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 64: Muir Pass and Evolution Creek

IMG_1560.JPG

Date: July 2, 2017
Miles: 21.8 miles (35.1km), from mile 834.1 over Muir Pass to mile 855.9.
Health: Feeling great. Yesterday's short day reloaded my batteries.

After a short day yesterday, and all the rest we got, I woke up early and setup my gear. We had agreed to be on trail by 5am and I didn't want to be late. As I was camping a little down from where DG and Topo were camping, I wanted to make sure I got there on time.

I packed my pack quickly and started to make my way towards DG's and Topo's camp spot. I still had plenty of time to make it there. Once I get there, I see no movement, and they're both still sleeping. As I have my ice axe in my hand, I really can't let such an opportunity go to waist. I bang my ice axe against a rock, making a very loud noise, and yell "waaaaake uuuuup!!!". DG jumps up like there's an air raid coming in but Topo just raises his head.

DG and Topo breaking down camp.  

DG and Topo breaking down camp.  

They realize they both had forgotten to setup the alarm and start quickly getting their things in order. As I wait for them to get ready, I stretch my legs and eat a second breakfast.

Topo on a snowless section up to Muir Pass.  

Topo on a snowless section up to Muir Pass.  

We get on trail 50 minutes late and hit the snow as soon as we leave our camp. There are few spots where the rocks are exposed, but mainly we'll hike on snow from here on to the top of the pass.

Today we'll go over the famous Muir Pass, named after John Muir, as is the John Muir Trail we're currently also hiking on. John Muir is the reason we're able to hike in this area, and he was the father of US National Parks. His writings and essays, especially of his adventures in Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, have inspired millions. I'd highly recommend reading more about him. On top of the Muir Pass is also the Muir Hut, build by the Sierra Club, which he founded, in honor of John Muir.

Early morning climbing.  

Early morning climbing.  

While the Muir Pass isn't as steep or high as the previous passes we've gone over, it's not an easy pass. On regular snow years the approach to the pass can be covered by over five miles of snow fields on both sides of the pass. On a record snow year, like this one, these snow fields are going to be even longer.

DG in early morning light.  

DG in early morning light.  

The air is still cool as we slowly climb higher and higher. But soon the sun comes out and we begin our race against the melting snow. We really want to get as far over the pass as we possibly can before 10am when the snow begins to get slushy.

IMG_1569.JPG

The approach isn't too steep or hard, but walking for miles and miles on frozen sun cups is still rough and you have to be constantly alert not to loose your footing. Without his microspikes DG is having a harder time moving on the slippery, icy snow.

After few hours I'm a little ahead and as I'm getting hungry, I stop on a little rock formation to eat more bars and to fill up my water bottles from the little stream running under the snow. DG and Topo soon catch up and after they've eaten as well, we keep going.

The last push up. See the two hikers for size reference.  

The last push up. See the two hikers for size reference.  

Soon we reach a little valley from where the trail climbs up in a more steeper grade. I can see two hikers up in the distance, making their way up towards the pass. We're not far from the top.

On the steep climb I stop to take photos and DG goes ahead. After a while I hear screams of joy and I know we're getting close. My legs are tired from the long climb but as I see the familiar shape of the rocky roof of the Muir Hut, I know I'm almost there.

The sweet sight of the Muir Hut.  

The sweet sight of the Muir Hut.  

I push for the last few steps and reach the hut. There I'm greeted by DG and few other hikers. Topo arrives not long after me. We go inside the hut to enjoy being sheltered from the wind, and to eat some more. The hut is nice and I could spend more time here but we still have miles of snow fields to cover on the northern side of the pass and sun is already out at full force.

The author, DG, and Topo at the Muir Hut.  

The author, DG, and Topo at the Muir Hut.  

We shoulder our packs again and start our descent. As we get on snow I can feel it already starting to melt. It's going to be a rough afternoon. We hiked over 8 miles on snow on our way up, and the northern sides of the passes always have more snow so it's going to be even longer on the way down.

We agree to meet somewhere down and as I'm faster on snow, I head out first. I'm soon ahead and only see Topo behind. I'm running out of water so I stop at one of the rivers and wait for the others to catch up.

Topo as a small dot down ahead.  

Topo as a small dot down ahead.  

Going down is much faster and we soon reach the lakes halfway down to the valley. From these lakes starts the Evolution Creek, one of the notorious river crossings on PCT. We cross it once here, right at the lakes. It's wide and shallow, but from here it drops down as a long waterfall to the valley below us.

Evolution "Creek". 

Evolution "Creek". 

After a long climb down we get to the valley floor and start getting closer to the Evolution Creek crossing. At times the "creek" looks more like a raging river, and at times more like a lake. There's so much water that the creek is just overflowing. I feel a little nervous as I've heard the crossing can be bad even on a normal year. But this year there's so much water that it's likely going to be much worse.

