04 Oct

PCT – Day 96 (04 Oct 18) – Sonora Pass

Miles 1635.7 – 1646.7 >>> 11.0 (17.7 km)

The morning greeted us with beautiful sunshine and we were looking forward to getting on to the trail.

Blue skies all around.

Breakfast first though and we went back to Rhino’s. Then it was time for resupply and we paid a lot of money at the General Store.

Then it was time to set up at the side of the road and stick our thumbs out. However, I really felt like having another coffee and went over to the Snap ‘N’ Crackle Candy store across the road and picked up four paper cups with hot black brew in them. Shortly after I’d returned to the other two, a very nice couple couple stopped and offered us a ride. Unfortunately they didn’t actually drive in our direction. Fortunately they were really, really nice though, and offered to drive us there anyway – a 64 mile (103 km) detour for them. Amazing!

Real trail angles.

As we approached Sonora Pass, the clouds moved back in and it was turning grey, and rainy, and cold. Yay, something to look forward to.

As we got dropped off, it was actually drizzling and we draped ourselves in our rain gear and gathered at the Toiyabe National Forest sign.

It’s freezing cold and rainy.

Here we ran into a local hiker in his late 60s, who just started a week long trip into the Sierras. He was carrying an amazing amount of stuff with him and proudly draped himself into a Gore-Tex tarp before hiking off. Incredible. Maybe that’s why he seemed so grouchy. We quickly left him behind however and went up into the mountains.

Just south of Sonora Pass.

Guess what. Basically the moment we started hiking, it started to snow and hail. The low hanging clouds also draped us in wet cold fog.

Nasty weather.

Even though it was ridiculously cold and the weather plain miserable, we all had a marvelous day. The scenery was awesome and even though we all got frozen to our cores, we were happy like kids in a candy store.

Great hiking weather.

In between the clouds lifted and we could admire the scenery, with it’s amazing colors.

Snowy mountain tops.

The landscape became completely barren as we were approaching Leavitt Peak.

Can you spot Trouble in this picture?

It was so cold that I was actually wearing my balaclava and rain skirt for extra protection. It was necessary.

Just about to rob an ice cream parlor.

We stopped at a little plateau for snacks and a brief moment out of the wind and enjoyed the views beneath us.

From left to right: Leavitt, Koenig, and Latopie Lakes.

Then it was time to move on and we went back to ice and wind.

Trouble hiking in front of me.

The clouds were highly variable and we were hiking in thick fog one moment, and then a beautifully clear spell the next.

Break in the clouds on the south-eastern ridgeline of Leavitt Peak.

Then the trail went downhill and it got a tiny bit warmer.

The shelter of the forest is beckoning.

As we walked down into the forest, we were so happy that it was a little warmer and that we were somewhat sheltered from the wind that we decided to set up camp early and found a spot just after five.

Trouble’s tarp in the background for additional wind shelter.

It was still freezing cold and we had dinner and our obligatory apple cider with cinnamon whiskey. Sunset was at 6:37 pm and we were all in our sleeping bags fast asleep soon after.

What an amazing day.

05 Oct

PCT – Day 97 (05 Oct 18) – Dorothy Lake

Miles 1646.7 – 1665.7 >>> 19.0 (30.6 km)

Frost. That’s what we woke up to in the morning. Everything was covered. So we had oatmeal and coffee instead of getting up.

Frosty welcome.

Once we got going though (at around 8:30 am, ahem), it was beautiful to walk through a landscape that sparkled like diamonds in the sun.

These diamonds ain’t forever.

The sun was still strong enough to lend some warmth to our shivering bodies and the walking got easier by the minute.

Great slabs of granite near the West Fork West Walker River.

The terrain quickly changed to what one would envisage the Sierras to look like. Granite, pine trees, and snow covered mountains.

Looking towards Forsyth Peak.

Towards noon, we got really excited, for we approached the “only-1,000-miles-left” marker (1,600 km). We stopped, and congratulated each other, and had a sip of celebratory whiskey.

Group photo at the 1,000 miles left marker.

