Friday October 2, 25.0mi/40.2km

Woods Creek Swingbridge (799.9/8547ft) to Tyndall Creek campsite (774.9/10974ft) (CA)

The big day! Today is another two-pass day, as we will hike over both Glen Pass (11,950ft) and Forester Pass (13,200ft), which is also the highest point on the PCT. Cheshire Cat and I left camp at 6:45am, just before sunrise. The tops of the mountains were alpenglow pink!

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Bonus Miles had left camp probably an hour before we did, but we could still see her handprints on the frosty fridge. Bridge pushups leave behind evidence, haha!

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The Rae Lakes are always a spectacular scene.

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Looking down on one of the Rae Lakes, with Glen Pass in the right background.

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The camera didn’t quite capture the intensity of the blue color in this small tarn.

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I caught Bonus Miles just before the top of Glen Pass, and we hiked it to the top and waited for our third. Cheshire Cat showed up and we had a small feast of junk food, as several JMT hikers watched us devour thousands of calories in less than 10 minutes. They were fun to talk to, but we had many miles to go!

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PC: Cheshire Cat

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The 11 miles from Glen Pass to Forester Pass are fairly easy, and we walked and talked together in the warm day. The little thermometer on my backpack said it was 70F/21C.  The trail followed Bubbs Creek upstream, and by early afternoon a swim sounded like a wonderful idea. The water was extremely “refreshing” though, so it only lasted a couple of minutes.

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Bonus Miles didn’t stop to swim, so we made it a game to try and catch her before the top of Forester Pass. We came close, just one switchback ahead!

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The top of Forester Pass (13,200ft), and the highest point on the PCT!

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I was shocked to see no snow on the other side of Forester Pass. When I came through here in June, this entire hillside was white!

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Someone did a ton of work blasting this trail into the side of the mountain. It was easy walking, but we were still careful to avoid the edge.

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From the pass it was only 5 downhill miles to camp, and we had a relaxed hike into the Tyndall Creek valley. There were plenty of rock fields along the way, so I kept on the lookout for marmots, and I actually saw one!

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It’s hard to see, but the marmot is in the exact center of this photo.

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We hiked until sunset, which is about 6:30pm nowadays. We setup camp at an established spot with a bear box, after a 25 mile day! We’ve managed to camp at bear box campsites the last three nights, I think with some better planning it would be possible to hit one every day, eliminating the need for a bear canister. Tomorrow, Mt. Whitney!

Thursday October 1, 23.2mi/37.3km

Campsite next to Palisade Creek (823.1/9029ft) to Woods Creek Swingbridge (799.9/8547ft) (CA)

The first day of October! I left camp with Cheshire Cat shortly after 7am, and Bonus Miles was long gone. We had planned a big day today, covering over 23 miles and climbing over two 12,000ft passes! So she was smart to get an early start. We hiked by the Palisade Lakes, which are were strangely calm on this windless morning.

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Near the second Palisade Lake, I suddenly caught Bonus Miles, who was helping Tiger look for his lost Garmin device. We all helped him search the trail for where he might have dropped it. Eventually, he found it inside it’s stuff sack near some rocks, whew!

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Shortly after, we crested Mather Pass, 12,093ft. What a view!

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PC: CheshireCat

We descended the south side of the pass, and about 30 minutes later, the sky turned very dark and cloudy. Uhoh.

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It snowed on us! Just a litte bit, but enough for Bonus Miles to use her umbrella. I’m totally buying one of those for my next hike. The wintry weather lasted only 30 minutes, and then became warm-ish and sunny, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to stop and eat lunch. Or gummy bears, defining meals is tricky.

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After a nice relaxed lunch, we packed up our now-dried gear, and started up towards Pinchot Pass. The weather was acting very undecided, so we moved pretty quickly.

 

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At least it was warm again, perhaps even short sleeve weather…

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Just before the top of Pinchot Pass, the clouds decided to snow again. This time, the snow was sticking to the ground a bit. This photo doesn’t come close to capturing the joy at getting to the top of the pass. Or perhaps, it was celebrating the most summit pushups we’ve done so far.

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Amazingly, a section hiker came by, hiking north. We hadn’t seen anyone else going north in days! He took our group photo, and then each group ran down their respective side of the pass, as the snow was coming back.

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A panoramic photo is more fun with people! It also really captures the low-hanging clouds moving our way.

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It started snowing harder, and we were literally alternating between a fast walk and a run down the switchbacks.

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PC: CheshireCat

The trail stayed high for awhile, but after an hour, we had descended far enough to be free of the clouds. And then the blue sky came back, this weather was so strange!

