PCT SOBO Mile 1714.2 – 1769
Ireland Creek to Pocket Meadow
October 6th-9th, 2017 (including a zero in Mammoth)
Elevation Change: +10,363 ft / -10,343 ft
DAY 84: Ireland Creek, over Donohue Pass, to Agnew Meadows
21 miles +3,729 ft /-4,299 ft
It was such a late night last night, but worth making it to Tuolomne. I slept well, just not enough, and when morning came, it was only the whirring of Laces’s stove that made me gain consciousness. That sound is my alarm clock. dang it, I have to wake up now! Fortunately, my biology also forces me out of bed and I brave the 27 degree weather to pull down my pants and do my business. We got on trail by 7:15am and started the long ascent up to Donohue Pass. I reflected on the first time I climbed this pass, in 2013, when I was doing my first solo hike of the JMT. I had no idea what even a pass was. Really. I knew it was going to be a climb, but I did not know how to tell where I was, this was before the days of Apps that have a GPS system.
Now, that almost feels like cheating to me. I had climbed about 60% of the pass when it started getting dark and I could not find any place to camp. I had scurried off into the brush and found a semi-flat place to pitch my tent on a rock ledge. It was windy and getting quite cold. I was not confident about my safety sleeping there that night, and so I decided to push on, even if that meant going “all the way” over the pass. As I pushed on about a mile further, I came to a flattish section where there was a perfectly wonderful tent site, and another hiker there to boot! I was so relieved, it brought tears to my eyes. Come to realize later that I was not all that far up the climb after all, and had I actually gone over the pass that night I would have been in a bit of a dangerous situation. Trusting instincts is definitely the way to go. I learned an important lesson that day. Looking back on that now, four years later, and my third time climbing Donohue, I realize how far I’ve come. Not just how many miles, but how much I’ve learned, how much I’ve grown, changed, and become. How much I’ve become the person I want to be. There is a great quote by Emerson that I love, which is: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be”. I love that. So, as I climbed steadily, I reflected on all this and felt happy about the person I have become over the past four years.
After I passed that tent site, in anticipation of the climb, I layered all the way down to my shorts and t-shirt. It might not have been the best decision, as I was still in the shade, in about 32 degrees, but I was already about to become all sweaty. There enlies the innate challenge of hiking in the high mountains in the Fall, what to wear? I usually start in my shorts, leggings, long sleeve, puffy and head buff and fingerless gloves. The puffy is always the first to come off, and then soon the rest, down to the shorts and tee. I hate to get all sweaty and then stop and get hypothermically cold, but it’s almost a futile battle. Oh well, at least here in the High Sierra, we have so much sun, it is almost guaranteed to come out at least part of every day. Today was no different and by the time we reached the summit of the pass, it was full on sun, but touched with a very chilly air at over 11,000 ft.
The climb was beautiful, that’s an understatement, and those of you reading this who have done it, know what I mean. You traverse a big open slope that leads across a water outlet and then ascend a staircase like trail that must have taken considreable effort to build. It’s almost like stairs leading you to heaven. At the top, we sat in the sun with puffy jackets on, and ate snacks, lots of them. I was hungrier than I thought I was, and thats what altitude can do to you.
We started thinking about getting to Mammoth and wondering if we could get a hold of the post office to see if we could get our packages, so Laces began to make a series of phone calls with her very limited cell signal. She must have tried calling them 100 times between the pass and the next several miles, never getting an answer, just a busy signal. Frustrating, as we would be getting to the PO in the morning, on a Saturday, when they are apparently closed. We read some notes on our Guthook App that sometimes you can knock on the door in the morning and someone “might” answer and be nice enough to retrieve your package for you. We crossed our fingers. We’ll see tomorrow.
For lunch we stopped at 1,000 Island Lake, where there is a stunning view of Banner Peak that likes to reflect itself on the water. The first time I came through here, I remember my jaw dropping to the floor, thinking this must be what Patagonia looks like. I had no idea that places like this existed in California no less. It never ceases to impress me, and each time I’ve been here, the conditions are just different enough that I am never bored. That’s indeed the beauty of any place in the wilderness, as it is always changes from season to season, year to year, even day to day.
