Onion Valley to Kennedy Meadow

August 7

Back to the trail this morning about 7:30 and headed to Kearsarge Pass. I expected it to be a real chore, but it actually went well, and I passed a dozen people on the way up.

Coming down from the pass I followed the Bullfrog Lake trail back to the PCT. Put in a few more miles before stopping along side Bubbs Creek at a pretty nice spot. Was eventually joined by a couple of men finishing the JMT.

There were a lot of people on the trail today, including a young woman hauling in supplies for a group of hikers. At the rate she was traveling, she may still be looking for the top of the pass. I passed another guy today who had finished his deliveries, and one yesterday who was charging up the pass with a resupply. He said he made $200 for each trip. Also met a man today looking for his resupply person. Obviously a big business.

Tomorrow I go over Forester Pass and it is all downhill from there. The logistics did not work out for a Whitney summit, so tomorrow will be the high point of the trip.

The Kearsarge Lakes are a popular destination, set below the Kearsarge and Bullfrog trails, there seems to be 4 or 5 of them all together.

August 8

I cowboy camped (without a tent) last night. And the temp dropped down to 34. I was cool most of the night. The tent is up tonight. On the plus side, there were a lot of stars to see. And disassembly of camp was easier.

Headed out this morning at 5:15 and walked by headlamp for half an hour. I have grown to like that. It gives a whole different feel to the trail, and it’s cool watching the sun slowly light up the mountains.

I expected this morning to be hard, and it was, but not as bad as expected. Forester Pass, at 13,200 tall, was 5 miles and 2600 feet of up away. I guessed I would do good to make it to the top by 9:30. I was the first one to the pass at 8:55. But I was not alone for long. I soaked up the views for a while and had a bite to eat before heading down the other side. And that took most of the rest of the day.

Camped tonight at Wallace Creek, just a few miles from the Mt Whitney trail and the end of the JMT. I reconsidered climbing it all day, until I got a report on the water ahead of me. It is pretty sparse and will prevent me from making the miles I would need to if I wanted to do it in 3 days. So up early tomorrow and try for my first 20 mile day of this trip. With no big climbs ahead that should be doable.

Somewhere up there is Forester Pass. It’s always a guessing game with me, trying to figure out where the trail is going to cross. For the record, you can’t see it from here. The pass is hidden behind the second peak from the right.
Looking back down on the valley the trail climbs to Forester Pass. The trail skirted the end of the lake before turning and climbing around what looks like a scree field on the left. Seems like that lake was an hour away.
The view to the south from Forester Pass. The trail descends steeply for about 500 feet and then much more slowly for many miles.
Look who figured out how to take a selfie.
Dan and Jessica are a couple I met frequently the last couple of weeks on the trail.

August 9

The mountains were transformed today. Yesterday the were rugged and majestic. Today they are rounded and plain. I was surprised how quickly the transformation took.

The other thing I noticed today was the sand. It was like walking through sand dunes for much of the afternoon. With a 30 lb pack. Uphill. Not fun.

It was not very scenic today. Most all there was to see was sand and pine trees. Occasionally a vista would open up, but nothing very grand.

Camped tonight at the only water within 10 miles, a lake that is slowly drying up. And there are lots of people here. We are just a couple miles from the Horseshoe Meadows campground, and lots of people start or end their hike there, and this lake is their first/ last night on the trail.

There is a fire burning a mile east of here, but it is moving away from us. Hopefully they can get it put out before it causes much damage.

Sunrise in the Sierra
This is what much of the high forest’s in the Sierra, especially the southern end look like; widely spaced trees, no undergrowth, and rocky/sandy soil.
Mt Whitney is just peaking out from behind another mountain. IMO, it’s not nearly as impressive as the Cascade volcanoes, like Mt Rainier or Mt Hood.

August 10

My neighbors were up late gabbing last night. Makes it tempting to play music or something when I get up at oh dark 30. But I was good and just snuck out instead.

Today’s trail was mostly downhill, although there was a 6 mile 1000 foot climb in the second half. Afternoon climbing continues to be a struggle for me. And, along with back pains, it made for a very long climb.

Yesterday’s fire at Horseshoe Meadows was still burning and I could see it in several places early on. The other guy camped here is heading north and said the forest service is allowing people to exit there but not enter.

I hiked for 20 miles over 11 hours today and did not see a single person. Then while prepping dinner I saw someone else had come in from the south. It came me an opportunity to talk about water to the south. Looks like I have a good source about 14 miles down the trail, which is halfway to the end. I had given serious consideration to trying to push all the way out tomorrow, but do not think I could make it without hurting myself.

A lot of the water here is from springs, and you often have to leave the trail to find them. Twice today, including here in camp, I had to follow a way trail to the spring to get water. The first time the way trail didn’t go to the water, I had to explore around for it for awhile.

Another picture of my favorite time to hike.
This is a picture of the fire burning on the road below Horseshoe Meadows. It closed access to/from the trail at a pretty popular entry point, but so far has not impacted the trail.


August 11

Cowboy camped last night to watch the meteor shower. It was a no show, at least the times I woke up long enough to look. The stars were impressive though. And it was cold, 29 degrees.

On the trail about 5:30 and got to the days climb, 1000 ft, pretty early. I stripped off the coats, gloves and beannie before starting to climb, and then was cold the whole way up. But that is better than over heating.

Again today, the trail was not very scenic and was very dry, but at least it was not as long. Only traveled 14 miles today and was in camp shortly after 1. I had not been here long when another couple showed up as well. He was getting back on the trail after an injury, and she just came out to spend the night with him and will go back to Kennedy Meadows tomorrow.

The camp I am in is built on a hillside with at least a dozen one person sites carved into the hillside. It actually looks pretty cool. It is alongside the Kern River, which does not look so cool. The water is low with lots of algae, and cow pies along the banks. I took a bath anyway and will see if I can get up in the morning.

Tomorrow is the end. 15 miles away is Sue and the car to take me back home. It’s been a good trip, but I am ready for it to come to an end.

There are a lot of meadows in the southern Sierra. And many of these meadows will periodically have cows grazing in them.
Even through the trail through here is generally dry and drab, occasionally there will be a colorful patch to brighten things up.
The camp site at the Kern River was built on a hillside, with small sites built into the hillside. It was easily the most interesting site to camp that I have found on the PCT. Not the best, just the most interesting.

August 12

Cowboy camped again, and again saw no meteor shower; just lots of stars. Broke camp in record time and was on the trail by 5:10; some stars were still visible when I started to walk. Started off with my last climb of the trip, a whopping 500 feet. and then it was down about 2500 feet over the next 14 miles; sometimes steeply and sometimes barely descending.

Early in the morning I descended to and walked along Beck’s Meadow. The meadow had a bunch of cows. My previous experience with cows has told me that they are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. As soon as a cow saw me, eating stopped and they just stared at me until I couldn’t see them anymore. Probably afraid I was going to eat them or something. I suspect they have to put them into a different meadow to graze during the peak hiking season, otherwise they would starve to death.

For a couple of weeks now I have had very little issue with bugs. That changed today. I hate gnats. They’re tiny, fast, and in your face. And today they made an appearance as I dropped below 8000 feet. I fought with them for a while before I finally gave in and put on a headnet. Then I would sometimes have 6 or 7 of them circling in front of my face and landing on the net. Still bothered me, but at least I didn’t eat any more of them.

Last year I followed the south fork of the Kern River for a while before coming to Kennedy Meadows. This year I crossed it and it was bone dry. Good thing I wasn’t counting on it for water.

About 11 I came out on the Kennedy Meadow campground; and Sue was there. Dropped my pack into the car, grabbed a Dr. Pepper and I was off to cover the final few miles. It was a fairly non-descript, flat, sandy and dry stretch of trail with no trees and lots of short brush. But eventually it passed and there ahead of me was the car. I walked across the road to make sure I had the last few inches, flopped down into the car, shed a quick tear of happiness/relief, and then drove off to the store for a burger and then a trip to Lone Pine for a shower, a pizza and a soft bed.

I kept trying to assure this herd of cattle that I has not currently interested in eating them, but I don’t think they believed me. Everyone of them kept an eye on me the whole time I was in sight.
There are a number of areas between the Kern and Kennedy Meadows that have recently burned, including this one at the top of the steep descent.
After 500 miles this past month and a half, the PCT is all but done. One short section in Washington is all that remains.

39 days and 500 miles from when I started in Sierra City, I emerged at Kennedy Meadows. I walked all but 3 days of that time. I climbed over 78,000 feet, descending the same amount. I ended up with a blister under a callus on both big toes, two creaky knees, and a sore back, but otherwise healthy. I experienced God’s creation in an amazing way, and will forever treasure the experience, as hard as it was. And I could not have done it without the lovely and dedicated love of my life: thanks Sue.

