PCT SOBO Journal: Sierra City to Sonora Pass

In this mountainous stretch of trail, I begin the long ascent into the High Sierra, finally climb above 10,000 feet, visit ‘the weirdest place on the PCT,’ find out that ice cream vending machines are a thing, traverse through the fairy tale land of the Desolation Wilderness, and get ‘bear aware’ at Sonora Pass.  Bonus: is the ghostly creature at a creek a bad omen?  Here’s the latest…

Update:

This is going to be the last update, since I’m done with the trail and have reached my fundraising goal with AFSP National.  From here on out, it’s nothing but trail journals and then a follow up on gear and other PCT related stuff.

On my previous post, I did a series of shout-outs to those who contributed and supported my campaign for suicide prevention.  You can read that here.

I am still accepting donations for my campaign.

Thanks again to everyone who donated, you’ve restored my faith in humanity and have inspired me to continue fundraising for awesome charites on future thru-hikes.

If you’re enjoying my trail journals and other content, be sure to subscribe.  You’ll receive my latest posts in your email inbox.  Simply click the follow button in the black box to the right of this article, or if you’re on mobile, click the arrow in the upper right on your screen.

Much love,

-Artemis

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Day 65: Sierra City to Mule Ears Creek, 16 miles

Cheesy Puff and I sleep in, well past the point of seeing the sunrise and cozy in our plush king size bed at Herrington’s Sierra Pine Lodge. I wake up and make some coffee, with a real life coffee maker and not so real coffee creamer, and although the ‘Sierra Blend’ complimentary packet of java is nothing to write home about, it’s still far better than what I’ve been drinking for over two months on trail.

We head to breakfast at the on-site restaurant, where we inhale some French toast, bacon, and more coffee. Back in the room, I use the rest of my luxurious face wash and lotion, and gather up my things, including three bags of chips that I’ve combined into a gallon zip lock and lovingly call ‘trail mix,’ loads of sweets, the usual boring protein bars, packets of salmon, and homemade dehydrated couscous with veggies.

We stroll into town after checking out, and once back at the store, hunger strikes again. We order a round of corn dogs, but the fryer isn’t fully heated, so the lovely cook throws in an order of waffle fries on the house, as long as we don’t mind waiting. On the way back to the trail, we score a hitch immediately from a nice couple, and we’re so grateful we don’t have to pound pavement before getting back on trail in the scorching heat.

I’m not super happy to be back walking, meandering this lonesome, dusty path back up into the hills. The trail teases us with an inaccessible turquoise creek, leading us across a bridge and over a deep pool of clear water. At less than two miles in, I’m ready for a repeat of our leisurely swimming break at the Feather River.

We slowly climb for the remainder of the day, over jagged hilltops covered in brittle mule ears plants and wild mint that spent the summer getting crispy under the sun. The sparse pine trees provide some relief from the heat, and quail scatter across the trail when I round the bends.

We settle for the night into a couple of flat tent spots above Mule Ears Creek, and I only eat a few snacks for my dinner; my gut is a bit uneasy from the greasy foods I ate in town. The evening sun floods the gulch in an inviting golden light, and I sit a bit admiring its beauty. It isn’t long, however, before I get the yawns and fall into my fluffy sleeping bag. The sound of sticks breaking in the nearby underbrush catches my attention, and I call out to Cheesy Puff.  She doesn’t answer.

Day 66: Mule Ears Creek to Donner Summit, 24 miles

Sounds in the night keep me from sleeping undisturbed; a breeze rustling the mules ears, and the sounds of twigs snapping beneath the feet/paws/hooves of some shadowy creature that goes unseen. I try to ignore it, but can’t.  At least if I’m eaten, I won’t have to walk anymore.

The trail is a rollercoaster today, up and over rolling hills covered in pine and fir trees, bear grass and pumice. We catch a brilliant sunrise, and gaze down into a valley from the ridgeline we’re traversing. At a creek crossing with a wooden bridge, we stop for an early lunch of crackers, cheese and chocolate, and have an odd encounter with a man in his underwear. He’s out section hiking for a few days, and has stopped to bathe in the creek. He stands before us as we eat, discussing various trail topics, no shame in sight as he proudly sports his whitey-tighties. Thankfully, it doesn’t harm my appetite.

