NOBO Day 69 – Lake Gilmore to Echo Lake, 16kms

Snow sleeping is wet wet wet, the floor of our tent was 3/4 wet but as our mats take up most of the floor space everything remained dry. We got up at 4.30 to try and get some firmer snow, but as we feared it was warm overnight and the snow was still soft and slushy. We hit the road and after some more navigational hiccups and a rock scramble down a steep bank found some clear trail! But not for long, only 0.5 miles from where we camped we hit a snow drift that continued patchily to Dicks Pass. The drift ended about 10-15 meters below the trail in rocks and chaparral on a steep slope. It was convex and so even steeper than the already steep gradient of the hill. We tried walking across in our crampons but the snow was so rotten we were struggling to get firm holds. We tried going above but the snow ended in an overhang on a rock cliff. Below was also not an option due to the steepness of the slop. Stumped we stopped and made coffee and breakfast to mull it over, but even after thinking time we still couldn’t see a way forward that we were comfortable with so we sadly and frustratedly turned around and headed back to Echo Lake. This brought up quite a few emotions with me as I feel I have been scared and stressed for most of the last 2 weeks of hiking (as dramatic and beautiful as they have been) and I was hoping flipping would end these emotions so I could get back to enjoying myself.

Bebe lake – Mushy


On the way back we got to follow our footsteps and we were amazed at how much quicker we were able to travel without constantly consulting our GPS. We ran into Chopper and Tripod on our descent from Gilmore Lake and then further on we saw Hamlet, Coffeebreak, Fluffy Soup and a big crew heading out. Unlike us they seemed delighted (still) with the snow.

Dave’s steps used again! – Dave


Crossing the stream leaving Susie Lake I used a dead pine floating in the water to keep my pack out of the water while I waded next to if. Good idea in theory but the stream that was up to my chest yesterday was now above my head (the melt is on!) and my pack got a bit wet. Luckily i had dry bagged all my important stuff except for the shoes. In hindsight this wasn’t such a big deal as further down the trail it became a stream up to a foot high. The others did not follow me and found a good place knee high with strong flow a little way downstream. 

Echo Lake from above – Mushy

Leaving Desolation Wilderness, see you again 👋

 

We left Lake Aloha just after lunch and suddenly went from feeling alone in a snowy desolate landscape to being surrounded by day hikers. It’s a Saturday! Everyone’s first question for us was is it snowy like this all the way? I hope they are prepared to sleep on snow.

I made a new friend! – Mushy


As I already said, the melt was on and happening extremely quickly. In the one day we had been out memorable snow banks or icebergs in lakes had shrunk to a 1/4 of the size they had been. Similarly the amount of water on the ground and the size of the streams had risen by extremes. Hopefully as we retreat from these snowy mountains the heat remains so we can come back again soon and actually see the lakes in all their glory. 

An evening bowl

Goodnight Echo Lake xx

 

We cowboy camped by Echo Lake again in one of the most beautiful spots, on a rock ledge overlooking the lake surrounded by twisted pines. As Mushy put it “it feels like we have been fighting” our bodies are so sore and beat up from the slushy snow. We are all also sporting quality sunburns in the 80.F heat reflecting off the snow (yes mum we put on sunscreen). I had a wash in the lake and cooked Dave dinner as he was too tired (plus he kicked out all those steps like a champ).

Scenic cowboy camps

POV


Due to my low mood in the morning after turning around I didn’t take any photos, so the ones in this post are by Dave and Mushy, thanks guys!

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Flip #1 Day 65+66+67 – Bishop to Echo Lake, 4kms

Rancho relaxo aka The Hostel California has been our home for the last 3 days and boy did we need it. We are all pretty exhausted mentally and physically from the last week and to wind down and relax we did a lot of drinking beer, eating and lying around. 

We went out for breakfast after our boozy evening at the brewery and everyone including Princess Layers ordered extra food on top of our full American diner breakfasts, that’s how hungry we have been for working hard over the last week. Day 65 had been dedicated as a total rest day by everyone and apart from getting our washing done we managed lots of naps, second breakfast, book reading and day drinking with cards against humanity. I (Quiz) haven’t met many of the hikers at the hostel as people have been skipping from so many exit points along the Sierra, but every hiker is a friend and the hostel has made a really great transient community space. Goliath and his wife and pup are in town and came to say hello! Goliath fits effortlessly into the hiker community and wants to come back for more trail angel-ing and hopefully a bit more hiking. For dinner Pinecone and I made spaghetti bolognese, something I have been craving and talking about doing for 150 miles. PL made salad and Jamie and Sushi Roll brought garlic bread and we had a ten person feast! Late in the evening Perk, Mushy and I snuck beers into the cinema and watched Wonder Woman very un-inconspicuously. When we returned to the hostel, the seemingly never ending game of giant Jenga was going and we stayed up late. 

