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!!!

PCT Day 155, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 74

September 14

MTR to mile 857.7, 1.5 miles (1.2 towards PCT/blue-blaze miles) then mile 857.7 to mile 840.5, 17.2 PCT miles, 18.7 miles total
PCT miles: 1599.9
Running total: 1735.6
We again woke up around 7am to the breakfast bell ringing. We layered up and headed over for our last warm, fresh feast before venturing back out into the wilderness.
How cool is this truck?!!

Omg was breakfast delicious!! They served these little egg cups, fresh fruit, and this ridiculously delicious pastry that you better believe I stole the recipe for, after eating THREE servings!!! Oops!!!
While breakfast and dinner are served buffet style, lunch is a bagged lunch that everyone (guests and workers) prepare themselves. During the breakfast hours there is a table set up with of a variety of options to create the perfect midday feast: a decent selection of breads, lunch meats, cheese, veggies, condiments, peanut butter, jellies/jams, and snacks…so. many. snacks. Both days I created a delicious mustard sandwich on sourdough bread with lettuce and tomatoes, and pocketed both a salty snack and a sweet snack. Today I added a bonus orange to pack out! I had never packed out any fresh fruits or veggies before- look at me living on the wild side!
After eating breakfast and preparing our lunch, we went back to our room to pack. Even with a quick fake-nap, for once we managed to leave by the check-out time- I was out the door at ten o’clock on the dot!!

Once out of the room we filled our waters with their potable spring water and I sent my mom one last email to tell her that we were returning to the trail. (sidenote: there is no service in the entire area, but each paying guest is allowed up to 15 minutes/day on the satellite WiFi, but only to check email. Hikers are able to pay a fee for use, but again, just for email. )

Before leaving we weighed our packs- loaded with 1.5 liters of water, 4.5 days worth of food, AND the bear can, my pack weighed in at 34lbs and Matt’s weighed 38. This was the first time that they didn’t weigh exactly the same!! Cool fact: I last weighed my pack at Warner Springs on day 11- it weighed 34 lbs!!! (If I remember correctly, both of our base weights on Day 1 were 17lbs. I’m curious what our base weight is now, but not curious enough to remove the water, bear can, and hidden snacks from my pack…)

By the time we finished our last minute chores, it was around 10:50. The return to the PCT was fairly steep, but not as bad as the trail we had taken TO MTR.

We trekked through the John Muir Wilderness, and then just after noon we entered Kings Canyon National Park. The morning was quite pleasant with a gradual climb of about 580 feet in 5.3 miles.

Some men at MTR were surprised they hadn’t seen a snake yet…

We had two fairly steep climbs today, one where we gained 740 feet in 1.3 miles and the second where we gained 925feet in 1.6 miles. These climbs were separated by a another gradual 700 foot gain over 4 miles AND a river crossing…

Around 2:45, we came to Evolution Creek, which was our first wet crossing in the Sierra! Evolution Creek, like Bear Creek, is notorious for being a dangerous crossing due to its often deep water and its strong currents that have the potential to sweep hikers downstream and over some gnarly cascades. Had we arrived in June as originally planned (before the Sierra Snowmaggedon and Trailcation 2019), when the water is often reported as waist to chest deep, I would have been freaking out!! Water crossings are NOT my thang, and there is no way I’d survive a ride over a waterfall.
This year I saw reports of the creek being up to people’s belly buttons, which is hard to believe ’cause the water barely came up to my mid-shin!! I opted to cross in my camp shoes through the area that was more shallow but had a stronger current, while Matthew went barefoot through the deeper yet calmer water, getting wet to just above the knees. We were both pleased that we were able to dry off our feet and continue on with dry shoes- again, such a game changer!!
The views throughout the day were again incredible.

We hit Evolution Lake at the perfect time- the reflections were SO beautiful! But we were in a rush: our goal for the day was Wanda Lake, another 2.8 miles away, and we were again racing the sunset.

The trail

As we passed a group of people camping by the lake somebody greeted us with a, “hey!” At first I thought it was just a friendly camper, but after doing a double take I yelled back, “no fuckin way!!”

