Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day 61 : Sonora Pass

11 miles today
1622 miles to go

I wake up by a rushing stream. It's not crashing from boulder to boulder, it's just a lot of volume rushing past. I pitched my tent in the dark last night without really having a good idea where I was. I picked a great site. Obiwan and BFG came and camped nearby. Today, however, is restaurant breakfast day. I pack up my stuff and saunter back to the Lodge. The Lodge is where everything good happens. It's where the store is, it's where the restaurant is, in fact it's also where I ship off my bear canister. No more need to carry it around. I fill it with other stuff I don't need. Like my microspikes, my maps of places past, my extra external battery that I haven't needed in one thousand miles, all gone! Yay! That weight is an unnecessary thing to have weighing me down. So off it goes, someday it'll end up at my house. 

Then breakfast. I walk into the dining room and meet two more Thru-hikers I haven't met before. They are sitting behind giant plates of food. That's what I want to do. I set my pack against the wall and lean on the table to move around to the back. Oops, it's not as sturdy as it looks, the table tips and the creamer tips and pours cream all over the side of the table I was going to sit at and the chair I was going to sit on. The server comes out and I apologize, she cleans it up and I take my seat. Data shows up and sits with me. We both order the Cowboy breakfast, two eggs, two bacon strips, two pancakes and I get a coffee too. Wow, this is how they do things where it's civilized. Sure is a lot easier than sitting on a rock in the dark eating granola out of the plastic top to my stove container. I could get used to this pretty easily. It's enough food that I feel full when I finish. So now I need to figure out how to get back to the trailhead. I know, perhaps loitering around the front of the lodge until someone offers to drive me will work. I bring my pack and set it on the deck in front. I ask the nice lady at the cash register in the store if I can get water from the sink. “Sure,” she says. I get my water and pack it into my pack. Now I'm ready. I stand there talking with some of the other Thru-hikers until I get a little chilled. It's still early and it's all shady here. There is sun in the parking lot though. 

I cross the parking lot and lean against the wood split rail fence . The sun feels so good. I warm up quickly. A border collie comes running up with a stick in its mouth. He deposit at my feet. “Sorry pal, I'm not bending over to get your stick, You get it.” He reached down and picked it up in his mouth and tried to put it in my hand. I took it. He stood stock still eyes watching my every movement, one front paw in the air. Leaning in, doggie style. Tense, alert, ready for whatever happens next. What happens next is that I toss the stick into the empty lot. He leaped like this was the best thing to ever happen to him and joyfully ran to get it. He then turned, came back and tried to put the stick in my hand again. I take it and toss it again, and again, and again. He's having way more fun than I am and he's doing all the work. “Ok, this is the last one.” I toss it and he acts like this it the first time I've ever thrown it. He's so full of joy. He comes back and tries to put the stick in my hand again, but I won't take it. He drops it at my feet and lies down, staring at me. “Come on, pick up the stick, throw it again, it'll be fun,” he says. Only he didn't say it in English. He kind of whines and yowls. He tries really hard to say it in a language I understand, but I play ignorant and pretend I don't know what he is saying. Some young girls come out after finishing their breakfast with their families and he goes and asks them. Soon they were all having a great time. 

Trail Slug comes driving up with Not Guilty and another thru-hiker in his car. He's the trail angel that gave me a ride down here last night. Not only does he provide rides, he's is a great traveling companion able to keep telling stories and keeping the conversation going. He is a generous and friendly guy. They get out and head into the restaurant for breakfast. “Be ready,” I tell myself, mentally going through my check list of things that need to get done before I go. Oh Yeah, buy and eat ice cream sandwich hasn't been completed yet. So I go into the store and get and ice cream sandwich and eat it while standing on the porch with the other hikers. Now everything is done, I'm ready. Eventually Trail Slug comes out and says, “If there are any of you who need a ride to the trailhead I'm going now.” I volunteered and so did two others. Back up to Sonora Pass in about twelve hours, now thats a quick turn around for me. He drops us off and I head down the trail. 

Down the trail to the trail magic that is. Owl, iPod, and Sonora Pass Resupply have the perfect trifecta of trail magic going on at the picnic area that the PCT passes by. I stop in for a brief stay, I think. There are already three or four other thru-hikers already here. The first thing that happens is that Owl hands me a welcome to Sonora Pass Internet Cafe cookie. It has whipped topping and a fresh cherry on top. I eat it quickly. Then I help myself to the bowl of fresh cherries, and the bowl grapes. Then Owl pulls out a giant ‘PCT 1000 Miles’ chocolate cake. We celebrate our passing the one thousand mile mark with a generous slice of chocolate cake. Internet Cafe? Yes, Owl has somehow setup his phone as a hotspot. I spent sometime posting a number of blog entries. Then my phone needed charging so I plugged into the free charging station offered by Sonora Pass Resupply. More Thru-hikers show up, soon there is a whole passel. Trail Slug shows up again with more Thru-hikers and shuttles other thru-hikers back to Kennedy Meadows. Some more are leaving some are trying to hitch to Bridgeport or Walker. It's a wild chaotic scene. iPod offers hotdogs, I accept, along with a bunch of others. He serves them with a large plate of chips, which I eat too. I dilly-dally around drink a can of coke, eat more grapes and cherries until around noon. My phone is mostly charged. It's time to go. I pack up say my thank you’s to all three trail angels, and head for the trail.

Up! It's a pass, and the trail goes up from it. The road passes over the pass, the trail comes down the ridge to the road then climbs back up the ridge and continues north. North, onward, the snows on Canada are coming, I must beat them to Canada. I climb, up, and up, and up. I come to a group of young people heading up the trail. They all have clean clothes on, they are walking slowly. “Where are you headed?” I ask the guy in back. He shrugs, “Where does this trail go?” He asks me. “Canada, do you mind if I pass y'all?” I don't think they'll make it to Canada. They might make it to the muddy section, or the big snow drift, maybe even the interesting rock formation, but Canada? I highly doubt it.

I on the other hand press on past and over all those features. I climb up, back into the land rock and snow. It's warm the snow is melting. It's muddy, slushy, slurpy. The trail oozes muck and mire. The streams use the trails as routes down the hill. If I had any illusions about keeping my feet try, they're gone now. I splash happily down the trail. It's warm enough that cool water on my feet actually feels pretty good. This sets the pattern for the day. Don't try to negotiate the fords, just splash right through. Up and across the snow and down the other side. I am hiking by myself. Down back into the forest on the far side of the hill. I am using my new Thru-hiker gait. Not all thru-hikers walk like this. It's what works for me. My right knee is perfectly content to walk like a caveman. No pain, no warnings, no complaints at all. Who'd a thunk?

I hike until fourish. My favorite stopping time. I estimate if I have enough food to make it all the way to Donner Summit. Probably not but it'll be close, I might be able to get a few things at the Echo Lake store. I try to plan out the next five days. But the best I can do is shoot for a twenty seven mile day tomorrow. I cook dinner and enjoy my early day. I hope to start early tomorrow so as to be able to end around the same time. I again am camping within earshot of happily rushing water. It's such a happy sound. I'm in bed and asleep before it's dark. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Day 60 : A Day of Change

30 miles today
1633 miles to go

Up early, which isn't really early for me. Started hiking at six thirty. I'm hiking using my new hiking method. Picture a batter about to bat. Or a goalie defending the goal. Or a soldier on patrol. Or an American Indian stealthily moving through the woods. That's how I am trying to walk now. I feel like I am leaning forward. Leaning in. Brene Brown talks about leaning in to difficult conversations. I had a hard time picturing what leaning in looks like. Now I have a visceral picture of it. I think it might be a big attitude change for me too. My hiking stance before was more upright. Leaning away from the hill reaching out with my foot but always able to pull back. Not really fully engaged in the hike. Now I find I'm all in. Committed to the next step. I feel differently, like I am boldly moving through the forest. Perhaps it is getting in touch with my roots, my ancestors probably roamed the northern forests in much the same manner. I feel like I should have a club, or a sword, maybe a spear. I feel primal, feral, wild. I move with a purpose. Fords? Who needs logs or boulders. I stride right through the water. Trails acting like streams, not a problem. I feel alive and bold. Unfraid. It's weird how a chance of hiking stance can change so much in how I feel. No twanging. That's for those posers who live on flat streets and sidewalks and only occasionally venture into the wild. I live here. I can't walk upright without hurting myself. I crouch, I am elastic and prepared for the unexpected. 

I pass one thousand miles today! It took me one thousand miles to figure out how to walk in the woods. I keep a fast pace. Up and over the mountains south of Sonora pass. I exit Yosemite National Park, in so doing I no longer am required to carry a bear canister. Yay! This is now my hike. I am not trying to catch up or wait for anyone else. I am hiking for my own reasons. I reach the one thousand mile marker fully alert for it. I found it right where the half mile app said it should be. The day was spent mostly by myself. Although I played leapfrog with a new set of hikers, Not Guilty, Obiwan, BFG to name a few. The last water source is in Kennedy Canyon. From there north the PCT is filled with drama. The trail climbs into the snow. The trees are gone, hiking on exposed ridges with views to the horizon. Huge clouds to the east, massive thunderheads brew. The wind on the ridges a constant thirty knots or so. Steep snow to cross. Rocks and shale to clamber over. With food and water available as I walk there is no need to stop. All happening at ten thousand feet above sea level. Parts of the trail have long downhill snow sections where I slide. There is a really steep section where I need to cross snow between two rocky outcroppings. I follow the steps of the last person but this seems so sketchy. I look below at the sharp jagged rocks wondering what kind of horrible things might happen if I slipped. I keep on moving. Over the outcropping is the coolest glissade. A deep slide likes bobsled run. I clamber down the rocks and step into the run. I sit and away I fly, down, down, over little bumps that make it all that more exciting. Down, down, to a long run out on a flat section of snow. I reach Sonora Pass and my plan is to hitchhike into Bridgeport. I meet a couple of Thru-hikers that have been trying to do that for that last four hours. I join them in their efforts. There just aren't that many cars going in that direction. 

A car pulls up from the west and four hikers get out. The driver says I got room to take you to Kennedy Meadows. Not Guilty says, I'll go. That was where he was planning on going. I say, “I'll go too.” This means that I'll have to figure out how to bounce my Bridgeport box to somewhere else and I'll have to resupply for the next section by buying food at the Kennedy Meadows store. I learn from the driver that they have just restocked so they have a lot of selection. They also have a restaurant so instead of standing on the side of the road waiting, I can be eating. 

