Monday, July 7, 2008


Truckee, CA


After reading my last missive, I'm a bit disappointed - bored, even. It really lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, a problem which I'll attribute to the very strong dose of caffeine I had this morning - my first cup of coffee in months.

Let's see... the High Sierra were stunning! The huge, glacially sculpted peaks were crowned with snow and reached high above tree line. I didn't understand at first the idea of taking mountain passes through this section - why just hike between the mountains?? The PCT generally avoids summits, keeping to mountain shoulders and ridge lines instead anyway. But the High Sierra section is the crown jewel of the PCT, so why skip the summits? Well, the High Sierra are high, for one thing. The mountain passes between the peaks were for the most part above 11,000 or 12,000 feet, the highest being Forrester Pass at just over 13,000 feet. Often the low points on the ridge lines, these passes are literally the best way to pass from one canyon or valley to the next. The summits around the passes are probably attainable, but we put plenty of effort into just getting between them.

And plenty of effort was an understatement. Our pace slowed to about 15 miles a day - all day long. The altitude and snowy, rocky terrain made for slow going. We employed all of the big and little muscles in our bodies just staying upright on the snow. It was fun to pick our own way across the snow fields when we couldn't find the trail, but at times this was confusing and stressful. And then there were the streams. Swollen with snow melt, many of the streams were thigh-deep and flowing fast. There are next to no bridges in this area, so fording or crossing the streams required some thought as well. Reason almost always found a precarious, slippery, rocky way across the streams without getting his feet wet. He would walk up and down the stream bed searching for the best path across. It seemed easier to me to simply take my shoes off, roll up my pants and force my way through the very cold rushing water, leaning upstream and carefully choosing my footing between slippery boulders. Having made it to the other side, I would stamp my numb feet for a few minutes to warm them up again! Some days we crossed ten streams, not including all of the tributaries and seasonal creeklets that pour across the trail. After being in the desert for 700 miles, it was suddenly all we could do to keep our feet dry. Cascades of cold, clear, delicious snow melt were everywhere we looked.

In addition to the challenges of snow, rough terrain, lack of trail, and streams, our elevation change for each day increased to about 7,000 feet. This means that we typically climbed 3,500 feet to the top of the pass, then back down 3,500 feet to the valley of the next canyon. The High Sierra just plain wore me out. By the time we had completed about two thirds of this section, we took a break and rode two shuttle buses and a trolley to the town of Mammoth Lakes. In this compact ski town, we sat back and watched two movies. Though neither movie much captured my attention, I was delighted to order the largest coke available at the concession stand! It took two hands to hold this cup which probably contained more than a day's worth of calories for a non-hiker. With a dose of contraband rum courtesy of fellow hiker Suntan, this was just the diversion I needed!

Back in the mountains, we saw many animals, including bears! One night while cooking dinner, we noticed a bear circling our camp. It was unwise to cook in this heavily used campground, but we were exhausted. Reason and Rascal yelled and threw rocks near the bear, scaring him away. But as we ate dinner, another larger bear sat and watched us from a distance. Rascal told us the next morning that that bear wandered into our camp later that night, sniffed around, and left. It turns out that the bear canisters really do work - the bear did not even touch our food! The bear canister is really for the protection of the bears, rather than humans, by the way. Bears that become habituated to human food and aggressive towards humans are often killed or removed to a zoo. Cubs that are taught to jump on hanging food bags often break their legs in the fall and become unfit to survive. The hope is that these intelligent animals will learn not to source food from humans and will resume their natural methods of hunting and foraging. This, of course, depends on the cooperation of humans.

More welcome were the many deer that would visit us when we camped in the lovely, open grassy meadows in Yosemite. Many of the does appeared to be pregnant. I could only imagine that the yearlings still keeping close to their mothers were in for a rude awakening! One of our favorites was a young buck with little velvety nubs on his skull. He was all teenager, nothing but trouble, challenging all of the other deer! Attracted by the salt in our urine, the deer would fight over such a treat. We carefully covered our backpacks and trekking pole straps, all covered with white salty deposits from our sweat, to prevent any nibbling in the night. I've already had one little visitor who chewed on the chin strap to my sun hat in the desert!
Since hiking north of Yosemite, we've topped 10,000 feet for the last time. We are still reaching above 9,000 feet from time to time, but in about two hundred miles we'll drop and stay below 8,000 feet for the remainder of the trail. We've recently entered a section of famous passes which now have busy roads: Kit Carson Pass, Donner Pass, Sonora Pass. Many of these were pioneered during the Gold Rush era and the Mormon migrations of the mid-1800's.

From one such pass, we stood smiling by the side of the road, thumbs out, hoping to get a hitch to the Gold Rush town of Bridgeport for more supplies. As we put forth out friendliest faces, giant nerdy sun hats removed, another thru-hiker came over to us and asked if we would ride with him and his girlfriend to another town, drop them off, and then park their car back at the pass when we returned the next day. (His girlfriend was visiting and their plan was to start at a point south and hike north to the car.) Needless to say, we were a bit caught off guard - incredulous, really. Once we repeated what this hiker proposed and had it confirmed that he really did mean to turn his car over to us, we naturally agreed! It must be mentioned that we had not previously met this hiker, whose name is Treebeard. However, the hiker community is a small and trusting one. By virtue of our hiker smell and our possession of backpacks, we automatically qualified in Treebeard's mind as part of the tribe and therefore trustworthy. (Much the same way that Pooh has left me and Reason unattended in his home today, free to use the computers, shower, eat all we want out of the fridge, even though we only met him last night!) So off we went with Treebeard! We left the car at the agreed upon spot at the pass, but not before we took a loop through the parking lot where fellow hikers, camping at the pass, did a double-take at the sight of us driving! Best of all was that the car enabled us to procure and deliver a box of doughnuts with birthday candles and a six-pack of RC Cola to celebrate Rascal's 57th birthday! Rascal really likes doughnuts!

Well, that seems more entertaining. Hope you enjoyed it more than the last message.

Best to all,

No comments: