PCT Day 66: Reunited in Bishop 

​June 15, 2017 

Bishop 

0 miles 

The day started off still on a melancholy note, but with a hint of excitement as well, knowing that Gummies would arrive that afternoon and I wouldn’t be alone any more. I laid in my bed in the hostel until I got too hungry to stay there anymore. I made myself get up and walk down the street to a local bakery, where I got a freaking delicious bagel with cream cheese. Then I wandered a mile down the main strip of town, somewhat aimlessly, and picked up snacks and new sunglasses at Kmart (my third pair of the trip, which I’ve already managed to scratch, because that’s just the kind of person I am). 

When I eventually got back to the hostel, there were still several hours until Gummies was due to arrive, so I got back into bed and promptly passed out for the majority of the afternoon. When I woke up, he was there, and I was so happy to be back with at least part of my trail family. We chilled at the hostel for a bit, went to the local brewery for amazing tacos and beer, and rode bikes (provided by the hostel) around town while the sun set. Life was good again. 

Tomorrow, we’ll hopefully catch a bus up to South Lake Tahoe, where we’ll start our “vacation from our vacation”, and just relax for a bit. Hopefully we’ll be able to hop over to San Francisco for a few days as well and take in some of the sights of the city. I miss the trail, but after the stressful events of the last section, some time off will do everyone good. And hopefully let some snow melt as well. 

PCT Day 65: Sad Day in Bishop 

​June 14, 2017 

Bishop 

0 miles 

Today was definitely not my best day on trail. Woke up to find out Cougar’s pain had only gotten worse. Ate another mediocre continental breakfast in the hotel lobby. Listened as Cougar and Dr. McDirty made plans to be picked up by their cousin that afternoon. I messaged Gummies and told him what was going on, and he immediately started brainstorming ideas for how we could proceed, but all I could do was lay listlessly on the motel bed feeling rather sorry for myself. 

Greg the physiotherapist came back for another session, and I need to find some way to nominate him for a “nicest man on Planet Earth” award, because he is seriously incredible. He sympathized with Cougar and McDirty over their horrible experiences at the hospital the previous night, and did everything he could to try to make Cougar feel somewhat better. He recommended a certain drug that he knew would help, mentioning that he thought he might have some at home, and gave Cougar some exercises to help her manage her pain and start to fix the issue. He left, and then unexpectedly returned less than an hour later with the medication for Cougar and a bag of cherries he had picked off the trees around his house. We were all in shock. He even refused to take payment, even though he usually charges for his visits. Seriously the nicest man to ever exist. 

I spent the rest of the morning following Cougar and Dr. McDirty around town like a lost puppy as they ran various errands, trying to squeeze out every last second of time I could spend with our quickly disintegrating trail family. We went to the post office, and I picked up a couple of packages, one of which was a bunch of dehydrated veggies and other snacks sent by my parents, which was exciting. My diet out here could definitely use some sprucing up. Eventually, we had to walk over to meet Cougar and McDirty’s shuttle to the airport. We promised this was not the last we’d see of each other, but it was still a pretty sad farewell. 

Officially alone in town, I wandered down the street to the coffeeshop, definitely having an awkward public cry. I sat in the coffeeshop and called Gummies and then one of my best friends from home, which made me feel a lot better. I headed for the hostel to secure myself a bed for the night, and luckily they had space for me. I spent the rest of the afternoon lying in my bed in the hostel, staring at my phone and being generally antisocial. I chatted with my parents for a long while, endlessly refreshed social media, and watched a movie on my phone. I left briefly just to grab something to eat from the crappy grocery store nearby. 

Tomorrow, Gummies is getting a ride to Bishop from his uncle, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to proceed. We’re definitely not getting back on the trail from here. The Sierras are beautiful and amazing and wild, but they’re also dangerous. I just don’t think I’m comfortable pressing on in the current conditions. Gummies needs more time to recover from his pneumonia, so the tentative plan right now is to spend a bit of time off the trail. We may head up to South Lake Tahoe for a bit, and then maybe San Francisco, giving the snow in Northern California some time to melt, and everyone some time to recover and decompress. Hopefully, given time, our trail family will find its way back together, and back to the trail. 

