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 57: Kearsarge Pass and Bishop

IMG_1216.JPG

Date: June 25, 2017
Miles: 2.9 miles (4.7km) + 7.6 miles over Kearsarge Pass (non-PCT miles), from mile 786 to 788.9.
Health: Tired from the long day yesterday.

I woke up late in the morning, still tired from the all the snow and climbing yesterday. KB and Fyre had left earlier and I left with the others from the camp. Down at the valley the trail was a bit easier to hike but we still needed to climb over snowbanks.

Early morning stream crossing.  

Early morning stream crossing.  

After a while we hit a junction and the trail turned up. We climbed for about an hour and then reached the first junction to Kearsarge Pass. Kearsarge Pass isn't part of the PCT but most people climb it to get to resupply to either Independence or Bishop. I was running low on food and needed to get to Bishop where everyone else was also going.

Morning climb.  

Morning climb.  

The first junction takes the lowest path to the pass, the Bullfrog Trail. As we had heard it was covered in snow and party soggy due to the overflowing lake, we were taking the second trail that goes above the lake. So we climbed some more and reached the second junction.

From here the trail was already under snow almost constantly and way finding became harder. As the others were struggling with snow or finding the path, I went ahead alone. I thought that I would wait for them at the next junction as I needed to take care of some hole digging business.

IMG_1217.JPG

As I finally found the next junction I couldn't actually reach it as it was under water. I could see the trail sign poking from the water, which was kind of funny. I waited for a while but as I saw or heard no one coming, I moved along as I didn't want the snow to melt too much. I still had a long way to go on snow.

Trail junction under water.  

Trail junction under water.  

Soon the trail reaches the area where I could see the lake below. Finding the way, or actually even walking here was extremely difficult. I was constantly losing the direction, or slipping, or having to go around different obstacles. Being on a steep slope didn't help either. I was tired and frustrated. I was standing on a ton of melting snow, being burned by the hot sun, trying to navigate an obstacle course, while climbing a mountain. I was moving so slow.

Even though the Kearsarge Pass trail was only 7.6 miles long, looking at my progress so far, it would take me all day to get over and down to the other side.

IMG_1230.JPG

Just as I was having a mini meltdown I heard a familiar voice, Pony? I saw her behind some of the trees taking a break. She was with Neal and Cooper. I asked to join them for the break as I was exhausted.

After a small break we all headed out. It was so much easier to navigate with more people. Soon we found the trail again and we met few people coming back who told us it's going to get sketchy.

IMG_1223.JPG

The trail was on a narrow path along the mountain wall and at times completely blocked by snow. We had to cross these steep fields slowly with microspikes and ice axes as our help. After few fields it looked like we were done with those and put away our snow gear.

We go around a corner and hit another snow field again. As we're getting on it Pony asks if she should take out her ice axe again for this one. We tell her that that's why she's being carrying it and she takes it out.

IMG_1218.JPG

Cooper and I go over first and Pony's third. I take photos of her as she's in the middle of the snowfield. Just as I take on photo and lower my camera I see her slip. She's right above the rock field below, on the worst spot to slip. I grinch as she starts to slide down the steep snow face. But as soon as her stomach hits the snow she's in self arrest position and stops her slide like a pro. We all watch in with our mouths open. That was close. 

Pony a split second before falling.  

Pony a split second before falling.  

She's now stopped but we still need to get her out of there. Pony gets herself up, traverses down to the rocks safely and me and Cooper help her back on the trail. Pony's a little shaken up but safe and unharmed. Boy was it good that she took out her ice axe for this crossing!

Pony handles the situation like a boss and after a round of hugs we continue.

IMG_1221.JPG

Soon we start seeing the switchbacks up above but can't seem to find a way to get there. We have no option other than to climb straight up on loose rock. Once we reach the switchbacks we just walk the rest of the way up and we're at the pass. Couple of high fives are thrown and then we stop for a break and lunch.

The views from the pass are great but it looks like we still have a long way down. After eating we start traversing down on the snow. Me and Cooper hit a big glissade and notice that Neal and Pony are some way behind. We push on as there's no way finding needed on this, we're just going downwards.

At the top of the pass.  

At the top of the pass.  

We hit so many glissades that my shorts are completely soaked. While this is all fun, it's really hard moving around in all the snow. My legs are still tired from all the climbing and going down isn't any easier.

Pony and Neal catch up to us and we glissade down together. Cooper and I push ahead again and soon reach a lake on the level where the snow finally stops. We stop in the sun by the lake to dry our completely soaked shoes and socks and wait for the others.

IMG_1227.JPG

Others soon arrive and we climb the rest of the way down. There's still a lot of water on the trail but not as much snow.

And then we see the trailhead and parking down below us. The hitch down from here is going to be a hard one. The road has been closed due to flooding from all the snowmelt, and there's no reason for anyone to climb all the way up here. As we climb down we watch as some of the few cars parked below leave, hoping there would still be some left once we reach them.

Once we finally reach the trailhead we need to road walk down a bit over the closed, flooded road to where all the cars are parked. There's no one there so we try to find shade and sit and wait for someone to show up. We have no reception so we can't even call anyone.

Trailhead.  

Trailhead.  

After about an hour of waiting we see a minibus driving up and only a driver inside. This is sure our ride down. We send Pony, the only girl in our group, to investigate. We can't hear them but from the body language we can tell it's not going well. She comes back and the minibus turns and parks a little down from us. No luck.

As we're about to lose hope another car comes up and it's an trail angel Pony knows. He's here to give rides for hikers down the mountain to the town of Independence. We're happy to just get down from the mountain as getting a hitch from Independence to Bishop is much easier.

We drive down the long winding mountain road and watch as the thermometer rises as we get lower and lower. We soon hit over 100 degrees (40c). Ugh.

Road walk.  

Road walk.  

