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 79: All the trail magic and the return of trail puppers

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Date: July 17, 2017
Miles: 25.9 miles (41.7km), from mile 1,056 to Showers Lake at mile 1,081.9.
Health: Feeling great.

Today was a really epic day! Throughout the Sierra, we didn't see any trail puppies – mainly because dogs are not allowed there – and had barely any trail magic. So when you come out of Sierra and you have a day full of both, it's a good day!

We woke up late again. I had trouble falling asleep last night as I felt I hadn't spent enough of my energy during the day. After eating breakfast and watching the sun rise behind the mountains, White Rabbit was first out the camp. He said he had a meeting to attend to, something about sending faxes or papers. Reroute was next and I left last, thinking I'd catch them soon.

Reroute.  

Reroute.  

I didn't catch Reroute but I met White Rabbit shortly when he stumbled out of the woods. We hiked together for a while but then my mobile phone came alive on one of the ridgelines, I have cell reception! I needed to send and reply to few messages so I stopped on the ridgeline as White Rabbit pushed on. The quick break grew to about half an hour and suddenly I realized I had to keep hiking to make miles. 

Early morning ridge hiking.  

Early morning ridge hiking.  

Soon after the social media break I too had a meeting to attend to and diverted off trail, to the left, and into the woods. After both of these breaks I really needed to boogie down to catch up to White Rabbit and Reroute. I thought that if I’d hurry up, I’d catch them when they stop for lunch. 

There were only a few spots with snow at the beginning of the trail but other than that the trail was pretty clear. This meant I was moving fast. I soon reached a stream and while crossing it, noticed a pile of Coca-Cola and Sprite cans in the water. Trail magic!

Stream with ice cold sodas.  

Stream with ice cold sodas.  

Just last night we had talked about how we missed ice cold soda and now someone had hiked here and brought all these sodas to the ice cold stream. People and the trail community are so awesome! Thank you to whoever brought these here! I sat in the shade by the stream and drank a cola with a smile on my face. It was close to 100 degrees (39c) outside and an ice-cold soda tasted so good! I wanted to drink another one but thought about the other hikers behind me and instead crushed the can into my backpack and headed on. 

Yay! for ice cold soda on trail. 

Yay! for ice cold soda on trail. 

Not long from the sodas, I get startled by a large animal heading towards me on the trail. I had both of my earphones on, with music at full volume, so I was caught off guard. A big white dog? I look a little up the hill and see two more, and then two older ladies. Trail puppies!

I stop for a chat and the two ladies tell me they work as volunteers at the Carson Pass information center and were walking their dogs. They told me that the center was about 12 miles (19.3km) from here and that there's usually sodas and some food for PCT hikers at the center. Sounds good! I could definitely go for a second ice cold soda.

I played with the three dogs for awhile, talked about the trail with the ladies, but eventually, I needed to keep moving. I thought about making it to the information center for lunch, but that would be a total of 20 miles (32km) between breakfast and lunch. Might be pushing it a bit too far. 

 Views down to the valleys.  

 Views down to the valleys.  

At one point the trail took a turn up and I could see a large snow chute completely going across and blocking the entire trail high above. On the other side was a steep mountainside, on the other steep cliff down to a valley far below. Not a spot where you’d want the trail to be cut off.

I didn't see any steps on the snow, and it looked like getting on the steep snow would be a nasty spot to slip – especially being alone. As I got closer to the snow chute I saw that people had climbed down the rocky cliff below it and when I reached the snow chute I could see why. The snow chute looked like a ski jumping hill. If you'd slip, you'd have very little time to self-arrest before you'd slide and fly over the rocks and drop straight down to the valley far below. Not good!

Flatter views.  

Flatter views.  

To get to the rocks below the chute I had to climb straight down a steep rock face. This was super sketchy as there was nothing but two feet wide edge below to stop me if I slipped. I was going down on all fours, making sure I had a good grip with each step. Feeling the rocks loosening and seeing loose rocks constantly fall down into the ravine made me feel really uneasy. Once down on the small edge, I followed the narrow path under the snow chute and around it. Once on the other side I climbed back up on the trail and kept going. Not my favorite spot!

Soon I crossed a road and met a couple who were bouldering and talked with them while cuddling with their lovely dog. She just leaned against my legs as I scratched her legs and belly. I miss my dog so much but seeing all these trail puppies helps a lot!

NorCal climbs are getting smaller.  

NorCal climbs are getting smaller.  

I was almost 16 miles in and still hadn't caught up to White Rabbit or Reroute. How fast and far had they gone for lunch? I was getting hungry and my snack pocket was running low. Right then I see a large black dog running towards me in the snow. She runs around me, goofing around and just enjoying the snow. I climb up the snow face and soon see her owners up on the hill. 

As I get closer they ask if I'm a PCT hiker. I tell them yes and they ask me if I have everything I need with me. I tell them I'm all good without thinking too much and they ask me if I'd like a turkey sandwich. A turkey sandwich? Well yes, yes I would. 

They tell me that they're here trying to find a way to one of the lakes to go fly fishing but the snow had stopped them and they had brought the sandwiches for lunch. But as they had to turn back now, they'd be happy to give it to me. Random trail magic, how awesome!

Trail on a patch of snow.  

Trail on a patch of snow.  

As we get to their car little down the hill they hand me a big, 6-inch sandwich with all kinds of goodness inside. Even avocado. My lunch just got so much better! I don’t have to eat cold soaked Idahoan Potatoes. 

After thanking them for their kindness, I hike a little further until I find a nice spot by a small stream between towering mountains. I sit in the shade and eat the sandwich. Oh. My. God! It tastes so good! First the sodas, all the dogs, and now this? How epic has this day been!

Trail magic sandwich.  

Trail magic sandwich.  

After lunch, I keep going down the valley and after some time, start seeing other people. Day hikers. I must be getting close to the information center. I talk with some of the people and then reach the center. As I get there, there's a cute older dog that comes towards me and I have to pet him for a while. 

After some doggy time, I get to the center only to find it closed at 4 pm. It's 4:12 pm. As I'm standing there, two thru-hikers outside call my name and tell me they got me a set of goodies from the center. I go over and they have a soda, some cookies, and fruits. The center hands these out for free for PCT hikers. How nice!

Our table full of trail magic.  

