Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 67 (7/23) Leaving the Valley

I definitely  had wanted to do a quick stop here at VVR, so the plan was to leave this morning. I got up early, grabbed a huge breakfast of steak, eggs, pancakes and hash browns before packing up my gear. Turns out that Boyscout, Karma and Number One wouldn't be ready for the ferry around 9:30, so it was just Jeanie and I taking off north on the PCT. I closed out my shocking $100 tab (mostly food, but also beer, the package fee and ferry ride) then said my goodbyes. I'd met a number of cool JMT folks, but most of them were hiking out the Bear Ridge trail to save the ferry fee. It was only a mile extra southbound, but 5 extra northbound, so that was an easy decision for me since these miles don't count.

Back on the trail, our sights were set squarely on Silver Pass. Well, at least mentally, because we couldn't see the actual pass until the last half mile before it. On the way up there were three stream crossings we'd been warned on. The first was easily handled by walking over a downed tree. The second was very hyped up, and when we saw some people crossing downstream at a fork we went that way. We ended up bushwhacking back to the trail only to discover a crossing that didn't stand up to any of Bear, Evolution or Kings. Oh well. The final water experience was a waterfall crashing into the trail, and a dozen feet of wet rocks to traverse. It looked worse than it was, and despite being forced to wet our feet, we made it fine.

Silver Pass was another relatively low one, and most of the ascent was snow-free. The descent featured a mile of snow, and I had the chance to glissade on one good slope. When we got off the snow we turned on cruise again and rolled down to Tully Hole. From here the trail climbs a steep face with a series of tight switchbacks. This was tiring at the end of the day, but it was good to get it done now. We made camp down by Lake Virginia (which only slightly resembles the state). Jeanie is still carrying the two person tent she and Mike used, and I was amazed how easily one person was able to set it up. I won the race to set up camp, but just barely... We were serenaded all night by the sound if frogs ribbetting out on the lake.

Miles Today: 12 (+1.5  off trail)
Trip Mileage: 891

Photo: Standing atop a snowy Silver Pass

Photo: Virgina Lake - you can't really see the shape from here... 

Day 66 (7/22) Vermilion Valley Rest Day

Today was billed as a rest day, but that didn't mean I wouldn't be getting up early.  In fact, I had a great sense of urgency this morning because I had to make it 6.5 mikes to the ferry by 9:30 or against I would have to walk an extra 4.5 miles. That was an easy choice. I was out of camp by 6:30 and cruising up the trail. The first mile or so featured the remaining climb up Bear Ridge, followed by a long descent into Vermilion Valley and Lake Thomas Edison. I made great time on the climb, and easily cruised down the switchbacks into the valley.

On the way down I was treated to some sweet views of the Vermilion Cliffs. I swear these were the stock material for some artists drawing their idea of cliffs where dragons would live in a fantasy world. No kidding, I bet any gamer worth their salt would recognize these cliffs, and think to themselves 'Thar be dragons'. I snapped a few photos and smiled to myself about this esoteric connection.

Photo: Vermilion Cliffs

I finished off the trip to the ferry, only to find that it wasn't running today. Instead they were taking small fishing boats across the lake all morning, so the rush was a bit unnecessary. I came across with a southbound JMT hiker from Canada who had hiked that trail a few years prior. It was neat talking to him during the 20 minute ride across the lake. He's a teacher, so this is the perfect trail for him as it lasts only three weeks, and goes through some of the most scenic areas of the country. When we guy to the resort I ran into Boyscout, Karma, Number One and Jeanie who had been hanging around for the last few days. There were also a bunch of JMT hikers around, all a few days into their hike and just about to enter the best part of their trip.

I blew through the remaining half of Boyscout's breakfast burrito, then a tall stack of pancakes as well. For lunch I took down fish and chips, and then a burrito for dinner. I also snacked on extra JMTer food; Ana and her partner decided they didn't want their trail mix anymore. Most of those hikers had extra food because they haven't really hit the hiker hunger we experience, so they have plenty of food to spare. There are only 5 of us from the PCT and probably 20 from the JMT. We all chilled out and enjoyed some beers (first one free!) and talked about our hiking experiences both here in the Sierras and around the world. Someone had done the GR20 in Corsica, another had been to Turkey and Korea, another in Spain, plus people had been all over the US. Lots of hiking to do out there after I finish this particular trail.

Miles Today: 5 (+1.5  off trail)
Trip Mileage: 879

Photo: Boat ride across Lake Thomas Edison

Day 65 (7/21) Back on the Horse

This morning seemed like any other morning, except today would be different. Well, different in the fact that it finally was a day like those before I injured myself. I rolled out if camp late - probably close to 9, and made my way towards Muir Trail Ranch. At the junction with the side trail I met a hiker from Idyllwild, and it turns out one of the ladies in his group was originally from Glenview, IL. We chatted for a bit before I went on ahead. I took an early half-lunch break around the 5 mile mark right before a big climb towards Selden Pass. The group passed me while I ate, but I caught them a short 30 minutes later on the uphill section. I finally feel that I have most of my conditioning back as I could power through the climb today with no problems. Its nice to have that engine cranking hard again.

As I neared the plateau at the top our the climb I had a truly unique experience. The trail was flooded through a meadow, and as I crossed I saw small trout take off back into the stream proper. I never have and probably never will again see fish on the trail itself. Kind cool and I chuckled to myself about the strangeness of it. When I came to the top I saw the deep blue Sallie Keyes Lakes, and there was a young boy fishing there who had caught 6 fish so far. A few short strides down I ran into his grandfather who said they were catching dinner for the Muir Ranch. He was landing a good number of fish, so I left him to his work.

Now the real approach to the pass started,  and I climbed past the  partially frozen Heart Lake and up some boulders around patchy snow. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was looking out at the other side of the mountains and down into the Sallie Keyes lakes. No joke, the hardest part of Selden Pass was believing I was already at the top... The far side was also only patchy snow, and I made great time on the descent. I flew through Rosemarie Meadow and down towards Bear Creek, which also has a reputation for being difficult. I waded out into the chilly water, feeling it rise above my knees and then nearly to my waist. Right as I hit the center, the mosquitos struck, causing me to involuntarily flinch. I regained my composure, waited momentarily, then proceeded to the far bank. The time spent in one spot did allow me the chance to notice that the water level didn't remain constant but rather ebbed and flowed in a very dynamic way, changing depth by at least a few inches over the course of seconds. Intriguing, though I wondered to myself why I would expect a river to have a constant level like a lake would.

On the far side a JMT hiker was camped, and he was planning to cross in the morning. As we chatted a group of 5 hikers came up and prepared to cross. He decided he preferred going with the group, and begged them to wait while he broke camp. I left them to sort it all out... A few miles up I stopped for dinner while being swarmed by mosquitos. I ate with my bug headnet on, lifting it briefly for each bite. Did I ever easy tonight. I knew I would hit VVR tomorrow, so there was no need to ration food. I put down a 12 oz can of spam (1100 cal), a pack of potatoes (600 cal), rice (400 cal), and a snickers (200 cal). The 2,300 calories I consumed in that sitting are more than the average person should eat in a day... After dinner I was re-energized and worked my way up a bit of a climb before finding a good spot to camp. Tomorrow should be an early morning to catch the ferry, so I quickly retired and dropped right to sleep.

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 874

Photo: Sallie Keyes lakes from Selden Pass

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 64 (7/20) Seasons in Fast Forward

I started today on top of Muir Pass, still held in the clutches of winter under a thick blanket of snow. Wanda Lake below the pass was just beginning to ease into spring as the edges of the ice were slowly starting to melt. Descending further, Sapphire Lake showed a full springtime beauty, with a variety of plant life pushing up from the soil recently vacated by snow. And if that was spring, Evolution Lake was the epitome of summer; a deep blue lake nestled in the trees, with the bright sun beating down everywhere. I walked through three seasons in the course of 5 hours and 7 miles, and I was smiling the whole way.

At the bottom of the descent I came to a register at the McClure Meadow Ranger Station and discovered I was now only a day behind Fool, Good Karma,  Boyscout, and Molder (formerly Jeanie). My big day yesterday must've helped me close the gap. I'll probably see them all at VVR resting and eating. I ran into some interesting people today, including one guy originally from DeKalb, which is just about an hour from where I grew up. Small world. There was also a pair of girls who asked "How far do the trails go to the south towards Muir Pass?" I first gave the facetious answer of 'all the way to Mexico' but then answered their actual question by describing where the trail becomes obscured by snow. They thought they would need serious winter gear to go further, but I showed them my trail runners and trekking poles which were the only pieces of gear I needed to get to the pass, even with the snow.

Snow has been probably the biggest obstacle so far, but that changed today when I encountered Evolution Creek. This stream is swollen with snow melt, and there is even a sign advising a safer crossing point in case of very high water. I had ben advised that this alternate crossing wasn't necessary given the current conditions, so I went ahead and took the normal trail. Approaching the river, and yes I'll call it that because on the map it wasn't represented by a thin blue line but was instead shown as an actual body of water, it was that wide. In fact, I think I've seen lakes that were narrower than this creek/river. I would be doing a solo crossing, so patience and care were critical. I put all my electronics into bags in case I fell and got my pack wet, then I eyed the water.

