Trip Report: PCT Part Four

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Without much planning we tackled both Island Pass and Donohue Pass during the middle of the day. This time we didn't use micro-spikes as the snow was too soft. Donohue in particular was mentally difficult with the sun beating down relentlessly over miles of sun cupped snowy climbing. The saving grace was the near straight and continuous glissades down the back. It felt like I was skiing as I slid further and further down the mountain.

Snow covered mountains

There were a handful of river crossing that we were lucky enough to have either snow bridges or log bridges to cross over with. We camped in the evening 10 miles(16 km) away from the next stop, Tuolumne Meadows.

Upon arrival in the morning we discover that Tuolumne Meadows is still not open for the season. We meet a French hiker named Brightside and we try to hitch east together. After about twenty minutes, a dude with a huge husky decides to take us. Oliver, The Kid and I get dropped off at a gas station while Brightside continues on with the hitch to Bridgeport.

Yosemite Park

We all stock up on food but the selection is very limited and expensive. While we wait I order and eat a large breakfast burrito plus a burger with fries. Hitching back out, a girl takes us back up and we chat about the John Muir Trail.

Once back on trail we continue onwards fairly quickly all day. There are a few rivers fords in the evening but they present no real danger. After a total of 25 miles(40.2 km) we settle in to camp.

Throughout the day the terrain becomes steep and the trail leads us over many climbs. At the top of a pass there is a seemingly abandoned pack. I recognize it as Ari's and call out. She appears from behind some rocks on the phone and joins us.

After a snowy and slick descent the trail tries to take us alongside a raging river. Due to the path being buried, we are forced to walk on a precariously slanted section of slippery snow. A misstep or slip would have us sliding about 10 feet(3 m) and into the river. We all go slowly and deliberately to safely get over this section.

There is one difficult river crossing before the day ends. It is extremely deep so Oliver goes to scout a good crossing point. He comes back soaked, having accidentally fallen in, but not empty handed. We take a large detour through swampy and shallow water, over a log and finally a short wade through a marsh to get across.

We camp right on the bank of the river. There is a deer nearby that does not scare away and decides to poke its nose around. It hangs around and gets very close to Ari throughout the night.

We are aiming to do 25 miles today but it turns out to be very difficult. The landscape is still blanketed in snow. Where it is not we find mud and marsh. The climbs in this area become near vertical, it seems, as the gradient of the path strains our legs. At the top of a pass we cross a shallow river but I end up slipping and cutting my knee. Progress is slow as we exit Yosemite.

We push forward hoping to get near the big climb and descent for Sonora Pass. Camping halfway up we find a spot in a tiny patch of trees protected from the howling wind.

The morning hike is beautiful with the lazy sun at our backs. Using our micro-spikes we climb up and get to a fantastic ridge walk that snakes along for miles. It becomes relatively flat as we traverse the top of the mountain range and stare down at the highway in the distance that is our goal.

Reaching the north side of the range it is completely covered in snow. We take a HUGE glissade which directly descends the mountain face. At first I do not use my ice axe to control my speed as I zip down. Once I press my axe into the snow it takes awhile for me to begin to slow down. The glissade ends up being like 200 feet(60 m) long!!!

Reaching the highway at Sonora Pass we try to hitch a ride. Thankfully we arrive at a good time and the local resort actually has a shuttle that comes to pick up hikers at 10:30. Upon arriving at Kennedy Meadows North we decide to take an extended break. Clax shows up again to visit Ari and provide her with food.

Sonora Pass

We eventually leave in the late afternoon with Clax giving us a ride back to trail. He joins us for about 10 miles(16 km) of hiking before turning back. After a short climb there is a long but shallow descent. I speed ahead, constantly glissading, and leave everyone behind. Setting up camp around 19:00, Ari finally catches up to me around 21:00 but Oliver and The Kid are nowhere to be seen.

Still in considerable snowpack, our morning hike is fairly slow. It involves many sudden climbs and descents off snow mounds. Not to mention the near constant checking of GPS to determine what direction to go in since the trail is nowhere to be seen. Despite a lot of falls on my butt, around midday we begin to be more comfortable and our pace picks up.

At Ebbetts Pass we are greeted with a large display of trail magic. Chipmunk and Dave have a huge canopy, a grill, tons of chocolate milk and cereal to offer us. I eat a couple bananas, chug a litre of milk and am treated to a dinner by Dave. He whips up half a dozen eggs and a huge slop of chili just for me to devour!

Ari and I eventually manage to wrestle ourselves away from their kindness to continue to hike a little further. My stomach feels like it will burst from all the food I ate. After 30 total miles(48.3 km) I decide to setup camp. Ari, concerned about her end date, decides to ditch me and hike further into the night.

