October 12th-15th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 1806.2-1824 Evolution Lake over Muir Pass to Dusy Basin (plus Bishop Pass out and back, 22 miles) to Palisade Creek
DAY 90: October 12th-Evolution Lake, Over Muir Pass to Dusy Basin
17.5 Miles +3,800 ft / -3,500 ft
I slept so well that night in Evolution Valley, under that ever-expanding sky, graced with the presence of the granite walls surrounding me, that ancient earth energy, so little touched by humans, feels so pure and pristine, sleeping on the Earth at that spot on the planet, well, how could I not get a great night’s rest?
I woke to 15 degrees outside that morning, it was 6:30am and just the faintest bit of light was starting to creep into the valley. I had to go dig a poop hole immediately, and that’s always hard when it’s so cold and dark out, but you really have no choice. This is a good thing, it makes you tougher, in my opinion. It may sound silly, but I truly believe so, having to brave the cold, when every bit of your being just wants to stay in your warm sleeping bag and lay there all tucked in. The air is so frigid by comparison, and you have to then go searching around for the appropriate place to poop. You need privacy, you need the right soil, you need to be a certain distance away from the trail, tents and any possible water sources. In Evolution Valley, this is a tall order….hmmmm…where to go? Sometimes, it gets quite urgent, and that really is an exercise of mind over matter. You have to expose your bare bum to the freezing air, and fuss with all those layers. It’s kind of a hassle, but I’ve come to accept it as part of my day. It’s just what we do out here.
Being in the Sierra’s, being back in Evolution Valley, I have a certain sense of coming “home”, like I kow this place now. I started to realize that I feel not like I’m on a thru-hike, but more like this is just my life and right now, I happen to be hiking through the Sierra’s. It feels separate from the PCT for some reason. I’ve obviously been looking forward to it for such a long time, talking about it ad nauseum to those who have never been up here, and keeping all my hopes intact about the weather, praying for no snow so we could make it all the way through. Well, we’ve been extremely lucky so far, it may be cold in the mornings, I know 15 degrees is a new record for me, but during the day, as you know, I am back in shorts and a t-shirt, soaking up the sun. It is nothing short of amazing. Day after day, turn after turn, view after view, I just keep saying to myself “it just doesn’t get any better than this” and I truly feel that in my heart. What more do you need or want?
Everyone in our group was buzzing about climbing the famous Muir Pass today. We camped about 5 or 6 miles shy of the pass, where the Muir Hut sits. This will be my 4th visit to Muir Hut, and I am just as excited about it now as all the other times. In returning to a place, you bring the past experiences and memories with you, and add the new layers, like a sediment to the old rocks in the desert, time is reflected in the strata, and here, visiting these places once again, I am creating a more interesting story about each of these places. Next time I visit Muir Hut (and there will absolutely be a next time) I will remember today.
I started out on the trail in warming conditions, it was 25 degrees when I started walking, and soon I was crossing the inlet of Evolution Lake, hopping over the large rocks someone precariously layed down who knows how long ago. I made a video crossing that creek, and crossed back and forth a couple times, pausing in the middle of the creek so I could feel suspended in time, with the water rushing on all sides of me. I spent time looking back down the Valley, saying “goodbye for now” as each time I have left this place, I always felt a pang, an ache, in my heart, not wanting to say goodbye, tearing myself away, hedging slowly forward. This time, I took it all in, knowing I was leaving again, but it felt easier I think because I am getting to know this place, and I know I will be back.
What I really need to do, though, is go back for days at one time, instead of always passing through. That is one of the most difficult parts of a thru-hike, you are always leaving beautiful places. You are also always meeting new beauiful places, but time does not stop, not really for long anyway, and it’s almost always time to “move on” down the trail. It rips your heart open over and over again! Well, I moved across that inlet and followed the trail uphill, paralleling the creek, climing higher and into the sun, I was soon sweating. I stopped to layer down and fetch some of this amazingly pure water, it is sacred water to me, and I feel privileged that this water gets to become my body, “I” get to become this water. I filled up my Smart bottle and attached the Sawyer Squeeze filter, and guzzled it there on the spot. I saw Lost Time and Laces down below, making there way across the creek inlet and took a few photos of their silhouettes as the light was just beginning to hit the water down at the crossing, leaving the shadows no chance of survival. LT & Laces rolled up soon and we stood there chatting and smiling.