I order a cheeseburger and fries. So does Not Guilty and Data. Obiwan and BFG show up, they get the cheeseburger and fries too. Obiwan tells of how he slipped on the steep section that scared me. He tumbled down the hill towards the rocks, somehow missing them by inches. He lost both of his trekking poles on the way down. Dinner is great, especially great because I didn't need to cook it myself. After dinner I head over to the store and buy a bunch of food for the next few days. I also buy a soft serve ice cream cone. More of my ice cream ends up in my beard then my mouth. I can't figure out how to take a bite or lick of ice cream without smearing it all over my face. After I finish messing with my cone I go back to the store and buy a pint of ice cream and sit out in front of the lodge and eat it while talking with Obiwan and BFG. We met a search and rescue trainer who told us a whole bunch of cool stories. He also suggested that we could stealth camp by their training camp. That's where I head. I set up camp next to the creek which is flowing like crazy. I fall asleep to the sound of moving water.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 59 : That Right Knee is Telling Me Something

21 miles today
1663 miles to go

It sure was comfortable last night. Cool but not cold. I get up and am eating breakfast before the sun comes up. I am packed and moving just as the sun peeks over the mountain. The trail goes up, but not for long. I climb over the pass and now it's downhill all the way to Benson Lake. I think it's about three thousand vertical feet. Down, down I go. My right knee is feeling it today. There's snowy spots that really make me feel unstable. Down, and across more streams, no logs, no boulders, nothing but to march right through. My feet get wet pretty early in the day and stay that way. More fords, more cold water on my feet. 

Benson Lake is a lake I hike by. I don't want or need to stop there. Mosquitoes are out and looking for a free meal. I don't want to be the free meal. I lather on sunscreen and insect repellent. Then I climb over Seavey Pass. The way I say that makes it sound, oh that was easy. But no, I'm just running out of adjectives. Granted Seavey Pass isn't a big high pass like the others, but it is hours getting over it and into Kerrick Canyon. Then the hike down Kerrick canyon surprises me on how far and how long it takes. On and on it goes. Down slurpy slippy trail with snow, mud, and water. My feet are wet and sandy too. The good news is I have happened upon a pack of Thru-hikers. At the bottom of the canyon is yet another ford. This one is large and deep. I cross it and then sit with the other Thru-hikers and eat my lunch. I meet Morning Glory, Pinkie, Pizza Taxi, Big Mike, and others. After lunch it's time to go up again, then down, then up, then down. I lost count there, was that four times. My right knee wasn't having it any more. Twang!!! Wow, haven't felt that in a while. I slow down and walk carefully. Hmmm. Why does it do that? I'm wondering if maybe it's hyper-extending. I decide to change the way I walk. Instead of my nonchalant vertical stance that may be causing me to hyper extend my knee I decide to try leaning forward slightly and keeping my legs bent at the knees. This immediately helps the twanging, it stops. I feel like I'm Bigfoot or a Neanderthal, dragging my knuckles. I am going to try to keep walking this way and see if it helps.

I find a camp at the Fall Creek ford. I am about thirty miles from Sonora Pass. That's where I have a two part hitchhike one way to get to Bridgeport to get my box. There is a part of me that doesn't want the hassle and unknown of the hitch. Will anyone pick me up? How long will it take? I need the food, I would like to sleep in a real bed in a motel there. I would like to eat some town food. I'm glad I don't have to make any decision right now. The mosquitoes are in full swing here. I hang out with the other Thru-hikers for a bit, but the mosquitoes and my wet feet demanded that I retreat to my mosquito free zone. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Day 58 : Benson Pass

24 miles today
1684 miles to go

What a comfortable night. It wasn't very cold, it was cool, perfect for sleeping. All is quiet. I'm wondering if I should get up. I check the time that the Post Office opens. I sure would like to shop off some of the gear that I am not using. Specifically my microspikes and umbrella are not being used. They need to get off my back. Nine am! Well that's not happening, I'm not sitting around here until then. 

Breakfast time, my favorite time of day. I pull out all my food on my picnic table. I had a good idea to put stuff in my food bag that can't be ruined by getting squished. Last time I just put my lunch stuff in my food bag. My graham crackers, pretzels, and Oreo cookies were all reduced to crumbs. My food bag is in the bottom of my pack so anything in it is really squished. Especially because I have my bear canister. I push down really hard on it when I am packing so I have enough room for the rest of my stuff. So anyway, I put my dinner entrees, my instant breakfast, my Starbucks mochas, and things like that in my food bag. I can squish those all I want and it won't change them. 

I start off by myself. I hike the trail to the store. Yep, it really is closed. Then I head up the highway to the PCT. I cross over the Tuolumne River bridge and turn left. Follow the signs to Glen Aulin. My plan had me hiking this last night. With the time it took to locate my box and how exhausted I felt I don't think I would have made it in a reasonable time. So now I have a few miles that I hope to make up today.

The trail to Glen Aulin is huge. It's like a ten lane interstate for hikers. It's so wide, yet this morning I'm by myself cruising down the middle of the interstate. The trail stays wide all the way to Glen Aulin, then it shrinks to a single lane. I continue on and meet up with Proton, Beardo, and Sweet Pea. Just the hikers I was hoping to meet. We hike together for a while then Beardo, Sweet Pea and I stop for a snack. Proton keeps going as says, “see you at the top.” Beardo and Sweet Pea live on the east coast, but I learn they were married in the same small town that I used to live in in Northern California. I am ready to hike. I say, “see you at the top, or wherever Proton is,” and take off. The trail is smooth and the hiking is easy. I sort of zone out and hike along without any significant thoughts. When I reach the summit I don't see Proton. I assumed he hiked on to the ford, so I head there. I am excited to connect a dot. I have hiked in the area coming up before and it'll be fun to see where this trail from Mexico actually connects to where I've been before. No Proton at the ford. I guess he kept going. I see footprints that might be his. I follow them on and on. I never do ‘catch up’ to him. I think I must have past him. I hike all the way to Matterhorn canyon by around fourish, my preferred stopping time. Now I'm starting to get a little anxious. I don't want to camp in Matterhorn canyon as I think it'll be wet, lot of condensation in and on my tent in the morning. My only option is to keep hiking. The trail leaves Matterhorn canyon and climbs of Benson Pass. I've camped at the pass before. I imagine there is probably snow up there now. I look for a campsite as I climb. I recall doing this before on a previous trip. There are a lot of places that sort of look like they might be a campsite but aren't. They are sloped, or have water running through them or have other things that make them non-campsites. I keep climbing, it's getting later. My feet have been wet since the ford earlier today. There have been numerous other ones, I simply walk through them now. I have to ford this stream now, it's late, do I really want to soak my feet again? There really isn't another choice. Cold water again, I climb until just before the pass. I find an ideal spot on well drained , dry gravel. Shouldn't have any condensation here. I have a view off to mountains in the east from my site. I quickly go through my camp chores, in no time at all in in my sleeping bag. I fall to sleep quickly, my bed is so comfortable.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Day 57 : Tuolumne Meadows

18 miles today
1708 miles to go

The sky is getting light in the east. I can see it from the door of my tent as I lay here oh so comfortably. I could lay here until the sun comes up, I only have fourteen miles to hike today. I roll over, but if I wait too long the mosquitos will be out when I get up. That does it for me. It's time to get up! I have breakfast in the twilight and packing in the rays of a new day. Donahue Pass is ahead. I start hiking, and I start climbing immediately. I camped at the bottom of the trail below the pass. There is water flowing here in large quantities. I have to cross the streams multiple times but each time I find boulders or logs that make it possible to do without getting my feet wet. More snow! The trail is covered. I lose the trail. I search and walk in its mostly likely direction. There it is. I do lose it again, I do the same thing. Climbing is slow, I know that if I can follow and stay on the trail I won't have to worry about getting cliffed out on the other side. So it's slow going. Then I see a couple of JMT hikers heading my way coming down from the pass. We say hi as we pass each other, but now my task is easier, just follow their footprints. At the top I meet four more JMT hikers. They are excited to be hiking the JMT and ask me all kinds of questions. I have only one question for them. “How much snow is on the north side?” They say about one fourth of it is snow. I'm not sure what that means but I suppose I'll find out.

Heading down from the pass is a lot like the other passes. Snow, slushy streams, the trail acts like a stream, water crosses the trail. The best part is that this is the last pass over eleven thousand feet. Everything north of here is lower. Even so, it's exhausting, my right knee isn't happy. It's not in open revolt, but I walk carefully and slowly to keep from injurying it. Down switchbacks and I can see Lyell canyon below me. More and more down, across streams, more switchbacks and I am standing on the canyons floor. A relatively flat walk from here to Tuolumne Meadows. It's uneventful except for the wet muddy stream crossings that seem to be every hundred feet or so. 

Tuolumne Meadows I follow the signs to the lodge. There is a shuttle stop here. I sit on the bench and read my map. There is a shuttle to the store. There is also a trail to the store. A shuttle is not for me, I get up and follow the trail. The store and the Post Office are the same place. The problem is it's Sunday. The Post Office is closed. I wonder if I'll still be able to get my box. My plan calls for me to hike another six miles to Glen Aulin. I don't really feel up to hiking any more today. 

The store has a section of just resupply boxes. They have put everyone's last name on the box in big black letters on a white background. I look through them and don't see my box. I'm disappointed, but also glad, I didn't want to hike any more today. I'm tired out, maybe dehydrated, I probably should start drinking more water. I walk to the backpacker camp and find a spot. I setup my tent and put my food in the bear box. Then I walk back to the store and look through the boxes again, instead of looking for my name I look for a box with purple tape. There it is behind those other boxes, sure enough there's my name, it was hidden. I'm glad they Kelli uses the purple tape and happy fruit stickers. I am able to show my ID and get my box even though the Post Office is technically closed, yay! Now I won't have to wait until nine am tomorrow. 

Back at my camp I sort through all my food and get it ready for packing in the morning. Then I decide to make dinner. I have a picnic table, it's so much easier to cook when you have a table. I whip up Great Northern Bean Stew with beef dices and top ramen noodles. For an appetizer I have a salami wrap with mayonnaise, using one of my packets of mayo I got at the bakery in Mammoth Lakes. For dessert I have caramel corn. For snack I get a bottle of Mug root beer and a small carton of Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream at the store and make a root beer float. I really feel full.

