Our guide began the description of this section with something like, “I found this section of the trail to be the most challenging (PHYSICALLY) all three years [that I did the PCT]. It is also mosquito hell”.
I know what you are thinking, “three times?” Yes. Some people get addicted to thru-hiking and do these mega-long trails again and again! There is even one crazy guy, Scott Williamson, who has not only done the PCT over and over but has even yo-yo’d it, twice. That means he walked all the way to Canada and then turned around and walked all the way back to Mexico in one season. And he felt the need to do that, twice!
Anyway with that ominous outlook, we examined the elevation profile. It didn’t look that bad. I mean there weren’t like 12,000 foot passes to climb and descend everyday like the previous week. Mosquito sounded bad but maybe the longstanding drought in California would help?
Day 65 (Continued)
So after perving at Giant Seqoia trees near Yosemite Valley and doing a panicked resupply, we headed back on the trail.
We hadn’t showered since Mammoth Lakes and were ready for a wash. We found a perfect place along the Tuolumne River which we had followed since a pass where we saw its snowy origins. We stripped down to our birthday suits and waded in. The water was a little chilly but the background views of Yosemite were beautiful.
Some deer hanging out up the river seemed to like what we were up to and also waded into the river and just stood there. They also felt comfortable in their birthday suits in front of us.
Eventually we finished washing ourselves and some clothes and cooked and ate dinner. Then we continued walking as the sunset made our swimming spot views even more idyllic. We continued walking until we passed the ‘no camping within 4 miles of Tuolumne Meadows’ threshold, found a campsite by a river, got accosted by mosquitoes as we set up camp, and then Cashmere’s headlamp spotted some eyes glowing at her from near the river. “We’re so close to Tuolumne, it must be a bear!” she thought. But it was just some more deer. Phew. But less exciting. Then we went to sleep.
We awoke to more mosquito torture which got us moving pretty quickly. Within a mile of walking we came across some seriously sexy waterfalls.
After crossing a couple of bridges, a fellow PCT hiker asked if we’d seen a couple named KC and Lojo on the trail that he was hoping to meet up with. “Oh you’re with that crew” we said as we’d seen several notes for this couple on the trail. The PCT hiker we were talking to, Sparrow, had been waiting in this spot for over an hour so he decided to just walk with us which was a delight. Because we (Cashmere and Physio) spend so much time together hiking everyday, we often run out of conversation material so it is exciting when we get to talk with other hikers. Sparrow was also quite lovely. He is from Maryland and a few years ago basically walked the entire Appalachian Trail after setting out to only walk a few weeks.
Anyhow we walked for awhile, had some snacks, met a ranger who (finally) checked our PCT permits, and walked some more. The trail climbed steeply, then descended steeply, then we had lunch, then the track climbed really steeply and it was hot. Ah, so we were learning this section was hard because there was lots of climbing and descending, just in small increments. Physio wasn’t interested in all this hard work. Cashmere noticed it but was feeling so much better than when she was sick in the previous section that she didn’t even mind it.
Then we started a longer climb up to a pass, Benson Pass, which at 10,125 ft (~3,000m) was not super huge but still high enough to have some snow and good views.
Upon the top of the pass we had dinner and made some trades with Sparrow; he didn’t have any maps or other navigational tools for this section and his old phone was almost dead. We gave him maps and a charge and he let us use some of his cooking canister gas and deet, both of which we were running dangerously low on. It was a solid exchange.
After dinner we started descending. The mosquitoes had been annoying thusfar but we soon entered MOSQUITO HELL! The buzzing. The bites. The itch. You couldn’t stop. They’d bite through your clothes anywhere not smothered with deet. Aaahhhh. “Oh it’s a beautiful lake with campsites.” But you can’t stop there. Or you will die.
