Mosquitoes continued to be vicious today. I had to fill water from a lake, and walked at least 20 meters away before filtering. Walked most of the day without seeing any others. Chatted with two German hikers during the final miles. I was quite surprised to discover that we’d be reaching Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) so soon, which we reached an hour before dark. The final miles are just wide open swaths of meadows. Reunited with friends in front of the Tuolumne Meadows convenience store and then we wended our way to a large campsite area designated for hikers.
Howly and I took a series of shuttles to get from Mammoth back to Red’s Meadow. There is a little diner and general store there with fair prices. It’s hard to walk away from cold soda and beer into a hot afternoon. We left at 1 pm.
The rest of the group had returned to Red’s Meadow the evening before, so they were a half-day hike ahead of us. Several of them wanted to complete the official JMT. We stuck to the PCT, knowing there was a junction where they intersected 13 or so miles ahead. Howly had the energy to go, so I encouraged him to catch up with Fancyfeet and said I’d meet them by nightfall. Later, when I realized it was getting dark and I was setting myself up for a solo hour hike with a headlamp, I decided I really didn’t want to do that in an area known for bears. I texted Howly that I’d catch up in the morning. His response: “I need more iron, less husk.” Hehe.
It’s crazy how close the deer let you approach. Immediately outside of Red’s Meadow, Howly and I encountered the deer below who was reluctant to move off the trail.
Devil’s Postpile (columnar basalt):
We haven’t seen many PCT signs through the High Sierras. Mostly just John Muir Trail (JMT) or lake signs.
Pretty sure this is a bear turd.
Spent the night near a stranger and it seemed prudent to actually place my bear can away from my tent. Mosquitoes made it unfun to eat dinner. Still, not a bad view.
EXTRA: Joe Brewer has an excellent video showing this stretch of trail from Reds Meadow (Mile 907) To Sonora Pass (Mile 1018). I highly recommend subscribing to his channel:
We were torn whether to return to trail today or not, but decided a 2nd day off was wise before the next long run in the High Sierra backcountry. Most of our friends returned to Red’s Meadows tonight. Howly, Fancyfeet, Switchfoot and myself remained.
We did have a visitor in the Motel 6 parking lot last night.
Today vanished in a haze. We found the best place in town to eat is The Breakfast Club. It feels authentic and fair value in a heap of otherwise overpriced places.
The tiki lounge in the posh villa area extended their happy hours for the thru-hikers, so we sat imbibing margaritas for several hours and toasting to RebelBiscuit’s and Jazz’ birthdays.
On the positive news side, Howly was able to find an outfitter with pants that fit his slim frame, which is a relief for us all. I no longer have to look at a hole in the fabric winking at me in the back.
We continued the birthday celebrations back at the Motel 6, with several hikers stopping by whom we hadn’t met, and I think 1 or 2 (read: 3 or 4) warnings from the night manager on our volume. Tsk-tsk. Nice day. 🙂
We reached Red’s Meadow and caught two shuttles and a tram to the Motel 6 in Mammoth. Very happy to be here. This last stretch between proper towns was 135 miles and tens of thousands of feet in elevation.
We passed the 900 mile mark today, yay. But more importantly, we passed the 1/3 mark of the whole trail. That translates to roughly 2 million steps so far.
Today was the Summer Solstice, which is also known as Hike Naked Day. It was a particularly cold morning, evidenced by the fact that I hiked in my raincoat and hat. Sadly, I can report we only saw one true participant in the event, a hiker named Coppertone. (No pictures, sorry.) Rebel made a half-hearted attempt, hardly worth the recognition. It was just too cold of a morning and being a town day, everyone was focused on getting to civilization. It’s remarkable how fast those miles just fall off the chart when you know you’re due for a shower and meal in the next couple of hours.
Had a nice pleasant surprise this morning. Skyline passed me! Haven’t seen him since a brief exchange at Onion Trailhead below Kearsarge Pass. Sounds like he’s pushing 25 miles/day in the High Sierras. Good for him.
Sunset over Mammoth. Fatigued, but I’ve food, drink and friends. A nice ending to the day.