Alternate junction.  

Alternate junction.  

To cross the Evolution Creek, there are two options. The regular PCT crossing can be bad when the water is high, so there's an alternative  crossing up at the Evolution Meadow, where the current isn't as strong and the water is spread out on a wider area. As we reach the junction where we have to choose which crossing we want to do, we all unanimously choose the alternative and head for the meadow.

As we get to the meadow we can't even see the other side of the "creek". But it doesn't look bad at all. All that water has just spread out on a large meadow, meaning it's going to be much more shallow, and easier to cross. We scout few spots where to cross but see no difference and just start crossing. Before getting into the water we put all our gear inside waterproof bags as there might be a chance that we end up swimming at some point. 

Part of Evolution Creek on the alternative crossings.

Part of Evolution Creek on the alternative crossings.

DG and Topo cross first. As they are both way taller than me, seeing them chest deep in the creek isn't what I wanted to see. But the current looks really slow and they get over very easily. I follow at their steps and as I'm in the middle of the stream, DG asks me to stop so he can get few photos. I happily pose for him as the water feels actually quite nice, even a little warm. I feel like I'm wading through a swimming pool with my clothes on.

Stream crossing.  

Stream crossing.  

As we're all on the other side, we laugh at how easy the crossing was. I go back into the water to get few more photos and then we hike on to the camp spot not far from the creek. Once there we dry our gear in the sun, eat, and talk about where we'd want to camp tonight.

Snowless trail.  

Snowless trail.  

I feel like I want to hike so after we've decided where we'd camp, I head out, saying I'd wait for the others at the spot. I put on my headphones and start moving down the trail. It feels so go to be down here in the valley as there's no snow and I can walk on a dry trail again. Before I know it, I'm at the spot where we agreed to camp at.

The spot doesn't look too nice and there are too many mosquitoes for my taste. I sit down and start eating while looking at the map. I find a nicer camp spot a little over four miles (6.4km) down the trail, and as I'm still full of energy, I want to go there. I start writing a note for the others, letting them know I went further. Right as I'm done they arrive. I tell them about pushing a little further but they both feel too tired to push and want to camp here.

Evening views.  

Evening views.  

As DG and Topo start making their camps, I keep hiking on. I feel really good being on the trail again. The trail follows along the creek at the bottom of a beautiful canyon and the views in the sunset are simply breathtaking. The miles go by really fast and I soon reach the next camp spot. There I find the hikers who we saw in the morning at the top of the pass. We exchange few words and then I move a litter further to give them space.

As it's getting late I set up my camp, eat a quick dinner, and go to sleep. Today was a good day!

IMG_1570.JPG

Day 63: On-trail Nero

IMG_1503.JPG

Date: July 1, 2017
Miles: 5.6 miles (9km), from mile 828.5 to mile 834.1.
Health: Tired. 

Hero image taken by DG . Check out his Instagram for more great shots!

I slept like a rock. I wake up to my alarm and snooze it couple of times. Then I hear Topo asking if I'm up. I reply yes and start putting my things in order.

Early morning trail.  

Early morning trail.  

Last nights campsite was too close to the water and the condensation has gotten my sleeping bag all wet. I have to dry it during the day on one of the breaks or I'm going to sleep cold the next night.

Topo and DG enjoying the scenery. 

Topo and DG enjoying the scenery. 

It doesn't take us long to get ready and soon Topo and DG head out. I leave few minutes behind them. The trail is easy, only few snow banks to cross. I follow the trail up the river and soon catch up to Topo and DG. They're marveling at the beautiful scenery opening in front of us.

We push on in a single line and soon DG stops and points right. There's a deer eating not 10 feet from us. The deer doesn't seem to care about us at all. We take our photos and leave him to continue his breakfast.

IMG_1510.JPG

We meet few other PCT hikers camping along the way. No one seems to be in any hurry, unlike in the desert. And why would you? We're in a gorgeous valley, surrounded by tall mountains on all sides, with a river running through it. It doesn't get much more perfect than this.

IMG_1508.JPG

We meet one group who are waiting for their friend who's helping their other friend to evacuate through the Bishop Pass due to broken rip bone while self arresting. Auts.

Topo crossing an avalanche field.  

Topo crossing an avalanche field.  

They've heard that the snow begins again at 10,500 feet and that the snowfields before Muir Pass continue for miles and miles. The Muir Pass can have over five miles of snowfields on a regular year. On a high snow year like this one, it's worse.

IMG_1514.JPG

We look at the time, we started way too late this morning, and start thinking about our options. If we go up, the snow is going to be slushy by the time we reach it and we have no place to stop or camp for miles. With fresh feet it would not be a problem, as we would just push on until the snow ends, but none of us have fresh feet. Mine feel like led.

Waterfalls and mountains.  

Waterfalls and mountains.  

