Heading to Muir Pass

Last night was officially the coldest nights sleep I’ve had on the trail so far. Add to that some kind of chest infection, sore throat, headache and hunger pains and you’ve got yourself an incredibly bad nights sleep. I slept in what felt like 3 minute intervals until one side of my body was too sore to lie on. I’d then have to flip over, trying not to let any warm air out of the sleeping bag, causing almost suffocation in a bag that I’ve slept, sweated and farted in for two months straight. Gross.

Every time I woke up I wished it was morning. The only cure to my nightmare would be the sun, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Again as is becoming ritual, UB woke me with a warm cup of coffee, plus a cinnamon bun and oatmeal. He’d heard me coughing all night and figured I was going to need a boost to get me back on the trail this morning. Thank you UB!!

Our first challenge was the golden staircase into the valley between Mather and Muir Pass. I think we dropped about 2,000 feet in a very short distance which was painful on the cold joints and our poor knees. At the bottom we bumped into Turtle and Willow and had a quick rest in the sun, giving me time to wash my socks, drink a sachet of Emergen-C and snack on some trail mix. I’ve started to ration my food as we’re moving a lot slower than expected but UB seems to be ploughing through his so we may have an unscheduled stop in at VVR to supplement what we have left.

The valley was so beautiful, but we’ve been so spoiled for views and scenery that I barely batted an eyelid when we walked next to a huge gushing waterfall with deer frolicking in the woods a few meters from the trail. There are moments though when the trail provides a certain beauty which brings a huge smile to my face; like yesterday when the sun made one of the lakes glitter with a thousand sparkles moving across its surface; or last night when the first few stars of the night began to appear above the mountain peaks surrounding our camp site; or today when the polished surface of the mountains reflected in the sun as though they were covered in ice.

We had lunch by one of the many waterfalls we passed but still had 11 miles to hike up to Muir Pass. We knew it was going to be uphill from there with over 4,000 feet to climb. After about an hour I caught up to UB when he was getting water and discovered he was in a world of pain testing out his new non-ibuprofen diet. I was in my own world of pain with my ankles, so we rested again on a rock in the sun.

Since my feet have been feeling better, my ankles and shoulders have been playing up. My ankles hurt when I walk too fast and I spoke to UB about how we’re going to hike together without me always feeling the need to keep up with his long legs. I think because I was feeling run down and with such a lack of sleep, I was starting to question my hiking ability and whether we’d be able to keep up our partnership. By the end of the day we agreed we could still do it. Even if we hike solo for sections, we still have a similar ability for the number of miles we can make in a day.

Tonight we’re camped 3 miles from Muir Pass with Turtle and Willow. We cooked dinner in one of the prettiest settings so far by a gorgeous stream on beautiful soft green grass, surrounded by mountains. Turtle and Willow told us about their Appalachian Trail (AT) adventures last year, which sounded so different to our experience out here. They may attempt the triple crown next year by doing the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).

No cowboy camping tonight. I’m much warmer so despite still having a bad cough I hope I’ll sleep better tonight… Fingers crossed!!

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A hard day at the office

We’re currently having lunch by a waterfall which got my feet pretty wet when my short legs couldn’t quite reached the stones that propelled UB across. We had a slow morning again, my headache was back and my chest was still gurgling and I felt little motivation to get up and climb a mountain.

As we began the climb I felt like I’d smoked about 20 packets of cigarets the day before. I’m wondering in my hypochondriac ways if I’ve got a chest infection or somehow contracted pneumonia. My lungs were heaving with every step and the only distraction was having music playing in one ear to get me to the top. UB dropped his video camera so I amused myself by taking a few videos before he even noticed it was missing, and I actually made it to the top well before I expected to get there.

Then there was the way down… which I expected to be a breeze but mentally I just wasn’t in a good head space. Whether it’s due to not feeling 100% or it’s just one of those days, I really struggled with everything. The stream crossings bugged me, other hikers walking too close annoyed me, bugs flew at me, even the mountains and sky blue lakes caused me angst.

I had intended to only listen to music during the tough uphill climbs but I needed something to snap me out of this state. I listened to Missy Higgins and actually got a little teary, feeling home sick for the first time on the trail. When I say home sick I guess I mean I missed life before the trail, as home is many different places for me, just as the PCT is my home for the now.

When I caught up with UB in our current lunch spot I was relieved to stop walking and focus my attention on food and some rest. A good distraction before another 2,000+ foot climb up Mather Pass.

The 5.5 mile hike to the pass was a lot better than I had expected. It was very gradual and then steep at the end which I prefer to a constant incline. I was able to keep up with UB until the really steep section and then used some Van Morrison and a few other classics to push me up the switchbacks. I felt great at the top, but again the downhill really stumped me, especially with the sections of snow and steep downhill steps.

