Day #39 & 40 – May 24th & 25th: We hitched back up to the meadows, getting a late start in the day. It was tough going from 3,000 ft back up to a little over 10,000. It amazes me how beautiful and rugged the High Sierras are…especially when the desert landscape is still in sight! It is so hard to be motivated to hike when around every turn there is a new view and and countless places to set up camp. But the miles are always calling!! It is also crazy to think that a hundred miles ago I was desperate for any source of water and now water flows freely over and down the trail creating small rivers from all the snow melt.
Day #41 – May 26th : Today I climbed Mount Whitney!!! It was roughly 16 miles round trip off trail, but well worth the extra effort. I was so excited that soon my hiking buddies became nothing more than little specks on the mountain side as I flew up the 14,498 ft climb. It was so rewarding watching all the day hikers in their over the top mountaineering gear fall by the way side as they struggled to the top. I can honestly say that I am, cardio-wise, in the best shape of my life. Mountain Goat, Zippy, Shredder and I hung out eating snacks and soaking up the views before heading back down to put in some actual trail miles. Shredder and I took the opportunity to get some proper exercise and jogged down to the tunes of Johnny Cash and AC/DC. As I was descending, I stopped next to a guided party that I had passed on the way up to snap a few pictures.. The guide felt like I was in the way of his group pictures and told me to “get out of here!” I told him he did not own the mountain…along with a few other choice words…took my pictures and went on my way. I think he was just sore that they were still climbing and I was on my way back down. After Whitney we hiked another ten miles to set up for Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT. I ended up doing my first actual river crossing where I had to waid through. The next morning was started with frozen shoes.
Day #42 – May 27th: Forester Pass was insane…very steep and quite a bit of snow. On the way down I got to experience what hikers call “post hole-ing”… one minute I was walking/sliding down the mountain and the next my left leg sunk down to my knee! I fell forward and felt the bitter bite of my ligaments stretching in a unnatural direction. The next half of the day was a constant repeat of the later until around 10,500 ft where I ended up camping under Kearsarge Pass next to a half frozen lake. Caught a few fish for me and the crew. After Whitney and Forester and now eating fresh fish we all felt pretty hard core as we enjoyed the surrounding mountains.
Day #43 – May 28th: Woke up with a thick layer of frost over my sleeping bag! So cold! Took the pass towards town. After about three miles I could see the camp parking lot with one motor home parked in it. The people seemed to be packing up so I seized the opportunity and sprinted down the mountain, bypassing most of the trail as I went. While approaching the vehicle I could hear the distinct language of a German accent . To break the ice I approached the Germans with a big smile and loudly announced my presence with “Gutten morgen! Ich Heisa Ryan! Vie heist du?” (in my best German) They agreed to drive me the 13 miles into town (Independence, CA). While in town I was able to contact Krista and her boyfriend Josh and we were able to hang out and catch up. Good thing too, because the gear shop that I needed to buy supplies from was closed, but they just so happened to know the guy working there so he opened the store up for me! Thanks Krista and Josh!!!
Day #44 – May 29th: I decided to spend another night in Independence to rest up after summitting Mt. Whitney to let my feet recuperate…planning on getting up at 5 am tomorrow and hitting the trail again!
Day #45 – May 30th: I left Independence with mixed feelings…on one hand, the hostel was so accommodating and the nice lady running the place took me under her wing, acquiring me a ride back to the trail and constantly presenting me with free ice cream. On the other, the gas station in town where I picked up my resupply packages tried to charge me $10 per box. I talked the guy down to $6 and a cup of coffee to sweeten the deal. As I was making my coffee I accidentally dropped it. It spilled all over the floor and, with a grin, I told the guy that the deal was not final until I walked out with a cup of coffee. Needless to say he cussed me out in a language that I neither recognized nor wanted to understand (I did offer to mop it up for him, just because I’m living in the wilderness does not mean that I have completely forgotten how to be civil.)
Back on the trail I had to go over Kearsarge pass again but rather than backtrack I decided to take an alternate trail. The scenery in this section is amazing and climbing over the passes is a feeling words cannot describe…but if I had to pick one word it’d be: exhilarating. I decided to climb over Glen Pass that same day in hopes of catching back up with Mountain Goat, Zippy and Shredder. Let’s just say that Glen Pass kicked my butt and I was almost passed by another hiker! On the way down, there was too much snow to locate the trail so I just went straight down towards a lake with a land bridge that I needed to cross. When I got to the lake I decided to take a little nap. Two hours later, I woke up and moved on so that I would be set up for Pinchot Pass in the morning before the snow would get too soft to walk on.
