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Archive for July, 2012

“…just to watch him die…” – Johnny Cash

Hop-a-long and I finally left the shelter of the bathroom at 1:30 in a break between thunderstorms realizing we had only managed 6.5 miles that morning.  We climbed up and over a small ridge and down to a creek and campsite where some section hikers were posting up at 3pm for the night.

We got water and watched the sky, debating our options.  Seven miles of exposed ridge walking would come in about 3 miles and there was no more water until we descended the ridge.  After we sat through a couple small storms and watched other systems collide and make dark swirls in the sky, we decided to load up on water and go until treeline and see from there.  The map showed possible flat spots right around where the trees would disappear on the ridge if the storms persisted.

On the way up the climb, it hailed on us and we stood under a tree for it to finish.  It got up to about pea sized but stopped after about 10 minutes and we continued climbing.

At the top of the ridge, we ran into three day walkers who told us the other side looked clearer than the east side facing Lake Tahoe.  There, we got to leave the 40 mile section that the PCT and the TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) shared.  Watching the sky, we saw they were right and also another patch of trees a mile or so down.  w2e scampered over to them and reassessed.  Still ok.  Well, the clouds were a little dark but we hadn’t seen lightning in several hours that was close enough to be threatening.  We hurried along the ridge from semi-safe spot to semi-safe spot.  This particular ridge did not really leave too many bail out points that did not include 500 feet or more of scrambling down.

When we finally descended, we breathed a sigh of relief, sat down, and swatted mosquitos.  Then we hiked a bit more to a small campsite just a bit up the next climb.

That night was a bit strange without Dead Animal or Inspector Gadget, but Hop and I had fun anyway.  I also swore I heard voices, but Hop heard nothing.  Great.

“Hahahahaha, did you hear that?” Hop-a-long asked in the morning.

“No,” I said looking up from the 3G I discovered on my phone.

“Someone just yelled like Tarzan…you’re not crazy!” Hop laughed.

We had two climbs that morning before a very long descent to town road.  We ran into the first day walkers about half way up the second climb and they scared the shit out of me since I was rocking out with my iPod and in the zone climbing up.

When we reached the top of the ridge that we would follow down, we ran into a large man named Daniel who was doing a section from Truckee to Mt. Whitney, which he’d done several times to get back in shape.  He said it would take him 4 months for the 400 miles.

“So what are those loud booming sounds we’ve been hearing?” Hop-a-long asked when he said he was a local.

“Ohh, yeah, there’s a bomb range right over there,” he said nonchalantly, “and over there is some other military base that flies fighters all over, and over there is where they hit targets over in…what’s that country?? Oh, Afghanistan, with remote controls.”

“Huh.” Was our reply.

He sat and told us various other entertaining comments until we got up and hiked to town.  We began running into a million day walkers the closer we got to a road.  I kept my headphones in to avoid having to repeat the usual conversation over and over.

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At the road, Hop hitched right to Truckee and I hitched left to Soda Springs.  My wonderful mother sent my resupply box to the hostel, but the Post Office kept it, so I had to run across the street to grab it before they closed, then I was at the hostel bar having a beer when Dead Animal called and said he had gotten to Truckee and rented a car and was coming to pick me up.

When he did, we picked Hop-a-long up from the busiest Safeway ever and drove around listening to loud car music in the extra awesome rental that had gotten upgraded because the rental car guy didn’t feel like cleaning the economy car.

While driving and blasting music, we decided to opt for AYCE Sushi instead of splitting a motel room.  We ate a massive amount and I almost had to pull a Swanson move of throwing up in the bathroom and then finish eating.  Afterward, we found the trailhead and slept in the woods by the rental car.

In the morning, after caffeine we bought a map and figured out how to get to a forest service road at mile 1174.2 and slackpack sobo back to Truckee.  We got there late and started around 10am.  We ran into one of the Japanese guys and Camillion who we hadn’t seen since the Anderson’s.

The trail cruised up and down, up and down.  At the first water, we ran into G and Swanson and I offered some of the vegan brownies my awesome resupply mom sent.  Hop-a-long and I chilled and cruised listening to music the whole time since we could charge it that evening again.

We soon ran into a number of other hikers, a lot of whom we hadn’t met yet.  Dancing Feet, Not-so-bad, Funk, and Trooper.  After the big “climb” which was so switchbacked that it didn’t seem like much, we ran into Snow Turtle and Aggassi on their way up.  It was actually really cool going the “wrong way” because we got to run into everybody.

