SOBO Day 77 – Mushy learns a valuable lesson from a slug aka Grider Creek Campground to Buckhorn Spring, 26kms

Mushy here! We left Grider Creek Campground early to start our climb out of Seiad Valley while it was cool. This was one of our biggest climbs yet on the PCT (1800m over 12 miles), and the day would be scorching hot. By the time we stopped for breakfast, I (Mushy) was covered in bugs and sweat and already sick of the steep, brush-chocked, debris covered trail. It was obvious to all of us that today would be a mental feat. 

The slug in question

Eroded Creek


We walked over landslides, eroded ravines, bushwhacked through weeds, stumbled over branches, and climbed around a ton of fallen trees. The trail followed raging Grider Creek for more than 6 miles up the valley, and you could see all of the havoc wrecked by the recent snowmelt. We thankfully had four constructed bridges at each crossing of the main creek. 
I caught up to Dave who had stopped to get water. I watched him get down to the creek and then fall in. He was fine, but drenched. We sat down on the trail, both silent and bummed. Why is today so hard? 

Foot bridge over Grider Creek

I noticed a large yellow slug next to the trail and immediately felt a connection to it. Both of us barely making progress, lethargic, and vaguely uninterested. The slug started making its way up a narrow rock that could have been avoided and I thought to myself, ‘why are we doing this, slug? You’re just going to come down the other side of that rock. Why climb these mountains of ours, slug?’ 

Marble Mountains border

Today was like walking through a butterfly house, so humid


On top of Dave’s fall, I tripped face-first into a pile of branches and fell off the trail. Harriet ran out of water. We were all having a tough time when we stopped for lunch four miles short of our target. Phoebe found water down a dirt road from where we stopped, which everyone appreciated. 
After napping through some of the heat, we continued on and found the last part of the climb a relief. We were finally out of the valley and back at home on the high ridges of the PCT’s scenic route. 

Meadows on top of the ridge

The scenery took its drama up a notch, the trail became easier to walk, and a nice breeze picked up. I was reminded of all the perks that come with living on the tops of mountains, and I thought about the slug again. 

Dave looking over trouble skies

Buckhorn Spring before the storm

Quiz below an enormous 3 trunked Pine Tree

After noticing some dark clouds, we stopped to camp under an enormous, incredibly old tree next to a meadow. The storm came in quickly and hard, with 45 minutes of marble-sized hail and ear-splitting thunder. The sun began to set as the storm passed and the meadow steamed with the layer of hail cooling it down. That was one of the most dramatic storms I’ve experienced first hand and it was the reward to a really tough day and in an incredible setting that I’ve come to cherish, and will continue to push myself to experience. And that’s why we climb up mountains, slug.

Beautiful post-storm skies

SOBO Day 76 – Lilypad Lake on Kangaroo Mountain to Grider Creek Campground, 18kms

I (Quiz) love frogs, but listening to a full chorus of them all night long was even a bit much for me. We got up at 5.30 and just as we were leaving camp at 6 they all promptly shut up! Having said that I will miss playing spot the frog/newt in the lake, that’s my kind of safari.

Lilypad Lake, we climbed up that snowy slope opposite

We scrambled and bushbashed our way up the steep slop on the other side of the lake to avoid steep snow climbs and rejoined the trail to walk into a burn area and a land of red rock, which felt a little bit like Australia (very fitting as we are on Kangaroo Mountain). The group of 6 ladies who we have been walking with were leaving their camp at the same time and we walked a little way together. After a bit more bushbashing to avoid snow we made it to the top of the ridge and stopped with 360 views of snow capped peaks for breakfast. 

