Day 89 08.06.18 25 Miles / 40km
We woke up early to cover some of the distance from our short day prior. I enjoyed a stunning sunrise at 5:30am while I ate some of Four Eyes homemade porridge mix. It was incredible and I’m now wanting to make my own in our next town. We were on the trail by 6:15am and decide to make a habit of early starts.
Further down the trail I was snacking on Slim Jim’s (jerky sticks) from the Hiker box and notice it gives me horrifying gas. I constantly find myself going faster to try and get out of my own fart bubble. I have so many Slim Jim’s to get through I now don’t know if I should eat them all at once to get it done and over with, or continue spacing them out for a stinky leg, or give them away. Either way they’ll need to be eaten; leave no food behind, carry no extra weight. And never pack Slim Jim’s again.
Up ahead I see something move and realise there’s a deer on the trail. Slowly I pull out my phone to take a photo. I continue walking while the deer walks down the trail ahead of me, not overly bothered. After a while he steps off into the bushes, but it’s safe to say hikers seem non threatening to him.
Passing by a trail register I see Four Eyes is an hour ahead of me. I’d pushed hard to get there so once at the lookout I stop for lunch, laying out in the sun and resting my tired feet. The rest of the day was downhill but it still took me 3hrs with sore feet, trying not to stomp too much. I was making good time and almost at the bottom where we’d planned to camp when a northbound Hiker said “Hi, I think I have a message for you” and handed me a note. It was from Four Eyes, scribbled on the back of her calculus refresher homework. She had reached our campsite at midday and was pushing on another 3 Miles. Daym she can hike fast.
I eventually finish my long day at Middle Form Feather River. The raging river is surprisingly warm so I take the time to wash off my grubby legs after refilling my water.
I join the others at Peter Pan and Bigfoot’s site for dinner, and we are surprised to see Soda arrive after his time in the Sierras. He tells us some horrific snow stories before we all head to bed. I barely manage to get some notes written about the day before falling asleep with my phone still in hand after my longest mileage day yet.
Day 90 09.06.18 23 Miles / 37km
Waking up at 5am I am raring to go again. I am forever amazed how much recovery we gain from a good nights sleep. Day after day I go to bed feeling totally depleted and wake up revived to do it all again.
The mornings hike was like a show and tell of nature. First I gawked at the power of the river as I closed the bridge ahead, then I found a giant slug, then two full size centipedes. New colourful seeds started to appear on the ground so I ask Four Eyes about them. She explains how the male and female pines pollinate to spawn baby seedlings, keeping it interesting by finishing with “Yeah, I just wish the trees would stop jizzing on us, my hay fever is hating this”.
I cross paths with Northbound Hikers Snacks and Spikes who also just finished the Sierras. I stop for a while to chat to them then continue on to the spring ahead where I was going to meet the others. Peter Pan and Bigfoot are there and let me know I just missed Four Eyes and Hollywood. Hiking to catch up I cross a dirt road and notice a car with an open tailgate and camp chairs set up. I hear “Looks boys, our first Hiker! Hello! We have trail magic! Come sit down!”. This is amazing, Lynn has her grandkids for the weekend so brought them to run around in the woods while she delivered trail magic. Her son is hiking the trail this year but it’s her second year doing this. She was so excited to see Peter Pan, Bigfoot and I. She gave us soda, cinnamon scrolls, cookies and homemade banana bread still warm from being baked at home that morning. Forest services drove past and stopped to chat. We got to thank them for cutting fallen trees, and they gave stickers and pencils to the kids. The youngest then gave me a smoky the safety bear sticker for my trekking pole. Lynn aided her recently injured husband out of the car to talk to us, exclaiming that “He climbed Mt Rainier back in the day ya know?”. He was humbled to see people getting out on the trail and enjoying the outdoors. I took an extra piece of banana bread for Four Eyes then after a whirlwind of sugar and high energy people we were off again, back to hiking with a spring in our step.
I was feeling great! I realised it was our 3 month trail anniversary so picked some wildflowers for Four Eyes in celebration. Once I caught up the others were disappointed to have missed the magic, but were entertained by my sugar high. Four Eyes loved that I brought her banana bread and put the flowers in her hair. She managed to catastrophically tear the top off her tent bag and I nearly die laughing at her shrieking “oh no, not good, this is really bad, oh no”.
