Hi, my name is Isko Salminen.
I'm an adventure seeker and I love exploring nature with my camera and Australian Shepherd called Fire

Day 71: Island Pass, Donahue Pass, and I've hiked the length of the JMT

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Date: July 9, 2017
Miles: 19.1 miles (30.7km), from Thousand Island Lake over Island and Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows.
Health: Knee still hurts but it's ok with the knee brace.

Waking up today was just gorgeous. We cowboy camped next to each other with Blis and our view looked over the Thousand Island Lake and the mountains behind them. The lake and the mountains still basked in the light of the moon as we woke up at 4:15am.

Thousand Island Lake in the early morning.   

Thousand Island Lake in the early morning.   

I was a bit chilly and I just quickly ran to get my bear canister from little outside our camp and got back to my sleeping bag. I ate my breakfast while watching the moon slowly disappear behind the mountains on the other side of the lake. One of the peaks on those mountains was called Davis Peak, Blis's name peak (his last name is Davis), and he climbed it when he was 17.

Happy Feet approaching Island Pass. 

Happy Feet approaching Island Pass. 

After a quick setup we were all hiking at 5am. Our first order was to find the trail from under the snow. After some rock climbing and wondering in the dark we found it and got on our way. For a while we had great views at the lake from above as the sun started to slowly rise.

Island Pass.  

Island Pass.  

In less than two miles we would go over Island Pass which, at 10,226 feet (3,117m), isn't the most impressive pass we've crossed. We had to cross about a mile of snowfields while climbing and then we were at the pass before even realizing it. After a short singing break, while looking at the sunrise, we continued towards our main pass for today – Donahue Pass.

Approaching Donahue Pass.  

Approaching Donahue Pass.  

While approaching Donahue Pass we came across KB, Dandelion, Fireant, Fyre, Roadrunner, and Kendall. What a happy coincidence! I thought they were far ahead of us. We chatted for a while and then continued. We'd most likely meet somewhere along the trail again today.

We descended down to a small valley before starting to climb back up again. We hit snowfields pretty soon but the snow wasn't that icy. It seems the snow doesn't have enough time to freeze during the night anymore. While others used microspikes, I felt it was easier to walk without them.

Airplane Mode.  

Airplane Mode.  

We needed to climb a bit longer to reach the Donahue Pass but it wasn't that hard. As we've already crossed the highest and the hardest passes while drudging through deep snow, these smaller passes, with less snow, don't quite feel the same. We still have six or seven passes to cross overall but they are all under 11,000 feet.

Break before reaching Donahue Pass.  

Break before reaching Donahue Pass.  

After Donahue Pass we descended down to a long valley that would take us all the way to Tuolumne Meadows. But our descend didn't go as smoothly as one would hope. We got a bit glissade mad and ended up on sheer rock face that we couldn't go down without ropes. So we started scrambling left towards what we hoped would be an easier path down. After few sketchy moments and few slips, we all made our way safely down.

Descending down to the valley far in the distance.  

Descending down to the valley far in the distance.  

Once down we needed to find the trail again. We found a northbound JMT hiker right where we climbed down to, so Blis asked him for directions. He pointed to the right and everyone started heading that way. I felt the direction was wrong and took out the GPS. The direction he pointed out was way off and I though I'd look for the trail from where I though it should be.

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While others went right, I went left and after about hundred feet found the trail a bit downhill. I walked along the trail thinking others would soon notice they were heading towards a cliff. I tried yelling after them but they didn't hear me.

Marmot. 

Marmot. 

I walked along the trail until I reached a spot where I knew they could not pass me from either side without noticing me and waited. I also had left marks along the trail so that if they got on it earlier, they would know I had passed that spot. Soon I heard the girls yelling my name and yelled back that the trail was where I was. After a bit more yelling we were united again.

We descended all the way down to the valley and it was time for lunch. We found a nice spot and stopped. After eating I was so tired that I just fell asleep. When I woke up KB and the whole group had caught up to us and were also eating on the same spot. Now we were one big super group.

At the valley floor all the snow disappeared and we got to hike on a beautiful, open trail. It felt so great to not have to climb snowbanks or search for the trail constantly.

The views were simply amazing. I don't have words to describe the beauty that surrounded us all day. Nor do I have a lens wide enough to capture the open vistas all around us. We walked along and across meadows while the clear blue river meandered next to us at the valley floor. This is what I always imagined Sierra would be like.

Airplane Mode and Happy Feet.  

Airplane Mode and Happy Feet.  

Once the three o'clock heat hit, we decided it was time to stop for a swim. Almost everyone jumped in to the river and after a refreshing dip, we dried ourselves off in the sun for awhile.

Then it was time to get back to hiking. We saw deer, marmot, and butterflies along the trail. It felt so good to be here. Yesterday and today had been some of the most beautiful scenery along the whole trail so far.

Tuolumne Meadows.  

Tuolumne Meadows.  

After about 13 hours of hiking we reached Tuolumne Meadows. KB and others were doing Half Dome tomorrow so they stayed here. We headed towards the highway 120 to hitch a ride down to Lee Vining where Juniper and Indigo had resupply packages. Indigo's dad was also visiting tomorrow.

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As we reached the highway we caught literally the first car that drove by. All six of us stuffed ourselves into a small van and after a winding mountain road found ourselves on a very popular gas station just outside of Lee Vining. The place had live music and barbecue, and it was full of people.

About to hitch.  

About to hitch.  

As we walked in I saw DG. He was heading out on the same evening. We all ordered food and sat down drinking beer. It was so great to be here after such a long day.

Our arrival to Tuolumne Meadows today meant that I hiked from Mt Whitney to Tuolumne Meadows, which is basically the John Muir Trail, in sixteen days. That's pretty good considering we did it in a record high snow year, in snow. To give some context, the usual itinerary for JMT covers the trail in 21 days when there's no snow.

