Day 85 – South Lake Tahoe (The End!)

Jared

We are in South Lake Tahoe, which means…

We did it.  Our final tally is 1067 miles of california desert, mountains, marshes, meadows, roads, and pretty much everything in between.  Before we dig into a breakdown of our whole trip, here’s how the last few days went down:

We left North Kennedy Meadows (NKM) feeling strong and well fed (it was a really great stop), but a little wistful.  The next stop, a mere 60-80 miles away, was our last and we would officially be off the trail.  The first day out of NKM (also Jean’s 30th birthday) was the biggest uphill of the rest of our trip, and the weather was absolutely beautiful.  The walk was a 900 or so foot climb up the side of some very nice volcanic rock formations, leading to a great view of the carson range ahead of us.  It was a late start – back on trail around 130pm – so we resolved to just get as far as we could, to get a jump on the final stretch of our trip.  That day we managed to put in 12 or so miles, finishing at a nice little open spot on the side of a valley.  The views were great – volcanic peaks pushing up amid granite outcroppings – and we slept without the rainfly for the first time in a while.  The night was warm and the stars were amazing as usual – when the moon is set, the milky way is as visible as a cloud against the night sky.  Talking that night, we decided we wanted to get as far as we could the next day, as both of us were feeling ready to get to South Lake Tahoe and begin relaxing.

We got up the next day and got a good start about 8am.  We were headed for somewhere north of Highway 4, but without a specific goal in mind.  We went through the Carson-Iceberg wilderness past wolf creek pass, down around Asa lake, and across highway 4.  Along the way we met quite a few day hikers, including a couple from San Francisco who told us that they had spotted a cooler across the highway with a label that said “for PCT hikers”.  The promise of trail magic put a spring in our step, and as we crossed Highway 4, we were greeted with some other, unexpected trail magic.  Another couple was walking down from the trail and asked if we would like a red pepper!  We gratefully accepted, and I can definitely say that I have never treated a vegetable with such reverence and care.  I gingerly tucked it into my pack, and we decided that we would eat it with the onions and garlic that Joanne and Andrea had sent in Jean’s birthday care package.  We found the cooler – which was full of Emergen-C, cookies, and apples.  We ate a huge number of cookies, signed the trail register and looked for our friends in it, and then moved just a few hundred feet up trail to eat dinner.  After we cleaned up, we made it just about 4 miles further over some incredibly nice and easy trail to make camp above lower Kinney lake.  Off in the distance we heard the unmistakable sound of a herd of cattle, complete with their bells.

The next morning we started off again down the trail.  At this point the hiking was pretty easy – only a few hundred feet to gain every couple of miles, and descents that were steep(ish) but really not too bad compared to where we’d been.  We noticed the work of one PCT crew and passed another – a group of about 8 or so volunteers who come out to the PCT and repair the trail where it needs it.  These folks are basically what make the trail walkable – without them, eventually the trail would just turn to an overgrown series of washouts.  We also happened to pass a group of 4 day hikers who were hiking from one road crossing to the next at Blue Lakes road.  We were stopping for water and food quite a bit at this point, so we wound up leapfrogging with them for a couple of hours, chatting with them as we did.

When we got to Blue Lakes Road, it was busier than we expected.  This was the first possibility in terms of getting to South Lake Tahoe, the others being Highway 88 and Highway 50.  We were tired, and thirsty, and walked across the road to get some water out of the drainage.  While we were sitting and hydrating, we decided that it was too late to get a reasonable hitch to SLT from here, so we would head for 88 the next day where there would be plenty of folks headed to town and it would be easy to get a ride.  As we prepared to head up trail, an older man rounded the corner, headed in the same direction we were.  We got to talking – he was a botanist who was headed up the trail on a tip about some good wildflower viewing.  He had recently moved to South Lake Tahoe and offered us a ride when he got back to the trailhead!  We told him we would discuss it while he was walking and if he found us when he got back, we’d love a ride.

