Friends in High Places

PCT SOBO DAYS 78-80, Pennsylvania Creek to Dorothy Lake; Miles 1595-1654

September 30th-October 2nd, 2017

DAY 78: Sept. 30th: Pennsylvania Creek to a “campsite near a stream”

SOBO Mile 1595-1616; 21 miles 

Elevation Change: +4,641 ft/-3,661 ft

The wind was blowing high up in the trees last night and I thought at one point that I heard footsteps outside my tent. Came to realize that it was just the new sounds that my rain fly makes. I am adjusting to all this new equipment. It’s funny how much a simple flap of fabric can alert the senses to thinking that there is a threat, an intruder perhaps. But it’s nothing, just the wind. I did sleep very well in my new sleeping bag though and at this point the cost/inventment in it are not even a question. I know I made the right choice. For those interested it’s a Western Mountaineering 10 degree down bag, the heaviest and warmest of their UL series, weighing in at (i think) 23 oz. compared to my Z Packs 20 degree bag (though comfortable at 40 drgrees) weighing in at 16 oz, this one is bomb proof!

Packing up this morning was a bit awkward due to my different gear. I realize now that I have to reinvent the wheel with regards to how all the things fit inside my pack, in a neat, tidy bundle that I can carry “comfortably” all day long. Already I can tell what the challenges will be. I have a bear canister that digs into my sacrum and spine, I have no room for my overflow food which is now in a bear proof kevlar sack called an Ursack, my clothing barely fits inside my pack which I can now barely close. I have to attach my sandals to the outside with a carribeaner, and my rain fly is strapped on top with no extra room. I have tent poles now, too, which I stuff in a side pocket, but I cut off all my compression straps to save weight, so all my strapping abilities are compromised. Time to be inventive. I have to make this work. 

I finally made it out of camp by 8:45am, so late! Climbing first thing in the morning, I felt sluggish, but my legs seemed to do what I needed them to do. My feet feel pretty good considering, and despite all these little gripes, I’m happy because I will be at Sonora Pass soon. I stopped for lunch at a spot called Noble Lake and fell asleep in the sun, curled up in a ball, for about 20 minutes. I really can’t remember the last time I took a nap on the trail. It was a “thing” last year in the Sierra’s, but this year, it just isn’t practical at all. I needed to be unconscious though, if even for a few minutes. It’s funny to think that I lay there in a little ball, on the side of a lake shore, nestled amongst towering mountains, hundreds of miles from anywhere, just me, there, still, almost dreaming in the sun, the tiniedt dot in a big world. When I woke, the breeze was picking up so I made some hot tea. I packed out my left-over-blueberry-buckwheat pancakes from Tahoe, which were now soggy, and ate them with way too much Jiff peanut butter, and that made me feel a bit sick for the rest of the day. 

I am now in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, yesterday it was the Molekumne Wilderness and have crested above 9,000 feet a few times. I think the digesive issues are not only to blame on too much Jiff, but perhaps the altitude I am adjusting to as well. Nothing in my gut feels okay. I will spare you the details. The afternoon went by fast though and I crossed paths with another thru-hiker named “Keychain”. She was originally going Northbound and had to flip around a lot due to the snow and fires, so she was now heading to Belden, where she would finish her hike. She was super nice and gave me info about my friends whom she’d seen earlier. It sounds like Shameless, Hurl Goat and Bellows are already getting to Sonora today, and Laces, Lost Time, Tall Joe and Travis are just about 5 miles ahead of me. This is all encouraging, because I am hoping to catch them at Sonora Pass. 

DAY 79: October 1st, 2017

“Campsite Near a Stream” to Sonora Pass

Miles 1616-1633; 17 miles

Elevation Change: +4,026 ft/-3,536 ft

I was dreading the difficult climbing up and over the notch that leads down into Sonora Pass at highway 108. I think I set myself up mentally for it though, because it really was not that bad. I am constantly learning the important lesson of the power of the mind. Most of the time, when I anticipate something is going to suck, I spend more time preparing mentally for it, and strategizing on how to break it down into smaller, easier segments. I tried my best to drink more water, and planned on specific snacks that would help energize me. I was lucky because the weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful, sixty degrees, sunny and clear, all along the climb. I sipped on iced coffee and ate super greens energy bars along the way. The scenery was stunning and I had not recalled it being so beautiful from the hike in the opposite direction last year. I passed through little forests of trickling streams, big boulders, giant walls of granite, cascades, lodgepole pines so tall and straight in contrast to the ancient gnarled cedars. 

Along the final climb I crossed paths with some section hikers going North, they were all dressed like they were going skiing, with big jackets, masks and hats on. They looked at me like I was strange, in just a T-shirt and shorts, but…..I’m sorry they seemed overdressed, to me. As I climbed I recalled the snow we slid down last year, and all the time it took us to navigate the route, slipping a sliding, mush and slush. Now, it was nothing more than a couple short snow traverses over steep, rocky trail, leading up to an amazing view that was to be my reward for the day’s hard work.   

As I reached the top I stopped to check for a cell signal, lo and behold I have one! I got a message from Carrot! …and I sent a message to Lost Time & Laces to see where they were, knowing that they probably had no signal anyway, but I really wanted to find them. It was super windy at the top so I couldn’t very well sit there getting chilled, so I snapped a few photos and moved on. The views of the mountains on the other side were spectacular, covered in snow and grand in their stoic presence. In that moment, I felt a wave of excitement for what’s to come. 

But first, I had a long downhill to tackle. I quickly weaved around the snaking trail that led down to the pass, feeling quite nimble. I felt, not only light on my feet, but in my heart. I’m so lucky, this is so amazing!! I made it to the trail head at Hwy 108 by 3:45pm and went looking for the Sonora Pass Resupply Guy. His truck and trailer were parked at the picnic area and when I got there, he immediately knew who I was and called me by name. Creepy? Not really.

Apparently he was expecting me because he had my package, and I was the second to last resupply box for the entire season. As it was cold and windy, Casey invited me in his trailer to get out of the wind. He had my package and sold me a canister of fuel too. He allowed me to plug in my phone to charge it and offered me a hot cocoa, which I gladly accepted. By then I was chilled and outside it was only going to get colder and windier. He had a dog sleeping on the bed and the trailer smelled of cooked hamburger meat. Casey made room for me and my stuff and  I perched along the little couch, glad for it all, the seat, the shelter, the cocoa, and his company. I found out that Tall Joe & Travis had walked further up the trail around 2pm so they were definitely going to be about 10 miles ahead of me. Lost Time & Laces, he had not seen, but I knew they had planned on resupplying at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. I figured they were probably going to stay the night down there, so I sat and chattted with Casey for over an hour and he told ne all about the challenges they faced doing the resupply business up there. I am grateful for their services because its a long way from anywhere. For anyone interested, check out their site at: www.sonorapassresupply.com

Finally, the 5:00 hour had arrived and I started to feel anxious that I needed to stake out a place to sleep and get my food organized and packed, so I thanked Casey and excused myself back out into the freezing wind. And freezing it was. Crap, I thought, where can I get out of this wind? I walked around the picnic area, holding my heavy box and my gas can, bundled up and suddenly feeling very tired and sore. I walked all around and finally decided that if Lost Time & Laces weren’t back at the Pass by now, surely they must still be at the Pack Station, and I envisioned them eating a hot meal and taking a hot shower. Dang, that would be amazing right now!  

I wandered back over to the road to see if anyone had left me a note, there was no note, just the big huge sign. Well, I thought, I can hitch down there and be with friends tonight or I can stay here in the dark, freezing cold wind all by myself. I decided to try and hitch and stood on the crest of the road pass on hwy 108 with my thumb out. The third car that passed by stopped and a couple of very sweet Asian girls got out and asked me where I was going. They were willing to give me a ride, and just as I was about to place my box on their back seat of their SUV I heard some people in the trees nearby. I shot a quick glance over that way and guess what? It was four hikers! It was Lost Time & Laces, along with two other Nobo’s I had not met yet. What were they doing at the pass this late? I was so excited and relieved to see them and they didn’t recognize me at first in my new electric green rain jacket thst I’d ditched since Washington. I called out to them and I thanked the ladies who offered me the ride, explaining to them that these were the friends I was looking for. They looked perplexd, but kindly drove away as I scurried up ino the trees to join my friends. Together again! 

