The Skip, Part One of (?), Day 3

October 4, 2020
Mile 1174.9 to mile 1157.5, Donner Pass/Highway 80 Rest Area, 17.4 PCT miles, 0.1 off trail miles to rest area, 17.5 miles total
PCT miles this trip: 37.9
Trip total: 40.4
PCT running total: 1861.7
Miles left “to Canada”: 778.7
It seemed as if I had just fallen asleep when our alarms started going off…ugh. I had struggled to get comfortable overnight and woke up to find my head turned in an incredibly awkward position- how was THIS the position I deemed comfortable enough to fall asleep in?! Damnit. My neck was stiff and as I adjusted myself to a slightly less straining position, I begged the boys for just a few more minutes of sleep. To my delight, neither opposed.
A little while later Jesse called to us from his tent- “I get it now…the whole not wanting to leave your sleeping bag thing.” This made me so. fuckin. happy. You see, Jesse is an early-morning riser, a total go-getter- the type of guy that if you say you’re going to leave at 7, he will be ready and waiting quarter to,, and by Day 3 he was broken, in the best way possible! For once, when it came to timelines and start times, we were on the same page…late. 🙂
We finally surrendered to the day and started moving. I decided to filter the liter of dirty water I still had from the day before, mixing most of it with a caffeinated crystal light tea packet and taking a swig of the freshly filtered, unadulterated water- ummm ewwwwwwww!!!!! It tasted like dirt and rusty pipe!! I nearly gagged and dumped the rest. Woof. THAT is what Matt had tasted the day before when he said I wasn’t going to like the taste of the water!! But it wasn’t the taste of the spring water that was terrible, it was the taste of the water after going through our filter that tasted terrible! Ewww!
Eventually we all crawled out from our tents to the again slightly chilly air. I enjoyed the sunrise through the trees behind our tent while we gobbled down breakfast and talked about our game plan for the day- our first water source was 6 miles away, so we decided this would be a good place for second breakfast.

A jack-o-lantern in the sky!!

We planned for a 14 mile day, which would bring us to the Peter Grubb Hut, a ski hut located a few miles before the Donner Pass Rest Area (yep, THAT Donner, as in, Donner, party of 3…)

The elevation profile for the day looked a LOT more pleasant than the previous two days, with only 2800 feet of elevation gain, with a nearly equal elevation loss- a cake walk compared to the day before!
Jesse, as a surprise to no one, was the first one ready and walking. I followed about 10 or 15 minutes later, leaving at 7:47. Matt was still arranging his pack when I left, but I figured he would catch up to me in no time.
As I started to work up some heat, I took a sip of my normally refreshing and delicious crystal light tea…blehhhh! Even through the chemicals and artificial flavors I tasted the dirt- ughh!! I dumped my beverage (sorry, LNT) & carried on without caffeine.
As I climbed out of the forest and subsequently the protection of the trees, I became VERY aware that the air quality was worse than the days prior…like, significantly worse. I pulled my buff over my mouth and nose, giving me a false sense of protection from the smoke. I started to wonder if we should turn back- how far ahead was Jesse? And where the heck was Matt?! We needed to powwow, stat. The hope was that this increased smoke was a result of the wind changing; the concern was that this increased smoke was due to a new wildfire somewhere close to us, and we had no way of knowing.

Around 8:15 I caught up to Jesse, who had been waiting for us at a trail junction. Jesse and I talked briefly about the smoke and our shared concern there was a new fire, and I pondered out loud about those guys we had passed the day before- was this what they were talking about when they had said they hoped it would clear up for us? I didn’t mention turning back, because I am incredibly stubborn and also probably very stupid. Jesse pushed on, while I waited for Matt at the junction.

