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Posts Tagged ‘Natty’

Our food bags were heavy once again to avoid being hungry, although all of us had become bottomless pits and shameless about free food.  We had an easy, quite pleasant first five miles back on trail, but I had eaten almost a full loaf of super heathy bread and could feel it expanding it my stomach making me want to lay down, letting the stream ease me to sleep instead of walking.

The fall foliage had come into full, beautiful bloom sending a thousand different colored leaves dancing through the air with every breeze.  The wide trail without too many troublesome roots made it quite easy to walk staring straight up into the tops of the trees looking at the colors and not pay much attention to where it led.

Eventually, we came upon a brilliantly flat campsite with a privy, a crude shelter with a picnic table, and a perfectly clear stream running right through it.  Hop-a-long, Scout, Natty, and I set up camp and ate dinner at the table appreciating it like no one but a thru-hiker can appreciate an old picnic table.

In the morning, Natty woke us up at 5:45 and immediately started his jetboil for coffee.  Wanting to sleep, I rolled back over dozing until I heard the stove turn off, then mustered up the energy to eat and pack up.

“WHERES MY SPOON?!” Natty yelled, jolting me awake more.  “I left it right here!” he exclaimed searching around everywhere.  “Something took it!”

“What’s it look like?” said Hop-a-long, looking around where we had eaten dinner last night.

“It’s the orange Yogi spoon!”

When no one found it, we determined something did indeed confiscate the spoon.  Hikers get very attached to their spoons, especially one they have carried for well over 2,000 miles.

We went up, up, and more up to Rainy Pass the rest of the morning.  As soon as we came up out of the big trees to the littler, more shrubby trees and wide grassy patches, we felt the temperature drop and saw frost glittering on each tall grass blade.  Leapfrogging each other until we found a suitable sunny spot, we took a break right on the side of the trail near a stream where Hop found a half pound of goat cheese chilling in the water.  After much deliberation, we determined that a.) someone had chilled it for a few moments in the stream and forgot about it, or b.) someone didn’t like goat cheese and left it chilling in the stream because they knew it was an easy spot to fill up water bottles and a hungry hiker would see it before it went bad.

With the sun a little higher in the sky, we moved further and further up valley until we came to Rainy Pass and sat by the sign on the side of the road and had a bite to eat again.  Natty decided he had brought too much food and wanted to play a joke.  He borrowed a sharpie and wrote on it: “Trail Magic, I read Wild” referring to the horrible Sheryl Strayed book that every woman over 40 thinks of immediately when you say “PCT.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsually, we walk downhill to roads and uphill after them.  This particular one was quite draining because we walked uphill to it, then uphill after it to Cutthroat Pass.  The name alone is encouraging….right?  Crossing the road and going just up the trail, we came across real trail magic in the form of an epic cooler which gave us some motivation.  The rest of the climb was really not too taxing and gave us spectacular views from the top.

Natty and I got up there first and stopped to re-fuel when we met this awesome old hippie named Chris who gave us trail magic of the greener variety and chatted with us.  He had an independent, exploratory dog who wanted to sniff the entire world with unbending excitement.

Hop-a-long and Scout came up and we all decided to continue on until dark o’clock and see what’s there.  Judging from what we saw on top of Cutthroat Pass, we would contour and run ridges the rest of the way to Canada.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe days had become drastically shorter and the nights colder in the past two weeks or so, making getting out of the sleeping bag increasingly difficult.  We got to cruise downhill for some miles in the morning which was nice, but it did not get the blood pumping and my feet felt like frozen blocks attached to the ends of my legs.

We came across the last known water source before our last 2,500 foot climb on the PCT.  Then some middle-aged guys with huge backpacks came from the other side of the stream.  Natty clearly was not in a gear-talk or answer the weekenders questions mood, but I decided to humor them a bit basically telling them they had way too much shit with them, when one said, “Maybe you guys can help lighten my load, I have this bourbon here.  Do you have a cup?”