Day #46 – May 31st: Pinchot Pass was fun. I ran into Wiki Wiki and we ran/slid down the other side. We both decided to try Mather Pass that same day. As I approached what I thought to be Mather Pass, the trail gave way to soft snow. It took me an extra hour to make the mile. Lucky for me, Mountain Goat and Shredder were camped at the base 600 ft from the top and the most treacherous part. Not wanting to fully put my tent up, I built a fort out of rocks instead.
Day #47 – June 1st: In the morning we moved on. We took our time lounging and fishing away the daylight hours. There are so many nice places to sit and take in the mountains, rivers, lakes and wildlife that hiking becomes a burden sometimes…seeming too big to take on. So today we stopped and enjoyed the sights and the fish.
Day #48 – June 2nd: Today, my left ankle kept giving out…I rolled it a half dozen times. I finally gave in and opened my med kit to grab some ibuprofen and tape, only to find a mushy concoction of pain meds, aspirin, ibuprofen and vitamins. I decided not to risk ingesting a potentially deadly mix of meds and sadly stuck the bag back into my pack to be disposed of in the next town. Here’s hoping my old back injury doesn’t flare up again! While taping my ankle, I stabbed myself with my knife and, in my surprise of stabbing myself, stepped on my sunglasses! They sad bad things happen in threes…so I felt pretty confident the rest of the day would go swell. Then, for good measure, I cut my ear with my knife while swatting at the persistent mosquitos! The only sound that could be heard was my ego rapidly imploding into thin air….what a day.
Muir Pass was by far the best pass. Not too steep, but no trail in sight, so instead of my usual approach of “see how far off my trail intuition can be”, Shredder broke out his compass and map. We took turns navigating and made short work of the ascent. We made it down the other side only post hole-ing a few times.
Day #49 – June 3rd: Well…today I took an unexpected detour from the trail. I hiked a little with Wiki Wiki again and then waited for the normal crew. After lunch I put my headphones in and prepared to do work for the next ten miles. Somewhere along the way, I hit another trail that I sort of new wasn’t right but I was following this amazing river! Then I stopped to fish for a bit. The trail was well used so I continued on, but then finally I broke out my maps and confirmed that I was not on the PCT anymore. I found a game trail and went up to a peak to get some perspective on the situation and in the distance was a dirt road and a dam. I could have just backtracked, but the adventure aspect was just too great to pass up. Following the road about give miles later, I started to have second thoughts. I have traveled roads like this with my dad and know firsthand how long they can be…but even far away the trail can hit you with her magic…two trucks came my way. They stopped and told me where I was and even offered to give me a ride to a nearby hot springs resort six miles down the road. As I jumped in I could plainly see the product of a grow operation in the bed of the truck. The guy with a permanent smile on his face offered me a sandwich and other random munchies. I couldn’t believe my luck, not only did I score a ride to some awesome hot springs where I could soak my tired body, but also that the only people on this road were so high 24/7 that they had a constant flow of snacks to freely share! Best day ever! Or so I thought. While driving down the road I was informed not to camp at the campsites at the hot springs because a pesky bear has been hanging around and stealing food for the past week. When I arrived at the resort I was offered a “cabin” for a mere $95. This “cabin” had nothing more than a few beds with the kind of covers that you would put on a kids bed to keep their urine from soaking into the mattress…I remember them well. No electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. The “spa” consisted of old tubs and when I asked for a towel the old guy running the place looked insulted and then came back with a roll of bounty only to give me four squares of paper towel. Apparently this spa is BYOT when you rent these luxurious $95 a night cabins. I looked at him with a smirk and said “challenge accepted.” (Enjoy cleaning five days of hiker filth from the bottom of your tub, sir) After my sulfur bath I proceeded to the restaurant only to be cut off by the sly old man as he informed me that the restaurant was closed until the peak tourist season (shouldn’t that be starting now?). But it is open on the weekends so if I wanted to stay until Saturday he was willing to work a deal on rates. Well played old man…well played indeed. Tomorrow I will walk to another resort, hike three miles along a lake, then give miles on a trail that will take me to the PCT. From there I have one more pass to climb, then another day to Reds Meadow where hopefully I can hitch a ride to Mammoth Lake and find Mountain Goat and Shredder. After that is a two day hike to my actual resupply stop at Tuolumne Meadows…then four days where I plan on hitching 30 miles to a town I can’t remember the name of so that I can get rid of my bear canister, winter gloves and those heavy micro spikes that I used for about 40 yards. Excellent purchase. Until then I will wait until morning and use all of my mental strategy to one-up the old man in the ongoing battle of wits that we seem to playing. Good night!