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.

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