Day 110 29.06.18 3 Miles / 5km
The day started with delux bagels made by Four Eyes, followed by multiple buses and a shuttle getting us to the Devils Post Pile which is a short detour from the PCT. The unique rock formation is a result of basaltic layers cooling and shrinking into hexagonal columns which then slowly fall away with time.
At the rangers station we learn there is a junior rangers badge available so sit down to complete the workbook while we learn of the rock formation and local area. Ranger Root (yep that’s his name) chatted with us and gave us our badges after we took the pledge to leave no trace, enjoy ourselves on the PCT, and continue collecting as many badges as we could.
After this we took the shuttle to Red Meadows where the JMT (John Muir Trail) and PCT join. The Hiker box here was insane…and just happened to be placed on the end of our table while we had lunch. Hikers would realise they had too much food sent to them then drop all these quality meals and snacks in the box. While Four Eyes and I definitely had enough food for the eight day leg, we couldn’t pass up on the variety and often quality home cooked and dehydrated meals, so ended up leaving with almost ten days of food.
As we leave the area the smoke from a close by controlled fire filled the air. Breathing wasn’t hard but you could definitely smell and see it. At the Ranger Station, Red Meadows Store and the grocery store in Mammoth there was fire information and maps showing how close it was and confirming all trails were still open.
Climbing up the valley was hard, our packs were extreamly heavy, hurting our necks, shoulders and backs, and causing the burn in our legs to hurt more than usual. By early afternoon I caught up with Four Eyes at a creek. “Our campsite is still eight miles away, but our bags are too heavy. I vote we camp and eat down some of the food in our bags”. I was so in. We set up camp, lay our mats in the sun and chill out.
Sharing the trail with JMT hikers has made me reflect a lot on how far I’ve come since I started this hike. I started out just like them, eager and excited, not really sure what to expect but going with it anyway. I came out here hoping to learn how to slow down. Instead I now hike 30-40kms a day. But I have learnt to be at peace when I stop. For our short day I lay out my mat in the sun and relax, enjoying the time to be still and comfortable with nothing to do except just that. In the corner of my eye I see a JMT hikers attempt of the same thing. He try’s to nap on a log, then sits up and looks insightfully out at the mountains, then flips through some maps, then decides to repack his bear canister three times. Why do we always feel like we need to be doing something? I joke with Four Eyes that when new hikers finally sit down to let a breath out signing “ahhh wilderness” it’s promptly followed by “Now what?”.
Before dinner I decide to try some of the microwaveable brownie mix we found in the hiker box. Borrowing Four Eyes’s stove I successfully burnt my batch to the pot and got Four Eyes’s close to a sticky lava cake consistency. It wasn’t bad…though I’m not sure it’s worth the effort of cleaning the pot. I left it to soak overnight.
Deciding it wasn’t worth the weight we offer our extra cake mix’s and bars to an oncoming PCT hiker as trail magic which she was beside herself with. She was coming into Red Meadows empty and was hungry. I now get why Trail Angels do this, it feels so good.
Day 111 30.06.18 15.5 Miles / 25km
I wake up and scrape the last of the burnt brownie out of my pot while eating my oats from their ziplock bag. Four Eyes makes us a strong mocha using her hot chocolate and coffee sachets, desperate to remove the weight from her pack.
I’m feeling equally desperate and wear my hat from the morning to save from carrying it, and commit to carrying only 700ml of water with frequent stops to refill. This bag is so heavy I even have to take it off to pee, saddened that my squats are no longer strong enough.
We stopped for lunch at Lake Virginia which was gorgeous. We were relieved to see the lake was back to its normal size, after hearing stories of northbounders having to walk through the lake to follow the trail as it swelled during snowmelt season. We suffered through the mozzies for a spot in the shade and ate through as much as acceptable to lighten our loads. Eating isn’t as fun when you know you have to.
With just 10km (6 miles) left for the day we head to camp. I was significantly slowed down by the last hill which just took it out of me, though still made good time reaching camp at 5pm. We snuggled deep into our sleeping bags for a cool night above 3000m (9845feet) as we prepared to climb Silver Pass in the morning.
