From Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) to Soda Springs (Interstate 80) - about 220 miles
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it is commonly called, is over 2000 miles! It stretches from Mexico to Canada, and few people ever travel its entire distance (especially in one continuous trip). So most people select a section at a time. We chose the section from Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) northward toward Interstate 80 at Sugar Bowl ski resort, traveling about 220 miles across some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world. By the time we finished our journey, we discovered a terra incognita or unknown territory to most of us while we crossed only 5 major roads. We also developed a clearly different perspective of our busy world. With time to clear the mind, we began to share an intimate relationship with these mountains by absorbing a piece of "God's country" that the legendary John Muir explored over 100 years ago. In fact, I thought about John Muir often and his passion for the natural world on our odyssey across these mountains for nearly a month.
Day 1 - Storm before we started
Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin - 6 miles
We have been waiting and planning for this pre-determined date of July 14 all summer long. Now we are really here. The scenery is spectacular at Tanaya Lake and "Clouds Rest," which is a sheer face of granite across the way. We finish our pleasant picnic and then clouds began to accumulate. Checking into the ranger station, the staff recommends that we enter through the tree cover to protect ourselves from lightening strikes. As our gracious shuttle drivers nervously watch us get ready to leave for two weeks, we shoulder our 50 pound backpacks. A few pictures are taken and then we are off. I glance at my partner with a grimace and declare that we are finally here! Yet to think that we will not be picked up for another two weeks and over 100 miles away at Ebbetts Pass is truly daunting. Regardless of the distance and looming thunderstorms, we know that we must fully embrace this challenge now and remain confident in our planning. We are here.
As we continue down the flat trail, we feel prepared. I have in my backpack weather-proof clothing, a warm Capeline top and pants, fleece pants and pull-over coat, a raincoat, gaiters, 2 pair of sock (I wish I had more), a hat, a solid (broken-in) pair of boots, 12 pounds of dehydrated food, a bear hang (essential), a portable stove, fuel, a water filter, lotion and balms, lightweight Teva-type sandals, a sleeping bag and pad and other miscellaneous stuff, like a first-aid kit and ear plugs. Am I missing something, I think to myself??? We also brought along some cards and toys, which we will find essential in the days to come.
The first few miles are slow, really slow. I keep readjusting my Lowe Contour IV backpack and playing with the waist belt. My pack is really heavy even though I am used to this weight as a former wilderness ranger. The Tuolumne River gracefully comes into view, meandering through the meadows with extraordinary reflections of Yosemite's mountain peaks. Within a few miles (maybe 4 or 5), the river crashes down into what is known as the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River on our way to Glen Aulin (6 miles from the trailhead). We rest at a popular lookout above this tumultuous drop and our first real views of the surreal backcountry come into view. In our view we see many jutting peaks and granite faces dappled by tones of gray as beams of sunlight filter through the shifting clouds.
By evening we arrive at Glen Aulin, cross a footbridge into what seems like a 19th century fort. It's Fort Glen Aulin to us. Nearly all of the campsites are taken, but we manage to find a secluded one all the way at the end. By dark we attempt our first bear hang, which is probably the most memorable part of "Fort Aulin." We struggle to hang our food with a heavy metal pole onto a tall rack with hooks, but the pole is not long enough to reach the hooks. It is a real comedy of errors, but finally we land a hook.
Day 2 - Sick and exhausted
Glen Aulin to McCabe Lake - 9 miles
Our day begins late because we need to get accustomed to rising early and spend time adjusting our backpacks. This is a difficult day too, because we encounter a good deal of gradual climbing, especially at the end of the day. Besides getting used to the weight of our backpacks, the altitude and physical excursion wears on us. For lunch we cook dehydrated soups and nibble on other snacks, already wishing we had more. We encounter at least two spectacular meadows with breathtaking views and a deep-cut horse trail running through them. Soon we see several pack trains with the Marlboro Man riding by us to some unknown destination. I think to myself, I wish these were our horses to punch through the mosquito-ridden meadows and carry our heavy weight backpacks. Much of the mule trains are run by the National Park Service to supply the interior camps and maintain an excellent trail system. In fact, horse travel seems to be the norm here than foot travel.
