Day 47: On a Mission

Mile 880.6 to 906.6 miles (26 miles, 41.8km)

I set myself a challenge today to do a marathon and get to Red Meadows. There is a cafe and small store there, just opened for the season and the shuttle into Mammoth Lakes snow resort only started operating a few days ago. Before that everything was boarded up.

I wasn’t quite sure what time things might be open for so I set the goal of reaching there by 4pm. Why this challenge? Time for a change of scenery and some food. My clothes reek, I’m filthy and in need of some real food and a day off. I have enough food to walk through to Tuolumne Meadows but Mammoth Lakes is right there. I have a chance to duck into town and sleep in a real bed, get real coffee (I’ve heard good things about Mammoth – mountain bike riders and skiers are synonymous with good coffee, food and beer).

I woke to frost on the toe box of my quilt. This helped me get up early. By 5 am I was off and racing, flying along. There was Silver Pass to cross first thing this morning and I found this to be the second relatively snow free approach and descent. Snow patches of snow covered the trail on the backside but all easily negotiable without any traction devices and navigation was easy.

Once over and down the pass the trail was up and down all day. Following rivers and over small passes ( more like saddles) all day. Passing Lakes Virginia and Purple, snow capped mountains a constant companion on the horizon.

I flew past a couple of people early on and was basically in the zone all day in my own little bubble. I didn’t really even take any photos. It’s not that I’m not liking the scenery any longer it’s just having passed through the high Sierra there is now a new bench mark for photo worthyness.

I reached Red Meadows just after 4pm with no idea of what I was going to do next. I resolved that if I missed the bus into Mammoth I’d camp the night at Red Meadows, eat breakfast at the cafe and then skip into town. But I found that the cafe literally just opened yesterday and they have one thing on the menu at the moment – burgers. Of course I got one. But with no offer of a tasty breakfast fry up to look forward to and still enough time to jump on the bus to town I took off to Mammoth.

It’s a bit of a mission to get to town. One bus will take you from Red Meadows to the Mammoth Lakes Snow Resort and then it’s a matter of waiting for the last bus to finish business for the day and hitch it into the township of Mammoth Lakes.

I got me a motel room fairly central to everything and out of the craziness that is The Village. The Post Office is next door, there is a Pizza joint across the road and within a mile I have the laundromat, outfitters and supermarket. Tomorrow I’m taking a zero.

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Day 48: Mammoth Lakes Zero

Miles: 0

My motel room has a bath and I soaked for a long time last night.

It feels like an age since I’ve taken a full day off. Even in Kennedy Meadows I ended up making this a Nero and walking out of town late in the afternoon just to escape the craziness that occurs when 100 plus hikers hit town at the same time.

No alarm and a nice long sleep in before tracking down a real latte and breakfast burrito.

It is well deserved day off I reckon, although days in town are not really restful with some much to do.

I had to write a list just to stay on track will all the tasks today:

  • Buy a food resupply for the next leg
  • Buy a food resupply for Sierra City and mail it
  • Return borrowed ice axe
  • Send gear home to Australia
  • Go to outfitters for gas and new pole tips
  • Buy clothes from thrift store so I could wash all my clothes
  • Go to laundromat and wash everything
  • Back flush Sawyer filter
  • Scrub cooking pot and spoon
  • Eat healthy

I have breakfast is sorted –

In the next major resupply point, South Lake Tahoe, I will take two full rest days off, a first on this trip.

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Day 46: Seldon Pass

Mile 857.7 to mile 880.6 (22.9 miles, 36.8km)

Camping within a mile of the Muir Trail Ranch it was a quick in and out to pick up my resupply. Food glorious food. And more than I need for this next leg so I got stuck in straight away.

The Ranch was not what I thought it would be. Quite small reach with a few old buildings. They are not officially open for the season just yet but have a few staff on hand. Basically the only service on offer at the moment is resupply pick ups.