While at the store I see Mountain Man. We chat briefly and I learn that he and Gazelle are staying at the backpacker camp tonight. In fact Proton and a couple of other hikers I know are also here. I am hoping to join up with them for the next section which is supposed to have a couple of sketchy fords.

Bridgeport is only twenty two miles from the trailhead at Sonora Pass. My big plan is to hitchhike to it. My big plan seems like a lame plan now. What are the odds that someone is going to pick me up? It seems far fetched. Something that I can worry about if I want to. I don't want to worry about it. There is nothing I can do about it right now. Let's just see what happens when that day arrives. I have a bunch of creek crossings that I could worry about too. But I choose not to.

I get in my tent early, before the sun sets. I can hear other hikers chatting and laughing. I am too tired to be out standing around talking it up. Besides the mosquitoes are coming out. My tent is the only mosquito free zone that I have.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Day 56 : Rush Creek

19 miles today
1724 miles to go

I awake at four thirty am. I toss about till five thirty, I don't know how to sleep in. I want to have breakfast but breakfast doesn't start until six. I am ready to leave, ready to hit the trail. I take my last shower for a while. The last couple of days while I've been sitting around and resting with my shoes off I've noticed that my feet are all dried out and I can feel little cracks developing that want to start hurting. I find a packet of antibiotic ointment in my kit and smear it on the cracks. Then I use some of the tape that I didn't want to carry because I thought I didn't need it to tape over the cracks. That feels a lot better. 

I have a large breakfast including a waffle smeared with as much peanut butter from my jar as I feel I can eat. The breakfast area is filled with people. Everyone wants to get an early start to their day. Mammoth Lakes is an upscale resort area and it looks like all of these people are enjoying the resort aspects of the place. I am the only one here dressed in shabby thru-hiker clothes. After breakfast I finish my packing and checkout of my room. Off to the trail.

Well, maybe not so fast. I walk across to the trolley stop. Trolleys don't run until nine am! Nine? The first shuttle to Reds Meadow arrives there at seven thirty. It leaves from the Bike Park. In order to get to the Bike Park I need to catch the Bike Park shuttle at the main lodge. The lodge is a fifteen minute trolley ride from this stop. But no trolleys will be here till nine. Ok, I can always walk. That's what I do, it's my job. I head up the road to the main lodge. After an easy twenty minute walk I locate to bus stop for the Bile Park shuttle. The first one leave here at nine am. Nine? It's almost seven now. So much for an early start. Now what? I recall finding a Starbucks around here somewhere. There is a guy working this morning at this early hour. He's kneeling on the ground in the front corner of his truck painting the curb red with a tiny roller. It's Saturday! He's intent on doing his job and he's doing it quite well. I ask him for directions to Starbucks. He confirms what my phone says. A short walk down the mall of the resort. I walk to Starbucks and arrive at six fifty seven. It's not even open yet, it opens at seven. So I wait some more. This day is not starting off as efficiently as I pictured it starting. I order an extra hot venti mocha and find a seat. Unless I think of something else I'm sitting here for about two hours. Maybe I can find an outlet to keep my phone charged. A quick glance around doesn't indicate anyone  easy access outlets. Huh, that's strange a Starbucks without charging outlets. I guess people don't come to this one to work or to do school assignments. This is a resort.

I get impatient sitting in Starbucks. Especially without an outlet. I meander back through the mall to the bus stop. I sit on the steps in the sun enjoying my mocha. Schweppes walks up and asks about the bus. I point to the sign that shows the first bus to the Bike Park is at nine am. He goes an sits on a bench to wait. I look at the hole in my pants on my right knee and decide to try and fix it with tape. I pull the tape out of my pack. Unzip the pant leg and lay it flat . Then cut a piece of tape and stick it to the inside. The I press it flat. After I re-zip the leg back on I press the tape against my knee. My thought is that the tape sticks better if the adhesive is warmed to body temperature. I put the tape away and I'm pressing my knee when I see a bus pull up that says ‘Reds Meadow.’ Hey, that's the bus I want. That's the bus that the Bike Park bus is supposed to take me to. I jump up and walk over and get in line to get on as does Schweppes. I learn that the bus to Reds Meadow picks up here until nine. If I'd have stayed in place for five minutes more rather than walking to Starbucks I would have caught the earlier one. Oh well, the consolation prize is a venti mocha. It just means I start hiking later which means I end hiking later or don't hike as far.

When I arrive at Reds Meadow I see Proton, Mountain Man, Beardo, and Sweet Pea. They all caught the early bus. I chatted with them for a few minutes. They are all planning on hiking the JMT north from here. I am hiking the PCT. I think they are going to go slower because there is a lot more elevation changes on the JMT and it's more scenic. I hiked it in 2014 so I'd rather stay on the PCT. I head off to pick up the trail where I left it. The first couple of miles is ideal hiking trail. Smooth, no rocks or roots. Gradual slope. Easy and I make good time. The trail begins climbing as I approach Agnew Meadow. The trail goes right through the trailhead and continues to climb. Basically it's all uphill to Island Pass at ten thousand feet.  I started at seventy seven hundred feet meaning that this climbing is going up two thousand three hundred feet. There are a few switchbacks in the beginning but then the trail just climbs and climbs and climbs. I am getting tired. I notice that when I'm tired my right knee starts to ache, not that sharp twanging pain that I was getting a few weeks ago. Just a dull tiredy ache. That's how it feels now as the trail turns west and starts to climb. I know that this trail will meet the JMT at Thousand Island Lake. It looks like I'm getting close then I see that there is another ridge to climb over. It's getting really close to my four pm end-of-hiking deadline. I'm feeling anxious, I don't want to hike anymore today. The problem is that there is no place to camp right here or at thousand island lake. I finally arrive at the lake and there are a few groups of hikers sitting on the shore. I debate with myself about getting more water. Nah, I decide. I only have a few miles to go. I start heading up Island Pass it's only about five hundred vertical feet above the lake. Even though it's not that high it still has snow, not a lot, but enough to slow down my progress. I have to cross the slushy slippery snow. The trail has water flowing on it. Where there is no water, it's muddy. My progress is slow and the daylight is burning. The pass is long and flat. With snow, ponds, and water flowing every which way. It's hard to tell exactly when I've crossed it until I'm clearly heading down the other side. I am thirsty, I am out of water. I just keep going there is plenty of water down where I want to camp. I meet a JMT hiker who says its boggy down there, pointing to where in heading. Oh no, I start to think. Then, I thought, I'll just wait till I get there. I finally reach the stream, cold clear water. I collect what I need and continue on to where I want to camp. I climb a little to get away from the stream and it's cold air. I find a nice dry, non boggy, spot in the shade. I setup camp and make dinner. All is well. I get in my tent before the mosquitoes get very bad. I fall to sleep quickly.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Day 55 : Zero In Mammoth Lakes

0 miles today
1743 miles to go

Mammoth Lakes is a great town for a zero. The free trolleys go everywhere you need to go. Most everywhere I need to go I can walk. Of course if I'm walking I'm not resting. I have first breakfast here at the place I'm staying. Then I try out the granola I bought yesterday for second breakfast. For third breakfast I head over to Base Camp Cafe and have the Base Camp Breakfast. I enjoyed all three breakfasts and finally felt ready to tackle the remaining chore of the day. I bought fuel by the ounce and some permethrin spray for my clothes. I have a feeling that the next section is going to have lots of mosquitoes. I spend the afternoon washing my clothes in the guest laundry where I'm staying and then spraying permethrin on them. I feel bug ready. I sort my stuff, especially my food. My snacks go in my pockets, some tortillas and peanut butter for lunch. Everything else fits in my bear canister, Tuolumne Meadows is only two days from here so I don't need much food. I have a whole pound of peanut butter and ten tortillas. That is the smallest quantities I could find of each. That's a lot for two days even if I have two peanut butter tortillas per day. I know I'm  going to hate carrying the extra weight. I also know that if I throw away food I'd regret that too. So I'll carry it till I'm tired of carrying it, then I'll eat it. Packing my pack after a zero has always been hard. This time was a little easier, I think it's because I don't really have to think about what's next, or if something will fit. I know it all fits and I know exactly where. The only difficulty was my microspikes. I am using the pocket they used to go in to hold my pound of peanut butter. I ended up putting them in the stuff sack with my spare ziplocks in the top of my pack. Now I'll have to stop to get out if I want to wear them. Before I could just grab them out of their pocket. I don't think I'm going to need them and almost shipped them home. I'll probably regret that decision too. So my pack is heavier because of more food and not lighter because of gear I am carrying that I don't need. In a week or so I should be at Donner Summit which might allow me a zero at home.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day 54 : To Mammoth Lakes

6 miles today
1743 miles to go

Restless night. Anticipating Mammoth Lakes and the accessibility of food. Cold morning, I don't want to get up. Oh yeah, Mammoth Lakes! Now I'm moving. Kenyan and Guran pass by my camp on their way to Reds Meadow, the place you can catch a shuttle to Mammoth Lakes. I met them yesterday on Silver Pass and haven't seen them since. I hurriedly finish breakfast and pack up. Wow, it's cold. My thumbs are so cold they hurt. I finally just carry my trekking poles in one hand while my hands are tucked into the sleeves of my windbreaker. The sky is clear and the waning moon is still visible in the western sky. The trail is clear of rocks and roots. The geology of the area near Mammoth is distinctly different than the Mountains south and north of here. Not so much granite, much more volcanic looking. More similar to the geology around Lassen far to the north. Beautiful country large trees spaced far apart, sandy, friendly soil. Clear streams coursing their way through the soil. Water bursting out of springs in the hillside and creating instant creeks where there is nothing above to indicate a creek would be. 

Kenyan and Guran are brothers, twins, with the same gear and same Aussie accent. I met up with them when they stopped to adjust gear or something. We walk together for a while on the trail until they need to stop for something else, I keep walking. I get to Reds Meadow with about a twenty minute wait until the shuttle arrives. The sun is up and warm. I go into to store and buy a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino from the refrigerated case and then sit outside in the sunshine sipping it slowly. 