Vermilion Valley Resort to Onion Valley

July 31

The shuttle was late getting to VVR yesterday, so I missed the ferry, by a hair. So I ended up spending the night there. I caught the 9am ferry and started to walk about 9:30.

The first couple of miles were pretty mellow, but the next 3 gained 2000 feet; an endless succession of switchbacks. Finally the trail hit 10,000 foot and then immediately lost 1000 of it. The final 4 miles gained that thousand back, and has me 1000 feet below Selden Pass.

Today was brutal and warm without much scenery. Carrying a full pack with 6 days of food did not help much. And a mile below my camp there was a ford, my 4th one of the trip.

I was pretty lifeless when I hit camp, maybe more so than at any other point in this trip. Managed to make camp, eat a snickers, take a bath and make dinner. All ready for bed and starting to feel better, but should sleep well tonight.

A little before bed 2 ex-marines came into camp with one of them carrying a short flag pole with decent sized American and Marine flags on it. He explained he was being patriotic and had some cause he was supporting, but I don’t remember what it was. They are the only people I have seen have a campfire on the PCT, although given that there is at least one firepit near nearly every campsite, I highly suspect they are not alone.

This is the ‘ferry’ that runs from VVR to the far end of Lake Edison twice a day. It can carry about 20 people plus their backpacks.
Looking out the front of the ferry at the east end of the lake. My first task after getting off the ferry is to climb the 2000 ft ridge to the right.
Just a random picture of a random mountain. It looks like a painting, but I saw scenery like this all the time.

August 1

Back to a normal schedule; up at 4:30 and on the trail by 5:30. Finished the climb to Selden Pass early and took a few moments to marvel at the view in both directions.

The bad thing about climbing into a pass is that it is followed by a long down, in this case nearly 4000 ft. And then it was time to head up into the next pass, over 4000 back up. I made it about 1400 ft back up before calling it a night just shy of 18 miles. Feel much better than yesterday.

As the final climb started, I crossed the Piyute Creek on a steel bridge. This creek was in a steep valley and eventually merged with the south fork of the San Jacinto River, also in a deep canyon. But we rounded a corner and the canyon opened up some and the trail moved down to the river. Evolution Creek flows into this river, in rather dramatic fashion. We do not see much of the creeks end, but we climb rather steeply 500 ft to get to the top on the falls and rapids.

Soon after coming to Evolution Creek is a big ford. At the height of spring thaw, it is chest deep. Today it came up to my knees; quite a relief.

Camped on the creek, and soon after camping I was joined by 4 women. Made bathing a bit more challenging but otherwise OK. Tomorrow is Muir Pass, my first 12K pass.

This is Marie Lake as seen from near Seldon Pass. I don’t recall seeing a lake with a more convoluted shoreline.
This is the view to the south from Seldon Pass.
Most often the rivers and creeks flow in a channel. But occasionally, as here, the creek is flowing across a fairly level rock slab. On these occasions, the creek broadens out and looks like something from a water slide park.
This is the location of the ford of Evolution Creek. I have seen video’s of people fording here with chest deep, and raging, water carrying their packs on their heads. Fortunately, when I crossed it was only knee deep.

August 2

Today started early and climbed most of the day. It was a steady up, broken by periodic level for 12 miles. But what a beautiful 12 miles.

Evolution Valley has a lot of Meadow with Evolution Creek flowing through it. Then there is a concerted ‘up’ for 1000 feet until you come out on Evolution Basin. The basin is a series of lakes with Evolution Creek connecting them together. Each lake is higher than the last until just below Muir Pass.

There is about a 10 mile stretch around Muir Pass that is treeless, and the views as you wind upwards to the pass and then down from it were indescribable.

By the time I made it to the top I was beat, and then spent several hours descending 5 miles to a camp. All clean and belly is full. Time for bed.

The Hermit is a peak that towers over the upper Evolution Valley. You end up walking part way around it and then climbing an adjacent ridge. It was interesting to see the perspective change as you viewed it from many different angles.
This is a part of Evolution Lake. I did not find anyplace where you could take a picture of the whole thing. The trail walks about 3/4’s of the way around this beautiful lake at about 10,000 foot.
Evolution Creek, where it flows into the lake with the same name, is broad, although not deep. A series of big rocks have been strategically placed to make it possible to ‘hop’ from rock to rock and cross without getting your feet wet. This is not an uncommon arrangement on many of the creeks through this region.
Evolution Basin is surrounded by towering mountains every way you look. You are also seldom out of sight of a lake or two. Pictures don’t do it justice.
Muir Hut is at the top of Muir Pass and is made from stones found in the area. You can go into it and I assume use it for a shelter. It was visible from more than a mile away when approached from the north. While I never traveled with the couple in the picture, we did meet most days and became friends. They were also doing a 500 mile stretch of the PCT, offset from mine by about 40 miles.


August 3

Up a bit earlier today and on the trail by 5:20. It was a dark walk for a bit, but nice. I was startled for a moment when I saw lights coming at me, but it was just a reflection in the eyes of a deer. Saw 5 deer altogether today.

The first 6 miles this morning finished the descent off of Muir Pass. The right quad that bothered me for a couple of these trips bothered me most of the way down, but quit when I started the ascent of Mather Pass. I hope that is not a sign of things to come.

The scenery was not nearly as stunning today as it was yesterday, although that would have been hard to top. I had heard something about a ‘golden staircase’ and I think I climbed it today. At around 1500 ft high, it would be like climbing the stairs to the top of a hundred story building. Needless to say it took a lot out of me.

At 2pm I still has 2.5 miles and 1200 ft of elevation gain to go, plus several miles of descent on the other side. So I opted instead to stop for the night and finish it tomorrow, in addition to Pinchot Pass. Should be a fun day tomorrow.

Camped tonight at close to 11,000 feet and should not get below 10,000 until maybe tomorrow night. Still haven’t conquered this breathing thing this high up. Hopefully that will continue to improve.

The middle fork of the Kings River, a bit downstream from where I had spent the night. These rivers in the upper reaches of the High Sierra are not typically large, but they are very energetic.
Looking down the valley leading to Mather Pass from atop the Golden Staircase. The staircase started just to the near side of the first ridge to the right. Just past the second ridge to the right is the valley leading up to Muir Pass, about 5 miles away.
This is just an example of the trail clinging to the side of the valley wall. Note the short staircase in the middle. Sometimes these staircases were extensive. Earlier in the day I had passed a trail crew constructing a section of stairs.
The lower Palisade lake, a bit below my camping site for the evening. I had thought to camp at the near end, but it was too much effort to get down to it.

August 4

Woke up during the night to rain hitting the tent; it probably lasted all of 10-15 minutes. Woke up later to the sound of a rock slide somewhere nearby.

Just as I was leaving camp this morning it started to rain, but only lasted a short time. It spit on and off for most of the day, the first cool and wet day in a month.

It took me a couple of hours to crest Mather Pass, my second 12K pass. The trail up was rough and steep, but the descent was much better.

After Mather there was a 2000 ft descent, mostly along a treeless plain, followed by a 2000 foot ascent to Pinchot Pass, my second 12K pass of the day. Just when I am starting the final ascent it started to rain in earnest, along with a stout wind. I got my coat and pack cover on, but not the rain pants I have been carrying for the past month. My pants got good and wet during the half hour that it stormed, but they dried out.

Once over the pass I raced down the valley about 4 miles and found a little creek with a camp site. And there I sit after a 16 mile day with 2 big passes and a storm. Time to get ready for bed.

I like walking at dawn because you can slowly see the world around you awakening, This is one of the ridges around the Palisade Lakes.
The trail up to Mather Pass wound round and round, endlessly up, through the clouds.
From atop Mather Pass looking toward Pinchot Pass.
Marmots are pretty common in the high country, and some of them don’t seem to concerned about hikers wondering by.
Some of the alpine lakes are the prettiest color. This one, seen from near the top of the climb to Pinchot Pass, appears to have some type of green/yellow runoff into it from the slope to the left.

August 5

Today was my longest day on the trail, although at 16 miles, not the longest distance. I was on the trail by 5:15 this morning, and it was well after 4 when I finally found a place to drop.

The day’s highlights included the suspension bridge over Woods Creek, a long, narrow, and definitely shaky bridge. And right beyond it was a tent camp. I had been on the trail 2 hours and there were still over a dozen tents setup.

