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August 30, Tues.–24.3 miles–Sierras I

The songs they sang at the ranger campfire last night had a great “lullaby effect”–we slept like logs!  When the alarm went off, we woke up to a VERY cold morning (30 degrees). When I was a kid and we camped here, we used to build a campfire in the MORNING because Tuolemne Meadows is so cold.  I guess it hasn’t changed.   My brother and I used to get the fire going nicely and then make a 3-course breakfast for ourselves: hot chocolate first, then bacon sandwiches (bacon cooked over the fire), then pancakes (also cooked over the fire; it gives them a sort of smoky flavor!!)  The rest of the family never got up till WAY later, and I think they had cereal or something; I don’t know, because my brother and I at that point were usually down messing around in the Tuolemne River.

Well, mornings are STILL cold in Tuolemne!  As we walked out of the campground, I noticed that cars parked in the open had ice all over their windshields.  Brrrr! As we hurried along, trying to get warm, I took a few pictures of the familliar sights i remembered from when I was younger.  When the sun finally made it up over the mountains, we found a “sunpatch” down by the Tuolemne River where we could eat a quick breakfast.  It was still so cold that even the sunlight didn’t feel warm yet.  On we went, still “wearing our woolies”, till we came to another place on the PCT that brought back memories for me–a stretch of trail that’s just acres of granite.  “Dad,” I remember asking, “how do we know where the trail goes?”  “Just follow the ducks.”  “What are ducks?”  “A stack of rocks.”  And there they still were–ducks to guide us across the granite! 

Finally we came to the most special place of all–the bridge over the Tuolemne where the river begins to plunge into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolemne.  It was at this very bridge that I first heard of the “crazy but cool” idea of going from Mexico to Canada in one season.  I NEVER ever dreamed then that I myself would do it.  Wow!  My family never walked any farther along the trail than this bridge, because at that point we’d stop and go fishing for quite awhile before returning to the campground.  So once Bill and I crossed the bridge and headed onward, I was in “unknown territory”.  The trail at first follows the roaring, cascading Tuolemne, and goes past Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.  Then the river “took off” downcanyon, and the PCT began to wander peacefully through a “forest park” that eventually opened out into a large, long meadow that reminded me of a small scale Tuolemne Meadows.  It was beautiful, and the trail was easy–no rocks!  We met some PCT SOBOs who were headed for Kennedy Meadows.  They told us, “Don’t worry, once you get past Sonora Pass, the going is WAY easier!”  Encouraging news, that!

Then it ws up, up, up through forest to a crest, and as we were going down the other side, we met a lady park ranger in what seems to be the official backcountry uniform, which includes shorts instead of trousers, plus the carrying of a shovel.  She was polite, but firm, and insisted on SEEING our thruhiker permit and our bear cans.  I guess we passed the test OK–she complimented us on how far we’d come, and left.  Whew!  We heard that the only place on the whole PCT where you are GUARANTEED to meet a ranger is Yosemite.  No kidding.  That made two of them so far!

Our lunchtime goal was Return Creek, about which we’d heard many horror stories, but hoped that since it was late August, it wouldn’t be too bad.  Weeeeelllll, it was still an impressive bit of water!  The current is so strong that it has actually sculptured the rocks in the river and along the shore.  I was a bit nervous about crossing it (the procedure involved some big boulders), but with Bill’s help, all went well.  I always stop once we are safely over these nasty river crossings, and thank God for helping me be brave, and for helping us to make it safely.

Next was a 1,000 foot climb up over a ridge, and then down to beautiful Miller Lake.  Wow! It had TWO sandy beaches, clear water, and a lovely setting.  If we weren’t thruhikers, we would SO have stopped there!  Another climb, and we met another SOBO, Twisted Sister, who was headed for Walker Pass.  All of these folks basically did the same thing–hiked as close to the Sierras as they could back in May/June, then flipped up to Canada, and are now heading back to their various “finish lines.”  Again came the assurance, “Once you get past Sonora Pass, the trail is eeeasy.”  

