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.
Upon waking up to find that my shoes had frozen over into two solid bricks of ice, I also realized by looking at our maps that today was going to be a rough one. Just a few short miles to the north lay Mather Pass, which is regarded to many as the most difficult of all passes on the Pacific Crest Trail. When your shoes are frozen you only have one option: shove your feet in and immediately start walking. The first mile or so hurts, but after you get moving and the blood starts flowing you forget all about it, and once the sun peers over the mountains from the east and shines down upon your feet all is well once again.
There is a long, slightly uphill stretch as you get closer to the ascent up Mather, and it was at this time that I felt Mother Nature’s call for relief . . so I let Lt. Dan, Rooster, Pistons, and Dixie head out in front where they gained a substantial lead on me. Afterwords I scurried up the trail in attempt to catch, and as I peered up the trail I saw that Lt. Dan and Rooster were way ahead, but Dixie was within reach. About halfway up the steep climb I caught her, at a part of the climb where you’re constantly switching from hiking on top of ice and rocks. This is when the climb got intense. One slip here and you would surely fall hundreds of feet over the jagged granite rock. I went on ahead of Dixie, making sure that I never had too big of a gap in between us . . I not only wanted to be near in case she slipped, but I trusted her to help me if I were to fall. About two hundred feet from the top, I heard her mumble some words of discontent, and I turned to see what was the matter. She had gotten herself in a tricky situation, having tried to cross over a boulder – she was facing away from the slope. I hurried down to help her and grabbed her arm, pulling her back towards the mountain and away from the unnerving situation.
We were celebrated once we made it to the top, our trail family was sprawled out basking under the hot High Sierra sun. We thought that worst was over, but once you see the other side of Mather on the descent you realize that the real challenge hasn’t yet begun. Although the trail itself isn’t extremely steep heading down, it is far easier to slip hiking down on snow and you would slide for quite a ways. I was nervous, far more nervous than going up.
We made it down below the snow level where it felt really good to be walking on an actual trail once again, even if the trail was flooded. A nice little jaunt through a creek is good for the soul, plus it cleans you shoes and makes them look brand new. Once we got to camp, which was at the Little Pete Meadow at mile 831.6, we were all feeling terribly footsore. There comes a point in a day’s hike where your feet fall heavily, your bodies feel as though they have been extremely abused, jarred to an extent that you’ve never felt before. Dead tired we managed to pick a few wild Sierra Onions and toss them into our Ramen before falling fast asleep.
We crossed the White Fork at 6:30am when the water level and our chances of being swept away were minimized. As much as you don’t want to end the day by crossing a river you also hate to start the day crossing one too, although trudging through freezing cold water is definitely one way of waking yourself up! From mile 801 we had an extremely tough trek through six miles of suncupped snow to the top of the Pass, not easy hiking. If you slip on the suncups you’ll slide into small holes which makes for a real easy way to twist an ankle, so you really have to stay 100% focused at all times. The climb up Pinchot Pass itself wasn’t too difficult, it was just the constant slipping and sliding as we were climbing that made it a rough day. Just to put it into perspective it took us four hours to go only six miles.
Suncups for days
We were nearing the end of our day when we arrived to the South Fork Kings River at mile 813.7. For a while now we had been passing southbound John Muir Trail hikers and more than half of them had been warning us of this particular river crossing. We had gotten a few conflicting bits of advice, but the majority of these hikers all said to avoid the South Fork crossing at all cost. The trick was that instead of crossing the river, stay to the right of it and hike a few miles north alongside it where the trail eventually would cross back over again. This seemed like the ONLY possible way to continue, because as we walked up to where the trail crossed over we immediately realized that you would not stand a chance at all if entered. It was scary, like . . seriously terrifying! The rapids where the trail crossed were as high as five feet at some points, and the water seemed to move fast enough to sweep a small vehicle downstream. It kills me to think that only about a week before a young woman from Japan was swept away at this very spot, and as we were passing by she was still only “Missing.” We had no idea, the only thing we knew was that we had to find another way.
We stayed to the right, followed the river a few miles north where we found a flat spot on a large rock just as the sun was setting. We started a fire and did a little research for the following day as we boiled water for dinner. It was another rough day in the Sierra. We were all exhausted, but still very excited and felt lucky to be able to savor the solitude that the Sierra has to offer.
I later read that Rika “Strawberry” Morita, a 32-year-old PCT hiker from Osaka, Japan was found fully submerged downstream from the South Fork Kings River. She had been missing for multiple weeks and was found on July 23rd by other Pacific Crest Trail hikers passing through. My thoughts and prayers go out to her, her family, and anybody that was ever lucky enough to have met her. RIP.
