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Sonora Pass, June 28

Day 68

Start – Mile 1006, 6:15 am

End – Sonora Pass, Mile 1016, 11:45am

Miles – 10

This section was a really great surprise. I got up and going at 6:15 expecting another hard climb up to more than 11,000 feet. Instead what I got was one of the most gradual switchback sections, with amazing views up to the ridge leading to Sonora Pass.

The initial climb I was looking back into Kennedy Canyon, and noticed another trail on the opposite ridge still covered in snow that I think is the trail to Emigrant Pass.

After getting to the top of the first ridge, the trail was pretty level across the ridgeline with amazing views down into the valley below.

There was even a small pass that wasn’t on the map and didn’t have a name, which was amid a section of rocks that looked straight out of Arizona.

This section just kept changing. From forest to snowy ridge to Martian rocky landscape with snow drifts to rolling green hills. Some of the most variety in short order of anywhere I’ve come across.

I met a couple other hikers along the way, 40 Prime and Panda and we were all commenting on how varied and great this section was.

It also had far more snow than I expected, particularly coming down the final two miles to Sonora Pass. There were a lot of sections of the trail that were still under snow patches, which required a good deal of scrambling over loose rock and dirt. I considered putting my micro spikes on at one point just for the loose dirt alone.

The end of this portion is a long loop around the valley around Sonora Pass and then it puts you out right at highway 108. Hikers then either hitch to Kennedy Meadows North, or the opposite way down to Bridgeport.

I was lucky in that I had a ride waiting for me, as I’m going to take a few days off to rest in Sonora at my moms. She got to experience being a trail angel by giving 40 Prime and Panda a ride the ten miles to Kennedy.

Now I get to eat real food and rest for a few days in a real bed.

Leaving Yosemite, June 27

Day 67

Start – Falls Creek, Mile 987, 6:15 am

End – Mile 1006, 5:15 pm

Miles – 19

Yosemite really held up to the bitter end. The trail today was a gradual ride up to Dorothy Lake, walking most of the time along Falls Creek. Aside from the mosquitos it was gorgeous scenery the whole way walking through meadows and along the creek and then coming to one of the most picturesque lakes yet (it’s hard to rate them).

Right after Dorothy Lake the trail goes up slightly and then you’re at the Pass and a sign marking your entry into the Toiyabe National Forest. I tried to sit up at the Pass and soak it all in but the mosquitoes were so thick that I cut things short and started down the north side.

At first the change in landscape is subtle as there are still small alpine lakes all around, but after a mile of so it’s apparent that you’re no longer in the park.

Not that the landscape it’s pretty, it’s just not Yosemite. No more granite peaks surrounding you in every direction. The creeks are smaller and the forest isn’t as lush. But it’s still a great area to hike.

As I went along further I happened upon a rock monument noting that I was crossing the 1000 mile threshold, which felt pretty monumental to me. So I decided to grab some pictures and stay there to eat lunch. That was fortunate because I was able to help some other hikers take their pictures too, including a guy name 40 Prime who it turned out is from San Jose. We had been leapfrogging for two days but hadn’t talked much so it was good to have a chance to get to know him a bit.

After that my plan was just to make it partway up the ridge to Sonora Pass. The climb is pretty steep and the elevation is back over 10,000 feet, so I wanted to split it into two and do part of it today and finish it in the morning.

Along this section the trail started looking more like a desert again, with the trees spaced out more and dirt for the ground. But as I started the climb around Kennedy Canyon the hills took on a lush green amid the remaining snow patches and the trees became smalls stands, which gave the area a look similar to hiking in the east bay hills.

In fact where I’m camping really feels like that, and I’ve got a strong breeze to help complete the image. Tomorrow I have 10’miles to complete to get to Sonora Pass, the first two of which are the remainder of the climb up to the ridge.

The ridgeline through here is supposed to be great so the morning hike should be pretty nice.

Seavey Pass, June 26

Day 66

Start – Benson Lake, Mile 973, 6:30 am

End – Falls Creek, Mile 987, 5pm

Miles – 14

I got up and over Seavey Pass, the second to last within Yosemite, without much fuss this morning. It was slightly more defined than Island Pass was, but similar in that it had a more gentle rise amid a series of small lakes and ponds.

After that today was a day of creek crossings. Four supposedly large ones, but in keeping with the experience this year, the water level was lower than usual for all of them.

I started with Kerrick creek, which was probably the most dangerous, but it had a well placed log that let me get over without getting my feet wet.