At Lee Vining.  

At Lee Vining.  

After relaxing at the gas station we moved over to a hill close by where we heard we could camp for free. We tried setting up our tents in the heavy winds but it was really hard. The soil was so soft that our stakes simply had no hold. Some of us gave up and simply slept on top of our tents, I was too stubborn and wasted too long to get my tarp up. Once I had it up I went in and got into my sleeping bag. Right then the wind changed direction and the stakes gave up and my tarp fell on me. I wasn't about to give up so I carried the largest rocks I could find and piled them on top of the stakes. Finally.

As I got back inside my tarp the wind died. Go figure. Tomorrow we can sleep in late as we have to wait for the girls to get their packages from Post Office which opens at 9am. Such luxury!

Day 70: Thousand Island Lake

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Date: July 8, 2017
Miles: 4 mile road walk (non PCT miles) + 8.2 miles (13.2km), from Agnew Meadows Trailhead to Thousand Island Lake.
Health: Feel fresh after the zero in Mammoth. Right knee hurts but is ok with the knee brace.

I wake up to a really bad need to pee. I storm to the bathroom but Blis has gotten in before me and is taking a shower. Conveniently there's no lock on the door so I knock and barge in.

We all try to get up as it's already 7am and we need to be on the 10am trolley to the ski center. While others head for breakfast, I stay in to work on my blog. The internet is so slow here that everything takes such a long time. And when you're working on a mobile phone, you can't really multitask, you just have to wait and upload things one by one.

Others soon arrive and we start packing our packs. I stuff all my food into my bear can and the rest that doesn't fit I put in the Opsak. All my gear is almost ready, I'm only waiting for my electronics to finish charging.

Pack failure.  

Pack failure.  

To give others more space to move in the small room I pick up my pack and as I do this, the fabric on the extension collar rips. And not a small rip, but a large rip. Great, just as we're leaving.

I've seen many backpacks breaking on this trip, and it's mostly been ZPacks, but now MLD's? There's not much to do. We figure that the best option is to sew it. Indigo takes charge and before I know it, my pack is like new. I just have to be more careful with it and not put any pressure on the extension collar.

Indigo fixing my broken pack.  

Indigo fixing my broken pack.  

The good things is, the pack only needs to last for a little over 100 miles, to Sonora Pass. From there we're hitchhiking to Bridgeport where my Pa'lante Pack is waiting, and from there we can ship our heavy Sierra gear home. I'm sure the double stitch Indigo did will hold that long.

I carefully pack my pack again and we head out to the trolley stop. Thanks to the backpack episode we're late on our schedule.

Happy at Mammoth.  

Happy at Mammoth.  

After 10 minutes of waiting the next trolley comes and we hop aboard. We need to switch to another one that takes us all the way to the ski resort. From there we have a 4 mile road walk to Agnew Meadow from where we rejoin the PCT again. We wanted to go through Red's Meadow but the roads to get there are still closed.

Starting our roadwalk.  

Starting our roadwalk.  

We walk the larger road and soon reach a ranger who informs us that there is road maintenance on the road ahead, they're cutting trees. From here the road narrows down and we soon reach a police officer and a civilian worker who make us wait for a minute. Once they get ok from the radio we can keep walking.

LL and Airplane Mode.  

LL and Airplane Mode.  

Not far down we run into another worker and we need to stop again. This time for a longer while as we have to wait for this massive tree to be cut down. We sit on the road and start eating.

Indigo and LL talking to the forest crew.  

Indigo and LL talking to the forest crew.  

Soon we see and hear the massive tree fall and we're cleared to continue. We get only few hundred feet down when we're stopped again. We sit down again and wait for two more trees to be cut down. Then we get cleared again. We get stopped two more times and our progress is very slow.

Waiting for the road to open. Again.   

Waiting for the road to open. Again.   

After all the stops it looks like we won't be going very far today. And luckily we don't have to. We're only trying to make it to Thousand Island Lake before the sun goes down.

Yoga break while waiting for trees to be cleared.  

Yoga break while waiting for trees to be cleared.  

We soon reach the PCT trailhead, get some water from the stream close by, and then start climbing up. It's not a big climb on PCT standards but we still climb for over an hour.

Back in the wilderness.  

Back in the wilderness.  

Once we get to the top of the ridgeline we're climbing, the views are absolutely breathtaking. Looking over a valley, we see a gorgeous, snow capped mountain range with waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. This is the part of the trail where the John Muir Trail and the PCT are separated. The JMT goes on the range we're looking at and the PCT on this side of the valley. I keep wondering if I'd rather walk on this side, and have all that beauty as my view, or walk on the other side among all the stream and lakes.

Group walking along the mountain side.  

Group walking along the mountain side.  

The trail keeps climbing gradually all the time and it feels like we're approaching a pass. I catch up to Indigo and Juniper at a small stream. They are super fast on uphill and I can't keep up with them. Soon Happy Feet, Airplane Mode, and Blis also catch up. We fill our water bottles, talk about how beautiful it is out here, and then keep hiking. It's going to be tight to make it to the lake before dark.

Looking over the valley to where JMT goes.  

Looking over the valley to where JMT goes.  

I'm soon hiking alone again as the girls push on fast, and the others stay behind. As I'm walking I start to hear rustling slightly above me. I take of my earphones but can't hear or see anything. I keep walking without my earphones and every now and then keep hearing something big moving above me on the small ridgeline. I stop on a spot where I have a good view of the ridgeline above but can't see anything. Must be a bear just outside my line of sight.

Indigo and LL.  

Indigo and LL.  

