Sierras I

Sept. 2, Fri.–23.2 miles–Sierras I & J Sonora Pass

Fri. Sept. 2      Miles today: 23.2      Total so far: 1,947.4            Sierras Sections I & J     Sonora Pass

The wind blew hard all night, but that was good, for two reasons: 1) No mosquitoes!   2) Bill made a discovery.  He was so worried about his little foam sleeping pads blowing away in the night that instead of putting them UNDER the sleeping bag, he put them INTO the sleeping bag with him, and voila!  They actually work BETTER that way!

From where we were camped, we looked back toward the Yosemite High Sierras–dramatic and beautiful and rugged-looking in the early morning light.  I felt awed and amazed that we’d actually been able to walk through them, and my hat is off to the PCT thruhikers who made it through in June and July!  Then we turned and started to walk toward Sonora Pass, through a dull-colored, barren landscape, occasionally livened up by brilliant splashes of bright yellow and orage lichen on some of the rocks.  But mostly it was a drab gray-brown, cindery, clinkery mountainside, with patches of snow.   The wind was very cold, and blowing hard enough to push us around.  I wore my woolies PLUS raingear to stay warm.  We kept hiking and waiting for the sun to come up enough that we could stop and eat, telling our growling stomachs to “Hush up!”  But watching the sunlight slowly come to the peaks ahead of us was just beautiful.  After finally finding a sheltered place in the sun and out of the wind, we devoured our granola and mochas and marched on.  Up and over another crest, we found a still-gray world on the othr side.  Bill commented that it was a real “moonscape.”  We had to walk across several patches of snow, but finally came to one that was wide, steep, and icy.  We tried to walk on it, and realized, “This is too dangerous!  No way can we get across this!”  So it was rock scrambling time, as we clambered BELOW the snow field, and finally back to the PCT on the other side. 

Around the next corner of the trail, we found ourselves in a landscape that looked like a volcanic “layer cake”. The PCT travels along the base of the “cake”, then whisks through a gap.  There were still plenty of snowfields on the other side, but they were crossable, and we began to get views down into green, “laked” and forested Sonora Pass.  The PCT down to the Pass wound round and round; it did finally cross a creek, where we loaded up on water.  I had a hard time with the trail down–lots of little rolly rocks on a hard surface; it was like trying to walk on ball bearings.  I slipped and almost fell several times as a result, and was forced to walk more slowly, which made me feel very frustrated, since I was eager to reach the pass.  Boy did I cheer when we finally made it!

Well, all the SOBO’s who blithely assured us that once we were past Sonora Pass, “the trail will be easy” were sorta forgetful!  Right off the bat is a 1,000 foot climb back up to 10,500 feet on a trail that is often very steep and/or just a scratch across a slippery, steep hillside!  We stopped for lunch at a dramatic volcanic outcrop and enjoyed the rugged view.  It didn’t take too long after that to reach the top, which was the last time we’ll be at 10,000 feet elevation!  Another milestone, done and crossed!  From there came a 2,400 foot descent, on frequently steep and rocky trail, down to the East Fork Carson River Canyon.  It was very pretty, especially the trees, but discouraging  when my EXPECTATIONS had been set up for “nice easy trail after Sonora Pass.  Oh well, it’s another example of “Expectations are as bad as temptations.”  But near the bottom of the descent, when I was feeling frustrated by having to go slowly on the rough trail, a very large, double-rotored helicopter flew slowly overhead–great fun to watch!  We figured it was US Marines from their Mountain Warfare Training Center east of the pass.  Go, Marines!  Semper Fi!  We are free to hike this trail because you guys are willing to lay down your lives for us!  Thankyou!

Then we faced another steep 1,000 foot climb to the top edge of the canyon.  At one point the trail became so steep and rough and overgrown with bushes, etc.  that we began to be a bit worried.  “Is this the PCT, or did we somehow lose it?” we asked each other.  Ah, not to worry!  Shortly after, we saw “PCT” carved on the trunk of a quaking aspen tree.  Whew!  Eventually we did come to a MARKED/SIGNED trail junction, which is always a great sight when you’ve gone many miles and are concerned about “Where am I?  Am I still on the PCT?” 

We finished off the day by going around the cinder cone named “Peak 9500” and camped just below it.  The wind was blowing hard again up in the treetops, it was very cold, and we were extremely tired, but again very grateful to God that though our feet hurt from all the rocks and rough trail, we’re in good health! Before I go to sleep each night on the trail, I pray for our family, and tonight I also prayed for the Marines learning mountain warfare.