Total mileage: 891
Today’s mileage: 13 + 2
RebelBiscuit, Howly and others as we cross the dry seabed leading out from Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). VVR offers a ferry service via motorboat which shaves off 3-4 miles of distance, but we still had to walk 2 miles to return to the PCT. While I enjoyed the social aspects of VVR (well, most of them), I’d recommend future hikers to skip this establishment. (Plus they didn’t have Recon’s package of 9 Mountain House meals and they state that they reserve the right to open unclaimed packages and resell goods rather than return them via USPS.) I think it’s better just to push straight from Kearsarge Pass all the way to Red’s Meadow.
Silver Pass was easy. A bunch of familiar faces enjoyed lunch on top but I pressed on to find water. Soon after, I found Highwater pollutin’ the waters. 🙂 Hard to believe he and I met at the Southern Terminus of the US/Mexico border on Day 1.
These were first and only pack animals I saw on trail.
We pressed them as to whether there was beer in the saddle bags. “No beer, but we sure have bourbon!”
One of the best sunsets yet on trail. We had a late 700 foot ascent, but kept moving because the mosquitoes were so relentless. Near the end of the day, Howly had to turn around and backtrack a half mile to find his trekking pole. (This happened occasionally on account of his rolling of cigarettes.) Fancyfeet, Howly and I pitched on a high flat spot with the last of the day’s light. Here here is the next morning, in the process of deflating. Whenever this ritual began, there was a 50/50 chance that he’d fall back asleep again, hehe.
Total mileage: 878
Today’s mileage: 17 (including 6 on VVR trail)
I broke camp around 6:30, in an effort to beat the mosquitoes. They seem to stir around 7. Today is, in essence, a trail town day. It is remarkable how the miles can fly when you know you’re going to reach town that day. Most people dream about food, but I think about Coke and beer. It’s fascinating to see my craving for Coke out here, which I don’t regularly drink at home.
Following on the heels of yesterday’s anecdote, I hiked only another 100 meters and found Howly in the proper spot I was supposed to find. Notice how there is flat rock everywhere. That made it very difficult to find a spot that could hold the 8 stakes of my tent. Amazing how narrow his tent is.
I got to the major water crossing of the day by 7:20. It wasn’t scary, but it was certainly cold. Funny enough, just as I reached the water’s edge, two female hikers passed the other way and said I just missed a sight. They said they had both been stark naked while crossing the river and had just finished dressing. “100% naked?” “Yep!” Huh. I’m not sure this crossing justified that, but wouldn’t that have been a sight to behold? The mysteries of the Sierras.
Sometime before noon, I reached a junction which had an alternate route that veered off directly to Vermillion Valley Ranch (VVR). I think it was called the Shy Bear Path, or Big Bear Creek Path, something like that. I had heard talk about this route some previous time, and you heard conflicting advice. Some argued for staying on the PCT itself, for the integrity of the experience, some argued that the alternate trail wasn’t as well maintained and safe, etc. When I reached this junction, I was torn from a safety perspective, I didn’t know if my Halfmile nav app would work on the Bear trail. There were no hikers around me, so I decided to push ahead on the PCT. It was a long hot afternoon that entailed a long descent, and a long walk around the far side of the dry lake bed to reach the “resort”. In the end, regrettably (hehe) I think I hiked another 6 miles further than my friends did. When I arrived, I found Howly already in an inebriated state. It’s like…wait a minute, I passed him early this morning, sound asleep, how did he beat me here?!
Oddly, there was a bit of AT&T reception in this area. Our first in the past week.
Fairly common site (above) of fallen uprooted trees.
Well, calling it a resort is a bit of a stretch. They lure hikers in by saying the first beer is free. A 12 oz bottle. About 30 hikers set up their tents in front of a general store. Showers were $6, and 10 minutes. A steak was $24 and 3 pancakes were $11. A large group stayed up til midnight at the campfire. We were happy to have reunited with friends and familiar faces like RebelBiscuit, Fancyfeet,Geisha, Jazz and Lumberjack, and met new ones like Slingshot, whose musical talent we enjoyed. This was also the night of Howly’s close brush with death, but that story for another time.
