PCT Day 68-69

Day 68

The undesired morning came: it meant today we have to go in different directions. It might not sound like a big deal but we spend pretty much 24/7 together and it’s now been a few years like that. So imagining being separated for an unknown amount of time was kind of a sad. We packed up and ate breakfast and still had some time to do the internetz.

And again sadness: we found out that our dear trail friend Bible has been missing for some days already. It’s already pretty sad when someone goes missing but when it’s your friend it’s very sad on a personal level too and also slightly shocking as you usually think that a thing like that won’t happen to you our someone close to you. Well, we honestly weren’t that close as we hadn’t hiked together for over a month but still the times we did hike together we were friends, buddies.

Bible had had to sort out some dental problems so that’s where he got behind and as we are slightly pressured by our visa we could not stay in one place for too long. And that pretty much left us inable to help; we hadn’t talked to or seen him for so long that we couldn’t give any useful information to the people looking for him.

Even though some comments under the case said that someone had seen Bible a day or two ago, the fact that NBC news also reported him missing meant that it was serious, but all we could do was just hope that he will be found all well.

Unfortunately the time of departure had come and it was time to go, I went with Stiina to the bus stop to send her on the bus and say goodbye. After it was already 20 minutes past the expected bus arrival time it was now also my time to get going – but in the other direction, to the trailhead in Toloumne meadows. Stiina said she will just hitch and it was my plan as well; we said the final goodbyes and I went off to South.

After about 5 minutes of my walk I met KP and Stretch and they told me that there is a bus going all the way to the Yosemite Valley in half an hour and the best part about it was that it was free due to the Memorial Day. As it was the direction I was heading in, that saved me a hitch and 26$ (the normal bus ticket price). It was a perfect option to get back on the trail.

I instantly wanted to share the good news with Stiina but the cell service was not cooperating and I could neither call nor send a text so I did it the old school way. As I still had half an hour I ran back to Stiina to tell her my message just like a post-pigeon. We said good bye again and I ran back to where I had left my backpack. The last time I saw Stiina she still hadn’t got a ride.

My bus came almost on time and up the valley we went. The bus ride took around 45 minutes; the bus driver was nice enough to make an exception and let us out half a kilometer before the actual bus stop and so I was exactly in the place we had left from the day before.

The weather was lovely, warm and sunny, perfect for a hike. I changed into shorts, rolled up my sleeves and was ready to throw myself at it. A mistake I did though was to drink a whole liter of Gatorade right before. So the first hour I had to make quite a few stops.

Anyways, as I was walking through the famous Yosemite National Park it was spectacular and I wasn’t even in the main valley where the Half Dome and El Capitan is. It was like nothing I have seen before: giant granite wall and even floors all around me and rivers and waterfalls, giant waterfalls. It was a joy to walk through; I only saw people during the first 5 miles (8km) and had my lunch soon after at the Toloumne waterfalls. It was weird being alone, nobody to talk to. I can and don’t mind being alone but sometimes you just want someone else to share the experience with and lunchbreaks were usually the time when we would talk out the plan for the afternoon.

I made the plan myself, I wanted to get to the Miller Lake which was still 11,5 miles (18,5km) away and mostly all of it uphill. I packed up and continued with my solo hike. When you hike alone you have to really be there because if you mess up somehow and injure yourself there will be nobody to help you, additionally as I carry no emergency beacon or SOS device I was on “make no mistake” policy and had to fully rely on my own senses and skills.

The case of the missing trail friend made me especially aware, reminding that it is no joke out here. Nevertheless, the weather and the nature was still beautiful and I managed to put all my worries to the side and simply enjoy my surroundings while walking through them.

However, the joy had to come to an end around 4 miles (6km) before my desired destination. It was time go get the feet wet at the McCabe Creek crossing. It was marked as a large creek (I would call it a river) and it also looked slightly deeper and faster than all the previous creeks. You technically shouldn’t do river crossings alone but I had noone there and I trusted myself; that I could walk over this one just fine. The water was cold as always and the depth of the creek went slightly over my knee and I felt in control during the whole crossing. I knew that there is one more just a few hundred meters ahead, so I just continued walking with my Crocs. I was certain that this crossing was the most challenging for the day, but I got proven wrong pretty fast.

