PCT Part 8, The Mountains Are Calling (mile 652 – 745)

Quick update on some of the people I’ve been hiking with. For the past week or so I’ve been hiking with Sunny and Ent. Sunny is from the Netherlands and Ent is from Switzerland. In a little bit Salsa would catch up to us too – I’d been hiking with him since the beginning. We all started the same day.

Also some of these days are going to be short because I want to write about gear and some trail culture things.

Day 50 (652 – 669)

Today we hiked out of Ridgecrest. It finally felt like the desert again just as we were getting to the mountains – hot and very exposed climbing all day but it was much better than cold and rain.

We also met up with some hikers we hadn’t seen in a few hundred miles – Loki and Spotlight and some others. I’d stayed with them in Big Bear and I always enjoyed their company so it was good to see them again.

We had a beautiful campsite by a creek under some trees but unfortunately there was a rude obese squirrel trying to steal our food all night.

Day 51 (669 – 694)

At this point we could basically taste the Sierras. We were just 30 miles away and every now and then caught a glimpse of ths snowy peaks in the distance.

We were so close that we pushed a 25 mile day just to get within striking distance the next day. Kennedy Meadows is a small community right before the mountains at mile 700 so reaching it is a big accomplishment. It means you’ve completed the desert and you’re on your way into the High Sierra which most people consider to be the most beautiful section of the PCT. We’d be getting to Kennedy Meadows tomorrow.

But for today we had to hike through some more hot desert and burn areas. Our campsite was by a creek again which was really nice.

Look at this tan line from my trekking pole.

Day 52 (694 – 702)

Look at this scorpion chasing me after I rolled up my tent. I dont think he was happy about me taking away his warmth.

The hike into Kennedy Meadows was really cool since we were following an actual river for the first time in 700 miles.

700 miles down! And boom, we were in Kennedy Meadows! It felt great to finally be finished with the first and longest section of the PCT. We were all very proud of ourselves for this accomplishment.

We followed the road for about half a mile then hiked into the very iconic Kennedy Meadows General Store. This is the main hangout spot for hikers waiting to go into the mountains.

It’s tradition to get a round of applause from the hikers waiting at the store as you hike up in acknowledgement of completing the first main section of trail. It felt awesome to hear everyone clap for us.

Then we got a ride in a pickup to another store/restaurant nearby where we all had resupply packages. Somehow 10 of us fit in this truck.

Since we were going into the mountains we needed special gear to get through safely. For most people this included an ice axe and bear canister. I had both of these shipped to me plus a much warmer inflatable sleeping pad which you’ll see in pictures coming up.

The bear canister is a “portable” bear proof container for food storage. Basically you put all your food and scented items in here so that a bear doesn’t rip them and you out of your tent at night. It’s over 2 pounds and super bulky so it’s definitely not fun to carry but it’s required in the mountains.

The ice axe is a special tool designed to prevent uncontrolled slides on snowy slopes. Basically if you find yourself sliding down the side of a snow covered mountain you can use the ice axe to theoretically slow or stop your slide by digging the head into the snow. This is called a self-arrest.

I also got an amazing care package from my wonderful girlfriend Jenna – tons of snacks, homemade cookies, and healthy stuff which I’d probably never buy myself but I really needed. Plus some new socks which I also needed desperately. I was going to be set for the next week.

Before going to bed I met back up with Salsa! I hadn’t seen him since I left my group back near LA close to 300 miles ago so it was great to reconnect right before the Sierras.

Day 53 (n/a)

Since today was just a zero day of hanging around eating and drinking and spending far too much money I figured it’d be more interesting to talk about the upcoming section since it was basically the only topic that us hikers were discussing.

We’d just finished the first section – 700 miles of southern California desert. The next section would go through roughly 400 miles of some of the most rugged, beautiful mountains in the country – the Sierra Nevada range. Famous parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon are all located in and around the Sierras.

Only this year the Sierra received record levels of snowfall – literally tying 2017 for the highest level of snowpack since they started measuring.

California Sees Biggest June Snowpack in Nearly a Decade Thanks to Spring Storms

The mountains were absolutely buried in snow and they’d be way more difficult to get through than on a normal snow year like 2018. Dangerous snow covered passes, raging river crossings, and constant snow travel present many challenges. The trail would be so difficult in fact that almost half of everyone I talked to was either skipping the section entirely or going up north to hike back down as the snow melted. It’s hard to overstate the level of fear, anxiety, and excitement that was in the air about the next section.

For myself I know I want to have a straight footpath north from Mexico to Canada. It’s what feels right and I am fully committed to it, even in this incredibly difficult year. Unfortunately so many people were getting caught up in the hysteria and fear-mongering and I was getting frustrated. We hadn’t even seen the conditions ourselves and yet people were already getting worked up and spreading bad vibes.

