Days 126-129 – sonora pass to mammoth
August 24-27 | SOBO Miles 1636.2-1746.5
Disclaimer to those here for the photos: this post won’t have any, except this ridiculous selfie I took in the bathroom of a Mexican restaurant last night. Reason forthcoming.
At any rate, I woke up late at Kennedy Meadows North and savored a serious Cowboy Breakfast accompanied by 4 cups of coffee. Wired, I set out to walk the road back to Highway 108. On the way a white van passed me and for a split second I thought I saw a friend, Cacao, in the passenger seat—I’d later find out it was her (along with Smiles in the back) and that I’d literally missed them by minutes. Go figure.
I arrived at the highway and had my thumb out for 5 minutes before a very hyper couple of lawyers from Sacramento, Chris and Mark, pulled over in their shiny white Lexus to scoop me up. They were big PCT fanboys with plans to climb Sonora Pass in preparation for a trip up Whitney on September 3. They peppered me with gear questions and we had some jazzy banter, the two of them reminiscing on their glory days and doing their best to sell me on going to law school. Lost cause my dudes. All my friends are lawyers but it’s not gonna happen.
Arriving at Sonora Pass and bidding them farewell, I got a message from the beards. Those jokers were already at the top of the climb, meaning they had passed me yet again... really making me look bad over here. I scooted up the switchbacks, leaving gaggles of day hikers in my dust. The views at the top were absolutely insane. Alpine lakes far as the eye could see. I met a dude named Ted who chatted me up for 20 minutes (in the full-on shadeless basin, total rookie move) about the crazy way he got a job at Google by way of his internet search history. I also met a former thruhiker named Midway, out for the weekend, who asked me if I was hiking with the fast dude that had a billy goat beard. Zing.
On my way down into a canyon I hopped across a stream and was properly spooked when the tree in front of me gave me a whoop. Lo and behold, there was Trashcan with his bear can snacking on some ramen. The dudes had been hiking with our friends Cacao, Smiles, and Crunchmaster for the past few days and I was stoked to join the party. We pressed on toward our campsite for the night at Dorothy Lake, crossing the Yosemite NP boundary to find Store Brand chilling by the water’s edge. The remaining 3 homies had had a long day of hiking in the afternoon heat by the time they got to camp around 8, just as the sun dipped behind the mountains. I got some killer sunset pics that will never again see the light of day.
The next morning the bros were up characteristically early and I decided to get a move on first thing. By 6:30 I was strolling through a flat, dewy meadow that continued for 10 miles. And then it was time to climb.
The climbs in Northern Yosemite are no joke–super steep with equally precipitous descents that wreak havoc on the ankles. And extra dangerous for those prone to spills... I tangled with gravity a few times, my busted Lone Peaks failing me as their treadless soles failed to grip the sand-dusted granite. I’d thought I could eek by with the same old pair for these last 400 miles but I was beginning to pay the price.
After a long and slightly painful afternoon of climbing, the day’s elevation profile looked like an EKG and I was completely toasted. I came upon a small but pristine lake only to find the guys arm in arm on a little rock island posing and waiting for me to spot them. I took a pic of this tender moment but again it’s lost to the void.
I swam, basked, and cooled off for a solid hour before I tiptoed away while they catnapped. Another long climb lay ahead, and I wanted a head start.
I was surprised by how long it took them to catch up to me, between my huffing and puffing and stopping every 2 minutes for some elusive oxygen. Trashcan was the first to speed by, at which point I turned up the heat to make it harder for the other land shark to pass me. But alas, I got got by Store Brand near the tippy top of the climb and admitted defeat.
We made it to camp at Smedberg Lake shortly thereafter, just in time to enjoy the killer sunset and mosquitoless night. Crunch and Cacao showed up near dark, and Smiles made camp about a mile before us as she got chatted up by some of her Instagram fans and didn’t want to night hike and get eaten by a mountain lion. Totally makes sense.
The next morning it was get up and go again, with the bros out by 6 and myself at 6:30. Benson Pass had its way with me in the early morning, wrecking my quads and leaving me gasping for air. The day from there was a hot drawn-out blur as I made my way the 26 miles into Tuolumne Meadows over exposed grassland and up and down manicured rocky staircases. I could tell I was entering the wilderness theme park when I started smoking hordes of day hikers wearing wide-brimmed sun hats and Camelbaks and wielding their rustic whittled hiking sticks.
Miles later I arrived at the store in Tuolumne, where the guys were posted up at a picnic table. I raided the hiker box and purchased a winning combo of a Diet Dr. Pepper, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (for $1.39!!), and Toll House ice cream sandwich. We chilled hard for a few hours, having politely kicked the butts of our 3 amigos, and even had a very civilized afternoon tea party courtesy of some new climber friends we met. As a bonus, JMT hikers were gathered around sorting their resupplies, and we vultures scored some complimentary bars and drink mixes courtesy of their overpreparedness.