This week nearly broke the Husk. I think the hardest physical week of my life. Huge elevation climbs everyday, and the mosquitoes are out in force. Can’t wait for the city of Mammoth, which should be 2 days away.
Update: In looking back, I think hikers should skip VVR. While I know the overwhelming desire to enjoy ice cold beverages and a shower, by this point, hikers are about 1.3 days away from Red’s Meadow (which is Mammoth, in essence).
My bill was around $80, most of the hikers around me were in triple digits. Management acted put-off when we requested an itemized receipt.
I heard in the 2016 season that management was raiding the hiker box every night and scavenging items to resell in their store. Rumor is that they were selling an open bag of Doritos and insoles from shoes taken out of the hiker box. Oh, VVR…lame.
A very curious sign. When I first read this, I assumed Dynamite was a trail name. Only later did we hear that real dynamite was actually discovered and the rangers were trying to get to the bottom of it. Bizarre. Also of note, this ranger station was famous for having a lot of wild green onions growing nearby, on account of the marshy terrain. It wasn’t clear if they were intended only for the rangers or not, but many hikers were thrilled to pick them, to add later to their instant mashed potatoes.
Finally, a big mile day. I had tried to wake Howly up the previous day, and he had told me just to let him sleep in. So today I quietly left early and headed toward Evolution Creek. Some years, this creek is waist-high or higher, and hikers must ford across. Being taller and heavier, I knew I had it easier than most, but I still felt a bit of trepidation in advance, having seen photos from previous years.
It was nothing. We were lucky with extremely low water. The bigger hassle was my decision to take my socks and shoes off away from the water, fording, and then dressing while the mosquitoes feasted. I just should have kept them on and plunged through, as we would do later on.
After crossing Evolution, there is a fairly long descent for northbounders, and I made a point of trying to tell the section hikers heading the other way a rough idea of how far away they were from the crossing, and exactly how high the water went.
It is rather ironic to be surrounded by water for so much of the day, and yet to have mismanaged my own personal hydration. As the video above shows, I was 3 miles past a water source, thirsty, and checked my app for the next source…only to find that it was another 3 miles away, and up a good portion of the ascent for the day. I would guess it was high nineties, and I was in a bad way and actually asked a section hiker if he happened to have any extra water. He happily offered his 16 oz. bottle, but I declined when I realized that was all he had. New Husk. I did the next mile of the ascent at a snail’s pace and reached the most minute spring…water just trickling down a rocky plain. I used a ziplock bag to collect it, and collect I did. I probably “wasted” 45 minutes at this spring, slowly collecting and filtering until I’d had my fill and more.
Looking north from Selden Pass, where the mosquitoes are sharpening their knives.
It is strange to hike in such a vast expanse and see so few people. One or two section hikers heading south occasionally. Near late afternoon, approaching the summit of the pass, the trail wends along the water’s edge of several lakes. There were so many beautiful potential camping spots. I saw these locations and thought there was a good chance that Howly would stop for the night here. He is always going on about lakes and fish. I briefly considered pitching, but moved on.
The summit itself was easy. Easier than the previous 5 passes. However, it was remarkable how soon after descending the north side of the pass that the mosquitoes descended en masse. It was a thing to behold. I pushed past the lakes and hiked to the edge of light, sometimes at a slight jog to keep them at bay. I pushed to where my Guthook app said there was a campsite and hastily tried to pitch with my head net on. My only exposed skin was my hands and they knew it. Already exhausted from the day, I struggled to pitch my tent. It seemed every stake was striking rock only an inch beneath the soil. After finally getting in my tent, I spent a good amount of minutes shaking the corners and killing 30 mosquitoes.
Only after I had settled did I realize I was still .1 mile away from the campsite that Guthook had recommended, grrrr. But I had a great laugh when an hour later, in pitch black, I hear a hiker coming along the trail with his headlamp on.