In 2017, the other record snow year, there were 2 fatalities and many injuries on the trail so of course I am feeling nervous but I know if I go in with a good group and stuck to my limits I would be fine. And I have a good group with Salsa, Ent, Sunny, and Slingshot.

Regardless, I knew this section coming up might very well be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I came out here to be challenged and to discover my physical and mental limits. If I turned back now I’d be failing before I even tried. So at least I’d try. That was the least I could do and if necessary I could always turn back.

Anyways, enough of my soapbox. To sum things up, Kennedy Meadows felt like a hiker festival. There were probably over 100 hikers camped out waiting to go into the mountains. The mood was all over the place but the primary feeling was definitely excitement, if tinged with a little anxiety.

Oh yeah, I had some massive pancakes.

A little impromptu barbering with pocketknife scissors.

Day 54 (702 – 717)

Well today Salsa and I hiked out of Kennedy Meadows into the Sierras. Sunny and Ent would be right behind us and Slingshot was just ahead.

Here’s Salsa all loaded up with his Sierra gear.

We followed the river a bit more and it was absolutely raging. We wondered if this is the kind of dangerous crossing we’d need to do up in the mountains.

At least we had a bridge this time.

We climbed up for a couple thousand feet and the landscape changed almost immediately. We finally left the desert and entered an incredible mountain meadow landscape surrounded by tall pines.

We climbed some more and got great views of the mountains we’d be entering soon.

Again we met up with the same river we’d been following on and off for a while. And again, thankfully there was a bridge.

I can’t really describe how refreshing it was to be in this new environment after being in the desert for so long. It was literally a breath of fresh air. Plus you just can’t beat views like this.

We had maybe one of the best campsites and dinner spots as well. We set up our tents under some trees right across from the bridge and had dinner way up above on a little rock outcropping. It was incredible.

Day 1 of the Sierras was absolutely incredible. Then again, we hadn’t encountered any snow yet. This would be the real test.

Day 55 (717 – 734)

Well today we hit the snow that we were promised – after a little bit of climbing of course.

We basically followed this incredible forested creek all the way up.

Up up we went some more until everything was covered in snow. Snow travel is super difficult and slow. Add to that being out of breath hiking at altitude and going uphill and we had a tough afternoon.

Salsa was wearing crampons – basically super heavy duty spikes you wear on the bottom of your shoes for better snow traction. They work great for traction, much better than my microspikes. Unfortunately they are more dangerous if you do end up slipping in the snow as seen here.

The spike punctured Salsa’s lower leg maybe a centimeter but the wound was clean and Salsa is literally a doctor so all was good. He bandaged up the wound and was walking down the mountain in minutes. It was good to have a doctor on our team.

Look at the mountains in the distance! We’d be in them soon. After coming off this mountain we descended into another awesome meadow. I really like meadows if you can’t tell.

We took a look back at the first mountain pass of the Sierras. One down, many more to go. And this one was an “easy” one.

We climbed up the next mountain just a little ways until we hit snow and then made camp. I was setting up my tent when I looked to my left and caught Ent stretching and I just had to take a picture.

Day 56 (734 – 745)

Today we’d be leaving the Sierras to resupply for the next much more difficult stretch. This first part was just a bit of a warm up for the real mountain experience.

Way down there is Owen’s Valley. It used to he a giant lake but then LA began piping all the water out for the city so now there’s only a few scattered lakes left. LA still gets its water from here.

We hiked down to another awesome meadow only this one was covered totally in snow. the mountains looked impressive in the background.

The snow made for some great photoshoots.

We got a ride down from the trail to the town of Lone Pine from a woman who was skiing up in themountains. She was a wildlife biologist and her husband was a park ranger so she knew all about the area. It was an incredible ride down to the desert, probably one of the most terrifying and scenic drives of my life.

Just look at the view of the mountains from the hotel pool. Imagine waking up every day to this view.

The Sierras are truly unbelievable when viewed from the eastern side. They just rise up so sharply from the desert floor that you cant even really comprehend it. I certainly couldn’t comprehend how I’d be walking through them for 300 miles but I was excited.

Day 57 (n/a)

Lone Pine was a neat small town with probably the best views of any town I’ve been in. We got breakfast at a great local joint with seemingly every other hiker in town.

I also went to the gear shop and spent way too much money getting last minute supplies including a new jacket (zipper broke on my old, cheap jacket).

As I wrote this we are finalizing our plans for hitting the toughest section of trail by far. In just a few days we will be going over Forester Pass, the highest and one of the more dangerous parts of the trail. We might also climb Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48.

This next week will be exciting and we are all ready to get out there.

4 thoughts on “PCT Part 8, The Mountains Are Calling (mile 652 – 745)

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