I’ve moved to Kennedy Meadows - the official entrance to the Sierras, having hoped to do some miles today. However, it is the most dangerous section so going in alone is strongly discouraged - that’s why I’m still here. I’m hoping to find a new ‘tramily’ who I can do the hard yards with, and it may take a few days. That’s the usual story anyway. So I’m back in my tent, having an early night. It’s progress, Jim, but not in mileage terms.
I’m off tomorrow - with a large group of around 10, and an ambitious plan to do 16.5 miles…
So I spent the day lying around in the dust bowl that is Kennedy Meadows south staring mindlessly at Facebook. I am pleased to be getting going again. I’ll not be saying that tomorrow when we start the huge ascent into the Sierras - the mountainous portion of the PCT. The good news is that a heatwave is coming, and we can expect a lot of snow melt. The bad news...it’s all going to melt into large rivers…
Turns out the big ‘off’ was in fact, a big zero instead - some people needed to do some ‘adulting’ (whatever that is!) and required a Monday so we postponed. Going into the Sierras in a group is the vital thing so I waited too.
Having six (six!) zero days means that my body has had a great rest. I’ve discovered that my knees hurt. I think ordinarily everything else just hurts so much more that I’ve failed to notice my minor pains. Now my feet, and particularly my heels and achilles, have had a few days of not being battered, the furthest I walk is around 200m metres for food, or the loo, and my shoulder isn’t being compressed from my heavy pack, my knees have had time to cry out for some attention.
Naturally, they have been ignored.
Anyway, we are all finally ready for the big ‘off’ - packs have been weighed, all coming in at above the 50lb/25kg mark. Everyone’s rucksack is now heavily laden with high-calorie food for the frozen temperatures, extra layers for sleeping in, micro-spikes for shoes and ice-axes. Oh, and the bloody annoying, unwieldy bear canisters. Never mind bears getting into my food, I’m not sure I can get into it either.
By God, I’m back on the trail. You’d never know that a week ago, I pulled a twenty-five mile day, I can barely manage five today! My feet started hurting before I’d even got on them this morning…
Not only that, we’ve a heatwave: he highest recorded temperatures this year are about to be charted - great for melting snow, but first I’ve got to get to the snow! Still, I managed ten miles before collapsing - which isn’t bad since we didn’t get to the trail until late morning. It’s like the first day on trail all over again - not the 69th!
I have managed to lose my ‘tramily’ which is a bit unfortunate. Boonie, the former US marine, is not sure what’s happened but thinks they have all turned back as one member was very poorly, leaving just us two to continue. We all stopped at different sites last night so we’re not really sure beyond the fact that I haven’t seen them, nor has Boonie.
I managed to keep up with Boonie when he was doing 0mph, but once he got going, I remained in ‘plod’ mode, partly because we were climbing up to 10,500 feet, but mostly because that’s the only speed I have. So I’m back on my own - as long as you don’t count the gazillions of mosquitos, or skeeters, as they call them here. I am very popular with them. I’m sure my legs are spelling something in Braille.
But in other news: I saw the biggest rabbit, or hare I know not, I have ever seen. I could have put a saddle on it and ridden the damned thing to Canada. I also saw a deer, just the one. Then my first chipmunks scrabbling around full of the joys of spring, and finally a marmot - like a very fat squirrel. I have photographed absolutely none of them!
Today I saw a multiple-day hiker once - she practised social distancing, perfectly understandable as I’m a cesspit of smell. I saw nothing of another person all day, although I heard, but rarely ever saw, multiple fighter jets as they bombed around the place.
In these solitary times, one can only assume Trump and Boris are having a ding-dong. Once upon a time, this would be far fetched but these days - who knows!
Aside from that, I have bounced around between 9,500 ft and 10,500 ft all day - covering sixteen miles, and treating myself to an early finish of 4pm because, well quite frankly, I have a very painful undercarriage from chaffing! There’s been little snow so far, but I’m expecting this to change shortly....
Today was a slow, agonising day - my rear end huuuuurts, so do my shoulders, my knees, my feet, my Achilles, my shins and to top it all off, my mosquito bites itch like mad - despite being smothered in toothpaste, which normally does the job just fine and dandy.
Although I’d expected snow from mile 745 onwards, there really wasn’t any at all - certainly nothing troubling. The trek was gentle, with few steep highs, and one very long descent. There were several jaw-dropping vistas, including one of a stunning lake, and yet I found today seriously hard work.
I had planned an ‘easy’ fifteen miler - culminating in me staying in a designated camp spot complete with bear can locker. Alas, I hadn’t appreciated today’s hike would involve a last-thing raging river crossing to ensure I go to bed with wet feet and trousers. To top it off, I never did find the bear bin despite my pained walking. I searched high and low for the damned thing. Still I am staying here - the water is ample and so are the mosquitoes - four managed to follow me into the tent once I’d eaten my dinner. Carnage ensued as I asserted my dominance over my sleeping space. The rest are hanging on to the mesh in the hope I let them in shortly. I shan’t! But I’ll not be popping out for a middle of the night pee either!
You could call them: rapacious predators.
Today’s theme was river crossings - fast, furious and wide ones. Each progressively worse and the day wore on and the temperatures rose, melting snow at the highest elevations. Good for the trail, but bad for my feet! The first one was cold, and went up to my thigh, but the ones that followed, cooling and calming on my aching limbs and feet, so quite refreshing. I nearly fell and had to regroup before trying again - the water so fast, it was hard to stay upright. I have no idea whether my legs were shaking from the cold or fear, or both. Once I was into the middle it became more manageable - but it was terrifying. I shook for an hour after. Thank God for coffee!
I would never have attempted it except for Nab, a Finn, who guided me through - and now I’m surrounded by people - at least fifteen of us are perched on the side of a mountain. I am so glad - tomorrow we attempt Forester - the highest pass of the PCT at over 13,200 feet, and a storm is coming in…
I can officially declare this day to be the hardest day of the PCT so far. So hard that I’m almost too tired to typ…
And, the worst thing...discovering my new ‘waterproof socks’ were not remotely waterproof.
In Bishop. I have frostbite on the tips of my fingers, I am utterly battered by the hideousness of yesterday’s first pass of the Sierras. Although the tallest, but not officially the worst, Forester Pass was sheer hell - but it taught me something:
There is a difference between hiking and mountaineering. I am a no-longer-novice hiker - that means I use my feet, two trekking poles, and a vertical (most of the time) stance to move from one place to another - generally in a forward direction.
Mountaineers use crampons and ice-axes and have ropes, move from left to right, bottom to top, and any which way they can. They must also not have brains. Having spent much of yesterday morning hanging off an ice-axe, with micro-spikes and no rope, thousands of feet of sheer drop above a frozen lake - I realised I’d quite like to keep my brains.
The passes along this stretch are still ice-capped and horribly scary - they are well outside of my skill set. I’m going to use the next two days to see what I can do about moving forward (in a vertical stance) so as to continue my trek to Canada, but circumvent the very treacherous parts of the trail.