?? Why did we BOTH seem to think that leaving a beautiful water source for a questionable one was a good idea? Especially knowing that if there was no water, we would have to walk back and climb down to get the water in the pond anyway? We had no answers. {Later, when we relayed this story to others on-trail, NOBODY was surprised- “decision fatigue” they called it- but instead of fatigue from making decisions, our exhaustion stemmed from hiking…go figure.}

I volunteered to go back and grab the water, but Matt went back solo. When he returned, we continued on together to our planned tent-site.

This rock reminded me of a howling wolf (see pic below)

We set up camp near a guy named Pick (of the Litter), who had just finished up his PCT attempt. Pick had hiked 2,000 miles & was going to hike out via Kearsarge Pass the next day. Matt and I were also planning to hike out via Kearsarge so we could hitch into the town of Bishop to relax and resupply.

{Kearsarge Pass is one of four options to exit the Sierra to one of three resupply towns: Lone Pine, Independence, or Bishop.
The options for exiting the Sierra include:
• Bishop Pass @ mile 831 (13 miles each way)
•Kearsarge Pass @ mile 789ish (7.6 miles each way)
• Cottonwood Pass @ mile 750.2 (3.8 miles each way)
• Trail Pass @ mile 745.3 (2.8 miles)
Bishop Pass was a definite “no” for us, due to the marathon it would require to get there and back. While the lower mileage at Cottonwood Pass and Trail Pass was tempting, both would have required packing 7 days of food out of MTR vs the 4.5 we carried. We opted to hike 15.2 miles off-trail to keep our pack-weight lower.}
Once our tent was set up we ate dinner with Pick.

Hole in my pantz…hiked with that hole for over 1000 miles!

It was absolutely freezing as the sun was setting, but then it strangely felt warmer once it was completely dark. The stars were UNREAL, so while Pick and Matt escaped to the tents, I played around again with my camera. I need a lens with a manual focus!

It might have been colder outside than I had thought, ’cause when I crawled into my sleeping bag I was freezing down to my core…would I ever be warm again?

PCT Day 157, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 76

September 16
Mile 820.5 to mile 802.6, 17.9 PCT miles, no off-trail miles
PCT miles: 1637.8
Running total: 1773.5
It was again too cold to wake up before the sun, so we didn’t. 😉 When I did finally have the courage to crawl out of my sleeping bag and unzip the tent, I was blown away by the scenery. It had been SO dark when we arrived to camp the night before that we had no idea where we were!

The problem?? A bunch of other people also found this amazing spot and were scattered around this mostly exposed field AND we were right next to the trail, so finding a decent place to pee was a challenge. Since it was still windy & stupid cold, I decided to wait to pee until we started moving. First, though, we needed to eat breakfast and break down camp.

Matt and I have made a habit of not eating in our tent when we are in bear country, so breakfast and dinner are “enjoyed” out in the elements. The dinner process is easy: when we arrive to camp we quickly set up our tent, and then while Matt sets up the stove and gets the water boiling, I set up my sleeping pad and bag. Once I’m done and the water is boiled, we switch places and I guard our food as it cooks while Matt sets up his sleeping stuff. We then eat and hurry back into our tent, where we defrost and bundle up for bed. Breakfast is a bit trickier: I prefer to pack and have everything ready to go before I eat, while Matt enjoys eating first and then warming up in the tent before taking it down. We are still trying to figure out which system is more time efficient- TBD.
This morning I opted to pack before breakfast, while Matt chose to eat first. We ate breakfast huddled next to a small bush that offered slight wind protection.

The bear can marks our breakfast spot

While I waited outside for Matthew to pack, a handful of hikers passed- some complained to me about how bitter cold and miserable the day was, while others commented on the ominous cloud coverage rolling in. Yep, and yep- both legit concerns I shared.

Matt and I were hiking by 0830 and holy shit was it cold and windy as we walked along Palisade Lake. We had to force ourselves to take pictures!

I saw a bunch of what appeared to be frozen bees…is that a thing?!
We left the lake and continued climbing up what is referred to as “the golden staircase”- a series of granite steps leading up steep switchbacks. {Apparently when the sun hits them just right the stairs have a golden hue…)
The wind made the hiking difficult and very, very unenjoyable. For a little icing on the cake, it even started to snow briefly BUT long enough for me to get pelted in the eye with a snowball snowflake. This was the first day neither Matt nor I stopped to take a layer off. ALSO, I still had to pee.