We get dropped of at the center of Independence, to the place were Subway used to be. Now there's a sandwich shop there but that too is closed. Independence looks like an extremely small town and doing resupply here would not be easy. We buy ice cream and sodas from the small grocery store and then start hitching again.

The sun is so hot that you can't stand too long in it. Pony and I hitch but Neal and Cooper stay behind for some reason. We get a ride but Pony needs to stay with the boys. I hop on and we agree to call when we're all in Bishop.

After an hour long drive I get to Bishop and try to call Pony. My phone isn't working. What? I can't send any messages, call, or access internet. What's going on? I'm alone in a new town that I know nothing about and I can't contact anyone or research anything.

My only option is to start walking along the Main Street and hope for the best. I don't have to hope for long. I meet a fellow hiker that I've met many times before and she tells me that the Hiker Hostel isn't far away, and that there's wifi there.

IMG_1224.JPG

I make my way to the Hiker Hostel and find Dandelion, Fyre, KB, and Fire Ant there. And many others. I get the wifi password and start to investigate. I find out that AT&T has closed my plan due to an 25cent unpaid bill, on the same day that they've automatically charged the monthly $60 fee from my account. Why didn't they charge the 25cents at the same time? And where has that 25cents come from?

I get a message to Pony through wifi and she informs me the address of our hotel. It's a little of from the main street but it's cheap.

After I'm certain I have all the info on my phone, I head to the hotel and call AT&T. I need to pay a $10 extra amount as that's the minimum amount they can charge from my account. Great. But no I have my phone operating again.

After doing the usual laundry shower routine we head out for some Mexican food. I talk with Blis and as he's in town as well and we haven't seen for awhile.

2.5lbs burrito.  

2.5lbs burrito.  

We join other hikers in the restaurant and I end up ordering an 2.5 pound (1.2kg) burrito. I'm almost able to finish it all in one go. Hiker hunger.

Blis joins us as well and after the restaurant me and Blis go for a beer. It's good seeing him again. He's heading out tomorrow but we make plans for me to hopefully catch up to them on trail. As it's already well past hiker midnight we head to sleep.

Day 56: Forester Pass and why I didn't quit the PCT yesterday

IMG_1207.JPG

Date: June 24, 2017
Miles: 19.8 miles (31.9km), from Crabtree Meadow over Forester Pass to mile 786.
Health: Feeling great but tired. Two days of big climbing, river crossings, snow, and elevation.

I love this trail. I love everything about about. It's already day 56 and I don't want it to end. Also, I passed the day 55 and didn't quit the PCT (if you're wondering what that's about, check day 20).

Today was going to be another big day. Not only did I need to catch up to KB, Fyre, Dandelion, and Fire Ant, I also needed to cross three major river crossings and climb first of the high Sierra passes. Forester Pass, at 13,200 feet (4,023m) was not only the highest point of the PCT, it was also notorious for the ice chute you needed to cross to get to the top. With all the snow this year, we had no idea what was waiting for us as we approached the pass.

At the PCT junction.  

At the PCT junction.  

Before reaching pass though, we needed to cross the three first big river crossings – Wallace, Wright, and Tyndall. We had heard that the rivers were overflowing and full, and that crossing them was dangerous. My decision yesterday to not hike out of Crabtree Meadow with the rest of the crew meant that if I didn't catch them before the rivers, I might have to either cross them alone, which is not safe, or wait for someone to cross with. I knew there was no one going out in the morning so I had to the catch others or face the crossings solo.

I tried to guess the time the others would leave in the morning, and as I thought they'd be about 3 miles ahead, it would take me a little over hour to catch them. So I set out to hike around 4:30am thinking this would give me hour and a half to catch them. I hiked back the few miles to the PCT junction. As I looked at the map at the junction I realized I had made an error. If the others had went to the spot where they said, I wasn't an hour behind, I was over two hours behind. I had to speed up.

Trail.  

Trail.  

I tried my best to keep up as fast of a pace as I could but I soon ran into something I had also forgotten to calculate, snow. Instead of a clear trail to hike on, I found myself climbing snow drifts and snowbanks blocking the trail. I was moving way slower than I needed to. It soon became obvious I wasn't catching the others before the river crossings.

As I arrived to the Rock Creek, not the largest but still overflowing creek that I needed to cross. I saw no sight of the others. As I was alone, I wanted to make sure it was safe to cross and spend some time looking for a log, or something else to cross over with. After looking for awhile I just decided to cross at the trail. It was where the stream was widest, and had least flow. The water came only a little over my knees. This wasn't bad. I hiked on with wet shoes, trying to keep an steady pace to keep warm as the sun wasn't properly out yet.

Morning views.  

Morning views.  

Not long after the Rock Creek I reached the Wallace Creek. Now this had a little bit more umph to it. The water was flowing harder and it was much deeper. After looking a little bit upstream I found a safer spot and crossed the creek there. The water reached my shorts but was nothing too bad.

I was hoping that the others would have taken a pause to dry after the creek but there was no sight of anyone. Maybe they had gone straight to the next crossing as it wasn't that far away.

Soon I reached Wright Creek but saw again no sight of the others. The creek seemed really aggressive and deep at the PCT crossing, and there was no way I was getting in that stream alone. As I was reading the stream crossing report three hikers that I've never seen before showed up. Before I could find the info on Wright they informed me that there was a log someway downstream.

We all hiked down the river trying to find the log but saw none. At one point we came to a spot where the river split into two and there was a small island between. While the others kept going, I stayed to investigate as this would probably be our best bet if we couldn't find the log. As I crossed the knee deep stream over to the island I saw a log on the other side crossing the deeper, more aggressive side of the river. I yelled at the others and they came back. I went to the log and crossed it thinking the others would be soon behind me. As I turned around, I saw them changing their gear on the other bank. Wondering what they were doing, I left as it seemed it would take them sometime to even get their packs back in order.

Log crossing.  

Log crossing.  