“No…friggin…way….” The Howlitzer had finally caught the Husk. He thought for sure he must have passed me miles ago. Like myself, he had continued walking only in an attempt to outlast the mosquitoes. (We later heard that RebelBiscuit had hiked 34 miles this day–all the way to VVR, because the mosquitoes were so bad.) I told Howly I’d missed the actual campsite and if he just moved ahead another 100 meters, he’d likely find it. But I won’t lie…I lay in the dark with a grin on my face for the next 10 minutes, feeling smug in my fortress. I’d beaten both his expectations and the bugs.
Total mileage: 845.5
Today’s mileage: 19.5
Muir Pass elevation: 11,955 ft
We woke up to deer in our campsite.
We lost the trail several times through here. There were numerous water crossings where we hopped from stone to stone. Sometimes you’d cross, only to find the way did not continue on the far side. It’s interesting how quickly you adapt to this process. Initially, you’re careful, timid; you stand at the water’s edge, plotting your course. But with every day we’re in the High Sierras, the faster we get at negotiating these crossings. A typical day may require twenty crossings, and now it feels like our pace doesn’t slow at all during these moments.
Very long day. Muir Pass took forever to summit. 4,000 ft ascent. It felt like there were 4 false summits. Every time you thought surely we’ll see the infamous hut, only to be denied and required to keep pushing higher.
We didn’t stay long at the hut. There was a informal trail register (journal) that someone had recently left in the hut, and, based on the entries, it encouraged us to see that several friends were likely only hours ahead.
(below) Howly, and not another hiker as far as the eye can see.
Mosquitoes are here in full force now. Set up tent and jumped in to enjoy a stoveless meal, just to avoid them.
The descent from Muir felt different than the other passes. Wide open nothingness, like the surface of the Moon. And that pressing feeling that we still had to make more miles. Howly in particular wanted to get below 10,000 feet, where fires are again legal.
We are pitched tonight in a flat spot, with several section hikers and a beautiful view. They are excited for the sunset. I realized we have seen a surprisingly few number of sunsets on the trail. It seems the moment is often eclipsed by trees or ridges, or perhaps we are still busy hiking and aren’t able to appreciate it as much as if we had already made camp and were leisurely watching for it. Below, you can see Howly’s blue tent in the far bottom-left and mine in the far-right.
Enjoy this portrait of a man looking worse for wear. 🙂
Another long day. Howly’s foot has been bothering him considerably. We had a very long descent today down “the Golden Staircase”, to the headwaters of the south fork of the Kings River. After reaching the base, I went back with Advil to see if he needed help but he wasn’t that far behind.
We had several deer in our campsite, which makes sense, given that it was called Deer Meadow. It did make me wonder if predators know about Deer Meadow. About an hour before making camp, we passed a friend who was camping by himself, along the riverbank, and about to enjoy some schrooms he had acquired many miles ago. We questioned the wisdom of him tripping alone next to the river. We later heard he had climbed some downed trees and then fell and was very lucky to have not seriously injured himself. (I might have laughed a little bit.)
We had our 3rd campfire of the entire trip.
The trail is quite narrow at times.
Every time we pass a lake like this, Howly gazes forlornly upon it and wishes we could fish or swim. Unfortunately, we both feel the pressure to get the miles in. We still have quite some distance to go before being able to resupply.
Here is another example of what the trail can look like. I think it has simply been dynamited into the rocks.
We passed a small stream that was full of fish, and they even seemed trapped as the water was so shallow to move on. I think moments like these left Howly feeling tortured, but there was no time to fish.
In this photo, you can see Howly‘s bear canister riding on top of his pack. I think this was a smart move that he, Honeybadger and Snackies did. They carried their canisters empty in the day, with the implied premise that they would put their food in it at night. I should have adopted this tactic. Instead, I carried my bear canister vertically within my pack, filled with my food, but felt like the curvature of the canister did not ride well on my back.
Looking straight up as we ascend the path. (The trail goes to the right, off camera). Glad nothing came sliding down.
It takes all kinds. Passed this individual going the other way.
The Golden Staircase. If you enlarge this image, you can see the switchbacks that lead endlessly down. This would have been a welcome stretch if it hadn’t been so beastly hot.
My hand is quite unhappy. The wound from when I postholed on Forester still has not healed and I’m obviously getting too much sun too.