Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes (745 – 907)

After my two and a half days in Lone Pine, Pink Lady got me and Cat Lady a ride back to the trailhead with some guy whose son was hiking the PCT somewhere near us. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I needed a ride from the valley floor back to the mountains and those weren’t easy to come by. From there on out was the start of the true Sierra Nevada section, with our days dominated by trying to get over passes up to 13,159 ft (4009m) before afternoon storms hit us. It stormed for at least a couple hours six out of seven days on the trail in the Sierra Nevada, but my tent and gear kept me (mostly) dry and warm. Hiker wisdom is that people do 70% of their typical mileage each day in the Sierras, but I managed to keep doing 25 to 28 miles (40 to 45km) per day.

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The views from the passes in the Sierra Nevada are unparalleled.

From Lone Pine it was only two days to Independence over Kearsarge Pass, which is crossed by a 7.5 mile (12km) off-PCT trail to Onion Valley. Going 15 miles (24km) roundtrip off the PCT to resupply, with a long hitch from Onion Valley to town, would usually be less than ideal. However, the PCT in this section goes 200+ miles (300+km) without crossing so much as a dirt road so options are limited.

I got to Onion Valley in the late afternoon/early evening, after most of the dayhikers and backpackers had already left. Hitching out of there can sometimes be difficult, especially this early in the Sierra Nevada hiking season. In a typical year, the snowfall in California limits hiking in that area until sometime after mid to late June. With the snowpack at 6% of normal this year, we’re going through much earlier than typical. After waiting over half an hour with no cars leaving, and having started to contemplate the possibility of staying the night and waiting until morning to get to town, Achilles came up in a van and rolled down her window. “One Of Us, don’t get in anybody else’s car! I want to give you a ride down to Independence.”

It was really good seeing her again. She got on the trail because she promised herself when she turned 55 she would change up something in her life, so she quit her job to hike the PCT. Although I was very happy to run into her, I was sad to hear she was getting off the trail. Getting off the trail is a highly personal decision for each person, and everyone has to know what’s best for him or herself. She handed me a cold can of pop, which made my day 10,000 times better, and dropped me off at the Courthouse Motel.

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Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT. Not the best photo, but it’s a victory nonetheless.

Independence is where Charles Manson was tried, and is the closet town to the best preserved of the Japanese-American WWII internment camps. I wanted to go see the latter, but getting there looked difficult. So, I stayed in the hostel at the Motel and picked up both my food package and mosquito gear (mosquito season is coming). There’s no grocery store in Independence and I didn’t want to hitch to Bishop, a much larger town to the north, so I had sent myself food for the five day hike to Reds Meadow/Mammoth Lakes (where I’m at now). I learned afterwards most people do that section in around seven days, though doing the 125 miles (201km) over such ridiculous elevation changes ended up being fine. Except for the passes, where one time I sunk up to my waist in snow. That was not fun.

For $25 at the Motel I got my own little room in the bunkhouse and a pancake breakfast. Not only was it a big breakfast, but it was the most massive meal I have ever seen in my entire life (I didn’t see the 8 pound/3.6kg burrito in Big Bear). It was insane, and I could only eat a little less than half. 

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Still a good amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

It was good getting all those calories in, though. In the grocery store in Mammoth Lakes I overheard some shoppers saying, “Oh, look! This has only 60 calories. Great!” In the next aisle over, with the $3 pints (~500mL) of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I found the New Zealand hiker Sobo looking at the nutrition info. “Oh, look! This has over 1000 calories! Awesome! This’ll be my dessert.”

Going up over Kearsarge Pass to get back to the PCT I ran into Pot and Lid, an older couple who are friendly most of the time. Pot told me in an accusatory tone, “Your weather forecast in Lone Pine was wrong. There was no snowstorm.” Most of us realize the weather predictions are a fountain of lies, and I’m not a meteorologist. I wanted to say something about a retrospectroscope and where he could shove it, but I just smiled and wished them a good day. 

My next five days to Reds Meadow were pretty uneventful, though I did get to see a mother bear and two cubs. On one of the passes a coyote looked me in the eye as it defecated just 20 meters from me. That was kind of cool…I think?

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Another amazing view. I think this was heading into Yosemite/Tuolumne Meadows.

When there wasn’t an impending storm the passes would be the social foci of the trail, and on my penultimate day on the trek to Mammoth Lakes I ran back into Fievel. At Kennedy Meadows some drunk local couldn’t pronounce Fievel, so his trail name got changed to Falafel because of her. I also met Coach and her wife, who are an…interesting…couple. While I was talking to Coach, some guy mentioned he’d seen six bears ever since he started carrying honey. Coach’s wife got really interested and asked him super specific questions about what kind of honey he was carrying. Grade A, or grade B? Was it inside or out of his bear can? Did he wrap it in a tortilla when it was out of the canister? What time of day did this happen?

As I said previously, I’m currently in the metropolis of Mammoth Lakes. I was planning on just taking a brief break here and then heading out this afternoon. However, as per usual, everything is taking longer than I thought it would. Plus, season three of Orange is the New Black just came out on Netflix. I know if I start that I won’t be able to stop, so I’m thinking of bouncing my laptop up to South Lake Tahoe and not watching it until I move to Madrid after the trail. Or by celebrating finishing the Sierra Nevada by binge watching the show for 12 hours in the Tahoe hostel.

Tahoe, the end of the Sierra Nevada, is supposed to be the biggest dropout point on the PCT along with the first 100 miles. I’ve heard it’s because the Sierra Nevada are seen as the highlight of the trail, and after seeing it a lot of people don’t want to spend the weeks doing the other half of California through pine forests. Plus, people realize they’re almost halfway and not even close to being out of California, which is apparently demoralizing. I’m really looking forward to seeing Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. As a Midwesterner, this is all way different from what I’m used to seeing and I’m excited to see the rest of the trail. My next few stops/resupplies will be in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, Northern Kennedy Meadows at Sonora Pass, and South Lake Tahoe. The longest time between them is three days, so I’ll have a comparatively light pack.

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