That was two of the three rivers crossed, plus few extra ones. Next up was Tyndall. From what I've heard it was the worst of the crossings for today.

I soon reached a large snowfield covered in sun cups and after hiking in it for awhile, I got frustrated and looked at the map. I saw that getting a bit higher I could get out of the snow and still follow the trail. I got to the higher ground and saw others footprints. Of course I wasn't the only one think this.

As I was walking along, the mountains ahead of me seemed to get larger and more ominous. We were approaching the High Sierra. I kept looking at the notches at the mountain range and trying to find the V-shape that Forester Pass was known for.

As the trail started heading down towards a valley I saw a person hiking towards me. Strange, we haven't seen that many southbounders yet. As the person got closer I recognized her. It was a European Hiker I had seen at times. As she got closer we started chatting and I wondered why she was going to the wrong direction. She told me that she had gotten to the creek and that it was too much for her to handle and she was heading back. I asked her about Sunshine and others but she didn't know them, and hadn't seen anyone fitting the description I gave her. But she told me there were plenty of people at the camp before the river, waiting to cross. That gave me hope. Maybe the others were there and we could cross and then climb Forester together.

I headed on while wishing her luck. I needed to boogie as the river was still an hour hike away. As I started to go down to the valley I started hearing the sound of rushing water. That sound wasn't coming from a small creek. I really hoped that the others were down there.

Traction.  

Traction.  

The trail was again covered in snowbanks and was slow to hike on. If I wasn't trying to locate the trail, I was climbing head high snowbanks, hopping streams, or trying to find routes around fallen trees.

When I finally reached the camp there was no one there. Only the sound of rushing water. And lots of it. I walked down to the PCT crossing and there was no way anyone would cross the "creek" from here. Water was so deep and moving so fast that the second you'd step in the water you'd be swept downstream.

The water report mentioned that there was a possible crossing few miles upstream. I started climbing the river bank upstream and saw lots of other footprints in the snow and mud. That was reassuring.

After about an mile the creek split up in two and in the distance I saw four people sitting on the opposite side. As I got closer they waved me over and showed me where to cross. The point was wide and I had passed quite a few tributaries on my way up so there was less water here than on the PCT crossing.

Snow field and Forester Pass far in the distance.  

Snow field and Forester Pass far in the distance.  

I took out my second hiking pole for extra support and crossed the river. The water water was cold and I felt the current a little bit, but it was very easy crossing. As I got over I thanked the others and ignored their comments about drying my shoes. I squeezed some of the water out and then continued to the direction they pointed he trail would continue at.

From here the trail started climbing up and I saw only endless snowfields ahead of me. I soon found a faint trail on snow. This made progress a bit easier but still hard. While moving forward was difficult, the views more than made up for the hardship. On every side I was surrounded by snow covered beautiful mountains and far ahead stood a massive range that looked impassable.

Looking at that range, and the map and compass reading, Forester Pass was somewhere on that range. As I slowly hiked closer, I saw the familiar V-shape on the range with what looked like the ice chute of the Forester Pass. That's where I was heading to.

Fyre and Forester Pass on the left.  

Fyre and Forester Pass on the left.  

As I got closer I noticed a lone hiker not far ahead of me in the snow. I soon noticed a familiar backpack, Fyre.  I saw her stopping and I soon caught up to her. She told me she was having trouble with the snow and I agreed. Moving anywhere in the snow, and at this altitude, took so much energy. The clock wasn't even noon and I was already tired. And we hadn't even reached the pass yet.

As we hiked on with Fyre I saw another lonely figure ahead of us. Fyre told me that it was KB. She was way ahead of us and I knew we wouldn't catch up to her.

We kept hiking on in the snow and at one point I turned around to see how far we had come. As I turned around I saw massive storm clouds in the valley where we had just few hours earlier crossed Tyndall. That wasn't good. I kept my eye on the storm front to see where it was going as I hiked on.

IMG_1187.JPG

By now Forester Pass was straight ahead of us but we still had ways to go before we were at the approach point. I was running low on energy and the storm behind us looked like it was following us.

We soon got to the plateau before the pass and there at the base we saw KB sitting on one of the rocks. We pushed there with Fyre. KB had seen the clouds as well and us approaching and had stopped to wait for us.

Fyre and the storm behind us.

Fyre and the storm behind us.

We analyzed the situation and all the signs pointed to the fact that we should not attempt to go over the pass today. It was already late afternoon and as a general rule, you shouldn't cross passes in the afternoon. There was the storm that was still close by. And the snow had already started to get very soft, which would make climbing up the solid snow face of the pass harder and more dangerous.

We decided that this is where we needed to stop. None of us were happy about the situation but there was very little we could do. I started scouting for water and a place to camp. I wasn't happy about the prospect of camping on snow at such high elevation. And stopping our day this early meant we couldn't make the miles we had counted to do, and possibly affect our food situation.

As we were all watching the storm, we noticed it hasn't moved at all for the past few hours. And as we looked over the pass we saw nothing but blue skies. Slowly we started talking ourselves over from staying and went "ah, let's just get over this thing".

Starting the climb.  

Starting the climb.  

I think we all knew this was a bad decision, but we still went for it. We scouted the mountain side for the route up and started following the footsteps of others. As all the switchbacks were covered in snow, our only option was to climb straight up. About halfway up we saw the path carved in to the granite and that's where we headed.

IMG_1191.JPG

The climb turned almost immediately straight up and we had to climb on all fours. I kept punching my ice axe as deep in the snow as I could as the slushy snow would not hold well if I fell. My microspikes held just and I kept thinking this would be a good spot for crampons.

KB before crossing the ice chute.  

KB before crossing the ice chute.  

Fyre crossing the ice chute.  

Fyre crossing the ice chute.  

KB reached the granite path first, then I, and then Fyre. We took off our microspikes and hiked up the path that had been carved on the wall of the mountain. After few switchbacks we reached the famous ice chute. From up here it didn't look as intimidating as it did from below.

