Day 16: It’s About The Trail

PCT Miles 1160.9 to 1181.8

Miles Hiked = 20.9

Today was another beautiful morning as I again hit the trail by 7am – there were a few high clouds but the skies were essentially blue and clear.

When I’m home I follow other hikers blogs on the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) website. If interested go to http://www.pcta.org and then click on Blog and then Journalist.

As I hiked this morning I thought about the “purpose” of my current blog. When Donna and I started at the Southern Terminus last year, the purpose was to keep a journal of our experience and share it with family and friends and others who may be interested. I guess that is still the main purpose. But as I experience more and more of the PCT, my blog is really about sharing The Trail with family and friends and interested others. The PCT is so amazing, so diverse, so unique and so beautiful. So, it’s really All About The Trail!

Today was an easier hiking day mainly because there was not as much elevation gain.As you can see from the above screen shot of today’s elevation profile, I had more downhill than uphill. Thank you Trail.

As I hiked this morning I passed through these fields of blooming Woolly Mules Ears.I’ve actually been passing through a lot of these colorful fields. They are usually on hillsides with lots of sunshine.

I passed this large tree on a hillside next to a field of Mules Ears.I took a mid-morning rest/snack break and enjoyed the following view of the surrounding forestA little later I filled up at Snowbank Spring which was only 25 feet off the trail – this may be the best water I’ve had along the PCT. It was clear and ice cold!This wasn’t a stream – it was a spring bubbling up out of the ground about five feet above the trough in the above photo.

Before I stopped for lunch I enjoyed more views of the surrounding landscapesLater in the afternoon, I was up on a ridge with great 360 degree views, so shot the following video.Even later in the afternoon, I passed through more Wooly Mule Ear fields.I ended up camping at a campground that was a little off the PCT (3/4 mile) but it was worth it to have a picnic table, water spigot, trash can and a restroom. Yippee!Thanks for reading.

Day 15: Donner Pass

PCT Miles 1137.8 to 1160.8

Miles Hiked = 23.0

I was hiking by 6:50am this morning. As usual, blue skies were overhead. Almost immediately I passed above a pretty meadow before the sunshine reached it.

The trail was headed uphill for three miles and gaining 1500 feet in elevation as it passed behind the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Squaw Valley was the host site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. As I neared the top, I approached a passing hiker and stopped in my tracks.

“Dana?”, I said.

“Todd?”, she said

We gave each other a big hug. Dana hiked with Donna and me for a couple hundred miles last year shortly after we started hiking from the Southern Terminus. I knew she was back on the trail, but I didn’t know where. We chatted for about 30 minutes and caught up on our trail experiences (and Donna’s knee). Dana has hiked about 1500 miles of the PCT this year and is hiking south another 300-400 miles to complete the Sierras. So she has had a very successful year on the PCT!

After I reached the top, I enjoyed views of Lake Tahoe in the distanceand soon passed under the Granite Chief chairlift.

The trail headed downhill for the next few miles. There were a few day hikers out and I was soon passed by about a dozen cross country runners from SF State. I’m sure they were training at altitude for the upcoming season. I wished I could move as fast as they were!

Then the trail started uphill again towards a distinctive peak called Tinker Knob.I took additional photos of the Knob as I slowly got closer.I passed thru a field of noisy grasshoppersand then finally reached the top as the trail passed close to Tinker Knob.

I had a nice 360 degree view so shot a quick video.As I continued north away from Tinker Knob, I hiked along a ridge line and enjoyed the expansive views.Shortly I caught up with Steve and Bob, two hikers I had seen on the trail the last few days. We hiked together for about six miles and shared stories of our hiking and climbing experiences.They are both from Orange County (where I live) and were being picked up by a friend later today for a zero day tomorrow at his house in Incline Village. Nice!

When we reached Highway 40/Donner Pass, Steve and Bob met their friend and I stopped for a lunch break at a closed restaurant. It was nice to have a table with some shade.I continued on for another 3-4 miles towards Interstate 80 – finally reaching it

and passing through two tunnels to get to the other side.There was a Rest Area on the other side of I-80, so I stopped and used the facilities and saw the following plaqueI was getting tired but pushed on – I wanted to get to the Peter Grubb Hut, a Sierra Club ski hut that is also open to hikers.I checked it out but decided to sleep in my tent nearbyToday was a long day, about 23 miles of hiking and almost 5000 feet in elevation gain.Thanks for following.

Day 14: Lake Tahoe Views

PCT Mile 1118.4 to 1137.8

Miles Hikes = 19.4

I was up and hiking today by 7:15am – it was another beautiful morning here on the PCT with clear blue skies overhead.