We moved on quickly though, because we were all excited to soon make it into Yosemite Wilderness. First stop was Lake Harriet though, which looked gorgeously green below us.

Lake Harriet.

Things looked soon more and more High Sierra-ish, with snowy mountains around us and breathtaking scenery.

Stella Lake to the left.

We made it into Yosemite at twenty past one and only hiked a little bit more, before we stopped for lunch at the shores of Dorothy Lake.

For a brief insane moment we contemplated going for a swim, but ultimately decided heroically against it and just had lunch there.

Dorothy Lake.

For good measure, we had a bald eagle fly directly over our heads while we were eating. Pretty special.

We spent an hour there, before we finally moved on.

Following Falls Creek, between Bigelow and Keyes Peaks.

We spent the afternoon hiking through some gorgeous meadows and were following the flow of Falls Creek down a narrowing valley.

Falls Creek, just before the junction with Tilden Creek.

Towards the end of it, the grassy meadows morphed into pure granite again.

Back to granite land.

We found a spot in between some trees at the shores of Wilma Lake on the south-eastern side and were glad to set up camp.

We only managed to cook dinner after it was already dark at around seven. Ichor’s red headlamp looked like the Terminator to me.

Terminator Ichor.
06 Oct

PCT – Day 98 (06 Oct 18) – Benson Lake

Miles 1665.7 – 1680.2 >>> 14.5 (23.3 km)

It had been raining during the night, but when we packed up at around 7:30 am, the sky was dry and looked promising.

Packing up.

There was some beautiful morning fog over the lake, which got us into a good mood to start the day.

Morning fog over Wilma Lake.

We did start a steep-ish 1,000 ft (300 m) climb of just over a couple of miles (3.2 km) almost immediately, but the views from the top were fabulous.

On the south-western ridgeline of the Macomb Ridge.

At around ten, we caught up to Ichor, who’d stopped for second breakfast on a nice big granite slab. We joined him, had some food and drinks, and took the hour to dry out our gear in the sun.

Second breakfast spot, nearing Thompson Canyon.

The rest of the morning went through some gorgeous pine forest and the terrain went down a thousand feet and then straight back up a thousand feet. Trouble wasn’t too happy about it, but she managed alright.

Trouble descending.

After lunch we came down into a nice little meadow and then we clambered back down towards Rancheria Creek.

Pretty meadow.

The clouds moved in at around three in the afternoon and soon after we were walking through cold and clammy fog with sleet …

Near Seavey Pass.

… that quickly turned into snow …

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

… and then hail. It was bitterly cold. We were contemplating to set up camp at a small lake, just beyond Seavey Pass, but the moment we arrived there, the sky cleared and it was sunny again.

There’s some blue in the sky.

By five, we walked down into the valley around Benson Lake and the views were awesome.

Gorgeous trees and scenery.

We walked past Piute Creek …

Benson Lake peeping through.

… and finally caught up with Ichor, who’d found a nice flat bit, where we set up camp for the night. We made it there by about 5:30 pm and it was early enough that we decided to have a proper dinner. Trouble had packed out a couple of Mountain House dinners for us and it was nice to enjoy a “proper” meal ont the trail for a change.

Setting up camp.

We just managed to get our obligatory apple cider with cinnamon whiskey into our bellies, before it was time for some shut eye.

07 Oct

PCT – Day 99 (07 Oct 18) – Miller Lake

Miles 1680.2 – 1696.5 >>> 16.3 (26.2 km)

It was bitter cold when we got up. But that wasn’t the worst news of the morning. Ichor told us through the canvas of his tent that he’d been sick over night and still didn’t feel well. He wanted to stay in bed and recover a little, but urged us on to keep going. We didn’t like leaving a man behind, but he insisted and we made him promise to text us when he got out the other end and had reception.

Only one tent is going to be packed up.

After Trouble and I had packed up, we had an up of well over 2,000 feet (600 m) ahead of us and it was steep going.

It was also freezing cold, with a bit of a wind chill as well, even though the sun was out. Trouble was all layered up and looked like a crystal meth cooking garden gnome with her Frogg Toggs on.

Beautiful meadows.