We start looking at the map and our options are to either push up and spend all day in the slow snow and hope to make it to a possible campsite. Or do a really short day and put ourselves right on the snow line and do the pass early tomorrow when the snow is still nice and hard.

IMG_1507.JPG

As we keep climbing and gaining elevation, my decision comes quite clear. I'm too tired to tackle a huge slushy snowfield while climbing a pass. I look at the map and there's a possible spot right below the 10,000 feet no-fires line. That would allow us to have a fire, and also put us right below where the snow begins, making it easy to get to the pass in the morning.

Trail message.   

Trail message.   

Others agree on taking a shorter day instantly and as we get to the spot, we find a nice little forest just 5 feet below the no-fires sign. Perfect! I put all my gear in the sun to dry and lay down on the soft ground. I fall asleep and sleep for an hour.

No fires above 10,000 feet.  

No fires above 10,000 feet.  

When I wake up, I find the others doing the exact same thing. We are right next to a river that flows down from the snowfields up above us. The massive mountain walls surround us from both sides. It's a beautiful spot to spend an on-trail Nero, which today technically is. I don't mind as I really needed the rest, and spending more time in one of the most beautiful sections of the entire trail is something that I'm really happy about.

IMG_1504.JPG
IMG_1516.JPG
My kitchen. 

My kitchen. 

I do some laundry in the river, we collect firewood, and just relax all day. As the sun starts to set behind the mountains we light the bonfire and gather around it to eat and enjoy the warmth. We tell stories and jokes all night and then get to bed early. Tomorrow we'll tackle Muir Pass.

My home for tonight.  

My home for tonight.  

Day 62: Mather Pass and 2 months on trail

IMG_1489.JPG

Date: June 30, 2017
Miles: 17.2 miles (27.7km), from mile 811.3 over Mather Pass to mile 828.5.
Health: Very tired and exhausted, but happy.

I woke up to my alarm but I'm still too tired to wake up. My legs still feel sore. I snooze my alarm few times until I hear Topo getting ready to move.

The night had been cold and the morning was cold as well. I tried to stay in my sleeping bag for as long as I could. Due to my slowness Topo and DG had to wait for me to get ready. It wasn't long but I hate having people wait for me on trail.

We headed out towards the Kings River crossing. The trail was still covered in snow and we had to find our own way through and over the big snow banks. We soon arrived at the Kings River.

The PCT crosses the Kings River twice. This is not an issue during a regular snow year, or at summer when the water is low, but now the river was a raging and overflowing monster. Needless to say we didn't want to cross it. And definitely not twice.

DG crossing the vast sun cup field before the pass (visible in the distance). 

DG crossing the vast sun cup field before the pass (visible in the distance). 

There's a way you can avoid crossing the river by staying on the east side and bushwhacking about 2 miles (3.2km) upstream. You have to cross small tributaries along the way, but not the main river. This sounded good to us.

We hopped over or used snow bridges to cross about six or seven tributaries and got back on the PCT with dry feet. We celebrated by having a second breakfast.

Topo and DG right before the pass.

Topo and DG right before the pass.

So far, the going had been quite easy compared to what it had been the previous days. But after the easy part, we entered a vast snowfield full of sun cups. And the sun cups would continue all the way up to the approach to the Mather Pass.

Mather Pass is one of the steepest passes we have to go over on the PCT. As it's considered formidable climb in the summer, and we had to climb it up in snow, we were quite terrified of what it would be like.

Topo.  

Topo.  

About a mile before the pass we run into two southbound JMT hikers who inform us that the pass is quite easy, with well made steps, and a path all the way to the top. They also inform us that after the pass we would be happy to find 12 miles of snowless trail. We didn't believe them on this one but secretly hoped it would be true. Hiking even a mile on a snowless trail sounded so good at this point.

DG climbing Mather Pass. Taylor and the Swiss up top climbing the last part.  

DG climbing Mather Pass. Taylor and the Swiss up top climbing the last part.  

We shared with them the strategy of not crossing the Kings River and headed on. Approaching the pass had been relatively easy, unlike yesterday. Soon we were looking up on the pass and could see Taylor and the Swiss climbing halfway up.

We started the climb and I was feeling really good. There was a well traveled path in the snow for most of the way up. Few spots were a bit sketchy and I hated the rock hopping in the middle. The microspikes feel really uncertain on solid rock faces.

Topo at the last steep part.  

Topo at the last steep part.  

I was so happy about my ice axe and microspikes as it was a really long slide down if you would slip. DG had lost his microspikes yesterday when he fell into the river, so he was having a tougher time climbing. At one point he got himself on a slippery rock face and started to slowly slide down with no way of stopping himself. He yelled for help and as I was the closest, I stuck my hiking pole into the snow and ran back to help him. We got DG back on the snow and after a small breather continued the climb.

