Day 79: Echo Lake (1092) to Dick’s Lake (1107.6)
June 27 // 15.6 miles
Get me out of town already, said Townie. The multiple zeros are a nice break from hiking but they’re starting to really add up and I’m way behind where I thought I’d be by now. Despite not drinking very much at all last night at dinner, woke up with a killer hangover which is likely more from being dehydrated than anything else, I always seem to forget to drink enough water in town, after being so careful to drink enough on trail.
Cleaned the rental place and checked out at eleven, did a couple last minute chores and caught a ride back to the trailhead at Echo Lake. It’s a very touristy area with a little store and tons of cabins so of course the trail was crowded with tons of other people.
The trail circled up alongside the lake for hours. It was hot with no shade and my head was still hurting, not my favourite morning of hiking. Stopped with Bagels at Lake Aloha which vastly improved my day, it’s a beautiful spot with lots of places for swimming. The lake was completely ice free and we spent almost two hours eating lunch and swimming and suntanning.
Reluctantly got going around 3 to get up and over Dick’s Pass before sunset, at that point we figured the rest of the group would be far ahead of us. Followed the bank of Aloha lake for the next 45 minutes, before starting to climb up the pass.
Went by alpine lake after alpine lake, if I ever want to do a short camping trip, this is the place to go...Desolation Wilderness could be just as pretty as the Sierras, with tons of nice campsites next to gorgeous swim spots and only a couple hours out of Tahoe.
Saw literally no one all afternoon and enjoyed the solo climb through the woods. Caught up to Bagels at the top of the pass, stunning view down to Dicks lake and back in the other direction you could see lake Aloha far below.
The descent was easy and I would’ve really enjoyed the evening hike had my head not hurt so badly, it had mostly faded after my swim but came back full force as the sun was setting. I think it might’ve been dehydration mixed with the hangover but it hurt so badly I asked Bagels if we could stop early at a small campsite alongside Dick’s lake. Set up my tent and immediately curled up inside without blowing up a sleeping pad or eating dinner, I can’t ever remember such piercing pain from a headache. Fortunately, downing two litres of water and a couple of painkillers that Bagels had on hand seemed to do the trick, and after an hour I was able to act like a normal person again and eat a little bit of dinner.
Went to bed early, the wind was really picking up so had to re-tighten my tent cords to avoid the loud flapping. Was just falling asleep around nine thirty when we heard people start to roll in-Honeybee and PC caught up and later Eli after he took a mile detour down the wrong trail, so gang’s all here. Woke up enough to finish my half eaten dinner and then back to bed.
Day 80: Dick’s Lake (1107.6) to Whiskey Creek (1137.6)
June 28 // 30 miles
Today was one of my best days so far on trail, NorCal is killing it with the scenery. Woke up feeling well rested after a long sleep and managed to get out of camp first, a rarity for me. Curved around Dick’s Lake and then back into some pretty thick forest, lots of streams and ponds and the mosquitos were out, which kept me moving fast.
Very gradual downhill most of the morning and I felt really good, did one of my only 10x10 days so far, ten miles by ten a.m. Lots of purple flowers growing beside the trail, they smell similar to lilacs which reminded me of spring at home. Passed a couple hikers I’ve never met before, but for the most part the trail was empty.
Stopped for lunch at river with clear flowing water and a little clearing in the trees next to the trail. Had a quick bandana bath to wash off some of the dirt on my legs and then sat in the shade and had a tuna wrap for lunch. Getting real sick of tuna but it keeps well and adding mayo and cheese and avocado helps a little. Waited around for a while but everyone else must’ve stopped somewhere else for their lunch break so I continued on alone.
A gradual uphill out of Desolation Wilderness and crossed into Granite Chief Wilderness. At the top of the climb the forest turned into open rocky ridges with beautiful views on either side of the ridgeline, and flowers everywhere. Could see the deep blue of Lake Tahoe in the distance. Had a very good hiker high and probably the happiest I’ve been on trail, days like this are why I’m fine with living in dirt for five months.
