“You Know What Separates the Men From the Boys? Puttin’ On Wet Clothes Every Morning” — Soloing the Sierra

Day: 68

Location: Black Velvet Coffee Shop, Mammoth Lakes, CA (favorite place so far!)

Mile: 906.6

Avocado Count: 34

Showers Taken: 18

It’s all in your mindset. If you have the right attitude towards achieving a goal, you are going to achieve that goal. As I was hiking, I would stop and chat with other hikers. We discussed plans and landscape and strategy, and when it came up that I was not going into Bishop to resupply and take a day or 2 off to rest, I heard a lot of choice words and phrases. I had packed 12 days of food, and I was going straight to Mammoth by way of the most challenging terrain the PCT offers. And I was going alone. The most gratifying moments were when I’d tell someone this (whom I know has a rather lofty ego) and they would throw out a compliment and wish me well — because I could see their minds churning with doubt and maybe, just maybe, a tinge of envy. Funny thing is, I didn’t know how monster of a hitch it was until I was halfway through it, and even then it felt really, really attainable.

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I woke up every morning and performed a type of “self check-in,” if you will. I would ask myself if there was anywhere else I’d rather be. The answer was always no. I woke up excited everyday, even the day I forced on icy socks and slipped them into icy shoes and thought I’d never be warm again. Even then. Sure, a nice strapping young man brewing me hot coffee before sunrise would have been a nice addition, but we can’t win ’em all!

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On the 6th day of the Sierra, my friends went into Bishop to put their feet up and eat tons of food, and I continued on, scaled up Glen Pass and finally passed mile 800. Glen Pass wasn’t too bad, but the descent was the steepest of all, and not my favorite. It was terrifying. We were told not to do it super early because you don’t want to descend when it’s icy. The snow was soft when I went down, but then something really unfortunate happened.

Ascending Glen Pass

Ascending Glen Pass

At the top of the pass I was with about 10 other people, some old friends, some new faces. I’m not good at waiting around when there is hiking to be done, so I was the first to leave the summit party. I walked across the ridge to the steepest glissade butt track you’ll ever see. Basically, a snow slide. Opinions were varied at the top about if we should do it or not, looked kind of steep and downright suicidal. So here I go, first one to approach the start of the butt chute…I wasn’t planning on doing it, but it chose me to. Damnit I had no choice because I slipped and fell onto the slide. It was so smooth and slick there was no recovery method, I had to commit to the slide and try to slow myself down. I had micro-spikes on, but my ice ax was still in my backpack. I tried desperately to slow down but couldn’t, nothing was working. As I slid to my death (totally dramatic) I made one last effort and threw my poles, flipped onto my stomach, tied my hands together and gathered snow with my forearms. It worked, THANK GOD. The initial cheering turned to horror from the crowd looking on. Later in the day I apologized to everyone for almost dying and thus probably ruining their summer. They told me when I threw my poles they started getting super worried, and then 5 days later I saw friends from the Whitney Summit and they were like “we saw you glissade down Glen Pass, holy cow that was scary!” Haha, I put on a show, that’s for damn sure. Lots of bruises and scratches from the snow, but popped right up and continued the descent, I mean did I have another choice? Get me the heck off that mountain!

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The rest of the day was easy peezy. I gave myself a pass. I dried out all my stuff by Rae Lake and submerged myself in the icy cold waters. It was time for a bath. I made coffee and reorganized all my stuff. Hiked a few more miles and set myself up for a super early wake-up call to conquer the next mountain pass. Did about 15 miles that day and made a delicious farro&coconut milk soup for dinner.

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Day 7: Marathon day. It was either complete 2 Passes (most everyone does one pass per day) or do 2 consecutive low mileage days with one Pass each. I figured I’d continue to test myself and go for the gold. I started hiking at 4:30am and was the first person in the snowfields approaching Pinchot Pass.

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Luckily, my GPS was working at this point, but it turned out to be the last hour of THAT luxury for the rest of the week. I got all sorts of turned around, then luckily I saw 2 guys come out of nowhere walking on what was clearly the trail…EUREKA! I followed them the rest of the way up, and then bounced ahead of them. I got down after getting lost some more, and then started pushing the pace because I had 10 miles to cover before the next pass, and I wanted to be up and down that pass before the early afternoon’s soft snow. I crossed over many terrifying creeks and soon approached Mather Pass aka “The most fear-inducing pass in the Sierra.” You literally have to hike up super sharp snowy switchbacks with drop-offs that would make even the most courageous nauseous. Then you scale up either a snowy wall, or a section with nothing but loose rock, and pray that your foot holds steady. It’s exhausting, and the stress of the drop-off doesn’t exactly make things easier. As you can imagine, it was the biggest relief to get to the top. Two passes and 17 miles by 12:30…can you feel the fist pump that you know went down? Can ya feel it!