We had a small celebration at the top, took few photos and then had a small snack. As we still had ways to go, and the sun was melting the snow fast, we headed on soon.

Climbing down from the pass. The lakes are visible at the bottom.

Climbing down from the pass. The lakes are visible at the bottom.

Moving in the slushy snow was hard, even when going downhill. I soon pulled ahead as Topo and DG struggle in the snow more than I do. It took me about an hour and a half to get down to the lakes in the valley. I was running low on water and energy so when I found a nice, dry pile of rocks, I decided to take a break and wait for the others.

Topo by the lakes.  

Topo by the lakes.  

Topo arrived soon after me and DG little bit later. I wanted to eat my salted peanuts but I couldn't find them anywhere. Damn. I forgot them at the top of the pass. Some chipmunk is going to have a field day up there. Also, that's a big calorie loss when I'm already pushing food rations to the limit. I was not happy about that mistake.

DG.  

DG.  

Soon it was time to move again. The snow was getting softer and softer as the sun melted it more. It was getting difficult to walk and snowbridges were getting really sketchy to cross.

We wiggled our way around the lakes and got back to the river. The volume of water running through it was just unbelievable. We could barely hear each other over the roaring water.

Looking down to Evolution Valley.  

Looking down to Evolution Valley.  

We met one more group of JMT hikers and spoke with them for a while. Soon after that we got to a rocky hill that overlooked the entire valley down below. The view was absolutely breathtaking. We were so happy to see this view. There was no snow down in the valley. This must be what the first JMT hikers were talking about.

Topo.  

Topo.  

After more than enough photos, were started descending down to the valley. I've never been so happy to see switchbacks in my life. We had reached the famous Golden Staircase that would take us down to the beautiful Evolution Valley. There was no snow and we could finally walk on a real trail. Everyone was on such a good mood.

DG at the start of the Golden Staircase.  

DG at the start of the Golden Staircase.  

There was water everywhere though and at times we were walking in a shin deep river in the switchbacks. But we didn't care. Our shoes were already so wet from all the snow that there was no point of caring.

The trail was sometimes a little moist.  

The trail was sometimes a little moist.  

Once we got to the valley floor the trail continued mostly dry and I was so happy to walk on dry land again. Only hindrance were all the fallen trees. They were everywhere. We'd walk few hundred feet and there was another tree to climb over. We kept jumping and climbing over the countless trees and crossing all the creeks along the way. While hard, this was still better than being on the snow.

The trail goes here.  

The trail goes here.  

By now everyone was getting really tired. We had been on the move for almost 10 hours and our legs were getting sore. We spotted a good campsite four miles away and started pushing towards that. We walked across beautiful meadows and hopped over crystal clear streams.

DG crossing one of the many streams.  

DG crossing one of the many streams.  

Finally we reached our campsite and quickly set everything up. We gathered some dry wood and made a campfire to dry our wet shoes and socks. It was great eating our dinner by the warm fire after a long day. I cold soaked bacon flavored Idahoan potatoes and salami.

While we were eating, a young deer walked into our camp. She spend a long time just hanging around, not seeming to care about us at all. She went away for awhile but then returned. She was our evening entertainment. Much better than TV in my opinion.

Hi there! 

Hi there! 

We ate and dried out our gear and as the clock hit hiker midnight we all went to sleep. I'm so tired I fall asleep immediately. Today marks two months on trail for me. What a wonderful day it was. Here's to three more months!

Day 61: Pinchot Pass

IMG_1461.JPG

Date: June 29, 2017
Miles: 11.6 miles (18.7km), from mile 799.7 to mile 811.3.
Health: I'm completely drained and so tired. Bushwhacking through snow all day is so tiresome.

My alarm goes off at 4:50am but I don't want to wake up, I feel so beaten up. I peek through my door to see if the girls are up. No movement. I press the snooze button.

I keep snoozing until 5:30am when I hear the distinctive sound of air mattress being deflated. KB does this every morning. She opens the valve while she's still on the mattress and uses her body as a weight to deflate it. Time to start moving.

Crossing rivers with a bridge is a rare luxury.  

Crossing rivers with a bridge is a rare luxury.  

It's not that cold outside but I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. I finish all my other chores from within the warmth of the bag and only at the very end get out. We pack our packs and head over the suspension bridge one by one. It's both cool and strange that there's a bridge here. It's the first one we've seen and it takes us across a raging river so we're very thankful for having it here.

800 miles! 

800 miles! 

Right after the bridge there's an 800 mile marker. We spend few moments looking at it and then start our climb towards the Pinchot Pass. From here the trail climbs for the next 7.7 miles (12.4km) during which we climb from 8,546 feet to 12,107 feet. So we gain over 3,500 feet (1067m) of elevation.