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We hiked until 6pm, and camped at an established campsite with a bear box, near a suspension bridge over Woods Creek. We didn’t see any other hikers, so I got to bed earlier tonight, and rested up for another two-pass day tomorrow!

Wednesday September 30, 24.4mi/39.3km

Campsite next to Evolution Creek (847.5/9724ft) to Campsite next to Palisade Creek (823.1/9029ft) (CA)

Today was the last day of September, and it’s definitely getting colder at night, and sleeping bag isn’t as warm after almost 3000 miles of use. We eventually left our camp by 8am, and I quickly got warm on the uphill hike.

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I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for marmots, since there were so many here in June. I didn’t see any marmots today, but plenty of deer ambling around on the rocks!

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We passed by so many lakes in the morning – Evolution Lake, Sapphire Lake, Wanda Lake, and tiny Lake McDermand. This was surprising to me, since I didn’t remember seeing that many when I passed thru here in June. After looking back at my journal, I realized I had hiked thru here in a dense fog, and cold rainy weather, so I was only paying attention to the trail under my feet.

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Muir hut was a beautiful old stone building, atop 11,900ft Muir Pass. We took an early lunch inside to escape the incessant winds that sweep thru this area.

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The interior had a cool circular ceiling, the stonework was impressive.

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PC: CheshireCat

We ate lunch in the cold, damp (but windless!) building, and I finished my 2nd block of cheese. Tomorrow I’ll start on my last block. We hiked downhill for a couple of hours, and the sun came out and it was much warmer. I even zipped my pants into shorts!

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Of course, we had to get photos of the classic “rock monster”. It’s a large boulder with strategically placed small stones to resemble eyes and teeth.

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For some reason, I neglected to take any more photos all afternoon. We followed the valley along the Middle Fork Kings River, and it was quite beautiful with many small waterfalls sliding down over polished granite. The last part of the day we slowly climbed up the Palisade Creek valley, it was quite an easy climb of only 1000ft in 4 miles. We setup camp before sunset, which I thought was pretty impressive given our 24+ mile day.

As we were making dinner in the fading sunlight, Bonus Miles saw a headlamp on the mountain ridge to the east. I didn’t see it at first, but as it came closer, we all could see the headlamp coming toward us down the hill. It wasn’t a bear, but a Tiger! A SOBO hiker named Tiger, who is “thru-climbing” the PCT, hitting many high peaks along the trail in Washington, Oregon, and here in the Sierras. We fed him dinner, and then he kept hiking into the night, since he needs to get to the post office in town tomorrow. With the late night in camp tonight, and tomorrow’s planned mileage/elevation, I’m guessing I will be very tired tomorrow night!

Tuesday September 29, 24.6mi/39.6km

Campsite next to Bear Creek (872.1/8970ft) to Campsite next to Evolution Creek (847.5/9724ft) (CA)

We all left camp at the same time, and hiked together all day. I hadn’t done this before, usually I would hike alone all day, meeting up with people at breaks or camp. It’s alot of fun! There was singing, stories of other SOBO hikers, and of course gear talk and food talk. And I started a new game – I snuck the metal spoon (from Mammoth) into Bonus Miles’ backpack, ha!

We reached to top of Selden Pass (10,900ft) at 10am, and could see lakes in all directions! Looking back over Marie Lake:

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And looking ahead to Heart Lake:

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We descended off the pass, and past Sallie Keyes lakes. I noticed a faint side trail, and decided to explore. After only 100m, I came to a random cabin next to a small unnamed lake (pond).

 

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Apparently the cabin is used in winter for snow survey workers. I now had more questions than answers, but my group was getting further ahead, so I quickly made my way back to the JMT/PCT.

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We descended three thousand feet, down to the South Fork San Joaquin river. It was noticeably warmer down in the valley. We skipped the side trail to Muir Trail Ranch, for the same reason we skipped the VVR side trip yesterday.

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The final part of the day was a re-climb of 800ft up into the Evolution valley. There were many switchbacks, and we kept count of them as part of our new “switchback situp” game.

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PC: CheshireCat

At the top of the climb, we had to do that many situps! I can’t recall the exact number, but it was tiring. And then our final challenge of the day, crossing Evolution Creek! When I was here in June, it was a crotch-deep crossing, and very cold water. In September, it was the exact opposite!

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PC: CheshireCat

We hiked on for another three miles, and by the time I got to camp, it was still daylight!

Monday September 28, 23.6mi/38.0km

Duck Pass Trail Jct (895.7/10174ft) to Campsite next to Bear Creek (872.1/8970ft) (CA)

We were slow moving in the cold morning, and eventually got moving down the trail by 7:30am. Today was our first Sierra high pass, 10,800ft Silver Pass. So we made sure to practice for Pass push-ups with plenty of bridge pushups!