Hop-a-long immediately produced her tiny wine cup she had carried all the way from Truckee and used to mix drinks with various drink mix powders.

“I guess 11am isn’t too early to drink for you thru-hikers!” one of the laughed.

We laughed remembering sharing tall boys of beer at 5am in the desert when we woke up to get us moving.

They ended up giving us the bourbon as a celebratory drink for the end of the trail.  Awesome trail magic!  Now we had vodka, wine, bourbon, and jack!  They also told us we were only about an hour or so behind Agassi and Snow Turtle who we wanted to catch back up with again since they made it three miles further than we did out of Stehekin.

The climb was a long slog of switchbacks, but by the top, we had fantastic, sweeping views once more and a great knoll to eat a late lunch on.  The trail bumped along and began slowly going down toward Harts Pass which was surprisingly more busy than any of us thought.  I put on headphones to get through the hoards of people walking up from their cars a few miles and asking us if we’d read Wild.  Damn that book.  Just as bad as Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”  Their actual writing was entertaining, but neither had any idea what they were doing and gave a fairly unrealistic picture of what goes on.

After all the day walkers, all of us wanted beer, so we sat by the trail head looking pathetic eating scraps of food for a while until Natty began flagging down every car asking if they had beer.  None of them did, so we walked on, trying to push another six miles to a marked campsite.

Leaving Hart’s Pass was not super well marked, but we figured it out and not long after, we ran into Lorax hiking south.  We OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApaused, talked, and kept walking trying not to get in too late.

When we knew we only had half a mile or so to go, we saw some headlights and yelled over.  It was Snow Turtle and Agassi!  We finally caught them!  Going a little further, we found the marked campsite which was not very flat or great, but tuckered out, we stopped and passed out pretty quickly, after eating of course.

The next morning, we leapfrogged Snow Turtle and Agassi for a bit, went through Woody Pass after being thoroughly temped to take the old PCT over the large scree field to avoid the 700ft or so descent only to climb immediately back up 800ft, but the reports seemed to say it was unstable.

After Woody Pass, we had only a little more uphill contouring before we went down for about 14 miles to Monument 78, the Canadian Border.

We cruised down wanting to drink the booze we’d been saving and carrying for 80 miles from Stehekin.  That was the furthest I’ve carried booze, not drinking it along the way.

Hitting the monument felt so epic, we began celebratory drinks and photo ops.  We waited for Snow Turtle and Agassi to get the group shot.  Natty read us “Where the Wild Things Are” which someone had left with the register.

Eventually, we realized that we had to move our drunk butts a quarter-mile into Canada to camp as there were no spots by the monument.  We built a fire in the ring and sat around finishing off the hodgepodge of alcohol we had.

The morning came and I looked over to see what I thought was Natty cowboy camping and yelled over at him to wake up when he answered in the opposite direction.  Hop-a-long was near me and looked as utterly confused as I was.  We investigated and found Magellan!  He had gotten in absurdly late pulling a 36 mile day to make the 11am greyhound bus from Manning Park so he didn’t miss his flight.  He had done it, just like Knees had made his absurd goal.  We all did.  Nine miles to food that’s not whatever is leftover from our packs!

Making it there early, we beelined for food and ate quite a lot.  We had a slight mix-up finding my wonderful trail angel mother who had a cooler of beer because we arrived too early and she waited by the trailhead.  It eventually got worked out and we relaxed.

PCT. Mexico to Canada.  April 29th to October 7th, 2012.

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We set off downhill with Natty and within five minutes I couldn’t feel my feet because the vegetation soaked my socks and the temperature barely reached above freezing.  I found myself staring at my feet to make sure they went where my brain told them to go because I could not really feel them well.  Scout shot downhill first and Hop and Natty got a few switchbacks ahead of me.

