Day 66: Mammoth Pass (903.3) to Agnew Meadows (914.9)
June 14 // 11.6 + 3.5 miles
Slept in until about 8:30 and then dealt with the massive task of cleaning the Airbnb after twelve hikers had been residents for three days. Checked out on time and did a few last minute chores-resupply and a new shirt- before catching the trolley back to the trailhead.
Started hiking solo just past noon, the group had left earlier while I was shirt shopping and after the day hikers were passed during the first mile out, I saw no one.
Felt great going up over Mammoth pass to get back to the trail, did an extra half mile of backtracking to take a detour past Reds Meadow since I knew it offered great views down into the valley. We’re also now passing by what is, in my opinion, the most iconic looking range in the Sierra, consisting of the massive Mt. Ritter and Banner peak, and the spiky Minarets, with an alpine lake (Ediza?) nestled right in the middle. They have such a dramatic silhouette, could stare at them for hours.
Back on the PCT caught up to most of the crew near Minaret Waterfall. Feet got wet crossing a creek but dried quickly in the heat.
Cruised to the large flat space at the trailhead near Agnew Meadows and decided to call it a day. Set up tent (mosquitos are appearing) and made dinner while everyone else rolled into camp. Our large group rarely camps all together since we basically consist of two subgroups, one is fast but takes lots of breaks and zeros in town, the other is slower but steady. Tonight everyone was in the same camp for the first time on trail and I get the uncomfortable feeling that I always do when it’s too crowded.
In bed early, happy to be back on trail after three days in town.
Day 67: Agnew Meadows (914.9) to Bear Campsite (933.0)
June 15 // 18.1 miles // Donahue pass.
Great sleep, and far fewer mosquitos this morning. Everyone except Eli was still sleeping when I woke up, we had a quiet breakfast in the middle of camp. (Coffee and protein cookie)
The trail is crowded as always after town, and a half dozen hikers passed by while I was packing up. Uphill climb out of camp, the view of the Ritter range was incredible and I took photo after photo. I have literally zero technical climbing skills but I can see the appeal of mountaineering, something just drives you to want to stand on the top of certain peaks. Maybe that’ll be the next adventure.
More climbing up to 1000 Island Lake for lunch, it’s one of the most gorgeous spots on trail and I lay around for two hours enjoying the view while everyone arrived and ate lunch. The sun was out but the wind was strong and I think the cool weather tricked me into getting sunburned again.
Finally got going again mid-afternoon, climbed up Island pass (can barely call it a pass compared to the others because of how easy it is) which offered great views down to the lake and across to Banner peak.
A slight downhill and then up Donahue pass, a gorgeous section with lake after lake all connected by streams. This pass had the biggest difference in snow pack vs. last year, there was barely any today. One of the best spots in the Sierra and could be the most scenic pass, rivalled only by Silver.
The lead up to the pass was, for the most part, gradual and easy, and then the last mile was a series of steep rocky switchbacks. Made it to the top around four and shared the view down the north side with a couple marmots. Would’ve liked to stay and enjoy the view but it was getting late in the afternoon and cooling off quick.
Headed down to make camp, the trail had a few snow fields to cross, but for the most part was clear. The wind was pretty icy so I made good time down. Ran into PC and Honeybee on the way after seeing nobody else since lunch at one icy river crossing and then Eli shortly a short while later at a second crossing that came up mid thigh.
I had planned to stop at the nice secluded campsite where I had my bear encounter last year but couldn’t quite remember where it was and my notes from last year weren’t precise. Struggled to find it during the downhill, crossed another river and then hit the knee-shatteringly steep drop to Lyell Fork meadows. Figured I had missed the campsite but then there it was, three miles further than I had originally thought, I arrived just as the sun was setting. (Sorry rest of crew.)
The campsite was hidden from trail in the woods so we left a pine cone arrow for those still behind us and set up the tents. Eli had the fire going right away and I had a dinner of noodles and snickers seated in the bear can circle. The bugs are out as usual and I’m tired as heck. Great day.
