In the morning we had our breakfast, during which Kristians accidentally managed to eat the muesli that I had bought for my on-trail lunch snack. Then I spent another couple of hours waiting for Kristians to finish his blog writing. Then, finally, a bit after midday we got our packs and headed for the trailhead by Echo Lake. We said bye to Ted and Charli – and promised we’d be back at winter, next time. Missy and Ken were kind enough to drop us off, we took some selfies, hugged a lot and finally separated. I had a tear in my eye and I could see that Missy did, too. We were sad to leave as we felt like home here but at the same time I was excited to get back on trail after all these days. As soon as we started hiking I felt so free, so fresh and happy. It is where I’m meant to be.
We hiked the first two kilometers or so and then stopped by the Echo Chalet for lunch. We met 4 other hikers here and saw a lot of parked cars – the trail would be filled with day hikers and weekend warriors. So finally, at about 14:00 we really started hiking.
This section that we were about to hike turned out to be one of my favourites of the PCT. We planned to get to Susie Lake by evening as it was just before Dick’s Pass and the snow. That’d make it about a 21km day plus a little altitude gain. We followed the trail along Lower and Upper Echo Lake, then onwards to the beautiful Lake Aloha. The weather was mostly sunny but cold wind was blowing hard – so hard that even though I was in shorts I had my wind jacket and gloves on.
The views were amazing throughout the way – summer cabins by the lake, the waves on the clear blue water, snowy slopes across the valley. The trail then turned north and took us to Lake Heather. So many day hikers everywhere! A bit more to descend and we got to Lake Susie. The first campsite was already full (first time this has happened to us on the pct!) so we continued on.
Just a small river crossing (there was a fallen tree, luckily) and we reached the second campground. Two of the pct hikers we had seen at Echo Chalet were already here. Our tentsite was pretty exposed but luckily the wind slowly died down. The river was noisy for the whole night, which made us fall asleep very fast.
We only woke up after it was already bright and the sun was warming up the tent (so about 7). The other hikers had of course already left but we took it easy, had a slow breakfast and finally set off at 8:10. The trail instantly started to ascend, ahead of us was 6 kilometers & 520 meters of altitude until Dick’s pass. We moved pretty fast, legs still pretty fresh, and managed to get up in 2 hours. There was very little snow and all the snow was very packed – no postholing necessary. We also got lost for a second and started to climb up a peak…but we quickly realized our error.
We then descended, sliding on the steep snow, but made it out of the snow pretty fast. We then continued past multiple more alpine lakes, including Dick’s Lake. We had our lunch by a stream at around noon. The weather today was so enjoyable – fully sunny, barely any breeze but still cool enough not to be sweating too much.
The next 17,8 kilometers were upsy-downsy whereas the nature started changing. The rocky cliffs, mostly barren landscapes and countless lakes turned into lush green forests, swampy trail and streams from the melting snow. We saw some dayhikers and met the two Czech hikers we had seen after Walker’s Pass; apparently they had skipped a section and also spent a bunch of days in Yosemite.
Another thing we started noticing – mosquitoes! As today was also much less windy than yesterday they were really everywhere when we had our second break of the day. But we covered our bare legs with jackets and managed fairly undamaged.
After the day’s 33 kilometers we crossed a stream and found our campsite under the canopy of massive pine trees. We were tired but our lovely dinner with the stream and setting sun was enjoyable. The evening was warm and so I used the river to try and see if I can find yet another hole in my matress (as it emptied again last night, the 2 holes I had patched either were still letting air out or there were new holes) but it wasn’t meant to be. Oh, well, I might need to buy a new one as I’m running out of patches.
Tomorrow will supposedly be hard again – 1400m of ascent, 1100m of descent and 32 kilometers to walk. I hope the weather will be the same.
We woke again at 7 and had a slow morning. The night had been warm and bearless so we actually slept well (despite some weird bear-infested dreams and my empty matress). The sky was clear and sunny as we started the first uphill of the day – about 400 meters of ascent. We also met a section hiker on our way – the only other person we’d see today.
The first ascent was pretty easy and gradual, through pine forests and lush green meadows. Some easy stream crossings and soon enough we were getting higher – as a reward we got some amazing views of Lake Tahoe. Next up – down the hill as much as we’d just climbed up. And then up again, the same amount.
The sun was hot and there wasn’t much wind but luckily we spent a large portion of the day hiking in the forest. After the second climb of the day the trail stayed high up on the mountain sides and ridges – we saw that we were approaching the ski resorts. We had our lunch at a nice sunny ridgetop, looking down at Lake Tahoe’s northern end. I made snowcones and melted some snow for drinking water as we realized the next water source was 4.2 miles away.
As we passed the first ski resort and started to descend there were some steep snow patches. After I had a sort of slide & self-arrest by a tree we descended down into the valley and filtered some water from the Whiskey Creek. Now all we had to do was to ascend another 500 meters and cross a sketchy steep snowpatch under the ski lifts. The sun had really been burning while we ascended and it made us feel slow and tired.
The day before I had actually realized something: we were going through the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. The Squaw Valley! I knew I had heard that name before and my suspicions were later confirmed when we passed a map before the ski lifts: this is where the world-famous Western States 100 ultramarathon starts! It actually also follows the PCT for a short section so we can say that we’ve done a portion of it!
We had read some concerning comments about the snowpatch by the ski lifts and were a bit nervous but as we reached it and got through it we realized it was just another hype. For anyone who had just walked across the Sierras this was nothing. And as we crossed it in the afternoon the snow was soft enough for us to really kick our heels in. No biggie.
We reached another small meadow, filled in all our water containers from the creek and then hiked up the snowy slope to where we expected to find a tentspot for 5 tents. However, only one tentspot was clear from snow – but that’s all we needed! We set up camp and sat outside during the dinner – it was so warm, quiet and peaceful. Tomorrow we need to get to Truckee so that I can buy a new matress!
We woke up already at 6 but because we had ran low on water Kristians had to hike down to the stream. And the morning was so nice and sunny that we just packed up super slow, ending up leaving camp at 8. Late the previous night another hiker had set up camp below us so we exchanged a couple of words.
We had to cross some more snow on this short downhill section where we also met a bunch of dads with their sons camping. We then picked up the pace and got to the base of the “big” ascent of the day – 480 meters to the base of Tinker Knob. All the way we enjoyed the warm day, the lush green plants around us and the views of the valleys & mountains. All around us spring flowers were blossoming.
As we reached the top we crossed yet another snowpatch and then followed the ridgelines for a while as we slowly descended. Another uphill took us nearly over the top of Donner mountain – here was the last bit of steep snow, not too scary but still with consequences if you were to fall. But we managed it safely on the mushy snow, using caution and hiking poles.
After that we continued in a steeper descent – 3,6 kilometers was left until the Highway 40, where we’d hitch to Truckee. We met a bunch of day hikers but also about 7 or 8 pct hikers who had flipped up north from thr Sierras and were now doing this section southbound. Anyhow, we made it down to the road safely despite the ankle-breaking steep trail and got a ride to town with a nice older couple. Now all we need to do is laundry, resupply, shower, eat and sleep.