Independence to Bishop

Exo, MuffinMan, Smooth, and I sat around in the hostel for a lot longer than necessary agonizing over the hike back up Kearsarge Pass. We chilled for a bit, talked with some hikers for a few good hours, ate food, then hesitantly got our packs on and headed out in the evening. We got a ride immediately from a man who shuttles hikers back to the trail for fun, we felt bad for not talking much with him but we were all brewing in our own emotions about Kearsarge Pass. None of us wanted to do it, but there wasn’t any other option.

We got to the trailhead and split up a bit. Exo went to talk with some hikers, Smooth disappeared, MuffinMan and I hit the trail immediately. We wanted to get it over with, no time for screwing around. At some point on the way up Exo said he wouldn’t mind splitting this up into a two day endeavor and camp halfway up. MuffinMan and I shut him down immediately saying “Absolutely no, no way”. We divided a bit and went our own pace. I eventually left them all behind to run up the last remaining bit of it and hung out on the top while I waited for them. I sat at the top and talked with a cool ranger for a bit who had just run into town to get fresh food. He apparently lives and works in the backcountry in a cabin along the trail which is so awesome to me.

Everyone got up shortly after I did and we made our way down. The sun was starting to go down and by the time we got back to the PCT it was dark, but there was nowhere to camp. We spent an hour or so walking along a ridge until we saw some tents scattered here and there, but there wasn’t anywhere for us to pitch our tents. We were right under Glenn Pass, and campsites under a pass are at a premium. Most hikers like to tackle the pass first thing in the morning. We went off trail and downhill a bit and found a spot that had room enough for two tents. MuffinMan set his tent up to protect his inflatable sleeping pad and Exo and I cowboy camped (Camping without a tent) on the other spot.

I didn’t get much sleep at all that night and woke up feeling like shit. To make things worse, I was A: out of instant coffee, B: we started our ascent immediately. Horrible way to start a day. We stuck together for a bit and got to a lake with pure blue water with ice floating around in it. Exo and I skipped rocks while MuffinMan made tea and we hung out there for a bit. At some point the caffeinated tea hit MuffinMan and he took off, Exo and I followed behind a little bit after. Glenn Pass sucked, there’s no other way to put it really. It wasn’t the longest ascent I’ve made nor the hardest, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I got to the top and looked for MuffinMan: he was gone. I assumed he just pushed on down and wanted to hike solo.  He’d told me earlier that he wanted to just push through this section as fast as he could, so it seemed to be the more reasonable assumption. Exo got to the top and we hung out there for a bit before making our way down.

At the bottom of Glenn Pass lies the Rae Lakes, a beautiful collection of lakes tucked in green and granite canyon walls. We wound our way around them both feeling exhausted. We stopped by the ranger cabin and hung out with the ranger for a little bit. I noticed the ranger was tired and probably just wanted to crash after hiking to and from town so fast, but neither Exo or I made any motions to leave so I started to feel uncomfortable. I waited for a gap in the conversations and got my stuff together and left, Exo following along. We only hiked half a mile before stopping to take a nap. It became apparent that we weren’t going that far today. Not committed to a mileage goal, we only made a few more miles to a stream and suspension bridge and set up camp.

The next day we made our way across the bridge and crossed the 800 mile marker. Again I didn’t feel much about it, just another 100 down. No big deal at this point. Today’s pass is Pinchot, and we have a lot of elevation gain to tackle. We made our way up a little bit and got to an awesome and fast river that had carved out lumps in the granite floor, so it looked a bit like a water slide. Across the river we saw a black bear and two cubs making their way around the brush. We stared at them for a bit and continued on up. It took us hours to even progress a couple miles, which was bad news since Pinchot was 7 miles away. Exo wasn’t happy about the gain, and neither was I, but the boundaries of difference between our hiking styles clashed a bit. He likes to stop and take breaks, I like to work for breaks and just ignore how shitty the day is. But we eventually got out of the treeline and started making our way up the pass. I left Exo behind to go up it at my own pace and waited for him at the top.

At the top we decided to make dinner, and a few hikers came in. A brother and sister duo (who’s names I don’t remember), and an Australian hiker named Gladiator who we’d run into quite a few times. We chilled up there for a while until the brother/sister duo said that the Party Group was just behind us. Eventually Exo could hear them and urged me to get my stuff packed. We sprinted down the mountain and got to an alpine lake and took the remaining campsites there, blocking the Party Group from camping near us.  On surface it may seem like a shitty move, but this group notoriously keeps hikers up late at night with their shouting and screaming. We chilled up there and watched the sun set over the lake then all crawled into our tents.