Day 68: Bear Campsite (933.0) to Small Stream (954.4)
June 16 // 21.4 miles
First out of camp for once, woke up around six and felt really excited to get down to the meadows so I was on trail before most of the others were awake.
Finished the end of the downhill and into Lyell Fork meadows, which has to be one of the most scenic places in the world, a slow turquoise river winding through the valley with the snowy Sierra peaks as a backdrop.
I really wanted to swim but it was still early and the store at Tuolumne Meadows was calling, so I settled for a snack break on the riverbank instead, watching trout float by happily in the current. Took it slow and followed the valley for about eight miles, it’s one of the flattest sections after all the crazy up and down of the Sierras and I enjoyed the easy walking.
Lots of people out enjoying a weekend hike and for the most part everyone was friendly and curious about my trip. Had one unfortunate encounter with an older man that basically ranted at me for ten minutes about young hikers wearing headphones and using GPS trackers, and how busy the trail had gotten in the last twenty years. That’s life dude, get used to it, someday I’ll likely be the same grumpy old person complaining about how easy the younguns have it with their eye-screen GPS, or drone carried packs, or whatever the future will do to long distance hiking. After I managed to extract myself from the grump by pretty much walking away while he was mid-lecture, had a lovely rest of the morning and cruised to the store just off trail at Tuolumne meadows. Walked with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels for a while and the trail became wide enough for us to walk beside each other and talk.
The parking lot near Tuolumne was the first road that crosses the PCT since Kennedy Meadows (over 200 miles ago) and it was strange to see so many cars and tourists. A small area with a couple picnic tables was taken over by PCT hikers so we dropped the bag there and went straight to the little store to order a burger and soda. Did a small resupply from the limited selection and left quickly, my competitive side was acting up with 20+ hikers sitting at the tables.
Left with Bagels and didn’t make it very far before we had to stop for a swim in the river, since the day was hot and I had skipped swimming this morning. After we dried off and hiked on, the trail crossed hot, exposed granite faces and it was nice to have my wet hair and clothes to cool me down.
Lots of tourists and other hikers on trail but after we passed Tuolumne falls they dropped off completely. The falls were incredible and I sat to watch the rushing water for half an hour before starting the climb up and out of the valley. I can’t believe how good I’m feeling physically this year, no aches or injuries to speak of, and the uphills feel ten times easier than they used to.
Downhill to more meadows that while pretty, had nothing on Lyell from this morning. Mosquitos were coming out strong so pushed past the open meadow and made camp with Bagels at a small stream, and PC and Pants showed up as we were eating. Had a bandana bath in the cold water, double ramen for dinner and into my tent pretty early.
Day 69: Small stream (954.4) to Smedberg Lake (968.5)
June 17 // 14.1 miles // Benson pass.
Woke early to a frosty tent and water bottles. Snuck out of camp early while the guys were sleeping to do a couple early morning miles, there was no one else on trail before sunrise and I was enjoying the peace and quiet. The morning was chilly and when the wind picked up I had to break out the fleece and gloves.
There was a river crossing that came to the knees and the bottom of a four mile downhill and it was a shock to wade through the icy water, my feet were numb for the next ten minutes. A steep uphill that felt almost vertical but knocked it out pretty quickly in the cold weather, I have a bad habit of climbing up hills only on the balls of my feet without planting the heels, which everyone says not to do, but I’ve never noticed any ill effects other than slightly tighter calves.
I’d been really excited to spend the majority of the day at Miller lake, my favourite swim spot from last year since the water was warm and it had a small beach. Unfortunately this year the winds were so cold I couldn’t imagine swimming. Arrived at the lake at nine, and decided to wait out the morning and see if it warmed up while everyone else caught up. Made coffee and hot oatmeal and put on all my layers. By eleven, most of our group had arrived but the weather hadn’t changed much and although it probably wasn’t the best decision, stripped down anyways and got into the lake.
