Camping in a campground was unique. We haven’t done this in awhile. Another people watching opportunity. Some were PCT hikers but most were JMTers. The JMT and regular backpackers were easy to spot. Big packs and most had campfires. The next morning I watched a guy meticulously fold his tent taking care to wipe off all the dirt… after he had completed a 15 min stretching routine in long underwear, a puffy jacket and wool beanie with socks and tevas…obviously NOT a PCT thru-hiker. Our goal for the day was to do around 16 miles or so…take it easy and enjoy the scenery. On go the packs. They feel “light” for the 5 days of food we have crammed into our bear cans.
The trail is relatively flat and easy on our feet as my feet are still getting used to my new shoes. Today we see lots of deer…big bodied deer!
The terrain turns from forest and meadow to large boulders and massive smooth rocks that the trail traverses over, meanwhile gentle flowing creeks morph into ragging whitewater rivers that cascade into roaring waterfalls nearby.
We are passed by at least three mule trains carrying an assortment of gear. We are amazed at their calmness as their hooves clack against the cobblestone ramps built into the trail. Their shoes over time leave a distinct rust stained path that once you realize this makes the carins obsolete. We stop at Glen Aulen for a break and soak our feet. There is a work crew there getting ready for the summer visitors. This was the mule train’s destination. The summer season is upon us. We climb a bit and land in a long and vast meadow.
Boulders the size of houses that have broken free from the towering cliffs above rest on the edges of the meadow. We feel small…ant like. There is a reverence to it all. God done good. How is it that this place is not swarming with people? It is more than a must see for yourself place. It is a must experience place…minus those damn mosquitoes. Frickn yin and yang balance crap. So much for zen. It’s like when you’re grooving to your favorite song, and static or the needle on the record scratches across it (yes I’m severely dating myself), and BAM out of the pleasant “trance” you were in. Someone remind us of the purpose of mosquitoes besides spreading disease. Okay back to the scenery.
It is evident that several parallel paths are worn into the meadow floor. Each with varying depths, but all headed in the same direction eventually converging back into one well worn trail. We make our mileage destination which sets us up for a morning uphill climb. We have learned that its better to make the climbs in the morning with fresh legs and near freezing temps. The climb then has a duel purpose. One to gain needed elevation/mileage, and two, to climb ourselves warm.
Day 75: (16 miles)
Up we climb as our ice cold fingers draped in not nearly warm enough gloves clutch our trekking poles and push us up the narrow damp trail. Snow is melting and water is seeping from and onto the trail often making for a muddy slippery mess of a trail.
Up we climb over rocks and steps hewn from granite slabs that cradle the trail. As with all aspects of the PCT…what goes up, must come down. This the elevation gain is transfered to a similarly steep descent complete with uneven granite steps and scattered puddles of mud and water for better concentration. Its like running down bleachers with cleats on with water balloons placed strategically on the bleachers, of which you have to dodge…or destroy your knee(s) and/or crash and burn. Lots of fun. By the end of the day my knees are shot. I am cursing the trail builder as he (yes he had to be a he) must have been 6’4″, hated horses (not sure how 4 legs navigated some of the narrow switchbacks and steep/deep steps), and anyone with knee issues. We did however admire his direct approach to getting up and over mountains. There was no wandering for the sake of exposing one to the sights here. Even the NPS Ranger we ran into thought it was a crappy trail. The NPS Ranger was “patrolling” her area with full backpack up the trail checking permits, bear canister compliance and promoting the principle of “pack it in…pack it out”. We talked and joked with her for awhile sharing Park Service type stories and went on our way. We make it to the valley floor that house Benson Lake and discover trees with near gigantic circumferences that reach skyward, so high that when you tilt your head up to scan for the top of the trees you have to catch yourself from falling over backwards.
We camped on a ” bench” above Benson lake outwitting our blood sucking nemesis that swarmed below in the dense forest floor.
Day 76: (18 miles)
As usual the morning starts with a climb. Thinking of renaming them “vitamins”.
The trail weaves up, down,through, in and out of forests and boulders. Dirt lined and boulder strewn.
Today we will have hiked over 1000 miles. As Joe Biden would say…” This is a big F’n deal!”
Also, we want to get closer to Hwy 108/Sonora Pass where our friend Terry will pick us up and take us to Bridgeport for resupply and a zero day. Most of the trail is forest trail and parallels a river. It’s a pleasant walk. We begin to notice tall canyon rock walls soar high on both sides as we gradually climb. This we discover is the calm before the storm as we still need to get over Sonora pass. Do we clear the pass or lay up for tomorrow? We won’t be to the pass till late afternoon and make that decision when we arrive. The weather is good with a light wind. It’s 4:30pm, plenty of daylight… let’s go for it. Up we go. We can see the switchbacks and they are steep and long.
We take a “shortcut” and skip the long switchbacks for the direct route practically straight up the side of the mountain. After so much huffing and puffing we cross a huge snow patch and look over the ridge. Whoosh! In our face is a 30+ mph wind that is biting cold. We have flashbacks to our ascent of Baden-Powell and Tehachapi. We drop our packs and suit up with jackets, gloves, and hats. The terrain is sloped and treeless.
We want to find a camp site but this won’t be for some time. We can see the trail for at least two miles and have to get down the trail before we can camp. We reached some trees with “flat” areas to camp where the trees will block some if not most of the chill wind. Hoping the wind will die, we camp near 11,000 ft. We are under no illusion that this will be anything but a cold night… Brrrrrrr. Thank goodness we are not cowboy camping!