Miserable Mosquitos

The head net, rain pants and deet are in action this evening, as it appears I have entered mosquito territory and all 100 thousand of them wish to make me feel welcome. Between preparing for bear battle and fending off these little suckers, it’s been a busy evening. Megan’s mum was telling me some crazy stories about bears getting into people’s cars/houses/tents just because there was a packet of sunflower seeds or a stick of gum in there. Without UB around to play the paranoid role, it’s all up to me.

20130627-083228.jpg
I’m still in good spirits despite the buzzing around my head net and the collection of bites on my arm, shoulder and foot. I’m having hot chocolate and a chunky Kit Kat for dinner tonight after taking Megan for lunch and eating a huge turkey sandwich before hitting the trail. We went to the post office to collect my tent, SPOT device and other gear but unfortunately it hadn’t arrived and wouldn’t be in until tomorrow morning. I decided instead of staying another night, I’d get the PO to forward the package to South Lake Tahoe, so don’t expect any location updates for at least another 10 days.

20130627-083346.jpg
Megan dropped me at the ski lodge and I just made the shuttle heading up to Red’s Meadow. When I got there I bumped into Acid Glasses and a few other hikers milling around outside the general store. Two were JMT hikers and one of them was Australian. Not only was Leigh from Oz, she was from Wagga Wagga where I spent four years at university and working at Prime television. Coincidently my colleague Matt Olsen at Prime was her next door neighbour and she also knew his dad Kev who worked at the university. Small world!

20130627-083434.jpg
Her hiking partner Mini is a sports psychologist and did a quick interview with me about females hiking the PCT. Once the doco is complete he’s promised to send me the YouTube link. I definitely had the heaviest pack out of everyone hitting the trail at Red’s Meadows. Acid Glasses cringed when he tried picking it up and a few others took turns to see how heavy it felt. One of my purple Frocs had fallen off my pack and luckily someone found it coming off the bus and returned it to me. The strap had come lose and after some deliberation I concluded the only way to fix it would be with a safety pin which Leigh was able to provide.

20130627-083526.jpg
It was 5pm before I hit the trail but I only planned to go 4 miles to a campsite with a bear box. Unfortunately when I arrived there just under two hours later, the huge open space was occupied by just one camper van and for some reason I just didn’t feel comfortable staying there. Instead I carried on up the trail which followed the San Joaquin River. I stopped a couple of times at places that looked adequate for camping, but the mosquitos scared me off until I realised there was no escape, and it was time to face them head on.

20130627-083739.jpg
I struggled seeing through my head net but have managed to bunker down in my bivvy sack and am looking through the mesh at the cloudy sky above. I’m not sure I’ll even see stars tonight. Tomorrow I want to make it 18 miles over Donohue Pass which climbs over 4,000 feet. I’m going to stop before mile 931 as apparently there have been multiple bear issues between there and Tuolumne Meadows. Goodnight from mosquito land!

20130627-083827.jpg

Preparing to re-enter the Sierra wilderness

I’m on my fifth cup of coffee for the day and buzzing like frantic mosquito, trying to squeeze 10 days of food into my pack alongside my other necessities. It’s over 180 miles to South Lake Tahoe and it’s going to be my longest section by far flying solo!

20130626-125052.jpg
I slept until 9am this morning and could barely get out of bed as I’d literally sunk into the mattress and was tangled in all the sheets and blankets. My first stop was the kitchen where my heart leapt out of my chest when I saw a fresh bag of bagels and the biggest tub of peanut butter on the planet! Not to mention a fresh pot of coffee sitting on the bench. I must have died and gone to trail heaven!

20130626-125640.jpg
After breakfast it was time to open my resupply box and lay out my rations. I seem to have a perfect amount of dinners, breakfast is on the light side but thanks to my trail angel Chris, the Carnation Breakfast shakes should get me through. My granola was super heavy so I tried to lighten the load, feeding half of it to the carpet (sorry Megan), but the rest was spot on. Then I packaged half in my bear canister and half in my OP sack (which apparently hides the smell of food). Having heard from UB that a bear already ate all his food I’m going to be extra vigilant on protecting mine!

