Making a Break

Start:  Muir Pass
Camp: South Lake
I woke and started packing at first light. I still had a full food bag, about five days worth if I was hiking and at least a week like this. That seemed terribly ironic.
I suited up in everything I had, two pairs of socks plus a third over my airy tennis shoes, shouldered my pack and headed down the way I’d scouted two days before.
The descent was relatively easy thanks to Mark’s footprints. I only fell a couple of times, and my feet were numb but not unconformably so. In about three hours I found myself at the intersection of the PCT and the Bishop Pass trail, the point where I’d told Mark and myself I’d stop for the day so that I could descend the north side of Bishop Pass in the sun. I had no idea what either side of the pass might look like. I lay in the sun, impressed with the great warmth afforded down here at 9,000 feet. I took off my coat for the first time in five days. Then I took off one of my shirts, and finally my arm warmers. I took a chance and took off my rain pants. The rain pants Girly Girl had loaned me that just happen to fit perfectly.
I made lunch and relaxed while I played with the idea of staying, where I might camp and where water was, what the night might be like and that kind of stuff, all the while snacking on ‘LU’ – some kind of wafer with good dark chocolate on top. “Doing chocolate, ” I sometimes joke to myself when I eat chocolate for the first time in a few days because it has such a strong effect. I noticed the exact moment it hit me: my eyes locked onto the pine bows above and focused them sharply in my view. Colors grew more vivid and the world suddenly turned bright. It was like somebody had lifted the little red cover and switched on life’s afterburner. I sat up, took two bites of my lunch that was now ready, and headed up the Bishop Pass switchbacks, formatting a recipe for Trail Lasagna that I’d already written in my head.
I moved quickly and the temperature dropped quickly as I climbed the 3,000 feet to the pass. The numbness in my feet became an annoying ache, then a frozen stiffness. The top of the pass lay buried in waist deep drifts just like Muir Pass. Not surprising since it’s the same height. The crust actually supported me for a few steps in places. Then it would crack and I’d punch through sinking up to waist but not the fun kind of sinking, not the “holy moly this stuff’s deep” kind of sinking. There was no base to walk on. My feet rolled around blindly on loose rock, pitching my ankles with unwelcome suddenness to unnatural angles.
I did not stop atop Bishop Pass. I had arrived with an hour of sun left to spare, but with saltating ice crystals licking my face and everything below my knees packed with snow and turned to frozen stumps, I paused only to say aloud, “Is this really the trail?” and there was only one way to find out – trudge on, one knee-deep step at a time, and see what lay below. Three uneven steps in a row, or anything obviously pointed and sharp (like most of the granite naturally laying around) and I was probably off the trail.

A herd of dear saved me. Just as I had followed their prints for miles at a time in the North Cascades, I defaulted to following them here once I lost the trail. They lead me through notches that I’d never have suspected but that were unmistakably man-made and soon I was descending dozens of north facing, snow packed switchbacks down a cliff. Just like the North Cascades, I was kicking myself to be experiencing such a remarkable piece of trail in such harrowing conditions. I hiked until that exact moment – 13 minutes before I can’t see anymore – and pitched my camp on the first bit of snow free ground I found, a smelly horse hitching site.


Four Days at Muir Hut

I arrived on Friday just hours before the storm hit. I woke to overcast, then it cleared, then it finally filled in again. Wind. Mark arrived after dark. He’d decided to push, 28 miles up the pct in a week. He’d been destroyed he’d later say. It began to snow that night while we talked, we could hear it pattering against the door. We’d end up talking a lot over the next two days and three nights.

Muir Shelter Song

When I was 23 I zipped through the hills of Italy with a beautiful girl on back of my vespa.
So, if I die tonight my life will have been amazing thanks to you.
And if I live another fifty years in prison, my life will have been amazing, because of you.
And if I find another, and never know of you again, my life will have been amazing, because of you.
– If we meet again and spend forever together, my life will have been amazing, because of you.

I don’t know if you’re going to save me this time, bit you’re still my wonderwall.

I died loving you. I died listening to yellow. When the cold plays you that ballad, I will be there, and you will know the moment when the guitars will for me forever play into eternity.

