Day 84: And We’re in Tahoe!

We caught our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe as we came over a rise in the trail in the early afternoon, lurking as a giant blue blur in the distance. Even from far away, I felt a happy familiarity: here we are, back in a place I’ve been to many times…but this time, we’ve hiked there from Mexico. That’s kind of crazy, and makes me feel proud.

And, to tell you the truth, the last few days have been feeling more and more like Tahoe, and less and less like the High Sierra we’ve (sort of) left. Tahoe’s a slightly gentler place, more full of hills and small mountains than great granite domes, and our trail’s been the same way — plenty of up and down still, but broken up into finer chunks, which feels much better.

Today we came over Carson Pass, which was also incredibly familiar because

Day 83: Disconnecting and Reconnecting

I’ll never forget where I was when… I heard the Supreme Court made marriage equality the rule across the land. (A moment I found deeply moving…justice and equality!) I was standing on top of a mountain about forty miles south of Lake Tahoe, looking across into a distant valley, wondering if maybe this meant there’d be cell phone service…

And I know all of you found out three days ago. It’s weird, in this day and age, to be disconnected from nearly

Day 82: Of Wildflowers, Green Hills, and Familiar Passes

We don’t leave California for another 640 miles yet, but today it felt like we were in a completely different country. There may be a severe drought in most of the state, but everything we saw today was lush, lush, lush. Ever since we dropped below 10,000 feet soon after leaving Sonora Pass, the hills have been green, streams crisscross the land, and there are so many wildflowers. We’ll hike along, the trees will open up into meadow, and suddenly the hillside looks like a movie — the kind of movie that might make you think, “No place actually looks like that…they just did that for the movie.” Except we’ve been there, and can say yes, it’s real…it’s absolutely real.

This section of trail is less packed with familiar places or even big-name destinations than Yosemite, by far, and yet

Day 81: Sonora Pass is Magic

If there’s one well-kept secret on the trail so far, it’s Sonora Pass. This intersection of the PCT with CA–108 — one of several beautiful, two-lane highways through the Sierras — is absolutely gorgeous, incredibly accessible, and seemingly known about by almost nobody. For any Californians reading, if you want an amazing day hike or weekend backpacking trip, just drive CA–108 to where it intersects the PCT and head either direction on the trail for as long as you want. Based on what we’ve seen the past two days, you truly can’t go wrong.

Even beyond that, part of the reason we liked Sonora Pass so much today is

Day 80: Awakened by Bears, A Thousand Miles, and Such Different Beauty

We awoke with a start this morning, just before six A.M., to our tent shuddering. I thought maybe one of the side poles had fallen over, but, peering out from underneath, everything looked intact. Then we heard a noise like a bear can falling over.

There, about fifty feet away, was a juvenile black bear, trying to get into our bear cans. (Just to be clear: even juvenile black bears are very large creatures.) And, after further looking around, there was not one bear, but two — the second one wandering around near our tent, curious about everything. We put two and two together and realized the sound we’d been awakened by was a bear, tripping over one of our tent lines. (Our tent/tarp has very lightweight, very thin lines that extend quite far from the tarp…human beings trip over them all the time.)

It’s probably good that it wasn’t until later,

Day 79: Begone, Demon Hellspawn!

Maybe you think you’ve seen lots of mosquitoes before. If you’ve been to Alaska or northern Minnesota at the right times, maybe you have. But, otherwise…the experience we’ve been having the past couple of days is probably unlike any other you’ve had before. Imagine great clouds of mosquitoes, hovering above the trail, just waiting for anything warm-blooded to come along so they can descend on it. (Now’s the point where you think I’m exaggerating…but I’m not.) They’re everywhere, there are incomprehensibly many of them (like: how in the world can they possibly find enough mammals to support them?), and they just don’t stop, ever.