Below 10,000 feet the trail is mostly clear of snow and just full of water. We cross smaller and medium size streams where water goes from ankle deep, up to the bottom of my shorts. Like yesterday, our shoes and socks are going to be wet all day.

Unmarked stream across the trail.  

Unmarked stream across the trail.  

On the way up we pass the Woods Creek Waterslide but I'm the only one who stops to look at it. We hit few snow fields, which are still frozen and slippery after the night, and then get to a forest. After what seems like forever we get out of the forest and have our first break. We've hiked for over two hours but only covered 3.4 miles. Damn that's slow.

The Sierra is completely different beast compared to the desert. In the desert you walked on a trail all day long and the distance you covered during the day depended on how fast you were hiking, for how long, and how many breaks you took. But making big miles was generally easy. Here in the Sierra, especially now on a record snow year, miles are extremely hard to come by.

We hardly ever see the trail, as it's under the snow, and we have to navigate on our own. River and stream crossings are another thing. We might have to walk for miles up or downstream to find a suitable spot for crossing safely. None of these miles are included in our daily mileage as none of that walking is taking us forward on the PCT. It's just extra mileage we have to do to safely move forward in Sierra.

Climbing big snow banks, sliding and slipping around on snow, wading in ice cold water. All this is starting to take its toll on my body. I've had trouble sleeping well in the Sierra and I think all that is catching up to me. I can't keep up with the girls and every step hurts.

We meet up with Topo and DG and hit the snow with them. From here, it's still over three miles before we reach the pass. I have to go and take care of some hole digging and others slip away. Soon I'm standing on an endless field of snow and sun cups and they keep going for as far as the eye can see. I don't see the others, or their footprints on the snow. The snow is still too hard to leave any prints on.

I use the GPS to get a general direction and start slowly hopping over the sun cups. The sun cups form as the snow melts and forms small puddles on the surface snow. The water works as a magnifier and causes the snow under the water to melt faster. The cups can be up to waist deep. To move anywhere, you need to hop on the small bridges between the cups. The bridges are two to four finger wide. When you have to do this for miles and miles, it's really slow and tiresome.

I slip few times badly and fall into two large sun cups. I curse the snow and switch on my microspikes to get better traction. But it's only a minor help.

Looking back on the way up.  

Looking back on the way up.  

Soon I see couple hikers climbing a hill to my left and after double checking the GPS that it's the correct direction, I follow them. Climbing a steep hill covered in sun cups is just horrible. I feel like crying but it's of no use. I can't see anyone and there's nowhere else to go. I wish I had my regular energy and I could just power through these damn snow bowls.

Once at the top of the sun cup hill, I see Topo, DG, and Tailor and the Swiss. From here we can see the pass far up ahead and above us. I see KB, Dandelion, and Fireant halfway up approaching the pass. I'm so tired that I have to sit down and take a break before pushing on.

Almost at the top.  

Almost at the top.  

Others head up and I sit on a rock in the hot sun. The heat feels so good. I set my alarm 20 minutes on and close my eyes. I fall asleep immediately.

When my alarm goes off, I see that the others are already one third of the way up. I get my things packed up and head after them. From here it's all uphill to the top of the pass.

I can see the pass far up ahead, and others hiking towards it. They look so small, surrounded by all these massive mountains. Like little black dots in a vast, far reaching snowfield.

Fireant and Dandy.  

Fireant and Dandy.  

That little nap gave me some energy and before I notice it, I've gained the distance to the others and I'm only a little behind them. The climbing isn't too technical, but I'm still tired from moving uphill on snow. Once at the top I curse and moan and sit down behind a rock to take cover from the wind. It's time to eat to get more energy.

After the food everyone starts heading down on the other side. To get down, we first have to cross a field of rocks. After that, we get back on the snow. It looks like there's not much glissading today. I trail behind everyone and am the last to arrive on the next stop.

Resting at the top of the Pinchot Pass.  

Resting at the top of the Pinchot Pass.  

We break on a nice, warm rock and I need to eat more. It's good to eat as much as possible as it makes my pack lighter. The girls head out soon but I'm too tired to follow. I forget to tell them not to wait for me as I'm staying behind. I only remember this when they disappear from the view. 

DG at the top.  

DG at the top.  

I head down with DG, Topo, and Taylor and the Swiss. After more sun cups we reach a river we need to cross. We walk about 0.25 miles downstream and cross it from where it's wider. It gets only up to knee deep.

Climbing down from the pass.  

Climbing down from the pass.  

I squeeze the water out of my socks as my toes are starting to get cold and then continue descending down to the valley. There's still snow and small streams everywhere. I fall badly on one steep snow bank and almost hit my head on my ice axe. Frigging snow!

Everyone spreads out in the steep forest and I'm soon alone with Topo going down a muddy hill. We reach the last river crossing of today with Topo and see the girls on the other side. At the same time we hear yelling from downstream and see Taylor and the Swiss crossing over a rather sketchy looking log. The girls signal us to go upstream.