Near the end of our day we come to a fork, the left trail leads to Virginia Canyon and the right to Mc Cabe Lake nestled below a 12,000 peak. To travel right was a mistake for our exhausted souls because by the time we worked our way up the 1 mile trail to the lake I got sick, probably in part by altitude and exhaustion. By dusk I was not able to eat anything while I lay in agony in our tent. The sunset was glorious but that's all I remember. Hint: I would veer left and downhill next time.
Day 3 - In the midst of the Sierra Nevada Mountains
McCabe Lake to Matterhorn Canyon - 10 miles
Today, fortunately I feel completely recovered and "spring-loaded" to trot down the trail to the previous junction and continue down into Virginia Canyon. This didn't take long, and at the bottom of this steep canyon lay our first river crossing, which we had read can be treacherous, especially in the spring time. After all, we were right at the source of melting snow. The higher shore lines seemed to indicate high water just weeks before (like in June). At this point, I ponder the thought of crossing this creek any earlier. A long rope could definitely help in the early summer. For us, however, we search not long before we find a safe passage.
Off come the boots and into the frigid, aching water we cross. The Teva-type sandals help us, but still the ice cold water is painful. After the river crossing, we continue to weave our way up a side drainage and then over "the usual two dozen switchbacks," as a our guidebook puts it. But really you climb to a plateau and then continue to a 10,000 foot meadow and lake (somewhere near Miller Lake). Eventually we spot Matterhorn Peak and Sawtooth Ridge, perfectly framed by a small, "U-shaped" hanging valley. This is one of our most memorable sights of the afternoon if not the whole trip. Next this small hanging valley drops deep into a broad canyon floor, which is our final destination for the day -- Matterhorn Canyon.
Above us a thunderous roar fills the air for endless minutes as jet traffic flies by. Most of us are oblivious to this nuisance, but jet noise is a real problem in the backcountry, which is otherwise a tranquil place reminiscent of 19th Century California. Granite canyons, it turns out, reverberate sound all around us for a long time. After a steep clip down this canyon, we come to a place that is filled with beauty and sereneness. It is a place that speaks to me, whispering to me that you are now deep in the Yosemite backcountry. It is perhaps the same place that John Muir himself enjoyed during his youthful days. Looking around, I think Muir must have know every distant peak and canyon intimately. I wish I had more idle time to explore.
It is now fading into twilight as we set up camp and make a small fire. Sitting by the warm fire soon the cobalt blue sky turns to darkness. Beneath the shimmering stars, we talk about our journey thus far. We are nearly 20 miles and feel as if we are finally here, deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Within an hour, I bury myself into my plush sleeping bag and gaze one more time up at the stars.
Day 4 - Mosquitoes at 10,000 feet and the Beautiful Benson Riviera
Matterhorn Canyon to Benson Riviera - 10 miles
Today we know our grand destination--Benson Lake or more popularly known as the "Benson Riviera." This is a "must see" stop for anyone and a place worth spending a couple of nights camping. The next few days are not going to easy for us, however, because much of the trail traverses prominent ridgelines and deep, glacial-scoured valleys. Traveling on this part of the PCT, we know it is not uncommon to ascend 3000 feet in a couple of hours and then descend this elevation gain immediately after a difficult haul, all to do it again over the next ridgeline.
We hit the trail earlier than the days before. In fact, we make a habit of getting up at 6:00 a.m. to be on the trail by 7:00 a.m. From the bottom of Matterhorn Canyon is a lone, hard "push" to the top of Benson Pass. The better part of our morning we spend working our way up a broad valley that surely lay beneath ice just 30,000 years ago. In places it flattens out into broad, level troughs and then narrows in other places. The final push is across a snow field as we emerged looking onto the other side of Benson Pass. We now have a completely new set of mountains to study. Near us is a smaller version of El Capitan (known as Volunteer Peak), which the trail appears to meander beneath.