It’s kind of crazy how much my outlook on this hike has shifted since day 1. When I left home, I was completely and totally set on walking a straight path from Mexico to Canada. No flips, no skips, nothing would stop me but a hike-ending injury. And while I’m still a bit disappointed that that isn’t going to happen, it’s just not what matters most to me anymore. Not after the events of this last section. I still want to hike. I still want to see the rest of the trail. But I’m willing to be flexible with the order and the timing. I want to thru-hike, but I don’t want to put myself or my friends in danger. Everyone always says the people are the best part of the trail, and I thought I knew what that meant before I started, but it means so much more now. I’m just going to take each day as it comes, and enjoy the adventure, however it unfolds. 

PCT Day 64: Zero in Bishop 

​June 13, 2017 

Bishop 

0 miles 

This will most definitely be the most boring post on this blog thus far. Because I literally did nothing today. I left my bed in the motel room exactly three times, each time to get food. Once to the motel lobby for the free continental breakfast, once across to the street to McDonald’s, and once across the street again for convenience store pizza. 

Cougar’s leg started acting up again last night, and this morning was spent desperately calling around to various physiotherapists in town trying to find an appointment. She eventually managed to get through to a therapist who had actually retired in January, but still did occasional home visits, and he agreed to come do a session right in our motel room. Our luck seemed to be looking up at last. The session seemed to help ease her pain quite a bit, allowing everyone to relax a bit. 

However, after not too long, the pain returned in earnest. Cougar and McDirty decided to visit the hospital to see if they could get some medications to at least try to control the pain. They were gone for several hours. I became very well acquainted with the pattern of cracks on the motel room ceiling. When they got back, they had tales to tell of the horrors of the American medical system. Long waits, hefty bills, and unfriendly doctors. And after all that, the pain remained. 

They told me they thought they needed to take some time from the trail, so she could hopefully get the issue under control. Maybe go stay with their relatives in San Francisco for a bit. Obviously saddened by this news, I told them I understood, knowing the most important thing was that they got somewhere she could recover properly. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring makes me feel uneasy, but I’m sure everything will work out with time. This isn’t the end of the trail family. I have to believe that. 

PCT Day 63: Cold Morning on Kearsarge Pass 

​June 12, 2017 

Bullfrog Lake Trail Junction – Bishop 

~ 7 miles side trail 

Surprisingly, I was actually able to fall asleep at 7pm in broad daylight last night. I woke around 9 to the sound of something softly pattering against the roof of my tent, and it took my sleep-addled brain a few minutes to realize that it was indeed snowing. Luckily, it just seemed to be a light dusting, and I was actually able to sleep pretty well. I woke up every couple of hours to knock the snow off my tent, but always managed to fall back asleep right away, and actually stayed pretty warm. So the night’s events weren’t nearly as bad as I was anticipating. 

The morning was a different story. When the alarm went off at 4am, the inside of the tent was covered in a layer of frost so thick it looked like the tent was made of glitter material. My shoes were once again frozen into solid blocks of ice. And I had to use to my ice axe to excavate the stakes and rocks that I had used to pitch my tent from the frozen ground, accidentally axing my tent in the process, leaving a small hole. Dr. McDirty’s watch said that it was -7 degrees Celsius inside their tent. 