IMG_1452.JPG

After a little miscommunication, as we can't hear each other over the sound of the river, we figure the spot they are telling us to cross from and get into the water. The water hits my groin and I have to get back up as I forgot my phone in the pocket of my shorts. New try. The water rushes fast but it doesn't have any power to it so it's an easy crossing.

Little bit of dry trail.  

Little bit of dry trail.  

I set all my gear to dry on the hot rocks and thank the girls for the directions. They want to push for four more miles, up to the approach for the next pass. There's a huge, powerful river between the pass and us, and the best option is not to cross the river. This means bushwhacking upstream along the river side and crossing the smaller streams, tributaries, that connect to it.

I don't have enough energy to do that so I tell the girls that I'm staying on the campground just down from where we are. Not only am I tired, but the girls are trying to push 17 miles per day to make it to Mammoth for the 4th of July, the Independence Day. I don't want to rush through Sierra with such speed. Or get to Mammoth on the busiest weekend and pay outrageous prices for lodging.

IMG_1446.JPG

I have enough food that I can go slower and enjoy my time in the most beautiful section of the whole trail. 17 miles per day would be a lot without any snow in Sierra. With all this snow it's too much for me at this point.

I tell the girls that I'll see them in Mammoth and wish them safe journey. We hug and make plans to meet up when I get to Mammoth. The girls hike on as I stay with Topo to dry my wet gear.

Mine and Topo's.  

Mine and Topo's.  

We wait for awhile and soon DG arrives. We show him where to cross and wonder why he's all wet. Once he's over the stream, he tells us he tried crossing from upstream and fell in the river. While in the water, he lost his microspikes. That's bad news as he's going to need them tomorrow for getting over Mather Pass, the steepest pass we'll encounter on the trail.

DG has had quite a day. He forgot his hiking pole to the campground in the morning, along with his breakfast. Then he fell into the river and lost his microspikes.

Taylor and The Swiss.  

Taylor and The Swiss.  

We setup camp with Taylor and the Swiss and make fire to dry our gear. I'm going to get to bed early tonight and sleep. Tomorrow we're going to tackle Mather Pass and few bad river crossings. As I go to bed, I hope I gain some energy during the night, or it's going to be a long day tomorrow.

Day 60: Water, water, everywhere

IMG_1399.JPG

Date: June 28, 2017
Miles: 6.1 miles over Kearsarge pass, non-PCT miles (9.8km) + 10.9 miles (17.5km) from Kearsarge Pass Junction to mile 799.7.
Health: Felt tired in the morning but feeling great.

We wake up and quickly take down our camp. It's really windy and cold and I have to add more clothing on to not freeze. Pony and her group had already left before we managed to wake up.

I'm feeling really tired and not feeling like hiking at all. The thought of climbing close to 3,000 feet over a snowy pass with a pack full of ten days of food doesn't make my mood any better. But we're here to hike so we move on. It's 6am, still dark, cold, and windy.

I'm last to leave and slowly stumble my way forward. I feel pathetic. The trail is still clear of snow but I know what's coming. We climb to the second lake and then to the third. Then we start climbing on a rocky path and I see Dandelion and Fyreant stopped a little ahead of me. Dandelions hiking pole broke on the climb and she's trying to order a new one while we still have cell reception. That sucks, as we're just heading out for seven to nine days into Snowy Sierra, where you'll definitely need your poles.

Looking up on the last climb up to Kearsarge Pass.  

Looking up on the last climb up to Kearsarge Pass.  

We continue on and soon reach what would be switchbacks, but are now a face of snow going straight up. From here on, we'll be on snow all the way up to the top of the pass. We take out our microspikes and the ice axes. The snow is still icy and I have to really jam the axe to the snow to get a good grip.

Last push up on Kearsarge Pass. The pass is the notch on left.  

Last push up on Kearsarge Pass. The pass is the notch on left.  

There is no trail or route, it's more like an "choose your own adventure". Everyone takes their own route and soon we all disappear searching for the fastest or easiest route up. It's a steep climb and I'm moving slow, mainly thanks to the heavy pack.

The climb goes faster than I though and we soon reach the last climb up to the pass. From here there's a clear route carved to the side of the mountain and we start climbing it in a row like ducks.

Chipmunk at the top of the Kearsarge Pass.

Chipmunk at the top of the Kearsarge Pass.

We reach the top and the climb was much easier than I thought it would be. I was really dreading the climb so this suits me well.

We don't spend much time on the top, we've all been here before. It's time to climb down on the other side and get to the PCT junction. All this work and climbing and we've not moved a single mile along the PCT. Resupplies in Sierra take a lot of time and effort.

Dandelion crossing a snow chute blocking the trail.  

Dandelion crossing a snow chute blocking the trail.  