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Dead Animal picked us up and we went to Reno since we had talked about it for about 500 miles or so.  We went to REI first where Hop-a-long checked out packs, but didn’t find anything since it was pretty picked over.  I got a Sawyer Squeeze filter to try out.

After that we found a cheap room in a casino, got pizza, and hung out.  We managed to get back to the trail around 3:30 and hike by 4pm after hanging out with Hollywood, Drop Zone, Lorax, Chow Down and I’m Fine.

Hop-a-long, Drop Zone and I made it about 10 miles that evening but couldn’t find any flat spots, so we camped right smack in the middle of a side trail figuring it wouldn’t get any traffic.

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The “rain” prevented us from taking many breaks, so we hurried to a Visitor’s center at Hwy 88, Carson’s Pass. When we got there, we saw Dubs, Wiz, Extra Credit, and Cactus hitching into South Lake Tahoe early.  We saw Scallywag sitting at the visitor center who we hadn’t seen in a while.

Yogi mentioned a cafe somewhere along the road that Gadget had hurried ahead of us to go eat at.  We weren’t planning on going until Dead Animal convinced us, mostly because he claimed to need soda, beer, and a burger to go on.  It only took five minutes or so to get a ride and then we found Gadget, Hollywood, Trip, and Drop Zone all there.

Inspector Gadget had already done some poking around on the phone and discovered that he could get us a free Holiday Inn room again that night, but not the next when we planned on getting in.  Somehow, we ended up hitching into South Lake Tahoe early as well.  We found Aggasi and Snow Turtle at the casino where we attempted to play some penny slots and celebrate Brittany’s birthday.

The casinos and their cheap drinks prevented us from leaving South Lake Tahoe promptly and we began attempting to hitch out on the outskirts of town after visiting the Lake of the Sky Outfitter who provided us with cardboard and markers to make a sign.  On one side, we wrote “PCT hikers to Carson Pass” and on the other we wrote “PCT hikers to Echo Lake.”

Knowing that getting back to Carson Pass may be pretty difficult, we started trying to get there, then just randomly kept flipping it back and forth seeing who would take us where.  Eventually, after a good wait, a red pick-up picked us up and brought us half way to echo lake.  He laughed since he had just picked up Navi there and taken her into town.  She had sprained her ankle super bad and stayed back at VVR for a week and managed to work most of her stay off down to an $88 bill…amazing.

Dead Animal and I waited there for not even five minutes and we got picked up by two guys who took us to where the PCT crossed route 50, or 14 trail miles ahead of Carson Pass.  Whoops, oh well.  The way I see it, is that I’m still a net of 17 miles ahead (17 extra for Whitney + 18 extra for Kearsarge minus 14 here, and minus 4 around that stupid frog detour back before mile 400).

We walked a mile and a half over a hill to Echo Lake which was swarming with day walkers and a bunch of hiker trash sitting at a picnic table drinking beer.  The suspects: G, Inspector Gadget, Hop-a-long, Pacemaker, Swanson, and Natty.  We sat for an hour or so, then escaped to go on trail.  We compared recent stories of people thinking we were homeless bums.

“I was just standing outside the liquor store watching packs and some lady just came up to me and asked, ‘so are you homeless?'” Dead Animal said.

“Someone asked me that while I was waiting for the traffic light to change and the “walk” pedestrian light.  Sure dude, I’m just a homeless bum with $1200 worth of gear on my back…I don’t know what went wrong!” Backtrack laughed.

Soon, we discovered the irony of a populated Desolation wilderness as we passed an absurd amount of day walkers in the first few miles out of Echo Lake.  Walking by all sorts of cabins, people went in and out and all over.

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At mile 1100, some one had made the usual rock sign, so Dead Animal GPS’ed it for exactitude and we got to work making a pretty one.  While we set up behind the sign in a flat spot, Inspector Gadget, Hop-a-long and Swanson came up and crashed too.

“I heard voices and singing and saw headlamps last night around midnight,” Hop-a-long said in the morning.  “G probably passed us super late again.”

Down the trail three miles or so, we found none other than G, whose first comment was, “I wouldn’t be awake right now if it weren’t for those damn load section hikers early in the morning.”

“Wanna split our last beer, so I don’t have to carry it up the pass,” I asked.

“Yeah! Want some whiskey?” G perked up.

“We can polish off the last of this wine too,” Dead Animal chimed in.