The shuttle arrives and clean, rested hikers disgorge themselves. Braveheart is one of them. I walk over chat. She's heading out on the JMT to Yosemite Valley. Then she'll shuttle back to Tuolumne Meadows and continue on the PCT. We catch up on a few other details of our trips until it's time to load the bus. I climb aboard with eight other wild eyed starving Thru-hikers looking forward to eating. Most of them are Australian. On the bus I make a reservation at a hotel in Mammoth Lakes. No hostel for me, it's just not my thing. I arrive before check-in time so I have them store my pack behind the front desk. I walk down the street to Schat's bakery. Their sign is looking a bit tattered and worn. The sandwich I got was just as amazing as before. As I was leaving, Kenyan and Guran show up and decide to buy something baked. So I stand in line with them and get a glazed cinnamon twist. Like a cinnamon roll but twisted instead of circular. We laugh and joke a bit, one of them picks up a giant tub of Nutella as if he's going to buy it. They both have their matching gear including their packs. They really are a lot of fun. They head out tomorrow and I don't so I'll have to catch up to them if I want to spend more time with them.

I return to my hotel and my room is ready, three hours early! Yay! I look at my list of stuff to do in town and decide that food is pretty high on the list. The trolley busses are free and stop in front of my hotel, they also stop in front of Von's. Using my list I get my resupply food for the next few days to Tuolumne Meadows. I think I might be buying too much. It's hard to buy for just two days. I also buy stuff to eat while I'm here, a tub of Butterfinger ice cream, a box of fresh blueberries, a large bowl of fresh sliced pineapple, and some sour cream and onion chips.

My room has a refrigerator and freezer that work, so I stuff my fresh food and ice cream in there. Then I walk to the highly rated pizza place and buy a small pizza to go for my dinner. It was so loud in the restaurant while I waited that I was glad I got my pizza to go. I am no longer used to the ruckus and noise that people make in a restaurant. I prefer the silence and serenity of the forest. So I had back to my room where my fan makes the white noise that substitutes for falling water. I eat, I rest, I sort and toss my trash. Tomorrow starts my zero.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Day 53 : Silver Pass to Deer Creek

22 miles today
1749 miles to go

First one awake in camp, only one awake in camp, only one in camp. Slept in! Woke up at five twelve. Started out the day right, with breakfast. Almost out of food. Good thing tomorrow is Mammoth Lakes. The air is already warm. Should be a comfortable day. I pack quickly. I should pack quickly I know where everything goes by now. There are a number of things I'm off loading as soon as possible, I don't use or need them. That's good, it'll make my pack lighter.

The day starts with a climb. It has to because I hiked to the low spot last night. Today I climb Silver Pass. I don't know where the name comes from. There are a bunch of lakes near the pass with American Indian themes, squaw, warrior, chief, etc. Not sure why and or if they are related to silver somehow. So climbing is the plan for the morning. I climb about thirty minutes and come to a big creek of rushing water. The trail goes through the creek. There is no bridge, tree, or any obvious place to hop across. This is one of those get your feet wet fords. In fact it looks deeper than just feet, maybe knees? The sun isn't even shining light this low in the canyon. Nothing to do but to go for it. If I don't make it you won't be reading this. I step in to water that is halfway to my knees. This is the slow moving part close to the shore. As I wade out, the water quickly becomes deeper, like above my knees deeper. The water is rushing past so fast it's white water. I assumed that if I crossed where the trail was that the bottom would be smooth. Bad assumption, there are boulders to negotiate around. I am trying to find crevices to wedge my feet. The water is mid-thigh and freezing cold. My feet hurt. I search for the next foot hold. What a huge boulder! I am facing upstream and leaning on my trekking poles. I have to back downstream a couple of steps to get around this boulder. The water is hitting my legs and splashing up to my chest because of the spread and force of the moving water. Too bad there’s no one to video this, it certainly feels dramatic. Especially if my foot slips. One more step, ah calmer water. I climb out of the water with my pants sticking to my legs. The warm air doesn't feel so warm right now. I immediately start hiking up the hill. Switchbacks of course. Back and forth, trying to get warm. Up and up I go, finally I reach the sunlight. Instant radiant warmth. I stop and pull off the trail by some flat rocks and take off my shoes and socks, my gaiters and zip off my pant legs. Ah warmth. I wring the water from everything. My shorts and shirt are wet too, but I leave them on, after wringing out the water I put everything back on. My feet are still cold and wet, but I'm a lot warmer. I continue my climb up the switchbacks. Less than a mile, what's this. A waterfall! Splashing down five feet above the trail and blowing thru the trail. Water a couple feet deep courses across the trail. The mist from the force of the water hitting the rocks is blasting across the trail. This is crazy! I look across and there are two JMT hikers looking as perplexed as me. Well at least there'll be witnesses. They can tell the authorities something like, “Yea, so this PCT hiker starter coming towards us and whoosh the water blasted him right off the side of the mountain.” The water is easier to negotiate than the earlier crossing but it's still plenty exciting. I didn't bother with stopping to wring out my socks. After that dual soaking I finally fully succumb to hiking with wet stuff on. Streams in the trail, splash through them. Then snow drifts. So what! Mud, standing water, whatever. I continue climbing but without the usual reserve that I used to take trying to keep my feet dry. After the trail streams, the pass becomes visible. Across fields of snow mixed with sopping wet ground. I slosh across both. I climb the snow to the pass. I see Blazer, Wrong way, and Headfirst there. Last time I saw them was in Independence. After chatting a few minutes and eating graham cracker crumbs, I don my microspikes and head down the other side. I briefly check the map so I have some sort of idea of where the trail might be under all this snow. Following footsteps brings me face to face with some JMTers coming up. They suggest veering around to the left. Instead I plow straight on and to the right. This is where the trail is. Right at the bottom of this slope. A perfect slope. A long steep slope. With plenty of flat at the bottom and no visible rocks. Woo hoo! Down, down, down! Zipping along on my butt, poles held high in the air. Wow! That was fast! Wow, that was really fun. I shaved about thirty minutes of snow hiking in about fifteen seconds. Here's the trail. The trail drops down, down below the snow level. It does the typical trail with a stream on it. There are occasional snow drifts. But I splash and plow, my feet are already wet. What's a little more water? Miles and miles of downhill before finally reaching the steel bridge across yet another raging torrent. I'm really glad there is a bridge because I don't think crossing this one is possible. The bridge is the bottom, now it's time to go back up. 

I'm in the forest. The snow and rocks of the past are far above and behind. The warm zephyrs of summer waft through the trees. It would be so much easier just to stay here by the bridge. The splashing roar of the water has a lulling effect. Perhaps if I just sit here in the grass soaking my feet in the rushing water. Perhaps I would if there were a snack bar where I could purchase a hot dog and an ice cold lemonade. There isn't. There is only a trail, the sign says ‘Tully Hole.’ The PCT begins a serious uphill climb here. Switchbacks that send a clear message of why they're here and where I'm going. In a word, Up! Up and up and up, across the face of this exposed slope. Looking down it looks like a giant could use these switchbacks as steps. It's only an illusion of perspective, each one is much too steep to be of much use as a step. I didn't bother to count the switchbacks, I'd have lost count by now anyway. Up with no reprieve. As if we are in a hurry or something. The switchbacks stop as soon as the crest of the pass, unknown name, and without snow, thus insignificant, except to the climber of the switchbacks, who is grateful for a pass and not another switchback. Yay!

What is that sound? A chorus of frogs, through the trees below I glimpse a turquoise sparkling blue lake. It's off trail and down a slope I doubt less than one in a hundred, no a thousand, ever venture. I'm not about to be that one and perhaps become a statistic. I only imagine what type of summer paradise it must be to camp by that lake and be lulled to sleep by the happy lovesick frogs. The entire hollow of the bowl the lake is nestled in is echoing with their chorus. I move on past and reach the deep blue expanse of Virginia Lake. Frogs sing on its western shore too. I skirt the southern end wand follow the trail around the east end. The lake is more than full, the stepping stones are submerged. I hop from one to the next. Each foot landing in about a foot of water above the stone. This is better than walking on the ground about three feet below the stones. 

The trail goes up as it leaves the lake, then down to the next. Up and around again I am mostly following the top of a ridge along a deep canyon to my left. I can look down into it as I walk, but my eyes are focused on the trail before me. Taking my eyes from it while walking is an invitation to stumble on an unnoticed stone or tree root. I don't think there is anything more sapping to my forward momentum than stubbing my foot against these camouflaged menaces. So if I look elsewhere, it's only when I stop. It's along this ridge that it dawns on me. My PCT mileage is approaching nine hundred. I stop and check my phone. Another half mile. I hate watching mileage as it causes time to slow and steps to shrink and it takes longer to hike that half mile than the entire rest of the day. But I watch close, holding my phone. Bam! Nine hundred miles and there to greet me is a nine hundred laid out with rocks. I bet most JMT hikers never even see it. I saw it because I expected to see it. Nine hundred, longest hike of my life.

Downhill and the trail smoothes out, settles down, rocks are nonexistent, this is great trail. I turn from the ridge into the fold of land that shelters Deer Creek. I find a perfect campsite on compacted sandy gravel. Flat and well drained. Far enough and hidden from the trail and the creek. Awesome end to a good day of hiking. I've had to reuse one of my dinner bags from a previous day as I am out of ‘meat-in-a-bag’ bags. I cook a vegan black bean chili supplemented with rice and olive oil. Dinner is great! I am becoming quite the trail gourmand, or perhaps I'm starving and would eat just about anything. I fall asleep to the sound of the creek gurgling in the distance, not the loud roaring I've become used to. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 52 : The Gates of Paradise and Bear Creek Crossing

24 miles today
1771 miles to go

What a great sleep! It must have been the white noise of the creek churning and roiling with snow melt all night long. I woke up to silence and slowly my conscious mind begins hearing the water. I check my phone, four thirty eight. Really? Awesome! Time to get up. This is the longest daylight of the year. From now on the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. I eat in the semi twilight of a beautiful summer day. The first summer day of the year, and it feels like it. Relatively warm, just my shirt and windbreaker and I am warm. No cold hands today! During breakfast I recalculate my food. I am sure I can make it to Mammoth Lakes without stopping at Muir Trail Ranch and digging through hiker boxes for additional food. That will save time, saving time means more miles. My goal today is the large campsite at the North Fork of Mono Creek, twenty four miles.