As I'm standing there, listening, Happy Feet catches up to me and we keep hiking up towards the lake. We soon reach the lake outlet and after a little bit of snow walking we see the lake. It's all frozen but the views are amazing.

Blis approves our camp spot for tonight.  

Blis approves our camp spot for tonight.  

We catch up to the girls and wait for the rest to come up while searching for a good spot to spend the night. Sun is already setting behind the mountains so we don't have much time left.

View from my sleeping bag.  

View from my sleeping bag.  

After some searching we find a spot where we all can fit. Blis and I share a single tent spot by cowboy camping on it. Happy Feet makes his own spot between some rocks, and the girls setup their shelters. We eat dinner while looking at the sun creating all these cool colors on the mountain on the opposite side of the lake. Blis tells us stories on how he failed and in the end managed to climb the mountain we're looking at as a young guy.

Our campsite on Thousand Island Lake.  

Our campsite on Thousand Island Lake.  

Soon it gets so cold that we need to love into our sleeping bags. I crawl in and watch the last rays of light still light the very tip of the mountains as the lake already rests in the shadows of the mountains behind us. Such beauty.

Day 69: Zero at Mammoth Lakes

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Date: July 7, 2017
Miles: 0.
Health: Rested. My knee is sore. 

Today was a pretty uneventful day. We slept late, headed out across the street for breakfast and planned what we'd do on the upcoming section. After a long breakfast I headed back to the motel to work on the blog while others headed out to work on their resupplies and other town chores.

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After sitting on the bed all day and uploading photos and videos over the crappy wifi, I also needed to get my resupply done. Also, I needed to eat something.

I walked over to the Mexican place everyone had talked about and got an order of tacos and some corn. It was good and cheap.

Doggy in a truck.  

Doggy in a truck.  

As I was heading towards the grocery stores I messaged Blis and he and Happy Feet just happened to be going to do their resupply at the same time. I met them at the fast food place they had eaten and we went to buy food.

As I got really tired of all the bars I had to eat on the last section, I wanted to make sure I didn't run out of meals this time. Finding good, calorie rich, light foods that don't require cooking (I'm stoveless) is always a bit of a challenge. We spend a lot of time walking through all the aisles at the store, trying to find foods that we aren't already sick of. Not an easy task.

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After some time Blis and I are done so Happy Feet tells us to go as he still wants to look around more. We take our groceries and head back to the motel. I bought some nice juices and food for tonight as well to eat in our room.

On the way back we stop at Rite Aid and I buy a knee brace to help with the hurting on my knee. The one that I buy is not as good as the one I have in San Diego, but as they didn't make it here, it has to do. It's better than nothing.

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As we get back to the motel, I start going through all the stuff that I bought. Something is missing. Actually, it looks like a lot of what I bought is missing. After some time I realize that the girl who packed the groceries to the plastic bags must have left two of my bags on the packing shelves. Damned.

As the store is about a 30 minute walk away, I try calling them to see if my guess is right. I wait on the line for almost an hour, not getting through. It's getting late and I really don't want to walk an hour back and forth to retrieve bags that might not be there. And I still have tons of other tasks to do.  I'm too tired to go back so I just mark this one up as a lose. Sucks as I'm most of the stuff that got left in the store was what I had bought for tonight.

Photo and edit by Happy Feet.  

Photo and edit by Happy Feet.  

We watch TV for a while but soon everyone is so tired that we just doze off. Tomorrow we get back on trail. While it felt good to be back in the civilization after a long stint in the mountains, I'm excited to get back up there.

Day 68: To Mammoth Lakes

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Date: July 6, 2017
Miles: 6.5 miles (10.5km) + 3.5 miles over the Mammoth Pass (non-PCT miles), from mile 897.4 to mile 903.9.
Health: Tired and my right knee hurts a bit.

We're getting to town today. Finally! As we only have 6.5 miles on the PCT and then 3.5 miles over the Mammoth Pass to get out of the mountains, we get a late start at 6:30am. The long night of sleep felt good but my body is so beaten up that it's clearly not enough. Going through Sierra in record snow is rough!

As we're leaving the camp, I notice I have a rock in my shoe and stay behind as others head out. I shake my shoe and check my sock but as I but my shoe back on, the rock is still there. Annoying, but I have to get going. It's not a long hike so I'll just get used to it.

The trail follows along a mountain side and is quite easy. I soon catch the others and we hike on in a nice line, wiggling along the mountain. Spirits are high as everyone has spend almost two weeks in the mountains and getting to town is kind of a big deal.

My legs are not yet warm and my right knee starts to hurt. I slow down as I know that once the muscles warm up, I'll be fine. I still send a satellite message to Mikko in San Diego, asking if he could ship my knee brace on express to get it in Mammoth tomorrow. It might come handy on the next long stretch on snow.

I'm a little behind and hear yelling and hollering from ahead. As I reach others, I see them standing around the 900 mile marker. Can't believe we're here, 1/3 of the trail done. We take the mandatory photos and then hike on.

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The spirits are still high but we soon hit snow again. We don't mind as we're going to town today. And then my phone peeps and I look down to see I have reception. Everyone takes out their phones and for awhile we all hike with our phones out, checking real world stuff (read: Facebook).

Then we get down in a gulley and lose the reception. Back to hiking and looking at the nature.

After a while we get the reception back and I call my parents who are at their summer place. My brother is there as well with my nephew and niece. We FaceTime for a good while. It's great to talk Finnish for awhile, and to talk with my family. Then I call my other brother to catch up with him as well. Time goes by quickly when you're distracted and we soon reach the junction. Awesome!

I'm getting really hungry as I didn't feel like eating a Clif bar or a Pop Tart for breakfast. I've eaten way too many of them on this section and the shear thought of one makes me gag. And that's all the food I have left. I sure I can make it to town without a breakfast.