It proved a fantastic start to the morning as we then had to climb Dick’s Pass, which surprisingly was not that bad since the grade was overall awesome.  On the way up, Dead Animal took advantage of cell service and called his mom back.  We also met a crazy old guy with an old-school pack and a crazy beard.

I got a bit annoyed at the pass because we went to the lowest point on the ridge which clearly was the pass, also marked thus on the map, but then we had to climb 300 more damn feet up one side and go over.  A sign post claimed that was the pass.  Nope.

Lunch came at a lake outlet stream a few miles below with a great swim, music from G’s speakers, and sock rinsing.  From there, we generally went down with several bumps the rest of the day.

About three miles down from lunch, I hear and “ARRRRRRG!!!” I turned around to see Dead Animal holding his right knee and hobbling to a log.

“I don’t know what I did!  I guess I stepped down from something wrong, or did something when I fell on it the other day, or what, but something is catching on something else every time I try to put all my weight on it,” he said through a grimace.

Vitamin I was taken and I looked at it.  The muscle or tendon just down from the knee cap was a bit swollen where he said it was catching.  As I thought about what we could use to wrap it, Pacemaker came up and offered us the use of his ACE wrap, which worked decently with the combo of him borrowing my polls for several miles.

Eventually, we got to Lake Richard and camped near a group of 13-17 year olds with matching t shirts who decided it was a good idea to play frisbee right near our tents at 8:30-9 at night.  Hop-a-long kindly explained that thru-hiker midnight was around 9pm and the four or five thru-hiker tents were all trying to sleep.  They all managed to quite down around 9:15, much to our pleasant surprise.

That evening, we had looked across the lake at the sky and had a “hmmmmmm” moment.  Right before sleep, we all put up rain protection.

“All you thru-hikers are scaring us!” said a nearby section hiker who did not want to put the rain fly on his tent it seemed.

“Those clouds look like the start of something and we heard there may be weather moving in tomorrow.  In our experience, it rolls in the night before out here,” Hop-a-long said.

Sure enough, 2am, rain spurts.  Thunder crashed all night while lightning bolts cracked down on trees only 50ft away.  Flash, flash, flash all night.  I didn’t sleep well since I was worried a lightening bolt would start a fire nearby or a tree would fall.

Good thing I had trouble waking up that next morning and was not quick about breaking everything down though.  Right after my morning pee break, I spoke with Pacemaker and while we talked, a massive sheet of rain began rushing toward us across the lake and the thunder became the loudest it had been, lightning getting closer.  I could see the line where it was raining and where it wasn’t.  I ran back so fast and continued laying on my neo-air hoping the lightening wouldn’t hit the lake and bounce over to where everyone was camped.

Once the biggest front seemed to have come through, we packed up and left at a late 8:30…so much for a big day!  From there to Barker Pass, it rained every 30 minutes or so for about five minutes.  Most of the trail there was in trees, which was super convenient since we could just pause under a big one and not get really wet, then hike when it only drizzled.  Dead’s knee still hurt quite a bit, so we went slow, which somehow seemed to increase my hunger.  Hop-a-long was on her yogiing game and got all kinds of non-cookable food since her pocket rocket rungs had gotten striped and she had to call MSR.  That’s what happened to mine last year on the Colorado Trail and MSR was super helpful and replaced it for me.

At Barker Pass, some section hikers we had talked to waited with their car there when Inspector told them Dead needed a ride into town to rest his knee.  Hop-a-long and I posted up near the bathroom, ready to chill there while it thunderstormed.  Dead Animal went down with them to rest his knee and Inspector Gadget went down too, for no real reason other than he wanted town and town food.

Hop-a-long and I talked with Funnybone, who had thru-hiked the PCT in 2002 and 2006.  He was out for a short section.  He was really fun to talk to while we waited out a few thunderstorms there since in not too many miles the trail would jump up on a ridge and stay exposed for about 7 miles.

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“Hi! Are you guys thru-hiking?” A day walker asked right before we ate lunch.

“Yes,” Hop-a-long and I replied as Dead was coming up the last bit of the small climb. Hop began taking pictures, so their questions went to me.

“Oh, how wonderful! What are your trail names?” They asked.

“I’m Veggie, Hop-a-long is taking pictures, and Dead Animal is right there coming up,” I said.

After a burst of laughter, they calmed down to say, “Ohhhhh we get it now, Dead Animal is a trail name.  There is a bright pink box that says ‘Dead Animal, please leave for PCT thru-hiker’ down by the pass! We thought someone had left a dead pet in it or something!”