After that were creeks in Stubblefield and Tilden Canyons. Stubblefield was wide and gentle and would have made a good place to go swimming or wading. Tilden was pretty minor actually and I hopped across on rocks.

The last one was Falls Creek, and this one was nearly as wide as evolution creek a while back. Again pretty shallow, not over my knees. That meant the water wasn’t frigid either so another good place to wade. This time I did as it’s been another hot day so I poured water all over my head.

Falls creek was only 14 miles or so from where I started but I’m camping here because there doesn’t appear to be good camping ahead unless I want to do another 10 miles tonight and go over Dorothy Lakes Pass today, which I do not.

Dorothy lakes is the northern boarder of Yosemite and it’s a very gentle climb up to the Pass so it shouldn’t be a problem. Tomorrow I’ll do that and then push on to the base of Sonora Pass, or just a bit up the rise. That should position me to have about 8 miles left to finish off Sonora Pass the next day.

Benson Pass and lake, June 25

Day 65

Start – Mile 958, 7:15 am

End – Benson Lake, Mile 973, 5 pm

Miles – 15

My intentionally slow sojourn through Yosemite continues. This morning I got up after my annoying campmates has left, but not before overhearing some more comments that had me shuddering in my tent.

While the major Sierra passes are in the rear view at this point, Yosemite does have a few additional ones to conquer before I’m done with this park. Today I had to go over Benson Pass, and then I wanted to check out a couple lakes that I heard were nice places for breaks.

Benson was a substantially easier climb than the previous major passes, not that any climb is really easy. But it was only a couple miles to the top and I got there around 11:30. The interesting thing about Benson was not the view, which was ok, but rather the fact that the landscape changed about half a mile from the top and all the sudden it looked like I was walking through a desert with pine trees.

The ground was dry and mainly brown dirt, the trees were spaced out, and only one small shallow creek meandered through the area. Such a strange setting after the previous passes all having a fairly similar alpine look to them.

I stopped at the top for a snack but was quickly swarmed by the ever present mosquitoes. Man I hate these things. So I didn’t linger on but decided to go a couple more miles down to Smedberg Lake which was supposed to be a good place for a break so I figured I’d have lunch there.

Along the way I kept seeing people taking breaks with their tents set up to avoid the mosquitoes and when I got to the lake I realized I was going to have to as well. I’ve never set my tent up in the middle of the day before, but the bugs were so thick I wouldn’t have been able to eat without doing so.

So I found a shaded spot and set up and quickly threw my gear inside and climbed in but it was no use – the mosquitoes made it inside as well. I spent the first 15 minutes killing the ones that were inside with me, which were at least 20.

After that I was able to eat and relax a bit but after lunch I wore my headnet all afternoon.

I next decided to check out Benson Lake, the riviera of the Sierra, with its sandy beach and apparently lower mosquito population. I hiked down to a spur trail that led half a mile to the lake and this time it lived up to the billing.

Beautiful sandy beach, shallow shoreline which makes for warmer water, and enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay. I jumped in and rinsed off since it was once again a hot afternoon, and then noticed some other folks drying their clothes.

Here’s where I admit that my clothes haven’t been washed since I was in Bishop probably close to two weeks ago. If I got back on trail I’d be going up the next pass tonight, so I decided to save that for tomorrow and rinsed my hiking clothes in the lake. It’s not much but it will get some of the dirt and sweat off of them.

Now I’m camped on a sandy beach of all places, which I didn’t expect to have the chance to do at all on this trip.

Tomorrow I’ll go over the second to last pass in the park, and probably fight off mosquitoes while doing it. Should be to Sonora by Thursday.

June 24

Day 64

Start – Tuolumne Meadows, Mile 943 6:30 am

End – Mile 958, 5:10 pm

Miles – 15

Heading out from Tuolumne I did the classic move of assuming I knew where the trail picked up and ended up walking 30 minutes in the wrong direction before realizing it. So my mileage today was impacted by that before I even really started.

It was an incredibly hot day and I feel like I should be going faster than I am. After going over a bunch of mountain passes my legs should carry me up modest inclines better than they do but part of that is the fact that my bag is weighed down by food today.

I also ran into my second ranger today. I talked to her for a while about how they operate since Yosemite is the only place I’ve seen any. Turns out they have two specific PCT rangers who divide up the trail into northern and southern sections and they can go out for up to 9 days doing checks on hikers and campsites.

The guy I met yesterday apparently is more of a floater who operates on multiple trails. Then they also have backcountry guys who don’t operate on trails necessarily.

