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 86: Granite Chief Wilderness and the mental challenge

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Date: July 24, 2017
Miles: 24.5 miles (39.4km), from Miller Creek to mile 1,144.9.
Health: Shoulder is feeling better, so are my legs and elbow.

I woke up at 4:30 am, an hour before my alarm, feeling great. I pondered for a second if I should keep sleeping or get an early start. I decided that getting on the trail early would be better and started getting up. Right then I heard the sound of drops on my tarp. Rain. Nope. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and went back to sleep. 

An hour later the alarm woke me up again but this time I felt tired and snoozed the alarm for an extra half an hour. Now it was time to get up and start moving. As I sleep with my food, the first thing I do is I put my breakfast soaking, and then finish the rest of my chores. After taking down my camp and putting everything in my pack I'm ready to head out. But feeling lazy, I eat my breakfast in camp before getting on the trail. 

Morning views.

Morning views.

Although I feel a lot better than yesterday, I still feel sluggish and simply can't get my motivation up or my body to work as I'm used to. I bust out the first three miles in less than an hour but then things slow down. I arrive at a trailhead and notice a pit-toilet. Score! But as I try to access it I find it locked. Near the pit-toilet, there’s a couple sitting at a camping table eating breakfast. They are here car camping and they tell me the toilet will be opened later in the season. Apparently, the road to the trailhead was just opened a few days ago due to heavy snow. 

Hiking along a ridgeline.

Hiking along a ridgeline.

While talking with them I notice they have their phones out. This can only mean one thing, cell reception. I take my phone out, switch the airplane mode off and get three bars. Instead of hiking further I sit down and check incoming messages. An hour goes by and I'm still on my phone. Damn. 

I get moving and climb the small climb from the trailhead up to the ridgeline. The views are amazing. Not Sierra amazing, but still great. I forgot to put my phone back in airplane mode and notice there’s still reception here as I receive new messages. And I get distracted again. 

I get a message from Cannonball and Storyteller telling me they've arrived at the Sierra City today. Damn, they've been flying. They are over sixty miles ahead. As they are doing about the same kind of mileage as I am, unless I really pump up my pace, I won't catch up to them anytime soon.

Entering Granite Chief Wilderness.

Entering Granite Chief Wilderness.

I keep getting distracted by all the lure of being connected and soon notice I've missed most of the morning on my phone, not getting any miles done. This was supposed to be a thirty-mile day. 

I feel unmotivated and kicking myself for not doing enough miles and wasting time only makes the situation worse. I start thinking about Fyre and her getting off the trail, how I miss home, my parents and brothers, their fiancé and wife, my nephew and niece, and my dog Fire. I keep wondering why I'm here climbing these rocks in the scorching heat, walking for twelve to fourteen hours every day when I could be back home in Finland, relaxing at our summer place. Oh, how I miss using normal toilets instead of digging holes in the sand. 

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Walking through fields of wildflowers.

Walking through fields of wildflowers.

I know I don't want to quit, but some days are really hard. All day long I see only southbound hikers who've flipped and are now heading towards Sierra. Other than those brief encounters, I hike alone, sweat pouring from my head as the sun beats down on me. I miss my umbrella. I try to eat snacks as I hike but the sight of another melted Snickers just doesn't do it for me anymore. I’m getting tired of drinking melted chocolate bars every day.

By now we all know we can do the miles. It's not about the physical challenge anymore, it's all about the mental one. Can you find the motivation to do the grind every day, day in day out. While I hike I keep doing the calculations again in my head. I have about sixty hiking days left before the end of September and the approaching winter storms in the Cascade Mountains. This means I have to hike about 26 miles (41,8km) every day to have a safe buffer before winter. 

Walked under some ski-lifts today.

Walked under some ski-lifts today.

While on the phone again, I see a Facebook post from Wilder. He has reached the halfway point today. When arriving to Sonora Pass I almost caught up to him as he was only two days ahead of me. Now he's a week ahead of me. I put my head down and turn the music louder in my headphones as if that would make the miles go by any faster. 

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I keep thinking about my life back home a lot. My life was pretty good. I’m not here to escape anything, I just really wanted to see if I could walk from Mexico to Canada. Hiking the PCT has been my dream for a long time now. But now that I’m here, actually living my dream, I keep bringing myself down and letting these small things getting on my nerves. The excruciating heat, the monotony, and having no-one to talk to, really gets me down. I know this is all in my head and that I just need to suck it up, just keep doing the miles.