As we head on the side trail leading to Mammoth Blis comments how it's all downhill from here. I celebrate in my head thinking it's just what I needed. A quick hour long downhill walk and then we're in town.

Well Blis wasn't quite right. We start climbing and lose the trail due to the snow. This is part for the course while hiking in Sierra but when you're hungry and expecting an easy downhill walk to town, not good. I start cursing at the snow and feel really hangry. I take the Clif bar from my pocket but can't make myself eat it. I just have to make it to town.

Happy Feet hopping over a fallen tree.  

Happy Feet hopping over a fallen tree.  

We hop over fallen trees, climb hills and head high snowbanks. Getting forward gets slow and hard. I start cursing more and more in my head and few times some of those curses get out. Airplane Mode tries to cheer me up with her list of "reasons I like snow". It's a good list but I'm too deep in the "I hate snow" mode. She senses that and switches to reverse psychology and starts cursing at the snow more than I do. I can't help but start laughing. That was a great move!

As we walk along, Airplane Mode cursing at the snow and me laughing behind her, we reach the last lake before the trailhead. Airplane Mode decides to bet me a large pizza in town if I jump into the lake instantly. I ask if I can take my clothes off and she says no. I have to jump into the lake and stay under water for 30 seconds. I throw my backpack to the ground and jump right into the lake. Blis and Airplane Mode take a video as Airplane Mode does her best to count to thirty as slowly as she can. The water is ice cold but hey, free pizza!

Soon the thirty seconds are over and I climb out. I'm soaking wet and we still have 0.4 miles to go. Hopefully that's enough time to dry me out. I put my backpack back on and start hiking to warm up. 

The lake I jumped into.  

The lake I jumped into.  

We reach a downhill with large patches of snow and no sight of the trail. We start just walking downwards trying to maintain course. Suddenly I'm again in a really good mood. And wet. I try to only walk in the sun to stay warm and to dry.

Once we get down we see the trailhead and the cars. Civilization! We speed up as we see the trolley that would get us down and to the town. The ride is free and we hop on.

As the trolley doesn't have any windows, it gets pretty chilly as we're moving and Blis offers me his jacket as mine is buried deep in my pack. I'm still quite wet so the wind chill is pretty chilly.

Reaching civilization again.  

Reaching civilization again.  

After a short drive we reach the town but have to switch to another trolley to get down to were our motel is. While we wait for it, I dry myself in the sun.

In the first trolley we met a young guy who likes hiking too and he asks if he could hang with us while we're heading to the same direction. He seems fun and new company is always appreciated. He's about the same age as Indigo and Juniper.

After the second trolley we reach our hotel but everyone's so hungry that we decide to eat first. We hit the pizzeria close by and Carlos, the young guy we met, joins us. I also spot DG on the other side of the road and he joins us too.

Our ride back to town.  

Our ride back to town.  

It turns out DG and Topo got to Mammoth yesterday. They had seen my note on trail but went on, thinking I would catch them before the next pass coming out of VVR. We did a short day then and stayed a half a day behind them.

We get in the pizzeria and soon Topo also joins us. Carlos buys the whole table pitchers and we happily have a few breakfast beers.

After stuffing our faces full of food, soda, and beer, we walk across the road and Blis and I get our room. Airplane Mode already got herself own room and Blis, Happy Feet, Indigo, Juniper, and I are sharing another room. Only me and Blis show up at the reception as places usually charge more if there are more than two in the room.

After showers and putting our clothes to laundry, Blis and I head to old part of Mammoth to do some gear shopping. I need new shoes and socks. My last pair of Injinji socks got a hole in them and I accidentally burned my last pair of Darn Toughs as I was drying them on fire. And my shoes are starting to break up and have no more cushion on them. No wonder as I've walked with them since Idyllwild, a good 750 miles (1,200km) back.

The crew.  

The crew.  

We get to the outfitters and I find my shoes soon. Size 10 Altra Lone Peak 3.0's. New color this time to get some variation on what I look down all day long. I also buy new Darn Tough socks.

Blis needs a lot more. He's been having trouble sleeping on his 3/4 length XLite pad due to his legs hanging out (he's tall), and because his elbows fall off the pad. He gets the XLite in large, which means it's longer but also a lot wider. He also gets new shoes as his are also destroyed, but doesn't get new microspikes to replace his broken ones. With the reports we keep hearing, we might not need microspikes anymore. He also gets new tips for his Leki trekking poles. Those are his third replacement tips so far. Mine are still like brand new.

KB, Dandelion, and Fireant are also in town and we keep messaging back and forth. It's great to be able to communicate with people again. On the way back we run into Fyre and Day Tripper. We didn't know Fyre was here and we're so happy to see her again. We thought she might have flipped north like most others did.

We talk for a while and then Blis and I head back to our motel. As soon as we get there we just fall on the beds. The room is quite small even for two, but with five people and everyone's gear, it's quite tight. But we make it work.

As I was walking back, I noticed that I still felt that rock in my shoe even though I was wearing my new shoes. Strange. At the motel I look at my foot and notice a small bump at the bottom of my left foot. As I touch it, it hurts. This is why I've been limping all day. The bump is in a place where I can't quite see or reach it. Indigo helps me and after a short investigation she notices that there's a splinter inside. She gets out a needle and tweezers and gets it out in couple of minutes. It hurts quite a bit as it had infected already. No wonder I was limping.

In the evening Blis's sister comes to visit and we all go out to eat Thai food. At the restaurant Fyre and Day Tripper happen to come to the same place, and then Dandelion, Fireant, and Roadrunner join us. It's so great to see everyone.

Blis's sister came over to say hi.  

Blis's sister came over to say hi.  

