Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 72, June 27 - Why I Hike

Garnet Lake to Yosemite Mile 932

Jon probably got the closest taste of true thru-hiker life today - over 11 miles! The hiking was fun, the scenery was great, and we crossed a major pass (Donohue) and some pretty good fords. At the end of the day, Jon said he has a new appreciation for what we're doing but has no clue why we're doing it.

I thought a lot about the "why" question - weirdly enough, not many people asked it! I suppose in a place like the Bay Area, it doesn't come as a HUGE surprise when someone up and quits their job in favor of going and living and hiking in the backcountry for six months, but I imagine many people did silently wonder what the h I was doing throwing away a good job and comfortable life to essentially become a hobo. It's hard to explain, but I think for me, a lot of it was because it was hard. I wanted to put myself up for a real challenge, and I threw myself in before I could second guess myself enough to convince myself I'd never be able to do it. I wanted a goal to strive for, and I wanted an achievement to call my own. Obviously, also because it's beautiful and scenic and a wildly wild adventure. But also because I want to push myself to new limits, and redefine what I'm physically capable of. But then you get out here and that end goal becomes so remote and far away and not at all what it's all about - because it's more about the day to day; the work, the joys, the tears and struggles. And also about getting to that next milestone, whatever it may be: a town, a 100 mile mark, a 50 mile mark, a nice place to set up the tent at the end of the day - whatever it may be.

Knowing that I can survive (and even sometimes as of late, thrive) on my own out here is empowering, and that is a really awesome feeling! Maybe a feeling I've denied or been unable to feel in a while. The past few days have reminded me of just how far I've come. From hardly being able to even filter my own water to hiking completely comfortably on my own - setting up tents, knowing how, where, and why to dig a hole, to skipping over rocks in a river, to just about anything else...including climbing a 12,000 foot pass and not breathing heavy at the top. The changes and progress have been slow and perhaps often unnoticeable, but I think this crazy trip may have more why - more purpose - than I can even fathom.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 71, June 26 - Hiking without Packs: Remarkably Comfortable

JMT Riverside to Garnet Lake

We all decided to near0 at our campsite in favor of taking a few day hikes around the area and making our area the basecamp - hiking without packs was Ahhhhhmaze-ing. I forgot how easy it is to walk without 35 lbs on your back!

Hiked up to Ediza Lake where Brett attempted some fishing, then we hiked further up to Iceburg Lake - a really fun hike/scramble up from Ediza through a few remaining snowfields and boulder scrambles. Turns out the lake is named Iceburg for a reason - about 40% of it was still covered in a giant iceburg! Pretty neat. We found a huge piece of granite to sit and enjoy lunch, and also ate the last of the birthday pie my Dad bought for my birthday and I'd carried in to relish in the backcountry. It was also Jon's birthday, so it was a joint birthday apple pie! Yumm.

We got back to camp later and packed up for our short hike to Garnet Lake, which is incredibly scenic. We snagged the last remaining campsite, cooked dinner, and mused on the fact that our little area looked like it came straight from an REI brochure, then called it a night.

All in all, Jon said he had a great 68th birthday, but that this trip has quite literally aged him! Not too many people spend their 68th birthday camped in the backcountry at an alpine lake 10,000 feet high - pretty impressive.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 70, June 25 - All Over the Mammoth Area Map

Reds Meadow to Agnew Meadow to JMT Riverside

Jon is hiking with us until Mammoth, and we decided to hike a little bit of a variation of the official trail. The storm from yesterday was still dropping a little rain this morning, and we decided to take a 4-5 mile day hike up to Rainbow Falls and Devil's Postpile, which Brett had never seen. For some reason, I'd never been to the top of Devil's Postpile, even though I've been there a number of times - it was pretty neat to see the hexagonal shape of the granite poles all locked together! By the time we got back to our campsite, the clouds began to part and we had actual hope of our gear drying out.

We took a little detour and then hiked up from Agnew Meadows - a very scenic and pretty section and then traversed a river path, right up the side of a waterfall (similar to the Mist Trail, but fewer people!) We passed by Shadow Lake (more of the same: gorgeous) then rejoined the JMT and camped at a great spot next to the river. Unfortunately, the mosquitos also seemed to love our campsite, and we spent the afternoon trying to avoid the little buggers. Hopefully that won't continue -they could make someone go crazy in no time.

I was still in a little bit of a post-Mammoth funk, but hoped after a few days on the trail that would go away on its own. Towns are great but too easy to get sucked into, especially when some of your favorite people are there too!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Days 65-69, June 20-24 - Mammoth Happiness!

Mile 889 to Reds Meadow, into Mammoth!

Even though there were still 17 miles into Reds Meadow (turn off for Mammoth), the morning flew by and before I knew it I was rounding a corner and seeing the 900 mile marker on the ground! What fun. We all took some pictures and then hurried on our way, and made it to Red's Meadow by 1:30 in afternoon. We were lucky to get a ride out of Red's Meadow to the ski resort from a family from Louisiana vacationing in Mammoth. From there, we got on the free biker shuttle to downtown and then hopped on the trolley to the Post Office and then for a slice of pizza with Tortuga. Brett and I decided to go grocery shopping and then get a cab to the house we'd rented with our friends - when we arrived, I could hardly believe where we were staying! The home was giant and luxurious - a pool table, sound system, chef's kitchen, beautiful bedrooms, and a hot tub on the back deck. What more could a couple of dirty thru-hikers ask for? Answer - hot water! The hot water heater had been set to vacation mode, so even after arriving in this multi-million dollar home, we couldn't take showers for the first few hours! How ironic. Instead, we decided to order a pizza and start relaxing.

Slowly throughout the evening, people started arriving - beginning with Brock, Jess and Fran's former rooommate, who was only staying with us the first night. Next, Joanna and Jason, who I haven't seen in ten years, showed up and it was so great to start reconnecting with them! Lastly, Mandi, Mad and Matt arrived and the weekend officially started! I think it's the longest Madison and I have gone without seeing each other since we moved away from Portland in 2008 - me to SF and her to LA - since she moved to the city we see each other far more frequently than once every two months! I was so excited for the long weekend to come, and we also had Mandi's graduation from Santa Clara to celebrate. We stayed up until 4am and then spent the entire next day relaxing at the house. I woke up Friday morning to the sounds of Lai and Fran who had come from the bridal house with Jackie, Steve, and another friend to say hi and catch up. A little later, Peter, Ryan, Julia, and Ryan's gf arrived from LA. The weather was awesome and it was a perfect day. Jess and BQ hosted a party at their bridal house after the rehearsal dinner on Friday night and we all headed over after bbqing, and I got to see so many other friendly faces before the wedding, including Devon, Caitlin and Brett who had gotten to town that day!

Saturday was more of the same - relaxing at the house - exactly what I'd hoped to do the entire time in Mammoth. The wedding was beautiful and the reception was a ton of fun - it was a great wedding! We all had a blast dancing the night away, and then the party continued once we were back to the house - it was so much fun to hang out with Peter too - I haven't seen him in years and we got to catch up, but it made for another late night. A 3am bedtime again...these are not hours I've become accustomed to on the trail!

Sunday was my birthday, and I awoke to the surprise of finding out my Dad flew from Michigan to surprise me and spend the day with me! We went to say goodbye to everyone at the bridal house and then spent the day running the town errands Brett and I never got around to the whole time we were in Mammoth. We also picked up Brett's Dad Jon who arrived in Mammoth earlier than expected, and the four of us went to a late lunch together. My Dad insisted on buying me a new sleeping pad for my bday after learning of my troubles sleeping - how could I say no? After my Dad left to head back home, we went for drinks at Grumpy's across the street from the hotel and caught up with Lai and Johnny who also stayed an extra day. Our trail friend Lunchbox also joined and after he learned it was my birthday was so sweet and ordered a bunch of birthday shots for the table. The night was fun, and it was a crazy day to see my Dad, Brett's Dad, trail friends, and home friends all in one place.

I had hoped to stay in Mammoth one more day, but Jon was ready to hit the trail after traveling to meet us, so we checked out of the hotel the next morning and crossed our fingers that the forecast storm wouldn't dump too much on us before we left. One more thing to do before we left though - Mad had arranged for us to get massages at the local salon for my birthday! I can't imagine a better was the best hour maybe EVER in my entire life. I REALLY didn't want to hike after that amazing massage! Lai and I also had the chance to get lunch together, which I was so thankful for because I felt like I'd hardly had any time to really talk with her. We had a nice lunch and ordered about 1 of everything on the menu.

I very reluctantly made my way back to the trail. Seeing friends was such a blessing, but it made returning to the trail pretty difficult. I was so tempted to hop in someone's car back to the Bay Area! I'm finally loving it out here on the trail, but I still miss my life at home, and the weekend in Mammoth was a great reminder of just how awesome the people in my life at home are. I'm going to finish this trail, but I'm already excited to get back home.

We only camped at the Red's Meadow campground, which made the transition easier. I also had some cell service and was able to catch up with Jen, who had sent me the most amazing birthday care package ever! We spent the evening at the campground and took a quick hike over to the resort, and on our way saw our first bears of the trail! They were probably about 20 yards away just munching on some plants in a meadow, and couldn't have cared less about us - pretty cool!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Days 63-64, June 18-19 - Wrapping Up the High Sierra

Mile 854 to Large Campsite on Ridge with Fire Pit Mile 873, to Campsite Near River Mile 889

We got an alpine (read: late) start and had a big climb looming. As I was on my way up, I turned a corner and a hiker on his way down pulled over to let me pass. When I did, he said "Wow, you look strong!" compliment from a stranger ever! Made my day, especially because I wasn't FEELING particularly strong at the time.

Topped Selden Pass in the afternoon and had lunch on top which was fun. Mosquitos ate me alive as I descended, and Brett's shins started bothering him. Starting on the descent from Muir Pass, his shins started hurting and he is developing painful shin splints.

