PCT – Day 7: Barker Pass to Five Lakes Trail Jct / Alpine Meadows

July 19, 2014

9.65 miles (plus 4 miles down to Alpine Meadows)

(1126.35 – 1136.00)

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I get out of camp at my normal hour of 7am. I proceed down the trail another half mile to the water stop at the headwaters of Blackwood Creek. I pass through a camp of a couple guys who are doing the Tahoe Rim Trail to get to the creek. On the other side of the bank I can see a few camps of the hikers I met yesterday afternoon. It looked busy around here, I am glad I slept up on the ridge, away from the mosquitoes and enjoying some solitude. I think I have learned a lesson here…Grab a few liters of water at the end of the day and dry camp on a ridge.

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I am moving through the switchbacks as I climb up to Twin Peaks and I spook a few grouse. We spooked a few the other day at Dick’s Pass as well. I am guessing they like these forested high elevations. They are beautiful birds about the size of a small chicken. I have heard they are good eating, but the hunting season is pretty short.

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As the trail passes below Twin Peaks it is going to be a ridge run from here on out. This lady and her dog comes running up the trail from the North, she explains to me that she is training for a race that is going to happen tomorrow, the Tahoe 100 or something like that. A 100 mile endurance race. I question if I would ever be able to trail run…This hiking is checking my endurance as it is.

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The trail opens up as it passes along a knife ridge above Ward Canyon. Great views out towards the lake and ski lifts of Alpine Meadows. It has been a few years since I have skied Alpine, but the runs seem familiar and incredibly steep without the soft cushion of snow.

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After passing around the west side of Ward Peak you get a glimpse down into the main lodge at Alpine. I can see the condo my family is in…a couple more hours I will get some hugs, a cold beer, a shower, some ‘real’ food and a soft bed to sleep in.

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Cell coverage is wafting in and out, I text my wife about her schedule and that I will see her soon. My wife sends me a response that they are heading to the beach soon, they will see me this afternoon. I respond about getting a key for the condo… As I am coming off the ridge down into the Five Lakes area, the cell coverage becomes real spotty. I am not sure my text was sent out and not sure if she responded.

I pause at the Five Lakes trail junction. Charge my phone a bit as I have been losing battery rapidly while having it off airplane mode. Still no response. Frankly, I am a little frustrated. I walk 120 miles to have my family head to the beach for the afternoon just as I reach them. Still no response on a key…Do I head down to Alpine to sit for the next 6 hours?…or do I just say F#^K IT, and keep walking to Donner Summit?

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I chose to head down, worst case scenario is maybe the lodge is open and I can get a few groceries to last me while I wait. I pass plenty of day hikers coming up the trail as I am flying down this trail. Every hundred feet, I have to step aside to let people pass. I am not used to all this traffic…I start questioning myself again that I should have stayed up top and continued on.

The worst part of the day was once I reached the road I had another couple miles to walk back up to the condo. I hate road walking. I thought about hitching it, but the only two cars that passed were heading in the opposite direction.

Just before I get to the condo, I receive a text about the key location. I let myself in, eat some BBQ ribs the family made the night before and drink a nice cold Sierra Nevada. Then there was a shower and clean clothes…I sit on the balcony for a while and relax…My body just wants to keep walking. It was not ready to shut down yet…after 120 miles, it doesn’t want to stop at 2pm. It knows there are another 6 hours of activity available.

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My family arrives in the evening, everyone happy to see me, but not as excited as I was expecting. It was almost like, ‘Oh, hey Dad. We had a fun time at the beach today, we did this and we did that. How was your hike?’

Well, at least they had some daily updates for the past few days of having cell coverage above Tahoe. We had a nice dinner and everyone went to bed.

I asked my wife to drop me off at the Five Lakes Trail tomorrow morning around 5 am and she can pick me up at the I-80 rest area at Donner Summit on their way out of Tahoe tomorrow afternoon.

Good to be surrounded by my wife and kids…but, I have the PCT bug and I want to finish off this section; I am only 20 miles from completing it.

PCT – Day 6: Fontanillis Lake to Barker Pass

July 18, 2014

17.70 miles / (1108.65 1126.35)

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Woke up at 6am and caught a nice sunrise on the lake and Dick’s Peak. My bag was a little damp, most likely from sweat, it stayed fairly warm last night. All my gear was a little damp so I took a longer morning to lay everything out in the bright morning sun along with my solar panel to try and get some more substantial battery charge.

I chose to not take any paper maps this year. The first time in my life I don’t have a paper map on me. Honestly, I am never worried that I would get lost or actually need a map to get myself out of here if I needed to. I have a DeLorme InReach GPS that I can send out an SOS with my coordinates in case of an emergency. But then again, I wouldn’t be hiking out by map in that case anyway. The trail is a Wilderness Highway, and being at the tail of the herd, the trail is well beaten. Plus, I have hiked in these areas before giving me a general orientation to the surroundings and there are always plenty of people out here to provide help if all my electronics went down. The flip side is that I just feel irresponsible…

At least that is my justification on electronics vs. paper. I am having mixed feelings about it…something to ponder for next year.