Our ridge

The red rocks of home…in California

We kept breakfast short as it’s a town day and quickly got back to our 11 mile descent. The trail clung to the east side of the crest of the ridge, giving us excellent views but also steep drop offs. In some places the trail was crumbling and on a steep slant and we had to slow down and take care with our steps. Pinecone likes to joke that falling down the mountain is the quickest way to milkshakes.
As we got lower and the sun for higher the heat intensified. We were fine in the lush thick forest of the lower more gradual slopes of the ridge, but as soon as we hit the Tarmac of the road we longed for the green moss covered fairy forest of the last spring. BTW compared with everywhere we have hiked so far, the amount of Springs here is huge, our maps are covered with tiny blue dots and we carry only a litre of water knowing that more will be plentiful in a few miles.

Kalamth River

We met a (push) bike rider called Will who is cycling from San Francisco to Florida, he regaled us with road tales as we walked 1 mile along the hot hot road into town. Town consisted of a diner and general store which thankfully had some hiker food as we resupplied for the next 5 days. More importantly we all ate huge hamburgers or sandwiches at the diner and got one of ‘the best milkshakes on trail’ for dessert. They were pretty good.

Seiad Valley is going off!

While we were busy eating the temperature got up to 106.F which is about 45.C, which is too hot to function. Buck whose gf works in the general store kindly drove us the 6 mile hot as hell road walk to Grider Creek Campground, thanks a bunch Buck! Grider Creek is super lovely and we have spent all afternoon by a small waterfall washing our clothes and swimming to cool off. We have packed our hot dogs and buns and beers and can have a lil feast tonight. Onwards and upwards (towards more snow) xx

Hotdog Dave

Grider Creek

SOBO Day 75 – Alex Hole Spring to Lily Pad Lake – 25.5km

Another day in the PCT saddle. Today the walking was straight forward, we woke at 6am on the dirt road at Alex Hole Spring. Often the mornings feel a little cold and dreary especially when there is snow lying on the ground so we walk up the logging track 2 miles and find a sunny patch for breakfast. The PCT is only 100 yards from the road but the road is easier to navigate when everything is snow covered. 

Quartz rock in snow

We arrive at a switchback in the road where we hop back onto the PCT. The trail then follows a ridge for 7miles or so on the south aspect. When the trail flipped north we came across huge snow banks along the top of the ridge. Skirting around them was very do-able and the day unfolded easily. We were aiming for kangaroo spring camp for a 17 mile day. We pass our first north bound (nobos) hikers who tell us some info on the trail ahead. Apparently between Seiad Valley and Etna is really slow going with lots of snow and some sketchy sections. It’s hard to know what to expect as everyone’s comfort levels are different. I am a little apprehensive about this next section, but definitely want to give it a go! 

View of Kangaroo Mountian

The trail drops 300m off the spur into Seiad Creek Road. We decide to have lunch here as there is an beautiful pristine spring nearby. We bump into some day hikers who are taking their children out for their first hike. It reminds me of my parents taking me to the Grampians and heading to a secret cave and cowboy camping there. It’s been a rather nostalgic last few days. 

D-lux lunchtime hydration

After lunch we climb 300m up Kangaroo Mountain. It’s an impressive set of peaks and steep rocky red cliffs. It actually reminds me of aspects of Australia, mainly the red rock and the sparse vegetation. The walk up we pass Echo Lake Junction, where the day hikers were headed. I look over the edge of the saddle to find a large snow drift and the lake is full of ice bergs. I hope it’s not too much for the children! 

Echo Lake

We push on to Kangaroo Spring but on the way find the beautiful Lily Pad Lake, cradled below the peak of Kangaroo Mountain. We stop a mile short and decide to camp by the still water. It’s so serene and we go swimming and I wash all my clothes. Quiz spotted newts swimming the lake and got excited. The camp was a great idea until dusk and the frogs started up. We know for next time! 

Lily Pad Lake Camp

Ascending Kangaroo Mountain

Flip #2 Day 70,71+72 Lake Tahoe to Ashland OR, 7kms

H E A T W A V E   I N   C A L I

What a strange couple of days and more Zero days. We (Dave, Mushy, Quiz and Myself PC) are at somewhat of a loose end. We are all feeling really antsy to get back on trail and do a 20 mile day which now feels like a distant memory. 