A few of the switchbacks were not only wet and slick, but very steep with some sketchy obstacles to maneuver over.  For several miles, this continued until we popped out on a newly constructed, nice bridge over Milk Creek.  Many creeks coming out of glaciers are named “milk” due to the sediment coming out of the glacier turning the water a white color.  This one, however, seemed pretty clear to us.

We had another long, steep set of switchbacks that went on for over two miles of trail in about a third of a mile as the birds flew.  The grade was just mellow enough that we could plug it out with stopping for breaks, but when we hit the top, we all stopped for a super early lunch.

Not only were we hungry, but we found a sweet rock overlook where we could dry out all of our wet crap and sit in the sun like lizards absorbing the warmth of the sun.  About half an hour into our basking, up pops Knees who seemed surprised to see us.

“You zero’ed at the Dinsmore’s didn’t you?” Natty chided, since Knees had a flight deadline in Seattle.

“Yeeeeeah,” Knees replied as he removed his food bag.  “I have a flight out on the 7th in Seattle, so I have to finish before 11am on the 6th.”

“I knew you would zero when I saw you heading over to play croquet with Major Upchuck and Bounce Box with a 12 pack!” Natty exclaimed.

“Yeah.  I did a 39 mile day yesterday to make up for it.  I’m not stopping in Stehekin, so that should save me time,” Knees replied relatively confident.

“Do you have enough food?” I asked skeptically eying his not huge food bag.

“Yeah,” he said lifting it to test it’s weight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEventually, we left our warm rocks for the colder, windy contours which bounced up and down hopping over small streams with sweeping views of the valley running parallel below and a glaciated peak to above.  After walking over two ridges up there, the trail plunged back down to cross the Suiattle River.

This river had caused quite a bit of debate on the PCT Facebook page of whether to take the old PCT which was an unmaintained trail to a giant log crossing the river, or to take the new, maintained PCT to a freshly built bridge.  Seems like an easy answer, right?  Wrong.  The new PCT added five miles.  When you’re low on food and tired from the rugged terrain, five extra miles is a little much.

We got to the junction and veered right onto the old PCT taking our chances since we had multiple confirmations that the log still existed and the old path was indeed faster despite being unmaintained as long as you did not get lost.  Easy enough, right?

Between the four of us, we could find the trail fairly easily as we climbed the obstacle course of blowdowns.  Eight eyes proved

Suiattle Log

Suiattle Log

incredibly more useful than two.  We found our way through the muck at the bottom of the hill and popped out on a gravel bar, hearing a high, raging river.  We followed some cairns and neon green bandana’s from Shrek’s house and found the log no problem.  The water looked cold.  And unfriendly.  We decided butt scooting across was our safest bet.  Scout went first and got over ok.  I went next followed by Natty and Hop-a-long.  It was surprisingly more straining than expected.

At the other end of the log, we had to shimmy up some slippery sand quickly before it gave way under our feet to the trees.  Once across, we had the challenge of finding the trail again because the old PCT was nowhere to be seen.  Mouse had written a note on the Facebook page to not bother trying to find it and just bushwhack up the hill and we’d run into it.  Sounded easy enough.  The map showed that should happen as well.

The hillside went straight up, the ground was soft, and the vegetation was thick, but sure enough, after about 10 or 15 minutes, we came to the trail which was so nicely maintained and obvious.  We rejoiced at our success and began climbing anew.

We all seemed to get a second wind climbing this hill, probably from our exhilaration crossing the log and climbing over all the other giant dead trees.  The climb had two parts to it separated by a half mile or so of flat-ish stuff.  Once we hit the flat stuff, we knew we were close to a marked campsite near a stream.  Of course, it was dark and we found many more streams than were marked on the map and data book.  Once we found it, we saw how obvious it was and found great, large, flat spots to sleep.

Setting up immediately, we wondered if Knees was in front or behind it since he hauled out away from our rock drying spot.  We settled in for a blisteringly cold night, waking up to frost and a deep cold and Natty yelling at us to get up at 5:45am.