Happy Halloween

Start: Evolution Valley (851)
Camp: Muir Pass Hut
I woke up and realized what had happened. Just seconds before, I’d been undressing in a locker room and chatting loudly to a friend. Something about the coach of the Baltimore Orioles. Then I was standing in a hot shower. Sometimes life is too cruel to even make a lot of sense. I’d laughed until I’d cried before but never the other way around, until now. I thought about the last time I’d wet the bed, when I was nine. There, cold as I was and wearing everything I had, I now had to sleep in a pair of pissed in rain pants. I realized it was the first night I’d been warm enough in three days, and I went back to sleep.
7:00 a.m. Finally it was warm enough to move. When you’re that cold you just don’t move for fear that you’ll suck in cold air somewhere. All night I lay awake, just like the last three nights, wishing I could sleep. Once in a while I’d doze off and find myself in confusing hypothermic dreams that scared me for their lack of coherence. I longed for the workaday world of nine to five jobs that brought with them indoor plumbing and central heat. I told myself that in the morning is turn around, hike

Phone died

I prayed for the sun to rise and guessed about what time it was. When the sun finally rose the world warmed. I felt strong the way I always do, and I felt surprised at how strong I felt, like I always do. I packed and made the biggest pot of oatmeal yet. All of my food still didn’t fit in my food bag, and that was a good thing.

It was overcast with dots of faded blue when I set off for Muir shelter. I glanced nervously at the two tone couliers as they came into view.

Made the Muir Shelter in record time. Not that I know how long that was, my phone is officially out of sync.

I take off my shoes but nothing else. I would be lying if I said I’m not extraordinarily scared right now. With both my shirts, my coat, my arm warmers, shorts, pants, beanie and socks – the same clothes I was just hiking in – I climb into my sleeping bag and bivy. This is a test and I truly hope that it works. The stone shelter echoes with the buffeting wind outside. Enduring wind and snow at 8,500 ft, or take shelter in exchange for lower temps at 12,000 ft? I’m putting my money on the stone shelter. Either way I need to rest now – if it gets too cold I’ll have to either hike or workout through the night.
It’s amazing. This might actually work. I’m warm enough and I can’t see my breath anymore! I had feared that the large twelve foot diameter building with its tall conical top would be too much for one body to heat. But maybe it’s going to work. I could still hike down and ironically I wish that it would hurry up and storm. Now it’s just windy and cloudy and I’m waiting. There’s even some blue sky. The storm warning starts at 5pm but I have no way to know when that is. If it doesn’t that will be great, I’ll hike tomorrow – 15 mile days instead of 18 to kennedy meadows .

My body quickly grew stiff lying around and I had retched gas, probably from the powdered greens drink mix if been putting in my oatmeal, and my three tops twisted and constricted my torso in various ways. Still, the overall effect was amazing – I had something to worry about other than freezing to death. I had gone to the lake a half mile below and brought back 4 liters of water, and I hung my tent over the door to help block the draft. I wedged a rusty nail into the catch to tighten the latch. I was ready for the storm that, so far, and it was almost dark, was just wind and clouds. Still, last night the wind kept blowing dirt under my tent and into my face and buffeting it, so this is heavenly.

I lay reading, remembering that I’d discovered a pretty severe hernia in my groin last night, and that I had in fact looked at aa batteries in Yosemite. If I had bought a package it would give me the option to night hike. As it is I only have whatever charge is left in the one I have and the half full moon.