We laughed, ate lunch, and continued “down.”  The trail decided to take us on a scenic tour of the road from several hundred feet up in this giant 1.5 mile U action instead of just switchbacking down.  On the way down to Sonora Pass, we passed two older ladies and a section hiker who we’re moving pretty slow, and we had town fever.

We found the bright pink box to contain an assortment of beer which was magically chilled by constant shade under a tree leftover from Pinky’s trail magic the weekend before there.  We drank some at the pass talking to Bolt who wasn’t hitching anywhere, but going all the way to Tahoe instead where he would end his trip.

Then a car pulled up, “Which two of you are the least smelly and need to get to Bridgeport?” The section hiker asked with the two older ladies in his car.

“How about three?” Hop-a-long asked.

“Not legally, but we can squeeze!” He shouted and we all jumped in the car.

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Bridgeport was an expensive little town with a bunch of burger joints, pricy motels without air conditioning and a general store.  Since we had gotten there on a Saturday and we all desperately needed the Post Office, we took an unexpected zero day to wait for the PO to open Monday morning.  Hop-a-long and I both had new shoes and all of us were ever so eager to ditch the stupid ass bear canister which had become a nuisance in our lives for 316 miles.   We found a sweet sign on a tree as we wandered around too.  Too bad the sprinklers watered the sidewalk more than the lawn…

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My awesome, most comfortable, pretty, ridiculously fantastic Teva sandals had made it 1018 PCT miles + resupply over Kearsarge (18 miles) + Mt. Whitney (17 miles) + town walking for two and a half months.  The tread had become pretty much non-existent, the base was cracking, and seams had begun to tear.  I had a new pair and the comparison was drastic next to each other…no wonder I had been slipping all over the place!

The hitch out was a little absurd; it took us over two hours to get a ride out in a jeep which got us all but about 5 miles to the pass and dropped us off at the Marine porta johns near a part of some training center.  They stared at us with their guns while we hitched further.  Luckily, we got a ride super quick with a woman going up for a day hike and had already picked up Warner Springs Monty who was setting out to do Sonora Pass to Tuolomne sobo.

Since the hitch took too long, we only managed five miles down the trail and then we made a campfire to cook on for a change.

That night, it got pretty cold which zapped the early morning motivation, so we didn’t leave until almost 9am.  We still managed to whip out a 20 mile day though, mostly because the terrain had become a wee bit easier.  The bumps were better graded and not with all the damn rock steps of Yosemite.  That stuff is what killed my tread, it was doing fine in Kennedy Meadows at mile 700.

We found a sweet campsite near a lake outlet stream and had another campfire, pretty much because we could.  It also kept away most of the few mosquitos that tried to plague us.  The cooler weather had severely diminished our mosquito troubles temporarily.

We got up earlier the next day and managed to pull a 23 mile day, going up and down, up and down small climbs.  Passing through all kinds of cool volcanic rock, Neon gave me a geology lesson in Neon-speak and not text-booky.  At one point in the conversation, the earth was a lava lamp, somehow the analogy worked perfectly.

This section, we also crossed more roads for the first time in several hundred miles.  The first was Hwy 4 at Ebbetts Pass.  Meadow Mary had left a cooler full of trail magic there, but none was left.  It did have a trail register, so we could see who was up to a week ahead of us, which was super handy.  We haven’t had an on trail register since Kennedy Meadows.  That is one thing I miss about the AT.

That afternoon, menacing clouds rolled in and settled.  Inspector Gadget caught an AT&T signal off a ridge and checked the weather: thunderstorms the following day.  AT&T has had better reception than Verizon recently due to the forest service and the rangers putting in towers to communicate with.  Before Verizon always had better service.

It definitely sprinkled and spat some rain at us that night around 1am, but it only lasted maybe 15 minutes and everything was dry in the morning.

We had our first on trail “rain” in about 1000 miles.  The last “rain” barely lasted five minutes right after Trail Angel Mike’s house.  It kinda spat rain, nothing soaking, but the wind was enough to make me want a rain shell on for the cold.

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In the morning, everyone slowly packed up to go back to the picnic tables where we ate breakfast, lounged, and sat.  Periodically, some people would get motivated and leave the picnic tables for the trail.  Eventually, after a good amount of french fries, I got motivated.

Dead Animal and I cut across a field to get back to the trail and we walked for a bit until we came back to the Tuolomne River which we had tried to swim in before at a higher elevation, but it was too cold.  There, the river got wider and warmer, so we jumped in since we couldn’t shower anywhere near the store.  The whole first few miles, we passed ridiculous amounts of day walkers, horse packers, and complaining kids.