We do a bit more climbing through the comfort of the shaded forest, before entering an open meadow where the Peter Grubb Ski Hut sits. We take a moment to check out the quaint little cabin and it’s oddly novel two story pit toilet, and then head out again, making our way up to Castle Pass.

At Castle Pass, we encounter blustery conditions and several day hikers. With the present crowds, we know we’re near civilization again and wonder if the upcoming rest area at Donner Pass will have any goodies to offer us. We hurry down towards the sound of the freeway, and pop out at the rest area via a side trail, dodging some curious travelers. They look at us with confusion as we pass, as if they’re shocked to see two women emerging from the trees. But then again, I have to wonder what inspires a passing motorist to explore an area behind a rest area too, so the confusion is mutual.

The Donner Pass rest area doesn’t disappoint: there’s the usual missed luxury of indoor plumbing, but most importantly, there’s vending machines. One of the vending machines actually contains a rather impressive variety of ice cream bars, and of course the regular deluge of sugary sodas. I settle on a Blue Bunny Birthday Cake ice cream bar and Orange Crush, and take respite in a sunny patch on top of a large, flat boulder. The two of us watch the travelers coming and going, hurrying inside to the bathrooms, stretching, walking their dogs and smoking.  They eye us suspiciously, not that I can blame them. Rest areas don’t have the best reputations for those who linger.

We pass under the freeway through a large corrugated metal storm drain, in which a man who resembles Santa Clause appears, clutching a bible and reminding us that ‘the day is blessed.’ An odd place to be spreading the good word, and it only confirms that Donner Pass still holds onto the title of ‘weirdest place on the PCT’ for me.

“We all float down here, Georgie”

The trail passes between the I-80 freeway and highway 40, passing dramatic granite boulders, and catching views of some of the nearby lakes (one of which is where the ill-fated Donner Party wintered in 1846). Once at the road, we decide to further treat ourselves with a visit to the tavern down the road. The sounds of live music can be heard, and a burger and beer sounds mighty fine.

The Old 40 Tavern is a happening place, filled with locals and tourists, and now a couple of dirty hikers. We order some deep-fried appetizers and burgers, and of course a round of beers. We stay a little too long, but we’ve already managed a decent enough day at 24 miles. We also witness another bar fight, this time between two ski area employees, but the bartender does little to control it and acts as if it’s a regular thing around these parts. As we’re wrapping up our night, a rather intoxicated patron sits at our table, uninvited. He goes on about how he too has thru-hiked the PCT, but I’ve already checked out of the conversation and I’m busy downloading the next series of topographic maps to my phone.

“So you’ll be finishing up the trail in the next couple of weeks then, down there in New Mexico.” He slurs his words.

Cheese and I share a glance. “No, the trail finishes at the Mexico border, in California. And it will probably take us until the first week of November to complete it.  I thought you said you hiked the PCT?”

“I have!” He’s defensive, possibly embarrassed, and undeniably drunk. “I just took the unbeaten path!”

We nod, and go back to giving our attention to our phones. At last call, we dip out and head to the trailhead across the highway. It’s protected from the view of the road, and we decide to just camp here for the night. We giggle over the happenings of the evening as we set up our tents, and then fall fast asleep.

Day 67: Donner Summit to Tahoe Rim Trail Junction, 24 miles

I wake up in the darkness of early morning, a dull headache throbbing behind my eyes, and I stir up Cheesy Puff to get going. We need to pack up before the herds of day hikers descend upon the trailhead. We also have a day of nearly constant climbing, and we need to push onward to make miles.

We head up through the woods, stopping momentarily to read the random plaques mounted to the trees. They describe scenes from the westward movement, including journal entries of emigrants using trees as wenches to pull their covered wagons up and over the mountain slopes.

They should have just carried everything they needed in backpacks, it would have been easier.

