PCT SOUTHERN SIERRA
The Sierra Nevada Range is nothing short of spectacular. Just when you think the beauty has to end sometime, somewhere, it seems to continue on forever. Jack and I completed the trail a few days ago and I'm now entering the blog for the South and will post another for the North Sierra and the finish line in Chester, California. There is too much to see in the Sierra to not give due attention to all the beauty.
After Jack and I left the Northern Terminus on the border of Washington and Canada in mid September, we picked up a car in Portland and drove down Hwy 395 on the east side of California. It was weird driving at what seemed to be warp speed compared to our normal hiking speed of 2.5-3 miles per hour. After we parked our car in secured parking, we shared a ride to Cottonwood Pass, a few days south of where we exited the mountains in June, and began the last 550 miles northbound.
The prime season is summertime when the snow has melted, the temperatures are warmer in the 10,000' to 14,000' elevation range, and families are taking vacations. Many of our trail friends did not flip back to the Sierra, or chose to hike southbound from the north. This resulted in less interactions with people and quieter trails with mostly the last of the through-hikers, who were on a mission to the finish line.
Originally it seemed the last 550 miles was only a formality, easy.... until a few days into the cold mountains and what felt like continuous elevation gain. It was tough, even with a healthy set of seasoned trail legs, it was tough. In reality, not only is there substantial elevation gain and steep descents, there are boulders, blowdowns, and uneven, rocky, hard granite terrain. Rather than daily miles in the 20s or 30s, we were pushing it to make 20 mile days. Which all lead to a very physically and mentally challenging month.... but so beautiful, challenging, fun, and 100% worth it.
Below is Chicken Lake, where we camped the first night back on the trail and four miles from our entry point of Cottonwood Pass. Three months prior, in June, this lake was frozen over and the bushes were covered under feet of snow. The eleva-tion of Chicken Lake is about the same elevation of Mt Hood, approximately 11,200'.
"Blue Eyes" and I met the first few hundred miles of the PCT in early May. Over the months I thought about his heartbreaking story and his reason for taking on the trail. I was happy to cross paths as he was hiking south to Kennedy Meadows South after flipping north last June.
What a difference three months make. Below is a photo from September and a snow photo taken in June from about the same location.
Last we saw Larry from Austin (trail name "Larry"), we were crossing the Columbia River into Washington. He flipped back down to Chester and began the next section going south. At 67, Larry was the oldest hiker we met who put the miles in and was close to finishing. He'll be back next year to complete his journey.
Approaching and accending Forester Pass at a little over 13,000'. It felt great to get over this pass and make headway north, as this is where we bailed in June and flipped north to Chester, California.
In June, that was the Forester Pass traverse that was covered in ice. At that point we decided to turn around a few days and flip north.
Glen Pass, approximately 12,500'
Splinter, Hummingbird, and Jack, just before another pass.
Muir Pass and Muir Hut.
Time lapse of setting up camp on the north side of Muir Pass.
Muir Trail Ranch closed for the winter a day after we arrived to raid the hiker box for any food. I had stuffed nine days of food in the required bear canister that only lasted for seven. The box provided, and we hiked a few more days to Vermilion Valley Ranch to pick up our resupply box we had shipped to ourselves weeks prior. They had a skeleton crew working as the were shutting down for the winter the following day. We got word there was a snow storm coming and decided to stay at least an extra day to watch the weather from safety with four other hikers.
Jack and I, along with "Coney" decided to forge ahead after waiting a day. We knew the storm would pass and if there were problems we could hunker down and exit a day or so later.
And just like that, we dropped elevation, the snow stopped, and we kept going. Below is a photo of Banner Peak, the mountain made famous by Ansel Adams and 1,000 Islands
Crystal clear rivers in Lyell Canyon, just south of Tioga Pass, the main road into Yosimite. By the time we reached Tioga Pass we were again low on food and picked up two resupply boxes we had stashed a few weeks earlier in Yosimite bear boxes, on our way to Lone Pine.