We were both keen on a break, but didn’t find a good spot until close to Volunteer Peak at around ten. Then it was time to go over Benson Pass.

Approaching Benson Pass.

It was quite interesting how different the landscape looked on the other side of the pass.

View from top of Benson Pass.

At the bottom of the pass, we followed Wilson Creek and then Matterhorn Creek, through a couple of gorgeous valleys, with yellow grasses.

Next to Matterhorn Creek.

At twenty to five, we approached Miller Lake, which was astonishingly beautiful.

Miller Lake.

Eventually we found a nice little night spot just after six, next to Return Creek, nestled among some pine trees. It was ridiculously cold and I almost froze off my fingers when I went down to the creek to collect some water for our night caps.

Return Creek.

The night was going to be cold and we huddled together.

08 Oct

PCT – Day 100 (08 Oct 18) – Tuolumne Meadows

Miles 1696.5 – 1718.2 >>> 21.7 (34.9 km)

The morning was frosty. Our water bottles had frozen over night and I really didn’t like getting water from Return Creek for our coffee and oatmeal. But then, of course, coffee and oatmeal …

Freezing cold Return Creek in the morning light.

Once we were up, we started off in a beautiful valley that stretched out for quite a few miles. We had merged with the Sierra High Route just south of Return Creek and it was quite obvious that this trail saw a few more hikers than the standard PCT.

East of Cold Mountain.

For second breakfast, we stopped at the White Cascade waterfall, near Glen Aulin Camp, and sat in the grass for a while. Trouble chatted to a day hiker while I enjoyed the view of the falling water.

White Cascade.

Once we were back on trail, it took less than half a mile to see another fall. This one was Tuolumne Falls, of the Tuolumne River.

Tuolumne Falls.

We followed Tuolumne River for a while and we were mostly hiking over over giant areas of giant granite boulders. It’s quite fascinating to think about how many millions of year the creeks and rivers have been flowing through this landscape, to carve out these deep beds into pure granite.

Tuolumne River, cutting through the landscape.

For lunch we made it to Tuolumne Meadows. A beautiful place with a rich history.

We stopped at Parsons Memorial Lodge (which was closed for the season) and used the toilet facility. A couple of British tourists were kind enough to give us each a Granola bar, after we told them how hungry hikers always are. Thank you.

Then we moved over to Soda Springs, a mineral spring with naturally carbonated water. A sign says that people used to enjoy the taste of the mineral rich water. I tried it and it tasted more like rusty nails.

Soda Springs.

We moved on down to the parking area and Tioga Road, near Lambert Dome.

Lambert Dome.

We followed the road down to the Wilderness Center, where we sat at the picnic table and made our mashed potatoes. It felt weird to have trail food surrounded by town people and cars. Trouble and I were both hoping to get offered a ride into town, but that didn’t eventuate – and for once, we were both too proud to ask. So after almost one and a half hours procrastination, we went back to the trail and (quite gladly) left the hubbub of traffic and tourists behind.

We were now on the John Muir Trail and followed Lyell Fork upstream through the Lyell Canyon.

Lyell Fork.

We hiked till about twenty to six, when we sat up camp in a small grove of trees, right next to the creek. It’s gushing and gurgling next to our tent and we’re both hoping it won’t make us have to get up at night. It’s cold again, but at least there’s no wind.

09 Oct

PCT – Day 101 (09 Oct 18) – Thousand Island Lake

Miles 1718.2 – 1733.6 >>> 15.4 (24.8 km)

We woke up to ground frost again. The air felt a tiny bit warmer, but probably only because of the lack of wind.

Lyell Fork in the morning.

When we got going around 8:30 am, it still felt cold though, because we were hiking in the shadow of the mountains.

Sunshine beckons in the distance.

We only had a bit over a mile (1.6 km) of level ground, before we had an over 2,000 foot (600 m) climb up to Donohue Pass (at over 11,000 feet (3,350 m)) in front of us.

The approach to Donohue Pass.

Trouble was a bit apprehensive, but the scenery was so beautiful that she forgot all about the massive climb ahead of us. For this section we stuck together more closely than we usually do and hiked together.

Plenty of snow at higher elevations.