Making great time we agree to walk to a further site to camp, which we reached at 5:30pm.
In return of my trailversary wildflower bouquet Four Eyes picks me nice scented leaves and presents me with her last watermelon flavoured drink mixer. It’s a special day.
I am again asleep by 8:30pm and am beginning to accept this as my new bedtime on long mile days.
Day 91 10.06.18 21 Miles / 34km
As the terrain becomes predictable we become addicted to getting in as many miles as we can. I’m learning to push my feet and body to keep up with the others who all have at least the Appalachian Trail under their belt. I’m still last to camp each night, but covering the same distance so going to bed satisfied. Up at 5am each morning we leaving at 6:15am and I generally don’t reach camp until 6 or 7pm. I stop for an hour over lunch and take many short breaks as well. I never imagined hiking 10hrs a day for weeks or even months to feel as rewarding as it does.
Some days I find myself frustrated that the others make this look so easy. That I’m struggling up the hill while they breeze past. That I need extra breaks and have more of a hiker hobble. But I suppose we only like to show our strongest side.
We re-enter the Sierras in a few days. It’s about to start being hard again. Colder, more exhausting, slower moving, and back in altitude. While dreading it, I’m looking forward to conquering and having the Sierras behind me. It’s take two.
Starting early is getting harder as it gets colder. I wear my gloves to pack up and start hiking, noticing frosted plants around the creek as we rock hop. Before long I’d lost momentum. Pop Tarts for breakfast after a limited resupply really doesn’t fuel me for longer than an hour, then I’m tired and hungry again. The day dragged on until lunchtime where I joined Bigfoot and Peter Pan for lunch at a beautiful panoramic lookout. While chatting away I make a third wrap of peanut butter, honey and raisins. Some real energy for the hike to camp.
The food hardly helped and turns out I was just having a tired flat day. I switch from music to podcasts to transport me to another world while moving my legs mindlessly to camp.
In just a day the terrain changes from woodland to rocky open Sierra landscapes. Round boulders and sharp jagged rocks protrude around me, while small shrubs and single standing cedars cover the land for as far as I could see.
We came to a new section of trail, having being rerouted this year. The trail was on Guthook but hadn’t yet had information like campsites and water added in. Through old school map reading we identify a flat spot near water which we assume has camping space and agree to meet there. I drag myself to camp arriving at 7:45pm announcing “Who the hell put a lake and a half ass trail in my way? Don’t they know I’m tired and want to be at camp?!”. It’s safe to say I wasn’t in my element for the day, though all in all it was absolutely worth the hike for our gorgeous site.
Day 92 11.06.18 13.5 Miles / 22km
Waking up startled to see it’s light outside I check the time and shout out to Four Eyes. “Buenos Morning, I’m sorry I forgot to set my alarm”. It was 5:48am and I still managed to be ready to leave at our usual 6:20am. Iiiits Town day!
We finished climbing the peak we camped half way up then spent a few hours cautiously walking down the knee jarring loose rock switchbacks into Sierra City. Once finally at the highway I decide to walk the 1.5miles to town since there were so few cars passing. After a short distance someone did pull over, telling me all about his mountain bike shuttle business, and how much he loves helping hikers.
At the general store I pick up my resupply box and order the half pound burger. The store is famous for its one pound burger but I decide to exercise portion control after overeating in every town up until this point. Four Eyes however did not, and the burger came out the same size as her. She ate half then saved the other half for dinner.
Finding a watermelon in the Hiker box we couldn’t help ourselves. Cutting it up with my tiny pocket knife we share huge chunks with other hikers, getting it everywhere as we messily eat with huge “get in my belly” grins.
The only shower facility in the town was a cold shower in a public toilet. Desperately Four Eyes gave it a go, and after 3minutes of breathless screaming she came out traumatised but clean. I decided it wasn’t worth it. With no laundry available we hitched back up to the trail and after hiking up the valley we decide on a nearby tentsite at a river to wash our cloths. Truth be told I’m surprised it’s the first time we’ve had to do this. I rinse all the dirt out of my clothes and use a sock as a washer while I have a birdbath. We hang our clothes on the bridge in the sun to dry and make the most of the maintenance day. Four Eyes tapes her tent bag back together which works surprisingly well and I repair my peg bag which had a hole. I then drain deep blisters from the pads of my heels in the hope I can soon put my shoes on painlessly.