Today, it was clear with some nice clouds, not much of a breeze, and the sun had become almost unbearably intense. Believe it or not, we were ducking under the shade of an old, gnarled Cedar tree for a lunch break, as if we were escaping the harsh desert sun. It was that strong! I was so hungry when I got there, and I had thought that Lost Time and Laces were not taking a lunch break and felt almost defeated. But then I quickly realized that they were going to eat, too, and then I was relieved. I stuffed my face with crazy amounts of chips and the like. We weren’t relaxed though, because the shade was waning and we really needed to push on to make it to Agnew Meadows before dark. The parking lot there at the High Trail is the first access point along the PCT to get to the town of Mammoth Lakes, and we were counting on getting a hitch (fingers crossed). The trail head is not all that busy, and if we were to not get a hitch we would have to walk another 5 miles on a road to the Mammoth Ski Lodge where we might be able to get a shuttle that takes you into town. That’s a lot of “mights”. We remained optimistic though and pushed on soon after finishing our food.
The afternoon trail could not have been more beautiful. The PCT takes you up high on a ridge that overlooks a deep valley where tall walls of granite rise up on the other side. If you look closely you can see alpine lakes tucked up in the pockets of granite and waterfalls gleaming down from their outflows. Even more than that beauty, peculiar to this season, were all the golden Aspen trees. We must have been hitting this trail at the height of Aspen season, because every single tree was literally glowing yellow. We all were stopping to take photos, and with the afternoon light, it made it even better to capture on film. The sun was sinking behind the towering walls of the ridge on the other side and the whole sky turned a deep orange. It was hard to keep moving as fast as we needed to, so I would periodically jog to make up for the time.
We had bets going on what time we would arrive at the trail head and whether we would score a ride. We were not off all that much on our bets and made it around 6:15pm too the parking lot. As we cruised into the lot, there was a parked red Audi with all it’s doors open and a guy loading up his car after what looked like a fun day in the out of doors. I wasted no time and unabashedly asked him if he was driving to Mammoth. He said yes and I then asked if he would be willing to take three PCT hikers into the town. His female companion inside the passenger seat immediately shot a harsh glance his way and then looked at us with a little less than warmth. When he agreed to take us, her looked changed from stern to surprise and then disbelief. He, however, seemed perfectly fine with it. I am sure she was not happy about having three dirty, surely smelly, hikers piling into her clean shiny car. But we scored the ride! I guess finger crossing works!
We made it to the Motel 6 and got all checked in, then proceeded to the Pizza place just up the road for dinner. We ordered massive amounts of food, beer, wine, salad, all the things we crave when we can’t have them. As we were waiting for our food, a woman approached us and introduced herself as Gabby, the hiker we had met the night before in Tuolimne Meadows! What a small world, we were amazed and so happy to see her. She had made it all the way to Tuolomne the previous night and had gotten a hitch into Mammoth. She joined us for dinner, and soon we were also joined by Tall Joe and Mr. Clean! It was great to have them join us and we were all a chatter in between full mouths of pizza and salad. The food and beer coma soon hit us all and it was time to get back to our rooms and shower and get to bed for the night. Town feels good…yes indeed.
DAY 85: ZERO in Mammoth Lakes
Somehow it is never enough sleep! On town days we tend to stay up too late, and our bodies are conditioned to wake up and hike, so we all woke up around 6:30am and roled around under the sheets with the black out curtain drawn, trying to pretend that the sun wasn’t up. Regardless, the body knows. When it’s time to hike, it’s time to hike! Except when it’s time to go to Schatt’s Bakery. And when that time has come, it’s a darn good day. Let me just tell you, I L-O-V-E Schatt’s Bakery. When I realized I was awake, I wasted no time to walk across the street for my cup of hot coffee and chocolate croissant. The R-E-A-L deal. The BEST outsife of France.