The next one was another large river – the Return Creek. It looked very similar to the previous one, but maybe again slightly deeper and with stronger current. As I just had crossed a similar one I just went straight into it. As soon as I started I felt that the rocks are much more slippery under my feet and that I have to take extra caution. As I got to the middle of the creek, almost at the point where the biggest rapids were, the water was already waist deep and I could barely balance on the slippery rocks with the current pushing me downstream. Retreat! I went back to the shore.

That was the first time I couldn’t cross a creek, I had to be extremely careful. I walked about 10m upstream as it looked like the water was slightly calmer over there. That was also my only option as the place of the crossing was between two waterfalls – up and down the stream. I thought I will try again and if I had to retreat I would probably either have to stay there until the morning and cross then, while the stream is calmer, or walk somewhere more upstream until I find a reasonable place to cross it.

I went in the water again and again it was just as challenging but this time I was more concentrated. There were some big slippery rocks on the way across I had to step over while balancing on other slippery rocks. I luckily had two hiking poles which gave me the necessary points of contact to not fall over. You would think that the shape of the hiking poles is pretty aerodynamic, but the current was so strong that it required extra effort just to move the poles through the water and they kept vibrating like spaghetti on a windy day as the current kept blasting them.

I had a split second of doubt but I directed it towards my concentration and carefully navigated the slippery rocks. Luckily it wasn’t my first experience in a situation like this as I have had a whole course and practical training on river crossings while we were in the jungle. By the time I got to the other side I had been in the water for almost a minute, which is a pretty long time compared to the previous river crossings. The cold pain was as great as ever, my shorts were wet, but I made it. I agreed with myself that these two streams were the toughest to cross so far. I also knew that one more large creek is coming up in a mile (1,6km).

I put back my shoes and continued on. After just a few hundred meters I could already hear the raging river or “creek” that I had to cross soon. And again – once I got to the crossing point it looked just like the two I had crossed just 20 minutes ago. This crossing turned out to be very similar to the previous one and I made it again, this time on my first try, even though it took a slightly longer time. Happy that all the river crossings for the day were now behind me I continued on. Now what was left until the lake was a steep 2,5mi (4km) of snowy uphill, yaai. But I would rather walk on snow the whole day than cross creeks like that. I managed to get to the top which took longer than expected due to the steepness and amounts of snow.

As I was approaching the lake I saw two tents pitched and as I came closer I also saw familiar faces sitting outside of them: it was SpaceJam and Tom, happy to see them I put up my tent. We shared some trail tales and discussed the plan for the next day while I cooked my dinner. It was already approaching the hiker midnight (20:00 o’clock) and they already went to bed while I still finished my dinner. It was a long, beautiful and challenging day.

Day 69

The plan for the day was to hike 20 miles (32km) to the Kerrick Creek, which promised to be one of the sketchiest crossings so far. The alarm went off at 5:00 and as I started to get ready I could hear SpaceJam already leaving. The night didn’t feel cold but there was frost all over the tent. Tom also left while I was still cooking my breakfast. Once I was ready to go the first sun rays started to peak over the hill. The sky was clear and it looked like it was going to be another perfect weather for hiking day, until…

The hike started with a very steep and snowy downhill; the good thing was that the snow was mostly frozen so no postholing, only a little bit. I followed someone else’s steps from the day before but the problem was that they had a layer of ice over them and the steepness of the hill made it very hard to descend on them. Plus the snow was so hard that I couldn’t kick in my own steps. It would have been the time to put on the crampons but I had given mine to Stiina the day before as I tought I won’t need them anymore. I still had my ice axe but the hiking poles were the only thing that still kept me on the slope without sliding down it into the trees. I managed to get down the very steep and icy section by carefully finding good foot placements and keeping the majority of my weight and balance on the hiking poles. It worked.