The ground was covered in an inch or two of fresh power, making it extremely difficult to follow the foot print trails that had been our saviour the day before. On top of that, it was so cold that both the phones were malfunctioning, leaving us without GPS. Knowing the general direction of the trail, we set off into the cold, white world. My hands and feet were so cold that they were essentially lifeless stumps on the ends of my limbs. I tried to take my pack off at one point and was incapable of unclipping the buckle. I put my sleep socks on over my gloves to try to warm up my hands, but it was in vain. I would find footprints to follow for a while, and then lose them and start cutting my own trail across the snow. I was so hungry, but couldn’t stop walking without feeling like my body was going to freeze over. I eventually stopped briefly to stuff several hundred calories worth of peanut butter into my mouth. 

Finally, I saw the pass rising up ahead. There was a steep wall of snow, with faint switchbacks of footprints cutting across it, leading to the final rocky trail to the top. I began to climb. My feet and hands were still completely numb, and every step seemed to take an excruciating amount of effort. There was a cold wind blasting, and the sun couldn’t quite reach me over the steep wall of the pass. I finally made it to the dry trail, having to scramble up some rocks to reach it, which is almost scarier than the snow for me. I pounded up the trail as fast as I could, afraid that I would lose some digits if I stopped moving. 

The view from the top was incredible. In fact, the views all morning had been incredible, but somewhat hard to enjoy given the pain and frustration of struggling through the trailless cold. 

The other side of the pass was much nicer. I was finally in full sunlight, and the other side seemed more sheltered from the wind. I sat at the top and waited for Cougar and Dr. McDirty to finish the climb. We started moving again pretty quickly after they arrived, desperate to keep warm. We traversed a steep snowy slope, and then made it to some dry ground where we stopped for breakfast. My overnight oats were frosty, which wasn’t the most pleasant experience. To get down into the valley where the trail was, we had to traverse across an even steeper slope, which was kind of scary. While we were preparing to descend, 5 deer ran and jumped across the snow straight down the slope. How I wished to be them. 

Once we got down into the valley, the hiking became much easier. There were plenty of footprints to follow, and we made pretty good time. We stopped briefly so Dr. McDirty could jump into a partially frozen over lake, because he’s insane. We were the first ones to make it down to the trailhead parking lot, but as we sat there, more and more hikers started piling in. There was a huge congregation of hiker trash all trying to get rides into town, and rides were in short supply. We sat there for at least a couple of hours with no luck, until finally a man who had driven up to take some photos agreed to drive us down into Independence. Success! When he dropped us off, we grabbed some snacks from the gas station and set about trying to hitch a ride to Bishop. 

It actually didn’t take too long until we had secured a hitch. The guy who picked us up had driven there from Connecticut and was on his way to visit his mom in Bishop. Turned out he was a bit of a speed demon, and we actually got pulled over by highway patrol because he was driving 92 in a 65 zone. Definitely one of the more interesting hitching stories so far. He dropped us off in downtown Bishop, and we sat in a coffee shop for a while trying to figure out where to stay. We ended up at the Townhouse Motel, which is pretty nice. After the stressful section, I was just happy to have a warm bed to sleep in for a couple of nights. 

We did laundry, I video chatted my parents, and we all video chatted Gummies, who’s staying with his cousin that conveniently lives a few minutes from the hospital he was taken to. It was so good to talk to him after all that happened in this section. After all the stress and anxiety of the last few days, I’m super excited to have a relaxing town day tomorrow. 

PCT Day 62: High Point and Low Point 

​June 11, 2017 

Mile 776.84 – Bullfrog Lake Trail Junction (776.84-788.5)

11.66 miles 

I know this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve said this, but last night was DEFINITELY our coldest night yet on trail. I woke up to shoes that were frozen solid and hard as rock. The water bottle that was inside my tent was slushy and the one outside was solid ice. If you’ve never had to force your feet into frozen shoes at 3:30am in preparation for climbing up a snowy mountain pass, you should probably just take my word that it’s an interesting experience. Unless you’re the kind of crazy person that likes doing that kind of shit for fun. Then you should probably hike the PCT. 