Dandelion and Fireant are heading out tomorrow but we keep telling each other we want to hike together again. We'll be only a day behind so there's a very good change we'll catch them. I so miss hiking with them!

After a long and laugh filled evening everyone starts to feel tired, it's already eight o'clock. We head back to the Motel 6 and pretty soon everyone's in bed. Blis and Happy Feet share one bed while Juniper and Indigo share the other. I take the small spot on the floor as I don't mind. I really enjoy sleeping in my sleeping bag.

It's so great to be back in town. Tomorrow's a zero and the day after we nero out of town. I'm going to just rest and do my resupply tomorrow. And work on my blog all day.

Day 67: Silver Pass and a rough day on snow

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Date: July 5, 2017
Miles: 16.3 miles (26.2km), from mile 881.1 over Silver Pass to 897.4.
Health: Low energy day. Twisted my right knee on the snow, it hurts but doesn't affect hiking on trail.

I woke up without the alarm at 4am. Somehow I had forgotten to set my alarm. I saw no lights or movement in other tents so I slowly started to change back to my hiking cloths in my sleeping bag. The nights aren't that cold, but it still feels pretty cold when you have to come out of the warmth of your little down haven.

Fifteen minutes later Blis comes to wake me up as I was preparing without a headlamp, it must have looked like I was still sleeping. I setup my gear leisurely and like a clockwork, everyone's ready to leave at 5am. Just like we agreed. Such a punctual group!

Crossing a waterfall early in the morning.  

Crossing a waterfall early in the morning.  

Our first obstacle for the morning is getting up the steep mountain face to the waterfall. We can't use the trail as it's at the other side of the big river, and then we would have to cross the more dangerous waterfall.

Airplane Mode approaching the pass.  

Airplane Mode approaching the pass.  

We climb up on all fours until we find the trail again. Few more switchbacks and we can tell by the sound that we're getting closer to the waterfall. And there it is.

The water we have to wade through is not so deep, but the force of the water, the mist, and the shear drop from the other side, make it quite impressive. And in we go. It's nice to get an ice cold waterfall bath first thing in the morning. Really wakes you up!

Quick break on top of the Silver Pass.  

Quick break on top of the Silver Pass.  

We all cross it quite easily and then it's on again. Happy Feet leads the way as he's hiked this section before and due to the snow, there's a lot of trail and way finding to do. Soon we reach the snow level and it's on with microspikes. It's still so early that the snow is hard and icy. The spikes have a good hold on the surface and it's easy to walk as you don't fall through the surface yet.

View down from the pass.  

View down from the pass.  

We have little bit over 1,000 feet climb up to the pass, meaning this is one of the easiest passes we've done. The climb is again quite uneventful. We cross endless snowfields and sun cups and climb up without seeing the trail.

Silver Pass has kind of an false summit. You climb up to what you think is the pass, only to realize you still have more to climb. It doesn't take us long and soon we're at the top of the pass. This was our last pass before Mammoth.

After a little snack break, and yoga by Airplane Mode, we start heading down. There seems to be a lot of snow on this side of the pass. We walk down the still icy snow but the sun is already out and slowly melting it. Soon we reach a spot that gets us all smiling. Looks like we're going to get to do some epic glissading.

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We have to go down these long, steep snowfields and they look absolutely perfect for asspath. One by one we hit the first one and it's a great one. Long and fast. There's a short walk and then we hit another one, this time even longer than the first one. These are my favorite moments up here!

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We get to do few more glissades and then the trail falls back to the woods. We do the usual on-off trail walking. We find the trail for awhile and then it disappears under the snow and we won't see it for a while. Then we get back on it and again it disappears. This goes on all day long.

There's still a lot of snow left and it makes making any progress slow and hard. I feel like we have to work at least three times as hard for the miles here, than we had to in the desert.

Small stream crossing.  

Small stream crossing.  

At times we climb down steep hills as we can't find the trail or it's somewhere buried under the mountains of snow.

We take a lunch break next to a bridge. I feel tired. Sierra at this time of the year, and with the record snow, is really hard. We climb 5-7,000 feet of elevation every day, and most of that in deep snow. You can definitely feel all that after a long day.

Airplane Mode and Indigo having a lunch.  

Airplane Mode and Indigo having a lunch.  

After the lunch we start climbing again and reach the snow, again. The area we are hiking through is covered with beautiful lakes. Sadly they are all almost frozen over.

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We take a long lunch break next to one of the lakes and entertain ourselves with stories and verbal games. It's funny how much fun you can have when you have great people around you. We don't need any electronic devices to keep us entertained.

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We nap side by side with Blis under a tree. The sun is warm and we feel tired and broken. I feel like I could stay here for the rest of the day but the others push us on.

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We cross one of the lakes and climb a small hill that looks like a pass and then start to descend down to the Purple Lake. Happy Feet and I are at the front and while going down, hear a thud and some commotion from behind us. We stop and look back and see Blis on his back after one of the steep snowbanks. Indigo and Juniper are there with him and we see them taking of their backpacks. Oh no!

We yell to see if everything is alright and if they need our help. They reply they're ok, and that Blis cut his hand. We stop and watch as they bandage his hand. Everything seems to be ok. Once Blis gets up and catches us, we hear that he fell while sliding down and a stick went through his skin. It's nothing bad but needed medical attention.

Duck Lake.  

Duck Lake.  

We slip and fall often on the snow. Everyday many of us take different kinds of tumbles on the snow, or when crossing it. I've fallen through between rocks, slipped, fallen, postholed, fallen through snow under a tree, and so on. And today while sliding down on one of the hills with my feet, my ankle gets stuck under a tree branch and it twists my knee. It's nothing bad but I feel it a little every time I start moving after a small stop.