The trail is absolutely stunning this morning. Climbing from the river the trail leads to Selden Pass. The mountains around still have snow on them. The trees, the shrubs, the flowers all putting forth their best summer outfits. The scents of pine and fir mingle with the smell of the loamy soil. The sun is still on the other side of the mountain. Here all is cool and still. Not a breeze at all. The sound of the river below is fading away as I climb higher and higher. Ponderosa pine, foxtail pine, aspens all argue for space on this slope. There are springs and streams gurgling across the trail, some are using the trail. I climb into an open brushy area above the trees below and below the trees above. I'm not sure why this is here, but it is. I can look across the open area and see a deer nonchalantly feeding under the trees. The switchbacks head back and forth across the slope in this open area. I'm about to take a step when I stop and look closer at the trail. That is a bear print! It's really fresh, and it's on top of all the other prints. My heart starts beating faster than it already was from the climb. Brother Bear is somewhere out in front of me going the same direction. I keep climbing, if he stops I'll catch up to him. I'm looking but so far I don't see him. At every switchback I peer around the bushes to see, nope not there. I certainly don't want to surprise him. I look at the trail, there's his tracks. These long switchbacks cross all the way across the slope back and forth I'm climbing and so is Brother Bear. The valley far below with Muir Trail Ranch is still in the shadows, the slope opposite is bathed in early morning light. Brother Bear and I are climbing in the shade of the mountain. Just as I reach the trees at the top of the slope I see two tracks, a left rear foot and a right rear foot stepping deliberately off the trail into the brush. As if to say, “I know you've been following me, here's where I get off, see ya.” So I never did see Brother Bear but I'm sure he saw me. I think he enjoyed the company on his way home from a long night of foraging. Sleep well Brother Bear, I enjoyed our walk too. 

I have entered a cathedral. Silence reigns. The sun’s light glances through the trees and sparkles as if it were stained glass, only more real, more substantive. Long rows of columns reach heavenward. The grassy green carpet is adorned with wildflowers of all shapes and colors. The dew sparkling like diamonds on the petals. I walk softly, should I remove my shoes? This seems like a holy place. Above me somewhere is a lone choirmaster singing, “Praises be to God alone, he has done great things!” He flits from tree to tree. There is no other sound. I walk the path between the columns expecting at any minute to encounter someone. It's too beautiful, too special, too sublime. I see an angel before me, waving a flaming sword, guarding the gates of paradise. His hair and beard are of gold, his face, arms and legs of burnished copper, his tunic of royal blue… Oh, my bad, it's a Thru-hiker trying his hand at fly fishing waving his fishing rod while standing in the outlet stream of Sallie Keys Lakes. 

I don't know who Sallie Keys was but she must have been a real beauty if her lakes do her any justice. They are clear and sparkling. It's hard to take your eyes off of them, I keeping tripping on tree roots and rocks. The trees line the banks like silent sentinels, guarding the shores from any foul or unclean thing. Grassy lawn and wildflowers span the shoreline between the trees and the water. Trout create rings in the water as they break the surface. I wonder what a trout thinks about the world above the water. Probably nothing. Past the lakes the fun and games end and the real pass climbing begins. There’s snow on the trail. The route is obvious the trail is not, except where footprints in the snow are a guide. Up and up. Not as steep as Glen Pass, not as massive as Muir. A tight little crack separates the north from the south. As I fall through the crack to the north side. Snowfields, Marie Lake half covered in ice. This doesn't look like summer. I follow the footprints in the snow for a long time. Down and to the left, down some more, to the left some more. My feet are soaked, but it's warm out, cool feet actually feels good. Down past the lake. Down across the streams, there are many. Down in the streams that double as a trail. Down as the water leaves the trail and it is first muddy, then dry. An ominous thunder down below in the valley ahead. Bear Crossing can be hazardous when there is a lot of water. There is a lot of water. The trail continues down and I follow it. The thunder grows louder. It sounds like a roaring furnace. I can't really see the water or hear the hissing of it. Just a low rumbling thunder. Everything feels the water roaring down the valley. 

Thirty feet across or so, Two to three and a half feet deep. The water moves quickly it follows waves and folds. It sweeps under itself and explodes in white clouds and foam. They say that it's only knee deep a hundred and fifty yards downstream. I walk a hundred and fifty feet. This is probably what they meant. I start across. The water pushes against my legs. I turn to face upstream, leaning on my trekking poles to keep them anchored to the ground, otherwise they'd whip downstream and flail in the current uselessly. One step and a time, sideways. Don't cross one leg above or below the other. I don't know if that really matters, it's a rule I make up as I cross. Looking at the water rushing by is giving me vertigo, but I can't look anywhere else. The water is up to my thighs. It wants to push me down. I try to find solid footing for each step. The boulders are rounded and massive. Stepping on top of this one is a no go, the water would only sweep my foot away. I have to find crevices to wedge my feet. Long steps, scary steps. The water reaches where I'd hoped it would not reach. Suddenly things just got a whole lot colder. The water is pushing against my lower torso. My feet are getting numb. The water ahead looks deeper and appears to be moving even faster. I consider turning back and finding a different spot. This is not the time to dilly-dallying, I think. I take another step, find a solid crevice. Then another. The current lessens. Its shallower now. A couple more steps and I standing on the shore. Across!

Lunch is in the sun on the rocks. No shoes, no socks, no gaiters, pant legs unzipped and laying on the rocks. My frozen feet white and pink in the sun. I spread peanut butter on my tortilla and then drizzle my last honey packet over my artwork. Fold it over and eat. Ten more miles to go. No pass but a good climb over bear ridge. The rest of the afternoon is spent doing just that. I arrive at my goal later than I wanted to but I am here. Twenty four miles closer to a zero. It's a large camp, it could accommodate a whole slew of hikers. I am the only one camping here. It's a beautiful spot, hidden from the trail and close to the water. I am again sleeping next to raging snowmelt. The water’s soothing roar lulls me to sleep after a long and event filled day.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 51 : Muir Pass and Beyond

21 miles today
1794 miles to go

Woke up before the sun, ate breakfast in the pre-dawn twilight. Watched the clouds catch fire through the trees as the sun’s light reached them from behind the mountains. Started up the trail as soon as I was packed. Up, up, up, switchbacks, climbing as fast as I can to warm up my hands. The roar of the melted snow tumbling down the creek beside me drowned out all other sounds. I camped in the trees around ten thousand feet of elevation. It wasn't long before I broke out above the trees and the air cooled down. Climbing slower now so as to stay within my aerobic zone. If I go too fast I'll run out of energy. Energy, that reminds me, time to eat. I down about half of my trail mix for the day. My trail mix is pistachio nut meats, cashews, almonds, m&ms, almond m&ms, and raisins. I am tired of the taste but the energy it gives me is noticeable. Up, up, like climbing stairs. Uneven stairs, some really tall, others crooked. It really is a lot of work. The trail is wet, too warm. I don't think it got cold enough to freeze last night. The bushes and shrubs give way to snow. The snow buries the trail. It's gone. All there is to see is snow and rocks in every direction. There are a dirty set of footprints leading off to the pass, hopefully. They seem to be heading in the right direction. Where else would they be going? I follow the footprints. They climb the snow at a steep rate. I have to slow way down. I am huffing and puffing. The air is clear and crisp. It makes my nose run. I try blowing it out, it helps some. Time for microspikes. I immediately feel more stable on the snow. The snow is hard and icy. I don't think it'll stay this way for very long. Time is of the essence. Keep climbing, don't stop. Up, up, up, the sun peeks it's head around the mountain, now the snow will really start to get soft. I cross a gushing stream of water that disappears into the snow below me. I hope the snow doesn't collapse into the water because of my weight. I move quickly just in case.

The trail leads straight up the hill in front of me. The sun, at my back, has been working on this hill. It's soft and slippery, even with microspikes, my feet are soaking wet, and cold, almost numb, but they hurt too much to be numb. I keep a pace that doesn't require me to stop to catch my breath. Yes, it's slow, and I'm breathing through my mouth, huffing and puffing. Slowly, ever so slowly, I climb. I choose to not look up, I don't want to discourage myself and lose hope. Concentrate on the next step, don't slip, one more step. Don't worry about the other steps, just this next one. Suddenly I am at the Muir Hut, built a long time ago right on the pass. Bam, it's done! The climbing that is. There's snow in every direction, especially the direction I want to go. I pause, cheer briefly, and start heading down the other side. Down is a very loose interpretation when talking about heading down the north side of Muir Pass. It is so gradual that you almost feel like you're still going up. Trapsing across the snow in the sun, for hours and hours. Eventually it does go down enough for the trail to turn into a stream. Down, and down some more. The trail crosses the creek. I know it does because there is a sign pointing across the creek, it says “trail.” The rocks that are there to assist in crossing are all about two feet high. Like big stepping stones, I'm guessing maybe twenty five of them. Most of them are under water. There is so much water that the stream passes over the top of the ‘stepping stones’ by a couple of inches. Oh well, it's not like my feet were dry.

Evolution Lake is thawed, below the snow line. Suddenly it's summer again. The trail is still doing part time duty as a stream. The grass is green. Bees are buzzing. Life is happening. I don't stop. I head down over the edge and into Evolution Valley. Down, down, switchbacks, back and forth. The temperature rises the lower I descend. A warm jaunt through the forest. Always descending, the trees getting bigger and bigger. The stream turning into a creek, turns into a rushing torrent. A loud roar fills the valley as the water lets everyone know it's leaving. 

One of the more hazardous crossings on the PCT is the Evolution Creek crossing. There is an alternate above it. I choose it and I cross through the meadow and then the stream. It's wider but shallower. The water is a little above my knees but moving slowly. I follow the route back to the PCT. Now on the downhill side of the crossing, Yay! I pause and take off my shoes and wring out my socks. Then I sit with my bare feet and make a peanut butter and honey tortilla. My new favorite thing to eat. After my eating break I keep on. My only rest was that twenty minute break. I walk on until about four pm. I reach a campsite and settle in. My camp is right on the shore of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. I am about fifty miles from Reds Meadow, where I'll be able to catch a shuttle into Mammoth Lakes for my next zero. Two more full days and I should be able to hike in on the morning of the third day. I evaluate my food and it looks like I have just enough. I also can finally fit all my food in my bear canister, so I can sleep a bit easier tonight.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Day 50 : Preparing for Muir Pass

14 miles today
1816 miles to go

I sleep in! Oh the luxury! I'm not sure what time I got up, but it was much later than normal. The wind completely died out over night. Still and calm and not as cold as it has been. I get up and see the sun’s rays on the other side of the canyon, soon they will reach me. I have breakfast and sort my lunch snacks. As I am cleaning up, the sun's light reaches me, a warming sensation on my back. The chill removed from the air. Now this is something I could get used to. To top it off, I believe I might be able to go the whole day without getting my feet wet. Muir Pass is the foot soakingest pass. Nine miles of snow and potential postholing. I want to minimize the postholing so I need to start it as early in the day as I can. In order to do that I want to camp as close to the snow as convenient. Tomorrow I'll get up early and try to cross the snow before noon. That means that I am only hiking about fourteen miles today. 