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After a couple of hours, it warmed up and we took a nice long morning break. There are so many nice flat rocks here, but this one was a perfect chair!

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The clouds didn’t look friendly, but they never misbehaved, and we were dry and happy all day. The view from the top of Silver Pass was still pretty amazing even with the clouds.

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This part of the Sierras have heaps of granite, so our break spots were always comfortable. I love all the options for sitting rocks.

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As we hiked downhill along Mono Creek, we entered lower elevations and were surrounded by deciduous trees. Their yellow leaves made it obvious that autumn was here.

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We skipped the side trail to VVR (a common PCT/JMT resupply point), as we assumed they would already be closed for the season, and had packed out enough food for 7 days. Our planned camp spot was another 6 miles distant, and we kept motivated on the 2.5 mile climb by making it a friendly competition against the clock. After only an hour and 1500ft+, we were at the top of the climb! The last hour to camp was easy, though it was a little difficult to find our camp spot in the dark. I quickly setup my tent and ate my ramen noodles, and fell asleep to the sounds of Bear creek nearby.

Sunday September 27, 11.0mi/17.7km

Red’s Meadow Trail Jct (906.7/7654ft) to Duck Pass Trail Jct (895.7/10174ft) (CA)

We spent most of the day in town shopping for food and gear. The first challenge of the day was buying 7 days worth of food, in 30 minutes or less, so we could get back to the hotel before the 11am checkout time. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for months, and am very familiar the the Vons store layout. We made it back to the hotel for checkout, then walked across the street to the Outdoor gear stores, so I could replace my lost spoon. We met an older couple on the way, and the woman was very insistent that they give us something (they were PCT veterans and very nice), and so I was gifted a metal spoon with a hole drilled in the handle to “save weight”.

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PC: CheshireCat

We ate lunch at Schat’s Bakery, and then I went to the outdoor store to buy a proper plastic spoon. They had merino wool shirts on sale, which Bonus Miles was in desperate need of, given the quantity of holes in her current one, haha!

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We took a taxi back up to Red’s Meadow and the trailhead, and it was already mid-afternoon. It was a pretty flat and easy 11 miles, but we ended up night-hiking the last hour of it because of our late start.

The hiking should have been uneventful, but *someone* had the clever idea to turn “summit pushups” into “bridge pushups”. This proved much more difficult, since bridges are narrower, and our packs were laden with 7 days’ worth of heavy food. Needless to say, this resulted in hilarity. Cheshire Cat actually managed to complete his 5 pushups, and I almost fell into the creek in my attempt.

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PC: CheshireCat

Eventually CC pulled me up back onto the bridge. After those shenanigans, we all were laughing so hard I started crying. This will be a fun week with this group!

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We hiked on for another hour until sunset, and we passed the “900” mile marker, so we are 900 miles from the Mexican border!

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The sunset was very orange tonight, and it stayed light for awhile after the glowing sphere disappeared.

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We arrived to camp around 8pm and setup quickly, as it was already getting cold. There was a lunar eclipse tonight, but it was partly cloudy so we only saw it briefly, and my attempts at photos failed as well.

Saturday September 26, 20.1mi/32.3km

Marie Lakes Trail Jct (926.8/10,069ft) to Red’s Meadow Trail Jct (906.7/7654ft) (CA)

We left camp early, I think Bonus Miles and Cheshire Cat were excited to get to town, showers, and hot food. After two miles, we crossed over Island Pass, but it barely felt like a pass, since we only climbed up a few hundred feet. Even so, we did our “Pass Pushups”, which is when thru-hikers do pushups on top of every long climb to maintain their arm strength.

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I hiked for an hour with Bonus Miles until we got to Thousand Island Lake, where we met a waiting Cheshire Cat. We had a nice break and discussed swimming, but it was windy and cold, so instead I took a quick nap on the warm rocks.

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PC: CheshireCat

The trail split here into the PCT and JMT (usually the run concurrently), and since I’d already seen the PCT section when I was here in June, I decided to explore the JMT section. The two trails re-merge in only 14 miles, so I arranged a 5pm meeting time with my friends, and continued on. Much to my surprise, I saw very few people, and no mosquitoes for the whole day. The trail goes near Devil’s Postpile National Monument, so I took the half-mile side trail and poked around the rocks for awhile.

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I was getting very tan after all these months of hiking.

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The three of us reunited, and explored the Red’s Meadow resort area. It has a small restaurant, a tiny store, and not much else. Of course, the first thing I did was explore the hiker box for food or free stuff. Nothin’.

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Usually, there is a bus that runs every hour to town, but not in late September, when all the tourists have gone home. We found a phone signal and called a taxi, which arrived an hour later. Even though the ride was expensive, it was totally worth it to go into Mammoth Lakes village and get a hotel, shower, and dinner. The Mammoth Brewery food was better than I remembered it, what a great day.