There was a nice, wide footpath on the ice chute and KB went over first. Fyre and I soon followed. That was easy. Few more steps and we made it to the top.

We made it! 

We made it! 

While the climb and the approach were definitely hard, they weren't as bad as I had imagined. The actual climb over the pass took only half the time we anticipated.

KB.  

KB.  

Fyre.  

Fyre.  

We took few celebratory photos at the top but then the storm clouds moved. The storm clouds that had stayed back started moving towards us again and we heard thunder. That was my cue and I started climbing down on the other side. KB and Fyre stayed at the top to cook ramen.

Author.  

Author.  

As I got a little ways down I saw the lightning flash and soon the rumbling sounds echoed on the mountain walls around me. Not good. We had made it over the pass but we still needed to get down from the mountain. There was a valley down below about seven miles away where we would be safe. Another lightning. And then it started hailing. 

North side of Forester Pass.  

North side of Forester Pass.  

I looked behind and could see Fyre and KB traversing down. As the thunder got closer and as I was standing on an exposed ridge line, I started running. I glissaded down when I could and ran the sections that were too flat to glissade. As the lightning continued I kept telling myself "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here" while running in the hail storm.

Fyre and KB descending from Forester Pass.  

Fyre and KB descending from Forester Pass.  

When the hail and lightning stopped I didn't.  I ran all the seven miles down from the mountain and didn't even stop when I got to the forest. I passed few other hikers whom I've never seen.

In hail storm.  

In hail storm.  

Once in the forest the snow got harder to move on again. I reached a creek that had a log crossing. I tried getting on the log but it was so narrow and slippery that I felt it was too sketchy and backed away. As I backed away I noticed a lonely hiking pole sticking in the ground. I looked around and yelled but no one was around. Strange. Someone must have forgotten it here.

I took the pole and started to climb upstream to find a better crossing place. Not far the stream split in two and I could cross both with barely enough water to reach my shins. Much better than the sketchy log.

Ridgeline with the forest down on left.  

Ridgeline with the forest down on left.  

I know that Dandelion, Fire Ant, Otter and others were ahead of me so I tried to catch up to them. But no matter how many camp spots I passed they were never there. They must have really boogied down today. I was getting really tired and having my feet wet all day was starting to feel tiresome. I wasn't sure how far I could go on.

At one point I met three other hikers. I asked them if anyone had lost their trekking pole and sure enough, one of them was the owner. He thanked me and I continued on.

After passing two more camping spots were I was sure Dandelion, Fire Ant, and Otter would have stopped, I was feeling really tired. I looked at the map and saw there was one pretty good looking spot about a mile down. That must be where they stopped.

IMG_1195.JPG

I hiked the last mile and as I got closer to the spot I saw smoke. Fire. That meant there were people camping there. But it wasn't them. As I knew the hikers, and as I was already pretty worn out, I decided to abandon the decision to catch the others and stay here.

I set up my shelter, got to the fire to dry my socks and shoes, and made my dinner. After a while Fyre and KB also appeared. What a day.

Day 55: Climbing Mt. Whitney

IMG_1150.JPG

Date: June 23, 2017
Miles: 15 miles (24.2km), from Crabtree Meadow to the summit of Mt. Whitney and back. 
Health: Very tired from the sun and climbing.

I slept poorly again last night. I kept waking up thinking I had slept late and missed our start. Once my alarm clock finally went off I felt tired and anxious. Today was one of the days I had been waiting since the day we started from Campo almost two months ago.

Our original plan was to make it to the top for the sunrise, but as we got to the camp so late, and everyone was feeling really tired, we decided to just get up there and forget the sunrise. It still meant we had to get up really early.

Once my alarm went off I got out of my sleeping bag and was immediately hit by the cold air. This was my least favorite moment of every day. I got out, threw some food, warm clothes and some other extra gear into my pack and collapsed my shelter as I needed the trekking poles for climbing. I put some rocks on top of the tarp just to make sure it wasn't flapping in the wind while I was away.

We all walked out of the camp in a long line with our headlamps on. The trail was at times hard to find in the dark as it was either on a plain rock and you couldn't see where it was going, or it was under snow or water.

Approaching Guitar Lake in the dusk.  

Approaching Guitar Lake in the dusk.  

Once we started approaching Guitar Lake we hit the snowfields and the microspikes came out. Up until this point the climb had been very gradual, we just climbed up from the valley. From here we'd get up on the rock face and start climbing the actual mountain.

All microspiked up.  

All microspiked up.  

As everything was covered in snow, we kind of made our own tracks, or followed old ones where the sun hadn't yet melted them away. We hit few interesting traverses but nothing too bad. I felt like I was pretty confident with my ice axe skills. 

Sunrise over Guitar Lake.  

Sunrise over Guitar Lake.  

After few hours of climbing the snow ended and we got on rock and sand and had to take off the microspikes. At times the snow and ice had completely blocked the switchbacks and we had to climb straight up on the rock and sand. This was a bit sketchy as it was on a steep climb and the surface was very loose. There were few rock slides and we had to be very careful not to be behind or under others when they were climbing.

IMG_1136.JPG
Early morning break.  

Early morning break.  

I soon got left behind as I was doing a video at the same time, and taking photos of others ahead of me, so I found myself climbing alone. It wasn't bad as I could see others ahead and the trail was clear. Otter and Flicker also caught up to me and soon passed me.

Hikers for perspective.  

Hikers for perspective.  

After a long climb the trail finally leveled up a bit and I was hoping we were about to reach the top. Oh how wrong I was. The trail moved sideways across three peaks, and behind them, far in the distance and up above us, I could see the summit. After all these hours of climbing and we were still so far?

Author traversing.  

Author traversing.  