IT WAS GIGS!!! Just to recap, Gigs was part of another trail fam in the desert that hiked at a similar pace and in a similar style as our trail fam (zero days, hotels, etc.)- Matt and I ran into her while we were headed north in Washington, and then again when we were heading north in Oregon- both times with Gigs hiking SoBo. NOW, in the Sierra, Gigs was heading north while Matt and I were going SoBo. We had a very happy reunion, catching up on each other’s (mis)adventures and bonding over NOT quitting our thru-hikes despite having an overwhelming desire to before the Sierra.
With the sun quickly setting, we left Gigs with her Sierra trail fam and continued on.

It was dark by the time we made it to Wanda Lake at 7:40. We found a site, set up the tent, and ate dinner. Even though it was dark, it was absolutely stunning. Since it wasn’t too cold, which was shocking since we were camped at 11,444 feet, I set up my tripod and took a shot at night photography. I definitely need more practice.

Phone Pics

Camera pics

Happiness is: seeing a familiar face. I love how small this trail is:)

PCT Day 154, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 73

September 13

Zero day 🙂
Matthew and I woke up just as the breakfast bell was ringing. I felt surprisingly well rested and ready to conquer the trail, should we manage to escape the vortex. We threw on some layers and walked over to the dining room, where we joined the others in a feast of breakfast burritos and fresh fruit. Once again, my food was made veggie-friendly and kept separate from the others and tasted so darn good! Mmmm!! How could we leave this?? {Spoiler alert: we didn’t.}
Matt made the arrangements in the office for us to spend another night, and we spent the day lounging around the ranch. We passed the time by playing Scrabble, soaking in the hot springs, and reading and writing. Today was the most relaxing, most ideal zero day we have had yet- limited walking, yummy food, and no chores. It’s funny- when we first booked the cabin I was a little shocked at the price, but then today when I heard the owner mention the cost to someone I thought, “that’s it??” -it’s interesting how my perspective had changed once I experienced a day here!!

And, total bonus, WE SAW SILVER!!! Silver had somehow fallen behind all of us and we had NO idea where he was- seeing him at the ranch was AMAZING!! When he saw us he sacrificed prime hiker box loot to run over to hug us- I adore him! He informed us that he has officially reached that level of hiker hunger and hiker trash where he was pocketing unidentified food in ziplock bags for this next stretch- woof!! We spent a good portion of the morning chatting with Silver before he had to return to trail- again, I was thankful that we had the opportunity to say a real goodbye, as we wouldn’t be seeing him again on-trail.

Fun fact: The Driscoll Family (like, the berry people) were staying at the ranch, too!!

It was a great day, and the idea crossed my mind that maybe I would be okay blowing our entire life savings and never leave the ranch, but alas, there was a trail to be hiked…

PCT Day 153, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 72

September 12
Mile 870.9 to mile 859.5, 11.4 PCT miles + .8 mile off-trail to Muir Trail Ranch, 12.2 miles total (0.6 blue blaze miles counted in PCT miles ’cause it’s a continuous foot path!)
PCT miles: 1581.5
Running total: 1716.9
We woke up to another chilly morning and yet again Matthew let me sleep in! Niceee!!

There were a few others who had camped in the area the night before, but Melissa was only one left when we emerged from our tents. We all ate breakfast and packed up, Melissa and I both dreading the creek crossings- we knew we had three, but one definitely required getting our feet wet. On such a cold morning, nothing sounded worse.