After a good swim, we got to the Glen Aulin Camp, a horse camp type thing where a few people worked.  It had a super buggy backpacker camping area next to it, so we set up there and tried not to be completely eaten by mosquitos.  It was a bit early but there wasn’t any water for 8 miles and the terrain didn’t seem too amenable for flatness for a bit.

Bolt rolled in right before dark who we hadn’t seen for quite a bit and he said that he and House had gone down into the valley for a bit.  He was trying to go to South Lake Tahoe in 8 days which meant a lot of 20s.

The mosquitos were horrible right from the get-go and did not care about deet what-so-ever.  Plus, we had a long slow climb first thing in the morning heat.  Since we entered Yosemite, the trail turned shitty.  It was super rocky and in parts it seemed like they didn’t really try to build a trail, rather they just brought some horses through for a footpath when they couldn’t just make cairns on large rock slabs.  Other times, they built the trail up nice, lined with large rocks, but left piles of ankle-twister rocks in the middle.  Or, worse yet, these cobblestone-like steps which were usually covered with sand and were too small to actually put your feet all the way on, i.e. I’m-going-to-fall-on-my-ass-steps.

Most of this section was dominated by that and going in and out of canyons.  We would hike sharply up on rocky steps to almost a view, then descend sharply down the same shit into another canyon.  Sometimes, a large blow down would cut off the corner of a steep switch back so we had to cut the already steep switch back into a steeper one.

Once in another canyon, we followed it for a ways, then climbed up into another one pretty much.  After dropping into the first one there, we ran into Waffles, Gator, Snowflake, and Mancake by the water.  While we ate lunch, they headed up the next steep climb which turned out to be a bitch of a steep climb.  The climb redeemed itself by taking us past Miller Lake which proved some of the best swimming yet.  Waffles and the others had caught Ornie and were building an elaborate sand castle using six different pots for various building sizes, a mote, and the whole nine yards.

We continued steeply down, then back up toward Benson Pass.  The first third of the climb up was a little absurd in the steepness, but it evened out a little bit afterward following up Wilson Creek.  At the last creek crossing, we stopped to cook dinner and decided to stay there, taking the 17 mile day.  I would have loved to read, but couldn’t since the Kindle got in a fight with my bear canister and lost.

Hiking up the last 600 feet, we reached the pass to find G camped there blasting Jay-Z off of speakers and Bolt fifty feet up on some large rocks.

“What are you doing up there?” Hop-a-long yelled up.

“Sleepin’!” Bolt called down as he began traversing down.

G had left the Tuolomne store at 2pm, passed us at midnight, and camped in the pass for a nice 26 mile day.  Little crazy.

We went up and down, up and down, pretty much the whole next day.  For lunch, we had to set up mosquito netting and tents to not get bit near the side trail to Benson Lake.  Of course, we had another steep climb after that.  On the bumpy top, we stopped by a small lake and Brittany (a JMTer who continued on the PCT from Tuolomne to Tahoe) caught us.  Then the wave came: Dubs, Wiz, Trip, Cactus, Extra Credit, Drop Zone, and Hollywood (not the same one from the AT) all came up and joined us.

The way “down” Kerrick Canyon was so much of a bitch, we all camped at the bottom.  Trip made a campfire and Cactus attempted to make a large spam kabob.

Realizing we were a little low on food, we got up early to pull a long day in the direction of town.  We had already climbed 2,400 ft before 10am in two small climbs that had longer descents.  We passed Drop Zone and Brittany who had camped three miles ahead of us.

We had over ten miles of super slow ascent through meadow after meadow up to Dorothy Lake Pass which would take us out of Yosemite.  For the first time since leaving Tuolomne, we had a decently graded climb.

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A little under two miles after the pass, we crossed the 1,000 mile mark, so we stopped and celebrated.  The last of potato chips were devoured and we opted to go as far as possible.

We stumbled down the trail trying not to stop for dinner since we knew we wouldn’t go any further.  At 8:30pm, it was called at 23 miles as we all began stumbling over our own feet.

We followed a meadow to Kennedy Canyon, then hiked up the canyon to a very exposed section above 10,000 ft.  All four of us were beat after the day before.  We found Bolt again at the last creek crossing and the section was making him feel beat too.

The last big climb went super well.  At the top of the ridge, Dead Animal, Hop-a-long and I stopped for a snack.

“Those were the nicest graded switchbacks in hundreds of miles,” Dead Animal said.

