Day 53: Mather Pass

Started: Tentsite (811.3)

Ended: Middle Fork Trail Junction (827.4)

Total Miles: 16.1

Achievements: Mather Pass (12,093 ft.), Trailblazer

Today was both an exhausting and amazing day.

The hike up Mather Pass was fairly simple. The path up was not technical. It was just graded switchbacks. Once we were over the top, it became much more complicated.

The trail itself was covered in snow. The treachery of making our own path verses trying to follow the quite dangerous snow covered trail was deemed to be equal. So instead of following the trail, Fish Tank and I bounded down the cliff face, jumping from boulder to boulder. The F’Tank is quite athletic. I am much more entertaining to watch.

After about 30 minutes, we rejoined the trail having avoided most of the snow field.

Then the hike changed. Hiking the PCT, you are used to moments of awe. You will turn the corner and look out into infinity. Today, we spend most of the hike after the pass in awe. It is a shame that I had to walk on past what I saw.

We committed to the script, so we hiked 16 miles. It was too much, and we are concerned about the snow situation at Muir Pass, so we might slow down and camp just before the pass. We will have to see.

Day 52: Pinchot Pass

Started: Woods Creek Suspension Bridge (799.8)

Ended: Tentsite (811.3)

Total Miles: 11.5

Achievements: Pinchot Pass (12,106 feet), Hike Naked Day

Sorry readers, I did not partake in the June 21st tradion, International Hike Naked Day. Just saying.

We crossed the 800 mile mark!

Soon after we visited the Woods Creek Waterslide. The river crosses over rock. It carved what looks more like waterride. It was amazing.

Compared to yesterday, today was a pretty easy day, if your idea of an easy day is hiking seven miles uphill, climbing a 12,000 foot pass, and then hiking 4.5 miles to camp.

We met a couple from Switzerland, and they helped us realize that what makes these climbs hard are the steps. I know what you are saying. “There are steps on the trail?”. Yes, in some places steps have been cut, but they are not uniform. On some switchbacks, these steps are thigh high and you have to lift your whole body and pack. For Glen Pass, the approach consisted of 205 thigh high steps.

I know you are now asking, “Did you really count them?”. Yes. Yes, I did. It was the only way to keep my mind off of my burning calves and quads. There is only one way up, and the sooner it is done, the sooner I can enjoy the view.

Today’s Pass was completely different. It was a more traditional series of graded switchbacks. We eat those up. I was conserving energy for the shoe to drop as the inevitable one to two hours full body lifts would start, but they never came.

On the way down, Fish Tank decided to take a jump in a frozen lake. As a Wisconsinite, I’ve already polar bear-ed, so I didn’t need to do that again. I learned my lesson the first time.

On the walk down, I met the other hiker named “The Machine”. It was a remarkable conversation. I hope to meet her again.

Tomorrow is Mather Pass (12,106 feet) and a trip down the back called the Golden Highway. It is a 16 mile climb down. Should be interesting.

Day 48 & 49

We are spending two zeros in Bishop. As we arrived on a Sunday, we needed to stay an extra day to get to the post office.

I have sent home my ice axe and microspikes. We bought food for eight days. We will rejoin the trail tomorrow.

This is another section where there will be no updates until we get to Mammoth Lakes.

We are itching to go.

Day 47: Resupply in Bishop

Started: Campsite (786.0)

Ended: Bullfrog Lake Trail (788.5)

Side Trail: Kearsarge Pass

Total Miles: 2.5 PCT + 9 Bonus

We had quite a hike out of there. The 2.5 miles of PCT was straight up and takes us most of the way up Glen Pass at 11,949 feet. We then left the trail onto the Bullfrog Trail only to climb over Kearsarge Pass at 11,760 feet.

The view on this side trail was excellent, but that was too much work that didn’t count towards Canada.

To get to Bishop, 40 miles away, first we hitched from the Onion Valley Trailhead into the town of Independence. Then we hitched to Bishop. We showered, ate, called my family, and slept.

Day 46: We Face Forester

Date: June 15th

Started: Bighorn Plateau (772.7)

Ended: Tentsite (786.0)

Total Miles: 13.3

Achievements: Crossed Forester, Posthole Master

After a night of eating calories to lighten our packs now that we will make town one day early, while adjusting to 11,400 feet, we packed up.

Turns out that I was right to sleep higher up. The approach to Forester Pass was easy. We had little difficulty getting to the snow fields. We used both our ice axe and microspikes to move quickly. At the lake up there was still frozen, we took a more direct route.

It all seemed easy. Too easy. You see, Forester is a bit tricky. We followed the trail, but we really didn’t know what we were looking for. We’ve seen pictures and videos, but none of that puts it in perspective.

Even this photo doesn’t do it well. That white patch of snow at the top is the pass, but it is about 1,500 feet up.

The technical climb was exhausting. At 13,200 feet, my pack weighed a metric ton, but I did not suffer and high altitude issues. I could not run far without loosing my breath, but I could walk just fine.

After a hour of technical climbing, the Fish Tank and I celebrated after crossing the pass with a yell that echoed for miles.

But, you see, Forester still had some tricks up her sleeve. Turns out that getting down was much more dangerous that climbing up.

To get down, we had two choices. We could take the high road where the trail was. It was a combination of rocks and postholing. The other choice was to glissade, a controlled slide down the mountain using your ice axe like a rudder and brake.