Our table full of trail magic.  

The guys also have a ton of other food. They had met two ladies and they had given them a big pack full of town food. They had mini carrots, guacamole, berries, bananas, mandarins, and all kinds of other good stuff that hikers grave for but don't want to carry. We share all this food while sitting on the tables outside the visitor center.

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As we're eating all this, a lady comes over and asks if we're thru-hikers. As we say yes, she opens her backpack and pulls out ice cold beers for all of us. What’s happening?!? Where getting trail magic over trail magic over trail magic. She tells us she hiked the PCT in 2011, another record snow year, and her trail name was Outlaw. Thank you, Outlaw! Now I’ve had both, ice cold beer and sodas.

Meadow.  

Meadow.  

Just a little after Outlaw left White Rabbit and Reroute appear. I thought they were ahead of me? Apparently, they had eaten lunch on one of the lakes and took a side trail and I hiked past them. We share our beers and food with them as there's plenty to go around. One of the things you learn on the trail is that there’s always enough to share with others, no matter how little you might have.

Showers Lake. 

Showers Lake. 

From here we have only five miles left to get to the Showers Lake, a good spot to camp. The trail climbs up from the pass, then leads through a large, beautiful meadow, and then climbs up for a while and finally reaches the lake. Such a beautiful spot!

My camp at Showers Lake.  

My camp at Showers Lake.  

We set up camp, eat dinner, although I'm still full from the goodies earlier, and go to sleep. What a day! Met so many doggies, got a ton of trail magic, and the trail was again relatively easy and snow free. It feels quite easy to do 25 mile days, which is a good sign. Once we clear all the snow, I want to start doing 30's to get some buffer between getting to Canada and the oncoming winter. 

Tomorrow we'll hit South Lake Tahoe for our next resupply. I'm already dreaming of all the all-you-can-eat buffets there. The trail feels really good!

Day 78: We're definitely not in the Sierra anymore

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Date: July 16, 2017
Miles: 25.3 miles (40.7km), from mile 1,030.7 to mile 1,056.
Health: Feeling great.

I woke up tired. I tried to sleep with just my Gossamer Gear Thinlight sleeping pad, which is 1/8 of an inch (0.3mm) thick, to see if I could ditch the heavier Z Lite pad and get my pack lighter. The Thinlight is so thin that I'm obviously not hardcore enough yet to sleep only on it. I had the Thinlight for the Sierra but I decided to carry it still as it weighs nothing and it’s a better back pad for my frameless Simple Pack.

After a couple of hours of tossing and turning I had to put the Z Lite under me and only then I fell asleep. I had my alarm set to 5 am but I didn't feel like waking up so early so I moved it to 6 am. That meant I'd be getting a later start but that was okay. I'd just take fewer breaks during the day to make it up in mileage.

Change of scenery.  

Change of scenery.  

Just as I got my things packed and shouldered my pack, the Jew Grew woke up. They were taking even a later start. I waved bye as I headed out and saw them getting ready for breakfast. Before leaving I filled my dirty water bottle from the stream and hiked on.

Climbs in NorCal.  

Climbs in NorCal.  

The trail has definitely changed since Sonora Pass and since we came down from Sierra. The climbs aren’t that big, although the trail still goes up and down, and the scenery has changed like it was cut with a knife. The granite, snow-topped, rock walls of Sierra have changed to darker, sandy mountains. We’re getting to Northern California.

The trail is also a lot easier to hike with less snow on it. I still end up climbing a lot of snowbanks and losing the trail every now and then, but it's nothing like the past month has been. I feel like we’re back in making big miles. And we definitely need to cover more ground now as we’re finally through the snow of Sierra as we need to get to Canada before the winter comes.

White Rabbit and Reroute.  

White Rabbit and Reroute.  

After some time I ran into White Rabbit and Reroute again. They had camped few miles back from where the Jew Crew and I had camped and past us in the morning while we slept. We walked together for a while and then got separated again. Then I saw them again down on a river, way off trail, as I was walking up on some switchbacks. It looked like they had gotten off trail at one point and it would take some time for them to catch up again. 

In a shade of a mountain.  

In a shade of a mountain.  

I climbed over a ridgeline, and then started descending down on long, windy switchbacks. After some time I reached the valley floor and got to a stream to fill my empty water bottles. What on earth? White Rabbit and Reroute where there already?!? How did they get ahead of me? After me scratching my head for awhile, they revealed that they had seen me on the switchbacks going down and had decided to cut them to save time. Sneaky!

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Reroute and White Rabbit stayed back to filter water and eat lunch. I wanted to hike a little bit before stopping for lunch. I was holding out for a possible trail magic at Ebbetts Pass. We had heard rumors about epic all-you-can-eat pizza offerings, and the pass wasn't that far away, so I calculated I could make it there with only snacks. Anything for on-trail pizza!

I hiked on alone and finally reached the Ebbetts Pass. I was anxiously trying to see if there were any signs of trail magic. A car! I get closer but there's not a single soul around. Other than the lonely car the whole place is empty, no trail magic. Bummer!  

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Now hungry and disheartened I move a little off trail and start making my lunch, Idahoan Potatoes and pepperoni. Not as good as pizzas and burgers but will have to do. After eating I feel so tired that I doze off for a second in the warmth of the sun. 

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Next thing I know I hear someone asking me if I'm ok. I wake up and open my eyes to see four people and two dogs looking at me while I’m sleeping on the ground. Day hikers. I assure them I'm ok and that I’m just resting. They ask me about the hike and we do the usual PCT talk after which they wish me good luck. As we're talking their two dogs, Aussies, keep me company. It's so awesome to see trail puppies again. I try to get as much puppy love as I possibly can as I miss Fire immensely.

Watching sun set and wildfire in the distance.  

Watching sun set and wildfire in the distance.  

Before they all leave they hand me some fresh berries. I thank them and eat all the berries at once. Hiker hunger is real! The berries were good but they barely register in my stomach. Oh, how I could go for some pizza right about now!

Soon after that White Rabbit and Reroute arrive. Sadly I have to inform them that there's no trail magic here today. We sit for a while and watch the cars drive by on the small mountain road on the pass. Seems to be pretty busy for such a small road. 