Day 93 12.06.18 23.5 Miles / 38km
The deer last night kept waking me up. More curious than usual they would lick the tent then get startled that it would make a sound, disrupting me then scurrying off.
Possibly because I was tired, or because we’ve really stepped up our daily mileage, I just wasn’t feeling the day. I was feeling slow, my feet hurt more than usual and I stopped often to test and change my sock/liner combination. I spent the day deep within a world of podcasts, listening to stories of people on epic adventures, trying to drown away the pain of my own big trip. I suppose after 3 months of hiking there comes a point where it feels mundane, repetitive and unimpressive; and today was that day.
Almost at camp I reach an unexpected snowfield full of soft afternoon slush. “Great” I think to myself. Trying to go around it I find myself bogged in a swamp of muddy snow melt so bail and opt for the snow route. Soaking my shoes, slipping and sliding and delaying my camp arrival on a long slow day was everything I didn’t need. I eventually reach camp at 7:45pm. I cook dinner, discuss with Four Eyes and Hollywood my options to try and resolve my painful feet, and fall asleep by 8:30pm.
Day 94 13.06.18 13.5 Miles / 22km
Knowing we had snow ahead we decided to give ourselves a sleep in so the sun could melt the slippery layer of ice that forms overnight. Usually the ice is ideal snow hiking conditions but without microspikes or traction devices, sinking into each step is easier. With my extra time I boil water for my oats and a coffee, treating myself to longer than usual in my sleeping bag.
The amount of snow we see each day is steadily increasing so I’m glad to be collecting my microspikes and gloves in town today. During our short hike we passed the Donner Pass rest area where I snap a photo of the Donner Party memorial for Dad. Since I decided to hike the trail most of his input has been about Donna Pass and it’s gloomy history. In fact in a letter from home all Dad wrote was “Heather, send me a photo of Donner Pass when you get there. Dad”. So as any proud parent would, Dad can now tell all his friends that his daughter walked through Donner Pass…and survived.
With a real shower on my mind I hiked hard to get into town. A strong day hiker kept up, this threw me since they usually can’t and I felt my competitive streak flare up. I remind myself I’m carrying a pack and they aren’t and settle for being evenly paced with a packless hiker. He strikes up a conversation. Wayne is retired, hikes regularly along with mountain biking and kayaking, and has a cabin close by which he visits most summers to adventure from. It turns out he’s freaking awesome and has been to Australia many times for cycling trips with friends. We chat while hiking for an hour and once we arrive in the car park he gives me a lift to Donner Ski Ranch.
After eating burgers and deciding to stay at the ranch as it’s the cheapest place in town we check in. The bartender gets us set up with cabin keys and says she can give us a lift to the lodge we posted our packages to once she finishes in 15minutes. Fantastic! Small towns really are as laid back as they are in the movies. She drives us to the lodge and says she will wait and give us a lift to the store once we have our packages. Amazing. Once at the store she says “ohhh heck I’ll come in and say hi to Tony (the owner) and then drive you girls back to the Ranch again”. At the checkout Tony says he shouts hikers one item in their basket to show his support. Four Eyes chooses her mini shampoo and I choose my $5 jar of peanut butter. I can’t show enough gratitude to the people in this town. Their small gestures do so much to make us feel welcome.
Now for the highlight of my week, a shower. After a string of bad showers having a nice long hot relaxing shower has become all I can think about. I’m a whole new level of dirty now becoming genuine hiker trash. I hop in and sigh “finally”. There was lavender and aloe vera organic soap, Four Eyes’s shampoo and a washer to scrub myself. Swirls of streaky dirty soap ran down the drain as I shave and repeatedly wash my hair and body. I am in heaven.
Wearing just my towel I throw everything into the laundry, changing into my puffy jacket and Four Eyes’ freshly clean shorts while my load is on. I head next door back to the Ski Ranch for dinner while chatting with the locals and having a beer. This is just the break I needed.
I lay in my bunk bed for what felt like hours before I fell asleep. Granted my phone kept buzzing with conversations and exciting things to look up with internet, but it was more than that keeping me up. I lay thinking about how badly I just wanted to be in my tent, amazed that my pack and some clothes are more comfortable than two pillows…And when did I become a back sleeper? Half a day proves long enough to be away from my outdoor lifestyle.