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The rest of the day was gorgeous, slightly breezy, warm, and along a golden trail with lakes and rivers and butterflies. Although my legs were in a lot of pain from dry skin. Between the post-holing in shorts, creek fords, and hot sun, they were so, so dry. Had to wear pants the rest of the week to cover them up. In the height of my leg misery I met a guy who asked me if I found his weed at the bottom of Glen Pass. Clearly, my pain did not compare to his loss, so I considered myself lucky to only have the most dried out skin in all the land. To think, I could have lost my WEED. (Disclaimer: I don’t smoke, heavy sarcasm).

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After 27 miles, and close to 15 hours of non-stop movement, I called it a day. Another 4am wake-up the next day in attempts to conquer Muir Pass. On the switchbacks before the snow I met an awesome lady named Cashmere, she is 53, a chemistry professor, and an ultra-runner. She started the PCT on May 6th and had yet to take a day off. She is crushing it.

We hiked most of the day together and was really nice to have someone to navigate the pass with. We got to the top and there was a beautiful stone hut constructed by the Sierra Club in 1930 in John Muirs memory. It gave me the chills. It was one of the best moments of the trip. John Muir is the most iconic outdoor figure, and has done so much to protect this area he called his home, the Sierra. If a hiker ever throws up a quote on social media, 9 times out of 10 it was said by John Muir. So yes, it was an extremely precious moment seeing that hut, and of course, hiking in the John Muir Wilderness ON the John Muir Trail. The guy is rightfully everywhere around these parts, I might have even started talking to him towards the end of each day when I’m at my looniest. May have.

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As you can see this is when a bit of weather started to loom. It was Friday, and a fellow hikers (Spreadsheet and Malt) had the weather forecast at the top. They told us low chance for snow on Saturday, but high chance on Sunday. Shoot, I thought it was always sunny in the Sierra Mountains? Right? Don’t they know I’m out here for almost 2 weeks and expect PERFECT weather everyday? Of course, I laughed and said welp, COME WHAT MAY! and it did, like Hell it did…

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Friday was another day probably close to 25 miles, pushed it again in the evening because I wanted to get close to the NEXT PASS. Despite my efforts, I believe I was still 10 miles from it, but I was tired and hungry and I had promised myself Mac n’ Cheese all day, so darnnit I was gonna have myself a FRIDAYYYY NIGHT! Talk about earning your cheese, I inhaled that goodness and slept like a baby.

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Saturday rolls around and the weather is iffy, clearly, the storm is gonna go down today, not tomorrow. I just pray it holds out until I’m off this next pass, Seldan. About 2 miles from the top, it begins to hail. Then rain. Then hail. Then snow. I wanted to push it, I really, really, didn’t want to call it quits for the day, it was only 11:30, but I’m also very aware of the dangers of being on top of mountain passes during storms. So, mom, dad — I listened to your voices in my head and made the “smart choice” and played it safe. I pushed it to the most exposed area (fine luck) and set up my tent while getting pelted with hail.

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Everything was soaked but my sleeping clothes so I put on my jammies to warm-up. I ate some cold-soaked oatmeal (was low on fuel, needed to save it for dinners only) and tried to nap. 30 minutes later I hear a voice..”hey you in the tent, got everything you need??” “Oh hey! Yeah I’m good, how is it out there?” “Not bad, it’s only RAIN.” He didn’t mean to sound condescending, but that’s how I HAD to take it if I wanted to ever leave my tent. I laughed and was like okay, there’s people going up there, so now you don’t have an excuse, go get it done. Packed up my soaking wet things, and got to the top in no time (was way closer than I thought). Took this photo and raced down before the next wave of the storm came barreling through.

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Met up with those guys at the bottom and hiked together through 2 really intense river fords (because we weren’t wet enough already) and then a few more miles. What helped me all week wearing wet shoes was, oddly enough, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon. You know their song “Tight Pants?” Well early in the desert when the ONE time we got our feet wet, Centrefold started singing that song, but replacing ‘Tight Pants’ with ‘Wet Shoes’…it was the funniest thing to me at the time, and so all week I would do a little dance (with similar hip movements) with my wet shoes and sing the whole song as I hiked along. It was probably the most effective mood booster of the week.