The first 5 and last 5 feet would be easy as it was slow moving at the shore. The rest looked deeper and faster moving, but definitely not as fast as the Kings a few days ago. I mentally reviewed the course of action - face upstream, poles planted wide and out in front, knees slightly bent, leaning slightly forward into the current, test each step before committing, eyes only at my feet and towards the other shore (never downstream), and be willing to turn back if it goes over my belt. Okay, I'm ready, I thought to myself. The water was chilly but not numbingly cold. I was right about the first 5 feet, actually the first 10 were fine. Then the water level started rising. From my calf it rose up to my knees. Another step. Now mid-quad, and pushing hard on me. No thought if turning back yet, I still felt stable. Another step. I feel a damp sensation between my thighs - its cold (not warm - I never got that nervous!) and I realize the water is all the way up to the inseam of my pants. I steady myself, then take another step. The water recedes 4 inches. Another step, once again into shallower and slower water. With care I finish the last few feet to the opposite bank, where a massive sigh of relief pours out. I just made it through one of the most challenging crossings on the whole trail, and solo at that! I make a promise to myself not to get cocky, and to treat every one of the future crossings with caution and respect. Shockingly, I nearly got in trouble at one of the smaller crossings just a few miles later when my sunglasses slipped off the top of my hat and into the current. Before I could even curse at myself for my stupidity, my hand darted out and with my pole I snagged then before they made it more than a few feet downstream. I was so shocked and relieved, because in the snow there its no more critical piece of gear. If you spend too much time staring at the snowy trail without eye protection you're likely to get temporary snow blindness from the reflected sunlight. Definitely not good and something I'd like to avoid if possible.

I made a few more miles before dinner, and before I knew it I was ready for bed, though I had wanted to do a few miles after eating. I threw down my sleeping bag since the bugs didn't seem bad, and tried to sleep. As though summoned by an invisible force the moment I laid down, a horde of mosquitos descended on me. I tried putting on my bug net  and sleeping with that, but keeping the bag buttoned up tight with the net cinched over my face caused me to overheat. Summoning a massive side if courage I tore out of my sleeping bag, set up my tent in record time, and slipped inside, suffering only a dozen or so bites in the process. I guess this is the real sign of summer - small biting insects. Too bad I can't rewind to spring or winter until I climb the next pass...

Miles Today: 16
Trip Mileage: 854

Photo: Evolution Creek - Yeah, I walked across that

Day 63 (7/19) What a Day

So last night the Leisure Crew never did catch up to me after the descent from Mather around the Palisade Lakes. I figured they must've camped only a mile or two back, but with their propensity fourth late starts, I didn't really expect them to catch me in the morning. I left a note on the trail leering them know where I planned to camp, so maybe I would see then again in the evening...

The day started with a set of descending switchbacks, which were described to me last night by a pair of JMT hikers as "the gnarliest switchbacks" they had ever hiked. By the time I reached the bottom I wasn't all that impressed... Try stacking these up against the ones coming down the back of San Jacinto. No comparison. The rest if the morning continued the descent until I turned uphill into LeConte Canyon. I was now following the  Middle Fork of the Kings River, so after seeing two of the forks, I can't imagine what the full river must look like. A few miles up I stopped at the ranger station and told Ranger Rick about our experience at the top of Mather. He was thankful for the info and promised to put up a sign until the conditions cleared. I also had a chance to check out the register there, and I'm two days behind Karma, Boyscout and Jeanie, and a day behind Fool. I almost caught Muumuu and Avocado, but they took the 12 mile Bishop Pass trail out to resupply this morning. It was as I left the ranger station that I realized how fast I'd been going, and had to reconsider  my plans for the day. If I stopped below Muir Pass as planned, I would be done at 4pm. If I tried to go over, I may not make it before sunset and would face the prospect of night hiking over snow. Then I remembered several people had mentioned sleeping in the Muir hut atop the pass, and that sounded like a good backup in case the climb went slowly.

The next few miles to the start of the ascent went well, and I stored to snack at a creek crossing right before beginning the climb in earnest. While I was busy putting down a Slim Jim and a powerbar, a group of three came down from the pass and stopped to chat. The older gentleman succinctly described the conditions as "soft slushy shyte" which made me chuckle each time he repeated the phrase. One of the other guys did give me some hope as he said most stuff would soon be in shade and start refreezing. They also said the other side had a good few miles of snow, so my chances of making it all the way down to dry land were slim. Nonetheless, I wanted to get this pass done today, and I definitely wasn't ready to call it at this early hour (4pm). Sadly this meant I was leaving the Leisure Crew behind as there was no way they would attempt the pass today.

The start of the climb went well and I was on and off snow for a couple miles. Then at the second lake the snow became continuous and I drifted from the official trail. I preferred to follow some of the footsteps in the snow as that provided the most secure footing most of the time. I left the footsteps at a stream crossing where they used a snow bridge that I didn't trust. They are usually reliable in the morning, but as the day hours on and the site softens, they are more and more likely to collapse below you. After this I chose not to follow the tracks and make my own way instead. When I came up on the third lake, I got to see one off the neatest things. Standing at the outflow of the lake, I could peer across the mirror flat surface and watch as the still water slowly started to gain speed, swirling in tiny eddies, and building up to a deafening roar as it quickly cascaded down the hillside.

The climb to Helen Lake was straight up a snow bank, but at the top I chose a quick detour, gaining a little more elevation to see over a ridge down along the Black Mountain Divide. What a view! Totally worth the extra 15 minutes it took. Next it was up and around the massive frozen lake, now starting to open up around the edges. A week ago you could've walked straight across it, but today that shortcut would be far colder and wetter.

I realized I was standing among giants, as I looked around at all the 13,000+ peaks. The pass was only a half mile away, but on the now icy snow it seemed ti take forever. Finally, I saw it; over the ridge stood a stone hut, my destination for the evening. I snapped some photos of the sun setting behind the distant peaks, then brought my stuff inside. I set up my sleeping bag on wooden planks atop the stone bench lining the wall, and quickly drifted off to sleep at 12,000 ft.

Miles Today: 17
Trip Mileage: 838

Photo: Muir hut atop Muir Pass at sunset

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 62 (7/18) Mather &@!#er

There is no love lost between me and Mather Pass. What a day... We were camped 8 miles from the pass,  and with a late start we realized we would ve lucky to get over it by 3pm. A little better than yesterday, but definitely not good. Then, just a mile out of camp we came across a group of southbound JMTers who gave dire  warnings about the crossing for the Kings River. They suggested we stick to the east side and bushwhack for three or four miles until the trail crossed the water again. After leaving them I finally hit my stride and burned through the miles to the crossing. I had breakfast while waiting for the rest of the crew to catch up.

The South Fork of the Kings River definitely put all previous waterways to shame. Now I know what counts as a river, so I take back those statements from yesterday about Woods Creek. We scouted up and downstream, but no easy dry crossings jumped out. My preference was to wade it at the trail crossing where the whitewater momentarily calmed and the river widened out. Everyone else was in favor of skipping around using the east side, but I was set on getting the full trail experience. With Pinky downstream in case I fell, I slowly made my way out into the current. It came up just over my knees, and was flowing strong. I faced straight upstream, planted my trekking poles and gently sidestepped. On two occasions I became nervous: once when my pole slipped off a rock, momentarily throwing me off balance and causing me to lean precariously forward, and once when I couldn't find a spot to place my foot while attempting to avoid a deep hole in the riverbed. Upon reaching the other side I let out a whoop of joy, knowing I just successfully completed my hardest water crossing yet. Watching me helped convince the others that they had the right plan to stay on that side, so we all took off north, planning to meet up again at the pass.

I was still feeling great and my old energy was back, so I flew through the next few miles of relatively flat terrain along the river. I was in such a good groove that I didn't even stop for lunch until I reached the base of Mather at 1:30. By 2:30 I began to get concerned for the others. It was only 4 miles, so I couldn't be all that much faster than them... Plus, I could see back for a mile on the trail, and they weren't there yet. Three possibilities went through my head.

1. They got turned around/lost the trail and were headed up the wrong pass (there were 2 others nearby)
2. Someone got hurt and they had to slow down or stop
3. They were being slow due to bushwhacking or taking long breaks

I honestly hoped it was just #3, but I couldn't go up the pass with the idea in the back of my mind that it could be #1 or #2. I left my pack and started walking backwards on the trail. 20 minutes later they came into view, much to my relief. Turns out it was mostly #3, but they were also unsure of which pass they were  supposed to take, adding to the delay. They decided to take the direct route up by bouldering on the western slope, while I more closely followed the trail across a snowfield on the eastern slope. Halfway across I was able to turn uphill and kick steps straight up the snow wall, bypassing a half dozen switchbacks.  The snow was the prefect softness so I could kick steps but not slide too much. I waited for the group right before the final 20 ft ascent over snow, and boy am I glad about that decision. When everyone was there and had recovered from the climb we started in the final piece. Pinky went first, and made it just fine, despite postholing to her waist a few feet from the top. We wanted to avoid a similar experience, so we cut below her footsteps. Hannah Montana was leading, and as he went to kick a step, the snow below him gave way and he dropped down with both feet til his pack hit the snow. It didn't seem too terrible, despite the unusual two-footed posthole, that is until he reported that his feet were dangling over a 15 foot hole. That got our attention, and we backed up as quickly as possible, choosing to take a scramble over rocks instead. We left a note on the trail advising other hikers to do the same.