As I walked further up the trail, my heart was so wide open and receiving the beauty in heaping portions, and I just tried to keep letting it all in. Mr. Clean was soon walking with me, and we caught up with Tall Joe, who had stopped at Wanda Lake for a snack break and water. He was smiling from ear to ear, too. We marveled at the clarity of the water, and started that inevitable conversation about what we were going to eat when we got to town. Tall Joe really wanted Cheesecake. We were anticipating several visits to the famous Erik Schat’s Bakery, and I’d been hyping it up quite a bit, with complete confidence, because it is just that good. So, yes, Tall Joe would get his Cheesecake, and I, my Chocolate Croissants. Meanwhile, bringing our attentions back to the present moment, we snapped photos of eachother with the lake and mountains in the backdrop and set our sites on the Muir Hut where we would all have a break and make hot tea. What a great plan!
I love the climb up to Muir Hut, it’s a lanky, sweeping walk, the trail is so well graded it makes the climb almost un-noticable, except for the thinning air due to the higher elevation. There were still several patches of ice along the trail which I enjoyed crunching into smitherines from time to time, when I wasn’t slipping on it. Soon, I could see the hut in the distance, looking so small, and I tried to guage how long it would take to get up there. I made it to the hut faster than any other time I’d been up there, my friends were already inside making tea. The wind had picked up, and while I was sweating from the climb, the wind felt quite cold and I was grateful for the respite. The door to the hut is a dutch door and the latch on the upper door was sticking so I had to force it open with a big push. I burst into the room and immediately felt the dankness of the cold settled dusty air in the room. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees and when I saw Laces she was almost shivering. I dropped my pack and pulled out y cook set to make tea immediately and snacked on a bar while the water boiled. I fixed a cup of green tea and sipped it as we all sat there chatting, smiling and looking at the views from the little square windows. Muir Hut, 11,974 ft elevation.
Soon, the group was geting restless and chilled, so several started to pack up and head back outside. I followed suit so I could keep up with my friends for the afternoon, and quickly finished my tea, packed up my stuff and ducked back out into the intensely bright sun that you only get at high altitude. We snapped a few photos for each other and started down the quite long descent from the pass. This section of the trail is really beautiful, it feels like you are walking through something very ancient, very sacred, so untouched. Tucked so far back in the back country, taking days to reach, there may be many many visitors here each year, but it still feels like you are really far far away from it all. And you are, you really are, because in your mind and in your soul you are taking an inward journey as well, and if you are truly present in each moment, with each step, you can be a million miles away if you so desire. I so desire. I absolutely love the feeling of being so far out, and going so far in at the same time.
As I followed the loose rocky trail downhill, the valley below revealed a deep crevice, that which we would be walking into. I walked with Tall Joe for a while and enjoyed a little conversation, then he jumped up ahead and then I was ahead of only Mr. Clean and everyone else was up ahead. We’d planned to stop around 2:00pm for lunch, so I just took my time and enjoyed the solitude. I remembered where we had camped last year and how we woke up in the wee hours of the morning to get an early summit to the Pass. Everything was covered in feet of snow, and looking around it all now, I was baffled as to how on earth all these giant boulders and giant spaces of air were hidden? What was I walking over then?
That morning was stunning, the air so crisp, the sun shining bright and the most intense of blue skies contrasted to an all white Earth. I loved that morning, one of my best memories. Continuing on down around the lower lakes beneath the pass, down the winding trail back into treeline, the trail snakes around giant boulders, crosses creeks and rushing water that gurgles underneath black volcanic rock that you have to hop over.
Suddenly, Oh my Gosh, my low abdomen is cramping up real bad, it hurts, I think I may have some gas, or maybe I have to pee. I decided to try and wait it out, but it just keeps getting worse until finally I realize I need to poop, like now! I start frantically looking around for a place, and there is nothing but rock and steep, really steep, slopes along both sides of the trail. This is not good, I start to worry, seriously worry that I may have an accident. So I just stop, right where I was, and throw down my pack. The release of the belt buckle provides immeidate relief of the cramping and I am left with only the urgency. I dig into my pack for my bathroom stuff and scramble up the steep slope, setting loose rocks rolling down the slope, and eventually I find a tree with some soil underneath, enough to dig a hole. You can do this, I tell myself, that familiar voice of encouragement like talking myself down from a ledge, I have had to do this before, and I can do this now, I think, you got this. And I do, I make it without having an accident, phew!