The water was much warmer than the frosty air and I stayed in far too long, almost fifteen minutes. Getting out was miserable, the wind cut through everything and was icy on wet skin. I think some inner part had gotten cold to the point that nothing I did was going to warm me up. My hands weren’t working how they were supposed to and putting on dry clothes took me far too long. I ended up getting my quilt out to lay out in the sun to sleep under. Could not stop shivering (possibly hypothermic? Definitely not smart.) and ended up with two quilts on in full sunlight for about an hour before I felt normal again.
Napped a little bit after I was warm enough to stop the shivering and woke up to our entire group having a “beach day” wrapped in layers and quilts. Poor showing this year, Miller lake.
We still had a pass to get over, so rolled out around three to get to camp before dark. The trail was flat and down from Miller lake for a few miles before climbing steeply up towards Benson pass. The weather was still chilly and made for nice hiking with the sun out.
Followed a winding river for much of the way and made it to the top in good time despite large rocky steps. No snow at all except the final few steps to the top of the pass. The siblings were there and had made snow cones with what little there was, flavoured with cherry-flavoured mio. Stopped for a quick snack and then headed down the other side of the pass.
Jamming hard with music this afternoon and felt really good all the way to our campsite alongside the beautiful but horribly named Smedberg lake. Mosquitos were out so tent went up and we had a quick dinner around the fire, it’s a rare time when our entire ten-person group is present but thankfully there was more than enough room for everyone’s tents. PC and Bagels brought out their fishing poles and caught a few trout in the lake.
Day 70: Smedberg Lake (968.5) to Creek Campsite (990.0)
June 18 // 21.5 miles // Seavey Pass.
Woke to everything covered in frost. Slow to get up, lazed around in camp having a long breakfast and waiting for my tent and quilt to dry off.
Started off with a climb up the rock face from Smedberg, everything was wet with snowmelt and I slipped a couple times, I hardly ever fall on trail but I had two good wipeouts within an hour of starting today. Thankfully no damage except for a muddy ass and scraped hand.
A few creek crossings that have been deeper and stronger than most so far, took it slow and crossed without issue.
Vertical zigzag day, huge elevation gain and loss today. Dropped steeply down to a creek that made my knees ache and then right back up Seavey Pass which was my least favourite last year due to steep climb and so much snow that was impossible to navigate. Had a much better time today, still steep but I had lots of energy and the snow had easy to follow foot prints. Near the top there was a small lake that was still as glass so I obviously had to stop for swim. Water was pretty warm and I stayed in a while, great to cool off after the hot climb up.
Summitted the pass no problem and found Eli, Honeybee and Bagels having lunch a little ways down. I’m back on the goat cheese game, A+ with blueberry bagels.
Second steep descent down the pass that led to a quick easy jaunt through the flat bottomed valley and then another climb going right back up. One of the steepest uphills we’ve faced, but thankfully it was quite short and knocked it out without having to stop for many breaks. The trail almost looked like a garden path today, there were so many flowers and the trail itself was cobbled into steps of flat stones. Beautiful area.
Back down again. There was a large creek at the bottom that went mid thigh and then (shocker) another climb up 1400 ft. I was getting a little tired but took it slow and listened to tunes and made it to the top slow and steady. Our planned campsite at Wilma lake was all downhill and I was anxious to set up camp and be done for the day. On the way down the mosquitos started to pick up and at the lake they were nearly unbearable. Bagels was there swatting miserably at a cloud formed around him and informed me there was No Way We Are Stopping Here. Everyone else had apparently come to the same conclusion so we pushed on and tried to ignore the bugs. A little bit hangry and annoyed when my plan for the day isn’t stuck to, but on the other hand I wasn’t feeling too bad and the day was still early, so in retrospect I’m happy to have done a couple extra miles.
Caught up with the crew three miles further at a small site next to a creek. Unfortunately the mosquitos were still terrible so put the tent up in a hurry and ate dinner as quickly as possible sitting in the smoke of the campfire to prevent bugs. Not a social night, everyone retreated back to tents as soon as food was done to avoid the swarm.