Halloween Adventure : Kings Canyon by Night

How’s this for scary: I’m hiking up into the trail’s highest and most difficult terrain without enough warm clothes, or a warm enough sleeping bag, and maybe not enough food, and tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. a winter storm will hit, bringing a predicted 18 inches of snow by Saturday night. To top it off I’m hiking up a canyon along a precipitous cliff with a rushing river below. Somewhere. In the shadowy depths. Because it’s night. Once, I start with the glimpse of my own pole shadow coming toward me, so hard that I gasp and recoil in horror only to realize its true nature. But I have to keep hiking.
I was about to take a half day and rest at the hot springs but then I learned of the impending storm. I wish I was done with the Sierras. It’ll take me nine more days at least. I’ll try to go over Muir Pass and spend the next day zeroing in the lowlands while the storm passes. Hopefully Sunday will warm up enough to make 17 miles per day from then on. I tried to charge my phone today but it wasn’t meant to be; I left it charging at Muir Trail Ranch while I bathed and did laundry at Blayney Hot Spring nearby, but didn’t end up with much. Luke, the guy living there that I talked to, was cool and he’s the one that told me about the storm. I believe what he says, that it could be deadly, and I know I’m ill prepared, but I’ve got plenty of food – still about twenty pounds I’d guess – that if I can just keep warm at night I’ll be fine. But that hasn’t been the case. The last two nights I haven’t slept much. Last night while camped at 10,400′ Marie Lake, trying to gain extra insulation by putting my sleeping bag inside the bivy, I woke to tons of condensation in between the two. Luckily I caught it early and stripped off the bivy. All was dry by morning. The night before, sleeping in an unlocked motel room at vvr I thought how nice it would be to sleep in a bed with heat. The heater cycled on and off and woke me every time it did, and the mattresses insulation was so poor that I froze. The day before, waking at Iva Bell well before dawn, I laid around for a bit, then soaked as the world came alive, then bombed all the way up and over Silver Pass and back down to 8,000′ to VVR, which was deserted. The hike out to VVR sucks, as does the Selden Pass on both sides. I don’t know what exactly it’s like but I’m thinking taking Goodale Pass and then road walking to Florence Lake via Mono Hot Spring and then hiking back to the PCT via MTR would be way easier. It’s 22 miles according to Luke. I thought a lot about Lisa and Belluno today.

Tips for Yosemite

I’ve been in Yosemite for three days now. Make that a week. Here’s what I’ve learned:
There’s several routes into the Yosemite Valley from the PCT. The shortest is via May Lake, which gives you a good view of Half Dome but doesn’t give you the chance to climb it. For that, take the Yosemite Valley Trail. The southernmost route, which has two camps with bear lockers, is via Vogalsang Camp. You could also hitchhike from Tuolumne. Hiking in via May Lake it was a short shuttle ride for me to get to Curry Village.
The Curry Village Lodging front desk will give you a towel and show you where the showers are, for free, if you tell them you’re a PCT hiker. If you need privacy try 4235 on the handicap showers. You have to pay $5 if you go to Housekeeping Camp, and they’re not as good. Laundry there is about $2 plus 75¢ for soap. There’s free WiFi in quite a few places, including Curry Village, the library and the employee wellness center, and none of it worked for me. It was easiest just to pay $6/day and sit in the lobby of the Yosemite Falls Lodge.
Regarding camping, I gorilla camped all six nights. There are lots of places to do this. You might try the rocks behind the Curry shower building, or one of the ledges popular with climbers. Camp Four walk in tent camping is popular with climbers but fills quickly like everything else. Get there early the day of, registration is $5 per person there at the booth and all parties must be present. Tent cabins run about $86, and there is also a free backpackers campground near the Awhanee for wilderness permit holders.
Breakfast at the chow hall in Curry Village is big but unspectacular and the cost is $10.50. A quarter pound bacon cheeseburger runs $11 at the Yosemite Village grill, and sandwiches nearby are rumored to be delicious at about $8. Update: the one I had, the Italian with pesto, was just ok. The Awhanee offers luxurious atmosphere and superb service at $30-60/plate for dinner, out of most hikers’ budgets, but maybe a nice place for a drink or a homemade dessert. The cheesecake is delicious ($10). Buses loop through the Valley every fifteen minutes until 7p.m., then every half hour until 10:00p.m. After that, any of the front desks can call the park shuttle van to take you where you need to go throughout the night until the buses start running again. The bus stops running out to El Capitan on October 15, and the ice rink opens November 21. I didn’t see any bears, but squirrels were rummaging through anything and everything including open tents, bear lockers and garbage, and a brazen raccoon walked over to my pack, unzipped the hipbelt pocket, took out my fruit snacks and ate them right there in front of me while I cursed him. I found the employees to be exceedingly kind but also consistently reserved as you might expect anyone living full time in such a serene setting where there is also a distinct ‘us and them’ design to be, so don’t hesitate to be the one to strike up a conversation.
Regarding resupplying, the Yosemite Village grocery is the largest of three stores in the park that sell grocery type foods and it has everything, at a price: quinoa for $10/lb; Idahoan potatoes and Knorr sides at $3 apiece; flank steak at $6/lb; bread at $5+ per loaf; and Triscuits, poptarts or nature valley bars at $4

