South Lake Tahoe to Independence

Highlights:  We have been climbing up and up into the high Sierra.  The nighttime temperatures have been dropping below freezing, and we have been feeling the altitude in our hiking as we have been climbing above 11,000ft.  We got to hike with another hiker for the first time in a very long time, Robert, and we really enjoyed his company for a few days.  The scenery in the high Sierra is spectacular, and I wish I could post pictures, but alas, I cannot download pictures on this library computer at Independence.

Day 66: Mile 1105.5 to Mile 1090.5, 15 miles

September 5th:  Today we hiked out of the Desolation Wilderness which was amazingly beautiful and full of lakes and came out at Echo Lake.  There were lots of hikers hiking around there.  We kept on to the intersection of the PCT and Rt 50, and tried to hitchhike into South Lake Tahoe.  It took us quite a long time before someone stopped and picked us up.  The woman who picked us up turned out to be the sister of someone who was participating in the Tahoe Rim Trail 200 mile ultra marathon.  It was amazing to talk to her about what it takes to run 200 miles in under 4 days.  We had seen signs for this race, and we were walking on part of the route.  One of the interesting things we learned is that these runners need to take capsules of salt to replenish what they sweat out!  She gave us a ride to the library where I wrote my last blog post, and then we wandered over to the Safeway to resupply.  At the Safeway, we found a machine in the pharmacy section that measures your weight, blood pressure, etc.  We decided to weigh ourselves.  Dirt Stew weighed in at 173lbs, and myself 124lbs.  Not too bad, but we both lost close to 15lbs (we had also gained some in the months before the trail, however).  Once we left Safeway, we found a local bus that took us over to an all you can eat Chinese Buffet.  After stuffing our faces full of delicious Chinese food, we managed to talk our way into a ride back to the trail from a local.  A few miles in we camped.

Day 67: Mile 1090.5 to Mile 1062.5, 28 miles

September 6th: At 2AM, Dirt Stew was awoken by someone either running or walking very fast past our tent.  “I wonder who that was!” He said to me in a whisper.  “They were going Southbound!”.  We speculated, but only a couple hours later another several people passed by us.  By the morning we figured out we were on the race course for the 200 mile run, and runners were running through the night past our tent.  After a few miles into our day we passed an aid station where runners could get water, food, etc.  We were happy when the PCT diverged from the Tahoe Rim Trail, meaning we wouldn’t have to worry about being woken up again tonight.  We soon lost sight of Lake Tahoe, and came to a visitors center where we chatted with the docents and bought some post cards.  We walked into very dry rocky terrain with no trees.  The wind started to pick up and we started to get annoyed that we couldn’t keep our umbrellas up to keep from getting sunburned.  We got up over 9000ft, and the wind was just crazy.  We came back down into trees and camped near a seasonal stream which turned out to be running great.

Day 68: Mile 1062.5 to Mile 1033, 29.5 miles

September 7th:  Today we kept passing dry creek beds.  We started carrying more water since we could not rely on any sources.  The funny thing was that many of the water sources labeled “seasonal” were running great whereas the larger streams seemed to all be dry.  We decided this probably had a lot to do with soil type.  It continued to be very very windy, and in the distance we could see clouds and some of them looked like smoke.  We wondered if we still needed to worry about forest fires.  After we set up camp and the sun set we heard rumbling in the distance.  Soon the thunder storm was upon us, and we were so glad that we were not in the habit of cowboy camping.  We made sure everything was securely under the shelter of our tarp, and fell back asleep to the sound of rain dripping onto the tarp.

Day 69: Mile 1033 to Mile 1018.5 (Sonora Pass), 14.5 miles

September 8th:  When we woke up, it was dry, but rumbling continued in the distance.  After we packed up and started walking we could tell that the day would be filled with thunder storms.  As we walked towards Sonora Pass we met a section hiker named Death Valley Bob.  He gave us very useful information.  He told us the wind that we experienced several days ago was part of a tropical storm coming up from Mexico, and that the storms were also part of that storm.  He also told us that the wind caused a flair-up of a fire in Yosemite which had been burning for quite some time now, but was made worst by this wind.  He also assured us that the fire would not affect us, as it was not on the PCT.  Only JMT hikers were affected.  Phew!  As we hiked down to Sonora Pass to get to the Kennedy Meadows “Resort”, we were rained on repeatedly.  I was very happy to have my umbrella even though the wind made it difficult to keep up.  We were able to get a ride on the road down to Kennedy Meadows, and walked the additional mile from route 108 to the resort, and were pleasantly surprised to see that they had everything we wanted within just a few steps of each other: we rented a cabin with a shower, they had a laundry room, a store, a small restaurant, and even a pay phone!  We ate lunch and dinner in the restaurant, showered, and did laundry.  We picked up our bear canister full of food and packed it in our packs before passing out in our cute little cabin.

