Sierra continued part 5 – Sawmill Junction to Bishop

Doing this a few days late because I’m lazy and easily distracted. 

The boys and I have come out of the Sierra. It was probably doable, it would have potentially been lots of fun and very beautiful but we decided to can it because the creek levels were more like rivers. Impassable is a word being thrown around loosely in the endless amount of trail hype chat going on and I wouldn’t say that they are however for our group the time spent trying to get across these swollen water walls and then the exhaustion of walking on slushy snow outweighed the satisfaction of getting through the Sierra in a linear fashion. They’re mountains, they’ll always be here.

It didn’t rain on us during our last night out and we spent the morning packing slowly, Justin laughing at me looking like a marmot scurrying round packing my things among the boulders. We crossed Woods Creek on a large snow bridge and spent the morning following contours and rock scrambling till we could eye ball Sawmill Pass. We felt exhausted and stopped lots for breaks. Sawmill is easy, it’s more like a small hill among some quite steep ridge lines. It’s wide and flat at the top. The sun cups were almost knee deep and a real pain to walk on. I turned round and took a last look at the mountains I’ve come to love so much. I don’t feel happy to leave the sierra but i didn’t feel happy continuing on. 

We jumped off some huge boulders onto a steep snow drift and ran down the backside of Sawmill Pass. We ran, like you would down a sand dune. Huge, bounding leaps, the snow too slushy to bumslide until we reached the shoot. A number of beautiful lakes run adjacent to Sawmill trail. We walked past their icy green blue edges until we found one which had a stream exiting it and rushing down the slope into the desert. We lunched for hours beside it, I had two swims and a sleep. Eventually we packed up and hit the trail. Down we went, out of the mountains and into the desert. It was a shock to the system. In the dryness, heat, and exposure we suffered. My boots which I loved so much baked my feet, none of us carried enough water and we raced, at times ran down the trail. It seemed to take forever, and I missed the snowy wonderland I had been so ready to leave only hours before. Once you leave the treeline on Sawmill Pass there isn’t water until the trailhead. 

We collapsed under the shade of the trailhead sign, shared the last of the water I had and began trying to find a lift out of what we believed was a hell hole. Bruce walked down to an old empty building and on the way found a stream, he came back wet and with water. We all went down for a swim then put our packs on, ready to walk about 3 miles to the 395. There was no way I was going to put my boots back on so I walked in my wet dandies. As we trudged down the road Santa’s Helper rang me, he was on his way to come get us. We dumped our packs and got back into the stream. 

On the way back into Bishop I looked back to the Sierra, still not quite ready to admit defeat and let them go. Even now 3 sleeps later as we are hitching a ride to Reno and beyond I’m still not quite ready. Our bodies are made for walking, and to have the chance to stretch that physicality as you do when walking through snowy mountains is one of the most satisfying and amazing experiences I’ve ever had. The extremity of the environment surrounding you, the focus and complete presence needed at times has removed me from so much of the babble that normally surrounds everyday life. If I could take my current mind set and project it into my future I would. Out in the wilds of the Sierra you let go of everything else and use all your being, all your senses and smarts to help you out. I believe it brings out the best in people. You work as a unit, no one can last out there alone, you live in the moment and stretch your limits and boundaries. 

Bishop has been great, but it’s well and truly time to leave. The hostel california is a home to hiker trash dirt bags, and it is here that you solidify that identity in many ways. Bunches of hikers sit around talking about hiker things, cooking food, getting clean and resting tired bodies. There are a number of repeat offenders who come back  intermittently and use the hostel as a base. It weird, hiking is cool, who would have thought. 

Bruce and I are headed to Chester today, will be on trail hopefully tomorrow. We are going to Justin is chasing tail, and meeting a girl elsewhere. The groups split, but hopefully not for long. 