I took a small snack break to gain my motivation back and then continued. I caught up to Fyre and we crossed the three peaks while enjoying the views down to the valley floor far below us. I stayed back to take photos and use the cellular reception we had for a short while.

Switchbacks.  

Switchbacks.  

Flicker climbing loose rock.  

Flicker climbing loose rock.  

Climbing behind S&M, Fyre, and Fire Ant.  

Climbing behind S&M, Fyre, and Fire Ant.  

After crossing the peaks the trail again started climbing. My legs were hurting and I felt so out of breath. I had a new appreciation for those who actually climb high mountains, and decided that it was not for me.

Looking between peaks. Desert is visible far below.  

Looking between peaks. Desert is visible far below.  

Summit visible but blurry far in the distance.  

Summit visible but blurry far in the distance.  

At the bottom of the last push up to the summit I found Roadrunner and Fyre taking a break. We started pushing up together. As the switchbacks up to the summit were under snow, we had to climb up on rocks. Going straight up at this elevation was really tiring and we stopped to gather our breath like every ten steps.

Fyre doing the last push to the top.  

Fyre doing the last push to the top.  

Roadrunner waiting for us.  

Roadrunner waiting for us.  

Once we got to the top part, we only needed to do the last climb up to the summit. Once I finally saw the hut at the top I was so happy, almost there. I made the final push and met others who were sunbathing at the rocks at the top.

Made it! 

Made it! 

After a little celebration I opened the summit beer I brought up with me and sat down with the others. We spend few hours just chilling at the top, enjoying the views, and taking tons of photos. One of the rocks we took photos on was so sketchy. When you got on it, you were looking down on a huge drop straight down to the bottom of the mountain. I'm not a fan of high places so getting on it was quite interesting.

The mandatory summit group shot.  

The mandatory summit group shot.  

Fyre, Dandelion, KB, and Fire Ant being sassy.  

Fyre, Dandelion, KB, and Fire Ant being sassy.  

At the summit.  

At the summit.  

KB looking down from the Summit.  

KB looking down from the Summit.  

After all the photos, it was time to start heading down as it would still take us half a day to get back to camp. Everyone went on their own and I soon stayed back because I just had to stop and wonder the views. I couldn't believe we climbed up here, or that we were fortunate enough to be here looking at this gorgeous scenery. Even though I was tired I was smiling from ear to ear.

Fire Ant on the way down. 

Fire Ant on the way down. 

Once we reached the snowfields again, I saw few people doing a long glissade down the mountain side, and others practicing their self arresting technique at the bottom. After I did the glissade, I borrowed my ice axe to Fyre and headed to the camp. My eyes were hurting from the sun, and being on the snow made them hurt even more. I can't believe I was dumb enough to go up without my glacier glasses today.

Switchbacks at high places.  

Switchbacks at high places.  

The last part back to the camp was a long one. We hiked it with Fire Ant and Dandelion and lost the trail at one point. We had to climb quite a few rocks and cross a stream to get back on the trail.

Once we got back to the camp I was so tired that I just collapsed to the ground. Others were eating around me but I couldn't muster enough energy to get my bear can so I just slept on my sleeping pad.

Looking down on the way back. Guitar Lake on the right.  

Looking down on the way back. Guitar Lake on the right.  

KB and the girls were continuing on to get few more miles out as they wanted to get closer to the river crossings and Forrester Pass tomorrow. I was so tired, and as I already had all my gear setup, that I didn't want to pack everything up only to hike few hours and then setup again.

I said goodbyes to the girls and promised to catch up to them the next day and then crawled inside my tarp and fell asleep. Today was a good day!

Day 54: Approaching Mt. Whitney

IMG_1086.JPG

Date: June 22, 2017
Miles: 16.9 miles (27.2km), from Chicken Springs Lake to Crabtree Meadow.
Health: Feeling good but tired. Three poorly slept nights and the elevation are making me tired.

My alarm went off at 4:50am. It was still windy outside and my tent was rocking. The wind whipped up after the sun went down and has been steadily blowing throughout the night. The temperature changes here are drastic and this causes winds to pick up every time the sun goes down.

I quickly setup my gear. It's funny how on the first days it took me so long to take down my camp. Now I can do it in less than 20 minutes.

I look over but none of the girls are up yet. I thought their alarm was set for 5am. I sit on my bear can and eat breakfast slowly. It's still quite cold.

Morning climb.  

Morning climb.  

Soon I see movement at the girls camp and I head over to get some of the foods I stored in KB's opsak. Soon we're on the trail.

At the river we see a note that Otter left us last night. She didn't know or see us at the lake as it's up from where the trail crosses the stream. She was headed few miles further from us, we should be able to catch up to her.

IMG_1084.JPG

The trail climbs first and then starts to drop down to a valley down below. I can see green meadow down where we're heading. We have to climb few snow banks but the snow is not bad. Only few times we lose the trail.

Compared to the desert there's water everywhere. There are big and small streams coming down and sometimes covering the whole trail.

IMG_1087.JPG

As I'm tired I soon fall into "the zone" where I just hike with not much attention on what's happening around me. The trail is easy but the elevation, we're at over 11,000 feet, makes breathing hard. I just concentrate on my feet and turn inwards, not even paying attention to what I'm listening on headphones.

Without realizing I'm at the half way marker. And there's a nice stream there. Time for second breakfast. As I'm stopping I notice Dandelion's there, with the same plan. Soon Fire Ant also joins us. KB and Fyre pass us as they want to break all the way down at the valley in a mile and a half.

IMG_1089.JPG

After eating we start heading down as well. I stay for a little longer as I need to filter more water. My Sawyer is starting to get slow and even back flushing it in Lone Pine did no good.

Down at the valley I see a note left by the rangers that the Rock River is impassable from elsewhere except up at the meadow or at the Ranger Station. Looking at the map, that would mean a long walk on a boggy meadow before getting back on trail. I choose to ignore the advice and decide to go down and see if I can find a spot where to cross.