At the top Hannah was really freaked out because he realized just how close to disaster he had just come. We were all pretty rattled, and we discussed what we would've done had he dropped all the way down. Pullin' 'Em carries rope we  could've used to pull him out, except there were no points above us to tie off to. The consensus was that we would've had to dig him out like in an avalanche rescue. In retrospect I don't think all this talk helped Hannah's nerves at all... In fact, it took quite awhile for him to calm down enough to get out onto the snowfield for the descent. This was very slushy and I postholed a number of times. Finally I gave up on walking, sat down and slid 100 feet down. Then it was on and off of rocks and snow until I hit the valley floor. Here the suncups were horrendous, and within 15 minutes I had turned an ankle in one of the soft  depressions. I wasn't about to do that for another mile, so I went to the only open ground available, a creekbed. Most of the time I could stick to the bank, but I also did done rock-hopping and some wading. This was much more pleasant than walking on the snow. Unfortunately as the stream widened it became more difficult to stay out of the water, so I cut cross-country for the treeline. At this point the sun dropped below the adjacent mountain and my feet started to freeze. I raced the sun, occasionally catching it as the trail climbed out from around that ridge; I was always super thankful for the warmth. Then I came to something that totally blew me away. Around the lower Palisade Lake there was a flooded section of trail. Coming around a bend I realized the culprit - a large waterfall directly on the trail! I laughed to myself at this, in such sharp contrast to what I experienced in the first 700 miles in the desert, here was such an abundance of water that it was falling straight into my path. That was a good way to end such a challenging day, and I look forward to taking it a little easier tomorrow.

Miles Today: 12
Trip Mileage: 821

Photo: Kings River after successfully crossing

Day 61 (7/17) Behind the 8 Ball

This morning needed to be an early start because we had 10 miles to Pinchot Pass, and we didn't want to get there too late in the afternoon. Well, I don't think that really registered in our heads, as I was the first one out at 8 with the rest leaving camp by 9. Not quite the way to stay a long day... I thought I was making his time through the morning, and I stopped and waited dir the ready of the crew shortly after I cruised what I thought was Woods Creek. I was aided in this mistake by the fact that the creek I crossed was a foot deep and 20 feet across. That had to be Woods, right? Wrong.

Hannah corrected me when he arrived and placed us two molders back of where I had thought. Ouch, that's never fun to realize. As we hiked further, I realized that Woods Creek was much larger than I would've imagined, and each time I saw it through the trees I  became more nervous about the crossing. You know its a bad sign when you can hear the sound of the rushing water well before you can see it, so I was definitely not looking forward to this one based on the thunderous noise. My only hope was that the creek would widen out for the crossing so it would be shallow and slow moving. The reality was far better than I could've ever imagined. Around a bend I saw a pair of steel cables anchored to the ground, and then I saw that they were holding up a wooden truss. Still it didn't click until I saw the cables and the walkway to the opposite truss structure. A bridge! I was jubilant, and I know that feeling was shared by the group. We all got photos on this, the most amazing backcountry bridge we had ever seen; it spanned 50+ ft over a raging river. Well, technically it is named a creek, but I have to say this id's the biggest, scariest creek I have ever seen.

We spent the next few miles walking upstream along this 'creek' and I got some of the most spectacular shots of the raging whitewater. In several places there were massive drifts of snow over the while creek bed, worth a tunnel underneath for the water. I'm really curious how that forms in the first place in winter... The whole time since we left the bridge we were climbing, and boy was that a climb. Over 7 miles we gained 3,500 ft, but it wasn't constant - rather we would have a flat section followed by a serious incline.

Two miles from the pass we lost the trail, as usual, under snow. Pullin' 'Em and I went one way looking for it, and the other three took a lower route. We found it again about a mile in, right before the major climb, only to lose it 500 ft later. For the climb we each picked our own path over the rocks and about, trying to find the easiest way up. It was all pretty straightforward until  near the end of the final snow field, we couldn't find a way off the snow and into the rocks. The snow level had dropped enough to leave a serious gap between the edge of the snow and the rocks we wanted to be on... A few days earlier this wouldn't have been an issue, but the melting forced us to detour back down and around the rocks to a section which was still even with the snow. At the top of pass we checked the time - 6:30 - way later than we should've been there. Everyone was wiped out, and we had been running on fumes for the last few miles. We decided it was the combination of two passes yesterday plus a long lead-in to the pass that made it so difficult. Pinky decided to rename this pass from Pinchot to Pinche (sp?), which is the equivalent of a four letter word in spanish. Having agreed on the new moniker for the pass, we headed down for dinner and sleep. We needed to get about 6 miles ti ashida a repeat of today's struggles, but we were all beat. At 1.8 miles there was the first good, snow-free campsites, and we gladly took them. I was too tired to bother with my tent, so I cowboy camped, which I regretted as soon as condensation started collecting on the outside of my sleeping bag. I was still too stubborn to fix it though, so that's exactly how I slept all night long.

Miles Today: 12
Trip Mileage: 809

Photo: Woods Creek bridge, best backcountry bridge I've ever seen

Day 60 (7/16) On the Trail Again!

I was early this morning, pumped up with energy despite the chilly temperature. Pullin' 'Em was already up and pushing, but the other three were still asleep. Pinky woke up while I was packing, and I was out on trail before 7. I was concerned about the snow near the pass, because when we came down it was soft and slushy. As I climbed, I saw a new perspective on this trail since last  time there were huge snow banks and we avoided the trail in favor of bouldering in many places. As I came over the last rise to see the pass, I realized Java had been totally right about the snow melting fast. Where I had over a quarter mile of snow coming down, now I had only 100 meters on snow. What a difference that makes! On the other side things were greener and the trail showed some dry spots where water no longer used it as an overflow creek. I took a 30 minute breakfast break at the 3 mile marker, and then rested for an hour and a half at the trail junction.

Pullin' 'Em caught me during this second break, and we did the next climb together. On the way up we ran into a pair of girls who gave us dire warnings about the conditions ahead. 20 minutes later three JMT hikers told us it wasn't bad at all. We were more inclined to trust the JMTers as they seemed more experienced, so we pressed onward. During a break the rest of the Leisure Crew caught up and we took off to the pass itself. From the map I had a general idea of where the trail went, so I want concerned when the path disappeared under solid snow. We ran into a seasoned veteran hiker on his way down, and he directed us to the easiest route up. The trail switchbacked to the pass, and not only were most of these switchbacks under snow, the rest had been pretty well obliterated due to sliding. We picked the best route across boulders and snow, finally climbing onto solid ground for the last bit of ascent. The top was breathtaking and totally made the climb worth it. After a long break, we decided it was time to descend.

The first bit wasn't too bad because although it was on snow, so many people had walked in the same footsteps that there was now a knee high trench to walk down. You couldn't have fallen if you wanted too... From there we dumped out  onto a boulder field which we scrambled down to regain the trail. Near the 'bottom' the trail leveled out into a huge snow field, and we opted instead to follow the general direction were staying on the rocks. It was here that my focus slipped momentarily, and stepping on a loose rock, I took a nice tumble. I bruised my knee and ankle, but fortunately not the previously injured ankle. As we continued to follow the trail down to Rae Lakes we came across one point where there was a snow bridge over a rushing creek. The other four went across, but I didn't trust it, so I took a detour around to cross the open water downstream.

When we dropped down to Rae Lakes, they were absolutely gorgeous and crystal clear. We sae a bunch of 4" fish along the shore, and if we had a fishing permit I'm sure we could've caught our dinner. The PCT follows a narrow strip of land between Upper and Middle Rae Lakes, but due to all of the snow melt, the two lakes had joined and left us with a nice cold ford for late in the evening. On the other side we decided to go another 2 miles to Arrowhead Lake where wet could artists some of our good in the bear box there. Pullin' 'Em and I were in the lead, and we chere straight past the campsite. Only a quarter mile later did Pinky manage to catch us to turn back. What a depressing feeling to have to walk backwards on the trail... We all set up camp along the lake, quickly made dinner ans called it a night. Despite the low mileage we had done two passes and all that elevation gain and loss really does take it out of you

Miles Today: 11
Trip Mileage: 797

Photo: Kearsarge Lakes

Day 59 (7/15) A Leisurely Return

Today was my big day - back on the trail! I wanted to do about 5 miles so I wanted to stay later in the day to prevent myself from pushing too hard. Tom cooked up sausage and eggs for breakfast, so that was a grad way to start things off. After that o helped him start breaking down camp as he was returning home this afternoon. In terms of this injury I couldn't have asked for better timing. Around 9am we had taken care of most everything, so we took off down to town to pick up Java and the Leisure Crew at 10:00 as we arranged yesterday.

We were a bit early, but before long Java came around and said he would be taking a day off for his eyes because they were irritated and he couldn't wear his contacts. Then we found out that Backyard Boogie decided to go home due to a series of problems. We're all sad to side him go because he's a great guy and a lot of fun to be around. That left four people, all in various stages of getting ready. Caddyshack just got his boxes this morning and was taking care of getting  new shoes ordered. Pullin' 'Em had to wait for her box to be checked in at the PO before she could get it, so she was delayed by that. Pinky and Hannah Montana were both sorting through food and packing their bear canisters. As the for people sorted through their boxes and tossed items they didn't want or need (mostly extra food), Java, Tom, and I looked on and claimed anything that looked good. I'm pretty sure Java will eat for a week on the food he grabbed. The rest of the discarded stuff was placed in a hiker box at the motel - a box of extra stuff from hikers that anyone can claim.

