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PCT Days 61-67: Let The Passes Begin

We took some zeros and neros in Independence and Bishop, resting after an epic past few days and figuring out gear and various other stuff.

Day 65 saw us once again headed up and over Kearsarge Pass—with far better weather this time—and back on the PCT/JMT.

This is the section that everyone’s been waiting for since Mile 1. It’s why we slog through 700 miles of desert. The High Sierra—the John Muir Trail—is called “The Crown Jewel of the PCT” for good reason. Huge, rugged passes, long green valleys, views upon views upon panoramic views.

It’s also some really tough hiking. Witness the elevation profile from Guthook’s PCT app:

Welcome to the JMT, bitch!

It’s almost a pass a day for over 150 miles. Ten-thousand foot passes, eleven-thousand foot passes, twelve-thousand foot passes. You go up, you go down, you go up again—big climbs and big descents. Forester Pass was the first (and the tallest), and it’s quickly followed by Glen. After seeing the deep trails worn into the snowfields on Forester by the dozens (hundreds?) of hikers who’d gone before us, we felt confident in sending our ice axes back home from Bishop. We weren’t going to encounter the awful, soft, postholing slog that earlier hikers had reported. But we still expected plenty of snow on the north sides of passes.

Glen Pass, 11,968 feet high, has a fairly quick approach after Kearsarge, with the last bit a steep, switchbacking climb straight up the south side to a knife’s-edge crest. It’s rocky and narrow and beautiful. At the top, we could hear frogs saying ribbet ribbet from the small lakes below.

The descent down the north side was kinda sketchy. There was a deep trough of hiker footsteps in the snowfields, like on Forester, but the slope was a lot steeper—and the consequences of slipping seemed scarier.

That’s the rhythm of passes: a long approach to a final steep ascent—the top—and then a steep descent through patches of snow back into a valley. Pinchot Pass on Day 66 was similar, as was Mather Pass on Day 67.

Pinchot, 12,104′:

Mather, 12,047′:

All of this (beautiful) up and down translates into slow progress. In the desert I was able to make pretty accurate predictions of our pace—including stops and variations in terrain, our pace was averaging out to two miles per hour over the course of the day. Hiking 20 miles in a day was totally reasonable. In the Sierra, that all goes out the window. The high elevation, 3000-foot climbs, rocky trail, stream crossings, snowfields—it all translates into a much slower pace. Eighteen miles a day was exhausting. Which was really frustrating to me: I thought I was supposed to be good at this by now!

We’ve also been stopping much more frequently now that we’re passing John Muir Trail hikers. The majority of them go north to south, so we run into a bunch and we stop to chat. Their clothes are so clean, they have big packs and big waterproof boots, and man do they smell good. They’re impressed with what we’re doing, which is a definite ego-boost, but they’re crimping my style—now I have to look in both directions for hikers and go more than ten three zero feet off the trail to pee.

Highlights included:

Our campsite on the north side of Pinchot, by Lake Marjorie:

Lush Sierra valleys and raging creeks:

Hitting Mile 800!

Sarge sunbathing at Mather Pass:

Day 65, June 11: 12.6 miles, 7.5 over Kearsarge Pass + PCT Mile 789.4 to 794.5
Day 66, June 12: 14.5 miles, Mile 794.5 to 809, Lake Marjorie
Day 67, June 13: 18.3 miles, Mile 809 to 827.3

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