Ranger note.  

Ranger note.  

As I get closer the river is indeed flowing hard and getting over seems unlikely. I walk downstream until I see a marker on the trail that says "Log" and an arrow pointing to the right. I follow the arrow and find an log that's going cross the river high up. It looks a little sketchy as falling to the raging river from that high would not end well.

Little upstream I see two logs down in the water but they are wet and look slippery. I can't find any other points to cross. I hate wet logs so I choose to get on the one high above the stream. I take out my other trekking pole for extra support.

Log crossing.  

Log crossing.  

The log feels super sketchy but stable. I don't like heights or balancing so this is definitely out of my comfort zone. I get on the log and slowly start to get across trying to avoid looking and thinking at the river down below. I get across safely. Definitely got my heart rate up.

Little down stream I find the girls drying their shoes. KB and Fyre crossed the stream up at the meadow and Fire Ant and Dandelion at the wet logs.

IMG_1088.JPG

We take a small break and then someone looks at the elevation profile for our next section. It looks like we're going straight up. Ugh. We start slowly climbing.

When you're the blue dot at the bottom.  

When you're the blue dot at the bottom.  

At one point we come across Dragon and Andrew. They are heading back to Lone Pine and flip-flopping north. Dragon felt that the river crossings ahead were too much for her. It takes a lot of guts to listen to your instincts and turn back, I really admire her decision. You should never do anything out here you're not comfortable doing. They wish us luck and we continue.

Whitney Creek.  

Whitney Creek.  

Soon we reach the Whitney junction and cross our third and last river. This one is wide but slow moving. It feels great to get to swim a little after a long hot day.

After a small pause to dry up our gear we continue to the campsite where we head out to summit Mt. Whitney tomorrow. It's all uphill and my legs are already tired. We see the top of Mt. Whitney and it looks intimidating. I keep thinking "we're climbing THAT tomorrow?".

We reach the camp and formulate the plan for tomorrow. Instead of trying to make the summit before sunrise, we decide to get some sleep and wake up at 3:30am and start climbing at 4am. It takes about five and a half to six hours to go up, and about four to get down. It's going to be a long day. I need some sleep.

As we're going to sleep a thunder storm sweeps over us and we get the second rain on PCT. It's great laying inside my shelter and listening to the rain drops. I can barely keep my eyes open. Tomorrow's going to be so much fun!

Day 53: Out of Lone Pine to Chicken Spring Lake

IMG_1062.JPG

Date: June 21, 2017
Miles: 2.5 miles (4km) from Horseshoe Meadow back to PCT + 5.6 miles (9km) from Trail Pass to Chicken Spring Lake.
Health: Feel tired and on the last mile my left shin started hurting.

We sleep in late but I slept poorly as the AC was pointed directly at my head. Weird placement for a bed. The girls start making oatmeal with their stoves and Camp Counselor and I joke around that we should rename Poison Ivy as Oatmeal as she's obsessed with it. She doesn't object.

IMG_1075.JPG

As we're eating our breakfast we read about the sixth drowning in the Sierra this year. As all the snow starts to melt with the heatwave, the rivers are getting huge and dangerous. The trail rumors we keep hearing swing from "doable" to "impassable".

Our plan is to get off at the Kearsarge Pass and go down to Bishop. We don't have any big river crossings on that section, but we get to see the snow, summit Mt. Whitney, and see what the conditions are like. And also how fast we are able to move up there. Time is starting to be an issue as we still have over 1,500 miles to cover after the Sierra. If we move too slow, we need to get out and flip-flop to have enough time to finish the trail before winter hits us up north.

IMG_1077.JPG

The girls work on their plans as they were only section hiking and this is where their hike ends. It's a shame we didn't meet earlier and that they aren't doing the Sierra.

After morning tasks the girls head out to do laundry and I need to go to Post Office to pickup my old backpack. I'm doing a backpack shuffle and I need to switch back to my MLD Prophet for the heavier Sierra carries. I ship my Pa'lante Pack onwards to Bishop which is our next resupply stop.

IMG_1076.JPG

Many people have skipped ahead from Bishop due to the dangerous river crossings and the snow. By shipping my Pa'lante Pack, I can either switch back to it if we decide to skip, or just bounce it forwards on the trail. You can bounce a box for free for six times. This comes handy when dealing with the logistics on the trail.

On my way to Post Office I get a message from Blü, he's in town and heading out with us. Yeah! He was in Bishop yesterday so I though he just skipped there. I have two packages in the Post Office, but I bounce the one I shipped from Kennedy Meadows to Bishop, and switch the backpacks in the second box and ship that to Bishop as well.

As I'm at the Post Office, KB, Fyre, Dandelion, and Fire Ant show up. They are also shipping packages to Bishop and some to home.

IMG_1078.JPG

We're heading out soon but I still need to do my resupply. I can't do that when I'm hungry so I head to the Subway for a quick breakfast. At the grocery store I do the usual back and forth between shelves, trying to find calorie rich light foods that I want to eat. I hate doing resupplies as I never find anything good to eat. Then at the trail everyone who resupplied from the same store seems to have all these delicious foods to eat.

I just stuff my basket full of same old stuff I've always eaten but add the crackers Blü always eats, and the salty fishes KB loves. I can use them to bribe her on the trail if the need ever comes up. I weight the basket with my hand, feels heavy, should be good for five days. I hope.

Our hotel.  

Our hotel.  

The girls are already at the hotel and I start to stuff my food to the bear canister. It should fit seven days of food but I barely fit five days. Ugh. My backpack is so heavy. With all the extra snow gear (ice axe and microspikes), warmer clothing, the bear can, and the summit beer for Whitney, this is the heaviest my pack has been on the trail so far.

As we leave, we take the leftover beers from last night to Rocky and Puppy. They are staying in the hotel for extra night so they can enjoy the beverages that we can't take on the trail.

