We are climbing again. The middle fork of the Kings River is alive tumultuous and raging down the granite canyon. We must shout to hear each other. The way is tough, and we labor to reach the top. It is exhausting work for two extremely hungry people. The snow begins. We have reached Muir Pass.
The snow is plentiful but melting. Water is rushing underneath the snow. The trail disappears. There are multiple footprinted paths, but we remember the ranger's advice. Out comes the Guthook's app. Where does the trail go? We try to choose the safest course possible.
I notice that hikers have been crossing a snow bridge directly above the river far below. If you were to fall through the snow, you would surely be knocked unconscious and drown. I see the beauty all around us, but I also see the dangers. We have been backpacking up for hours, and just when I think we have reached the top of the pass I learn it is only the beginning.
There is a serene, icy lake the color of a deep ocean. Beyond the lake is a bowl filled with snow. The way is sluggish. We pick our way across snowfields, trekking across the wide, shallow bowl. The way is up.
Soon it is steep enough that all I can see is the sky and the wall of white leading upwards. Then I can see the conical stone Muir hut at the top. We have made it! The fatigue takes hold, and we share a meager meal in the shelter before hiking down into Evolution Valley, camping just before the creek. We have hiked 17 hard miles today.
Ramen for Breakfast
The food is gone. One package of Ramen remains for our breakfast. The pathetic meal is gone in minutes. We cross Evolution Creek right away. It is up to our thighs, slow-moving and thick. The freezing water burns my skin, and the current is surprisingly strong. Pins and needles spread along the bottoms of my feet and up my legs. The creek is wide, and I wonder why this is named "creek" and not river.
Following Evolution Creek is awesome. The river is wild. It tears down the deep-cut canyon, spraying mist high into the air. Huge waterfalls crash beside us. Rainbows appear in the mist. We are going down a mountain. Switchback after switchback and at the bottom, the trail diverges, and we cross the San Joaquin River. The trail follows the river high above it.
Hiker Box Gold
We are backpacking into Muir Trail Ranch this morning for a badly needed resupply. It seems to take ages to get there. When we arrive, we are greeted with a lot of rules and a bell to ring for service. Soon our bucket is sitting before us. However, I am not at all interested in what the bucket contains. I am interested in the many hiker boxes that line the storage shed. They are filled with loot. JMT hikers have been ditching their food, and it is gold.
The hunger is overwhelming. I know I should eat slowly at intervals, but instead, I spend a couple hours gorging on hiker-box loot. Rambojuice eats an entire package of salami. After eating like reptiles, we decide there is nothing else to keep us here, and so we press onward. Uphill we climb for hours. My intestines begin cramping up, and here comes the flat poop. We are climbing a mountain, and the bathroom spots are nil. Good times.
We hike up and over Selden Pass, which is easy compared to the others. The mosquitoes at Marie Lake are wicked. Cooking loot from the hiker boxes at Muir Trail Ranch, we have pad thai and hot-sour soup. Best meal on the trail yet! In the morning, my sleeping quilt is wet from condensation. The walls of the tent hang loose under the weight of dripping water. We backpack downward quickly. Then the climb begins, up and up, switchback after switchback. And then it is down, down, seriously down.
A Ferry in the Mountains
We diverge from the PCT at Edison Lake and hike quickly to make the Ferry, which departs for Vermillion Valley Resort at 4 p.m. As we await, it begins to hail. Thunder booms across the lake. A pontoon docks and a load of hikers debarks. Quickly the crowd awaiting boards, and then it is a waiting game. We wait for the weather to pass. Backpackers are yelling from the woods: "Hold the Ferry!!" Their voices echo across the lake. We are amused.
The restaurant is closed, and the disappointment is thick. VVR is grilling burgers though, and we stay up late visiting with the JMT hikers, sitting around the campfire. The resort sells pies, and we devour a whole pie between the two of us. The showers work sometimes. After a hot shower, we sleep in twin beds in a canvas tent with 8 other hikers. It is heaven.
We take a zero-day, organizing our food and resting. All day we sit at the bar, drinking Gatorade and visiting. The JMT hikers have tons of questions for us. They are amazed by our daily mileage and light packs. We tell them we are slow PCT hikers, and that some have much lighter packs than ours. Restlessness sets in. I sit by the lake and stare out over the smooth waters; I miss the trail.
We grill burgers again. A campfire is lit, and we watch the stars. The restaurant is open in the morning. The pancakes are sour. Soon we are ferried to the trail and are slogging up to Silver Pass. It is covered in snow, and on the other side is a snow chute. We slide down, laughing.
Red's Meadow Madness
We are fighting over our pace as we descend from Silver Pass. My knees are sore, and the steps downhill are enormous. I try to keep up, but I fall behind. Rambo is hiking like there is a fire under his ass. He is frustrated by my slow pace. I am frustrated by his fast pace. We fight and then hug it out. We realize we are worried about having enough time to finish the trail before Washington gets snow. It is mid-August now.
We camp at Virginia Lake just as a thunderstorm blows in. The hike to Red's Meadow is uninteresting after all the beauty before it. I think we are Sierra spoiled. Red's Meadow Resort is buzzing with tourists. We board the bus into Mammoth Lakes. The ride is long and twisting. I have never gotten motion sickness before, but the crowded hot bus affects me. There are not enough seats, and I sit on the floor with my head down.
Sucked into Mammoth
Once in town, it is time to binge eat. We get a room at Moderne Hostel and hit up the pizza place nearby. Enjoying the bottomless soda refills, we sit for hours. How wonderful a chair is. That night we are awakened from our bunks by some obnoxious French tourists. They finally shut up after Rambo gripes at them. Moreover, the guy in the bunk near us snores and farts all night. Needless to say, we do not sleep.
The next morning we collect our resupply package and send home our snow gear. We are grumpy after the sleepless night. It is raining, and we decide to stay another night at the Austria Hoff. This place looks like Disney's take on Bavaria. The room is under the stairway, and we hear the heavy steps of guests traipsing up and down the stairs until late. It is hot, and there is no air conditioning. I prefer to sleep in my tent. It has been two sleepless nights now.
We are done. We need rest, and we need it now. Rambo calls the Westin Monache Resort and makes a reservation. My jaw drops and a smile crosses my face. This is going to be good. We check in early. The room has a fireplace. The bathtub has jets, and I have 3 pounds of Epsom salt. We wear soft robes and cook pasta in our kitchenette while watching Syfy. The bed is a cloud and sleep is silent and deep.
We are back on the trail and decide to take a little side trip to the Devil's Postpile National Monument. The tall columns of basalt rise high above us. They lean and stack in oddly-satisfying geometric piles. We hike through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The sun is leaking through the clouds, spilling rays onto the distant snow-covered caps.
We camp by thousand island lake. It is dusk, and we sit outside our tent looking at all the tiny islands dotting the blue waters. The mountains make everything look small. Tomorrow we will hike into Yosemite National Park. I dream of waterfalls and granite monoliths.
- Sometimes snow covers dangers, like a river or a crevasse. It is hard to know what is beneath. If you fall through, you could be seriously injured or even die. If you can and it is safe, try to stay on the trail. You can use the Guthook app to keep you on track. Do not just blindly follow footprints.
- Stop at Muir Trail Ranch and take advantage of the hiker boxes. They are gold!
- The Vermillion Valley Resort ferry comes twice a day. Be on time!
In the spring of 2017, we set out to hike the PCT. Hear our full story.