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Heading out of Fontanillis, past the Velma’s the trail becomes a forest trail. The views disappeared, the terrain gentle. It was another beautiful bright morning in the Sierra, time to just hunker down and make some miles. Unfortunately, I woke up with a sore throat, ate some Mountain House scrambled eggs for breakfast (which gave me a fabulous bought of heartburn and a continuous ‘powdered cardboard sprinkled with trail dust’ aftertaste), and was just feeling groggy this morning. No more skipping dinner!

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The big highlight of the morning was coming around a bend in the trail and looking at my Halfmile PCT app that showed me that I was at mile 100 MILES from Sonora Pass.

100 miles! I have never done that before! I think the longest loop hike I ever took was on my first solo hike, 1997 Marble Mountains which was around 35 miles /3 days? Seeing that my math brain seems to work pretty well while hiking… it took me 4 days 23 hours 12 minutes to reach 100 miles. That’s an average of a little over 20 miles every 24 hours at noon. What is funny is that an even 20 has been reached at noon regardless of walking 22 miles or 16 miles the day before. Well, at least I’m consistent.

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I pass a snow survey post. I think this was the first year in recorded history that there was no snow to be measured on the last day of the survey which is in May. At least there has been water at the water stops, but I’m sure things will be drying up in August.

I paused for a few minutes to rest my feet next to a 4WD road that runs up Miller Creek. A dune-buggy comes cruising along just before I get to the road sending its gaseous dust cloud in the air. Just on the other side of the road was a dead log in some shade. I plopped myself down to rest my feet. Took my shoes and socks off to air everything out. I have some tuna fish that I mixed up this morning with some concession stand mayonnaise, mustard, relish, and chopped onions sitting in my pack…but still no more appealing to me now as it was this morning. Don’t get me wrong, I like tuna fish…the mush that comes out of that foil pack? I’m just spoiled with my yearly x-mas supply of Oregon canned Albacore when at home. But, I ain’t packing a glass jar of Albacore, at least not with the amount of food I am already packin’!

I am heavy and I can feel it. More food for thought (no pun intended).

Then this Jeep starts coming down the road, same direction as the buggy a few minutes ago. This jeep was nice! Brand new, hard top, all decked out and shiny white paint. It passes me, we wave…County Sheriff making the rounds…should have known no one else would be driving that nice of a jeep out here…But then again, Silicon Valley is only a couple hundred miles to the West…

I’m starting to get the sense of water and how much to pack. I am always packing at least 4 liters. I am of the philosophy, that if I wish to stop, or I cannot go any further…I have water for the next 24-48 hours. 4 liters is almost 10 pounds of weight. Base being 16 pounds, plus water and food. I’m easily 30-35 pounds on a consistent basis.

I reach the creek outlet below Bear Lake that afternoon to find 3 couples eating lunch. A couple of thru hikers from the New England States, a couple from Sacramento doing Echo to Donner (she didn’t look like she had much experience and had some miserable blisters on her feet) and Twisted Hair and Lonnie. As I ate my Ziploc tuna on a tortilla lunch, this college age kid walks in; 6’4”, probably 23 y.o, super light pack, doing an average of 28 miles a day and says (In my best Spicoli voice) “Hey…has anyone seen any thru hikers?” The four thru hikers acknowledge the fact that they ARE thru hikers. “Oh..?… I mean, has anyone seen my friends?” The seven of us make brief glances at each other… Then the kid starts rambling off a half dozen trail names…Confirmed that no one has seen them…”Oh, they must be in front of me…I took and extra couple days in Tahoe, thanks.” He gallops away on his quest. I remained silent…all I could think about was ‘what is this guy carrying to make his pack so small…because I knew a good portion of its contents must be a big ole’ bag of weed.’

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I filled up on water, topped off my stores at 5L. Everyone else drank their fill and loaded up 1 or 2 L to get them to the next water, 5 miles further. I didn’t plan to hake as far as the next water stop, especially knowing there was going to be a crowd camping there. I also realized, why they hell have I been packing all this water when I really only need this much at the end of the day so I can dry camp on some ridge.

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Off I went to make this next climb up to Barker Pass. I will admit the tuna was marginal but the benefits much appreciated, I moved pretty good up that hill, 5L of water and all. As I walk into the Barker Pass Trailhead Parking lot, I notice a Jeep Cherokee parked, occupied. As I walk by I am asked if I want a bottle of water. I chuckle and explain how I just packed this bulk of water up the hill, I don’t need any more.

