Hey all, side note: My podcast left off in Bishop, so this is new territory! Ergo, it’s a bit longer to cover all the fun stuff that happened. Enjoy!
Last day in Bishop passed, I left my hotel room and walked the two miles back to the gas station in West Bishop. I grabbed a piece of cardboard from their back room, made a sign, and started my hitch hiking attempt. It wasn’t long before I got a partial hitch out of town, then another hitch to the trail head. I got started and wasn’t feeling it, this side-trail is so long! I don’t want to bother with it at all. But I eventually find my stride and make my way back up over the pass and into the huge basin below. It’s weird being alone again after spending a few weeks hiking with someone every day, but I start adjusting pretty quickly. I made my way back to the PCT, made camp, and went to bed feeling excited to hit the trail again. I felt like I’d been stuck in this section for a long time and I wanted to just go and see what waited ahead.
My first pass being back on the PCT was Muir Pass, and it was supposed to be pretty easy. I flew along the trail feeling free from not having to rest as often, being able to go my own pace. It was liberating to say the least, though I missed my trail friends. As I got higher I left the treeline behind and ran into the remnants of the snow from the last winter and saw all the interesting channels carved into it from the snowmelt from higher elevations, forming tunnels and bridges over rivers. The lakes up here were massive. Everything up here is massive and dead silent, not even a small breeze going by. There’s few moments in life where you get absolute silence and it’s so surreal, I felt like I was in another world entirely.
I lost the trail a couple of times in what remained of the snow, but made sure to at least hike in the general direction of the pass. I found the trail eventually and made my way up the last set of switchbacks up to Muir Hut. Muir Hut was constructed by the Sierra Club to shelter hikers caught up on the notoriously exposed pass during a storm. I didn’t have that to look forward to today, it was nothing but blue skies. I poked around a bit and made my way down the pass through a massive boulder field and around the giant lakes formed by snowmelt. Everything out here is wet, either with small streams or the soil actually just seeping water. Halfway down I sat by a river for a while and rested, listening to the serene trickle of water. It’s still therapeutic after spending months in the dry desert where rivers were an absolute luxury. I continued down passed a couple of lakes then to a ledge where I saw something rather disappointing: The mountains were smooth and covered with trees. No dramatic granite spires, no sheer cliff walls. Just round mountains. Is the fun part of the Sierra ending? The idea of it weighed down on my shoulders.
I made my way down and found myself in an awesome meadow with a terrific view of Muir Pass lined up perfectly for a great sunset show. I made camp, lit a fire, and watched the sun set as I ate dinner. I stayed up a little later to read a book for a bit, then went to bed. I laid in my tent for a couple hours in the dark before I felt tired, and as I was just about to fall asleep I heard a giant splash in the river behind me flowing through the meadow. I sat up to hear what was going on better, but I know there’s only one real thing this could be. Usually out here if you hear something going on in the night, it’s just a deer. But deer don’t really just leap into rivers, or at least I don’t think they do? This is probably a bear.
I stayed alert for a little while to see where it went. I didn’t hear it come up to my side of the river, so I laid back down and tried to go back to sleep. I was almost asleep when I heard branches breaking. They went over to my bear canister where I heard nails scratching on the thick plastic walls of my food container. I sat up and clapped my hands as loud as I could, and I heard it run away into the trees. I laid back down – once again almost finding sleep – until I heard the scratching once again a while later. Again I clapped, again it ran away, and I laid back down. I was sure it would stay away this time. I got comfortable and put my sleeping bag over my head convinced it was going to go bother someone else. But it came back, and this time it walked by my tent. I shot up feeling annoyed and grunted “What?!”. The footsteps stopped. “Would you just fuck off?!” I yelled. It ran away, and stayed away this time. I laughed at the thought that maybe this time it was just another hiker, but I don’t know why they’d be going after my food.
I woke up the next morning not feeling rested at all. The whole bear escapade kept me alert well passed my bed time. I slowly packed up my camp and got going. The trail stayed in the trees most of the morning and I felt it would stay that way for most of the day. My first obstacle of the morning was Evolution Creek, the more notorious river ford on the entire trail due to its extremely high water level in years with higher snow levels in the Sierra. This year was a normal snow year, which meant it’d at least be pretty high. But when I got there I only found it to go just above my knees in areas, the main hazards here were the fleet of mosquitoes and the freezing cold water, nothing more. I pressed on feeling a little let down that it was done and over with that quick, I envisioned it being a bit more of an obstacle. The trail went down for an incredibly long time and I felt bad for all the JMT hikers I passed who had to hike up this thing. Muir Pass is probably the hardest part of the trail for JMT hikers from what I’ve seen so far.
