PCT Days 97-102: Etna to Ashland

Leaving Etna around midday I was soon back amongst the high mountain ridges of the Russian Wilderness. Initially I was feeling great, and making fast progress until after a few hours when my stomach started giving me weird signals.
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PCT Days 88-97: Burney to Etna

I quickly hitched a ride out of town, although the driver would only take me five miles up the road. I managed to flag down another car full of fellow Brits to take me the remaining three. With a meatball sub packed out from Subway in one hand and my one remaining trekking pole in the other, I began to hike the seven easy miles which would take me to Burney Falls.

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PCT Days 80-88: Sierra City to Burney

I left Sierra City late as I had to wait for the post office to open at 10 so it was almost 11.30 when I made it back to the trailhead.

I was going to have to make some big miles in the next week or so, since I have friends coming out from San Francisco to join me in Burney Falls and hike with me for the weekend. I had ten days to hike roughly 230 miles meaning I would have to average about 23 miles a day to get there on time. Doable but not easy.
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PCT Days 66-79: Tuolumne Meadows to Sierra City

I hung around Tuolumne Meadows for most of the day before hiking out. I was about to undertake my longest stretch on trail without a resupply, meaning it would be 150 miles and roughly eight days until I stopped at Echo Lake.

After buying eight days worth of food at the store, I hitched into the nearby town of Lee Vining for a couple of hours to get some real food and find somewhere with free wifi.

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PCT Days 57-65: Independence to Tuolumne Meadows

It took a ridiculously long time to get a ride out of town. Being a Monday morning, there was obviously not much traffic heading up to the campground, and the few cars that did go by didn’t give us a second look. After trying for nearly an hour, I called the Courthouse Motel who offer rides to the trail for fifty dollars, not ideal but I was getting desperate. We ran into another hiker we knew – Special K – and the four of us decided to split the cost and get a ride back up to the PCT.
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PCT Days 51-56: Lone Pine to Independence

We hitched back to Horseshoe Meadow from Lone Pine the same day, intending to night hike the 1.8 miles back to the PCT at Trail Pass.
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PCT Days 46-51: Walker Pass to Lone Pine

With the PCT back open after the Chimney Creek fire, we were thankfully able to get back on trail at Walker Pass. I was glad to be able to hike into Kennedy Meadows as, marking the end of the desert and the gateway to the Sierras, it’s a huge milestone. Plus I had also heard that all arriving hikers are met with a round of applause for making it this far.

Back at Walker Pass around 1pm, the others wanted to hang around for a few hours and wait for the heat to die down but False Alarm and I were feeling restless after our week off and so we started hiking right away. 

We immediately began a huge 2000 foot climb, and after our big break we were feeling out of shape and really struggling. Once we reached the tree line with more shade and a breeze the heat relented a bit but I was still finding it a lot harder than I would have seven days ago. However, the time off had allowed my foot to heal and I was no longer having issues walking.

We took a long, final look back at the wide expanse of the Mojave Desert, which made us a little bit emotional, and we headed down to the valley floor where we were planning to camp. I was suddenly surprised by a cry of “Holy Shit!” from right behind me. I turned round and there was False Alarm scrambling up the side of the mountain. I asked her what she was doing and she yelled back “You almost stepped on that rattlesnake!”

Sure enough just a few steps behind me there was a huge rattlesnake right beside the trail, just an inch from where my leg would have been. Its head was raised ready to strike and I hadn’t even noticed it. I should probably be more careful in future if I want to arrive in Canada as a non-dead person.

About a mile after this incident we came across a hiker sprawled across the middle of the trail. His name was Roadrunner and he was suffering from heatstroke. He had first passed out from heat exhaustion the night before and had made it about seven miles since, heading back to Walker Pass so he could get to a hospital. 

He said he had been hiking with a girl who’d taken two litres of water from him, promising to come back to bring him more but never returned. He’d decided to try to get off trail by himself and had passed out several more times over the past few miles.