We wake up by Echo Lake to condensation and beautiful surroundings. We sleep in till 7am pack our stuff and get an uber from the Chalet at the south end of the lake. Back in Lake Tahoe we look into flipping options whilst also getting stuff for embroidery and having a swim in the lake. Whilst walking around the privatised lake front people comment on our matching hotdog tshirts, high lights of their day. I didn’t realise how amusing they are. 

It’s really difficult to find info on flip-flopping this year. Our two main options look like between Chester and Dunsmuir in NoCal or Ashland OR and walking south. Without a whole heap of info we decide to go to Oregon and walk south. The satellite photos on the PCTA blog of snow is what helped us make our final decision. We rent a car and set out the next day via Truckee to pick up Quiz’s hiking poles from the post office. 

We take a detour round Donner Pass, an infamous mountain pass that has brought death and starvation to many early pioneers who have tried to cross it. The Pass itself is beautiful, with patchy snow and views to Donner Lake. The monument in the valley stands 22ft tall marking the height of the snow when the Donner Party of 90 went through and 44 passed away from starvation/hypothermia. 

Heading north we drive through Sacramento. It’s 105•f or 41•c outside which is baffling. Around Redding we decide it’s time to camp before it gets dark and I find a free camp spot on Shasta Lake near the Marina. We go swimming in lake, the bottom is muddy and the water is warm. It feels so strange after the Alpine temperatures. 

Today we driving through Oregon. Dave gets pulled over the police for speeding and tail gating. Luckily he gets off with a warning, and phoebe and I think it’s because we are wearing our matching hot dog t-shirts. We are starting hiking today from Callahan’s Lodge and walking south, 55miles to Etna CA and then another 55 from there to Dunsmuir. We know there will be patches of good and bad terrain and fingers crossed we can make some progress! 

NOBO  Day 68 – Echo Lake South to Lake Gilmore – 16km

Note: this is PINECone and Quiz’s Adventures in Nth Cali. Princess Layers is finishing off the Sierra and will post intermittently. 

Today I title; Dave blazes a trail first day back!

It also a very strange day as we wake a 5am next to a beautiful lake, hundreds of miles from Bishop and the eastern Sierra. The condensation last night was crazy! We decided to cowboy camp last night and all our stuff is so damp!

Echo Lake in the distance 

We start up the trail heading north. We have jumped up about 300miles and it feels so wrong. But the sun here is warm and that makes such a difference to the smiles on our faces. The snow starts off small but by breakfast we a sitting amongst a field of white. It’s strange because it only got down to 43•f last night, the snow isn’t even hard and we are slipping all over the place from 8am onwards. Seems it will be very different front the Sierra. 

We climb over a rise and down into Lake Aloha valley. The whole lake is under snow with a few thaw patches here and there in a terrific turquoise blue colour. It looks phenomenal! Walking up he eastern edge of the lake we try to stick to rocket outcrops. We turn east at the end of the valley and head down another valley to pass a plethora of frozen lakes, all smaller than the last.

We past a few hikers earlier in the day. They are all turning back. They say there is a hazardous section ahead where the snow trail hangs over a lake. When we turn down this next valley we see the section they are talking about. It’s funny because nothing is as intimidating after a week and a half in the Sierra. Dave, back on trail volunteers going first and we walk above the lake with Dave stomping foot holes and blazing the trail in front of us! We are sad to say goodbye to Princess Layers, Justin, Little Spoon and Perk but so happy to have Dave back and Mushy continue with us! 

The trail Dave cut above the frozen lake

We eat lunch next to the lake and dry out our bedding. We have walked about 6.5 miles which is ok considering the snow. We push around a couple more lakes in the afternoon. I scramble over logs to cross a flooded lake whilst phoebe walks through the beautiful water to find that it submerges her and her pack right up to the collar bone. Luckily everything is dry bagged but it’s pretty funny. 
The afternoon moves slowly. We lose the path under snow pack twice and it takes us a while to regain momentum. The last valley we dip through is full of water and feels like a literal melting pot. We finally start the ascent of Dicks Pass which we had set as a destination for the day and camp on the only non-snow covered ground near Gilmore Lake. 