I sat in the cafe, scratching notes in my journal and enjoying the process of waking up in the quiet, dark corner of the room. Soon, Lost Time and Laces joined me and hence forth began the process of zero day hiker chores: after eating, rushing over to the P.O. to see if we could get our re-supply boxes and we got lucky! There was a very nice lady who worked at the P.O. and she got our packages for us, problem solved! Then, it’s getting laundry done, then getting ice cream, then going meticulously through the maps and trail notes for the next section in order to plan our meals down to the bar, literally, so that we neither ran out of food nor carried too much extra weight. After all that brain work, it’s time too eat again, and we went for lunch at BaseCamp Cafe. By then, it’s 1:00pm and we still have to shop for resupply. We take a walk down to Vons and run into Tall Joe and Mr. Clean there, I swing into a thrift store and purchase a pair of warm gloves (with fingers) for $2 followed by a stop at the gear store foor a pair of warmer leggings in which to sleep. I get Ice Breakers (Merino Wool) on sale 30% off, so I “only” paid $75 for them, but dang are they warm! All this while I keep telling myself that I am going to hole up in a coffee shop and work on my blog, but by the time I make it back to the other end of town, it’s already 5:00 and all the coffee shops are closing down.
I end up blogging in the hotel room, but only after I realize I need to repair my sleeping pad because it has a hole in it creating a small leak. The previous two nights I woke up to blow air into it three times, less than fun. I get the repair complete after wading in knee deep water atvyhe hotel pool with my air pad, looking forvthe tiny pinhole to release little bubbled… and after a short blogging session, organizing my food, talking with my Dad for a few minutes, well, guess what time it is? Yes, you got it, time to eat!
We had been talking non-stop about getting Chinese food and I knew of just the place, called Red Lantern. Except that it was closed. Dang it. We found another place called Wok and Roll, something or other, and walked over there but it was dold out for the night. By now, we had heard from the “boys” (Shameless, Bellows and Hurl Goat) that they had come into Mammoth from the High Route because they had eaten most of their 10 day supply of food in five days! They wanted to join us for dinner, sweet! All in all, we ended up at a Thai Restaurant and there were 8 of us. We sat in the tiny waiting area sipping beers while they got a table big enough prepared for us. After about a 20 minute wait the table was ready, just as the boys showed up. Gabby joined us as well, as did Money Moustache, so it was quite the boisterous group. The boys had all sorts of stories about their adventures on the High Route, which we were all very curious to hear about. Hurl Goat sat next to me and I taught him how to use chopsticks as he showed me his photos on his “fancy” camera that he carries. I was absolutely amazed at the beauty up there and vowed to hike that route soon! I enjoyed hearing him telling stories in his unique enthusiastic manner and we all laughed so hard all night. It was a really fun time, all of us there together, the times you will never forget.
DAY 86: Mammoth Lakes/Agnew Meadows to Deer Creek (side trip to Devil’s Postpile)
14 Miles; Elevation: +2,300 ft / -1,525 ft
The morning came too soon once again, ugh! I woke up at around 6:30am and felt like I needed to get moving. First things first, I sleepily walked over to Schatt’s for my coffee and chocolate croissant, plus an egg sandwich to fuel me up for the day. Okay, I will admit, I also got a chocolate croissant “to-go” because nothing tastes better at lunchtime than that! I took advantage of the early morning hours to finish my blog, and tried my best to wake up after only about 6 hours of “rest”. That’s just the thing, zero’s just never seem to be restful, unless you take two zeros, and then, only then, your body starts to feel like it can slow down. Then it’s trouble, because you want to really rest, and then it’s just dangerous because then you really can’t hike. So, you have to just push yourself and get going before that allhappens. A viscious cycle!
I was lucky to get a ride back to the trail with Tall Joe and Mr. Clean who had arranged a ride with someone from their hostel, a guy travelling who was from Czeck Republic, I think. My memory eludes me right now. We made it to the trail by about 10:00am and started the lazy walk towards Devil’s Postpile, where we had loosely agreed to meet up with Lost Time and Laces aftervthey got a hitch out. Just as we got to the trail junction they strolled up. Perfect! We all went to the Postpile, took photos like tourists and climbed up to the top of the towers of perfect hexagonally spired stones. This place is seriously so cool! I’ve been there several times now, but I never get sick of it, it’s stunning. There were a lot of tourists there though, so we ducked around the corner and luckily found a picnic table there where we happily took a snack break. Our mileage goals for the day were not all that lofty, so we did not feel under pressure at all.
