It’s been six days since I said goodbye to the rest of my Team Lagger trail family and headed up into the High Sierra alone. The last six days have been the most challenging days of my life and not just because I had to say goodbye to everyone I’ve been hiking with since Day One and Day Three of my trip.
Over the last six days, I’ve had to face a lot of fears I never knew I had. I’ve spent a majority of that time alone. I’ve never spent that amount of time alone before, hiking by myself, taking breaks by myself, eating by myself, setting up/breaking down camp by myself and sleeping alone outside by myself. I’ve never been so scared, lonely, sad and physically challenged in my life.
As hard as these last six days have been, I’ve reaped some amazing rewards and I lived to tell about it. Here’s how my last six days went down on the PCT:
Day One, Friday:
I broke down camp one last time with the remaining members of Team Lagger. Bleeder was already in LA waiting to board his flight back to Sweden. Teary-eyed, I said my final goodbyes to KitKat, Amish, Punchline and Mooch and stuck my thumb out to hitch up the road to the Onion Valley Trailhead, which goes up to Kearsarge Pass, my entry point back into the High Sierra.
The third car to come by, stopped and picked me up. It was a woman and her dog in a pickup truck. I said one more goodbye and gave everyone a round of hugs as I started sobbing. Then I threw my pack in the back of the truck, hopped in and waved goodbye to my trail family.
I immediately thanked the woman for picking me up. When I told her I just had to say goodbye to my trail family and would be hiking the High Sierra alone, she looked at me and told me I better get over it. At the time, I thought her comment was rather harsh, but looking back now, she was 100% right. I had bigger things to worry about.
Hiking up Kearsarge Pass was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I had a full pack with water and eight days worth of food (I always over pack my food), but still managed to pass a few day hikers on the trail. I felt strong. I even ran into a fellow thru-hiker I hadn’t seen since Idyllwild who was hiking down as I hiked up. I felt even better. I got to the top of the pass and looked down. It was gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to get down the other side and get back on trail.
A couple of miles after I had gotten back on the PCT, I found a great water spot and took a break. It was late in the afternoon. I was still two miles from the top of Glen Pass, but I was starving. As I cooked my ramen, I started crying. This would be my first break on my own, without my trail family. There was no one to laugh with. No one to share food with. No one to gripe with about how much the hiking up sucks. No one to talk about where we were going to camp that night. It was only me. A couple of hikers walked by as I cried and cooked my ramen. Withmy sunglasses and hat on, they probably thought my tears were sweat. Well at least I think so because no one stopped to ask if I was okay.
I took my sweet time hiking up Glen Pass. It was my first pass to go up and over by myself, at a whopping 11,948 feet. There was no snow to navigate over going up, but coming down there were a couple of sketchy spots. My heavy pack (the first day out of town always means an extra heavy pack) kept throwing me off my balance, causing me to slip on couple snow patches and a few rocks. As soon as I came down the pass, I got swarmed by mosquitoes. I had to stop to spray Deet all over myself and put my bug net on. The mosquitoes would end up being a reoccurring character over the next five days.
After being greeted by swarms of mosquitoes, I was greeted by a gorgeous series of lakes, Rae Lakes. Since I have a thing for alpine lakes, I knew I’d want to spend my first night alone sleeping next to one.
As I hiked on towards a potential tentsite, I had to ford one of the lakes. Fording a creek, river or lake means the only way to get cross to the other side where the trail resides is to get into the water and cross. Usually there’s a log or a series of rocks to walk over, but there was nothing but water at this crossing. I had no choice but to get my shoes, socks and gaiters fully submerged. Then I had to continue my hike for the rest of the day with sopping wet feet.
Once I found my tentsite for the night, I set up my tent, filtered water from the lake, changed into my sleeping clothes, cooked dinner and went to bed for the evening. I had hiked a total of 11.9 miles today.
All night long, I’d wake up thinking KitKat and Amish, Punchline and Bleeder’s tents were right outside mine. Then I realized they weren’t and I started to cry. It was a long, cold and sad evening.