We forded Mono Creek in the afternoon, which in heavy snow years can be a pretty challenging river crossing. Once again, I thanked my lucky stars for the low snow year - the crossing was a little deep (almost up to my thighs), but nothing too dangerous or swift moving. Just a minor pucker factor! We made it halfway up a climb and found a beautiful campsite to spend the evening.

Spent the following morning with Storytime as he joined us after he'd gotten started. We all talked about our plans for Mammoth and made tentative plans to get together in town. After finally getting on the trail, Brett's shin splints started really acting up - I've never seen him move so slowly. Unfortunately, we had no option but to continue on at that point - there were no other options to get off the trail sooner than Mammoth. I wished we'd had one extra day built into our plan - I was worried this was an overuse injury that could potentially turn into a stress fracture, and I was glad we'd have so much time off the trail to recover in Mammoth. Silver Pass took absolutely forever to summit, but it was gorgeous from the top - some really great views.

This is the last night in a tent for a while - so excited for an actual bed!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 62, June 17 - Halfway Done with California

Middle Fork Kings River Mile 833 to Aspen Meadow Mile 854

For our two month anniversary, the trail was good to me today! 21 miles with a pass also! Today was the last big one, and we made it to the top of Muir by noon and then booked the last 18 miles of the day. It finally feels like we're close to Mammoth, and right now we're only 50 miles away.

Muir Pass was fun - lots of meadows and waterfalls and snowfields on the long climb up - it felt like such a journey to get to the top, including plenty of trail finding and slow moving. We had heard that the descent down the other side could be tough with lots of postholing in snow, but it wasn't too bad, and we got a chance to admire the vistas instead. Brett found Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frogs in a lake on the way down, and was excited about seeing them at that elevation. We had a late lunch which powered us on 3 miles farther than we needed to make up for yesterday's shorter day.

We're entering lower ground than the 10,000 feet we've been frolicking in for the past week, so the air is getting more air! Brett is bummed that this section is coming to an end, and I must admit that the views aren't QUITE as jaw-dropping. Funny though, we've still got half of our time in the Sierra to look forward to! We'll be in Yosemite and Tahoe soon enough, and that feels like the Bay's backyard - we've practically hiked home! We passed the 1/2 way point of California today, it's really crazy how the miles really do start to just fly by. 400 miles ago seems like yesterday.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 61, June 16 - Chugalug to Mammoth and Reflections on 2 Months

Lake Palisade Mile 819 to Middle Fork Kings River Mile 833

Rough day for me - I couldn't ever kick it in to drive after a really tough 3 mile descent on something called the Golden Staircase that took almost as many hours, which is awful mentally. It's weird, in this amazingly unreal beautiful place, I felt lonely. Everything is so grandiose and beautiful, it makes me feel so tiny and insignificant being so far removed from the real world, hiking among 14,000 foot mountains. I think 12 days is just too long for me to go without a town stop. Most hikers went to Bishop, and I think that would have rejuvenated my spirits. All day, I only saw 2 other NorthBound hikers, and only one was a PCT hiker. Being so disconnected is weird and challenging.  I know I should (and I want to) embrace where I am and enjoy every second, but I can't think about anything but getting to Mammoth. While it's great to have something to look forward to, I think it's also been slightly detrimental as well. I literally fantasize about being there - with friends, eating, drinking, lounging, hot tubbing, etc. all day, every day.

I just didn't really feel like hiking today. My legs were sore from yesterday's push, my head was hurting, the terrain was challenging - it was hard to get excited about hiking the next four days. I feel guilty I didn't appreciate where we are, because this place is nothing short of magical. Sometimes, though, I wish I could appreciate it from the comfort of a camp chair with friends by my side!

We had a long lunch, and I took a nap to try and muster energy for the evening. I felt much better afterward. Soon though, afternoon clouds started building and Brett suggested the possibility of making camp earlier than planned. After my rough day, I couldn't say no! We stopped about a mile and a half short of where we intended to go, but got set up right as it started raining. Our campsite was as awesome as everywhere else in Kings Canyon National Park seems to be, and we're right on a river. There was a deer lounging in the campsite when we arrived, and she kept coming back to see if we'd left - I think she was annoyed we took her flat spot. There are so many deer here, and they're so different from deer at home - they're completely unafraid of humans! It's funny how close you can get before they scoot off. Even then, they often seem more annoyed about moving than afraid.

I can't believe tomorrow will mark 2 months that we've been on the trail. I can't believe I've hiked over 800 miles - there have been times I thought I couldn't. Brett amazes me more and more, while still managing to make me crazy sometimes too (my trail name may be Smiles, but I think my Indian name is Rolls Her Eyes). We've made a pretty good team - our decision making and general trail attitude, as a team, is pretty fantastic, and I'm happy we've been able to make decisions together that we're both happy with. It's fun to be having fun out here, too! Took long enough! Trail life is finally feeling more like real life - and it's a pretty simple life.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 60, June 15 - Two Passes, One Day

Woods Creek Mile 802.6 to Lake Palisade Mile 819

Today didn't start very well but got better and ended just fine. I stupidly took all of my vitamins and pain killers on an empty stomach and then got super nauseous and tried to eat to settle my stomach. That didn't work, and I wound up running out of the tent to throw up the blueberry NutriGrain bar I'd just started eating - needless to say, I'll be taking a break from those for quite a while. I had a little bit of a meltdown when Brett started taking down the tent before I was ready to go. Oh well - rough mornings happen.