When Matt arrived, I asked if we should use our emergency beacon to contact a family member to check to see if there was a new fire in the area. Matt hesitated- we both agreed we couldn’t message our parents- it would raise an unnecessary alarm and knowing my mom, we would have a helicopter search and rescue team looking for us with or without a fire! (Love ya, ma!) We agreed that if needed, both of our brother-in-laws would be our best bet at getting rational, reliable answers. {Later, when I asked Jesse, he didn’t hesitate- we could ask his girlfriend Deanna- duhhh! She’s a practical, level-headed, map-savy, CA fire knowledgeable, outdoorsy, California native! She would be our best bet!} Matt decided to check guthooks first, to see if we would have cell service anytime soon- according to guthooks, we would have cell service about half a mile past where we had planned to meet for second breakfast- we would check the local fire map there.
Matt and I started up together, but we almost immediately hit another junction- this one not as obvious. The trail did a weird, sharp left “hook” turn- NOT what I was expecting. I grew nervous- what if Jesse continued on the dirt road??!! The trail sometimes did follow dirt roads, and even paved roads- what if he missed the junction?! Jesse had guthooks- but did he check it as often as I did?! Shittttt!!! According to Guthooks, we would hit another road in 1.3 miles- we knew Jesse would wait for us at the junction, so in just over 20 minutes we would find out if Jesse was still on-trail or not…and if he wasn’t there?? Fuck.
I picked up my pace as we dropped down through another forested area. “Please be there, please be there, please be there,” I repeated. If Jesse went down the dirt road, how long would it take before he noticed he was off trail?? (Matt and I each missed a junction while hiking the PCT last year and found ourselves off-trail and alone- Matt in the Desert section, me in the Sierra- neither was a pleasant experience…in fact, both were quite anxiety-inducing.) Some of these junctions are extremely easy to miss, and that is why we wait for each other at junctions- but Jesse had just waited at the junction moments before- if it were just Matt and I, I wouldn’t have waited for Matt at that second junction either- he’s so much faster, I would have felt it was overall disadvantageous to wait for him again…
“Damnit Jesse, this was NOT a phonecall I wanted to make to your mother- you better be at that road!!” I said to myself through gritted teeth as I raced down hill. I also thought, “fuck, if he isn’t there, do Matt and I both have to hike back up this??! Please be there!!”
“Oh thank GOD!” I exhaled as I reached the junction and saw Jesse’s pack & poles leaning up against a tree- pheewwww!! I checked the time- 2.7 miles in 1 hour- that’s 22 minute miles, not bad! We took a quick 5 minute break before starting our second climb of the day- we had 3.4 miles to the spring, 3.8 miles to cell service.

It was super smokey, but incredibly beautiful. We walked through more fields of gold, which appeared more vibrant, more stunning, in the smokey haze.

We somehow floated through this section & made it to the spring by 10- if my noted times were correct, we kept a sub-20min/mile pace!

We took turns using Jesse’s Sawyer Squeeze to filter water at the spring- the water was cold & refreshing and it didn’t taste like dirt- omg it was delicious!

While we snacked, Matt suggested that the next day we take a detour into Truckee to buy new water filters. His pitch: we start early morning from the hut and head the 3.3 miles to the Donner Pass Rest Area, where we could hitch or Uber into Truckee. THEN we would return to the rest area and continue the 4.1 miles south to the Donner Ski Ranch, where we would indulge in brunch at one of the restaurants before pushing on for another 7 miles. I didn’t like the idea of leaving the trail for the extra errand, but I also didn’t like the idea of giardia…

We cut our break short, knowing we had to take another break in less than half a mile to check the fire situation. We did, as promised, have cell service, where we discovered that there wasn’t a new fire, thank God! But the air quality wasn’t good, and it was even worse where we were headed…shit.

We kept postholing in this sandy soil- we could be standing still and suddenly our foot would drop into a hole- I did NOT like it!

We took a few minutes to lather on sunscreen before heading off again one by one, in the same order we had set out that morning. Before leaving, though, I planted a seed in Matt’s head: if we hiked an extra three miles that afternoon, we could hitch into Truckee for the night, escape the smoke, do more research to see just how dangerous the smoke was expected to be, sleep in a hotel, run our errand in the morning, and figure out our next steps- whether they were steps on the trail or steps elsewhere. In so many words, Matt said he thought it was pretty dumb of us to be on the trail- he said we didn’t actually think for ourselves- we just saw the trails opened up so we came, and it was true. For three very educated people, we jumped into this without doing our due diligence…it WAS dumb we were out there- our poor lungs!
I was bummed- another PCT upset :/ but, my wheels kept turning- even with the smoke, we COULD slackpack the 4.4 miles between the Donner Pass Rest Area and the Donner Ski Ranch- it wasn’t a lot, but it would be 4 less miles that we “owed”…
Over the next few miles the trail brought us down about 500 feet, then up about 500 feet, before yet again dropping us down about 500 feet.