The funny thing was, that as I was up there, I heard footsteps down below, and it happened to be a total stranger walking by on the trail. Unbenuonced to him, I was squatting up there with my pants down, and I could see him, like some kind of spy or better yet, a hunter, yes, a hunter. Feeling fairly feral, I finished my bathroom business, one hundred percent better, and nimbly slided back down the hill to where I left my pack. That was a close call, I thought, and laughed about the absurdity of the situation.
A few miles later I made it to “lunch” and found my little trail family sitting off to the side of the trail witih gear splayed out, food concoctions being made and consumed and Laces all bundled up with her jacket on whereas Tall Joe was laying shirtless in the sun. I picked a sunny spot and put my jacket on too, as the air temps were chilly. I made my lunch of tortillas with mustard, peppper jack cheese and smoked salmon. Wow, is that the most satisfying lunch or what?
LT & Laces staying warm and cool…
Mr. Clean’s Crazy Protein lunch…
After lunch we still had a couple thousand feet to descend into the Big Pete and Little Pete Meadows, and eventually down to the trail junction for Bishop Pass via Dusy Basin. As we walked down down and down, the afternoon light started to take on the warm glow, the section near the Kings River looked ravaged compared to last year. Something BIG had swept through here, destroying many giant trees, and creating a snarled mess, I was fascinated with how different it looked. Fortunately, we were still able to keep on the trail, and as I ended up being in the lead somehow, I really picked up the pace, knowing we still had quuite a long way to go that evening.
At one point LT & Laces even asked me if there was something I knew that they didn’t know since I was walking so fast. Yes, I did, it was the climb up to Dusy Basin. From the PCT/JMT it is 11 miles up through Dusy Basin, over Bishop Pass at over 11,000 ft and down to the South Lake Trailhead. We planned on climbing the 2,500 feet from the PCT/JMT up the Bishop Pass Trail and camping somewhere just a couple miles shy of the pass. So, we had our work cut out for us. That climb is a beast. There is no break in the uphill, just a solid steady gain. But holy shit was it beautiful. I enjoyed that climb that evening as much as I have ever enjoyed anything. The sunlight was slowly disappearing behind the giant rock walls that line the drainage of the Kings River. This place is magical, looking in any direction, you feel so small, you feel the power of the rocks, and the casting glow of the sun was highlighting the yellows of the cottonwood and aspen trees, the timing could not have been more perfect. I could not stop taking photos and I kept looking up and looking around to take it all in, trying still to keep a decent pace climbing.
We all hoofed it up that climb and as usual, I was the last one to make it up. When I popped over the shelf where the trail finally flattened out I was so relieved to be done climbing, as I was drenched in sweat, and the sun was getting more and more out of sight, temps were dropping. After about a mile or so, I saw the entire group huddled closely together and apparently fascinated by something, or looking for a campsite, I wasn’t sure which one. Turns out it was a beautiful buck with a huge rack of antlers, and he was letting everyone get so close to him, so they were all taking photos and gawking at his magestic beauty. Pretty cool.
EditI was so cold though, before stopping to take a photo of the buck I changed out of my wet shirt and layered up, figuring we were stopping soon to camp. We weren’t though, we were pushing on just a little further, and climbing a little more. Dang it, I was feeling pretty done. Oh well, better to push while there is still some daylight. I tramped along slowly so as not to break a sweat again, and again got a bit behind the group, but they were never out of sight. We climbed about another 700ft to where we finally found a flat spot near a little creeklet, so that was home for the night at close to 11,000 ft.
Oh yes, I was ready, super ready, and it was getting quite cold. I found my spot to pitch my tent, and quickly got all set up, bundled up and decided on cooking my dinner and eating inside my tent to stay warm. So, there I was doing my camp chores, the others the same, and the sky is darkening, stars are starting to come out ever so faintly, when we hear “heeeeeey yooouuu guuuuuys” coming from, where? It was Shamless! What the hell? How did he get up here and where did he come from?
We all gathered around him and exchanged hugs, he was wearing his down puffy and all sweaty. I was worried about this, but Shameless is just, well, Shameless, he can handle this stuff, he is not human. Well, either that, or he is a 22 year old guy who is really into self inflicted suffering, yea, that’s it, Mr. Invincible! But, he’s super tough, and always has the best attitude, always laughing, such a great person to be round. Then, only minutes later comes Bellows and Hurl Goat, both in the same condition as Shameless, sweaty and beat up as hell from the High Route, smiling from ear to ear. I went over to give them both hugs too and we all greeted them enthusiastically, hooting and hollering, laughing and so happy they were all okay, they were killin’ it out there, pushing themselves so hard. I thought I’d had a big day, there’s was way bigger. We were all so proud of them for persisting, and relieved they had made it back to us in one piece. It was great, our little trail family all together once again!