Day 95 14.06.18 18 Miles / 29km
Taking advantage of a kitchen Hollywood cooks blueberry pancakes for breakfast and we sit around the table to eat together like the family we’ve become. We use amenities one last time and head back out to trail at 7:30am. Just as we step outside a local I had dinner with pulled over “Want a ride?”. While getting into the truck Four Eyes broke her sunnies, then without hesitation Peter hands her the pair he was wearing saying he has 3 pairs. What a legend.
We start back on the trail and straight into climbing the steep melted Donner ski fields. Coming around the corner I unexpectedly see Four Eyes half way up a risky ice climb with Prince observing from the top. I turn off my music and put my headphones in my pocket so I can focus. Four Eyes shouts “it’s spikes time” so I put on my microspikes and shorten one of my hiking poles to use for self arrest if needed. I give myself a quick mental refresher. Hand in or out the pole loops? That’s right, hands in; it’s river crossings you let go of the loops. Ok, kick in each step and climb. I get to the top feeling confident.
We proceeded to play a game of spikes on spikes off for the rest of the day. Large sections of trail is now beginning to be snow covered, and scrambling over rocky sections has us taking spikes off again just to get a few meters. It’s slow work.
Hikers coming from the opposite direction warn of a few exposed snowy sections where spikes are recommended. Prince didn’t have any traction devices as he’d posted them one town too far. Opting for safety first he turned around, planning to hitch to South Lake Tahoe and meet us there in three days. Four Eyes and I push on.
After a long lunch I pushed through soft afternoon snow. As I get faster and more complacent I slip, catching myself on what I could only describe as a weird leg self arrest. Slowly sliding down the slop past my planted pole I hook my knee around in a catch that stops me. I then look around sad that there was no one to see my ridiculous move.
As usual the last mile to camp dragged on forever. Sore feet made me stop just half a mile out wishing for the day to be done. Rolling into camp Four Eyes welcomes me home and shares her dehydrated fruit with me. That last half mile was absolutely worth it.
Day 96 15.06.18 22 Miles / 36km
Knowing I have a big day ahead I braved the cool morning in shorts avoiding my often occurring costume change delays. I still started in my puffy and stopped to take it off 20mins later. Another 20mins after that I stopped again to put my wind jacket on. Walking along a ridge we are hit with high winds all morning, at times blowing us around as we struggled to walk straight. The ridge line was worth it for views of Lake Tahoe and great phone reception.
To pass the time I focus on podcasts while carefully trudging through snowy sections up to McKinley’s Pass. After following footsteps in the snow to the top I find the trail and take partially snow covered switchbacks back down through gruelling snow while laughing hard at what I’m listening to. I notice familiar footprints and think there must be a day hiker here with my same shoe. Thinking nothing of it I continue walking until I suddenly recognise where I am. Guthook confirms I’d done a big loop and backtracked half a mile. I couldn’t believe it. After 96 days of walking you’d think I’d know to go in the right direction. Stunned, annoyed and amused I follow my original footprints back up the pass *again*, this time crossing over to the other side of the mountain before descending. Unbelievable.
At 7pm I get into camp later than preferred so jump straight into action for my evening tasks. Put up my tent, make my bed, collect water, get in my tent, cook dinner, soak breakfast, set my Garmin to track my location, get changed, eat, rinse my pot and go to bed. I then lay in the warmth of my sleeping bag and blog about my day while fighting the sleep fairy until 8:30pm when I usually start to drift off, often falling asleep with my phone still in my hand. It’s true what they say about 9pm being hiker midnight.
Day 97 16.06.18 17 Miles / 28km
Hitting the trail at our usual 6:20am I am happy with my decision of pants for this cold windy day. After only a mile I catch up with Four Eyes, putting on her sandals as she looks at the water. Nooooo, not a river crossing this early in the morning! Being an easy stream that’s just too wide to jump I rush across as the cold snow melt numbs my legs. With the crossing done in seconds it then takes me ages to get the toe socks back on my wet cold feet and be ready to start walking again.
