Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 90: Aloha Lake - Richardson Lake (mi 1101-1121)

 Smiles earns her namesake starting out from Aloha Lake a couple pounds lighter after dinner the night before.

Life is better without a pizza on your back! The laptop is there for the haul to Truckee, though.

A shift in geology types by Susie Lake with Jacks Peak in the background. Red rocks galore!

A fantastic view from the top of Dicks Pass, north beyond Dicks Lake (foreground) and Fontinallis Lake (upper left). 
Looking back south from DIcks Pass, with Half Moon Lake (lower right) and Susie Lake (left) visible. 

A nice lazy departure from Aloha Lake. I stopped a short bit into the hike and fished Susie Lake, hoping for better luck than Aloha. On the first cast I hooked a giant brown trout and snapped my leader trying to land it. I simply must learn the techniques for this. I speculated that I needed to fight the fish longer and asked my buddy Tashi (quite the trout fisherman) about some strategies . I hiked up Dicks Pass, and was rewarded with the best panorama of the Desolation Wilderness I have seen. Quite a beautiful place, indeed. I made a quick break in the exposed gravel and touched base with Tashi, who verified that fighting the fish longer would result in a better capture rate. We texted back and forth, and I tried to see whether he would be in the area and interested in meeting up in Truckee or Sierra City in the next few days. The timing ended up working out in such a way that Smiles and I would meet Tashi up at High Camp, el. 8,200, at the Squaw Valley USA ski resort the next day. It meant a big hike, but what the heck? It also meant catching up with a friend we hadn't seen in a long time, a hot meal, a cold beer, and a nice little internal challenge. I, for one, do better when I have mini-goals to help me push through the day-to-day and keep the overall goal somewhat hidden. Smiles, Chik-chak and Atlas crossed the pass, and we dropped down for lunch at Fontinellis Lake. I attempted fishing but there wasn't much surface action midday. We cruised all afternoon, dealt with some foul mosquitoes at a water stop, and lost the trail once but found it quickly. We camped at Richardson Lake, a shallow old lake at a relatively low elevation in the forest. After I was skunked on trout fishing, I went crawdadding to supplement dinner. After 30 minutes or so, I had corralled around a dozen of the invasive invertebrates and quickly dunked them in a pot of boiling water. They made a nice addition to our alfredo pasta, to be sure! We have a big day tomorrow, as we were gunning for 26 miles to meet Tashi at Squaw, at 3:30 PM. The mileage wasn't a big deal, but the time constraint on top of it meant both an early wakeup and some quick walking.

Day 89: Echo Lake - Aloha Lake (mi 1092-1101)

Smiles jams across the bridge at Echo Lake on our way back to the trail.

Warming the feet up with full packs on the way past Echo Lake.

Mile 1,100, almost right off the bat!

A nice reward for a short, yet surprisingly long first day back on the trail.

A long and tiring.... 8 miles?!?!  Both Smiles and I hiked out way too much (I had a cooked DiGiorno Pizza and the laptop, Smiles had some spare wine and beer from the cabin), and we  were weary quickly under the heavy packs after such a long break from hiking. Everything hurt a little bit. The Wolfpack hiked out of Echo Lake together, but Chik-chak was sufffering from IT band tightness quite badly. Aloha lake was great - a shallow, granite basin with clear water -  but it had nonexistent fishing as far as I could tell. We camped out on the spacious granite apron near the lake and lightened our load significantly by having pizza and beer for dinner. An unusual backpacking food, but we are getting to the point where anything goes! Waste not, want not!

Days 85-88: south Lake Tahoe zeroes

The Taboo game saw quite a bit of vigorous action while we were in the cabin.

Pasta feed for thru-hikers! 
Roasted chicken, corn and asparagus for thru-hikers! It was nice to realize I could still cook something besides dehydrated food, on something besides an alcohol stove.

Smiles says goodbye to the bounce bucket as we downsized our bounce materials.

The U-Haul van turned out to be the score of the trip. Easy to move hiker trash, gear, and the garbage produced by hiker trash from place to place.

Legal? Safe? Probably not. Cozy? Effective? Definitely.

