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.
Later in the afternoon I hitched a ride back with a guy who just so happened to be the son of Donna Saufley – one of the trail angels who runs Hiker Heaven, way back in Agua Dulce. He was a very nice man but his driving was terrifying and I genuinely feared for my life on the way back up to Tuolumne.
I didn’t hike out until late – around 6.30 – but I wasn’t trying to go far. My plan was to hike just five miles, where I would reach the Glen Aulin campground. My primary reason for this was that with eight days worth of food, I was carrying so much I couldn’t fit it all in my bear canister. Since this is the part of the trail where bears pose the biggest problem and have lost their fear of humans, I was hoping to make use of the campground’s bear box to store my extra food, with an aim to making enough of a dent in it the next day to cram it all in my canister.
Just outside town I passed a soda springs, where naturally carbonated water comes straight from the ground. I tried some and it was indeed fizzy but had a strange metallic taste that wasn’t particularly nice. I added some lemonade powder to liven it up and it was a huge improvement – it tasted just like 7up.
From the springs I followed the Tuolumne River all the way to the campground, passing a huge waterfall and night hiking into camp.
The next few days hiking through Yosemite I really noticed a stark change in the landscape. There was still a mountain pass to cross most days but they were generally lower, with much less snow. The landscape in Yosemite composed mainly of low, rocky mountains, almost like being back in the desert but there was water everywhere and everything was a lot more green. At the lower elevations it was not too dissimilar from a stroll in the Lake District – except for the fact that in the Lakes you’re never more than an hour’s walk from a pub.
I camped by Smedwick Lake one night which seemed like a great idea until I set my pack down and instantly found myself being eaten alive by a swarm of mosquitoes. I had to eat my dinner from the safety of my tent.
The mosquito situation has gone from bad to worse, especially in the evenings. There is only so much Deet can do, and my arms are actually bruised from constantly swatting mosquitoes. I thought maybe leaving the dead mosquitoes on my face might act as a deterrent to warn the others off, but if anything it just makes them angrier. I’m fairly certain they’re more cunning than most people give them credit for – on more than occasion they have seemingly waited until I’m precariously balanced on a log over a fast-flowing stream before flying directly into my ear, wings batting violently against my eardrum.
When the sky looks clear and the weather is good, I generally don’t bother setting up the rain fly on my tent so that at night I can see the stars (and approaching bears). This was another clear night and again I did the same. All was well until I was awakened at 4am by torrential rain hammering down inside my tent. I quickly got up and assembled the rainfly but not before my sleeping bag and clothes were soaked through. I left late the next morning as I had to wait for everything to dry out.
A couple of days out from Tuolumne I reached the 1000 mile point. This was a huge milestone, and it felt amazing to have made it this far despite not even being halfway. Of course the various trail closures I have had to circumnavigate mean that I haven’t quite hiked the entire trail so far, but taking into account the Mount Whitney detour, hiking to and from trail for resupplies, as well as the numerous times I’ve absentmindedly hiked in the wrong direction, I have walked well over 1000 miles in total.
As I was celebrating this landmark achievement, I met Margy and Bill – a couple of weekend hikers who were so impressed by my 1000 miles that they even wanted to take a picture of me. I started chatting with them about the trail and it turned out they recpgnised the SANE logo on my t-shirt (the mental health charity I am raising money for) and realised they had seen my blog. I was already buzzing from reaching the 1000 mile point but meeting some fans in the middle of nowhere was a real confidence boost. They even generously made a donation to SANE for which I am extremely grateful.
At this momentous point in my hike, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has sponsored me so far and helped me raise money for SANE mental health charity. I couldn’t have made it this far without all your support. I am aiming to raise £2650 (£1 a mile) by the time I reach Canada and am currently around just £600 shy of this goal. Having seen a lot of friends and family affected by mental illness, it is a cause I am extremely passionate about. As well as providing life-changing support for sufferers, SANE also fund scientific research into mental illness as well as doing a lot to raise awareness of and challenge stigma and discrimination around mental health. You can learn more about the fantastic work SANE do here.