Melissa spotted a guy coming NoBo and went to pick his brain. I followed closely behind, anxious to get the 411. We were psyched to hear that this man made it across all three crossings without getting his feet wet BUT, I have learned that an easy rock hop for one doesn’t necessarily mean dry feet for all- I’m convinced that some of these hikers must have been Division-1 long jumpers or balance beam gold medalists- their ability to cross some of these creeks dry far exceeds the capabilities of the average human. Our brief interaction with this NoBo left me feeling hopeful, but I didn’t dismiss the fact that my already cold feet could possibly be frozen AND wet in just a few miles. I started the day wary of what was to come…
Not long into our morning we passed an overly enthusiastic older man coming NoBo towards us. “I have GREAT news for you,” he said with a humongous smile, “DRY FEET!!!” YES!! He gave me more hope than the Olympic athlete we had first talked with.
Both men were in fact 100% correct: dry feet for all!! One of the rock hops was a bit tricker than the others due to how spaced out the rocks were and I did almost lose my balance when the hiking pole that I had been leaning on began to collapse (I blame the cold air!!) but after a brief heart attack and an awkward dance to catch myself, my feet were spared from an ice bath- success!! I cannot tell you how much of a difference it makes to be able to hike with dry feet…

From where we camped, we spent the morning climbing up 1683 feet over 5.3miles to Selden Pass, which sits at 10,912 feet.

Just before reaching the pass I turned around and saw this amazing view, which only got better as we climbed higher.

My exact words were, “wow, holy fuckin shit,” which I said out loud to no one.

We enjoyed the view briefly before starting our descent- we had 6 miles to go before reaching our destination for the night, Muir Trail Ranch(/MTR). While most hikers simply pass through the ranch, Matt and I were told by quite a few people (my friend Avis and Beats Working!) that it was definitely worth spending a night there, so it was on our radar. Although it was super pricey, back at Kennedy Meadows North Matt and I had agreed that we could treat ourselves to a night at the ranch as motivation to stay on the trail- it worked, and we were super excited to relax in shelter again!!

About 2 miles down from the pass we took a quick break at Sallie Keyes Lake, where we snacked, filtered water, and loaded on the sunscreen.

I found this guy in my dirty water bottle: an alien fetus?? I don’t even want to know. Matt returned him to the lake {and I continued to use the bottle for the remainder of our hike. Cheers!}
The day grew really frickin HOT as we neared the ranch. The trail was totally exposed, leaving us to roast in the sun- I felt terrible for the people heading uphill!!

SO, there are two trails that lead to MTR, and we did as most everyone does and took the first one we came to, which lead just under one mile to MTR. It was a ridiculously steep, rocky path with a million short switchbacks- again, I was glad I wasn’t climbing UP them, but holy shit were they knee-breakers!! The next day, when returning to the PCT, we planned to take the second (less steep!) trail back, which intersects the PCT farther south and cuts off approximately 1.8 miles of the PCT. If we were dead-set on walking every single mile of the PCT I might have argued otherwise, but y’all know where we stand with that!

We made it to the ranch by 2:30. After checking in, chugging complimentary lemonade, and checking out our room, Matt and I joined the other hikers in the hiker area.

MTR is a rugged, rustic guest ranch in the middle of nowhere (/it’s in a valley in the high Sierra) only accessible by foot, horseback/hiring a mule, or, if you’re super swanky, via helicopter. The easiest/quickest hike to the ranch involves a ferry ride over Florence Lake and a 5.5 mike hike, but I think most people, like Matt and I, arrive by taking that slight detour off of the PCT/JMT.

Since JMT hikers are silly, many opt to send a resupply BUCKET to MTR- yep, a bucket. Since everything gets carried in to the ranch by mules, people are required to send their resupply in a 5gallon or smaller plastic bucket AND pay 85$ to pick it up! Holy shit! No way, Jose! I guess since most people don’t need to quit their jobs to hike the JMT, $85 doesn’t seem so ridiculous, but for a jobless, homeless, paying out the ass for health insurance PCT hiker {/me}, paying for the food + shipping + $85 seems absolutely fuckin absurd! I totally know WHY the ranch needs to charge so much, and I’m not knocking the price, I’d just rather hike an extra 15 miles to buy food vs paying that much for a few days worth of food! (Foreshadowing maybe???)

