After a brief, but enjoyable, stay in Mammoth Lakes, we started our 3-bus journey back to the trail. Unfortunately, 2 buses in we discovered that we had forgotten about Everett’s broken pole tips and had to reverse the journey back to town to get it sorted. By the time we arrived in Agnew Meadows it was mid-afternoon and the prospect of a full day of hiking was fading. We arrived at Reds Meadow around supper time and were pleased to find the restaurant open! One last real meal before heading back into the hills!
Our bellies full of burgers and milkshakes, we dragged ourselves out of the restaurant just as it started to rain. Thunder rumbled across the valley. As the sky darkened, we settled for a tent site only 4 miles away. We figured we would still be able to make the push for Silver Pass the next afternoon if we got an early start. We did get an early start and made good time in the morning. We stopped for an early lunch at Purple Lake in fair weather, but by the end of our break the sky was beginning to darken again. By the time we reached Lake Virginia, the rain had started. We donned our rain gear and hustled on down the trail. By the time we got to the top of the climb, rain had turned to hail and thunder began to crack overhead. We were soaked as we descended towards Fish Creek. The clouds obliterated our view of the mountain tops and the thunder rolled directly overhead. It was only 2 pm, but as we reached the valley floor, we decided to set up the tent and wait out the weather rather than risk a lightning storm up on the pass. We had hoped the weather would clear in a couple hours so we could still make a push for the pass, but it wasn’t to be. At 5 pm the thunder showed no signs of letting up so we settled in for the night, and for the first time in 3.5 months we cooked and ate in our tent.
The next morning was cold and damp, and we took longer than usual to pack up and move out. Happily the weather was clear and we enjoyed a beautiful morning heading up and over Silver Pass. We spent the rest of the day positioning ourselves to get close to Selden Pass. Late in the afternoon we approached Bear Creek, which is known to be one of the more difficult river crossings on the PCT. We didn’t expect much trouble this late in the season in spite of warnings from various hikers going in the opposite direction. As we arrived at the river, we were able to move only a couple hundred feet downstream and cross on a massive downed tree. One extra mile took us up to the West Branch of Bear Creek where we camped for the night.
The next day was to be a long one as we were planning on doing Selden Pass in the morning, and then needed to get as high up the side of Muir Pass as possible. Muir, unlike many of the other passes, is long and gradual and many hikers will do a “no-pass” day in their approach to the pass. Selden was beautiful with flowers and greenery up to the top. The south side features a narrow canyon, which still clung to a few patchy snow fields. The going was easy and safe and didn’t require any of our snow gear that we were still carrying around. We began to doubt the utility of having spikes and axe for such a late season excursion in the area, but in the absence of reliable conditions reports we had felt more comfortable bringing them.
The descent was quick and we soon found ourselves in the Evolution Valley. Evolution Creek is another one of the rivers that can be risky to cross when high. Earlier in the season, many hikers crossed this river at the slower flowing meadow a couple miles upstream from the summer trail crossing due to high water. Many of the JMT (John Muir Trail) hikers we encountered were still following this practice. However, when we arrived at the creek, we were pleased to find a lovely knee-deep blackwater crossing. We crossed easily under the skeptical eye of several JMT hikers who decided not to follow us. We made our way up the basin and after a steep climb, arrived at the beautiful Evolution Lakes. We camped in our favourite spot on the entire trail so far, exhausted after hiking over 24 miles. I woke in the middle of the night to a landscape bathed in moonlight and the twinkle of the Milky Way.
In an early start the next morning, we powered up the 6 miles to the top of Muir Pass. We were pleased to find very little snow, a stark contrast to the reports we had been getting. We must stop listening to people, I thought. We spent a short time at the top, admiring Muir Hut and refueling. Our descent from the pass had the most snow we had seen (and would see) since our return to the Sierra – a patchy, well-tracked 2 miles of soft snow. What a difference from June. It was a long, slow descent from the pass and I was getting discouraged. We had been hoping to do another big day to make the following day easier, but I crashed after around 20 miles. We set up camp early in the trees near Palisade Creek. I was disappointed that I had been unable to rally and push forward another few miles. It meant an even bigger day the following day, which was already going to be a challenging one where we would tackle two passes: Mather and Pinchot.
We woke early the following morning and ascended a section known as “the Golden Staircase” as our warm-up. It is a steep and impressively engineered bit of trail that switchbacks up a seemingly impossible granite wall. As we ascended we watched the sun kiss the tips of the mountains behind us as the full moon slowly descended to the horizon. When we arrived at Palisade Lakes, many hikers were just starting to break camp as we passed by. The climb up Mather was steep and rocky with several lingering icy patches. We actually used our microspikes for the first and only time in this section. We crested the pass into the sunlight and started down the other side. We wandered in the high alpine of Kings Canyon National Park, giddy and energized by the most incredible alpine scenery we had seen. The photos simply can’t do it justice!
After a leisurely lunch by the Kings River, we began our climb up Pinchot Pass. It ended up being our favourite pass of the whole trail for its incredible views. We had the top to ourselves as most hikers avoid passes late in the day. We lingered on the pass, feeling on top of the world. As the afternoon shadows grew long, we reluctantly began our descent to the bottom of the canyon at Woods Creek. We were tired when we arrived, but happy to have enjoyed such a beautiful day in the mountains.
The following day would be our last in the Sierra and California. We got up early and were out of camp by 5:30 AM for another 2-pass day over Glen Pass and then Kearsarge. We had climbed Kearsarge in early June when we had exited the Sierra, and we were excited to see how it looked after two months of thaw. It was a long 3000+ ft climb up to the top of Glen Pass, but we hoped to make good time. On our way up, we bumped into some old friends -Kate and Andrew – who we had hiked with between Etna and Ashland. Since we were headed in opposite directions, we sat down beside the trail to have a catch up! One of our favourite parts of going Sobo for a time has been crossing paths with the various people we have met along the way.
We pressed on and soon we were on the steep switchbacks/rock scramble up the north side of Glen. Everett was on a mission, setting an aggressive pace that left me gasping for breath and hangry by the time we reached the final stretch. Soon we crested the razor sharp ridge and were on our way down the other side, though. It was a short jaunt from there up to the top of Kearsarge where we stood slack-jawed at the sight on the East side of the pass. In contrast to June when the snow extended entirely from the top down to Onion Valley at 9000 ft, it was now completely dry. It was an incredible sight to see. We made quick work of the descent and were able to catch a ride to Independence with a couple of day hikers. From there it was a bus ride to Bishop to the promise of a shower, bed, and a meet-up with my dad who had driven down from Vancouver to meet up with us! Traveling with Dad in his RV made the normally tedious and inconvenient business of flipping back to Ashland a vacation within a vacation. We BBQ’d on the shore of Lake Tahoe, napped, listened to country radio, and watched the world speed by.
We were back in Oregon before we knew it, and happily got to meet up with some old friends (Dan/Lisa from Edmonton and Marc/Hélène from Germany/Belgium) there! Unfortunately, in the time that it took for us to finish the Sierra, several fires had started in Oregon causing multiple closures of the PCT around Crater Lake and the Jefferson Wilderness. We agreed to stick together as a group for a time and Dad offered to help us navigate some of the fire closures, which was a HUGE help!
The next few days were just a bundle of fun. We would hike 25 to 30+ miles each day and meet my dad at a road crossing for dinner, beers and camping together. It was fantastic! When we reached the first closure (from the Blanket Creek fire), we took a side trail down to a road crossing to meet up with Dad and detour around the fire. Although the PCT around Crater Lake remained closed, we were lucky that the West Rim Trail had re-opened allowing us to walk alongside this spectacular lake for a few miles. Crater Lake was the part of Oregon I had most been looking forward to and I was not disappointed! Dad met is again on the rim for beers with a view before taking us on a field trip to Umpqua hot springs for a little relaxation.
That night we camped with Dad at Diamond Lake for what was to be our last night together before he headed back to Canada. We ate, we drank, we enjoyed a relaxing evening by the lake; and, in the morning Dad dropped us off at the trail for our final goodbye. We were all sad to see him go!
That day was a “shorter” 24 mile day so that we could camp near a spring. It was also our anniversary, marking 5 years of married life and 4 months of trail life. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend it enjoying the forests and volcanic peaks of Oregon. After an awesome sleep, we set out the next day to get as close to Shelter Cove (our next resupply) as possible. We took a lunch break near Summit Lake. We ended up spending 2.5 hours there, swimming, eating, petting dogs, and enjoying the warm sun. It was one of the most relaxing breaks on trail. We finally pulled ourselves away and still managed to total around 33 miles for the day. It put us within 3 miles of Shelter Cove and we were there by 7 am just as the restaurant opened! As we enjoyed our breakfast, I checked my email and saw one for my dad. The subject line read: “At Shelter Cove” so I assumed he had checked it out on the drive home. When I opened the email body, however, it said, “Staying an extra few days, in 9A behind the store.” Turns out Dad had noticed all the evolving fire closures and decided to stay to help us navigate them! How lucky are we?
Speaking of the fire closures, since we had left dad last time, two of the existing fires had spread causing further trail closures. The fire in the Sisters Wilderness had spread such that the alternate route was now also closed. The Jefferson fire continued to rage on and there was still no safe walking alternate available. So, with that being the case and Dad being here to shuttle us, we decided to head out to Bend for a day or two and then get back on trail where the closure ends. The sad (but unavoidable) reality is that we are missing over 100 miles of Oregon with all of the fire closures. We know things like this happen every year, but it’s still disappointing. We are looking forward to our next section though, and are REALLY excited to get to our third and final state, Washington! In the meantime, we are enjoying our time in Bend!