2000 Miles Done: from the Freezer to the Oven

[Photos and videos now uploaded- see below!]

The heavenly- but cooooold- Sierras

As of yesterday morning (9/25- happy birthday Mom!) I reached the milestone of 2000 miles on the PCT, with about 650 left to cover between here (Ridgecrest, CA) and Mexico. I spent the last few days of my time in the Sierras trying to keep warm in the high elevation. During the days- with all that climbing- it was pretty easy to just keep moving and everything was fine. But every time I took a break I needed to “layer up” with more clothes right away or the cool breeze would chill me through my sweaty clothes. Nights and evenings were a different story, with my water bottles freezing overnight in my tent and mornings requiring me to hike in my down jacket, wool hat and mittens, eventually warming up again once the sun was fully up over the mountains.

Another incredible view of John Muir’s “Range of Light”
No shortage of great, cold drinking water
The PCT and JMT (John Muir Trail) coincide for much of the Sierra section
I’ve never heard the approach recommended here: “…If you see a bear chase it like you are trying to catch it and eat it…”! Sure. You first!
Beautiful Kearsarge pass I climbed to resupply in Independence, CA
I couldn’t help wondering if that shape embedded in the middle is a petrified tree or something though I’m not sure
Forester Pass: the highest point on the PCT
It was 5:30 p.m. when I crossed Forester…and very cold
Another stunning view to take in
Yes, that’s the trail. The Sierras are rocky and can be a bit hard on the feet.
Another pristine alpine lake
The day after climbing Forester pass, the landscape changed quickly to alpine desert…this was an “in-between” photo

About three days ago at around 7:15 a.m. I was attempting to cross a stream via a series of rock hops, only to discover (too late) that the surface of the first rock was iced over and I lost my footing and fell right into the stream, hitting my shin hard on the rock. I ended up on all fours in the stream and my wool mittens, socks, shoes and hiking gaiters were all soaked. It would be hours before things warmed up properly and I have to admit, I started panicking, wondering if this was one of those stories that ends with the guy just being thankful he only lost a toe or finger from frostbite. I quickly wrung the water out of my mittens, put them in the mesh pocket in the back of my pack and just started walking fast. I reckoned my feet would be ok by virtue of the constant movement (they were) and though my hands and feet had been soaked in the stream, I had caught myself, preventing my torso (and importantly, my down jacket) from getting wet. So, I hiked fast with my hands in the pockets of my down jacket to try and keep them warm. After 90 minutes or so the sun was blazing nicely overhead again and I stopped to soak it up and warm up completely, crisis averted.

Interesting rock outcroppings dot the trail in this region

By contrast, my new challenges are at the other end of the spectrum- I’ve hiked my way from the Sierras into the “desert” section (as in the Mojave desert), which broadly includes from here to the end of the hike. Daytime temperatures this week are in the 100s and the evening lows are in the high 60s. I first encountered hiking in extreme heat in New Mexico in 2019 while thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). See this link to my CDT blog if interested in learning more about that trail. I expected the transition to be gradual- on the contrary, it was dramatic and sudden. The day after I ascended the highest climb on the PCT, I was now seeing cactus, lizards, sand, the loss of shade and the relative absence of water. Hiking before sunrise and after sunset have once again become very appealing and I’ll be routinely carrying twice or three times the water I typically carried in the Sierras.

This reminded me of bunny ears

And adding a bit of desert salt to the wound, after hardly even noticing insects this year on the trail, the desert appears to be rife with what I heard someone call “face flies.” Basically, they are the shape and size of juvenile house flies. They don’t bite, so technically it shouldn’t be a big concern, but they buzz around my face and head in a near constant swarm of 10 or 20, taking turns diving in for access to my nose, mouth and eyes. It is amazing how much power these things carry to annoy and disorient. I bought some DEET this morning while resupplying and hope that evens the playing field a bit- we’ll find out in the morning.

Me and the desert getting acquainted

I’m sitting in the brilliantly air-conditioned public library here, having already done my other town chores (hot meal, shower, laundry, resupply, sending myself a box of food to a difficult-to-resupply location south of here and sending home my winter gear). I’m the beneficiary of of some incredible trail magic today and tomorrow, in the form of a northbound hiker who lives here and offered to drive me around this rather spread-out town to get all of that stuff done. Her hike earlier this year ended with a foot injury so she’s transitioned to helping out other hikers as they pass through this area. I reckon she’s saved me 4-5 hours of walking in the extremely hot sun, so I’m nothing but grateful for the help.

First cactus sighted, the day after climbing Forester
For SOBO (Southbound) hikers, arriving at Kennedy Meadows signifies the end of the Sierras and the start of the “desert” section
Meandering trail fading into the desert

Finally, to close the loop, you may recall that I indicated earlier I would temporarily leave California to return to Oregon in order to hike the 97 or so miles I missed last year due to the “Lion’s Head” fire closure. The logistics of getting around to all these remote locations could have been nightmarish, but in truth it all came together like clockwork and I completed the miles, briefly stopped home to spend two days with Wendy and then returned to the Sierras to resume the hike, all without an issue. I’ve stated this earlier but despite the various challenges I’ve encountered on this hike, this is without a doubt the most fun and most interesting time I’ve had yet on a long distance walk. It seems like each time I find myself in the middle of a long hike, I tell myself it will probably be my last one, only to find during the hike that I crave it more- not less- as time goes on. Since this year’s hike is really unfinished business from last year, I have to admit I’m eager to wrap it up, but I definitely find myself daydreaming about what long walk may come next. Thank you all again for your interest in following along and my apologies for not having more “dynamic” content, but hopefully the photos and videos provide a glimpse into what its like to live out of tent and walk 20-25 miles a day for months at a time. Love to you all and happy trails! With any luck, I hope to home well in time for Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday of the year. Max

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