Hikers are a bunch of mooches. I mean, I say that as a hiker and without judgement, but seriously, hikers all try to get through as cheaply as possible... At this point in the trip, we have all realized that we've spent money at a faster rate than expected, and the purse strings are tightening. Anything that could be free or cheap is pursued at all costs. After all, what's the harm in asking, especially when you're asking Smiles and I?  Apparently 'no' is one of the last words that enters our vocabulary, especially when it comes to giving rides in the U-Haul. Just an observation, and no hard feelings, but sometimes we just want to be by ourselves and can't!

Anyways, I digress. The zeroes were great - we brunched with King Street and Bird Dog, had a pasta feed with Games, Reason, Lighthouse, and Sunset, and the Wolfpack reunited!  My dad shipped out a laptop, which proved to be invaluable in getting blogs updated through the high Sierras. Good times were had by one and all, and we were more than ready to hit the trail again in the popular and beautiful Desolation Wilderness. 

Day 84: Upper Truckee - Echo Summit (mi 1080-1091)

A cabin inholding in the Upper Truckee River basin - talk about prime location!

Smiles packs her bag in our campsite above the meadow.
Our first clear view of Lake Tahoe!

Smiles looking good with Tahoe in the background.

Today was a beautiful day - we had a great start and great breakfast, all the while looking forward to getting into town & hashing out details for Dan's house. A couple hours into the hike, we stopped while I fished Showers Lake for an hour and a half. I hooked four great brook trout - easily the best fishing I'd experienced since leaving Mammoth. It was a relatively easy hike through towering, familiar fir forests for most of the day, with minimal climbing and one long descent around the bluff south of Echo Summit. We had our first on-trail glimpse of the majestic lake in the sky - Tahoe. Such a beauty! As we worked our way down towards the summit, I picked up some service and checked my email, and saw that Dan had sent instructions and was totally OK with us using his house. 

We arrived at Highway 50 and before we could even attempt a hitch , a truck pulled over and picked us up. A familiar face was sitting shotgun - none other than Atlas, whom we hadn't seen since Wrightwood! He had been hiking with Nurse Betty, and her husband gave both a ride to the (relatively speaking) sprawling mountain metropolis of South Lake Tahoe. We were dropped off at the post office with nothing more than our backpacks and a house to use about ten miles driving away. I called around and tried to rent a car, but the busy summer season left the entire basin depleted of rental vehicles from the major agencies. All other options exhausted, I remembered that U-Haul offered pickup trucks for $19.95 per day (plus mileage) in town, so I gave them a shout. They were out of pickup trucks for the day, but they did indeed have roomy cargo vans. I shuffled down to the affiliate 1.5 miles south, then scooped Smiles and our gear up from the post office. 

The van was perfect for our needs, which were mainly centered around getting to and from Dan's cabin off of Pioneer Trail. The radio seemed to have a mind of its own and turned itself on and off at irregular intervals, but it had some get up go, and the A/C blew cold. We arrived at the cabin swiftly and settled into some Law & Order after showering. King Street told us that some hikers were meeting for a buffet at a casino on the strip, so we half-begrudgingly jumped back in the van to go stuff ourselves full of as many calories as we could.  We thought everyone was going to Harvey's, but the rendezvous turned out to be at the Horizon Casino, the redheaded stepchild of the strip. The company was the best part of the evening  - we dug in with King Street, Bird Dog, Coincidence, Sunshine and others while the pipes leaked in the bathroom and the neon lights flickered eerily above. Afterwards, we U-hauled a few hikers back to the 'Y' in the back of the van, then stocked up on groceries for our hopeful solitude in the cabin. Law & Order was still on, thankfully, and we fell asleep on the wonderfully comfortable couches in the living room while propping our weary feet above our hearts, alone and peaceful.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 83: Mokulemne Wilderness - Upper Truckee River headwaters (mi1062-1082)

