Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 154: Into Carson Pass (again!)

Day 154, 9/9/14
1084 (Showers Lake) to 1078 (Carson Pass)
5.5 miles

Another sunrise.  Ahh this is the life.  Spent the morning sitting on the rocks by the shore of Showers Lake.  Just watching the light.   And the chipmunks playing.
Showers Lake.
Yesterday's storms brought colder temperatures and morning frost down in the meadow.  Still chilly after wearing all of my clothes and snacking on peanut butter.  But not enough to wish I had carried the weight of a warmer clothes.  Rather be cold then stress the poor feet with extra weight.
Fall color along Showers Lake.
Hiked through a broad valley along the Upper Truckee River.  The Meiss family built a cabin here in the 1880's that they used in the summer for grazing cattle.  Sat by the old buildings having lunch and wondered what life was like here back then.
Meiss Cabin.
The trail dropped through juniper and aspen on the way to Carson Pass.  There, I met Steph who was so sweet to bring me my favorite- salad!  Yum!  I'll take a zeros with her tomorrow.  Haven't showered in 8 days but with all the swimming I don't feel dirty.  Just a bit weathered.  And completely, utterly, indescribably happy.
Salad with mango salsa dressing.  Mmmm.
Reflecting on this section between Sierra City and Carson Pass, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for being back on the PCT.  Thankful to all those who have helped me get through the injury.  I am delighted that the pace of this trip allowed me to have a good balance, and to take the time for other things.  Anticipating spending more time in camp, my planning centered around getting myself to beautiful campsites and finding mid-day swimming holes.  I got to study light, guess where the sun would rise so I could position myself to take photos.  I got to talk to so many wonderful people.

Listening to my body has been going better. I'm less frustrated not being able to do the kind of miles I could before the injury.  I am grateful for what my body can do, all the amazing places they are taking me.  Most days, I had to coax the last few miles out of the feet with frequent rest breaks, massages, and stream soaks.  But I think it's all muscle sore because they responded well to the extra care.

A note on my footware because it's been something I've struggled with after the injury...  I've been carrying two sets of shoes, altra trail runners (what I've been wearing the past 6 months and when I got the injury) and keen trail shoes (a style which I wore for a few years before switching to trail runners).  Never carried two sets of shoes, but I'm doing all I can to take care of my feet right now.
Changing shoes.
Switching out between two sets of shoes was excellent for my muscles and joints because each shoe worked my feet and calves in different ways- ideal cross training.  The doctors said that the stiffer soles of real hiking shoes will prevent reinjury, so I tried to wear them most of the time.  Though the keens created their own set of problems in the form of bunion pain and increased pressure on the balls of my feet due to the heal rise.  The wide toe box of the altras allowed my toes to spread out so I never had bunion pain in them (one reason I switched to them in the first place).  Also, the altra trail runners allowed my feet to flex to really wrap the ground and I love that agile feeling.  In an ideal world, there would be shoes with the wide toe box and zero drop of the altras but a stiffer sole (can someone please make these!). Since there aren't, I'm hoping my feet will adjust to the keens for the rocky terrain in the next section.  I know I can't carry both shoes with the bear canister next week.  And I will work on strengthening my feet so I can go back to the altras for easier conditions in the future.

Overall though, I was thrilled how this section went and I'm excited for the next part between Ebbetts Pass and Tuolumne Meadows- back on towards the Sierras.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 153: Aloha!

Day 153, 9/8/14
1102 to 1084
18.6 miles

When it started raining at 4 AM, I got so excited.  Clouds had arrived!  Yay!  Maybe there would be an exciting sunrise.  I got so super excited I almost just started hiking.  But my sunrise watching destination, Lake Aloha, was only another mile away so I didn't want to get there too early and freeze in the rain.  So, up went the tarp and I caught a little more sleep.

Climbing up the trail a few hours later, the storm clouds swirled dramatically.  My excitement was building as I waited to see how the light would shine through.  Then, well, I don't have words to describe the beauty of the sunrise over Lake Aloha. 

Yes this is real.
This happened.
And then this too.
Finally it got grey.
Bob was already there watching the sunrise.  In that awesome way that connections happen on the PCT, we met and watched the amazing sunrise together until dark storm clouds rolled in and it started to rain.  Then we hiked on.

Bob is a southbounder and it was interesting hearing about his experiences outside of the more mainstream northbound hiker culture.  For example, southbounder don't tend to have trail names, and Bob had hiked the entire trail alone.  He also is a composer and just finished his thesis on music and long distance hiking.  You can listen to some of his music here.
Rain and sun at the same time.
Echo Lake store was closed for the season when we got there.  This was disappointing because we'd heard good things about the food there from northbound hikers.  Bob got a hitch into town, and I continued on another 10 miles.
Golden afternoon.
The wind was strong and cold, so instead of camping at Showers Lake, I backtracked down below the outlet and then bushwhacked down a ravine.  Somehow managing to find a sheltered hang site a short boulder scramble up to a view all the way to Lake Tahoe.  As I ate dessert, I could see the full moon rise and a few distant lights flicker on.  They seem so far away.
All ready for dessert and the evening show.