The other highlight, if you can call it that, was Glen Pass, the last of the 12K’s on the trail. The ascent began in earnest after passing Rae Lakes. The trail wound round and round, up about 900 feet, then suddenly there was a 600 ft cliff in front of me with tiny little people on top. After I got over my denial, I started up the roughest, steepest trail I can remember on the PCT. Once on top I found a narrow, 6 ft wide ledge you walked along before descending an equally steep, but smoother trail. That is one section of trail I do not want to repeat.

Stopped for the night on the Kearsarge Trail, a mile below yet another nearly 12K pass. I got cold last night at 10K. I wonder what it will be like tonight at 11K.

Resupply and a Nero tomorrow before the final 87 miles of the PCT.

The suspension bridge over Woods Creek. Fun to walk across, and I found myself unable to make it without holding on; at least in the middle. Quite the thrill. The PCT needs more of these. There is also a smaller one in the North Cascades, but that is all I remember.
In the foreground is one of the Rae Lakes, while in the background is Fin Dome. Seen from the right angle Fin Dome looks similar to a fishes dorsal fin.
I was apparently too shook by the look from the bottom of Glen Pass to take a picture. This is the ridge on the top; about 4-6 feet wide and dropping steeply on both sides. Quite the thrill.
The view from near my camp high up in the Kearsarge Basin.

August 6

The night was good, and the one time I got up the stars were amazing. Didn’t get up this morning until about 5, hit the trail around 6 and was on top of Kearsarge Pass before 7. Then it was a race down the mountain to make it to the parking lot by 9. And I almost made it. I met Sue about a half mile up the trail and slowed down to finish the trip down.

From there, we went into the town of Bishop, had a shower, lunch and a massage. Then a trip to the grocery store, resupplied, out to dinner, spent a little time on the computer, and then to bed.

This pretty little lake is on the east side of Kearsarge Pass. I couldn’t tell if there was easy access to it, but there did not appear to be a place to camp nearby. It did look pretty through.
Looking down from halfway up the pass, you could see the road winding up to Onion Valley. This road gains 5-6000 feet in about 15 miles. One of Sue’s favorites. At least it has a yellow dividing line.

Glen Aulin to Vermilion Valley Resort

July 24

Up early this morning and on the trail by 6. The first mile or so was ascending out on Glen Aulin (beautiful valley in Gaelic). There are at least two waterfalls along this route that are pretty impressive, along with some big rapids. The views are very good, and the country side was glacial sculpted and other worldly.

We made it to Tuolumne Meadows around 9am, met Sue, ate a sandwich and soda, replaced my broken pack and resupplied. It was amazing to me how many backpackers were coming and going; even a long line waiting to get permits to start tomorrow.

By noon we were back on the trail and managed another 8 miles to a little camp near a stream and the river. After getting camp setup, I put on my shorts and went down into the river to soak. It was cold, but did not seem to bad until I got back to camp and started to get dressed. Then my arms started to tingle, I started to shake a bit and got cold. I soon warmed up, but I suspect I was borderline hypothermic. Note to self, when the water is cold, get in, clean up, and get out; no soaking.

We saw lots of deer today, including a couple of big bucks, plus a lot of marmots and other small ground dwelling mammals.

Big climb tomorrow, over 11,000, so early to bed tonight.

The river crossing near Tuoloumne Meadows are generally very nice. Bridges make it easier for day hikers to get further back into the wilderness without getting their feet wet.
This is a look across the Tuolumne River towards what I believe is Cathedral Peak, although I could easily be wrong about that.
This cool old tree stood guard over the pathway to our campsite.

July 25

Out of camp shortly after 6 this morning and were soon to the ascent of Donahue Pass, my first 11,000 footer. We both dropped down into grannie gear and headed up the 2000 foot climb. While the climb was by no means easy, it was much more so than earlier climbs. We passed many tents on the way up, as well as a few people. The ego was definitely stroked.

At the pass we transitioned from Yosemite to the Ansel Adam’s wilderness. The view from the pass was majestic, and the walk through the gardens below the pass was amazing.

We also climbed Island Pass, and passed by Thousand Island Lake before dropping off the PCT to take the River Trail, camping a few miles down just above the river.

My stomach started acting up this afternoon and ended up with diarrhea. Hopefully it was just something I ate and is through my system now.

After crossing Donahue Pass, you leave Yosemite and enter into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The first few miles of this wilderness are a magical place. The views from the pass are simply amazing, and far reaching. And as you descend into the basin below, it is like walking through a manicured garden with countless creeks winding the way from pool to pool and flowers all over the place.
The Thousand Island Lake is a large alpine lake. I don’t know that it has anywhere near a thousand islands, unless you count all the rocks, but it does have a lot of them.

July 26

We’re getting better at getting out in the morning. This morning we were out well before 6 and cruising down the trail. Shortly after 10 we dropped into Red’s Meadow, planning on resupplying and spending the night. But after seeing the camping facilities, we opted to move on down the trail after our resupply.

It took a few hours before Sue got to us (we were pretty early). But once she did we consumed the subs she brought, loaded up with a couple more days of food, and hit the trail.

Nearly 3 miles and 1000 feet of up later, we came to Crater Creek and found a nice place to setup. After camp setup, I got a bath in the creek, did laundry, ate dinner, visited a bit, and now it’s bedtime.

We left Red’s Meadow just behind a dozen mules with riders, out for a short jaunt. Problem was that some of the riders had no control over the mules, who seemed to prefer eating the nearby vegetation to walking down the trail.

We finally got past them and started on our way when a young man passed us. Challenge accepted. I charged after him until he broke on the climb and I cruised on past. Ego’s are such wonderful things. I do feel much better on the hills at this altitude, and that gives me more confidence for the next couple of weeks.

Sometime after camp was setup, we saw a llama train go by with bells a clattering. After a while I noticed that the bells could still be heard. They had setup camp behind us. Hopefully the bells will eventually go to sleep, along with their llama’s.

One of the bridges over the middle fork of the San Joaquin River. Glad we didn’t have to rock hop across this one.
When leaving Red’s Meadow we ended up stuck behind a mule ride. For the most part the mules weren’t interested, and the riders were timid. It made for a bad combination, and we ended up chocking in their dust until able to pass them.

July 27

Lots of climbing today. It started off well, but by the time we made it to the last climb I was really feeling it. I had planned on only spending a single night in VVR to resupply, but have decided to get off the trail for a day or two just to rest and recharge.

There were quite a few people on the trail today, going both ways. There are still a few doing the PCT, but most of them are doing the JMT, or some local travel.

Camped tonight in a basin just a 1000 feet below 11,000 ft Silver Pass. We have had some thunder and a little rain, but it is clear again and windy.

Another day with a series of lakes. This one is Lake Virginia, quite a large alpine lake.
The view from our campsite looking toward Silver Pass.
Looking across our camp to the valley below; the valley we had to walk up to get there. I had to move a lot of rocks to get a tent site prepared.

July 28

Got up this morning at 4:15 and were on the trail an hour later, still pretty dark and climbing by headlamp. I had my light off within 20 minutes and enjoyed to walk up to Silver Pass in the dim early morning light. Once there it was a race to try and make it to the ferry landing on Lake Edison before the 9:45 ferry left for VVR. We made it; by about 5 minutes and were the last ones on a crowded boat.

The only part of the trip down that stuck out to me was when the bottom dropped out of the valley we were following, and we had to descend what must have been 1000 switch backs (or so it seemed). That slowed us down considerably, but otherwise we were able to cruise along at a pretty good clip. Dropping nearly 3000 feet in about 6 miles is good for speed, so long as the trail is smooth, which it mostly was.

The ferry ride across Lake Edison took about 20-25 minutes and was nice. But Vermilion Valley Resort was not really what I had expected. I guess the word ‘resort’ in the name through me off. It is a fairly rustic camp, but does cater to backpackers, having all the facilities that we need. Also, interestingly enough, you setup a tab when you get there, and spend no money until it is time to leave.

The road out to VVR is a nightmare. I wanted to spend a couple of nights in a hotel to be able to really relax and rest up for the southern portion of the Sierra, which are higher and rougher than what I have done so far. So I had arranged for Sue to pick me up, as well as to get Randy off the trail. When she got there it was instantly obvious that something was not right. My normally fearless wife was terrified of the 20 mile, single lane, semi paved, serpentine road out to VVR. I ended up driving back, and will have to arrange for other transportation back from Fresno to VVR. But for now, I am sitting in an air conditioned room with a soft bed and no flies buzzing around and landing in my hair.

The early morning lighting up the mountains around Silver Pass.
These little splashes of color continue to appeal to me. Walking along in the woods and suddenly something like this jumps out and grabs me.

