A pass a day

That’s the pattern of the next days in the Sierra. Or almost… But let’s start at the beginning:

As we posthole our way down Kearsarge pass, I can’t stop thinking that going back up here will be terrible as it’s long and steep and the snow crapy. But then, we’re on our way to town now and I try to push this thought aside, knowing that we’ll be more rested when we have to face that climb. We’re quite lucky to meet some hikers coming up as they give us the number of a man who drives hikers to town from the Onion Valley trailhead – so early in the season, there is practically zero traffic there, as the campground is still closed. It’s quite expensive, but hey, we have no choice and are glad we don’t have to walk the 30 miles down to the valley!

Once down, we feel like melting ice – it’s around 30ยฐ C here, a big contrast to the below freezing temperatures we had in the morning! We are lucky again: Andy and Vincent catch the bus to Bishop that leaves five minutes after we get to the bus stop in Independence. They will organize accomodation for our zeros. Chrigi and I have to go to Lone Pine first, as we have packages to collect. We are less lucky: For more than an hour, we try to catch a ride, but nobody stops. Do we really look that bad? It can’t have been the ice axes, as we hid those so people don’t think we’re crazy axe murderers…๐Ÿ˜‰

We finally decide to get the bus that leaves another hour later. In the meantime, we eat half a liter of chocolate icecream each! It tastes like he best icecream I’ve ever eaten…๐Ÿ˜‰ The busride is quite entertaining, too, as there are some special characters on board…

Once in Lone Pine, we quickly get our parcels and try to get a ride to Bishop. And we are successful the first time we try! Asking people if they can give you a ride at a gasstation seems more successful than sticking out your tumb… Greg and Jay who take us along to Bishop turn out to be super trailangels! On their way back home from a wedding, they have lots of snacks – in particular fresh fruit and veggies – and they say it’s too much. We can certainly help there๐Ÿ˜„ Our conversation is great as well, we have a lot of fun! Thank you so much, Greg and Jay!

In Bishop, we take a shower and have dinner. After eating the first dish, we order a second one, so famished are we! The Sierra was certainly tough so far!

The awesome Hostel California… We feel very at ease here...

Our two days in Bishop are busy. In addition to the usual town tasks, we also pay the outfitter extended visits. The last days have made it clear what of our gear worked and what didn’t, and all of us buy some new things…

With all these tasks accomplished, we find some time to relax and go to the cinema! The new “Aladin” is shown, and I quite enjoy. It’s funny to see them in their beautiful costumes and compare these pictures with our shabby hiker-selves๐Ÿ˜‰

Trailangel Chipmunk brings us back to the trailhead on the evening of our second zero. Thanks so much! The plan is to camp there and start early over the pass back to the pct. Camping on dry ground seems so easy suddenly, all the precautions we have to take in the snow aren’t necessary here!

Going back over Kearsarge isn’t so bad after all. Yes, it’s steep and demanding, but having imagined something truly horrible, I find the reality managable. Unfortunately, there is a lot of postholing again, although we start so early. Because of the heatwave of the last few days the snow didn’t freeze over night and is quite soft. Andy especially breakes through the snow a lot. And this doesn’t go without damage. On the way down, he twists his ankle and it hurts him a lot. We’re not sure what to do now, going back or staying? We decide to stay and decide the next day depending on how it feels like…

While Andy is resting, I fetch water in this lake – there is a part at the end that is not frozen…

In the meantime, we rest and ice the ankle (for once all the snow is useful!) and treat it with a special cream. As a big group of hikers pass us, I ask if somebody has a compression sleve or something similar. They don’t, but a hiker named Pricess (it’s a man๐Ÿ˜‰) gives us bandages! Wow, I’m once again amazed at the kindness of other people! (As it turns out, we can pay back the favour in another way: A girl of the same group looses her sunglasses – a real problem with all the snow and the bright June sun – and Andy finds and returns them.)