The mozzies were super thick. Again nature’s cruel joke – beautiful places have annoying insects. As soon as you stop moving they go in for the kill on any exposed skin. Any time I had to stop, even for a drink, long pants were required and a head net was a must. The alternative is Deet, but I hate using that stuff.

The altitude is a funny thing for me at the moment. There seems to be this range from 9500ft to around 10500ft were everything seems so difficult and much hard work. Then I get above this height and find this kick were things seems easy and I fly along, even up steep climbs, then to struggle again around 12000ft. Above 12000ft things get weird. You get light headed and it’s like your brain is disconnected from the body. Like sleep walking I guess. You’re body is moving but the mind is all over the shop. It’s funny. Sometimes you hallucinate and have to take a second look at things. You’ll see things in the shape of rocks you know are not there. In the scheme of things 12000 ft isn’t even that high.

Seldom Pass was easy peasy. You know its time to ditch the snow gear when both the approach and descent of a high are snow free, and you’re being attacked my mozzies.

The trail is starting to shift into different forest types now too. Today it lead through large stands of Aspen with their white bark a major change from just seeing pines.

Areas of bald rock as well where trees happen to find the smallest niche of soil and manage to establish, basically growing in nothing at all. This explains the large amount of wind thrown trees over the trail though. Shallow roots and strong winds knock down a bunch of trees. And they always seem to fall straight across the trail to provide another obstacle for hikers to negotiate.

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Day 45: Muir Pass and Evolution Creek

Mile 832.4 to mile 857.7 (25.3 mile, 40.7km)

Muir Pass was much harder than anticipated. Being at less elevation and flatter than the other passes to date, I had it in mind that it would be straight forward. As it has turned out it has been one of the tougher passes for me, mainly due to the amount of snow still about.

For three miles either side of the pass deep snow is a major feature. I should have started this day much earlier to make use of the overnight freeze but didn’t. Traction going up wasn’t too bad given the sun had soften things a bit and I didn’t need to use microspikes, the rubber and tread on my runners being ample to bite down. Many snow bridges had to be crossed over freezing rivers below. There was only hoping that they were still frozen enough to remain intact.

At one point an open river, the exit point for a frozen lake had to be crossed. Thick ice sheets laying on top. It was absolutely freezing and my feet went numb for a good five minutes, the only thing to do was to keep moving and keep the blood circulating. Remember this is all in trail runners, no mountaineering gear to be found.

There were a few false summits and then climbing what I thought was another the Muir Hut popped into view and I knew I was there.

The shelter was built by the Sierra Club in 1930 as an emergency shelter for hikers caught on the pass. It’s brick work constructed much like an igloo would be built.

Descending down from the Pass was much harder. The snow had softened considerably and postholing was an issue for the next 3 miles. It took much longer than anticipated. There was a bit of slope initially so I put my spikes on just to be sure.

Even after moving through the bulk of the snow, much of the trail was still buried and required a lot of cross country navigation to make use of rock bands that were much easier to walk on.

Once back on solid ground it was just before noon and my stomach says lunch time. I think the hiker hunger has definitely kicked in. They say that through the Sierra the appetite increases but I forgot to factor that into my last resupply. I have enough food not to stave but I’m definitely running at a deficit at the moment and burning through more calories than I can put in. Good for my waist line not good for my grumbling stomach.

For the last few days I’ve been fantasying about food. Many times throughout the day I’ve caught myself thinking about exactly what food I’ll have in Mammoth, and even before that what I’ll get at Red Meadows. Scrambled eggs for breakfast. Hotdogs with all the trimmings; a fat juicy steak with rich jus; BBQ chicken; slow cooked and smoked ribs. Even the pine cones are starting to look like fried chicken.

And given the recent hunger I’ve been slowly eating into my following days rations. There was only one thing left to do for the rest of the day, haul ass towards the Muir Trail Ranch to position myself to pick up my resupply tomorrow morning.

So after a quick lunch that’s what I did. The rest of the day was entirely down hill and made for a quick pace.