Sonora Pass to Glen Aulin

July 19

We left Walker this morning at 6 and were on the trail at 7. We spent the first couple of hours ascending to 10,880 feet  and then spent the next few hours traversing along a number of ridges. Finally had a very long descent and eventually into trees for the first time of the day and made camp alongside a small creek, 14.5 miles from the drop off point.

The walking was good today, although the bear cans and 5 days of food made our packs pretty heavy. But the panoramic vistas during the ridge walk were breath taking and kept our minds off the lack of oxygen and sore shoulders and hips.

We ran into more snow today than anywhere else on the trip. Some of it was easy to cross, but there were a few patches that required some special attention.

We did hear about a gal who had fallen and broken her ankle. SAR had been contacted, but a couple of hours after we heard about it, we encountered her, still waiting on the chopper. She was surrounded by medical folks so we went on.

Overall a very good day foe Eeyore and Rabbit.

The climb out of Sonora Pass has a dozen patches of snow to cross, some of which took a great deal of care to prevent sliding down the mountain.
The views from atop the climb out of Sonora Pass, and the ridges to the south, were pretty impressive.

July 20

Up at 5 and on the trail around 6:20. Today we ascended up to a broad ridge and entered into Yosemite. After leaving the ridge we came to a shelf with a beautiful lake before beginning a long descent into a valley. We are camped alongside the creek we followed for 8 miles and will ford it in the morning.

Apparently the stay in my pack has been out of its pocket for sometime, and today punched a hole in the top of the pack. This puts more weight on my shoulders, so is not much fun. Cannot figure out how to fix it so am trying to arrange for a replacement.

The creek is broad where we are camped with some deep pools and big rocks. So after I had camp setup,  I went down to the creek and climbed in and bathed as much as possible without soap. Feels so much better.

Dorothy Lake is just inside the north entrance to Yosemite. It is a pretty lake that was deserted when we passed by.
Below Dorothy Lake were several miles of meadows to walk through. I kept expecting to see a herd of something go rumbling by, but had to be content with ground squirrels.

July 21

Ugh! Ford a creek. Climb 1000 ft. Descend 1000 ft. Ford a creek. Climb 1000 feet. Descend 1000 ft. Rock hop across a creek. Climb 1000 ft. Drop 150 feet and cram into a little spot at the end of a pretty little lake.

Not as many people today, and the views were limited, but what we had were good. The trail today was mostly rocky, with a lot of stairs. Glad today is over.

SO far, the streams we have had to ford have been relatively placid, although a bit time consuming. I’m sure that will change as the trail ventures further to the south.
Sometimes we go in the creeks, and sometimes the creeks go into the trail. All the rock work here was nice, helping to keep our feet dry.
This nameless little lake was our home for the night. our tiny spot at the south end of the lake was small, but the setting was wonderful.

July 22

We were up and on the trail by 6 this morning. The day started with a long descent through a mostly open valley. It then rather steeply ascended about 1800 feet and then dropped a couple hundred to a beautiful lake. I got to watch the fish feed, and take a nap, while Randy filtered water. The trail then ascended another 800 feet, half of it through a narrow and twisty canyon, before popping out at close to 10,000 feet. From there we dropped about 1500 feet to a camp beside a creek.

We only saw a few dozen people on the trail, including the 2 older men we have seen every day since Sonora Pass.

The mountains are getting very rugged, and the trail often matches them. They are so majestic and bear witness to their creator.

Sometimes a creek or river has a bridge across it. Sometimes you have to wade, or ford, it. More often you find a place where the rocks are close enough to rock hop, or step from rock to rock. And occasionally you find a log than spans the creek and is large enough to walk on. Rabbit didn’t like logs but did manage to cross one periodically.
We had this near vertical peak in sight for several hours as we first approached it, climbed up on its flank, and then moved away from it.
There are so many lakes along the route, and most of them are quite beautiful. It is often hard, even a few days later, to distinguish one from another.

July 23

Today was fairly easy, although there were some challenges getting started. It was 30 degrees this morning, although it did seem that cold until we started walking. Then it got cold, especially my hands. A mile into the days walk we came to a stream. After a bit of investigation I found a place where it appeared we could rock hop across. But I failed to take the temperature into account. Some of the rocks I had chosen to step on were frozen. Needless to say, I ended up with wet feet.

Next was a 1000 foot climb and I was really happy with being able to just power up it. There were some pretty lakes at the top, but eventually we descended a big, crossed 3 streams, one of which we forded, only to discover a good log we could have used.

Powered up another 500 foot climb and then descended for 7 miles to Glen Aulin, a backcountry camp about 6 miles from the highway. Fortunately we got here around 3 since this is a weekend and apparently a popular spot. Glen Aulin is apparently Galic for ‘Beautiful Valley’, and it was quite pleasant.

There is a waterfall here that is pouring out of a rock wall, pretty impressive. There is also running water and an outhouse. The ‘store’ however, consists of two tiny shelves with little of interest.

The communal fire pit is just across from our tents and I see someone collecting firewood, so it may be a long night.

It is not uncommon to see large areas that are just rock; and not small rocks, but just a solid slab of rock. I really enjoy them when they coincide with a stream. Reminds me of a water park. We had hoped to camp at one of these spots, but so far never have.
This waterfall at Glen Aulin appeared to come from a hole in the side of the cliff, but it was actually a narrow channel through the rock.

Echo Lake to Sonora Pass

July 13th

Slept in again this morning since I did not have to be at Carson Pass to get Randy until noon. But by 8am I couldn’t stand it and longer and header out, arriving at the pass a couple of hours early. So I sat outside on a bench for a couple of hours, then had lunch, resupplied, got Randy ready for the trail, and by 2pm was ready to head out.

A lot of today’s trail traversed through high mountain meadows and was very scenic. We did have to traverse a trio of snow fields, but they were not too bad.

Just before getting to camp, 3 gals passed us and took the spot we were shooting for. Looked around the area for a bit and finally loaded up with water and pushed on. Ended up a quarter mile further on, up on a knoll with quite a view.

Set up camp, got a bath in a little stream, ate dinner, visited a bit and then off to bed.

I am continually impressed by the array of flowers along side the trail. This is perhaps the largest patch of asters I ever remember seeing.
The campsite we wanted was nestled in some trees, with little view. But since it was taken, we moved on a bit and found a spot with quite a view.

July 14th

Today got off to a good start, but crashed in flames before it was over. We got started a bit late, but the first few hours were very scenic, traveling up high and in the open.

But about 3 hours into the day we descended into a labyrinth of rock and trees. It was confusing with all the up, down and around and we did lose the trail briefly once.

Then it got hot. At 1:30 it was 85 and I am sure it got a bit hotter. I melted. Finally, at 2pm, with our goal still 5.5 miles away, we called it quits. I stripped off by shoes, socks and pants and set down in a cool creek for 10-15 minutes with a wet bandana over my head. Felt much better afterwards, but we decided enough was enough, moved a few hundred yards further down the trail, set up camp, took naps, did a few chores, and were lazy.

Even when there are no flowers to brighten up the landscape, the lichen will sometimes take up the slack; both read and yellow varieties.
Rabbit, shuffling along the trail.

July 15th

In an attempt to beat the heat of the day, we were up at 4 and on the trail shortly after 5. While it got warm today, it never did become as debilitating as yesterday.

There were several longish climbs today, but nothing too severe. The views were pretty spectacular as well as the big alpine meadows.

We met Sue at Ebbets Pass to resupply, quaffed down some sodas and oreos and then back on the trail for the last 4 miles. The last 2 of that was a pretty steady climb, and I did surprisingly well.

Camped tonight on a bluff overlooking Nobel Lake. I am cowboy camped but may regret it by morning because of the winds and the bugs.

The ruggedness of some of the high country is amazing.
There are a number of trees along the way that look like they should audition for a part is a scary movie.
Just another ho hum picture of the next mountain to climb.

July 16th

We were a little later this morning getting started, not leaving camp until a bit after 6. The trail climbed high to a pass above the lake, descended into the valley on the other side and then climbed high up onto the next ridge, crossed it and then traversed along it side for a few miles. Then it was and endless succession of ups and downs before we finally got to camp, exhausted.

The country continues to be beautiful, the bugs tolerable and the hiking challenging. But it continues to be good. The only mar’s on the day were some off trail issues I wrestled with throughout much of the day, and Randy’s total exhaustion. This is much more challenging than he had thought possible.

Camped tonight next to a tiny creek with a dozen other people. Fortunately we were here first and had our pick of spots. I found a deep pool surrounded by big rocks and was able to clean up tonight.

Tomorrow is Sonora Pass, over 10,000 foot tall. Hope we are up for the challenge.

