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 85: Desolation Wilderness and an off day on the trail


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. 

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. 


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.


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!