I knew that Northern California would be mentally hard and it sure has been. This is what I’m worst at, doing monotonous work for long periods of time. I’d much rather be battling the snowy high Sierra passes or crossing the dangerous streams. I enjoy the little adrenaline rush of danger more than just marching along on a two feet wide dirt path with nothing happening all day long.

More wildflowers.

More wildflowers.

During the day I hike through multiple massive wildflower fields. As I walk through them, hundreds of butterflies scatter up to the air and fly around me. I feel like I’m walking in a Disney movie.

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NorCal is dusty.

NorCal is dusty.

It’s becoming painfully clear I’m not doing thirty miles today, but a solid 25 miles might be doable. As the sun starts to set and the temperature drops I feel a lot better and crush the last miles with ease. Instead of doing the 25 miles, I had to stop a half a mile short not to end up camping on an exposed ridgeline. Instead, I stay a bit down, in the trees, on a beautiful spot overlooking the valley I just hiked around. 

Tomorrow morning starts with a ten-mile waterless section, and as I’m dry camping, I carried two extra liters from the last water source. I eat my dinner while watching the sun set behind the mountains. Although I’m feeling a little down, the scenery around me is absolutely gorgeous. This wasn't my favorite day out here but I'm hoping tomorrow will be better. 

Day 85: Desolation Wilderness and an off day on the trail

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Date: July 23, 2017
Miles: 22 miles (35.4km), from Lake Aloha to Miller Creek at mile 1,120.4.
Health: Feeling completely broken. Left shoulder hurts, right knee hurts, left shin bleeding and bruised, right elbow bruised.

Sometimes you get off days. It's completely okay on such a long hike, and it helps that you can identify them when they come. But they still suck big time when they happen and today was one of those days. 

Everything started in the morning. I overslept my alarm and instead of waking up at 5:30 am, I woke up at 7:20 am. Which pretty much meant I lost 2 hours of hiking before even getting up. Great! Not good when you’re trying to crush miles. 

Lake Aloha.

Lake Aloha.

I was on the trail by 8:00 am and as soon as I saw Lake Aloha in the morning light, I felt better–what a view! The surface was smooth as a mirror and reflected the surrounding mountains so beautifully. I pass many weekend hikers and had pretty much the same conversation with everyone. It's always the same questions, but I don't mind answering. It's great to have at least someone to talk to as I know I'll be spending the rest of the day by myself. Thanks to being sucked into the vortex in Tahoe I was now trailing way too far behind Cannonball and Storyteller to catch them before Sierra City. 

The other end of Lake Aloha.

The other end of Lake Aloha.

The trail followed the lake and at the other end started to climb up. I was crossing one of the snowfields, following along the existing footpath when the snow below me broke and I start falling through. I was between two rocks and as I was falling down I instinctively lean towards the rock on the right, trying to stop my fall. I land on the rock with my right elbow and this stops me from falling further down. My left leg went completely through the snow, up to my hip, and scraping against the rocks. As I get up, I can see my left shin bleeding and bruised. My right elbow is also hurting from hitting the rock with the entire weight of my body and gear against it.

There's still a lot of snow on the trail but it's getting so soft that it's starting to be dangerous to hike on it. You have no idea what's below the surface, or when you're going to fall through. I'm just happy I'm not in the Sierra anymore as walking miles after miles falling through the snow would be horrible. 

As I look down to the hole I fell in, I notice I was lucky. If my left foot had been a little more ahead–what is now a cut and a bruise–could have been a lot worse. I curse the snow and keep on hiking with bruised body and ego. 

The trail along the lakes.

The trail along the lakes.

I keep climbing and come to a large snowfield where the sun has melted all the tracks away. I have no idea which direction the trail is heading so I take out the GPS and wait for it to update my location. I'm not on the PCT. This can’t be right. Refresh. Nope, I’m off trail again. Great! The trail that I've been following for the past half an hour is some other trail, not the PCT.

I start looking for ways to somehow cut back to the PCT but there's a steep mountain between me and the trail and I don't really want to get on the slippery granite to climb my way back. I have no options other than to backtrack to the trail junction I must have missed. I just hope that the hole I fell into wasn’t on the wrong trail. 