Tall Joe walking across granite towards our nearly 11,000 ft camp…
The boys pitched their tents and everyone crawled inside their shelters to get warm. Hurl Goat pitched his tent near mine and I heard him mention he was so low on food and he didn’t have anything sweet for desert, I don’t think he realized anyone heard him though. Well, everyone deserves dome desert after a big day of hiking and climbing, so I walked over and offered him some of my dark chocolate. He gratefully accepted and I slipped it under the vestibule of his tent into his hand. I would only come to find out later, just how much that meant to him.
DAY 91 & 92: October 13th & 14th, 2017
Dusy Basin (Bishop Pass Trail) to South Lake Trailhead
7 Miles; Zero in Bishop
The three boys had decided on going to Bishop for resupply because, again, they had eaten all their food in half the time they expected to. So, they planned to catch a shuttle, that they hoped was running, but weren’t sure, the next morning at 8:00am. This meant they had to get up by 4:30am and start hiking by 5:30am, get up and over Bishop Pass and drop 3,000 ft to the trailhead. I heard them rustling in the middle of the night, zippers sliding, bags being stuffed, and I swear I could even hear their teeth chattering. They took off around 5:30am, as planned, and the last thing I remember hearing from them wad “fuck it’s cold”. And it was, it sure was.
When I struggled to get out of my tent at 6:00am to go pee, it was barely starting to get light out, and my thermometer read 8 degrees F. Okay, new record for me! As I was outside peeing in the absolute cold I heard a coyote howling, that magical, mysterious sound. Later, I would find out it wasn’t a coyote, it was Hurl Goat, that lone Wolf!
I was fortunate to have my Dad’s support once again, and he was planning to meet me at the trailhead and drive me, and as many hikers as we could fit into my Jeep, down to Bishop. We agreed to meet at 10am, so the rest of our group headed out by around 7:20am, trudging up the last bit of the climb to Bishop Pass, sitting at 11,194 ft. It’s stark up there, yet the scenery is second to none. I absolutely love it, it feels so looming and large, the way the granite walls tower over the pass in steep angles, creating crevices and shoots that if one slipped, could be fatal. The trail travels on a steep downhill over several tight switchbacks, and all the while one is staring at these granite monoliths right there next to you. So close, you could touch them, yet they are untouchable.
Soon the trail winds down to timberline and the trees, creeks and lakes begin to dominate the scenery again. Pieces of streams were frozen, edges of lakes were iced over, there were chunks of frozen water in shady spots, yet the sun was shining as strong as ever. I have been marvelling at the fact of being here to witness and observe the land, trees, water and creatures transition from Summer to Fall and now, slowly, towards Winter. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures colder. It is now somewhat difficult to get on the trail much before 7:30am and by 6:00pm it’s really time to start looking for a place to camp. Twenty miles these days seems like a lot. The leaves are turning and falling to the ground, the creeks slowly turning to ice, the night’s getting longer, the stillness, the quiet, the slumber, is beginning. So different from what I have witnessed last year, the unfurling of bright green leaves, the melting of snow and ice, the light returning and days getting longer, the thaw. What a privilege to be here witnessing this transition now, in an entirely new way.
I hiked down and down, and I eventually got too warm and stopped to layer down and gather some fresh water from one of the lakes. Stopping there in the sun, I felt a stillness, a calmness, a happiness that encompasses this entire experience. The surrounding beauty is better than any piece of art, for it is nature’s art and compares to nothing a human could create. I took a few moments to feel this energy, to be grateful, to remember the moment, and then I dashed back to the trail, eager to meet up with my Dad and get to town. Yay, town day!
My Dad was there waiting in the parking lot when I arrived just shortly after 10am and he had already cracked open a few beers for my friends. Thanks Dad, you know it! I walked up and literally dropped my pack down with a thunk and gave my Dad a big hug, shortly followed by opening a fresh cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Oh my gosh a beer at 10am never tasted so good!!
My Dad and I ate breakfast at Jack’s and then checked into the Motel 6, after dropping the others off at the Hostel California, the coolest Hostel on all the PCT (by the way). This place is amazing, and if you ever get the chance, go there, stay a day or two, it is so much fun and super oriented to both hikers, climbers and travelers.
