ZERO in Incline Village with Mike Stone and Sharron Binford
0 miles/0 hrs
Just a little stress trying to get the permit situation figured out. Calling the PCT left me feeling like a fool ‘well I guess you should have planned better…’; calling Yosemite Permit Ranger Station left me laughing ‘so let me get this straight, you tried to jump the line by just going on trail without a permit, now you’re trying to backpedal and get the permit?’. Ummm. Yup. Something like that. Only I had not tried to beat any system I just wanted to know I could walk more than a week before getting the permit. Which I now know clearly I need. There is no way I’m going back out there for more humiliation. There are so many people heading outdoors now that permits are totally necessary to try and limit damage to vulnerable places of nature. Man oh man do I want to be back on that trail.
I decide my best bet is to make a nice donation ($100) to the PCT online and apply for the permit, with the departure date of tomorrow. Then wait and see.
I let go of any expectation and spend an awesome afternoon with Mike and Sharron, friends and neighbours from Canmore who have a vacation home in Tahoe. To my absolute surprise and full stoke I receive an email from the PCT by the end of day congratulating me on my upcoming (next day) departure and thanking me for the support.
I am officially trail legal.
A lesson not to stress over that which one can not control. That is, after one has done everything on one’s power to make things happen. Which I did.
I am so happy.
Hwy 50 Drop-Off – 9000ft Beauty Camp
How good it feels to walk in the forest again. Silence. Solitude. So happy and grateful to be back on trail. Back in nature. Back in the Sierra hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
I walk and walk and walk. Stop a few times but never for long. Mainly to filter water and re-hydrate. Then walk some more.
Carson Pass boasts fields of massive wildflowers. It’s like the Sierra is on steroids after the massive winter precipitation which ended the long five-year drought. The land drank it up, the sunshine stimulated a bloom lasting all summer long. The pass is a small Sierra range serving as a teaser as to what’s to come. I know these mountains well after spending the latter part of the 90’s training in the mountain towns of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. Many weekends off or days of cross training were spent getting to know the high Sierra exposed granite. It feels good to be back here. Always.
Day hikers start to warm me of the dangers of the Sierra stream crossings. It’s almost September and after a season of fatalities which saw hikers swept away by raging swollen creeks I can understand the unsolicited advice. I do know, however, that it’s all safe now. Unless I do something stupid. Which I’m pretty sure I’m too smart to do. Time will tell. I smile and say thanks for the heads up. Continue south with the High Sierra on my mind.
My camp is the highest on the hike so far, just above 9000 feet. I find a spot in a small group of trees up on the ridge. My late start allows for only just less than 20 miles but I’m glad because this camp is exquisite. A blazing pink and purple sky serve as evening entertainment while I cook my meal away from where I’ve pitched my tent. Haven’t seen any bear tracks but still I hang my food and take these precautions just in case. When it’s easy to do so, why not?
I think about Peter and how much he’d love this spot. This day. This hike. He’s done this twice already but trails are never the same. The place and space is different but more importantly, a person is different from one time to the next. I miss him. I think about getting water a mile below and the decision to walk with the weight just that little bit further for the reward of this spot for the night. I feel like the only person on earth with the light breeze blowing through the leaves, the last birds chirping and finally, the Sierra sun setting.
It feels good.
9000ft Beauty Camp – 9000ft Lake Camp
One of those days where I do so much wrong. Just keep dropping things and making mistakes. Leave my wristwatch packed in the tent which is annoying because I go by time not distance when walking. Try not to walk more than 12 hours a day (not including breaks) which off trail seems impossible; on trail seems totally reasonable and moderate. My period comes and then all the clumsiness makes sense. The irritation and lack of patience always happens when it’s the time of the month of menstration. Which seems easier to handle alone because there is nobody else to blame these things on in the time of hormonal upheaval.
Before sunrise a screech owl whizzes by screeching its warning sound at me. Or just saying hello.
The PCT goes up and down over and over again. The ribbon of trail skirts around ridges, up and over basalt rich volcanic terrain. There is water everywhere so no need to carry. Always a relief not to worry about water. I’m stocking my capacity for water worries come the desert stretch. For now, I pass by many streams and lakes without regret. I soak the feet twice. Finish the day totally spent.
No Sleep Windy Camp at 9000ft Lake Camp – HWY 108/hitch to Kennedy Meadows North Guest Ranch
Up just after 3am. Not much sleep at that 9000ft lake camp I was so stoked about due to the raging wind. So much wind. Oh well. More than a half moon plus the hormonal upheaval I’m experiencing as I do every single month leaves me not surprised, wind or no wind. I’m more bummed about knocking over the freshly filtered and heated water before getting it into my coffee cup/nalgene. Boo hoo. I hate wasting fuel and always have the concern of running out. Boo hoo hoo.
Walked in the dark for a long time. Headlamp is so low on battery sometimes I wonder if it’s helping or hindering my ability to see. Still, I try to stretch the battery life some more, too stubborn to change the charge.
Walking is always a bit slower in the dark but I like it all the same. When light comes it’s in small increments. Soft shades of pastel sky greet the coming bright light of sun. Special time of the day to move through the forest. Through the mountains.
Soon after I’m walking through high meadows of bell ringing cows. There is shit everywhere and soon I give up on skirting the steaming mounds. I look down at one point and smile at the little purple aster stuck in my hiking pole base. The happy little flower smiles up at me as if to say ‘see, there’s beauty in all the shit in this world’. Soon after I see a NOBO with a leather cowboy hat and pack bigger than three of mine combined. He says with a thick Indian accent ‘just like walking in the high meadows of India’ with a wry smile. I bet he can’t believe he’s so far from the sacred cows and still having to share the space with so many of them. We both laugh.
The landscape grows when I escape the cow shit meadows, partitioned off by a barbed wire fence. Mountains seem bigger, boulders as big as houses mark slopes and ridges going on seemingly forever, fast flowing clear water creeks and even some waterfalls cross the trail.
California. The PCT. I’m soaking it all in, looking across a massive and deep valley when I trip over my own hiking poles while going down hill and land hard on my knees and side. Fuck. No. Not the knees. Not the new ACL knee. I sit all dusty and look down at the damage. Through the dirt ground into my lower leg blood comes seeping out. I bend the knee and feel around, decide then and there it’s just a surface wound, wash it in a creek and continue on my way. Oh man I hope it’s just some road rash. That really, really hurt. At least I didn’t smash my teeth or knock myself out, I think. There are some benefits to knowing how to fall from all those years of bike racing, I guess.
Up and over a 10,500ft pass, down through the rugged red-rock formations lining the Northern slopes of Sonora Pass or Hwy 108. With less than ten minutes and three attempts to hitch a ride I’m on my way down down down the switch-backed paved highway with Jan and Jake, Great-Grandparents of many, in their old pick up truck to Kennedy Meadows Guest Ranch North. They ask why I’m not packing a pistol and my usual response of being Canadian and likely shooting myself in the foot than protecting my backpack has Jan softly letting me know ‘anyone can learn to shoot, it just takes some practice…’. America, you wild and wonderful and sometimes frightening place, I do love you. But guns…I’ll never be comfortable with the gun situation down here.
In no time they drop me off with a smile, I pay the $35 fee to shower, do laundry as I wish, sleep in a very clean bunkhouse, hang out with cowboys and raid the multiple hiker boxes out back from back in summer and the influx of northbounders and what they ditch from the resupply boxes they receive and send. I get my own package with bear vault for the coming Sierra knowing the small container won’t fit all my food. Eat a home cooked meal from the café and sleep so soundly.
Tired. Clean. Ready for more.