As I backtrack I see the hole again and check the map. Nope, it was on the wrong trail. Not only did I hurt myself, I did it hiking on the wrong trail. I end up losing about an hour because I missed a junction. The problem around Tahoe is that there are so many well-maintained trails that you think you're on the PCT because it looks like the best-kept trail, but you're not. My already bad mood starts getting worse. 

The junction I missed.

The junction I missed.

As I finally rejoin the PCT I see why I missed the junction. The wrong trail is much larger and looks like the highway that the PCT usually is. Whereas the PCT from the junction looks like a small dirt path. To be honest, there’s a clear sign on the junction pointing towards the right direction. I have no idea how I missed that.

As I hike further my left shoulder starts to hurt more and more and soon I have to stop to take some vitamin-I. I dislocated the shoulder while wakeboarding in Tahoe but didn't think it would cause any kind of issue on the trail. I was wrong. Apparently carrying a heavy pack on a recently dislocated shoulder hurts.

On the plus side, the trail through the Desolation Wilderness is absolutely gorgeous but I'm in such a bad mood that I can hardly enjoy it. Everything in my body seems to hurt and I can't seem to get into any kind of zone. It feels like I'm moving nowhere slow while hurting on every single step. 

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On-trail water source.

On-trail water source.

I feel like stopping and going back to sleep and just waking up to a new day but I can’t, I really need to get miles done. September is approaching way too fast and I'm still not even at the halfway point. 

I climb up Dick's Pass, which is pretty easy as far as passes go, snickering at the name. While the views are absolutely gorgeous I'm just not feeling it. I would really need a pickup, and I don't mean a truck. Sadly there's no one around so I just have to soldier on. I’m lucky that on most days I really love the trail, today is just not one of those days. 

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On the top of the pass, I get cell reception and answer few messages and read through my email. Seeing some lovely Instagram videos back from Finland brightens up my mood but soon I have to keep going. I'm taking way too many stops to rest my shoulder and to pop painkillers, it'll be a miracle if I can get 20 miles done today. The slow progress makes me feel even worse. I really needed a big day today. 

The north side of Dick’s Pass (I keep snickering at that name) is completely covered in snow and I waste more time trying to find the trail and the way down. Once at the bottom the trail clears again and wiggles around beautiful lakes. This area is one of the most beautiful spots on the trail right after Sierra. 

Resting my shoulder.

Resting my shoulder.

As I'm hiking I calculate in my head how many days it's going to take me to catch up to different people ahead of me and it makes me feel even worse. Some of my friends who flipped north are now over 300 miles (483km) ahead and to catch them, and to see them before they finish the trail, I have to start doing some really massive days. I miss our whole bubble from the desert. 

I meet a couple of south-bounders who've flipped and hear about the trail conditions up north. It doesn't sound too bad but there's still snow left in some areas. That doesn’t sound too bad.

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Even with the good news the miles just don't seem to go by at all. I switch to listening to audiobooks and that helps for a little while. I still have to stop constantly to rest my left shoulder. I look at the map and if I keep the pace I'm doing, I might be able to do a little over 20 miles today. 

I shoulder my back only on my right shoulder and keep hiking. The trail changes from slippery rock to a nice smooth trail and I manage to pick up the pace. The miles start moving again and I'm doing little over 3 miles per hour. I pass few PCT hikers who I've never seen before. It seems I’m catching up to the last parts of a bubble that has been ahead of us as I keep passing hikers who I’ve never seen before. 

My camp for tonight.

My camp for tonight.

As the trail gets better I get back into the groove and my mood picks up instantly. But it's getting dark already. I arrive at the creek I was aiming for little earlier than I had calculated but that's good. I hope the trail continues like this tomorrow. 

I quickly set up my shelter, eat dinner with the mosquitoes, and then go to bed. Few more PCT hikers, who flipped to the north, pass by as I'm eating. Let's hope tomorrow's going to be a better day!

Day 84: Nero from South Lake Tahoe to Lake Aloha

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Date: July 22, 2017
Miles: 8,3 miles (13.4km), from Echo Summit Trailhead to Lake Aloha at mile 1,098.4.
Health: Feeling happy to be back on the trail. Shoulder hurts a bit. 

After waking up and having a big breakfast, we head out to the Post Office as everyone has something they need to either pickup or ship out. After the Post Office, we head back to the car rental place to add another driver to the car and then go do some shopping. As the gear store in South Lake Tahoe exchanges Darn Tough socks, we all go and get brand new socks.

