PCT Day 80: An Early Morning and a Beautiful Afternoon

I have this problem in the mornings. Our trail sleeping setup (Thermarest NeoAir pads + custom Zpacks bags + Exped UL pillows + GooseFeet Gear down pillowcases) is so wonderfully comfortable—and I’m usually still so unbelievably tired—that when the watch alarm goes off at 5:00AM, I can’t force myself to move. When the second alarm goes off at 5:05AM, I still really, really don’t want to get up. It can take a good twenty minutes before I manage to begin to extricate myself from my wonderful, warm, comfortable bed.

On the morning of Day 80, we were camped just outside the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park, sleeping inside our net tent under our Ray Way tarp. At about 4:45AM, fifteen minutes before the alarm, we were suddenly wide awake. There had been some sort of jolt to the tarp—a branch falling on it? A line snapping and a support pole coming down? I looked around for a collapsed corner but didn’t see any. Looked out each end of the tarp, didn’t see anything.

I pitch the tarp with the side walls a few inches off the ground, so there was a small gap to look through, off to the side. Peering through the net tent mesh, I could see a small ridge of rocks about five yards from the tarp, and there, silhouetted against the morning sky and looking back at the tarp perhaps a bit reproachfully, was a bear. A small bear, but definitely a bear.

That bear just tripped over our tarp, I thought.

I was awake.

The bear had disappeared over the ridge (in the direction of some other tents), but my adrenaline was flowing and I was on high alert for any sort of noise or movement. We’d placed our bear cans (Bear Vaults, clear plastic cylinders with lids that latch in a way that requires opposable thumbs to open, so that while a bear can see and smell your food, in theory it can’t get to it) about 30 yards away. I couldn’t see them from within the net tent, but what I did see in that direction—the opposite direction from where the tarp-tripping bear had just gone—was another freakin’ bear. Same size as the first one—small—but looking straight at me and strolling closer.

Fancypants and I made some noise, and the bear stopped and stared. He (or she?) edged his way around the tarp to follow what I’m assuming was his sibling—I’m guessing they were last year’s cubs? I have no idea how quickly bears grow, but we didn’t want to make too many threatening noises in case Momma Bear was around.

The two of them wandered back past our campsite a few minutes later but didn’t seem all that interested in us. When we went to retrieve our bear cans, we found them tipped over and slobbered on—but intact.

The rest of the day, post-bears, was a phenomenal stretch of hiking. We passed the 1000-mile marker, which felt like a real accomplishment. One thousand miles is a crazy distance to hike.

Since leaving Yosemite, the land we are walking through has changed. Granite domes and thick forest are replaced by bare, rocky brown crests and expansive views. The smells are sunscreen, DEET, and wildfire smoke, and when we’re down in the trees the sound of cicadas adds at least ten degrees to the already warm air.

As we continue north we walk into a completely unexpected landscape: it looks almost Martian, rocky slopes with patches of snowfield and stubby white pines. Blue lakes and green valleys far below as we walk just below red and black cliffs with views of mountain ranges in every direction. It is strange and different and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in California—and I had no idea it was here.

We camp just south of Sonora Pass on a small rise, surrounded by hills covered in wildflowers.

Day 80, June 26: 18.8 miles, Mile 999 to 1017.8