This guy was a funny guy. Late 60’s, but seemingly homeless as he would stay in the campgrounds around Tahoe for the 14 day max and then drive up here for a day to return and set up a camp. He was up here at barker pass riding his mountain bike to prepare for his next quest which was to ride from California to Florida. Next year was his hope. The story he gave me was that he was retired and finally felt like he had some time to enjoy life. He had a house in the Reno area, but chose to camp around during the summer and ride his bike…training. When he mentioned his only reason for wanting to go to Miami was that he had seen many TV shows with beautiful women walking the beaches in thong bikinis… Then I wondered. I knew that everyone I had been hiking with today has already passed. But I also hoped the next person behind me was not a single woman that this guy could harass… or more.

I have always felt safe out here. I am not afraid of bears or mountain lions. I really only have two concerns; injuring myself and other humans.

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After a 15 minute conversation, I carry on to finish off this climb and find a campsite. Tonight I am going to try the ridge top camp idea and keep my solitude, I have full water that I’ve been packing for a few miles and everyone else is a half mile in front of me.

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I get to the ridge/pinnacle above Barker Peak. The PCT drops over and continues down but I take the short spur trail that leads towards the point. I find the only flat spot, which is in the trail. I set up a cowboy camp, cook a meal and watch the distant thunderstorms. I have good cell service to text my wife about my estimated arrival into Alpine tomorrow (A day earlier…not Sunday). The monsoonal storm activity I have been experiencing the past few days is positioned to the East. I can see the Nevada side of the lake and watch the lightning strikes from a distance.

This has been my best campsite yet!”

Laying in my bivy, feeling all content, a guy wanders in and says “This is a great camp. I think I’ll try and join you.” All I can say is good luck finding another level spot. Knowing there are no other campsites on this ridge, I count my blessings he cannot find a level spot that I missed. He did not and left an hour later after watching the sunset from this great vantage point.

Today is my last day. Tomorrow I walk into my goal of Sonora to Alpine Meadows with a day to spare.

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I have this nasty congestion that worked itself up from the sore throat I experienced this morning. The night is clear and I spend the rest of the evening continuing to watch the lightning strikes on the Nevada side of the lake.

I ate well tonight… no more skipping meals, my body needs the nutrition. Protein seems to be what it wants the most. My homemade beef jerky fits that bill and has been a great snack and addition to meals. Tonight I had Idahoan Potatoes with a packet of Knorr Gravy and a Backpackers Pantry dried chicken. It was hearty and a stick to your ribs kinda good.

PCT – Day 5: Echo Lake to Fontanillis Lake

July 17, 2014

16.37 miles / (1092.27 -1108.65 )

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I am up and ready to go around 8:30 this morning. The Echo Lake post office doesn’t open until 11 am, so I can take it a little slow this morning. I make a sign out of the pizza box and some duct tape and hit the road to find a hitch back up to Echo Lake.

It didn’t take long when this guy pulls into a store parking lot and calls out to me…’I just have to buy a few groceries, but I’ll take you up to the lake.’ 15 minutes later we were underway, hitting the neighborhood streets to bypass the major construction project happening on Hwy 50.

At Echo Lake Chalet the hiker trash started rolling in as we waited for the post office to open. It was a mixed bag of PCT and Tahoe Rim hikers. A few families started showing up for their weekend backpacking trips into Desolation. I got my resupply and swapped out some food, but ended up sending most of it back home. I have easily packed twice as much food as I need and feel every pound of it on my back.

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By 11:30, I was back on trail heading north. Most people took the boat ride across the lake which knocks off a few miles of hiking the shore line. I have become this fanatic about walking every inch of this trail. When I step off the trail to take a leak or take a photo, I make sure to go back to my last foot step and resume from there. The same way I felt about taking the boat across the lake…I would only be cheating myself from this hot dry 3 miles of trail…

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The day moved right along. I passed plenty of weekend hikers heading in for a long weekend and eventually caught up with a few of the Rim hikers that took the boat. Around 3:30 I was at Aloha Lake.

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A beautiful lake with tons of small granitic islands scattered throughout. I was almost to the North side of the lake when the sky opened up. Thunder and lightning, torrential rain, marble sized hail, then back to rain. The trail became a river as the flash flood passed through. I buried myself next to a clump of trees, ate a few snacks and was quickly joined by 3 older weekend hikers from Sonoma County, Bob, Ken and Becky. Bob pulled out a lightweight rain jacket from Frogg Toggs and Karen put on a rain pack cover…two items I will research for next year as additional lightweight gear to keep dry on those sudden thunderstorm deluges.     

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Once the storm passed, I got back on the move. I needed to make it to Fontanillis Lake tonight as that is where my Desolation Permit is going to allow me to camp for the night. Yep, Desolation being one of those (possible the only) wilderness area that requires a reservation for a specific area to camp. The only obstacle in my way between Lake Aloha and Fontanillis… a 3 mile / 1500’ climb up and over Dick’s Pass.