Resting at breezy Benson Pass, a 10,000 foot saddle, mosquitoes stake out territory on our calves as I try to whisk them away. A string of horses passes with a quiet nod by the riders. They keep plodding along to a place where we just came from. Word on the trail is that a large horse camp exists in the meadows ahead of us next to Smedberg Lake. It is almost all downhill now until lunch. We eat in the company of mosquitoes, red ants and lots of searing sunshine. We rationed 4 crackers each and started boiling water for soup. It 's dehydrated red beans and rice (1 of 4 flavors), and it is the least favorite choice of our soup menu because the hardened vegetables never seem to soften or get hydrated. You eat what you have, however, and we didn't have much to spare. Ahead of us lay a hard, toe-jamming descent down to camp. We anticipate arriving at the "Benson Riviera" early enough for a swim.
Along the way we encountered an interesting person, a "through hiker" as PCT travelers are commonly called. He introduces himself as "Dessert Man," who is on his way to Canada, the entire distance of the trail! Thick glasses hang loosely on his nose and he is wearing a tattered pink T-shirt soaked in sweat. As he tells us about his day, apparently his pace is much faster than ours--as much as 20 miles a day. We gulp in envy (and despair) because before of us stands one of the grandest views of Seavey Pass, which "Dessert Man" says is known to be a brutal haul. We gulp again. Taking advise from this seasoned veteran, we are concerned about tomorrow, especially after these past few grueling days because life has not been physically easy for us on the trail. He asks us how far we traveled in a day, and we reluctantly tell him about 8 to10 miles. Before long Dessert Man is far in front of us as we lumber along down to Benson Lake. This is one of the longest 3 mile stretches yet before we stroll into camp just before the sun sets.
We set up camp on one of the most beautiful mountain beaches ever --the Benson Riviera! Quaking aspen ruffle in the wind as II sink my weary feet into the soothing sand. Looking out onto the deep azure lake, it feels marvelous, simply exalting, to be standing on this sunny and mosquito-free beach! (The wind keeps the bugs temporarily at bay as they clutch to the grove of trees behind us, only to lurk later in the night). Walking along the shore we message our feet and ease our thoughts.
That night Dessert Man returns, living up to his name and promise. Earlier he had promised us a tasty dessert and now he holds a steaming-fresh piece of banana bread in his hands. We eat every crumb of it and soon go to bed to rest for the next day. We are determined to get up earlier than usual in order to surmount the daunting Seavey Pass, which we had heard so much about by now. The guidebook even says that it is long haul, containing "seven false gaps" or false skylines that deceive the average hiker into believing they are over the summit when there is more uphill to come. We soon learned the meaning of "false gaps" throughout our odyssey because so many of them exist along the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Day 5 - Good-bye to the Benson Riviera hello Mosquito Pit
Benson Lake to Wilma Lake - 15 miles
By 7:00 a.m., before anyone was up and cooking breakfast, we say good-bye to the Benson Riviera. The air is cool and the trail empty. We have beaten the group and the early morning light filters through the trees. An ancient incense cedar, emblazoned in the morning sun, marks the beginning of our climb. It is wider than any cedar I have seen yet as were many of the grand old trees spared from logging within this sanctuary. A few paces later a startled grouse ruffles it feathers and flies off. Mosquito greet us unkindly as my hands are set in motion like a horse switching its tail. If only I had a tail! We meander up the mountain, slowly but steadily. As the book suggests, we see one then two blue horizon line or "false gaps." Yet surprisingly, it takes only a couple of hours as we reach the top by 9:00 a.m. Time, it seems, passes more quickly in the morning.