Tinkers Knob

Above the trees, we are treated to gorgeous views.  It’s windy, but warm up here, and we have a little laugh at the name: Tinker’s Knob. From the ridge, the trail levels out some, and we find some respite from the wind in a small gathering of trees around a creek. We make some coffee, our own specialty of cheap instant coffee and chocolate Breakfast Essentials mixed with cold water, and start cold soaking our meals for later on in the evening. Suddenly I’m hit with the urge to use the toilet, and grab my things and hurry up the trail to find a spot in the trees with some privacy. I do manage to find an area to go about a half of a mile further on, and I begin digging my cathole. But it’s then that I realize I have no privacy after all, as a pair of day hikers are staring up at me through clearing from the trail. I halt what I’m doing and stare back; thankfully I haven’t exposed what color my knickers are yet. They keep looking in my direction and now I’m feeling uncomfortable. Do they not know what it is I’m up to? I move further up into the trees and finally do my business. No one sees me, at least I hope they didn’t.

Midday, we continue our climb up from Squaw Valley, with more day hikers crowding the trail. A tram from a ski resort has brought them up into the hills, and they all smell like soap and sunscreen. They take endless photos and don’t move out of the way even when I ask politely.

We have our lunch beneath a chair lift, and beside a low flowing creek. Another round of day hikers comes through, carelessly trampling over plants and just generally being loud. I shoo their dog away from my lunch, and stretch out in the sunshine for a bit.

We meet or German friend High Roller again later on in the day, and he offers us each a hard-boiled egg from his food stash. He walks with us a bit, eating a sandwich and telling us his intent on arriving in South Lake Tahoe by the end of the next day, some fifty miles ahead. He encourages us to do the same, and his speed is impressive, but we’re not interested in doing long days that require us to walk in the dark. We part ways at another creek, and then begin our epic ridge walk above Lake Tahoe.

View of Lake Tahoe from Granite Chief Wilderness

The ridge that leads us across another ski area and into Granite Chief Wilderness is incredibly windy, so much so that I’m really bracing myself to keep my footing and not go flying off the mountain. The views are spectacular, with Lake Tahoe stretching out to the east of us, and the noble peaks of the high Sierra teasing us to the south.

We manage to find a forested section of ridge that is protected from the powerful gusts, near the trail junction where the PCT and the Tahoe Rim Trail depart one another. There’s endless campsites to choose from here, and we scour the area to find the perfect one. After we settle in and have pitched our shelters, we reconvene at a log and have our dinners together. But our eyes are heavy, and as soon as we’re finished eating, we retire to our tents.

Day 68: Tahoe Rim Trail Junction to Susie Lake, 28 miles

The wind has let up by morning, and we head out and into the vast expanse of forest that’s before us. We cross an empty parking lot with a pit toilet and picnic tables, but there’s no soul in sight.  At a creek crossing, we stop to make our coffees and eat a small second breakfast, and bask in the sunshine.

We’re in the Desolation Wilderness now, where the trail skirts sparkling gemstone lakes that surely once had mermaids inhabiting them, and twisted junipers cling to giant boulders with roots that look like they belong to a mythical tentacled sea creature. The name of the area alone invokes imagery of dragons guarding misty peaks.  We stop along the banks of some of the lakes to collect water and have a snack, taking in the quiet serenity.  Towards the end of the afternoon, we climb to the top of Dicks Pass, where we sit and have our dinners and admire the panoramic views.

We decide to do a longer day, and keep hiking into the evening with an end goal of camping at Susie Lake. Our feet are sore from walking across the rocky trail, and my knees are hurting from the descent from the pass. We make it to Susie Lake as it’s getting dark, and find that most of the good camp spots are already filled with weekend warriors. We quickly try to pitch our tents, but the ground is hard as stone and we’re having trouble hammering our pegs in so we can get a sturdy pitch.

After our little struggle, we head down to the lake to have a bit of a wash, and I rinse the grime from my feet and legs. The cold water is a shock to my skin, but so soothing on the apparent inflammation that I’ve developed over the day.  I have a snack of chocolates before bed, and I’m out like a light once my head hits my makeshift pillow.

Day 69: Susie Lake to South Lake Tahoe, via Highway 50, 11 miles

We pack up before the sun rises, and begin walking in the early morning darkness by the light of our headlamps. By the time we reach Aloha Lake, the sunrise was flooded the landscape with soft hues of pink and orange, and the lake’s water looks like a sugary cocktail. Aloha is the perfect name for this place; stick an umbrella in it and enjoy.