It was wonderful to hike up the pass. Every time I turned around, I could see a little further.

Looking back down the valley from where we came.

At the top of Donohue Pass, we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and for Trouble to make some phone calls, because she had reception.

Proud conqueror of Donohue Pass.

Truth be told, I didn’t really expect for the day to get any better, but it did. The views and vistas we were coming across for the rest of the day were even better than the morning.

Looking at (left to right) Banner Peak, Mount Ritter, and Mount Davis.

As we kept walking into the valley, we could see clouds moving into the mountains around us. They didn’t look too threatening though and we rather enjoyed the spectacle, rather than get worried and look for a sheltered campsite.

Clouds moving in.

The scenery up at Island Pass was even more spectacular and probably one of the most gorgeous landscapes I have seen so far. I absolutely loved it.

Looking at Banner Peak from Island Pass.

Then it was time to hike down, and we could enjoyed the marvelous view of Thousand Island Lake below us, almost all the way.

Thousand Island Lake with Banner Peak in the background.

We reached the edge of the lake at around 4:30 pm. We didn’t stop though, but kept hiking on, only saying hello to a couple groups of weekend hikers.

The lake shore, where PCT and John Muir Trail split again.

The rest of the afternoon went along a ridgeline towards San Joaquin Mountain, with amazing views along the valley.

Looking towards Mammoth Mountain in the far distance.

We came across a few good campsites, but the wind had picked up again and we kept looking for something a little more sheltered. Finally, by about 6:30 pm, we found a good spot, just a short way off the trail and I set up the trail. While Trouble was getting things ready for the night, I collected rocks and logs, and draped them around the outside of the tent, to stop the wind from blowing into the tent from below. It worked remarkably well and we had a reasonably warm night.

Using rocks and logs as barriers against the biting wind.
10 Oct

PCT – Day 102 (10 Oct 18) – Mammoth Lakes

Miles 1733.6 – 1737.7 >>> 4.1 (6.6 km)

In the morning absolutely everything was covered in frost. The tent, especially the inside, our sleeping bags, our backpacks, and the water bottles were frozen once again. Thank goodness I’d decided to sleep with my water filter inside my sleeping bag.

The view we woke up to.

Despite the cold we were up by seven. As usual, Trouble went ahead and left me to pack up the campsite, since I would catch up with her soon enough anyway. Once I was all packed up, I ventured on to the trail myself and was greeted with awesome views down and across the valley we were following.

Beautiful colors and lighting.

The trail was very gentle, but the freezing temperatures made my hands feel very cold indeed. Good thing I stopped so often and pulled out my camera. Seemingly every few yards there was yet another gorgeous vista around the corner.

Looking towards Mammoth Mountain Skiing Area.

Because of my constant photo taking, I only caught up with Trouble shortly before reaching the Agnew Meadow Trailhead. We stopped briefly by the outhouse and then ventured out on to Postpile Road to catch a ride into town. I looked around and to my consternation saw a big orange “Road Closed” sign. We worried briefly, wondering whether the road was closed all the way to Mammoth Lakes – which would be really bad. I looked on the map and thought it would be pretty strange to close the road to the skiing area in winter though, so we started hiking up the road. Only minutes later, a Forest Service vehicle stopped next to us and explained that only this short section was closed for the season. If we hiked the two miles up to Minaret Summit, the road would be open, and we’d stand a good chance to catch a ride into town. Happy days. Well, except for Trouble perhaps, because it was two miles continuously uphill.

When we arrived at the Minaret Vista Entrance Station, we were pretty disappointed. Even though there were plenty of cars coming and going, they all appeared to be tourists. And tourists don’t take hitchhikers. Trouble was very grumpy and irritable, accusing me of being grumpy and being irritable. Even though we’d waited only twenty minutes, she wasn’t in the mood to sit around, so we decided to hike down to the skiing area, hoping to have more luck down there. Well, would you believe it, just then a black Range Rover pulled over with a young (and obviously well off) German tourist couple who offered us a ride. I felt a bit awkward sitting in finest leather upholstery with my shredded backpacker stuff on, and even more so when the windows came down pretty quickly to let some fresh air in. But the two didn’t seem to mind and were very excited to hear about our adventure. They dropped us off near The Village at Mammoth on Minaret Road and we immediately migrated down to the Busy Beez General Store to buy root beer. After that first load of sugar, we were ready for proper food and walked down the road to Toomey’s for, you guessed it, omelettes and coffee.

