Day 74 – Spring on Mt Observation to Alex Hole Spring – 23.5km

How to write about today? It was an intense mish-mash of jaw clenching and sublime. 

After the first snow climb

We woke at 6am and headed out to be immediately confronted by snow. After deciding to have an early breakfast, we bump into Monarch and Unicorn who have seen a mountain lion in the valley. 

We navigated steep snow slopes round side of Observation Peak. It was the first time we had put our crampons on since the Sierra and I think I have some kind of residual ptsd for snow, as it fills me with anxiety for Phoebes well being. The footholes were super slippery and I Pinecone had a bit of a run in with a pine tree grazing my elbow and cutting my hand with a too vigorous ‘butt-slide’. 

Mid-morning break amongst the wild flowers

4m snow banks

We soon found ourselves on the top of the ridge hoping for less snow on the next. Sadly over the next saddle was snowy too, with banks 6m high. After the mornings collision and steep snow traverses I was prepared to do anything to not put my crampons on again. We dodged the first snowbank by sticking to the top of the ridge and then dodged the second one but cutting underneath it. There is a group of 6 girls walking at the same time as us. We see one slip and fall, self arresting with her finger nails as her fold up whippet fail to work properly. It was scary to watch but she made it across the snow fine in the end and didn’t seem too phased. We had a break amongst the wild flowers to celebrate our ‘conquering’ the snow and kept heading south. 

OR/CAL Border

Meadows in the valley

Dramatic changes in landscape throughout the day

The trail then took us down and into beautiful meadow filled valleys. We cross the Oregon/California boarder and read the log book to discover that there are about 40 people headed south in front of us. That’s reassuring. Apart from the 6 girls we haven’t seen anyone. We have lunch at a little stream looking over a green meadow and realise we have only walked 6 miles. The snow this morning did a pretty good job of slowing us down. We decide we need a paper map for the next section to show us better options for avoiding north/east facing slopes (the snowiest aspects). 

We keep heading down for another couple of miles. Now the pct is beautiful and easy to follow. I put on music and pick up my pace and enjoy the simplicity of walking a snow free trail. We climb the next hill crossing many logging tracks. The forest is vibrant and utterly beautiful. We 750m over 5 miles. On top of the Condrey Mountain there are giant shale meadows. They are sparse and minimal and remind me of Japanese pebble gardens. I love their aesthetic! I wait for the other 3 to catch up and have a little nap on a rock under a tree. It’s so warm and peaceful.

Shale meadow and dirt road running parallel to the pct

Shale meadow on Condrey Mountian

When the others arrive we push on through more snow. We have about 4 miles left and it’s all through thick snow. We notice on the map there is a logging road that runs parallel with the pct for the whole distance to we decide to aim for that, for the sake of easier navigation. The road makes the snow walking faster and easier but slightly arduous. We nearly take the wrong turn right at the end of the day but Quiz re-navigates for us and we finally arrive at Alex Hole Spring round 6pm. I am really proud of us today, awesome team work and some really challenging sections over 23km! 

Day 73 – Faucet stealth camp to Spring on Mt Observation – 26kms

The only cloud we have seen all of today was hanging right above/around us when we woke. I slept surprisingly well under the steep verge of the road on a lumpy slope. Maybe it’s the Irish whiskey I decided to pack for nightcaps. Everything was beaded with dew and once again we packed damp sleeping bags and mats into our pack only to yardsale everything at lunch.

We hit the smooth Oregon trail eagerly and happily trudged up some more short steep inclines all completely snow free. We passed our new dinner pals from last night, Monarch and Unicorn, still in there tents. We might have woken them up when Pinecone picked up an old stiff pair of jeans that looked only slightly defrosted from winter right nearby.

We are breakfast and coffee in the first of many meadows we crossed today, each with 3-5 streams converging in the centre. Oregon is still definitely wet, but the patchy snow we arrived at near the summit of Mt Ashland was very easily passable. Near the top of our climb we got an amazing view north of 4 snowy peaked volcanoes, and this view made us determined not to miss out on the rest of the state. We also saw a mother and fawn, cute. Also the wildflowers are out in force!

We continued our walk west to a saddle and then after the long steep climb up the next ridge promptly stopped for lunch…for 2 hours. That’s the problem with lunchtime bowls, they make you so relaxed and sleepy. 

After lunch the real fun began, our path traversed the northern side of the ridge which was thick with snowbank ending with steep drop offs. We got our ice axes out and Mushy then PC cut a path across the bank. The second snowbank was easy as we could walk right underneath it and cut back up to the path. The trail also ran through some thick woods with lots of firm snow underneath, but also so near misses with huge postholes hiding amongst logs.

We decided to be picky with our campsite and passed up a few and walked in slushy afternoon snow till we found the most beautiful one of all! We are also situated for a specky sunrise over Mt Shasta. X

Ps we miss you Princess Layers! But we have also been rolling happily through uncertain flip floppy times with an A+ trail family, love you Mushy and Dave/6 strings.

 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 64 – Vidette Meadows to Bishop, via Onion Valley and Independence – 20km

Our final stage of stage 1 of the sierra is complete, and not without moments in which our heart leapt into our mouths. Yet, we are through and are brimming with pride, happiness, relief and gratefulness. We have completed this section with an amazing bunch beautiful friends. We have endured and celebrated the sierra together, it’s harshness and boundless beauty. The landscape bound us, we laughed, cried, and found solace in one another’s daily struggles and conquests. It’s been real. 