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As I am passing Susie Lakes my first thru Hiker passes me, Just Joe. A few minutes later a couple more pass, Twisted hair and Lonnie (Cheesemonger?). About a half mile later I see Just Joe sitting on a boulder at the base of the climb; shoes and socks off and eating this deliciously looking ‘Dagwood’ ham sandwich. About a half hour later Joe comes screaming up the hill passing me without a glitch in his stride. Oh the strength one has after hiking continuously for 1100 miles. On top of Dick’s Pass all four of us are standing on the ridge taking in the spectacular views. To the south I can see Elephants Back and can barely make out the area around Raymond Peaks as it was pretty hazy. To the north was just an endless view of many miles to cover. I believe this might be the highest point on the trial from here to Canada, just like Sonora Pass was the last time the trail goes above 10,000 feet elevation.

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Twisted Hair and Lonnie make camp on the ridge, Joe and I continue on down trail. It was nice to have a conversation with someone for an hour. Got some helpful tips and ideas for some changes to my set-up. I found a campsite and Joe continued on. That guy was flying down the trail, I knew I would never see him again.

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I set up camp, again a little buggy out. Still feeling good from the full pizza the night before, I climbed into my sack and just went to bed without my supper.

PCT Day 4: Lost Lakes to Echo Lake

July 16, 2014

22.54 miles  (1069.73 – 1092.27 )

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More about feet. Pounding out 20 miles a day with a 30+/- pound pack and an overweight body for 12 hours a day on varying trail conditions certainly takes its toll on those two appendages at the end of your legs. Without them, I would be going 20 miles. Yet, with them I feel every mile. I am not real good about stopping and resting my feet, something I need to be more conscious about. However, one thing that completely amazes me is how much healing occurs during 6 hours of sleep. I go to bed with sore tried feet and wake up with feet that can’t tell me they walked all day the day before. Your feet get filthy out here. The dust of the trail penetrates everything. Your feet are covered in grime which over time acts as a sandpaper as your shoes and socks glide with every step.

This morning I wake up to complete amazement. My feet feel as if nothing is wrong. The metatarsal pain I have been having…gone! The blisters…dried up! (needle lancing a couple times a day sped that process along.) My feet are not tired or sore…I think today is going to be a good day!

The goal for today is to get within a couple miles of Highway 50 at Stevens Pass. I will walk into Echo Lake tomorrow morning to pick up my resupply box. I am concerned that I do not need my resupply…I packed way too much food and not eating as much as I would have expected. When I set up camp at night I have to force myself to make some dinner. I just don’t feel hungry, but once I eat I realize that I am. I’m burning about 6000 calories a day and only eating 2000-2500, I have to tell myself to eat and I force down a snack. So far my favorite trail snack has been the Baby Ruth candy bars; my least favorite are all these clif bars I brought – I am having a real aversion to their taste.

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It is another beautiful morning in the Sierra. I left lost lakes around 7 am and started heading up over the Forestdale Divide. An hour later I am at the pass checking out the great views of where I have been and where I am going. To the south I can make out Sonora Peak – a good 50 miles of progress. To my North lies the Elephants Back, Carson Pass and into Desolation Wilderness.

The Forestdale Valley is a nice spot. It lies in the busier part of the Mokelumne Wilderness with the ease of access from Carson Pass. Due to the heavy use it, there are some wilderness restrictions in place. But this is definitely an area I could see myself coming back to explore in more detail. The 4×4 road that connects Blue Lakes to Hwy 88 is a distraction, but no one on the road today.

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Around 9am I pass my first person of the day. It seems to have been a while since I have seen anyone even though it’s only been about 18 hours. He was a younger guy heading southbound trying to reconnect with a girl he met on the trail a few weeks ago but had to jump off trail at Sonora Pass for a couple of days. He asked if I had seen or heard of her, but I couldn’t say that I had. We had did have a good conversation about Bend, Oregon. He had lived there for the past couple seasons working at Bachelor and really liked it. All I could say was, yes, it is a nice place…changed a lot since the 80’s when the population was only abut 25k.

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Around 10:30, I am over the Elephants Back and heading into Carson Pass. The trail is becoming super busy with day hikers. I know I must be close to Tahoe because I am back into the pretentious Californian attitude. In 4 days I have only seen 20 or so people and each I have stopped and had a brief conversation with. Walking into Carson Pass I see about 50 people in the first 5 minutes. I say good morning to everyone I pass and I would say about 75% of them ignore my salutation. The classic was these two women and walking up the trail and I say good morning…the reponse I get is ‘….well Jeff was going to, but he…’ They didn’t even break the stride of their mouths to acknowledge another human being saying good morning. I say under my breath…’Assholes!…Welcome to Tahoe!’