When everyone had packed up we piled into the bed of Tom's pickup and went back up the hill. At the campsite Tom cooked the rest phd the ground beef and chorizo and  we all had lunch burritos. After milling around a bit longer, we hosted our packs, cinched the straps, and were on our way. It was probably just after 3 when we left and no one was especially interested in making it a big day. We climbed to the first lake, then the second, where we were tempted to make camp despite having only come 2.5 miles. A half mile later at Flower Lake we dis decide to make camp. I didn't minds as it was a good start and wouldn't  stress my leg much at all. This may ve the earliest stop I've ever had on trail so far, and it does feel nice to relax while the sim is still up. For dinner I had Mac n Cheese, then after chatting for awhile, we all turned in for an early evening.

Miles Today: 3 (side trail)
Trip Mileage: 789

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 58 (6/14) Testing, Testing

Today was the big day to check out how my stress fracture had healed. If everything went week I soups hike it tomorrow, and if not, I would probably go home... Needless to say I was a bit nervous for it all. First though, I wanted to get my new shoes. I ordered them from REI to be delivered to the post office, but I was concerned it may take too long to get there. I called in the morning, but the last said the box may not get there until maybe Saturday, which was terrible news. Despite that, when Tom drove Heather and Dan down to town, I went with to try my luck. I first grabbed a footlong at Subway and journaled a bit, then made my way to the PO. Despite the earlier warning of a potential late delivery, the box was there! Perfect, and just in time to test them out.

In the afternoon, after sorting through some food, it was finally time to head up the hill. I loaded up most of my gear, then headed back on to the trail for the first time since last Saturday. About a quarter mile up I ran into Java, who had apparently skipped back to Lone Pine  after the 4th and redid the section up to Independence with the Leisure Crew. He said there has been a shocking amount of snow melting and that he hardly recognized some sections. That was great news because I've been following the journals of people ahead of me like Noah and I was worried the snow was going to persist for quite some time. This will be better for my leg since the snow fields are what hurt to walk across on the traverses.

I made it out two and a half miles to Gilbert Lake where I planned to turn around. Coincidentally I also ran into the Leisure Crew there, so we all hiked back down together. My knees and feet ached, but my leg felt fine, so I feel really good about this. Assuming nothing hurts in the morning, I'll be heading out tomorrow. The plan is to do only a few miles tomorrow, a few the next day, then start cranking up again if all goes well.

It should be 8 or 9 days to Vermilion Valley Resort where I can pick up my next package. From there I'll hike to Tuolumne Meadows where I'll meet my Dad and probably knock out the last 20 miles of the John Muir Trail down to Yosemite Valley so I'll have hiked that trail in its entirety. At that point I have a decision to make. Either I continue hiking north and end at the California/Oregon border, or I'll drive north with my Dad far enough so that I finish at Canada before school starts.

I'm torn between these two options, but I'm leaning towards ending at Canada for a few reasons. First, it means I'll end in a predictable spot and can plan my trip home more easily. Second, I'll experience a more diverse variety of the PCT by skipping northern California and changing that for the Cascades. On the other hand, I like the idea of maintaining a continuous set of footsteps, but since I won't finish the while thing this year, that is less important to me. The other consideration is that I won't know anyone up in the section I skip to, so I'll be meeting all new people. Fortunately I don't have to make that decision until I fey to Tuolumne, so I have awhile to weigh those options. For now I'm just looking forward to hiking again tomorrow!

Miles Today: 5 (loop)
Trip Mileage: 789

Days 47-57 (7/3-7/13) Forced Rest

The clinic would be closed until Tuesday, and I was anxious to get an op pinion on my ankle. I made the decision to get an xray done at the hospital instead so I would get that info two days sooner. I was pretty convinced it was a stress fracture, but someone also gave me the idea it may be a bad bone bruise. Since the bus doesn't run on weekends, I first rode down the 14 miles to Independence with Tom, then hitched the next 15 miles to Lone Pine. That was a tough hitch, and it took over an hour despite relatively heavy traffic. The problem was likely that I didn't have my pack with me as I left it with Tom. I finally got a ride from a girl who does trail maintenance around Yosemite, and I was very thankful for her help.

At the hospital I barely caught the xray tech before he went home, and I was seen within 15 minutes. The doctor confirmed that I did in fact have a stress fracture in my fibula, two inches above the ankle, though it was already showing signs of healing. He said I need to take 14 days off, then looking straight at me said absolutely 7 days minimum. They day me up with an air cast and ace bandage, then sent me on my way. I laughed to myself as I had to limp back 5 blocks to the main road to try to hitch back. There I ran into Number One, Good Karma,  and Boyscout on their way to lunch so I joined them. Plus Chris, Mufasa and Space Cowboy were already trying to hitch, so it would take forever anyway. After lunch we ran into Fair Lady, Moses and Wolfpack, who had just come into Lone Pine. Wolfpack had some serious altitude related headaches for the last few days, so I pointed them to the hospital where they found he had minor brain swelling, and had to get some meds to take care of that. Kinda scary considering he hasn't even done Whitney yet...

Hitching back worked like a charm, as I got lucky enough to get a etude from someone already driving another hiker from further south. It was Sticks, who I hadn't swen since the Big Bear Hostel. Its crazy how the trail community works like that. Hikers converge upon Independence from all over for the 4th, so its a great chance to see everyone again. Half the people are camping at the sitel at the bottom of the hill, and the other half of us are up at Onion Valley with Tom.

For the 4th Independence has a big parade, and Tom arranged for the hikers to participate. We had two American flags and hung a small tent between them. We also loaded up packs with water balloons, as it was about 100 degrees. Throughout the parade we tossed balloons at kids on the sides, and three families had coolers full of balloons for retaliation. On the return trip Tom and some others ambushed us from the sidelines, and a full out water balloon fight ensued in the middle of the parade. The rest of the day was spent in the park drinking beer while waiting for the open pit barbecue at 4:00. That was pretty amazing and I had two servings of everything. The while day is a fundraiser for local scholarships, so it was beast to support that.

In the evening we went back up to the campsite, and then for the fireworks we came halfway down the hill to see the fireworks. It was cool to see then from above instead of from below. We went back to the top, where most people got ready to head back up the pass, and a few of us prepared for other plans.

For Now, Canadoug, and No Pain were going north to Mammoth Lakes, a number of people were returning to Lone Pine, and Fool, Let It Be, Driftwood Dog and I went back to Kennedy Meadows with Steve Climber. He's spending the aimer working at the cook shack in Kennedy, so he's met almost all the hikers this year. Back at Tom's I got a set of crutches and kicked back for awhile. I read through for books in the first four days, and spent some good time chilling out with the other hikers. Over a dozen puerile came through during my tone there, so it was cool chatting with all of them. Hopefully I'll run into some of those people back at Independence when I get back on trail.

On Tuesday Tom went back up to Onion Valley for a few days of vacation, so I went up with him. I figured starting again Friday would be 12 days off, so that's probably enough. Wednesday was the first day I started walking again, and I ran into some old friends - Number One, Good Karma, Boyscout, plus Jeanie who I hadn't met yet. They had cine out of Lone Pine aster the 4th, and took a few days off once they got here. I'm going to be a few days behind then, but I may see then all at VVR if they stop there for a few days. Also after they left that evening Dan and Heather came down, and our turns out that they started at Whitney on the 3rd, which us probably the hardest place to start hiking. They didn't have maps either, so they struggled in that first 50 miles. I do feel sorry for them, and hopefully it gets easier for them going forward.

I plan to do a test how tomorrow and if all is well I'll be back on trail for real on Friday. Wish me luck!

Miles Today: None :-(
Trip Mileage: 789

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 46 (7/2) A Painful Exit

Lets just say that today hurt a little bit. I woke up and noticed my ankle had gotten worse overnight. Great. It was only 7 miles to the trailhead, so no problem, right? Not quite. The trail was still under a good bit of snow in some places, and though waking in flats was fine, sliding sideways caused some serious discomfort. Positive ID also struggled this morning while packing as his finger was stiffs and painful, and he couldn't really roll things to put then away. That meant we had a slightly later start, which was bad news later. The climb to the pass wasn't too terrible, plus the views were fantastic. The problem came on the other side...

The trail traversed a snow field for a quarter mile around the rim of Big Pothole Lake, so we had no choice but to follow that route over the snow. Due to our late start and the fact that we were in an eastern slope, the snow was already soft and I had ti use all my will power to force myself across that. After we regained the trail, we were on and off of snow for the next three miles. We ran into a bunch of people on their way up, and the guys made fun of me for always saying things were going 'Pretty Good' when asked, even though I was visibly limping. Looking at the scenery was my only distraction, and this landscape didn't disappoint. On the way down we passed dive lakes, each more beautiful than the last, plus quite a few cascades and waterfalls. No winder this is such a popular weekend hike. People kept asking us about conditions higher up, and we usually said it wasn't too terrible. Then we realized after going over Forester and Whitney, our perspective was a little different, and we probably were giving these day-hikers poor advice for their experience level. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future.

When we hit the results, Tom from Kennedy Meadows was there at the campsite with some other hikers. He has been camping out all week til the 4th, abs helping hikers at the same time. My first priority was getting medical attention, so I called mt insurance company to find the nearest clinic. After explaining that no, I don't know the zip code, I finally found the nearest one was 30 miles away in Lone Pine, and it closed in 45 minutes until Tuesday after the holiday. Looks like I'll be here awhile... We all went down the mountain with Tom to the gas station and Subway in town, where I got a shower and a footlong, in that order. We also stocked up on beer for the evening before driving the 14 miles back to the campsite for a bonfire and then sleep.