20130626-130533.jpg

20130626-130548.jpg
With all of the additional food I decided it was going to be too heavy to carry my tent, so I’ve picked up a bivvy sack instead and will ship the tent ahead to South Lake Tahoe when it arrives this afternoon. I’ll get my SPOT device back too and will soon be able to check in and update my ‘Where am I’ page again.

20130626-130959.jpg
My pack weighs 45 pounds (20kg) and is bursting at the seams, giving Cheryl Strayed a real run for her money. I’ve also lost 10 pounds since my first weigh in on Day 1. I’m now 121 pounds (about 55 kgs), so it’s going to be slow moving for the first few days back on the trail.

20130626-132656.jpg
Megan just got home so she’s going to take me to the post office and then back up to the ski resort where I’ll catch the shuttle back to Red’s Meadows. I’ve got re-entry nerves running in my belly, this happens every time I’m about to hit the trail again. The longer you spend in town the harder it is to get back out there. With three bagels, half a tub of peanut butter and five coffees in me, I’m confident I got this!

20130626-133154.jpg

Marvellous Mammoth

I’m lying on a big soft bed with a dozen pillows having just gobbled down a chocolate doughnut and a Big Mac meal… Muk Muk must be in town again!! The comfort is well deserved after the ‘mammoth’ effort I had to put in to arrive here before the rain. And boy has it been raining since I arrived. You couldn’t even see the mountains through the grey skies last night and I almost froze just walking outside to do my laundry. For the first time on the trail I timed the weather just right!!

20130625-175859.jpg
I hit the trail at 5:15am yesterday with hopes to catch the first shuttle into town at 7am from Red’s Meadows. Unfortunately I missed it by about 10 minutes, and during my hour long wait, I tried getting three separate rides including a garbage truck as a last resort. None of these attempts came through so I jumped on the 8am shuttle and was met by Megan from the Wilderness First Aid course I did in San Diego, at the ski lodge. I ran to her with open arms, clumsily tripping over my hiking pole as I did so. It was soooo good to see a none trail face, especially when she was holding a giant cup of coffee for me and had a warm car to jump into just as it started to rain!

20130625-180550.jpg
Megan took me on a tour of the town and then dropped me at the post office where I bumped into UB and picked up my resupply box and two care packages!! One from trail angel ‘Where’s Chris’ and Jaime, Dana and Candace. It felt like Christmas all over again! Chris had sent me coffee, drink mixes, socks and insoles; and my three Vancouver 2010 colleagues had sent me a host of treats including a clean town T-shirt, chocolate, face mask and bath soak, electrolytes and GU shots! I was absolutely blown away, thank you doesn’t even cut it!!! Unbelievable!

20130625-185153.jpg

20130625-185203.jpg

20130625-185213.jpg
I showered, had coffee and ate McDonalds in that order, then put my feet up and later in the day did my laundry. I stayed at the Motel 6, but when I discovered my gear wouldn’t arrive until Wednesday I asked Megan if she wouldn’t mind if I stayed one night with her to save costs. Coincidently the weather will also clear by Wednesday which eases the itchy feeling in my feet!

20130625-185938.jpg
Today I began a full day of pampering with a bath in oatmeal soak, coffee and fruit at Megan’s, new gear purchases at the mountaineering store including ends for my hiking poles, and hair removal at Belladonna. Who says you HAVE to be hairy in the wilderness? Oh and just because you’re a thru hiker, it ain’t cool to tell a woman that she has a moustache (Pac Man!), don’t worry, it’s been taken care of thanks to my new best friend in Mammoth Lakes, Donna! 🙂

20130625-191642.jpg
Before, and after…

20130625-191732.jpg
I came ‘home’ this afternoon to a big empty house after a shopping expedition at Vons for tortillas and chocolate which took me at least 30 stunned minutes in the biggest supermarket I’ve been in for two months!

