Sonora Pass to South Lake Tahoe

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Day 70 (Continued)

Upon getting back up to Sonora Pass, our poor friend Limey was tired from the saloon shananagans and decided to have a nap on a tree root.

Limey napping on a tree root

We started climbing up from the road. Although it was still fairly early in the morning it was already warming up quite a bit. Luckily the scenery was fantastic.

Beautiful scenery yet again

Yet again we felt a strong appreciation for how beautiful the world is and how lucky we were to be hiking the PCT.

Cashmere enjoying the scenery

After hiking high up to a bit of a pass we descended down through a fair amount of snow on the north side and dropped and dropped. Eventually we stopped by a stream for lunch. Limey joined us and told us about his crazy resupply in Tehachapi a few weeks earlier. He was the beneficiary and victim of a $3 fill-a-whole-grocery-bag with food deal and he was still enjoying the rewards since he had mailed himself some of the bounty. The problem was all the food was expired (some by more than a year!) and most of it tasted pretty foul.

After lunch, and watching Limey nervously open snack bars, we descended some more into a nice big canyon.

Canyon walls across the valley

But as often happens on the PCT, what goes down must go back up, so we were soon climbing up and up. As we got up higher again we got to see how high the mountains that we’d seen really were. “Oh…there was snow up above there”. We also got to see some nice red parasitic (apparently) plants.

Crazy red parasitic flower things

We continued to walk and walk and as the evening set in we had some dinner. We walked a bit more and saw something rather peculiar.

“Where is that smoke coming from?” we said. Are we going to be walking that way? Is it a controlled burn or something else? As we continued on and began to look for a campsite we asked other hikers if they had seen it, knew where it was coming from, and if we needed to be worried. No one seemed to have any further information. As we set up camp, some hikers walked further to a ridge to scout. They reported that it was relatively far away for now. We slept okay knowing that for the time being we were safe.

Day 71

When we awoke the smoke seemed to have died down significantly – and we imagined the fire was now just smouldering. So we had a pretty relaxed start to the day, feeling no need to rush.

The morning was fairly uneventful – with the usual climbing and descending and relatively unexciting views (we had been spoilt!) However, by the mid- afternoon things started to get interesting.

After walking around 14 miles we reached a road junction and saw Limey, who shouted “check out the note on the trail sign”.

Okay…so we were reading a very unofficial looking hand written note from the “County Sheriff”, which said there was a mandatory evacuation and “do not continue on”.

Limey was not too upset with this outcome – since he was beginning to think his very stale food might not get him to South Lake Tahoe anyway, particularly as he really wanted to just throw it out. However, for us, evacuation would mean abandoning our continuous hike from Mexico to Canada. We had a decision to make.

A couple we had camped with the previous night, including one of the ‘fire scouts’ also arrived at the road and joined our decision making party. After making no real progress, a Caltrans truck came down the road and stopped to have a chat. We immediately started plying him with questions, “Where is the fire?”, “Is the PCT actually closed?”, “Can you take us anywhere near South Lake Tahoe?” “Do we even know if the note was meant for north or southbounders?”

Cashmere ultimately said something like, “we really want to complete a continuous hike from Mexico to Canada, but we don’t know if it’s safe to continue. What do you think we should do?”

To which the Caltrans man said “if I were you I’d probably just keep walking. You’ll probably be fine”. But mostly we got the feeling he really just didn’t want to help us with rides. Better to send people into a wildfire. But for some reason this was all the convincing we needed, so we picked up our packs and bid farewell to Limey, Malia, and Fire Scout (a new name for ‘Seth’ that Cashmere dubbed).

Shortly after departing the road we climbed up a rocky outcrop and got a view of the smoke cloud. It was clearly much bigger than it had been in the morning, which was not surprising since the wind had picked up considerably.

Cashmere feeling uncomfortable

We grimaced a little. Then, knowing we were in potential danger, we hiked hastily thinking the fire was south of us. We wanted to get as far away from it as possible.