The rangers just ask for your permit and check to make sure you have a bear can. Neither has made me take mine out, they just knock on the side to feel it. Pretty painless.

I only went 15 miles today for a couple reasons. Still trying to savor Yosemite plus my tired feet and I ended at the top of a tough climb so I figured I’d just call it quits.

Now I’m just sitting in my tent listening to my camp mates talk about how terrible the rangers are, brag about telling them off, smoke cigars, and talk about their diarrhea. So not my favorite camp mates to say the least.

Most of the folks I’ve met have been pretty interesting and overall good folks.

Tuolumne Meadows Pt. 2, June 23

Zero Mile day in Tuolumne.

Yesterday as I was hiking in to Yosemite, I decided that I didn’t want to rush this section, and wanted to find some ways to explore the park in ways that I haven’t before.

Initially I was thinking about getting a permit to finish the last 22 miles of the JMT and hike down into the valley. But the prospect of setting out for 22 miles was hard to get enthusiastic about this morning particularly since I would need to wait until after the wilderness office opens which means I’d be getting a late start to do pretty substantial miles in one day.

My next thought was to take the bus down to the valley and do a day hike and then take it back up. But I also realized that it’s a Saturday in June meaning the valley is packed and that wasn’t likely to be stress free.

So what I settled on was doing a day hike around Tuolumne. Before that though most everyone I know showed up at the camp store/restaurant so I spent the morning catching up with folks. They had all gone into Mammoth so I hadn’t seen many of them since Bishop.

But they were all heading back out on the trail immediately and I wasn’t, so around noon I left the store and walked a mile to the visitor center to get a recommendation. Since there was no way I was going to be able to do half dome, I settled on another dome, Lembert, which towers over Tuolumne.

Without my pack, since I was operating as a day Hiker, the route up Lembert didn’t take long despite being pretty steep and climbing nearly 2000 feet. It took about 40 minutes to get to the top and the views were definitely worth the effort. After hanging out on the slanted precipice for a while, I headed back down and took a detour to Dog Lake.

Dog Lake is pretty shallow, so it’s a better choice than most to swim in up here. Yesterday as I was trying to get to the campground I passed up the chance to swim in the Lyell Fork, and decided to make a point of swimming in either a lake or river before leaving the park.

So I took the opportunity to check that box right away took a brief swim which should hopefully make up for the lack of a shower in several days. It probably won’t but it’s better than nothing.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on the trail and should be to Sonora in four or five days.

Tuolumne. June 22

Day 62

Start – Thousand Island Lake, Mile 923, 6:50 am

End – Tuolumne Meadows. Mile 943, 5:30 pm

Miles – 20

I got up around 1am for a bathroom break, and I haven’t spent that much time looking at the night sky since I’m usually in bed by 8:30, but tonight the moon was exceptionally bright and cast against the backdrop of the mountains and the lake, it was pretty impressive.

As I expected, sleeping above the lake led to some pretty soggy ground in the morning, so my tent and ground cloth were pretty soaked. But I got going and then encountered the other reason that the area around the lake is problematic.

It’s not just one lake in the area, though Thousand Island is the biggest. The shore area is comprised of hundreds of little ponds, streams, and bigger lakes, and most of the snow around here is melted. Also there are s lot of meadows where the flow is slow, which is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos.

I’ve already mentioned my hatred of these little buggers and challenge anyone to show me any benefit that they bring, so I wasn’t thrilled when I started to get swarmed while hiking. In the past my irritation with them has been limited to points where I have stopped for a break, but today they were keeping pace with me from the start.

Since I had camped only a mile from Island Pass, the first of today’s two passes, I figured I’d get it done quickly before spending more time and energy going over Donohue Pass, which marks the southern border of Yosemite.

I had no idea how quickly I’d dispose of Island Pass however, as I didn’t even notice when I went over it. I’m still not convinced it’s a real pass. The trail was level for a while and then started to go down so I checked my gps and found that I was already a few tenths if s Mile past. So that was easy.

Donohue was more of a traditional pass but had hardly any snow and wasn’t as hard of a climb as some of the others have been, although it did top out just over 11,000 feet. On the approach I was getting so bothered by mosquitos that I put on my headnet to hike, which is the first time I’ve done that. Usually I just use it for breaks or while at camp and just pull my buff up over my face if bugs are bothering me while walking, but today that wasn’t working so the headnet went on and stayed on for a few hours.