A few miles later the same thing happened, I’d caught back up to Four Eyes who waited at a risky water crossing. Just as I arrived Wifey came through heading North. We caught up for a while getting Sierra details and sharing the trail ahead. We then asked for him to watch from downstream as we crossed the river. Wifey had crossed with wet shoes over a bunch of caught logs, but we didn’t have confidence we could be as agile as him. Linking arms we shuffled our way against the cold knee high current and waved goodbye to Wifey after safely making it across.
We climbed in elevation towards Dicks Pass. The last half mile was snowy so I put on my microspikes and continued climbing. Along the Pass I was surprised how deep the snow was noticing the tops of trees protruding around me. Descending after the Pass we had nothing more than snowdrifts for the rest of the day.
As we get closer to the Sierras the scenery changes. Lakes appear often, we are surrounded by red cedars while snowy mountains are always visible in the distance. We passed Heather Lake which was windy and splashed me with a small wave as I collected water. Putting Heather Lake to shame we walked along the Beautiful Aloha Lake for almost two miles. I was blown away by this beautiful place. Deep blue water against a mountain backdrop. Snow still covers sections of trail and meets the water as waves lap against the ice. It’s windy but I don’t care. In the distance I can see small islands with a single tree, I originally think they are boats in a marina, and then am disappointed in myself for defaulting to something manmade in nature, instead of the obvious rocks and trees that they were.
With no marked tentsites along the trail Four Eyes points out on her paper map a side trail that looks like it has camping. We agree to meet there and walk at our own paces. Approaching the turnoff I start to doubt my memory. Was this the one or was it the last trail junction also starting with a T? Walking down the trail I eventually let out a loud “Woo Hoo” as I see Four Eyes’s tent.
Day 98 17.06.18 7.5 Miles / 12km
Waking up to grey skies which threatened to dump rain we packed up quickly and ran down the mountain past Ecko Lake to the Chalet. The odd hail stone fell and bounced off my jacket, but overall the act of putting on rain covers was enough to keep the rain at bay.
At the Chalet and needing a hitch to town we start chatting to a gentleman about the PCT. It turns out Alan hiked the trail in 1973 and spoke about the Sierras with so much passion and love. It’s hopefully an insight of how I’ll be speaking of this trip in 45 years time. Asking if he is heading to town we learn he has a cabin close by but can give us a lift to the highway. Hoping in the car we meet his wife Cindy who welcomes us into the cabin for breakfast and a hot shower. My streak of bad showers is finally over. They had family and friends visiting for the weekend so we were greeted by eight people all fascinated to hear our stories of the trip so far. Cindy and Alan spoilt us with coffee, orange juice, doughnuts, fruit salad, scrambled eggs and bacon. The shower had organic soaps, luxury shampoo and conditioners and face scrub, and the beautiful wooden cabin, heated by a fireplace had a glass wall looking out over the trees. It was the most amazing place. We sat for well over an hour clutching our coffee cups on the lounges chatting about trail life. Once finished Cindy and Alan ended up driving us into South Lake Tahoe straight to the doorstep of the hostel where we needed to pick up our packages. This ultimate act of kindness was so out of the blue, and absolutely heartwarming. Thankyou so much if you ever read this.
In town we pick up the ice axes and bear canisters we’d posted ahead to ourselves. Our bags are about to get a whole lot heavier. With everything close by we walk to the grocery store to shop for our resupply. In an unexpected surprise I find Tim Tams in the international foods isle. I squeal to myself and threw the $4 packet of biscuits into my basket for a little taste of home. After going rouge in the chocolate isle we finish our shop and head next door to the camping store. This was a huge success, I get fuel for my stove, proper polarised sunnies and insoles for my shoes with arch support to hopefully reduce the pain of long days.
South Lake Tahoe is a thriving weekend town, buzzing with snow bunnies through the winter and hikers through the summer. It reminds me a lot of Jindabyne back home, only bigger, much busier and more expensive.
Back at the hostel we repack our bags with the bulky snow items and catch up with Northbound hikers I’d made friends with back in Kennedy Meadows. We call down the list of trail Angels until our third tempt, Mike, agrees to pick us up and give us a ride back to the trailhead.
We swing our heavy bags onto our backs and walk an hour to the first tentsite back on trail. Celebrating a successful resupply/town day without getting sucked into staying we climb into our tents and appreciate not being totally exhausted for once.