The morale of the group was strong on our first real day back in the Sierra, the sun was shining bright and as we climbed up towards Glenn Pass I was personally feeling great. Just happy to be out there, so very deep in the Sierra Mountains. As you near Glenn you are forced to scramble a bit from snow to rocks, and this is when Lt. Dan thought it would be a good idea to take a higher-untracked route around the rocks. Rooster, being Lt. Dan’s right hand man, decided to go with him only to make sure he didn’t get hurt alone. It was about thirty minutes later after Pistons and I spent quite some time hollering for them that they reappeared. Rooster had fallen on the snow and took a small tumble on down some rocks, leaving him just a little bit cut up. He would survive.
Glenn Pass is somewhat intimidating, the trail hugs the left side of a huge bowl then goes straight up to the top.
It was at the top where we met an older gentleman, another Aussie who had decided that he had just about enough of the Sierra and that he was going to backtrack two days to exit at Kearsarge Pass in order to flip-up past the Sierra to Northern California. It is always so bizarre to me how people would want to skip this amazing stretch. For the most part I had originally desired to hike the Pacific Crest Trail because of the Sierra, so the thought of skipping made absolutely no sense to me. Oh well, their loss. I figured the less people out here the better . .
You drop down from Glenn Pass towards Rae Lakes, a set of lakes with such serene beauty; truly a magical place. You cross in between two of the Rae Lakes at a slow-moving inlet that is about waist-high, and we all decided to stop at this point to each lunch but to also test our luck at fishing. The fish here were somehow privy to our murderous desires and wouldn’t even look at the flies we were dropping nearby.
After thirty minutes or so we kept moving, and for the next five miles we would have the pleasure of a nice, gradual descent towards Woods Creek Bridge at mile 799.8.
Although the bridge looked new it still felt as though it could snap at any moment. It swayed back and forth, and had an eerie ‘One person at a time’ sign that you can see in the picture above. At the other end of the bridge was the Mile 800 marker, which is always nice to see. A sense of accomplishing another hundred miles hiked.
As we hiked back up from the bottom of the bridge the trail hugs Woods Creek, an incredibly fast-moving river. If you were to fall in to this river, there would be zero chance of survival.
It was a mile up from this point where we came across a random hiker who had propped his or her tent up right in the middle of the trail. I remember thinking that it was a bizarre spot to set up, and as we got closer a girl poked her head out to see who was creeping in on her. Her name was Dixie, and she had gotten to this spot maybe an hour before us. Just past her tent was a fast-moving, knee-high creek called White Fork. If you were to slip while crossing this twenty-foot wide creek you would be thrown immediately into Woods Creek where you would become just another statistic. She had stopped here after attempting to cross by her lonesome, and after scaring the living you-know-what out of herself she decided to wait until other hikers arrived. Safety in numbers, ALWAYS. Pistons seemed to know Dixie, somehow . . which didn’t make any sense to me at the time but it turns out that she is a famous YouTube hiker, and Pistons had been following her videos closely in preparation for his trek of the PCT. That night we lit a fire right on trail, got to know Dixie a little bit, and all planned to cross White Fork in the following morning when the water level hopefully subsided a bit.
That morning Lt. Dan, Rooster, and his then girlfriend – now fiancé – Molly picked Pistons and I up at the McGee Creek Lodge. We drove south on HWY 395 towards Independence, stopping off for breakfast in Bishop as well as a few last-minute errands. Next stop was the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead parking lot, where Molly and Rooster gave their final heartfelt goodbye’s.
It was already 2pm, so not even close to being an ideal start time . . especially since the initial steep climb up to the Pass faces the sun. Our packs were stuffed fully and it was a hot day climbing up out of the Owens Valley. We hiked an additional five miles back to Bullfrog Lake Junction where we ended up camping in the exact same spot that we had camped on Day 67.
It was never my intention to spend so many days off trail especially since I was already feeling like I was behind on schedule. Rooster had planned over the previous month or so to meet his girlfriend and his mom up in South Lake Tahoe . . he just figured that we’d all be there by now but we were just a few miles off – 300! HAHA. I contemplated briefly about going on without them, but those were fleeting thoughts. These guys had become my family, and I thoroughly enjoyed hiking with them. I decided quickly that I would stay off trail and wait for their return.
On Day 69 I pretty much stayed in bed all day in attempt to recover. I ordered delivery again from Pizza Factory, watched movies, and showered twice. Later that night we all went back to Rusty’s Saloon to watch Pistons sing some Karaoke and it was also Rooster’s birthday so we stayed til midnight to celebrate with him. We were all pretty exhausted so as soon as 12:15am rolled around we took off back to the motel.