Our treatment must have worked, as Andy feels better the next morning and he thinks he can give Glen pass a try. We make his pack as light as possible – I carry all the water, Vincent some of Andy’s food and Chrigi later helps me with the water. And off we go! Glen pass is very steep on both sides, but as the snow is still frozen at this altitude, we don’t have major problems.

The views are breathtaking!

The descent, though first not difficult after we got down from the steep upper part, becomes very tiring, though. It’s long, which means we get down quite far. The snow gets less and less. You might think that this is good, but in reality it becomes just very hard finding the way in the labyrinth of slushy snowheaps, fallen treas and water. Especially water! It’s everywhere, and the rivers and creeks are swollen with the snowmelt. We cross two bigger creeks that day, one easy because slow (we cross in underware and our campshoes and have lunch on the other bank to warm up, it looked quite funny), the other fast and a bit tricky.

At the end of the day, we are truly exhausted! What great things a camp on dry ground and a fire are – they really help me to stay motivated! Before we started our hike I expected to see beautiful nightly skys quite often. This is not the case, though, as we’re often going to bed before it’s completely dark – because we’re mostly super tired and also because we need to rise so early to take advantage of the frozen snow…

Pinchot pass, our next one, isn’t easy as well, although the obstacles are different here. We have a long uphill to face (almost eight miles). Yes, the beginning is snowfree, but there are also three creeks to cross. Although we scout for dry crossing possibilities, we find none, which means we have to get wet at 6 am when it’s still cold and everything is frozen and slippery.

The first creek isn’t too bad. On the second one, though, my feet turn to unfeeling blocks of ice. Despite of the super thick, warm socks and the toewarmers I got in Bishop, they won’t thaw and I get scared that there is some real damage. Eventually, I start to be able to move them again – just when we reach the third creek.

Andy lends me his waterproof socks (I gave mine up as they didn’t work for me), which helps a lot. They don’t keep my feet dry, but they keep them from freezing again! And this is good, as the water in this creek reaches our thighs and we really have to focus in order to not be swept away by the current!

Along the way…

After, we climb and climb and climb, soon again on snow that turns to slush again! Not very reasuring in the last very steep part… But we safely reach the top and have lunch as we’re very hungry!

The way down luckily is neither too steep nor too long. And the big and raging Kings river we have to cross isn’t too bad, either: We find a log and a snowbridge on which we can cross without stepping into the water…

Mather pass is the next one. This one is feared for its steep south approach. We’re early and this is good: The sun hits it directely and starts to soften the snow very soon – not good if you have to cross steep slopes… Like on Pincho pass, I feel slightly sick, which doesn’t help at all. For me, this is the toughest of the passes we cross in this part of our journey. Nevertheless, we finally reach the top safely, too.

The view from Mather pass…

The guys on the way down…

The snow is still frozen when we hike down from the pass – stepping over it produces a funny sound, almost like stepping over shards of glass. We make good progress, but then reach a steep and slippery part where the trail is alternativly snowcovered and rocky. I don’t know why, but suddenly, I get very scared (quite unlogical for somebody who just went over steep Mather pass, but then, fear is never connected with reason). It takes me ages and a few falls to make it to the bottom – a bit bruised, but not hurt, yet quite grumpy.

Taking a break before the steep downhill…

Having lunch in a sunny, dry spot shortly after improves my mood a lot, it feels so good! We are all tired and when we reach a great campsite a little after, we decide to call it a day although it is still early and we’ve only walked an hour since lunch…

We’re close to the river, which is a raging torrent. Just where we camp, though, there is a little sheltered pool. A perfect bathroom! With icy water, but completely worth it! I manage to get in to the neck (for aound 10 seconds), but I can’t put in my head, too. For that, I would have to be way, way more dirty…๐Ÿ˜‰

Resting, reading and just enjoying the beautiful valley we’re in feels so, so good! We have another fire that night and play poker – Vincent wins it all in the end๐Ÿ˜Š