The absolute kicker?!? Most JMT hikers are not nearly as hungry as they thought they would be, so they end up leaving most of their food behind- *enter starving PCT hikers.*
While most JMT hikers go to the ranch to pick up their resupply, most PCT hikers go to the ranch to raid the legendary hiker boxes stocked more or less entirely by JMT hikers. If one arrives at the right time or spends enough time at the ranch, they are totally able to do a full resupply from the goods that JMT hikers have left behind!! In spending an hour or two by the boxes chatting with PCT and JMT hikers, Matt was able to resupply for the next section, and I was able to resupply off of Matt’s leftover food! I’m super picky and weird and will not take opened food from a hiker box*, but I was able to score a huge bag of unopened roasted, salted almonds from Trader Joes, an unopened bag of trail mix, and some bars. Matt grabbed some bars and a few dehydrated meals that were homemade by a hiker we had met at the ranch. Matt is a lot more adventurous than I!
*Avoiding opened, often unlabeled leftover food from dirty, gross strangers is probably normal, but not for a thru-hiker! People take ALL sorts of gross things from hiker boxes- half a jar of pb? An opened bag of who knows? Unidentified white powder? I’ve seen people indulge in it all. While we were there, one guy even offered his used plastic jar that he had JUST thrown into the garbage to a gal that was combining her PB and Nutella into one jar- and she took it! Like, this jar that was used for who knows what that was touched by hands that haven’t been washed in days and was JUST sitting in a garbage can- she took it and loaded her PB and Nutella into it- why? ’cause it was lighter than the jar she had. No judgement but…wait, yeah, I’m judging. That’s a level of hiker trash that I’ll never be able to reach!!
After sufficiently raiding the boxes and gathering enough food for our next 4.5 day stretch, Matt and I enjoyed a dip in the private hot springs at the ranch- it was lovely! But after just about 15 minutes in the water I became a little lightheaded and queasy- not good! I downed some water and took it slow- we did NOT need a repeat of day 45!!

After peeling ourselves from the quiet, relaxing hot springs, Matt went to start laundry and I ended up running into Melissa at the hiker tent! She was with Paul, a man we had met at VVR and had since run into a few times as well. Paul did the AT and the PTC in the 90’s & was currently hiking the JMT. Fun fact: Paul, originally from the US, has been living and working in Australia for I think almost 2 decades. Labor laws in Australia are actually amazing he gets a ridiculous amount of mandated vacation time each year….I’m living in the wrong country!!!

After chatting briefly with Melissa & Paul, I ran over to assist Matthew with the arduous laundry process.

Once our laundry was sufficiently rinsed and drained, Matt and I went to relax in the lounge while we waited for dinner.

Dinner was dangerous- it was fresh, homemade, and almost all-you-can-eat! And since I don’t eat meat, they made me special fish tacos! Omg yum!! We sat and chatted with Mike, a JMT hiker just a few years younger than our parents- these “older” hikers always blow my mind!! Badasses, all of ’em! In conversation we learned that Mike was originally from NJ and actually went to the same Catholic high school as Matt’s dad!!!!! SMALL WORLD!!! Mike had taken the day off at MTR and raved about how awesome his day was.

As we were finishing up dinner I mentioned the “Z” word to Matt…yup, Zero Day. I planted the seed, and we both watered the idea. We spoke to the owner of the ranch, Hillary, about our interest in extending our stay, and she confirmed that there was an open cabin for the next night, but we would have to decide by 8am before the room got scooped up by somebody else! Matt and I agreed to think about it overnight, but I think we both knew that we weren’t leaving that next day.

After dinner, as we were finishing up a cup of tea, Daddy Long Legs, a current JMT section hiker and a past PCT hiker, offered Matt and I some Jamaican rum- I couldn’t believe I said yes! In typical fashion, I was able to drink a few sips before passing my glass off to Matthew, who, as always, was a willing recipient.

We then set off to bed in our non-heated but surprisingly cozy cabin. Gosh I love shelters I don’t need to set up and indoor plumbing!!

Happiness is: see my last sentence .