Day 70: Mile 1018.5 (Sonora Pass) to Mile 996.5, 22 miles

September 9th: We woke up slightly cold in the morning and walked outside.  It was definitely very cold.  We went to the restaurant and ate our third meal there and asked about the weather.  The temperature was the talk of the restaurant, and the verdict was that it was 34F.  We put on all our clothes and walked to the road to try to get a ride out.  There was almost no traffic on the road, and nobody was stopping for us.  We were getting colder and colder.  Finally a couple stopped and picked us up, and we thanked them profusely.  I was about to give up on getting a ride!  I was so happy that the heating in their car was on full blast and slowly the feeling in my hands and feet came back.  Once we got dropped off, we hiked up a really rocky area with no plants and then back down into the trees again.   Finally we passed a sign claiming we had entered Yosemite!  This was one park for which we needed the bear canister.  The bear canister is big, heavy, annoying to carry and annoying to open.  I’m not really convinced it does anything to help against bears, but I respect their rules, so we begrudgingly carried it.  Once we reach Touolumne Meadows we will be getting a section canister, since all our food won’t fit in just one.  Then we’ll both have to carry one.  Groan…

Day 71: Mile 996.5 to Mile 972, 24.5 miles

September 10th: It was cold in the night, and when we got out of our tent we saw frost on the grass.  We passed a stream and collected water, and I noticed that some of the rocks had ice on them.  We were taking a break when another thru-hiker walked up on us.  His trail name was Alabama, and we started to talk with him as we continued walking.  Alabama was hoping to finish the trail by Oct 15th, and was hiking quite a few more miles a day than us in order to accomplish his goal.  We walked with him for many hours, and the trail was quite rough.  Lots of up and down with lots of rocks.  We wondered how horses were able to hike here.  I hiked faster than normal in order to keep up with him and chat.  It is so nice to talk to another hiker and share our thoughts.  Dirt Stew and I often hike most of the day in silence since we don’t have that much to talk about on a daily basis.  The miles went by fast, but I knew we had to let Alabama hike on ahead since my legs felt like jello.  We decided to take the side trail to Benson Lake to check it out since we had heard many good things about it.  Alabama hiked on ahead as I expected he would.  I was exhausted.  The lake was not as spectacular as I had thought it may be, so we hiked on just a couple more miles to higher and hopefully slightly less cold ground.  We have become good at figuring out where it will be cold.  Valleys and near lakes are always cold.  Higher elevation is also colder.  The best is low elevation, but not near water or a valley.  We camped and gobbled down some food before crawling into our tent.  As I got in I felt terribly nauseous.  I had no idea why, but I ran outside just in case I was going to vomit.  Only Pepto Bismol helped in the end, and finally I was able to sleep.

Day 72: Mile 972 to Mile 948, 24 miles

September 11th: Today both Dirt Stew and I felt exhausted nearly all day.  My muscles burned on the uphills, and I generally felt fatigued.  The scenery was of course beautiful, especially going over Benson Pass.  We had breakfast next to an amazing lake and took many pictures.  We took many breaks since we were feeling tired, and at one of the many pathetic “streams” that was almost dry I saw a small puddle that was separated from the rest of the water and was drying up slowly.  In this puddle there were a dozen or so little fish with nowhere to go.  I decided that I would catch them all and put them in the bigger body of water.  This of course was just a tactic to avoid more hiking, but I managed to “save” each one of them.  I knew there were countless little puddles like this one with fish caught with nowhere to go, but it gave me some joy to release them into a bigger pool and watch them swim off.  Later in the day we met a section hiker named Unprepared who told us of his journey through the desert and how he carried 17 liters of water, which made his pack 90lbs.  We started worrying about how much water we would find in the desert.  But for now, the Sierra has plenty of water for us.

Day 73: Mile 948 to Mile 923, 25 miles

September 12th: Today we hiked to Tuolumne Meadows, a small store/post office/cafe where we had some packages to pick up.  We ate two breakfasts each at the cafe before the Post Office opened up.  We were surprised when we saw Alabama walk up.  He had accidentally put the SD card for his camera in a box to be mailed back home, and he was hoping to get it back out.  He also told us he was in the market for a new trail name, since he didn’t want to be constantly associated with Alabama.  So we started calling him Robert.  We hiked out with Robert along the John Muir Trail which is the same trail as the Pacific Crest Trail through much of the Sierra.  The scenery was unbelievable.  We exited Yosemite and entered Ansel Adams Wilderness.  More jaw dropping scenery with huge granite mountains, some with glaciers on them as we kept going past dark to find a place to camp.