We descend into a narrow canyon and soon run across our first visitors of the day. Without saying a word the woman puts a pair of headphones on my partner's head as she listens to the stereophonic music of Mick Jagger. We miss the luxury of music and I can see how this device would help pass the time. They tell us about the mosquito frenzy at Stubblefield crossing (the lowest elevation at 6,000 feet) and about the terrain to follow. Trail advice is helpful and I find it amazing how many stories circulate so fast along this strung out route. By lunch we have traveled nearly 9 miles, our best mileage yet, and we settle down near a clear, sunny opening near a creek. As we conduct our same routine of boiling water for soup, Dessert Man comes down the trail and whips out a jar of peanut butter and tortillas. How can he haul this kind of real, heavy food around (including bananas!) without tiring? We had dehydrated vegetables and fruit, which were one of our greatest pleasures!
We leave first and by time we reach the Stubblefield Creek crossing we meet up again with Dessert Man. The water is waist high and cold as we take pictures of one another including Dessert Man in a blur as he fastens his boots quickly to avoid getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I barely have time to snap a picture and head out myself. And the worst was yet to come! By the afternoon we are heading up another prominent ridgeline that takes up most of the day. Like mules we plod along, back and forth, swatting at the beastly bugs and heating up against the southern slope exposures. Desert Man is now long gone and we never see him again. He and others have told us about another character who is traveling 20 to 26 miles a day attempting to break a record! Indeed this jack rabbit of a hiker is now behind us, almost running past us. Soon I see him throw down his pack, whip out a stove and warm up dinner. His strategy was to eat dinner on the fly and use the final twilight hours to put in the miles. I succeed in snapping a blurry picture of him.
We are about to set a record ourselves. Nightfall comes late (about 9:30) this time of year, and despite the sore muscles and aching shoulders, we decide to forge ahead for a total of 15 miles this day. I can't imagine hiking 10 more miles.
One story worth noting is the worst mosquito story yet at Wilma Lake, where a small ranger station exists. If it were not for the full body armor of raincoats, pants and hats, I'm sure that we would have lost more than a pint of blood down in that swirling pit of mosquitoes. We could have been sucked dry of blood! By night fall we ascend slightly above the lake basin on a nice slab of granite rock. The stars are extra bright that night as we warm up next to fire deep in the Yosemite wilderness.
Day 6 - A Day of Early Rest
Grace Meadows to Dorthy Lake - 9 miles
Weary from the previous day, our goal is much less lofty today. We want to at least reach Dorthy Lake by midday and we know the terrain is on an even-keeled incline through meadows to the northern boundary of Yosemite. Besides the mosquitoes, (which I can't help but mention because they dominated our moments), Grace Meadows was ripe with wildflowers and greenery as well as surrounded by snow speckled ridgelines. We work our way up to a broad, linear valley that has none of the ups and downs of the previous days. For lunch we set up a tent even though it is hot. We do this to enjoy some solace and rest from the bugs. By early afternoon we reach the isolated Dorthy Lake and see no one this day; we are nearly 57 miles from our trailhead and 20 miles from Sonora Pass. I wade in the calm lake with my raincoat on (guess why?). In fact, I discover a trick: if I put my hood on and don't move much, along with the luck of a gentle breeze, mosquitoes clutch onto my impermeable fabric and not onto my skin. Likewise, by standing in the water, my feet and calves are protected. Now it is peaceful to watch the ripples fan out from small trout nibbling on bugs. For a few moments, it is paradise. To be honest, however, we are not able to enjoy the scenery or fresh air much because of mosquitoes problems. In fact, we spent much of the day in the tent.
Day 7 - Over the Hump
Dorthy Lake to Kennedy Meadows - 8 miles
Dorthy Lake lies at the saddle of two valleys. This watershed boundary not only symbolically divides our first section of the trip in half but also marks the official boundary between Yosemite and Toiyabe National Forest. Here is also a natural, geologic boundary line. We are about to leave the granitic, impermeable soils of Yosemite and encounter the volcanic, drier soils from now until the Desolation Wilderness (near Lake Tahoe). This means fewer mosquitoes because they breed in wet conditions, and this news is more than a welcome change because our backs are swollen from mosquito bites. We expect today to be an easy one with less than 10 miles to go until Kennedy Meadows, much of which is downhill.
