32: Sonora Pass

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PCT thru-hiker crossing snowfield on Sonora Pass

Sonora Pass

After a good night's rest, we stuff our faces at the restaurant.  Sitting on the back porch, we watch the pen full of mules and sift through the hiker box.  We have rid ourselves of our cumbersome bear canister.  We laze around for lunch and stuff ourselves with burgers and french fries.  I throw in a salad for good measure.  A man offers us a ride back up to Sonora Pass.  His name is Jeff.  The road is twisting and long, and Jeff does not see well.  It makes me nervous.  People ask if we worry about the dangers of the wilderness.  The truth is I worry about being on the road more.  I have heard that the majority of hiker deaths are caused by cars.

He drops us off and tells us we will have a hard time getting a hitch into Markleeville for our next resupply.  We begin climbing, as we always do after stopping for resupply.  The wildflowers are everywhere, and we pause to take pictures.  Something is different, and so we stop to discuss it.  We will not be able to finish the trail, and it is in this moment that we decide to speak it aloud.  There is not enough time.  Large portions of the trail in Oregon are closed due to fires.  We will try again another year.  There is no need to hurry along now.  We will enjoy what time remains for us on the PCT.

We stop early to set up camp.  There is no reason to make miles now.  We decide to start a campfire.  Something we rarely do.  There is a sense of relief between us.  We enjoy the fire and our dinner, relaxing late into the evening.


We wake to the sound of rain on the tent, and so we sleep in a bit.  Once we are packed up and in our rain gear, we begin climbing.  We are in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.  The thunder is rumbling.  The PCT is steep in this section with many opportunities to trip on the loose rocks that clutter the path.  Water crossings are countless as snow still melts from above.  Our shoes and socks remain soaked.  The terrain is dramatic, and we hike up and down along the jagged edge of the mountains.

The sound of a hundred cow bells fills the air.  I think of Will Ferrel and Christopher Walken and the SNL sketch "more cowbell."  The cows are enormously fat and on the trail.  When we are within 10 feet of them, they spook and run off in their clumsy manner.  The path is muddy.  Climbing up the saddle, we turn to see Noble Lake nestled in the mountains.  Our energy levels are good.  Now that we do not have to cram all our food in the bear canister, we are getting enough calories to sustain our exertions.

The weather has cleared now and strong gusts hit us as we descend along a lava rock ridgeline that is badly eroded by snow and rockslides.  When we finally arrive at Ebbett's Pass after 23 miles, we get a hitch from Wayne right away.  He has a spacious double-cab pickup.  Wayne is fun, and he drops us off at the Wolfcreek Bar.  We order a big dinner and get a room at the adjacent lodge.

Muffincheeks and Whitewalker

It takes us a while to get a hitch the next morning, but finally, a fisheries biologist named Doug stops for us.  He is on his way up to Monitor Pass for the first day of the fishing season in the brood pond.  There is a fire though, and they have closed the road there.  Doug drops us at Ebbett's.  The scenery is changing again.  We hike on the ridge of lava mountains.  It feels like Borderlands.  We do an easy 15 miles and set up camp.  Another couple is close by and Rambo goes over to chat.  Soon we are all around the campfire sharing stories and laughing.

Muffincheeks and Whitewalker are hiking the PCT in sections.  This year they have hiked the Sierras.  Next year they will hike the desert.  They are awesome people and friends from the start.  The next morning, we hike with our new friends up to Carson Pass.  Time passes quickly as we talk and walk.  We camp in a meadow and stay up until well past hiker midnight.

September has arrived.  We have been on the PCT for four months now.  It is a holiday weekend, and the trail is filled with hikers.  We are getting close to Lake Tahoe.  It is going to be a madhouse.  In 10 quick miles, we have made it to the parking lot.  Whitewalker yogis a ride into South Lake Tahoe where we get a room at the Mellow Mountain Hostel.  We stuff ourselves with pizza and lie around the hot room.  The town is packed with people.  I feel like I am drowning.


Muffincheeks and Whitewalker are ending their hike in Reno.  We want to visit the buffets, so we ride into Nevada with them.  The Burning Man people are everywhere.  Their cars are thick with white dust.  Their decorated bikes hang from roof racks.  The casino asks me to sign a special liability form when we check in.  I tell them I am not a "burner", and they relent.  We gorge ourselves on the buffet and then sleep in a king-sized palace bed.

In the morning, we share another great meal with our good friends.  It is time to say goodbye, and we hug.  We will see each other on the trail again someday.  The ride back to Tahoe is short.  The weather is dark, and the rain is coming down.  The post office has sent our box to the wrong location, and we go to the grocery for resupply.  We decide to wait until tomorrow to hike out, but when tomorrow comes we are ready to go home.  And so we have decided to end our hiking adventure for now.

The feelings are confused.  I feel disappointed, but I also realize that we will come back.  The trail has taught us many lessons, and we will try again with these new lessons in mind.  We take the bus to Sacramento where we board the Amtrak to Seattle.  The train is in Oregon when we awake.  The sun is up, but we cannot see anything.  Oregon is on fire, and the smoke is so thick it bars our view.  Our friends collect us from the station in Seattle.  We are glad to see them.  It feels like we left only yesterday, but also it feels like we left years ago.  How will we fit into the world again after all of this space and freedom?

Thru-Hiker Tips:

  • Do not stop in South Lake Tahoe unless you are willing to brave tourists and crowds.  If you decide to resupply there, the bus system is helpful.  The city is spread out.
  • Kennedy Meadows Resort is awesome.  It is clean.  It has everything a hiker needs, and the staff is friendly.

One Response

  1. Whitewalker
    | Reply

    Tahoe and Reno were a bit of sensory overload, but you must admit the free pizza in Tahoe was pretty awesome!

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