Beers and drunks


Still hikers at heart we woke up groggily at 6.30am and stumbled back to the diner for more food. Today was a day of action. I spoke for the 5th time with Leki and finally got them to send me a replacement pole to Truckee. I will be walking with a ski pole that I got for free from the gear consignment store till them. 

Dave arrived last night and we made our skipping plans. For all readers that dont know us personally the Mental Snakes PCT Girl Gang is temporarily parting ways. PL who has proved herself very very capable in the snow is continuing on with Justin, Perk and Little Spoon and a few new gang members. They are taking an alternate route to miss Bear Creek and the worst river crossing and exiting at Bishop Pass to re-evaluate their plan and maybe continue on. PL will be writing a seperate blog, posting on here with updates. PC, Mushy,Dave and I are getting a ride to Echo Lake tomorrow and continuing north on the PCT. When the other group finally skip north they will come meet us. PC and I will continue writing daily entries. It was so sad leaving out family as walking in hairy situations day after day has really made us a tight knit group. Leaving PL is especially hard, we love you and miss you already PL! 😘😍💖😭

The gang! Bye babes 😭

Snow and desert all in one

Downtime


We resupplied at Vons a mile from the hostel and had fun riding loner bikes around town. Perk brought a hotdog tee shirt from a closing down department store, and upon seeing it Dave, PC and I just had to have one! Weiner Gang lasted all of one day, but we were super cool. Mushy and PC went exploring town on bikes while I finished reading Shrill by Lindsey West (read it in 3 days/3 sittings and highly recommend it to everyone, especially all body positive ladies reading). Like previous nights we stayed up late drinking sangria and eating Mexican and playing cards. Our packs are packed ready for pick-up tomorrow morning.

Badboiz

Home of the Weiner Tee

Fashon


On day 67 we got up early for our last showers, our last trip to the post office, our last town chores. Unlike previous towns this one has been very relaxing and we are excited to leave but also feeling pretty sleepy, lazy and relaxed. Perk cooked everyone French toast and we had a nice last supper together as the original gang. I am currently in the car with Lina who is driving us to Echo Lake through some amazing scenery and past many many tall snowy mountains. We plan to camp somewhere near the lake and start hiking properly tomorrow. This is a new chapter of our hike so hopefully we have made the right decisions. Will keep you posted, xo
Prologue – we hiked from a road 1.3miles to the Echo Lake Chalet and now we are walking another 1.5-2.5 miles along the lake to find a campsite. Super beautiful here, we had a picnic on the peir and drank our leftover beer. Bye town luxuries.

Day 62 – Crabtree Meadow to Tyndall Creek, 15kms

Today was pretty extreme, we walked 9miles in 8 hours with only 2 very short breaks and crossed 3 major rivers. Jeepers! Pinecone and I (Quiz) are in bed by 7pm zonked and sore.

Just another flooded Meadow


After the gangs Whitney assent yesterday everyone decided on a sleep in (6am) but somehow we didn’t start walking till 8 and we all knew we had left our run quite late. We climbed up and over and snow free ridge and started our same old snow game of find the trail with either a gps or following old foot prints up and over steep snow banks. The snow was already getting a little soft by the time we made it to our descent. The original trail switch backed down a steep ridge, but as it was all under snow we only had one option, head straight down. It was very very steep! We ice axed and cramponed up and while Justin glissaded down pretty quickly Pinecone and I had to attend the Little Spoon/Brucey and Princess Layers school for confidence on steep slopes. Essentially they very patiently talked us through the descent and cut steps in the snow. 30 min but what felt like a lifetime later we made it to the bottom, it felt like I had my heart in my mouth the whole time.


With no break for the slow we pushed on as we had come to Wallace Creek, our first crossing of the day. It was no creek, it was a raging torrent that had broken its banks and had formed about 4 different rapids. PL scouted ahead and found a spot where the creek widened and we all crossed relatively easily. It wasn’t too deep, the tricky part was the strength/pull of the water. We defrosted on the other bank, Perk tested the water temperature and it was 39.F so maybe 4.C? 