We decided to take the high road. That was a mistake. I went through a couple of times, including one where I fell completely. My legs were wedged under a boulder up to my chest. It knocked the air out of me. I had to take off my backpack and climb out backwards. I was just asking to break an ankle. I ended up glissading anyways. Fortunately, I’m from Wisconsin, so sliding on my butt in snow is no big deal.

It took three hours to get to a snow free part of the trail, so I could assess my injuries.

I played catcher. While it looks bad, after a game, my legs often looked like that. We hiked down to 9,900 feet to a campsite where we could make a fire and dry off for the night.

Forester got the last laugh, but as I have now passed over the highest part of the trail, everything is down hill from here.

Day 45: Target Forester

Date: June 14th

Started: Rock Creek Camp (760.5)

Ended: Bighorn Plateau (772.7)

Total Miles: 12.2

In the Sierra Mountains, many thru-hiker become discouraged because their once 20 mile days turn into much smaller days. Although it says that we hiked just 12 miles, I took enough steps to walk over 17 miles.

Climbing and high altitude make big miles difficult.

Today was meant to climb Mount Whitney, but as we are not going to do that, Fish Tank and I will turn our eight day adventure into a seven day. Getting into town and talking with my family is becoming a priority.

Our goal today is to get to the Forester base camp, so we can attempt to climb her tomorrow. It is a 14 mile day. We encountered our first river crossings. Nothing too difficult.

As we walked closer and closer to Forester, I really began to worry that I was strong enough to do it. Forester is at 13,200 feet. Can I function at that altitude? The approach to Forester is very long. As my worry turned more into dread, we ran into a deer that was not afraid of us.

That is when it occurred to me that maybe following conventional wisdom might be wrong. The last climb before the decent to the base of Forester takes you to Bullfrog Plateau at 11,400 feet. Instead of walking the easy two miles down, what if we camped there? There is grass, plenty of water in a lake, and spending the night there might help me become acclimated to high altitude. That and the sunset and sunrise were some of the most amazing sights I have seen yet.

So, that is what we did.

Day 43:

Date: June 12th

Started: Death Canyon Creek (730.8)

Ended: Stealth Camp (748.7)

Total Miles: 17.9

After yesterday is late push we did not leave until 7:30 a.m. We simply needed the rest.

The first 3.2 miles was a 1,600 foot climb. We had a few of these lately and I hoped that we would smash through it. We didn’t get to the top until after 12:30 p.m. That is less than a mile per hour.

We were dragging, so we were easily distracted. First, F-16’s were practicing bombing runs in Owen’s Valley. In a few cases, they flew right over us so close we could see the words on the bottom of the planes clearly. Our vantage point was amazing.

I had taken only two liters of water for the 10 mile water carry. Normally that is enough. I drank through one liter to get to the top, so I was motivated to get to the next water source. There I waited for everybody else.

After dinner, we agreed that we needed to put in more miles. Three miles by noon is no way to get to Canada. We hiked into night. We found a flat spot when ee could not take another step and called it a night.

After starting off very slow, we really picked it up for a good day.

Day 42: High Altitude

Date: June 11th

Started: Monache Meadow (716.5)

Ended: Death Canyon Creek (730.8)

Total Miles: 14.2

Now that I have put into all these miles, I have learned a couple of things that I really dislike about it.

First of all, there are people you meet who become friends quickly, but because you walk different speeds, you never see again.

Second, there are awesome things to see, but you never get to investigate. Our campsite, Death Canyon Creek, was amazing. Someone built a fireplace out of a large boulder and some rocks. Unfortunately, I was so tired, I forgot to take a picture of it.

However, by now you have a family, and that makes it much more bearable.

This is my trail family. Starting at the top, this is Hoover, Fish Tank, me, Feinschmecker and Chef.

There were some significant climbs today and the air is getting thing. Good practice for things to come.

Day 41: Stupid Mattress

Date: June 10th

Started: Kennedy Meadows Camp (704.6)

Ended: Monache Meadow (716.5)

Total Miles: 11.9

My third air mattress lasted exactly six days before it popped. I dreamt that my air mattress had failed only to awake to that reality.

That delayed us. Our trail angels took us to the outfitter, but it didn’t open until 9 a.m.

Once we got going, it was clear we were no longer in the desert.

Let me tell you, that was such a relief. After two months of carrying five to six liters of water, we left camp carrying absolutely no water. None. We just walked and filtered when we became thirsty. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, as this in bear country, we are now carrying a bear canister to hold our food. As this is a long carry, we are carrying eight days of food. As we will run into snow, we have microspikes and an ice axe.

Come to think of it, our packs are as heavy as ever.

I continued to stretch my legs out so that I might be able to keep up with Fish Tank. I made Monache Meadow by five. It is one of the popular places to camp on the PCT. I was able to set up my tent on — get this — grass!

That was a good thing as I popped my air mattress.

Day 40: Boy Is This Heavy

Date: June 9th

Started: Kennedy Meadows Camp (704.6)

Ended: Kennedy Meadows (702.2)

Total: 2.4 miles

As we are camping up trail, we decided to slack pack South to the General Store. These are miles we won’t have to do tomorrow. This means that technically today is a nero not a zero.

We showered, did laundry, and tried to fit all this extra gear in my backpack.