Camp…

My “bathroom” and Andy’s “sitting room”๐Ÿ˜‰

Due to our early camping, we don’t want to force it over Muir pass the next day (it has quite a long ascent and we aren’t even at the start of it, yet), but rather walk close to it’s top and camp there so we can cross the day after on hard snow instead of in the slush. We have an easy day with not many miles, therefore – first in the valley on the actual trail (I’ve almost forgotten how that feels like, the desert seems a lifetime away), later, as we climb again, on snow… It’s hard to climb when you slide around with every step, and I’m very glad when we reach our destination…

In the valley – spring has arrived…

Filtering water – we usually find a hole in the snow somewhere…

Muir pass, I really enjoy. We’re on the top early and the snow is perfect to walk on. Also, I feel good this time: A little change in the breakfast (a bit more time so I don’t have to wolfe it down and warm instead of cold water) seems to have done the trick! And it’s super beautiful here!

Muir hut at the top of the pass…

On the way down…

We make such good progress that we reach the crossing of Evolution creek almost 15 miles away before lunch! That crossing is feared because the river is very big. We find a good spot, though, where the current is not too strong as the creek gets broad and slower (the alternate route, if you’re a pct-hiker and interested in that detail). Nevertheless, the water reaches almost to our hips and for me, the current is in the limit – I need all my stenght in the deepest part.

We realx in the sun and dry out wet pants and gear afterwards – these moments combined with our surroundings make the struggles we have on the trail worth it! It’s simply so beautiful here! And I think we all really enjoy that there are not many people here now – somehow, it feels more wild and free and we connected to it all…

The view descending after lunch...

We camp early again, planning to do the same with Selden pass as we did with Muir pass: Take an extra day to approach it. Like this, we can enjoy our amazing surroundings better and it is of course also very good for our bodies: These days are hard, and we feel it!

There are many animals around our camp! We see squirrels, chipmunks, lots of birds and a deer. Only the bears are missing… Comment from Vincent: “Watch your food, it’s like a zoo here!”๐Ÿ˜‰

The next morning feels like from another world: The trail is completely snowfree, the trees start to get leaves, there are blooming, sweet-smelling bushes everywhere and a stunning scenery to admire! Walking alone for a little after a toilet-break I suddenly come upon a deer as I turn a corner. Startled, we both stop, looking at each other. Unlike a deer at home would do, it doesn’t bolt away after a second, but ratther steps carefully around me with a distance of around 4 meters! Behind a bush, it stops. I peer through the branches, and it does the same… What a magical encounter!

I can’t believe to see this after all the snow๐Ÿ˜‰

It looks far away on the picture, but it’s really close in reality!

There is only one negative thing that may (or not) become a bigger problem in the coming weeks: Mosquitoes! Where the snow is gone, they start to appear. Our merino shirts don’t hold them of at all! There are many itching bites on my body in the evening…

The trail – a mosquito breeding- place…

Finally, we reach the snow (and mosquito-free land) again and pitch our tents in a spot with awesome view! We really hope it will be the last time on snow, as we won’t climb much over 11’000 feet anymore (though I think that this might be a bit too optimistic…). Soon, we are joined by Crow and Yuki whom we have met once before. It’s nice to exchange our experiences with other hikers…

Then, there is the river-crossing day. Not that we haven’t crossed rivers yet. In fact, we’ve crossed many. But so far, we’ve been lucky: Many creeks we could cross over snowbridges (one good thing of the snow!) and with the other ones we usually found a way to keep the feet dry or ar least dryish (with the exception of the ones before Pinchot pass and Evolution creek). But now, we’re facing a serious crossing we were warned about – Bear creek just after Selden pass – and many other rivers marked in the map.

We decide not to cross Bear creek twice, but rather stay on the east and cross two of its – hopefully less strong – tributaries. It works, although we have to walk upstreams a lot to find safe crossing places as these creeks are very powerful, too. And there are many more creeks, some of them with a lot of water and a very strong current! It’s amazing how much water is in this valley! Andy, who doesn’t like log crossings, wades through one we others all cross over a log (the practice we got with our grandma on countless log-walks when we were kids really pays of now for Chrigi and me). The water reaches his hips and he needs all his strenght to make it across!