I start late. But what is late, really? I start when I start. Downhill, down off the granite shelf that holds the Palisade Lakes. Down a section of trail dubbed ‘the golden staircase.’ I'm not sure why it's called that. It has about a million switchbacks, the switchbacks have stairs in them. I didn't see any gold though. Down the switchbacks, some of them turned into streams by all the snow melt. I am jumping and skipping from rock to rock, trying to keep my promise to myself that my feet will stay dry all day. The air is warm, what a treat! The lower I go the warmer it gets. I camped at around eleven thousand feet. This trail is descending to eight thousand feet before it turns about and heads back up and over Muir Pass. At the bottom of the switchbacks the trail turns and heads into the forest at a gradual downhill. Perfect trail, at least my favorite. I move fairly quickly but stop often to take pictures, replace snacks, or simply enjoy what I am doing. This is truly to most beautiful trail I have ever been on. The water rushes and roars, Palisade Creek, from the outlet of the lake, fills this canyon with sound and life. The trees and plants have decided it's spring and blooms and blooms are everywhere. The smells of flowers fill the air. The sky is blue, not a stitch of a cloud. I am moving through all of this at my own pace. Come to think of it my right knee hasn't bothered me for days. That last day was the day I hiked down Kearsarge Pass into Onion Valley trailhead. Ever since then I haven't even had a twinge of pain. I walk down the trail at my cruising pace, both legs doing their thing without me having any thought of having to compensate for my right knee. 

I reach the bottom, I stop for lunch. Peanut butter and honey on a flour tortilla. Wow, it's so amazing. I snagged the honey packets from the condiment bar at the coffee shop in Lone Pine. They really add that extra zing to an already great snack, the tortilla with peanut butter. I sit with Osprey and Buff, all three of us doing our lunch thing. Then we sort of nap and dilly-dally. I know that I have plenty of time to do so. I've been doing twenty plus mile days for so long that fourteen seems short. 

I finally get up and put on my pack. The climb towards Muir Pass is consistently up. A long slow up. Steeper than Forester or Mather, you know you are climbing. I am glad I am not climbing the whole thing today. It gives me another day to eat more food out of my pack. Making it lighter. The canyon is filled with the sound of rushing water. A solid white-noise background that masks all but the loudest forest sounds. I climb and I eat. I have found that eating is as important as the actual walking. My energy level drops pretty fast if I stop eating and just hike. I am not sure how much weight I've lost but my belt seems to be about two or three inches longer.  As long as I'm eating I feel strong enough to keep climbing. Around fourish I find a campsite that has afternoon shade. Perfect! I take a nap until I wake up hungry. Then I get up have dinner and cleanup. Then it's back to my tent to rest for my big day tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Day 49 : Pinchot And Mather Passes

20 miles today
1830 miles to go

I am the first in camp to be up. In fact I leave camp before anyone else shows their face. It's cold, my hands are cold. I am so tired of being cold in the morning. But so it is. I climb today, I climb Pinchot Pass. Up I go, following the path the rushing water is taking down the hill, except I am going up. Switchbacks, always switchbacks. Climbing up and up, I pass from the shadows into the morning light. The warmth is minimal, the higher I climb to colder the ambient air temperature. The ever present icy breeze adds to my pain. I can't even imagine what it feels like to be too hot. I know that I was only a few short weeks ago, but now that is theoretical, cold, frozen hands are a reality. The crashing water is white and frothy, it runs down chutes in the rock to crash into pools below. The blue sky above promises sunny weather, even if cold and breezy. The snow fields lay across the trail in many places. Footprints indicate where to go even if they indicate incorrectly. I follow them. Tromping the snow as I go. It's cold enough this early in the morning that sliding and sloshing are minimal. Walking on snow tires me out. There are a lot of extra muscles in my legs that I have to use to keep myself upright. My planned goal for today is the tiny lake below Lake Marjorie. I reach the pass and find Moonsong, Six Tacos, Rusty, and Mamasita hunkered down behind a rock and enjoying the day. I visit for a few minutes and then set out down the other side.

More snow, more sliding, more losing the trail. Down, down I go, all the way to my planned camp. It's so early this will not do. I will go further. Based on the time of day and my average pace I set a goal to reach Palisade Lakes. This will give me twenty miles today. However that twenty miles requires me to cross two passes. I've already crossed Pinchot, now I have to cross Mather. Randy mentioned that a lot of hikers are finding the south side of Mather the sketchiest section of trail so far because of its steepness, loose rock, and unstable snow. Let's go see.

My pack is so heavy. I have more than five days of food, the most I hope I ever have to carry for the rest of the trip. I also have a bear canister and my microspikes. The combined weight is heavier than I am used to. The muscle around my right shoulder blade tenses up. I've found that if I swing my arms in a round and then hold them over my head it causes that muscle to relax. I tried to perform this action while walking down the trail. My foot slipped on some gravel and I landed on my butt. It was a slow fall due to my flailing arms attempting to use my trekking poles to catch myself. Note to self: Stop walking when you want to do the arm swing thing.

The climb to Mather is similar to Forester in that they both have long semi level stretches of trail covered with snow. I follow fresh tracks across the snow. They go on and on. The day is progressing, the snow is softening. Instead of stepping on the high spots, my foot slides down from where I placed it into the low spots. The low spots often break through causing me to ‘posthole.’ Postholing is exhausting and a very slow way across the snow. It's better to go earlier before the snow softens. That's hard to do on the second pass of the day.

Eventually I make it to the steep section before the pass. It's every bit as sketchy as I heard. I climb carefully up the slope and reach the pass late in the afternoon. Looking down the other side was disheartening. Snow, snow, snow, steep snow! Late afternoon and I have to down climb soft steep snow. Too wet to slide, with rocky landing below. I follow the trail of footsteps leading down. Whenever the footsteps were near rocks I am doubly alert looking for weak snow and potential postholes. Down, down, it seems like forever but really it's only a few hours. I find that I become anxious as the day draws to a close. To find a campsite, to cook dinner, to clean up, all before it gets dark is a high priority for me. It's five thirty, the sun sets around eight thirty. But five thirty is late for me. Four is my ideal stopping time. It leaves me enough daylight to do my camp chores and still be in bed early enough without fighting the dark. Down I go, across snowfield. Across flooded trail. My feet have been wet most of the day. I'm tired of cold wet feet. 

I find a campsite overlooking Palisade Lakes. It seems exposed, it's windy. I setup my tent using some boulders. I am really liking the supplemental guy lines that I have attached to my tent. I can setup using stakes, boulders and rocks, or a combination of the two. It has given me more flexibility without too much more weight. I determined that I need two and a quarter liters of water each evening. That gives me enough for dinner and lunch the next day and leaves about a liter to start hiking. There is so much water in the Sierras that hiking with more than a liter seems like too much weight. I get to bed before the sun sets. I quickly fall asleep, dreaming of the days when the day to day chores were so much easier.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Day 48 : In A Funk, I Don't Want To Hike

18 miles today
1850 miles to go

Awake at five am. I lay in my bed enjoying the feel of cotton sheets and the ability to stretch and move, not being confined by a sleeping bag. My ride is at six. I roll over and snooze for another thirty minutes. My zero day was so relaxing it's hard for me to get up and go to work, hiking the PCT. Breakfast is the rest of the remaining cookies Mark brought and Cool Ranch Doritos, I don't think this is the breakfast of champions, but it's my breakfast today.

PJ arrives at six am and I am ready. A quick ride to the trailhead and I am started back over Kearsarge Pass. I don't know if it's my lame breakfast or if I'm in a funk but I don't feel like hiking today. I drag myself one step at a time. The trail is steep and there is a cold breeze. Not quite as bad as when I came down, but bad enough to make me miserable with cold. I don't want to do this today. I keep going. Sitting down and pouting doesn't change anything. Slowly, ever so slowly it seems, I gain altitude. The streams rush pell-mell down the hill, too fast to be happy, the streams roars and froths. It's angry, if you step into it it will drag you away down the mountain. The pass is lonely and desolate, not even a tree. Windswept and inhospitable I celebrate in my head as I quickly keep moving down the hill. Down to the warmth. Down to the horizontal world I find normal. I try eating more snacks but the funk remains. Climbing up Glen Pass is a chore. There is stunning beauty but I'm too lazy to pull out my camera. The snow is thick and the trail is at times hard to follow. Glen Pass is steep. The trail is in a hurry to get over the pass. I climb and struggle my way to the top, slowly. 

From Glen Pass I can see Rae lakes. My favorite lakes. They are down and far away yet it seems like I can reach out and touch them. Green blue gems sparkling tantalizingly close but separated from me by thousands of vertical feet and vast snow fields. I begin down and across the snow. Across first, to the rocks, perhaps safer than this snow field that gets steeper below, I can't see the bottom. My feet are wet, I'm tired, but I can't stay here. Down on the rocks, the trail appears and disappears beneath the snow. Lots of switchbacks, I can only see the middle. I climb down rocks from one small piece of trail to the next. When will things stop being so vertical? A short slide and a long march across the snow brings me to more trail. This trail is secondarily a creek. Mostly a creek this time of year. More water in the shoes, cold, wet, clammy feet. I am tired of wet feet. I try to hop from rock to rock but the water still splashes my shoes. Down, more down, closer and closer.

Rae lakes are the quintessential backpacking destination. They have everything, sandy beaches, hungry trout, stunning views of the mountains surrounding them. Campsites are close to the water and shaded. The Rangers like it so much they have a ranger station. Cool clean water gushes from springs and cascade down into the lakes. I am exhausted, it's only noonish but I've already climbed two passes today. I pause for lunch and end up taking a nap. I don't check the time but I feel somewhat refreshed. Refreshed enough to realize that I am not camping here. The trail calls and I must go. Goodbye Rae lakes, I hope I can visit you again someday.