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We talk about trail magic, getting to town from here, and how we would love to have some ice cold sodas. Then we see another family approaching us. They have two mules and two border collie puppies. After talking with them for awhile they give us some of their leftover bars. We happily accept. 

After the family heads on, White Rabbit tries to yogi sodas from a car full of people who stop at the pass to play in the snow. No luck with the sodas this time. We head back on the trail as we still have miles to do today. 

Dinner time.  

Dinner time.  

After couple more hours of hiking, I reach my 25 mile goal and we stop for the day at a beautiful saddle with lots of room for camping. As we haven't seen any mosquitoes all day I set up my cowboy camp behind a nice rock that should shield me from any wind. 

We eat dinner, drink some of Reroute's whiskey, and watch what looks like a wildfire far in the distance. As we watch the huge pillar of smoke rise to the sky, we hope it's not spreading, or on the trail. So far we haven't had any trouble with fire closures on trail. We keep our fingers crossed for that to continue. 

Before the mosquitoes hit.  

Before the mosquitoes hit.  

We also talk how we miss just a few things from the real world. We all agree that ice cold sodas, beer, and pizzas are the things we miss the most. If we could somehow get them here, this would be pretty epic night!

View from my shelter door.  

View from my shelter door.  

The sun starts to set and it's time to go to bed. As soon as I get inside my sleeping bag the mosquitoes appear. Damn. I'm not going to battle them tonight. I need my sleep so I quickly set up my tarp and head into my little mosquito free cuben fiber heaven.

As I'm setting up my shelter I notice the stars and the milky-way up above us. I take out my camera and lay halfway outside my shelter door and take photos. It's so beautiful out here!

Day 77: Its time to boogie!

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Date: July 15, 2017
Miles: 13.8 miles (22.2km), from Sonora Pass to mile 1,030.7. 
Health: Feeling great. 

Now that we are done with the Sierra, it's time to start moving again. From today I have exactly two and a half months until the end of September and when I'd like to be at the Canadian border – the Northern terminus of PCT. Which means I have to do about 1,620 miles (2,607km) in that time. That means some seriously long days. 

While we're done with the Sierra, it doesn't mean we're done with the mountains and the snow. I feel like it's going to be a really tight run to the border to make it before the winter sets in. 

White Rabbit and Reroute hitching. 

I woke up in my hotel room a little later than on the trail, but I was still up before 7 am. Why do I have to wake up so early when I could sleep late? I try to use the shared bathrooms but they are all occupied so I go back to my room. I go through my food and make a list of things to buy. I also start packing my pack. While I really liked the MLD Prophet, I love the Pa'lante Packs Simple Pack. 

I try to use the bathrooms again but no luck so I head down for the breakfast. It's nice to eat breakfast inside, by the table, without any hurry. And freshly squeezed orange juice. Yummy!

Sonora Pass. 

After the breakfast, I go back up to the room and finally one of the bathrooms is available. After a quick shower, I head out to get the groceries for the resupply and to get more bug spray. On the way, I run into Airplane Mode. She's going to get breakfast and as I wonder why she didn't eat the breakfast included in her room, she notices that she completely forgot that. 

I get the bug spray from the sporting goods store and try to resupply from the General Store but the options are very limited. Unless you're looking to eat a lot of canned goods. After a lot of back and forth, I manage to scramble something together. Luckily it's only four days in South Lake Tahoe. 

Sonora Pass – looking towards Bridgeport.

I cross the street back to my hotel and go finish with my packing. Everything fits easily inside the 32 liter pack. I'm excited to get back out without the bear can and microspikes. Even though I still have the ice axe my pack is so much lighter.

After checking out from the hostel I head to the Jolly Kone for one more taco salad before heading out. I'm still full from the breakfast so I only manage to eat about half. White Rabbit and Reroute join me and we start hitching out of town together. 

Climbing up from Sonora Pass.

We walk to the end of the Main Street, put our packs down and stick our thumbs up. It's hot in the sun and none of the cars stop. To make the time go by faster we make a game of hitching. We each get ten cars to try to get a ride and the first one to succeed wins. We try our best moves – I lift up my short sleeves to show a little leg, Reroute tries dancing, and White Rabbit goes for the good old looking happy. But to no avail. 

White Rabbit tries to yogi a ride from the gas station across the street but again nothing. We notice a large white cardboard close to us and think about writing on it, but as none of has markers, we skip that plan. I go get the sign and suggest that if we just hold the empty sign, maybe people will stop to just ask what our sign says, or why it's empty. It’s as good of a plan as any, as it seems we're not getting a ride anytime soon. I get the sign, get to the side of the road, lift up the sign, and literally, the first car stops to pick us up. Epic!

Looking back towards Sierra.

Our savior can only give us a ride to the Sonora Pass junction as he's continuing to Tahoe. We happily accept as it takes us a lot closer to the pass. Once at the junction it's time to stick out our thumbs again. After about 15 minutes we're picked up again and make it all the way up to the pass. 

On the way to the trail, we run into James who's getting his resupply package deliver here. We chat for a while and then head out. The trail climbs instantly and we spend the next hour climbing. There's some snow on the trail and few of the stream crossing on top of the snow are a bit sketchy and I fall through on a couple of them. 

Looking down towards Sonora Pass (see the trail in the center).

On one part the trail is washed away and under a vertical snow wall. I decide to climb upwards to drop down from there, while White Rabbit and Reroute decide to take the lower path. As I’m dropping down the steep snow and sand face, the rocks beneath my feet slip off and I lose my footing and tumble down towards the deep canyon beneath the trail. I manage to grab a couple of bigger rocks and gain my balance long enough to stop my slide. This was stupid! Luckily I got out of that with just a few scrapes and a bruised ego.

After climbing the southern facing side we get on the northern side and we’re back on snow.  As it’s already late in the day so we slip and slide on the slushy snow. I travel faster in snow and soon White Rabbit and Reroute are so far behind that I don’t see them anymore. I boot ski down the slope, towards the valley where I think the trail leads to. I can’t see the trail but there’s really no other way the trail could go. 

Right before I reach the end of the snow I stumble upon the Jew Crew having a break on a snowless patch of grass. As I haven’t seen them for a while I stop over for a short chat and we head out the same time. They keep asking me all these questions about snow and hiking in it. It’s funny how granted I’ve taken the snow hiking skills. 