Day 71: Creek Campsite (990.0) to Kennedy Canyon Creek (1005.9)
June 19 // 15.9 miles
Up around 7 and hoping that mosquitos had dispersed, they always seem to ease up in the morning. They weren’t so bad when I first got up but once they figured out I was outside the safety of my tent netting, it was swarm city again.
Followed Falls creek through Jack Main canyon for a few miles, the trail was flooded and muddy the whole way and of course, the mosquitos were ever present. Saw a large buck walking down trail towards me, he didn’t seem to want to move off trail so I went around him.
Slipped and slid my way through the mud puddle that was the trail today and finally made it to Dorothy Lake. Scuzi from South Africa, who we hiked around in the desert, was there having a snack break. The mosquitos weren’t bad for the first time all morning so went for a swim, the water was quite cold and I didn’t stay in long, but it was refreshing nonetheless.
Went over Dorothy Lake pass which isn’t really a pass, just a quick slight uphill. Beautiful rocky scenery, and many small lakes, I had to fight the urge to go for a second swim. There was still some snow to navigate around and I lost the trail for a bit. Some of my favourite terrain and I’m not looking forward to leaving the Sierras, it’s gone by so quickly.
Met the crew at mile 1000 having lunch. I’ve now hiked almost 3000 miles total on this trail between this year and last, still haven’t actually walked across a state border.
My resupply of bagels w/ goat cheese was a good call this section, it’s kept much better than the cream cheese did. Also ate two entire bags of sour patch kids to satisfy the sugar craving and now my tongue is completely raw. Feeling really good after lunch and cruising hard on the downhill. Less water on this side of the pass so the trail was finally dry, minus a couple minor creek crossings.
Our plan was to get most of the Sonora pass climb out of the way tonight but sat down to make dinner early at Kennedy Canyon Creek at a very nice tentsite and that was game over for me after debating furiously whether or not to hike on. I get intense indecision between my competitive and lazy sides and probably waste way too much time weighing pros and cons instead of committing to hiking or just enjoying the break. Stayed w/ Calves, Bagels, PC and Scuzi while the rest (Honeybee, Eli, Pants, the siblings and DS) pushed on, we’ll all meet at Kennedy Meadows North tomorrow and end the Sierra section.
Day 72: Kennedy Canyon Creek (1005.9) to Sonora Pass (1016.9)
June 20 // 11 miles // Sonora Pass
Slept like shit last night, woke up almost every hour and had a tough time falling back asleep.
Woken up at 5:30 by the others to get an early start towards Sonora pass, which made me regret my decision to camp early last night, evening miles are so much easier than morning miles. After waking up I’m usually stiff and slow moving the first hour.
It was still very cold before sunrise so skipped breakfast and I didn’t bother changing out of my base layer, but still was the last one out of camp. Hit the uphill to Sonora right away and it was surprising how quickly the weather warmed once the first bit of sun came over the mountains. Changed back to my normal hiking gear and started the long gradual switchbacks up the pass. They were still partly snow covered and the icy, early-morning hardness made it slippery and slow going. It fortunately wasn’t too steep and made it to the top for a great view back to the Sierra range we just came from. I’m feeling sad to leave it behind but Northern California is a beautiful section in its own way as well.
Sonora is unlike any of the other high passes in that there are no trees at all, it’s mostly just bare black rock that looks like something from another planet. Ridge walked up and down with a couple more long snow crossings, and an epic panorama view of the rocky landscape ahead.
Caught up with Calves, PC and Bagels at the top and hiked down together. The descent wasn’t nearly as sketchy as last years disaster but there was still quite a bit of snow and I opted to ignore the sketchy switchbacks covered in icy mud and just went down a steep snow chute with only a little bit of postholing. All four of us chose different routes down and got separated, I had no idea if the others were ahead or behind.
Ran the last little bit down to the highway and met Bagels at the road where we, along with two other hikers, caught an easy hitch from three older men heading to their 50th college reunion.