Mushy collecting water at Wallace Creek

Drying out


But we couldn’t relax for long as only 1.5km away was Wright Creek. The rest of the day was spent walking in snow, we traversed a small ridge and came to Wright Creek. As expected it was another raging torrent, but this time in a tight Valley causing it to run even harder and faster. We could not find a place to cross so we bushbashed about a mile upstream till we found a meadow and to where the creek widened and calmed down a little bit. On the we Justin and PL attempted to cross at another possible site but after Justin nearly got swept downstream we all realised the force we were facing. We stopped again on the far bank and Perk made everyone (especially Justin) coffee to warm up. We scoffed food and lollies. 

Wright Creek and the Whitney teeth

Where we crossed Wright CreeK, FYI


After reconnecting with the trail we continued climbing again up onto a huge snowy plateau or high valley. It was beautiful scenery but the 3km valley floor was suncupped to the extreme, with the cups about a foot deep and the snow becoming increasingly slushy. This made hard going of walking, and use of all leg muscles imaginable to not slip and slid too much. We all keep saying how easy this would be with no snow, but not so this year!

Perk and the cirque


We descended gently from the high valley along reasonably easy to follow tracks in the snow to Tyndall Creek. We got an excellent and very daunting view of Forrester Pass which we are climbing tomorrow and is the highest point on the PCT. The creek was another rager and so once again we continued walking upstream looking for a place to cross. The combination of the suncups, slushy snow and a long day started to take its toll and while Justin Little Spoon and PL pushed ahead the rest of us slowed down. While walking and doing nothing out of the ordinary the inner chord that holds my treking pole together broke! I feel like I have had a few gear malfunctions but losing a pole at this time is really bad as they are so important. I thought my expensive Leki poles would be stronger than that but it just looks like a woven synthetic rope holds the whole thing together. Anyhow enough complaining, we continued on up the valley and suddenly the 3 speedsters are on the other side! They had found a snow bridge and had been game enough to try it out. We are so lucky it still exists as the creek has 1m high snow banks on either side, and even without those seems impassable. 

Camp, on snow?


We all flop down on a pile of rocks and drink the last of PL’s water and make a game plan. Snow is everywhere and not particularly nice to sleep on so we head for some trees in hope of finding some dry ground. We have mixed luck, there are small patches but most are running with snow melt. Pinecone and I are camped on such an angle that we have had to use our packs and sit pads to even out our sleeping pads. It’s quite comfortable so far so fingers crossed for sleeping tonight. Perk and Justin are sleeping on the snow 😬. Pinecone and I are both quite nervous about tomorrow but we hope to rock it, and stay strong mentally. It’s another world out here, definitely the hardest and craziest thing I have ever done and day after day out of my comfort zone. But if I hadn’t come I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life.

Day 61 – Mt Whitney Summit via JMT Return – 27 kms

How to concour a mountain. Wake at 2.45 am (under a full moon of course for all the good vibes the planets and universe can muster), walk in the dark along a raging creek and follow a snow covered Meadow to a bunch of shaley switch backs, leg it up them, cross some snow and then get topless atop Americas tallest mountain. 


 Now to fill in the gaps. At alarm sounded at 2.45 am, pushing us out of bed. Harriet hadn’t slept much, and the rest of us had slept fitfully. We packed up our slackpacks which included sleeping bags, warm clothes, a days worth of food, water and Harriet’s tent split between myself (Meg), Harriet, Bruce and Mushy. Phoebe hugged us farewell, looking adorable in her puffy, sleepy eyed and ready to crawl into Bruce’s tent for some more slumber. She was going to spend the day practicing self arrest, walking of steep, snowy slopes and getting some rnr. 


Off we went, led by Justin along the path to Whitney. Through some snow covered pine forests we trekked, along a creek, the water rushing past us in the dark, more noise than anything else. It drowned our voices and pushed us up a bank to keep our feet from getting soggy. We scrambled off track of fallen trees rocks. We slipped down and pulled ourselves back up, all the while the full moon shone down on us, casting silver shadows through the pines and across the meadows. After a while we cut up steeply to join the John Muir Trail. From here we left the creek briefly and walked steadily uphill. At one point we realised we had lost the trail, and that we were in fact far too high up on a rocky out crop, the trail veering away under us. We scoped out the area and found a huge boulder in which we could lower down our packs one at a time and then ourselves. We set up a conga line to do so, put our packs back on and headed into a valley. At one point the tree line ended and we walked again along a creek, it moved slower that the last. Big open pools of clear, crisp mountain water looked thick and velvety compared to the white, rushing creeks we had avoided hours before.  As we ventured up it we could look back down into the valley from which we came. The moon was incredible, it lit up an ampetheatre of mountains in front of us. The white snow contrasted against the grey beige shale underneath. Jagged peaks pearcing the horizon which steadily began to clearer as the sun rose. We walked in single file, our head torches beacons of light and connection. 