Day 112 01.07.18 19 Miles / 31km
Up at our usual early time of 5:20am we packed up our tents in the cool morning air and climbed the last few miles to Silver Pass. Four Eyes was quickly ahead as I stopped often to take photos of the mountains we were surrounded by. The lakes were mirrored and slowly I climbed out of the shadow of the mountain and into the sunlight to warm up.
The pass had only one patch of snow, which was icy and slippery, justifying the micro spikes I’d carried all this way. It ended up being the only one I needed them…but boy that was a safe few meters.
Coming down from the Pass the trail was steep with uneven steps. My knees hated the whole downhill stretch which consumed me until midday. To distract me I put on the Beatles and surprised myself with how many of the lyrics I could remember from my teenage obsession.
Passing the turn off to the Vermillion Valley Resort I continue up the trail, opting to avoid this 10km (6mile) resupply exit to save us a day. This is why our bags are so heavy.
Heading up steep switchbacks now uphill I push until I reach water and stop for lunch. Switchbacks really aren’t known for their ideal lunch locations so just off trail I lay out my mat within reaching distance of the stream and work on not sliding off my mat as I eat my peanut butter and jam wraps for lunch. Not stopping for long in this uncomfortable spot I quickly finish up and keep moving.
Passing two Northbound JMT hikers I ask how the Bear Creek Forde was. They respond with “yeah fine, except he tried to throw is shoes across and they landed in the water”. I shake my head and half serious/half joking say that’s everything you’re not meant to do, to which they laugh and agree. They proudly tell me they’d been out for ten days and ask what day I was on. Shocked to hear I was on Day 112 I reassure them that they were out for longer than any trip I’d done before the PCT. Back to proud of their hike they tell me how they hadn’t been in touch with anyone back home and chat about the weather.
Waking alongside Bear Creek for a few miles I wonder when exactly it becomes a reasonable forde. Strong torrents of water throws itself down waterfalls and into whitewater. It’s no wonder this is dangerous during peak snowmelt. Last year alone two PCT hikers drowned trying to forde the two major crossings, Bear and Evolution Creek.
Arriving at the Bear Creek crossing I think to myself in relief “Is that is? No wonder the North bounders have been so chill about this”. Crossing in sandals the water was as promised knee deep and not flowing too strong.
Now with just a few miles to camp I pull out all stops to try and make it as painless as possible. Digging around in my hip pockets I find my last two saltwater taffy’s (lollies) that Four Eyes has shared with me the day prior. One by one I lift my head net trying not to let mozzies in as I pop a lolly into my mouth.
Just a mile before our designated campground I see Four Eyes’s bandana on a trail junction sign, and looking around I find her tent when I hear her say “this climb sucks, we can finish it tomorrow”. In total agreement I drop my pack and set up quickly before the mozzies could eat me alive. (Note mozzie next to my eye)
Four Eyes and I joke that if we were to make a Sounds of the Sierra tape it would be of mosquitoes, the crinkling of our bottles as we filter water, and the Cheese Burger bird. The cheeseburger bird does a three syllable chirp which sounds exactly like “cheese-bur-ger ”. To save me from my forever unsatisfied cheeseburger cravings I’m trying to convince myself it’s saying “hi-Hea-ther”.
Day 113 02.07.18 19 Miles / 31km
It was nice to wake up without leg cramps for once. For the last week I’d been getting cramps through the night and mornings so Four Eyes gave me electrolytes and it worked! I can’t say that cramps are all that unusual for me, but until now I hadn’t found a solution. I pop a painkiller to loosen up my sore joints and start climbing to Seldon Pass.
Before long we were up and over the easiest pass so far. The trail then turned downhill leaving me with sore knees and ankles as I walked with my heavy bag on rocky terrain.
Offering some relief the trail changed to uphill for the afternoon as we climbed towards the next Pass. I again end up with a wet shoe crossing a river and wrongly trusting a large thick piece of bark disguised as a log to hold me afloat.
The long anticipated Evolution Creek forde was again a very shallow looking so I put on sandals and waded across. The water this time ended up much deeper than expected reaching mid thigh and then wetting my shorts. Breathing deep in the sudden high cool water I consider turning around but could see I had passed the worse of it. From the other side of the bank I could see I chose a very bad path. Luckily it was harmless in favourable conditions but had I gone upstream the crossing was only knee high.