Our plan was to complete two big passes in one day so starting the day by throwing up wasn't a good start. However, we reached the top of Pinchot Pass by 11:30! We bumped into Grady (Fun Size) who had organized a group printing rate for the maps we've used on the trail, and we haven't seen since before Paradise Cafe at mile 150. We also met a few new friends who just started the trail from Kennedy Meadows, Tom and Annette from Montana (I think Montana...?)  We cruised a few more miles and then had a leisurely lunch and did a little laundry by the river. Life felt relaxed, and it was good. 

We kept pushing on to Mather Pass, and if I do say so myself, I kicked butt to the top of it! I passed a handful of people on the way up, and I do believe sweet Brett held back a little and let me think I actually beat him up there as well (impossible, I know!) I felt good, and strong. I'm usually the turtle of the younger thru-hikers, (which I partially attribute to my short legs), so it felt good to be the first one somewhere. That never happens!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 59, June 14 - Highs and Lows on Glenn Pass

Vidette Meadow/Bubbs Creek Mile 786 to Woods Creek Mile 803

We lingered in camp enjoying our surroundings and cooked up oatmeal and a mocha on a wood fire. It's such a relief to finally feel like I'm out enjoying a backpacking trip! No stressful mornings with breakfast on the go to beat the 100 degree heat. I'm loving it.

Until Mammoth, we'll be crossing at least one High Sierra Pass each day, and today's was Glen Pass - purported to be the scariest and potentially most dangerous of them all. The pass was only 4 miles from our campsite but the going was slow getting there. After yesterday, today was a breeze though - I felt like a pro after someone going the opposite direction complained about the arduous climb that I hadn't really even struggled with! The climb up Glen Pass was very steep but it went fast, and I was on top in no time. I'm so thankful for a low snow year - going down the back side is typically a harrowing endeavor, but it was a breeze for us. We donned our microspikes for the beginning of the descent through the remaining snow fields, but didn't need them for too long. I felt like a true adventurer clomping through the snow with my crampons on my feet and snow baskets on my trekking poles.

We descended to Rae Lakes which is apparently a popular summer weekend destination. Our hike included an accidental detour due to a wrong turn, which added a few miles to our day. The wrong turn put me in a funk, and it felt like that flat hiking to get past Rae Lakes would never end. We finally sat down to have lunch at 3, and at that point we'd only gone 8 trail miles the whole day. It was a frustrating afternoon, and I cried my first tears of the Sierra - darn! I thought those days were over. We finally got going again, and thankfully the afternoon went better than the morning. We crossed over an awesome suspension bridge, and mile 800 and made it to mile 802.6 - still on track to make it to Mammoth!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Days 56-58, June 11-13 -The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

Trailside Mile 727 to Trailside Meadow Mile 747 to Wallace Creek Mile 770 to Vidette Meadows/Bubbs Creek Mile 786

Our first days in the Sierra have been some seriously high mileage days. After Monday's long day, it took a while to get going Tuesday morning/we never really did. Enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in (no fear of heat to set alarms for 4am!) and then enjoyed a long breakfast while taking in the amazing views from just down the trail. There were a few big climbs and then we took a break at the top - where we were sitting overlooking the desert to the east from 11,000 feet up. The nearby China Lake Naval Air Station was running aircraft drills all day and some of them got up close and personal. It took me back to the rooftop Fleet Week airshow parties at my old apartment in San Francisco, and I felt like we were now getting a private show on top of a mountain as the planes roared by. We'd hoped to make it to mile 750 by days end to Chicken Spring Lake, but due to our sluggish start, only got as far as a lovely little meadow near a spring. Not a bad campsite!

We got an early start the following morning as we hoped to make it to Guitar Lake as a base camp for our ascent of Mt. Whitney. The hiking was unreal - the scenery went from beautiful to just absolutely jaw-dropping. Really, breathtaking. We stopped for lunch with Viking at the bottom of a descent right on a river, with huge trees surrounding the flat campsite in all directions, and a quaint meadow on the other side of the river. As we ate lunch, Brett and I finally actually looked at the mileage and elevation profiles for the section we were still beginning. (We'd forgotten to have our maps sent for this section...oops. Viking let us look at his during lunch.) We realized it was time to hatch a new plan, because our current one was untenable. Sadly, we came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to get to Mammoth in time for the wedding unless we postponed our Mt. Whitney ascent. Not ideal, but it was the only viable option unless we wanted to skip 70 miles of trail and leave the Sierra at Bishop Pass. I was so disappointed, because really, when are you ever at a point in your life when you can just casually climb to the top of the highest point in the contiguous United States?! We're hoping to rent a car later and drive back to climb it. Skipping Whitney meant we'd start crossing the High Sierra passes a day earlier than expected - Forester Pass is the first and highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. We needed to get at least 4-6 miles more in order to be in good position to tackle the pass the following morning. (It's important to go over the passes in the a.m. when the snow is still frozen enough that you have less chance of postholing all the way down.) By the end of the day, I was so tired I couldn't even appreciate our surroundings. I was also still really bummed about Mt. Whitney, and even though it's not actually part of the trail, I felt guilty skipping it. Barely made it to camp by dark, and passed out quickly!

The following day, we successfully completed Forester Pass! It was pretty darn steep, and there were a few nervous moments, but all in all, it wasn't too bad. We yelped at the top and took a few pictures. Brett also got a call from his former boss asking if he'd be interested in working with her on a project when he returns - not a bad place to get a job offer! We had lunch by an alpine lake and then hiked another 6 miles more through amazing meadows in a huge valley. The views were spectacular and I felt like I was in a dream world - it was so beautiful it didn't feel real. We could have gone another few miles, but decided instead to take the evening off and make camp early. What a treat! Got camp set up by 6ish and enjoyed the Bubbs(ling) Creek and huge trees that we called home for the night, with giant granite walls surrounding us bathed in alpenglow. These are places I can hardly believe exist.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 55, June 10 - We're Here!

Kennedy Meadows Campsite Mile 704 to Trailside Mile 727

It's official - I <3 the mountains! And I can now say without any hesitation that I absolutely love this trail! Today was a great day.

We hiked with the Wolfpack for the first 15 miles or so and had a ton of fun experiencing the change of scenery together. (I'm hoping we may have passed our last cactus of the trail today!) At the end of the day, we climbed over 5,000 feet, and almost climbed to 11,000 feet at the highest point of the day - and I feel great! How odd. Our surroundings were green, there were trees everywhere, the temperature was perfect, and all were happy in our idyllic little world. After the first big climb, we turned a corner to find ourselves entering a huge, picture perfect meadow with a mountainous backdrop surrounding the scene. Everyone started cheering and we shared a moment of awe appreciating where we were. We stopped for lunch at a meadow where the trail crossed the Kern, and there were about 10 other hikers also stopped enjoying the suddenly lush trail. All this seemed all the more special because of what we endured and persevered through to get here - we earned this beauty!

Unfortunately, after lunch, Brett and I had to leave the rest of the Wolfpack behind - they planned on taking it slow and acclimating gradually to our new elevation, and we needed to average close to 20 miles/day in order to make it to Mammoth in time (arriving a day late was absolutely not an option!) Our guidebook said to not expect to do more than 10-17 miles/day in the High Sierra, so I was a little concerned what we were about to get ourselves into - darn that trail magic that was too hard to leave behind a few days ago! On our first day in the Sierra, we managed to pump out almost 23 though, which I'm pretty excited about. It was hard to leave everyone behind, but I'm sure we'll all be together again soon. And maybe we'll catch up with Lunchbox, Viking or Gummy Bear.

I am already SO much happier not being in the desert, and feeling very much stronger/fitter/more bad@$$ than I have in years! These fun times are only going to get better to boot. Yep, just another Monday in the ole "office."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Days 52-54, June 7-9 - Kennedy Meadows at Long Last

Trailside Mile 680 to 703, Kennedy Meadows! 0 at Kennedy Meadows

Well folks, I arrived! Can't believe I finally made it to Kennedy Meadows, mile 700, the beginning of the Sierra Nevada, and everything all hikers have been fantasizing about for the past month and a half. There was some time when I was definitely not sure if I'd make it this far, so I am insanely proud of myself for actually making it - I don't think I've ever proclaimed such pride in an accomplishment before either! What a great feeling this is.

Yesterday we braved the heat and hiked in to KM. At the end of the last climb before KM, we reached a saddle and looked out at our very first view of the Sierra Nevada. It was a pretty special feeling to look out and see where we've hiked to, and where we will be hiking through in the next weeks. I shed a few tears (of joy, pride, accomplishment, relief) and then took some time to soak it all in. I did the same thing a few miles later when we hit mile 700, which is recognized by hikers as THE end of the desert.

I still can't believe I walked 700 miles from Mexico on my own two feet. Reflecting on the trail, I remember some of the lows and the many moments of uncertainty that I would be physically or mentally capable of continuing on. I'm so happy I did, and I'm feeling more optimistic than ever that I'll be finishing this trek in just a few short months!

We spent a few days hanging around Kennedy Meadows with a major crew of hikers rolling in and taking off consistently. The mood was electric - everyone was happy to have arrived, excited for what was to come, and in need of some time to hang out. The Kennedy Meadows General Store and cafe are just about the only things in town, and we were all allowed to set up our tents around the property. Most of us whiled away a few days on the patio eating and drinking and socializing. Life was sweet, and the crown jewel of the hike was about to start.