Bishop was also a great town for a zero day, which is what we all ended up taking. The group got a little spread out throughout the day off, doing our various shores and relaxing. We ended up taking a ride to the Jerkey place, and shopping for supplies, getting laundry done and hanging out at the Hostel. That’s not to forget several visits to the amazing Schat’s Bakery, where I ate at least three chocolate croissants and other delights.
Schat’s is where it’s at, go there, you will never be disappointed! They sell all kinds of fresh baked bread, too, not just sweets, they have a deli, great coffee and the “real deal” 100% fresh squeezed OJ. The best!
My Dad and I also took a walk through a park in centrail Bishop, it follows a lovley little creek and there are lots of trees turning to the Autumn gold we all love. I never knew about this park and found the stroll rather relaxing and a nice way to spend some time with my Dad. We also took a short tour of the Mountain Light Gallery, one of my favorite nature photographers who originally inspired me to get into more outdoor adventures, Galen Rowell, has a gallery there. Unfortunately he passed away years ago, and now the gallery is closing. If you are in Bishop anytime soon, try to go check it out!
Lost Time had been craving Chinese food for the longest time, and as we never ended up getting it in Mammoth, we made it a point to do so in Bishop. So the first night we all went out for Chinese at Imperial Gourmet. As there were about eight of us, we were seated at two booths adjacent to each other. I had been texting the group, trying to coordinate the dinner, and Laces had messaged me a “warning” regarding the potentially inebriated state of some of the group (ahem…Mr. Clean and Hurl Goat…). Of course, I did not get the text until we were already seated at the restaurant, and who am I sitting with?
Well, Hurl Goat sat next to me in the booth, and then across from us was my Dad and ….you got it…Mr. Clean. Now, I am so grateful that my Dad has a sense of humor, because Mr. Clean proceeded to tell my Dad the story of how he broke his spoon, not once, but twice, in this last section of the trail, because he was “so high that he got the munchies and ended up trying to spoon out his PB, but it was frozen so he could not scoop it out and it broke his spoon”. I laughed my ass off, as he initiated the conversation by asking my Dad straight up “So, have you ever, uhh, smoked marijuana Jerry?” I could see my Dad hesitate before he answered, with a wry sile on his face, his answer was PC but honest. Well, between me teaching Hurl Goat how to use chopsticks again and Mr. Clean chatting up my Dad, we had quite the entertaining dinner. The other table was full of lively chatter and laughter as well, and we all really enjoyed our meals. Yes, this is the blessing of town. Never take it for granted, and always take advantage of the fact that you are there!
DAY 93: October 15th, 2017
Bishop Pass to Palisade Creek
PCT SOBO Mile 1,824: 16 Miles
Elevation +2,764 ft / -3,954 ft
Journal Entry: It’s 9:03pm, There are 9 of us here at a campsite next to Palisade Creek. Lost Time, Laces, Hurl Goat, Bellows, Shameless, Tall Joe, Mr. Clean and a new kid named Potter we befriended in Bishop. Super cool kid, from Tennessee, about early 20’s, rad red dreadlocks and a very sweet and mellow disposition, always smiling, too!
So we have 8 tents here! I was not exactly looking forward to the climb back up Bishop Pass today, because last year it was one of my most difficult climbs, with a full resupply and all. We picked up Mr. Clean and Tall Joe at the Hostel and the three of us got on trail together. I said goodbye to my Dad and those two told him not to worry, that I would look out for them! Ha!
I had weighed my pack at the hostel, 36.7 pounds, sheesh! But, I’ve definitely carried heavier, that’s for sure. My body hurts, my ankles and knees, and my right shoulder, but what can I do? Keep hiking is all. The three of us passed the time on the climb by talkng about sex. Wow, who would have known how much that takes your mind off the difficulty of climbing a mountain with a fully loaded pack! We laughed at this later on.
On the way back down the pass to the PCT the views were spectacular. The dramatic rock formations, sublime valleys formed by the drainages had filled a little bit with smoke, but the views were stunning nevertheless. This is a long way down, especially with a heavy pack and by 5pm I was feeling pretty tired with a few miles to go still. We stopped at a trail junction where one of my favorite trees lives, a giant Ponderosa, and I always stop there to hug it. This time was no different, and I said hello to the tree.
Feelling energized then, we crushed the next 1.3 miles up along Palisade Creek to a great tentsite where our entire group could fit. The boys had gotten there about an hour earlier and had made a raging fire. So wonderful! We pitchced our tents and all sat out by the fire, eating, chatting and enjoying being all together back on the trail. Tomorrow is the Golden Staircase, Palisade Lakes and Mather Pass, I am so excited! Good Night.