The first five or six miles today were in the forest. Forest hiking has advantages because the trails are often smooth dirt with minimal rocks and ledges or other obstacles. There also is shade from all the trees. So usually I can hike at a little faster pace while I’m in the forest. Photo ops in the forest include lakes, meadows, flowers and sometimes wildlife.

For me, however, the downside of forest hiking is that there typically are not grand, epic views like what you get above the tree line. My favorite time on the trail is when I’m on ridge lines and mountain passes with views that extend for miles and miles.

After about six miles, the trail passed through the Barker Pass Trailhead. There were cars, a restroom and quite a few day hikers. I took a short snack break and then hiked on.

Soon after leaving the Barker Pass Trailhead, the trail reached a view point of Lake Tahoe. These were the first views of the lake in the past 3-4 days.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a 165 mile trail that circles around Lake Tahoe. For the last fifty miles, the PCT and the TRT overlap so I’ve actually been hiking on both. In a few more miles the trails separate and each goes their own way.

As I continued to hike north, I enjoyed additional views of Lake Tahoe.

I passed behind the Alpine Meadows Ski Area and enjoyed additional views of the wilderness to the west of Lake Tahoe. At 5:30 pm I was about 2 miles from where my intended camping site was but in order to get there I was looking at a 1500 foot climb. I decided to make camp and tackle the climb in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

Day 13: Dick’s Pass

PCT Miles 1098.4 to 1118.8

Miles Hiked = 20.4

I started hiking this morning at 7am and didn’t stop until 6pm. It was a long day and I was tired when I stopped for the night. But that is typical for the PCT. Many, if not most, of the thru-hikers I have met will hike 25+ miles per day after they get through the Sierra’s. They have to keep up this pace just to complete the trail in one season. But a twenty mile day is a long day on my old legs (and feet and body in general)!

I had camped at Aloha Lake last night. It was a beautiful morning as I left camp.

Soon after I started hiking I passed a young thru-hiker named Pancake. He had started at the Southern Terminus in mid-May and hiked north to the Sierras. Then, because of the heavy snow in the Sierras, he flipped to Chester, which is in Northern California, and hiked all the way to the Canadian border. He then returned to Chester and was now hiking southbound to finish the Sierras. He only had about 300 miles to finish the entire trail – probably less than three weeks. By my calculations he will have completed the entire trail (2650 miles) in 115-120 days – that is fast!!!

The first few miles were relatively flat and then I had a 1700 foot climb up to Dick’s Pass. There was still some patches of snow along the northern side of the mountains.

On the way up to the pass I chatted with a group of weekend hikers that had their food stolen by a bear last night near Susie Lake! They were making plans to hike out today and cut their hike short. As I climbed higher I had good views back towards the “bear-infested” Susie Lake.

As I approached Dick’s Pass I passed some prayer flags – it reminded me of trekking in Nepal.

When I got to the Pass I had cell service so I called Donna to check in and see how she was doing. I also talked to my youngest son (Travis) which was nice.

The afternoon was mainly a downhill hike though the forest.

I passed by a few pretty lakes.As I hiked, the Trail exited the Desolation Wilderness.

Finally I got to Richardson Lake which is where I camped for the night.

Thanks for following.

Day 12: Back to South Lake Tahoe

PCT Mikes 1092.3 to 1098.4

Miles Hiked = 6.1

This morning I caught a plane to Reno, then a shuttle to South Lake Tahoe, then an Uber to Echo Lake Chalet where the PCT passes near by. This is close to where I exited the trail 2+ weeks ago.

Regarding Donna’s knee, she had the GAE procedure done at UCLA a couple days after we returned home. All went well with the procedure. Her knee has been swollen and tender ever since but we have been told that that is normal. It’s too early in the recovery to know if her knee function will be improved. Assuming it will be, there is still a meniscus tear that needs to be addressed. Donna would like to be able to hike again on the PCT next summer but I’m not so optimistic. We will see.

The Uber driver dropped me off at Echo Lake Chalet about 4:30pm.

There is a small store and deli so I ordered a sandwich to go that I would eat in a few hours. I organized my pack and started hiking at 5:00pm. I was back on the PCT!

The trail follows along the northern side of Echo Lake for the first few miles. I was hiking directly into the setting sun. The views were nice.

The trail paralleled the lake but was maybe 100 yards or so away and slightly above the shoreline. As I hiked I noticed a lot of cabins along the lake. It didn’t look like there was a road so I assumed that all of these cabins were generally accessed by boat. I wondered if these were private cabins or rentals??? They looked liked private cabins to me. What a great place to have a private lakeside mountain retreat.