Amidst the casual days in which we didn't think about time or life outside of our hiker life bubble, Slosh and I realized we had less than two weeks until we were due to arrive in Mammoth for our good friends' wedding. We had a house reserved with some of our best friends for a long weekend and somewhat of a mini-high school reunion for me. While we'd considered taking two full zero days before leaving KM, we realized that wasn't a luxury we had, and knew it would be important to hit the trail on Sunday. We hoped to hike the Sierra with our friends and not get ahead of everyone, so we all left KM Sunday afternoon and only planned to go a few miles to the campground outside of town - sometimes the most important thing is just to remove yourself from the temptations of town, so even getting a few miles in is an accomplishment! We all set up camp and Scones and Doodles arrived as well. We had dinner together, chatted about our expectations of the Sierra Nevada, and got to bed early in anticipation of the amazing journey ahead!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 51, June 6 - Desert's Last Stand

Mile 656 to Trailside Mile 680

Even though we were only 2.5 days from the Kennedy Meadows promised land, we started the day in a total funk. It took forever to really get moving, and by the time we did, it was too hot. We wanted to make it to mile 670 for water and lunch, but we were so slow we didn't make it until almost 3 - after untold number of breaks and my feeling like I was overheating all day. We finally got to the water and there was nowhere good to take a break, but we found some shade with Happy Hour and Squeaks to relax for a few hours.

We tackled the days really big climb after lunch and rocked it, which was a nice way to end the day. We didn't leave ourselves much daylight though, so we didn't make it to the goal mile of 681, but we did get close. Just a little over 20 to Kennedy Meadows, so we're hoping for an early start tomorrow and to be hanging out at the cafe and general store by tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 50, June 5 - Near0 at Walker Pass Trail Magic

Near0 at Walker Pass to Mile 656 Trail Camp

The decision to stay in camp for a near0 instead of hiking on was an easy one, especially because we expected the rest of the Wolfpack to show up. Started the day with morning pancakes, which were amazing! I'm not usually one for sweets in the morning, but ever since Casa de Luna pancakes and syrup, there's been a little corner of my hiker hunger especially devoted to those tasty treats, and I ate 3, sans guilt!

We did laundry down the road in an old trough and then hung out most of the day, which was perhaps a bit of a mistake. I started feeling weird hanging around for so long, especially so close to Kennedy Meadows - I was so ready to be gone and on my way to KM, but I just couldn't bear the thought of actually hiking out and doing the work to get myself there. Lunchbox scored a ride from Aloha straight to KM, and it took every fiber of my being not to hop in the car with them. I knew I'd regret skipping 50 miles, but the thought of relaxing for a few days before everyone else arrived was SO tempting. Instead, I spent the day with Chik Chak talking about the trail, life, and everything else.

We hit the trail after dinner because we knew an early morning departure would probably turn into another day at the campground. We made it a little farther than expected, which put us a mere 46 miles from Kennedy Meadows and in good shape to arrive by the 8th. Hooray!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 49, June 4 - Trail Magic is Magical!

Mile 627 to Mile 652, Walker Pass

7 weeks on trail! I can't believe this crazy journey has come so far. And we are finally in spitting distance to Kennedy Meadows - I can't remember the last time I was so excited to move on to a new chapter!

Once again, I didn't sleep a wink last night. Well, not until 3am - and alarms went off at 3:30. Awful. I snoozed for a while (it seems the only time I CAN sleep these days is when I definitely shouldn't be sleeping...sigh) Hit the trail by 5am, which isn't too bad, and managed to catch an absolutely magnificent sunrise - one of our last in the desert! It was nice to be reminded of the beauty here, especially towards the end. The cache at mile 631is the last water source for at least 33 miles, and is maintained by the same trail angel who stocks the previous cache. Without these two caches, there would be a stretch of well over 50 miles without water on trail. Everyone who provides trail magic is an angel in my book, but the woman who maintains these two caches is probably the most important and unsung hero of the trail. As we arrived, Trail Angel Mary pulled up in her blue pickup truck to do her daily restocking of the cache. This woman defines angel - she's probably in her 80s, lives in the middle of the desert, and singlehandedly maintains both caches during hiker season from the well on her property - shuttling over 100 gallons of water to the trail every day during hiker season. We helped her unload crates of gallons to the trail and tie them such that once drained, empty bottles won't blow away. The crates are heavy - I could hardly carry them - but this is Mary's daily routine for months of the year! She told me that she has sleepless nights worrying about hikers out in the desert without enough water. This section would have been incredibly challenging without Mary's help. I'm consistently amazed by the generosity of strangers on this trip.