We choose the upper road back to the PCT, and after few switchbacks, find ourselves back on the snow. And the "choose your own adventure" continues. We hop on and over frozen sun cups and fallen trees, trying to find the trail. Every once in a while we see a glimpse of the trail, only to loose it again. Moving forward is painstakingly slow and requires a lot of work.

IMG_1406.JPG

After wasting way too long in the snowy forest, we find the trail again and start working our way through the ice chutes blocking the trail. We eventually get to the one where Pony had to self arrest two days ago. Luckily no one slips this time. 

Our group moving on snow.  

Our group moving on snow.  

Then we get down from the rocky path and get back in to the forest. And we lose sight of the trail again. Everyone starts working on their own paths. I'm the first one to reach the PCT junction and stay there waiting for the others. KB is first to arrive and we start eating second breakfast. Soon, Dandelion and Fireant show up too. The sun is already up and we sit on the warm ground. I just want to stop here and sleep.

Looking up on Glen Pass. See the group of people up in the middle for size reference. 

Looking up on Glen Pass. See the group of people up in the middle for size reference. 

We get back on the trail, talking about stopping at the next water source to get more water. We literally take ten steps over a snow bank and arrive at a stream. Great, how didn't we see it here. We stop again to filter water.

Dandelion and Fireant approaching Glen Pass.  

Dandelion and Fireant approaching Glen Pass.  

From here, we have only few miles to our second pass of the day, Glen Pass. We slowly push through the snow and get to the approach to the pass. The snow gets deeper so out come microspikes and ice axes. After about a mile of gradual climbing, the mountain turns straight up in front of us. We see a group ahead of us, climbing what looks like a very steep wall of snow. This is where the switchbacks would be, but now it's just a wall of snow. We follow the footsteps of previous groups and start climbing.

IMG_1410.JPG

We climb slowly, making sure not to loose our footing as it's a steep slide down to the lake below. We hop over few rocks and get to the steepest section. I don't want to look down.

Thankfully the climb is not long and we're soon up on the top of the pass. We sit down in the sun and the rocks nicely block the wind blowing at the top. We eat and rest. I feel like I could fall asleep here but it's too hot in the sun. Fireant and I try to both sleep behind the same rock, but it's too hot and we both complain about the sun. There's no shade and we're above 12,000 feet so the sun burns quite mercilessly.

Last push up Glen Pass.  

Last push up Glen Pass.  

Pony's grew catches up to us. We thought they were ahead of us. We need to start going as we still have two big river crossings to do and the rivers get deeper and stronger as the day goes on and the sun melts more and more snow.

Descending down from Glen Pass. 

Descending down from Glen Pass. 

What follows is an epic glissading party down the side of the mountain. For the next few hours we hike down and glissade every change we get. On one long glissade Fireant looses her ice axe midway down. I catch it going down but foolishly start celebrating midway and loose it again. Dandelion catches it and brings it down. Other than the cold snow hurting my buttocks, glissading is my favorite thing out here.

Break at Rae Lakes.  

Break at Rae Lakes.  

We soon reach the Rae Lakes down below and start going around them. We have to cross a stream between the lakes and get quite wet while crossing it. The water is freezing but we can't stop to dry ourselves, we have two more rivers to cross. 

We reach the first river and its flowing quite nicely. The water looks about hip deep. I cross it with Fireant as the current is quite strong. While midway through, Dandelion breaks her second pole, right at the strongest current. I go back in to the water to lend her my pole so that she can cross safely.

Looking down to the valley.  

Looking down to the valley.  

It's already quite late but we decide that we want to get ourselves on position to cross the next pass early in the morning. This means we need to cross one more river and it's going to be flowing nicely thanks to all the snow that has had time to melt all day.

We hike on with wet gear. My socks and shoes haven't been dry for the past five or six hours. On the way we cross some smaller streams. It doesn't matter as our shoes are already full of water.

The lower in elevation we get, the less there's snow, and we soon find ourselves walking on a trail again. There's still snow but at least we can see where the trail leads.

Finally down on dry trail.  

Finally down on dry trail.  

We reach the last river and cross it easily. It has a strong current but not a lot of water. We have still few miles to do to make it to the approach for the next pass tomorrow so we keep moving. Water splashes from my shoes as I walk.

I look at the watch and it's almost 8pm. We've been on the move since 6am. Moving in the snow here is slow and tiresome.

The scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. It has been like this all day, but I really like how it looks here at the bottom of the valley.

Our tent-city. Mine in front.  

Our tent-city. Mine in front.  

On the way down we see two deer just eating right on the trail. They don't seem to mind us and follow along with us for a while. Right before the campground we see a bear ripping a tree trunk apart. We make our presence know to her and she soon moves further in to the forest. My second bear on trail so far. I'm so excited!

Our camp is just minutes from where we saw the bear. Thankfully there's bear boxes here. We dry our gear over the fire and then head to bed.