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

Anyhoo, we all camped separately that night, calling it quits at different times. I labeled that day a slap in the face from the PCT, I mean it never stopped. Every time you thought you could relax, the PCT would test your will once more with intense hail, more creek crossings, mosquitoes, or washing out the trail completely and leaving you lost and frustrated. I made dinner from my tent as the rain came down, grateful I kept all my sleeping clothes dry. It was a fitful night of rest, my lips continued to throb, the rain smacked my tent, the thunder roared and the lightening lit up the sky. It was terrifying. Around 5am I opened my eyes to my tent caving in on me, the rain turned to heavy, wet snow and my poor little tent couldn’t hold much more. So for the next hour I would sit up, smack my tent walls, lay down and contemplate never leaving the tent, sit up, smack my tent, lay back down and contemplate never leaving the tent etc. I was 2 days from Mammoth.

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There is a really hiker-friendly resort called Vermillion Valley that a lot of hikers resupply at. I wasn’t planning on doing the 8 mile detour to get there, but with the state I was in, it was the only safe choice. Everything was soaked, I knew it was going to snow all day, and the Pass I planned on doing is known for a very confusing descent because it’s always covered in snow. With my GPS on the fritz, and new snow covering the preexisting footprints, I would have been doomed. So I finally pumped myself up, ate as many calories I could to keep warm, and put on soaking wet clothes. All of it, all of it was wet and snowy. It was the most difficult 30 minutes of the PCT. I wish, I couldn’t feel a thing. Taking down my tent was a bear. I had no grip strength, no dexterity in my fingers, and was shaking so badly. I also had to poop, so that was just the icing on the cake. I got the tent down, rolled it up all water-logged and shoved it somewhere on the outside of my pack. I was a freak show, for sure.

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“I got my wet clothes, got my wet clothes, I got my wet clothes on!”

I felt really nauseous and knew I needed to hike fast. The hail kept coming down, the trail was a stream, and my feet were ice bricks. 6 hours later I got to VVR, ready to spend upwards of $200 dollar for any sort of indoor sleeping space. They gave me a free beer and told me I could camp for free out front. After one sip of the beer my whole life changed. I set up my tent in the mud and rain, put on a bunch of loaner clothes (I chose fleece pajama pants with snowflakes on them) bought 3 nectarines and a honeybun and wiped out the inside of my wet tent with towels they gave me. I could have showered or done laundry for 6 bucks a piece, but was feeling better and decided to save that goodness for Mammoth. I continued to rough it, and slept pretty cold that night. It was all good though, because I hung out with a lot of hikers at the small restaurant they had. It was a really great moment when a staff member came into the restaurant saying..”EXCUSE ME HIKERS, someone put their BLUE sleeping bag in the dryer and it lit on fire, I SAVED the sleeping bag but now my dryer is BROKEN…NO MORE SLEEPING BAGS IN THE DRYER.” I just sat there with a smile on my face, sipping on soup in my fleece snowflake pajamas wondering in what other restaurant on earth this could happen in. And in that moment, I loved my life to the fullest.

First time looking in the mirror, my lips were inflamed and blistered, and my eyes were completely bloodshot. Heyyyyaaa good-LOOKIN!!!

I took the ferry out the next day, I wanted to get out early so I could complete the final mountain pass before Mammoth, Silver Pass. I got up there at 4:30pm and got lost for 2 hours. There were dark clouds literally all around me, but not on me. I felt like I was walking in the spotlight. I prayed a ton to keep the light on me, because if the storm came in AND I was still lost, I’d probably loose my cool. It was evening, and I was tired. I needed to get off this mountain. I followed the boot pack, but it kept leading me to the edge of cliffs.  After a lot of extra exerted energy and strategics, I found the correct boot pack, and made it down. I got out of the snow and found an awesome campsite nestled in the trees. Ran out of fuel before my water could boil but I didn’t care, I ate cold soup that night. I would be in Mammoth tomorrow eating pizza, just 20 more miles.