Nobel Lake. We spent a windy night atop the low ridge to the top and right of the ridge.
It appears like all the granite around this peak and crumbled and rolled away, leaving the core of the peak, which is turn was being broken apart by freezing water.

July 17th

Since we only have an 11 mile day ahead of us, and a 4pm pickup scheduled, we slept in a bit and didn’t leave until about 8:30. I think Randy really needed the extra sleep, and extra food he ate last night. He seemed much better this morning.

The trail started with a 500 foot descent, followed by a 2300 foot ascent, ending with a drop of about 600 foot to the highway. While no part of the trail was particularly challenging, I continue to have challenges with getting enough oxygen at high altitudes, and today was the highest yet at about 10,500 foot. What makes it even worse is that my water bottle has a filter built into it, and I have to suck water through it. Walking and drinking at 10,000 foot leaves me gasping.

The views from atop the pass were amazing, the high meadow flowers were gorgeous, the bugs were few and the few snow patches were manageable with care.  If I could just figure out how to get more air up there, all would be good.

Met Sue at Sonora Pass at 4pm and headed down to a wide spot in the road called Walker for a zero day. Will head back up on the 19th.

These little plants grow completely underground except when it is time to blossom and reproduce. Generally there is just a random plant or two sticking up above ground. This was an unusually large clump,
The view from the top of the pass. Is this what is awaiting us? Don’t know, but I am sure it is similar.
Erosion sure leaves some strange shapes behind.
One of the dicier stretches of snow to cross. You have to first scramble 6 ft up the side of the mountain and then follow the footsteps back to the trail.
On the final ascent there were several sections of the trail like this. Some wonderful trail crew has taken the time and effort into paving the trail. Much nicer than the muddy sections where snow melt is creating a bog.

Sierra City to Echo Lake

I am trying something new with my trip blogs this year. Instead of periodically trying to remember what I did each day, I am typing up each day on my phone so when I get access to a computer I just have to paste it all together and then add some pictures. So without further ado …

July 5th

Left the trailhead near Sierra City this morning at 10am and ended at Pass Creek with Sue around 4pm. Walked about 12 miles today, mostly through trees, but did have some open areas. The trail climbed a bit, but nothing to extreme and was in very good condition. Encountered a few gnats, but otherwise enjoyed the day. I did fall flat at one point, but other than a minor scrape I Survived it OK. Met 3 south bounders and 12 north bounders along with a couple of houses. Pass Creek is a nice front country camp.

July 6th

Day 2 dawned before the sun. Nature called and I had to answer, shortly before 5. There seemed to be no reason to go back to bed, so I went ahead and had breakfast, broke camp and was on the trail before 6.

The trail gained nearly 2000 feet in the first few miles, and then followed a ridge line up and down for most of the rest of the day. Much of the ridge was very scenic and there were lots and lots of flowers.

The trail is a bit crowded; I encountered 57 NB’ers and 4 SB’ers. I met 3 of the SB’ers yesterday, and all 4 of them are in camp here.

Camped at Rock Creek after a 16 mile day. It is a nice camp except for the mossies, my first of the trip. The creek has a number of deep pools, and I sat in one for a while. Somewhat breezy here at 7600 foot, so it may get cold tonight.

Overall a good day, although I was quite happy to drop at 3:15 this afternoon. Hoping to make early evenings a habit on this trip.

July 7th

It was a long night, unable to get comfortable and dealing with CBS (Cold Bottom Syndrom). Decided when I resupplied today I would shift to a sleeping bag and tent and see how that goes. So now I am setup on a shoulder off the trail, room with a view. There are no bugs here so I have opted to cowboy camp for the night. Hopefully I don’t regret that.

Up at 5 this morning and on the trail by 5:45. There continues to be some patchy snow on south slopes but nothing too bad. The worst part of the snow is that there are some really muddy areas from the melt runoff.

Not terribly scenic today, at least compared to yesterday, but it was like walking through a garden at times,  lots of flowers.

Saw over 50 hikers again today, and probably that many day hikers,  many of them with dogs. Also quite a few trail runners. I crossed I80 and Highway 40 today, both of which have trailheads and pretty country in near proximity to the roads, so I guess I should not be surprised at the number of day users.

July 8th

Lots of stars last night, and train whistles. Slept pretty well, although my air mattress has a slow leak and I had to blow it up a couple of times.

On the trail around 5:30 this morning. It started off pretty nice but I soon hit a ridge and the wind was howling over it for several miles. Was starting to get cold by the time it let up. Lots of ups and downs in today’s 15 miles. Was sure glad 15 was all I had planned for the day.

Saw over 80 hikers today, including 9 year old Boone and his mother, attempting to thru hike. Also met a group of 13 at risk teens, part of ACT. Very friendly group. Also met a trail runner, long way from anywhere.

Camped for the night at 5 Lakes creek, along with the 3 SB’ers from the past couple of nights and several other people.

The scenery today was gorgeous. The fields of Mule Ears, mixed with other flowers were amazing. The vistas were impressive as well, at least when not fighting to stay on the trail.

July 9th

A leaky air mattress can make for a long night. Hopefully I can replace it in a couple of days. But the sky finally started to lighten a bit, which is my cue to get up, eat breakfast, break camp and hit the trail, about 5:30 today.

The day started with a long climb, followed by an 8 mile ridge walk; the first 3 miles of which were exposed, windy and cold. It was beautiful though. After some more ups and downs, some scenic and some not, I rolled into Richardson Lake early afternoon and set up camp. It’s a pretty lake but very windy tonight.

Saw over a hundred people on the trail today including lots of day hikers and some hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail. Also saw a 4 ft rattlesnake slithering near the trail and a few marmots.

It was a good day, and I am still enjoying it and the body is holding up well. But after 19 miles today, much of it over 8000 foot, I was quite ready to drop my pack for the day. Tomorrow is the first trip over 9000 foot. Oh boy!

July 10th

On the trail once again at 5:30. The first few miles were not too scenic, but the miles went by quickly. And then came Dicks Pass. It was a 1500 foot climb, up to 9400 ft, the highest I have ever hiked, although that record will not stand for long.

As I started the ascent of Dicks Pass it became clear why this area is called the Desolation Wilderness. This area is not as pretty as much of the past week’s trail. But it makes up for it by being much more rugged and filled with lakes.

The trail was really crowded today with over 110 hikers headed north and nearly 20 going my direction. Some were PCT hikers, some were hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, and others were just exploring the Desolation Wilderness.

I had been camping near a group of south bound PCT section  hikers every night so far, and wanted to break away from them. I knew they were going to Susie Lake tonight, so I planned on going to Heather Lake, a mile further. But I did not like any of those sites,  so on another couple miles to Aloha Lake. It is a mile and a half long and a quarter mile wide, filled with islands and big rocks, with very little foliage around it. I finally found a spot to camp at the far end of the lake after a 20+ mile day. Should sleep good tonight in spite of a leaky air mattress.

July 11th

Today was just a short stretch of about 8 miles, and was not expecting to be picked up until noon, so I slept in until nearly 6, then got up and hauled my breakfast stuff down to a big rock on the lake. I got there just after the sun had started to shine on the ridge across from me, reflecting into the lake. The most awe inspiring thing I have seen on the trail since Crater Lake.

Had a young man come into camp last night as I was getting ready for bed. In conversation with him I found that he was preparing to use a hammock for the first time, but all he had to keep himself warm through the night was his clothes and a blanket. Mind you, we were at 8000 feet and expecting near freezing temps. I told him he would freeze hanging in a hammock like that and got him to sleep on the ground, wearing all his clothes, my emergency thermal bivy, and wrapped up in his big blue tarp. I guess he survived the night because my bivy was by my tent and he was gone when I came back from breakfast. I had hoped to hear from him how his night had gone, but guess I’ll have to be content with knowing he lived.

Broke camp, hiked down past Echo Lake and now sit at highway 50 waiting for Sue

Ready to hit the trail
The prettiest flower
Mule Ears. Individually not especially attractive. But when you see hill sides covered with them they become very impressive.
There has been some snow, but mostly patches like this.
Cowboy camping near Donner’s Pass. Anyone else feel hungry?
Tinker’s Knob, the highest point on the trail so far, although it was surpassed later.
A look ahead at what is coming in a couple of days.
Lake Tahoe as seen from the PCT
A four foot rattlesnake heading north just off the PCT. Sure wasn’t expecting this..
Looking south toward Dick’s Pass.
Can you tell which way the wind generally blows?
Aloha Lake at sunrise
The same shot at Aloha Lake as above, just an hour later
My camp at Aloha Lake. Mostly the same every night except for the location.
Echo Lake. The lake in the background is the primary lake with a resort and cottages all around it. The cottages are accessible only by boat.