We each gave him a litre of water and some food and put him in the shade, telling him to wait until it was cooler before trying to go any further. We wanted to send out an SOS for him but he was adamant he could make it. He had plenty of water and we knew a bunch of people who would soon be coming down the trail that he could get help from so we reluctantly left him and carried on. We exchanged numbers so he could let us know he made it out OK.

I had left Walker Pass with five litres of water – enough to get me to the first reliable water source at Chimney Creek after 28 miles. We were on track to get there around midday the next day, but after giving away a litre I wasn’t going to make it. We knew there was water just three miles from where we camped but we had heard it was just a stagnant pool that had made several hikers ill already and I didn’t feel like catching Giardia at this point in time.

Arriving at this water source in the morning, it turned out to be a fairly fast-flowing stream but just to be careful I added two chlorine tablets after filtering and then some lemonade powder to take away the horrible metallic taste. The water was perfectly fine – I have found there to be a lot off fear-mongering on the trail, whether it’s about water, snow conditions, bears or anything else and so I try not to pay too much attention to the warnings of other hikers.

We arrived at Chimney Creek campground early afternoon, the location at which the fire had broken out. Huge swathes of the mountainside above us had been discoloured a lurid red where fire retardant had been sprayed over the blaze.

We took our usual afternoon break before climbing to just under 8000 feet and the five of us – me, False Alarm, C-Dog, Willem and Sherpa – camped in a cozy spot under a tree, watching the sun set.

We were up at 4.30 again to make the last 17 miles to Kennedy Meadows as early as possible. We descended a long 3000 feet into the Kern River valley and hiked upstream through meadows of bright pink flowers with cicadas buzzing all around. I tried to get a selfie with a feidy-looking bull but it charged towards me before I was able to get my masterpiece. I hid behind a log and had to creep back to retrieve my trekking poles which I had flung to the ground in fright.

We took a short break for a dip in the Kern River and arrived at the Kennedy Meadows General Store around 1.30. We entered the wrong way as we found a shortcut to avoid the road walk so we missed out on our round of applause, although two hikers gave us a patronising clap from their tent.

Dozens of hikers were sitting on the porch of the general store, most of them pretty drunk already, and every hiker who arrived from the correct direction received a huge round of applause for having made it the 700 miles through the desert. Having taken a week off, it was really nice to be reunited with people I hadn’t seen since the first couple of weeks.

I picked up my new shoes and a care package full of food from my brother and his girlfriend. I was expecting my current shoes to be completely dead by the time I reached Kennedy Meadows but despite a little bit of wear and tear they still had a good few miles left on them. I didn’t really want to carry an extra pair of shoes with me so I reluctantly dumped the old ones in the hiker box and donned my shiny new Salomons.

I also picked up my bear canister, which is a legal requirement from here up to Sonora Pass, a few hundred miles ahead. It took about twenty minutes of playing bag-packing Tetris to fit everything in my pack, and with six days worth of food on my back I was carrying some serious weight. I tried to give my pack a bit of a shakedown by getting rid of some unnecessary items. I decided now I was out of the desert that I could probably live without two one-litre bottles of water, a huge bottle of sunscreen, and my various Disneyland merchandise.

We set up our tents in the campground behind the store, grabbed showers and headed down the road to Grumpy Bear’s restaurant for food and to make use of the unbearably slow wifi.

We were invited to a house party that evening by John, a local firefighter who lives just down the road from the store and likes to hang out with hikers. We piled into his truck and he took us to his beautiful house which he’d built himself and had an incredible view across the valley. He gave us some beers and made his captive audience watch him play drums for a shockingly long time which became a bit intense and awkward, but I was happy enough petting his cats.

Back at the campground, when I eventually headed for bed I went to grab some water from the tap but found it had been switched off overnight. Somewhat ironically, having made it through the Mojave without any water issues, the first day out of the desert was the one time I suffered due to lack of water.

 After 12 beers and no water I spent a horrible night in my tent, dehydrated and dying.
We left late the next day, fully equipped to enter the Sierras. A sizeable crew of 20 or so people left at the same time so for he first few miles there was a long train of hikers making their way up the trail.