Wind picked up and kept things cool in the afternoon sun. Finished the climb and passed along the boundary line of Squaw Valley ski resort, lots of prominent red rock formations beside the trail.
Downhill to Five Lakes creek, where we had planned to camp for the night. A few miles of long switchbacks dropping into the woods, the trees were covered in moss and all the light filtering through the leaves gave the trail a green tint.
When I reached the creek at the bottom, it was only 4:30 and I was feeling pretty good. There were already a handful of hikers setting up camp and I knew that it would likely get crowded since it’s a nice campsite with good water, so decided to tack on two more miles to the next water source at Whiskey creek and get part of tomorrow’s climb out of the way.
Starting to feel the 30 mile day on the uphill but it was a nice walk through the afternoon sun and when I arrived at the little campsite in the trees it was completely empty. The site was hidden in the woods but it faced a huge open meadow of yellow flowers and was a beautiful backdrop for my dinner of mac and cheese. Set up camp and no one passed by for a couple hours so figured I was camping alone, but Bagels ended up arriving a little after six.
We hit Donner pass tomorrow and the group is going into Truckee for a resupply. I have enough food to skip it, but I’m torn, Truckee was one of my favourite towns last year and it would be nice to stay with everyone. It’ll be a game time decision tomorrow.
Day 81: Whiskey Creek (1137.6) to Donner Pass (1153.4)
June 29 // 15.3 miles
Slept easily through the night, woke up around seven when Honeybee was passing by camp. A little stiff from gunning it without many breaks yesterday. Packed up and hit the trail, packing every morning gives me a weird organizational satisfaction, the explosion of food and clothing and gear all over camp goes into its place in my pack in the same order, every day. I know exactly where each item goes and could easily list off every single thing I own-not often in life that would be the case.
Finished off the climb I started yesterday, the stiffness was tough at the beginning and I was struggling a little bit, but felt better after I got warmed up-right in time for the easy forested downhill to a creek. The trail passed under the chairlifts of yet another ski resort before going through hillsides covered in the same yellow flowers, as far as I could see.
Right back uphill for a very steep climb up to the excellently named Tinker knob. Thankfully it was only about a mile but my calves were burning on the steep grade. Tried to push through the whole climb without slowing down or stopping, a tough but fun challenge. Almost made it but got tricked by a false summit-stopped at what I thought was the top but then saw Bagels about a hundred feet above where I was.
Took a proper break at the real top and enjoyed the view down the ridgeline towards Donner pass, could see the lake, interstate and Truckee far in the distance.
I love this area, when I was here last year I had a strong desire to move to Truckee and that feeling was back again now. There’d be great skiing in the winter, beautiful hiking in the summer. I also have this weird macabre fascination with the story of the infamous Donner party and spent the downhill trek brushing up on my history by listening to podcasts about all the unfortunate choices and bad luck that led to the party being stranded just below Donner pass for a winter in the 1800s.
Very hot and exposed in the afternoon, more of the rock formations alongside trail, and the path itself was an ankle breaker, all loose rubble that required full attention.
Almost the whole way was downhill with the exception of one very nearly vertical spike, it was less than a tenth of a mile but still had me dripping in sweat. After that the rest was easy downhill through the woods towards the pass. More dayhikers started appearing the closer I got to Highway 40.
I was still undecided whether or not to go into town. Still had more than enough food and my original plan was another seven miles to stay in a little backcountry ski cabin. On the other hand I do love Truckee and the whole group was planning to stay the rest of the night at Donner pass after a quick jaunt into town and get an early start out in the morning.
When I got to the parking lot at Highway 40, Bagels was just about to hop into a van going to Truckee. No time for debate so just climbed in and committed to a half day off. We stopped at the gear store to get pair of shoes #3, my old ones have pretty much worn through. After that a quick stop at Safeway for some snacks and charged up the electronics at a Starbucks, having way too many fancy coffee drinks I never get at home since they’re so high calorie. The best benefit of hiking is eating literally whatever you want, whenever you want, with no guilt at all.
