The Sierra’s in Real Time

My last post from a chronological standpoint was my arrival to Washington, which was…well…months ago, so obviously I’m running behind. Oh well, it’s been a busy hike. So, my resolution is this: I’m fast-forwarding to “real time” now that I’m in the Sierra’s, my favorite place, and I will be sure to get back to Oregon and Northern California at a later time when I can put my time and energy into blogging it right. That being said, I am currently in Mammoth Lakes, having completed the section from South Lake Tahoe to Agnew Meadows at PCT Sobo mile 1735 over the last eight days. I first completed the Tahoe to Tuolomne section 21 years ago, in 1996, which is another story in an of itself, and I thought a lot about that hike this week, it was a very important hike for me. I also completed this section, heading Nobo last year, in June, when the trail was still a snowy, sloppy mess. So, I had several memories falling into the pockets of my mind over the miles, to contemplate as I walked into the unbounded space of territory that was familiar but new. 

I arrived at Echo Lakes, aka: South Lake Tahoe, on September 26th around 2:00pm, where my Dad was waiting to meet me. He greeted my hiking companions and I with a cooler of cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and chips with guacamole. Nice choices Dad!  

I took two zero days in Tahoe at my house which was amazing, and hosted a slough of dirty, hungry, happy hikers at my place. We had a great time, cooked an amazing breakfast and got all our town chores done. I got back on trail a half day after they did at Carson Pass, 13 miles up the trail so that I could take a little more time to relax with my Dad and get my stuff finished up at home. 

I’ve been hiking in a little Southbound bubble since Oregon, that at it’s largest has been up to about 15 hikers, but sometimes as few as three or even just me solo. It fluctuates depending on so may variables. Its been a really fun experience hiking in a group, something I didnt experience to this degree on my Northbound hike. 

The group pictured below: Lost Time and Laces (couple from PA), Shameless (Napa), Hurl Goat (Canada), Tripsy (Monica), American Idol (Australia), Tall Joe (North Carolina), Bellows (Oregon), Captain Underpants (Georgia), Wing (LA), and me, my name often being abbreviated to just Poppins.

However, leaving Tahoe it was just me solo and I hoped to meet up with a few of my friends (Lost Time & Laces, Tall Joe and his buddy Travis) by Sonora Pass, 60 miles later, and continue on with them for the rest of the High Sierra Section, at least. The Sierra’s are the place where there is the most fear and the most beauty. It’s the place I’ve been talking about and dreaming about for months since I left Canada. It’s feared because of the season and we are all hoping the snow will hold off long enough for us to make it through. Yet, we already got snowed on, ironically, on the first day of Fall, September 22nd, go figure! It dropped about 6-8 inches where we were camping and graced the land with it’s sparkling beauty. Yet, we were not ready for it, we were still in Summer attire, and we got wet, cold and it was a wake up call. Fortunately, since then, the wether has warmed up again and we are seeing clear forecasts into the next stretches of 10 days. Things are going to okay.  I hope.

DAY 77: Carson Pass to Pennsylvania Creek: 21.6 miles

Elevation: +4,079/-4,458

I left Carson Pass, saying goodbye to my Dad with a warm hug, around 10:30am, and I felt great after having rested for two days. Well, rest is a relative term, it’s more like not hiking for two days, imagine! I had a heavy pack, though and definitely frlt the weight . Starting the Sierra’s means you now have to carry a bear proof food canister (no more Ultralight), and since the elevation climbs higher and higher, it also means more exertion, less oxygen, colder temperatures, and with this season it also means the possibility of snow. 

So, I switched out several items of my gear for bulkier, heavier, warmer, tougher stuff. My tent, my sleeping bag, more clothing, rain gear, gloves, creek crossing sandals and it goes without saying, more food. I would estimate my pack base weight increased by about 6 pounds and my food weight increased by about 25%. I did not weigh my pack but I would guess it was around 34 pounds including 4 days of food, not terrible, but I’d become accustomed to about 25. I’ve certainly carried much heavier weight, but it’s the high miles, combined with the heavier weight, that make it really difficult. I am shooting for 20 miles a day in the Sierra’s, as opposed to 25 in Northern California. I hope I can do it!

Fortunately, as I hiked away from Carson, I felt light and happy, and my body was pleased with the down time and the food I’d given it over the past two days. I had also had two very strong cups of coffee, jeez, I wish I could drink that every day! I was hiking strong and I made 21.6 miles by dusk. I found it peaceful to be hiking alone again, especially after all the stimulation of being in town and having been in a group so frequently, so I embraced the silence again. I was able to go inward and reflect. I was able to meditate on the moments of my steps and really listen to my surroundings. 

Ironically however, within the first 30 minutes of hiking, I ran into a group of section hikers who I stopped and talked with. They were super friendly, retired age and they had a billion questions about my hike. They even gave me snacks which I didn’t need, but it was certainly appreciated an I accepted them gratefully. After parting ways with them I realized that maturity brings humility. Whenever you meet younger folks on the trail, people don’t stop and talk and ask questions of each other so much, especially if they are going opposite directions. I mean, it happens, but I got this particular feeling that in younger people, ego gets in the way of showing your awe and apprecation for what other people are doing, because it’s more competitive. With this group, they had no ego, they were in awe of what I was doing, yet there they were, out there too! I hope I’m still out here hiking when I’m 60 too, I better be! But you never know, and so that is why I am doing this now. I am doing what I can when I can, because life is short, this life is such a gift, this journey is such a gift. So, that’s what I walked away feeling like. Grateful. Humble. Happy.

Soon, I was climbing and descending large sweeping hillsides with grand views of the valleys below. There were giant old growth Cedar trees, and large craggy peaks made of volcanic material and several water drainages. I climbed through fields of exposed sagebrush, buckwheat and Mule’s Ears and back into the thick forests which protected me from the wind. The highest temperature of the day was 55 degrees with a slight wind all day. The scenery had already taken on a new look and feel, and I felt more excited, full of anticipation, for the coming 500 miles. I made it, I’m in the Sierra’s!

By around 5:30pm I found myself on a hilltop overlooking the valley to the East and the wind was picking up harder, blowing in very interesting clouds, which made for a stellar sunset later on. I was getting hungry so I ate the snacks that the group of hikers had given me, and I pushed on a little further until almost dark. 

It was 6:45 pm when I reached a stream that had several neat and tidy campsites amidst the conifers with lovely flat spots and pine needle duff to rest upon. I could have very easily stopped here, but no, I could go another half mile or so, right? Of course I can! I did, and found a lovely spot, a little less protected, but up on a little bit of a slope where I presumed there eould be slightly warmer air. I found a flat spot tucked under a large tree. 
I set up my tent, now a Marmot EOS 1person, with a double wall/rain fly. It is free standing, has poles and everything, so it’s like a “real” tent, not a tarp. I love my tent, it’s cozy and I feel protected inside it. It’s not drafty like my tarp is. I decided it’s worth the weight. I got my dinner started on the boil, and continued unpacking my backpack that is like a whole new series of steps now that all my gear is changed out. I don’t know my routine anymore, it’s strange. I was using my headlamp and ended up eating my Annie’s Mac N’ Cheese in the dark, listening to the wind howl up high in the tallest branches of the pine trees. I was, meanwhile, enveloped in a stillness down below, where it is peaceful. I am happy, so happy to be here.  

My tent, the next morning…

Im out of time here in Mammoth, time to hit the trail again, next stop, Bishop. To the Mountains I go. A quote I love my frirnd Ghost recently shared….

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength, to the body and soul alike”. ~ John Muir

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