We started walking through more open meadows full of the same pink flowers as the day before and began a gradual climb along the Kern River. We crossed a bridge over the river and stopped to take a swim and cook dinner before walking another three miles, setting up camp in a beautiful flat spot by a creek surrounded by trees.

Plans to cowboy camp were scrapped when we heard thunder in the distance. I set up my tent and planted my bear canister by a nearby tree for the night.

Once the sun had set the entire campsite was swarmed with frogs, and I was able to continue my streak of attempting to get a selfie with as many different animals as possible.

It rained constantly throughout the night – a strange experience after two months hiking through areas plagued by drought and intense heat. 

The trail continued to climb gradually, through forest and huge green meadows, worlds apart from the desert we had just left. It made me feel like I was back in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Water is now much more prevalent and I no longer have to carry such huge quantities.

We crossed the Kern a few more times and stopped for lunch on a sand bank by the Horse and Foot bridge. Hundreds of swallows had taken up residence underneath the bridge and were swarming over the water. When my down jacket was defecated on, I took that as a sign to leave and we continued on our way.

Another long climb up to 10,500 feet, and foreboding grey clouds loomed over us in the distance. Around two miles from the top, the rain started to fall and thunder boomed from all around. It was hard to believe we had been in the desert just two days before. We donned our rain gear and tried to get the climb over and done with as quickly as possible. Soon hail and snow joined the party and we were all freezing by the time we began the descent to the ominous-sounding Death Canyon creek where we pitched our tents.

Just before our campsite I noticed a tree with several huge scratches on it, which I’m fairly sure were made by a bear. Now that we are officially in bear country I am really excited to meet some bears. Even if I don’t make it to Canada, if I get my bear selfie this trip will have been a success. 

It was a cold night in Death Canyon and my tent was covered in frost in the morning. My bear canister had also frozen shut in the night and it took some effort before I was finally able to eat breakfast.

As the sun rose, the morning grew hotter and hotter, and vapour rising from the wet ground caught the sunlight, giving the meadows a magical glow. We climbed up to almost 11,000 feet and low-flying jets constantly rushed over our heads, each one causing us to stop and stare. 

The snow-capped Sierra mountains are getting closer with every step, and in two days time I will be standing at the summit of Mount Whitney – the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. I love how remote this section of the trail is – every view completely unmarred by roads, buildings or any human activity whatsoever. Nothing but wilderness. The air feels cleaner and the water tastes better than anything I’ve drunk in the past two months.

We stopped to dry out our tents and eat lunch at Diaz Creek, where we met a large circle of hikers sitting round an empty bear canister, gleefully trying to throw pinecones into it. This is what passes for entertainment on the PCT.

We descended off trail into Horseshoe Meadow, where marmots ran free, unbothered by the hikers passing within inches of them. We reached a remote road by an empty campground where we hoped to hitch a ride the next morning into Lone Pine.

We were in and out of Lone Pine in just a few hours, with enough time to get some food, our packages, laundry and a shower before hitching a ride back to Horseshoe Meadow to resume our hike.

PCT (Zero) Days 41-45: LA, Seal Beach, Hollywood & Disneyland

We left Kernville with an emotional goodbye and piled into the back of a truck heading for Los Angeles. We were spending four nights in Seal Beach for a few days of relaxation away from the trail.
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PCT Days 35-40: Tehachapi to Kernville

We were driven back to Tehachapi Pass by Daniel, a local trail angel we’d met the day before when hitching to the grocery store. He maintains one of the water caches in the mountains and in return for driving us back to the trail we gave him some gas money and snuck him into the Best Western to take advantage of our free breakfast.
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PCT Days 29-34: Agua Dulce to Tehachapi

I left Hiker Heaven bright and early at 6am, attempting to make a 23 mile day to the next trail angel – the Andersons at Casa de Luna, apparently so-called because it takes PCT hikers one month (lunar cycle) to reach it.

I was fortunate to be able to hitch a ride so early in the morning and was back at the trailhead almost immediately. The day began with a huge climb, but luckily the skies were overcast and it was fairly chilly so I made good progress.

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