At least we had almost three more miles of solid uphill to warm us up slightly since the we seemed to stay in the shade the whole time.  I remembered the desert and how much I missed trees then.  I found it ironic that I missed the desert in that moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANearing the top, we ran into a very encouraging note written in sticks and moss, “-100” it said referring to 100 miles left to Canada.  The climb seemed to drag on that morning due to the cold, but eventually, we crested the top, getting a great views.  Even more exciting, we had basically 20 miles of downhill to High Bridge where we had to catch a shuttle bus to Stehekin at 6pm.  Of course there are always a few bumps.

We took a break right in the middle of the trail at the first solidly sunny spot we could find, ate, and let the sun warm us.  Half way through the break, none other than Knees showed up!  He had taken the new PCT and crashed out not far behind us.  We all walked on for a few more hours, then stopped for lunch.

“So Veggie,” Knees said as I sat down, “I was examining my food bag after you questioned the amount of food in it and was hoping I could give you four $20 toward a town-beer fund to empty the remaining contents of your food bags.  After lunch, all of us did just that and piled up the little extra bits, halves of tortillas, peanut butter scrapings and emergency, super smashed bars.

With that, Knees buzzed off and we set off slower.  Eventually, we came to an overlook about five miles out or so and spotted a wildfire on the adjacent ridge shooting up billowing black smoke with an occasional tree going completely up in flames.  The four of us sat down, leaned against our packs and watched hiker television for at least half an hour.

We then made the final push to High Bridge and sat at the picnic table bus stop waiting desperately for the bus to take us to food. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A super retro, awesome looking bus showed up and took us right into town where we immediately ran into the restaurant before it closed and found Snow Turtle and Agassi.

“Agassi has been watching every incoming bus for hikers,” Snow Turtle laughed.  Neither of them had seen Natty in several hundred miles.

Right after we ordered food, we realized that we may have missed our beer window at the store.  We rushed over and inquired about beer and a room and they reopened the store so we could load up (thanks Knees!) and grab a room.  While it was probably the most expensive room we got the whole trail, it was certainly the nicest, largest, and warm since it was supposed to be another freezing night.

We had a lazy morning, sleeping in, getting our resupply packages, bumming the employee wi-fi to send a few emails since there was no cell service what-so-ever, and sitting at the bakery for three hours consuming as much as humanly possible.  That was a damn good bakery.

Catching the 3pm bus back to the trail, we eventually got moving slowly, stuffed to the brim with full stomachs and food bags.

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Without a zero day in over 750 miles, bad weather pushed us over the top and we decided to lounge, play Yahtzee, watch television, and enjoy the wonder of beds.  Crappy weather the following morning made us slow getting out of bed and we did not get back to the trail until after 1pm.

Steven’s Pass was covered by a decently thick fog and we had to play with our layer systems a few times before we had it dialed in.  Of course, since it was a pass and we were going out of town, the trail went upwards.  What else is new.

We also had the delight of reading one of half-miles yellow notes at the top of the map section saying, “I have yet to hike the final 193 miles of the PCT.  GPS data was provided by Jack Haskel, Tina Lippke, Joshua ‘Diversity’ Pinedo, Anna ‘North Star’ Sofranko and Bob Woods.  Some waypoints and landmarks in this section are based on TOPO! Software or Google Earth and not collected on trail with a GPS.”  Great.  They weren’t horrible, but the water definitely needed an update.

Passing a large group of shouting boy scouts in jeans and oversized backpacks, we continued past their 4-mile hike out to Lake Valhalla with joy.  We knew we had to make some miles that afternoon, so we continued for quite a while, grabbing some dinner and hiking onward.  Even if it’s a sluggish start out of town, once you’re out, it’s pretty easy to get going, especially after the first few miles.