“Yup,” was the resounding reply.

We went from one side of the ridge to the other several times staying high and exposed the whole time through some amazing volcanic rock that reminded me of Colorado.

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After two and a half days of shenanigans in Mammoth, we finally made it back up the free trolley to the free bus to the pay bus to Reds Meadow where we chilled with Snow Turtle and Aggassi.  Eventually, we left around 5pm and went about five miles up the trail.  It was buggy, but graded decently and the trail crews had cleared an amazing amount of downed trees.  There were also a ba-zillion side trails going every which way to and from shuttle stops.

We had a nice little campsite tucked into some trees, but so many mosquitos!  The bloodsuckers got me good a few times.

In the morning, we got to walking after a large coat of deet.  The trail climbed slowly pretty much all day unless it went up steeper.  Only a few times the trail went down that day.

For 14 beautiful miles we got our trail back; the PCT went high on a ridge and the JMT went down in the valley by a bunch of lakes.  It was pleasant not to have a herd of them hiking south, at us, for a change.

We had a scenic overlook lunch where someone had left a pair of boots unceremoniously.  Inspector Gadget had yogi’ed a fresh tomato from some Russian day walkers despite not liking tomatoes, so he gave it to Hop-a-long and me.

At 1000 Islands Lake, the JMT met back up and immediately we saw a swarm of JMTers, one of which was shooting medium format actual film who decided Dead Animal and I were good film subjects.

We had to climb over Island “Pass” which really was just a small ridge and wasn’t “passy” at all.  After a short descent we had to climb up Donohue Pass, which wasn’t too difficult, but being at miles 17-19 of a 20 mile day, I was tired and pissed at all the damn JMTers, most of whom didn’t know the person going uphill has the right-of-way.  I gave several of them dirty looks when I had to stop for them or I almost ran straight into them.

Dead Animal and I got to the top of Donohue pass around 6:30pm and had it all to ourselves.  We didn’t stay long, just did ESPN, ate a bar, and hiked down a mile to a lake with a large outlet stream.  Hop-a-long and Inspector ended up camping two miles before the pass.

We got up and hiked down to Tuolomne Meadows.  It was 3 miles down and 8 miles through a meadow.  The closer we got, the more people we saw. It was a wave of people hiking south.  I asked four hikers with large packs and water testing poles if they were signaling the mothership and they said “something like that I reckon!”

The Tuolomne Meadows store/post office/grill was all in the same temporary structure with some wonderful picnic tables outside in the shade.  As I walked up, I was surprised to see Neon, Onna Move, Trip, and even Drop Zone.  I grabbed some vegan chili from the grill and caught up with a bunch of them over some beer.  I slapped a Yosemite sticker on my bear canister that I packed for the last time. Natty, Swanson, and Magellan walked in and joined us.

We stayed there for quite some time, just hanging out on the picnic tables when Cactus, Extra Credit, Dubs, Wiz, Cheesecake (now maybe Mancake……..), Snowflake, Gator, Ornie, Ornie’s girlfriend who’s now hiking and Waffles jumped off the bus that came up from Yosemite Valley. When we realized what a crew we had, we went over to the campground with campfire food and took over a large chunk of the backpacker section. Leave it to the thru-hikers to be the other backpackers up past 8:30pm drinking and cooking on a campfire.

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We hit the trees and had a small obstacle course of blowdowns to navigate when I found a water bottle that I somehow identified as one belonging to one of the three JMTers who went north: Nice, Steady, or Katz.  I threw it onto my pack and we found them at the bottom of the valley to return it.

Once again, we climbed.  This time, the grade was decent for the first few miles and we passed through incredibly still, peaceful meadows filled with deer that knew no humans could hurt them.  They stayed in the middle of the trail or right next to it until we were almost on top of them.  We also found wild onions and picked some to add to dinner.

Finding a campsite was pretty easy; hiding from the mosquitos was another story.  Snax and Zoner passed us who had hiked the PCT in 2010 and 2008 respectively and were out for the JMT going north for a section.

We managed to get up and moving at a good time for once and began our way up Muir Pass, another long, drawn out climb strangely similar to Pinchot, but not as shitty.  There was only one really annoyingly steep section of short, rocky switchbacks next to a waterfall and the rest of the climb consisted of figuring out which lake we were at because there were so many.  Lake Helen right before the top is actually one of the highest on the PCT at 11,617 ft above sea level.