It didn’t take long before I had a nice view looking back at Echo Lake.

I continued hiking until I got to Lake Aloha around 7:30. It was beautiful but didn’t quite feel like Hawaii. Hahaha. As the sun was setting….I set up my tent.

Today was an easy hiking day. Tomorrow gets more serious – I have to knock off 20+ mile days for the next four days in order to reach Sierra City by Friday.

Thanks for reading.

Day 10 & 11: Zero Days

Donna and I enjoyed two days together in South Lake Tahoe, primarily just relaxing and hanging out at the pool (and eating!).

I found out that she got approved for the GAE procedure of her right knee (I described it in the first blog of this section hike) at UCLA this next week so I decided to return home with her. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to continue my journey north.

Until then, thanks for following.

Day 9: South Lake Tahoe

PCT Mile 1073.2 to 1090

Miles Hiked = 16.8

It was another beautiful morning here in the mountains south of Lake Tahoe. I was looking forward to meeting Donna later today where the PCT crosses Highway 50.

I had camped in a spectacular valley last night – here is a view looking down it as I started my hike this morning. As I hiked a little higher, I looked back at where I had camped as well as the ridge (upper left) I had crossed over late yesterday afternoon.

The flowers were in bloom.As I climbed higher towards Carson Pass, the trail crossed over more snow fields.Soon I reached the Passand then passed by Frog Lake on the other side of the passIt wasn’t long before I reached the Carson Pass Visitor Centerwhere I took advantage of the facilitiesthen continued down the trail towards Lake TahoeAfter another mile or two, I had my first glimpse of Lake Tahoe in the distancethen continued up another beautiful valley filled with green meadows and more flowers in bloomA few hours later, I had another view of the lake but it didn’t look any closer And then this mountain biker passed me a couple times! – the PCT is closed to mountain bikers (and motorized vehicles) – it’s only legally open to hikers and equestriansMore lake views – maybe a little closer?I descended down a rocky trailand then passed by this plaque as I neared Highway 50It wasn’t long before I was poolsideThanks for following

Day 8: Happy Anniversary Donna

PCT Mile 1050.8 to 1073.2

Miles Hiked = 22.4

Today was my 30th anniversary. I was very fortunate to have cellular service throughout the day so that I could chat with Donna. I even was able to call her at 6pm, our anniversary to the minute! We will celebrate our anniversary over the next few days in South Lake Tahoe. Five years ago we revisited Fiji (where we spent on our honeymoon) so this may be a little letdown, but I will make it up later! I’m so thankful for the opportunity to hike the PCT but make no mistake the most important things in my life are my wife and children and grandchildren!

I am so appreciative of the support that all of my family gives me, including my father, sister and kids, but particularly Donna, for supporting me on this crazy PCT journey.

But let’s get back to the PCT.

Today was a beautiful morning. The skies were clear and there was a slight breeze which was quite nice and refreshing. I started a bit late this morning because I couldn’t locate where I had placed my reading glasses. I retraced all my steps and even took my pack apart before I eventually found them. Probably cost me 30 minutes!

Almost immediately after beginning this morning’s hike I entered into this beautiful green valley filled with colorful flowers.But what was really impressive were these large volcanic rock formations.

The terrain has definitely changed since Yosemite one week ago – much more volcanic rock and less granite.

Soon the trail rose above the lush green valley and traveled across the barren volcanic scree.Once I crossed over to the other side, there were expansive views to the eastI passed this gigantic pine treeAnd a few minutes later had this view looking north – if you look closely you can see the trail crossing the barren hill in the middle of the photo.And the trail continued There was a small cascading stream of water falling down onto the trail as I passed bySomewhere down in this valley is Blue Lakes Road – I’ll take my lunch break there in a few hours – not many cars pass by.On the way down this butterfly poses for meAfter lunch I pass by this lake

I spotted this unusual rock formation – the trail will wind itself around it and I’ll use it as my reference point for the next few hours.

Soon the trail will once again climb above the trees and the views are such that a video (I say Day 9 on the video – it’s really Day 8) will only do it justice – it’s a little windy so I hope you can hear the audioEventually I wind myself around to a beautiful valley on the south side of Carsten Pass – photos in the next blog – my shadow was getting long as the sun got lower on the horizon – time to find a camp.Thanks for reading.