Cruising down one of the ridges, I heard something strange.  I had that sense of another animal in a close range, but unsure of the type.  Then, not more than twenty feet in front of me a large grey and brown animal, probably weighing at least 30 pounds or so waddled along, up the trail toward me.  Naturally, I started talking to it so it knew I was there.  It paused, looked at me, and kept waddling up the side of the trail toward some trees.  I managed to swing around it in a wide arch through some underbrush and the nonchalant animal just scooted along not caring at all.

I heard footsteps and looked up to see Scout jamming to some tunes coming down the trail.  I yelled up to him and he slowly approached, arched and joined me in examining the animal.

He laughed at me, “It’s a porcupine!”

“It’s giant!” I replied.

“Yeeeaup.  Watch it waddle!” He said.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we tried to get pictures in the bad light, Hop-a-long came up, as well as Blackout and Silky Smooth and we all watched it eat a purple mushroom the size of a dinner plate.  We then made the connection to all the mutilated large mushrooms we’d seen in the past hundred miles or so.

“I was wondering what was eating all those poisonous mushrooms,” Hop said laughing.

I had never seen a porcupine larger than a house cat.  This one was the size of three large house cats at least.  Super duper awesome.

Scout, Hop-a-long, and I walked until we tripped over ourselves so many times you’d think we never walk anywhere.  That’s usually the time that yields bed time.  We stumbled forward, each popping off to try to find a flat spot to sleep.  On top of a small ridge, we thought we might be out of luck, but the moon and the stars lit the way well and after half an hour of stumbling, I came across a small spot tucked under a few trees.  It was definitely small, but we were all beat and wanted to sleep.  Throwing our stuff down, we cowboy’ed, ate, and slept.

A beautiful sunrise woke us up streaming vivid pink and red into a bright blue sky.  We got on our way and about half a mile OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfurther or less, we found a sign that said, “campsite” with an arrow.  Gotta love that.  We had a sweet spot though, no complaints.

We got to follow amazing ridge lines for many miles that flowed into each other like waves.  With no roads or greasy civilization to be seen, we enjoyed the stillness of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  The only other people we saw were Silky Smooth and Blackout.

The trail took a more rugged turn as we dove deeper into the wilderness and further from Steven’s Pass.  Our ridge line contours took us all over the map, cutting up on, glimpsing a great view of a glaciated peak, then plunging down the other side, crossing large melt rivers, then shooting back up until we rounded each peak.  The three of us paused to put something in our rumbling stomachs which did not seem to appreciate the extra elevation changes.  They seemed to go through more food quicker.  After the last section, all of us over packed food and it was a fantastic and completely necessary decision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long after we plopped down, stuffed our faces, and were grabbing water from a stream, a few drops of water fell out of the sky.  We were utterly confused.  All of us had noticed the clouds rolling in, but the brain neurons just did not fire in the clouds/rain connection for a few minutes.  When we did realized it, we began waterproofing all of our stuff as quickly as possible.  It would be our fifth day of rain in almost five months, so we had almost nothing waterproofed.

With the rain, the wind picked up and sent chills though our bones as we hiked onward. We had heard there were no flat spots what-so-ever near Milk Creek unless we cowboy’ed on the bridge, at the bottom of the next gully some five miles away.  We made it about three miles before we settled in early around 6pm just to get out of freezing, wet gear and harsh wind.  Aiming for a marked campsite near a small lake, we got there and felt the full force of the wind whipping up from the valley.  The lake had large floating ice chunks in the middle and all the edges were frozen solid.  It appeared to have never fully thawed from the winter before.  The campsite looked awesome, but had no wind protection at all, so we took a chance and went a mile further and found relatively flat and kind of protected spots near a stream.

The morning was slow.  It was wet out.  And cold.  I don’t believe we started hiking until after 8:30am.  As we packed up as slow as we could, suddenly we heard a loud “CAAAA CAAAAAW!” and Natty came hiking down in solid black ninja rain gear.

“I knew you weren’t too far ahead because I could see your footprints were fresh in the wet trail!” Natty said.