Then we head to the Basecamp pizzeria in town for free PCT pizzas. If you show your PCT permit, you get a free pizza. After the pizza, I do a quick stop at the Patagonia store. I’ve been struggling with the heat and my shirt feels like hiking with a trash bag. It simply doesn’t breath well enough so I need something that works better in the heat.

Officially reaching the end of Sierra portion of Guthooks maps.

Officially reaching the end of Sierra portion of Guthooks maps.

I find one shirt that would work and feels great on, but it’s white. And even with the discount would be over $50. I cheap out and hope to find a better shirt from the next town.

As I’m walking back to the car I get a message from Cannonball and Storyteller telling me that a bear ate Cannonballs food last night. Apparently, the bear had cut a hole in their tents mess and taken Cannonballs food bag from right next to her leg. They had woken up to the bear emptying the bag next to their tent.

My Houdini jacket. Thanks Cannonball!

My Houdini jacket. Thanks Cannonball!

We drop everyone else at the motel and Sunshine drives me up to the trailhead. After saying goodbye again, I head out and pick up my Houdini jacket that Cannonball had stashed for me behind one of the rocks.

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Echo Lake.

Echo Lake.

The trail from Echo Summit trailhead is quite easy and there are more day hikers than usually. As soon as I get going I start to regret not getting that white Patagonia shirt. I’m sweating like a pig as my shirt is not breathing at all.

I cross few roads and then reach Echo Lake. As I get down to the lake I get to the store just as they’re closing. They let me in to quickly buy a soda and ice cream to help cool me in the heat. I eat the ice cream by the side of the lake, watching as the day hikers arrive back from the trail.

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Desolation Wilderness.

Desolation Wilderness.

It’s already quite late so I’m not going to get very far today. I continue hiking while the sun is slowly starting to set behind the mountains. The trail wiggles around the lake and the views are quite nice. I stumble upon more day hikers and we talk a little about the PCT. A couple of people ask me how far I’m going and as I say “Canada” they get good laughs.

At the end of the Echo Lake, I reach the beginning of Desolation Wilderness. I hike alone from here on out. 

Lake Aloha right after sunset.

Lake Aloha right after sunset.

The sun is setting and it’s getting dark. I have to speed up as, like an idiot, I left my headlamp at the bottom of my pack. I check Guthooks and if I’m fast I should reach Lake Aloha before it gets really dark. The last mile I basically stumble in the dark forest guessing where the trail goes.

I find a nice spot along the lake and see others camping there too. Hoping to find other PCT hikers I approach them but they are weekend hikers. I find a spot little further in the woods and set up my tarp.

Star gazing from my tarp door.

Star gazing from my tarp door.

As I’m eating my dinner I watch as some of the hikers are doing bear hangs on a tree close by. As I see at least five food bags improperly hanging from the trees, I feel confident about sleeping with my food for tonight. No bear is going to come up to my tent when they can just easily pick all that food they want right from the trees.

As I’m about to go to bed I watch the stars above the lake and take few photos. This is a really beautiful spot! It feels good to be back on the trail!

Day 80-83: To South Lake Tahoe and the most epic trail magic ever

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Date: July 18 - 21, 2017
Miles: 8.1 miles (13km), from Clouds Lake to Echo Summit Trailhead.
Health: Town day, feeling awesome.

I woke up to the sound of Iced Tea packing his gear and leaving camp. I have been seeing him on and off since Sierra. We hike completely different rhythms: he wakes up and gets to camp early whereas I hate early mornings and enjoy hiking well into the darkness. This means we usually see each other while passing the other one having lunch. And early evening when he’s setting up camp.

A quick look at my watch and it’s 4-something-am, way too early for me to get out of my warm down haven. I quickly fall back to sleep.

Little later, after battling with the alarm for about a half an hour, I finally wake up. To my surprise, there’s a strong smell of smoke. Is someone having a bonfire this early in the morning? Or is there a wildfire close by? I get up and walk up to where Reroute and White Rabbit were camping. The air is smoky but I can’t see any flames. Must be winds pushing smoke from the wildfires towards us. We eat breakfast together and Reroute leaves soon, White Rabbit short time after her. We all agree to meet at the trailhead to go to South Lake Tahoe together.

Smoke from the wildfires.

Smoke from the wildfires.