IMG_1073.JPG

We check-out and then join the rest of the crew behind the Air Streamer/Outfitter on the Main Street. This is the best place to hitch out of town as it leads to the road up to the Trail Pass. The town of Lone Pine is at 3,400 feet, whereas the Trail Pass is at over 10,000 feet, so it's quite a climb up the mountain.

I say goodbye to Katie (Camp Counselor) and Natalie (Poison Ivy) as our paths separate here. We get back on the PCT and they take few trips before they head back home.

IMG_1072.JPG

We hitch in the shade of a tree as the 40 degree (39c) weather is too hot to be in the sun. Thankfully the elevation gain means it won't be this hot up at the Trail Pass or on the trail.

Dandelion and Fyre catch the first ride up. They're going up with a trail angel who already has two other hikers in her car. Ten minutes later KB, Fire Ant, and I catch a ride up too.

IMG_1069.JPG

It's a long way up, and the elevation and steep grade of the road means we're going really slow. On the way up we see smoke rising from the side of the mountain range. Fire? We watch as the fire spreads wider as we drive up. We wonder if this is going to block our hike as it's between where we start and Mt. Whitney, where we're heading. We hike on the other side of the range though so it should not be an issue.

IMG_1067.JPG

Once at the Trail Pass I eat the leftover Subway sandwich and camel up on water and then head out towards Horseshoe Meadow with KB and Fire Ant. From Horseshoe Meadow we start our climb back up to the PCT.

My pack feels so heavy as we climb. Luckily we don't have to carry much water as it's plentiful now with all the snowmelt.

IMG_1074.JPG

At the top, back on the PCT, we meet an older gentleman with his two dogs. We take the opportunity to have some four legged love and take a pause to play with the puppies. Meeting trail puppies is always so much fun.

Puppies! 

Puppies! 

After the pause we shoulder our packs and rejoin the PCT again. We're only doing a short hike to get to Chicken Springs Lake for the night. It's supposed to be a beautiful spot between the mountains and it takes us closer to our Mt. Whitney summiting in two days.

IMG_1064.JPG

As we climb above 11,000 feet my breathing becomes harder. This is the highest we been on the trail and it's completely new to my poor lungs. I have to slow down. KB goes on and we hike for a while with Fire Ant. We cross streams and beautiful alpine meadows. The scenery is so different from what the first part of the trail was.

Horseshoe Meadow.  

Horseshoe Meadow.  

Fire Ant and Sierra snow.  

Fire Ant and Sierra snow.  

I'm not feeling the hike today. The poorly slept past two nights and the elevation make me a grumpy hiker. I slow don't to a crawling speed and then suddenly I feel a familiar pain on my shin. But this time on the left shin.

I stop to put on the shin guard on my left leg and curse out loud. I'm fairly certain that my shin problems are caused by my shoes. I make a mental note to get rid of the Altra's as I get to Bishop. It's a larger town and they should have a better outfitter with shoes.

Girls camp at Chicken Spring Lake.  

Girls camp at Chicken Spring Lake.  

I carefully step the last miles to the Chicken Spring Lake not to irritate the shin anymore. I keep cursing my luck. At the lake I find all the girls and the view is absolutely amazing. The lake is perched between two large mountain tops and still half covered in ice. I sit down next to the girls and dig out my dinner from the bear can. My hurting shin takes all my energy and I can barely enjoy the scenery.

IMG_1068.JPG

After dinner I quickly setup my shelter and get in it to end this day. Hopefully I get a good nights sleep and my leg would feel better tomorrow. I'm in my sleeping bag two hours before hiker midnight.

Damn you legs!

Day 52: Lone Pine

IMG_1051.JPG

Date: June 20, 2017
Miles: 3.5 miles (5.6km) plus hiking down to Horseshoe Meadow.
Health: One of my toes is not getting along with the Altra's. Otherwise feeling great.

I slept poorly last night. The mosquitoes and the warm night made cowboy camping hard and around midnight I had enough. I needed to get out of my sleeping bag but not being eaten by mosquitoes so I just quickly put on my headlamp and threw up my shelter. I used the red light not to wake up the girls sleeping close to me.

IMG_1061.JPG

It took me two minutes to haphazardly set up the tarp and just throwing my sleeping gear inside. That's better. I could cool outside my sleeping bag and be protected from the mosquitoes. They weren't that bad but just enough to not want to sleep outside of my bag.

IMG_1058.JPG

We wake up slowly and get our gear together. We don't have to walk too far today as we're going in to Lone Pine today. Today is Katie's and Natalie's last day on trail but we get to hang in Lone Pine for a day.

IMG_1055.JPG

We quickly hike the few miles to Trail Pass from where we descend down to the trailhead. The trail drops down quite a way so it's a steep climb. Once down we cross Horseshoe Meadow and then get to the trailhead.

IMG_1056.JPG

It's not morning anymore and there aren't that many cars coming in, but it's still too early for day hikers to leave to give us a ride down to Lone Pine. We wait a good while to no avail.

IMG_1060.JPG
IMG_1057.JPG
Horseshoe Meadows.  

Horseshoe Meadows.  

I try to talk to the few people we see at the trailhead but none are going to town today. There's a small road close by so I take my backpack and decide to hike there to see if I could get us a ride from there.

IMG_1053.JPG
Temperature in shade.  

Temperature in shade.  

As I get halfway through the parking lot a car passes me and I see familiar faces inside. The car stops next to me and it's a trail angel giving rides to and from Lone Pine. They take us aboard and soon we're heading down to Lone Pine. It's almost 30 mile drive down and the elevation drops from high in the mountains down to the valley floor. As we drop the temperature keeps rising and reaches 100 degrees (39c) at the valley floor.

Breakfast appetizers.  

Breakfast appetizers.  

Once in Lone Pine we get some breakfast and then a hotel room. We're all quite beat so instead of going out to eat we decide to have a nice picnic at our room.