Campfire.  

Campfire.  

We had an epic day today. We hiked 17 miles in snow covered Sierra, no easy task. While doing so, we climbed two mountain passes, Kearsarge and Glen. We crossed two rivers and countless streams. And on top of that saw a bear. I'm smiling from ear to ear as I slip inside my sleeping bag. Tomorrow is going to be another rough day, with possibly two more passes to go over.

Day 58-59: Zero and nero in Bishop

IMG_1283.JPG

Date: June 26-27, 2017
Miles: 0 and 2.6 non-PCT miles up Kearsarge Pass.
Health: Feeling rested.

Our zero day in Bishop is spend mostly resting. I go out in the morning to get breakfast and then to visit the gear stores in town. I'd like to find new shoes, something other than the Altras, but every model and make I try is too narrow for toes. My feet have swollen so much that I can't fit normal shoes anymore.

Flicker with her resupply.  

Flicker with her resupply.  

I'm also looking for a new hat. I know that it's hiker trash and all that to hike in a beaten hat, but this is something I wanted to do even before the hike. I just couldn't find a good hat in San Diego so I've hiked in my "backup hat" up to here.

Old vs new.  

Old vs new.  

I find one that feels great and protects my head better than the trucker style hat I've worn so far. But as I ask others for opinion, I hear that they don't recognize me without the old hat on. Bummer. Also, I'm not sure if I like the style of the hat I'm trying on. After way too much pondering, I decide to do a compromise – I buy the same Patagonia hat that I already have. This way I'll have a new hat, but everyone will still recognize me. And maybe I don't look like a hobo as I get into towns from here on out.

As you can tell, a huge difference.  

As you can tell, a huge difference.  

As I get back to the hostel Dandelion notices that the hats aren't the same. They're almost the same but with different print. Even better. But how did I miss that even with looking at the hats side by side?

We eat in our hostel room for dinner and while others watch TV or organize their gear, I spend the rest of the day and evening trying to get blog posts out. It's getting harder and harder to stay updated as the days and resupply distances get longer and longer. Also I find that now that we get to towns I have million things to do and organize and that leaves very little time for blogging.

Fyre's pants ripped while glissading.  

Fyre's pants ripped while glissading.  

Going out from Bishop, through Kearsarge, will be our biggest food carry so far. I'm taking ten days worth of food, meaning my pack will be extremely full and heavy. Especially with all the heavy Sierra gear.

Our room.  

Our room.  

There's no way I can fit all my food in my bear can so White Rabbit and I buy a pack of Opsak smell proof sacks. It's not bear smell proof, but it's better than nothing.

Fyre, aka Alex. And a couple of rascals peaking from behind.  

Fyre, aka Alex. And a couple of rascals peaking from behind.  

As we're about to leave I notice that I forgot to take my bounce box to Post Office and it closes at four, not five. Luckily I hear Fyre is staying for one more night so I ask her if she could drop my package to the Post Office tomorrow and she agrees. Thank you Fyre!

Legend offered us a lunch at the park.  

Legend offered us a lunch at the park.  

We're getting a ride with Legend and KB, Fireant, Dandelion, and I hop on. As we're driving towards Independence I hear that Fyre is not coming tomorrow, and that actually she's skipping this section and possibly flipping north of Sierra. I feel really bad as I didn't know this and would have liked to say proper, or at least better, goodbyes to her before we left. I keep hoping that our paths will still cross.

IMG_1292.JPG
Unloading.  

Unloading.  

As we get to the trailhead and I shoulder my heavy pack, I feel down. The mountains look huge and ominous, the air is cold and windy, and leaving Fyre behind brings the whole groups morale down. We don't speak much as we ready our gear.

Looking up to where we're heading.  

Looking up to where we're heading.  

Right as we're leaving I remember that I forgot to pack toilet paper with me. Thankfully Legend hands me a small roll that should help at least a little. I take a little more from the pit toilets at the trailhead after we've done the road walk up to the trailhead.

My pack fully loaded.  

My pack fully loaded.  

The climb back up looks steep, and knowing how long it was, I'm not looking forward to this part at all. The worst is, these aren't even PCT miles. We're doing all this just to get resupplies for the next section. We'll join the PCT hopefully sometime tomorrow after climbing over the pass. Tonight we're just hiking up to the first lakes, just below the snow line.

The climb before we hit snow.  

The climb before we hit snow.  

As we get up to the lake we find Pony and others already camping there. We find a nice shielded spot close to them and setup our cowboy camps. Sunshine, Dandelion, Fireant, and I squeeze behind a flat rock, hoping the rock would give us some protection from the wind.

Pony's crews camp.  

Pony's crews camp.  

As it's already dark, we just quickly eat something and then get into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we need to climb back up on the pass we just climbed a few days ago.

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.