As much I love Mammoth Lakes, I was ready to get back to my new home. Every moment I walked on the Pacific Crest Trail was something new; nothing was ever repeated and was different from one moment to the next. The trees, the creeks, the views . . everything was constantly evolving, and so was I. Becoming stronger than I’ve ever been before felt good, I was beginning to feel like I could run up and down these Sierra peaks with ease.
Today would be a short hike, we just wanted to get back on trail so we could wake up the next day and really get moving. We took the side trail by Horseshoe Lake back to the PCT at mile 903.3, where we maybe went a few miles up-trail to a really nice spot by a creek. I was dealing with a new pain, something I hadn’t felt in the previous nine-hundred miles. Because I wore flip-flops at the wedding the day prior my feet had dried up, so badly in fact that the soles of my feet were cracking and beginning to bleed. Each and every step was painful, it felt as if every time my foot landed on the ground the cracks were spreading wide open. It was no fun and I was concerned that because I my feet are in my shoes all day that the healing process would take a long time. The only thing that kept my mind off of this was knowing that Dixie had packed out some marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey’s chocolate to make S’mores by the fire at camp. It’s the little things . .
I made a decision that went against the advice of all of my fellow hiker friends, a decision to free myself of my old hippie-ways, I had decided to cut my hair. This trail-blasphemous act wasn’t a popular one, but out of respect for my friends Travis and Alisa, as well as for the poor wedding photographer, I believed that this was best. So, on my way to the wedding I stopped at the first salon I came across.
The jingle of the bell attached to the door got the attention of the hairstylist, and as she turned with a smile I noticed that it quickly faded into an expression of sheer horror. In a desperate attempt to get me to leave she ever so delicately said, “Umm . . I’m sorry but I’m all booked up for the next . . umm . . the next few days.” The sudden absurdity of the situation was comical and frustrating at the same time, but I figured it was best to just move on. I found the only other place in town that cuts hair, and it was at this second shop I realized that all forces in the world were working against me and my need for a presentable look, or more likely that Salon-Lady #1 had called her friend warning her of a homeless-looking man wandering the streets like a zombie needing a haircut. I got the exact same response about being fully booked, but this time I wasn’t laughing. I was out of options, and was left wearing a borrowed pair of dress pants and shirt, flip-flops, long matted hair and a beard that had grown well past the socially acceptable three-inch length. I had given it my best shot, it just turns out that hair stylists aren’t champing at the bit to cut hair that looks like it might house a few dozen different species.
Word spread quickly at the wedding about the Pacific Crest Trail hiker who barely made it into town the day prior to attend his good friends wedding, and it was pretty damn obvious who that might be. I looked as if someone gave a homeless man a pair of nice pants and said “Go get ’em, kid!” But, as the day turned to-night, the wedding guests slowly became more and more intoxicated and people started coming up to me asking about my adventures thus far. It was a great night, and as narcissistic as it might sound it feels good to see how excited people get to hear my story. To see their faces light up in amazement, yeah . . it feels pretty good. For the first time in my life I finally felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I was a Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker.
It was January, 2006 and I had just graduated from High School. I had decided, along with six of my closest friends, that our first step into adulthood would best be spent up in Mammoth Lakes – an amazing mid-sized mountain town. What an amazing time it was in my life, we all worked for the ski resort and lived in a small apartment perfectly equipped for young people with only one concern: snowboarding.
Flash forward almost twelve years, and I was on a path that was taking me from Mexico straight into the backyard of my old home. Over nine hundred miles later I was reuniting with an old friend, both figuratively and literally since a good amount of my old friends still lived in Mammoth. I spent the first half of the day hiking and texting along the way, trying to line up some old buddies to meet up and maybe grab a few beers with. It just so happened that two of my best friends were getting married, in town, the very next day. Perfect timing I’d have to say, for one hungry hiker to fill up on some wedding cake.
The previous nights debauchery filled with beers and good trail-talk led to a very slow-moving morning. We ate breakfast, drank coffee, and eventually loaded our belongings back onto the ferry literally just moments before it took off for the ride back to trail. Overall Vermilion Valley Resort would remain as the most expensive spots to stop along the PCT, but a much-needed break for some trail-family R&R.
Once we got back to trail at mile 878 we would begin to climb; the next seven miles we would climb over three thousand feet. Not the steepest of climbs, but definitely not the easiest either; we crossed through rivers and waterfalls, hiked miles on snow and climbed over/under many fallen trees.
At Silver Pass – 10,800 feet, we were met with extremely dark and ominous clouds just to the north of our position. We took a short break before hearing the first roar of thunder. Everybody looked at one another, and without saying a word we packed up our food and started moving again. It’s pretty terrifying to hear that noise, being that high up, like a 747 jet airliner crashing into a building nearby. On our descent we got to glissade once again, which is always awesome. This glissade was icy, bumpy, and left one hell of a bruise on my right cheek. Worth it.
We ended the day at the beautiful Lake Virginia at mile 891.8. We had traveled by boat, hiked through rivers, trudged through miles of snow, slid on our asses down a snow-slide in the Sierra, and ended the day walking through a knee-high inlet. A beautiful day indeed.