He found us when he got back.  We talked it over for only a couple of minutes while he was away before we decided that this was surely Providence talking.  Our goal was SLT, by hook or by crook, and this seemed like a great way to get there.  We made our last meal on trail – our red pepper with garlic and onions sauteed in olive oil, plus a generous helping of cabot seriously sharp cheddar and some Annie’s pasta.  We built a cairn where we had stopped and where the trail headed north, scratched our names in the dirt, and headed for SLT.  Beaker and Lady Luck were here.

The ride was great.  About an hour in the car with our new friend Glen, who was very knowledgeable about the geology and biology of the area.  He told us what our favorite trail plants actually were, asked for good wildflower spots on the trail, and related stories about his days as an environmental consultant working for the Forest Service.  When we got to SLT, we of course had absolutely no idea where we were going.  Glen was happy to drive us around to figure it out, and so we set ourselves to finding a place to stay.  At the first hotel we went to, an older guy came out and informed us that he had just rented the last room, and by the way, we were unlikely to find anything else.  He mentioned that if we had a tent, we could crash in the yard around his hotel, which seemed… like a possibility, albeit an unappealing one.  We were in the mood for a bed, but it wasn’t looking good for one.  He tipped us off about the Lake Tahoe campground not far away, and we headed for it.

The Lake Tahoe Campground bore a striking resemblance to the encampment of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.  Half clothed teenagers struggled across the street, while others in a drug induced trace slouched against the office door.  A strange music was carried on the wind from deeper in the campground, and the dim, pallid lighting seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.  I timidly approached the office, hoping desperately that the campground was full to the brim of this grim cadre of lakeside zombies.  A group of the undead parted, likely frightened by the life in my eyes, and I was blessed by a vision of a “will return at 8am” sign.  They were closed!  I hurried back to the car, closed the door quickly behind me, and tried to conceal my glee as I told Jean and Glen that the campground was closed for new reservations.  Jean was also visibly thrilled, and we announced firmly that camping outside the hotel was the best idea we’d ever heard.

The gentleman back at the hotel didn’t exactly remember us, but he was happy to see us nonetheless.  We haggled with him for a moment over the price and settled on 20$ to camp behind the hotel building.  After we settled on a site, we got to chatting with him, and he gave us our money back.  Yet another example of the good will we’ve been on the receiving end on during our time on the trail.  Despite the comparatively loud and bright site, we slept like babies and woke up at the definitive end of our journey.

Jean

Wooooooo!!! We made it! South Lake Tahoe. Nearly 1,100 miles of PCT hiked. Goal completed. Mission accomplished. Tan lines from hiking shorts and my pack chest strap permanently outlined on my skin. Ripped leg muscles too. And now the softening begins…hahaha. Mike “Hikerbox Special”‘s advice was “I recommend going low carb until your hiker hunger fades”. I have been starved for food since we got off the trail a few days ago, but so far have allowed myself eggs florentine, about 5 mexican pastries, a burger, lots of salad, pizza, beer, and Mexican food. The way I see it, we’re still on our “hiking trip”, so when we get back to Seattle I’ll try to eat like a normal person again…

The last few days of trail – from N. Kennedy Meadows to the South Lake Tahoe area – were great: beautiful and nice with good weather and trail magic to boot. However, I was also tired and ready to be off trail. They say running is 90% mental, and so by extension I have to say that hiking is at least 90% mental, too. It was hard to find as much motivation for that last stretch compared to all of the earlier sections because the end was practically upon us – why push myself and “train” for the next demanding section of trail when the “next thing” consists of roads, chairs, tables, computers (aka., the real world)… but my other theory is that I haven’t had enough protein in my diet and have therefore been more exhausted than usual – a real possibility. Anyhow, we made it and I’m definitely looking forward to my next hiking adventures: the remainder of the PCT next year (just 1,500 miles to go), day hikes and section hikes in the coming months (Washington is supposed to be beautiful in August), and even the Wonderland Trail in September (the demanding 93 mile trail around the base of Mount Ranier)!

