After leaving Lone Pine, the nature of the trail changed. In my first stretch of the Sierra’s there would be patchy snow above 9,500 ft and the passes would be about 10,000 ft tall. After that you would walk miles on hard ground. As soon as we left Lone Pine it was nothing but snow. All day you’re walking on nothing but snow. In order to be able to get any mileage in I would wake up around 3am and “get walking” because by noon the snow would be slushy and walking nearly impossible. Additionally, the passes changed from being 10,000 feet to being 12,000-13,000 feet which meant big climbs on the snow. So the goal for pretty much every day is to wake up and make it over the pass early, then get as close to the next pass as possible and camp. This strategy makes for 10-15 miles days. The rest of the day is spent drying out clothes and resting.
One of the highlights of the whole trail is climbing Mt Whitney. At 14,505 ft tall this is the tallest mountain in the continental US. It was a 17 mile round trip side trail to summit. Although many people skip it, for my group that was never even considered. I made it about 4 miles on the side trail after 10 miles of pct and camped at Guitar Lake. Guitar Lake was almost completely frozen and staggering mountains surrounded me in every direction. My friend Harry got a fishing pole at the last town and we spent the afternoon fishing for the golden trout that live in the area. The pole worked great and we caught two fish that were big enough to eat. That night we feasted on rice and fish, with our minds on the mountain we would climb tomorrow. At 3 am our alarms rang and soon after we were on our way. After over 3,000 feet of climbing on snow we reached the top and jumped on the elevation marker. The view was spectacular and we spent the morning eating candy and looking at the snow covered mountains.
After a few hours we headed back down and pushed on toward camp. The next days were spent navigating water crossings and climbing passes. The final obstacle between me and my next town was Forester Pass. At 13,000 ft this pass is the highest on the entire trail. Not only that, but close to the top is an ice chute that goes down thousands of feet. Just like before, I woke up early and trudged toward the pass. Following footprints in the snow, I was able to make it up and over.
It would be all downhill from here (literally). The hard parts of this section were over. It took two more days of walking but we eventually made it out of the Sierra’s and down into the town of Bishop. After that section I am taking three zero days to let my mind and body rest before I head back into the mountains. This section is the hardest, but the beauty is more than enough reward.
The final stop before the Sierra’s is Kennedy Meadows. From this point on the trail changes drastically. After arriving, I went to pick up the boxes I had shipped to myself and a box my family had shipped. In the four boxes was an ice axe, bear canister, new warmer sleeping bag. The final box had food. After packing everything up, my bag felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Right before we left, a hiker from Denmark called Price joined Harry and me. The three of us headed out ready for this new and exciting section.
As we walked the trail steadily gained elevation for an entire day, we climbed from 6,000 to 10,000 feet very quickly. Even though the hiking was difficult, I was happily distracted by the beautiful scenery that was around every corner. We celebrated our first day in this section, by making a fire at camp that night (a surprisingly rare thing on the pct). The next two days I climbed up and over two peaks. The first was right around the 10,000 foot mark and the second, closer to 11,000 ft. Each peak had snow on the top but it was easy to walk over and I didn’t even need my snow gear.
After the second pass,
I took a side trail and descended to a park, where my group hitched a ride into the town of Lone Pine. The ride down was the scariest hitch of my life. Not because the people were sketchy, but because I rode in the back of a pickup truck down a mountain road with a major drop off on one side. Luckily I made it down alive and am now preparing for the next section. The next stretch will be one of the hardest. I will climb Mt Whitney and go over the highest pass on the entire trail. Additionally the snow will be a major factor and cut my daily mileage down drastically. Even with all this I am excited for the adventures to come.
Right outside of the town of Wrightwood lays Mount Baden Powel, a mountain named after the founder of Boy Scouts. While in town a snowstorm passed over, but it left its mark. As I ascended the mountain small patches of snow grew into large massive blankets of snow. Miles were spent following nothing but the footprints of those who have gone before me. It took a full twenty mile day to escape the snow, but eventually I was able to set up camp on dry ground. These early encounters with snow are hopefully preparing me for the snow covered Sierras I will go through in a few weeks. -Noel Nelson
After my thirty eight mile day, I set up camp at the first open place I saw. It was on a ridge about fifty feet above the valley floor. I laid down to sleep with good weather and a belly full of McDonald’s, but my sleep was cut short. Two hours after crawling into my tent the wind picked up. Then it started to rain. Then the wind picked up even more. Eventually the wind and rain were so strong, water was getting blown into my tent from the side. That is, when my tent was still standing. About every hour a gust of wind would be so strong that it would blow my tent completely over and I would have to fix it, trying to not get soaked in the process. This made for a long night with sleep nowhere to be found.
In the morning the rain let up but the wind had blown a fog in that was so thick, visibility was about twenty feet. So I threw all my stuff into my backpack and started walking. My next resupply location was in Wrightwood, about twenty five miles from where I slept. As I trudged toward my goals I got word that a snow storm was coming in and temps would be in the low twenties. Having already suffered through a few chilly nights I knew that was not something I wanted to take on. Upon arrival to Wrightwood some hikers offered to let me sleep in a cabin they rented. Instead of paying $60 for a hotel room I could pay $20 for a cabin. Things were looking up, that is until I looked down at my wallet. In the chaos of the night hike and storm I had lost my debit card….
I had $40 in cash but that would only cover my room for the next two nights and I was out of food. A sort of panic sunk in as I tried to think of the logistics of getting money and a new card. All while moving from day to day. After a few deep breaths I figured out how to get a new card but that would take a week. That’s a week without money or food. I felt like I was getting knocked down, standing back up to only get hit again.
After seeing my struggle, my hiking buddy Harry offered to loan me money until my card arrived. A true blessing. So I was able to buy food and if all goes will I will be able to support myself again soon enough.
I think having rough days is part of the process. The uncertainty of it all is what makes it an adventure. Although horrible in the moment, these are the events in life we look back on and laugh about. So for now I continue on my path to Canada, taking each day as it comes. -Noel Nelson
I was told this was a high snow year for the west coast but I had no idea how much snow I would encounter this early into my journey.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 am I was already walking down the streets of Idlewild on my way to summit Mt. San Jacinto. In the first five miles alone I gained over 3,000 feet of elevation.
Once off the side trail leading from the town and back on the pct, I encountered my first bit of snow. It was a small patch about 2×2 ft. I didn’t think much of it but as I pressed on the snow patches grew in number and size. A few miles after reaching the pct I the trail was buried and I had to follow were the foot tracks of those who had gone before me.
While trudging through the snow I realized how slow it really was. I was moving at about one to one and a half miles per hour, half the speed I normally walk.
After three hours of steep uphill elevation gain without a trail I reached the storm shelter close to the top of the mountain. The stone hut made me feel as though I had stepped back in time. Although amazing, I still had to press on a few hundred more feet to the top of t
Finally, after hours of climbing I reached the top (10,834 ft above sea level). From this vantage point I was able to look across the desert and see how far I had traveled, as well as what laid before me.
My successful journey to the top was celebrated by eating my lunch with a view that most people only in pictures.
Although exhausting and time consuming, the feeling of accomplishment I got from climbing my first mountain in the PCT was enough to fuel my journey for the next couple days. Many people skipped the summit but I think going for it is the true nature of the trail. It is the nature of adventure.