Smiles jams across Upper Blue Lake

The guiltiest type of hiking: a long, tired depressed day of hiking in wonderful, beautiful open terrain. The Mokulemne Wilderness is a fabulous place where we get to spend precious little time, yet I couldn't get out of park in the morning, and spent the day in a ponderous funk over thru hiking after the departure of our friends yesterday. I ended up getting nervous about trip finances, and Smiles wasn't feeling too chipper either. We laboriously walked flat across some lake basins early on, our usual poor morning condition made worse by the fact that we took our vitamins too late after eating and upsetting our stomachs. Yesterday I had planned on stopping to fish the lakes, but it appeared too late in the morning and too windy to fish, and I was more intent on walking. I began to regret buying the rod & reel in Mammoth, as the fishing prior to Mammoth appeared to be leagues better than the fishing since. The cost of gearing up multiplied my frustration, as did my realizing that I preferred hiking to fishing when the option to fish presented itself. Smiles and I had a small squabble on the climb up above the Blue Lakes, then spent lunch at some half-drained dammed lakes behind a windy ridge. Sounds great, right? Well, in retrospect, it sounds a lot like everyday life. Though we are fortunate to live our current portion of everyday life in some of the most beautiful terrain in the world, we occasionally get reminded of the "everyday" portion when finances or other unpleasant realities become involved. It is rather inconvenient, to say the least. I far prefer trail problems to everyday problems, because I have found that trail problems don't really interfere with my enjoyment of the terrain. After lunch turned out to be better than before, though slightly (and surprisingly) more difficult.
Smiles looking north towards Round Top and the Elephant's Back as we hiked across the windy ridge before lunch.
Before the last "secret"  climb of the day. Descending below Round Top before climbing back up the Elephant's Back.

 We climbed beneath Round Top, dropped down, then went up, over and down the Elephant's Back to Carson Pass. Smiles suggested I fish Frog Lake to cheer me up, but apparently I was still mopey. We saw Kirkwood for the first time on trail - a sure sign that we were getting into very, very familiar territory. I had been wondering for the last few days how it would feel, after spending so much time in unfamiliar territory, to be smack in my mountain backyard of Lake Tahoe, where I spend more time annually than anywhere else outside of the Bay Area. We snacked at a closed-up Carson area info booth with Little Roo and Sheddar (who coincidentally happen to be connected to our buddy Under Construction, we found out), then had an easy climb up northwest into the Upper Truckee river valley. The best news of the day had been coming through in piecemeal bits, and I finally was able to put it all together: it was looking good for us to have a friends' place to stay in South Lake Tahoe! Details were still developing, but FurrCracker had asked Smiles on our 4th of July trip some days before whether we had a place to stay in Tahoe, as his friend owned a house there and was looking for renters at the moment. Smiles said we didn't have any plans, and didn't think too much more. However, today I received a DeLorme InReach satellite text from FurrCracker who said that the place was ours, and to expect an email detailing the requirements! Definitely a game changer. Though we may be lost (and losing our minds), we were not forgotten. This made the climb out of Carson Pass the most memorable bit of the day, not to mention we saw what looked like home in the Lake Tahoe basin.
Smiles descends towards camp as the sun starts to duck behind the ridge bounding the west side of the Upper Truckee River, heading towards the Lake of the Sky - Lake Tahoe.
We found a campsite in the Upper Truckee River drainage right by the sprawling meadow. It was quite wide, beautiful and lush, and it also had a thriving mosquito population. We camped on a high bench that overlooked the meadow, east to west. Quite spectacular, and a pleasing end to an emotionally difficult day. 
Looking back at Red Lake Peak in the Upper Truckee River headwaters


Day 82: Noble lake - Mokulemne Wilderness (mi 1046-1062)

End of the vacation, for everybody! Group shot leaving camp at Noble Lake.

Back to the new reality. Salamander whipped up an excellent breakfast of pancakes, which was accompanied by freshly burr-ground Peet's coffee from the Bialetti pot that Watermelon hiked in. Starbucks Via micro-ground coffee was doing it for us up until that point, but man what a great cup of coffee! We were just a camp break and cleanup away from the end of our long weekend with amigos. We posed for a group pic before starting the descent to Ebbets Pass then headed out. Beautiful sharp and steep volcanic cliffs rimmed the canyon along the way out. Multiple folks mentioned that they were flying on the way out, mostly because they were down to base weight without any food and maybe with a liter or so of water. 