The driver took the winding road down at an uncomfortable speed for having four hikers+packs plus three passengers jammed seatbelt-less in the tiny sedan. The smell of the brakes mixed with hiker-sweat and my head being squished at an angle against the window made for a long ride. They finally dropped us at Kennedy Meadows North (no relation to the KM at the start of the Sierra) and we found Honeybee and Eli on the deck finishing up breakfast. Ordered our own as soon as possible and I inhaled it, still hadn’t eaten anything that day and I was feeling slightly nauseous from hunger. The waitress could’ve served the worst food ever and I still would’ve loved it, but thankfully my pancakes were delicious.
Kennedy Meadows North is fantastic, it’s a western pack-trip ranch nestled among the pines at the bottom of a mountain, with a creek running through it, tons of corrals and quaint wooden buildings. There were horses and pack mules and dogs everywhere you turned. Everyone walking around looked like they came straight from a rodeo, with cowboy hats and plaid shirts and even spurs on their boots. Love it. Showered and did laundry and finally!! got to get rid of our bear canisters, my pack looks so small without it.
Most of our crew was leaving to hike a few miles out but I really, really wanted to stay and enjoy the ranch, so split a bunk room with Bagels, Scuzi and another hiker called Circus Act and committed to staying the night as long as we got out early in the morning. Made a trip to the little bar that was actually called a Saloon by the locals without a single bit of irony. The bartender offered to drive us back to the trail at 8 the next morning for five bucks a head so that settled my anxiety over trying to hitch first thing in the morning. Went back to the restaurant for an amazing spaghetti dinner with Bagels, Scuzi and Circus Act. Really fun night, good conversation with the group and downed a couple bottles of wine between the four of us. Out like a light, hopefully back to trail early tomorrow, I’m coming back here for a proper vacation sometime.
Day 73: Sonora Pass (1016.9) to Campsite (1041.4)
June 21 // 24.5 miles
Woke up freezing cold from some seriously over-zealous air conditioning in the bunkroom, a little hungover, but well rested from being in a bed.
Packed up, downed two litres of water and some Advil for the hangover and into the restaurant at 6:30 for breakfast. I was tempted to stay another day, I’d rather split our intended double zero in Tahoe and spend an extra day here, it’s been one of our best stops so far. One of the dogs was extra cuddly while we were leaving, which seemed like a sign to stay, but Bagels was intent on leaving so reluctantly went to catch our ride back to trail.
Uphill straight away and my hangover was completely gone within an hour, hiking is a cure-all.
Going through new terrain, everything feels very open with large irregularly-shaped rock formations. On the downhill there was snow and mud obscuring most of the trail and I spent more time route finding than actual walking. A couple glissades down snowy slopes saved time, but I lost a water bottle which means I’m down to one-litre capacity, shouldn’t be an issue since there’s still so much water. Passed the first group of south-bound hikers,”flip floppers”, that started the trail early, skipped the snowy Sierras to Oregon and are now walking South through this section.
Stopped with lunch with Bagels by a small creek, gatorade and cream cheese wraps and then more uphill. I had one of the zoned out days where I’ll suddenly snap out of a daydream and be miles ahead of where I thought. I was moving pretty slowly and even though my GPS app told me the ground was relatively flat, it all felt uphill.
Didn’t see anyone all afternoon and made a pretty early camp with Bagels in the trees next to a small spring and lake which meant the mosquitos have returned, so we got our tents up in a hurry and ate dinner inside the mesh protection. Half the group is ahead, half is behind, but we should all be arriving in Tahoe around the same time.
Day 74: Campsite (1041.4) to Mosquito Hell (1066.7)
June 22 // 25.3 miles
Woke up super late at 7:30 and everyone that we passed yesterday was walking by while we packed up. Darn. Mosquitos were out early this morning so we got moving quickly and climbed the long uphill to the saddle above Noble Lake, great views in either direction of the pass.