My good buddy Travis Moegling came down to Bishop on Day 70, he picked Pistons and I up and went to the Mountain Rambler Brewery to have lunch. Later on we drove up to Mammoth Lakes and went up to Lake George to walk around, and after an hour or so we went to Von’s Grocery to pick up some supplies to make dinner with. This was for sure one of the best meals I had on trail because back in his home country of Australia – Mark aka “Pistons” is a legitimate chef. Steak and all of the fixins. We ended up falling asleep that night to the movie “The Blues Brothers.”
On Day 71 Travis was nice enough to give Mark and I a tour of the place I once called home. We started off at Hot Creek just south of Mammoth Lakes by the airport. At one point just over twelve years ago you were able to swim here, but due to an increase in geologic activity they “temporarily” shut it off to the public in the summer of 2006. I can remember being nineteen years old swimming in this stretch of heated river with a large group of friends passing around a bottle of Whiskey thinking to myself, “This is home.”
Little underwater shot at Hot Creek
After Hot Creek we took the long way to June Lake through the Upper Owens Valley. Travis is one hell of a tour guide, and we told him many times throughout the day that he should start a small tour business in the Mammoth area. Friendly, extremely knowledgeable, he would be a hit! We went to June Lake Brewery in . . can you guess it? JUNE LAKE! This is an amazing spot, and the brew is something to write home about. Here we met up with one of my oldest Mammoth friends, Jeff Meadway. Jeff and I used to live in the old ‘White Stag Inn,’ one of Mammoth’s oldest motels. We were the very last two people to ever live there, and sadly The White Stagg was taken down in recent years past.
Jeff and his girlfriend Katie drove up from McGee Creek Lodge, where they live and maintain the lodge. The five of us left the brewery and went to play a round of frisbee golf there in June Lake. That night back at Travis’ we ordered Domino’s and watched YouTube videos til we fell asleep.
Day 72 consisted of an extremely late wake up, followed by Starbucks and breakfast at New York Deli in the Village at Mammoth. We went back to Travis and Alisa’s (Travis’ wife, also my really good friend) condo where I would try to catch up on some writing. Later that day we went to Mammoth Brewing, and then met back up with Alisa at Mammoth Tavern.
On the morning of Day 73 Pistons and I woke up and packed our stuff, we were going to be spending the night down at McGee Creek Lodge with Jeff and Katie. Jeff picked us up from the Von’s in Mammoth, and we came down to a feast that him and his girlfriend had prepared all day. We had a huge tri-tip roast to BBQ, loaded mac n cheese, salad picked fresh from their garden, garlic bread . . and a few other items that I’m blanking on. It was a meal fit for thru-hikers, that is for sure. I take back saying that Pistons steak dinner a few nights prior was best, although it was very good . . this one takes the cake without a doubt.
Bullfrog Lake Junction – Kearsarge Trailhead Parking Area
Everyone was so excited, this is always obvious when the entire group wakes up at 4:30am to start the day. It was four miles to the top of Kearsarge Pass hiking for the most part on a 40 degree slope of rock and ice. It was no easy task and we all made sure to take our time and not feel too rushed to get to the top. Once we got to the tip-top the rest was all downhill to a parking lot where we’d be trying to hitch down into Independence. Coming down was so much more sketchy than going up . . a slip here and you were going for quite the ride down to a frozen lake. Using crampons I felt pretty confident but every now and then I would catch my other leg with a spike, which did not feel good and broke the skin a few times.
We made it to the parking lot around midday where there were copious amounts of hikers all trying to hitch the fourteen miles into town. Our chances weren’t looking good so we decided collectively to start walking and hope that someone would have pity on us and stop on their way down the mountain. A few miles in we got so lucky, a gentleman and his wife stopped and we piled into the back of his pickup truck. He dropped us off in the small town of Independence located in between Lone Pine and Big Pine on HWY 395.
We went immediately to a convenient store and bought snacks and drinks and hung out with the other dozen or so hikers there before heading to Main Street (HWY 395) to catch a hitch up to Bishop. In order to catch a quicker hitch the group split up into two leaving myself, Lt. Dan and Rooster to fend for ourselves. Maybe twenty minutes or so passed before a young guy pulled over and offered us a ride. He was recently out of the military and had just found out that his wife was cheating on him with a friend from back home while he was serving, and so he had packed his car up and hit the road with no destination planned. He struck all of us as someone who could potentially snap, his ‘off the wall’ comments were definitely a slight cause for concern . . but hey, we made it to Bishop unscathed!
The rest of the day was filled with Pizza Factory and beer, and later we ended up staying at the Days Inn Motel. Much later that night we made an appearance at Rusty’s Saloon where we ran into other hikers and shared some laughs about the trail thus far. Good times.