20130625-192704.jpg

20130625-192718.jpg
It’s so bizarre to be in a house again, with a kitchen full of food and a bathroom full of nice smelling gels and soaps. After my Maccas and doughnut I wasn’t really hungry until I spied some leftover food left on a plate on the kitchen sink. I stared at a half eaten piece of chicken debating whether or not to let it go to waste. I ate it, sorry Megan, I’ve stooped to all sorts of lows during this trip! I also had two pieces of toast with jam… I’ve really missed toast during this trip!

20130625-192442.jpg

20130625-192828.jpg

Grey skies blow in

UB offered to give me the tent we were sharing for the last section into Mammoth lakes when he left VVR, but I declined the offer after one of the staff said the weather would be fine until Tuesday. Of course I had a dream that night that it stormed and naturally grey clouds started to gather in the sky in the late morning.

20130624-172249.jpg
I woke with the sun but didn’t leave VVR until 8am as I had agreed to hike out with Messenger and he moves slow in the mornings. I opted to hike the 4.5 miles out instead of paying another $9 for the ferry, but as the weather started to turn I wished I’d saved the time and leg power. I lost Messenger about 15 minutes up the trail and despite stopping a couple of times to stretch and eat he didn’t appear, so I carried on solo up Silver Pass.

20130624-193009.jpg

20130624-193304.jpg

20130624-193705.jpg
It was 6 miles to the top and about half way up after stopping for lunch and yet another stretch, I bumped into a hiker called Scrub. He started on May 9 so he knew all of the hikers behind me and it was fun getting updates on some of the people. I hiked with Scrub until late afternoon and spent a lot of time speculating about whether it would rain or not. When I said I should probably hike as close to Red’s Meadow Resort as possible (the gateway into Mammoth Lakes), incase the heavens opened he agreed, which made me realise just how long my day was going to be as it was close to 35 miles from VVR.

20130624-194428.jpg

20130624-194438.jpg

20130624-194454.jpg
After Silver Pass I thought the majority of climbing was over, but little did I know we still had 2,000 feet to go up. I thought I was making good time, but when I expected to have gone at least 5 miles, I checked Halfmile’s app and realised I’d only gone 3. This deflated me a little and my speed dropped. I also started to get really hungry and decided I should cook dinner before it got too dark. Somehow I must have picked the coldest, windiest section of the trail because as I was cooking a few specs on snow fell on me. I immediately freaked out and dressed in all my rain gear and put the waterproof cover over my pack. I had taken my socks off to air my feet (which looked like I’d been walking through burning hot coals) but had to put my warmest socks on so they wouldn’t freeze.

20130624-210539.jpg
Scrub caught up and said he was going to camp right next to the stream where I was cooking. When the wind picked up we both realised it was time for me to hike again, fast. I was dressed in all bar one of my layers and was still cold for the first half hour. Slowly I warmed up and to my surprise the weather started to clear, with the last of the sun coming out soon after making the video below.

20130624-210739.jpg

20130624-210750.jpg

20130624-210758.jpg
I was making good ground as I neared the 900 mile mark (a third of the way there!), when Messenger turned up out of nowhere. He was surprised to see me decked out in all my rain gear, as by that time the sky was completely clear. He was planning to camp about 1.5 miles up the tail, 5 miles from Red’s Meadows. There were two campfires burning when we got there so I figured at least there was warmth and there were other hikers cowboy camping. I set my alarm for 5am, with intentions of getting the first shuttle bus from Red’s Meadow Resort into Mammoth Lakes.

20130624-210911.jpg

20130624-210922.jpg

Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR)

VVR was not a place I expected to visit on the trail, but considering I’ve almost been to every other resupply location I thought why the hell not. UB was desperately low on food, and although I probably could have made it to Mammoth on what I had, I was curious to see what this place had to offer.

20130624-144404.jpg
The ‘ferry’ ride was a small tin boat that only fit a maximum of four hikers at a time. Luckily we were first in line after our mammoth hike right to the lake. Once across the water they stash you in the back of a van on milk crates and drive you to the ‘resort’. It was a cute place but a lot smaller than I had expected, and the best accommodation they had were a few trailers scattered around the property. I was in for the free camping option and tried to scavenge as much food as possible from the hiker bins.