Washington PCT from Trout Lake to Cascade Locks

In addition to doing a larger chunk of the PCT in Oregon or California each year, I have been doing a smaller section of my home state each year with a friend.  This year the plan had been to do Chinook Pass south to Trout Lake, but shortly before we left there was a trail closure west of Mt. Adams, so we shifted to the piece south of there.  We spent Friday night at Cascade Locks and early Saturday morning our wives drove us to the trailhead, a dozen or so miles from Trout Lake on FS 23.

This 82 mile stretch of the trail is mostly heavily forested and seldom rises above the tree line.  The forest was beautiful, green and lush, but I missed having the scenic vistas that are so common throughout the rest of Washington.  The trail is generally pretty easy, the climbs, at least southbound, were no more than a couple thousand feet, the tread was good, and only in a few places did the brush encroach on the trail.  There were a few places with 10-12 miles between water sources, but there was really little issue with water.  The only time I carried more than 2 quarts was our one night of dry camping; most of the time I only used a single water bottle.  The temperature started pretty warm but cooled significantly by the end.

I was surprised Saturday by the number of other people on the trail.  We probably encountered nearly one a mile for the first 10-12 miles of the day, mostly thru’s, including a southbound pair.  But when we got to FS24 and the berry fields in the area, we started running into people in clumps, encountering another 3 to 4 dozen in the last 12 miles; and it seemed like most of the groups had one or more dogs with them.  Most of these folks were day hiking, either from a road and connecting trail, or camped near one of the area lakes.  I cannot remember ever seeing so many people out in the backcountry.  We also encountered a SAR group searching for an elderly woman who had disappeared while out berry picking. I read later that she was found the next day in good condition.

Towards the end of the day we started passing by a number of lakes, stopping at one for water and then going on to Blue Lake.  This is a beautiful clear lake that was very popular.  Signs were posted instructing us only to camp in designated spots, and they were all full.  So we plopped down in a day use area, went swimming, ate dinner, loaded up with water, fought off the dogs camped in the area, who without exception went into a frenzy when they saw me, and then headed on south another half mile or so.  We were both using hammocks so it was easy to find a spot to hang for the night, although our first attempt was apparently on a yellowjacket nest.  Fortunately we managed to escape with only a single sting.  The second attempt was better and we had a peaceful night after a 24 mile day.  The day was good in spite of the crowds, the dogs, the sting and only a single sighting of Mt Adams.

Sunday morning we were up and on the trail before 6, looking to get an early start to beat the heat.  There was a long dry stretch at the end of the day, and we were looking to get past it and to Panther Creek for the night, 22 miles away.  The day was mostly a long descent, broken up by a thousand foot climb in the middle.  We did manage to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood during occasional moments above the tree line, but the vast majority of the days was again spent cruising through the deep forest.  We encountered what appeared to be a Boy Scout troup preparing to cut a branch that was leaning over the trail, and then another dozen or so hikers.  While still more than I had expected, it was much better than the previous day.  Surprisingly, we did encounter a couple of light sprinkles, and it did seem a bit cooler than the previous day.  We had expected mid 90’s for the whole trip so the cooler temp was a welcome relief.

There were a pair of drying ponds along the route, but neither of them looked appealing.  South of them was what was identified in the halfmile notes as a piped spring along the trail, but when we arrived it was just a 10 ft long 1″ PVC pipe that was laying on the ground.  Tigger pushed it back against the seep that was coming from the bank and a bit of water started to flow; enough to fill our bottles.  This spring had more yellowjackets buzzing around than I had ever seen in one place before.  But their only concern seemed to be getting a drink.  A mile or so further south was another spring, and this one, just off the trail, had a convenient pool to scoop from and was nice and cool.

There is a front country campground at Panther Creek and we stayed there for the night.  Our spot was not far from the creek, making it easy to clean up and wash clothes.  Most spots in the camp were taken, but it was still fairly quiet with few people actually moving around. Turned in around 8 and slept like a baby, rocking in the tree tops.

Monday was going to be a shorter day, so we slept in and didn’t get on the trail until close to 7.  Because of another longish dry stretch we decided to stop at Rock Creek, 16 miles down the trail. The route proceeded through some pretty dense forest, across a farm and a couple of substantial creeks/rivers for several miles before beginning the climb for the day.  This 2000 ft climb was pretty steady and at times fairly steep.  And, while it was still cooler, it was pretty humid, and long before we had hit the top my shirt was completely soaked and the sweat was running halfway down to my knees; worst sweat-out I can remember.

We reached Rock Creek around 2 and found two sites on the creek, one recently occupied, and the other unsuitable for hanging.  But there was another one at the top of a short ridge that the creek looped around, and this one was quite adequate to hang in.  Setup camp, ate lunch, bathed in the creek and then relaxed for a few hours before turning in for the night.  I believe that ridge above Rock Creek was my favorite camp of the trip.

Tuesday morning was also going to be a short 16 mile trip to Gillette Lake, which was only 4 miles from Cascade Locks.  My wife was going to pick us up Wednesday morning, so the plan was to mosey down to the lake spend the afternoon and evening, and then make it to Cascade Locks by 10 the next morning.  The day started off with a 2000 foot climb and I found myself drenched again, I assume because of the humidity.  It was the coolest day yet, and even had a few rain drops; but I was soaked long before hitting the top.  But we finally did get some nice vistas, having periodic sightings of the three previous volcanoes as well as Mt Rainier and the Columbia River.  We stopped on a big rock before beginning the long descent to the Columbia and had second breakfast, looking down at the Columbia and across to Mt Adams; probably the most scenic spot on this section of trail.

Next began a 3000 foot descent, and near the bottom we started to encounter poison oak.  It was pretty thick in places, and once we got to Gillette Lake, we found that most of the sites there had PO in or around them.  We sat there and ate lunch and debated about whether or not to stay, ultimately deciding that a burger would taste very good for dinner and pushed on to Cascade Locks.  A mile from the lake we rounded a corner in the trail and nearly ran into a bicycle heading our way.  After more than 2000 miles on the PCT, this was my first bike encounter.  I informed him that he was not supposed to be on the PCT. He seemed surprised at that, turned around and took off.  A mile later we found were he had probably hit the trail, and sure enough, there was nothing to indicate any restrictions on bicycles.  I am generally pretty non confrontational, so was surprised, and pleased, that I was able to confront this biker, although I am sure that it helped that he did seem surprised and contrite.

The final step was crossing the Bridge of the Gods at 5:30 P.M.  There was a steady stream of cars coming across, but without exception they moved over for us and we crossed without any undue excitement.  Found a hotel room, a burger, a bed and a ride the next day and the trip was over.  This was easily the least scenic stretch of the PCT I have been on in Washington (and I have done all of it but the Goat Rocks), and it had the most people on it.  But I did enjoy the trip; the walking was generally easy, the forests were lush, the occasional views were nice and the company was good.

Tigger and Eeyore ready to hit the trail.

One of a few sightings of Mt. St. Helens

Several lakes toward the end of the first day were visible through the trees, although the trail only directly passes by Blue Lake.

Mt Hood in the distance.

Tigger taking a picture of Adams with Hood in the background.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt Adams

Sheep Lake was one of two small drying ponds along the way.  We did not need water near badly enough to venture through the muck to them.

Very little of the forest had a bare floor.  Most of it had a thick green carpet.

Tigger demonstrating the proper technique for using a hammock.

A nice swimming hole on Rock Creek.

The bridge over Rock Creek was typical of stream crossings in the area.  Most of them had pretty substantial bridges.


Looking down from our camp at Rock Creek, you could see the creek on three sides.

There was a short section of the trail that afforded views of Mt Rainier in the distance.

First view of the Columbia River

Gillette Lake was pretty, but infested with poison oak, so we opted not to stay.

Struggling into Kennedy Meadows

After a nero day in Lake Isabella, it was time to hit the trail for the last two days up to Kennedy Meadows.  Sue dropped me off at Walker Pass shortly after 6 and the big climb began.

 The terrain here is mostly rolling hills, but there are several ridges, requiring big climbs that must be dealt with.  This first day started with a 2300 foot climb, followed by a 2000+ descent, a 1000 ft ascent, a 1000 ft descent, a 2000 ft ascent and finally a 1000 ft descent.  And that was just the first day.  Fortunately the climbs were generally not steep, but they were long and steady.  By days end I was whooped.

From near the top of the first climb I could look out and see highway 395 below, along with some of the businesses along the way.  This jagged peak, and a similar ridge were also prominent.