It’s interesting to get to Tahoe as I’ve been in talks over email with Anthony, a trail angel from South Lake Tahoe. He sent me an email and said if we get to Tahoe when he’s there, he and his wife would like to arrange trail-magic for us. I messaged him when we left Sonora Pass to let him know our estimated arrival to South Lake Tahoe. Since the trail had been faster than we thought, I sent him an update yesterday saying we’d be at the Echo Summit trailhead a day earlier than we estimated. As I haven’t had reception since yesterday I don’t know if Anthony received my email or if he’d be able to make it to the trailhead a day earlier.

Right after leaving Clouds Lake and our camp spot, I can’t seem to find the trail. I know the direction it should lead to, but can’t see the actual trail anywhere. After hiking a while towards the general direction of where I think the trail should be heading, I find it.

Trail goes here. Somewhere.

Trail goes here. Somewhere.

As the views are blocked by the smoke, and since we only have about 8 miles to the Echo Summit trailhead, I put my head down and cruise while listening to music. The trail crosses multiple snowbanks and I’m again reminded of how frustrating trail finding in snow is. After a rather large batch of snow, I pick up the trail again and keep on hiking. 

Little later something feels off. I’ve been climbing for a long time but the trail is supposed to be heading down, not up. As I keep climbing the trail keeps getting steeper and steeper. I take out my phone to check Guthooks to see what’s going on. As the GPS finds my location I see I’m about a mile off, going up on a wrong trail, to the opposite direction and away from South Lake Tahoe. I must have missed a junction on that last snow batch and headed down the wrong trail.

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Instead of backtracking, I decided to bushwhack my way back to the trail. I find a steep hill and after half an hour of bushwhacking, I’m back on the PCT. That episode cost me about an hour so I need to speed up. Going downhill I’m moving faster but there’s no way to catch up to the lost hour on such a short distance.

Meeting Anthony and Annie

Finally, I reach the Echo Summit trailhead and see a car with a bunch of hikers around it. Among the hikers, I see Reroute and White Rabbit. There’s a couple giving out trail magic. Could this be Anthony and Annie? As we’ve only talked over email, I have no idea what they look like.

As I get to the car I hear “Hey Isko, we’ve been waiting for you!”. It is Anthony and Annie. They’ve brought their two doggies and enough Starbucks coffee and breakfast burritos to feed an army of hikers. How awesome! Annie hands me a bacon burrito, my favorite, and Anthony and I start talking.

Heading down towards the trailhead.

Heading down towards the trailhead.

Anthony tells me that he’d like to invite us to their house at Tahoe Keys for barbecue, showers, hot tub, laundry, resupply, post office runs, and wakeboarding on the lake. My jaw drops. When he messaged me saying he’d like to give us trail magic, I was thinking something like ice cold sodas and beer at the trailhead, and maybe a ride to town. But all this? I’m speechless. I look at Reroute and White Rabbit and we happily accept the awesome offer. 

After handing out coffee and burritos to more hungry hikers, Reroute, White Rabbit, and I hop in their car and start heading towards South Lake Tahoe. On the way, we hear that since we had arrived a day earlier than originally planned, Anthony and Annie had to change their plans to meet us and skip an NBA game. They had arrived at the trailhead the previous night and slept in their car waiting for us. We are blown away by their kindness and generosity.

South Lake Tahoe

After running some chores in town we arrive at Anthony and Annie's house and things get even more amazing. The house is absolutely beautiful, sitting on a canal, just a short distance from South Lake Tahoe. Anthony shows us where we can leave our dirty clothes for washing while Annie brings us loaner clothes to wear. After a quick tour of the house and the yard, Annie asks us if we’re hungry and what we’d like to eat. As we’ve only had hiker food since Sonora Pass, we’re up for anything that isn’t cold soaked or bars. When Anthony asks if we’d like to have BBQ tonight we just nod with our mouths open. I love barbecue and it’s one of the things I seem to miss the most on the trail.

Tummy scratches.

Tummy scratches.

After Reroute, White Rabbit, and I have finished showering, Annie comes back from the store with a car full of food. As there’s only three of us, Anthony asks if we have more friends in town who’d want to join us for the BBQ. I’ve messaged with Storyteller and Cannonball earlier and knew they were in town so I send them a message to ask if they’d like to join us. They quickly agree and Anthony and I drive to pick them up from their hostel.

Look at all this non-hiker food!

Look at all this non-hiker food!