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About a quarter of a mile before Carson Pass, I drop my pack and walk about 100 feet off trail to retrieve and small cache I had placed a couple weeks prior when we were camped along the Consumnes River for our annual Fourth of July camping trip. The items were not cold, but 2 Lagunitas IPA and a can of Coke was a treat to myself for walking 60 miles.

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I sat down in front of the Visitor’s center and drank my luke warm beer and the can of caffeinated sugar. I met three young guys from the Northeast who are biking from NYC to San Francisco. A long haul, but progressing pretty well…it’s a big difference cycling 100+ miles a day compared to 20 miles on foot. They have the next 30 or more miles of a downhill coast…I try not to think about it. I also met this older guy who was SOBO hiking Belden to Tehachapi. He let me know the main pack is a few weeks ahead of me where he was passing about 50 hikers a day. The past few days he has only been seeing maybe 20 PCT hikers a day.

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At noon, my liquid lunch is over and time to motivate. Clouds are beginning to form overhead…looks like it will be another game of dodge the storm.

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Out of Carson Pass you make a short climb to a plateau that leads into Meiss Valley… Tah-Dah! The first view of Tahoe appears. Yeah, I have made it to Tahoe, Now I just have to get to the north side of the lake in 3-4 days…easy peasy.

I am passing many, many hikers, too many to make mention of. Most are day hiking and the others seem to be doing the Tahoe Rim Trail. This one group of moms and their teenage daughters out for a day hike had to heckle me about being a ‘liberal Oregon Duck…that hippie school’ All I could do is chuckle and make some smartass comment back like…’Oh, you’re a Stanford Grad?’…

The day moved on by nicely. The clouds kept forming, but no thunder to be heard. As I passed Showers Lake the trail takes a short descent next to the lake outflow and….my feet slid out from under me and my tailbone/bum took the fall…My first fall…and I am all butt hurt about it. No injury, just my pride…I shake it off and carry on.

Shortly after I meet my first horses on the trail. A couple of older cowboys out camping with their horses, one of these days I am going to have to do that…even though I think I’ll just bring along a llama with all my crap tied on to it.

As I approach the steep descent down to Echo Summit, I had my eye on a camp site around mile 1087. Unfortunately, it was already occupied, but looked like a great spot. A busy spot being next to the trail, but a nice looking camp.

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This section of trail is pretty steep. I would not want to be doing this section southbound, the boulders and steep trail would kick my butt. Then again, it always looks different when you’re not actually doing it. Climbs are climbs, just dig in and get it done.

At the bottom of the hill sits the Benwood Meadow…I start looking for decent campsites, but the mosquitos are thick and I don’t feel like fighting with them tonight. I continue on. I reach Hwy 50 and decide to just keep plugging on to Echo Lake, only 2 more miles, I’ll try and find something down there.

I walk into Echo at 9pm, its dark and vacation cabins are everywhere. I make the decision to call a cab out of South Lake and just get a Hotel for the night. 2 hours and $60 later, I am in a budget hotel eating Pizza and drinking a 22oz Lagunitas…Time to wash some feet, charge my electronics and get a good night’s sleep.

1st milestone completed; PCT California Section J finished!

75.4 miles / Elev Gain +13, 745’ / Elev Loss -15,979’

PCT Day 3: Eagle Creek to Lost Lakes

July 15, 2014

16.52 miles / (1053.21 – 1069.73)

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I slept well and woke up before the sun this morning. I took a little time to address the growing blisters on my feet. I re-tape my left foot where I have been experiencing some metatarsal pain for the past week or so. Today I am getting a little concerned about foot pain. Without my feet, I am not walking anywhere!

The moon was bright and hanging out just above the ridge I slept under. I’m fed, packed and moving by 7 am this morning.

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Raymond Peak area is Awesome! I really like this chunk of the trail. Very picturesque and very interesting…All I can think of is if I were to make a Western, this would be my set. The other thing I think of is how I have yet to think about work or anything to do with my business…I am on VACATION!

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I can’t believe how relaxed I am. I typically bite my nails as a habit of stress…but, I have no interest or desire to do so. Sure, my hands are filthy and that has something to do with it, but I just feel so relaxed and enjoying my days traveling through this mountain landscape. So much to see around every bend. So much time to think about everything…Yet, I find myself thinking about nothing. I am constantly doing math as it pertains to next water stop and how much time it should take me to get there. I’m sure there is a lot of background mental processing going on…but I am not consciously aware of it.

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Coming down a ridge on the side of Raymond Peak the view opens up to see a great set of waterfall/cascades on Pleasant Valley Creek in the canyon below. You can hear the water’s roar way up here. Views out to the east and into Nevada are far and distant.

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The day is beautiful and skies clear. It appears I am following a thru hiker by about a half a day, but I am a little surprised I have yet to meet another PCT hiker since that first day on Sonora Peak. The solitude and silence is so great, I can just feel my body and mind regenerating.