Miles Today: 6 (sidetrip)
Trip Mileage: 789

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 45 (7/1) Forester Pass

Today a massive obstacle stood in the way of our northward progress. Forester Pass towered above us at 13,200 ft. From our campsite we could see that the trail had been engulfed by Tyndall Creek, so we made our own route up the rise. My shoes had only partially dried overnight, and they were soon soaked again due to the marshy terrain. At least I started off better than Positive ID, whose GoreTex boots have a hole in the toes that leaks water and never dries. It was three miles to the pass, and we only stepped foot on the trail twice before setting out across a massive snow field. This was much nicer walking than previous times on snow because it was still solid from the overnight chill. Early starts are critical to crossing passes because you want to get up and over the pass before the snow softens in the sun and slows you progress to a crawl.

Looking up, the pass was a wide V in the mountain, with a treacherous looking chute right below it. We spotted our switchbacks about halfway up the sidewall, and had to climb a 30° snow incline to get there. Fortunately many have come before us, and there were good foot holds to follow most of the time. After gaining the switchbacks it was a short walk before we had to cross the chute. This hadn't yet been in the sun, so it was hard ice. Once again, the old footsteps were critical. I used my ice axe for an upper handhold while steeping carefully from one spot to the next. Suddenly it was over and I was at the other side. Not terrible, but nothing to laugh at either. I wouldn’t want to do it like Steamy who had no poles or axe for support. From there we had only a dozen feet to the top, where we were treated to awesome vistas to both the north and south.

We hung out on top for awhile before deciding it was time to descend. The wait was too long though as the sun had already softened the snow on the descent. Within a few steps I had my left leg plunge down all the way to my hip. I laughed and I struggled to get myself out and moving again. We quickly decided to give up on the snow covered trail and make our own way down. We got to a ridge and looking below we saw a snow filled valley. Perfect for glissading, that is, sliding down the mountain on your butt. The next 300 ft of descent were awesome, then we had to walk to the next ridge before we could repeat the joy-ride. This made the miles seem to go faster, but when we stopped at noon we realized we were still moving very slowly. Positive ID was determined to pick up time by getting off the snow and onto dry land, but not five minutes after getting going again, he hit a slick spot, fell and dislocated a finger. Before Steamy or I realized what happened he had popped it back in. We fixed him up with some tape to immobilize it, and some ibuprofen to dull the pain. And just like that we were going again. When you get minor injuries out here, you really learn to deal with them, shake it off and keep going. Honestly, you don't have much choice. If it is really serious you can be med-evac'd out, but that is super pricey and is only be used for the worst emergencies. For anything else, you can find the nearest out and make hings work until then.

That's how it had been with my ankle for the last three days. It hurts to walk in my boots, so those are hanging from my pack and I've been wearing my old shoes that I planned to use for stream crossings. Its not the best solution, but I'm making it work and going out Kearsarge Pass to Independence where I can see a doctor. I'm actually very nervous about this, as I've slowly come to realize the severity of this injury. It doesn't hurt to walk, but certain things make it explode in unbearable pain. I'm concerned I may have a stress fracture in one of the bones just above the ankle on the outside of my foot. Only an x-ray will tell for sure, so that's the plan for tomorrow; 8 miles of hiking to town, then doctor, or hospital if nothing is open on a Saturday.

In any case, that will be resolved when I get to town. In the mean time, we had a gorgeous day of hiking along Bubbs Creek, which we fortunately did not have to cross. It was really interesting to see how the creek changed, as in some areas it was 20-30 feet wide and flowing slowly, and in others it was 10 feet across and roaring with whitewater and spray everywhere. Towards the end of the day we ran into a number of southbound section hikers who were interested in reports about the section we just came through. We emphasized the alternate method of crossing Tyndall, and they appreciated the info. We ended up camping about a mile into the side trail out over Kearsarge Pass, and everyone is right about how beautiful this area is. I'm glad I get to see it, even if it isn't for the best of circumstances.

Miles Today: 14
Trip Mileage: 790

Photos: Hiking the snow field before Forester Pass

 Photo: Positive ID and Steamy crossing the snow chute on Forester

Photo: All of us (me, Positive ID, Steamy) at the highest point on the PCT

Photo: Vista looking north from Forester. We walked to the left, then glissaded down 1000 ft to the basin

Day 44 (6/30) The Most Beautiful Place

So today was something of a hangover from the Whitney climb yesterday. We all agreed on a short day and a late start, but I don't think any of us expected that to be just after noon. Honestly, it felt great to sleep for 11 hours and then spend another hour eating breakfast while watching a pair of brave yet shy chipmunks day around us, eyeing the food bags on the ground at our feet. After that, we killed time by slowly packing up while waiting for shoes to finally dry from yesterday's evening slog through snow/slush.

When we finally got going, we quickly hit the junction where the PCT joins the JMT (John Muir Trail) for the next 180 miles. We'll be walking it opposite how most people travel the JMT, as they start up north in Tuolumne Meadows and end at the summit of Mt Whitney. For the record, if anyone is ever interested in hiking the JMT and needs / has a spot for another hiker, I am absolutely game for it, and would only ask that I get a month or two notice. This area is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I would love to make it back here for another trip.

Speaking of the beauty here, we were treated to some awesome views of the mountains, including the other side of Whitney. We also got to look ahead and catch a glimpse of Forester Pass, the highest point on the actual PCT at 13,200 ft. Despite only going ten miles, we covered a lot of ground as the trail takes a relatively direct route for once. Snow was once again present on northerly slopes, but for most of the day I managed to keep my feet dry. That is, until we reached Bighorn Plateau where we walked a mile over softened snow. The worst part is always when you hit a particularly soft part and suddenly your leg drops through to your knee or higher. Actually, worse than that was when I postholed over a marshy area and upon hitting bottom my shoe filled with ice water. I desperately wish I could wear my boots through this because my feet would stay dry the whole way. That won't work for me though as my left ankle still hurts when I wear that boot.

The only time I did choose to endure that pain was for our first of three stream crossings. For this one I was able to walk on rocks just below the surface while stabilizing myself with my trekking poles. The boots kept my feet and shoes from getting wet, which was a welcome relief. All the rivers and streams are high due to snow melt, so the normal rocks or logs you can cross on are submerged. At the second crossing both Steamy and Positive ID chose to walk across, but it was too deep for my boot trick again. Instead I walked first a quarter mile upstream, then twice that distance downstream before finding a suitable downed tree to walk across. The final stream was at the end of the day when my feet had already been soaked and frozen. I wasn't about to search for another 30 minutes to find an easy crossing, and my shoes were already soaked, so I just charged ahead in my shoes. That was much better than the barefoot crossings I did yesterday, so I am absolutely sold on the idea of stream shoes. Now if only I could make sure the pair I use for streams isn't the pair I have to wear all day... On the far side of the last stream we walked maybe a half mile up at best before finding a suitable set of campsites. Dinner quickly followed as the sun dropped below the mountain wall to our west. This may set the new standard for most awesome campsite, as we are in the mouth of a valley, with massive mountains on three sides, and a creek running beside us down to the river at the center of the valley. Absolutely gorgeous.

Miles Today: 10
Trip Mileage: 776

Photo: Sierras to the west

Day 43 (6/29) On Top of the Country

Today was the big day to summit Mt Whitney, the highest point in the continuous 48 states. I didn't really get nervous for the climb, despite the fact that we would gain over 4,000 feet of elevation, going well above anything I had ever experienced. Steamy, Positive ID and I would all be doing it together, so being in a group added some level of comfort.

Before we left though, Positive ID had a little run in with the bear box. These are metal lockers used to store food so bears can't get it. Well last night Steamy unlocked it, and after we put our stuff in, Positive ID was still finishing his meal. Since it was late, we took off for bed, and left him at the box. Somehow, he was unable to figure out how to lock it (there are two spring loaded metal clasps) so he jerry rigged it closed using a rock and tent stakes. We heard about this in the morning and we mercilessly made fun of him for being no smarter than a bear.

Once we finally stopped laughing we had to do a sizable creek crossing. As my ankle still hurts, I've been using my old shoes instead off the boots. While normally not a problem, I had expected to use these as stream shoes, and I didn't want to get then wet first thing in the morning. So barefoot was the choice, and I went across that 15 foot span as fast as possible. Nonetheless, the short time in there was enough to make my toes numb, probably because this is ice cold snow melt water. We all dried our feet on the other side, only to hit another crossing in about a mile. This one was much more painful for some reason, and it took quite awhile before I was walking normally again without babying my toes. We got to the Crabtree ranger station and dumped all our extra gear in the bear box. I wouldn't need my next 5 days of food, my tent, my sleeping bag, or some other stuff. So walking out my pack felt amazing. I almost couldn't even tell it was there. Essentially all I carried was my layers of clothes, extra socks, my ice axe, boots, and food for the day. This must be how those ultra-light hikers feel, and boy is it ever nice.

The first few miles were cake - the trail was clear, if a bit muddy, and it was a nice gentle slope. Then we hit Timberline Lake and things began to change. We would lose the trail briefly under snow only to find it again shortly. But then we came to a part where the snow didn't ever break, and we only had our maps and some faded footsteps to go by. We took a short break, and were greeted by one of the masters of this mountain, a marmot. These curious little guys are about the size of a beaver, and they are the kind of animal you automatically want to pet. We watched this one for awhile, and later had a group of five around us at one of the higher lakes. They were a fun distraction during the early ascent, and I'm glad I got a few nice photos of them.