Janmming northward towards home, for most, and towards Canada, for Smiles and I.

Severe features dominated the landscape below Noble Lake.

Everybody made it to the trailhead with the kind of elation that comes when you KNOW a town stop is due - hot food, cold drinks, soft beds, good water pressure, fluffy towels, and no more walking. As everybody piled into the cars for their lives back in the Bay Area, Smiles and I felt really, really alone for the first time in a long time. We loved having our friends out with us, but the reality of what we were attempting set in again and hit much harder than it ever had. Canada was still a long, long ways away. Back when we started, we were taking it day to day and really didn't have much idea of what we were in for. Having hiked just over 1,000 miles at this point, our chances of success were higher and we knew what we were doing.
Victory for America this past weekend! At the trailhead, almost everybody intact.

Somehow Under Construction's pack made it. was a close call, though.
We saw a sign for trail magic near the trailhead, and after bidding them a fond farewell and safe journey back to the Bay Area, we went to visit with hikers and trail angels. We walked quietly and numbly the quarter mile up to the trail angels, who had laid out quite a spread -  fresh fruit, hot dogs, hamburgers, beans, potato salad, cold soda & beer - incredible. Lizard, a section hiker set to finish the PCT with the Washington segment later this summer, & his wife put on quite a production. After stuffing ourselves and resting a touch, Smiles, Belgian Red, Kenobi and I set out again. We didn't make it a quarter of a mile before we encountered more trail magic. Brian the trail angel met a PCT hiker last summer training for Whitney and eventually got "sucked into the vortex," as he put it. He fed us more, then we had about an easy of an afternoon walk as one could hope for following a 2-hour face stuffing at the pass.
Belgian Red, Smiles and Kenobi at the second trail magic.
Thankfully for us, the two trail angel encounters had come right after finishing up with our friends, which helped distract us for the rest of the day. We rolled along the eastern faces of Reynolds and Raymond Peaks, with fantastic lava formations jutting out of weathered talus landscapes. Off to the northeast, an enormous plume of smoke from a forest fire billowed into the stratosphere. We finished our day just northwest of Raymond Peak, and got to see a sooty grouse hen up close, too. The mosquitoes were back, and we filled up on ramen to refuel before bed and our last full day before South Lake Tahoe.

Smiles hikes around Reynolds Peak of the southeastern Mokulemne Wilderness. Huge plumes of forest fire smoke were visible to the east of Markleeville.

Rugged climbing out of Pennsylvania Creek around Raymond Peak.

Smiles gazes northward at the walls of rock flanking Pleasant Valley Creek.

A sooty grouse hen blended in well with the scree and was only noticed once it moved.

Day 81: Wolf Creek - Noble lake (mi 1041-1046)

Oh man, a good morning and all around good day. The prospect of only having to walk five miles really has a way of changing one's outlook! Having consumed almost all the food, everybody's packs were an easy dozen pounds lighter to say the least. As we were packing up our camp, King Street loped on by camp and told us briefly of his July 4th adventures in Bridgeport, which roughly involved ATVs, hot springs, fireworks and rednecks. We climbed up and out of camp and were soon passed by Rocky, hot on our heels from his 4th of July experience in Northern Kennedy Meadows. We chatted briefly about our harrowing experience south of the pass with the electric- and hailstorm and told him of our lunch plans. We continued the climb in earnest, ready for the half-a-day.

Grandpa and FurrCracker climbing out of camp with Arnot Peak in the background, some debatably aided by alpine chaw.
Grandma leads the way as the group drops down to Wolf Creek Pass.
A group photo by the buggy Asa Lake outflow, right before the last big climb of the section.
After the Asa Lake outflow, the climb kicked up a notch and the wear and tear of carting around 50-pound bags became evident as everybody ratcheted their effort back a few notches, almost in unison. Looking back from the top of the climb, Redcoat, Grandma and I gazed longingly at many lakes which had promise for trout. Sadly, we had not been nor would we go to any of them. We did see Noble Lake from the saddle, however. A greenish lake that blended into the meadowy hillsides, our last hope for fishing seemed to be fairly meager.
Nearing the top of the climb by Tyron Peak.
We descended to a small outpost at the northeast corner of the camp, Smiles and I receiving some additional Trail Magic from a southbound section hiker along the way, and sat down with Rocky, T-Rex, King Street, Playboy, and (at any given time) about a dozen other day hikers stopping at the eutrophic pond for lunch. Grandma and I fished the lake, wholly unsuccessfully, for about half an hour before giving up. Rocky, Smiles and Salamander all went to high school together, so they had a great time chatting and catching up.