Friday September 25, 15.7mi/25.3km

Tuolumne Meadows (942.5/8606ft) to Marie Lakes Trail Jct (926.8/10,069ft) (CA)

I was awake at 7am, and it was very cold up here at this high elevation. I wasn’t sure when Bonus Miles and Cheshire Cat would arrive, but I figured they were camped about 6 miles away in Glen Aulin camp. Knowing that I had a couple hours to wait around, I stayed in my warm sleeping bag until almost 7:30, which is very late for me. I finally walked over to the Tuolumne General Store around 9am, and laid out a nice sunny warm rock. My two friends showed up 15 minutes later, and it was so exciting to talk to them! We had planned on getting breakfast, but the store had closed the kitchen an hour early, and we were all pretty bummed out. But, they soon had lunch items, and I bought ice cream and some snacks! We hiked out a bit after noon, and spent most of the afternoon excitedly talking about the last couple of months on the trail. As we hiked up the Lyell Canyon, we would occasionally stop for a water break as we followed the Tuolumne River upstream.

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It was a long, gradual climb up to Donahue pass, and a beautiful autumn day in the Sierra. We saw only a couple northbound (section) hikers, and one of them gave me a new trail name – “Do Over” – a reference to my repeating the trail, but now with SOBO status.

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We hit the top of Donohue Pass around 5:30pm, and took a long break after the long climb up to 11,000ft/3350m. When our break spot went into the lengthening shadows, we figured it was time to get moving again.

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The sun went down about 30 minutes later, and we ended up hiking by moonlight and headtorch for an hour to our camp spot, arriving around 7:30pm. We could have stopped earlier, but we wanted to descend off the pass to a more hospitable climate, and to set ourselves up for an easy 20-mile day into the town of Mammoth tomorrow.

Thursday September 24, 0mi/0km

When I crossed paths with my SOBO friend Bonus Miles back on PCT day 112, we talked about trying to meet up after I finished my PCT thru. Well, the timing worked out perfectly that I could join her going SOBO thru the Sierras, amazing!

I had finished the PCT 10 days ago, back on September 14th. Since then, I had gotten a ride to Vancouver, taken a bus south to Lake Tahoe, and gone on quick climbing trip to Yosemite Valley. I stayed with friends Kim and Jeremy in Tahoe for a couple days, then started making my way south to Tuolumne. It was an hour ride down to Reno, and from there I caught the popular Eastern Sierra Transit bus that makes the daily 6-hour trip down to Lone Pine. Fortunately, I was only on the bus for 3 hours, and hopped off at Lee Vining, CA. This is a popular crossroads, as the Tioga Pass road splits off from the main 395 freeway here, and there is a wonderful dining establishment nearby. The “Whoa Nellie Deli” is tucked into an unassuming Mobil gas station, but has some of the best sandwiches, chili, fish tacos, and pizza I’ve ever been served from a counter!

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I had a quick dinner, then I walked out the Tioga Pass road to try and hitch the 20 miles to Tuolumne Meadows campground. Within 20 minutes, I had a ride with a guy on the local Search & Rescue team, YOSAR. He was entertaining, and as a fellow rock climber, we shared some very relatable experiences. I setup my tent, registered with the ranger station, and had enough time to walk out to the meadows to watch the 7pm sunset.

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There was much commotion in the popular campground, and I was very excited to meet up with my friends tomorrow, but eventually I was able to fall asleep. Tomorrow, I meet up with Bonus Miles and Cheshire Cat and start hiking again!

The final days and miles!

The fact that the end of my hike is near is actually kinda scary….but not as scared as I felt about beginning the hike, way back in April!

Day 144: (Sept 11th)

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Day 145: (Sept 12th)

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Day 146: (Sept 13th)

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Day 147: (Sept 14th)

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And just like that, I’m done with my PCT hike. I started at 11am on April 6th, and finished at 11am on September 14th. It took me 5 months and 7 days to walk 2,650 PCT miles, with probably hundreds of additional bonus miles mixed in along the way. I’ll probably do a couple more posts, one summarizing all my trail stats, and the other reviewing my gear.

Back in April, I knew this would be a unique experience, and would probably change me somehow. But in no way could I have predicted what those would be. I’ve met so many amazing people- hikers, trail angels, rangers, bus drivers, trail maintainers, climbers, and even a couple pilots.

There’s nothing like hiking for 5 months between 2 imaginary lines on a map, to remind you how ridiculous life is.

And of course thank you to all my family & friends back east, that helped make this opportunity even possible for me!  Denali- see you soon!