Once I got down into the valley it was time for the first river crossing of the day. The sun still hadn’t reached high enough so the whole valley was in the shadow. There was no snow but the grass was all frozen. I crossed it without much difficulties; the stream was rapid but below knee deep.

I proceeded further and as the path turned right into the next valley I started going uphill towards the Benson Pass which was one of the last major passes left in this Sierra section. I crossed now the Wilson Creek a few times and started the steep snowy ascent towards the pass. Even though it was only 1,2 miles (2km) until the pass it took me almost an hour. Once over the pass I hoped that the snowy part would disappear soon. Oh how shattered all my hopes were: the snowy part lasted for at least two more hours with slips and trips and heavy postholing. I was soaked all the way to the knee.

Once the snowy part was over it continued on a very rocky steep downhill. A couple more streams were crossed on the way down. By that time I had already been walking for 6 hours without any longer than 2 minute breaks and I was super hungry, I needed foood!

We got down to the very bottom where we had to cross yet another large creek – Piute. Luckily for us there were some long and large trees that had fallen over the first fork of the creek and then a natural debris dam had formed over the other, so we didn’t even make our feet more wet despite the fact that they were already soaked anyways.

As it often happens when you are ready to finally have a break the weather says NOPE. The afternoon clouds had rolled in and the sky slowly started to drip. Another hazard had also been awaken recently and there were swarms of mosquitoes. We saw on the map that there is a campsite with a stream just a kilometer ahead, a kilometer of steep uphill.

As we were going higher I could see that those are not just rain clouds, it’s a thunderstorm creeping into the valley. The last thing you want to be doing during a thunderstorm is going higher uphill. I was out of water and pretty thirsty so I stopped to get some water; SpaceJam went on. We had some misunderstanding regarding where we planned to stop so I just continued for another hundred meters and saw a flat spot, semi-sheltered by trees.

I knew I won’t continue in the storm and I really needed a rest so I just set the tent up to have a cozy lunch break while the storm passes. As soon as I got into the tent the thunder started rumbling and rain started pouring down hard and on top of that hail with grain size about a centimeter in diameter was all coming down, all hell was loose! After I finally got some food I was ready to have a nap as I couldn’t continue anyway. It took around two hours for the storm to pass.

Another climb, over the Seavey Pass, was ahead of me, however this one wasn’t as high as the previous. The storm passed and I packed everything up for the second time this day and was ready to finish my goal of 20 miles (32km), which was still 6 miles (10km) away.

As soon as I started walking I found SpaceJam in his tent a hundred meters ahead of me, oh well. As we chatted for a bit he said he is going to stay there for the night and was ready to go to sleep already. It started to rain again, thanks! But I could see the edge of the darker cloud so I decided to just hang out under a tree for a bit. So 20 minutes later I continued as the rain had almost died down. The path was snow-free almost all the way to the top but it started about a mile after the pass and continued for the remainder of the day. Even though this pass wasn’t as high as all the previous ones the view was still great.

The descent however was very steep and gnarly. The steep snow-covered slope ended with a drop into a raging ice cold river. And I had given my crampons away to Stiina so I just had to rely on my ability to not slip, fun. Crossing endless snow fields wears you down pretty quickly and by that time I was already hungry and tired. I started to reconsider my plan of doing 20 miles and just stopping at the first reasonable tent site that wouldn’t be snow covered. I passed a few but they were either wet or on a slope or the access to water wasn’t easy. Even though I was already done I wanted to have a good tent site so my pickyness kept me going. It was already getting dark but as I was already getting pretty close to my goal I just decided that I will push until the end.

It was almost 21:00 o’clock when I reached the Kerrick Creek. I went to look at the place where the path crosses it and it just looked like a suicide to get in that water. But I was so tired that I just thought I will worry about it tomorrow and went to set up my still wet tent.

While I was setting it up I suddenly saw someone with a headlight coming out of the forest. To my big surprise SpaceJam had given up his sleep and decided to hike on aswell. Well, at least we had a short but cozy evening cooking dinner, talking out the plan for tomorrow and enjoying the beautiful night sky.

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