Minaret Road with The Village in the background.

After breakfast we felt better (and Trouble was a little less grumpy) and started walking into town proper. We stopped by the Motel 6 and got a room for the night. Even though the building looks like a prison block, the room was nice and had a shower. We were lucky and could check in early and decided to do laundry first (very unlike us) and let it run while we were having showers respectively.

Motel 6 in Mammoth Lakes.

Then it was time to check out town. We went through all outfitters we could find to get Trouble a new sleeping bag, but she couldn’t make up her mind and postponed the decision. In the end we stopped at Delicious Kitchen at the Sierra Center Mall Shopping Center for phenomenal burgers and more root beer.

Delicious Kitchen is not a misnomer.

Then we rolled ourselves back to the hotel. Trouble had another shower and I played around on my phone. We went to bed ridiculously early, but it was good.

11 Oct

PCT – Day 103 (11 Oct 18) – Green Curry

Miles 1737.7 – 1742.0 >>> 4.3 (6.9 km)

We woke up too early and had to kill some time before breakfast restaurants opened up. Eventually we made it across the road and decided on the Base Camp Cafe for breakfast. Sadly, it turned out to be the worst diner we’d been to on the entire trail. The food was mediocre at best and the service so bad that we walked out without giving any tips. Alas, there was the Shea Schat’s Bakery almost next door. A German bakery with excellent cinnamon rolls and apple crumbles, and decent coffees.

Shea Schat’s Bakery across the road.

Then it was time to check out of the hotel and to take the free bus service into town. First stop was Mammoth Mountaineering Supply, where I bought a pair of warm skiing gloves. As Trouble kept pointing out to me for days to come, they were well overpriced and didn’t keep me as warm as the fleece mittens she’d picked up for three dollars from the thrift store. Then it was time to resupply and went over to Vons to load up on food. Amazingly, I spent $100.59 there, but only because the cashier lady was kind enough to use her own points card to give us a discount. Don’t recall ever having bought this much food for a hiking leg.

Looking across the Vons parking lot.

We got comfortable with a latte at the Starbucks next door and got busy repacking our food. We were both a bit shocked at the amounts we’d have to carry.

For the trip back to the trail, Trouble had got in contact with a trail angle, named Lolo, through her Facebook group. She’d already texted her from Minaret Vista the day before, but then we’d got that ride in the Range Rover.

Today she texted us, offering us a free lunch and a ride back to the trail. Wow. So very kind. Thank you. She invited us to her place of work, a Thai restaurant named Thai’d Up.

All Thai’d Up.

Trouble had been discussing town food at lengths and had both been in agreement that what we most craved was a green Thai curry. Well, guess what we got?

Truly excellent green curry.

Then, during her late lunch break, Lolo drove us back up to Minaret Vista and dropped us off at the gate.

Trouble and Lolo.

Then we had to track the two miles of road back to the trail head, but it was all downhill, so it was pretty easy. Clouds moved in quickly though and we received a few drops of rain.

Back on trail. Yay.

The trail followed along the Middle Fork San Joaquin River and it was easy going. However the clouds were looking ever more menacing and we were constantly on the lookout for a good campsite.

The Middle Fork San Joaquin River.

It was getting very dark, by the time I found a cozy little place, just off the trail a little down the hill. We set up and got cozy with our apple cider and then soon went to bed. Not sure whether it actually ended up raining or not.

Cozy camp among the trees.
12 Oct

PCT – Day 104 (12 Oct 18) – Devil’s Postpile

Miles 1742.0 – 1759.6 >>> 17.6 (28.3 km)

The morning was surprisingly warm and it was relatively easy to get going.

Looking along the Middle Fork San Joaquin River towards the Devil’s Postpile Ranger Station.