I go out to check out the outfitters as I need to get a baselayer for the Sierra as I didn't send one with my Kennedy Meadows resupply. I buy a Montbell UL merino baselayer and I couldn't be happier. The price is great and the total weight is really light.

Cooler.  

Cooler.  

Then I head out to get my hair cut in a barbershop and to get some drinks for our picnic. I buy different beers, white wine, and ice. The girls go out and buy an awesome vegetarian setup. I'm happy to eat something healthy for a change.

Picnic.  

Picnic.  

We spend the rest of the evening drinking, eating, and talking. Before we know it, it's late and we need to get to sleep. Although I've had tons of fun, I also feel sad as I know that I have to say goodbye to Katie and Natalie tomorrow. I keep wishing I would've met them earlier on the trail so I could've spend more time with them.

Day 51: First sight of Sierra snow

IMG_1045.JPG

Date: June 19, 2017
Miles: 17.6 miles (28.3km), from mile 724.2 to mile 741.8.
Health: Walking feels great but the Altra's are hurting one of my toes. Need to find a solution for that.

Everyone wakes up after 5am and we quickly break down our camp. This was my first time sleeping at 10,000 feet (3km) and it was great. The night was actually so warm that at one point I had to wake up and remove clothing.

Camp Counselor and Poison Ivy stay back to eat breakfast while others head out. We're going down for a while so it's going to be an easy morning.

Morning on trail.  

Morning on trail.  

The views are amazing and we can see the Sierra range and snow topped mountains not far away. That's where we're going. I'm actually really excited about getting on snow.

I was last from our group to leave the camp and I catch Fyre down at the first water source, about 5 miles (8km) down from our camp. We dry camped, and I didn't want to carry too much water to the top of the mountain, so I was already getting a bit thirsty.

My new Pa'lante Pack with bear canister.  

My new Pa'lante Pack with bear canister.  

I fill up about a liter, camel up a second liter, and then head after Fyre. Others are little ahead. I soon catch up to Fyre again but nature calls and I have to go dig a hole in the woods. Had a beautiful view this morning for hole digging.

Back on the trail I soon catch up to Fyre again as I'm always almost running downhill. She lets me pass and I continue on while listening to the best of Backstreet Boys. Great hiking music!

Fire Ant.  

Fire Ant.  

After a while I catch Fire Ant and as the trail levels up we hike at the same pace. We cross an absolutely gorgeous meadow and stay there for a while to wonder at the beauty of our surroundings. After some up and downs we get to the next water source where Sunshine and Dandelion are already waiting and having the second breakfast. Fyre soon joins too.

Alpine meadows.  

Alpine meadows.  

We eat and play with our bear canisters. While I don't really like the canister, it makes for a handy stool to sit on. Camp Counselor and Poison Ivy catch up to us too. We talk about food, which seems to be one of the most common conversation topics on the trail. We talk about what we want to eat when we get to next town, what to put on our next resupply, being vegan, trail foods we like and dislike, what we want to eat after we're done with the PCT, and so on.

Sadly we have to move on as the trail calls. From here we climb over 1,600 feet of elevation back to 10,000 feet. It's not that much but the sun is already out at full force, and everyone still feels tired from yesterday's climb.

IMG_1037.JPG

Others go first and I leave with Camp Counselor and Poison Ivy. They're only section hiking and ending their hike in Lone Pine so I want to spend as much time with them as possible. They both leave a little bit before me but head out on the wrong trail. I yell after them and soon we're all on the right trail and climbing up a mountain under a burning sun.

I love these tree trunks here.  

I love these tree trunks here.  

We pass Fyre at one point and she's having difficulties breathing. She assures us she's ok and we continue. It's the elevation. I'm having surprisingly little trouble with the elevation, especially considering how hard San Jacinto was for me.

Fire Ant climbing.  

Fire Ant climbing.  

The girls decide that they need a break and stop for a siesta. I need to continue as I want to make it to Lone Pine before the night to meet Blis and it's a little over 21 mile hike.

After more climbing I reach the top where I find the others taking a nap. There's also cell reception so I manage to call home and tell my parents I'm ok. I also receive a large number of messages asking if I'm ok and why my blog hasn't been updated for a while. It's hard when you often don't have connection and free time at the same time.

Break at the top.  

Break at the top.  

I try to upload new posts but the network is so slow that I can't get anything online. I waste two hours and most of my phones charge trying to update my site.

Gear malfunction.  

Gear malfunction.  

There's some snow on the top and we play with Fire Ant and practice self arresting with my ice axe. It's so much fun to play in the snow.

I'm so tired that instead of hiking on, I stay with the girls at the top of the mountain and siesta for few hours. But soon it's time to start moving again.

Naptime! 

Naptime! 

We hike on and I start to feel really tired. I stay back constantly and only catch up to KB, Dandelion, and Fire Ant at the bottom of the mountain, while they stop to get more water from the river. Fyre catches with us too.

IMG_1047.JPG

I don't feel like hiking on, and knowing that this is where Katie and Natalie had planned to stop, I stay back as the girls head on. I set my pad against a rock where I can see the trail and also the view from the mountain.

Watching the sunset.  

Watching the sunset.  

Not long after the girls have gone on, I see big thunder cloud appear around the mountain and going towards where the girls just headed. I watch and wonder at the thunder and lightning as the cloud passes me by.

Sunset.  

Sunset.  

After a while I see Katie and Natalie appear down the trail. We look at the sunset for a while and then go set up our camp. I set up cowboy style and the girls set up their tent. They're having some trouble with their inner net zippers.

IMG_1038.JPG

We talk long into the night, watching the stars. As the girls fall asleep, I try to sleep as well but the mosquitoes keep me awake. I try to fall asleep but the pesky bastards wake me up every time I almost fall asleep.

I get tired with the mosquitoes and quickly get up and set my tarp up. I get in and soon fall asleep.