Snowbridges – very practical!

Andy in one of the trickier crossings…

Chrigi and Andy building a bridge….

Chrigi is comfy on the logs๐Ÿ˜‰

When we are done with the major crossings, we are quite relieved. As we have come quite far, we think we might reach our stop along the way, VVR. We give our best to reach the ferry that will bring us there (it’s a little off trail). We don’t achieve our goal, though, as we come across a very steep slope Yuki later names “hill of doom”.

Chrigi, Andy and I decide to bushwack our way straight down as the trail does a big loop. It’s an “interesting” experience ๐Ÿ˜‰ The cool thing, though, is that we really are in untouched nature, it really feels different from what we normally see from the trail (although that already leads through the wild)! There are colourful mushrooms and Andy and I find a birds nest full of eggs…

After camping another night with Crow and Yuki, we catch the ferry to VVR the next morning. It’s so nice not to walk for once๐Ÿ˜‰

In VVR, we mainly have one goal: Eat, eat, eat! Although we brought a lot of food for the last days, it was nowhere near enough to cover our calory need in this demanding part. On top of that, Andy and I made a calculation mistake with the snacks – mainly bars – we brought, so we didn’t have enough. As a result, my trousers are quite loose now… What is more annoying, though, is that the belt of my pack is at its tightest now, so if I should loose more weight, I’d have to carry all the weight of the pack on my shoulders – something I’m really not enthusiastic about… Vincent has the same problem. I wonder what really thin people do? I guess we just have to eat really a lot once we’re in the next town…

We are playing poker – at stake are energy bars

When we continue hiking again the next day – quite late – we don’t get very far. We climb, and it’s hot, very hot! Summer seems to have arrived to the mountains… I can clearly feel that I’ve got more energy than before: The day spent eating and the fact that we have enough snacks now seems to have a big effect! I didn’t clearly notice before how drained I was and how much this effected my mood negativly…

It’s hard what we’re doing, but I think it makes us stronger. We recently laughed about a short exchange we had here, thinking about how it would have been at home:

Before the pct:

Andy: “I hurt my toes in football, it’s very bad.”

Me: “Oh, no! Here, take this ointment! Would you like to rest? We can have a relaxed evening at home…”

On the pct:

Andy: “My toes are super cold, they hurt a lot!”

Me: “Oh, good! That means they are still alive! Let’s continue…”

Crossing the creek just below left us completely soaked!

The next pass, Silver pass, is not very hard, nor are the river-crossings we have to do: Mostly, the creeks are still buried under snow and over the others, there are covenient logs or even bridges! Every bridge seems like a gift now – I’ve never appreciated them so much before…

It’s a special day because it’s Andy’s birthday! It’s quite tricky out here to organize something, but we manage to surprise Andy with a birthday-poptart with candle, a birthday-beer (cooled in the snow) and singing happy birthday accompanied by Chrigi’s ukulele… Andy likes it๐Ÿ˜Š

When we finally reach Mammoth Lakes (we leave the pct and hike over Mammoth pass, which is super easy compared to the other passes we had to go over), we see lots of people in shorts and t-shirt out for walkes. Clean shorts and t-shirts! And they carry bags and other – so it seems to us now – ridiculus items such as oversized earphones and shiny jewelry. In short, they are like us in normal life.๐Ÿ˜‰ But coming out of the backcountry where everything has to be functional, light and warm, this suddenly seems weird to us. And it makes us feel even more dirty… I think we look like homeless people, and we certainly smell worse! A shower never seemed to be so welcome๐Ÿ˜„ And the possibility to sleep in a warm place (I wouldn’t mind sleeping on my mat and in the sleeping bag, but it’s so much nicer if you don’t start shivering every time a part of your body gets out of it…) and eat as much as we want (or can) sounds truly wonderful!

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