Although the marmots provided sound fun, the best part was watching the scenery unfold around us. Once we climbed to Guitar Lake, the opposite side of the valley began to offer spectacular views of the rest of the mountains we would cross in a few days. We lost the trail again, but saw some switchbacks higher up the mountain, so we cut across snow and climbed up to get there. At this point the difficulty level changed for me. The trail became steeper, and you couldn't avoid the snow on the trail - you had to go across. The ice axe came out to provide stability. We climbed for hours, until finally we reached the trail junction where the trail down the other side meets up with ours. From here it was just 2 miles to the top. The altitude wasn't hurting me as much as I originally expected, but I was very clearly slowing down as a result of it. Then again, that wasn’t a bad thing as it allowed me to enjoy the views. It just kept becoming more spectacular. Sadly, the wind had really picked up, so I put on a layer and gloves, which prevented me from taking photos for the last two miles. We met a number of people coming down from the summit, returning to the Whitney Portal they had come up. One group gave us some excellent advice about the final snowfield; don't bother with the trail, just go straight up it and rejoin the trail up top. Excellent advice that made the final ascent much safer by cutting down on the time we spent on icy snow. When we hit the summit, we were the only ones there, and had it all to ourselves. After a victory yell the first order of business was to warm up out if the wind, so we huddled in the small hut built for exactly that purpose. We all figured they must have used a helicopter to get all the materials up, that is until we saw it was built in 1909. Impressive. After eating lunch and warming ourselves in the hut, we ventured outside for photos and to soak in the view. We could see back to Mt Langley, which we crossed two days ago, and then dozens of snow capped peaks to the north, our next challenge. As I took it all in, I realized I had never seen anything quite like it, and probably wouldn't again. What an experience. Its this kind of day that really make the trip for me.

Now, time for the return to the valley floor. Going down was great, except when we had to cross snow while descending. Then you take extra caution with each step, especially on the sun softened snow of the afternoon. As we descended ominous dark clouds gathered overhead, but fortunately didn't dump anything on us or make life miserable with a lightning storm (numerous signs warned of that danger). That was lucky, and we were sure glad we left the summit when we did. I was lagging the others by a bit due to my ankle, but they were kind enough to wait up every mile or so. When wet got off the switchbacks, it was back into miles of now soft snow. Every few steps my foot would punch through, rewarding me with a nice jolt to the knee, along with a shoe full of snow. Postholing as it is fondly called is one of the big problems you face walking on snow in the afternoon. Ah well, the last few miles down were a breeze and we made it back to the meadow and our gear right about 8pm. So much for this being an easy day. My legs were spent, and my lungs were recovering from the punishment of such thin air. But on the whole I felt great knowing I had just summited the tallest peak in the continental US. Come on PCT, beat that!

Miles Today: 17 ( side trip)
Trip Mileage: 766

Photos: Looking west from Mt. Whitney

 Photo: Sierras from Guitar Lake

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 42 (6/28) Into the Heart of the Sierras

So I ran into a couple problems today, some good, some bad. I'll start with the good one. As I take photos I sometimes give them captions in my head, things like "Awesome lake with a perfect reflection" or "Meadow where I was nearly eaten alive". Well this morning I came over a rise and took a photo I decided would be subtitled "Most among view I've seen so far". Then about half an hour later, I had a new photo that earned that title. And so it continued through the day, even including two more in the last mile. This is going to be rough - I'm not sure I'm ready for this much natural beauty all at once... I'll manage though.

So for the bad problem. My left ankle was hurting like crazy this morning and I literally made it 20 steps before deciding it was not walkable in those boots. Fortunately I brought my old trail runners for stream shoes and I swapped into those. Problem solved, no more ankle pain. Had it not gone away I was concerned I might be looking at a stress fracture (I may still be, its just not weight bearing...) It was still painful on contact, but at least those shoes don't constantly irritate it. That got me through the first 10 miles of the day, but then a new issue came up. I started feeling shins splints on my left leg - the one that had been good before - and they steadily grew worse. The last three miles after dinner were awful, but I tried going back to the boots and it was excruciating. I'm not sure how I'll address this going forward; I can only hope that my ankle heals up and allows me to wear my boots again pain free.

With all the shoe trouble I had a terribly late start. In fact, I only made three miles by noon. Yikes. I did get to chat with a half dozen people headed south to cottonwood pass which I hit yesterday, and it was best to hear about the trail ahead. One group had planned to summit Whitney but one guy had serous back pain so they altered the plan for less miles and less elevation gain. A pair of thru hikers I met in Kennedy Meadows - Homemade and Post Op - were headed backwards to leave trail and jump up to Oregon. They decided there was too much snow and they weren't going to deal with it. Granted they had no ice axes, but nonetheless it takes a lot to make a thru hiker turn back. Nevertheless I grinned and carried on northward, interested to see these conditions ahead.

Once again today water was not an issue, except for the stuff on the trail. In one spot there was a mini waterfall down onto the path I needed to take. The widest though was Rock Creek. For a few miles we crossed little feeder streams, until the creek on my right had swollen into a massive beast of rushing water. I ran into Steamy at the crossing, and he had scouted around for a good way to cross. The consensus was a three foot diameter log across the whitewater as we couldn't find any calm wide areas on this swollen stream. Steamy went first, considered walking it, then thought better of that idea and scooted across on his butt. I followed suit, but my longer legs dangled down further and one shoe got wet. Dang, I'd been trying to avoid wet feet as much as possible. At the other side I changed socks, rested briefly, then began the final climb for the day. As usual Steamy outpaced me, and he was soon gone from sight. I came down into an open dry meadow where I relaxed and made dinner. As I packed up, who comes walking up but Positive ID. He had run into Homemade, realized he was only a few miles back, and burned rubber all day to catch up. I hadn't expected to see him so soon, especially since it turns out he didn't leave Tom's for an extra day. We did the last few miles to Crabtree Meadow where we caught up with Steamy, stashed all our food safely in the bear box, and headed off to bed to rest for the massive climb up the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Miles Today: 15
Trip Mileage: 766

Photo: Siberian Outpost Wilderness near Rock Creek

Day 41 (6/27) Brian vs. Altitude

Wake up at 9,500 ft in camp. Climb 1,000 ft. Descend 2,500. Climb 2,500. Descend none. Climb 1,000. That's my day in a nutshell. I'm currently camped at 11,250 ft, which is once again a new personal high. Thankfully my lungs and body have started adapting to the thinner air up here, so I didn't struggle nearly as much as yesterday. Sounds like I'm winning this matchup.

So let me fill in the rest of the details for today. That first climb brought me to a really cool lookout where I could see out to the east for miles and miles. I also came across a huge snow bank and proceeded to make iced coffee using one if those starbucks via instant coffee mixes. Delicious. I have there more from the hiker box and I intend to make all the same way.

As I started my descent I crossed a saddle between two peaks. I wasn't 30 seconds past it when I heard a distant rumble. I looked back, and to my absolute shock I witnessed a jet fighter (F-16 or F-22) banking hard through the gap between peaks, not more than 100 meters off the ground. I swear if I had thought fast enough I could have read the numbers on his wing. Some kind of training must be going on, because throughout the day I heard about a dozen jets screaming around the mountains. Maybe since its the end of the month they’re using up their remaining fuel quota...

Shortly thereafter Steamy caught up to me, and we hiked together for most of the day. At lunch we caught the Bum Brothers, but they took off before us and I didn't see them again all afternoon. Steamy was having problems with his shoes rubbing his ankles raw, so he tried walking barefoot for a bit, then took the blunt force approach. Pulling out his knife he sliced and hacked away until the offending material was all on the ground. He said it worked wonders, so that's positive. I'd have to be in dire straights before I took a knife to my boots, but I guess we all have our breaking point with these things.

Reports had mentioned we would be off snow only until Trail Pass, and we hit that at 4pm. The next one was Cottonwood Pass, and that was now over 11,000 feet. Plus, we would be walking on the northern face of the mountain, so I was definitely concerned about snow. We were on and off snow banks for the whole 5 miles, and that can sure be challenging. The worst part is getting on and off the snow because the edges are the thinnest and most likely to cause you to slip. Also, all the snow melt was creating lots of tiny rivers along the trail, so for once water was not a concern. We even came to one point where there was a snow bridge over a rapidly moving channel of water. I tested it with my poles before hurriedly crossing. In the last half mile to Cottonwood Pass we hit our first real snow field which stretched for a couple hundred feet along the trail. I've been so glad to have these boots here, not only for traction but also for the fact that they are waterproof and let me slog straight through the small puddles and streams.

Over dinner I had an amazing view of the mountains changing colors as the sun began to set, and the only downside was that the vista would distract me long enough for the mosquitoes to strike. The cool thing about today is for the first time I now have snow capped peaks in every direction. Throughout the day there were two that moved steadily southward from my perspective, and now I can look our in any direction and see mountains. I’ve truly entered the heart of the Sierras. I can't wait for the point in a few days when I'll be able to look out from a high point and see nothing but the snowy Sierras for miles upon miles.

Miles Today: 17
Trip Mileage: 751

Photo: The view of the Sierras

Photo: My constant hiking partner

Day 40 (6/26) You Take Me Higher And Higher

For the first time in recorded history, I was two full miles above sea level. The day started early - at 5am several people camped near me started getting ready. By 5:45 the first passed my campsite; it was Bark Eater, who I had met yesterday at Tom's. Within about thirty minutes a group of six section hikers had also gone by, so I figured it was time to get moving. I hadn't planned well though in my rush to get to bed; I had camped too closer to the Kern river, out in the open. Everything had been covered in a fine later of condensation, which subsequently froze. At least it was easier to get it off that way... My food was untouched, so I said thank you for that and quickly packed up.