He motivated us into moving and finally we set off down to milk creek.

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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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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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Surprisingly, we had easy hitches at dusk and right after dark.  All four of us got rides into Tehachapi for pizza.  After food, we took up residence at the cheaper Best Western (there were two) and ran into many hikers there at the morning continental breakfast.  GypcGirl was there and told us she had been there for five days, had tried to leave but got blown off the trail into a ravine, had to spend the night there, and bushwhack out back to Tehachapi.  Drop Zone appeared saying his hairline fracture in his ankle was still bothering him so he and GypcGirl decided to skip the rest of the desert and hitch to Kennedy Meadows.

We spent the day attempting to get everything done in the spread out town, and of course watching the season finale of Game of Thrones.  It was an impromptu zero day, but we got everything done, even hot tub time.  We met Dubs and The Wizard, found Voodoo and Twinkle Toes, and watched a lot of meaningless television.

The next day, we got moving.  We had a large climb out from the road, going past wind turbine after wind turbine.  For the most part, I was annoyed at the 25 dry miles and the amazing amount of water and food I was carrying.  The wind was strong for the first few miles, but I could mostly walk straight.

Then, as the climb ascended the ridge, shit got ridiculous.  First, I just felt like I was ataxic (drunk walk), yet I was completely sober.  Second, I realized I would lose my hat if I left it on my head, so I stopped to put it away and tie a bandana around my hair to keep it from hitting me in the face.  Third, I had to secure all the adjustment straps on the pack, and my braids, because they began whipping me in the face.

Dead Animal and Inspector Gadget got ahead of us a ways when Hop-a-long and I stopped to talk to Sparrow, Barracuda, and Magellan.  I started first, and got a little ahead of them until I rounded a switch back straight into the wind.  It came full force at me as I leaned directly into it and dug in with my legs.  My sunglasses flew straight off my face and soared over 40 feet away.  The wind had pushed me off of the trail, just below it and to stop myself from going further, I gave out onto my stomach to crawl up on my hands and knees once I realized it was not a gust and would not let up.  I attempted a small bushwhack to find my sunglasses, but I was unsuccessful.

After we all managed to get around that curve, we had a few switchbacks of ataxic walking until a larger challenge.  We had hit a small high point on one part of the ridge and the trail formed a small knife’s edge.  The stretch was about 15 feet with a gully on either side.  As we came up to it, we could see the dust and dirt flying horizontally from one side to the other.  I attempted to go only to get whipped straight off the trail.  I laid down on my stomach and crawled back to where Sparrow, Barracuda, Magellan, and Hop-a-long had huddled together.  We waited there in a pile for a few moments, realizing the wind would not let up.  I ventured out first on my hands and knees.  I made it across and set my pack down to go help Sparrow and Barracuda.  Hop-a-long and Magellan also made it behind me crawling.

We got to some Joshua and juniper trees not far from there and we all found spots dug out under the trees to camp for the night.  Right as we were going to bed, Bolt, Navi, and Natty showed up. They found trees as well and we all made a large group to climb the rest of the ridge in the morning since the wind was still bad and supposedly would get worse.

Once we got to the top of the ridge, we found Dead Animal and Inspector Gadget still in bed (they didn’t have us to wake them up).  They had found a nice protected spot in some trees and we all took a break there.  They had also seen a bear not far from them.

The whole day we battled some wind, but most of it we could walk straight in after the top of the ridge.  When we all made it to the water source, we found Astro and Sea Hag.  The “spring” was a large trough full of leaves and gunk and a broken pipe.  Luckily, we found a white pipe that had a decent flow, but definitely had some floaties.

Loaded up with water once again, we set off another ten miles.  We camped near a dirt road, thinking no one would come by since they usually don’t come that far out at dusk.  After scouting out the best spot under a tree, we set up and ate dinner.

“A Lexus!” Dead Animal said surprised.