I got to the bottom and came to a bridge where there was a large group of people just standing around looking aimlessly at their surroundings. Most hikers have some kind of gravitational force about them: They know where they’re going, and you know where they’re going. Even if they’re not really moving, you can just kinda tell that they’re set on being somewhere. These people on the other hand were pure chaos, I had no idea. I made my way through them and crossed a bridge over a river. From the other side I could hear someone yell, I looked back and saw two people jumping up and down waving their hands at me. I walked back across the bridge to them to see what they needed: Apparently this group was being led by a tour guide and two of the tourists wandered off and didn’t come back by the agreed upon time. The guide was wondering if I’d seen them. They weren’t particularly specific about what the two looked like: “Have you seen a couple of girls?” the guide asked. There’s a lot of women duos out hiking, I have no clue. I hung out with them for a half hour or so either way because they were fun company, and we were all at a loss as to how these two women felt okay leaving the entire group waiting for them for hours on end. Not cool. Mostly I hung around to pet the dogs they had with them however.
I eventually left and pressed on into what I felt was underwhelming territory, nothing I couldn’t have seen in the desert really. A canyon with a river (that’s the abnormal part) and very dry and spread out foliage. I was neither here nor there about it emotionally until I hit the treeline and was swallowed up by a dry forest that smelled like nothing but dust and rotting dead trees with tangled overgrowth littering the area. This sent me into a bad mood, I can’t stand tangled forests for some reason. I tried pushing on as fast as I could but I just couldn’t hit my usual pace which frustrated me a bit. I eventually got out of the trees and was on winding switchbacks up a ridge. I wandered up it a ways and sat on a rock and greeted all the JMT hikers going the direction opposite to me, eventually I asked one of them if he’d seen any PCT hikers as I hadn’t seen a single one since I’d gotten back on trail. He hadn’t seen one for a couple of days apparently. “Well shit” I thought. It’s been really quiet out here without any PCT hikers trotting along, I’m not used to that.
I made my way up the rest of the switchbacks eventually and got into a bit of a ‘healthier’ forest. Above that I found myself standing at the shore of an incredible lake with a peninsula running through the middle, littered with campsites. I could totally camp here, I want to camp here, but I shouldn’t camp here. I hung my head and kept going. Above that lake was another lake on almost a staircase through the mountain, each level holding something cooler than the last. At the final level I found myself in a tight canyon with an incredible garden tucked in the middle. I started to regain some hope that I still have some Sierra adventure left ahead of me. I made my way to the switchbacks up the pass away from the garden and enjoyed it. This is the first pass I’ve done where it stayed below treeline, so the small pine trees made a bit of a tunnel over the trail here and there as I pushed up. This alone amazed me, but when I got to the top I felt like jumping in the air and screaming. Beyond me was an absolutely incredible lake warped along the basin floor with little islands plopped here and there. At the end of the lake was a cliff making way for the rest of the Sierra range ahead of me giving it the illusion that I was on an island suspended mid-air. The most incredible surge of happiness overwhelmed me and I just sat there for a good hour staring at it. I’m camping there, no question about it.
I made my way down and set up camp near the lake and listened to music as the sun set, igniting the granite around me in beautiful alpenglow and later turning them pink. There were people here and there fishing along the shore. It was incredibly peaceful and I could just sit here and enjoy it as much as I wanted. The wind picked up the later it got in the night so I crawled into my tent for some protection where I had a horrible realization that I wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight either as long as this wind keeps going. Well shit.
Nope, I didn’t get any sleep. I got out of my tent bleary-eyed and packed up. I was at least looking forward to the scenery ahead of me, and if I pushed hard I’d get to a side-trail leading to a resort by Lake Edison called Vermillion Valley Resort where my next resupply was waiting along with fresh hot food. I made that my goal and pushed on down the cliff-side. The trail today was nothing but ups and downs and at some point my momentum came to me and I jogged up each uphill feeling great. Soon enough I was on the side-trail to Lake Edison where I’d catch a ferry across the lake. Along this trail I caught up with an angry JMT hiker who felt cheated that his maps told him it was only a half mile to the ferry when it was actually something like 1.8 miles. I tried to console him by saying “Well hey, we’re only .4 miles away at least”, to which he replied angrily “Yeah well I only trust my maps”. I walked on laughing thinking ‘isn’t that what got him in this situation in the first place?’.