Once back at the house we fill our bellies with sandwiches, BBQ, and beers while playing games. It’s hard to describe how good it feels to be in a big house, having clean clothes, having showered, eating well, and just relaxing. While in the “normal” life you take all these things for granted, after spending months on the trail, this feels like heaven. And while we are guests, and have just met Anthony and Annie, they make us feel right at home. It’s funny how quickly you can go from being complete strangers to feeling like you’ve known each other for a long time.

Puppies!

Puppies!

Anthony and Annie introduce us to Liar's dice, a game I’ve never played before but quickly fall in love with. After many rounds of dice, Anthony takes us all for a boat ride around the lake. The weather is nice and clear and there’s no sight of the smoke we saw earlier in the morning. We cruise around the lake as the sun sets, stopping over at the Emerald Bay to enjoy the spectacular views.

Going out on the lake.

Going out on the lake.

Enjoying being on the boat.

Enjoying being on the boat.

We head back to the house and after few more rounds of beer, food, and Liar’s Dice, we’re all pretty tuckered. Anthony shows us our beds and we make plans to head out in the morning for early morning wakeboarding sessions. Going from the monotony of hiking, to this, feels like a sensory overload. I’m smiling from ear to ear.

Annie and Anthony.

Annie and Anthony.

Heading back.

Heading back.

The next morning I wake up to the smell of breakfast. Annie and Anthony are in the kitchen making us pancakes, bacon, and fresh fruits. Sadly White Rabbit and Reroute can’t stay longer as White Rabbit needs to get to a wedding and has to get back on the trail. Anthony gives them a ride back to the trailhead while Cannonball, Storyteller, and I enjoy not having anywhere to rush to. Today is definitely going to be a zero!

Cannonball.

Cannonball.

Storyteller.

Storyteller.

Once Anthony gets back we all hop on the boat and head out to the lake. It’s still early enough that there are no waves – perfect weather for wakeboarding. But unlike yesterday, the air is now covered in so much smoke that you can barely see the mountains around the lake.

Going in.

Going in.

As Cannonball and Storyteller have never wakeboarded before, I’m the first one in the water. I can’t remember the last time I had been on a wakeboard. All I remember was that it ended with a really bad whiplash as my jump fell short and I caught the wave with the heel edge of the board. Not wanting to end my hike due to wakeboarding injury I keep repeating “DO NOT TRY ANY JUMPS” in my head as I get into the water.

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I get pulled few laps and it’s as much fun as I remembered it to be. I’m definitely rusty and falling few times quickly remind me how hard the water is. But this is definitely fun! Then it’s time for the girls. They’ve never been on a wakeboard so Anthony gives them a crash course in “Wakeboarding 101”. I’m not sure if it’s the crash course or the talent of the girls, but they both get up pretty much on their first pulls, something I’ve never seen before. 

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Two badass hikers who just learned how to wakeboard on the PCT.

Two badass hikers who just learned how to wakeboard on the PCT.

We do few more laps around the lake and I pull Anthony for a short while. He’s clearly been on a wakeboard before. But as the morning changes to midday, the waves appear and we all decide it’s time for something else. 

Anthony and Annie show us a cool spot to have some post-wakeboarding drinks and we drive to a place called Chambers Landing. We learn that it’s one of the oldest taverns on the lake and that their signature drink is absolutely delicious. We enjoy more rounds of Liar’s Dice on the deck while sipping ice cold drinks. All this feels like the furthest thing from thru-hiking and I feel so relaxed.

Chambers Landing

Chambers Landing

Yummy!

Yummy!

One of many rounds.

One of many rounds.

I have mentioned few times on trail that I’d love to do cliff jumping and Anthony tells me about a spot not far where I could do just that. After few more rounds of drinks and dice, we get back on the boat and drive to a rock face close by. It’s not very high, and there’s not much of a platform to get speed, but at this point, I’m just glad to have water and somewhere to jump from.

We anchor the boat as close to the rocks as we can and I jump in the water and swim the short distance to the rocks. With Anthony’s instructions, I try to find the spot to climb up from and soon I’m as high as I can climb. There’s no take-off so I just have to push myself off the rocks to get some clearance. The drop is not high, maybe 13-14 feet (4m), and without take-off, there’s not a lot of tricks I can do, so I go with the standard belly-first jump.

The crew.

The crew.

After hitting the water I know I need to go for another round. The girls also decide to join and they swim up to the rocks. We all climb up and they jump first without any hesitation. I do one more jump and then we all swim back to the boat. On the way back to the house we eat sandwiches Annie made us and drink few more beers. If someone would ask me to describe my perfect summer day, this would be pretty much spot-on!