When we left N.KM, we caught a ride right away. A really cool Yosemite ranger on his day off picked us up in an old pseudo-military old school jeep convertible. We talked about bear cans versus ursacks in the park and he mentioned wanting to do more trail angel and PCT support now that he’s a ranger, owns a cabin nearby, and is no longer working in the “private sector”. We hiked a solid 12 miles that first day back on trail – over mostly volcanic terrain with the occaisonal outcropping of granite. I was feeling a bit ill and we set up camp at a beautiful site with a view of at least 4 extinct volcanic peaks and a pink sunset. We ate epic proportions of mashed potatoes with butter powder, milk powder, bacos, and dehydrated onions and garlic (4 cups!) and slept well. Not a bad way to wrap up a 30th birthday…

The next day on the trail we made it a nice 22.5 miles – from mi 1030 to 1052.5. My feet are tired but I’m feeling pretty good. Today is another big day – Jared and my “1 year anniversary” of reconnecting in Portland OR. We celebrated by exchanging tiny gifts we’d picked up at the N.KM General Store – a topo map bandana for me from Jared and a can of pineapple juice to Jared from me. We came across lots of volcanic terrain today and passed many day and overnight hikers, including a group of 6-10 guys in their 20’s to 40’s that we came across when they spotted a deer – the first deer many of them had ever seen in person. We also came across our first trail magic in at least 500 miles – a cooler full of cookies, apples, and emergen-C courtesy of “Meadow Mary”…we hit it just in time (dinner time) and ate our fill before cooking a large pot of pasta alfredo with tuna, trekking on a few more miles, and setting up camp on flat, white sand near a lake. I read the article that Andrea and Joanne sent from the latest issue of Backpacker, about Heather “Anish” Anderson, PCT speed record holder. Great article to read near the end of our trip.

This next day – our last day! – we put in 14 miles before accepting a ride to South Lake Tahoe at the PCT-Blue Lakes Road intersection. The trail was very gentle and mild for our last stretch, mostly downhill, but nothing steep by any means. We met some day hikers (including a couple – Piedro and Vanessa from nearby Nevada who were very friendly and chatty) and passed a trail crew (many thanks to this and other trail crews for maintaining the trail to keep it free of fallen trees, properly drained, and smooth, flat, and free of debris). When we reached mile 1067, or Blue Lakes Road, we stopped for water and a friendly botanist named Glen came upon us. He offered us a ride to town and we (after some deliberation) jumped at the chance. While he hiked in for wildflowers for an hour or two, we made peace with the trail – we cooked our “last supper” which was truly amazing, our best trail meal ever. We ate Annie’s mac and cheese with an entire brick of Cabot’s seriously sharp cheddar and fresh onions and garlic from Stout Oak Farm in Brentwood NH (courtesy of Joanne and Andrea – thanks ladies!) and an organic red bell pepper (thank you random trail couple we met yesterday!). We built a farewell cairn. And then Glen whisked us down to SLT, pointing out flowers, fens, and mountain passes along the way. He sweetly shuttled us between motel and campground until we eventually settled in at a motel with cabins (we never did catch the name of the place in the dark…) where we camped – the owner, Jerry, offered us a place to stay because everything was full up. We haggled from $30 to $20 and after some chatting he returned our money to us and told us to buy a good breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop across the street. Nice guy. We had made it to town. We were down with the trail. We slept well and dreamed of what was next…