Yosemite: Little Climbers

I thought I’d have escaped the august beauty of this big wall paradise by now. It has proven, to my surprise, to be quite difficult. Motivation, it seems, is much like potential energy – it is directly proportionate to how high up you are. The four thousand feet in elevation that I gave up in my descent into this pit five days ago was tantamount to sliding the banister all the way to the bottom of the motivational staircase. I have, quite literally, hit rock bottom. It is all up hill from here. 4,000 feet back up to a snowy, deserted trail with more on my back than I’ve yet carried to venture into a wilderness with little opportunity to resupply. I am excited to do it, but the grandeur here is not to be missed. We slept in, the tent pitched in our acquaintances’ yard rather than any of the numerous, expensive and smoky campgrounds. Rob had gone to work and Dan was off so I crossed the street to the store for a moment and came back with the ingredients to make the three of us omelets with sausage, cheese and spinach, and a bit of leftover steak. We borrowed two of Dan’s beach cruisers, one with a basket, and rode to the Village. We went to the post office and lolled in the Ansel Adams gallery showing each other note cards of frozen aspens and ever-crumbling monoliths. We rode the three miles of sandy think westward to the foot of El Capitan and watched tiny people hang off the side of that immutable mass of stone while we paunched ourselves on an overstuffed mass of Italian cold cuts, vegetables and bread. Girly shared a bar of sea salted dark chocolate with me as headlights clicked on 3,400 feet above and the gray stone reflected a soft pink. Then she threw a tantrum on the way back because she didn’t like the rough trail and sand.

Higher Still

Start: Disaster Peak (1035)
Camp: N. Kennedy Meadows (1018)
7:00 a.m. Woke to my alarm and a surprisingly bright world. Discovered it was overcast and I had diarrhea.
10:15 a.m. Crossed into a large granite valley.
11:00 a.m. The last chill of morning leaves my skin. See my first cottonwood. Golden aspens become commonplace.
11:15 a.m. Discover I have a 2,300′ climb over the next six miles and will be higher than ever before.
11:55 a.m. Explored a short but sculpted section of granite narrows at mile 1026.4. Did a low exposure free climb. Took lots of photos. This would be a great spot to come back to with gear to build a top anchor to do a couple near climbs in the narrows. With high water I see a potential for a heroically narrow cliff jump.
2:45 p.m. Reach new highpoint, 10,400 ft.
4:00 p.m. I hiked straight through, without a break, 17 miles, until I reached the Sonora Pass trailhead. I laid down on a picnic table and rubbed my feet and it felt so good, so intense, that I had to hold onto something. My free hand found my backpack. As I rubbed my stomach heaved with the intensity.