Day 152: Desolation Wilderness

Day 152, 9/7/14
1120 (Richardson Lake) to 1102 (Heather Lake)
18 miles

Today I entered the spectacular Desolation Wilderness.  Despite the name, it is popular with dayhikers and weekenders.  But it's clear why so many enjoy visiting this place- granite mountains, ancient junipers, deep blue lakes.
Into the Desolation Wilderness.
Hikers going in opposite directions share information when they pass one another on the trail.  I found out about good swimming lakes and water sources.  Back when I was hiking with other northbound thru hikers, information passed mostly in one direction (i.e. north), since there were so few people around going south.  Bidirectional information flow has been quite a nice feature of going south and being a section hiker.

I took a detour off the PCT over to Middle Velma Lake for a midday swim at the recommendation of Judy and Nancy, the TRT hikers I'd met the day before.  Had to explode my pack on the shore to locate my swimsuit (i.e. underwear), and I took the opportunity to air out my gear.  Then I swam over to a small island.  What a life- sitting in the sun on an island all by myself in the middle of a lake in the middle of the wilderness. 
Middle Velma Lake
Then it was up and over 9400 foot Dick's Pass.  (Hehe it's called Dick's Pass.)  The northern most point above 9000 feet on the PCT.  Snow lingered way off on the sides of Dick's Peak.  Strong winds reminded me of being back in SoCal.  It was exciting to peer over the pass into the valley below and to identify the lakes ahead and try to imagine what they would be like.
Looking back at Dick's Lake.
Traveler's gentian on the banks of a high spring.
I pushed on past Suzie Lake all the way to Heather Lake.  I wanted to get set up close to Lake Aloha for the sunrise, recommended by the gals from Portland.  But I knew I couldn't make it all the way there cause the feet were protesting too much.  I was so relieved to find a sweet site sheltered from the strong winds by birches and pines.  It was cold and I was tired and it was such a relief to be in the protection of trees.
Camped near Heather Lake.
As I ate my cold dinner on the bank of the lake, the (near) full moon rose.  Such a giant orb.  The moonlight shimmering off the water.  A dozen bats swooped over the lake, so close to where I was near the shore.  Totally mesmerizing.  How fortunate I am to see all of this.

Day 151: The people that make the difference

Day 151, 9/6/14
1137 (5 Lakes) to 1120 (Richardson Lake)
17 miles

This part of the PCT is fairly accessible to Lake Tahoe and shares tread with the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT).   Lots of people were out on this gorgeous Saturday, and I was fortunate to meet a few really wonderful people.
Early light at 5 Lakes
I enjoyed an extended afternoon rest break talking to Judy and Nancy from Arizona.  They were halfway through their two week hike of the TRT and seemed to be loving every minute of it.

At Richardson Lake, which is assessable by dirt road, an awesome volunteer group called the "White Trash Brigade" was picking up trash into their signature white garbage bags.
White Trash Brigade cleaning up the lake.
The organizer explained that when he was a kid, these lakes were clean and pristine, and now they are getting trashed.  He, his wife and their daughter organize volunteer weekend camping trips to clean up campsites that may be used by a variety of groups including hikers, horseback riders, and jeepers/ carcampers.  They also educate people about litter and were giving out bandanas with Leave No Trace type messages.  What a great idea I sure hope to see more groups in other areas like it.   Go check out their Facebook page.
This bandana would make a great pee rag.
I decided to camp at Richardson Lake.  In the evening, I met two TRT hikers from Portland (dang it, I already forgot their names- sorry).  They'd backpacked extensively and it was really great hanging out with them and hearing about their travels to Nepal and New Zealand.
Lovely Richardson Lake
Once again the great people out here make this adventure on the PCT such a treat.

Day 150: Granite Chief Wilderness

Day 150, 9/5/14
1155 (Donner Pass) to 1137 (above 5 Lakes)
18.2 miles

Last night Steph dropped off more food for me at Donner Pass and took me into Truckee for salad and ice cream (THANK YOU again Steph!).  Then I camped by the trailhead.  This morning, I continued southbound on my way to Carson Pass where I ended my first post-stress fracture section hike.  A bit confusing to explain, but it allowed me to start back on easier terrain.  If my foot continues to be well, after this I'll pick back up at Ebbetts Pass and go south to Tuolumne Meadows where I got off.  Then I will have finished the southernmost 1197 miles of the PCT through Sierra City CA.  After that, we'll see what happens.  Anyway...

Absolutely stunning scenery of the Northern Sierra around Anderson Peak and Tinker Knob through the Granite Chief Wilderness.  Different geology with lots more volcanic rocks and breathtaking views.

Hiked past the junction to the Tevis Trail/ Western States Trail, which is part of the 100 mile endurance run.  Thinking back to my first dayhike (after I got out of the CAM boot) on part of the Western States Trail, at the other end, made me appreciate how much my body has healed and strengthened since then.  Sometimes I get discouraged I'm not doing bigger miles, but then I remember how only a month ago I could barely walk 5 miles and that was without a pack.