Day 7: Increasing Mileage

PCT Mile 1031.8 to 1051.8

Miles Hiked = 20.0

I was up earlier today because I knew I needed to hike at least 20 miles. I’m meeting Donna in South Lake Tahoe in three days and that’s 60 miles away, so I need to average about 20 miles per day. I was on the trail by 6:30 this morning

Here’s a screenshot of an elevation profile of today’s hike from the Guthook app. This is the app that all PCT hikers use to navigate the trail. No more paper USGS topographical maps. The app shows where water is, where campsites are, etc. On this particular screenshot you’ll see that I have over 4000 feet of elevation gain today and almost that same amount in descent. That’s a pretty typical day.

Today was a beautiful morning with clear blue skies. Shortly into my walk I passed right by this large cone of volcanic rock. I wonder how many thousands of years ago it was deposited?

I had one last view looking back at the rugged mountains that I descended a few days ago in a hail storm. I was happy that that particular adventure was in the rear view mirror!

Yesterday as I hiked (after leaving Kennedy Meadows North) my spirits were a little down. It’s sometimes difficult being out here alone. It’s much more fun to have someone to share the experience with. When I was a teenager and young adult I would backpack in the High Sierras with my father every summer. It was a great father/son experience and together we learned a lot of basic backpacking skills. Later, when my oldest son was in his middle teens he started joining my Dad and I on these annual summer backpacking trips. When the younger kids were a little older than Donna and I were able to start venturing into the backcountry together. We’ve done a lot of hiking and backpacking and trekking together over the past twenty years. So even though I know she’s hiking along with me in spirit, it’s still sometimes difficult.

But today my spirits were better. Maybe it was because of these majestic views. More likely it’s because I know I’ll be seeing Donna in a few days.

A little later I had a different view looking back at the cone of volcanic rock that I had passed an hour or so ago (it’s on the left).Then I passed a stream cutting through the snowand a beautiful green meadowthe remnant of a once majestic treea small waterfallan alpine lake in the distanceand then the trail traversed up to a saddle above Noble LakeI had cell service up at this saddle, so was able to call Donna and send texts to all the kids.

This is the valley that I would hike down on the other side of the saddleI took a water break under this old weathered Bristlecone PineI passed, yet again, under more rugged jagged peaksand finally reached my planned campsite where I set up my tentand enjoyed lake views as the sun slowly set.

Thanks for following!

Day 6: Kennedy Meadows North

PCT Miles: 1016.9 to 1031.8

Miles Hiked = 14.9

Yesterday, after I arrived at Sonora Pass on Highway 108, I was picked up around 3:30pm by the KMN shuttle and transferred to the resort and pack station.

I checked into to my bunk room, did laundry, dried out my gear (tent, sleeping bag, shoes, etc), took a shower, picked up my resupply box and bought a few supplies at their well supplied store.

Oh, I also had a couple beers and had dinner with a nice young female hiker that I had met while waiting for the shuttle. Her trail name was something like “Strange Sounds” because she has to hiccup often. We had a nice chat. She graduated from the University of North Caroline a couple years ago and then worked in the Athletic Department as a sports photographer. When she quit her job her parents weren’t very happy. I told her that’s the way parents are but that they’ll get over it – she needs to lead her own life! We talked about all the places that Donna and I been fortunate enough to travel to and I gave her some ideas on possible companies to contact for employment opportunities – she’s interested in environmentalism, photography, travel. Seems like Nat Geo, Lindblad or one of the other adventure travel companies would be a perfect fit. Hope it works out!

I was lucky enough not to share my bunk room with other hikers – there are five beds crammed into each small room! So I was very fortunate to essentially have a private room!

The next morning I had the “Cowboy Breakfast” at the restaurantand finished organizing my gear. I also mailed my bear container (not required after exiting Yosemite) and micro-spikes home. It actually should be called an “anti-bear food container” – it doesn’t really contain a bear! Most hikers only carry a bear container through the Sierras because it is a requirement by the National Park Service. They typically weigh about two pounds and most hikers don’t want to lug around any more weight then they have to.

Lastly, I called my father and filled him in on the trail and my hike. He is 93 years old and did his last backpacking trip four years ago!

At 10:00am I caught the shuttle back to the trail along with nine other hikers. It wasn’t long before I was back on the trail headed north towards South Lake Tahoe. I was looking forward to meeting Donna there in a few days and enjoying two “zero” days – days when I don’t hike any miles.

As I hiked north away from Highway 108, I gained about 1100 feet in elevation in the first three miles. When I got to the top I enjoyed a great view looking back at the mountains I had descended yesterday in rain and hail. It was certainly nicer weather today!I also had a great view north towards where I was headed and was surprised at how little snow I saw in the distance.I then had a long descent (about 2500 feet) down this valley over next six miles.As I got further down this valley the surrounding walls got more rugged.I started to see these colorful plants along the trail.

Thanks for reading.