Day 74: Mile 923 to Mile 893.5 (Purple Lake), 29.5 miles

September 13th: We emerged from our tents to absolutely jaw dropping scenery.  The sun was rising over Thousand Island Lake with the beautiful mountains covered in glaciers in the background.
We continued hiking with Robert, and it was nice to chat all day.  We diverged from the PCT to take the JMT alternate and walk past Devils Post Pile, which was an amazing example of columnar basalt.  We hiked past dark again and camped by another lake.
Day 75: Mile 893.5 to Vermilion Valley Resort, 20 miles
September 14th: We started hiking towards Silver Pass when we came across a sign on the trail telling us that the ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) was only running in the mornings, and only took you to several trails that were quite a hike away from the Pacific Crest Trail.  We decided to take the shortest way possible directly to VVR by going over Goodall Pass.  We had no information about the trail we were on, and we were not even sure how long it was.  We kept hiking for nearly 5 hours, completely confused at trail junctions as to where to go, and not knowing where any water sources may be.  Miraculously we made it to the front step of VVR and were greeted with a free beer.  Everything else was expensive.  We took expensive showers amd did laundry and then had one of the most expensive meals we’ve had on the trail.  It was good, but I still felt empty.  We sat outside and ate food out of the expansive hiker box and chatted with Robert.  He was worried about having to quit the trail to get home to his wife.  His plan was to hike from VVR through to Kennedy Meadows without resupply.  I knew we wouldn’t be hiking with him much longer at the rate he would need to go.  After eating an ice cream we retired to our tent.
Day 76: Vermilion Valley Resort to Mile 864, 17 miles
September 15th:  We slept in then ate an expensive breakfast.  Robert decided he would be able to finish the trail.  We hiked out via the Bear Ridge Trail, which was steep, and we were feeling it with our fully loaded packs.  I was envious of Robert’s minimalist gear, which was obviously much lighter than ours.  After nearly 4000ft we went over Selden Pass and camped on the other side of the pass near a lake.  There were clouds in the sky, and so a chance of rain.  We watched Robert set up his ultralight shelter, which was the Golite Poncho Tarp.  He had it precariously set up with two branches instead of trekking poles, and the result left something to be desired.  I figured if it rained, he would probably get 50% soaked.  He also only had a 32 degree sleeping bag, and no insulating layer.  I crawled into our tent and into my 10 degree bag, and was instantly glad not to have such minimalist gear.
Day 77: Mile 864 to Mile 835, 29 miles
September 16th: Luckily there was no storm, but there were clouds in the sky all day.    We entered Kings Canyon National Park, and were surrounded by granite mountains with absolutely no trees on them.  Evolution Valley was amazing with knife edge ridges surrounding us.  We went over Evolution Creek, which for north-bounders is perhaps the hardest ford, but we were able to rock hop across and not even get our shoes wet.  As we hiked on, we found two John Muir Trail (JMT) hikers standing in front of a barbed wire fence across the trail.  “We thought we were on the trail until we came across this barbed wire” one of them remarked.  “It’s OK, you just have to go through the gate” I told them, and opened the gate for them.  Dirt Stew could not help but laugh that they were stumped by a little gate, and we wondered how long they were sitting there.  Later on, we were all taking a break to go pee when I heard Robert shout “Hey guys! I found a waterfall!”  “Cool” we replied.  He continued: “If this waterfall were in Alabama, it would be a State Park.  It would be called ‘Alabama Waterfall State Park’!”  We laughed.  “I’ll look at it while I pee”  I heard him say.  At the end of the day we went over Muir Pass around sunset, and at the top there is a cute little hut built in 1930 for hikers caught in inclement weather.
Day 78: Mile 835 to Mile 812, 23 miles
September 17th:  It was cold enough at night for me to put my big down jacket on, and when we woke up I heard Robert rustling around.  “Were you cold last night?” I asked.  “Unbelievably so”  He replied.  I knew he’d be leaving us.  “I won’t be sleeping above 10,000 ft again.”  He was also running low on food, and he needed to make it to Kennedy Meadows as fast as possible.  I poked my head out of the tent, and saw Robert packed up and wearing his sleeping bag.  “I’m going to miss you guys” he said.  After we said our goodbyes, Dirt Stew and I packed up and started hiking.  Mather Pass was a really tough climb, and as we finally got over it, I felt like I was on the bottom of the ocean with no water.  The mountains were so bare.
Day 79: Mile 812 to Mile 790, 22 miles
September 18th:  We slept above 10,000 ft again, in fact we were nearly at 11,000 ft, and I was wearing all my clothes.  There was frost on everything, and it was incredibly windy.  We had to go over two passes today: Pinchot Pass, and Glen Pass.  Between the two passes we crossed a large stream by way of a swinging bridge.  The bridge reminded me of bridges I had crossed in New Zealand on the Milford Trek with my mother many years ago.  As the bridge wobbled beneath me and I looked down, I realized why these bridges frightened my mother so much.  We saw lots of wildlife today: deer, marmots and pika.  On the other side of Glen Pass we were forced to camp above 11,000 ft, and we found the most sheltered spot possible.  We went to sleep dreaming of Subway sandwiches which we would be getting in Independence the next day.
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3 thoughts on “South Lake Tahoe to Independence

  1. I met you two at July pass in the north cascades, and I love following your progress. Dirt stew, let me know how you feel about your six moons pack when you get done with the PCT. Have a terrific time,
    Dan in seattle

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  2. Wow…can’t wait to see pics. I hope to go where you both have gone someday! Can’t wait to see you soon and hope you can make it. Both of your wedding attire is at my parents house now…sitting in the closet of my old room. Keep us updated on your whereabouts and your plans…Don sent you an email regarding shipments.

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