It’s my birthday! Big 3-0. I can’t think of a better way to spend it, in town eating real food and taking it easy, near the end of our nearly 1,100 mile hike north along the PCT. This, the North Kennedy Meadows resort ranch, is our penultimate stop before our journey’s end in the South Lake Tahoe-Reno area.
As for my birthday, the only trail wisdom I’ve received to date is that the 30’s are the best decade. I’m going with that wisdom – thanks Ambassador. And thanks N&C, Renee, Mimi, and the Ladies of 70 Washington (Andrea, Joanne, and Chelsea) for the birthday cards and care packages – I LOVE it all, y’all are the best.
The past 10 days have been great (as I expect the next 5-10 will be!)…ok mostly great. Jared and I came north from Mammoth/Red’s Meadow to Yosemite, dipped into the Yosemite Valley for a detour, hiked through the rest of the amazing granite dome filled Yosemite National Park, and then came across some beautiful extinct volcanic peaks before hitching into North KM.
Once we left Mammoth, after we escaped the power of the town (we spent a full zero there and two nearo’s – swimming in the hotel pool, riding the trolley around town, buying way too much resupply food), we spent one night at the Devil’s Postpile campground along with Herro, Billy (now going by Shepherd), and Sneaky Elf.
In the morning we checked out the monument that is the Devil’s Postpile. It’s a sweet old lava flow, the remnants of which are huge basalt pillars called “columnar jointing” which form hexagonal shapes in cross section as the basalt slowly cools. Another example of columnar jointing can be seen at the more well-known Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, ps. Jared, Sneaky Elf, and I set off ahead of Billy and Herro, determined to get ahead of the impending thunderstorms…well we made it as far as Agnew Meadows, which is about 8 miles down trail from the Devils Postpile before the sky turned a dark gray and thunder boomed around us. Jared (aka., Beaker or the hiker formerly known as Snake Charmer) checked the weather on his phone, as we were lucky enough to get service in a small area…and the forecast called for tons of rain, flash floods, DEADLY lightning, etc, etc. and warned hikers to seek shelter. So seek shelter is what we did. We left a note for Shepherd and Herro and hopped on the next bus (a one minute walk out of Agnew Meadows) to Red’s Meadow. We also met a family of 4 hiking in the area, which we dubbed the “Jorts Family” because the father wore some amazing cutoff jean shorts. From there we waited for a few hours, ate a burger, and deliberated over our options: hike on or skip ahead 35 miles to Tuolumne Meadows? We opted to skip ahead in order to stay on schedule which meant a night of stealth camping at the Adventure Center (the bus center and base of the ski area) before riding the 8 am bus from Mammoth to Tuolumne.
We woke and a few hours later we were in Tuolumne! Ahead of the storms, or a lot of them at least. We finally picked up our new water filters (Sawyer in-line filters), our bear cans, and other provisions for the next few days. Jared and I then began our 22.5 mile detour into Yosemite Valley via the JMT (John Muir Trail). We ran into the Jorts Family and the Swiss couple. The Swiss couple (Scott and Layla…I don’t think they had trail names other than being constantly referred to as “the Swiss couple”) who were also going into the Valley, but planning to hike Half Dome as well which we were not doing. Jared and I started hiking that afternoon around 2…and it wasn’t until 4 pm that the thunderstorms hit. As the first few drops started to fall, I stopped to put on my rain jacket while Jared went ahead to set up the tent at the soonest flat spot. It began to rain harder, I hiked on, it rained harder, I hiked on…where was Jared anyway? I thought he’d be right around the corner… After 5-10 minutes I crossed paths with another hiker – he had not seen Jared, which only meant he was behind me somewhere, I had passed him somehow. I told the other hiker to tell Jared – if he found him – that I was just ahead (hiding out under a tree, mostly shielded from the rain). Not 3 minutes later, Jared came bounding up the trail…whew. We spent the rest of the rainy afternoon listening to the rain and thunder as we read the latest Outside Magazine (thanks Renee :). The skies cleared around 6, and lo and behold the Swiss couple! They’d set up their tent across the trail from us, so we dined in hiker style on a flat rock sitting on our bear cans and talking about our adventures since we’d last seen them at the Saufley’s around mile 450 or so.
The next morning, we continued our trek into Yosemite Valley. We dried out our gear in the sun and hiked on. The views were spectacular – many many giant granites domes dominated the landscape. The granite, or the core of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was scoured by huge glaciers that filled the valleys to the very top during the last glacial maximum. The granite, which usually weathers by exfoliation into rounded shapes and dome structures, got literally lopped off by glaciers, leaving behind half domes. We walked over and then down along the Nevada Fall, which was postcard-esque beautiful. And we saw 2 huge rattlesnakes! One was an infamous and illusive Mojave Green. We finished our hike along the JMT and made it to the backpackers campground in Curry Village where we found none other than the Jorts Family once again! We shared a tent site with them, and Jared and I shared some beer and soda to celebrate our accomplishment, before hitting the old tent.
We continued our journey back to Tuolumne via bus – the earliest one leaving Yosemite was the cheesy tour bus, which was actually really amazing as the bus driver recounted tales of geology, history, biology, and more. Back in Tuolumne we ran into hikers: Dances with Bacon and ‘Merica. We ate some more real food before hitting the trail in the early afternoon – an easy day we made it about 6 miles before setting up camp at some beautiful waterfalls just above the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. Amazing sunset.