I pass two groups of hikers on their way up to Raymond Lake and stop a chat with a couple of Forest Service employees that are doing some trail maintenance by cutting out some of the overgrown shrubs adjacent to the trail.

I get down into the Blue Lakes Basin, the day is pretty warm and the air fairly humid after the rains the day before…the mosquitos know it too, I think a baby boom happened today as the storms hatched a new generation of the ‘lil pests. Thankfully, my parents had a small bottle of repellent in the truck that I was able to bring with me.

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Around 1 in the afternoon, as I am being eaten alive between Wet Meadows Reservoir and Sunset lakes I notice the skies starting to cloud up. Looks like another race against thunderstorms is in store for this afternoon. I have a climb up the exposed side of The Nipple this afternoon, so I start looking at how this is going to play out.

I have seen on previous posts that people refer to a prominent peak in the area as the Nipple. This peak looks like a nipple, however, the proper name is Jeff Davis Peak. All I can think about is some clever surveyor made his satirical comment by naming a nondescript ridge ‘The Nipple’ and the adjacent peak that actually looks like a nipple he names after the defunct President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.IMG_0715

Just as I approach the paved Blue Lake Road and the start of the climb up The Nipple, the clap of thunder begins and the rain starts pouring down. I quickly set up my rain fly and dive underneath to stay dry and make a hot lunch of cup of noodles. Another 2 hours of progress lost.

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At around 4pm I put on my rain coat and continue onward and upward. The thunder had stopped, but the rain continued. Pretty quickly the trail exits the scattered forest and the next five miles is an exposed trail over a rocky landscape. The views for the Nipple were great, looking back towards Raymond Peak, with Tyron and Silver Peaks on the horizon. The storm had moved over Raymond Peak as I watch the flash of lightning and the rumble of distant thunder to the east.

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By 7pm I reach the Lost Lakes, a couple of lakes in a barren landscape that appears to be popular with 4×4 car campers. The area is trashed. Pieces of old garbage are scattered. Tire prints of some joy-riding 4 wheeler that had created a few doughnuts on and in the lake shore. I walk over to the last camp, which had a few trees and looked like the best location, only to find the entire ground was covered in burnt crumbs of tempered auto windshield glass. A couple of the small trees had been hacked by some happy axe-man. Just because one can drive into a camp site doesn’t mean they need to destroy and disrespect the landscape. It sure does support the stereotype of some white trash 4 wheeler who drinks his 18 pack of Bud and drives into the forest to camp for a long weekend.

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I set up camp, eat some dinner, nurse my sore ailing feet and crash hard tonight.

PCT Day 2: Boulder Creek to Eagle Creek

July 14, 2014

22.46 miles (1030.75-1053.21)

I woke up with the sun, boiled a cup of water and made myself some Mountain House Granola with Blueberries. I stuffed everything into my pack, including my granola and headed out by 6:15.

The goal today was to make it to Ebbetts Pass where my parents and kids were going to join me for a quick resupply with the next few days of food until a mailed resupply at Echo Lake.

IMG_0430From the get go, the trail started a slight ascent up a ridge. I stopped a few times to look at the view behind me…I am really going to like doing this trail! It was amazing to look back towards Sonora Peak and see what 14 miles of progress looks in the field. Pretty impressive and an immediately gratifying sense of achievement.

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I pass by a small hillock of volcanic talus…I think that is why I like this area of the Sierra’s so much. The transitions between the granite and the uplifted portions of ancient volcanic formations. The variation in the geology is so quick and interesting.

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After a few miles I stop to eat my breakfast at the top of Golden Canyon. Yet another favorite piece of the Carson-Iceberg that lies at the bottom along the East Carson. There are a couple beautiful meadows above and below Carson Falls. The lower meadow having these great cascading falls coming into it from Murray Creek with a great campsite that one day I am going to revisit.

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The next few miles brought back some more memories. When passing upper Wolf Creek I reminisced my middle daughter’s first wilderness trip that I took her on when she was 3 years old where we camped about 4 miles downstream. At Wolf Creek Pass/Garner Meadow, I reminisced about the time I carried my youngest in from Highland Lakes down Elder Creek to Wolf Creek when he was about 1-1/2 years old. Then there was Highland Lakes, the headwaters of the Mokelumne River and that fabulous canyon that runs from Hwy 4 to Salt Springs Reservoir.

After the Wolf Creek Pass the trail loops around Asa Lake and starts the climb up to a pass below Tyron Peak. It was around 1 pm in the afternoon and the clouds were starting to form. I started hoofing it up that hill to try and get over the pass before the impending storm broke loose. I passed a couple day hikers on my way up. By the time I reached the pass the thunder had started and a group of about 10 day hikers were squatting under this dwarfed fir tree. We had a brief conversation and when they asked if I wanted to squeeze in under this 6 foot tall – snow/weather beaten tree, I responded ‘No thanks, I am going to get myself off this ridge before the lightening starts hitting.’ Not a half mile further the lightening starts touching down in all directions. I make it about a mile from the pass to a spot shortly before reaching Noble Lake and bury myself next to a large boulder to get myself out of the rain and off this exposed section of trail.