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Finding a sign after being lost for 2 hours = equals me collapsing in the snow in complete relief

Finding a sign after being lost for 2 hours = me collapsing in the snow in complete relief

The hike into Mammoth was the hardest day of the hitch, my feet were screaming with every step and the trail kept going up 1,000′ and then down 1,000′ but the descents were covered in snow so you could never make up any time. It took forever. But you know what? I made it. With a half mile left I began to cry a bit. I did it. Holy cow, I hope I never forget the feeling of getting to the trailhead and seeing other humans and cars. I made it to Mammoth. I threw my clothes in the washer, ordered room service dominoes, hopped in the shower, and devoured a pizza and fake chicken bites while watching the trashiest most brainless television I could find (E-Network always delivers).

It was the most challenging 12 days I have ever had. My legs and body held up phenomenally, I was really, really proud of them. I kept my head on straight better than I would have if I had done this any earlier in my life, but towards the end I was so mentally drained from getting lost in snowfields and always, always, being wet, that I was ready to get off the trail for a break. I actually had a bit of food leftover which no hiker quite understands.

This was a fun snackie

Cute little snack

I have been in Mammoth for 5 days and really don’t want to look at my credit card statement. My friends took extra time off in Bishop so they are about 5-6 days behind, which is way farther back than I was hoping. I have made it this long, so I am hoping to see them today so we can hug and exchange battle stories from this crazy section of trail. Having such strong relationships on the trail is both a blessing and a curse. It’s so hard to sync schedules and please everyone. Lots of flexibility is required, and even more patience. But the enrichment your friendships bring to the experience is invaluable. They make the hard times easier and the miserable moments fun. I’m in a tough spot right now because I am the only one on a schedule, and don’t have too much time left for side-trips or many more lazy days off. Not sure how things are going to play out from here, but I trust it will all work out for the best.

I’ve just been eating and drinking all week, and have definitely gained back a majority of the 10lbs I lost. The last few days of the hitch I had to tuck all my layers into my pants to keep them up (I wish I had a picture, total nerd) it was quite annoying, but now they are snug and there will be none of that for awhile!

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I have no idea what is next, all I have heard is really intense and high river fords, mosquitoes, and more snow (but not nearly as much). The hardest part of the WHOLE trail seems to be over (the desert and the southern Sierra). It’s crazy to think about, but now I need to make up a lot of miles in NorCal and Oregon if I want to be done by my goal date. I got a sister getting married and I am NOT to miss it! Time to hit the trail runnin’

 

The Desert Goes Up in Flames & The Kennedy Meadows Experience

Day: 66

Location: Mammoth Lakes Library, CA

Cumulative Miles: 906.6

Avocados Consumed: 33

Showers Taken: 16 (yikes)

Rewinddddddddddddd….

The last 50 miles of desert. 2.5 more days. The snowy Sierra await us at the end of this week. We ended a great Memorial Day Weekend with an American BBQ at the campground with the Brit Family Robinson. The kids (Captain Obvious and Pippy) challenged me to a game of horseshoes. I would like to say I kicked their little hiker butts, but that was not the case. They won. That’s all I’d like to say about THAT.

When two families merge!

When two families merge!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The following morning, Centerfold and I hitched the 38 miles back up to the trail at Walker Pass. Being a tough hitch, we did really well. A lady in a beat-up 1980’s Honda picked us up within 10 minutes. When we loaded her trunk with our packs and our bodies, I thought we were going to bottom out. Her 6-year-old daughter was in the back, so we became buds. We talked about life, played “Pet Rescue,” and she told me how beautiful I was. Automatic Best Friend. She drove us as far as she had time for, then dropped us on the side of the road. It was probably 90 degrees out, and we stood at this pull-out for about 20 minutes before someone else stopped to take us the final 10 miles. In that time, the owner of the land we were standing in front of came out with cold water and Gatorade. Such a nice guy, and within the next 5 minutes a professional mountain biker picked us up in his ‘suped-up’ extremely nice truck. He told us some crazy stories about how he got shot and lost a lung, which is why he had to retire so early. But it’s okay, because things happen for a reason and now he has a rad little kid who races bikes. He dropped us off and BAM we began climbing for the next 2.5 days. It was the last section of desert and it was brutally rewarding. I fell back in love with it. Super hot, dry, and mountainous.

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For our last night in the desert, I wanted to find a really sweet spot. I wanted to watch the sunset, make dinner, journal, and keep my rain-fly in its bag and stare at the desert stars until my eyes were forced shut. It took a few extra miles of hiking, but I finally found the perfect spot on a ridge. All goals accomplished (with an added surprise swig of whiskey from a group of hikers who stopped by) and I slept like a baby under the brightest, clearest, most beautifully calm sky. The perfect send-off.