UB’s like a mountain goat and literally trotted down the hill with ease while I grimaced with each step. I hit a point where I was just out of energy, either from not being well or not having eaten enough. Unfortunately with UB ahead I knew I had to continue until I caught up again. Luckily he was waiting on a rock just above the huge lake we were aiming for, as I was about ready to set up camp there and then. We continued on to a spot slightly protected by the wind with a beautiful view of the palisades. We cooked, washed and got into our sleeping bags by 7:30pm. I’ll be done writing this post while it’s still light so hopefully I’ll get a nice long sleep tonight and feel better tomorrow morning.

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Between two passes

I haven’t been feeling well since we got Subway in Independence and the girl making our sandwiches told us it was her last day because she’s been sick for so long. Great. This morning after a cold, restless nights sleep, I had a terrible headache and finally fell asleep when the sun came up enough to start creating warmth. The only thing that made me poke my head out of my sleeping bag at 8am was the sound of UB making coffee.

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Even after a good breakfast we both didn’t feel full of energy, opting to stop an hour in at a cute little spot near the lake. It would have been a lovely spot bar the hundreds of mosquitos landing on us. I rubbed deet on any exposed skin surface including my face (is that bad?), while UB chose to test out his head net. He soon discovered the challenges of eating and drinking with his new veil on.

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Another hiker who we camped with called Messenger (an Israeli guy who makes his own bread) caught up with us and we all managed to lose the trail after a tricky river crossing. Using Guthook’s app I figured out we were on the wrong side of the mountain, and instead of backtracking, we chose to scramble up the rocks to get to the other side. Most of the morning descended deeper and deeper into the valley which meant we were in for some climbing this afternoon. At the base of the climb we stopped for lunch to fuel up on spam, cheese and a peanut butter tortilla. A couple of miles in we were so focused on getting up the mountain that we almost missed the 800 mile marker. Luckily Messenger was ahead of us to point it out. (My signal is so bad it’s taken me 3 hours to add photos to this post already so the next few will need to be small.)

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The climb just went on and on and on. We walked right next to a huge waterfall which must thunder through in high snow years, but even the gorgeous views didn’t take away from the pain of the giant steps which are such a challenge for my little Muk Muk legs.

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Pinchot Pass was still 3 miles away when we bumped in Turtle and Willow camped opposite a beautiful lake around 4:30pm. We were both feeling pretty fatigued and decided it would be wise to camp here so we still had plenty of light to set up camp. This was a great option as the mountains surrounding our camp site are simply stunning and as we cooked dinner I commented to UB about how lucky we were to have a view like this from our kitchen.

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We tried to consume as much food as possible so our packs will be lighter tomorrow. This included the mini bottles of rum and Kahlua (courtesy of BJ) which we put in our evening coffee and shared with Willow and Turtle. Thanks BJ, but I think you’ve stared something we may need to continue along the trail! I think I’ll sleep better tonight as it doesn’t feel as cold and I’m in a tent, not cowboy camping tonight!

Conquering Kearsage

I spent the two days we had in Independence worrying about the climb back up to Kearsage Pass. The hike down seemed to go on forever, and that was with zero food left. It might have also been the miserable thru hikers we passed coming back up carrying 7-8 days of food that set the alarm bells off. After a productive zero day yesterday heading into Bishop to buy a new iPhone cord, visit the McDonalds and get a new phone for UB, we decided we were ready for the Kearsage gauntlet today.

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After sifting through our packs and saying goodbye to UB’s mum Sherrie and his pup Bernard, we ordered food from the nearby cafe and lazily asked if they could deliver it to the motel. The owners ended up sending their daughter with the food after we promised to tip big. This was after we unsuccessfully tried to convince a girl who worked at the pizza restaurant in Lone Pine to deliver us a pizza to Independence. She actually lived in Independence and said she would have brought us one except she wouldn’t be heading home until after midnight.

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I had one of the best sleeps on the trip and woke just in time for the incredible breakfast Strider and Doug make at the Mt Williams Motel. I even got extra bacon today on top of my huge plate of scrambled eggs and hash browns. It’s truly amazing how much food I can consume these days. At around 11am once everyone had checked out, Strider and Doug took us back to the trail head at Onion Valley. They were heading up for another quick run up to the pass and back. I couldn’t fathom that they would choose to do it for fun after the dread I’d been feeling this weekend.

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Once we got started and warmed up I actually felt really good. Getting rid of some gear has successfully lightened my pack and in two hours we were already at the top of the pass. I think we made it up the mountain quicker than it took us to walk down two days earlier. Maybe we finally are in shape?

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Because we polished that pass off so well we decided we’d also climb Glen Pass today at around 12,000 feet. The trail there passed some absolutely pristine blue lakes which we drank straight out from. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted water so fresh.