I am eternally grateful to each and every person who has helped me to raise money, and I would like to thank you all individually. Therefore, from the 1000 mile point forwards, I will be personally thanking one person every 25 miles for their selfless donation. If you would like to sponsor me on behalf of SANE mental health charity, please visit my donation page. Any amount, even just £1, would be hugely appreciated and will go a long way towards changing mental health for good.
A long ascent up to 10,500 feet was followed by an undulating traverse along an alpine ridge for eight miles. The wind was furious and made for slow progress along the ridge. Back in the desert, the wind used to be my least favourite thing about the trail, however now my feelings towards it are much more positive since it means no mosquitoes.
About midway along the traverse, I passed over a col and was stopped in my tracks by the dramatic change in landscape from snowy peaks and frozen lakes behind me to a sweeping green vista of meadows and forests ahead. The trail should definitely be a lot less difficult from here on out.
From the col I could clearly see the road at Sonora Pass below me, and logic would dictate that the path head straight down along the gently-sloping valley towards it. Unfortunately this is not how the PCT works. We had to undergo several more unnecessary undulations and go round the side of a mountain before we could reach it.
The final descent to Sonora Pass required me to make a steep traverse of a snow drift that had covered a 20 foot section of the trail. Although there were footprints carved out by previous hikers, it didn’t look like an easy crossing. To my left was a steep snow-covered slope leading all the way down to the valley floor, which is where I’d be heading too if I put a foot wrong.
High Roller went first, stumbled, but made it across without trouble. I was up next with Death Star following close behind. I made it about halfway before my foot slipped and I glissaded against my will about 50 feet downhill, incredibly fast. I ended up skidding on a patch of rocks and coming to a sudden stop, out of breath and slightly in shock. Thankfully myself and all of my gear were still intact, although I had let go of my trekking poles when I slipped and had to climb back up to retrieve them. Meanwhile, Death Star attempted the traverse and did exactly the same thing as me, plummeting way down the icy slope following almost my exact route. He was nothing more than a colourful Gore-Tex blur as he whooshed past me scrambling in the opposite direction back up the mountainside.
The climb back up was infuriatingly steep and slippery and it took everything I had not to slide back down with each step. High Roller, trying to help me out, began attempting to knock my trekking poles down the slope towards me by throwing rocks at them. “That’s a terrible idea!” I screamed at him as huge rocks came hurtling down towards my unprotected face. Eventually, although with some effort, I managed to retrieve my poles and glissaded back down, having to bushwhack a long way to recover the trail.
It’s just my luck that having made it almost the entire way through to Sonora Pass without incident, I get within half a mile of the end of the Sierras and then fall off a mountain
As I reached the road at Sonora Pass I saw a sign pointing towards a picnic area with the promise of trail magic. Sure enough there was a trail angel with a cooler full of Coke and food. Another unexpected surprise was a truck belonging to Sonora Pass resupply, to whom I was able to sell my bear canister, which from here is no longer required. I was also fortunately able to buy more gas as it just so happened I had run out the night before. The trail always provides when you need it to.
Without my huge, heavy, bulky bear canister, my pack felt like it weighed nothing. I don’t know whether this was really the case or if it was just psychological but I felt fantastic for the rest of the afternoon, easily knocking off another 14 miles to make a solid 25 mile day.
Being out of the Sierras is a bittersweet feeling. Of course it feels amazing to have successully made it through the hardest part of the trail and to have walked theough some of the mind-blowing views I’ve ever seen. However it was the section of the PCT I was most excited for and now it’s over and there’s still a long way to go. On the other hand there is still a lot more to look forward to – I can’t wait to get to Oregon and see Crater Lake and Tunnel Falls, and hiking through the Cascades in Washington is going to be fun. Plus the fact that the trail will be nice and easy for a while isn’t a bad thing, and means I can start to rack up some big miles.
Although the trail has been a lot less crowded since dropping down from the Sierras, one day in partiular I was surprised to see almost no one all day. I was really enjoying being the only person on trail, until I ran into two day hikers wearing outlandish stars-and-stripes clothing and I remembered it was the 4th of July.
My quiet, relatively uneventful day became a lot more interesting when I stumbled across some trail magic at the road crossing at Ebbett’s Pass. Promise – who hiked the PCT in 2014 – and her boyfriend Scott, were parked by the side of the road handing out beer and snacks to hikers. He had surprised her with trail magic at this exact point during her hike two years ago so they decided to come back and do the same for the the hikers of 2016.
I finally managed to tear myself away, and began hiking through a bizarre, alien landscape of volcanic pinnacles which was like walking on Mars.
False Alarm had texted me a few days prior inviting me to get off trail at Sonora Pass to celebrate 4th of July in Bridgeport. I didn’t really want to get off trail as Bridgeport was 40 miles off trail, and I was really enjoying the isolation and wilderness of this section. Plus, since I was over a day ahead of them it would have meant hanging around in town for at least 24 hours. I declined but that night I camped high up on a saddle from which I could see the city lights of what I’m fairly certain was South Lake Tahoe (possibly Carson City) and had my own private fireworks display. I was witness to hundreds of different celebrations all over the city. The sky aglow with colour, millions of stars shining overhead, that night I felt like I was experiencing something no one else was seeing, and it was possibly my favourite moment of the PCT so far. Huddled in my sleeping bag with my head poking out my tent, I fell asleep in that position, face up to the sky.
I arrived in Echo Lake as planned, eight days after leaving Tuolumne Meadows. It transpired that I had packed just the right amount of food – I had run out of pretty much everything but without needing to ration myself. I have learnt that it is best not to try and supply with a certain number days of food for a stretch on-trail, but rather to just carry as much as possible, since I will almost certainly eat everything I have. There have been plenty of times I’ve eaten three Snickers in a row without even thinking about it, so it’s always good to overestimate.
I resupplied at the store, and was bought an ice cream by a weekend hiker who was fascinated by my thru-hike, before leaving Echo Lake and entering the Desolation Wilderness. This section of trail took me alongside a multitude of lakes – Aloha, Suzie, Dicks, Fontanillis – and summited the relatively low (9320 feet) Dicks Pass, where I discovered that I’m not completely rid of the snow yet.
The trail seems to be thinning out, and I’m seeing a lot fewer hikers throughout the day. On several occasions I’ve gone for hours without seeing a single person. Although this may be due in part to the fact that I’m slightly ahead of the main bubble of hikers – most people I know seem to be a few days behind, in the Tahoe area – it may also have something to do with the fact that many people are leaving the trail at this point.
Northern California is the stretch of trail in which the largest number of people give up hiking. It may be because the most spectacular section – the Sierras – is over and they lose motivation, or it could be because nearing the half way point they realise how far they still have left to go and cant face it. It may even have something to do with the descending plague of mosquitoes. Whatever the reason, although it’s a shame people are missing out on this beautiful stretch of trail – and whatever lies ahead – there is noticeably less congestion and I am really enjoying the quiet of the trail.
As for me, I’m still loving every minute of it. I had heard Northern California can be a bit of a disappointment following the sublime scenery of the Sierras but I entirely disagree. The trail has become much easier and I’m finding consistent 25 mile days are not a problem at all. One morning I began hiking around 6.30 as usual and before I knew it I had gone ten miles without taking a single break. The elevation is lower but there are still fantastic mountain vistas nearly every day. I will be at the halfway point in about a week but in a strange way I still feel like I’m just starting out and havent been on trail long enough to get bored – even though it’s been nearly three months. This feeling will probably continue until I get to Oregon and then I think I will start to feel like I’m on the home stretch.
One typically hot and sunny afternoon I was hiking around Squaw Peak, through remnants of a deserted and somewhat creepy ski resort, when some men camped just off trail started shouting at me “Charlie, Charlie!” Initially confused, I realised it was the Korean camera crew who had interviewed me almost two months ago back in the desert. They had been camped there for three days, waiting for all the people they had interviewed to show up so that they could talk to us about how our experience of the PCT has changed in the time that has elapsed. I wanted to ensure my interview would make it into the final cut so I made sure to intersperse it with plenty of catchy soundbites such as “I WILL make it to Canada!” They then made me pose for some highly-staged shots of me looking thoughtfully into the distance and filmed me walking awkwardly along the trail.
Soon after leaving the Koreans I ran into a group of day hikers who gave me an apple just for being a PCT hiker. I always crave fruit on trail, but it’s too heavy to carry much of so this was greatly appreciated.
From Squaw Peak I dropped down into the valley before the hard climb up Tinkers Knob, followed by a traverse of a windy, exposed ridge.
I took shelter for the night in the Benson Hut – a shelter meant for cross-country skiers in winter but can be used by hikers in summer. The hut was hidden just off trail, and if you didn’t already know it was there you would never find it.
With the exception of the mice, I had the hut to myself that night and was able to make use of the bunks, stove and a bizarre outhouse which required me to climb a ladder to enter, but gave a fantastic view down to Donner Pass and Truckee while I went about my business.
I slept fairly soundly until I was awoken in the night by something moving about on the top floor. I don’t know whether it was a mouse, a rat or something altogether more terrifying but from the sound of its footsteps I’m fairly certain it was bigger than me.
I descended the seven miles down to Donner Pass the next morning. Donner Pass is notorious for being the location at which the Donner Party, a group of 87 emigrants en route for the Sacramento Valley, were stranded due to heavy snow in the winter of 1846. They eventually resorted to cannibalism for survival, eating the corpses of their dead companions. By the time they were rescued four months later only 47 were still alive.
Having experienced the feeling of hiker hunger, I can entirely enpathise with their situation. I thought my craving for food while on trail was bad a few weeks ago, but since the Sierras it has morphed into something far more intense and consuming. The feeling of hiker hunger is impossible to describe accurately but it’s like a deep, infuriating itch inside your body that it’s impossible to scratch. Like a sentient, parasitic creature living inside me, consuming every scrap of food I put into my body before I have a chance to digest it. Almost every waking second on trail is filled with thoughts of what I would be eating if I was in town, and the not-inconsiderable amounts of food I do eat barely even seem to touch the sides. The quantities (and combinations) of food I shove into my mouth on-trail would be grossly unacceptable anywhere in the real world, but it is still physically impossible for me to carry enough food to keep the hunger at bay.
My descent down to Donner Pass was somewhat eventful. I was met by a trail angel – Reno Dave – out for a dayhike and carrying a bear canister full of beers which he was handing out to any PCT thru-hikers he passed. I took a PBR, thanked him, and drank it on my way down. I was then passed by some wonderful women who were carrying a bag of apples for precisely the same reason. Just before the trail met the road I spied a cooler in the bushes with a handwritten sign proclaiming “THRU-HIKERS ONLY!” From this cooler I grabbed a Coors Light and again drank it on the move. I barely had time to finish it before I came across another set of three coolers on the other side of the road, and cracked open my third beer of the day. It wasn’t even 9am. Four lots of trail magic in the space of one hour is unheard of, but I was certainly not complaining.
Three beers down, the rest of the day was something of a blur, although somehow I still managed 26 miles. Being a Saturday, and a popular area with road access and a proliferation of hiking trails, I met a lot of day hikers. I always get a kick out of seeing their expressions when they ask me where I’m headed and I tell them Canada.
My plan was to camp right next to the highway that night so that I could hitch a ride first thing in the morning in order to maximise my time in town. The day was one long, gentle descent from 9000 feet down to 4500. I began by following the crest of another long, winding ridge, the trail lined on both sides by yellow mules ear flowers, before skirting briefly around the Jackson Meadow reservoir and heading down to the cross the Yuba River by Highway 49.
As planned, I set up my tent right next to the highway, in a fairly unattractive spot next to some large water tanks and was up bright and early the next morning to get a quick hitch into Sierra City.
I had been pushing it fairly hard since leaving Bishop 22 days ago, which incidentally was the last time I had showered or washed my clothes. I figured I could do with a couple of days of rest – plus it would take more than one shower to remove this hiker tan – so I got myself a room for a couple of nights.
Rested, resupplied, and as clean as it’s possible for a thru-hiker be, I’m ready to get on trail again this morning. It’s just over 125 miles until I reach the halfway point so I estimate I’ll be there in five or six days. I can almost smell Canada already.