Down the canyon, downhill, gliding, coasting, on autopilot. My trekking poles clickity-clicking on the rocks, in the background the nonstop roar of water heading down the hill. I see no one. I am alone, been pretty much alone all day. I left Independence alone and I seem to be in a void between pods of hikers. I wonder where Braveheart and Pathfinder are. Somewhere out ahead of me, probably five to ten miles ahead. I am moving slowly today so they are getting further and further ahead every hour. The John Muir Wilderness is a great place to be alone. I follow the trail meandering down the canyon all the way to Wood Creek Bridge. Here I camp. Here I find others, most of whom have hiked up from Paradise Valley, wherever that is. These are short-termers in for a few days of R&R before heading back to work. This is my work. Hiking this trail. It is work, a lot harder than I thought. I eat dinner and climb into my tent long before the sun sets. I need some sleep.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Day 47 : Zero In Independence

0 miles today
1882 miles to go

My phone starts buzzing on the bed next to me. Huh? Where am I? It's around sixish am, it's Mark, my son-in-law. I stumble out of my bunk and pad through the quote hostel filled with sleeping thru-hikers and outside. “Hello?” The phone’s screen says “Missed Call.” I text Mark, ‘sorry I missed your call.’ I go inside and my phone rings again, this time I make it in time. “Hello?” “I'm here.” Kelli had coordinated with Mark to drive five hours to me to deliver my desperately needed Aqua Mira. I have an awesome wife and family. Thank you all for your love and support.

Mark and I head down to Lone Pine where I believe they have restaurants that serve breakfast. Sixteen miles sixteen minutes, automobiles are amazing machines. We catch up on the ride. Six sixteen, Lone Pine, the only place open is a local coffee shop. I was hoping for a more substantial breakfast. I ask about breakfast places. The barista says there’s an awesome breakfast place but it doesn't open till seven. We order coffee and sit in the coffee shop talking for forty or so minutes. Time passes quickly when you're ready enjoying yourself. Billy and Kitkat come in while we're sitting there. I introduce Mark. He's from a different planet, a place where people don't wear  Dirty Girl Gaiters over their shoes. We Thru-hikers live in an alternate universe where answers to questions like “what day is it?” aren't important unless you're trying to get your resupply box out of the Post Office. They were kind and gracious but quickly retreated to the Thru-hiker section where more important questions like, “when does the food coop open?” are discussed and answered. 

Seven am, Mark and I head over to the restaurant. The waitress is very efficient. Hungry Thru-hikers pushing thru the open door of a restaurant resemble a pack of killer whales pursuing a seal. There is a methodical tenacity in their pursuit of calories. The waitress efficiently directs us to our tables, distributes menus, collects our orders, and starts delivering food in copious quantities. Forestalling a Thru-hiker takeover of the pastry display case, filled with pies, cinnamon rolls, and all things pastry. I eat til I'm stuffed, then I eat the rest of the food on my plate. Mark eats about half his plate, digging through the carcass of his omelet for the last few nuggets of steak. During this feeding frenzy other thru-hikers arrive like sharks when there’s blood in the water. Mark got to witness first hand the hunter killer instincts of a full bore thru-hiker appetite.

After breakfast we head back to the hostel where many of the Thru-hikers had already vacated their bunks and were instead standing on the corner attempting to hitch a ride back to the trailhead. Somehow they all eventually get there. I have more money than time and choose a more calculated route, negotiating a six am ride with the proprietor’s son for tomorrow.

Mark, being a newly minted M.D. Has a much deeper understanding of all things chemical than I. He explains to me the active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol. Somehow I might have ‘known’ that in a cursory way. But when I told him I was almost out of hand sanitizer he suggested that I use stove fuel. Brilliant! Thru-hikers love when we can get multiple uses from a single item in our packs. I introduce Mark to Jean, from France who was hoping to get to Bishop today. Mark graciously offered him a trip, “One way!” Emphasizing to Jean that he’ll have to find a different ride back demonstrating Mark’s lack of understanding of the Thru-hiker mentality. To Thru-hikers, all trips are ‘one way’ unless specifically specified. Jean only expected a one-way trip. I was able to off load to Mark some of the stuff I've been carrying but haven't used till now. Thanks again Mark for your visit, I enjoyed our time together. The usefulness and utility you brought to my zero day are immeasurable.

I talk to the motel management and upgrade to a private room. “Sure, no problem.” I sit in the hostel room updating my posts and pictures until they come and tell me my room is ready. Woo hoo, my own space! I transfer my stuff in about four armloads. How is all of this going to fit back into my pack? Pathfinder, Braveheart and I head over to Subway and buy sandwiches. Braveheart and Pathfinder are planning on leaving this afternoon. They ask me to come, I decline. HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike), it's tempting to change my own plans to accommodate the desires of others. I have come to believe that unless it is really something I want too I would be compromising my dreams to live someone else's dream.

My afternoon is filled with food sorting and packing. I take one of my old, empty Aqua Mira bottles and convert it into a chlorine container. Then I ask the motel manager for a little bleach to add to it. Now I have a backup way to sanitize water that is a little more reliable. I fit all of my food into my pack. I load all my gear too. I carefully check everything for wear and tear. I call ahead to the shoe store in Mammoth Lakes and confirm that they have the shoes I want. Mine are looking a bit frayed around the edges and I anticipate having to buy new ones in another hundred twenty miles. I eat cookies that Mark brought from home, I eat Cool Ranch Doritos. I thoroughly enjoy my zero day. Filled with rest and relaxation. I walk back over to the taco truck for dinner. On the way I see Conner and Emma at the Subway. I chat briefly with them and then move on to dinner. A carne asada burrito is what's for dinner. I sit in the garage with the other Thru-hikers. A few are still here from last night, a few are new. Most of last night's crowd have moved on. Most of them went to Bishop, the rest are back on the trail. I head back to my room and post a video to YouTube:

 then I I get to bed early. My ride to the trailhead is at six am tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 46 : Forester, Kearsarge, and Tacos

22 miles today
1882 miles to go

The moon makes shadow puppets on my tent. I look at my phone. It's midnight. The roar of rushing water from Tyndall Creek is ever present. I lay warm and comfortable in my down sleeping bag. I reflect on all the trials, cold, heat, exposure, and want I have experienced so far. Only seven hundred seventy five miles so far? What else is in store for me? But this, this laying here in relative comfort and warmth in spite of the trials of the day. Laying here in the middle of nowhere with only things that I have carried here on my back. This is so cool, this is one of the things that I love about hiking the PCT. I drift off back to sleep as the moon’s slow motion shadow puppets slowly dance across my tent.

Always awake and up before the sun. It's so cold to eat outside. My hands and feet are cold every morning, today is no exception. I put on my ‘clean’ dry socks and stuff them into my frozen shoes. The laces are like sticks. Stiff and crunchy. Today is Forester Pass day. Forester Pass is the highest point on the PCT. I am looking forward to seeing the snow conditions. In my mind the conditions will help me gauge the conditions of the other passes ahead.

I climb across wet snowy trail towards the pass. The thin layer of ice over the running water beneath is only there since the freeze overnight. It will melt quickly when the sun hits it. The approach to the pass is long. There is a lot of climbing but it's not as steep as Mount Whitney. The air is cool and a breeze seems intent on keeping it that way. The sky is brilliant and clear. The sun blazes and burns. I stop and slather sunscreen on my hands and face. Looking back I can see down, way down into a valley, with a valley beyond it, and another. Ridges descend from the mountains on the right and left. Did I really walk through all of that? The scale and distance are hard for me to gauge. It seems endless. As does the hiking up towards the pass. The trail is covered over with snow. A dirty path of footsteps leads across the snow field. Sometimes the first person across knows where he is going and the trail appears from under the snow right where the footsteps end. This time it doesn't. I don't know that when I started following the steps. Neither did the other hikers, so a trail is worn through the snow even though it's not going to the right spot. I spend time trying to figure out where to go next, take a guess and set off cross country. Another snow field, another path of dirty footsteps. Over and over, always the tiny notch in the wall that is Forester Pass grows slightly closer. 

Eventually I arrive at the foot of the wall of the giant amphitheater I've been hiking up into. Walls enclose three sides. Massive walls of rock and snow. So high that I am back in the shade again. The breeze is so cold my hands are hurting again. I don my microspikes and begin following the switchbacks, the bottom of which appear briefly out from the snow drifts. I quickly lose the trail under the snow and begin making my own switchbacks. I find other steps seemingly knowing where they are going and follow. I find myself drawn to following other footsteps in the snow rather than being more skeptical and assuming they don't have any more of a clue than I do as to where to go. I'm fortunate this time, they lead me to the trail. The slope I'm on is steep enough that if I were to slip it would be an uncomfortable ride down to the jagged rocks below. I focus on not slipping and my microspikes help. The climb goes back and forth higher and higher. I am huffing and puffing. Up and up until the dramatic crossing of the show field in the notch beneath the hanging cornice, the crux. There is still a few more short switchbacks but they are anticlimactic. The sun, the wind, the bright clear air above thirteen thousand feet overwhelm the senses. I am as high as the clouds, except there are no clouds. The wind pours through the pass like a wind tunnel trying to snatch my hat from my head. Walking over the pass opens up a brand-new vista. More mountains with snow. Mountains and passes as far as the eye can see stretch out into the future. North, always north, to Canada.

The north side of the pass has significantly more snow. A trail of footsteps leads down and to the left. Only one set. There is no other safe way down for a hiker without gloves much less mountaineering gear. I follow the steps. The snow is softer, having spent a good part of the morning in the gaze of the eastern sun. ‘It's slippy’, as Bear Grylls likes to say. I carefully descend, every now and again my right knee twinges with anxiety. Actually I don't know what it is that is causing it, but it will suddenly feel like it's about to hurt. I've heard people have what they call a ‘trick knee,’ maybe that's what it is. I'm not a doctor and that's not a scientific description. It is an accurate description of how it feels.