The trail continues to climb through the morning. I come across many shear snow mounds that require a careful traverse. Each step barely allowing my foot in and they're all icy. On one such snow crossing, after taking three steps out, I realize I cannot cross for danger of falling. Trying to turn around to find a different way I slip and began to slide down on the ice. After about 15 feet(4.5 m) I come to a jarring stop, my left ankle takes the whole weight of my body and pack, slamming down to wedge into a small rock formation that is sticking out of the snow. Letting out a scream of pain I flip around onto my back to assess the situation. If the rocks had not been there I would've slid all the way to the bottom of the snow drift and then dropped down onto the larger rocks below. Meekly I hike down off-trail to where the snow ends. I cross underneath on dry ground and scramble vertically back up to get to trail.

Sunset glimmering off the rock

The pain in my foot lingers for hours but it is not severe enough to affect my stride much. I push myself hard and set the goal of catching Ari in the midday. The day drags on and I reach Carson Pass. There are bunch of hikers lounging around outside the visitor centre so I approach to take a peek. The rangers give me some drinks and homemade peanut butter cookies! Talking with the hikers they mention seeing Ari running to get to Tahoe, so there goes any chance of me catching up.

I continue onwards to set myself up to reach South Lake Tahoe tomorrow. After a solid 30 mile(48.2 km) day I camp out and spend time to massage my sore ankle.

By 07:30 I am at the highway and grab a hitch to South Lake Tahoe. I resupply at the Grocery Outlet with a whopping 5000 calories per day for the next four days. Next stop is the post office where I send back a ton of gear. Bear can, micro-spikes, ice-axe, fleece and spare clothes. I also decide to send back my tent since I had not setup it up since Agua Dulce. Checking the weather I figured I could go shelter-less for a few days and order a new tarp for myself to collect at Sierra City.

Lake Aloha

I spend the morning at McDonald's to use the WiFi. Eventually Oliver and The Kid catch up to me. Around noon I decide to hitch back out alone and do 20 more miles(32.2 km). I get distracted for an hour chatting with two hikers about my all my gear. Before reaching camp I have to summit Dicks Pass and deal with the subsequent steep, snow covered descent.

This day passes by quite quickly. At midday I start to hit completely snow covered trail so my pace begins to crawl. I manage to break one of my trekking poles on a glissade and in general my ankles are aching from the constant transitions from snow banks to hard ground. Not in the best mood the trail meanders over some ski hills and I camp at the top of one with another group of other hikers.

Setting off early in the morning I somehow manage to catch Ari. We continue on to a mountain lodge that gives PCT hikers a free 40 fl. oz(1.2 litres) of beer! We of course spend the better part of the day relaxing at the lodge with other hikers. There is another hiker there name Wanted who has the same pack as me! He gets really excited since it is not very popular choice. Ari and I finally hike out in the late afternoon. We have the misfortune of hearing someone shooting a gun repeatedly in our vicinity as we are up in the mountains.

Forest valley and lake

I setup camp around 20:40 and Ari continues on without me.

Excited to get my new tarp I zip off in the morning to do 26 miles(42 km) before 15:00. I pass Ari still lying down in her sleeping bag at some point. I am ecstatic as most of the approach to Sierra City is snow free.

Upon arriving at the little village's general store I learn that my package has not yet arrived. It won't be arriving for a whole day. This puts me in a foul mood as I try to think of a solution. I wish I could continue forward but then it would be hard to come back to get the tarp so I decide just to waste a day and wait for it to come. Ari catches up, eats a burger, and then goes on ahead without me. Oliver catches up in the evening and decides to spend the night because he needs more bleach for his water filtering.

Thankfully just around the corner is a local trail angel who lets hikers camp for free on her lot. We are joined by two Americans, two Brits and two Germans.

I become the town bum as I sit around all day waiting for my package to arrive. Oliver leaves minutes after getting his bleach and I'm left mostly alone. I take advantage of a free public shower and get washed for the first time since Hiker Heaven! Everyone who I had passed over the last few days on trail ends up catching me in Sierra City. The Kid also strolls in for an hour and then continues on himself.

At the very last moment before the general store was about to close the delivery truck arrives. I grab my tarp, shove it in my bag and immediately hike out of town. I manage to do 10 miles(16 km) to the top of a 3400 foot(1036 m) climb and settle in for the night.

Still upset about wasting so much time in Sierra City, I set off like a devil possessed. I manage to do a 45 mile(72.4 km) day and then promptly pass out at camp. The only noteworthy thing to happen was coming across a hiker and their little pup that started back at Campo and had made it all the way here!

With adrenaline still pumping from yesterday's record breaking hike I set off to do 35 miles(56.3 km) to reach the next town of Belden today. The trail consisted of a large sustained climb followed by the inevitable large sustained descent. Near the end of the day, all the skin on the top of my toes had began to rub raw. The dust and sand plus sweat inside my rocks was an unpleasant combination.

Upon reaching the Belden resort I decided to stay the night to left my feet recover. During the night other complications arose, with non-stop diarrhea and near-complete dehydration.

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