Shortly after we met Twisted Sister, we found ourselves at the begining of “BIG canyon coutnry.”  We knew that for the next few days, we’d be going multi-thousands of feet up and down, beginning with a 1,100 foot DOWN into the Matterhorn Canyon.  What a canyon!  It is just like Yosemite Valley, only on a smaller scale, and minus the waterfalls.  We got water and ate supper there and just soaked up the gorgeous views.  Then it was time for the last project of the day–to reach Wilson Canyon and follow it up toward Benson Pass.  Wilson Creek, running down the canyon, turned out to be very pretty, with lots of wildflowers.  

We camped for the night just beyond the last ford of the creek, where the trail began its final switchbacks up to the pass.  We could have gone farther, but not knowing whether there would be any good campsites beyond the pass made us decide to stop there.  And, we were VERY tired from carrying packs loaded down with a heavy load of food.  A stretch of 5 days worth of food is not bad, but man, once we have to go for 6,7, or 8 days, the packs are horribly heavy.  Oh well,  every day the food bags grow lighter, and  we were very glad to be on our way towards Sonora Pass and easier going! 

 

July 15, Fri.–15.9 miles–Washington I

Friday, July 15    Miles today: 15.9     Total so far: 1,145.2   Washington Section I                              

Today we got to sleep in on a nice soft bed, eat pizza leftovers from last night, then to the motel office for their “continental breakfast” of coffee, juice, melon and pound cake.  Next on the agenda was food supplies from the grocery store, with a walk down Packwood’s main street looking for a mosquito net for Bill’s hat and more lithium batteries for the camera.  No luck on either, but we did see a VERY old hotel, with a banner that read, “Experience history–only $29 a night”.  Wow!  I would love to stay there sometime!  And the views of Mt. Rainier from Packwood are truly beautiful.  Everywhere we walked in town, you could glance up, and there was Rainier,  just “overhead”.   But hiker hunger was calling, and we headed to a restaurant for a THIRD breakfast.  Hobbits have nothing on us! 

Thoroughly stuffed, we loaded up our packs and went out to the road to hitch a ride back to White Pass.  But it was a discouraging business!  Several people wished us well, but were not going to the Pass.  Over an hour later, a van from Adventure Trek  (a group that takes kids on incredible mountainclimbing, kayaking, etc. trips) stopped and asked, “Are you guys PCT thru-hikers?”  When we said yes, they said, “Hop in!”  There was just room for us plus packs to fit in with the young, dedicated group of leaders riding in the van.  They were getting ready for a group of kids due to arrive in a couple of days for the “Pacific Northwest Adventure Trek.”  Talking to them, I could see that they love the outdoors and love kids and are well-trained.  Great combination! 

The Trekkers dropped us off at the PCT and we headed into the woods with 5 days of food.  The trail was very damp, and a lot of work had been done to raise it, drain it, and even surface it “corduroy style” with cut logs.  THANKYOU to whoever did all that work–it is so much better than slogging through a “mud trail”.  We met a number of horses and riders, all very friendly.  One group had 7 or 8 riders total, and 4 happy dogs, which were playing in a lake when we came by.  The riders cheered for us when they found out we were thru-hikers, and said we were the first they’d seen who “weren’t just kids.”  Well, that was pretty encouraging!  The only DIScouraging thing is that because the PCT here is so damp, the horses really do make a mess of it.  Back home in Sonoma county, CA, they close the trails to horses when it’s been raining and wet.  I guess that’s not possible here–it’s always damp.  But damp also means GREEN–and is it ever!  Green grass, green trees, lots of flowers, and lots of  little cute “mosquito-breeder ponds.” 

By the end of the day, we’d met no other hikers–only horsemen.  The sky was clouding up and looking like rain, and the mossies were out in full force to the point that just to eat supper, we had to go into “mosquito mode” with Bill huddled under the net tent, and me in full raingear and headnet.  But before dark, we found a nice dry, flat place to set up our net tent and camp.