PCT SOBO Miles 1653.7 to 1714.2
Dorothy Lake to Ireland Creek
October 3rd-5th, 2017
DAY 81: Dorothy Lake to Kerrick Canyon at mile 1672
18.3 miles Elevation: +2,621 ft/ -3,689 ft
Waking up near the Lake this morning it was 24 degrees on my thermometer and felt colder due to the moisture in the air. I had to go poop right away when I woke up and that’s always fun when it’s sub freezing and dark. I shined my headlamp on the dewy sparkling grasses as I walked into the forest to find some privacy. It was slow getting ready this morning, and we rolled out onto the trail by about 8:10am. The mist was rising on the lake and toiling around in the slight breeze. As I walked those first steps of the day I stopped to take some photos despite the freezing temps. It’s always worth the temporary discomfort of cold, stiff hands and snot freezing to your face, to get those photos. They become the memories.
The early morning miles were flat but slow because of several obstacles along the path such as frozen mud, roots, half frozen puddles, uneven rocks and sometimes a very narrow place in which to place your feet. It’s just not 3 mph territory right here! An early second breakfast break in the sun allowed us to observe some thick clouds building and we wondered what this might become? Lost Time and Laces typically hike faster than I do, so we agreed on a lunch spot 8 miles up the trail. We had a bit of climbing to do that day, and a lot of it was quite steep, plus the altitude was a factor now at over 9,000ft, plus the cold air, my lungs could feel it. It was definitely an adjustment I was still making! As I climbed, the sky was getting darker and darker and at one point I swore I saw a few snow flakes landing on me. I totally denied it though and pushed on. There was no snow in the forecast, and I know the Sierra’s are known for afternoon storms that come in fast and leave just as fast, so I wasn’t worried. However, by the time I reached said lunch spot by a stream, it was full on snowing. I found Lost Time and Laces there messing around with packing their gear so that it would stay dry in thier packs, and I quickly did the same. We discussed options for what to do. We decided to keep moving and make as many miles as we could before more snow accumulated, clearly not knowing what was going to happen. It made the most sense to keep going rather than stop and camp. We wanted to stay warm and dry, and agreed that if that became difficult to do, we could stop for the night. So, we quickly crammed some snacks into our faces, me, a tortilla with cheese and shook up an iced coffee, packed a few snacks into my hip belt pocket and we were off!
I fumbled around with my umbrella, trying to get it to stay in place so I could use my hands with my trekking poles to hike uphill, but the efforts were futile. I eventually ditched the umbrella because it was slowing me down, having to fuss with it. Along one of the uphills, we ran into another thru-hiker, “Money Moustache” who was also hiking with an umbrella, but his was actually staying in place, ha! We stopped to chat with him for a minute and then all kept pushing on to stay warm. I had sent for a weather forecast from my Garmin In Reach and it gave me a report of only 25% chance of snow today and then the next 5 days were supposed to be totally sunny, so that gave us the confidence to push on and not worry about too much snow accumulation. We had more climbing to do and it was a battle of trying not to sweat too much, trying to stay warm, but not get hot, trying to push but not to the point of sweating, and threfore getting hypothhermic. The climbs were steep and somewhat technical, and I reflected back on last year when we descended all this in loose, slippery snow. Well, I did that, I can do this!
After cresting that climb I found myself amongst a small forest of mixed Western Cedars and Aspens who’s quaking leaves had recently turned golden, and the trail was lined with drying Mule’s Ears that had been graced with a fresh dusting of snow. The sky decided to clear just slightly, enough for some sun to poke through, and light up the Aspens against a gray layer of cloud. It was still lightly snowing and this whole scene reminded me of being in Hawaii when it’s raining but the sun is out. Expect rainbows. I paused and took some photos, listened to the quiet, took it all in, the synergy of the moments of changing light were astounding. I can’t remember feeling more at peace than I did then, in quite some time. I had been struggling earlier in the day, pushing to make the climbs, digging in deep to keep going despite the snow and cold, and then this happens. These are the moments that make it all so worth it, these glorious, magical, fleeting moments that pass so quickly in real time but last forever in your heart.
We hiked on to the middle of another climb and found a great place to camp amongst some big rocky slabs that followed Kerrick Canyon creek. We had sunset views lookong all the way down the canyon and walls a thousand feet high on either side of us, towering overhead and making me feel just so small. I am in complete awe. The sunset was glowing red and as we were setting up our tents, Money Moustache came by. We invited him to join us but he was going to push on a little further for the night. Lost Time and Laces braved the cold and set up their cooking gear right near my tent, which was really nice, so I actually sat there with them eating right out of my vestibule, staying tucked into my big warm puffy sleeping bag.
DAY 82: Kerrick Canyon to Matterhorn Creek
16 Miles; Elevation: +4,179 ft/ -4,004 ft
I woke at 6:15am and when I got out of my tent to pee it was 22F, not bad. I’d thought it would be colder because we were camping above 9,000 ft. I pushed out of camp ahead of Lost Time and Laces, as we were all planning on a big day, 23 miles, so I felt I needed a head start. As I walked over the path of fresh fallen snow, I reveled in the white world that surrounded me. I pushed up the remainder of the climb and started feeling warm enough to layer down within about 20 minutes. I had started hiking with my down puffy on, so that I can put my hands into my pockets to keep them warm, but suddenly I get hot. I can feel the heat just under my skin coming to the surface and wanting to break through my pores. That’s when I know it’s time to layer off. I checked the temperature and it was only 25 F, how crazy is that? I suppose I am adjusting.