Happy Feet doing the last climb up to camp.  

Happy Feet doing the last climb up to camp.  

It's been a long day and everyone seems to be beaten. We finally reach our camp spot for tonight. It's 6.5 miles from the junction to Mammoth and from there we need to hike 3.5 miles more. Normally we would have taken a bus from Reds Meadow, but the road from there to Mammoth is closed due to snow. We're hoping the larger road from where we're heading would be open.

Dinner at camp. 

Dinner at camp. 

We have no bonfire tonight. We eat our dinner and everyone quickly goes back to their tents. This has been our longest stint out, and at the same time the hardest. I can't wait to get to Mammoth and rest for few days. And to get the milkshakes, and burgers, and proper real food.

Day 66: Vermilion Valley Resort

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Date: July 4, 2017
Miles: 7.6 miles (12.2km), from mile 873.5 to mile 881.1.
Health: Feeling really great. I'm ready to start doing longer days and hit Northern California.

My alarm went off at 4am but I snoozed it until 5am. I only had to do about 5 miles to the VVR junction and then about a mile to the ferry. The ferry was leaving at 9:45am so I had ample time.

Morning views.  

Morning views.  

Stopping early yesterday meant that I got to sleep a lot. Which I felt in the morning. I felt really good and like I'd want to hike long today. But today I was going to Vermilion Valley Resort to get a small resupply and charge my electronics. My InReach had died yesterday and my phone was running so low that I'm not sure I could make it to Mammoth with it.

Before leaving camp I leave a note on the trail for Topo and DG that I'm going to VVR today.

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The trail climbs about 1,000 feet from my camp spot before descending over 2,000 feet down to the valley where the ferry to VVR leaves from. I take the climb quite easily and make it up in no time. I guess doing over 5,000 feet of elevation gain every day has its benefits.

As I get to the top of the climb the mosquitoes come out. It's not like in Finland, but they sure are annoying. I keep a little faster pace to outrun them.

At one of the trail junctions I notice a note on the sign. It says: "Reindeer and Topo come to VVR. B". Who is B? I hike on wondering who is B but can't think of anyone.

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Then the trail starts going down. It's like a switchback after switchback. The trail is quite easy and I make good time. Soon I start hearing the river down at the bottom and little after that I reach the bottom. Less than a mile and I'm at the junction.

I leave the PCT to head towards the ferry. The trail gets a lot muddier and the mosquitoes more hungrier. I'm wearing my Houdini jacket so my torso and hands are okey but they are hitting my legs. I stop and take out the bug spray. After few sprays I get to hike in peace again.

I soon reach the ferry but there's almost no one there. There are only two lovely ladies who are heading out to hike the surrounding area. We chat while they setup their gear and I wait for the ferry. They ask about my gear, about the passes and snow and river conditions. They are also heading to Mammoth later and we might meet up there again.

On the ferry over to VVR.  

On the ferry over to VVR.  

Then the ferry arrives. It drops three hikers and I'm the only one going in. Weirdly quiet for the 4th of July?

I speak with the driver and he tells me there were over thirty hikers coming in yesterday and that most of them got wasted last night and are still sleeping. We also talk about the lake Edison we're on and how it's a manmade lake. Then I realize, Blis! Of course, it was Blis who left the message. Oh man, maybe I caught up to them? I so hope he's still in VVR!

VVR.  

VVR.  

Once we get to the resort I get a quick rundown on where to go and what to do and then I head towards the main building hoping to score a burger.

As I round the corner I see Blis and Airplane Mode sitting there. I casually walk up to them and it takes them a moment to notice me. And then we all start yelling. It's so awesome to meet them, and especially after spending almost two days alone.

We hug and share stories from the trail. Also Happy Feet is there, as are Indigo and Juniper. Also Taylor and the Swiss and the Jew Crew (that's what they call themselves) are there.

James and Happy Feet.  

James and Happy Feet.  

The breakfast has just ended but I get a soda and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. I love these chips! I also get a free beer, as do all the hikers coming to VVR. I really like the place!

We sit with everyone and talk. It's good to see everyone again. It's been over a week since I saw Blis and way longer the last time I saw Airplane Mode. Juniper and Indigo are new to me. I later learn they started the trail from Tehachapi.

Ready to head back out.  

Ready to head back out.  

When the lunch opens, we all move to the terrace and order cheeseburgers. It's so good to have real food instead of Snickers and Clif bars. I have to be more careful with my next resupply as this one was a disaster.

Blis and his crew are heading out on the 4pm ferry and I decide to join them. While the VVR is great, I want to make it to Mammoth and do a proper resupply. I buy some Idahoan potatoes for dinner for tonight and tomorrow and that should be enough. I also get to recharge all my devices.

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There's a very poorly working wifi but it only gives you maybe one or two Instagram photos before crapping out. Not even enough to check email. And no phone reception.

We relax all day and then finally time comes to get back on the trail. I weight my pack before we leave and depending on the scale, it's either 21 or 27lbs (9.5 or 12kg). With the Sierra gear, only a couple days of food and a liter of water, I'm pretty sure the it's closer to 21lbs.

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Going out the ferry is almost full. I learn that about halfway through the lake you get cell reception and once that happens every hiker has their phone out. We still had some reception at the end of the lake so people just stayed at the beach, checking their phones.

Juniper crossing a stream over a log.  

Juniper crossing a stream over a log.  

We soon hiked out and got back to the junction and the PCT. We're setting up going over the Silver Pass tomorrow but it's not far so we only can do very few miles. We climb little over 1,000 feet and cross the Mono Creek over a log. Usually you'd cross the creek higher, on a waterfall, but this time of the year there's so much water that it would just sweep us down the waterfall. As we look up, we can see the crossing and the waterfall and it would be a pretty long drop.