After we had finally all gotten our feet into our shoes, we trekked out into the vast snowy darkness. We followed foot prints for a bit, and then just cut cross country across the snow to where we could see the pass rising up in the distance. The moon was almost full, which illuminated the snow and surrounding mountains in a light glow. When we reached the pass, a steep wall of snow rose up in front of us, without a path in sight. The first light of morning was starting to touch the mountains now, the sky lit in pastel blues, pinks, and yellows. 

Approaching the pass. We have to climb up the steep wall of snow to get to the dry trail on the rocks above, which leads to a crossing of the snow chute on the left. The photo doesn’t capture the steepness. 

Suddenly, I spotted a set of footprints switching up the wall of snow! We were able to follow them all the way up to where the trail became dry on the rocks far above. It was pretty exhilarating climbing up the snow wall. The view was incredible as the sun continued to rise. I felt amazing, and my body didn’t even really seem to notice the altitude. When we reached dry trail, we switched up a few times to the much talked-about snow chute that you have to cross to reach the top of the pass. There was a good trail already cut into the snow, and it really wasn’t all that scary. The rest of the climb was way scarier in my opinion.

Cougar and Dr. McDirty crossing the snow chute 

After the chute, we had just a few more dry switchbacks until we were at the top! 13,200 feet, the highest point on the PCT. It felt amazing to have actually reached that point. We all got a bunch of photos at the top, and then started the descent. We entered King’s Canyon National Park when we crossed the pass, and the view of the mountains on the other side was even more incredible. We trekked along a snowy slope, and it seriously felt like I was walking through Middle Earth. 

The trail went down into a valley, and luckily we had good foot print trails to follow for almost the entire day. The valley was filled with downed trees and debris, it looked like an avalanche had blown through and wiped everything out. With the tracks to follow and our early start, we were making amazing time. I kept thinking to myself that this was definitely our best day in the Sierras yet. We stopped for a break on a rock and made some hot chocolate. It was just such a great morning. 

We walked on a bit further before stopping for lunch. I laid out in the sun and definitely fell asleep again. It felt so good. After lunch, we only had 2 and a half miles to our planned camp spot. We were down in the bottom of the valley now, and streams were flowing everywhere and the ground was quite wet. We ended up having to cross a stream and get our feet wet. We had to climb up about 1000 feet out of the valley to get to camp, and at the bottom of the climb we actually managed to find dry trail, which was super exciting. Not so exciting were the threatening-looking grey clouds that had started to blow over the mountains into the valley. We hurried to get to camp in case inclement weather was on the way. 

The climb was pretty tough, there was a lot of dry trail, but also a lot of scrambling over slushy patches of snow. When we reached the campsite, the whole thing was covered in snow. We scoured the area for any patches of flat, dry ground, but there was nothing. With a storm possibly on the way, there was nothing to do but pitch our tents on top of the snow. First, we laid down beds of dead pine needles to hopefully stave off the cold of the snow at least a little bit. Pitching my tent in the snow was interesting, since it’s not freestanding. I had to cover the stakes with rocks and basically bury them in snow, and I’m a bit worried I won’t be able to get them out of the frozen ground tomorrow. 

I got the weather forecast on my InReach, and it was pretty scary looking. There’s only a 20% chance of snow, but usually if it forecasts anything above 0%, it happens. Also, the temperature overnight was forecasted as – 3 degrees Celsius. The InReach tends to overestimate the overnight temperature, and has never shown a temperature below freezing before, even though we’ve definitely had freezing nights before. It’s definitely going to get COLD tonight. Once my tent was sufficiently pitched, I changed into almost every article of clothing I own. I have on two pairs of socks, my hiking tights, thermal tights, rain pants, thermal top, hiking shirt, fleece, puffy, rain coat, beanie, and buff. Hopefully it’s enough to keep me warm tonight. It’s only 6pm and still light out, and things are already starting to freeze. 