Met up with Eli, Honeybee and PC on the edge of town and got a ride back to Donner pass, the restaurant at the Donner ski resort does a free 40oz beer for PCT hikers and Honeybee and Eli had arranged a place for us to stay with a trail angel down the road. The beer was huge and hit hard, so that killed my plan to hike on and I decided to stay the night at Donner pass with my friends. (Was there ever really a debate?)
I had assumed we’d be staying at the trail angel’s house for the night, but it actually ended up being at the Peninsula ski club-an old wooden building with dorms big enough to sleep 40, plus a communal kitchen and living room area. Apart from the caretaker, Alan, we had the place to ourselves for ten bucks each, and Alan also let us know beers were $1 from the fridge. Great find, the club had lots of old log books and photo albums from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Had a quick shower that wasn’t actually that quick since I used all the hot water (sorry friends!) and chose a small bunk room to share with Eli, Honeybee and Bagels.
The entire crew showed up so that there were ten of us total and we spent all night talking and drinking with Alan. The amount of liquor we went through after the beer ran out was truly impressive for our low hiker tolerance, and I had to keep reminding myself to drink water otherwise tomorrow would be headache city. Finally called it a night around 1am, one of the funnest nights with the crew, but I think some of us are going to be on the struggle bus tomorrow with some wicked hangovers.
Day 82: Donner Pass (1153.4) to Meadow Lake Road (1172.3)
June 30 // 18.9 miles
Said a big thank you to Alan and headed for breakfast at the ski lodge, great coffee and breakfast burritos and managed to catch the Italy-France game on TV, the only World Cup action I’ve seen yet. The gang is hungover and looking rough right now at breakfast but I feel pretty good due to forcing down water by the litre last night. Drunk me always has always got sober me’s back.
Walked up the highway a little ways back to trail. Started with a climb up rocks alongside the road which offered great views down to Donner Lake and Truckee. Tons of active people out enjoying the morning-hikers, bikers, rock climbers. Plus there’d be skiing in the winter, I want to live here.
Many people on the trail due to its proximity to the interstate, I think a lot of people were just out stretching their legs in the middle of long drives. Stopped at a rest station along the I80 for water, they had four vending machines that called to us with soda and ice cream but they ALL were broken. With a hint of desperation we tried shoving in coins, bills in every direction and then rocked the machines but had no luck, so we left the brightly unattainable snacks and carried on.
A very hot morning but the trail was partially shaded by trees most of the way. New shoes felt really good, hopefully this alleviates some of the late-day soreness I’ve been getting in my arches.
Slight uphill up Castle pass, and we passed many day hikers out to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The best part about seeing dayhikers is all the dogs they bring with them, I had to stop and pet every one.
Downhill on the other side of the pass and made a quick stop at Peter Grubb hut, a little wooden backcountry ski cabin built in the 1930s in memory of a young skier/climber that died at age 19. The letters he had written to his grandfather about his adventures in the area were laminated and left in a folder, I found many mentions of familiar places like Kearsarge pass and the “new” Forester pass. I had a little bit of regret that I didn’t spend last night here but I know that I would’ve had major spooks being alone with the mice and memory of Peter.
With our late start and many breaks it was well into the afternoon and we’d only done seven miles. No difficult uphills, but today was like a children’s roller coaster ride with steady, gentle inclines and descents of equal opposition over and over.
Zoned out a little from the heat and felt incredibly sleepy. Caught up to Bagels having a late lunch and took the opportunity to nap a little. After eating, I was still feeling tired, but the trail was downhill and at the bottom we stopped at a small creek that was deep enough to submerge in, so went for a swim since there are no lakes today. The cold water made me feel much better and after that my day improved considerably. Excellent climb up that opened into view of the valley and followed along the ridge the rest of the day until dropping down into the woods again.
NorCal forests are all so eerily still and quiet, and I got lost in my own head. When the terrain is easy, afternoon sun is hot and I’m a little bit tired I can go into this zoned out zombie state and just daydream my way down trail until I’ll see someone or arrive at camp and wake up in a different spot with no recollection really of getting there, my body walks on autopilot.
Made camp at a site near a small stream and dirt road, there are many people here. Our squad all gave up on the 26 mile plan for today so we’re all here except Eli who was too far ahead to get the memo about cutting the day short. There are other, new hikers here too, a group of three guys that hiked the PCT last year as well, an Australian named Leon, a tiny girl called Nono.
Tired but read by headlamp until late, I’m back to carrying paperback novels. Tent is up for mosquitos. Sierra City tomorrow to pick up resupply package and tackle the gutbuster burger challenge.
Day 83: Meadow Lake Rd (1172.3) to Sierra City (1195.4)
July 1 // 23.1 miles
Heard Leon packing up around 6, thought about getting up for an early start into Sierra City, went back to sleep, ended up leaving at 7:30 with Bagels. Calves and PC were already gone when I woke up the second time. Honeybee was just waking up as we passed so didn’t expect to see her right away, but a town day combined with Canada day seemed to give her super speed and she blew by Bagels and I within an hour despite us also powering uphill at a pretty good pace.
Most of the trail went downhill but first had two zigzag climbs. Still have the yellow flowers covering entire hillsides beside the path, but we didn’t stop much to enjoy the scenery, it was like someone lit our entire group on fire because we were crushing it with no stops. We’d done 12 miles in just over three hours and passed dozens of other hikers. Not sure what got into us but I like it.
Flew on the downhill, was running low on water so finally made a five minute stop at Milton creek to refill and kept on towards town. Didn’t bother with lunch since I was so close to the road, today’s food consisted of two flattened emergency clif bars that have been in my hip belt pocket since the desert and a packet of skittles eaten on the go. The last few miles started to catch up with me and I was feeling hungry and impatient to be finished with hiking and very ready to enjoy a burger and beer in town.
Finished the day with a steep drop down to the Yuba river, which was crossed on a footbridge and had a few groups scattered around sunbathing or swimming in the pools near the shore. Despite only being half a mile from the road and a hitch into Sierra city, I was hot and sticky and couldn’t resist climbing down the bank to go for a swim. Set up on a relatively flat rock and found a pool away from the main current, which I shared with a super dim group of older women that asked whether I swam often on trail. I said that I did and one of them commented that I was polluting the river by swimming in it when I was so sweaty and dirty. I wish I could say that I had a witty comeback involving their backwards logic and the fact that I could see their sunscreen leaving an oily residue on the water, but I kept my mouth shut. (I did proceed to blatantly wash my dirt encrusted socks and shirt while they huffed to themselves.)
The swim was amazing despite the questionable company and I put my washed clothing back on to finish the last half mile. The day was well over 30 degrees and the wet clothes kept me cooler, although it meant that I felt bad hitching and having to sit on someone’s car seat soaking wet. Sierra City was just over a mile, so set out down the road planning to walk until I was dry, but a lovely couple from Vancouver stopped after only a minute and insisted I take a ride since it was so hot out.
They dropped me at the general store in Sierra City, which is pretty much the entire town apart from a couple restaurants and a bakery. Met up with Eli, Bagels and Honeybee sitting on the porch taking advantage of the wifi, a lot of the small NorCal towns have no cell service. Immediately ordered the trail-famous gutbuster burger from the little grill in the store, and in my delirious hunger state I also figured I’d be able to eat a side of chili cheese fries on top of the one pound burger. I could not even do half of what I ordered but the group had my back and ate what I couldn’t.
Not too many hikers were in town when I arrived but they gradually started rolling in later in the afternoon, there’s about twenty of us here now. We’re mostly all camped behind the church in a mess of sleeping bags and tents, and a local couple just dropped off a cooler full of beer and soda for us to have. A+. town
Hit the bar next door but feeling very sleepy and barely made it through one drink. In my bag and ready for a long sleep, despite all the hikers here I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting a good rest.