And we’re off the trail! The past few days – and the next few to come, I imagine – have been spent in SLT. Eating food (great breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop, amazing burgers at Big Daddy’s Burgers, good pizza and beer at Base Camp). Doing laundry. Talking to family and friends – this is the most connected we’ve been in a long time. Adjusting to life after the trail. Stopping in at the internet cafe and running into Snake Charmer. As we walked down the road yesterday, our trail friends Piedro and Vanessa spotted us as they were driving by and stopped to chat! We talked about travelling and they told us about the bicycle touring they did across Europe, with their cat. Amazing. And their passion for mushroom hunting. Delicious. We met up with some other PCTers last night at Base Camp for pizza – Sneaky Elf, 1-Track, the Jolly Llama, and Rocky IV. We picked up our final packages from the post office and it “felt like Christmas” as Jared described. It was great. I picked up my birthday present from Jared – thanks for the Zuni bracelet, it’s beautiful! Thank you for the birthday card, Emily! Thanks for the lovely note, “Mother” Brenda Yanker! And thanks so much Tyler and Amy for the great PCT poster, we love it! And of course thanks Anna and Brandon for sending us our post-trail stuff from Arizona. It’s both great and weird to wear different clothes, not the same tattered compression shorts day after day after day. Jared shaved his beard and it’s also great and weird to see him without a face of hair (see before and after photos). In the next couple of days, we’re going to stay at a spa and get amazing foot massages, travel to Reno and check out the Great Basin Brewery, and then jet from Reno to Seattle (travelling at 500 miles per hour?!? it’s going to be bizarre….). Stay posted for more post-trail updates…

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How’d that pile of rocks get there?

 

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What’s up with the white rock? Volcanics

 

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Best. Trail meal. Ever. Annies+8oz cheddar+onions,garlic,pepper fried in oil…I’m still dreaming about this one

 

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Onions and garlic (courtesy of Joanne) bubbling away in oil

 

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Jared in front of our monumental cairn

 

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What a lovely cairn

 

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After the shave

 

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Before the shave

 

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Bigfoot proof

 

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Tahoe mail pile

 

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Alpenglow

 

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Excellent camp spot

 

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Bunch of rocks

 

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Columnar jointing

 

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Jean and cairn

 

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North Kennedy Meadows (Day 80)

Jean

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…

Jared
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!

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3-0

 

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Devils Postpile

 

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Sexy columnar jointing

 

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Yosemite

 

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Nice granite dome

 

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Amazing sunset (through bug mesh of tent)

 

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Sierra rains

 

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In Yosemite

 

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1000!!!

 

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Volcanics after the Sierras, before Sonora Pass

 

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Blue blue

 

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Last hitch

 

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Jared traversing our last pass

 

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Mammoth (Day 70)

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Jenny’s ice cream cake

 

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A response to Anna and String Cheese

 

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Billy and Herro

 

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Serene Sierra lake

 

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Looking up in the Muir Shelter

 

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Jared, Muir Shelter

 

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Stark beautiful landscapes around Muir Pass

 

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Sunrise from Muir Shelter

 

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Sunrise from Muir Shelter

 

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First light hitting Muir hut

 

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Muir shelter blends in seamlessly

 

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Rediculously beautiful

 

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800, suckas!

 

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Jenny filling up

 

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suspension bridge

 

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The Painted Lady, Rae Lakes

 

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Ragtag crew crossing Kearsage Pass

 

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Beautiful glacial lake, approaching Glen Pass. Tiny swimmer for scale

Jean

Here we are at day 70! We just finished our longest stint between resupply locations – from Independence (mile 790) to Mammoth Lakes (mile 907), aka over 120 miles including 8 “bonus” off-trail miles from Independence to the PCT on the Onion Valley trail. We survived the climb and descent of 7 passes – Kearsarge Pass, Glen Pass, Mather Pass, Muir Pass, Selden Pass, and Silver Pass. We hiked with Billy (recently dubbed Shepherd), Sneaky Elf, and Herro for the majority of the time. We slept in some beautiful spots – at Rae Lakes, in Muir shelter, at Palisade Lakes, and at Purple Lake. Jared changed his trail name from “Snake Charmer” to “Beaker”. Sneaky Elf’s birthday was July 11 and we ate an amazing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cake at Mammoth Brewing Company to celebrate. When we got into town we gorged ourselves on burgers, fries, shakes, and veggies. This is our only resupply location where we bought food instead of shipping food – so we inevitably bought way to much and as a consequence have very heavy packs. The highlight of this past stretch was staying on top of Muir Pass in the Muir shelter and watching the sunrise. The most trying part was hiking in thunderstorms and rain for 2 days. We hike on for another 200 more miles before the end of our trip, and we’ve also decided to take a 2-day 22.5 mile detour into Yosemite Valley with a few spare days. So in 2-3 days we will be in Tuolumne, we will hike off the PCT (but on the John Muir Trail, or JMT) into Yosemite for 2 days, then bus back to Tuolumne before heading north to Sonora then South Lake Tahoe. Our next update should be from Tuolumne or Sonora.