Down and down until I arrive on a knife edged ridge of bare jagged rocks above snow and ice covered blue lakes to each side. The ridge has the trail winding down and around the rocks,  down as far as the eye can see. I remove my microspikes and follow it. Some steps down are further than my right leg likes to drop, I twinge and step. Is this leg thing all on my head? It feels fine if I stop and let it ‘rest’ for a second or so. The trail ends at a snowfield. This time there are no steps forward. Where'd everybody go? Is this where the aliens pick you up? I look straight down, there are chutes in the snow. Giant long slides. Really? I climb over the rocks to the edge. There are footsteps at the tops of the chutes. I carefully climb down and stand at the top of the snow field it's steep. Some of the chutes end closer to rocks below than I feel comfortable with. I move a little more to the left, I'll make my own chute, and so I do. I sit in the snow at the top and lift my feet off the snow. Zippity-do-dah, I am off bounding down the hill at a speed that moves my heart to my mouth. I try to keep my mouth closed to keep the flying snow particle out. I bounce over the steps of JMT hikers who apparently climbed up this slope. Bam, bam, bam, I bounce across them on my quick descent. Wow, that was really quite fun. Do I still have all my limbs? My gear? Check, check, success. That is a lot faster than walking down, and I didn't have time to think about if my knee was going to hurt. I stand and laugh. A joyous love of being alive and having adrenaline coursing through my veins without an outlet other than laughter. Other than I wet seat of my pants I am the same person I was at the top, but somehow I am different too. I just did something new, that I hadn't even considered or imagined doing, and I survived.

The path continues down, there are more slides, more rocks, bigger rocks, losing the trail, finding it again, water. Walking in the stream on the trail. Mud, slush, wet feet. Down as the snow disappears and the trees rise up to greet me back into the land of normal; the land of horizontal not vertical. The trail smoothes out and unwinds, down through the trees, down I careen, moving in cruise mode, through water across streams, it takes my full concentration to focus on where to step next. Avoid stepping on, step over. Look for smooth solid dirt, no rocks or tree roots, no pebbles or gravel. Crunch, crunch, crunch, are my steps. A consistent rhythm, it isn't long till a song pops in my head. Olaf’s summer song. ...“The hot and the cold are both so intense, Put 'em together, it just makes sense.”...

I smell smoke, uh, that's probably not good. I look around, the mountains are disappearing into a blue haze. Definitely not good, I think. I continue my downward glide through the forest looking ahead of any sign of a plume of smoke. This is way too much to be a campfire. Down, the stream beside the trail rushes and roars. There is water entering it across the trail. Everything seems too wet to burn. I wonder if this much smoke is bad to be breathing. My eyes water and sting. Down, then suddenly, a junction. Check the map, look at the sign. The sign is on a post that leans, it's perpendicular to the slope it's on. The sign says ‘JMT’ with an arrow that points up the steep slope. The other path continues down the canyon, the wrong way, toward the west, the smoke. I follow the sign, up, and up, and up. The hill is steep, the trail is steep too. Most of the switchbacks in the PCT meander across at a friendly gentle grade, you may walk further, but it's a gentle easy climb to the top. These switchbacks test your resolve, do I really want to go this way. Each step is an and of will, breath is short, especially in the smoke. Every fiber of my legs quiver and beg me to stop. I refuse, “we’ll stop at the top!” My lungs only move so much oxygen from the air to my bloodstream, I can only go so fast, or slow, but go I do, I don't stop. I'll never get to the top by stopping. Breathe, breathe, my steps seem to say in slow cadence. No longer Olaf's summer song, this is more of a dirge, a Gregorian chant perhaps, no tune, just words mouthed to the beat, no air to provide the sound, it's being used for the climb, none to spare on frivolous singing.

There are three trails to Kearsarge Pass. Each leave the PCT at a different point. The first two leave sooner and provide nice paths through trees and alongside lakes. The third path is the no-frills PCT thru-hiker path. It leaves the PCT higher up, your travel further to get to it from the south, but when you come back to the PCT you don't have any climbing to do with your newly laden pack of resupply food. I climb to the third path and leave the PCT. I need more food, eight days worth. Enough to get me to Mammoth Lakes. Seven and a half miles one way, the trail to The Onion Valley trailhead is the path to more food. To a box Kelli shipped to me, hopefully waiting for me at a Chevron gas station in the tiny town of Independence, California. The trail crosses over Kearsarge Pass. The trail climbs up some more, a lot more. I climb again out of the trees. An icy wind greets me, buffets me, and seems intent on pushing me off the trail and tumbling down to the rocks below. The trail is exposed and open to the southern sun, no snow, no trees, no shelter from the wind. Up again, two passes in a single day. I don't really feel it. I stopped earlier for lunch and I ate a lot. I don't want to carry it and I need the calories. Fuel makes a huge difference when hiking. Being aware of how I'm feeling and how long it's been since I last ate seem to really help me in sustaining continuous output from my legs. 

The wind only increases the higher I climb. When I reach the top the wind is strong enough to blow me off my feet. I am leaning into the wind when it suddenly stops and reverses direction. I stumble and weave like a drunken sailor. Doing my best to stay on the trail. I mistakenly thought the wind would cease on the other side of the path, nope. It only goes stronger and more erratic. Down, down, my right leg doesn't like down. It protests. I ignore it as best I can, to stay here is to freeze. It's too windy to stop. Any additional clothing items that I were to attempt to pull out of my pack would probably be ripped from my hand and be blown to some deserted ravine in the way elands of Nevada. Hike on. The wind roars and hurls insults at my temerity and challenging its authority on these exposed and desolate slopes. I venture down as quickly as I can, not wanting to challenge anyone's authority. I just want more food. Hunger is a powerful motivator. I push on ever down. Switchbacks finally meet me and turn me in another direction. I weave through and around trees. Trees screaming and howling in the effect of such wind. Snow! Patches of it shaded from the sun. Slushy and wet, slippery and treacherous. Ready to send an unsuspecting misstep into a dangerous and possibly injurious position. I slowly work my way across the snow. More switchbacks, more snow. The wind is relentless, and cold. I am beyond caring about cold. My hands ache, but I'm used to ache, ache is what my hands do. Suck it up. I meet people coming up. Some are Thru-hikers heading back to the PCT. I understand their motivation. There are others. Clean others, with day packs, and dogs on leashes. “What are you thinking people?” I want to shout, but I don't. They are smiling and seemingly having fun. “It's windy up there,” is all I say as I pass. It's windy here too. The wind is the dominant attribute of this place, at least right now. Perhaps at other times it's peaceful and you can enjoy the lakes and streams and wildlife. Right now though the wildlife is the wind. Down through trees and over ridges, down. Ever so slowly the winds tenor lessens. It still bellows and seethes with malice, but it's power is checked by too many obstacles, too many trees, too many rock outcroppings.

The trailhead is thirteen miles from town. Thirteen crazy windy road miles from Independence. How will I get for the trailhead to town? That thought bounces in my head between wind gusts and snow slopes. How will I get to town? How will I get my box? Oh, I so want a shower, a restaurant meal not served from a plastic bag, a warm bed where I can stretch out unconfined by the strictures of a down sleeping bag. But how? Traveling from the PCT to a trailhead over a pass is an inherent act of faith. There are no guarantees, only a hope. A hope founded in a reasonable expectation in the generous nature of trail angels, who have shown their true natures by their generous actions in the past. I find this a compelling picture that is a metaphor for my own faith in God and His inherent goodness as providence.

I arrive at the trailhead late in the afternoon. I take off my pack as I see a car pull up and unload three fresh clean Thru-hikers. Four other hikers start loading their packs into it. I am attaching my trekking poles to my pack when one of the Thru-hikers calls to me, “do you need to ride to town?” “Yes, for sure! Do you have room?” Mike the trail angel says, “Sure, we can fit one more!” I literally wait zero minutes for a ride. Providence! On the ride to town I reflect on how I feel blessed and watched over, not just now but on this entire journey. It's a roller coaster adventure of ups and downs, unpredictable turns and unforeseen events. Throughout all of it I feel like I am living out a story already written. This blog is simply capturing my perspective as a character in the story. How cool is that? Pretty cool.

In town I visit the Chevron gas station and pick up my box. It's hot here. At least it's hot for someone who has spent his afternoon battling frigid winds in the mountains. I think my face is a little wind-burned. Now what? What I really want is my own space. A motel room where I can spread out my stuff and go through it. Clean out the stuff I don't need. Maybe ship out stuff using a bounce box in case I need it again. I want a shower, good food, privacy, rest. Most Thru-hikers are hitching to Bishop. It's a great town, but it's forty miles from here. Too long, too far. Lone Pine is sixteen miles south. Here is not much. There really aren't any restaurants in Independence. That's not true. There is a Subway, a taco truck setup in an abandoned gas station, and a French restaurant with slow service. I want more variety, Lone Pine has that without the long ride of Bishop. I study the bus schedules trying to understand how I could ride a bus to Lone Pine. Doesn't look convenient and I'm not sure how I'd get back to the trailhead. 

I stand on the side of highway three ninety five in Independence, California with my copy of the Independence section of Yogi’s PCT Handbook in my left hand and my thumb out half-heartedly trying to hitch to Lone Pine. This is so not me, yet it is me, a dirty sweaty straggly faced bum with a backpack and a box. Nobody stops, in fact people driving by either look straight ahead or to the opposite side of the road. I've done that, too. I know how to play that game. Ah well, Yogi gives phone numbers to motels in Independence. I call Courthouse Motel. Leslie is super Thru-hiker friendly. I walk down the street, she gives me the option of the hostel or a room. The downstairs of the hostel is basically empty and half the price of a room. I choose the hostel. Not long after I choose my bunk, others show up. I like Thru-hikers. I like hanging out with them, but sometimes I just need my own space. I am disappointed even though as a hostel, it's great. It's just not my thing. I'm going to try to upgrade to a room tomorrow, they are full tonight. Ah well, that's life.

Clean and hungry I head down to the taco truck, the best, the only, dinner in Independence where you can be eating in less than twenty minutes. A whole passel of Thru-hikers are here. Proton, Mountain Man, Breado, Sweetpea, XT, Gazelle, Pathfinder, Billy, Blazer, even Braveheart, who changed her mind and came into town a day early. We all order tacos and quesadillas from the truck and sit inside the garage of the abandoned gas station where the taco truck people have set up a few tables and a salsa bar. After dinner I am beat, I head over to the Food Mart, Shell gas station and peruse the merchandise. I buy a Gatorade and Cool Ranch Doritos and head back to the hostel. It's crowded and busy. I spend sometime talking with Blazer who is essentially doing what I am doing. Has his own blog, telling his own story for his own legacy. A game of Monopoly is going on in the other room. Jean, from France is in his bunk trying to read his phone with the light in his eyes. I slide my stuff into a big pile in front of my bunk, turn out the light, crawl under my covers, and sleep.