A few hours later there was the Evolution Creek to cross. Now names can be misleading and this is one example. For starters it’s no creek, more like a raging river, the largest water body that the PCT has to cross to date. I’d seen footage of crossings here last season on YouTube with people basically getting swept off their feet and having to swim. Rumours abound this year as well that the crossing is chest deep. I wasn’t about to find out. I’ve had my run ins with rivers like this on past hikes and I wasn’t about to press my luck with this one given I was one up and that there was an alternate route. Playing it safe I took to alternate through a meadow and a just above the knees crossing.

Sure enough when linking back to the PCT at the junction where you are supposed to cross, there is definitely a channel that if you misjudged your footing, was chest deep. The sheer volume of water rushing through this crossing would be enough to knock you off your feet if your not real careful. Never mind, I never have to find out.

Past Evolution Creek, the trail lead steeply down a slaty cliff face, switched backed all the way and the following along the San Joaquin River, another water way surging with snow melt. This has to be crossed several times but luckily there were foot bridges across this one.

The San Joaquin tumbled downhill with ferocious speed and intensity, rushing through narrow gorges and smashing down multiple waterfalls up to 5 metres high. If it wasn’t for the log jams I’m guessing this would be a wild ride for a kayaker.

Anyway, another long one.

25 miles in and I’m a mile from the Muir Trail Ranch to get my food resupply tomorrow. Given the short distance it also means I can have a sleep in as they won’t be open until 9am.

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Day 44: Mather Pass

Mile 811.3 to mile 832.4 (21.1 miles, 34km)

An early start was greeted by some friendly deer early on in the day.

Easy crossing over Mather Pass. The approach was fairly much snow free but lots

of snow down the other side. Several sections sections were really steep. Micro spikes required for a fair portion of the descent and ice axe at the ready. The actual trail disappeared under snow multiple times. It was a case of choose the best line down the snow to pick the trail up again.

Once off the snow the lower valley was gorgeous. Picture perfect. Meadows with stunted trees looking like manicured gardens. Alpine lakes. The deepest indigos and the brightest turquoise coloured the lake in the sun light. Plenty of trout waiting patiently at the mouths of stream entering the lake in their hunt for insects fallen into the water.

The exit out of the valley was painful. The lake outflow tumbles downhill in a series of waterfalls, the trail following the river down hill along the longest switch back section encountered thus far built straight into a cliff wall. It would have been a mile of trail to 200m horizontal distance gained but loosing 300m in height. Another engineering marvel really. The sheer amount of hand work to build trail in these areas all those years ago astounds. Lots of grunt work for sure. And they take horses up and down this section – crazy.

The switch back descent was hard. When ever these things are built they make the rock steps way too high and it jolts on the knees either up or down, in this case down. At the bottom it was time for some lunch.

Pushing on I made it to the Middle Fork King River just after 2pm. This was my initial stopping point for the day with 14 miles in but it was way too early and the site wasn’t particularly appealing so to make tomorrow’s crossing of the Muir Pass a little easier I pushed on for about 5.5 miles to the where the mountain starts to kick up to ascend to the pass.

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Day 43: Glen and Pinchot Passes

Mile 789 to mile 811.3 (22.3 miles, 35.8km)

Um, I thought I had written a blog entry for this day but can’t track it down. Seems I’m going to have to wrack the brain and remember some details from quite a days ago to share with you.

Oh that’s right this day lead me to Rae Lakes. How can I forget that. It has to be one of the most spectacular areas in the high Sierra.

I don’t recall Glen Pass being much of an issue in terms of snow. It couldn’t have been otherwise I would have stuck with the one pass for the day and not two.

I camped quite high to be as close to Glen Pass as possible and pick it off early in the morning. Nothing really stands out about the Pass itself.

I’ll let the photos of Rae Lakes do the talking. I should have taken many more.

I do recall reaching the suspension bridge over Woods Creek at around 11:30am, quite early in the day and deciding to have an early lunch and push to get over Pinchot Pass that afternoon. Shortly after the bridge reaching mile 800.

The climb towards Pinchot was tough. 7 miles of straight up from 8550ft to 12100ft, having just passed over Glen at 11950ft and dropped down again. It was a long an gruelling ascent, the altitude gain taking it’s toll and requiring frequent breaks. I’ve never felt nauseous with the altitude but two high passes in a day was always going to knock me around a little and require a slow steady pace.

Much of the upper reaches towards Pinchot were snow covered and required a bit of off track navigation to pick my way through rock bluffs and snow fields. Being late in the day the snow was really soft and slow going. I reached Pinchot Pass around 4:30pm and post holed my way through 2 miles of snow on the other side.

The views were amazing of course. Huge alpine lakes on the other side still littered with a thick layer of ice.

And more alpine meadows.

I pushed on until my body said no more.

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Day 42: Forrester Pass

Tyndall Creek mile 774.7 to mile Bullfrog Crk Junction Mile 789 (14.3 Miles, 23 km)

An easier day than expected really. Away by 5 am to get over Forrester Pass early.

Only 4 miles to the pass and they went quick. Coming into the open bowl before the pass much of the trail was covered in snow or ice. Some route finding was required where no obvious trail could be found, buried under the white stuff.

Looking to the headwall of the mountains, Forrester Pass is not very obvious at all. A tiny V shaped slot high up on the horizon.

There was a short field of hard snow requiring the use of micro spikes, only about 200m long. And once above it, looking down, it was clear this could be avoided all together by scrambling around on a band of rocks.

Above this snow the trail disappeared but I knew there was a series of switchbacks above. I rock scrambled up until hitting the switchbacks and continued towards the pass, the upper switchbacks all snow free.

The trickiest section of the Pass was next. A very steep, near vertical, narrow chute with a snow crossing. If you loose footing here you’ll go careening all the way back to the bottom of the valley floor.

The snow was hard and footings secure. The crossing was much easier to what I’ve seen in previous years of higher snowfall.

Storm Trooper from Hong Kong was there to congratulate me on the other side. No ice axe or spikes required. Roomy did just find and revelled in the moment, loving life, but wearing spikes to be on the safe side.

A few more switchbacks and we’d made it to the top of the pass and the highest point on the PCT around 7:30am.

Descending you have two options.

1: follow the footsteps kicked in along the ridge line, out and around; or

2: glissade down (sliding down hill on your butt), to cut a steep walking descent out and traverse across to meet the trail

In these situations there is only one real option – Glissade baby! I had to give it a crack. So much fun. It makes for a fast descent for sure and requires using an ice axe as a break to control your speed.

The next hour or so was down across open snow fields. As the snow softened in the sun I post holed about a dozen times. This is when the snow collapses under you and your legs sink into the snow, thus creating a perfect post hole. These can be quite deep, where the snow literally eats your entire leg. Besides river crossings, post holing is probably where the most serious injuries can occur. It’s quite easy to twist an ankle, break a leg or cut your legs on the hidden rocks below the surface. The deepest hole I got was just above the knee.

Much of the trail was buried in thick snow and it was a matter of choose your own adventure to get down and back on track. Roomy was a natural.

The rest of the day was following the valley down along the Bubbs Creek (read raging river), turbulent with all the snow melt.

Back into the trees on the valley floor.

A short and final ascent for the day bought me to the Bull Frog Creek junction where side trails head out to the Kearsarge Pass and access to town. Most hikers take this pass to resupply but I’ll be continuing on to the Muir Trail Ranch for my next resupply. I wanted to maximise my time in the Sierras but am paying the price in terms of hauling a lot of food.

I thought I had the ideal camp site tonight. Small, quiet, tree covered and next to a tranquil creek. Given it’s such a short day (finished by 1pm) I had visions of lazing in the shade, washing clothes etc… but the mozzies are ferocious and I’m tent bound to escape them. One of nature’s cruel tricks – it was the same in New Zealand with sand flies – the perfect landscapes can not be enjoyed too much, nature throws in biting, annoying insects that make you insane.

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