After crossing several brooks and entering the tree cover, we encounter a few bug-weary travelers. They are wearing full mosquito nets. I thought this is nothing compared to what lies ahead for them.
It's now lunch time as we rest in peace having traveled 7 miles already. More and more we start to see people and soon run into a family playing near a small waterfall pouring over basalt (lava). By 2:00 p.m., after a gradual climb up Kennedy Canyon, we set up camp early again. To go any further would put us on top of the Leavitt Ridge and expose us to the weather, which is actually quite warm (I suppose we could have camped on the ridge with limited water and camping spots). Camping below is more logical. The next day is essentially a mandatory 10 mile trek over the ridge, but some may be able to easily camp on the ridge. That night we eat our favorite dish, garden burgers and prepared to rise early the next day. That night we also calculated that we can possibly reach our halfway point (Ebbetts Pass) earlier than expected. My partner and I dream about peach cobbler and chocolate fudge as well as the simple things in life like music or a comfortable bed.
By now, camping and the cleanup process becomes a refined science. We create an 8 point mental chore list that we know must be finished before we go to sleep:
1) clean dishes
2) consolidate food and all smelly items (that bears love)
3) brush teeth and also put with smelly items
4) hang food and smelly items
5) put all equipment, and personal belongings near camp
6) filter water for next day
7) clean up tent (we pack from inside the tent to contain stray items)
8) go to the "outhouse" before bed
Day 8 - On Top of the World
Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass - 9 miles
We wake up early today to ascend Leavitt Ridge, which I have been anticipating since we began our odyssey. It is the highest point of our trek, in fact. After packing and heading up the broad jeep trail, I see the old PCT along a dangerous and snowy north-facing slope. This reminds us about traversing snow fields today without an ice-ax, but we are assured by others that we don't need one. The only potentially hazardous spot is near Sonora Pass right off the highway. It is a north-facing, shaded slope with a steep traverse and plenty of snow and ice left over from winter.
As we hike up the barren slope we can begin to see more and more of the Yosemite backcountry as we rise in elevation. An old two tracked Jeep trail meanders us up to a gentle, rounded ridgeline, until less than an hour we are on top of the world. This is definitely the highlight of our trip, looking back on the carved and jagged landscape of Yosemite. It is fascinating to study the landscape with my binoculars and ascertain where we have been. In the distance, toward the east and the Walker River, lies a deep, inviting canyon. To the southeast, I spot a prominent razorback ridge, a bit like Half dome but only sharper and standing alone. I can see the snow-covered Emigrant wilderness to the west filled with glacial lakes and volcanic rock once scoured by ice and alpine glaciers. It is hard to move from this vista point because one's eyes could indulge for hours on potential hiking routes and future trips through these mountains and valleys. But the trail takes us along the crest for several miles. Soon we continue along to peer down upon spectacular Leavitt Lake. It is a birds-eye view of a circular lake, some dots of juniper trees and toy-sized cars. Past the cars and people lies the Great Basin or high "steepe" desert devoid of the coniferous forests we have hiked through in Yosemite. Like a mouse tail, Highway 108 fades into the distance. We feel like we are on the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, looking both at the western, lush and forested side while also gazing upon the eastern dry side lying in a great rain shadow.
We roll along on a fairly level and undulating trail until we cross more snow fields dimpled with "snow cups" and larger depressions from the melting snow below our feet. We have no problems crossing the snow fields because we are careful to place our feet -- especially on the steeper slopes where you could potential slide down the mountain. I stop to drink from the fresh snowmelt that is crystal clear and clean (I'll take my chances here), and before long we set up for lunch. I pull out the stove and place it on a craggy rock and begin to boil water at 11,000 feet. In the blazing sun it is nearly 80's (Fahrenheit) and we know that it must be scorching hot in the great Sacramento Valley below. We avoid getting sunburned by resting in the shade as we gaze out onto the eastern dry landscape running for miles without an obstacle.