If you’re hiking and you don’t stop, and you’re going through one of the less-horribly-infested areas, you can actually be OK for a while. It takes mosquitoes a little bit of time before they realize where you are, so you’ll be past before they react. But if you stop for even a short time, you’re lost. Making camp is an exercise in insanity: from about two minutes in, they’re just all over you, and certain things you do — like cooking, which produces CO2, which is what attracts them — just make it all the worse.

We defend against these awful creatures in several ways:

Day 78: What’s Ahead, Nobody Knows

We continued pressing north through Yosemite today, making our way through some surprisingly — and impressively — strenuous hiking. I’m honestly not sure whether it just feels strenuous because there are fewer Big Goals to conquer (like all of the high passes from earlier), or if it really is just that difficult. Although our ascents and descents aren’t for as long, they seem steeper than ever, and we have to slow way down on both of them: the ascents to keep catching our breath, and the descents so that we don’t fall over. Nevertheless, Yosemite continues to be a truly gorgeous place, with so much of the backcountry in such solitude. We might see a total of ten people in an entire day here, which makes it feel a lot more like “getting away from it all” than Yosemite ever has for me before.

The PCT rumor mill, we’ve discovered, is an incredibly powerful machine. Case in point:

Day 77: The Unknown Side of Yosemite

We didn’t get to fully appreciate Glen Aulin until this morning, as we were leaving. We left by going through the main camp — something we bypassed on our way in last night — and oh, man, is it ever amazing. It’s not so much for the facilities as it is that you wake up with enormous, grand Tuolumne Falls in your front yard. They rang the breakfast bell, and we were just dreaming about staying there, snug and warm with a real roof, coming out to enjoy breakfast with that waterfall in front of us…and not having to hike anywhere at all. It sounded amazing. (Of course, the sign on the bathroom, making it clear that there were No Backpackers Allowed — that we were to use our own pit toilets instead — did make it clear exactly where we fit in.)

Alas, we did have to hike somewhere, and that somewhere was about seventeen miles north. This part of Yosemite is worlds apart from the places that most people see. For those who have never been to Yosemite, especially in the summertime, Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, and other famous attractions are

Day 76: Back Into the Unknown

Today we launched ourselves back out onto new trail, leaving behind all we knew of the John Muir Trail for all those points Further North. It’s exciting to be onwards to new things. (Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it: since yesterday midday, we’re now in Yosemite National Park…which, judging by the crowds here, every single person on Earth has visited at least once, you included!)

It was also a day of respite and resupply, at least in the middle of the day. After hiking six miles to Tuolumne Meadows (which, today, meant hiking from 6:30 AM–9:00 AM), we got a chance to have breakfast at the small grill there…and then pick up our packages. This was exciting because we had not only a resupply bucket with food, but new shoes for me, new pants for me, and lenses for her iPhone for Bucket.

My new pants are the product of a revelation:

Day 75: The Last Breath of Familiarity

This is the longest day of the entire year. (It’s also Hike Naked Day, but that’s another subject.) I’ve always been highly sensitive to sunlight — I love being out in it, need lots of natural light even when indoors, and rue the decreasing daylight hours in fall. Every winter, I think: next year, I want to spend as much of the time outdoors as possible in the summer — to soak up every bit of daylight that I can. Well, what better way to do that than out here? We’re outside all the time, for all practical purposes. Even now, as I lie in the tent writing with the sky still plenty light, I can tell I’m out in it. It feels wonderful to experience nature this way — the way humans have for nearly their entire existence. It feels like the way things should be.

Ironically, I’m also trying to get to sleep as early as possible…because I didn’t get much sleep last night at all. I remember thinking as I went to bed: is it going to be the wind, or the mosquitoes?

Hiker Midnight

Hiker Midnight is a special time of day.

By Hiker Midnight, most people are asleep in their tents, some for almost an hour.

By Hiker Midnight, you’ll rarely hear more than a whisper from hikers — it’s time to keep quiet.