Eventually it was getting pretty dark and we were in fact quite tired from all of the climbing and descending. We had to acknowledge that we couldn’t get away from the mozzies. At least not tonight in northern Yosemite National Park with big rocky walls and water everywhere. So much for the drought protecting us. We found some flattish spots, and made our own campsites.
As the three of us (Sparrow was still hanging out with us) got up and got ready our friends the Tits dropped by. They had camped near the mosquito- hell-on-steroids lake a mile earlier but they did have headnets and Bushtit even had cool bug pants. They said their tent window was basically black with mosquitoes wanting to get in for a feast. Phew, we dodged a bullet…a little at least.
Eventually we began walking and again there was lots of smallish increments of climbing and descending. The mosquitoes were still awful. We chatted with Sparrow, learnt about Maryland and Baltimore, which was a nice distraction. Then we started a steep, hot, climb and began to miss the cooler temperatures of the higher Sierras.
Then we stopped for snacks, to filter water, and dunk Cashmere’s head in a small stream. Soon we were joined by some hikers who had been behind us, and who also stopped to filter water. Then more hikers came and stopped though of a sudden we were in a pop-up hiker trash convention of like 12 people by this stream. We met some funny characters there such as, for instance Bearsnack. Bearsnack earned his name by getting all sorts of food stuck in his beard and on his clothes when he eats, thus attracting bears. Sparrow’s long lost hiking friends, KC and Lojo, also rocked up eventually too.
Finally we (Cashmere and Physio) decided that we’d better get some more hiking done and set off back into the heat. There were some cool cloud formations but it was still gruesomely hot.
After lunch we struggled up a big hill in the heat. Then we heard a beautiful sound: the sound of music. We came upon Bearsnack playing the ukelele and singing near a stream. Given how much water we were drinking in the heat, it seemed a good opportunity to stop and filter more, and greedily drink, water. His music was just the lift we needed. Soon we actually noticed the abundant beautiful wildflowers.
Not too long after we ended up walking in a bit of a train of about eight awesome people, though this hiker train broke when we had to cross a couple of big rivers.
We had told Sparrow that in the evening we would stop by a lake, Lake Wilma, for a dip to wash off. Him and his friends thought they might join. But as we approached the lake the mosquitoes became seriously unbearable. The others continued walking but we wanted our dip too bad. We jumped in the warm water and while we were in the lake the mosquitoes mostly left us alone due to either mosquito-eating patrolling dragonflies, being too wet to land on us, or some combination of the two. The swim was awesome. Getting out and getting annihilated by mosquitoes while eating dinner was not.
We hid in our rain coats and walked some more. We couldn’t get away from the mosquitoes and it was getting dark so we decided to set up camp in a cool spot by a waterfall and hide from the mosquitoes in our tent.
We started with breakfast inside the tent – away from the bugs, and began walking. No matter how fast we walked the mosquitoes chomped and chomped on us. Our small amount of remaining Deet was only a minor deterrant. Cashmere looked forward to crossing the border out of Yosemite National Park. In her mind it was the ticket to freedom from mosquitoes. As we approached the pass where we would flee Yosemite, we went by gorgeous Dorothy Lake which had some nice snowy peaks as the backdrop.
Then we went over the Dorothy Lake Pass and were delighted that a strong breeze really was keeping the mosquitoes at bay. We walked a few more miles and found a nice lunch spot by a creek with a good breeze. In fact, Cashmere got so comfortable she fell fast asleep upon a rock. Physio eventually tried to wake her up, “C’mon honey, time to go”. To which Cashmere growled, “no”, wiped the drool from her face, rolled over and fell back asleep. Physio put his shoes on, giving Cashmere a few more minutes before physically removing her from her new best friend, the rock, that she was drooling all over.
We walked some more and came upon a big milestone: the 1,000 mile (1600km) marker. Woo-hooo! But the mosquitoes were bad again so we didn’t pause for long.
I must admit that thusfar this section was a bit psychologically challenging. Were the mosquitoes going to be this bad for the next 1,600 miles? How will we survive?