It’s a frigid morning, and we don’t stop for anything. We’re both desperately ready for a day off in South Lake Tahoe, and we’re talking about casino buffets in a dreamy tone as if all-you-can-eat is some kind of a fantasy.  It’s an appropriate feeling, as we’ve been walking through a fairy tale countryside for a couple of days now.  From the top of a hill, we look down onto the turquoise waters of Echo Lakes, and I feel a second wind sweeping over me. We hash out our buffet strategy as we walk, and promise one another to stick to it: first we eat proteins, such as prime rib, shrimp bathed in butter, and crab, if they have it.  Then we go for the carbs, or ‘the fillers’: stir fries with veggies and noodles, cheesy lasagna, french bread with butter. And don’t forget to save room for dessert! And what to drink?  Aloha lake has inspired this decision; Mai Tais all the way.

We skirt the shore of big Echo Lake, where quaint little fishing cottages overlook the water. I want to live here, stuck in a permanent fable where the only way to reach your home is by hiking in or by boat. It’s all too perfect. We reach the chalet at the end of the lake by 10 am, and we’re anxious to get an ice cream or soda from the tiny store; but they aren’t open yet, despite the ferry running on the lake.

Back on the trail, we encounter a couple at a creek crossing, less than a mile from the highway, and they have a nervous air about them. They point to the creek as we approach, and there’s the faintest tremble in the woman’s voice.

“Do you know how to get across?”

Cheesy Puff and I access the creek. It is rushing, but the current doesn’t seem impossible to fight. We advise them to keep their shoes on while fording, and use their trekking poles to stay upright.

But they shake their heads. “Our daughter, Anna, she will be waiting for us at the parking lot. Tell her we’re trapped here.”

We both hold back a laugh, as this seems a bit over dramatic. But Cheese pulls up Guthooks and looks for an alternate way around, and finds one through someone’s yard, following a culvert. I lead the way, with the couple expressing doubt as they follow along. We make it to a road, where the creek disappears under the pavement. From the road, we find the trail again and make our way to the highway.  They thank us profusely.

At the highway, we begin our attempt at hitching, and it doesn’t take long before we get a bite. A nice man named Andy, who happens to be a professional magician, offers to give us a ride to the post office in South Lake Tahoe.

I’ve booked us an AirBnB for a couple of nights, and once we grab our resupply boxes from the post office, do a bit of grocery shopping and eat some tacos, we head over to the cute little bungalow that’s just a few blocks from downtown. Later that night, we head to the buffet at Harrah’s Casino, prepared to feast like queens.  It’s everything a couple of ravenous hikers could ask for; we get our Mai Tais, and stuff ourselves silly with decadent food.

Heavy with plate after plate of food, we waddle back to the bungalow and attempt to fight our sleepiness.  We fail miserably.

Chocolate Eclair with soft serve dipping sauce, because I can

Day 70: Zero in South Lake Tahoe

It’s a casual morning, spent sleeping in and having a second shower. What a fantastic feeling having these luxuries again, even if it is only for a couple of nights.  I do a bit of sightseeing on my own, looking for a new pair of shorts in the upscale shopping area near Stateline, while Cheesy Puff stays back at the bungalow watching Netflix.

I don’t end up purchasing anything, mostly due to the shops only carrying either tourist junk, or apres ski type of clothing.  It’s a good day off, anyway, and I enjoy the rest of the day lounging watching movies, eating and drinking a couple of beers.  Some good news happens as we’re relaxing:  the section of trail that is ahead of us, from Tahoe to Sonora Pass, has reopened after a wildfire closure was in effect nearly all summer.  We rejoice at not needing to figure out a complicated route around via remote mountain highways.

Cheers to that.

Day 71: South Lake Tahoe to Frog Lake, 15 miles

We struggle to put our packs together in the morning, really dragging our feet to get going.  After getting some coffee to go from a local cafe, we wait at the bus stop, hoping to get transportation back to the ‘Y’ area of town where we’ll hitch back up to Echo Summit.  However, the bus never comes, and after waiting for nearly an hour, we decide to rent some Lime Bikes to get us across town.