Back at the house, I notice my shoulder starting to hurt a little. I felt it being pulled and dislocated a bit while I was wakeboarding and hit a small bump but it didn’t feel bad at all at the time. Both of my shoulders are pretty bad and dislocating them is nothing new.

For the evening we decide that we’d all like to eat some sushi so we head out to town. While we’re eating and having fun, I stop and look around me. I’m thousands of miles from home, in a foreign country, surrounded by friends I didn’t even know a few months ago, laughing and having the time of my life. I keep thinking of all the small decisions we’ve all made to end up here, at this exact moment, and how perfectly it all has happened.

Cannonball, Annie, Storyteller.

Cannonball, Annie, Storyteller.

The next morning Cannonball and Storyteller want to get back on the trail while I decide to stay in South Lake Tahoe for one more night. We’ve had so much fun that I haven’t had any time to work on my site. Anthony and Annie are also leaving town today.

We say our goodbyes at the house and take few photos. Anthony and I give the girls ride back to the trailhead. On the way, we stop at the post office to ship our ice axes back home. There’s no need for them anymore. While we’re driving back Cannonball calls me to tell me she accidentally took my wind jacket. They hide it behind a rock at the trailhead and send me extremely detailed instructions for finding it. 

Anthony and I.

Anthony and I.

Anthony drops me at the Motel 6 where I had reserved a room for the night and we say goodbyes. While the upside of the trail is that you get to meet a lot of awesome people, the downside is you often can’t spend enough time with them as you have to keep moving.

At the motel, I find out my room is not ready yet, so I walk along the main road to the Taco Bell to drink a milkshake and enjoy the air conditioner. It’s really hot outside and I don’t want to just sit in the sun waiting for my room to get ready.

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Finally, my room is ready. As we’ve been just moving all the time, I hop on the bed and switch on the TV to enjoy the “not doing anything” for a while. The next thing I know is I wake up and it’s dark outside. I’ve fallen asleep and slept the entire day. The first thing I notice is that I’m starving and the only place still open is a pizza place about 20 minute walk down the main road.

Once back at the motel I finish the entire large pizza on one go and hop back to bed. I wake up and it’s morning. What just happened? Apparently, I needed to catch up on my sleep. The plan of working on my site fell through but at least I’m well rested now.

Getting sucked back into the vortex

The plan for today is to do a quick resupply and then get a ride back to the trailhead. I call the reception to ask for a late checkout and then run across the main road to the grocery store for a resupply. The selection isn’t the best but as I’m on foot and the better stores are miles away, I have to make due with what they have.

Back at the motel, I pack my pack and checkout. I’m hungry again so before starting to hitch, I do a quick stop at the Taco Bell. Not my favorite fast food restaurant but sadly the only quick and cheap one within walking distance.

After filling myself with “food” I head out to the side of the main road to try to get a hitch. It’s hot and while I try to do my best to not look homeless, I have no luck getting a ride. I walk down the main road few times trying to find a better spot but again no luck.

As I’m about to give up I get a message from Sunshine and others saying they’re on their way down from the trailhead. As I haven’t seen them for a while, I send them a message and we soon meet up in the Enterprise car rental shop down the road.

It’s so good to see everyone again. There’s Sunshine, Dandy, Fireant, Kendall, and Roadrunner and they quickly convince me to stay in town for a little longer. I agree to join them for an all-you-can-eat sushi lunch if they give me a ride to the trailhead later.

We head to the sushi place and catch up on all the trail news. They tell me Fyre quit the trail in Bishop when we left her at the hotel. I had no idea and didn’t even get to say proper goodbyes. For the next two hours, we all eat way too much sushi.

On the trail, ever since Casa De Luna, we’ve had this habit of playing or singing Phil Collins’ “One More Night” when some of us wanted to stay instead of getting back on the trail. This time the girls use the song to talk me out of getting back on the trail and instead stay for one more night. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing and we are soon trying to find a motel room big enough for all of us. Before that, we drop Kendall off as she’s spending the night with her mother who’s in town to see her. After way too much back and forth we find a massive family room that fits us all nicely.

Later we go out for some shopping and sightseeing around the South Lake Tahoe downtown. We buy way too much food and head back to the motel, eat, and eventually, I fall asleep sharing the bed with Roadrunner. It’s good seeing everyone again!

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.