Sierras Continued – Pt 4  Woods Creek to 3 miles below Pincho Pass

The valley we walked down

Every day brings new elements of surprise and with it come the roller coaster of emotions, tagging along for the ride. In such a landscape you can be certain that each day will pose new challenges, and with it will come a mixed bag feelings. Today I experienced dread, relief, excitement, satisfaction, joy, gratitude, and the list goes on. One thing that kept coming into my head while I walked was a huge sense of gratitude. Thanks need to go to my boots, these strong, stable and comfortable friends have been a constant support of late keeping me sturdy and sure footed and also keeping my feet warm even in the he harshest of conditions. I’m grateful also my crampons and ice axe for keeping me from sliding down the snow and my trekking poles. Who knew one could feel so much for inanimate objects. 

Now to real story. We woke at 4.15, and for the first time ever Bruce agreed to a little more sleeping in time. I hit the snooze button and snoozed for the 9 minutes granted to me. Then it was time, out we got and up we packed the Woods Creek South Fork flowing past with gusto. Perk took a while to gather himself and so we left a little later than planned. We back tracked toward the snow bridge I remembered seeing. Instead of sticking to the tree line as we had done yesterday we stayed closer to the river rambling over snow and fallen logs, testing our balance and having fun…kind of. It’s interesting how a place can seem so changed just by the different terrain. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the snow bridge up ahead. We crossed it, found the PCT and walked on. This part of the trail is very scenic. 

It follows a ridge line, placing you between two creeks, one being Woods Creek the creek the PCT follows up to the Sawmill Pass junction. It is the one we had been on the wrong side of. Ferocious and domineering it raged on while the other tributary babbled away more gently. At times it opened up into beautiful pools and gentle waterfalls. Along most of this section the snow had in parts melted and we enjoyed the walk freely across the trail. Wne dropped down onto a snow drift and our friendly creek joined another roaring torrent of water. We scouted around looking for a spot to cross, over a snow bridge we went, back we went to the bank and then we spotted some other hikers. One of the women had crossed and the two others were making their way through the water. We quickly packed away our things into dry sacks properly, stripped off and followed them. The couple seemed stranded in the middle of slip. As we crossed the first shallow crossing they moved out of our way so we could forge the more intensely following second section. We did it in a line the water rushing around our legs, on the bank it deepened up to my knees and I pulled my freezing legs out of the water quickly finding dry ground and ripping off my shoes. The couple were still standing stranded in the middle, the lady looked terrified. The woman who had first crossed went back and with the help of the man they got her across. She was freezing after standing in the cold water for so long and said she had just felt terrified. I sat on the women’s feet to help warm them and soon after we scrambled up some rocks to the trail again. Here it became the Sierra you dream about. Snow capped mountains cradling valleys of pine. We walked over some more snow, and dropped down into the tree line. Water filled the trail at times, we didn’t mind, it was far easier to get through than snow. 

Boys on the trail near Woods Creek Junction

As we entered the forest dappled light littered the floor, the canopy opening at times to reveal new ranges. Huge pines had been wiped out occasionally and their trunks filled the forest floor. Some had been decapitated as if a huge wind had come through ripping their canopy away. It could have also been lightening. We loved this section, and we stopped at 9 am for a snack break. We filtered water and chatted in the shade. The 3 hikers from the crossing arrived and we chatted to them before making our way single file across the rickety old bridge which hung perilously over a the water. 

We now began to climb, up and up, Woods Creek always to our left. It raged and we walked. We crossed streams and stepped up large steps made by granite, our shoes got muddy and our hearts pounded. At one point the trail opens out and the river is like the scene out of Prometheus (it’s a movie). The river bed here is smooth rocks and the river raged like never before. It hit the hard surface and rose like a wave along the far bank and then twisted and crashed down steeply into a waterfall. It was tremendous and exciting to stand close too. 

We kept walking and had to take our shoes off to cross water cascading down into it. The next crossing however was a little intense. Water fell steeply down to the Woods Creek below, Justin tried a number of places each time coming back to the bank unable to cross safely. Eventually we climbed up and managed to get across. Elated we walked on. Justin is a great leader and always finds us a safe path. The next crossing was impassable. With the group from the previous day we searched the bank looking for a safe crossing. The river was a waterfall almost to where it fed into the main river we had been walking up. We scrambled up along side it to see if anything further up stream was passable. Justin and Bruce went a further half mile up the waterfall but found nothing. I remembered however that on the trail about another half mile back there had been an ice bridge over Woods Creek.

Easy river crossing

It consumed the creek, a huge white iceberg structure. We could also see another icebridge that would allow us to safety cross back over it again beyond the artery we were trying to cross. Instead of crossing the artery we used these ice bridges to get ourselves back to the trail. It was time consuming and tiring and we soon pulled up under some pines for a long lunch break. We had coffee and hot chocolate and discussed our options. Justin and I wrestled, we drank lots of water and moved on. As we regained elevation the snow thickened on the trail. We walked up steeply, crossed a large snowdrift that led into a pine forest and waved goodbye to the Woods Creek. We were off trail and had to climb up rocks to get back into trail and then we walked and walked for what seemed like ever. We left the tree line and slushed across snow cups till we found a nook beside the trail to camp. A huge weather front had rolled in from the south and we could see it dropping rain in the distance. We set up camp among the boulders and ate dinner atop a huge granite beauty watching sunset on the longest day of the year. 

Navigation check as we walk up creek

Today has been incredible, full of adventure. 

I didn’t take anymore photos as my phone was packed away in dry bags 

Me (meg, princess Layers), Justin, Bruce & Perk

Sierras Continued – Pt 2 & 3 Onion Valley to Woods Creek via Glen Pass and Rae Lakes

Oh adventure we have had. I’ve inherited one of my fathers faults and got our group not lost but misplaced. We are a mile down creek and on the wrong side. I thought we could stay on the right of Woods creek to avoid not only crossing a lake but multiple tributaries but I misread the map and we don’t even have to cross this raging, freezing wall of water. So, tomorrow morning we will walk back (bush bash back) to a large snow bridge to continue on with our journey as it should have been. Oppsie. 

Yesterday we climbed back over Kersarge Pass, it was gruelling and arduous. I went to high and came upon a number of exposed rocks. This meant having to take my crampons on and off again. By the time we reached the pass I was feeling pretty uninspired and over the day. However, we continued on down into the valley. Jamie proposed a huge day, apart from Sushi it didn’t really suit us and so our group has split. The fast boys speeding off, while Justin, Bruce, Perk and I made our way to a cute campsite and were settled down by 1.30 pm. Perk at one point had slipped and slid down the slope. He has cut the underside of his arm and elbow quite badly. 


After lunching in the sun Justin and Perk soon fell asleep so Bruce and I went on an adventure which consisted mainly of washing at a water fall, and watching a mountain lion and bear fight….for real. It was nice to have the afternoon free as the snow had become a slush bucket. 

We woke up this morning warm, it had not been cold. I could hardly swallow. My throats was on fire. The raspy, chalked up sensation and a body which felt lifeless. I seriously considered on asking that we zero but as I began to move and roll out the morning routine I found some energy. The snow had not frozen and we discussed our option. Continue on as planned, zero and then turn back, or head to Sawmill pass and leave the trail earlier than expected. We pushed on, and up. Up, up, up to Glen Pass. The trail would gain elevation very steeply then open into a widening still steep but not vertical. Round a frozen lake we went then vertical up again to some exposed switch backs and up to the pass. My body found itself slowly. At first I was listless and breathless but by the Pass I had my energy levels back, this is further helped by a coffee Perk made me atop the pass. 

Atop Glenn Pass

And then down, down, down we went. We crossed to high and had to scramble down some rocks to a lower trail along the very very very steep backside of Glen. Bruce, at one stage slipped and fell. He yelled out and had self arrested a flash. 