Last night snow fell. It falls softly, barley audible leaving our tents, the ground and the day’s trail covered in soft, fluffy powder. It was freeezing when we woke and by yelling through our tents we decided that we would get up at 5 am instead of 4.30 (sleep ins rule)! We packed, all the while chattering our teeth and blowing hot breath onto our freezing hands. And then, off we set toward the trail junction that would take up past Bullfrog Lake and over Kearsarge Pass. Through the snow we walked in our morning silence, Justin leading the way occasionally stopping to check the GPS. We crossed some streams using snow bridges on their last legs. Think light is our motto, and try jump across as much as possible.

 My body was failing this morning, I had zero energy and lagged behind. My muscles didn’t ache but they had no go in them. After Bull Frog Lake I felt like I almost stumbled along a Meadow till we stopped on a large rock to eat breakfast. By now we could see the switchbacks leading up too the pass, they looked daunting, exhausting. We headed a little way along the tree line and then cut up the snow toward the exposed trail. It was at one point 10 steps, stop, breath, hang head and breath again. And then my fatigue lifted, and in moments I was once again revilalised to my normal energy levels. Luckily this happened just as we left the snow and scrambled up some shale to the switch backs. It wasn’t long till we passed over Kearsage. We stopped on top and looked down toward the trail beneath. Mountains and whiteness greeted us.

 The walk down off the pass was relatively pain free other than a sketchy part in which we had defend very steeply on slushy snow and cut down the valley. It was the most uncomfortable I’ve felt yet, the soft new snow on top of old stuff wasn’t very stable and we hurried along it eager to get off. After patchy snow drifts we eventually hit the switch backs that got us down to Onion Valley car park. By this stage I had my homing beacon on, and while this part of the walk was very beautiful I seem to have forgotten it in some ways. With another bunch of hikers we ate food, hung out oi tents to dry and waited for a lift down to Bishop. I had luckily wrangles a spot in a car off two day hikers as we were coming down off the pass, they eventually arrived and Bruce and I hitched into Independence. It’s a sleepy town with not too much going on. Here we picked up parcels from the post office, recharged our phone credit and waited for the others. I am very burnt right now and everyone has commented on it. I feel guilty and ashamed. The snow burns like nothing else. My nose is a wreck. The others turned up in dribs and drabs. Phone came with some other hikers, Harriet and Mushy got all the way to Bishop and Justin picked us up as we walked along the highway trying to get to Bishop. To be in the car hurtling along the freeway away from what we had just completed was a surreal feeling. Smiles filled our faces. We are now in Bishop, at the hostel, and it’s great. Tamika hung around to say hello. She has headed back to the sierra this evening, and for now I think Justin, Bruce and I plan to follow her. We are going to eat lots, sleep lots, drink lots and hang out lots. We have a private room for 6 of us and there is a shower with my name on it


Day 60 – Rock Creek to Crab Tree Meadow – 9.5km

Wow what a place! I still can’t get over the amount of water, snow, trees, green stuff there is here! We wake at Rock Creek at 4am to catch the solid snow. We only have a short day planned today, maybe 6.5 miles, but we know how unpredictable snow hiking and river crossings can be. 

The morning starts with a steep 450m climb up to Guyot Pass. It’s relatively straight forward with less snow and visible trail conditions (with mostly south facing slopes). We cross Guyot Creek, halfway up on a small ice bridge and keep heading to the Pass for breakfast. We boil coffee for everyone. We are all feeling good about the easy morning and elevation gained.

Sunrise from Guyot Pass
Yesterday Quiz had a rough day, with some steep downs navigated with crampons. She has decided she wants to turn back and I am going to go with her. We decide instead of leaving at Rock Creek, on a bad note, we will walk the miles to Whitney Creek and maybe I could do Whitney the next day and then head back after. We both like the sound of this plan and so we proceed to Whitney Creek. 

The second half of the morning is spent crossing snow filled meadows and wooded spurs. The walking is easy with firm snow and sometimes the suncups actually help as little foot holes (though other times they make walking very slippery and slow). We walk across a high meadow and turn a corner East to head down to Crab Tree Meadow. What we see are stunning views of Mt Whitney and we are all really excited for tomorrow. 

Views of Mt Whitney Valley from the west

The decent into Crab Tree Meadow is our first steep but safe decent. We all glissade (butt slide) down to the Creek. We arrive Whitney Creek at 10:30am!the Creek is wide and has flooded the whole Meadow. It looks spectacular with a reflective rippling surface. 100 yards down stream of where the PCT crosses the Creek we find some fallen logs. I (Pinecone) am the first to cross on my log! Once over I go and help Phoebe and Perk wade across back up at the trail. The water is 7 degrees, not too bad. 

Slope down to Crab Tree Meadow

Justin crossing Whitney Creek on a what looks like a beaver dam

The campsite north side of the meadow is spectacular, the best we have had! Perched on a raised peninsular in a now flooded meadow, with rocks for lounging and even a family of Marmots to keep us entertained. When we arrive one of the marmots of is standing erect, like a meerkat, making chirping noises down at the meadow. We look out and see a coyote running around on the ice, digging up food. We watch the interplay for a while between the coyote’s scavenging and the marmots distress call. In all very insightful. We spend the rest of the day exploring the nearby waterfall, spotted by Princess Layers and get an early night for the big day up Whitney tomorrow. 

Crab Tree Meadow flooded by Whitney Creek. 

Cute family of Marmots live under a rock

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.

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

Gang drying out the first time

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. 

GPS co-ordinates for Wright Creek crossing point FYI

Where we crossed, knee high with lotsa force and a dramatic backdrop

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!
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. 

Perk and the cirque.

Camp under Forester Pass

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.