“A Hummer?!” Inspector Gadget said.

“Lots of cars?” Hop-a-long said.

We watched a train of really expensive cars drive up and make a circle in the campsite we almost chose.  They moved them around and around so they could use all their headlights and fog lights to set up their large Walmart tents and pull out all their coolers.  If we weren’t so beat from the wind or the 23 mile day, we would have tried to yogi some beer.

Dead Animal and I got up and walked over.  They clearly spoke another language that I knew nothing of.  We guessed they were either Middle Eastern or Russian.

“Hi,” I started, “we just want to let you know you’re right by the PCT and we’re sleeping right over there.”

“Just in case you guys are shooting guns or something,” Dead Animal added.

“Ohhh ok!” One named Sam came up and introduced himself.  “We do target practice in the morning, but we shoot that way” he said pointing in the opposite direction.

In the morning, we yogi’ed some sodas from them and promptly left when they started shooting things.  We didn’t see any targets, but we left before we could investigate.

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We passed mile 600 that morning, but didn’t celebrate too long since we still had 2 miles to water and we were all a little low.  Robin Bird spring seemed ok, but the surrounding area was covered in cow shit.  Definitely aquamira’ed the crap out of that, despite it coming clear from a pipe.

That day, we had the luxury of two water sources.  Whoa.  We had to carry extra anyway because we couldn’t rely on the Kelso Valley Road cache.  The water report was unclear on how much it could possibly have, so we loaded up.

We got to the road at dusk, and lucky for us, the cache had plenty of water and we settled down for the night.  Natty, Navi, Bolt, Magellan, and Astro joined us in the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, we knew the following day was supposed to reach 95 degrees and we entered an exposed high desert at the cache.  Basically: we had 15 miles to the Bird Spring cache, with a decent amount of climbing all exposed.

We woke up at 4am and left by 5.  A breeze prevented us from moving a little earlier.  None of us were ready to go.  I even skipped breakfast for an hour and a half while I tried to catch the cool weather.

Shade followed us for quite a while due to the position of the trail climbing up the ridge.  That was perfect.  Once the shade disappeared though, all bets were off as the sun oven turned on to bake us.  On top of that, the trail was so sandy, it was like walking on a beach.  At a small breeze point, I stopped to savor the wind and looked down.  Someone had written “Fuck Sand” in the sand.  Amen!

By 11am, I started to get a little delirious, so I threw on tunes to keep my mind distracted while I finished up.  Inspector Gadget and I made it to the cache just before noon, and Hop-a-long got in about 20 minutes after.  Dead Animal had stopped at the one shady tree about 2 miles back and took a nap.

By about 2pm, everything was silent except for snoring.  Everyone was sleeping through the heat: Dubs, The Wizard, Cheesecake, Snowflake, Ornie, Waffles, Astro, Natty, Navi, Bolt, Inspector Gadget, Hop-a-long, and myself all perched under various trees playing the game of finding shade or comfort.  When the shade leaves, the sun wakes us back up and inevitably, we move to a less comfortable spot to stay in the shade.

At 4pm, Dubs, The Wizard, and Snowflake charged on up the next 2000 ft super exposed sandy climb.  We timed them up the first switch back as they went.  At 5:15, a large group charged on: Navi, Natty, Bolt, Astro, Magellan, and Hop-a-long went.  At 5:40, Dead Animal, Inspector Gadget and I charged up it, sweating immediately.

The climb was long and hot, but gave decent views from the top.  We had a nice-ish bumpy ridge walk after that.  We found Hop-a-long staking out a flat spot for us and we crashed pretty quick.

In the morning, we set out along the ridge walk ignoring Yellow Jacket Spring which was .7 mile off the trail and the description on the water report was “dig a hole in the mud, wait for it to fill up, then filter it.”  Gross.  We had all opted for the 20 mile water carry over that and the next one, McIvers Spring, that had a description that included “surrounded by cow shit.”

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