We decide to camp here and deal with the second waterfall in the morning. We need to cross the Silver Creek high on a smaller, but still quite scary looking waterfall.

Indigo about to cross Mono Creek over a log.  

Indigo about to cross Mono Creek over a log.  

As we sit by the fire drying our gear, two JMT hikers come down from the waterfall and we get to see what it looks like. It's going to be an interesting morning tomorrow. We offer them marshmallows and they warm their cold hands on the fire for a while. Then they head out, going towards the VVR junction.

S'mores.  

S'mores.  

We sit by the fire eating dinner and sharing stories until 9pm rolls in. Hiker midnight. Everyone goes to bed and I stay over to make sure the fire is properly put out. A small mouse keeps me company while I warm my feet on the hot rocks around the fire pit. The stars are out and it's so beautiful. I still can't believe I'm here and doing this every day. It feels surreal. And the Sierra are so unbelievably beautiful. If I didn't have to get to Canada before winter, I could just stay here and wonder around these mountains all summer long.

Blis and Happy Feet.  

Blis and Happy Feet.  

Day 65: Selden Pass and Bear Creek

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Date: July 3, 2017
Miles:  17.6 miles (28.3km), from mile 855.9 over Selden Pass to mile 873.5.
Health: Feeling great. Legs little tired from the long day yesterday.

I woke up at 4:30am after snoozing the alarm for half an hour. No one else was up yet. I switched my headlamp to the red light mode not to wake anyone and quietly started putting my things together.

I was ready little later but ate a quick breakfast at the camp and stretched my legs. My legs are little tired but not as much as I would've thought after all the miles, climbing, and snow yesterday.

As I start hiking I see the others waking up. I cross the river over the bridge and decide not to fill up my water bottles as the river is raging so badly that I don't want to get anywhere near it. There's another stream coming up soon I'm sure.

The river I didn't want to get water from.  

The river I didn't want to get water from.  

I'm little too far from the Selden Pass so I'm trying to rush a little as I want to get there as soon as possible. The snow usually gets really slushy and hard to walk on after 10am. Before I can reach the pass I have to climb over 3,300 feet (1,005m) of elevation in about 8 miles (12.9km).

I estimate I'm going to reach the pass at around 11:30am or at noon. That means, depending on how large the snowfields are before the pass, that I'm going to do all the snow walking in the slush. Thankfully this pass is lower in elevation than the others we've crossed, so hopefully the snow isn't going to be bad.

First few miles are pretty gradual climb but I can't find a water source anywhere. I'm already little thirsty. Apparently this is the only section so far in the Sierra with no streams crossing the trail all the time. As I climb more I cross few mud puddles, but I'm not that thirsty yet.

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After two hours of climbing I finally reach a small stream crossing the trail. I fill my water bottle and camel up a liter. I also take out an extra Snickers bar as I'm still hungry.

Soon the climb starts to get steeper and I hit the switchbacks. It's so nice to climb up on switchbacks instead of on snow. At one point I notice two of the hikers from the camp behind me. They're fast and seem to be rushing all the time. Not my style of hiking but HYOH.

After couple of switchbacks they catch up and I give them room to pass. Not much is said. I miss our bubble. Sierra really messed up everything. Our tramily is all over the place, and our awesome bubble is also broken. Some people skipped Sierra, some flipped, some quit, and the rest who are on trail, are all spread out on such a large area that I won't see anyone before Mammoth.

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Sunshine, Dandelion, and Fireant are pushing to make it to Mammoth by 4th (Independence Day), Otter and her group are somewhere way ahead, Pony and her group are a day or two behind, and Topo and DG are one Pass behind.

I was originally planning to go directly to Mammoth, but I'm running out of electricity and food. My battery pack won't be enough for an eight day section, and my food selection is very limited. I only have one more dinner left, everything else is just snacks.

I hike past the junction to Muir Trail Ranch but it's too early to go in. And as they don't have electricity, they could only help me with food. Although there are not that many JMT hikers out yet, so the hiker boxes might be empty this early in the season. But I could make it to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) by tomorrow morning. It's a $23 ferry ride back and forth but  there I could get a good meal, do a small resupply to last me to the next town, and recharge my electronics. The critical ones are my phone (maps and GPS) and my InReach.

As I climb the switchbacks I send my mom a message on InReach that I will run out of battery by today or maybe tomorrow. Just to let them know that I'm ok and that when the satellite tracker disappears, not to worry.

I eat another Clif bar and read the notes on VVR on Guthooks. Someone had a pulled pork sandwich there. Right now, eating nothing but bars, that sounds so good. I could possibly push three big days to Mammoth and risk doing the last pass and miles without the GPS, or I could go to VVR, eat well, charge my devices and still make it to Mammoth in three days. I decide to go to VVR.

I reach 10,000 feet elevation. The snow should start soon but beside few lonely snowbanks here and there, I don't see any.

Sometimes the trail is a little moist.  

Sometimes the trail is a little moist.  

Soon I catch up to the two hikers who passed me earlier and find them sitting by a river, eating snacks. I would have crossed the river first and then taken a break but, HYOH. They look like they're just quietly eating, no talking or anything. Breaks were the moments when our tramily was the loudest. I can't remember a single instance when we've sat and not spoke at all.

I cross the river little downstream where it splits into three smaller streams. The first two I cross over logs but have to wade through the third. After shaking some of the water out of my shoes I continue climbing.

The trail continues in a forrest and there's not much to see. I put on both of my headphones and start rocking to Metallica's live recording of One. I'm all in my own world, doing air guitar with my pole, strumming air, and head banging, when I hear a noise behind me. I turn around and it's the two hikers. I step aside and they pass me, smiling a little. I'm glad I wasn't singing.