We hustled to the top of the mountain after filling water bottles and the climb was refreshingly easy! I hustled my short legs up that mountain with the fear of heat in me, and I was on top before I knew it! We cruised through pines and forest the rest of the day. Took a lunch break under some shade and LunchBox caught up to us, on track for a 30 mile day to Walker Pass! We wanted to make it to Walker Pass before dark, because rumor had it there was the possibility of trail angels and root beer floats. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the last corner to see a cluster of tents in the campground filled with people providing more trail magic! The one and only Yogi of hiker fame - she is the author of our guidebooks - and a handful of others including Jackelope and others served us cold drinks and cooked dinner for the dozen or so hikers who arrived as well. I went to bed with a full stomach and the knowledge that I'm only 50 miles shy of the Sierra Nevada. Life is good!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 48, June 3 - Refuge Under the Joshua Tree

Landers Camp, Mile 609 to Trailside Mile 627

Landers Camp was so lovely, and we were so comfortable under the pines, we forgot we were still technically in the desert and slacked on the waking up portion of the day. It felt so mountainous, it was hard to remind myself that would soon change. But change it did! We only made it 7 miles before hitting a water cache that marks the beginning of a very long, exceedingly dry section. We were in the middle of some of the most barren desert we've seen yet. It was only 10am, but we had to seek shade under the solitary Joshua Tree in sight with Viking. Soon, the Wolfpack arrived, and all of us spent the entire day curled up under the minimal shade of the spindly tree. Surprisingly, it was a really fun day - perhaps because our tired bodies and brains were heat addled - but whatever. We set up tarps for shade, and passed around the Jameson from my last care package - just enough for everyone to have a little nip!

During the hottest part of the day, two ladies and a dog drove up the dirt road in a van and were dropped off at the cache. It was clear off the bat that they weren't thru-hikers, as the first thing they did was fill every last one of their water bottles with water from the cache, and then washed down their dog - a serious no-no considering they'd clearly come from civilization (and water!) They packed up and then got ready to hike in the middle of the hottest part of the day, in an area with absolutely no shade. It was well over 100. We were all confused and a little annoyed by the selfishness of using SO much of the limited cache supply when they'd just arrived from town to trail. Hours later when we finally started hiking again, we ran into the mom no more than a mile down the trail and she seemed to be showing signs of heat exhaustion. She was already exhausted and I checked in with her to ensure she had enough water and recommended she get under some shade. I felt bad leaving her but thought it more important to catch up with her daughter and dog and send them back. When we caught up with her daughter, she didn't seem too concerned, but when I asked her if she had a water report (fairly essential guide on how/where to find water on the trail) she looked at me with a blank stare and just replied that she had the Halfmile map. Lighthouse was able to convince her to turn back, and I think was successful in convincing them this wasn't the best section to start your hike in. None of us are sure how or why they decided to attempt a section hike where they did, especially when we're so close to the Sierra, but we do know they were seriously underprepared and it was nerve wracking to see people try and set out in such conditions. This portion of the desert is incredibly remote, so they certainly didn't wind up here on accident. The whole experience was unsettling, as it reminded me of just how easily things could go wrong out here, and the sheer brutality of the place we're hiking through right now. Any of us are just one wrong turn away from serious trouble, so it was a good reminder of how important it is to remain vigilant in these kinds of conditions. It also reminded me of how much I've learned the last month and a half, and how far we've all come.

After much debate, the Wolfpack decided to only hike 6-10 miles more instead of the full 15 to the next cache. I was just hoping to get as far as possible - the plan was to hike until I couldn't hike anymore. I was so tempted to stay with everyone at a nice flat spot we found about 5 miles past the Joshua Tree, but knew I'd regret it if not - a huge climb is looming tomorrow, and I wanted to get as close as possible in hopes of completing it before the heat sets in.  Managed to make it about 6 miles farther, then had a quick dinner and set alarms for a mere 5 hours later to get up and do it over again!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Days 42-47, May 28-June 2 - Sleepless Nights for 100 Miles

Sleep was hard to come by at the Sawmill Campground - the nice cool breeze we'd enjoyed during the day turned to a full on windstorm at night, and we spent the night continually re-pitching the poor tent, which kept collapsing in the gusts. We had to restake the tent at least 5 times throughout the night, and then woke up to a rainy and dreary morning - a definite change! The day was long and chilly, but passing mile 500 felt great. All milestones are exciting, but 500 seems like the first really legitimate big deal. I can't believe I've WALKED 500 miles - it's hard to wrap my mind around! 

After hiking the dreary day through a creepy desert hunting club (seriously), we made it to mile 518 and a strange little place called Hiker Town. Oh...Hiker Town...what a place. After Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna, this place was a little bit of a shock to the system. It didn't help that we showed up right around dusk and there were about 30 people there ahead of us already. Hikertown is an old western style "town" built right next to the highway, with small buildings designed to resemble a saloon, schoolhouse, general store, etc. on the facade. Inside, they're bunks available to rent out for the night for a suggested donation of $10. I think it would be a fun, cheeky place to stay at times, but when we arrived the place was bursting at the seams with hikers and the proprietors seemed a little overwhelmed.  We originally planned on continuing on, but after our lack of sleep the night before, were deterred by the weather forecast which predicted continued wind storms with gusts up to 80mph. The owner allowed us to roll out our sleeping bags in the garage, where we decided to stay with Games and Reason. (They'd decided that the lodging they'd been offered on the other side of highway was just a bit too dodgy after noticing the plethora of "No Trespassing" signs and the use of a rock to jimmy open the side of a barn.) Joining us in the garage was a dog, who apparently doesn't like the wind, because he howled ALL NIGHT LONG. Coupled with the wind slamming the aging garage door against its metal rails continuously throughout the night, and we literally got absolutely no sleep...for the second night in a row! I finally started to drift off sometime around 4am, but the roosters on the property started crowing and actually pecking on the garage door sometime around 4:45. It was an awful nights sleep, and a fairly creepy place to wait out the howling windstorm, but I couldn't help but crack up as we packed up and hightailed it out of there by 5am for fear we'd otherwise be asked for our $10/person "donation" for the night's "rest." 