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The thunder was loud, the lightening pretty spectacular and my hot beef stroganoff lunch was very tasty as I spent the next hour and a half waiting for the storm to pass. The main focus of the lightning strikes were putting on a nice light show down near Ebbetts. A Day hiker comes walking up the trail with his fishing pole sticking out of his pack like a lightning rod, he was certainly braver than I. Once the thunder subsided, I took off to complete the next 4 ½ miles to Ebbetts Pass to take advantage of the break between storms.

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As I approach Highway 4, I notice a message scratched in the trail that says ‘HI DAD!’…a quarter mile further another message that says ‘THIS WAY DAD’ with an arrow pointing down the side trail that leads to the trail head parking lot. I couldn’t help the watering of my eyes and the wave of emotion that flooded over me. It had only been 30 hours since they dropped me off, but I was so proud that I made it the 31 miles and my kids were close by to tell me how their day was staying at the family cabin and fishing Alpine Lake.

As I walk into the parking lot my kids come running, screaming with joy with big grins across their faces. Both of them start talking a mile a minute explaining everything that they did yesterday afternoon and all day today. The most exciting was when they were driving up to the pass and lightning struck a tree as they passed by. My daughter reaches into the bed of the pickup and hands me a piece of bark that landed there when the lighting strike ripped off a strip of the tree and sent debris flying. Within 10 minutes of being in the parking lot, the thunder, lightning and rain picked up again and we all jumped in the truck to get out of it.

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I resupplied my pack with the next 3 days of food, had a few snacks and tried to calm a 7 year old down as he was all hyped up from his mini adventures that day. We sat there for about 2 hours until this second storm petered out, I changed into some clean socks and took a look at the blister forming on my pinky toes, ughh. At 6:30 I took off again to get more miles in over the next 2 hours. At Hwy 4, I experienced my first Trail Magic. Some gracious Angel stocked a cooler with a few goodies. I grabbed myself a couple V8 juices and stuffed them in my pack for a little treat before bedtime.

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This next section of trail takes you into an interesting geological formation of Raymond Peak. The rock outcroppings are interesting and picturesque. The landscape switches to a more eastern side of the Sierra palette with the sagebrush, pine, rabbit brush and juniper growing in the drier rain shadow.

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The sunset that evening was great as the sunlight streamed in under the clouds and highlighted the mountains to the east with a bright orange glow contrasted to the grey clouds.

                              IMG_0583I make it to Eagle Creek around 8:30pm set up camp. I brought a couple beers in with me from Ebbetts Pass and mixed them with the 2 cans of V8 for a red beer night cap. Ahhhh….a great day traveling over 22 miles and dodging lightning strikes…I slept well.

PCT Day 1 – Sonora Pass

Day 1:

July 13, 2014

13.82 miles (1016.93 – 1030.75)

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The day started early. The previous night I held a surprise birthday party for my wife – her big 40! We had many friends and family over to celebrate and the party wrapped up fairly late in the evening. Around midnight I did a final pass through my pack to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

My alarm goes off at 4am and I am moving everything to the car. My pack, my children’s packs, a resupply box for Ebbetts pass. I leave a change of clothes with my wife to bring with her to Tahoe so I can change when I meet them in a week.

I wake up my two youngest kids and put them in the car, say my goodbyes and we are off by 5am. First stop is my parent’s house, and hour away. We make the transfer into their car and we all head off for the 5-6 hour drive to Sonora Pass.

Around noon we make it up highway 108 past Kennedy Meadows and to the pass. I get everything situated, take a picture with my kids and at 12:30 I give everyone a hug before heading off. This leg will only be an overnight trip until I meet them again tomorrow at Ebbetts Pass, but I still had mixed feelings about leaving them.

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As I start off up the trail towards Sonora Peak my mind is fluttering between many emotions. I have spent many a night in the wilderness, many times with family and friends and many times solo. I am comfortable with where I am hiking as I have spent much time exploring the Carson Iceberg Wilderness over the past 25 years. The one aspect that is new…I have never tried to walk a hundred plus miles in an outing. I truly do not know if I can do it, it is unproven to me. I also don’t know what to expect in the way of timing. I know I am a pretty consistent 2 mph hiker with a full pack and that means I need to hike about 10 hours a day to reach Alpine Meadows by the next Sunday. I also realize that my start of 12:30 was later than I wanted, I am only going to get about 8 hours in today before sunset.