When I got to the top of Donahue I took a short break to look out into Yosemite. This entry point isn’t as stunning as coming in through the valley, but I could see the beginnings of Lyell Fork Meadow off in the distance. I also hung out with one of the most confident marmots that I’ve met yet, who didn’t scurry away when I approached.

After dropping down the ridge for a few miles I came to Lyell Fork and followed it across even terrain for much of the rest of the day. I even ran into a group of folks I know and leapfrogged them throughout the afternoon.

Yosemite has some extra resources from the other park. Immediately upon entering you could see that the trail is better maintained, with rick steps at ever elevation gain, no tree falls that hadn’t been cleared, and real bridges across the big rivers.

I also encountered my first park ranger within an hour or so of entering. He just asked where I camped (whether it was in the park or before it) and checked my bear can to make sure I had one. He asked if I had a permit but didn’t check it, but within another hour I was stopped for my first permit check by a couple of NPS volunteers, and of course I had left it in the bottom of my pack today, so I had to take everything out to find it. I don’t mind the diligence, it’s just a different experience than anywhere else along the trail so far.

While dealing with the permit check I actually ran into the guy that met going up Kearsage Pass who gave me a ride into Independence almost two weeks ago. After his climbing trip to Kings Canyon he’s now in a hike heading south through Yosemite, so I got to talk to him for a minute and thank him for the advice he gave me about the passes.

After that I just pushed through to get to Tuolumne. There’s a store and a cafe there, and I needed to pick up my resupply box from the post office. I also wanted to check in at the ranger station to see about day hikes around here so that I done just rush through Yosemite.

I got to Tuolumne after 5, so no chance to visit the ranger, but I was able to get a meal and the guys working the post office even let me pick up my package after hours. It helps that the post office is attached to the camp store and they were still hanging out with their door open by the beer section.

The other hikers that I bumped into on the trail: cool runnings, photon, driver, and jellybones and I all made it over to the backpacker campsite and set up shop around 7. It’s nice that they keep some space available for backpackers because all the campgrounds up here fill up months in advance. But if you’re walking in you can camp without a reservation in Yosemite in the summer on a weekend- at least in Tuolumne. The valley is probably a different story.

Tomorrow I’m still going to investigate a day hike to maximize my time in Yosemite. Maybe a hike up Clouds Rest, or the end of the JMT down into the valley. Half dome would be fun but probably impossible. After that it’s on to Sonora.

Devils Postpile, June 21

Day 61

Start – Reds Meadow, Mile 906

End – 1000 Island Lake, Mile 923, 7:15pm

Miles – approx. 17

After camping at the Reds Meadow Campground with some folks that I’ve met a few times including two girls, Roadrumner and Autopilot and a guy from Belgium named Sander, who I think is actually named Sander, I got breakfast at the little cafe before heading out to explore the Postpile.

My miles today are approximate because I too am alternate trail to go through the Monument, which connected back up with the PCT after, and I think covered about the same distance as I would have had I stayed on trail.

The Monument is tiny. This is one you can do in half an hour. There’s basically one trail that leads you around and over one rock formation of hexagonal basalt columns. The trail is probably 1 mile round trip from the parking lot. But it is an interesting rock formation so I’m glad I did it. And I got my passport page stamped.

After that the rest of the day was slow and plodding. There are two passes to go over before I enter Yosemite: Island and Donohue. Island is named for nearby thousand island lake and the two passes are within about 5 miles of each other.

I was hoping to get over Island today and then tackle Donohue tomorrow, but my progress on tired legs was pretty slow. By about 3 pm I had only gone around 11 miles so I instead just made for the lake in the hopes of knocking them both out tomorrow.

The trail wasn’t very scenic for much of the day until I got up over Agnews Meadow. From there I had a great view across to the opposite ridgeline, including some lakes and waterfalls on the other side.

Once I got to thousand island lake I found a small campsite overlooking the lake, and since it’s summer solstice, it didn’t matter that I arrived at camp an hour later than usual because I had plenty of daylight. The sunset over the lake was pretty nice, with the sky turning pink and blue around 8:30.

From here I’m only a mile and a half from the first Pass, so I should be over them and into the park by midday.

Reds Meadow, June 20

Day 60

Start – Mile 891, 8:00 am

End – Reds Meadow, Mile 906, 3:15 pm

Miles – 15

This morning I got a lesson in tentsite placement,because when I woke up the underside of my rain fly was so covered in condensation that it was raining inside my tent but not outside. This is apparently more common with completely exposed sites,which I had last night.