Both photos coming off Glenn Pass

Led by Justin we very carefully walked down the mountain. Switch backing, ice axes digging into the snow, edging our way off the steepest drop I’ve ever walked across. The snowy drop keeping us on edge. Eventually we got to some rocks. Justin scrambled down, Bruce and I did a very steep and fun bumslide to the tracks below and Perk did a little of both. 

Looking back up Glenn Pass

Elated we regrouped at the bottom only to walk over the opening to another very steep drop down to Rae Lakes. Again this was a hair raising drop down. The soft snow catching our boots and our ice axes anchoring us to the mountain side. 

We had one more fast, steep buttslide which landed us pretty much at our first water crossing for the day. There were a number of hikers backed up along the Lakes edge. Some just went straight into the lake shoes and clothes still on. I had to repack my things to water proof them, mainly consisted of getting my bear box out of the middle of my pack and putting it on top of my pack, replacing its spot with my camera (it’s triple waterproofed) and undressing down to my undies. We crossed the slow moving but deep water easily. You went off a snow bank, crossed the water on rocks, pulled yourself onto a log, walked across it and scrambled up a muddy, snowy bank. It was covered in mud because at some point an avalanche had come through smattering Island we were now on with soil and trees. We walked for a while in our river shoes and undies until we realised there was a snow bridge for the next crossing. After a little bit we stopped and ate lunch, the place where I came up with the great plan. 

Instead of once again cutting across the lakes we skirted behind them trending across a large snow drift to a tree line. From here we followed solid soil down the river until we came to a large creek running into Woods creek. It was raging and difficult to bush bash along due to a lot of thickly growing dead silver birch. Their branches reaching out like tendrils grabbing at our packs. Luckily there is a snow bridge over this creek, it won’t last long and for our safety I hope it’s there tomorrow morning we crossed it with baited breath and pressed on. Not far though. As I took out the map again I realised my mistake. Strangely just as I did this we came upon a campsite. There is a fire pit and a bench seat. It seems odd and out of place on the wrong side of such a wildly running creek. By wildly running I mean endless white water gushing down stream like wild horses galloping break neck into a distant valley. It’s impassable, we will have to retrace our steps in the morning. We have also seen our first sign of Bears today. I saw a big, hairy patch in the snow where something had had a little itch, and Bruce saw paw prints. He is a little. It scared but I told him I’ve frightened off Bulls before so it should be fine. I feel ashamed and silly about my obvious mistake, but everyone has been very forgiving and in the end it’s all part of the adventure. 

Justin making himself a nest for the night

Sierras Continued – Pt 1 Bishop to Onion Valley Camp Ground 

Missing the comfort of old friendship. Phoebe and Harriet, their support, laughter and fun funnies are north bound and we are camped at the base of the trail which we will climb tomorrow to venture deeper into the Sierra. 

After a days planning I (meg) organised my things, packed my bear box and gathered my nerve for this next section. I am travelling with 5 guys now, a mixed bag of quirky characters. Bruce, who of course you know already, and also Perk and Justin our other staple family members. We have reclaimed Jamie who letft us before Lake Isabella, and acquired Sushi. Sushi, jamie and I are all Cancerians (our month is coming). The ride up here was silent and strange. Sushi forgot his phone so we had to turn back for it, packs lay on people and Justin felt caged up and car sick. Perk and Bruce fell in and out of sleep and we others stared at our phones or out the window. Our trail angel, Santa’s Helper’s vagon struggled up the hill. With the revs roaring and Santa’s eyesight struggling in the growing evening shadow we ran over a squirrel. Dead. It’s a good omen I’ve decided. Onion Valley is beautiful, we must have been to tired the other day to appreciate it fully. There are water falls on each side of the trail and the sun is setting pink over the range we will climb back over tomorrow. Back to early morning starts and long days of trudging through snow. I am happy and excited to be back in the mountains.