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The climb up the peak is a good haul and I feel great. At the top, the view South towards the High Sierra are great. I am looking forward to tackling those in the future, my goal is to complete the section from Kennedy Meadows to Kennedy Meadows as one of my last two sections of trail. The view to the North reveals the headwaters of the East Carson (one of my favorite fishing rivers in the Sierra) and White Mountain/Whitecliff Peak. To the east of that ridge lies Silver King Creek, one of my favorite valleys in the Sierra. I feel like I am home, for sure.

IMG_0380Once On top I meet a few thru-hikers resting at the top. I introduce myself and we talk for a few minutes, then I am off to try and make some miles this afternoon. I make a short stop before dropping into the East Carson for a snack and make a few slight adjustments to my pack. I meet another thru-hiker, Chemo Robbie and have a nice conversation. He is a teacher from Washington State, trying to make his way home.

As I start to cruise down the trail, I pass a couple South-bounders who were finishing off a weekend trek from Ebbetts to Sonora. Their packs looked really heavy and I gave myself a pat on the back for taking the time over the past week to do a few shakedowns and lighten my pack as much as I possibly could. I was packing 2 days of food and full 5 liters of water which meant I had set off with about a 30 pound pack.

IMG_0396                                          IMG_0408I stopped to filter some nice cold water at 1027 where he passed me again. We missed each other down in the canyon, so it was a bit of a surprise for both of use when he walked up.

My goal for the evening was to camp at the 1034 water and campsite. By 8 pm I realized I was not going to reach that goal and knew it was time to start looking for a spot to pitch my bivy. Sure enough, Robbie had the same idea and had just set up his tent in the best campsite. It was starting to get too dark to try and make it any further to find another spot, so I walked up the trail another 500 feet and found a level spot about 50 feet off the trail.

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It was at this time I realized I had forgot something…Insect Repellent! The mosquito’s were voracious and I was a big blood filled beacon that must have attracted every one

of them in a mile radius. I quickly climbed into my bivy and boiled some water for dinner. Another thing I learned that night when sleeping with a net over your head, the net tends to rest on your forehead thus making your forehead a bulls-eye target for those bloodsuckers to hone in on and drink to their hearts content.

Only 14 miles today, I knew I had to start stepping it up in order to keep my schedule intact.

Day Negative-Zero-Zer0…the history of the prep

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Prior to 1994, I was using an old Jansport external frame backpack that my family bought in the late 70’s. It was a communal family backpack that my brother used predominately during his hikes throughout the Oregon Cascades…by the late 80’s it was yet another hand-me-down that became mine.

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As for my tent (another hand-me-down), I can’t even remember the brand, but will just call it a Coleman 3 person ‘car camping’ tent with fiberglass poles…probably weighed in at 10 pounds. I remember both those items well because I packed them into Tamarack Lake, Carson-Iceberg, during college summer break, 1991. I remember that trip well. A college girlfriend and I set out from San Fransisco, over Sonora Pass, up 395 to Walker and then headed back towards the Sierra. Up a steep and rough gravel road to the Little Antelope Pack Station trail head. An 8 mile hike in with a pack that easily weighed 75 pounds.

I carried water the whole way, two pairs of Levi’s, shorts, and a couple pairs of everything else; you name it, I probably took it.  We made it Lower Fish Valley on Silver King Creek the first night (6 miles in) and tackled the 2 mile/1300 foot climb most of the next morning.

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Midday we arrive at a very beautiful lake perched high on the side of the mountain at around 9400 elevation. Positioned our camp to have a spectacular sunrise view to the East.

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About an hour after arriving a typical Sierra thunderstorm creeps over the ridge above and unleashes its fury. Rain and hail pelted our tent as we huddled inside. The floor started to take on some water which prompted a quick exit to deepen and revise the drainage channels scratched away in the decomposed granite. An hour later as the storm subsided, we had a damp interior, a damp foot of my cotton sleeping bag and one of the fiberglass poles splintered at the metal collar under the additional weight of the wet fabric. Using a shoelace, I jerry-rigged a fix on the tent pole that held up for the next couple nights…Downside was the fact I had a shoe without a lace…The lake was so beautiful and easy enough to explore without needing my heavy duty hiking boots. Frankly, that rubbed away blister on my foot needed time to heal.

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A couple days later we packed up and completed the entire 8 miles back to the car. (8 miles seems so trivial now)

Thus it started…the quest to buy and maintain my own gear…nice gear! Something to last me another 20+ years. It was this backpacking trip that really set myself up for what I would do in my adult life.

First thing first…I stopped off at the North Face outlet in Berkeley and I bought myself a Blue Kazoo sleeping bag…the same one I am still using today. 25 years later, it still keeps me warm during the summer hikes in the Sierra Nevada. It didn’t work as well when I slept in a cold 20 degree night in Nebraska a few years back – I definitely felt where the down had separated at the baffle stitching. (Yet, a new sleeping bag does occupy the top slot of my ‘to be replaced/upgraded’ gear list.)