Day Two, Saturday:
I woke up to frozen socks. My shoes and insoles hadn’t dried from the night before. Already my morning was off to a rough start. Thankfully the first section of the day was flat and kept going by a series of lakes, multiple Rae Lakes, I believe. This section was so gorgeous, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I also couldn’t stop crying. Not only was what I was hiking through was so beautiful, but none of the members of my trail family were here to experience it with me. The bugs were out, even early in the morning so I had to stop to apply more Deet and put on my bug net.
I decided to take a breakfast break just before a suspension bridge, right next to the river. While crying and cooking my ramen, I met another thru-hiker, Mosey who told me he had recently lost his trail family too. As soon as I started telling him about my trail family, I started crying again. He reassured me he’d been doing a fair amount of crying too.
After lunch, I hit Mile 800. Then almost immediately, the hike towards Pinchot Pass started going up. On my way up, I walked next to a natural waterslide that flowed alongside the trail.
As I got closer to the pass and pulled over to take a quick snack break, I heard four planes go by overhead. I looked up at each of them and cried, wondering if Bleeder was on one of those planes, flying back home to Sweden.
There was quite a bit more snow on Pinchot Pass going up. I kept losing the trail thanks to the snowfields covering it. Then when I did find shoe tracks leading me across the snow, I postholed several times, one of those times up to my waist causing me to get my foot stuck in the hole for a good ten minutes. As I sat there stuck in the snow, mosquitoes started swarming my head and face. For a moment, I thought I was going to die there.
Eventually I was able to wiggle my foot free. There were more snowfields to cross going up and I even managed to slip and fall on my hip. It was late in the afternoon. The snow was soft and slushy making it really difficult to travel over, but I was determined to get up and over this damn pass.
Coming down Pinchot Pass wasn’t too difficult. There were quite a few marmots to greet me and I was welcomed with another gorgeous alpine lake, Lake Marjorie. After the rough day I had, I decided to find a tentsite next to this lake and set up camp for the evening.
Turns out Mr Ed and Lightweight, the same lovely couple who gave me my trail name on my first night on trail at Hauser Creek a couple of months ago, were camping at the same lake. It was really good to see familiar faces. I ended up hiking 15.2 miles today.
Day Three, Sunday:
I woke up this morning feeling like I didn’t want to hike. It was really cold out and I was warm and snuggled in my sleeping bag. I was so tired and moving very slow. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to catch up to Mr Ed and Lightweight because they had left camp an hour and a half before me and were planning on doing 20 miles. I could barely get out of my tent.
I had to ford my first river this morning, the South Fork Kings River. There was a pretty swift current where the trail ended. I decided to walk upstream a ways to see if there was a safer place to cross. I ended up finding a place that wasn’t as swift and didn’t look too deep. I stuck my feet in with shoes and socks and let my trekking poles guide me across the water. I screamed at the river, “Not today!” as I carefully made my way across. The water came up to my knees. At least my shoes and socks were clean. With all the water crossings in this section, my feet would constantly be the cleanest they’ve been on trail so far. It just sucks hiking in soggy shoes.
Today I hiked up Mathers Pass, 12,094 feet. The hike up the pass was gradual, but very rocky. Only the last half mile was full of switchbacks and there was no snow to cross over coming up.
The other side was a different story. It was downright gnarly. With the amount of snow covering the trail on the other side coming down, I put on my microspikes for the descent.
There were so many loose rocks and boulders and lots of snow. The snow kept causing me to lose the trail multiple times. At one point, I saw where someone had glissaded down a section (slide down on the snow, on their butt). It looked like it might be a fast way down so I sat down on the snow, in my shorts, with my heavy pack on and started sliding down. Big mistake! I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily I was going slow enough where I could stop myself with my trekking poles and microspikes if needed, but it didn’t keep from the nasty rash forming on my left butt cheek. To make matters worse, the glissading got me so far off the trail, I had to scramble over loose rocks and boulders in my microspikes just to get back on trail again.