We had about 3.6 miles left before the hut, and it was only 1pm. Jesse suggested we stop for a break before we started an 800foot climb over the next 2.2miles, and although I wasn’t hungry, I was happy to take my pack off and rest for a minute (and eventually attack my snacks…go figure.) I suggested continuing on to Donner Pass Rest Area that afternoon, but we agreed to see how we felt at the hut.

While we were sitting, a man approached heading NoBo- “you look like PCT hikers,” he told us- I liked him already!! We gave him the short cliff note version of our PCT story, and he introduced us to his own- his name was Professor, and he was a section hiker who was out completing Donner Pass to Sierra City. His original plan was to hike the first part of the desert section, but due to fire closures he was forced to change plans. We told him our original plan was to get to Echo Lake, but we were concerned about the air quality. Professor told us that the most recent weather reports were predicting an improvement in the air quality, which made us all feel better! I took down Professor’s name, and told him to contact us when he set off to do the desert section, hopeful that Matt and I could help provide assistance with transportation. We snapped a picture before Professor carried on north. {Fun fact, Professor wrote a book called, “the best use of a lifetime”- sounds like a cool read!}

Soon after, we packed up our bags and began our ascent. We ended up passing a bunch of day-hikers and weekenders- where were they coming from and where were they going to??

With about half a mile left to the top, I started to feel hot, tired, and drained- ugh! My pace slowed considerably, and I crawled the last few steps to where I found Matt sitting on a rock. We waited together for Jesse to arrive, then started down towards the hut.

By 3:30pm, we had arrived to the Peter Grubb Ski Hut- it was so neat! It had a stove, pots and pans, solar power, chopped firewood, a guitar, a loft to sleep in, and an outhouse!!! After Matt and I both walked around the loft, Jesse noticed a sign asking for donations to fix the floorboards of the loft…it was dated 2014. Ah!!

The outhouse

One of these days I’m going to bite my tongue off!!!!

After taking time to explore the cabin (and the boys, the outhouse) we decided to carry on to the road. The last few miles added a few hundred feet to our elevation gain for the day, but not much. I really enjoyed the terrain- the trail went up, down, and around through the trees- it almost felt like a rollercoaster ride!

We took the 0.1mile spur trail to the rest area, arriving just before 5:20. We used the restrooms (I have been so dehydrated, I have only peed twice a day since we started…ah!), ate a snack, and started doing some research. Luckily we had service, so while Jesse got to work trying to get us an Uber, Matt looked up hotels, and I reserved a rental car. I had convinced the boys to slackpack the next day, so our latest plan was to use the rental car to pick up my car in Sierra City, then shuttle the cars so we could hike those 4 miles with transportation available on either end.

We Ubered to our hotel in Truckee and while the boys took turns showering, I called nearly all open restaurants in the area trying to find one that would deliver. Apparently delivery isn’t a thing there!? The closest open restaurant was just under a mile away, so though expensive, we placed an order for pick up. While I showered (and was supposed to start laundry…), the boys set off to “walk” to the restaurant- I later found out they Ubered both ways, and the Uber driver was the same guy that picked us up from the trail!!
We ate our feast, laundered our smelly clothes, and spent the evening watching TV…it was glorious! I LOVE town days, especially unexpected ones!

(Not pictured: Jesse’s dinner!)

Happiness is: cold, fresh water from a spring. And clean hands and town food!

Because this is important:
Days on trail: 2
Number of days we have had access to a toilet: 2
Running total of catholes dug: 3

One thought on “The Skip, Part One of (?), Day 3

  1. Wow, a town day already! Looks pretty cushy, especially with the photos of the cabin fresh in my mind. That did not look like a place I’d want to spend the night, though I guess if there were enough snow to make it through that upper door, I might feel differently about it. Hope your lungs held up, but you know you’re right that it was totally crazy to go out in that!!


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