My Mountain Laurel Designs Patrol Duo Shelter with Serenity Duo bugnet.

I soon leave the guys behind too and reach the dry trail. I pass couple obvious camp spots as I want to still get more miles in. Finally, I reach a small stream and it’s getting dark. I don’t see anyone around but a quick glance at Guthooks tells me there aren’t any other spots to camp ahead so I stop here. 

My Pa'lante Simple Pack with the ice axe.

I set up my camp, filter water from the stream, and make my dinner. I keep my eye on the trail hoping to see either the Jew Crew or White Rabbit and Reroute. Just as I’m about to call it a night the Jew Crew comes up. 

We sit on the rocks next to my shelter and talk as they quickly start making their dinner. We end up talking late into the night eating some of their resupply as they had sent too much food. Who can say no to sugar covered donuts after a day of hiking? As it gets dark we call it a night and I fall asleep listening to the soothing sound of the stream next to my shelter. 

Day 76: Sonora Pass, end of Sierra, and Footloose’s last day on trail

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Date: July 14, 2017
Miles: 11 miles (17.7km), from mile 1,005.9 to Sonora Pass.
Health: Feeling great. Thanks to the later start I got more sleep last night.

Today we have a short 11 mile hike to Sonora Pass which marks the end of Sierra, and it means we don't have to carry the bear canister anymore. From Sonora Pass, you can either hitch to Kennedy Meadows North or Bridgeport. I’ve shipped my Pa’lante Pack to Bridgeport so that’s where I’m heading. 

As today is Friday, and the Post Office is closed for the weekend, I need to get to town early so that I can first get my new pack and then sort out my gear to see what I want to send home with my bear can and what to keep. I’m so happy to get rid of the heavy canister, but I’m also wondering if I should get rid of all the other Sierra gear. We keep hearing that there are still some sections from here to Tahoe where people have needed ice axes and microspikes. 

My bear can. I'm so happy to get rid of this thing!

My bear can. I'm so happy to get rid of this thing!

We wake up later than usual, which feels nice as we get to sleep longer, and then quickly get on the trail. Knowing today is a town day makes waking up and getting back on trail a lot easier. 

I’ve forgotten to filter water last night so I have to drop down back to the stream as the others head out. Most of the trail we’ll hike today follows along the top of the mountain range so there’s no water available. After filling my bottles I head after the others. 

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The trail is covered in snow but it’s easy to follow. I soon reach the water crossing for the small creek I got my water from earlier and cross it using a snow bridge. From here the trail is dry and I reach the switchbacks that climb up to the top of the ridgeline. 

Climbing off-trail.

Climbing off-trail.

As I’m approaching the junction I hear the girls yelling my name from somewhere behind me. I try to yell back but feel like they can’t hear me. I run back towards the sound to find the others back on the other side of the stream, climbing up the steep mountainside. They signal me to get there as well. I look up and the path they’ve chosen doesn’t look good. It’s steep and covered in scree. I’d much rather follow along the trail as it looks much easier. But everyone keeps motioning me to come over and I can't hear what they're saying because of the sound of the water.

I start thinking there’s something that I don’t know, like maybe the trail is broken ahead and we need to go around, so I cross over and join the others. Once on the other side, I hear that we’re just trying to cut trail miles by going up the steep mountainside. I open up the map again and do some quick math – we’re cutting 0,7 miles. This doesn’t make any sense?

Still ways to go to reach the top.

Still ways to go to reach the top.

I climb up with the others and it takes me an hour and twenty minutes to get to the top and back on the trail. So to cut 0,7 miles, or about 15-20 minutes of hiking, I just wasted over an hour. As I’m already in a hurry to make it to town before the Post Office closes I’m not happy about wasting all that time and start speeding towards the Sonora Pass while others are still climbing up the steep scree slope.

From here on, the trail follows along a beautiful ridgeline, but I can’t really enjoy the scenery as I have to make up the lost time. Soon I reach the part where I can see the road down in the Pass, I’m not far. I know that there’s an epic glissade down from the Pass but as I reach the top, I can’t see around the edge of the slope. Not being able to see what lays ahead, I don’t really want to try my luck. So I decide to follow the trail and hike down.

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Soon the trail switches back to the slope and I can see the slope I would’ve glissaded down and it’s steep! I’m happy I didn’t go at it alone. But now the trail is covered in snow and the only way down is in the snow. There’s an established glissading path so I traverse up to it and glissade a good way down. Having nothing but thin shorts on makes for an interesting feeling on your buttocks. I hobble on with a smile and stinging, cold feeling on my buttocks. Little longer and I'm pretty sure I would've gotten snow burned.

Looking towards Northern California. 

Looking towards Northern California. 

Eventually, I get all the way down to the Pass and find a setup of tables, chairs, breakfast cereal, and beverages there. A trail angel has been in the Pass providing breakfast for all the hungry hikers coming down from the Pass. There are only two hikers there as Chipmunk, the trail angel, is giving other hikers a ride down to town. From the Pass, you can either go down to Kennedy Meadows North, or the other way to Bridgeport. As receiving packages in Kennedy Meadows North costs money, I’ve sent my package to Bridgeport.

Crossing the range and getting to the pass.

Crossing the range and getting to the pass.

I drink two glasses of orange juice and then hop on the road to hitch to town. As soon as I stick my thumb up, a pickup climbs up the steep road and stops. The nice couple in the car offers to drive me down to the junction to Bridgeport. Getting even halfway to town sounds good and I hop on board.

As we drive down the winding road we talk about the PCT and I tell them all the general things about the trail. Soon I notice we’ve passed the junction they were supposed to leave me at. As I ask about this they just smile and say they can easily give an hour of their time to get me to town faster. The kindness of complete strangers out here never ceases to amaze me!

There's the road!

There's the road!

Thanks to getting a ride all the way to town I make it to the Post Office in time and get my package with my Pa’lante Pack inside. As I need to explode my entire pack and decide what I still need and don’t need, I’ll get the cheapest motel room I can find and spread all my gear on the floor. I go through everything and sort them into two piles: things I still need, and things I can get rid of.