PCT Day 152, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 71

September 11
VVR/Bear Creek Trail to mile 872.3, then mile 872.3 to mile 870.9, 1.4 PCT miles + 9.8 miles on the Bear Creek Trail, 11.2 miles total
PCT miles: 1569.5* (includes blue-blaze funky mileage math explained below)
Running total: 1704.7
Funky mileage math explanation: SO, yesterday, from Mile 878.7 we walked 1.5 miles off-trail to the ferry landing. Our options for returning to the trail today included A. Taking the 9am ferry back to the ferry landing & hiking the 1.5 miles back to the trail BUT we had the hotel room until 11am, so 9am was NEVER going to happen! B. Leaving whenever and hiking 6.7 miles to the ferry landing + 1.5 miles back to the PCT (but extra miles?? No thank you!!) C. Taking the 4pm ferry and hiking 1.5 miles back to the trail (which would mean another late night and only tackling about 4 PCT miles) OR D. Getting a ride to the Bear Creek Trailhead whenever we were ready and hiking 9.8 miles OFF trail, reconnecting to the PCT at mile 872.4, making it seem as if we had made 6.3 miles of PCT progress!
We opted for option D, a no brainer. Even though it meant hiking nearly 10 miles OFF trail, it put us farther along down the PCT, set us up for less mileage the next day, AND we had the potential to get to camp earlier. I’m being a blue-blazing cheater and counting 6.3 of those off-trail miles towards our PCT total(as if we had hiked those 6.3 miles)- forgive me for not being a purist but it’s still a continuous footpath so…
We enjoyed breakfast at the restaurant (mmm, pancakes!!) then returned to our room, where I enjoyed a quick post-breakfast nap (my fav “real life” activity…)
After packing up and checking out, we hung outside for a while with some JMT hikers before getting one last town-meal: grilled cheese, fries, and a salad for me!

We arranged a ride back to the trailhead and packed into a pickup truck with 2 JMTers from Australia & a PCT hiker finishing up his 2017 thru-hike attempt- he had skipped the Sierra due to snow, and decided to come back and re-hike all of NorCal, too- an additional 600miles!! Woof!!

Yet again, the start of the trail kicked my ass. So. Many. Steep. Switchbacks. And the worst part? Since we were off-trail, I didn’t have an elevation profile to consult to see how much higher we had to climb. Ugh.

Eventually the steep terrain leveled out- we still had a ton of ups and downs, but it was nowhere near as steep as the beginning, thank GOD!
We were told that this trail was prettier than the PCT, which was probably true- we hiked a while on big, granite rocks along Bear Creek and had some pretty solid views. The creek was raging, and I was SO thankful that we didn’t have to cross it…yet. We would have to cross the creek the next day, which was more annoying than dangerous at this point- this creek is often thought of as the most dangerous to cross, but the latest reports stated it was ankle to shin deep- definitely doable, but wet feet suck. (Earlier this year the creek was thigh to waist deep, and in normal years, it is usually knee to thigh deep in June…)

The last mile of the Bear Creek Trail was a muddy, swampy, buggy hell! Our feet were getting dirty and wet and while we tried to George of the Jungle across the mud, utilizing fallen trees and branches, we were getting attacked by mosquitos. Nothing quite ruins the concentration required to succeed in a precarious log-crossing over a murky swamp better than a swarm of mosquitos biting my ass…thankfully we made it out with no incidents.

I was SO relieved when I saw the PCT junction! We hiked another 1.4 miles on the PCT to our planned tent-site, stopping for water about 1/2 mile before. For the first time in a LONG time we made it to camp before 7pm (it was 6:59…) and we still had a bit of sunlight left as we set up our tent. One of the JMT hikers we had met briefly the night before happened to be camping at the same site, so we enjoyed dinner with her. Turns out her name is Melissa, she has been living in Hawaii for the past 4.5 years, and she had NEVER been camping before, before stepping foot on the JMT- what a badass!! She totally puts me to shame! I can’t even imagine the courage it took for her to venture out into the wilderness alone- guys, I’ve been on a bunch of camping trips and a handful of backpacking trips and I STILL don’t know if I can set up our tent alone and I definitely don’t know how to turn on our stove! Melissa is ALSO so friggin generous and has invited Matt and I to stay with her in Maui- we will DEFINITELY be taking her up on the offer:) thanks, girl!
After dinner we all climbed into our tents for some zzz’s…

Happiness is: making it to camp before dark!