My little break by the lake.  

My little break by the lake.  

Soon the climbing stops and we reach a plateau. I catch up to the two hikers and we cross a lake outlet together. I'm hungry and the lake looks awesome so I stop to dry my socks and to eat by the lake.

I spend half an hour just sitting there, alone, watching the mountains and the lake. What a beautiful sight. Then I must move again as the snow is melting.

I'm only 1.6 miles from the pass and there's no snow yet. So far this seems like an easy pass to cross. I ford one more river and then the snow starts. But I can already see the pass.

Selden Pass from where the snow starts.  

Selden Pass from where the snow starts.  

I climb the last 900 feet of elevation and reach the pass. Well this was uneventful. There was about a mile of snowfields before the pass, meaning this was by far the easiest pass we've done so far.

I take one photo from the top and then start climbing down wondering how far the snowfields reach on the north side. I look at my clock and I was at the top an hour before I estimated. Not bad, considering I took an half an hour break.

Looking back from the top.  

Looking back from the top.  

The climb down is as uneventful as the climb up. The snow is slushy but nothing we haven't already seen. The snowfields reach about 2 miles down from the pass and then end. This was a really easy pass.

As soon as the snow ends I reach one of the forks of Bear Creek. Bear Creek is one of the two notorious crossings on PCT (Evolution Creek being the second, which we did yesterday) and it is bad on a regular or a low snow year. This year is a record snow year so it's going to be interesting to see what it looks like.

I cross the stream and water comes up to my waist and the current is quite strong. And this is only one of the forks and tributaries that feed into the main river I soon have to cross.

I curse that I wasn't able to keep up with the other two hikers as it would be really helpful to have someone there as I'm crossing the river. I'm approaching the river crossing alone, knowing there's no one there and knowing there's no one behind me for at least a day.

I hike the mile down to the Bear Creek and I can hear the water rushing from far away. I try to look at the river from upstream as much as i can but it seems impassable. I could go even more upstream and cross the river from where it splits into three parts, but the terrain doesn't look good for bushwhacking. It's too rocky and I might be able to make my way up there.

I'm betting my changes of getting across on the rumor that a tree had fallen on the creek a little downstream from the PCT crossing. I don't know if the tree crosses the whole stream, or if it's still there.

I get to the PCT crossing and it looks bad. The water is at least chest deep and rushing fast. There's no way I can make it across from here. There's a mark on the ground that says LOG and an arrow pointing downstream.

The fallen tree across part of the Bear Creek.  

The fallen tree across part of the Bear Creek.  

I hike about 0.3 miles downstream and where the creek splits in two, with an island in the middle, I see a large tree fallen on the creek on other side of the island. This must be the spot. I wade in knee deep water to the island and check out the tree.

Sometimes the trail is also a creek.  

Sometimes the trail is also a creek.  

The large trunk almost reaches the island and someone has placed a smaller log to reach the fallen tree. I don't like logs and being alone, falling under the tree and the branches, with the heavy flow, would be a very bad mistake. I put down my pack and go through my options.

I notice that the tree pushes the flow of the river towards the other side and leaves a shallow spot in the middle, from where I could reach the trunk without going over the sketchy spot with the heavy flow.

More streams crossing the trail. And fallen trees.  

More streams crossing the trail. And fallen trees.  

I secure all my electronics in the waterproof bags, just in case, and hop in to the water. It's mostly only shin deep and gets a little deeper as I reach the trunk. I'm careful not to get into a spot where I could get swept under the tree by the water. I easily climb on the trunk and walk to the other side. Phew.

That was way easier than I thought. Although it was not smart to do this crossing alone, this was fairly easy and I was at no point in any kind of danger. I was mentally prepared to camp here, if the crossing looked bad, to wait for the others to arrive but this time I didn't have to do it. As a rule of thumb, never cross rivers alone.

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I quickly rejoin the trail, dry my shoes a little and continue hiking. Only one more pass before Mammoth and all the "scary" stuff is behind me now.

As I hike on, I keep cursing the bear canister. It has been sticking at my back ever since I got it and it's starting to really hurt. It's like having a large, circular object poking at your back at every step. Ugh. I'm so happy to get rid of it in few weeks. I try to repack my pack to get the bear can to a different spot but to no avail. The joys of frameless packs.

Looking at the map I'm less than 8 miles from the junction to VVR. There's an 1,000 feet climb between me and the junction. I don't need to walk all the way to the junction today and Guthooks is telling me all the camping spots are on this side of the climb. The other side looks like nothing but switchbacks so I doubt there's any place to camp there.

The view from my shelter.  

The view from my shelter.  

I climb about half the way, while crossing multiple streams going over the trail, and then find this gorgeous spot with place just for few tents. And no one's here. It's early but I've already done over 17 miles and it doesn't make much sense to push further if there are no camping spots on the climb down. I decide to stay here and call it an early day. 

I set up my tarp, eat, watch the mountains, and listen to the creek next to my shelter. It's so beautiful and peaceful out here.

I'm so in love with Sierra, even though it's kicking my butt daily. I feel like not a single photograph I could take, or a sentence I could write, could ever do justice to the beauty of this magnificent place. I feel such an inner peace and happiness here among the mountains. I feel like I'm at home. Sierra has completely stolen my heart.

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I sit alone on a fallen tree trunk, contemplating on how I'm so lucky to be out here, eating cold soaked ramen, drinking cold hot chocolate, while watching the valley down below. All this to myself. And then I realize, this is the first time on the trail that I'm camping all by myself. It took over two months and 800 miles but I'm finally camping alone. And what a spot!

I go to bed early while listening to the sound of the creek. Tomorrow I'll get to VVR and get some real food! And then Mammoth in three days!