I’m sending home some of my warm gear, the bear canister, microspikes, and some other small stuff. I’m still keeping my ice axe as we’ve heard rumors about deep snow all the way up to Tahoe. I take all the gear I don’t need anymore and stuff it into the bear canister, close it, and run back to the Post Office. Weighting the bear can in my hand I’m super happy to get rid of all this weight. After shipping the gear to San Diego, I go back to the hostel to take a shower, do some laundry, do an inventory of my food and what I need to buy, and work on the blog for the rest of night.

I can’t believe we’re done with the Sierra! It was physically challenging, hard on the body, and some of the most epic hiking I’ve ever done. Looking back we were so lucky! We timed our Sierra entry perfectly, the weather was absolutely stunning the whole time and the heat wave that hit us right before Kennedy Meadows South melted the snow just enough to make getting through easier for us. A week earlier, or few weeks later, and it would’ve been completely different beast. 

The only grocery store in Bridgeport.

The only grocery store in Bridgeport.

I’m happy to start Northern California, which, as I’ve heard, is a different kind of a challenge. Where the desert and Sierra were more of a physical challenge, NorCal is going to be a mental one. That’s where most people end up quitting. That's going to be hard for me as I can take the physical beating for ages, but I’m not good with boring, mentally challenging tasks. There are still over 600 miles to the California – Oregon border, and it’s going to be hot, dusty, and boring. This is the section I’m worried the most! I just need to put my head down, grind the miles, and pray that my head and motivation can make it to Oregon.

Footloose’s notes about his experience with us

Airplane Mode, Blis, Footloose, LL, Happy Feet, and Indigo.

Sonora Pass is also where Footloose, Indigo's dad, ends his hike with us. A few days ago I asked if he’d like to write a short text about his experiences on the trail with us and he happily agreed. I felt it would be interesting to hear the perspective of someone who joined us mid-hike, with fresh legs, hiked through the Tuolumne meat grinder, and had to keep up with a group of trail hardened thru-hikers.

Here’s what he had to say:

I had idealistic visions of joining my daughter one month into her PCT journey. Beauty, bonding, and nature were all that was on my mind. As I’m in good “gym” condition, I was just worried about the logistics of meeting up with her due to minimal cell connection and unpredictable trail times. 

I met Indigo's trail family (her trail name is Koala...hugs) after 400 miles of driving, 4 hitches and a bus trip, little did I know that was going to be the easy part. It started off gently enough with an 8 mile hike late in the afternoon. The next morning hell hit in full force. Due to the need to arrive at the post office before the weekend closure, I learned that we’d be shortening the 5.5 day trip into 3 full and 2 half days, averaging 18 miles a day on the trail tenderly known as the “meat-grinder,” which half the PCT trekkers were skipping this year due to snow and water levels. 

Traversing icy snowfield above a raging river.

That day the truth hit, PCT hikers are not just outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers, they are warriors, and I was completely out of my league. They are hardened mentally and physically by the pounding on the trail. They have hiked with hunger, thirst, bloody feet, sprains, broken bones, lacerations, illness and constant stiffness. They have blistered through layers of skin to grow thick calluses, their bodies have adapted to elevation with increased vascularity and blood supply and they have gained animal-like senses of the terrain and trail tracking.

Over the five days, between my fatigue, awe, and bonding with the group, I noticed some unique dynamics among the PCT population.

FAMILY: While each hiker is capable and independent, the formation of families is important for survival in the Sierra. Each hiker naturally assumes familial roles to allow the group to function. In the HERPES family (an acronym of honorable traits, and... it never goes away) Isko was Dad; Airplane Mode- Mom; Bliss- Big brother; Koala and LL Cool Jay- twin sisters; and Happy Feet- wise, quiet brother. Each voice equally important, requiring constant communication, confrontation, honesty, vulnerability, leadership, and consensus… and of course natural family drama.

Crossing one of the many rivers over a log.

HUMOR: I have never been around a funnier group of people. I think it is the drug that keeps them going. Jokes and punch lines were strung together like Christmas ornaments, every member seamlessly adding a deeper dimension and texture, never missing a beat, allowing the joke to morph into something new and then unexpectedly coming full circle until it could rest in perfection.

POSITIVITY: Each morning and night I heard personal mantras about “loving to wake early”, “looking forward to the cold and soreness” and the gifts of all the hard things.

BEAUTY: A persistent awe and unwavering appreciation for nature.

MAGIC: At Sonora Pass (76 miles), Chipmunk brought tears to several of our eyes. He had a spread of fruits, drinks, and vittles hot of the griddle for the hikers. For 7 years, 3 times a month, he has driven 200-300 miles to grace PCT hikers with his trail magic.

FUN: With no commercial entertainment, creativity flourishes. Sing-alongs, dance sessions, glissading competitions, parades, freestyle rapping. Endless fun.

Climbing a snowy pass.

I seriously did not think I could make it the second day, but when my plea bargain for suicide brought no compromise, I took the lead from the night's mantras and accepted that I could make it one step and then another. Walking meditation on the tough parts saved me and DEET provided salvation from the mosquito swarms.

On day three I earned my PCT name, “Footloose” in affection for my commitment to remove my boots at every river crossing and my love of dancing. (In my defense, my waterproof boots kept water in as well as it kept water out, so I rationalized that 50 shoe changes were better than 50 blisters).

On day four, I had a brief feeling of mastery of the trail then within an hour I had a crippling calf muscle cramp. The cramp didn’t go away, but I learned that I could master my body by hiking through the pain.

On the last day, I have to admit that I was really, really glad to be finishing. Even while I had a creeping sense of regret for all the trail hardening I would be wasting, my thoughts were monopolized by ideations of massage and a hot tub once home. Still, saying goodbye brought me to tears, as I hadn’t realized how over the week I had become a part of the family.

The PCT is not a vacation, it is a kick-ass, exhausting, deeply challenging beautiful voyage that is not well served by expectations. My deepest respect for all the brothers and sisters on the trail.

-Jack “Footloose” Catton

Thank you Footloose for being part of our adventure! Not many people could have done what you did with us!

Day 75: To be the man who walked a thousand miles

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Date: July 13, 2017
Miles: 18.5 miles (29.8km), from Wide Creek to mile 1,005.9.
Health: Feeling great. Knee bothers a little but it's getting better.

Getting to sleep until 5:15am felt so good, it was like a luxury. Getting up from my sleeping bag and knowing that I would have to jump into an ice cold river in few minutes felt like less of an luxury. I tried to listen to the sound of the river in hopes of hearing less water going through, but to no luck. It sounded just as forceful as it did last night.