Soon we were off and eventually I see the Stanislaus River drainage and it tawny bluffs. In front of us stands the "Dardanelles" along the northwestern horizon like a crusty volcanic mesa. I am familiar with these rock formations because you can easily see them driving up Highway 4 toward Ebbett's Pass (or Bear Valley / Mt. Reba ski resort). Incidentally, they are quite spectacular to see in the winter time. Sonora and Stanislaus Peak are also prominent landform features directly in front of us, which we will soon discover are steadfast beacons to mark our progress along the way. For several days, off and on until Ebbett's Pass, we are able to spot these pyramid shaped peaks.
We arrive at the final switchback descent--Sonora Pass--sooner than we expected (about 6 or 7 hours). Highway 108 is clearly visible with many cars and people below. Now is the moment of truth. We did not bring ice axes because we were told the only real threat was Sonora Pass right off Hwy. 108, but not in July. In front of us is a giant bowl on a north facing (shaded) slope that the PCT traverses back and forth until you reach the bottom. (An alternative exists by going directly down the western slope, like the handles of a crescent shaped dune, which is less steep, more direct, and in the sun as far as I can tell).
In July we had really no major problems with Sonora Pass (9,600 feet). I slipped on an patch of ice and caught myself; this slip, however, made me realize how dangerous this route could be just one month earlier. Regardless of the danger, I wish that I had taken the alternate route because it looks much faster down.
At the bottom of Sonora Pass we run into our first encounter with a moving automobile in a full week. We are truly amazed by this invention... that people just sit on their butts, push a peddle, and then are whisked away without lifting a finger. How envious we were of this effortless means of transportation. Yet like timid deer, we cross the road as not to get hit by one of these moving pieces of steel and proceed up the sagebrush slopes. On the north side of the road there are few people or families armed with sleds and dogs, so we decide to camp not too far from the highway. We know that ahead of us is a fairly steep, craggy route above us leading into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. As the sun sets we finish dinner and crawl into our tent. The bugs are next to nil, nothing but a few ubiquitous ants and gnats, so we are able to spend most of our time outside.
Day 9 - Winding down
Sonora Pass to East Fork of the Carson River - 9 miles
This morning we try a cross-country short-cut and lose the trail. Every time we try to find a short-cut, in fact, we end up getting lost and losing time. The trail is far to the west of us and we begin to traverse steep, volcanic bluffs. As we ascend, we have excellent views of the Sonora Bowl, which we descended yesterday. Within an hour and a half we begin to enter a new river drainage (East Fork of the Carson) and soon see a suitable camp spot (Wolf Creek Lake) as we work our way through large, broken pieces of granite and patches of snow. Along the way, we encountered some real obstacles, namely snowbanks, that can make this route impassable early in the season (an alternate route exists). As our guidebook says, you quickly drop below 10,000 feet and never reach this elevation again on your trek north to Canada. (Dick's Pass in the Desolation Wilderness is quite high at over 9,300 feet)
We are now in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness speckled with an incredible array of wildflowers, especially near moist creeks and seams. All along the path is red paint brush, purple and yellow lupine, deep blue and pure white flowers in fantastic groupings. The trees change noticeable as well as we drop in elevations, from whitebark pine to hearty conifers, red fir and quaking aspen. This day is almost all downhill along a linear river drainage. We see virtually no one until later near a popular camping area. We arrive early, like 1:00 p.m. and inspect the aspen trees with names carved into them. From all of the graffiti I wonder if there is an easier way to access this camping area, such as from the bottom of the canyon. We enjoy warm beams of sunlight, then wash ourselves in the river and spend most of the day relaxing. Later in the day I spot two hikers that look like a pair of western outlaws strolling into camp across from us. For some reason I am wondering if they are escaped convicts or murderers.
Day 10 - Wildflowers and fluttering aspen leaves
East Fork of the Carson River to Wolf Creek - 12 miles
We met the imaginary convicts the next day, who turned out to be harmless "through-hikers" on their way to Canada. They were averaging 20 miles a day. Most of the morning is spend getting out of this river drainage. By late morning we ascend through several false gaps and staggered little valleys to arrive at a heap of basalt (known as Boulder Peak). After this long haul we begin to descend into cow fields, barbed wire fences and open meadows. The fields are covered with "mule ears," which are large velvety leaves with yellow flowers in the middle; they are found everywhere. Water begins to become sparse until by lunch we settled upon a small pond (Golden Lake). At this point we realize that we can be out of the backcountry in two days; so we eat one of our dinners (because our lunches were Donner Party rations) and are ready to go.
After thoroughly enjoying stroganoff pasta and fruit bars, the sky begins to gather clouds. As soon as we reach a saddle to descend into the Wolf Creek drainage, I look behind me to see dark, ominous rain clouds behind us. Then we hear thunder and feel rain drops touch our face. With no trees or cover around us, we begin to trot along to find cover among some patches of trees. We stay beneath a patch of trees for or at least a couple of hours until the thunder showers begin to blow by us. Once the storm ceases we see a rising column of smoke (presumable from a lightening strike) across a broad, carpeted expanse of trees; a helicopter soon hovers in the distance. We continue on into the early evening, seeing some fresh bear scat and descending into the next water source, Wolf Creek. We are cautious about filtering water directly from the creek because we are told that microscopic volcanic ash and pumice clog water filters; so we chose another source. Trail note: bring extra water filter cartridges because you will most likely need them to insure safe drinking water, especially in cow country. In the relatively gluttonous tradition of dinner, we fix monstrous garden burgers that night and calculated that tomorrow we would actually be at Ebbett's Pass by early afternoon. This was three days ahead of schedule and our rendezvous pick-up, so we would have to hitch hike to our destination. We are excited to get going tomorrow morning.
Day 11 - Hump over and into Cow Pies, Cloudy Skies and Muddy Waters
Wolf Creek to Ebbetts Pass - 9 miles
This morning we plan to walk out of the wilderness and onto the pavement, so we hit the trail by 7:00 a.m. as usual. Early on we cross many meadows and pass the small lake of Asa. Slowly we traverse along the western slope with great views of the Dardanelles and popular Highland Lakes (which you can drive to). We spend nearly an hour on a steady and straight grade with a PowerBar break in between. Within 2 hours we are at the small saddle overlooking Noble Canyon ahead of us. It is a long canyon flanked by volcanic rim rocks with open meadows with Noble Lake in the middle. Tents are noticeable and we can tell this is a popular place for weekend backpackers. Looking back we can see how far we have come, gauging from the diminishing size of prominent peaks, such as Sonora Peak. As we pass through a narrow gate and ponder the moment, I suppose it symbolizes to us the dividing line between imminent success and past uncertainty. Within hours we will reach our halfway point, nearly 110 miles from Tuolumne Meadows.
Soon the PCT skirts Noble Lake and continues down the canyon. But unfortunately the way out is not down this canyon, but back up the other side, traversing the canyon sides and then over into the next open area. This turns out to be an exposed grunt for nearly two hours. But by noon we have punctured our way into civilization along the narrow Hwy. 4 route. We walk down to a popular fishing reservoir (Kenney Reservoir) to seek a ride. At first no one will pick us up. I know we look dirty but we are an innocent-looking pair of stranded backpackers. Eventually a young Bulgarian couple, by the name of Barney and Margarete, are generous enough to give us a ride about 40 miles away. Barney is no dinosaur but a mad driver bent on bolting out of the woods as fast as he can go. Armed with a radar detector and sheer determination, Barney rockets us to the Dorrington General Store in lightening speed, and needless to say, he scares the hell out of us. We are eager to be on our feet again without a doubt. At the store we load up on junk food, such as ice cream and chocolate, and head to a cozy cabin just up the road. Turning on the TV is a mistake because within a day we hear about downed passenger planes, exploding bombs and an insatiable appetite for violent entertainment.