The downhill was a mixture of snow and mud and quickly lost the trail- just went straight down which took me through a swamp and soaked my shoes (hello darkness my old friend) but I managed to find the trail much further down.
The trail went back uphill through super nifty volcanic rock formations, not many trees except for some wizened old pines that and the views were just ridgeline after ridgeline. I forgot how much I like NorCal, it doesn’t have the raw beauty and adventure of the Sierras but it’s nice in its own way, lots of old forests and wildflowers and I’m happy to be back.
Near Highway 4, there were a couple cryptic signs alluding to trail magic ahead. Slightly confused but I was hopeful that maybe there would be food, especially after passing one that asked “IS HIKER HUNGER REAL?” and the next which said “LET’S FIND OUT”.
Figured it might be a very mean practical joke after passing this:
but at the highway crossing there was a large van parked in front of a clearing set up with tables covered in food and a couple grills. A dozen or so hikers were sitting around in collapsible chairs eating and talking. This was trail magic on crack. We’re talking, burgers, pizza, salad, devilled eggs, brownies, fruit, chips and like eight kinds of drinks. These people set up for days at a time to cook breakfast/lunch/dinner for hikers coming through, and didn’t accept any donations. They’ve been doing it multiple years. According to the guy cooking, Alan, “It’s like we’re throwing a party every day and not sure who’s going to show up”.
Stayed over two hours to eat and chat which was detrimental to our plan to do 28 miles today. We found out from the guy cooking burgers that our friends had been here the night before. (“You mean the young boy scout and dirty Harry Potter?”) Bagels and I finally pulled away as more hikers were rolling in and went back uphill with full stomachs. This time last year I got off trail at Highway 4 to go into town with Jade and Q when my knee was particularly troublesome, so the next forty-ish miles to Echo Lake are new trail for me.
The trail wound through meadowy terrain and more of the unusual rock formations sticking straight out of the mountainside. It was a long climb but I felt good and energized after all the food at the highway and we saw no one except for a few day hikers coming the opposite direction. Weather is still hot and sunny, I’m burning my face again but what else is new.
No crazy elevation here like the Sierra passes but constant small up and downs that seems to be just as exhausting. Didn’t really stop at all after lunch just powered on through since there are still a lot of miles to go before Tahoe and we plan to get there tomorrow afternoon. Eli, Honeybee, PC and Calves are pushing hard to get to the post office before it closes tomorrow, so for now it’s just pretty much Bagels and I, with the rest of the group half a day behind.
The wildflowers were absolutely out of control today, I took over a hundred pictures of all the different kinds. The majority are bright yellow, the light purple smell the nicest, the white and blues attract the most bees.
Stopped for dinner a few miles before camp to try and avoid the evening mosquito swarm. We’re dry camping tonight which is not ideal but there’s hardly any campsites in this stretch and anything close to water magnifies the intensity of the mosquitos ten times over. Had a boring no-cook dinner of cream cheese wraps, but I stole a couple spoonfuls of mountain house chili from Bagels, which greatly improved the meal.
After dinner, we hit the trail again to knock out a few more miles to camp. The mosquitos came out like I’ve never seen them before and they were aggressive, usually my legs are safe due to being constantly in motion but not today, had to put away my poles so hands were available for slapping.
The trail went uphill but I was still running anyways, couldn’t escape the bugs and there was a lot of swearing on my part in between the weird slap dance running. Dropped a pole while hitting my arm and in the second it took me to pick it up the bugs were all over me, face, legs and all.
I found Bagels at the first space big enough for two tents and set up as fast as I could before getting inside and starting the task of killing all the mosquitos that had managed to slip inside with me. They’re swarming like crazy outside even though the sun has pretty much set, there’s at least forty perched on the mesh of my tent door and I can see a literal black cloud over Bagels’ tent. Gross.
Low on water since I only have a one litre capacity (stupid, gotta buy another bottle in town) so this is definitely not going to be my best night.
We were undecided about pushing all the way to Tahoe tomorrow since the weekend lodging rates are sky high, but I think the mosquitos sealed the deal, I want to be in a room with walls and no bugs. Other than the last hour, a really great day.
Day 75: Mosquito Hell (1066.7) to Showers Lake (1081.8)
June 23 // 15.1 miles
Wow what a day. There’s a running joke on the PCT that NorCal is a hiker graveyard, it’s common to start feeling the mental drain after working your ass off to get through the Sierras, arriving at the much less scenic section through Northern California and realizing after almost three months you’re still less than halfway and haven’t yet crossed a state line. Quitting is on many minds. Today and yesterday have completely contradicted that, can’t believe I skipped these miles last year to spend time in Tahoe.
Woke up around 7, there were still a couple ambitious mosquitos hanging on my tent netting but nothing compared to last night. Packed up and left camp just after Bagels, finished the uphill climb we started last night. The mountain we were climbing around was aptly named the nipple, it looked just like an enormous boob with a well placed boulder at the top.
Slight drop down to a dirt road, a couple dayhikers with a beautiful pit bull asked about our trip and gave us some cheese sticks. Saw no other PCT hikers all morning but there were tons of locals out for a weekend hike. I’m jealous of anyone that has this place in their backyard.
Back uphill and the views were great, passed high above a few deep blue lakes and I could see tiny people way down on the shores fishing. Trail went through open meadow almost all morning and the wildflowers were out of control, everything smelled sweet and the colour variation was intense after the black/white/blue palette of the Sierra. Probably took fifty pictures of different flowers this morning.
Stopped at a creek for a quick breakfast of protein cookie and crystal light and tackled the next uphill. The flowers were out in full force and so were the dayhikers, we passed by families and trail runners and groups of kids out on fishing trips. Almost everyone stopped to say hi and ask about the hike, people are so friendly here. We were getting close to the Carson Pass info station/trailhead right on the highway which explains the crowds.
Got down to the info Center on the highway and the forest service rangers greeted us by asking if we preferred Coke or Mountain Dew. Cold soda on trail is a top craving, even though I hardly ever drink it at home. Not only did we get drinks, but also a plate of veggies and brownies and bananas. Second day of trail magic in a row! For all of their beauty, the Sierra section is so remote and wild that you forget trail magic exists after the desert and it’s been a pleasant surprise remembering how generous complete strangers can be.
Sat around eating and chatting with the rangers and watching the busy parking lot full of hikers and bikers come and go. A few new hikers caught up to us and we all sat around in front of the station for way too long, but it was worth it-an older couple driving through brought us a bag full of yogurt and homemade cookies. I’d been worried about my food rationing as usual, but with the trail magic today and yesterday I actually have a surplus of meals for once. Raven caught up to us after catching a hitch up trail and the three of us finally pulled away from the food and continued on.
Trail dropped down to a meadowy valley, many more dayhikers but for the most part I was alone and cruising hard to a lake five miles from the highway that I really wanted to swim at. The original plan had been to push to Echo Lake trailhead today and hitch into Tahoe but we heard from Eli and Honeybee that there are a ton of events on in town and hotels were fully booked or ridiculously expensive. The hostel was also full, so Bagels and I decided to alter our plan to stay on trail another night and head into town first thing in the morning. Fine by me, since that meant more time to spend at the lake.
I made it there in just over an hour and a half, after one very short but steep climb. Felt great this afternoon but temperatures are hotter than they’ve been in weeks and I was soaked in sweat. Stopped at Showers Lake and immediately jumped in. The water was cold underneath but warm on top and I stayed in for a long time after the hot afternoon hiking. Found a nice flat rock to dry off on while waiting for Bagels and Raven.