11:52 p.m. This was a day worth writing about. I felt almost revered, even honored. As I climbed to the summit of the day’s highpoint, just a few feet before reaching 10,400′, I met a couple of guys out on a day hike. They live a couple of hours away with their families. Anyway, the reason I felt so revered is that when they discovered how far I was hiking they wanted to ask me all kinds of questions. I was hesitant to answer, lest I seem gruff or fail to paint the whole picture; it takes a lot of background to explain living for six months with only eight pounds of gear. They kept saying, “One more question, one more question,” and this was flattering but I had to excuse myself. They didn’t know I’d hiked 13 miles without stopping and had not eaten lunch. There’s something I’ve finally learned about interacting with day hikers and car campers: they usually have way better food than you, and, more importantly, they’re usually happy to share it. The problem is they haven’t been hiking for four months. They don’t know what it’s like to be eternally hungry or to be under the gun having to constantly hike to make 25 miles each day and beat the snow. Slowly then, in tiny steps over dozens of interactions, I have internalized the conversation-guiding phrases that trip the “I’m hungry” idiot light on a person’s internal dashboard. Sure, they’re true, but I want to focus on the way stating the truth is rewarded: “I’ve got to get going so I can make lunch,” I told them. As I headed down the trail, the dark haired fellow hollered after me, a disc golfer whose name escapes me now (and if you’re reading this please don’t hesitate to remind me your name if you’d like to be called by it,) he yelled to me a question.
“Hey, you want a mountain house meal?”
“Fuck yea.” I turned on a dime, reversed direction and smiled broadly all in the same instant. I’m not in the habit of cussing, especially not to my elders, but it wouldn’t have been honest to hold it back. I was excited, and it gets better. Gary, the taller fellow, handed me something amazing: rolls of provolone wrapped in salami, about a dozen of them hermetically sealed in a clear, sterile bubble. I tore into them immediately and offered them up but Gary declined. Meanwhile, the disc golfer poured peanut M&M’s into my hipbelt pocket and ate his own salami rolls. I thought I might save a couple for later but that thought was only fleeting. After a couple more questions the lack of exertion set in and, cooling off, I once again excused myself. I liked those two guys and I hoped I’d see them again. Realizing I’d just consumed far more calories than 4.5 oz of dehydrated potato flakes contains even when prepared with butter, I summited, checked for cell phone service, and started the descent down the other side. There was no cell service here or anywhere since I’d left Tahoe. I had hoped to be able to call my uncle, my dad, maybe mom too, as I’ve not talked to any of them in a great while and my phone will shut off tomorrow. I need to save money though and this is one way to do it.
I took a seat at a picnic table at the trailhead, or rather I lay down massaging my feet, and watching for anyone likely to be amenable to taking me west with them. My resupply would be waiting at the Kennedy Meadows North Pack Station 9 miles to the west on the scenic biway. The parking lot was quite full but no one came until my generous friends returned from their 10k day. Gary asked how far I needed to go and then said, “We’ll take you,” and that was that.
I dallied at the restaurant as I had all day. I took a table and perused a menu halfheartedly. I felt bad eating without my companion. I got up and walked around the porch to the store and bought an ice cream sandwich. There were rigid pounds of ground beef of an unknown grade and vacuum packed new York strips in freezer bins beside the picked over ice cream selection. The pack station closes soon. The ice cream is half off, the meat is not. I picked up my box and dug through to see if there was fuel. None. I dug through the hiker box and pulled out a can with a few burns still in it. I wandered around back of a nearby cabin where two barbecues were going and introduced myself. A friendly fellow from Livermore was tending the ribs and chicken. This was Mark. He said I could certainly use his barbecue, so I went back to the restaurant, shouldered my pack, apologized, and walked around to the store. I inspected each strip steak until I reached the bottom of the bin and then I took the one with the thinnest fat on the outside and the marbling I liked most. In my other hand I held the runner up, squinting at it intently as if it might be revived and then coerced into telling me the whereabouts of Girly Girl. I thought back to the defacement etched into the beautiful new sign I saw at the edge of the wilderness today “Carson Iceberg Wilderness +cattle grazing.” It was true, decimated trails abounded there in a wilderness trammeled as any, squishy brown calling cards prominently left lying about. I thought back to three days before when I’d last seen Girly Girl and wondered why she’d slowed down. Realizing my fingertips where quickly sustaining frostbite I set the runner up back into its lonesome bin and took first place up to the register. On the way out I realized how difficult it might be to work with a frozen steak in heavy vacuum sealed plastic so I went back in and defrosted it in the microwave. When I returned to Mark’s barbecue I met Walter and their wives, Julie and Lorrie. Mark burned his chicken and ribs, and my steak turned out about as tough as it should have, but all of it was delicious. The company was great and I love all of their dogs, particularly a French bulldog named Emma. She was gray, and very snorty. They also had cute little Yorkies with darling haircuts. Girly Girl did eventually show up. She ordered the prime rib special at the same table I’d walked out on but didn’t like it the way she’d liked the prime rib last week. She ordered a cheeseburger and slid the other dinner platter to me when I arrived. The pink slab was an inch thick and must have weighed nearly a pound. I ate the tender parts. The rest I cut up, soaked in au jus, and dropped into my gallon ziplock of protein rich leftovers. We did laundry and took showers and I realized how terribly out of practice I was when I tried conversing with the Mexican kitchen staff. The two, one young, one old, had come from Agua Caliente in Michoacán together. They ate steak and potatoes from Styrofoam to-go boxes while standing in the  institutional laundry room, like they probably did most nights, and once they’d had their fill they dropped there sprung-open clamshells into a clean and empty trashcan. I was packing up my laundry and brushing my teeth. I pointed out the untouched rib eye to Girly Girl, then I pulled it out and ate it. We went and found a small flat spot and camped by the river.