We goofed for a few hours before Crunch arrived to score his long-awaited burger just minutes before the grill closed. Smiles and Cacao followed suit and we hung for a while, but we had plans to night hike into Lyell Canyon towards the base of Donohue Pass (my idea, since I remembered how flat it was from last year). We set out at 6:30 and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through meadowland as the sun began to set, even spotting a bear cub on our way. Some wild campers were making howling noises and a hopped-up dude ran by us mimicking them. Yosemite is a weird place.
As the sun fell I pulled out my headlamp and kept a polite but close distance from Trashcan in case anything went bump in the night. Independent gals are still allowed to be a lil scared of the woods at night.
We passed, among many nocturnal frogs and insects, at least 5 bonfires (total JMT move) and 10 sets of glowing green eyes in the trees. One rustling deer was enough to get a small shriek out of me and sufficiently freak me out. I promptly caught up to Trashcan as we came upon the crossing of Ireland Creek. All was fun and games as we hopped up on a log in the pitch-dark, until I went to hop off and felt my phone disengage from my earbuds. It was nowhere to be found on the ground. Oh no. I frantically searched the dark water and found it submerged at least 3 feet under making an alarming noise... glug glug glug. I snatched it out and it was miraculously still functioning, but that lasted a good five minutes. Soon it was me, myself, and I in total darkness with no navigation and a busted phone that kept turning on and off of its own will. I was, in a word, screwed.
As luck would have it, the guys were about a mile ahead and we found a campsite around 10. In the morning, as usual, I woke to find both of them had already gone.
My phone was dead as a doornail.
I ate Donohue Pass for breakfast (and it was much easier than I remember from last year, even having gone the opposite way) and passed a bunch of JMTers who gawked at my small pack (the dudes call this “pack envy”) and one who even told me I was her inspiration. After that, though, the day went downhill... literally and figuratively. In the blazing heat, with no music, navigation, or contact with the outside world, I trudged 26 miles toward Red’s Meadow in a fugue state. Tears were shed. Sweat was everywhere. I was too hot to eat but so dizzy from hunger I thought I might faint. Not knowing where my next water sources were, I crossed a dry stretch and had some serious moments of despair, begging God to show me some water (he did) and asking him why the trail climbed through pointless ups and downs on a dumb exposed ridge (to that I got no answer). Above all else, I had to make it to the AT&T store in Mammoth by the time it closed at 7. I was motoring on empty through familiar territory, all too aware of how close yet how far I was from Red’s Meadow, where I would catch the shuttle into town.
I made it in the clutch by 5PM, got a root beer and caught the bus. The dudes were nowhere to be found, but luckily the angel bus driver offered to drop me right at the AT&T store just in the nick of time. My phone was toast and an hour later I had an entirely new one. All I’d lost were my photos since Sonora Pass (and my dignity, and a good chunk of cash). Once I was up and running I had, yet again, a message from the dudes: they had found out hours earlier that they had a wedding to make in early September, and had skipped town in favor of doing more miles that night. I went to the Mexican place in town, got a giant burrito and a Sculpin IPA (Uncle Rob, this remains one of my faves!!) and mulled over my next steps. The dudes would be pedal to the metal from here on out, and our other 3 buds were a day behind, and would be getting off at Kearsarge Pass anyway. It was just me... again. And it looks like I will finish my hike the exact same way I came into it. Flying solo.
I got a hotel room, washed my clothes in the shower, downed a pint of Talenti, and passed out. This morning I ventured out for a luxe avocado breakfast omelet, a Grocery Outlet resupply, some new shoes, and a hat (big deal for me, sun protection is not my strong suit) and caught the trolley and bus back to Red’s. Here I sit on a log with 250 miles of civilization-less wilderness to Walker Pass before me. I’m excited, exhausted, and ready to finish. It feels surreal and yet a long time coming. Familiar but brand new. A friend (thank you Mary Beth for your infinite wisdom) mused that I’m alone now for a reason, and the reason is that God wants me to be alone with Him. So that’s what I plan to do in these last 11 days, up and down the high passes of the Sierra with no contact with the outside world.
This will be my last post before The End, and I am frankly very stoked. I’m grateful, humbled, and above all, abundantly thankful for all who have supported me on this long strange trip. From family, to friends, to trail angels, to strangers’ dogs, all of you have played a part in getting me here, to my mile 2400. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much. I am so touched that you’ve taken the time to read my long-winded goofy stories and leave encouraging comments. Hopefully in 11 days I will be back with one last story–the tale of how I finished the PCT. Until then... picture me eating some cold-soaked ramen as you enjoy your fresh vegetables and cold beer, my friends.