Eventually the valley began to rise steeply and up we climbed, and like some kind of climactic unveiling the sunrise poured out across the land before us. Behind us the moon hung in a multicoloured horizon. Layers of blue, pink and purple were the backdrop as she shone yellow, irradecent and huge. The stars twinkled innocently, dancing their way into the morning. The growing sunlight was caught by far off mountain peaks and they turned a bright pink. It was truly a sight to behold. Bruce and I both agreed that sunrise today was one of our favourite parts. 


After climbing up into the valley we came upon Guitar Lake. It legit looks like a lake, and if it wasn’t covered in snow would be a beautiful place to hang out. Alas we just walked solidly across a Meadow of snow cups. In the early morning the snow was still crisp underfoot but by the time we had got to the bottom of the switchbacks we were all exhausted and ready for a break. 


At 6.30 am after walked for just over 3 hours we layered up and bunkered down behind a rock away from the freezing wind to have something to eat. And then we began to ascend Mt Whitney. Up and up and up the switch backs went, our bodies working constantly, fatiguing as the elevation increased. Harriet was struggling quite a lot. She felt faint and dizzy, sucking in the air she sat down a few times and then stoically continued on. A few times the switch backs got lost on a snow drift and instead of traverse them we would scramble up the shale to the path above. Eventually the switch backs ended and the path slowly gained elevation of a relatively straight fashion. The landscape opened up before us, mountains comanded the horizon and at times portal holes opened up allowing us to see down to Lone Pine and the desert below. Just before the summit we put our crampons on and walked up one last snow drift, it was short lived and we soon had to take them off to get up the final stretch of trail. Harriet and I walked hand in hand to the top. We hugged and had anothe hiker take photos of us. We got topless (cos that’s what you do), and Bruce got naked (cos that’s what he does), took some more photo, revealed in our success and then tucked in behind the summit shack, which is full of snow to have some snacks. 

The way down was far easier and quicker. That was until we got guitar Lake and the Meadow. In the midday sun the snow had melted and become slushy. We butt slid as much as possible and basically just put our heads down and headed for home. I got us lost at one point in the same place we had become lost this morning. We named it the Bermuda Triangle. This time we had to head down through some thick brush, and cross a few small streams. We cheered as we came back into Crabtree Meadows, slung down our packs, hugged Phoebe, who had done some snow art and headed to the creek for a swim. The rest of the day was spent resting and getting ready for what lies ahead. We are exhausted but so happy. 

Day 59 – Cottonwood Pass to Rock Creek, 16kms

Today was in hindsight actually ok, but I (Quiz) had a freak out about the snow about 1 km from the end of the day, and that has muddled my head/confidence levels up a bit. To clarify I did enjoy most of today, but walking in the snow is fucking hard and we walked for 8 hours with very little breaks.

Ok back to the beginning, we woke at 3.30 in the cold, but the full moon illuminated the snow and it seemed quite light. It took ages to pack up, partly because we stowed our bear cans ages away from the tent and had to retrieve them, and partly because we are carrying so much more stuff our bags are full to the brim. Under night and snow the trail was hard to follow but luckily for us Justin was out in front navigating with the GPS.


By sunrise we had climbed above Chicken Spring Lake, currently frozen and snowed over, and on a steep snow bank watched the sky change colours. We crossed wide meadows covered with snow, snow bridges still intact over creeks, and under cirque cliffs…covered in snow. We walk up gradually in crisp snow till about 9am when it starts to melt, unfortunately at this time the snow became patchy and we couldn’t put our crampons on. 


We passed across a huge open snowy area, and then started to gradually then quickly descended to Rock Creek. When we hit the steepest descent the trail switch backed, and as they were all covered with snow, we just descended straight down. Princess Layers had to talk me through it as we put our crampons on and slowly struck steps into the sloppy snowy slope. It was damn scary but PL is a good teacher and I have learnt lots today. After this steep downhill we meandered on till the river. I’m not sure the exact cause but the lack of sleep, no stops for hours, and my fear of falling combined to make me lose my shit and my confidence. I had a lil cry and then continued on walking a short distance to Rock Creek.


The creek is definitely at river status. It has broken its banks on both sides and has plenty of white water. We went exploring upstream a PL found a log that crossed the fastest biggest section, it was a bit scary crossing with rapids beneath you. At this point the creek had diverted into 3 waterways, but the other 2 where easily passable only up to our knees. After such a long morning we stopped for lunch at 12, 10 miles in 7.5hrs, snow walking is slow!