After some more walking the mosquito situation got worse again. We found a note from our friend Sparrow telling us that he had walked all through the night to try and escape mosquito hell. We were excited to receive an on-trail note. We felt important.
We had dinner with some new cool friends, Tangle, Hawkeye and Rafiki. Then we decided to continue walking up to a ridge that our written guide said might not have much in the way of campsites and would be very windy. The wind sounded like an amazing to ditch the mosquitoes.
We climbed steeply and some more snowy peaks emerged. Eventually we found a campsite that was flat and had some super cool views. Despite the wind some mozzies still managed to attack us between gusts, but it was still better than down in the valley.
As it got dark the wind strengthened even further and we could hear it howling through the mountain passes long before it hit the tent. The wind was so strong that it pulled our tent pegs out even though they were anchored with large rocks. Several times Physio also felt the need to brace the top of the carbon fibre tent pole, fearing it might shatter from the force of the wind.
After a bit of a restless sleep due to the wind that we had craved, we woke up early and continued climbing the ridge. It was spectacular. The accompanying wind also kept the mosquitoes away. The views and reprieve renewed our love for what we were doing. We love the PCT! Cashmere got so excited she skipped along the trail. Yay!
Sonora Pass Photos:
There were also a few glissading opportunities on the later descent from the ridge. In fact, Cashmere got way too optimistic and led us down a glissade which then required a traverse and descent of a seriously steep scree slope. Oops.
The views continued to impress us as we made our way down to Sonora Pass.
Upon reaching the highway, Cashmere approached a truck that was parked and asked the driver if he would be headed west. He said he was but that he was busy geo-caching some items so he couldn’t give us a lift. So we started trying to hitch.
We had no luck getting picked up until the man in the truck returned. He was done with his geo-caching job and keen to help us out. It turns out he had a friend on the trail (though well-behind us) so wanted to contribute to the helping-PCT-hikers karma. We jumped in the back of the truck and descended rapidly down to a resort, (the northern) Kennedy Meadows. The views in this area were stunning. Turns out you don’t need to hike the PCT to see beautiful landscape
When we reached this Kennedy Meadows we joined some of our newer hiker friends and had a nice hot lunch at the restaurant on site. It hit the spot.
After hearing they had one double room left and Physio applying some pressure on Cashmere, we decided to get the room for the night rather than camping. We resupplied in the shop and found some goodies in the hiker box, showered, did laundry, and hung out on the porch with other hiker trash talking about hiker trash topics (food, PCT gossip, food, poop etc).
Later in the evening our British friend Limey arrived. We had a lovely dinner with him and then Cashmere convinced us to accompany her to the local saloon.
Kennedy Meadows resort is actually a bit of a ranch and Cashmere was in heaven hanging out with the local cowboys pretending she was in Lonesome Dove or something else in the wild west. The cowboys taught her a gambling dice game and ‘sponsored’ her first few rounds. She wasn’t bad and ended up winning a bit of money. She made friends with a fellow rapper named ‘Frank the Tank’ and they had a rapping session which sadly only his friend caught on video that we don’t have a copy of. Meanwhile, Physio enjoyed hanging with some boys talking about sports and other man stuff or something.
Eventually we decided we should probably go to bed in order to make sure we were up early enough to take advantage of the ride that the bartender had offered us for the next morning.
In the morning we awoke and quickly packed up. We headed downstairs to the restaurant and indulged in an amazing hot breakfast. I wish we could always start our hiking days with pancakes. Yum! Then we piled into bartender Dan’s vehicle and headed back up to Sonora Pass. The next blog post will describe what happened from there.
So was this section the most physically challenging with the worst mosquitoes? It was definitely the worst mosquitoes thusfar. It was a bit physically challenging, but we wouldn’t say the worst. We still aren’t ready to commit to hiking the PCT over and over though.
Thanks again for reading!