So I had to leave the fly out in the sun for a bit to dry, and got going around 8am. Aside from a bit in the morning when I was walking along a lake, today was not very scenic since I was mainly walking through the burn area from the Rainbow fire in 1992.

While older than many of the fire areas I walked through in the south, it was still a very scarred landscape with a lot of downed trees and stumps and not much else.

The good news was that it was pretty level so the miles for once went fast. After Silver Pass yesterday I was grateful for that. I thought it would take me all day to get to Reds Meadow, which I picked because it has a restaurant and I still wanted a real meal.

As I was making good progress I started to reevaluate my plans, because Reds Meadow is right next to the Devils Postpile National Monument, and I like to stop at as many units of the National Park Service as possible and this is one I haven’t hit before. Plus it’s tiny so I can probably see most of it in a short visit.

My thought was that I would stay at Reds tonight and then take a side trail that heads straight through the Monument and reconnects a few miles north. But since I arrived earlier I decided to expand my visit to the Monument by checking out Rainbow Falls this afternoon.

So after getting a snack and finding the bicker campground, I dropped my pack and headed without any weight on my back down to the falls. The falls are formed by the middle fork of the San Joaquin river, which I first crossed a few days and nearly 100 miles back.

The falls were impressive but the thing that was interesting to me was being on a trail with families and day hikers. I was by far the dirtiest person for miles.

I spent a little time photographing the falls and took a bunch of family photos for a big family and then headed back to the campground. Tomorrow I’ll take the trail north into the actual post piles so I will have seen the majority of this Monument.

I did get a meal from the restaurant but it wasn’t that great, so maybe I should have gone into Mammoth like everyone else but I want to spend that time in the Monument rather than in town.

Should make it to Yosemite in a day and a half so I’ll focus on that.

Silver Pass, June 19

Day 59

Start – VVR trailhead, Mile 879, 10:30 am

End – Mile 891, 7:00 pm

Miles – 12 (plus 1.5 non-PCT miles to get back from VVR)

The water debacle spurred a mass exodus and 26 of us took the ferry back from VVR at 9:00 am to get back in the trail. Included in that group were Jamba and Dayglow, who was still disappointed in the entire VVR experience (not just the lack of food and water) that she wanted to get as far away as possible.

Luckily for me, I got to sleep in a bit since the first ferry wasn’t until 9, but that also meant trying to figure out something for breakfast since the restaurant is closed. I ended up just eating some cliff bars which seemed better than the frosted honey buns that everyone else was taking from the store

After getting back in trail, the only goal for me today was to get over the last big pass for a while, Silver Pass. The Pass is about 6.5 miles from where the trail to the VVR ferry reconnects with the PCT, but as with all the others it ended up being a harder climb than I anticipated. It’s about a 3000 foot climb over six pretty consistently steep miles.

I actually knew I was in trouble when the switchbacks were made of steps. That’s about as hard uphill as you’re getting as a hiker without snow cover on the trail, and they seemed to go on for miles.

Silver Pass is interesting because it’s kind of a double pass. Most of the passes have the highest point of the climb occur at the actual pass itself so you crest it as you move from one side of the range to the other. With Silver, the Pass is noted as being about a quarter mile lower than the highest point in the climb.

So you get to the Pass and you’re facing East, and then you climb up a bit more and turn to face north where the trail actually descends. So you get two vistas, which is pretty cool. Not too much snow on this one so it wasn’t that hard of a descent, just a lot of steps down which kill my knees after a while.

I’ve also noticed that I have a terrible habit of kicking rocks while I hike, and kicking them hard. I trip over everything: rocks, roots, my own trekking poles. Sometimes I just loose my balance while standing in place. I don’t think I was meant for uneven terrain. My feet are apparently city feet.

The other diatribe I’m going to go on is about mosquitos. Honestly. They are the worst. At this time of year with so much water around the are everywhere up here. I have some spray, and I’m covered from head to toe while I hike, and I even have a very trendy head net, but still I hate them.

Every time I stop to fill up on water they swarm, and of course at night at camp they are everywhere. One guy I talked to said he counted more than 50 bites on himself. I don’t have it that bad but he hiked in shorts. I’ve started smashing them when the land on me and leaving the dead ones as a warning to the others but it doesn’t appear to have an effect. So I probably will just get stronger bug spray.

Anyway enough ranting. Tomorrow I’ll hit reds meadow and then I’ll probably take a detour the next day into the Devils Postpile National Monument. That’s about a mile and a half detour but I figure it’s worth it. Should make Yosemite in three days.