Although we have been to the Sierra hundreds of times before, we look at the The Sierra Nevada as the crown jewel of the PCT, by far. The going in the last couple weeks has been easy thanks to the dozen of lakes, streams, mountain passes and peaks that make up the scenery. Mosquitoes are gone for good and we send the bug spray home for the season. We have been spending the last 15 days above 8,000ft so we are very well acclimated to the altitude and we can run up 12,000ft passes with ease!
We have less than 800 miles to go before we reach the Mexican border and motivation is still high. We should be done with PHASE 2 during the first week of November 2010.
Day 78 (9/19/10)
: Rest day! It feels so nice to sleep in, sit on cushioned car seats, hang out with Tina and Karissa, wash our hair with shampoo in the bathroom sink (no showers in Tuolomne!), and eat ALL day long. Full stomachs during the entire day -- we must have regained a couple of the pounds we lost during this last rushed push to get to Tuolomne on time. Sooo worth it! Day 79
: We spend the morning packing and stuffing as much food as possible into our backpacks. They feel so heavy with almost 7 days worth of food! We've deciding to take it slower through the Sierra and drop our daily mileage so we can take some time during the day to relax a little and thoroughly enjoy the upcoming scenery. We say goodbye to Tina and Karissa and finally get moving at 11:30am. We trudge along slowly and it takes a full 11 miles for our bodies to take up and realize the vacation is over. We start uphill, get back into the rhythm, and start to feel pretty good.
As we topp off at the pass, we enter the Ansel Adams Wilderness and start to see familiar sights such as June Lake and peaks we've previously climbed. As the sun sets, it casts a reddish glow over the mountaintops and we become certain that the Sierra is definitely one of the most beautiful places we've been to in the world. Day 80
: It is the first day of Fall and Mother Nature lets us know the season has changed by sending us some strong winds. We can see the white caps out on the water and small waves crashing on the rocky shores. Good thing that body of water is just a big lake (Thousand Island Lake) and good thing we are hiking rather than kayaking or else we'd be immobile today. We come to a junction where the PCT and John Muir Trail (JMT) split; we decide to take the JMT detour because it's more scenic even though it means a lot more elevation gain compared to the PCT. Besides, we've been to the part of the trail by Mammoth before. Our hard work is rewarded by great views of lakes and mountains. We reconnect to the PCT in Devil's Postpile National Monument. What a nice, chill 23 miles topped off by leftover ribs for dinner -- we're feeling spoiled. Day 81
: We wake up in a fog, so we keep our rain gear handy. The fog burns off in a couple of hours, but reveals thunder clouds forming in the distance. Afternoon thunderstorms at this time of year? Seems kind of late for it, but sure enough, we get rain...and some snow! As we walk through the rain, we meet a guy hiking the JMT who is feeling altitude sick. We stop for a few minutes to talk and make sure he's doing okay. The days are getting really short -- it's dark by 7:30pm and makes it difficult to get the miles in. We walk into the night with headlamps and get 25 miles in. Day 82
: Two 11,000 ft passes and really rocky terrain. We thought dropping our daily mileage to an average of 23 miles would let us relax more, but we're finding it a bit difficult to complete them during the daylight hours. We are taking time to take in the scenery, but we aren't chillin' that long during our breaks. Where is the time going!? Later starts in the morning, earlier finishes, and slower going on loose, sandy and rocky trails...that's where it's going. Ugh, and we thought we would have time to have lakeside picnics... Day 83
: We've always wanted to go to the Evolution Basin in the Sierra to climb Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendel, but never had the time on short weekends to make the trip. Today, as we pass through this spectacular area, we find it more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Large glimmering lakes the color of the waters of the Caribbean surrounded by sheer granite cliffs carved by glacial activity thousands of years ago. We are so taken aback we have to stop and just stare in awe. We will definitely revisit this area in the future. Day 84
: We want to hit two 12,000 ft passes today, but aren't sure if we will be able to make the 2nd before dark. If we run out of daylight, we plan to stop short of the 2nd pass partly because we don't want to sleep at a cold, windy 12k feet and partly because we don't want to miss the views from up there.
We aren't as fast as we had hoped we would be going as we make it over the 1st pass, but the trail going down the other side is pretty smooth and we are able to make up for lost time. We end up in a glacial valley and as we stop to spin in a circle and look around us, we find ourselves surrounded by high mountains. It feels so isolated and the only way out of this place is through distant high passes. Humbling.
As we get to the base of the 2nd pass of the day, we check the clock and figure we have 2 hours of daylight left -- perfect to make it to the top without having to use headlamps. We feel well acclimated now and get over the top with 30 minutes of fading light left. We spot some lakes in the distance and decide we'll try to make it there for camp. Unfortunately, we find that the trail doesn't drop to the lakes and we end up hiking in the dark, waiting for the trail to cross a steam because we can't see very far. This doesn't happen for quite a while and decide to stop for dinner, then continue hiking afterwards. As we are refueling our bodies, we think we hear the wind rustling through the trees, but as we sit there, the sound is too constant.
Shirley goes to investigate and sure enough, it's a small stream! Niiiiice...we set camp then and there. After checking the maps, we happily realize we have done 27 miles, which makes tomorrow a chill 22 miles to Onion Valley, the trailhead out of the town of Independence. Day 85 (9/26/10)
: We have been staring at these footprints in the sand along the trail for about a week now, slowly getting clearer and more defined as each day passes. Today, we finally catch up to the owner, Giraffe, who we first met near Mt. Adams. At the time, we crossed paths as he was going North and now he's finishing the 2nd half of the PCT going South. He knew we must be close and has been sending us messages back to us through other hikers he's met along the way so we could figure out how far ahead of us he was. It was nice to see him again and get to hike with him for a while! When we get to the junction of the PCT with the Kearsage Pass trail, we find Giraffe's wife, "Zoo Keeper," who's hiked up his resupply food. It was so cute to see them reunited...the smiles on their faces showing how much they missed each other.
From there, we say goodbye to the happy couple and we hike down Kearsage Pass to the Onion Valley trailhead. We meet Warren along the way and he kindly offers us a ride down to Independence. Warren drops us off at the gas station, where we stuff ourselves with Subway, hotdogs, and ice cream. Oh, so good! Town is quiet on a Sunday night and we sleep peacefully. Day 86
: In the morning, we hitch from Independence to Bishop with Lee, a guy who used to guide with a friend of ours -- what a small world. Lee drops us off at Dennys where we eat 7 pancakes each, then we walk over to the Moose Lodge where we relax and take care of chores. Dinner turns out to be a really nice treat, all-you-can-eat hibachi grill and sushi with Laura and Michelle and friends of ours (Scott, Aysel, and Miguel) who happen to be passing through Bishop today. So fun!
Writing this entry from the "Moose Lodge" (in Bishop, CA). The first shower and laundry we get to do in over 15 days (and 400 miles). Ahhhh! the small things in life that most people take for granted. We appreciate every second of it. Thanks for having us, Laura!