New Highs

Start: Raymond Peak (1059)
Camp: Disaster Peak (1035)
7:45 a.m. I didn’t wake until just before sunrise. I had Pearl Jam in my head and put on the album. I had eaten more sugar than the night before and didn’t sleep as well because of it. I had slept a full ten hours though. I was clear headed and I packed quickly. I was reminded of being a young teenager. “I am here because of how I grew up,” I said to a large and contorted pine as I stretched. I began to walk and eat, and I stopped to wash my feet in the first creek I came to. Pearl Jam was still playing. The water drove away the itch but my toes ached from the cold.
9:30 a.m. I find myself in a world of hoodoos, fins and spires like Bryce, but gray.
10:45 a.m. Arrived at a place to which I will certainly return, quite possibly the most beautiful and fun lake I’ve yet seen: Upper Kinney Lake (mile 1052.) I spent a while walking along the south side of the lake taking photos and exploring the cliff jumping possibilities. It is hot and sunny, but the water is low this time of year and too shallow for anything worth getting wet for. It would be easy enough to access this lake from Ebbetts Pass and it would be a fun place to camp with friends.
11:40 a.m. Ran out of water and had to fill at a dark pond reflecting black basalt cliffs. As I drink I watch tiny red arthropods fight the suction of my revamped Sawyer Squeeze. The new rubber washer is working wonderfully.
12:00 p.m. Reached a deserted Ebbets Pass and kicked off my worn tennie’s. I sat in a beam of sun upon a perfect rock throne eating that most affluent of aliments, the Golden Grahams treat bar. I’d prepared them two days prior at the Mellow Mountain, splitting the batch with Girly Girl. This was my last one. Fortified with 85% dark chocolate, the bar I’d eaten at 4:00 p.m. yesterday had kept me going until late in the evening; I was getting an earlier start today. Noting also that yesterday I’d spent between two and three cumulative hours taking breaks, I resolved to keep my stop short. I crossed the crumbling single lane blacktop and began a climb that quickly changed to a sunny descent into Noble Canyon.
12:32 p.m. I can see my path across the wide volcanic valley that is the head of Noble Canyon, switchbacking 1000′ feet up almost barren black lava. On my side, I walk on crumbling granite. In the back of this valley I find two icy creek’s that are unmistakably snowmelt. Today and over the last week it has become apparent that spurred by snow and rain the creeks have begun to flow again, colder than before. I fill two liters so that I can make lunch atop the saddle.
1:55 p.m. I walked slowly for the last few feet before reaching the saddle at 9,321′. This is the highest I’ve been and I wanted to revere it. Armin van Buren played a Ferry Corsten track that I’d loved and almost forgotten in his A State of Trance podcast #7 from 2001. I made lunch with precision and efficiency.
2:30 p.m. Packed and continued hiking.
4:00 p.m. Filled last water for 8.5 miles.
5:45 p.m. The air seemed not to contain enough oxygen. As I climbed I ran short on breath and had to stop to rest. My stove threatened to extinguish itself when enshrouded by a windscreen, and the water seemed to keep at a boil without any heat applied. I knew I was high.
Gushing spring below trail at Guthook 1036.1, Halfmile 1036.1.
There seems to be an unmapped spring 1/10 mile north of this junction, 15′ below trail. I’d be interested in knowing if it is there at other times of the year.
6:15 p.m. The effects of the setting sun on the surrounding formations – limestone, lava and granitic rocks all in close proximity – was so astounding that I stopped and took off my pack. I took photos and sought to make camp. I climbed a nearby hill but thought better of camping there or anywhere nearby once I approached the precipitous northern edge of the saddle and discovered a bone chilling upslope wind. I hiked on until I was in the trees and set up my tent.
7:40 p.m. With tent set and belly full, harmonica in hand and muscles stretched, I lay down, feet elevated, down jacket on.