I didn't mind getting an early start, because day 43 was aqueduct day! For some reason, I was really excited about the prospect of walking for miles and miles across the sweet, flat aqueduct. It seemed like such a fun change of scenery, and as we walked on and on I couldn't help but marvel at the feats of civil engineering to carry ALL THAT WATER to Southern California. Maybe I was just drunk off the sight of that water! And, did I mention it was flat?! We even walked on concrete for a few miles.  I loved the aqueduct...for about an hour. Then the novelty wore off, and I was walking in the exposed desert in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and it felt like it went on forever. We finally made it to a cache under a bridge at mile 535, where we caught back up to the Wolfpack! It was so good to see everyone, and it turned out we'd barely missed them at Hikertown the previous evening. After waiting out the heat of the day, we took off for camp at Tyler Horse Canyon at mile 541 - only 6 miles to the end of the day! The last 6 miles went directly through a gigantic wind farm - wind mills that went on and on as if forever.  It almost felt apocalyptic, like the only things left on the earth were wind mills and a few straggly hikers. Turns out, those wind mills are there for a reason - it was incredibly windy, and there were a few moments when it literally took all my effort to just stay on my feet. It was exhausting but funny - we laughed as we had to practically throw our bodies forward to get one step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the wind didn't die down, and we had another awful night's rest. We were cowboy camping (no tent) and the sand whipped across my slightly burned face all night. So frustrating. When you're putting your body through the daily rigors of a thru-hike, sleep is the magical solution to so many problems. Somehow, you can go to bed dog tired every night sore and in pain, but wake up the following morning after a good night's rest and be ready to go out and do it all over again. A night's sleep is a terrible thing to waste out here, and I felt absolutely awful after 3 nights of no sleep.  (What are the odds the only time in my life I'd have trouble sleeping is when I'm more exhausted than ever?!)

We didn't plan on taking a zero in Mojave, so we left camp early to complete the last 17 miles to town early enough to leave time for chores. The hike was brutal - I'd cut holes in the top of my too-small-shoes to try and give my toes a little extra room up front, but then we returned to super sandy trail. You can imagine how that felt as it filled my shoes with every step. But there was trail magic waiting when we arrived at the road! Coppertone was on site with his camper passing out root beer floats - a little taste of heaven! 

A nice trail angel named Doug drove the 10 miles to pick us up and drive us in to Mojave...which the guide book had recommended over Tehachapi as the "less awful" of the two options. To put it lightly, there's not much for thru-hikers in Mojave. Our hotel was directly across the street (highway) from a train switchyard, and our dining options included fast food, Denny's, or El Jefe Mexican and Pizza (which we visited twice during  our slightly more than 24 hours in town). Mojave was great for actually taking care of chores and relaxing though - fewer distractions! I caught up with family and had a surprise package waiting from my Mom - stocked with cookies, candy, chips and a little Irish whiskey! Amazing. 

We waited out the heat of the day in Mojave the following day and then got back to the trail around 8pm, after trail angel Doug and his equally kind wife Suzy picked us up and brought us back to the trail. We only hiked about a mile and a half - now that is a serious near0! The following morning, we hit the trail by 7, but it wasn't nearly early enough - it was one of the hottest days we've had yet, and we were boiling almost immediately, with a 2500 ft climb looming. The hiking wasn't the prettiest we've seen, and the wind mills continued - I'm ready to be done with the wind mills! We had a late lunch with Sunshine, Dance Party, Buff, Boulder, Scooter, Lighthouse, and Viking. I was tempted to stay at the nice shady spring to wait for the Wolfpack, but given how hot it had been and the fact that they'd taken a full zero the day before in Tehachapi, we weren't sure if they'd catch up. We hiked on to 586 and found a nice flat camping spot. I took a Tylenol PM, which I'd picked up in town - wasn't prepared to deal with another sleepless night! I don't even think I moved until the alarm went off at 4am!

Today proved as hot as yesterday, but the hiking was so much more enjoyable. We tackled the day's big climb first thing in the morning before it was too hot, and then had a nice break underneath the shade of - wait for it - pine trees! We talked about the summer and our plans that are suddenly feeling very soon. I realized we'll be in Mammoth in 2.5 weeks! I couldn't be more excited. In all the excitement, we also crossed mile 600! Only 2,000 left to Canada! Made it to mile 609 at Landers Camp and set up camp underneath huge pine trees in the middle of a field. I feel like we're finally getting close to the mountains, and they are calling!