It’s been a good while since our last post and not for lack of happenings to relay. We have just done our two longest stretches so far–Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (134 miles) in 7 days and Kennedy Meadows to Bishop (86 trail miles + summiting Mt Whitney) in 8 days– without any usable wifi or cell reception in between. So many days, many our hardest days on the trail, and unfortunately this resupply in Bishop has been so involved we have not had the time to describe our journey in usual detail. So here’s the abridged version and as many pictures as I can upload on this hostel’s spotty wifi before we head back to the trail.
The first leg after Tehachapi was one of the dryest we’ve done, in terms of distance between water sources. There were a couple 17 mile waterless stretches and a 35 mile one with two unreliable caches in between. We did 24 miles of this hot dry day in loose sand carrying 5 liters of water to get to the second cache and see how strictly we’d have to ration our water. Arriving at 8:30 there was no water. Bummer. We had enough water to not be dangerously dehydrated but we were thirsty and had to save our remaining 2 liters for the 13 miles the next day. We were making dinner (one of our lunches of packet tuna so as not to use water) when a car pulled in nearby. It was Devilfish the trail angel with water! I’ve received some great trail magic on the trail but this was definitely the most exciting.
Other things certainly happened on that leg to Kennedy Meadows but after our first taste of the high sierras past stretches seem paler in comparison. This year has been a crazy year for planning a PCT hike. The conditions are requiring gear that usually is not necessary- ice axes and crampons. And many people are skipping until later this year.
But we decided to give it a try, entering last week loaded down with all our new gear and 8 days of food in a group of 9 people. The fist couple days there was no snow and we were able to do 17 miles, still difficult with the weight of the packs and gaining lots of elevations. After the second day we stayed above 10,000 almost the whole time. After that, we were slowed down in terms of mileage but each day felt like a huge accomlishment.
There’s a few things that make travel difficult right now. First, and what causes everything else, is that there’s so much snow. Miles of travel through sloped forest where we’d see scant patches of trail between 15 foot high snow banks. Or vast sun cupped snow fields. Or terrifyingly steep mountain passes covered in snow. It is now warm enough that the snow is soft and it takes immense amounts of energy to travel over it. And it makes it so we often can’t travel on the trail. We wind around snow banks and boulders and downed trees and check our phone gps often to make sure we’re not too far off track.
The big thing right now is the stream crossings. The snow is melting and sizable streams are monstrous and small streams are still not trivial to cross. We have to do every large crossing as early as possible in the day to get it when the water is lower and even then take time to scope out a safe spot to cross.
Both of these difficulties, snow and streams, are best handled earlier in the day so we must wake up to get going on some days as early as 4:30 and push to make enough miles, getting to camp between 1 and 3 without taking any major breaks. This is mentally and physically exhausting.
But we are in the most beautiful part of trail we’ve seen yet and are seeing amazing things. On the 5th day we got to Crabtree Meadows and summitted Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Two days later we went over Forester Pass, the tallest point on the PCT at 13,153 ft.
Louise, here! In other news, I have a trail name now. It’s Bamm-bamm! Apparently Morgan thinks my love and excitement for many kinds of rocks and boulders makes me a child of the Stone Age.
Another think that is important in the Sierras is grouping up, or in thruhiking terms, forming a trail family. We’ve got a really good one, so I’ll give a brief description of each person in the group. We started out with nine, but Hitch and Woodstock were traveling at a different pace due to a knee injury, so we became 7 two days after leaving Kennedy Meadows.
First we have Frosty and Sunbeam, a newlywed German couple who are hiking the PCT as maybe one of the coolest and most long honeymoons ever. Frosty is tall, blond, and had a corncob pipe sent to him in Kennedy Meadows… thus the name Frosty. It’s also a perfect name since Frosty melts in the sun, and his wife Sunbeam is such a bright light on the trail and in our crew. Frosty is a huge person and could go really fast, but at the most crucial points on trail, he decides to walk in the back to steady and support some of the less experienced hikers like Moonwalker or myself. Sunbeam is SO amazingly fast and strong too, and I think it’s really inspiring to be along with such a strong woman on the trail.
Moonwalker is closer to Morgan and my age and is hiking the trail alone. Though she is physically pretty small, she is SO strong. It’s so cool to see her facing fears of water and pass crossings day after day, and it helps me to face mine as well. Moonwalker is best known for her great ability to snack, her love for her dog back home, and her love of being the caboose.
Radio is known on trail for his radio-announcer voice, but more specifically in our group, for his speed. Radio is most likely to be at camp three hours before Morgan, Moonwalker, Atlas, and I, having gone fishing, taken a nap, and already eaten lunch. His speed is so helpful during periods of heavy snow navigation, because he can walk with a phone in one hand, poles in the other, and keep from slipping on the snow.
Atlas just might be the first Hungarian to complete the PCT! Atlas is known for the ungodly size of his pack and his insatiable appetite, and also his relaxed, kind attitude. Since Morgan studied abroad in Hungary, she has been excited to relearn and learn more Hungarian, and so she and Atlas have a language lesson every night.
Our apalogies, these photos are in no particular order.