Sunday, July 8, 2012

Days 52 - 57: A Pass A Day

On our way out of Bishop, Just Retired, Yankee Son and I hit Highway 395 for a hitch.  It was a Sunday morning and the traffic was pretty slow, but then an incredibly sweet and enthusiastic woman named Jo and her son Sam picked us up for the long 50ish mile ride.  We chatted with the two of them the whole way and felt lucky to meet such warm people.  Upon making our way up to the Onion Valley trail head we mentally prepared ourselves for the 7 days ahead.  This particular stretch boasts some of the most incredible scenery and high altitude views on the entire PCT.  Each day for the next 7 days we'd be climbing a mountain pass, all over 10,000 feet, most over 11,000 and some over 12,000. 

So our first pass, Kearsarge, is actually on a side trail that put us back on the PCT.  The views down to Bullfrog Lake and Kearsarge Lake from the pass immediately sent excitement surging through our veins.  This is the High Sierra at it's best, and we were ready to dive (or climb, rather) in.

Welcome to sensory overload...
Our first day out of Bishop lined us up to do two passes in a day.  After Kearsarge, it was up and over Glen Pass...

Resting on Glen Pass. JR and Hallmark

That night we camped at Arrowhead Lake and were introduced to the proverbial 'thorn' amongst the 'roses' that are the Sierra... MOSQUITOES. Damn. They were so thick that night, we felt like we were just sitting in clouds of them.  Like in cartoons when someone is having a bad day and there is a raining cloud over just their head.  There was nothing for us to do but get into our tent at 5:45 and watch as they swarmed the netting.  Waiting for us.  To make matters a little more stressful, the zipper on our tent started giving us trouble and it took both of our best efforts to get it all the way closed.

The next morning we woke up and headed toward our next pass, Pinchot. The day seemed very long and tiring but we had the encouraging moment of passing mile 800.  The hundreds seem to be really moving by at this point.  Pinchot Pass was difficult for all three of us (Just Retired included) because we had 12 miles to hike to it and then had the couple thousand feet to climb.  The day was long, but we ended up at a great campsite at the South Fork of the Kings River. 

Eight! So great!

Purple flowers bloom atop Pinchot Pass

Our fourth pass, Mather, made for a much better day for us all.  The climb was a steep set of switchbacks that seemed to have us to the top in no time.  On our way down, we got into a bunch of down trees that made the trail feel like an obsitcal course.  We stopped a few miles short of our planned campsite to cook dinner (a common practice in heavy bear country to keep food and sleep spots seperate) and started to feel the imminent mosquito stress.  We pushed past where we planned to camp in hopes of finding a higher, and thus, less buggy campsite.  Boy, are we glad we kept moving.  A few miles later we came upon friends Wampus Cat, Zen, Scout, Banana Pants and Astro who had set up in one of our best campsites to date.  There was room for our tent and Just Retired's, and we spent the evening admiring the changing light on granite walls down a huge valley at the Middle Fork of the Kings River.   

Making my way up Mather

Marmot on Mather

Bright day, bright clothes

Is JR live blogging?

A perfect campsite

 The next morning we woke up to an incredible daybreak glow.  Much of the morning was in the trees but the afternoon, and climb toward Muir Pass, would be incredibly exposed.  The approach to this pass was much different than others as it seemed to contiunally just wind around past different types of terrain.  There were spots where it was difficult to find the trail, but it made for a fun and different challenge. On top of Muir Pass there is the impressive Muir Hut, built in 1930 by the Sierra Club in memory of (the always inspiring) John Muir.  The hut was awesome and reminded me of my stone and mortar fascination in Peru.

Snacking in front of Muir Hut

Inside the Hut

The following day we moved out of Kings Canyon National Park and into the John Muir Wilderness.  Trav had never been to Kings Canyon before and both of us were absolutly head over heels for it. It is just a stunning park. You should get there as soon as possible.  We stopped to take a picture with a towering Sierra Juniper (our favorite tree) along the meandering climb to Selden Pass. We took respite from the mosquitoes in the breeze at the top of the pass and enjoyed chocolate/peanut butter/banana chip wraps. That afternoon we forded Bear Creek, a crossing that is notorious for being fast moving, high water.  We crossed with water no higher than our knees and made our way to camp with Just Retired. The three of us sat around a small campfire, talked about our families and told stories.



About 9 am the next morning we said goodbye to Just Retired, who made his way to Vermillion Valley Ranch to resupply, while we had decided to push on to Mammoth.  For the first time in a long time, Trav and I were on our own, hiking and camping by ourselves.  Through the desert we had our awesome group of Usual Suspects but due to the nature of the Sierra the group sort of disbanded so that everyone could hike their own hike. We missed our buds, but knew/know we'll see them again down the line.  It was also cool to experience some solitude in the big, wide world.  We climbed up and over Silver Pass which, if you're counting, makes 7 passes. 

We encountered even more and even bigger tree blowdowns.  In some places there were piles of trees 10 feet tall and totally impassible.  The hiking around the down trees was pretty slow going and we would find alternate ways around.  

Which way to go?

As evening approached we grew exhausted and cranky due to tanking blood sugar so we decided to stop for dinner and to start looking for camping.  Where we stopped was really exposed, cold and windy, so once our energy was back after a big mashed potato dinner, we mustered some gusto and ended up pushing a big 28.5 mile day to put us closer to town.  That last 5 mile charge took us past the 900 mile mark, a perfect milestone on the eve of my 29th birthday!

29 at 900
Watch out mile 1,000... we're coming for you.

Our PCT Info Page - Care Package info updated. 


  1. That campsite looks utterly perfect. Loving the pictures. xoxo

  2. amazing pics for an amazing duo! xo

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  4. You two are amazing and the Conley clan is feeling lucky to have been able to hang with you guys this weekend! God bless you every step of the way to Canada!

  5. So glad there are new posts! I have really enjoyed following along on such a fantastic journey.


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