We hiked to Deer Creek that night and arrived by 5:30pm and made a fire, we all sat around cooking food, chatting and feeling quite content. My pack was quite heavy with all the resupply food, but hey, that smoked Salmon is 100% worth it! There was a bottle of Jim Beam getting passed around, and out of character for me, but becoming more “normal” was that I was happy for a few swigs of that juice. Boy does it hit the spot in times like these, warming your chest and insides, soothing, just right. Well, with all of that, I found it easy to get to bed early that night and planned on a solid 8 hours of sleep, to be ready for the 21 miles planned for the next day. Fingers crossed, sleep would be my friend and the miles tomorrow would melt away like a watercolor in the rain. That’s what I hoped for anyway, we’ll see, we’ll see what tomorrow brings. Good night.
DAY 87: Deer Creek to Pocket Meadow, over Silver Pass
21 miles; Elevation: =4,334 ft /-4,519 ft
Journal Excerpt: It’s 9:21pm, long, hard day. But awesome! I slept very well last night and was definitely warmer with my new leggings. The wind picked up though, especially up high in the trees, but I was so comfortable and warm, it bothered me not. I got on trail b y 7:50am despite a 6:30am wake up, and had a bit of a climb up to Purple Lake and then Lake Virginia. My body hurts today, in various places, so I took it slower and took several breaks, all the while thinking back to when I first hiked this section four years ago, and loving it just as much. We took a long lunch break at Lake Virginia, one of my favorite places along this section. One thing I love about it is that the sun always seems to hit it just so that all the glimmers on top of the water seem to shine right at you, no matter what angle you stare at it from. Spectacular.
It was all frozen and covered with melting snow and ice last year, and I remember we had to traverse a long way around the inlet to get across without getting totally wet. There were lots of rocks and lots of post-holing, quite different from today, quite. Today, Tall Joe had gotten out of camp first and made it to the Lake where he found a lovely spot in the sun to bathe in. Sunbathe, that is, as Tall Joe likes to do. Soon we were all together and enjoying a leisurely break once again, on a perfect Fall Sierra day. I made a cup of Earl Grey Tea and made sandwiches with smoked salmon, what a treat! That all gave me the energy I needed for the afternoon climbing up Silver Pass, at close to 11,000 ft.
It’s a long descent into Tule Hole after Lake Virginia, and the valley below with a snaking river was so inviting. The water flowed like it was still Summer, the volume still imppressive. We got to the big bridge and crossed the drainage, water shattering your ears, then began the climb up to the Lakes below Silver Pass, Warrior Lake, Chief Lake and the like. You follow a creek all along that climb and cross it a couple times, eventually leading to a flat bench hosting the Lakes which have an outlet and many small boulders to rock hop across. The water here is crystal clear, just so clean and pure and we have all been remarking on just how clear the water is! We stopped at Warrior Lake for a water fill-up and snacks, photos, and generally to be lazy and rest before the final push to the pass. What a perfect place to do so, it was simply divine.
With granite walls towering in a semi-circle all around the Lake and the pass looming out of sight up ahead, it really felt like we are “away” from civilization. That was, until we hiked a bit further uphill and suddenly at a trail junction we found a food cache of some sort. It was strange, seemingly like a Boy Scout Troop maybe had left some MRE meals there for a later date. We had hoped it was PCT hiker trail magic, but to our dismay, it was not. Nonetheless, we sifted through it all just our of pure excitement for what “might” be there for us.
The remainder of the climb was easy and at one point we had a short snow traverse to cross over. It was quite icy and steep, but short and fairly easy to cross. After that we were at the top at around 11,000 ft, and I just kept marvelling at how in the world we got up, over and down this last year with all that snow! I could not imagine it, it looksed so different. Again. Another world entirely.
Then, we descended a steep switchbacky section that I also did not remember, that is, until we reached Silver Pass Creek, which was actually one of the largest waterfalls I have ever seen on trail last year. This year, and the years previous that I hiked here, you would not even know it was a waterfall at all. Last year we had to ford the creek and we got drenched from all the spray, it was magnificent. This year it was a trickle and a rock hop at best. Next was Mono Creek, another difficult ford from last year, which I never could have crossed alone, and so I approached it with some trepidation this time around. It was getting dark and I expected fully to have to ford this thing. We get there just as dusk was setting in, and it was easy peasy lemon squeezy. So crazy what a difference a season makes! We made it to camp then just after dark, got all set up and was glad to be done for the day, with a very sore neck and feet ready for a break. It was a god day, and tomorrow we will climb Selden Pass. Love this place, I love this life!