Eventually we rounded a corner and saw a long stretch of trail laid out before us. To our horror we realised the trail appeared to be heading directly toward the fire! We were confused, since we had been convinced the fire was south east of us – we were supposed to be walking north.

image we're walking straight towards the fire

Physio got out his compass (finally) and checked what direction the now large smoke cloud was coming from. The compass showed the smoke was in fact northeast of us and the trail was going to take us due north. We saw irony in how for the past hour we had been walking as fast as we could almost straight towards the fire.

To make matters worse we had just entered an incredible landscape of tall peaks and enormous rock pillars. Not that we were actually appreciating it since we were just fixated on the fire. Not exactly an ideal place to try to invent a new route away from the fire. Some detailed investigation of our topo maps revealed that we would continue hiking towards the fire for several more miles before walking through a pass in the mountains and turning due west for an extended period.

Rock spires aplenty

We nervously decided it was probably still safe, so long as the wind didn’t change. However, we still wanted to put a decent distance between ourselves and the wildfire so decided this was an opportune time to do our first 30 mile day.

As expected the trail continued to lead us closer to the fire with Physio commenting, “this landscape is amazing, but all I want to look at is the smoke”. Eventually we came to the pass in the mountains and thankfully were not engulfed in flames. However, we met a southbound hiker who casually asked “are there any good campsites around here?” We both thought he was insane. We were walking through thick forest and were at the closest part of the PCT to the fire – and he wanted to set up camp? We politely advised him that he should walk at least another five miles to get a decent distance from the fire – he would find a creek and some campsites too.

As we continued walking AWAY from the fire we crested a ridge from which we were rewarded with excellent views of…THE FIRE! On this ridge we met another southbound hiker who was camping there. Still way too close for us to be comfortable. We had a quick chat with him as we observed the embers and watched the occasional tree go up with a matching plume of black smoke.

Smokey trail of destruction

We continued hiking away from the fire with gorgeous views and the smell of wildflowers easing any of our lingering anxiety. We had a quick dinner by a stream and kept walking. The ridges were cool but increasingly hard to see as the light waned away into the evening. Finally we had to put on the headlamps and hiked many miles well into the night. We reached our 30 mile goal and set up camp at around 11:45pm. We had just walked our first 30 mile day and were well-away from the fire. Then we passed out.

Day 72

The next morning we awoke and talked to our friends walking by, Tangle, Hawkeye, and Bearsnack. They also had opted to continue walking a ways rather than heeding the sign. We ended up walking with Bearsnack for quite awhile, passing more nice lakes and ridges. As our distance from the fire continued to grow we relaxed more and more. We had a nice lunch by a small lake with great mountains in the background.

Cashmere and Bear Snack

Then we climbed up a ridge and back down to Carson Pass. As we approached the road there were lots of day-hikers. I wondered how bad we smelled and what they thought of our general vibe. These people had no idea about the weird fire situation we’d been through. There is a ranger station also at Carson Pass and we seemed to join an informal hiker trash convention there. We saw some of the hikers who had skipped the fire area. They said the hitching was hard work too.

Eventually we continued walking and all of a sudden Physio had a very sore toe. We stopped for awhile. He said it felt and looked similar to when his other toe had got infected weeks earlier, except there was no blister As a precaution he was soon taking antibiotics again.

As we continued on, we were soon walking in gorgeous fields of irises (I think). Beautiful.

Wild Flower beauty

We had dinner by a lake with some friends. Tangle and Hawkeye said, “I hear you are the cleanest people on the PCT?” Kind of, yes. But that is because we wash our packs sometimes and jump into lakes every few days. I’m not gonna lie, a lot of people on the trail have been stinking, so being the cleanest doesn’t amount to much. Anyway Cashmere soon proved that though she may be clean she does hold onto underwear for awhile. Imagine what these would have looked like on?

Time for some new undies? Cashmere doesn't think so

Anyway after our swim we hiked some more, found a campsite, and went to bed.

Day 73

The next day we were walking out to the road and then hitching to South Lake Tahoe for lots of eating. Delicious. We only had to walk seven miles which went fairly fast.