We chatted excitedly in the cold and quickly decided on camping there in a little spot sheltered by some trees. We set up camp and cooked dinner inside our vestibules to stay warm. I made quinoa with lentils and curry and I had a tiny little bottle of Saylor Jerry Rum I was saving for a cold night. It all warmed me up and as I fell asleep that night I felt comforted by my company. I slept well up until midnight when some big ‘ol truck pulled up with a group of guys, who, without any consideration for those asleep, proceeded to pack up gear, snicker, zip, stuff, crunch, cackle, bellow and generally make all sorts of noise until 1:00am when they set off on a trail to….. where? Where is anyone going at 1:00am in the pitch dark at Sonora Pass? Needless to say, we were bitching about them the next morning and joking about slashing their tires. I mean, they even said at one point “oh, hey, there’s people camping there” which was about 40 feet from where they parked, but still continued to make so much noise. They even beeped their car alarm! Ok, that’s my rant. It was obnoxious, but was not going to spoil the epic day we had ahead of us!

DAY 80: October 2nd, 2017

Sonora Pass to Dorothy Lake, Mile 1633-1654; 21 miles

Elevation Change: +3,300 ft/-3,541 ft

Fortunately by morning, the wind had disappeared and the colorless sky promised us another day without any precipitation. We were all well aware of the stellar weather bestowed upon us. Today was not as much climbing as the previous two days but it kicked our butts, because we hit over 11,000 ft. It really makes a huge difference, that extra altitude. But, high places equals beauty. I love getting up high! And now…I have friends, in High Places…

Journal Excerpt: It was so cold this morning, my thermometer read 24 F. We didn’t get on the trail until 8:40am because the sun never hit our camp and we just had a tough time moving along. I’m looking back at all the photos I took today and it is just incredible how much we pack into a day out here! The elevation profile didn’t look like much, but it kicked our butts! We crossed into Yosemite National Park by mile 20 today, crazy, wonderful, magical. I was not looking forward to how heavy my fully supplied pack with 6 days of food was going to feel, but I think I packed it well and balanced, because I was susrprised that it felt “ok”. I would guess the weight to be in the 34 pound range give or take. I actually hiked strong up the climb this morning, there were little snowy patches and I could see how last year where we came down was definitely not the trail! It was sketchy! 

The altitude was a dusy today, we finally cracked 11,000  feet and we entered the Emigrant Wilderness. We took an early break on a lege which jutts out after passing up through a narrow notch, that then overlooks a ginormous valley filled with alpine tarns colored turquoise and off in the distance just more and more mountains as far as the eye can see. It is one of the most stunning views on the PCT, and I recalled the first time I hiked this section 21 years ago. (I was 19 and this was my first long backpacking trip, from Tahoe to Tuolomne, and we had just resupplied at Sonora Pass. We had lots of climbing to do that day, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, as I trudged up the slope at 1mph, that God must be playing a joke on me. I had never done anything so incredibly difficult. Then, I made it to the notch at the top, and there opened up that grand view in front of me….I stood there in absolute awe. I was huffing and puffing and almost in tears, and then all of a sudden, I got it. This is WHY we are here. It all made sense, and I never questioned a difficult climb again.) 

After our break, I set off in the lead and eventually followed a snow patch off some talus up over a crest which I thought was the trail, but turned out not to be. Evidently it was a good choice because the snow we avoided only got steeper and icier. We ended up on a giant field of talus and having to make our way back down around 300 feet to the trail, but it was fun and no harm done. 

We made our first 10 miles of the day (and to the first available water) by 2:00pm, so late! We were exhausted already and took an hour lunch break. I ate: Tortillas with cheese and hummus, trail mix, popcorn, corn chips, chili spiced mango and chocolate with Sunflower butter, and an iced coffee. No wonder I have digestive issues out here, and I’ve been blaming it on the altitude, ha! Strangely, though, I felt fine after eating that food combination. Go figure. We decided to get in another 10 miles or so for the day and aimed for Dorothy Lake, just about a half mile into Yosemite NP and enjoyed a flattish, cruisy section in the afternoon golden light. Very serene. 

By dusk, I was quite chilled, my thermometer read 34 degrees. I had never taken off my long sleeve or my head buff all day and the temps never raised above 50, so it was no wonder. We had hiked a 3.6 mile per hour pace for a little bit, until we hit some more technical trail where there were lots of rocks, roots, water, logs, and big steps which slowed me down. When we arrived at Dorothy Lake, the moon was 3/4 full and already rising above the ridge, casting sparkling light on the top of the doon to be frozen water. The cold air was sinking and I knew it was going to be a colder night so I made hot tea as soon as we got to camp. Lost Time was generous enough to fetch water for all three of us and we all got set up under the moonlight, enjoying our vestibule cooked dinners again and chatting through tent walls. What a Day! What a Life!

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