20130624-144634.jpg

20130624-144647.jpg

20130624-144725.jpg
We managed to score a couple of dinners each, and later in the day I even found myself snacking on some miscellaneous trail mix that had been left in there. It’s kind of scary how far your standards of food consumption and cleanliness drop as a thru hiker. We laughed at the fact that there are always zip lock bags of unlabelled white powder and random pills left in these bins/boxes.

20130624-150208.jpg

20130624-145211.jpg

20130624-145241.jpg
The food at the resort was pricey but worth it. I had a giant breakfast burrito, an ice cream sandwich for lunch, and then their BBQ combo for dinner which consisted of beef, pork ribs and an entire chicken! I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t finish my plate, but I picked at it until my body physically hurt and started to sweat from all the meat I had consumed. I gave my leftover chicken to Messenger and then ordered some chocolate ice cream to top it all off. A man at a neighbouring table offered us half a bottle of red wine which we gladly accepted. I think it was the first wine I’ve had on the trip so far, and my taste buds took a while to get used to the flavour again.

20130624-145739.jpg
UB left on the afternoon ferry to get to Mammoth by Sunday. As all my gear isn’t arriving until Tuesday I opted to stay the night at VVR to save accommodation costs in Mammoth (although Megan, one of the instructors from my wilderness first aid course, has now offered me a place to stay, thank you!!!)

20130624-145521.jpg
While all of the other hikers slept in the forest surrounding the property, I opted for the beach. Mainly because I could get a tiny bit of phone signal and I wanted to be on my own. I had the best sleep on the whole trail on the beach and woke up to the sun warming me at 6am. Heavenly!

20130624-145848.jpg

Naked hiking day

It’s 11:15pm and I’m still panting, having just got into my sleeping bag after hiking 10 miles to the VVR ferry. The last 3.5 hours felt like the Blair Witch Project, all I could see was UB’s feet ahead of me in my head lamp as we raced down over 2,000 feet to the bottom of Selden Pass.

20130621-232742.jpg
Today was probably our biggest mileage in the Sierras so far (over 25 miles) and it was probably our latest start too as we didn’t hit the trail until after 9:30am. I had the alarm set for 5am but we were right at the bottom of a valley so the sun didn’t hit the tent until late morning and I was just too cold and still not feeling well enough to get out of bed. I think UB felt the same. We finally got moving after Turtle and Willow caught up with us and were soon reminded that it was the 21st of June, not only the summer solstice, but also naked hiking day.

20130621-233536.jpg
Until we came across two naked hikers I honestly thought the whole thing was a myth. Firstly, how can you hike naked with a heavy pack rubbing on your body, and two, it’s cold enough in the morning hiking with long sleeves on! I was proven wrong by two Swiss hikers who were butt naked bar their hiking boots and socks.

20130621-233934.jpg
After the shock of seeing two nude dudes on the trail we took a break 5 miles down the trail, eating most of the food we had left as we plan to resupply out of the hiker box as much as possible at VVR, and wanted to lighten our packs as much as possible for the hike into there. Not a bad idea considering the big climb we encountered shortly after up the beginning of Selden Pass. It began with some very steep switch bags which we hiked up with some speed, but slowly evened out towards the top. The Muir Pass was my favourite but this one was definitely the most beautiful.

20130621-235204.jpg

20130621-235317.jpg
We came across a baby snake which UB was able to quickly grab for a photo much to my horror, and two sets of park rangers for the first time checking hiking permits. We also entered the world of mosquito swarms today, especially at the top of Selden Pass near the surrounding lakes. I almost got out the head net, but resisted and instead covered head to toe in deet!

20130621-235820.jpg

20130621-235945.jpg
The hike down the other side of Selden was relatively easy going and we decided after crossing Bear Creek, which like Evolution Creek, is one of the biggest crossings, we would look for somewhere to camp. I tried to capture the ford of Bear Creek on video. Unfortunately you don’t see much of the actual creek, but hopefully the photo gives you a sense of the depth of the water.