Our next pass – Mather – would be an easy one. We mostly just had to go downhill with only a thousand-or-so feet of elevation gain which is nothing compared to what we’ve been doing. We were in good spirits about it, we flew down and started making our way up in no time, somewhere in the middle Exo took a moment to dance along the trail. As usual I split from the group to go my own pace on the way up and waited for everyone at the top. We ate lunch there and started making our way down into yet another treeless granite basin below the pass where Exo tripped on a rock and took a gnarly cut to his knee. He was in a pretty bad mood about it, and a couple miles from the base we stopped and he said he wasn’t going to go much further. We decided to stop and camp by some lakes below the pass. I thought it was absolutely beautiful, so no big deal. Exo was making it clear to every stick and rock he could find that he hated them and was in general in a terrible mood. We made camp and he didn’t say anything, so I let him be while I explored the area a bit.

When I got back we made dinner and he said he was going to go back home when we got to Bishop. For his own reasons, he couldn’t continue on any longer.  The incident on Mather just reminded him of this. I encouraged him to do whatever felt right and we left it at that, which seemed to put him in a better mood. Hiking this this guy has been a blast and I’ve really enjoyed it, but part of me needs to just be alone sometimes. I’m sad he’s going home, but I look forward to hiking solo again.  You can’t get too attached to things out here, it’s always changing and a good deal of the time it’s for the best, making way for new and awesome experiences.

The next day we made our way down the infamous “Golden Staircase”, a subject of hate for JMT hikers going southbound. Countless switchbacks for a couple of miles. For us it was easy and we enjoyed it, expressing our condolences for the JMT’ers we passed on the way down. We got down into a forest below the staircase and were stuck in the treeline for most of the day. We kept running into the Party Group here and there and just left them to do whatever crazy shit they were getting into today, I swear to god at one point I saw one of them holding a massive inflatable whale.  Despite how I felt about this group, I had to admit that was pretty funny.  What kills me is they are legitimately very nice people, I just can’t stand to be around them because of the noise.  We walked through a burn section in the forest which didn’t put either of us in the best mood, but we eventually got back into the treeline and took a break at a campsite with Gladiator. As we ate, a deer walked straight through our break area and rested under a tree near us and stared at us. It was still there when we left.  It seemed totally undisturbed about our presence.

The treeline eventually opened up into a massive and beautiful meadow with high peaks guarding the opposite end where we saw another deer and possibly a bear tromping through the tall grass. We stopped and stared for a bit, then pushed on across a bridge and to our destination for the night: A campsite just below Bishop Pass which would take us to a parking lot where we could hitch hike into town from. We set up camp with some JMT hikers who had lit a campfire. Exo joined them, I just crawled into my tent. I wasn’t feeling well, earlier I started feeling really nauseous and had horrible stomach pain beyond what’s normal on a thru-hike. I wasn’t in the mood for a big social gathering. I went to bed early to the sounds of deer stomping in the grass around my tent.

Today was the day. Bishop Pass. Town! Food! Showers! It also meant Exo was going home, so it was a little bittersweet. I also was still feeling really sick and had virtually no energy. It was going to be a long day. Bishop pass is the longest side-trail for town access on the PCT so far at 12 miles, it almost wasn’t worth it to me but I needed to resupply. Half of it is nothing but elevation gain, and that was the first half we had to tackle. I dragged my feet the whole way up but we managed a decent pace. We tried to take breaks here and there but were immediately swarmed by hundreds of mosquitoes each time, so we opted to just keep going. Before long we got to the top of Bishop Pass and sat up there for a little while taking in the views.  Exo wanted to prolong the break to take in what was the last of his day on trail.

The way down was super easy and very welcome after the first half of the day. We got to the parking lot in no time and begged for rides. We were denied once, but the next dude – another father/son duo out for a day of outdoor fun – offered us a ride at least to West Bishop which was 2 miles away from where we needed to be. Worst case scenario we can just walk the remaining miles into town, no big deal. We accepted happily and watched the scenery change from forest to desert as we made our way east into Owen’s Valley where Bishop sits. We got dropped off at a gas station, I went inside and got a Coke and a couple of snacks while Exo called home. I eventually did the same to let my family know I wasn’t eaten by a pack of ravenous Marmot.

After a while of sitting at the gas station, a big truck pulls in. Out comes a guy who looked a bit like a redneck (I think I’ve told you guys this story already). In short, he wasn’t a redneck at all. I get into his truck to see pictures of Hindu gods pasted everywhere and he talks to us about Burning Man the whole way into the main town of Bishop. He took us to the cheapest motel in town (which really wasn’t so cheap). Exo and I hung out there for a few days stepping outside every so often to eat food and play Pokemon Go. He left eventually and I took one more day there to gather myself a bit feeling a little exhausted by all the social interaction. Spending every minute of every day with people out here on the trail can be tiring every once in a while, I needed a moment alone to chill.

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