I got out and went down to the river to see if the water level had decreased during the night and it looked like it had dropped maybe a feet (30cm) which might not sound like much, but it also looked like the current wasn't as strong as it was last night.

I got back up to the camp and packed everything in my pack watertight and made sure all my electronics were double protected. Blis divided us to two five person groups with him leading the other, and me the other. We did few practice runs of i-formation on dry land and went through all the different calls needed to move as a single unit. 

It was time to get into the water. We all moved down to the river and Blis and I looked at the river and the current. I asked which team should go first and Blis pulled out his hand in rock-paper-scissors style. I lost on the second go so we were the first ones to go in.

I felt good about everything else except the landing on the other side. The creek was so wide that I couldn’t see how deep it was, and if we would even be able to climb up from the spot we’ve chosen. But we were the first to go over so we would soon see.

I told everyone that I'd steer us towards the small rock on the other side and then starting from the back people would climb on it, and I'd then lower myself down stream to get on it too. As a line, we were so long that I’d have to position myself way above the landing site for others to get on it.

I was wearing my rain gear as I knew I'd spend the most time in the stream, first waiting for others to get behind me, and then for them to climb out of the water. I jumped in and took my position waiting for others to get behind me. The current was strong but nothing too bad. As soon as everyone was in position we started moving. Midstream the water got so deep that my hands and poles were under the water and the water went up my sleeves and up to my chest. Sure wakes you up!

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As we reached the position I was aiming for, the water before the small rock was so deep, and the current so strong, that people couldn't get up on the rock. Plan B. I moved us up towards the larger rock. I didn't want to go there first as the rock face was so steep it looked really hard to climb up on to.

As we got to the second rock the current got stronger and people behind had no change to climb the rock face from such a deep water. Jack, or Foot Loose, gave me a push and I used my poles to push myself up on the rock. This meant that I wasn’t in the front with poles, taking the current for the others, so we had to get everyone out quickly. I pulled Jack up, and then we pulled everyone quickly up.

We were all cold and shivering but we needed to stay here and help the other team up. Blis had watched what we did so he could avoid the mistakes we made. They got into the water and made their way over the stream and we pulled them up starting from behind. Lastly we pulled Blis up. Now everyone was over and we had crossed the Wide Creek.

Morning views.  

Morning views.  

As everyone was completely soaked and cold, we needed to get moving immediately. We just got on the trail and started walking as fast as we could. It took me a good hour and a half to dry up.

Finally the sun came up and we found a nice little rock spot were we stopped to remove our wet gear and dry off a little. It didn't take long for everyone to arrive. Everyone was in high spirits as the river crossings had been kind of daunting.

Trail goes here.  

Trail goes here.  

Today looked pretty easy on the elevation map, not much climbing and relatively "flat" sections. But like on previous days, the miles were hard to come by. We, again, climbed snowbanks, hopped streams, and navigated the ever disappearing trail. All this takes so much time and energy, and makes the progress so slow.

My shoes have been constantly wet. When ever they happen to have a moment to dry, there's a new stream or something muddy that we need to jump into and they're completely soaked again. Or if it’s not the water, then it's just the snow melting on them.  I've already gotten so used to putting wet socks and shoes on in the morning that I don't even notice it anymore.

LL.  

LL.  

At one point I leapfrogged with Cannonball for a while and as we both got frustrated with the snowy forest, we just hiked together. It was fun to hike with her again as it's been almost a month since we hiked together the last time.

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It's funny how we spend a month hiking with all these people through the desert. You meet a lot of cool people and you kind of take it for granted that you're going to meet them at the next water source or town. You get to know them and think you're going to hike with them all the way to Canada. And then bam, Sierra comes along and our trail family breaks up and our whole bubble disappears. All these people suddenly disappear from around you and for most of them you didn't even have a change to say goodbye.

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Most people either got off trail, or skipped somewhere north over Sierra, or flipped and are now coming south. I really miss so many of the awesome people we hiked together at the desert. I'm hoping to catch up to them, but it seems kind of impossible as they're almost 500 miles ahead.

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After covering couple more snowfields and climbing a little, we meet Storyteller who has been waiting for us. We hike on together, talking, and soon reach the pass we were climbing. This was super easy.

Dorothy Lake.  

Dorothy Lake.  

As there's no spot on the top to stay, we hike a little down and then break for lunch on some rocks that are out of snow. Others soon arrive but Foot Loose and Indigo take a little longer. Foot Loose is having some trouble with his leg cramping.

On the shore of Dorothy Lake.  

On the shore of Dorothy Lake.  

We have a long lunch and I fall asleep for awhile. Soon it's time to move again. From here we want to get off trail for awhile. By going around a lake from the other side we can skip three river crossings. We pass the Dorothy lake from the non trail side and it's rather easy in the snow. Soon we're back on the trail, having skipped three river crossings. Awesome!

Today we cross a big milestone, 1,000 miles (1,600km). Soon after the lake reroute we reach the marker and spend a good half an hour celebrating and taking photos. Cannonball and Storyteller do a proper streaking to celebrate the achievement. It feels awesome to be here but I'm already waiting for tomorrow and being able to get rid of all the heavy Sierra gear. Things are getting serious as we soon have "only" Northern California, Oregon, and Washington left.

Happy Feet.  

Happy Feet.  

Storyteller and Cannonball.  

Storyteller and Cannonball.  

Girls.  

Girls.  

Boys.  

Boys.  

For the last part of the day we hike to a spot where we setup for tomorrow's waterless section and getting to town. We have little over 10 miles to go to Sonora Pass from where we need to hitch down to town. We're in a hurry because I need to get to the Post Office in Bridgeport before it closes as tomorrow is Friday and the PO isn't open during the weekend.

Cannonball, Happy Feet, Indigo, and LL.  

Cannonball, Happy Feet, Indigo, and LL.  

Airplane Mode and Storyteller.  

Airplane Mode and Storyteller.  

We camp on a nice little meadow next to a river and make a small fire to dry our wet gear. We decide to sleep late again and leave at 6am tomorrow morning. I'm hoping the trail is easy so we can still make it to Bridgeport in time. As I go to sleep, I keep thinking about the trail so far, and how I can’t believe we’ve walked over thousand miles. While it feels like an achievement, we still over 1,600 miles to go. Not even halfway yet. That feels so daunting.