The first order of business was a 2,000 ft climb from 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Not more than an hour into my hike I looked across a stream and saw an adult black bear foraging around a downed tree. The sound of the water must have masked my approach, so I got some awesome photos and a video before he noticed me and sauntered off. By my estimate he was probably a good 200 lb bear. After that I crossed a number of small streams, and for the first time all trip I was swarmed by mosquitoes. I was wearing long sleeves and long pants as usual, so their only targets were my hands, neck and face. I got into the habit of carrying both poles in one hand and swatting with the other. About halfway up I ran into the Bum Brothers breaking camp, so we chatted for a little before I continued on. It wasn't long before first Travis then Marcus overtook me, as I was struggling under the dual challenge of a heavy pack and high altitude. When I crossed 9,500 ft I really did notice the difference, but this time it was easier than when I first hit this elevation on Baden Powell. We crossed 10,000 and made it all the way to 10,400 (2 miles!) before descending again. My body loved the descent back down to more reasonable altitudes.

On the north face there was still some snow, so I collected some for a lunchtime Sierra Slushie. Delicious. After lunch I dozed off for about an hour. Wow, walking at this altitude really takes it out of you. I can't imagine how it will be when I summit Mount Whitney in a few days, especially because it is the tallest point in the continental US at something like 14,500 feet. My plan is to climb in the early morning and catch the sunrise from the top. Should be pretty awesome, plus since its a new moon the view if the stars from the top should be breathtaking as well.

At the bottom of the descent I ran into Steamy sitting next to a creek, totally mosquito free while I was being swarmed. His secret was Off! and I have to remember to pick some of that stuff up when I have a chance. As I went ahead I noticed some funny circles drawn in the dirt on the trail. Looking closer I realized someone had circled bear tracks, and they ran along with the PCT for a good 100 yards before veering off. So one bear sighting plus signs of another. And this is only a couple dozen miles into the Sierras... Steamy caught up to me when I was resting next to Death Canyon Creek and we talked about the bear tracks. We both drank from the creek despite the name - it would't be named that for the water, right? I did purify it with iodine just to be safe. Looking back though, one desert water source was named Poison Creek, but the water report indicated that it was safe, and most of us drank from that as well... From the creek there was another 1,500 ft climb to 10,600 and I had no intention of making it all the way this evening. 20 miles in these conditions as my body acclimates is stretching it too far, and the extra weight is no help either. Plus, this is one of the areas I was most excited to see, so why in the world would I want to rush through it? I did the first two miles of the climb before dinner, plus another after. The mosquitoes made my dinner take twice as long due to the constant need to swat at them, so I can understand why some people will set up a tent at dinner, even if they are moving on right after.

Especially since I've now seen one bear and signs of another, stealth camping is critical. That means cooking in one spot, then walking on further to a spot that doesn't smell so strongly of food. I even made sure to brush my teeth at dinner so the toothpaste wouldn't attract a bear tonight. Part of my food is in bags, the rest in the bear-proof canister, so I'm rolling the dice once again that I can get away without attracting the attention of this forest's hungriest inhabitant.

Miles Today: 19
Trip Mileage: 735

Photo: Bear!

Day 39 (6/25) Who Cares About Weight When You Have Scenery Like This?

The plan was to get out early this morning with Positive ID. He slept in, but I was in no mood to wait around after two days off, so I packed up to get out of here. The bear can weighed a ton, plus I added the weight of my ice axe, and other winter gear. With 2L of water for the hike out, the pack was absolutely stuffed, and I hardly wanted to pick it up. Tom has a scale out in the front yard, and I weighed in at 70.5 lbs. Apparently that is the record leaving Kennedy Meadows this year... Well, more than half of that is food and water, so the weight should drop quickly. I hope. My real concern is for the structural integrity of the pack, so I’m going to have to avoid bouncing so I don’t rip out a shoulder strap or something like that. I got pancakes and coffee, then said all of my goodbyes. Somehow, even this monstrous weight didn’t earn me a trail name...

The hike back to the trailhead showed me that the weight was going to be a bit of a problem. The pack isn’t designed for this much weight, so I have to put an inordinate amount on my shoulders instead of allowing my hips to carry the majority of the weight like usual. I wasn’t too thrilled about this, so a few miles in I stopped, ate some of the food, drank a bunch of the water, and started sorting through gear. I swapped out the baskets on my trekking poles for the winter ones, and put the smaller (lighter) dirt baskets in my pack. I wrapped all my para-cord on one of my trekking poles, and stuffed my pockets with small gear like my headlight, emergency blanket, and so forth. Overall, I probably pulled about 6-8 lbs off my back, and I could definitely tell the difference. When I stopped for lunch I was passed by the Bum Brothers (Marcus & Travis). They had left an hour after me, but with lighter packs, they were making much better time. Oh well, I’m just glad to be on the move again. I figured some of the other guys would catch me later in the day, but that never did happen. The hiking was relatively similar to some previous sections, with lightly forested areas, some burned sections, and a generally uphill slope. That all changed 10 miles in, when I came around a bend and looked out over Beck Meadows. I froze in my tracks, and a smile crept over my face. I looked out over a lush green meadow, ending in a set of mountains, and through the middle of them, loomed a snow-capped peak. The Sierras were more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I apologize because the photos really don’t do it justice. If you ever have the chance, taking a trip out here is totally worth it, and I haven’t even made it to the best parts yet... This trip has been a dream come true, and I hated going to bed at the end of the day because it meant I had to wait another 8 hours until I would be back hiking again.

Miles Today: 14
Trip Mileage: 716

Photo: Beck Meadows, where I honestly could not stop smiling

Day 38 (6/24) I Just Couldn’t Escape

Soooo... the plan was to get out this evening. Once again, when you’re in town, its easy to get distracted and draw things out. I started packing the bear canister, and it was evident that all my food would never fit into it. I wanted to do the full 190 miles to Vermillion Valley Resort. The other option was to hop out at 40 miles to Lone Pine or at 90 miles to Independence, but in both cases it is a long hitch, and I’d like to avoid that if possible. On the other hand, this was a TON of food. Literally, it felt like a massive brick. I threw it on the scale and it clocked in at an impressive 36 pounds including the bear canister. Ouch. Well, 11 days of food, 3 lbs a day, that’ll do it. As I started packing up, I realized the bear can would be nearly impossible to fit into my pack without some serious reorganization. I had to put the sleeping bag at the bottom, with the bear can vertically on top. This left no room for my tent, so that was strapped under the hood of the pack, hanging out each side. Passable, but definitely stuffed. I weighed my pack, minus a few things, and it clocked in at 62 lbs. Thats terrible, and close to the max I’ve ever carried. Plus, this pack is rated for something like 35-40 lbs, so I have to be slightly concerned about how well it will sit and make sure I don’t blow out the seams or stitching. The heat kept building, and I retreated to the internet cafe to catch up on some journals (yeah, I’ve been a bit behind lately). I thought about getting out in the late afternoon, but fate decided to intervene. When I went over to the store to close out my tab, I found out it was happy hour, and there was a good bit of free beer courtesy of other hikers and the locals. I was sucked in. The store also had some finger food and chicken for free, and that was the nail in the coffin. I guess I’ll hike out in the morning. Theres nothing like hanging out for a few hours with newfound friends, drinking beer, and talking trail. I absolutely love the community you find out here, because you all share this common goal, and instantly can relate to each other and develop a close relationship. One more movie tonight, then I slipped off to bed in one of the trailers, promising myself an early start...

Miles Today: 0
Trip Mileage: 702

Photo: Kennedy Meadows - Tom's Internet Cafe

Day 37 (6/23) Rest and Recovery

So today I decided to take it easy, resting and healing up before I take off into the Sierras. Sounds easy right? Well, these days have a tendency to fill up quickly, and today was no different. Tom make coffee and pancakes in the morning, and then it was off to the store to pick up my resupply boxes. There were two boxes of food, plus a box for the bear canister, so plenty of stuff to sort through. Plus, since I missed the store last night, I had to get my beer and ice cream fix today. Before I knew it, noon had come and gone, and I made my way over to get a burger at the grill. Steve Climber, a hiker from last year has been living with Tom and working the grill, so he made me an extra spicy Smokejumper burger. Great stuff. The next challenge was to fit my food into my bear can. Wait, that sounds like work. Forget that, I’ll have another beer instead and chat with the hikers. There was a whole crew hanging out today, despite a sizable group that left early this morning. The store was selling lasagna for dinner, and before I realized it was getting that late, dinner was being served. That bear can still hadn’t been packed. Then we all worked our way back to Tom’s, where we hung out and chatted some more, then watched another movie on the projector. The whole place has a really great setup considering it is off the grid and all solar powered. Tom has figured out how to store up enough power in his batteries to run a full movie at night, plus a few computers and the internet connection as well. By the time I went to bed I realized today hadn’t been nearly as productive as I’d hoped, but man it was fun. I got to hang out with my first PCT friend - Sourdough, who I’d met in Echo Lake for the Snow Course. He’s been struggling with ankle problems and is considering skipping ahead due to snow. The other snow course students have also done similar things - Dan skipped up to Oregon, Don Johnson went back to Florida for a few days before planning to jump ahead, Sandy & Pat are off trail due to injury, and I’m standing right here, anxious to get going full steam into these mountains. The plan is to pack up tomorrow and get going in the late afternoon or evening, hopefully with a decent group as well.