After lunch we wandered the final 1 km to camp. As we had crossed the creek upstream this was all bushbashing, but the Sierra doesn’t have heaps of undergrowth so it’s fairly easy. We passed a huge waterfall, and many meadows which are actually just bogs and got our feet wet again, till we found our campsite. It’s a good one, dry ground (hard to find around here) and it has a small fire pit built into the ground. We sat around and chatted all afternoon, the girl gang went for a wash in the river, we cooked marshmallows on the fire and made miso soup with peas, mushrooms and rice noodles, it was one of the best meals we have had all trip! Oh also I saw a deer, my second in America. We are all in bed by 6pm, getting ready for another hard day tomorrow. Xxooxxoo 

Day 58 Lone Pine to Cottonwood Pass – 10 kms


Guest writer Mushy here. I wooed my way into the Mental Snakes crew at Lone Pine using some good ol’ southern charm. These girls are awesome, and after leap-frogging a bit for the last 500 miles of desert, I knew that they were hands-down the best group to tackle the Sierra with. I spent nearly a week off-trail in San Francisco getting ready for the Sierra, so the night before we hit the trail I camped at Horseshoe Meadows to get re-acclimated to the elevation. We took it pretty easy on our first day out, pacing ourselves on the climb up and getting used to our new snow gear. 
Five miles up trail we found a safe slope to practice self-arresting. We layered up, got out our ice axes, and started intentionally throwing ourselves down the hill. I started by sitting on my butt and sliding down, and then tried slipping, tripping, and falling backwards to simulate all types of emergency stops. After a month and a half of exclusively lower-body exercise, this was pretty hard on the arms. We called it quits after six or seven times each squealing down the slope and then huffing back up, feeling pretty confident that we could stop ourselves when needed, but also banking on adrenaline for superhuman strength and a quicker halt in case of a real emergency. 


We had packed out a fun dinner for the first night, so after temperatures started to drop, we built a fire and feasted on hot dogs, Mac and cheese, toasted marshmallows, and an apple pie. How American! I felt right at home. We stashed our bear cans and went to bed early, prepared to wake up before sunrise for our first long day in the snow.

Meg here now, hello! Today has been a mixed bag of emotions. Nerves, excitement, anticipation. The lure of adventure pushes us forward into the unknown. So far, so good. We are feeling very lucky to be among such a supportive and fun group of people. One constant is that our plans and endeavours are forever changing. We are remaining flexible and adaptive, some new life lessons are being learnt everyday. 

Day 56 – Corral Intersection to Lone Pine, 15kms

We are doing it! We are confidently and competently walking on patchy snow just in our normal shoes. This is real step forward for me, I (Quiz) actually enjoyed the snow today instead of being paralysed by it.
But back to the beginning, we slept warm in our new sleep bag thermal liners and woke at our high camp at our usual hour of 5.30. Perk had not magically appeared overnight so we set off without him but hoping he wasn’t far behind. 
Our track stuck to the top of a ridge gently undulating through arid sandy spruce forest, patches of snow laying around randomly but consolidated on the northern slopes. Pinecone and I walked together most of the morning, we got sprung singing at the tops of our lungs by another hiker. We ate breakfast on top of some towering rocks overlooking a valley full of meadows and rivers with a snow capped peaks backdrop, this land is drop dead gorgeous!


At Mulkey Pass I left another note for Perk to let him know our descent plan, then walked the final mile to Trail Pass. The rest of the gang was already at the intersection and not long after I arrived so did Perk! Phew.
We descended 1000 ft down the northern side of Trail Pass over patchy snow. Some patches were big enough to glissade (slide on your butt) down, which is lots of fun. Justin is perfecting skiing in shoes and Pinecone postholed right into a small stream. We all came out alive and unscathed at the Cottonwood Lakes car park where we managed to hitch a ride into town within an hour. 


The road into town was crazy, clinging to the cliff and zig zagging on top of itself. We piled out of the truck and into Alabama Hills Cafe again to devour sweet sweet town food. We booked a room for 6 at a local motel and waited patiently for the shower. After we had washed our clothes we quickly got about to buying delicious food and either eating it in bed in front of the tv, or my personal favourite drinking beer in the hot tub, and that is what i did till midnight.



As a side note, Carrot Quinn my hiking idol has been doing trail magic somewhere around the Sierra and I really hope I run into her, that would be so cool!