At one point I checked my phone- we still had 3.7 miles to go to the top of the pass….what?!?!?? Fuck. I was moving slower than I thought. I took a deep breath, gave myself a pep talk, and carried on.
I watched Matt climb up the switchbacks above me- he makes it look so easy! {In the desert I used to love watching Matthew climb the switchbacks- he was so fast & strong, and he had this little happy pep in his step as he glided up the mountains- now, he still kicks my butt and makes the climbs look easy, but he no longer has that bounce- it makes me a little sad, but then I wonder- is he really missing that pep? Or do I just perceive it that way, knowing how much he has endured?}

As I watched Matt near the top of what was apparently a false summit, I decided to recheck my progress- I had 0.4 miles to go??! What?! I checked and rechecked, then rechecked again- yes! Only 0.4 miles to go! That WASN’T a false summit! Apparently my phone had been frozen when I checked earlier and that 3.7 miles to go was completely bogus! (Fun fact: we only had 2 miles to go from our campsite to the pass in the first place, so I have NO idea why I believed my phone!)
I passed a few JMTers as I climbed.

As I neared the pass I heard Matt talking to a familiar voice. I stopped in my tracks, unable to see who Matt was talking to but concentrating hard on the voice. When I confirmed in my head who it was I cried out, “Joe Dirt?!!??!” and started to speed walk up the trail. One of the JMTers had caught up to me by that point & when he saw me start to run off excitedly he asked me tiredly, “are we at the top?” And I responded, “no, better! It’s Joe Dirt!” …he was probably like, wtf?!

Matt and I talked to Joe Dirt for quite a while. Joe Dirt was with Matt on Day 45 & we last saw him briefly the next day as we were returning from the hospital and he was leaving to return to the trail. We checked in with each other throughout the past few months, but actually seeing him was awesome- it was like having closure in some weird way, BUT it definitely wasn’t goodbye: Joe Dirt lives in Mammoth and works as a bartender- no doubt Matthew and I will be seeing him on one of our weekend ski trips!! We said our happy “see ya laters” & went our separate ways- Joe Dirt continuing north, as Matt and I carried on south.
Steps after leaving Joe Dirt, Matt and I found ourselves at the top of Mather Pass, at 11109 feet. It started to snow again as we snapped pictures, but thankfully no aggressive snowball snowflakes attacked.

Just after 11am we started our 7.4 mile descent. The initial descent was fairly steep and rocky, leading to an exposed, rocky valley. {Note: I still hadn’t peed, and there was still nowhere to go!! Normally I wouldn’t think twice about just stepping off-trail to go, but there were SO many people out and about today!!}

FINALLY, just before noon, we came across a lone tree standing maybe 20 feet off-trail. I ran behind it to pee, but JUST as I started to go, a ridiculously huge gust of wind blew, sending my stream of pee ALLLL over my right foot- like, yes, normally I spray my shoes when I squat, but this was a full-on, first-pee-of-the-day shower on my foot. My shoes, my socks, and my toes were SOAKED!! I yelled, “are you fuckin kidding me?!?!” and Matthew shared a good laugh with Mother Nature. My foot was soaked for a good portion of the early afternoon.

Maybe an hour and a half later we came across a lovely little forest, so I decided to go and dig a cat-hole. JUST as I pulled my pants down, it started to snow like, really, really hard- it seemed like almost instantly I had a collection of snow in my underwear! The fuck?! Ugh. {But, I’d take the snow in my underwear over being soaked with rain or bitten by mosquitos any day!!! Perspective, man!!}
Before carrying on down-trail we were passed by Gourmet and Scratch, two hikers we had hung out with briefly back in Washington! It was fun to catch up- they had just 100 miles left to complete their PCT hike! They had bribed themselves to keep going with a trip to Vegas after they finish- glad we aren’t the only ones who needed to treat ourselves to get us to keep walking!
Matt and I made it the 955 feet down Mather, where we decided to stop for lunch to fuel up for our next climb. Before starting the Sierra we had agreed to only hike one pass a day, but we had decided that it would be ok to tackle both Mather and the next pass, Pinchot, in one day: coming SoBo, the climb up to Pinchot was only 2,050 feet in 4 miles, which we felt was doable.

Our pre-lunch river crossing

I started the climb around 2:45. Early into the climb I passed two NoBO hikers who asked if I was headed up and over the pass that day- when I said I was, they were shocked and said, “really? You’re a badass!”…erm…no?

