Edited on Trail
Greetings from the beautiful Mammoth Lakes, California! It’s been awhile since I have been able to check back in, but that’s because I’ve been knee-deep and sky-high in the Sierra Mountains of central California, far away from wanting to log onto my computer, and exploring arguably some of the most beautiful scenery offered in this country. The Sierras have proved to be difficult miles to get, and provided quite the contrast from the first 700 miles of desert on the PCT, but without further delay, let’s take a hike into the mountain cathedrals that are the High Sierras:
The Sierra Adventure began for my hiking/life partner Sunburn and I as we approached Kennedy Meadows Grocery Store (Mile 702). There, we were greeted by the applause of some fellow hikers who had already congregated on the porch. While I’m sure they were happy to see us, they weren’t clapping for us, not really, instead they were giving cheers to the checkpoint we had just reached. Despite the heat that was still upon us, and the shrub brush that lined the path, we had made it out of the desert and to the Sierra foothills.
After a couple of days relaxing and resupplying out of Kennedy Meadows, including re-upping on warmer clothes and bear canisters, we were back on trail and ready to go. It took about 20 miles to truly feel the transition between desert and Sierras, but when the first granite, snow-capped monolith appeared in the distance above a lush meadow, accompanied with the unfamiliar sound of running water, it was truly a replenishing moment for this thru-hiker and was only the beginning of a whole new world.
Climbing high into the Sierra Mountains proved to be a vertical endeavor, and it would be a lie to say that the altitude didn’t affect both Sunburn and me, but if we can, we’ll blame our initial low mileage in the Sierras on the fact there were so many scenic opportunities to sit down and enjoy the view. Within those first few days of climbing and maintaining 10,000 feet of altitude, it was euphoric to say the least, and since then the high-flying fun only escalated.
After an unsuccessful in-and-out of Lone Pine, California, Sunburn and I came back on the trail a little more acclimated and were treated to our first alpine lake (of many) at Chicken Spring Lake. Looking at the enormity of the snow-fed water, and the peaks that surrounded it, plus the orange and purple hues that magnified as the sun dipped down below the mountains, it suddenly felt real, very real, that we had finally made it to a place we had been searching for.
After battling some 3:00 p.m. thunderstorms for a few days, we got the shotgun start early one morning to do a little PCT side trip and climb Mt. Whitney, also known as the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. The 4:00 a.m. alarm clock felt a bit early, but climbing the 7.5 miles up to the top of Whitney (and back down) was worth the tired mind and body at the end of the day, and well worth that momentary feeling of being the tallest person in the lower 48.
After mounting Whitney, we started on the next phase of our Sierra Saga and began going over mountain passes on our way to Canada. For those of you that don’t know, much of the time spent in the Sierras on the PCT involves climbing up and over small passageways in the intimidating ridge line. Through these passes Sunburn and I encountered snow, switchbacks and plenty of other hikers, many of which were heading the opposite way on the John Muir Trail, of which we now shared the same path.
After knocking out our first pass, Forester Pass , which just so happened to be the tallest at 13,000+, Sunburn and I got sucked into the vortex that was Bishop, California for a few days to celebrate the 4th of July off the mountain. Once we returned to the mountains, our biggest challenge awaited us, and we chugged along through 7 ½ days of unsupported hiking, spanning over 125 miles of trail, and completing well over 50,000 ft. of elevation change over 7 passes (Kearsarge, Glen, Pinchot, Mather, Muir, Selden & Silver).
It was difficult to say the least, and while it was easily the most scenic section of trail so far, it was also the biggest challenge. Perhaps that is why all around me hikers seem to be changing their mind on their thru-hiking intentions, second guessing the reasons they came out here in the first place.
For me, I’ve had my moments, and sometimes they involve incredibly realistic and detailed daydreams about my favorite hamburgers back home, or maybe it’s represented by the constant buzzing by my ears of the mosquitoes who seem just as hungry as I am, but with a couple of fresh legs beneath me know, I know I’m ready to head back out and see what the rest of California and the Pacific Crest Trail has to offer.
The Sierras are far from over, and it’s without a doubt that their memories will last a lifetime, and ahead of us immediately on trail is the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite National Park, followed shortly after by Castle Crags and Trinity Alps in northern California and the entire states of Oregon and Washington. It’s sure to be an adventure and I’m looking forward to every step of the way.
Stay tuned for the action and be sure to check out the Pacific Crest Trail Journal Facebook page for the full collection of Sierra photos.
Over and Out