The top of Muir Pass had a rock hut on top made in the 1930s by the Sierra Club in memory of John Muir.  The more I hiked in the Sierras, the crazier I think he was to explore that much then, without trails and with loaves of bread and tea for food.

We took an extended break up there with the hut, enjoying the sweeping views into Evolution Valley on the other side with these things we hadn’t seen in a long time: clouds!  They made our pictures just that much better.

When we finally left, we stopped a few miles later at Lake Wanda where we got cooked in the sun and soaked our feet in the cold water.  I also watched Inspector Gadget cannonball in and then run screaming out of the icy, snow melt lake.

We meandered down Evolution Valley which, in my opinion, was one of the most beautiful that we passed through, despite the mosquitos.  Muir Pass was our last almost 12,000 ft pass we had to do, which was somewhat of a relief, but we still had miles to go before we slept.

Camping down in a meadow, we battled some intense mosquitos that actually were up and biting at 5am.  I actually hiked with the damn mosquito headnet on for quite some time.

Evolution Creek crossing is usually an intense ford that PCT hikers worry about every year, but when we hit it, it was only knee-deep and a breeze to wade across.  Lucky us!  The mosquitos were terrible there though!  Deet time.

The trail followed the creek down where it would change drastically from mellow, meandering through meadows, to raging waterfalls down steep, slick rocks.  It plunged into another creek that we crossed on a bridge and continued down to the Muir Trail Ranch side trail where we found Griffin hiking sobo through that section and he gave us some intel.

“It’s great!  I see all the PCTers because I’m hiking the opposite direction and I see all the JMTers because I out hike them!  They only go like 12 miles a day or something and 50 pound packs are the lightweight ones!” He joked.

After lunch with him, we headed up Selden Pass, supposedly the easiest Sierra Pass.  The hard part was the almost 2,000 feet of switchbacks coming out of the valley, then the rest went in steps: it would go flat around a lake, go up a step to another lake and so on until the top.  We cooked at the top of the switchbacks where Dead Animal used the deep creek to find the hole in his Neoair he got the night before.  We suspect either a small critter or a fight between the Neoair and his bear canister in his pack.  I took the opportunity to wash my shorts, hang them on my pack and hike up in my underwear.

We hit the pass that evening, did the quite naked ritual, then headed down to camp somewhere.  Unfortunately, the spot we found had a lot of moisture and our sleeping bags were all wet.  We waited until the sun came and dried us off, then set out down trail cruising downhill until we had to cross Bear Creek, another ford that usually consists of horror stories of chest high water with packs on shoulders.  It only came up mid-calf.  The next two feeder streams had complicated rock hops, so I plunged straight through those too since my feet were wet anyway.
Once we hit the bottom of the valley, we of course had to climb again.  This time, it was not to a pass, just up and over a large ridge in the way with 1200 ft of steep switchbacks and 2000 ft of steep switchbacks going down, which made my knees sore.  The amount of JMTers coming up astounded me, almost all of their packs went higher than their head and some were hunched over under the weight of them.

We hit the VVR ferry side trail and I had to pull Dead Animal away from its temptations.  A hiker friendly resort, but they start you a tab and the cheapest anyone gets out for is $70 and horror stories have reached over $400, even with the first beer and night tenting free.  We skipped it and began climbing to Silver Pass.  Its main challenge was one rocky jump off 600 ft in half a mile with a waterfall ford in the middle, which for us was a careful rock hop.

Camping a mile and about 500 ft of climbing to go, we spent another moist night where we waited for the sun to dry everything off.  We hit the pass, then descended past large alpine lakes until a few large bumps we had to go up and over.

Once we started descending toward Purple Lake, we began hitting the blowdowns.  The Sierras had 140 something mph sustained northerly winds in November and December knocking down thousands of trees that kept the Reds Meadow Rd closed until June 29th this year.  Luckily, they weren’t too bad because so many trail crews were out and diligently clearing the trail.  There were also a few annoying ones back a few miles around Tully Hole, but completely manageable.

After one more bump, we pretty much descended for 10ish miles down to Reds Meadow where trail crews had done amazing work.  We passed mile 900 and realized we had 3G for the first time in a week, so we sat on our phones for a wee bit and managed to finish the section in 7 days instead of the 8 that we planned.

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Sorry for not posting, we took out eight days of food and I had no internet for that long.  Mt. Whitney pictures are at the bottom which wouldn’t upload before as well.  Thanks for your patience!