I was in my typical after-lunch funk, taking my time, feeling like shit, and melting in the sun. I eventually had to de-layer for the first time all day!! Matt, Kenny, and Chuckwalla all eventually passed me.

I ended up finding all three boys at Marjorie Lake. Kenny and Chuckwalla were crazees and went for a swim while Matthew spent some time at the lakeside simply enjoying the view.

Since I’m a sloth and we had 950 feet to climb in 1.5 miles, I decided to continue walking. When Matthew caught up to me he grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “that was the most beautiful lake on the entire PCT!” He might be right.

The wind had been blowing since Marjorie Lake, but as we climbed higher the gusts got CRAZY- like, blow-you-off-of-a-mountain crazy! Thankfully the wind was blowing into us, which although made the climb a bit more challenging, at least it wasn’t blowing us off the mountain.
The pass had a false summit, which was a very mean trick! Grrr! Matt made it to the real top first and hid behind a rock to escape the wind while he waited for me. I ended up hiking the last few switchbacks with Kenny and Chuckwalla, arriving to the pass around 5pm. We all took a short break at the top before heading down. (Fun fact: Chuckwalla’s underwear, wet from the lake and placed in his pack to dry, had froze!)

On our way down we passed a couple going up the pass- I thought, “THEY are badasses, but they look like they can handle what they are getting into!” {Fun fact: we met this couple a few days later. They said that they could NOT handle what they got themselves into! Glad they were safe.}

As we carried on, the constant wind became UNBEARABLE. Our fingers and faces were freezing- even putting on our gloves and wool hats didn’t help! The scenery was gorgeous but the early evening was quite miserable, hence the lack of photos.
As we lost elevation, I had hoped that the wind would calm down, but it never did. We lost over 2,300 feet, but the wind kept howling!! When we arrived to our planned tent-site we were very relieved to find that it was semi-protected from the wind- we could hear the constant wind but only felt the occasional big gusts. Matt set up the tent while I bushwacked my way down to a creek for water. When I returned we did our normal dinner routine and went to bed.

Oh, funnest fact! Things that have fallen in horse shit in the past few days: my phone and my glove. Things that I’m still using as if they haven’t fallen in horse shit in the past few days: my phone and my glove.
Happiness is: seeing Joe Dirt & seeing something as beautiful as Marjorie Lake

PCT Day 156, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 75

Sept 15

Mile 840.5 to mile 820.5, 20 PCT miles, no off trail miles!
PCT miles: 1619.9
Running total: 1755.6
Whenever we arrive to camp at night, we never really have a full understanding of where it is that we set up our tent until the next morning. Last night, between the bright moon and our headlamps we had some idea, but when I poked my head out of the tent this morning my mind was blown!! We had picked such a beautiful site!!!!

We didn’t start hiking until 0830. Our day began with a 1/2 mile stroll around Wanda Lake followed by a 1.5 mile climb up to Muir Pass. On our stroll we passed Melissa breaking down her camp and said hi to Paul who was still half-sleeping in his tent- he is crazy and had climbed up the pass around 3am to take pictures!! I look forward to seeing his finished products.

The climb was slow and rocky. About halfway into the climb we stopped to take some layers off- it always amazes me that we can get so warm so fast, even when it’s cold enough to freeze the water in the streams!! The trail was basically a small, semi frozen stream for most of the way up, but it was easy enough to stay dry.

At 11969 feet, on the top of Muir Pass, sits the Muir Hut/ the John Muir Shelter, which was built in 1931 by the Sierra Club and US Forest Service as a memorial for John Muir. Hikers have used the hut as an emergency shelter and according to at least one ranger, also sadly as a place for terrible people to drop off their wag bags. Wag bags are essentially poop bags for humans, and they are required when hiking in the Whitney zone, since digging a cat hole in the rock is impossible. When we hiked Whitney last year, the campground closest to the peak was littered with SO many wagbags- have I ever mentioned that I hate people?!! Ughh. Anyways, I was shocked at how warm and clean the shelter was- it was awesome!!

After admiring the shelter for a few minutes, Matthew and I began what was a surprisingly and painfully slow decent down. Between the rocks, the water, and a little patch of snow, following the trail was difficult and we made TERRIBLE time! It took us 3 hours and 10 minutes to go 5 miles!!!!!! 5 friggin miles!!!