In the first camp, at lunch, FurrCracker is a happy camper!

Fellow PCT thru-hikers King Street, Pepper Flake, Chik-chak, and Rocky join us for lunch at Noble Lake before resuming the thru-hike.

The old high school friends (and their significant others): Rocky, Smiles and Salamander with T-rex, Dr. Slosh and Redcoat (staggered order, left to right)

Same group, same order, but a better view of the greenish Noble Lake.

OK, now just the high school reunion! Smiles, Rocky and Salamander reuniting on trail. We get to see a lot of Rocky, but not the case for Manders.
After lunch, we decided that the current campsite was not suitable for our growing needs. Alex, Jenna and their dog Darby were coming up to meet us as well (work conflicts kept them from joining for the whole section, which was actually quite beneficial for shuttle logistics), and our experience in the exposed site at lunch was that the place was a wind tunnel. The guys went out to scout the lake for superior spots while Smiles and Salamander waited for the arrival of another large load of food, two hikers, and a dog. We quickly decided that the site on the southeast corner of the lake was better, and upon returning to tell the girls as much, saw that Alex and Jenna had just arrived. Alex was shocked by my rugged(?)/strange appearance with "short shorts and a muu-muu" and wasted no time telling me so (in a jovial manner, naturally). Alex is quite proud of his Dana Designs bag and its ability to carry a load, and wasted no time disclosing its contents: 24 beers, a watermelon, about a gallon of chili, a Bialetti coffee maker, a hand-cranked burr grinder, a 5-pack of Toblerone, and two pounds of Kirkland steak strips accompanied the rest of his backpacking setup. Accordingly, Alex was dubbed Watermelon for the ridiculous fruit he hauled into the woods (not the first time, either). Jenna was sporting a rather fresh-looking knee bandage, which we thought had occurred on trail. Nope, she had stitches beforehand and decided to keep them wrapped and hike on up. Jenna was thence dubbed Stitches for soldiering on. We all had one of Frank Thomas' Big Hurt Beers, which were dubiously malt liquor in my estimation, and relocated to the bench overlooking the lake. The flat spots were superior, the cooking/fire area protected, and there was a nearby snow bank to keep beers and the chili cold.
Watermelon, Stitches and Darby McGill (the dog) arrive with some post-backpacking recovery beers.
After getting set up in camp and snacking, we explored the basin a little bit. We went up and had a swim in the small, shallow bench lake above Noble. The water was crystal clear, though there was about two feet of silt on the bottom. Again, Grandma and I tried fishing the lake unsuccessfully. There weren't any trout that we knew of, at least, and were pretty certain we could have seen them.
Smiles and I by the lake uphill of Noble, where I unsuccessfully fished. No fish present.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty much just spent at camp loafing around, chowing down on snacks, FurrCracker and Grandpa collecting firewood, eating watermelon (the fruit), playing with the dog, chatting, and otherwise relaxing. We never did manage any afternoon fishing on Noble Lake. Watermelon's chili was delicious - it contained the famous Boudin Blanc from Taylor's Sausage (Oakland, CA), and was hearty and sumptuous. I boiled water for some Idahoan mashed potatoes to accompany the chili, which seemed to fill everyone up. The fire was cracking that night, and FurrCracker made some delicious pennyroyal tea. Once everybody was sated and sleepy, which didn't take long, we doused the fire and all crashed out with the wind howling through the trees.
Redcoat mid-snack, probably ready to get back home to his California king-sized bed. Also ready for some ocean fishing, where he knows there will be some fish.