Total mileage: 1683
Today’s mileage: 16 (+1.5)
It is amazing on days that you’re going to reach town, how you can just absolutely crush the miles. I had a challenging deadline, as my dad had offered to pick me up in the small town of Sierra City at 1 PM. One slight problem with this particular town, which is exceptionally small, is that there is no cell phone coverage. (When there is a medical or fire emergency, personnel are called to a rally point with a town-wide klaxon in the middle of the night.) So I was hopeful that we didn’t run into any hitches meeting up.
Amoebe and I reached where the trail crosses the road to Truckee, and soon after we got a ride in a pickup truck by an elderly man into town. He was widowed, and shared a story about being visited by his wife’s ghost. I especially felt for him, as she had passed now years ago. He dropped us off at Taco Bell and offered to treat us, but we respectfully declined and tried to treat him in appreciation for the ride. He said Taco Bell didn’t sit well with him and we parted ways. We definitely brought an unpleasant odor to the restaurant, hehe, but we charged phones and drank soda for an hour, trying to let the height of the day’s heat pass us.
Amoebe was getting off-trail for a few days to spend time with a friend, so I continued on my way.
Just on the edge of darkness, I found the Peter Grubb hut. One of the only shelters on the PCT, intended for hikers. The mosquitoes outside were fierce and there were probably two dozen people staying within, so the door was constantly being opened. It was a restless night of sleep. As much as I enjoy social gatherings–and I do, it wasn’t the place for me. I’d have been happier in my own tent a bit further down trail.
I had carried this Coors from Echo Lake to celebrate the 4th of July, but yesterday’s big day (24 miles with 2 passes) left me too tired to do anything but pitch my tent and fall asleep. So…in a long line of wise decisions, I decided it was best to observe our nation’s independence by drinking 1.5 lbs of Coors on the morning of the 5th, just before hiking.
Outside of my tent, I had another conversation with Amoebe, a male hiker who had pitched about 100 meters away from me the night before. He had been intent on staying up to watch the distant fireworks above Tahoe. As I was going to sleep, my last memory was looking out from the tent and seeing his headlamp swing repeatedly into the adjacent woods. When I asked him how the fireworks were, he said in essence that it was worthless. The fireworks were like a square-foot of space in the sky from his distance and with no sound. Furthermore, he was 90% certain he’d seen a bear in the bushes near his tent and so it unnerved him. The eyes in the bushes did not run away. I’m glad I wasn’t aware of the creature. And Amoebe’s vigilance also likely protected my pack, which I’d placed halfway between our tents, hehe.
While I was packing my gear up, a woman came over from the parking lot and said, “You might wanna come over and see this. I guarantee it’s something you’ve never seen before.” She was right.
Sure enough. It was a Google volunteer, who schleps around 50 lbs of gear for documenting the various trails. Two other hikers were carrying his normal camping gear for him. They hiked about 15 minutes behind him and kept in contact with radios. Remarkable! Unfortunately, they said the Forest Service wouldn’t allow them to document the John Muir Trail (JMT). I could see that being worthwhile for many people unable to ever hike the back-country.
Ran into Amoebe again at the end of the day and he implied he wouldn’t be against the idea of camping near another hiker for the night. He was understandably still rattled from the close mammal experience the night before. We were grateful to be free of mosquitoes this night, despite having a water source within 40 meters. We swapped dinners, as he had grown tired of his Backcountry pasta. I went to sleep dreaming about town food on the morrow.
The descent on the north side of Dicks Pass was kind of a mess, as the trail was buried under snow and you mostly had to look for other hikers’ footprints. Once the ground leveled out a bit, I wandered about a half-mile off course, because there were a series of non-PCT trails that tricked me, trying to lure me back to South Lake Tahoe. Actually, truth be told, I was somewhat hoping there was a way I could have a big mile day and still get a hitch back to town for the night’s festivities. I reached the second pass of the day and there was a truck leaving just as I arrived, so it’s possible I could have gotten that dream hitch, but instead I stayed. I hastily erected my tent and put on both my Ghost Whisperer and my Montbell Mirage. It was remarkable how fast the temperatures plummeted.
Two locals kindly housed us in a cabin just outside of South Lake Tahoe. In the morning, Darko & Taters dropped me off again at Echo Lake. My footprints now connected with Mexico from the season before, and I had to walk north to Sierra City to finish this section I’d missed. Echo Lake had a dozen or so hikers loitering about. There were a lot of holiday hikers. I felt strong heading out, despite getting an afternoon start.
That evening, I camped near a group of 7 or so women in their 50s-60s. They were quite concerned about bears, each diligently piling their bear canisters in a grove. I made a point of storing my entire pack a good distance away and it survived the night unmolested. In the morning, in recognition of the 4th of July, they fastened a small American flag on back of my pack.
We witnessed something rather funny this morning, regarding a couple with heavy packs who appeared to be on their first hike together. (We weren’t entirely convinced the woman wanted to be there.) She sat her pack down right on the edge of a sharp embankment and then managed to knock it over the side. It tumble 30 meters or so down, into the water below. Her male partner went scrambling after it, with his own pack still on. He rescued it and it was early enough in the day that they could dry everything out, so I think it all ended happily. Who knows, it may have ended with them abruptly returning to the car, hehe.
The ascent of the north side of Sonora Pass really came as a curve-ball. For some reason, we didn’t realize how much work it was going to require in the snow, and it just kept feeling like one false summit after another.
It took quite awhile, actually, to get a hitch out of Sonora Pass, but eventually a local logger took us east to a busy junction. Soon after, a French hiker who had just quit the trail pulled over and we filled his small sedan with the five of us. He took us to South Lake Tahoe, where we promptly treated ourselves to Round Table Pizza.
We had heard rumors for several days that outstanding trail magic was going on at Ebbetts Pass, and that the trail angel would be here until 5 PM today (June 30th). We raced the final mile and reached there around 4:15. All I hoped for was a soda of some sort. Sadly, he announced he was fresh out when I arrived, and instead kindly offered a banana and omelet. I sat there for 5 minutes or so, and noticed the Japanese hiker next to me had the telltale signs of Coke in his cup. I could see the bubbly around the edges. I looked over at Taters and made a sad face. I could see mischief in her eyes, and before too long, I decided I’d better check the ice cooler just in case. Sure enough, they had two 2L bottles remaining, and the trail angel was just messing with me. He’d been tipped off by Darko and Taters moments before I arrived that all I was craving was soda, and he had done a good job playing along with the ruse. Unforgivable.
We drank our fill of soda and chocolate milk, and feeling now truly slothful, headed out again. He said to let hikers know he’ll remain open an extra 15 minutes. Surprisingly, we encountered maybe half a dozen hikers during the next mile, and told each of them to go full speed on the chance of them encountering the ends of the the trail magic. Their reactions were great to witness. One guy started running and yelling at the top of his lungs, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”
Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter this next pair until about 40 minutes later and it was too late to encourage them to rush to the trail magic. They really could have used it. Momma Bear and her 9-year old son Daniel Boone, had hiked here from Mexico (!). They both had full packs, still with pickaxes and microspikes, and it seemed we met them at a particularly low point. Momma Bear’s eyes welled with emotion several times telling us about recent hardships. I wished we had been carrying a soda or something to share with them, but unfortunately we had nothing worthwhile. (UPDATE: We were all very happy and proud to hear that they did in fact reach Canada in early October! Article here if interested)