9,000 on 10/9

Start: Showers Lake (1084)
Camp: Raymond Peak (1059)
7:30 a.m. Today I will break 9,000′ in elevation for the first time since I began the PCT on June 14th. It is late in the year to be venturing into such rugged and remote terrain for most people, but I am not most people. I am Buddha, I’ll sleep at 14,000’in the dead of winter on a school night. That said, I am still hiking in shorts and tennis shoes, a t-shirt and no gloves. The grass is white with frost and the mud frozen to a satisfying crunch. It might be time to suit up. 
8:15 a.m. I stood in this same spot almost exactly two years ago, just as I stood in many spots in this section of the PCT. I was thru-hiking the TRT then, and on the western side of Lake Tahoe the two trails share tread. It felting empowering and exciting to be on that ultra long distance trail even if I wasn’t hiking it. But when I came to this spot two years ago that feeling changed to longing; this is as far south as the TRT goes, from here it turns a sharp corner and heads for the lake’s east side. I stood here looking south and wondering what lie further down that long trail. I turned and headed up the trail I’d already committed to, but in hindsight I could have just as easily followed my curiosity. It’s amazing, the things you remember when you return to a place where you’d felt a strong emotion years before, how readily those can come back to you. Now I get to satisfy my longing to find out what lies south.
9:40 a.m. I arrived at Carson Pass at the last possible moment. Wood and tools lay about and volunteer workers scurried. I walked in and asked for some water and when I walked out they began to screw on the boards that would seal off the building from the harsh winter to come. The volunteer work crew gave me a sprinkle donut with white icing and I accepted it despite my ongoing effort to eat better. That’s my favorite type of donut. I asked about the avalanche control gun house I’d seen near Echo Summit yesterday and my attention was directed to Don who, besides sitting on the county board of supervisors and being a volunteer at the visitor center, happens to work for CalTrans doing avalanche control. On occasion he snowshoes the high ridges along highway 89 and highway 50 tossing 4 kilo water gel hand charges that he “assembles in the kitchen.” A firm pull on the igniter’s exposed wire starts the charge smoking, a sure sign that the 70 second fuse inside has been lit. These, he says, are CalTrans’s third line of defense against unmitigated avalanches. The 10,000 psi compressed air guns – which is what is housed near Echo Summit and is what I’m used to seeing at the ski resorts in Colorado – these have a range of five miles. Known as “Low-cat” they constitute the second line of defense and because the projectiles travel at very high velocities they are virtually unaffected by wind. He says that 20 years ago Howitzers were used instead, but that 50% of the Korean war era projectiles were duds that had to be located and detonated on site. These days, the state-of-the-art, front line defense against blocked highways and buried motorists is a European system called GasX. This systems remotely mixes oxygen and propane before piping it to an array of permanently installed, one meter diameter, open-ended Sheppard’s hook pipes. Inside each pipe a magneto and spark plug ignite the gas mixture and an explosion is directed at a known fracture zone. This is all done remotely by computer using an encrypted connection after the highway has been closed. It is for the refueling of the GasX system that there has been a contracted helicopter flying back and fourth since last night. When I was hiking the TRT I encountered I large search and rescue operation, and so I had thought these flights to be part of something similar. “Boy a lot of people have to get rescued around Tahoe,” I was thinking. Don told me about how he’d been a gold and silver miner before working for CalTrans and how he’d once built a suspension bridge inside the mine on nearby Monitor Pass with his father. It all made me want to go back to engineering school to study mining.

To Do: Email Dennis regarding 2014 through hiker numbers, completion, north/south distribution, and the picture he took of me sitting at his table with a donut.
12:47~1:45 p.m. I took a lunch that felt like just 30 minutes.
2:10 p.m. Under cloudless blue skies I climbed to 9,100′ on approach to something labeled “The Nipple,” which was indeed quite nipple-like. From here distant peaks loomed higher – much higher. I took off my shorts. The sun warmed my skin but the wind whipped so that I did not feel an inkling of sweat anywhere on my body. I had to take off my hat and bandana and pack them away before the wind blew them off and away down the steep mountain.
6:19 p.m. Just to be here, to listen to my favorite music (Paul van Dyk,) to feel the scrubby bushes scrape against my legs, to watch the sun slowly dim and disappear, to feel the wind on my skin. To gaze up at the peaks and then watch the first star appear. To follow a glowing dot that must be the International Space Station. What a gift.
6:47 p.m. The sun has set. I have hiked from sunrise to sunset. This is the time, just before it gets too dark to hike by natural light, when I start to look for camp. I look for something east facing and high so that in the morning I can hike in the sun, and preferably uphill.
7:30 p.m. I watch the yellow-orange moon rise over distant rocky ridges as high as my own encampment – 8,600′ – and I admire the same shadowy dips and depressions I have always admired. I have eaten and stretched now, and I am tucked deep down into my sleeping bag, in down jacket and silk sheet. I hope I will be warm enough.