I love walking in this dusting of snow and I realized as I walked how I’m witnessing the world change from one season to another, but in the opposite direction from what I hiked through last year. Last year I witnessed the thaw, the frozen world waking from it’s slumber. This time I’m witnessing the transition from Fall to Winter, things beginning to freeze, light fading, colors lacking green chloryphyll, the nights getting longer. I came to a lovely flat section of trail where there were small ponds surrounded by large boulders and slabs of granite. The water had begun to freeze, it had a thickening layer of ice forming on top, with cracks and swirls on the surface. I wondered how long it would be before it turned thicker and whiter and felt privileged to be there, witnessing this brief biological shift.
We had agreed to meet at Smedgerg Lake for lunch and what I’d remembered it to be and what it actually was, were two different things. No matter though, it was a beautiful sunny day and I got there just about 10 minutes after Lost Time and Laces. We dried our damp gear out in the sun, sat at the lake’s edge on the granite and I stared endlessly into the clear turquiose water. I can’t tell you judt how very manybtimes eavh dsy, I day to mysrlf “Wow, this is so beautiful….I am so lucky to be here”.
Staring at that water though, I wished it were Summer and hot enough to swim. But its not. My water bottle literally had ice chunks in it all morning so it was difficult to drink any water, so I was grateful for at least a water source I could easily filter from and attempt to get more hydrated. Over lunch we talked about options and plans for getting into Mammoth for our next resupply. We tossed around different plans and strategies and evaluated how much food we each had. It seemed we were all a bit low on food, on account of low miles due to the snow the day before. We wondered how the guys were doing up on the High Route and how the snow day went for them, hoping they were all safe. We joked about Hurl Goat being able to survive the Apocalypse becausd he carries massive amounts of food and, well, he’s sort of bomb proof. We loosely decided it made more sense to try hitching from Hwy 120 at Tuolomne Meadows the next day into Lee Vining to buy more food. That plan allowed us to take a longer lunch break and stop to camp earlier that night.
We left Smedberg Lake by around 2:30pm as such and hiked only until 5:10pm amongst the lovely flat area of Matterhorn Creek. This area is a nice wide meadow, similar to Lyell Canyon in Toulumne, with a narrow, carved out sandy trail. We found a lovely, perfectly flat spot in the trees, tenting sites on top of pine needle forest floors and a fire ring. As we were setting up, Money Moustache walked by our camp again, and we invited him to join us again, but he continued on. He apparently had not made it that far the day before either and wanted to squeeze in some extra miles. I was happy to stop early, we had done quite a bit of climbing and sitting by a fire sounded perfect. So, we built a small, ambient fire, warming our faces as we cooked our dinners, and enjoyed conversation as the light from the stars and the moon began to appear out of the fading blue, now blackening sky.
DAY 83: Matterhorn Creek to Tuolumne Meadows/Ireland Creek
26.2 miles Elevation: +3,707 ft /-3,264 ft
Journal Excerpt: Wow, it’s so late ! It’s 9:29pm already, and I am all nestled and tucked into bed. We hiked late tonight, until after dark, but never put on our head lamps. We reached Ireland Creek area in Lyell Canyon by around 8:00pm and ran into several other hikers there. One woman, Gabby, was trying to make it 8 more miles (Nobo) to Tuolumne so she could call her family to let them know she was safe. I hope she makes it! My neck and upper back are super sore tonight, killing me actually, and I think my pack straps are getting looser as they wear down, which is not helping. Maybe it’s just all the steeper climing? Pack weight? Fatigue? High mileage? Hard to say.
We left camp around 7:15 am this morning, it was barely light out, and we decided to not hitch into Lee Vining after all, and instead, share what food we collectively had and Yogi food off of day hikers when we made it to Tuolumne. That way we would not loose a day hitching around and we could get into Mammoth sooner and rest. We had a plan.
The climbs this morning were better for me today compared to yesterday, my pack does feel a little lighter and I really think the stopping short yesterday and getting a longer night’s rest helped immensely. We took a break for lunch at Glen Aulin at the giant waterfall and sat in the sun on the beach. The sun was so intense I had to use my umbrella for shade. There’s still quite a bit of water flowing, and Tuolomne Falls was a-gushing and beautiful as ever.
After the waterfalls, we hoofed it as fast as we we could to get to Tuolomne so we could find some people to Yogi food from. The trail leads to a long dirt road into a large parking lot just before reaching Highway 120/Tioga Pass road. The very first truck with people we came across looked good, and they had coolers in the back! The people were sitting in chairs, and looked friendly enough so we struck up a conversation with them. The usual stuff about thru-hiking and glorifying some of our stories happened and then we asked if they knew whether any of the stores were open because we were low on food. Bingo! They ended up hooking us up with several snacks: Peanut M & M’s, Almonds, Granola Bars, Gatorade and then they started handing us beers. Oh yes, hit the spot! We chatted with them for about 45 minutes and then were on our way, with our provisions and what made us feel like we had just enough to get through to Mammoth. Yogi-ing success! Expect rainbows, get rainbows.