Reaching camp near a in meadow Four Eyes points me to the best viewpoint and I appreciate the scenery for a while. It really looked like I was sitting in front of a giant painting, I was pinching myself to prove it was real.
While setting up my tent I hear a pop and notice the pole splintered at the end of one of the connectors. Grateful for carrying a pole sleeve I slip it over and continue setting up. My list of items to replace in bishop is growing. The average life of outdoors gear: 3.5months of continuous use.
Day 114 03.07.18 20 Miles / 32km
Waking up to a cold morning Four Eyes and I stayed in bed for 20mins longer than usual, complaining to each other from our tents that we didn’t want to get up. Eventually we coaxed ourselves out of our warm bags and into the cold.
In a very unusual ocurance I thought I was ready for a morning poop. I got up, dug a hole, squatted…then nothing. It was a false alarm. I leave the hole for someone else and pack down my tent. Only half hour later I have to pull over for an emergency poop which decided very suddenly it was time. Come on body, can’t we just get along?
A girl walks past me and says “we are so lucky, just over this hill is a lake and you walk through paradise”. She wasn’t wrong. This is a place you could go for a spiritual experience. To feel small amongst the mountains, accepted by the curious animals and be left in awe of nature’s beautiful work. I can see why John Muir wrote so passionately about this landscape, and looking around I feel inspired to do the same.
While out here I have fallen in love with marmots, they are such shy but curious creatures, and you can so clearly see them battling between the two characteristics. They always want to be watching you, perched up on rocks for the best view, giving away their location with a bark/squeak to their friends across the valley. As soon as they see you notice them they duck down in a terrible attempt to hide but still watch. It’s like playing hide and seek with a toddler.
On the breathless climb to the John Muir hut on top of Muir Pass I find myself in a bizarre landscape of beach like lake with snowy mountains in the background. It was unique, beautiful and for some reason so memorable. The out of place lake made me miss the coastline at home, but appreciate where I was. Once at the top of the Pass I take refuge from the sun in the hut while I eat a quick lunch then keep hiking.
Immediately the trail had turned into a stream as the surrounding snow melts in the warmth. Carefully I avoid deep sections, managing to keep my shoes on higher rocks. This lasted a mile until it was simply easier to be wet and follow the trail through creeks that swelled and swallowed the trail. Giving into wet shoes was the best thing I did that day, crossing 3 or 4 creeks and saving myself a lot of time and effort on a long hard downhill section.
By 6pm I was feeling exhausted and grumpy as I push the last few miles to camp on very sore knees. I curse the terrain, the time, my pace, and our optimistic decision to hit 20miles today. I then try to remind myself to be grateful. I’m surrounded by beautiful granite peaks, gorgeous pines and a fast flowing river. In any other scenario this could be the backdrop of an REI photo shoot or the film for a movie. Instead I’m stomping through trying to get it over with so I can eat and lay down. Unwillingly I appreciate the stupid scenery.
Once finally at camp we were admiring the meadow where a deer frolicked. Four Eyes says as insightfully “aww, look at it taking a shit next to the lake… always filter your water kids”.
Day 115 04.07.18 16.5 Miles / 27km
Not feeling confident in my ability to complete another long day I talk to Four Eyes and we shorten our plans agreeing on a campsite a few miles closer. Grateful for my poor sore knees I start the day on a more comforted note.
Climbing out of the valley I prepare myself for a half day uphill climb to Mather Pass which was behind the mountains I could see towering above. I blast rock anthems through my headphones, take a shot of caffeine and charge my way up the infamous Golden Staircase. Being above 3000m (9845feet) I stop often to catch my breath and watch time slip past as I inch my towards the top.
I stop at the top of the Pass for a quick lunch and video. Watch it back I sound exhausted, but I felt great for getting there.
Descending from the Pass was surprisingly easy. It was steep to start, which would be awful in snow, but overall the terrain was great with limited steps and a smooth path. Typical, the one day we allow time for a slow painful descent and it’s a delightful path.