We resupplied by taking a side trail east over Kearsarge Pass down into the Onion Valley to a road which would take us several thousand feet down to the small town of Independence, CA.  Taking the Bullfrog Lake trail up to the pass, we caught amazing views of the Penacles and beautifully blue alpine lakes that reflected the image of the mountains in them.  The pass stood at 11,780 feet; although it wasn’t on the PCT, we took it as a bonus pass and got naked for it anyway just to keep up ESPN.  It was definitely the longest I’ve ever hiked to a resupply…usually I hit a road and stick out my thumb, conveniently getting a ride to food and beer.  Nope.  Nine miles to a road.  Then we had to depend on day walkers, all of which were inconveniently staying at the campground there and enjoying the outdoors, not Subway, beer, cheap motels, and hot tubs.

Eventually, we did get a ride down in a beat-up white pickup with a guy who charged $5 a head and had taken up a load of thru-hikers including Neon, Onna Move, Bolt, Ornie, Waffles, Cheesecake, and Snowflake.  Astro, Magellan, Dead Animal and I jumped in and put our heads down every time he took a turn fast and yelled at us to hold onto our hats while we bounced in the bed of the truck.

We got dropped off at the Chevron gas station and Subway where I had the amazing resupply guru, my mother, send me a package of seven days of food.  I got it after I wolfed down a foot long veggie sub in about five minutes or less, then all of us jumped on the regional bus up to Bishop, a bigger town 40 miles north.  Inspector Gadget and Hop-a-long had gotten ahead of us to catch the post office hours for his laptop bounce box and gotten Gadget’s dad’s Holiday Inn points for a room in Bishop.

A nice zero was in order where we relaxed, played in the pool, checked out Bishop’s three outfitters, and ate copious amounts of food.  The next day, we got back to the Chevron via the local mid-day bus and began hitching back up to Onion Valley.  We picked up House and Lunchbox, so we split up to try for rides.  Eventually, Hop-a-long, Inspector Gadget, House, and Lunchbox got a squeezed ride up while Dead Animal and I waited.  Before long a car pulled up and screeched to a stop.  Bounce Box, Major Upchuck, and the Indiana Boys jumped out with one of their girlfriends who was going to hike for a while.  Bounce and Upchuck were actually heading back to Lone Pine where they got off, so they got back in the car while a nice woman named Debbie drove the five of us left up to the Onion Valley trailhead.

Hop-a-long had left her poles in a rides car going down.  The trail is good though because the ride gave them to a hiker at the Chevron who posted on the PCT-l (PCT email list) that they left them with the Onion Valley Campground Host.  However, when we got there, the host had lent them out to a family with kids two and a half miles up the trail.  We began walking and we found the kids who returned her poles one at a time.

That evening, Hop-a-long, Dead Animal, Inspector Gadget, Lunchbox, House, and I camped near a lake about halfway up to Kearsarge pass.  We hit the pass in the morning for a second time and took the pass trail back to the PCT where we immediately climbed over Glen Pass.

We had naked time on top to continue ESPN, then hiked down to Rae Lakes where we went swimming in the alpine lake and got eaten by mosquitos.  The downhill continued to right before mile 800 where we camped in the last bear box campsite we saw with lots of JMTers.

The PCT and the JMT (John Muir Trail) are the same for a large chunk of the Sierras and most of the JMTers hike sobo to finish on Mt. Whitney with their extremely large packs.

The next day was trying for me.  Pinchot Pass kicked my ass, the seven days of food weighed me down, and I cursed the bear canister which was trying to rub blisters on my back.  The pass just climbed and climbed and climbed on obnoxiously large rock steps and for most of it, I kept thinking I was farther than I was, probably because we tried to hike faster to out-hike the mosquitos, then running out of breath and expending energy killing them as they tried to suck our blood.

We took a decent break on top, getting naked to spite the evil pass that took incredibly too long to climb, then we descended slowly.  I was so beat by the bottom, Dead Animal and I camped there with the mosquitos while Hop-a-long and Inspector went on another 40 minutes or so.

In the morning, Dead Animal realized that some creature had eaten large holes out of his new socks that he had only worn once.  The probable suspects were either a mouse or a chipmunk.

We found Inspector Gadget and Hop-a-long not too far up the next morning and they talked about frost.  We all got to the top of Mather Pass, did the usual naked ritual, and began a hideous decent which actually hurt my knees a bit for the first time this trip.  Following a waterfall down, switch back after rocky switch back, we passed lots of JMTers and their large packs going up.  There were beautiful look out points where we could see deep into the valley that we would plunge down into, almost down to 8,000 ft.

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