After mailing off a few things at the post office, mainly a few resupply packages that Cheesy Puff is sending ahead, we walk to the Y.  But there happens to be a Taco Bell there, and the temptation is too strong.  We end up there, stuffing our faces with cheap, greasy food and wasting another hour or so.  We’ve been vortexed.

Outside of the Taco Bell, we get a hitch almost immediately from a Welsh expat who moved his family to the area a few years prior.  He had visited with his wife, fell in love with the lake and mountains, packed their things and settled in.  They got vortexed, too.

Back at Echo Summit, we shoulder our heavy-with-resupply packs and start walking.  The next section ahead is an exciting one, and despite the extreme wind that has picked up and chilly temperatures of early autumn, I’m ecstatic for the upcoming stretch.

We meander through meadow, surrounded by rolling granite mountains and blue skies.  At Showers Lake, we pause for a break to eat some cookies and get out of the wind.  Cheesy Puff discovers she still has a phone signal, and takes it upon herself to download the entire Britney Spears greatest hits album.  Needless to say, from the lake, all the way to Meiss Cabin and beyond, she serenades me with ‘Baby, Hit Me One More Time,’ and other classics.

Showers Lake
Historic Meiss Cabin is seen in the distance. Settled by a German Family in the 1800’s who moved to the area to raise cattle.

We’re determined to get at least to Carson Pass before nightfall, and keep trudging along over the gentle hills and battling the wind chill that’s stinging our faces.  Just before dark, we reach a parking lot at the pass, and I’m excited to use the pit toilets there.  I open the door to one of the toilets, though, and it’s a disgusting mess.  I visibly recoil in disgust at the sight before me, which draws Cheese’s interest and her curiosity gets the best of her.  I go to the next toilet and thankfully it’s clean, and as I enter I hear Cheesy Puff laughing and commenting on the scene.

The ranger station at Carson Pass is shut, so we keep going in hopes of finding a campsite soon.  The sunset is upon us, and the meadows are washed in brilliant golden hues.  There’s little to no protection from the wind anywhere, and as it’s getting dark, we decide to make camp near Frog Lake.

The gusts are whipping across the lake, and we somehow manage to pitch our tents beside a few scrawny trees.  My fingers are numb from collecting water, so I decide to wait until the morning to actually filter so I don’t get frost bite.  The wind is loud, like a freight train passing overhead of us, and my tent makes some atrocious flapping noises.  This will be the true test for my tent, and I pray that it survives the night.

Despite the cold and gale force winds, I fall asleep with ease.

Enter: the Sierra

Frog Lake

Day 72: Frog Lake to Sherrold Lake, 26 miles

By morning, the wind hasn’t let up at all, and we pack up and get to walking immediately so we don’t catch a chill.  It’s then that we realize, as Cheesy Puff is checking the water situation ahead, that we weren’t supposed to camp at Frog Lake.  I feel terrible for doing this, but we didn’t leave any trace behind and practiced good camping etiquette.

The sun comes up over Frog Lake and the wind ripples the surface of the water.

We gain quite a bit of elevation first thing, and with the cold air and strenuous climbing, my nose is a constant drain of unsavory gunk.  I pull my Buff up over my face, and my beanie down over my ears.  I’m wearing nearly all of my layers of clothing, with my eyes covered by my sunglasses.  Another hiker passes us in the opposite direction.  I must look like a ninja, a very cold, dejected ninja.

We find some relief from the wind in a patch of trees for a moment, and squish together in a narrow patch of sunshine that’s shining through the branches.  We make some coffee and chug it down, and for the first time in a while, I wish that I had my stove on me.

Just before a road crossing, we decide to take our lunch behind a massive boulder, where we are completely hidden from the wind.  We finally are able to warm ourselves up, and lay across the flat surface of the rock we’re resting on.  We can see for miles ahead of us from here, nothing but mountains for days to come.

The trail hugs the hillsides, winding in and out of gulches and above canyons.  We collect water from a clear creek, and another hiker suddenly appears from behind us.