Once the snowfields stopped, than the trail turned into a creek because all of the snowmelt was trickling down the path, making it a wet, muddy and slippery hike to come down. At least the mosquitoes weren’t so bad on this side. No Deet or bug net needed.
Since it took me much longer to come down Mathers Pass than I thought, I stopped for dinner by one of the lakes I passed by. After dinner, I continued for a couple more miles, down the majestic Golden Staircase as the sunset hit the waterfall next to the trail. It was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen on this trail yet.
I set up my camp for the evening alongside the river again. I’m finding I love sleeping with the sound of naturally running water in the background. Plus the nearby water makes it easy to filter drinking water, have water to cook with, bathe and brush my teeth.
I had a hard time sleeping this evening because I stunk so bad. I laid in my sleeping bag and could smell myself, which smelled a lot like cat pee. I wanted to jump in the river and wash myself and my clothes off, but I got to the tentsite by the time the sun was setting and it was getting cold quickly. Today I hiked a total of 14.6 miles.
Day Four, Monday:
This morning as I was filtering water, I almost lost the scoop Bleeder had made out of an old soda plastic bottle. It was one of the things he gave me before he left, along with a roll of leukotape and his PCT permit. Luckily there was a tree root nearby that caught the scoop before the river had a chance to sweep it away. I quickly snagged it out of the water and held it to my chest. It might sound silly now, but loosing the scoop would have felt like losing a piece of Bleeder out there. I was already on my own out there. I couldn’t bear to lose a piece of my trail family, even if it was a banged up plastic bottle cut in half. Those who know me, know how sentimental I get with things.
Today was the day to hike up Muir Pass, 11,969 feet. I was really nervous about getting up and over this pass because of the amount of snow there has been reported on each side. Snowfields mean I’m more likely to lose the trail, get lost and spend hours trying to navigate my way up and over.
After my first break, I decided to put my headphones in and listen to music while hiking. I hadn’t listened to music at all since I’d been hiking solo, mainly because I’d been too scared to do so. At least hiking with my trail family, I had other people I knew around should something go down. I no longer had that reassurance now that I was all on my own. Today I needed a mental boost, some pep in my step. My hiking playlist always makes tough hiking a bit easier.
Once I put my music on, the incline and the miles started going by faster. I’d sing to myself and snap a few pics along the way. I was constantly looking behind me for any thru-hikers who wanted to pass me on the trail.
As the trail got steeper, it felt like it was getting hotter out. The trail turned into an exposed staircase alongside a waterfall. I had drank my water reservoir dry and was dying of thirst. I pulled off the trail and found a calm pool of water, just above the waterfall, along with three other hikers.
I took my pack off and filled my water bottle as I chatted up the other hikers. It was already three in the afternoon. I wasn’t in a rush to cross up and over Muir Pass today, for fear of postholing. I ended up finding a sweet, secluded tentsite nearby, alongside the waterfall with a gorgeous view of the mountains I had just hiked up. I set up camp, bathed in the water, rinsed out my stinky hiker clothes, cooked dinner and went to bed early. I was getting up at 5am to break down camp and climb the pass, which was only four miles away.
Day Five, Tuesday:
I woke up this morning feeling strong. I was up and out of camp, ready to hike in 45 minutes! I felt pretty good on my way up. I made good time up the first few steep parts and forded the river crossing when the people behind me took a super long way to get around. When the snowfields hit the trail (and there were a lot of them), I got lost and turned around multiple times. It was a free-for-all rodeo out there with everyone trying to scramble their way around to the top. I wasted so much time looking for the trail and then finding a safe place to walk across.
Once I finally got to the top of the pass and reached the Muir Shelter, I spent some time up there before heading down. With all of these other passes, I was in such a rush to get up and over them. Muir was different. I spent a good 45 minutes hanging out in the Muir Shelter, chatting with other hikers before I headed down.