When I got to the dock I felt a little dismayed at how many people were here waiting for the boat. It wasn’t a large one by any means. Still tired, I set up my sleeping pad on the rocks and decided to take a nap until it arrived. As JMT hikers walked by me I could hear them snickering about me taking a nap here. The world of a PCT hiker and the world of a JMT hiker are very different things. We’re in it for the long-haul and can afford to get used to taking mid-day naps. In fact it was kind of a requirement in the desert at times on really hot days. I laughed back at the thought, if they only knew.
I woke up to my watch alarm and got up to head down to the dock and got in line. When the boat arrived the line turned into a clusterfuck of people sprinting ahead and practically elbowing each other in the face to be first on the boat. As people piled on the boat the operators yelled at them to chill out. I got out of line and watched in disgust as people acted like complete fucking morons over a little boat ride. The operators said they’d come back, so I happily sat back and listened to podcasts as I waited for them to come back. They did 40 minutes later and I was on my way to the resort. When the boat landed we got the lowdown on how things worked around here: “Everything is expensive, our facilities don’t justify the cost, but hey you get a free beer” was the gist of it. $6 for an 8 minute shower, with an additional towel rental fee for example. I didn’t want to even know how much the food costed, so my dinner consisted of the extra poptarts I had in my resupply package. I never get tired of these things.
Annoyed, I crawled into my tent and tried to sleep, but it didn’t come. People were up until 12:00 partying and shouting. I was okay with this much, this was a notorious party hub and I came here voluntarily, whatever. But at 3:00 in the morning, people got up to resume the party for some god awful reason. Again I didn’t sleep through the night. But as the sun came up I finally got in a few hours, waking up a little late but early enough to pack up and catch the ferry out of the resort. I bought my ticket where the cashier informed me that this ferry ride was full and that I should wait for the next one. Okay, no problem. I went down to the lake shore and waited for the ferry to come back.
When it did come back I asked the driver if he’d be making another trip. He wasn’t sure and asked me to wait for him to go find out if he could. I waited for an hour, and he finally came back saying that if I paid an extra 75 dollars he could take me back. Um… what? No way. I politely declined and explained that they sold me a ticket saying they’d take me back. All he could say was to go talk with the manager. I was annoyed, sitting around here trying to work this out set me back too far in the day as it was, so I decided to just get a refund and walk back. I was fuming the entire way back to the PCT. I don’t mind walking at all (obviously), but the whole debacle put me in a really bad mood, especially because I was starting my hike way too late in the day.
I was calmed down by the time I got back to the trail and let the whole situation die. There weren’t really any dramatic or inspiring views, just a canopy of trees. At some point it started to resemble hikes I did back home and I started feeling a little homesick. I pushed on and got to the beginning of the climb up the pass which was the usual transition out of the treeline and into granite basins with lakes strewn here and there, it wasn’t my favorite pass. I went up and came back down where I saw Cougar tracks in the snow along the trail. Any time I see signs of Cougars, the hairs on my neck raise a bit and I’m in high alert until I see reason to chill. I hate Cougars, they’re the creepiest motherfuckers to roam the wilderness. It could be near me and I’d never know. I made sure I checked every single ridge and rocky outcropping on my way down, totally unable to enjoy anything around me. Eventually the paw prints went off trail and didn’t resurface and I relaxed a bit. I found a campsite overlooking a lake before my long descent down into another valley, set up camp, washed my clothes, and went to bed. I’m getting into town tomorrow and don’t want to smell too bad, I do what I can but it’s never enough.
I woke up, got all packed, and hit the trail. I actually slept through the night finally and felt fantastic, so I completely flew along the trail not needing to take any breaks. I’d make it to Reds Meadow today for sure where I could catch a shuttle into the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes. I spent my day flying through a green tunnel of trees and didn’t really make much note of anything around me, getting lost in thought every so often and working through fake situations in my head. At some point after climbing up a large mountain I hit mile 900. I stared at it for a moment feeling like I usually do about mile markers, but then I remembered everything that’s happened these last three months, everything I’ve been through and all the hard times I was able to push through and I started to feel like I’ve really accomplished something out here. I dropped my pack, sat on a rock and watched the tall grass wave in the wind and cried for about a half hour feeling happier than I’ve been in a long time. If I had to leave the trail here, I might be okay with it really. But of course I don’t want to, I need to keep going. 900 miles is a decent chunk, but there’s so much more to experience.
I got off my rock and pushed through the last stretch of the day where I saw the scenery start to change in subtle ways. I’m starting to see pumice here and there which means I am transitioning out of the Sierra now, and I’m okay with it. It’s still so incredibly beautiful out here. Beyond the Sierra lies Lassen National Park which is home to very volcanic scenery, so I must be in a transitional section now. I made my way down, walked through a burned down forest that had started to regrow a bit with green grass at least. I finally found myself on the footpath to Red’s Meadow. I hiked 22 miles today in 8 hours, I felt good about that. I sacrificed my breaks to make it happen, but I didn’t feel the need to rest today. As I neared the general store I saw my bus drive passed me and park across the parking lot. Oh shit! I don’t want to miss that shuttle. I ran across the parking lot passed all the day visitors come out here to experience the wilderness without the comforts of restaurants and easily accessible snacks and stood in line to get on the bus. To my dismay it was totally packed and I sat down suddenly aware of how terrible I smelled. I looked around at all the faces around me and said “I want to say this in advance and get it out of the way. I smell horrible, I am SO sorry”. Some people laughed uncomfortably and left it at that. As we started driving I heard someone whisper “Didn’t he know there were showers at Reds Meadow?”. Yes I knew, but I needed to catch the shuttle!
I talked a bit with the woman next to me who’s jaw hit the floor when she found out what I was doing. I guess some people out here still don’t know about the PCT, I’m used to it being common knowledge. We stopped and picked up more people: A blue blood family who came out here for a few hours to stare at info pavilions. I heard the father talking to his kids in complete awe about a couple of guys he met who were hiking 200 miles through the Sierra. He seemed blown away about it and was egging his kids on to do it when they get older. I sat in my chair and snickered a bit, I wonder if he’d have an aneurysm if he found out how far I’d already hiked. I realize how this sounds, I’m full of myself at this point right? Yeah maybe a little, but it’s hard not to feel a little proud at this point. I didn’t say anything and just stared out the window as we left the Sierra and parked at a ski lodge on the higher end of town. I got off the shuttle and got on another one to take me into the main city of Mammoth where I could find somewhere to stay for the night.
I got a tour from the bus driver, she went totally out of her way to make sure I knew about all the places in town and I was so grateful to her for it. I got off the bus and started looking for a room. The first one was booked, that’s fine, there’s like 20 hotels and motels here, I should be able to find somewhere. One after one I was rejected, they were totally booked. The usual fare of “With all the PCT, JMT, weekend, and day hikers here we’re totally booked. Sorry!”. Well fuck. I sat down and called the remaining hotels, they either didn’t answer or were full. I started poking around town for an alleyway I could sneak into and sleep in for the night, but before I committed to anything I called the last hotel. They had one room left. It was pricier than usual but I booked it anyways. I walked the two miles to get to it and immediately took the most necessary shower of my life, then went and gorged on Carls Jr while I watched Star Trek in my room feeling pretty content.
But then I reflected on it for a bit, I’m really tired of competing. Super tired of it. And I’m tired of always being packed in with huge groups of people, such as the incident at Vermillion Valley Resort and the ferry. I’m getting tired of what it means to be a northbound hiker, it goes against virtually every reason I came out here for in the first place. Maybe I should flip up to Washington earlier than planned? I dunno. I put it aside and watched shit TV until I fell asleep. I ended up staying another day to do laundry and take care of all my usual town chores, but more-over it meant I could eat more food. I tooled around Mammoth Lakes for a while and felt comfortable here. A lot of PCT hikers will get off on a town stop and just stay there and become a resident, this is a town I could do that in. It’s totally pedestrian friendly, there’s a shuttle that goes out into the wilderness, ski resorts.. what more could a person need? Then I realized I’m a filthy piece of shit bum with a dwindling bank account. Woops! Nah, I’m loving this too much to settle down now. I wondered if I ever will settle down after this. I don’t feel like I could.. I dunno.