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There were quite a few switch backs after a very steep section heading up but generally the climb was relatively easy in comparison to what we’re going to face (or so we’ve been told). The opposite side of the mountain was a different story. There were quite a few sections of snow to cross and I ended up on my bottom twice and actually got my foot stuck in a deep hole which I couldn’t get myself out of. UB had to come back and pull me out carefully so I wouldn’t lose my shoe.

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We headed down to Rae Lakes to camp and once again the views were just gorgeous. At one point UB heard yelling and thought someone was injured so we diverted off course only to find a group of hikers from Korea who had gone off trail and were yelling to one another about which direction to go. We followed them back to the correct trail and set up for dinner next to one of the lakes with a beautiful waterfall rushing down and trout literally jumping out of the water. UB brought his fly fishing rod with him and caught one fish before throwing it back and tiring of the whole fishing activity after his line ended up in a huge tangled mess.

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When we reached camp the folks we slept in the hut with on Whitney were sitting by a fire so we joined them for the evening. It’s 11:30pm now, way past hiker midnight and it’s time for me to sleep. We’re cowboy camping again under the stars. I’m actually surprised we haven’t been attacked by mosquitos considering how close we are to the lakes.

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Seeking Independence

It was a challenging start to the day with exhaustion still lingering from yesterday and the cold temperature outside my tent at 4:30am in the morning. There were 16 trail miles and a 13 mile hitch standing between me and the Post Office in Independence, and from what I’d heard from other hikers, a huge amount of uphill climbing. Unfortunately they were right.

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This time I was up well before UB, but I managed to coax him out of his warm tent so we could head up the steep morning climb together. On the first climb I was so out of breath and dizzy that I had to kneel down to stop the head spins, but after some breakfast and once I was warmed up, my body started to cooperate.

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The stunning views along the Bullfrog Lake Trail heading to Kearsage Pass made the morning move quickly. The lakes in this area are pristine and I was suddenly envious of all the day and section hikers who can spend more time soaking up the beauty of this environment.

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The climb up Kearsage was long, it felt more challenging than Forrester because of the steepness and length of the climb. I was so satisfied once we reached the top, but little did I know that the trail leading down was about four times as long and that we’d have to climb back up that way with 7 days of food on Sunday. Yikes!

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Half way down to the Onion Valley trail head we passed a couple coming up the trail who stopped and asked of we were UB and Muk Muk. We were stunned and soon discovered that they were the owners of the motel that Blondie had contacted on our behalf and organised a lift for us. Stryder and Doug said they would be up and back by the time we reached the base of the trail and sure enough they even passed us before we reached the bottom.

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They took us directly to the post office where I picked up three packages, and then onto the Chevron where I had another three packages waiting. It felt like Christmas! I had my resupply box, a package from Xy with spam, Darn Tough socks and moleskin (thank you!), a package from BJ with my iPod, treats and some liquor I’ll be taking to celebrate reaching the top of the pass (thank you!), a new Ice Breaker t-shirt from beautiful Sylvie so I’ll no longer stink my way down the trail (thank you!), a care package from Penny with our old time chocolate Vice Versa treats and a beautiful letter (thank you!), and my new insoles from REI!

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I spent over an hour opening my packages, enjoying all of my new treats and gifts, then finally jumped in the shower, did laundry and got some real food in my belly!

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In the evening UB’s mum Sherrie arrived with his puppy Bernard. We scoped out the Independence nightlife but couldn’t find a place to eat after 8:30pm and opted to cook up some trail food at the motel.

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I think I’ve found myself a new trail friend…

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Peak to peak

With food levels at a critical level and the race to reach the Post Office in Independence by 4pm on Friday, I knew I needed to cross Forrester Pass the same down I descended Mt Whitney. This was going to be a big ask going 25 miles from over 14,000 feet, down to 10,000 feet, then up and over the highest pass on the PCT at 13,200 feet.

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I found myself out of breath after breakfast at the base of Whitney and was unable to keep up the pace with UB. I had to pick up my belongings from the bear box which made my pack even heavier, then begin the 13 miles to Forrester Pass. I got my second wind for the first 6 miles, then stopped for water and lunch at a little stream along the way.

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I ate a tortilla with two strip cheeses and a packet of tuna, and for the first time on the trail felt like I couldn’t finish it. The cheese was a few days old and I think after 2 months of tuna my stomach just had enough. I polished it off because the alternative was to carry it to Independence, so I had a bad taste in my mouth for the next few miles and started to feel extremely sluggish.