If you’re looking for the most outrageously overpriced ‘town’ along the PCT, you would most definitely find it in VVR. Conveniently located along the PCT just south of Mammoth Lakes, these money-grubbing owners take full advantage of their location by price gouging every item they have for sale. Coming from the PCT you hike one mile westward on a side trail that takes you to a dock on Lake Edison, where you’ll find a ferry that comes twice per day to take hikers to their resort. The ferry alone costs $20. Once you’re there they’ll give you a complimentary beer, which is great, but that’s only to get you to buy further beers . . which after only one night you’ll find that you spent well into your life savings. The meals that they offer are $25-sad looking, tiny little plates of likely undercooked food. They will also allow hikers to work for free food, which sounds like a nice gesture until you realize that “Spirit Wolf” is your celebrity chef, which would be great if you were looking for an amazing dish of SpaghettiOs and hot dogs. On top of everything they keep everyone on a running tab throughout their time spent at VVR, so it’s only when you leave that you realize the damage done.
ALL THESE DISAPPOINTING NOTES ASIDE . . I had a great time.
This little getaway in the town of Mono Hot Springs is a perfect resting point for hikers. Right on the lake, mixed in with the trees and away from society, everything but the price was ideal. I had a great time, I’m just glad I realized the trap that was set and decided to eat my usual meal of Ramen and tortillas for dinner. I did spend money, but on the necessities . . aka beer.
We woke up on the side of the cliff overlooking Evolution Meadow, nothing but trees and trail; no snow for the next twenty miles. After travelling so far on snow something as little as walking on an actual dirt trail really excites you. We also realized that day’s hike was going to be mostly downhill, so the energy was high within our group. So high that we decided to sleep in til 7:45am. Today was going to be a great day.
At mile 850.9 you cross over Evolution Creek, a slow-moving but very deep creek. The water went up to my chin as I crossed, holding my pack well above my head. On the other side we were met by a flurry of mosquitos, so stopping to dry off was out of the question. About an hour later we stopped along the same creek to rest and have lunch, a perfect little spot to take a swim and wring out some dirty socks. It was at this point where we first met Dibs, a feller from Louisville, KY who walked up on us. Dibs had hiked previous miles with Dixie in the desert, so she was excited to see him walk up on us. Dibs seemed like a nice guy, so we welcomed the new presence within our little trail family. I didn’t know it then, but I’d hike more miles with Dibs throughout the entirety of the PCT than anyone else. Funny how things work out that way.
We followed Evolution creek for quite a while, where the trail started to descend at a faster rate and where the creek turned from a lethargic body of water to one of fleeting rapids, waterfalls at some points. We now entered into the John Muir Wilderness at mile 857, and only a two thousand foot climb was left in between us and a fire, some ramen and our tents. What an arduous climb it proved to be, each and every one of us struggled to get to the top, but once we were there we camped just north from another decent sized patch of Sierra Onions. Dixie and I stayed back and desecrated this patch of onions, leaving no trace that they every once grew alongside this piece of trail. I felt like Stanley Yelnats and Zero from the book ‘Holes.’ Getting full on onions is a rather strange event for anyone in their life, not the well-balanced and nutritious diet we probably needed but it was something. I’m sure the onions didn’t help our already questionable stench, but this was to be our last meal of onions. We overdid it, just a bit.
It’s crazy how much of a difference there is from being hydrated and being dehydrated while hiking, or doing anything physical for that matter. I woke up with an instant realization that I had a headache, but also that my body felt as though it was shutting down. I figured it was one of two things: either I ate something funky (most likely a bad Sierra Onion) or maybe yesterday proved to be more difficult on me than I previously thought. Either way I didn’t even think that it would’ve been due to a lack of water. Didn’t matter, I couldn’t just sit around and mope about my troubles, life goes on and so must I.
For four miles I was feeling extremely groggy, taking many breaks which allowed my group to gain a substantial lead ahead of me. I finally caught up with them at the end of that fourth mile, where they had stopped by a small stream. They poked fun at me for eating those damn onions, you know, saying that I might die . . this and that. I wasn’t so amused, but at the same time I didn’t have the energy to give it right back to them. I sat down, and for the next twenty minutes I forced myself to drink two liters of water. Not even one mile after we set back off I already felt over a thousand times better. It was crazy, and just in the nick of time too, for the hike up to Muir Pass was not for the faint of heart.
It was the usual long, snow-cupped stretches that we were growing accustomed to seeing, all the way up to the Muir Shelter. This is a pretty cool shelter that was built by the Sierra Club back in 1931. At just under 12,000 ft in elevation this hut would provide great shelter if the weather were to turn on you during this stretch. The granite rocks were carefully placed to form a circular dome, and inside there were benches for resting.
We hung out at the hut for a little longer than we should have, and once we figured out what time it was and how much further we had to make it to get below snow level we frantically gathered up our packs and ran off. The descent of this pass seemed to go on forever . . a slow and painful one that had Lt. Dan and I stopping far too often to wait for others in the group. That is a huge factor that you don’t really think about, having to wait for people who are in your group. Tensions can rise when you’re constantly waiting for people, this I know for sure. Once we got down to a certain point we noticed that the bootpack we had been following veered off directly into a lake, which didn’t seem too appetizing to us being the end of the day and the temperature declining at a rapid rate. We spent the rest of the day creating our own path and the very last thing we did was cross a creek. I swear this creek had the coldest water on the planet; instant pins and needle pain as I entered into the small river. We ended up camping at a spot that has probably never been used to camp on in times past, on the edge of a cliff . . but we managed to get a fire going just as the sun was setting, and although we didn’t cover as much ground as we had originally hoped for we were warm, ready to take on another day in the morning.