Day 56: Winter Wonderland Out Of Sierra City (Or Not)

June 12, 2017

Total daily miles: 7.0 miles

Total PCT miles: 795.5 miles

Start: Sierra City (mile 1195.4)

End: mile 1202.4

Total elevation gain/loss: 2788.7/436.7 ft

Today’s a great example of the PCT showing who’s boss. Short answer: the PCT.

For the first time in the PCT, I slept through our alarm this morning. My guess is that it’s because I still had the headphones plugged into my phone and so it didn’t vibrate. Even after realizing what had happened, we continued to snooze until 6am. It’s hard to be motivated to get out of the tent when we can hear raindrops dripping onto our tent. It had been raining lightly off and on all night.

Finally we bit the bullet and packed up our stuff. Last night’s weather report showed rain until 4pm today, so waiting wasn’t going to help anything (and we didn’t want to take another zero). Turns out that the raindrops were mainly from the tree that we were camped beneath, outside we were greeted by a heavy fog.

The PCT passes about a mile and a half from Sierra City, so we started heading up the road. Not long after, a truck pulled over and asked if we’d like a ride to the trailhead. Yes, we’d love one! Our ride was from a former PCT thru-hiker and he gave us the scope on what to expect in the coming sections.

We could see the snow from the trailhead…

By the time we hit the trailhead, the rain had turned to snow. We were in the middle of our own winter wonderland — never mind that we’re well on our way into June! Unlike the snow we’ve seen thus far, this was the light, fluffy kind. And instead of being consolidated on the ground, it was hanging onto the trees and bushes as well. It was a magical effect! Even when those clumps of snow sometimes randomly came crashing down on us.

The first part of the trail was gentle switchbacks in the woods. I could tell that the snow beneath my feet was all fresh powder, there was no consolidated snow here! After following no footprints for awhile, I took extra notice when some footprints appeared on the trail in front of me. But they weren’t from a hiker — they were from a bear! The prints looked fairly fresh, but were walking in the opposite direction as we were. I kept scanning the forest just in case.

A bear!

For the first few miles I was happy with our decision to hike out of town today despite the gloomy weather. And then we crossed onto the other side of the mountain. We left the protection of the trees. The wind roared. The day instantly became a lot less comfortable. My hands turned to ice and my feet started to go numb.

This is where things got ugly…

Despite the recent snowfall which slowed our progress, it was relatively easy to follow the trail without additional navigational efforts. And that’s what we did. We hiked on in the hopes of warming up. Except my right foot refused to warm up and became a numb stump. Not ideal when you’re trying to navigate a rocky trail that was just covered in a few inches of snow. It didn’t seem to be raining/snowing hard, and yet I seemed to be wet from top to bottom. We needed to warm up.

With no let up in the weather in sight, we stopped at a dirt road just before noon and set up our tent. I needed to get my wool socks on ASAP. As soon as I sat down in the tent I realized that I’d also need to inflate my pad to create a barrier between myself and the frozen ground. Soon enough we were both wearing all of our cold weather clothing and wrapped in our sleeping bags. Hot soup for lunch hit the spot.

It seemed like it took forever before my feet lost their icy edge. I found myself drifting off to sleep while listening to an audio book. Soon enough it was 3pm and we had a decision to make — do we pack up and try to get a few more miles in or do we stay here for the night?  We decided to stay in the warmth of our sleeping bags and tent. It was still sprinkling, and sun is in the forecast for tomorrow. We’d likely only end up with an even wetter tent if we were to pack it up again today. As it is, we’re mopping up puddles in the tent that come from who knows where.

The clouds cleared for a while in the evening, revealing a beautiful sunset.

What’s funny is that the trail that we covered today probably didn’t have any snow cover yesterday. There’s no evidence that we were walking in consolidated snow, just fluffy (and very wet and cold) snow. It’s just a case of bad timing (and stubborn heads) on our part. As lame as our 7 mile day was today, I’m grateful that we got to glimpse the wonder wonderland today and hopeful that the heat wave over the next couple days will make the going easier.

Current ailments:

Elizabeth: none.

Michael: cold feet and hands, weak fingers.

Update: we heard from Matt, who hiked this section after we did, that the fresh snow melted. There is (probably) still snow up higher but this section should be clear.

Day 55: Hitching to Sierra City

June 11, 2017

Considering how little experience we had with hitchhiking prior to starting the PCT, today’s goal was a big one: hitchhike over 400 miles from Bishop to Sierra City.

After breakfast, we headed to the north end of town and stuck out our thumbs. Lots of cars passed. Michael got to work on making our Tyvek ground sheet into a sign that read “PCT Hikers” in the hope that would attract more interest. Before he could finish the sign, a woman pulled over and we had our first ride! She was only going to Mammoth, but that would at least get us going.

Our first ride was… interesting. The woman drove incredibly slowly and talked almost nonstop. Not really sure was half of it was about because of her heavy accent and the frequent non sequiturs. It was the first time we’ve been picked up that someone didn’t seem at all interested in our hike. She dropped us off at the onramp out of Mammoth and we stuck out our thumbs again.

While it was warm in Bishop this morning, it was cold in Mammoth. A storm was coming. As the cars passed us we added layers. Michael finished the sign and sure enough people started to notice. A couple stopped to say that they were only going a few miles down the road — not ideal for hitching so we thanked them and continued to wait. Then Greg showed up in his camper van and offered us a ride to Lee Vining. Yay! He was fun to talk with, especially since he is also from SF and has just adopted a more nomadic lifestyle. Reminds us of our last year of travels. We made a side trip to visit Mono Lake (which I’m not sure I’ve done before), and then sadly had to say goodbye to Greg. Happy adventures and thank you!

Mono Lake

The highway goes straight through Lee Vining, so we had an ideal hitching location. Which is a good thing, because it was already noon and we still had a long way to go. The weather threatened to turn bad at any moment and we almost gave up on hitching to stay warm and dry in the cafe. And then someone pulled over! He was on his way to Sacramento (and I’m feeling stupid for not getting his name) — just the hitch we needed! For the next few hours we were set! It was so nice not to have to try to hitch in Reno or Tahoe and instead to just relax and chat for awhile. He was a contractor heading home to Sacramento and knew a lot about the area. Finally we parted ways near Truckee and waited for our next hitch.

We knew that hitching to Sierra City wouldn’t be easy. From Truckee we hoped to find someone going to Sierraville and then figured we would have to get another hitch from there. When Jennifer pulled up and said she was on her way to Sierraville we were excited. We were even more excited when after chatting for a bit, she announced that she was going to drive us all the way to Sierra City (at least an extra 45 minutes round trip for her)!! She told us about how someone had done something similar for her when she was hitchhiking around Australia back in the ’80s. Still super nice of her to take extra time out of her day today to help us out. It was another ride with interesting conversation to cap off our day of hitchhiking. Thank you Jennifer!

Downtown Sierra City

We arrived in Sierra City just as the General Store was closing (early). The owner opened the store back up so that we could grab some ice cream — I hadn’t had any for the last couple days and even though it was cold and a little drizzly I had to have some! Sitting at the store eating my ice cream made me especially grateful for that last hitch. There were virtually no cars driving through town. It feels like we’re in the middle of nowhere.

There are several other PCT hikers here, some of whom skipped here from Bishop and a couple who skipped to Truckee. We’re all camped tonight behind the Methodist Church. It’s been sprinkling and will probably continue to rain overnight. The forecast for tomorrow shows the rain continuing until about 4pm. I guess we’d normally try to wait it out, but we’ve already taken 3 zeros so if it’s not looking too bad we’ll probably head out in the morning and hope all goes well.

It’s exciting to finally be here and having the decision to skip behind us. Hopefully our decision pays off!

Days 53 & 54: Decision Time

Our plan to spend a single zero in Bishop morphed into two zeros. I guess we should know by now that the PCT doesn’t care about your plans. Like our plan to continue back up from Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth.  

As I mentioned before, the reports of the stream crossings in that section are not encouraging. In fact, they’re downright scary. Even worse are the reports of the crossings north of Tuolumne. It’s likely that water levels will only rise in the next couple of weeks. After a couple days of cool weather coming up (including more snow…), it looks like things will be significantly warming up. That’s great for getting rid of the high snow levels, but not so good for stream crossings.

Baked goods from Schat’s Bakery obviously were necessary in our decisionmaking process.

Except it meant that we had to decide what to get 😦

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Day 51: Ice Chute Challenge

June 7, 2017

Total miles: 13.6 miles

Start: mile 775.7

End: 0.8 miles down Bullfrog Lake trail (mile 788.5)

Total elevation gain/loss: 2948.2/3695.2 ft

Today was the day — we’d be crossing Forrester Pass!  People have been talking about this moment for weeks now and we’d soon have it (hopefully) behind us!

I slept surprisingly well last night given my anticipation about today’s climb. A win for Advil PM! We were up and ready to hike at 4am sharp. Sam and Tam needed a few more minutes, so we set off across the ice field knowing that they would catch up before the pass.  

Navigating in the dark on a sun-cup filled ice field turned out to be a little trickier than I imagined. After a while we found ourselves a bit off trail. Luckily, course correction wasn’t difficult and we were on our way again.  

As expected, Sam and Tam caught up with us just as the morning light was making our headlamps unnecessary. The progression of the morning light on the surrounding mountains was riveting:

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Day 50: Creek Crossing 101

June 6, 2017

Total miles: 6.8 miles

Start: mile 768.9

End: mile 775.7

Total elevation gain/loss: 1559.1/1126.3 ft

The stats simply don’t convey what a difficult day today’s hiking was. I could pound out that distance in no time in the desert. Here though, that’s a different matter.

We slept in a bit (until 4:30!) because it was cold and we didn’t want to hit our first river crossing of the day too early. Also, we figured we were in for an easy day, so why push it? Silly us.

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Day 49: Back In Familiar Territory

June 5, 2017

Total miles: 10.7 miles

Start: mile 758.2

End: mile 768.9

Total elevation gain/loss: 2589.6/2066.9 ft

I wondered as we started hiking today whether we should have continued on yesterday. Was I making something out of nothing? But we pretty quickly hit a steep, snow covered downhill section and I was happy with my decision. With the firm snow and my microspikes, I was able to make easy work of what would have likely been a frustrating descent yesterday.

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Day 48: We Found The Snow

June 4, 2017

Total miles: 11.2 miles

Start: mile 747.0

End: mile 758.2

Total elevation gain/loss: 1239.5/1551.2 ft

What a difference a cold night makes on snow conditions! We were up early this morning (4am alarm… but hit snooze a couple times) and greeted by frozen condensation in our tent. By the time we were up and walking, the snow was firm. I’m loving my microspikes! It make walking on the firm snow super easy!

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Day 47: Where Is The Snow?

June 3, 2017

Total miles: 16.1 miles

Start: Death Canyon Creek (mile 730.8)

End: mile 747.0

Total elevation gain/loss: 3389.1/1619.1 ft

I was woken last night at 3:45am to the sound of the group nearby cheering. I guess they were ready to hike. I rolled over and in no time my own 4:30am alarm was going off. Time to get up.

More snow topped mountains in the distance

I loved the roots on this overturned tree!

We started the day with a big, waterless climb. The rock formations in this area are intriguing and foreign looking. At every turn there was a new outcropping, making the climb enjoyable. There was surprisingly no snow on the way up, but I guess that’s why it was waterless. I overpacked water and barely touched my bottles until I was near the top. Near the top of the climb, we had a few of the normally dry, but currently wet, Owens Valley.

View of Owens Valley. There was a large snow patch at the top of the climb, but not on trail.

We’d heard that the snow started at the top of the climb (mile 735). There were a few patches, but nothing major. We did our best to take advantage of snow-free trail to make up yesterday’s miles during the descent.

A small patch of snow.

Another cool shell of a tree.

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Day 46: Where Is Everyone?

June 2, 2017

Total miles: 20.3 miles

Start: mile 710.5

End: Death Canyon Creek (mile 730.8)

Total elevation gain/loss: 4165/2553.5 ft

We were woken last night by the wind, which came as a surprise because it was calm last night. We’d staked our tent in a fairly sandy area and Michael realized that one of the stakes had come out during the night (which he was able to fix without getting out of bed). It wasn’t until our alarm went off that I realized that the stake near me had also come out. No wonder our tent had become so loud in the wind. It was flapping around and we’re lucky it hadn’t simply collapsed on us!

More burn zone

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Day 45: We’re off into the High Sierra!

June 1, 2017

Total miles: 8.3 miles

Start: Kennedy Meadows (mile 702.2)

End: mile 710.5

Total elevation gain/loss: 1668.3/336 ft

**Instead of delaying our Sierra posts to spread them out, I’m going to upload them as fast as I can in case others on trail may find them helpful.  Sorry for flooding anyone’s inbox!

Despite sleeping in a hotel, there was no sleeping in for us today. We still had lots of our town chores to do, including additional laundry, blog uploads, and the ultimate challenge — fitting everything in our bags. Not a simple task when you’re trying to fit a bear can, additional clothing and gear, and a whopping nine days of food. But we did it!

Out of focus, but Michael was clearly in need of new socks.

Hard to believe that the shoes on the left used to look like the ones in the right. They held up pretty well for having about 660 miles on them!

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