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

IMG_2215.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2218.JPG

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

Climbing off-trail.

Climbing off-trail.

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

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

Still ways to go to reach the top.

Still ways to go to reach the top.

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

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

IMG_2216.JPG

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

Looking towards Northern California. 

Looking towards Northern California. 

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

Crossing the range and getting to the pass.

Crossing the range and getting to the pass.

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

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

There's the road!

There's the road!

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

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

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

The only grocery store in Bridgeport.

The only grocery store in Bridgeport.

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

Footloose’s notes about his experience with us

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

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

Here’s what he had to say:

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

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

Traversing icy snowfield above a raging river.

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

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

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

Crossing one of the many rivers over a log.

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

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

BEAUTY: A persistent awe and unwavering appreciation for nature.

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

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

Climbing a snowy pass.

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

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

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

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

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

-Jack “Footloose” Catton

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