It was so cold out that once I was in my tent, I didn’t want to get out, so I sat inside and cooked my dinner in the vestibule. I left the pot of pasta to soak in the cozy inside my tent, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. It tipped over without me noticing, spilling the entire pot of cheesy sauce inside my tent. I had to sacrifice my bandana and a ton of toilet paper to wipe it up. My tent probably reeks of cheese now, so hopefully there are no hungry bears around tonight. Between having to sketchily pitch my tent on snow with a potential storm coming, the thought of freezing overnight, and the pasta incident, I was having a pretty crappy night. The day had gone from amazing to shit in just a couple of short hours. I tried to keep spirits high and laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, but it was pretty hard. On the bright side, Cougar and Dr. McDirty said that if my tent collapses in the night I can come spoon with them in their tent. So at least I won’t die. Probably. Unless I get eaten by a bear that’s hungry for cheese sauce. 

Tomorrow, we’re getting up early again because we have to cross Kearsarge Pass to get down into town. I really hope the weather stays decent, because I really don’t want to get stuck here waiting out a storm. I really have to pee right now, but I also really don’t want to leave my warm quilt. More tomorrow, if I make it through the night! 

PCT Day 61: White Water, White Trail 

​June 10, 2017 

Mile 766.25 – Mile 776.84

10.59 miles 

Woke up this morning to frozen socks and shoes and a backpack covered in frost, and the knowledge that the first thing we had to do today was cross a crotch-deep creek of freshly melted snow water. The water burned like fire, until my legs and toes went numb. It seriously hurt so badly. We dried off as best we could on the other side, and then continued on, hoping hiking would bring feeling back into our lower halves. 

We had dry trail for the first mile or so (the mile I had already done yesterday to get to the ranger station), but after that, we barely had any trail for the rest of the day. It was pretty much an entire day of snow travel. There was a steep descent to our second creek crossing of the day at Wallace Creek, and we actually had to get our ice axes out. It was a super steep slope that was completely covered in snow, and it was pretty freaky but we all made it down without incident. Wallace Creek was flowing much faster than Whitney Creek, but it was still a pretty easy crossing. 

Wright Creek 

Less than a mile later, we had a third crossing at Wright Creek. The creek was raging and banked by snow on all sides, and it took us a while to find a spot that looked safe enough to cross. This was definitely the scariest crossing we’ve had yet. The flow was so strong it took everything I had to keep my feet under me, and if we hadn’t crossed in a line with linked arms, I’m not sure it would have ended well. My legs were shaking like crazy when we finally got to the other side.

Hiker crossing Wright Creek

We walked a bit further and then stopped at a dry patch of ground for lunch, where I definitely passed out for a while after eating. Hiking the Sierras in a high snow year is freaking exhausting, even though we had only gone like 5 and a half miles by lunch.

 After we finally dragged ourselves away from our lunch spot, we climbed up until we were above the treeline. It was insane. We were walking across a vast expanse of white, with jagged mountains rising up in the distance all around. It was hard to believe it was even real. It felt like we were the only three people in the world. Eventually, we descended back down into the forest toward Tyndall Creek, our fourth and final crossing for the day. It looked pretty intense, the flow was strong and again the banks were completely covered in snow. I think I was extra nervous after the harrowing experience at the last creek. We found a spot that looked okay, and it ended up being super easy. It wasn’t even knee deep, which was super nice, and the flow wasn’t nearly as intense as Wright Creek. It was still freaking cold though. 

Tyndall Creek

After the crossing, we had to trek across an open snow field, and we ended up following a footprint track that took us waaaay off trail. We ended up having to go cross country up a snowy slope to meet back up with the trail. After much weaving through snow, trees, and rocks, we were finally back on trail. We were above treeline again, and the view was absolutely incredible. We traversed a snowy slope, and then saw a tent pitched just ahead on a dry, flat patch of ground. We had been planning to head for a spot another quarter mile up trail, but decided to take advantage of the fact that this spot wasn’t covered with snow. 