Jared
Mammoth was a really nice stop. I replaced my marmot ravaged darn tough socks at the local outfitter, finally satisfied my craving for a really strong IPA, and ate some great ice cream birthday cake courtesy of sneaky elfs folks.

It’s also one of the biggest towns that we have stopped in yet. I keep thinking that once we get around a lot of people I won’t be able to handle the change, but I actually find that the opposite is true – I’m enjoying the social interactions with folks and it hasn’t felt as overwhelming as I expected. The hustle and bustle in town feels a little foreign, but I’m not feeling as intimidated by our return to seattle as I was before this stop.

The country we just passed through is absolutely the most beautiful so far on the trail – by a long shot – and some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The high sierras are absolutely spectacular, and I found that the terrain up at 12000 feet or so is far and away my favorite.

Next stop is tuolomne meadows, and then Yosemite!

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Moon

 

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Geology rocks

 

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Rae Lakes

 

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Double pass

 

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Almost to Rae Lakes camp spot

 

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Sunrise at Muir Shelter

 

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900!

 

Independence (Day 59)

Jared
We have officially entered the High Sierras, and it is a great feeling. 700 odd miles of desert culminated in our stay at the Kennedy meadows general store. Many burgers and ice cream sandwiches later, we started back up the trail towards the mountains.

The first day, we left mid afternoon after watching the US vs. Germany game. It wasn’t long before we started to notice real changes in our surroundings – mountains, for one, and cooler air. Less than 5 miles in, we got our official confirmation with a sign marking the south sierras.

That night we ascended to a beautiful alpine meadow at around 8100 feet. We ignored the campsite under the nearby trees and pitched in a nice flat right in the middle of the grass. It was great… Until we woke up in the morning and everything was frozen. Actually frozen – our water bottles, clothes we left outside, the outside of our bear bags, and even the condensation on the inside of our rain fly had turned to icicles. We spent the morning thawing out, which turned out to be a pretty nice way to spend the morning, and headed out around 930.

The next day we started with our biggest ascent yet to 10500′ or so. The trail wound through beautiful meadows, complete with grazing cows, until it headed up the 4 mile climb. We felt great at the top and resolved to push on to the charmingly named Death Canyon Creek at mile 731. We barreled down the mountain we had just climbed at over 3mph, hell bent on making camp by dark.

It is now that I must inform you that there are Mosquitos in the sierras in breathtaking, prodigious quantities. Once we reached the valley floor, they were everywhere. The only way to hold them off was to move quickly and swat often – at one point, I looked down at my left arm and saw 4 of the little bastards landing simultaneously for dinner. While I did get bitten – a lot – the scenery was truly beautiful, and my curses reached a level of creativity I take real pride in.

We passed death canyon creek and several hikers early the next morning. It wasn’t desert early (4am) but we were moving before the rest of our comrades so I feel good calling it early. We stopped to chat and get water from a nearby spring, and started going up and up. By the time we got to our destination, chicken spring lake, it was dark. We set up camp by headlamp and hunkered down for the night, not knowing where we really were. When we woke up, it turns out we were truly in the sierras. We had camped next to a beautiful alpine lake butted up against an exposed granite peak.

It’s hard to walk away from places like that, so we didn’t. Not right away anyway – eventually we started going up again. That day we spent trying to guess which peak was Whitney as we made our way to the base where we would summit the next day.

Whitney was indeed spectacular and a great hike. I felt proud of both of us getting up as quickly as we did, and without altitude issues! At the top, the ranger told us we’d better not hang around too long due to weather, so we got down again pretty fast.