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The last five miles heading to Forrester went FOREVER! The climb looks very gradual at first, but it’s so constant that my legs started to feel heavy and it started to get later and later in the afternoon. It was eerily silent in the valley and I started to feel the most isolated I have on the trail. I figured anyone who was going to climb the pass would have crossed it by now, and no one else would attempt it so late in the afternoon.


After I shot the video above I heard my name being called. At first I thought I was hearing things, like the way I always hear footsteps behind me when there’s not, or the way burnt out tree stumps always look like people. After three calls I finally looked up and saw UB camped behind a huge rock just off the trail. He had already walked half way up the pass but decided to come back down because it was getting late. Thankfully this meant I didn’t have to climb it alone and UB didn’t have to camp in the cold at the bottom of the pass.

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The climb from the base wasn’t as steep as I had expected, and because the majority of climbing was done leading to the base, the distance to the top was shorter than anticipated. When we reached the ridge top covered in icy snow I knew we were nearly there. I also knew this was the spot on the trail that UB had dreaded the most.


Once we made it across the treacherous ridge alive there was a little more climbing to do and then 4 miles of downhill to the next camp site with a bear box. There was a lot more snow on the north side of the mountain which made getting to the bottom slow, and after doing over 20 miles, my legs and knees were ready to call it a day.

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We reached camp just as the sun was starting to set. I went into auto pilot mode, set up the tent, put on warmer clothes, cooked dinner, brushed teeth, locked food in bear box and went to sleep with my alarm set for 5am.

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Exploring new heights

Instead of deciding between sunrise or sunset on top of Mt Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States at 14,496 feet; we decided why not do both? Despite reports of freezing temperatures, high winds and lightning strikes, we spoke to a ranger at Crabtree Meadow who said the weather reports were good and that the hut at the summit would protect us from the elements. We were sold!

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We started up early, UB was already packed and ready to roll by the time I woke, but I made record time dressing, packing and peeing so that we were on the trail by 6am. The cold morning air was tough on the lungs going uphill and I was already out of breath by the time we hit the bear box at the ranger station where we could leave all of our unnecessary items. I left my extra food, tent, toiletries and camp shoes to lighten the load and ensure we could carry enough water to the summit for dinner and breakfast.

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After fuelling up on top ramen noodles and tortillas we started the 7.5 mile ascent. The views along the way beside Guitar Lake and as we started climbing the switchbacks were stunning. I honestly wanted to have my camera on the ready every time we turned a corner. We filled up our water bottles straight from the last icy cold stream which was so clear you could see the rainbow trout swimming below. UB was determined to catch one with his bare hands, and 10 minutes and a few scratches later he succeeded.

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We passed a lot of hikers coming back from the peak who had arrived there for sunrise and were slowly thawing out on their way down. Everyone said the views were incredible but that it was freezing cold at the top. I had about 4 extra layers in my pack but UB only had his down and rain jacket so we were a little nervous until we bumped into Turtle and Willow who said the hut was very solid and that they wished they had have spent the night up there too!

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The trail was graded well but when the steepness reduced, the rocky scrambling increased. With the high winds the walk across the ridges felt a little sketchy, but apart from the one section of snow we were lucky with the conditions in comparison to other years.

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We were so thankful we decided to do the climb during the day, one because we could see the views and exactly where we were stepping, two because we weren’t having to breathe hard with freezing cold air, and also because we didn’t have the time rush of sunrise behind us. We arrived at the summit around 5pm which gave us plenty of time to get comfortable before sunset.

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We were the only people at the summit when we arrived and immediately set up camp in the hut, put on all of the clothing we had and made coffee. As soon as we had our sleeping bags laid out and set for the night, four other hikers arrived with the same intentions.

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There was no way anyone could sleep outside so we discussed sleeping arrangements and played human Tetris until we found sufficient floor or bench space for everyone. The wind had already picked up outside but we made a mad dash outside as the sun started to set to enjoy the gorgeous light slipping away behind the surrounding mountains.

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Once the sun went down we bunkered down in our cosy little hut, feet touching heads, hips touching knees, and the heavy wooden door banging in the wind. I don’t think I slept more than an hour between the noise of the wind outside, snoring, shuffling and sneezing. I was actually overheating all night and stripped down to only one layer as the heat produced by six bodies was immense. Just after 4am the first of the sunrise hikers burst into the hut. Coincidently it was Pac Man. He was closely followed by over 5 other hikers who all squeezed into our bedroom as we shuffled into seating positions, half asleep with our backs against the wall. Two of the hikers were suffering badly from the cold and altitude to the point they needed to be wrapped in sleeping bags and one laid down on a sleeping pad. When we started seeing light in the sky we all rugged up, took a deep breath and opened the heavy wooden door to the freezing wind outside.

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The sunrise didn’t disappoint, but we were so cold that once it had risen we went straight back into the hut to make coffee and prepare for a nippy hike down.

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