Quiz crossing the river.

Overall synopsis of flip north: there is still a lot of snow left here still to melt. I guess i assumed there might be less. It’s still difficult to walk in because it’s soft all day, so 10-15 mile days are a reality. The grade of the mountains is far more gradual and lower elevations make for less tiring walking. The sun is warm and feels amazing on my dry skin. 


Day 63 – Tyndall Creek to Lower Vidette Meadow Tentsite – 19km

Today is the day Quiz and myself (Pinecone) had been thinking about for the last month. Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200ft, treacherous in high snow years and we did it!!!
The morning began very sullen, we woke at 3:30am to leave camp at 4am. We had managed to cross Tyndall Creek the day before and had headed across a big snow field to a copse of spruce in search of bear ground on which to camp. We were camped at 11,200ft and everything was frozen, including our boots and our filtered water for day. 

Dawn hiking near Tyndall Creek

In the dark we climbed the spur up to the PCT. I have been having a really hard time walking in high elevations. Princess Layers has been teaching me yoga deep breathing exercises, and I think it’s a combination of shallow breathing and not eating enough food due to stress and loss of appetite. It’s 3 miles to the base of Forester Pass, across undulating snow fields. I feel awful with dizzy spells, weakness and nausea. I nearly ask Quiz to hit the SOS button on our spot device, though I’m unsure if altitude sickness is enough of a reason to press it. To me walking in elevation feels like a strange combination of extreme fatigue and having a panic attack at the same time. Definitely the most difficult aspect of the Sierras for me. 

PL and PC in front of Forester (the ice shoot at the center and the back).

Quiz gives me some anti-nausea tablets and we start the extremely steep climb up Forester, which appears to be a blank wall of ice. With crampons on and ice axes in hand, ready to dig into the snow if a slip should happen, we make our way up the incline. First switchbacking across the ice it gets too steep halfway up and we go straight up, digging the front two spikes of our crampons into the snow. We don’t look down, we just keep looking forward and concentrating. Gusts of wind are terrifying, but to my surprise the feelings of nausea and weakness have abated as adrenaline kicks in. 

It feels as though we climb that ice wall in no time at all. It’s about a 200m gain and we aim for the switchbacking path that emerges out of the snow two thirds of the way up the pass. The path is a relative ‘walk in the park’ and we soon reach the ice shoot we have all been so apprehensive about. It’s about 10 meters wide and it’s a continuous drift of snow that would take you all the way to the bottom of the Pass if you were to fall. To our relief there are strong food pads and even ice axe hike left from previous hikers. Some of the foot pads are virtually post-holes and it’s crazy to think that anyone would be attempting the pass in the afternoon. We all cross one by one and hoot and holler words of encouragement. 

 Quiz crossing the infamous ice shoot. 

It’s a short switchback to the top of the Pass where we eat breakfast and make a very scenic pot of coffee at 7:15am. It’s freezing so we all hug a lot. I know Quiz, Princess Layers and I are feeling particularly relieved and accomplished! 

Our trail family celebrating at the top

Mental snakes are hard girls 4 lyfe

It’s official

Decending Forester Pass

Little Spoon enjoying the scenery. 

At this point we are exposed to a whole new skyline of spectacular moutains. With crampons and ice axe at hand the trail hugs the back of Forester and proceeds to descend gradually down a spur. We are thankful that the decent was totally manageable considering the amount of snow and switchbacks the trail would normally do. We descend into Bubbs Creek Valley, a wooded valley with impressive cliffs on either side shroud in mist. 

 Views of the valley below. 

Evidence of avelanches/landslides on the way down. 

We walk through the valley with increasingly slushy snow to Vidette Meadow Tentsite, below the Kearsarge Pinnacles, where we are now camped amongst mounds of snow. We get into camp round midday and are all ecstatic and exhausted and go for naps/read in our tents. Overall a breath taking day!