The trail…

Around 12:45 we came across this hungry fella…

We decided to sit down and take our lunch break with the monster and two JMT hikers, Chuckwalla and Kenny. These guys were great- they have such fun personalities, and for college kidz they both have a really neat balance of life experience and curiosity that’s super refreshing. Chuckwalla is planning on hiking the PCT SoBo next summer- I’m so excited for him and hope we can catch up with him when he passes through SoCal!
After our too-short lunch break, we started back up again, allowing Chuckwalla & Kenny to go first- damn those youngins move fassst!!
At one point I heard people coming down the trail behind me and as I moved to get out of the way I was shocked to see that it was Chuckwalla & Kenny- whaattt?!? Turns out they took the wrong trail and started hiking up Bishop Pass, which would have been a BITCH had they not realized their mistake! They decided to include me in their game, where I gave them three items and two people that I would chose to be stranded on a deserted island with, and they would tell me how I’d die. It was SO fun listening to them tell the story of my death, each taking turns piggybacking off of the other. They are so silly & creative- I wasn’t surprised to learn that at least Kenny has led student wilderness trips before. The boys eventually took off in front of us, while Matthew and I continued to trudge along.
The afternoon was full of stunning views…

We ended up passing the boys again (I think they were filtering water??) and I left Matthew behind as I carried on alone. {Sorrrrrry, ma, but I am SO much slower than the rest of them, I had to get a head start!!}

I reached a once dangerous but now easy rock hop crossing and decided to fill and filter a liter of water while I waited for Matt to catch up, but he never came…or at least it felt that way.

I started to grow worried, especially since NONE of the three guys caught up, and as I said, I’m significantly slower than them. I started running through all of the possibilities in my mind- Matt got stung by a bee. Matt twisted his ankle. Matt got eaten by a mountain lion. I was waiting for either Chuckwalla or Kenny to come running to tell me the bad news, but I started to get eaten my mosquitos and decided that I couldn’t wait. I began walking back north and finallllly saw Matt, with the boys following closely behind. phew.

The boys ended up setting up camp where I had originally planned to stop, and though the site looked inviting and very well protected from the wind, Matt and I decided to carry on. The next day we would be tackling Mather Pass, which although isn’t the highest pass we would be climbing, it is often said to be the most difficult; every foot we could climb today would set us up for a better day tomorrow, and Matt’s goal site would put us 600 feet closer to the pass.

We arrived to the next tent-site before sunset, which we were super psyched about, BUT it was completely and entirely exposed and windy. We both SO badly wanted to set up camp before dark, but we knew that staying would be a terrible mistake. While Matt climbed down a cliff to collect water from a waterfall, I hiked up to the next site to see if it was any more protected…it wasn’t. (Sidenote, I actually don’t know where Matt went to get the water, but he said that I wouldn’t have liked it and since I don’t like hiking down cliffs, I’m going with that. He also joked that if he had slipped, he would have been joining Chuckwalla & Kenny at their tent site, 600 feet below…not funny, Matthew!!!)
The dirt on the bottom right is the tent site
I retraced my steps back to Matt and we continued on together as the sun started to set. We were hopeful that the next tent-site, 0.5 miles away, was in the small grove of trees that we could see up above, but alas, it wasn’t; it was another exposed site, leaving us no choice but to continue uphill…ughh

The sun was setting, the temps were dropping, the wind was picking up, and the next tent-site was now over a mile away and significantly higher than either of us had planned to camp.
We ended up meeting and hiking the last few miles with Mason, a JMT hiker. That day, Mason had attempted to hike two passes in one day and was on mile 28 for the day- that’s frickin nuts!!!! Even seasoned thru-hikers with trail legs of steel have said that 20 miles a day felt rushed and challenging in the Sierra. Mason was frickin LOCO!!!

The last 1/2 mile or so was incredibly dark and rocky. It took us a while to find sites in the dark, but Mason found a spot behind some bushes and Matt and I cuddled our tent up next to his. It was pretty windy while we set up and ate, but we were definitely more protected than we would have been if we had stayed at the original site, which happened to be 1.8 miles behind us and 1090 feet below us! That’s pretty significant considering this wasn’t a planned climb (& MY goal was 3 miles behind us and 1690 feet below us!) Thankfully Matt and I had both been feeling awesome that evening and had the energy to go, go, go!

Happiness is: meeting a milestone!! Since returning to the trail 75 days ago, we have hiked over 1000 miles!! AND we did that while taking 14 days off for our flipping, flopping, and hopping and taking an additional 6 zero days!!!