Day 74: Stopped by Wide Creek

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Date: July 12, 2017
Miles: 16.8 miles (27km), from mile 970.6 to mile 987.4.
Health: Knee is ok. Feeling the long days but feeling good.

I woke up but wasn't sure if it was my alarm. I looked around and it looked just as dark as when we usually wake up. Was it time to go? I look at my clock and it's 2:35am. I still have hour and a half to sleep.

Early morning views.  

Early morning views.  

I wake up again 4:15am and it's still dark outside. The air feels warm and getting out of my sleeping bag doesn't feel that bad. I change into my hiking shorts and put on my knee brace and I'm ready to step outside.

When the sun just doesn’t reach you yet.  

When the sun just doesn’t reach you yet.  

We put our gear together and I have time to eat a quick breakfast before we hit the trail at 5am. As we leave camp Cannonball and Storyteller are still sleeping. As we walk past the lake next to us we can see that there’s frost everywhere. The logs we jump on are frozen and slippery.

Past the lake we start dropping down and the air soon warms up because of the elevation drop and as the sun slowly comes over the mountains to warm us.

Blis and Airplane Mode.  

Blis and Airplane Mode.  

We cross few streams and a larger river over logs, not getting our feet wet yet. After we’ve crossed the larger river we’re a little off trail and few already start heading out towards the trails as I stay behind taking photos of the others crossing the river.

For some, log crossings are easy. Here’s Junipers style.  

For some, log crossings are easy. Here’s Junipers style.  

After everyone’s over I head after the group but something feels off. As I’m walking I check the map and notice we’re heading away from the trail. I run to catch up to the others and tell them we’re heading to the wrong direction. After double checking the direction we turn around and soon get back on the trail.

Blis getting his feet wet.  

Blis getting his feet wet.  

We have more streams to cross but our luck with logs ends and it’s back to hiking with wet shoes. The scenery is absolutely beautiful.

Climbing.  

Climbing.  

We climb a small pass and find a beautiful lake at the top where we all stop to eat our second breakfast and to wait for Jack and Indigo to catch up. Jack is keeping up fine but longer climbs slow him down and we get to have longer breaks while waiting for him. Yesterday was a pretty rough day so he must be feeling really tired today.

While we wait we try to find sunny spots to warm up in and I find a spot where I can just marvel at the gorgeous alpine lake in front of us.

Beautiful alpine lake.  

Beautiful alpine lake.  

Soon Jack and Indigo catch up and after they’ve had some snack and rested for a while too, we keep moving. The trail around the lake disappears under the snow so we make our own way around it.

Soon we reach a steep climb down a snowy and at times frozen mountain side. There’s barely any sight of the trail but we know that we need to get all the way down to the river down below.

After few close calls and bad falls and slides we decide it’s not safe to continue without ice axes and microspikes. Jack doesn’t have microspikes so I loan him mine. He’s struggling on the snow more than I am and I prefer to hike with just the ice axe.

We slowly make our way down the steep climb and reach the raging river down below. The river bank is covered in frozen snow and at times really steep. We reach a section where the trail, and only way forward, is sandwiched between the river and a rock face.

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The snow has formed into a steep ridgeline with a drop either to the river on one side, or between the rock and the snow on the other. The top of the ridgeline is so narrow and slippery that I don’t feel comfortable balancing on it, especially without microspikes. Slipping and falling to the either side would mean hitting a rock face or ending in a raging river with no change of self arresting before reaching the water.

Photos by Happy Feet .

Photos by Happy Feet .

I choose to climb down to the small space between the rock face and the snow and try to go as far as I can. Once I can’t fit in the space anymore I dig foot holes with the ice axe and climb back up with help from Blis. Others follow and we balance on the narrow ridge until we reach a wider part. Definitely got my heart rate up.

The snow ridge walk. Photo by Happy Feet.  

The snow ridge walk. Photo by Happy Feet.  

I’m still on point and working on route finding as we haven’t seen the trail for a long time. Whenever I lose the direction I just look down and try to find hoof prints. For the entire day I’ve followed deer hoof prints as they’ve always pointed to the right direction. It’s like this deer is hiking the trail and is much better at navigating than any of us. Again I find the prints, follow them up a snowbank and there’s the trail again.

We climb higher from the river but keep following along it. We need to cross it at one point and I’m really hoping we don’t have to get into the water. There’s so much water, and so much power to it, that I really don’t think we can find a spot to wade through it. I’m hoping that the log mentioned in the water report is still there.

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After some time the trail drops back down and we see a sigh on the ground pointing towards upstream with a text LOG. We head to the direction of the arrow and find a log that crosses most of the stream. Airplane Mode and I don’t like log crossings and we exchange glances. But we have no other options.

The current looks so fast that anyone falling in is going to be in big trouble. We analyze the current and the flow to see where to place safeties in case someone falls in. The most likely spot for someone to wash towards to is on the other side and Blis crosses the log first to take that point. I take the other point on our side and start filming. It’s highly unlikely for anyone to wash towards my direction.

Indigo crossing a log.  

Indigo crossing a log.  

Everyone crosses the log in style they’re most comfortable with. It’s not about the style but about getting across safely. I stay back for last. The log looks so narrow that I’ve decided to sit on it and move myself across it with my hands. This is a slow but safe technique. But once my turn comes up, and I get to the log, I decide against it and just walk across it. I hold my breath the entire way, trying to avoid looking down and thinking what would happen if I’d fall in. I sight in relief once I reach Happy Feet who’s waiting for me on the other end.

We decide that we’ve had enough excitement for now and break for lunch. Juniper and I do our music swap again and I really like her selection for today. I get so tired of listening to same old songs for 12 hours a day that hearing new music is such a blessing. I play her some Euro Techno and soon she and Indigo are dancing to the beat. After lunch I’m so tired that I doze off for a moment.

Blis on our way down.  

Blis on our way down.  

Soon it’s time to keep going and we move out. To get back to the trail we need to climb up and do some bushwhacking. After a while we find the trail again and keep hiking. This side of the river is snow free so hiking is much easier.