Miles Today: 0
Trip Mileage: 702

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 36 (6/22) Racing to Buy a Beer (and Ice Cream)

I made one of my earliest starts today, leaving camp right at 6AM. I cruised down the three miles to Canebrake Road, where I checked the register. Noah had been there two days before, Positive ID yesterday. Somewhere along the way the Bum Brothers and Swisters had disappearred - likely into Onyx or Lake Isabella from Walker Pass. There were a few new names I hadn’t seen before as well, so I was looking forward to meeting them. There was a huge 2000 ft climb out from this road, but after the first couple hundred feet of gain, it turned into a nice gentle climb and I hardly felt it at all. Still cruising, still on target to arrive by 4pm. I came through a burn area, remnants of the 2009 Clover Fire. As I crested a ridge, the whole Sierras opened before me, courtesy of the burned out trees. I wasn’t really prepared for this, considering these mountains had disappeared after that one brief sighting two days ago. The range spread out in all of its majesty to the north, with only a single set of foothills remaining between me and them. Finally, I was on the doorstep of the Sierras!

I was grinning as I began the long descent down towards the Kern River Valley. In my haste, I started to aggravate my shin splints. Stopping for lunch, I stretched everything out, then got going again. Then the plantar fascia in that foot started cramping up. Great. These shoes were pretty well worn out, and definitely didn’t provide the support they once did. The final straw was when I started rubbing my heel raw, and after putting up with that for a short while, I stopped and switched into my boots. I’d be wearing them full time soon anyway, so I should be walking in them now, right? That worked like a charm to make the pain go away, for a time. But as the altitude dropped, the heat increased. These black boots soaked in the sun, baking my feet. Within a few miles, my feet were swimming in them. I pushed on, craving ice cream, beer, and the many other treats I could find at the store. At the bottom of the hill I found Lowcard, Donatello, and Ox, three other thru-hikers hiding from the heat. They thought the store closed at 9pm, so when they heard that it closed at 5, they quickly started packing, and were hot on my heels. At this point it was pretty much a straight, flat shot into Kennedy, so I set myself to a fast cruising pace. My feet though, protested, and disagreed with this plan. After 4 miles, with just 5 more to go, I was forced to swap back to my shoes from the boots. My feet were dying in the heat, and the boots just don’t breathe like normal shoes. The raw spot on my heel had a chance to toughen up though, so that wasn’t a problem. Studying the map again, I realized that I was actually an extra half mile from the store when I hit the trailhead, so it was going to be an even harder section. I came to the decision to slow down, take it easy, and miss the store, instead of killing myself for the next hour and a half, pushing a brutal 4 mph pace. In retrospect, this was a great idea, but it was hard to do considering I’d been pushing myself all day, just to give up a few miles shy.

When I finally did make it to the town, I came walking down the road when I came to Tom’s Kennedy Meadows Internet Cafe. I’d heard that hikers stay here and at the store, but I had no idea how awesome this place was. Tom has a bunch of old trailers that he’s picked up, and he lets hikers stay in them on real beds, with a real roof over their head. A bunch of people were here, including Positive ID, and Java from the Saufley’s, and lots of new faces. I threw down my pack, and joined the line for taco dinner. Sweet, I wouldn’t have to subsist on hiker food until the store opened. After dinner everyone hung around until they fired up the projector for a movie out in back. What a great way to finish up a long day of hiking. I’ll probably chill out tomorrow, then take off into the Sierras after a nice day of rest.

Miles Today: 28
Trip Mileage: 702

Photo: Amazing Sierra vista to the north. Awesome inspiration for me to keep hiking

Day 35 (6/21) The Summer Solstice

Today I woke up for the longest day of the year. In the hiking community this is known as “Hike Naked Day”. I decided I wasn’t all that interested in participating, considering the heat and the bright sun - full body sunburn just sounds unpleasant. Then again, its better than doing it on a snowfield in the sun. I probably would’ve considered it in a group, but hiking solo takes part of the fun out of it. Eight miles in to the day, I ran into Warner Springs Monty and Lake to Lake. A month ago at Cabazon, Kay had mentioned she had taken over trail angel duties there for Lake to Lake, so we chatted a bit about this mutual acquaintance. It turns out I had just missed some more trail magic at Walker Pass two nights ago where Monty was cooking for all of the hikers. They were both hiking without shirts in honor of the solstice. They gave me a heads up about a few guys who were only a few miles ahead, so as we parted I was confident I’d run into a couple more thru’s today.

I decided to skip on Joshua Tree Spring because of a warning about uranium in the water. Well, I later found out that California requirements for that mean almost any source out here would get that label if tested. Therefore, most sources are simply labelled “Not tested,” and I drank from those without any concerns. Right after this, I made a fairly significant mistake. I took a quick look at the elevation of the current spring and the next water source, and there was a 300 ft elevation difference. Well, I should’ve taken a closer look at the topo, because in between there was a 1200 ft climb over an exposed ridge. Despite being only a 6 mile hike, this was punishing, and I was sucking down water faster than expected. By the time I came up to Spanish Needle Creek, I was feeling some mild heat exhaustion, and decided to take a nap in the shade. Two hours later, I woke up, got some more water, and pushed on towards dinner. This was a neat part of the hike, where you hike into a closed valley, and realize the only way out is up. My legs were a bit worn out due to the heat, so I wasn’t able to push as hard as I had wanted. With only 48 miles to Kennedy Meadows as of this morning, I wanted to make it a two day trip. Well, today wasn’t a great start, but I was tired enough as night fell that I decided to camp at the top of the climb, then make an early start and push hard to get there before 5:00 when the store closed.

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 674

Day 34 (6/20) Breaking the Streak

The morning started off well. I stocked up on water at the cache, and then blasted off en route to Walker Pass. Noah and Positive ID should’ve been there last night, so I figured I was only 20 miles behind, and I should be able to make that up within two or three days if I worked at it. Early in the morning the trail rises to 8000 feet, climbing near the peak of the mountain just north of the cache. I was a little frustrated with the climb, that is until I reached the top. From here I had my very first clear view of the snowy Sierras, and I was grinning ear to ear. My heart stopped. This is what I was waiting for. That was my goal and destination for the last couple weeks as I longed to leave the desert and enter this winter wonderland. I lingered for a few minutes, soaking it in, before attacking the trail with new energy, excited to be closing the gap with these distant mountains.

From there, the trail dropped down below the intervening mountains, and I spent the morning following the contour of the hills. Finally, I climbed up to an exposed plateau where the trail follows a dirt bike road for a few miles. It was here where I broke my streak. Sitting along the side of the road, there was Andrew, another thru-hiker. We chatted for awhile, and I pointed out that he was the first thru I’d seen in just about 100 miles. While we were sitting there, a pair of dirtbikes came roaring through, and I’m glad we weren’t on the road. With all the turns this road makes, it would be hard for them to see us more than 20 feet in advance. We both went down to a shelter and spring for lunch and water, where we met up with the same bikers again. We all joked around about trading places, and we all agreed that the rolling ‘whoops’ on the road were a real headache. For us it meant shortening strides to go up and down these 3 foot humps, for them it meant slowing down or bruising a tailbone. I wanted to make this a big day, but somehow having lunch in the shade convinced me to chill out for awhile, and I spent about an hour and a half there.

Andrew and I continued on, and I maintained a slightly slower pace so we could chat. It was really nice to be able to talk to someone else while hiking for once, and it was neat to hear his story. He’d done the Appalachian Trail a few years back, and was frustrated by the fact that prospective employers didn’t appreciate it for the major commitment that it was. He said he’d been stuck in a dead-end job, and decided it was time to mix it up and hike again. The sacrifices he made to save up money for the trail were quite impressive, including giving up his apartment over the summer and living instead out a tent at a campsite in the Moab desert. As we were walking along, there was a crashing sound through the bushes to the right. Andrew called out, “Hey look at that bear!” Sure enough, not 100 yards away a 100 lb bear was running through the chaparral away from us. Not quite a cub, but definitely not full grown, he was still big enough to be scary if he was staring you down. So it took me 400 miles to see my first rattlesnake in the desert, but I’ve already seen my first bear nearly 50 miles BEFORE I even hit the Sierras. Sweet. I made a mental note to hang my food tonight, just in case.

We dropped down to the campsite at Walker Pass (another one of those places where it is the high point for a road, but a low point for the trail. The register there confused me a lot. Noah signed out on the 18th, on his way to Kennedy Meadows. Dang, he must’ve mixed up his dates a few days back when he left that note. Positive ID signed in on the 19th, so I’m a day behind him, as expected. As we walked down to the campsite to check for water (it was off...) we saw a car with Utah plates. Since Andrew was from Utah, he figured he might be able to use that as a conversation starter, and hopefully, bum a ride into town for the night. Turns out, the could was from Sweden, and their rental car had Utah plates. Bummer. The cool thing was though, that after chatting with them for awhile, they did offer to drive him over to Onyx to get his stuff, which was super nice of them. They offered to take me along, but I’m motivated to catch the guys, so I quickly put down my dinner, then tacked on an extra 4 miles. I had planned for the water to be off at the campground, so I had enough, but I would need an early start to make sure I didn’t get in trouble with the heat before I hit water again.

Miles Today: 23
Trip Mileage: 654

Photo: My first view of the snowy Sierras!!