From there we went over forester pass after spending the night at Tyndall creek, met a new hiking companion (Billy), drank the best water I’ve ever had from a perfect turquoise tarn (my geology vocabulary is getting healthier by the day), and dropped into kings canyon – which is utterly spectacular.

We left the sierras over kearsarge pass, headed for independence, CA. This we were very excited by, as we got clued in to some pretty awesome festivities by some fellow hikers. And it did not disappoint – details next time!

Jean
Happy Independence Day! From Independence CA! We made it here from Kennedy Meadows, into the Sierras, over Mt Whitney (tallest mountain in the lower 48 at 14,505 ft), past enchanting lakes and whimsical forests, over Forester Pass, over Kearsage Pass, to the Onion Lake trailhead, and down to the Courthouse Motel here in little Independence. And yes, we are going to walk in the parade today along with the other hikers in town (Billy, Honey Buzz, Emily, and Sneaky Elf).
We spent two nights at KMGS – and had our fill of burgers, ice cream sandwiches, and V8 – before pushing off into the Sierras, and our longest stretch yet without access the the “outside” world. We left KMGS after Happy Feet, Swimmer, Hans, Leandra, Herro, Howle, the Bard, and Don Creosote, but before the others. Oh, and while we were there The Mayor arrived! We’d been hearing stories about this character since day 1 – that he had hiked the AT, that he was from NH, that he was doing 10 mile days, and that he had started a fire under a bridge and been caught. Turns out he hitched ahead and we were able to cross paths. Anyhow, we set out from KMGS and hiked 10 afternoon miles before setting up camp in a sweet meadow just past the Haiwee Trail Junction…
And woke up to a serious frost! Man it must have been our coldest night yet, our gear and tent were encrusted with an icy layer that we allowed to thaw before forging ahead. We filled water at a nice trough/spring, chatted with Sprinkler (the last we’d see of him for a while), and leapfrogged with The Bard and Don Creosote, before reaching our highest point yet – over 10,500 ft – where we ate a tasty dinner of curry chicken and rice. We heard these strange hollow noises all afternoon (only later discovering they were the sounds of buck calls) as we descended to camp (a 17-18 mile day) just before Death Canyon Creek (not nearly as treacherous as it sounds, unless you consider it death by mosquito…)
We woke slowly and made that last half mile down to the Creek where we found the crew – Herro, Howle, The Bard, and Don Creosote – breaking camp. We hiked hard to Diaz Canyon where we ate an afternoon dinner with the crew, then hiked on to Chicken Spring Lake (over 11k!) to round out a 21 mile day – one of the places that people say is the beginning of the “real Sierras” – a beautiful tarn under an equally beautiful peak. Only Howle had made it there that night – The Bard, Don Creosote, and Herro had fallen behind.
We woke slowly (again. It’s so hard to get an early start in the serene sierras after a demanding day of hiking.) at Chicken Spring and hiked 19 miles to the base of Mt Whitney. It was slow plodding through sand for the first few miles, an easy walk to Rock Creek, then a steep climb and quick hiking to Crabtree Meadows, which can be described in one word…magical (thank you Joanne, for introducing this word into my vocabulary). Crabtree Meadows was lush, green, beautiful, and serene – complete with doe and buck relaxing in the meadow while a handful of marmots busily scurried about. We tried to book it up to guitar lake, but the altitude and exhaustion got the best of me and we camped a mile short, just north of Timberline Lake. Oh, we also passed Howle and Leandra setting up camp near the rangers station. A headache and altitude sluggishness slowed me down, but I eventually found some restful sleep before our day up Whitney.
Whitney day! We made it. No altitude issues. A reasonably tough climb up 13 switchbacks then across the ridge, and spectacular views. Not technically on the PCT, but 8 miles off, we went for the detour. We reached the summit just before noon – as thunderheads gathered…so we hurried down safely, felt a few drops at the base, hiked a bit with Rogue, passed Feather and Grenade (a physicist), and passed JMT (John Muir Trail) hikers from NH and co owners of Earth Eagle Brewings – Butch and KK. We hightailed it back to our campsite as soon as we heard thunder and relocated a few miles down. A short day.
The day after Whitney was another short day – 8 miles. After reassessing our food (we had plenty) and steering clear of Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT at 13+k) due to looming thunderheads, we decided to take it easy. We spent half of the day at one of the Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds merely relaxing and waiting out the clouds. I can’t get over how beautiful the Sierras are. After walking 700 miles through the desert, they stand out as even more spectacular. And every guidebook or hiker tells us “just wait until you get to Chicken Spring Lake…Crabtree Meadows…over Forester Pass…to Muir Pass…” etc.
And the next day we hiked over Forester Pass, which was gradual yet steep, and afforded amazing views. We met up with another PCT hiker, Billy, and hiked with him for a while. Descending into Kings Canyon down from Forester was the most spectacular part of the trail yet – a huge glacially scoured u-shaped valley, complete with steep granite mountain walls, cirques with snow or glaciers at the head walls, the landscape dotted with sparkling blue tarns (including one that was crystal clear and looked like blue gatorade – we drank from this one of course). We walked down into the valley, passing many JMT hikers going in the opposite direction (Whitney was the end for them), and then up the side of the valley to the Bullfrog Lake Trail which would lead us up and over Kearsarge Pass (named for a ship which was named for the mountain in NH) into Independence (7.8 miles of steep off-trail walking for a resupply). We camped at the Kearsarge Lakes – lovely spot with a few mosquitos.
The next day we were up and over that last steep mile, then down down down from 12k+ to 9k ish where we waited for a ride Billy had set up – which we missed – and instead got a ride the 13 miles down into town (elevation below 4k, temperature 100 degrees) from an awesome couple who was dropping off Howle to get back on the trail. Howle told us about a hostel in town – part of the Couthouse Motel – which was great and consisted of 2 large rooms with 6 beds, a common area, shower, and fridge. We met Sneaky Elf, also from Seattle, staying at the hostel too. I got new shoes – Brooks Cascadias – the exact same model and color. The new shoes are so shiny and new and intact that the old ones are barely recognizable (the pics are so funny – see below). Jared, me, and Billy ate burgers at the expensive but delicious french Still Life Cafe, then ran into Honey Buzz and Emily opting to camp in the campground. Sound sleep in a bed.
Today – July 4th! Pancake breakfast, parade, walking tour, pie eating contest, BBQ, and fireworks await!

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A campsite

 

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Resting in the trees

 

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We found this lean-to! It fits one person cozily

 

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Clothesline drying our frozen clothes and gear after we got frosted in the night

 

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Jared hiking on

 

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Jared with an altitude grin. The stubble is coming back

 

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Frozen tent condensation

 

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Lil’ Howle

 

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Our first view in a very long time. The sierras seem to be rapidly approaching

 

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Photogenic pink fungus

 

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Pano of one of the first pre-sierra views
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Chicken spring lake! It feels like we’re in the sierras now

 

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Views toward Chicken Spring Lake. Real Sierra mountains!
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Our camp at chicken spring lake

 

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Sierras, glorious sierras

 

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How did those mountains get so beautiful?

 

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More Chicken Spring

 

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Climbing Whitney, views of guitar lake

 

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Better views of guitar lake and the valley, climbing higher on whitney

 

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Views from mount whitney, highest point in the lower 48

 

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More views from Whitney

 

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Jared on Whitney

 

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Proof. We made it

 

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New Hampshirites in kilts

 

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And investors in earth eagle brewings

 

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Camp!

 

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On the way up to Forrester

 

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Taking in the beautiful views

 

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View from our camp in upper crabtree meadows

 

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Billy’s pics of us climbing Forrester Pass

 

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Say what?! Coming down Forrester, Kings Canyon

 

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We made it to the top of Forrester!

 

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Kings Canyon is just rediculous

 

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Kings Canyon, why you be so pretty?

 

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New brooks cascadias at last. 700 miles in

 

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Brooks cascadias. The new tread should be a little better