I made great time and reach camp by 5pm in high spirits. I laughed for hours when Four Eyes realised she was missing a sock (it’s actually really unfortunate out here) that she suspects is still at the laundromat in Mammoth. Doing my own load of laundry in the creek near camp I note to Four Eyes “I need a new puddle, mine has gone murky” as all the fine dirt comes out.
I’ve finally started feeling totally myself out here, never judged and without the pressure to impress people or look good to the eyes of beauty. I share that I’ve decided to finally stop shaving my legs, and in her wise words Four Eyes responds with a very encouraging “Butterflies have hairy legs too”.
Day 116 05.07.18 18 Miles / 29km
Feeling the cold we again avoid getting out of our sleeping bags and don’t start moving until 7:30am. We climb the few miles of switchbacks to the top of Pinchot Pass where Four Eyes was waiting for me so we could celebrate our 1500miles (2415km). I’d finally convinced her to join in on my video so we put on our matching jackets and danced with the mountain backdrop. It was a lot of fun.
At the top of the Pass we met Love Bug and Delivery Boy, two Southbound JMT hikers our age who were pretty chill and entertaining. We chatted for a while then kept going. Making great time we stopped for an early lunch, convincing the boys to stop with us. They had run out of water purification tablets so we lent them use of our water filters and gave them our cherry and pomegranate drink mix as trail magic. Really I was trying to get rid of my least favourite flavour, they appreciated it none the less.
While sitting down a lady walked passed with her support dog. Naturally Four Eyes wanted to pat it so the owner hung around for a chat. Noticing purple “shoes” on the dog I ask if they’d lost a paw protector on the trail. I’d picked one up with no idea what it was, but didn’t want to leave plastic. Returning it to them in a weird small world coincidence they said thank you and continued down the trail.
A lady walked past and I heard a voice sing out “Are you River?” To which I said yes, “ah I’ve been following your blog, your making great time on your flip, I’m hiking the JMT and didn’t think I’d see you!”. Extremely flattered I later caught up with her for a chat. Jennifer was out with her family, their two boys Buff Boss (12), Night Slider (10) and her partner Blue Moose. It’s so awesome to see they’ve got kids out here experiencing the trail life as a family. They’d been out for 22 days and still had a week to go. It really shows there’s no excuse, and I imagine it’s a trip the boys will always remember. It’s parenting done right, reminding me of our family road trips across Australia when I was younger.
After a steep downhill descent I give my knees another long rest at the bottom with Lovebug and Delivery Boy, watching a man with his Mules waiting for Jen and the boys to deliver their resupply. Once Jen arrived we got to listen to the boys delights as they open up their boxes rediscovering the candy and treats they’d sent themselves. As I get up to keep walking Jen shouts out “Hey River, want a beer?”. Now that’s a way to get my attention. I walk over and join them, packing the beer for later, eating a fresh apple they’d just received and even giving my rubbish to be carried out on the mule. This made for an awesome mood to finish my walk to camp. Cheers Jen – I hope you and the boys enjoyed the rest of the JMT!!
Walking on my own to camp I was powering uphill when turning a corner I see a bear standing on the side of the trail just ahead. Oh man. Ummm. Shout. “Hey Bear!” He looked up and stepped forward, so I said it again. Now disinterested he turns around and up the trail and into the woods. Ohhh my god did that just happen? Ohhh my god! So much adrenaline was pumping through me. I was both scared and excited – I saw a bear!!
At Rae Lakes we are treated to a gorgeous sunset. Forgetting I had two doors to my tent Four Eyes snapped this photo of me trying to get a good view. I blame Jen’s beer.
Day 117 06.07.18 12.5 Miles / 20km
After a long night of nightmares about bears I wake up and sing happy birthday to Four Eyes. She hates a fuss, but I love an occasion so make the most of it. I’m disappointed I forgot to buy party hats, but I gave her a Herseys chocolate bar and peach ice tea drink mixer which I’d been carrying. If it hadn’t have been such a heavy leg I would have gone all out, but sadly wasn’t possible.