The trail follows in a nice soft forest floor and my feet thank the dry, soft trail. Soon we reach another wide river and need to cross it. The water is crystal clear and you can see the sandy bottom easily. The water is nice and warm and others are already swimming and floating along the current as I get there. After crossing the river I take off my pack and jump back in. Feels amazing!

More water crossings.  

More water crossings.  

While this is fun we need to keep going as we still have one big river to cross today. We’ve planned to stop after aptly named Wide Creek but as we’re getting there quite late, we might not be able to cross it if the water is too high. We’ve heard reports of people having to swim across it so I’m already planning out how to float my backpack across it. Not having an inflatable mat is going to make it harder if we have to swim it.

After few hours we reach the Wide Creek and it’s definitely wide. But I’m not sure about the creek part, looks more like a river to me. As we get there Cannonball and Storyteller are already there scouting for spots to cross from. This definitely looks like our worst water crossing so far. The creek is wide, with a strong current, and from what we can see, it looks pretty deep.

Storyteller testing the depth.  

Storyteller testing the depth.  

It’s already late and there’s a lot of snow melt in the river so after one failed attempt and some assessing, we decide to give up and cross the creek in the morning with hopefully less water in it. We setup camp higher from the creek and build a bonfire to sit around and dry our shoes on. Jack brings out more of his evening surprises and we have a nice, cozy evening.

We’ve been so impressed by Jack and how well he’s been able to keep up with us that we decide that it’s time for him to get his trailname. We’ve brainstormed throughout the day and we’ve all agree on the name “Foot Loose”. It’s a combination of Jacks habit of removing his shoes on every water crossing, his dancing background, and his happy trail personality. We reveal our reasoning and the suggested trailname to Jack and he happily accepts it.

We sit by the fire chatting and one by one people head towards their shelters. Cannonball, Storyteller, and I put out the fire and then head to bed. It’s already past hiker midnight and we have a creek to cross early in the morning.

Day 73: The beauty of Sierra

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Date: July 11, 2017
Miles: 18.8 miles (30.3km), from mile 951.8 over Benson Pass to mile 970.6.
Health: Feeling great. Right knee is coming along.

Like clockwork we were up at 4:15am and after a breakfast at camp, we were on the trail 5am sharp. This group is really punctual.

While we got off the meadow and to the higher ground, Blis and Airplane Mode still had their tents and sleeping bags all wet from the condensation. They camped out in the open, whereas I setup my shelter under the branches of a large tree and had no problem with condensation. Microclimates.

Hiking out in the early morning.  

Hiking out in the early morning.  

We hiked along the meadow in the early morning light and watched the fog rise from the river. The views were definitely worth the pain to get here.

Our task for today was to get over about five or six rivers and over the Benson Pass. The pass was barely over 10,000 feet so we weren't too worried about it.

Happy Feet crossing one of the many rivers.  

Happy Feet crossing one of the many rivers.  

We hit our first river after about an hour of hiking. It looked easy and we crossed it at the PCT crossing. Jack, Indigo's dad, was doing well with us. He only had trouble keeping up in the climbs. Thankfully for him we didn't have any big climbs coming up on this section.

Blis and Happy Feet showing Jack the i-formation. 

Blis and Happy Feet showing Jack the i-formation. 

We crossed few more rivers and smaller streams and stopped for a quick second breakfast to dry our wet shoes and socks.

After the break we did more ups and downs and crossed few more streams and then climbed up to Miller Lake. Our shoes and feet were again wet, and the clock was approaching lunch time, so we stopped for a lunch.

Happy Feet crossing over a log.  

Happy Feet crossing over a log.  

The day pretty much followed the same path. We'd walk up, then down, then up again, and cross few rivers in between. The views through out the day were breathtaking and if I didn't need to get to Canada, I could just stay here at any point and relax all day.

Blis.  

Blis.  

After one long downhill we hit another beautiful meadow and had to cross a river. The meadows's tucked between two mountains and the river runs through the middle. We thought it looked like a movie set and stopped for a second lunch. The sun was already up so Blis, Airplane Mode, and Happy Feet dried up their wet gear.

Stopping for a second lunch.  

Stopping for a second lunch.  

After eating, Indigo, Juniper, Jack, and I jumped into the river and swam with the current some way down stream. The water was cold but so refreshing!

Hitting snow.  

Hitting snow.  

As we were down in a valley, the next thing we did was climb up and out of it. And now we started to approach the pass. There had been barely any snow all day but now we slowly started hitting snow. The closer we got to the pass the more we met snow.

Climbing.  

Climbing.  

The pass was fairly easy with only little over 1,500 feet of elevation to climb. The snow was already soft but we just made our path through. We stopped for a quick high five session at the top and then started to climb down. On the way down we got to do more glissading and boot skiing which is always fun.

Going up.  

Going up.  

Going down.  

Going down.  

This side of the pass had much more snow and we ended up walking on it, or around it, almost the rest of the day. Happy Feet and I hiked at the front working on trail and route finding. This was easily a two person job as the trail was constantly under the snow. One of us would make sure we were going into the right direction and the other would work around to try to locate the trail. Blis would keep us and the rest of the group connected as they were moving slower on the snow.

Route finding with Happy Feet.  

Route finding with Happy Feet.  

At times the trail followed along a really steep climbs and due to the snow and fallen trees we had to be really careful not to loose our footing and fall down the mountain. Eventually we made our way down to the river down below, and the waterfalls that feed it. Everyone was feeling pretty beat down, and as there didn't seem to be any camping coming up for a long time, we decided to call it a day here.

Crossing a steep, slippery section.  

Crossing a steep, slippery section.  

We found a nice flat spot close to the river and a small alpine lake and setup camp. Jack looked so tired. After Indigo and he got his tent up, he went in and fell asleep immediately. Hiking out here is rough. Keeping up with a group of trail hardened PCT hikers while doing this is even harder. I don't envy him at all, there's no way I could have done this on my first few days out on the trail.

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Storyteller and Cannonball.  

Storyteller and Cannonball.  

While we were having dinner two hikers came down the mountain as well. As they got closer I recognized them, Cannonball and Storyteller. How awesome is this! We all sit around eating, swapping trail stories and laughing until hiker midnight and then it's time to go to bed. I have no trouble getting sleep and I think I'm down before my head hits the pillow.