We’re camped about 2 and a half miles from the top of Forester Pass with a hiker named High Risk. The view from camp is mind blowing. I still can’t really believe that I’m actually out here doing this crazy shit. We heard from Gummies today, and turns out he did have pulmonary edema and pneumonia, and has to stay in hospital for a few days. We’re all hoping he’ll recover quickly so our trail family can become whole again. Tomorrow we’re getting up at 3am to begin the final climb to the top of Forester. It’s going to be another crazy day. 

PCT Day 60: Helicopter Ride 

​June 9, 2017 

Today was a rough day. Gummies got worse over night, and by morning he was coughing constantly and struggling to breath, and couldn’t walk 20 feet to go to the bathroom without having to sit down and rest. There was no way we were moving anywhere today, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew Cougar and Dr. McDirty would be passing by before too long, so we decided to just sit and wait for them so we could make a plan together. We had already looked into possible bail-out points to get off the trail, but we’re in a pretty remote spot with no roads anywhere nearby. 

The morning passed excruciatingly slowly, with Gummies feeling sick and miserable and me feeling useless and wishing I would magically figure out what to do. People started hiking past the campsite, and we asked each of them if they had seen Cougar and McDirty, but no one had. That seemed strange, as they shouldn’t have been that far behind us. Midday eventually rolled around, and there was still no sign of them. I was starting to go crazy from sitting around feeling helpless, and was also getting seriously worried that they had somehow passed us by without noticing. We were potentially going to meet at the point where the PCT meets the JMT, which was only 0.7 miles away, and there was a ranger station just a mile up the side trail. I decided to head there to see if I could find them, or help. 

I had to cross Whitney Creek right away, and it was deep and cold but luckily slow flowing, with a nice smooth bottom. I hurried up the trail to the JMT junction, but there was no sign of Cougar and Dr. McDirty. I left a note at the junction in hopes that they would see it if they had decided to go up to Guitar Lake, and then pressed on to the ranger station. Just before I got there, I had to cross Whitney Creek a second time, but this time it was flowing much faster, with a rocky bottom, and snow on all sides. Luckily it wasn’t super deep or wide, but it was still a bit scary crossing all by myself. When I got to the ranger station, there was only a locked and empty cabin. I quickly headed back, feeling a bit defeated and worried about the fact that I had left Gummies at the campsite alone.

The way back strangely felt much longer than the way there, but when I arrived at the side of the creek opposite the campsite, my heart leapt with joy when I saw Cougar and Dr. McDirty sitting there. I seriously almost cried, I was so happy to see them. Turns out they had camped a bit off trail, which is why no one had seen them, and got a late start, which is why it took them so long to get to us. They’re both doctors back home, and thought Gummies’ condition was pretty serious. It was possibly being caused by, and definitely at least being exacerbated by the altitude, so he needed to get down out of the mountains asap. But there was no way he was getting out on his feet. So we did something I really never thought I would have to do: pushed the SOS button on my InReach. 

The InReach worked amazingly. We were in contact with emergency services within minutes, and after a while they let us know that a helicopter was on route to our location. It took a little over two hours for the medics to actually reach us, but when they did they were super friendly and efficient. Watching a search and rescue helicopter circle and descend over our campsite was pretty surreal. The medics gave Gummies an oxygen mask and some medications, and then took him up to be dropped off at a hospital somewhere down below. It was super sad to see him go, and I feel so badly that he was forced to get off trail. Hopefully he’ll recover quickly and be able to join us again before too long. 

Cougar, Dr. McDirty, and I debated for a long while what our plan should be going forward, and we eventually decided to push on tomorrow morning and finish out the section to Bishop. It should take us another 3 days to get into town. That means tomorrow will be spent setting ourselves up to climb Forester Pass, the highest point on trail. I’m super excited and definitely a bit nervous. It’ll be weird doing it without Gummies. Our trail family has a little hole in it now. What a day.