It took me a moment when I ran across this in the trail, just before the day’s second climb.   But apparently it marks the quarter way point for thru hikers.  The first quarter has been mostly dry.  The next quarter will be up high and much wetter.  The folks I have been generally traveling with will be in the snow in a couple of days.

We have been in the Sierra range since leaving Tehachapi, although it is generally hard for me to tell the difference from the other ranges we have been in.  There does seem to be more of these unusual rock formations though.  Erosion has left many unusual stacks and piles of rocks that give the appearance of being sculpted and placed.

Toward the end of the first day out I discovered this dinosaur skull fossil setting alongside the trail.  Based on the teeth it was obviously a giant herbivore, indicating the climate was not always as dry as it is not.

I saw formations like this several times, with the row of little blocks sandwiched between larger layers of stone.  Not being a geologist, it appears to be different layers of sediment laid down, then uplifted and finally exposed and eroded.

The last day started with a climb up over 8000 ft and then began a long descent through a burn.  There seemed to be little beyond sage that was growing, for miles and miles as the trail slowly wound down through an endless valley. This descent lasted for several hours and I finally plugged in some music to pass the time.

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the effort that goes into building a trail. For the most part it seems like it is built just by the tromp of countless feet.  And then you come on a place where the trail is clinging to a cliff and you can begin to appreciate the effort that goes into making a trail like this possible.

Once the valley traversal is at an end, the trail comes out onto a mostly barren plain.  There was still about 8 miles left to Kennedy Meadows, and I found that I was shot.  No energy and no motivation.  I was ready to just sit down and quit.  Problem was that if I sat down I would still be there; no bus was coming by.  I finally realized that part of my problem was that I was not eating enough (a common trail problem for me), so I ate a bag of granola and pushed ahead, eventually gaining a certain measure of strength and determination.

The last three or so miles follows the south fork of the Kern River.  As rivers go, it is not very impressive.  But apart from Silverwood Lake and the California Aqueduct, it was the biggest body of water I remember following.

Kennedy Meadows is at 702 miles, so this pile of rocks at the side of the trail was a welcome sight.  700 miles from the Mexican border, nearly 500 of them on this trip.

 For some reason I had envisioned Kennedy Meadows as a backcountry resort/outfitter.  I was surprised to see that it was actually a small town.  Apart from a few houses and a store I did not see anything there to build a town around, but there it was.

The store in Kennedy Meadows is where its at as far as thru hikers are concerned.  When I arrived there were 4 guys in the parking lot playing with a Frisbee, and cheering everyone in came in.  I never went into the store, but the porch was crowded with 2-3 dozen hikers who were going through packages, repacking, eating and just visiting.

From here the trail quickly ascends high into the Sierra.  Within a day of leaving here you are over 10,000 feet high, and, when I finished, likely up into the recent snow.

Puff Puff, upper left; Growler, upper right; and Cool Breeze, left; were a group of hikers that had come together early in the hike.  I encountered them periodically along the way, including here at Kennedy Meadows.  They are likely in the snow now.

Michael and Marcus, the ‘Swiss Army’ were two young Swiss men who were hiking the PCT.  I ran into them several times as well.

Marvin was one of the few I encountered older than I was.  We hiked together part of one day and ran into each other frequently over the last week.

After 30 days and just shy of 500 miles, I have finished the southern California section of the PCT that I started last year.  It has been a challenging month, both physically and mentally.  But it has been a good trip and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to experience it.  And especially fortunate that my wife, Sue, has been willing to devote the past month providing support for me along the way.

After 6 years on the trail, I have completed about 2000 miles of the trail with only the southern piece of Washington and the high Sierra left to complete.  Next year should see it finished.

Tehachapi to Walker Pass

 After spending a day and a half in Mojave it was time to get back onto the trail.  Sue dropped me off early at Tehachapi pass and after a short jaunt along the highway it was time to start climbing.  While the conditions were good for all of the wind turbines, they were less than ideal for climbing a mountain. The wind was blowing so hard that at times I had to just brace myself until the gust was finished.  I eventually had to tie my sleeping pad down because it was acting like a sail and I was afraid I would lose it.

The climb was agonizing and almost broke me.  My right quad was killing me, even after taping it and wearing compression shorts and tights.  And this section had little water that I felt like I could depend on so I was carrying a lot.  It was 50 miles to the next access to the car.  Could I make it?  I came close to turning around.  But when I got to the top the wind died down and I found a place alongside the trail to collapse for a few minutes.  And wonder of wonders, when I got up the quad was happy, so on I went.

 Most of the wind turbines north of the pass seemed to be of the erector set variety.  I assume they were older, and were definitely smaller, than the turbines closer to the pass.  I hiked 24 miles that day and was never far from a small cluster of these turbines. The next day I was up and walking before dawn, and discovered that these guys all had a blinking red light on them. Quite interesting the synchronized red flashing in the dark.

I think I took a picture of every horny toad that I saw; I love them, I guess because of childhood memories.  Unlike the lizards that are all over the place, the occasional horny toad always poised for me.   Never did I see one move more than a couple of feet at a time.

 On the second day I had to get up to water a bush shortly after 4.  It didn’t seem worth going back to bed so I went ahead and quietly broke camp and was on the trail before 5.  Walking by headlamp is not something I do often, but it does give a different appearance to the trail.  And the best part is watching the sun come up.  I had to stop, gawk, and take a picture every few minutes.

Most of the PCT runs over either National Parks, National Forests, BLM land or state parks.  But there is a couple hundred miles of the trail that is running over private land and the PCTA has obtained an easement from the land owner to allow us to travel across their property.  I am grateful for their willingness to allow us to trample a trail through their fields or forests.

 Meet Hamburger, Sirloin and Chuck Roast.  They, along with another dozen or so of their friends watched us go by for a while before they must have decided we might eat them early.  I have little experience with live cows other than on the PCT, and I have never learned to decipher what looks to me like a blank expression on their face.  Seems like they always stare at me for a minute or two and turn and either amble or run away.  These just ambled further on up the hill and out of sight.

600 trail miles from the Mexican border.  That means I only have a shade over 100 left on this trip.  The first few times I saw these I was surprised, but now I have come to expect them.  I only remember seeing one or two north of the Sierra in years past, but that may have changed with the larger numbers of hikers.

 Another of the tiny little flowers that adds color to the landscape.  I continue to be amazed at the variety of little flowers along the trail.  As I close in on the end of the trail, I find my body both getting stronger and starting to break down.  I have to be very careful how I walk to keep my right quad from seizing up, I am wearing a brace on my left knee to protect it, I am starting to get some blisters, plus the constant chaffing of my pack.  And then a patch of little flowers appears and brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits a bit.

Occasionally you can find an old relic abandoned out in the wild.  This one appears to be a gold miners sluice, left alongside a dried up stream bed.  Did it ever actually find any gold?  Why is it left here all along?  Whatever happened to the man who lugged it out here and likely spent days, weeks or months running sand and gravel from the stream through it?

One thing the trail will do for you is to get you to think.  I wondered about so many things, from sluices, to rock formations, to the tenacity of life, to God’s purpose for me and for his creation.  Sometimes I feel satisfied with the conclusions I reach, while other times the result is only more questions.  But it is good, and in some ways the most rewarding part of the trail to me.  I enjoy the occasional encounters with others, especially when the going is hard.  But I enjoy more the loneliness of hiking alone and being able to reflect.

More flowers!  I seem unable to help myself.  I have probably taken more pictures of little flowers than I have of anything else along the trail. Sometimes the ground is carpeted with little yellow, while, blue, purple or red flowers.  No picture I have been able to take captures the beauty that they add to an otherwise drab, and sometimes burned, landscape.

Joshua Trees are pretty cool.  They come in such a variety of shapes and sizes.  This one appears to be bowing down to all of the hikers who come by.  I know, I know; sometimes my imagination runs away with me.

 This bush, just before the Kelso Valley Road, reminded me of a burning bush, like the one Moses encountered.  It was all aglow with pink flowers.

Joshua Trees sometimes have big clusters of fruit just hanging to be picked, although you would have to be careful because the leaves are sharp and pointy.  I never did pick one, although I wondered just what they would be like.  The outer covering is thick and leathery, and would be tough to penetrate with the meager tools I had at my disposal.

 The Joshua Trees in the Kelso Valley were unusually full and bushy.  Many of them had sandy places underneath where one could cowboy camp if needed.  And I had an owl, or maybe a hawk, flit between several of them as I walked by.  I must have been disturbing him.

Yet another little flower growing up out of the sand.  And this one had no foliage that I could see.  It’s almost as if someone traveling ahead of me was sticking little plastic flowers into the ground.  But if so they had a boat load of them.