The rest of the day turned out to be quite productive. I managed to hike 21.1 miles today. This was with getting up and over the pass, stopping by a lake to have lunch, hiking my buns off throughout the day to music, hiking a little ways with the hikers I’d met up at the Muir Shelter, fording another river with water up to my knees, stopping to cook dinner with the other two hikers and pushing on another 3+ miles just before sunset. I set up camp near a river again. Today was a good day and I didn’t cry once!
Day Six, Wednesday:
Today was my biggest day over the last six days. I ended up hiking 25.8 miles, the most I’ve done in one day in the Sierra section. Mentally, it was also one of my hardest days. I hadn’t had a shower in six days, ran out of clean clothes, was exhausted, was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, hadn’t had cell service or WiFi so couldn’t let my friends and family know of my whereabouts, ran out of Deet and knew I had one more pass to make it over before heading into town.
The hike for the day started off pretty mellow. Then out of nowhere in a forested section, mosquitoes swarmed me, causing me to drop my pack and reach for my Deet and bug net. Sadly, I had three squirts of Deet left and I was out. Oh the misery! I was already covered head to toe in bug bites.
The going up for the first part of the day seemed to take forever. I was extremely tired. I had to keep stopping to take small breaks, just to catch my breath. Sadly on my snack break a couple hours later, I had eaten my last Rice Krispies Treat, my favorite snack on trail. Without extra snacks, I became even more desperate to get into town to pick up my next resupply box.
Selden Pass, 10,913 feet, turned out to be the easiest of the passes to hike up to and over. Coming up there were only a couple snow patches, but I was able to easily walk around them. Coming down, there was no snow on the trail at all. I quickly made my way down to the lake for lunch.
As I finished up lunch, the bugs started swarming me again, causing me to put my bug net on. All along the trail until way after dark, I had to keep my bug net on because they were so bad.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I had my biggest, swiftest river fording in the afternoon, and I had to do it all my own. It was scary. The water went up to my waist and was moving very fast.
After the big river ford, there were several wet, swampy, bug infested areas I had to hike through. Finally as the sun went down, I put on my rain jacket to give me another protective layer from the bugs.
Once I completed the last uphill push for the day, I took the Bear Ridge Trail, heading towards Vermillion Valley Resort. Originally I was told by another hiker that this was a five mile trail leading into VVR, a popular town stop for thru-hikers. It was five miles alright. Five miles to the trailhead and then another 2.5 miles to VVR. This hiker had also told me they’d be camping somewhere along the trail.
As I hit the junction for the trail and started going down, the sun was going down as well. It quickly grew dark, especially in the forested areas. I briefly stopped to grab my headlamp and turn it on. As soon as I got back to hiking, I slipped on a rock, fell to my chest and snapped one of my trekking poles in half. I was sad about my trekking pole, but realized that trekking pole had stopped me from sliding face first into a tree. I got up, dusted myself off and kept going down the trail.
I made it down to the trailhead well after dark. I never did see anyone camped along the trail as I hiked down. Hiking down that trail in the dark was downright creepy. I never want to do it again. That’s the last time I listen to another hiker about taking a short cut.
At the trailhead, I was still another 2.5 miles from VVR. Even though Mono Hot Springs was my ultimate destination for my Zero Day the next day, I wanted to get to VVR so I could camp that night with other people around and have plenty of time to get a hitch down to Mono Hot Springs in the morning.
Down the 2.5 mile road walk in the pitch dark black I went. I was so creeped out, I started playing music outloud on my phone, in hopes of scaring any animals away. I kept thinking something was behind me, but it was only the full moon shining on everything in its path.
After hiking over 25 miles for the day, at around 10:30, I walked into VVR. I was immediately greeted by a group of other hikers gathered around a campfire. They introduced themselves, showed me where the flushed toilets were, where I could set up my tent and let me know when and where breakfast would be in the morning.
I’d never been so excited to see people. I’d never been more excited for a Zero Day on trail. After those crazy six days, I knew I’d earn this day off.