“You two are fast!” he exclaims, “I saw you both five miles back and have been trying to catch you ever since.  You must be thru-hikers!”

His pack is enormous on his thin framed body, and the scruff on his face says he’s been out in the wild for a while now.  He has so much stuff, I can only assume he might just be living out here.  We ask if he’s a thru-hiker too, but he says he’s not and that he’s getting off trail in Yosemite.  For some reason I feel uncomfortable by his presence, maybe because he said that he saw us earlier but we hadn’t seen him.

He stands up and wanders off the trail and into the bushes, leaving his gear beside the creek.  Cheesy Puff and I whisper to one another.

“Let’s get going when he gets back, but let’s not say where we’re camping tonight just in case.”  She’s feeling put off by him too.

He takes a long time to return, and once he does we get ready to leave.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” you says, but we don’t really respond and just bid him farewell as we’re leaving.  I’m happy to put some distance between us; he may be harmless but I prefer to trust my gut instincts when bad vibes arise.

We arrive at a series of small lakes in a high meadow, and decide to stay at Sherrold Lake since it seems less murky than the others.  Ebbetts Peak towers above the lake, and an American flag that’s planted at the summit is flapping wildly in the powerful gusts.  We find some trees across the trail from the lake in which to make camp, hoping to find some protection from the wind.  It does little good, however, and our tents nearly blow away as we’re trying to pitch them.  We huddle together on a log to eat our dinners, and I make a summer sausage and cheese wrap in hopes that all the fats I’m consuming will keep me warm when I’m sleeping.

As darkness comes, we head to bed, with the sound of the wind drowning out any other noises that might be nearby.  If a bear decided to stomp through camp I’d never hear it, and I’m okay with that.

Day 73: Sherrold Lake to Creek Side Campsite, 24 miles

Again, the wind hasn’t let up and we’re struggling to stay warm as we break camp.  Within a few miles, we’re crossing Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass, and a couple of weekend warriors who are about to set out are asking us how the conditions are.  We chat for a moment, and I wonder if they have a thermos of hot coffee in their car that they might be willing to share with us.  We do a bit of descending away from the highway, down into Noble Canyon, and then start climbing straight up on a trail that’s clinging to the canyon wall and crumbling away with each footstep we take.

Near the top of the climb, we squat behind a rock to save us from the wind, which had pushed a weather front in over night.  It begins to sprinkle rain, but it’s not insufferable. At the top of a saddle, the rain clears and we can see clearly once again.

We enter more pine meadow, and startle a free range herd of cattle that are occupying the trail.  Further on, we stop for water at a creek that is apparently the watering hole for the cows, judging by the amount of cow pies there are; I make sure to thoroughly filter.

The sun makes its way out again, and the wind actually seems to be dying down for the time being.  In the distance, wisps of smoke are seen still smoldering on the hillsides.  I can smell it in the air, and I wonder if its fully contained.  With the recent winds, is there cause for concern?

In the evening, we pass another thru-hiker called Chariot, who got his name from carrying a folding chair.  In fact, when we passed him, he was sitting in his chair, thoroughly massaging his calf muscles.  We ask him why he carries a chair, and his answer is “because it’s fucking incredible to sit in a chair.”

Fair enough.

We keep going as its getting dark, and make camp down in a river valley, beside a creek.

Day 74: Creek Side Campsite, Sonora Pass, and to Dry Creek Bed Camp

It’s a cold, dark morning in the forest, with no wind to be heard of.  We scurry up the trail, beginning our long climb to the saddle above Sonora Pass, huffing and puffing in the high elevation.  It will be our first time above 10,000 feet on this trail, and it’s our  unofficial gateway into the High Sierra.

Sunlight creeps slowly into the river valley behind us, but we’re outpacing it and traveling in the icy shadows of the surrounding peaks.  Over two years ago, I trudged through knee-deep snow in these parts, mildly lost and on the verge of tears.  There was no trail to follow, and as I crossed a treacherous snow field clinging to my ice axe, I was certain I would fall to my death.  It’s amazing how much conditions can change over the course of just a couple of months.

The saddle above the pass in glowing in sunshine, and we stop for a moment to catch our breath in the thin mountain air.  It’s our first time climbing above 10,000 feet.