More thunderstorms! The next day we hiked from the Glen Aulin area (mile 951) to Spiller Creek (mile 960), only 9 miles, before the thunderstorms hit. We set up our tent just in time before the first drops fell. And man did it pour. It was the loudest thunder I’d ever heard and lightning struck not 500 feet from our camp. Yikes. I finished my book, Siddartha, and we drank hot chocolate and ate mac and cheese before getting to sleep early.
Dried things out the next morning, and hiked 19.5 miles to Seavey Pass, even with tons of rain and thunderstorms. Jared and I ran into PCT hikers Polaris and FM, the Wanderer, Snake Charmer, and a few others. We hunkered down in a perfectly placed cave and waited out the storms for a few hours. We went over 2 passes – Benson and Seavey. And we ran into our first less-than-wonderful Yosemite Ranger. She caught us just as we were eating dinner – my bear can and ursack were both out. At first she was happy to see the bear can, but then scolded us for having ursacks. Bogus. We finished the day at Seavey Pass as a deer came into our camp…adorable!
Hmm, less than adorable…the deer stole Jared’s shirt! She took it off the tree and licked the salt off it for hours. We thought she was snacking, but no, she was licking Jared’s shirt. Hilarious. After the deer incident, today felt like a long day and I was tired. We overlapped with Fat-Man-Walking for a bit, talked for hours about the real food we’d love to be eating, and then I fell in a river. Yes, you read that right. The creek was probably 3 inches deep, but the log that I stepped on to cross was not only wet and slippery, but it also rolled. And I fell. And I soaked the right half of my body and pack (but my pack liner worked so nothing got wet!). Ugh, I was miserable. We walked another 2 miles past the scene of the incident (Wide Creek) to where I ultimately collapsed and we set up early camp. We had a great hot dinner of Annies with veggies and went to sleep early…
Next day…almost to North Kennedy Meadows! Just 12 miles away… We hiked 17 miles and crossed mile 1000 today!! Woo!! Today is a much better day than yesterday. We met a mule handler, Corky, who said he’d buy us a beer at N. KM. We walked by beautiful Dorothy Lake. We left Yosemite and crossed into volcanic terrain. We met PCT hiker The Ambassador and section hiker Nancy and camped with them at mile 1007. The Ambassador filled us in on the details of the Great Basin Brewery in Reno, where he used to work, and we’re excited to go there when we pass through on our way to Seattle.
We made it to N. KM! And tomorrow is my birthday! We couldn’t have made those last 12 miles any faster. The first 10 miles were very exposed and the first 3-4 were very windy and cold. But beautiful. Extinct volcanoes dominated the landscape and amazing glacial lakes shimmered a vivid blue. Awesome. We reached the trailhead just before noon, caught our slowest hitch yet (about 45 minutes) from a slightly anxious man who told us all about the Desert Survivors Group, and walked the last mile to the resort and pack station…food (the essential in-town burger)…shower…packages…laundry. We went to the saloon for a beer where we ran into Corky again! – great guy and storyteller, he told us about how he’d been hauling mules for 22 years in Yosemite before he retired and started working at N. KM. More food (lasagna dinner). We finished the day talking trail with a group of 5 other hikers, all southbound, and swapped helpful trail info.
And today I turn 30… I celebrated the right way with a big breakfast and a mid-day ice cream. We met the Buddy Backpacker crew (a 6-year old hiking the PCT with his parents) and we’re hitting the trail around noon today. More posts from South Lake Tahoe in a few days…
The trek from tuolomne to NKM was a very unique one on our journey. First of all, the scenery changed faster on this leg than any other – we went from huge exposed granite domes to waterfalls in canyons to high alpine lakes and out to totally exposed volcanic remnants, and all in the span of a mere 80 miles. One of the most remarkable things about Yosemite to me is how abrupt the landscape feels. The ruggedness of the area is so dramatic compared to its northern surroundings that even having seen a lot so far on this trip , it was downright surprising.
The volcanic stuff (I am not the geologist in this couple, clearly) was amazing in it’s own right. The colors that were evidenced in the rock were beautiful, almost psychedelic pastel shades of greens, purples, and reds. The exposure was such that looking back south, you could just make out the high sierras from which we had come.
By the time we got near to Sonora pass, we were so sufficiently sick of trail food that we had a very simple mantra to get us up and over the final exposed ridge – a hikers Om, if you will: “sandwiches”. Chanting this simple but extremely powerful word has a deeply moving effect on the soul of a hiker. When the cold wind was threatening to knock us over on the ridge, sandwiches were our anchor. Against the blistering sun at exposed elevation, sandwiches formed a delicious umbrella. When our burned and chafed legs were scratched by the underbrush, sandwiches armored us. No force nature could marshal would keep us from our beloved, our most revered, our sandwiches.
We got over the ridge, and after a short hitch hiking session, scored a ride with a guy who was headed back towards the bay. He dropped us close to the resort, and we were eating before we knew it. The folks at NKM were awesome – really kind and accommodating – and the food was outstanding. It was a perfect place to celebrate jeans 30th. We ate lasagna, slept a lot, drank with cowboys, advised some section hikers, and generally had a great time.
Leaving was bittersweet – our last leg was laid out ahead of us!