20130622-000443.jpg


We found a really nice campsite about a mile further on, built a fire and started preparing dinner. We were joined by the two naked Swiss hikers who were fully clothed again by this stage of the day as the mosquitos were beginning to swarm again. After we’d eaten I decided to check Halfmile’s app to see how far we would have to hike to the VVR ferry. We were both expecting 7 miles at the most, but we both must have miscalculated because we actually still had 10 miles to go, with over 1,000 feet up and 2,000 feet down. UB and I looked at each other and realised we’d never make the 9am ferry if we left in the morning. This only left us with one choice, pack up camp and keep hiking.

20130622-001203.jpg
Despite hyperventilating on the 1,000 foot climb, we blasted through the trail, even when the sun went down completely and we only had the light of our head lamps. We originally planned to go to the trail head to the ferry, but after seeing the green eyes of a bobcat running towards us we were both amped and simply walked the additional 1.5 miles right to the waters edge. It’s now after midnight as I type this. If we wake early we may even decide to walk the 4.5 mile trail around the lake to the resort, otherwise we’ll fork out the $9 and take the ferry at 9am.

20130622-001722.jpg

Losing the trail up Muir

I was glad we decided to tackle Muir Pass in the morning with fresh legs. We were camped 3.5 miles from the top and although the grade wasn’t too steep, the path was long and extremely hard to follow.

20130622-170301.jpg
The first time I lost the trail was after I shot a quick video of myself. I must have got distracted and ended up on the wrong side of a waterfall which I ended up trudging through with wet shoes. Shortly afterwards I lost the trail again after it turned into large flat rocks. If it wasn’t for Guthook’s app I never would have made it through this section. I’m not tall enough to catch site of the trail once I’ve lost it, and it’s really hard to find when there’s snow and footprints going in all sorts of directions.

20130624-123921.jpg

20130624-124202.jpg

20130624-124232.jpg
When I reached the pass UB was already there making coffee in the cute little hut at the top. Awesome!! Not long afterwards we saw a familiar looking hiker coming towards us up the pass. It was Red, one of the Andrews and shortly after him was the other Andrew and their friend Mike. It was so good to see their familiar faces again. I’ve found in the Sierras a lot of people hike a similar pace, therefore you end up leapfrogging the same hikers for numerous days without seeing new people other than south bounders.

20130624-123733.jpg

20130624-125724.jpg
Speaking of south bounders, maybe an hour or just over down the other side of the pass we bumped into Snort and her sister Hannah coming south bound down the trail. Mumma and Pappa Snort had given me the heads up that they were heading our way but I had no idea when we would bump into them. It was perfect timing as we were both minutes away from stopping for lunch, so we found a cosy spot and got comfortable while catching up on trail gossip and what lay ahead of us on the trail. Snort mentioned they had been to VVR and that there was lots of food in the hiker box. Our ears pricked up at this as we only had two days of food left and about 3-4 days of hiking.
The rest of the day’s miles were downhill or flat and to be honest although the forest was beautiful, it was one of the most boring sections of the trail. I tried playing the game ‘would you rather’ with UB, but I think my first scenario scared him off and after that we walked in silence until camp. Penny I think we’ve taken this game a little too far in our many years, I will remember to tone at least the first question down with future participants!

20130624-125930.jpg

20130624-125947.jpg

20130624-130126.jpg
UB got slightly ahead of me towards the end of the day and had already ‘forded’ across Evolution Creek, one of the biggest river crossings, by the time I got there. He had walked straight through, shoes and all, so I simply did the same. It probably came up to my knees in the deepest section, but it was nothing compared to high snow years where hikers would be waist deep in fast rushing, icy cold water.

20130624-130647.jpg

20130624-130715.jpg
When we set up camp the topic of our differing hiking styles popped up again. We can both hike big miles, but I hike slower and longer and UB hikes shorter and faster. This means when we hike together we hike slower and shorter and make half the miles we would on our own. At this stage we both want to ensure we make it to Canada efficiently and so it was decided from Mammoth Lakes we would hike out own hikes.

20130624-130545.jpg