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Chuckles, Spoon, and I hiked the last 10 miles into Kennedy Meadows together the next morning. I was definitely struggling a bit from dehydration, just couldn’t get my mind right. I fought it so hard because I knew how big of a milestone it is to walk into the iconic Kennedy Meadows (and how excited Chuckles and Spoon were, so I was trying realllyyyy hard not to be a debbie).  My spirits rocketed the second we touched the parking lot. Kennedy Meadows is a “town” of 200, basically it’s just a general store with a big deck hikers drink and eat burgers on. It’s the Gateway to the Sierra, so it’s filled with very excitable hikers, the energy being completely contagious. WELL, as new hikers arrive, the fellow hikers hangin’ on the deck start clapping for them! So we walked up to probably 30 hikers applauding us in. I couldn’t stop myself, I ate it up. I bet everyone who knows me well is NOT surprised by this. I started doing my toe-touch dance and yelling “ohhh stop it! just stop it! noooo YOU guys! it’s all YOU guys! awww shucks!” We got up to the deck and a few guys were like “holy sh*t! she’s got a f$#kin signature move man! that’s awesome!” I introduced myself as Toe Touch, said screw this dehydration thing, and we got beers and burgers and became part of the crowd clapping in other hikers. Such a silly, stupid, weird life. I love it.

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Good friends send cheap whiskey you can't possibly fit in a backpack

Good friends send cheap whiskey you can’t possibly fit in a back-pack

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We all had several packages waiting for us. Ice axes, micro-spikes, warmer clothes, tons of food, letters from friends etc. My favorite was a box of MRS. HACK cookie squares! Growing up she always made our soccer team cookie squares, and then continued to bake me them every time I was home from college. I’ve been in contact with them and knew they were coming, I was SO excited. They were as fresh as if she just took them out of the oven in NY. I ate a ton, packed up 8 (one for dessert every night, what a treat! except the last 4 days were sad), and then gave the rest to the Brit Family Robinson. Hysterically, Anya (the mom) took a bite and ran over to me on the other side of the deck, mouth full of cookie exclaiming “what IS this, it’s NOT a cookie, it’s NOT cake, what IS IT?!?” Smiling and equipped with a arm swing I yelled, “it’s a cookie square!” So proud of them, I was so proud of those cookie squares, as if we just bridged a huge cultural gap. The little things. So THANK YOU HACK family, for always being such a great support system for me, and for putting huge smiles on our faces.

We felt really, really lucky. As we sat on the deck that night, we watched a cloud of smoke fill the area we just hiked in from. There was a fire at a campground just a mile off the PCT, and it shut down the trail to Kennedy Meadows. The next day hikers were getting dropped off at Kennedy Meadows, and they didn’t get an applause. I felt really bad for them, they had to miss the last 50 miles of desert, and then get driven into Kennedy Meadows, nothing any hiker wants to happen. That also sealed it for us, we were getting out of there. We sat and drank whiskey, sang songs, made fun of each other, swigged wine with Beyonce, and watched the desert burn behind us. It was surreal, the desert literally went up in flames the day after we completed it. And in that moment, I found Jesus.

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After a very casual effort of organization and consolidation (aka putting all items into sandwich bags), I had managed to fit 12 days worth of food into my newly purchased bear canister (required for the next 400ish miles). The others only had to fit 6 days worth, which was even difficult for them. Good thing I have a healthy relationship with hunger (kidding), because as it seems, I eat half as much as they do. But if I didn’t, if I didn’t train my body to do A LOT on a little (to put it simply) then I wouldn’t be able to have been in the Sierra for 12 days straight, and give it all my focus and energy. We all make choices, and mine seem to be on the higher spectrum of masochism. I’m aware. And I’ve embraced it.

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My pack weighed around 35lbs with no water

So that was it, our final farewell to the desert, to Kennedy Meadows, and to hikers we were very uncertain we’d ever see again. After a cuppa tea with the Brits, and finally SHOVING everything into every area of our packs, we set out for the mountains. We hiked a huge 2 miles that night, ate snacks for dinner, and lay awake excited for the next chapter. The chapter that is most talked about. The chapter that would surely change us in the most beneficial ways. The chapter that would challenge even the most poised hiker. The chapter entitled, The Sierra Nevada. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

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