We made a quick detour to the ranger station, where we offloaded some trash we’d forgotten about and talked to one of the workers there, who made the two bold claims that a) the Devil’s Postpile was the eighth wonder of the world, and b) that people like Trouble and I were heroes for hiking the trail. Well, as it turns out, both gross overstatements, but the sentiment was well received nonetheless.

Trouble being happy that there are no handguns allowed in the hut.

The Devil’s Postpile is a collection of columnar basalt that was created by slow cooling of lava after an eruption around 100,000 years ago. It’s neat and interesting … but not the eighth wonder of the world.

The Devil’s Postpile basalt columns.

We moved on and ended up in beautiful pine forest – with quite a bit of snow left on the ground. It was pretty cold.

Still snow left in the shaded areas.

The forest wasn’t very thick though and we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery beyond. It was beautiful.

Looking towards Mount Izaak Walton.

We encountered plenty of snow on the trail and wasn’t really warming up at all.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, go the footsteps.

Despite the beautiful sunshine, it was getting colder and colder towards the afternoon.

Looking south, just south of Duck Lake.

By about six we reached Purple Lake and hesitantly filled up our water bottles in the freezing cold waters. Trouble, being from Canada, said that it felt like winter and that the lake had the color like it would freeze over soon.

Purple Lake.

The wind was pretty nasty as well, and we continued up the trail to find a sheltered spot somewhere. I finally found one just off the elbow of the second long switchback, behind a big bolder. We sat up camp and cooked dinner. For the first time ever, we both had packed out Ramen noodles. Heaven, they were awful.

We huddled up quickly after dinner and soon went to sleep. It was so cold.

13 Oct

PCT – Day 105 (13 Oct 18) – Silver Pass

Miles 1759.6 – 1772.6 >>> 13.0 (20.9 km)

Despite the desperate chill the evening before, the morning was relatively nice. Not exactly balmy, but nice. It wasn’t too difficult to get going.

Purple Lake from above.

First gorgeous stop was Lake Virginia. Not that we stopped for long, but we did take a few photos and marveled at the beauty of it all.

Lake Virginia with Mount Izaak Walton being the peak on the far left in the background.

Especially as we were hiking around it and got a little higher up, the lake became more and more beautiful, with a deep and rich blue color and a fantastic backdrop.

Looking towards Graveyard Peak.

Then it was time to go back down into the valley to about 9,200 feet (2,800 m). Naturally, before long, we had to go it all back up again to Silver Pass (11,000 ft (3,350 m)).

Looking down towards Gully Hole.

The climb up to the pass was absolutely gorgeous. The trees, the rocks, the mountains, the sky, … everything was great.

Walking up to Silver Pass.

It was especially beautiful when I turned around and had this incredible view down the valley from where we’d come. Trouble and I stopped a few times, just to sit and look. We felt small in this giant landscape and, I guess, both ended up pondering life and the meaning of it all.

Looking back towards Mount Ansel Adams.

On top of Silver Pass, we stopped only briefly for photos, because the wind was blowing cold. Not that we minded. We were distracted by the scenery. Trouble did make a phone call home though and I sent off a quick message to my family as well.

Silver Pass Lake on the right.

A little later, on the way down, I came across a whole bunch of helium birthday balloons that had got stuck on a log. I popped all of them and packed them out, adding a surprising amount of weight to my already huge pack. I’m just glad that no animals ended up chewing on them and getting sick or die. That’s sort of the problem with helium balloons. Just because they disappear into the sky, doesn’t mean that they are gone.

Birthday balloons in the wilderness.

We came across a few wonderful trees that really stood out in a landscape full of trees. It’s funny how some trees have this special aura that makes us want to stare at them, touch them, and hug them. Trees are awesome.

Gorgeous pine tree.

We also had the Aspen glowing in wonderful fall colors and they added some fantastic contrast to the mountain sides.

Aspen glowing.

We made it a shorter day so as not to do yet another huge climb this day. I found a nice sheltered spot behind some rocks and trees, just beyond Mono Pass Junction. We were in the tent by five, getting ready for dinner, and then apple cider. It had been a glorious day.

Camping just off trail.