Quiet trail today.  Did see one southbounder (Robert I think is his name) who was attempting to make it to Echo Lake by 2 PM the following day (47 miles!).  Sure hope he made it!
Ah the views!
By mile 15, my feet started to protest the weight of 5 days food.  But by then, my heart was set on getting to 5 Lakes which sounded beautiful and was the next place to get water since I was nearly out.  Camping is prohibited within 500 feet to protect the lake, but I hoped to find a site nearby and then hike over to it.  Those last three miles took three slow hours with frequent rest breaks to massage the feet but I finally made it.  Found some trees off the switchbacks past the lake.
Camping off the switchbacks above 5 Lakes.
After setting up, I followed a deer trail over to an outcrop above the lake for an incredible sunset view.  Funny how my feet don't mind evening boulder scrambles without the pack.
These colors are for real.
Another great (but exhausting) day on the PCT!  Still can't believe the incredible scenery.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Day 149: Followed

Day 149, 9/4/14
1169 to 1155 (Donner Pass)
13.7 miles

Up early, climbing to chase the sunrise. In the dim light, a creature paused ahead of me before darting into the shadows. An unfamiliar size and shape. As big as a coyote but it didn't move like that and it lacked a tail. Something I'd never encountered.
Just another PCT sunrise.
I continued hiking, seeking soft light and the pink morning glow. Stopping often to see if I could capture the beauty in photographs. Wanting to take something with me of this wild place.
Yellow of mules ears in autumn.
Crossing a long meadow, at least twenty minutes after seeing the animal for the first time, I turned around to look back up the trail behind me.  There was the creature.   I was being followed. Or stalked.  He was not far behind on the trail.  Way too big for a housecat.  What do bobcats look like?  I wasn't sure but that was my best guess.  And I was disappointed the photo didn't show enough detail...
I'm following you.
We assessed one another for several long moments. Was I seen as prey or was it curiosity?  Did he recognize me as a hiker?  I didn't want him to keep following me but I also didn't want to be confrontational because I felt like an intruder in his home.  I ended up talking to him in what I hoped was a firm tone, and he decided to bound away.

Realizing I had been followed and watched for so long gave me that vulnerable but also alive feeling. A reminder that I am a primate, an animal, a fellow creature. That these forests and mountains I climb through as much as they feel like home to me, they are not my native habitat. They belong to these bobcats and deer and face gnats. 

Still, I kept turning around to look behind me for the rest of the day.
Bridge at North Creek.
 At Peter Grub hut, I met a backpacker named Snowshoe Man from Washington who was out for a night, and has hiked other sections of the PCT. He was hiking south too, so we hiked together for a while and it was great talking to him.  The miles melted away.
Switchbacks down to Donner Pass.
At Donner Pass now.  Steph is meeting me here to give me food for the next section. Feeling very lucky to be out here, seeing these amazing animals and scenery.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Day 148- The right level of tired

Day 148, 9/3/14
1184 to 1169
15.8 miles

I've experienced a variety of types of tired on the PCT.  There is the 'OMG I want to die' tired which happens when you need to set up for the next pass in the Sierra and have to pound out miles.  The 'brain fog' tired of not getting enough sleep in the desert when you have to night hike and siesta in the heat.  The 'mental exhaustion' of navigating over snow and concentrating on every foot placement.   The 'town chores tired' from resupply and catching up on life maintenance but not being physically tired.  Being on the PCT seems to involve being one sort of tired or another.  
While recovering from the injury, I was trying to give my foot a break as it builds strength.  Not pushing it too much on the trail.  Not trusting that it won't break again. This
 was the first day I did enough miles to finally feel the most wonderful type of pleasantly tired- not too sore, so I know by tomorrow my muscles will have fully recovered after a rest in the hammock. But enough to get the endorphins going and to feel like my body accomplished something physically. Oh how I've missed this! 

It was not easy-  I almost overdid it and ended up way to tired.  My original plan had been to set up camp at the Mount Lola Trail junction, and do an out and back to climb Mt. Lola.  It would have been only about four more miles and I had more than enough time. I'd downloaded the maps and loaded them into GaiaGPS. But when I got to the junction, after 15.8 miles, my feet were talking and they said they'd had enough.  My feet, oh my poor feet.  They are doing OK but sure are weak.  It was frustrating because I wanted mentally to keep going and the rest of my body totally could have done it.  I hate having to listen to my feet!  I'm so used to being able to do over 20 miles.  It is so hard to mentally adjust.  All that stuff about slowing down I've written about for weeks, you are probably sick of it.  But it still doesn't come easy for me.  I am still struggling with it day after day.
After deciding to listen to my feet,  I set up my hammock up in the pines above gorgeous White Rock Creek.   I went down to the water and gave them a good long soak to reduce swelling.   
Now I'm already in my hammock with my feet up and it's only 7pm.  Oh I can't tell you just how happy I am to actually have made the right call about how far to hike today.  I'm so glad I pushed it as much as I did, unlike last section where I did too few miles to be tired. At least now I am pleasantly sore, and I'm nearly ready to drift off...