 Imagination time again.  I saw this rock while on the long climb up Skinner Peak.  Do you see the pirate?

There was a water cache at the bottom of this climb, along with a small bag of delicious oranges. I grabbed a little water and threw an orange into my pack for dessert that night: very good.

 Before climbing Skinner Peak you first descend down into a valley, starting at the top left of the picture, working your way down and to the right and then roughly along and below the road.  You can see the trail start up the valley in the center bottom before it begins a long traverse to the left, for what seems like a good mile.  Then it switchbacks up for a while before crossing a ridge and then traversing back across the same side valley it had started in.  I had no idea where the trail was going when looking ahead, but from this spot I could look back at where I had been several hours before.  Sometimes it takes a long time to go where a crow could fly in pretty short order.

Toward Walker Pass I started to see what I assume is some variety of tulip.  They were mostly white although some of them had a tint of purple to them.  I only remember seeing them a few miles either side of this pass.

This message in the trail is from someone who obviously knows that the rigors of the trail are starting to take a toll on us, and seeks to cheer us up.  And I must admit that I needed it.  I really want to do this trail, and in general enjoy it.  But there are times when it almost seems to be too much.

Right after this, a short side trail descended down to the Walker Pass campground where I flopped down and waited for Sue to pick me up.  It had been a most unusual couple of days: In the past day and a half I had seen a grand total of 1 thru hiker, and that for just a few minutes.  I believe it was the only time so far that I have been so alone.  And I enjoyed that.  Now on to Lake Isabella and half a day to do nothing but eat, resupply and rest.

Aqueducts and Windmills

After completing the section around Agua Dulce, I took a day off and started fresh at the Green Valley Fire Station.

There is a trail closure that starts here because of a fire a couple of years ago.  While there are several defined detours, all of them involve walking down a road for at least a few miles.  And regardless which detour you take, this road is involved.  The road generally has a wide shoulder, but there are a few places where it disappears around blind corners with heavy traffic.

The detour most people choose involves an 11 mile road walk followed by a couple of miles along an abandoned road and trail to get back to the PCT.  Up until the night before I left this is what I had planned on.  But that trail is mostly dry and moderately hilly.  One of the other choices involved walking along the California Aqueduct, and the more I looked at it the more appealing it became.  It involved a bit less than 5 miles on a road, followed by what was reported to be 22 miles of canal, although it actually turned out only to be 16.  That was half as long as the more popular route, plus it had easy access to lots of water, and was flat.  Walking the aqueduct was actually the best part of the section, at least to me.

They seem pretty serious about keeping cows away from the aqueduct, at least fat cows.  These little gates are at most of the road crossings, along with signs that restrict activity along the canal to walking and fishing.  They warn periodically against getting into the canal because of the chances of drowning, and have ladders every so often to aid in getting out should you fall in.

In contrast to the California Aqueduct is the LA Aqueduct.  These two intersect where the detour ends and the trail resumes.  This section of the LA Aqueduct flows through a large steel pipe, probably about 8 ft in diameter.  It is mostly buried, although the top is exposed and I walked on it for several miles.  In the picture to the left you can see part of the exposed pipe disappearing in the distance.  Seemed like about 4 miles before it changed direction and composition.

After the pipe comes to an end it is replaced by a covered concrete conduit that appears to the hiker as a paved lane running next to a dirt road.  Wikipedia says there is about 200 miles of this, although we only had to travel about 8-10 of it.  There is quite a contrast between the two aqueducts, most significantly that the one had water and the other is rumored to be dry.

While walking down the road along side the LA Aqueduct I found what appears to be a gopher snake working on its tan.  It just laid there while I took a couple of pictures and then went on.

I live in Washington and hike the Olympics quite a bit.  And ants are not uncommon.  But I do not recall ever seeing as many ants as I have in the past few days.  The mound at right seems to be fairly typical, 6-8 inches across with a hole over an inch in diameter.  And the roads/trails have these every 20 feet or so; at least it seemed like it.  And sometimes there were solid streams of ants running across the trail.  They are not large ants, and there are both black and red versions, nor did they seem particularly aggressive.  But they are everywhere: bazillions of them.

Periodically along the cover of the LA Aqueduct there were raised concrete platforms, and I had decided that they would make a nice platform for camp, up out of the sand and reach of any potential passing motorist. But just as dusk started to settle in I found a spot where there were a couple of small walls built across the concrete cover; perfect windbreaks.

I had not seen another hiker all day long; and I have been walking for 13.5 hours and close to 30 miles.  Just as I was fixing to crawl into my sleeping bag, along comes 5 hikers.  And then 3 more, and 2 more, and 3 more and 1 more …  By midnight 18 had walked past me, mostly oblivious to my presence.  I knew walking through Antelope Valley was common at night to avoid the heat.  But it was cool all day.  I don’t get it.

I still had a bit more than 30 miles to go before reaching the Tehachapi Willow Springs road, so I was on the trail by 5 A.M., walking by headlamp.  I have not done this very much, but the trail was really a dirt road and fairly flat.  It was a pleasant walk watching the sun come up in front of me.

The Joshua Trees in the early pre-sun morning were like ghostly shadows rising up from the ground.

It was not often during the day when you could not look around and see a big wind turbine somewhere.  I have heard some hikers complain about them, and how they spoil the beauty of the backcountry.  But I thought they were kind of cool, and much preferable to the smog.  This area has around 5000 wind turbines as well as some solar arrays spotted in the distance.

It is kind of eerie walking beside and under these giants.  You can hear the wind humming by the blades, and the shadows they cast are fun to walking through, zipping across the ground around you.

I take a lot of picture of flowers, hoping some will turn out.  In contrast to the massive wind turbines are some of these delicate little flowers that sometimes seem to rise up out of the sand with little to any foliage.  And they stand out in such stark contrast to the sandy hillsides that just a single flower is striking.  Imagine the hillside covered with these.

The Tehachapi Mountains must be a dirt bikers paradise.  There are trails everywhere, sometimes straight up and down.  The PCT intersects these trails quite often.  The horizontal trail to the left is the PCT.  The two running up and down are dirt bike trails.  The hills are covered with them.  I did not see any dirt bikes all day long, but it is obvious they have been out recently.

Here’s another example of a pretty little flower growing up in the middle of a pile of sand.  I am guessing it is some kind of poppy.

This cache is setup at the top of a long climb and was a welcome break.  I flopped down into a plastic Adirondack chair for a half hour and ate a very late lunch and guzzled some of the water I had been carrying for the past two days.  There was water here, as well as at a stream a few hours back, but I am so afraid to rely on caches and potentially unreliable water sources that I seem always to carry way too much.  I carried 6 liters for this nearly 40 mile stretch, and ended up with 1 liter un-drunk.

After leaving here it was 8 miles to the finish, almost all downhill.  Plug in the iPod and charge, hoping to make it to the bottom, and the car, before dark.  And I did.

I love the horny toads; this is my third on the trip.  Glad he was only a few inches long rather than 20 feet.  He is pretty fierce looking even at his size.  I would hate to contend with a giant version of him.

I know it’s just a partially burned log.  But after 25 or so miles already, with tongue dragging, when rounding the corner it gives quite a different impression.  The two dark upper spots are eyes and the lower spot is the nose.  Looks like a giant dog peeking out of the bush waiting for someone to come by.

Did I mention there were some windmills in the area?  The climb started through a wind farm and kept it in sight even after I was long out of it.  Then part way down another one came into view, with the trail ultimately passing through it as well.  The turbines in the first farm all looked pretty much the same.  But these showed a variety of shape and form.  This is apparently where it all started and the evolution of wind turbines was evident.

After 2, 30 mile days, I spent the night in the town of Tehachapi before completing the 9 mile walk through a wind farm that stretches between the Tehachapi Willow Springs road and Highway 58.  When we got to the trail head we ran into Growler, Puff Puff and Cool Breeze from a few days before.  They were the last group to have walked past my site the night before and it was good to see them again.

This is one of the few pictures I have taken that seems to show the big descents, or ascents, that the trail sometimes makes down to a road.  This one was only a thousand or so feet, so relatively short.

We have moved over to the town of Mojave for a couple of nights and will be taking a day off.  The weather man is forecasting cold, rain and snow for the high country, and I want no part of that.  My right quad is also giving me some grief so we are taking advantage of the day to run into Bakersfield to get some tights and see if KT tape and compression shorts/tights will make it more bearable.  Suddenly the end is in sight, less than 150 miles to go, and I don’t want anything to derail it this time.  Kennedy Meadows here I come.