There are lots of people here swimming and camping and I got to talking with a hiker from Sacramento named Brian who’s finishing up part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. His car was parked at the trailhead and he offered to drive us into town tomorrow morning from Echo Lake. He wouldn’t be getting back to the trailhead until 9:30am which gives us lots of time to cover the eight miles left, so managed to convince Bagels to just camp at the lake and spend the afternoon lounging around. Raven pushed on as did almost every other hiker that caught up to us but their loss-Showers lake is gorgeous, the water is warm and there are hardly any mosquitos. Set up the tent under some pines and then there was nothing to do except be lazy and enjoy the day. Swam across the lake and back, kind of sad how much arm strength I’ve lost since April.
Getting to swim and suntan and read by the lake without the pressure to do more miles made it feel like I was on a car camping trip at home. The competitive hiking side of me needs to chill out more so I can enjoy days like this.
Mac and cheese for dinner, plus the Mountain House apple crisp I treated myself to from Kennedy Meadows North. Bagels slept through the afternoon and early evening and I entertained myself by walking around the lake and finally getting around to reading the book I’d downloaded to my phone way back in Bishop. Lots of smoky haze from various fires and although we have a bit of lakeshore to ourself, a group of women on a weekend trip wandered over to ask about the PCT and look at what gear I carry in my pack. They also offered food (people why you all so nice) but I have more than enough to get to town tomorrow.
As the sun started setting, the mosquitos came out in huge dark clouds high above the tents, so many that it sounded like a drone was flying around overhead. Oddly enough they hardly bugged us (ha) at all. Into bed by eight, to get to the trailhead tomorrow on time to catch our ride we’ll need to be hiking by 6:30 latest.
Conversations are easily carrying from around the lake but they’re all indistinct and soothing except for one old man across the water who keeps sporadically exclaiming “got the tunes for every occasion” at top volume even though I hear no tunes. Between the flowers, trail magic and chill afternoon, this has been one of my best days for sure. This is my best summer for sure. Tahoe tomorrow for a nero and zero.
Day 76: Showers Lake (1081.8) to Echo Lake Trailhead (1092.0)
June 24 // 10 miles
Quick morning of hiking into Tahoe. Woke just before my 5:30 alarm, got packed up and hit the trail by 6 with Bagels so we could meet our ride on time. The mornings are getting much warmer, makes it easy to get going before sunrise.
Started with a few miles of uphill through the woods, caught bright blue flashes of Lake Tahoe way in the distance through the trees. The downhill afterwards was very steep with lots of large loose rock but we had lots of time to spare and I took it slowly.
Made it to the trailhead around 9, two other hikers, Mermaid and Spiceman, were already there. Brian, our ride, arrived on time from his own hike and we moved all the booster seats and kids toys to the bed of the truck and hopped in for the ride to town.
Got dropped at the first breakfast place we passed, and ordered a ridiculous amount of food since none of us had eaten breakfast. We destroyed everything the waitress brought us and I easily could’ve eaten more.
Took the local bus to the touristy side of Tahoe to meet the rest of our group who got in yesterday, it’s very busy and a little overwhelming. Spent the afternoon seeing a movie and wandering through the streets wasting time until we could check into our Airbnb. The plus side of hiking with our large group of ten is that in town it’s cheap to split nice places and we’re in a large ski chalet big enough to sleep everyone on beds or sofas for way cheaper than any hotel. Calves just made a dinner of communal enchiladas, I’m crashing hard and in a slight food coma. Feeling the double zero.
Days 77 & 78: Double Zero in Tahoe
Mexican food with 32oz margaritas! Sushi and local breweries! Casinos! Electric scooters you just rent right off the street that go way too fast for safety!
Despite all the excitement above, I actually spent our double zero mostly at the ski chalet, it easily sleeps ten and I spent a good chunk of time napping on my sofa despite easily sleeping twelve hours every night. Town inspires an astounding laziness in hikers that you don’t normally see. People that regularly knock out 30+ mile days will hitchhike or Uber through town rather than do a half-mile walk. An entire season of Mr. Robot will be watched in a day because no one gets up to turn off Netflix auto-play.
Very nice break after the last section and our three chefs alternated making family style meals for the group. I’m rested and ready to get back to trail, I think this will be the last of our multiple zeros until Ashland.