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 that it’s the first trail magic we’ve had in hundreds of miles! (Part of this is because it’s also only the second road we’ve crossed in hundreds of miles, and the first was deep inside Yosemite National Park — not a place rangers would welcome trail magic.) Today, we found the “Sonora Pass Café: Open only 2–3 days per year”, run by the wonderful Mr. Owl, from Palo Alto. He stuffed his Volkswagen chock-full of goodies — bananas, strawberries, coffee, Coke, beer, cookies, even a dart board — and drove the four-and-a-half hours up here just to set up for these few days, giving hikers what they wanted and needed. We were welcomed with a “Sonora Pass Cookie”, a chocolate-chip cookie covered in whipped cream and topped with a cherry. (I have no idea if this would taste good in real life, but it sure was amazing out here.) He also had a pre-printed banner made up letting everybody know we’d hit the 1,000 mile mark; check out the photo above!

We sat down, ate and drank, and chatted with other hikers as we also took in, and made use of, the second PCT-related feature at Sonora Pass — this one we were expecting. Sonora Pass doesn’t have easy access to towns or resupplies; you can either go to Kennedy Meadows (the northern Kennedy Meadows, not the other, better-known one on the PCT) or Bridgeport, both of which are difficult to hitchhike to, and they’re both expensive. However, this year, the Sonora Pass Resupply Service started up. For a moderate fee, you mail him your resupply box, and he shows up on the date you tell him with it, right at Sonora Pass. It makes resupplying a lot easier, and, going in there, we were very glad to know we’d have an easy pickup.

What we didn’t realize was just how prepared he really was. I knew the service was in the first year of operation, but I didn’t know whether it was run just by someone who thought it’d be a good business, or someone who’d been a serious hiker themselves. Well, turns out it was the latter, and this means the guy running it really knew what hikers need. We had trash disposal, lots of clean water, power for our phones (incredibly precious out here), and, to our surprise, access to a fully-stocked store in the back of his truck. He probably could’ve sold us enough food to last us for the next 1,000 miles, and it was all reasonably priced, too. We had everything we needed in our resupply box, but I still bought a block of cheese, a Coke, and one of those Hostess cherry pies you find only in the finer gas stations across America. After days on the trail, that thing tasted good.

Another reason today was wonderful: we got to sleep in! Because we were meeting the Sonora Pass Resupply Service today, and his permit only allows him to operate from 10 AM–4 PM, we knew it was pointless to get to Sonora Pass any earlier than that. So, last night, we camped a half-mile back from the pass on the trail…and that meant we could sleep in this morning in a serious way. We didn’t get up until after 8:00 AM, which is hours after we usually get up, and broke camp leisurely, allowing time for some cleaning and “washing” of clothes. (I say “washing” because, out here, that means getting your clothes wet in a stream, wringing them out, and safety-pinning them to the back of your pack to dry.) After so many days of get-up-and-go, it felt almost decadent. It’s still nowhere like taking a real zero…but oh, man, it still feels good.

And yet another reason today was wonderful: we got rid of our bear cans! We picked up our BearVault 500s at Kennedy Meadows over three hundred miles back, and had been carrying them ever since. Each of them weighs something like two and a half pounds, which is a major amount of weight out here on the trail. Sonora Pass Resupply Service shipped them back for us, which is like getting a two-and-a-half-pound lighter pack for free. Even after adding all the food from the resupply, I could tell my pack wasn’t as heavy as it would’ve been with the bear cans in it, and there’s a whole lot more space, to boot. We continue to carry our UrSacks to keep our food away from bears. They’ve tested the UrSack with a pen of hungry grizzlies for five hours, which is more than enough convincing for most people — apparently the National Park Service is just extraordinarily conservative in adding new authorized bear-proof containers.

We also found out today at Sonora Pass that the fire, which we’d been hearing rumors about since Tuolumne Meadows, was real — but also not remotely threatening the PCT, and we were free to go ahead. A little part of us was bummed (because the trail being closed would’ve meant skipping ahead to Tahoe and an immediate zero), but most of us was relieved, because coming back to do this section later would’ve been a huge pain in the butt. Apparently the fire got very large at one point, but never came within less than a few miles of the trail, and is now moving completely the opposite direction — so we should be fine. Hurrah!

Our next stop along the trail: South Lake Tahoe, in about four or five days. There, we’ll get a chance to do lots of things, from taking a very long-deserved zero to replacing my pack, getting more shoes for Bucket, taking extremely long showers, and running every item of clothing we own through the washer multiple times. It’s going to feel good…and I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t been dreaming about it for nearly a week already.

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