PCT Day 69: Hello Northern California

June 26, 2022

Campsite at mile 1003.8 to Sonora Pass at mile 1016.9 and Kennedy Meadows North

13.1 miles

I’m very pleased with my decision to make a sneaky little coffee this morning. It warms and wakes me up for this big climb we’re about to do. Somehow Tribute and I manage to pack up before Jumbo, so he goes ahead, then I leave, knowing J will catch up soon enough. Today we get town food. Town food!! It’s enough to propel me down the trail.

I ignore it for as long as I can, but ultimately, I have to dig a cathole. When I start sprinting up the hill, I look down and see Jumbo floating by. Bye, friend! See you never! I can tell today is going to be a quick one for him. After battling a veritable cloud of mosquitoes up in the trees, I rush back down to the trail and keep going. I fill up water at a creek that Far Out describes as being before a “steep climb.” Oh, boy. What’s this going to be like?

Turns out, it’s actually a ton of fun. I don’t typically use the word “fun” in the same sentence as “big climb,” but I love it. I put on Heard it in a Past Life by Maggie Rogers. It’s one of my favorite albums, but I haven’t listened to it in a hot minute, so I hear it with fresh ears. And it absolutely slaps. The trees thin out and I can see views in all directions. There are still mountains with snow, but they aren’t the granite faces of the Sierras anymore; they are reddish and crumbly, like something volcanic. Basalt, maybe? The ten minutes of studying I did on PCT geology didn’t stick with me, but it’s definitely a different kind of rock and a different world now.

There are views for days on this exposed ridge line. I rocket up a gravelly path and see a series of switchbacks working their way all the way across the mountain above me. I can see where the trail will go, and I can see other hikers making their way up the slope. It energizes and excites me like no other hill ever has. Maggie carries me upwards on this sunny switchbacky path. I dance a little as I walk, feeling so capable and excited. I’m in love, I’m alive, oh I’m burning… It’s so nice to actually feel good, flying up this hill.

At the top, the view just get better. There’s a lake down to my left and snow-dotted mountains around it. There are crazy rocks covered in lichen. It’s so cool up here! My album ends, I switch to Alt-J, and then I decide I’m done with music and put on an episode of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. The trail is fairly mellow, going slightly up, then slightly down. At one point, there’s an extremely long snowy section. It’s pretty slushy so I’m not worried about slipping, but it’s annoying and it takes forever. I run into Tribute at the end of it, give him a big thumbs-down to indicate my displeasure with the snow, then we walk together for a bit. There are a few more snow patches (more than we saw on any pass in the High Sierra, honestly!), then the trail turns sharply up. I lose the PCT, then find it, then absolutely cruise a flat-ish section that goes on for a couple of miles. I’m so energized by this view and so happy my body feels good today and so excited for town food.

The downhill is a little steep at first, but there are some gradual parts where I can catch some speed. There are a few snow patches, but not a ton. I finally see Jumbo down on the path below me, which energizes me for the last half a mile. Finally, I reach the parking lot. 13 miles by 11:30! It’s not quite as impressive as 10 by 10, but I feel pretty good about it.

When Tribute gets there, we start hitching. There’s already a group there, and they aren’t having much luck. They go down to try another parking lot while we stay at the crossing. It’s looking like it’s going to be another Onion Valley situation. I settle in, preparing myself to wait for a long time. Then, out of nowhere, a guy asks if we need a ride down to Kennedy Meadows (the North variety, different than the South one. Why are there two? No idea.)There are a lot of people in the SUV already, including two kids, but Tribute and I squeeze in the back while Jumbo and another hiker named Cookie sit in the actual part of the car. It’s a beautiful, if slightly cramped, drive down to the campground and resort in the valley. We thank our drivers, who give us beer and send us on our way.

At first, Kennedy Meadows North seems better than the South variety. There’s a well-enough stocked general store, a restaurant, and a big area out back for hikers. On the front porch, we’re delighted when we see Power Plant, then Knuckles and Topo! It’s been a while, and we have a great time catching up.

Our plan is just to get our chores done and then catch a shuttle back to the trail. First we get lunch, which is a pretty average burger. They are very short staffed, like everyone right now, so it takes a while. After that, I start in on tasks: I mail my bear canister home (it’s not required north of here!), wash out a couple of things, plug in my devices, and go to the store for resupply. It’s expensive for four days and it makes me sad, but what can you do. Then I pack everything into my bag.

Turns out, the shuttle was at 3:30 and not 4 like we thought. So we missed it. There’s not another one going out tonight, and so far no one’s had much luck hitching back to the trail. So it’s looking like we’re stuck. Jumbo finagles us into a 7:30 AM shuttle, and we accept our fate and pay the exorbitant $40 to camp. But when we get to the camp, there is hardly any space in the designated area. We’re getting really annoyed now. We set up in a row of three for cowboy camping. As Jumbo describes it, “I paid $40 to cowboy camp in the dirt.”

At least showers and laundry are included in that fee. We gather our clothes for the washing machine, then we toss in our clothes with another hiker’s. I take a shower, seven minutes and controlled with a token. It’s actually pretty nice, but thank goodness I’m rinsed off when the thing shuts off.

Later, as we’re moving our laundry over, I hear a familiar voice behind me. It’s Beetle! He just spent a few days in the Yosemite Valley with some friends and then hiked with them from Tuolumne to here. He gives me a massive hug, and within five minutes he already has me laughing. It’s so good to see him again! We plan to walk together tomorrow, and he sets up to camp next to us.

We have dinner reservations at 7. I get strong-armed into ordering what turns out to be an underwhelming ribeye steak and a glass of Merlot, which actually turns out to be a tumbler and the remainder of a bottle because our server does not seem to care. I’m annoyed about this overpriced dinner and wish I’d taken a cue from Jumbo, who just had another cheeseburger and who is by now roiling with righteous hatred towards KMN and its expensive, nothing-is-included ways.

After dinner we brush our teeth and head back to the stupid campsite. I paint my nails again—yellow and purple this time—and then get into my quilt. Back on trail tomorrow and I cannot wait.

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