As usual Four Eyes went beast mode up the 5km (3 miles) to the top of Glen Pass and beyond. I took my usual slow and steady pace up the rocky approach, and was consistently followed by a gentleman hiking the JMT. Together we silently trekked up my final pass of the Sierras, both refusing to stop or give in to the terrain. After almost two hours we reached the top. Turning to the fellow hiker we first bumped, said “good climb” and parted ways in one of the best examples of hiker respect I’ve experienced.
Standing at the top I soaked in the view, and the significance of the last Pass. I’d just finished the Sierra section of the PCT. The section I didn’t know I could do, and seriously considered skipping all together. It nearly broke me but on my second attempt I had now just finished. This big looming section will soon be behind me, and I’ll get to be back to a Northbound Hiker. What a sense of achievement.
Heading down the Pass I start to recognise the approach to Kearsage Pass which we took to exit the Sierras our first time there. I remember how terrified I was thinking it would be as technical as Forester Pass, and revisited the spots I had breakdowns with Gandalf while hungry and exhausted. Yes, there were multiple breakdowns…which I’d forgotten all about until now. This time there was no snow, the scenery was slightly less impressive, it was hot and the switchbacks didn’t get any easier.
We had a big lunch at the top then head down into the Onion Valley Campground. The first time we came down this there was no one. We passed just one PCT Hiker and saw only two cars in the car park. This time though we were surrounded by day hikers and the car park was full. Excited by the hitch hike potential we walk quickly down the mountain and to the exit of the car park. The first car to drive up stopped and offered us a lift straight into Bishop. We got dropped off at the post office where Four Eyes picked up her birthday letter from her Fiancé, Bernie; and I collected new dry bags from Osprey, my resupply box which had been bounced from Beldon, and the box of extra gear we’d sent ahead from Mammoth. The only thing that wasn’t there was new shoes from Salomon, though we later determined they were at the courier centre UPS, and I’d have to picked them up on Monday.
In the mean time I head out to find the food I’ve been craving for the last week; the mac and cheese from the Texan BBQ place in Bishop. I order a pint and shamelessly eat the whole thing, despite staff packing two sets of cutlery.
Days 118 – 120 07-09.07.18
Since we had the weekend to rest while we waited to be able to pick up my shoes on Monday we used the days in Bishop to catch up a few tasks. The obvious resupply shopping was done and I put a fair bit of time into getting the next blog finished and published.
We returned to the post office on Saturday to send home our bear canisters and snow gear now that we’d officially finished the Sierras and no longer required it. It felt great to be permanently saying goodbye to this pack weight.
Later in the hostel hiker box I found a huge haul of quality dinners so decided to collect and post them ahead to our next town. Since we were now posting food we decide on a second resupply shop to bulk pack breakfasts of homemade oat mixes.
We ate our fair share of baked goods, I cooked us a stir fry and Four Eyes made us a fresh fruit pie. We made the most of a chance to fatten up in town.
While in Bishop a wildfire broke out near the California/Oregon border where we were heading as we flip back to Dunsmuir to pick up where we started our Southbound section. Keeping an eye on conditions we considered skipping further ahead not knowing if the fire would spread, but after much research we decide to stick with the original plan, noting the two exit points before we reach the fire and 28km (17mile) trail closure.
Day 120 09.07.18. 12.5 Miles / 20km
At the Hostel California in Bishop we found a fellow hiker who was hiring a car and driving to Oregon. Splitting the gas Four Eyes and I joined him for the 8hrs up to Dunsuir where I’d booked a hotel and arranged to meet a friend from home, Ross. Ross is my adventure buddy who joined me on my NZ Ramble and Raced in my team for GeoQuest 2017. He’d flown from Australia to hike a section with me for his 3 week break.
Before leaving we stopped at the UPS centre and picked up my sexy new shoes from Salomon. As my feet keep growing I’ve found the toebox of my previous shoes too narrow, so they’ve sent me the Sense Ride which is their widest trail runner that isn’t waterproof. They got the colour spot on.
After 8hours of driving, chatting, listening to jaz background music and rolling the windows down to recover from hiker farts, we arrived in Dunsmuir at 10pm. Ross had ordered us a pizza and we picked him up as we walked back from town. Together we ate, treated our clothes in petheran (bug repellant), shared fun facts about Australia (like wombats have square poo!) and went to bed too late, ready to start walking North again in the morning.