September 1, Thurs.–24.3 miles–Sierras I

Thurs. Sept. 1        Miles today: 24.3         Total so far: 1,924.2         Sierras Section I

Today was a special day!  We crossed the 1,900 mile mark, AND it’s our daughter Mercy’s birthday!  We are so proud of her–she finished high school in 3 years instead of 4 (her best subject was math), did a year of college before deciding she wanted some adventure instead of more school, joined the US Marine Corps and spent 4 years serving as an avionics technician, keeping those Marine pilots airborne! While she was in avionics school, she was nicknamed “IBM” which referenced both her math whiz skills, and her 5′ 2″ height (IBM = Itty Bitty Marine).  While in the Corps, she also learned scuba diving and rock climbing and spent 2 years in Japan at the Marine Air Corps base in Iwakuni.  After the Marines, she went back to college, got a degree in accounting, worked at that for awhile, and then decided she wanted to use her math skills at something where she was really helping PEOPLE, not just number-crunching.  So she applied to and was accepted at the pharmacy school of Oregon State University.  Her plan is to someday be a pharmacist aboard one of the “Mercy Ships” run by Youth With a Mission.  The ships are like floating hospitals that go to third world countries and care for the poor who have no doctors or hospitals.  Right now, while in pharmacy school, she is serving as board treasurer for a group called Love, INC (which means “Love In the Name of Christ”) which connects people in need of practical help with people who would like to provide help.   So Happy Birthday, Mercy!   We wish we could be with you today!

Well, Bill and I had a very happy morning, because last night’s ominous clouds did pass us by–not a drop of rain or a breath of wind all night.  Whew!  We bounced off onto the PCT into a bright 40 degree morning, stopping for breakfast at Wilmer Lake.  I was impressed with the nice work done to get the trail around the very boggy edge of the lake.  I guess it makes up for some of that horrid “cobblestoning”! 

The trail was kind today–nice and even, not too steep.  By midmorning, we were in Grace Meadow, with a very pretty river running down the middle.  We stopped for a rest and a Snickers bar, and I was studying the maps, trying to figure out the names of the mountains that ringed the meadow.  With surprise and delight, I discovered that we were sitting near the foot of Kendrick Peak!  What’s the big deal about that, you may ask?  Well, if you know anything about the “Lady Washington”, the first ship ever to arrive on the coast of California flying the AMERICAN flag, you’ll know that for some time her captain was a complex, fearless man named Kendrick.  He was a fascinating rascal–they really ought to make a movie about him someday!  Oh well, at least there’s a mountain with his name!

On we went, through beautiful wildflowers (where there were clouds of mosquitoes, even in September!!).  We climbed past Bond Pass till we reached large, blue, windy Dorothy Lake and walked almost all the way around it before stopping to cook lunch.  Bill wrote his journal notes, while I set up our two bear cans as a windbreak for my “kitchen”.  I have come to the conclusion that much as I detest the bear cans, they are good for three things: 1) Keeping food safe from bears   2) To sit on in camp    3) To be windbreaks for the  stove.  It was so windy by the lake, that I doubt I could have kept the stove lit without the bear can protection.

After lunch, we were up and over Dorothy Pass and OUT OF YOSEMITE!  We started cheering, “No more bear cans!  No more rangers!  Load the cans with rocks and throw ’em in the lake!  No more picky rules!  Hip, hip, hooray!”  A “cowlady” resting at the pass with her horse and dog commented, “You guys seem pretty happy!”  When we told her why, she said, “Amen!”  Not only that, but the instant the trail crossed the Yosemite border and into Toiyabe National Forest land, it went from horrid cobblestone to a beautiful raised DIRT trail, lined with rocks on either side to keep the dirt in place, winding through a granitic, bouldery landscape.  Wow, was it great to be able to walk on wonderful, wonderful DIRT again!  As we followed the winding, twisting trail, the landscape gradually switched from “granitic” to “volcanic”.  There was even a small, lovely canyon with a waterfall and wildflowers.  What more can you ask?

Through the trees, we began to get glimpses of amazing volcanic mountains.  Our goal was Kennedy Canyon, where we planned to load up on water for 10 waterless miles that included a 1,500 foot climb and 1,200 foot descent to Sonora Pass.  We reached the canyon, got water, ate supper and pushed on up through the forest.  We ran into a whole herd of Angus cows, complete with cowbells!  It sounded like a crazy cowbell symphony when they ran off! 

But pretty soon, the big climb took us out of the forest and onto increasingly bare mountainside, where the PCT makes LONG switchbacks up and up.  At one point there was an obviously non-official trail heading steeply up that looked like it might be a shortcut.  We stopped and debated whether to try it, but not being able to see for sure where it went made us hesitate, so we stuck to the PCT official trail  (Turned out later, it really was a shortcut and did reconnect with the PCT.  Oh well.)  The sun was almost down, and the wind was really blowing strongly.  The only place we could find to camp was a little slight hollow place at 10,500 feet.  We had to be REALLY careful as we set up our “cowboy camp” (didn’t DARE try to put up the tarp with such a strong wind) because the wind wanted to blow away anything we set out.  But the result of all the wind was a gloriously clear night sky.  We could see the Milky Way in all its glory–Psalm 19, for sure: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”  And what’s really cool is that one of the things God did when He made and positioned planet Earth, was He put us in just the right spot in the Milky Way galaxy that we can SEE the galaxy.  Our view is not blocked by anything.  We have prime “grandstand seats”.  If Earth were located elsewhere in the galaxy, we would not have anywhere near the glorious view.  I highly recommend the book “Rare Earth” by Halton Arp.  He really lays it out clearly what a miracle it is that there could be ANY planet like Earth, where life is possible.  Our perfect positioning in the Milky Way galaxy is part of that.  (Sorry, Star Trek fans–and I am one of those!–but Earth is the only planet where life is possible.)  Tonight, we had a glorious view that God made possible.