Greetings from Sonora Pass

We hurry down towards the highway, on winding trail and through curious rock formations.   The path is riddled with icy patches, and we’re careful not to lose our footing.

Down at the highway crossing, a group of section hikers is about to set off on their own journey from the pass and through the Sierra.  They offer us an entire package of strawberries, which we gladly accept.  There’s little traffic coming over Sonora Pass, and the few cars that we do encounter, the drivers look at us strangely when we push our thumbs out.  Finally, a camper van pulls over and a couple offers us a ride down to the pack station at Kennedy Meadows North.

The ride down to the pack station is winding and slow going, and all the vegetation along the roadside is pink from being sprayed with fire-retardant.  All these chemicals will eventually end up in the water; it’s a concerning thought.  But what can be done about it?

It’s a Sunday, and the pack station is insanely busy with tourists.  A group of cowboys is sitting on the front porch, watching the comings and goings and talking quietly to one another.  Cheesy Puff and I head to the diner, intent on filling our bellies with some breakfast.  The diner is in full chaos, and our waitress gets straight to the point: What do you want to eat?  She’s a no-nonsense woman with no time for anything.  We each order chicken fried steak and eggs, and a plate of blueberry pancakes to share.   As we’re waiting for our food to come out, I go have a bit of a rinse in the bathroom, washing my face and hands, as well as my spare set of socks.

At the highway crossing at Sonora Pass
Hiker bath time

After we’re full with breakfast, and at least six cups of coffee, we go to the shop to collect the one thing I’ve been dreading this entire hike: my bear canister.  It’s the necessary evil of the High Sierra; a requirement through Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks.  Bears, of course, are protected in the parks, and backcountry hikers must do their parts to keep it that way.  ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,’ is something that the park rangers love to say, so that means hauling the heavy, bulky canister for the next 300 plus miles to keep the fur balls out of my Nutella.

I pack and repack, trying to find the best way to make the canister fit.  Cheesy Puff is in the same boat, and we’re grumbling over the stress of it all.  Chariot appears, and simply straps his to the top of his pack.  But being top-heavy isn’t an ideal situation for me, so I continue to wrestle with it.

We get a hitch back up to Sonora Pass with a young couple in a shiny new Chevy Camaro, and we have to squeeze into the back in an awkward position.  I’m grateful anyway, and they’re incredibly charming.

We stare at the massive climb ahead of us, and I punch at the bear canister through my pack to keep it from digging in between my shoulder blades.  It’s slow going, but once we make it to the saddle, our unofficial gateway into the High Sierra country, we’re overwhelmed by the grand beauty; lofty peaks, glacial fed azure lakes, and ridgelines that stretch on forever.

The descent down to the Emigrant Pass trail junction is rocky and painful on our feet and knees, and as the sun disappears behind the mountains, we catch a chill.  At a silty creek, we encounter two more section hikers, a couple of nice young lads.  One of them points to a pathetic creature standing upstream, and I wish he hadn’t.  It’s a ghostly looking sheep, thin from recently being sheered and staring off into nothing.  It’s unfazed by us, perched on an outcrop over the creek, and very omen-like.  It’s so creepy, I have to look away.

Cheesy Puff and I haul another three miles until we find a cramped campsite above a dry creek bed.  It’s dark now, and we quickly pitch our tents.  I discover that Cheese has packed out a can of soda, but only because she’s knocked it over and half of its contents have spilled in front of my tent.  She’s cursing up a storm, and I’m hoping bears don’t have a taste for Sprite, but I’m certain they probably have a taste for anything with sugar.  I kick the saturated dirt away from the camp, and we finish up our dinners by the light of our headlamps.  At least now I don’t have to worry about my food, and I safely stash the canister among some boulders below the camp.

Gear Update

Nothing has changed except the additon of my bear canister, the BV500 by Bear Vault.  It’s a required piece of gear through the Sierra sections of the trail, as the Ursack isn’t approved by the NPS.  I sent my Ursack home.

The added weight (2 lbs. 9 oz.) and bulk of the canister makes me want to vomit.  I hate it.  Plain and simple.

bear can.jpg

 

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