When we got out to the road we were lucky to be picked up fairly quickly by a really nice local. We went to town, to the very hiker-friendly ‘Lake-of-the-sky outfitters’ where we harvested some hiker trash food from the hiker box, got more resupply at the grocery store, and caught a bus uptown. Admittedly things weren’t actually that easy. There was a lot of freaking out about losing our zip-loc bag wallet and such. We aren’t used to town and its societal requirements or stimuli. Sometimes it’s hard.

We then proceeded to the All-you-can-eat Indian buffet. Oh my god the Indian was good. So good. We ate so much! But then we went into a bit of a food coma.


We were still hauling around our big packs. We were ready to go lie on a bed for a bit. Someone had suggested staying at the Budget Inn across the street and some internet research suggested it would be $50 for a two double bed room including breakfast. That sounded ideal. We knew there was a lot of very cheap accommodation in the area but some of it might be a little shady.

So we walked over to the Budget Inn to enquire. The receptionist was an old Indian lady and she was a bit weird. She quoted us higher prices than what we had seen online, $70 or so. “Hmm…well what about for just one bed?” She said they didn’t have any left but she’d charge us the same price for a 1 bed room. We agreed and gave her our credit card. But she ran our card for $70. “Nevermind” I said and didn’t sign the receipt. “We’ll just go somewhere else, there’s too many cheap rooms in this town for this”.

So we went to leave and all of a sudden the receptionist said she would give us the difference in cash and then gave us….a one bed room! Grrr….so flippin’ annoying. Also the breakfast was just going to be donuts. Gross. We may be hiker trash but that just didn’t sound appealing, and that’s bad.

Anyway we got the room. The rest of the evening involved tasks like going to the post office, the shops again, eating microwaved quesidillas (saving money!), catching up on blogging (we are chronically behind), doing laundry and such.

Day 74

In the morning we went across the street to a breakfast place and ordered sooooo much food. It was amazing. Even though we were so hungry and said we’d eat it all we couldn’t. Maybe all the Indian and pints of Ben & Jerry’s was catching up.

It was seriously a lot of food!!!

We checked out of our room and hopped on the bus to the other side of town to hitch back to the trail. There was some other hiker trash on the bus we said hello and then a few stops later Satan herself boarded the bus. She had a little kid (maybe 2 years old) on a leash. I already hated her. But then she tugged so hard on the leash as the bus moved that the child fell hard and hurt his head. He started wailing. She banged around the stroller and growled at the people around her. We think she wanted them to move. Fine, but she was handling the kid rough and swearing. It seemed sort of abusive. Cashmere tried to help her but she was resistant and unappreciative, swearing at those around her. Everyone on the bus shifted their eyes uncomfortably. When we got to the end of the line and she seemed to be struggling a bit again with her kid and stroller Cashmere again offered her help. Satan said, “you are just as bad as the rest of them, assholes”. Maybe it was that we aren’t used to real-world problems or her concern for the poor little kid but Cashmere finally lost it, ” you are a nasty grandmother! Poor kid”.
“Shut up!” Satan snapped and then cruised away down the road.

After some crying, deliberation about calling child-protective services, and a call to Maggie for advice, Cashmere finally seemed to somewhat recover from her encounter but still worried for the child. Is he getting abused in ways that will cause him psychological problems that will disadvantage him for life? Was his (we think) grandmother a meth addict? We don’t know but our super transient incommunicado lifestyle would make it hard to do much about it right now. Maybe Satan was just having a bad day? Either way we didn’t know and needed to get back on the trail.

We headed to another post office to mail a few things out. We had some problems there including spilling laundry powder on the floor and making a bit of a scene. Maybe we were no better than Satan? Okay there was no child abuse involved. Cashmere decided maybe some lunch would help. It was around 2pm. So we sat on some grass and ate our breakfast leftovers and chips and salsa.

Then, finally, we started trying to hitch. It took awhile maybe 20-30 minutes to get picked up but eventually a wonderful in his early 40’s stopped. He said he wasn’t going as far as we’d like buy we took the ride anyway. We saw his bike rack and fitness and asked if he was a mountain-biker. He sure was. Next thing you know him and Physio were chatting away and he dropped us all the way back at the trail. It was just the positive conclusion/next segment we needed.

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Thanks heaps!
Cashmere and Physio