As Hiker Midnight approaches, you’ll see hikers scurrying to get ready for bed, hear the puff-puff-puff of inflatable pads being blown up, see the winking of headlamps turning off.

About eight hours after Hiker Midnight, you’ll hear the whooshing of inflatable pads deflating, as the first sign that the new day of hiking is starting.

Every hiker on the trail knows all about Hiker Midnight, starting from about the second week — if not sooner.

Hiker Midnight is 9:00 PM.

Day 74: Unexpected Beauty

For nearly the entire length of the John Muir Trail, the PCT is coincident with it — in other words, the two trails follow the same path. But for fourteen miles, the two diverge. Today was the day we encountered that path, and, because we’d already done the JMT, we decided to take the PCT fork instead. I was expecting the PCT to be not particularly interesting here, largely because the JMT does an amazingly good job of finding absolutely everything that’s beautiful out here and taking you through it.

Instead, however, we found something astonishing: a walk along a ridge with views to die for, all afternoon long. Even better,

Day 73: A Friend from the Real World!

So far, everybody I’ve spent time with out here has been other PCT hikers. But that changed today, when my good friend Peter — from back in the “real world” (or maybe just the “alternate world”) — came out to meet us. It’s been truly wonderful to have his company on the trail (along with his friend, Rich) as we hiked along today…and even more impressive that they managed to find us way out in the wilderness.

It’s not like we didn’t plan for all of this; we’d

Day 72: A Gentler Kind of Beauty

Every time we leave a hotel, I feel like I just want to stay in bed for hours longer and continue eating at restaurants and sleeping in a real bed. Yet once I’m hiking for even a half-hour, I get excited to be back on the trail, outdoors, and look forward to sleeping in our tent somewhere Out There that evening. It’s remarkable how fast that transition happens, and probably part of the evidence that I really do like doing this crazy thing that we’re doing, down deep.

As we’ve moved from the southern half of the John Muir Trail to the northern half, just as I remembered, the

(Almost) Out of Touch

Just a quick note to readers: I’m at Vermillion Valley Resort, deep in the Sierra, and Internet access here is incredibly limited to the point where I can’t really post pictures (and hence no blog posts, because who wants blog posts without the pictures?). (For technical folks, this is a satellite system with crazy latency and a 100Kbps speed cap, at $8/hour.)

It may be as long as two more weeks before I manage to post again, from South Lake Tahoe — hopefully not that long, but who knows? I just wanted to put this point online so that everybody knows I’m OK, and that all is well here.

We’ve been seeing some truly incredible stuff and I have many tales to tell…stay tuned!

Day 71: Our Favorite Remote Outpost of Civilization

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) is a place completely unto itself, especially these days. While it used to, as far as I can tell, thrive primarily on people coming to fish on Lake Edison, these days it’s clearly overwhelmingly a way station for hikers on the PCT and John Muir Trail. So what’s it like?

In some ways, VVR is like its own little city.

Day 70: The Last Pass Before Pie!

We woke up this morning just the other side of Selden Pass, our last pass before we got to the outpost of civilization called Vermillion Valley Resort. Selden Pass is the first pass northbound that’s noticeably lower than the others — it’s 11,000 feet instead of 12,000 feet. That might not sound like a big difference, but it makes the climb something closer to 2,000–2,500 feet than 3,000–3,500 feet, and that is a big difference. And, from hiking the John Muir Trail, we know that the passes just get easier and easier after this…which, as you might imagine, sounds really good right about now.

Before the pass, where we woke up this morning, and particularly right after the pass, we had

Day 69: Ho-Hum

After yesterday’s show of every kind of beauty you could ever find out here, everything we saw today seemed to pale in comparison. Yet that’s only by comparison; the places we were today are still part of the most beautiful stretch of the entire PCT. We’re camped tonight on a small hillside above a gorgeous mountain lake, watching the sun slowly set on far-off mountains, seeing hundreds of fish splash about in the stream below. In this part of the world, there’s no such thing as “bad”.

One major transition today: