PCT Days 74-79: The 900s

Hiking out from Red’s Meadow after a big breakfast, it’s clear we’re in dayhiker territory. We pass by Devil’s Post Pile National Monument, which is swarming with families on a Saturday. After saying goodbye to Peter and Rich, we are on the section of the PCT that separates from the JMT for about 16 miles. The JMT bounces up and down between a series of lakes, while the PCT climbs to a ridge that parallels the line of peaks anchored by Banner and Mount Ritter. They’re one of my all-time favorite mountain sights, and the PCT has staggering views of them, mile after mile.

The trail passes through stands of aspen and hillsides of flowers. Just before a creek crossing, I find a perfect green grape lying in the trail. I pick it up, dust it off, eat half and give the other half to Fancypants. It’s delicious. We camp at the edge of the mountainside, with spectacular views.

Day 75 is the Summer Solstice, which in the thru-hiker world is Hike Naked Day. It’s also a weekend and Father’s Day and we’re right outside Yosemite, so we’re passing families all day and we chicken out on hiking naked.

The PCT rejoins the JMT at Thousand Island Lake and then continues over Island Pass towards Donohue Pass, where it enters Yosemite National Park. Everything is beautiful. We continue to pass many southbound JMT hikers.

Day 76 begins with a fast hike to Tuolumne Meadows, where there is a restaurant with hot breakfast and a store with ice cream and one of the busiest post offices on trail.

There are a ton of hikers eating and sorting resupply boxes and otherwise loitering outside the store. The PCT rumor mill is in full effect, with unconfirmable reports swirling around that the trail has been closed between Sonora Pass and Lake Tahoe due to a forest fire.

We hike out through the actual meadows of Tuolumne Meadows, up the Tuolumne River to the Tuolumne Falls. Everything is beautiful. We stay in the backpacker campground at Glen Aulin. There is a nest of baby robins on a pine branch above our tarp.

After the familiar sights of the John Muir Trail, it’s nice to once again be in unfamiliar territory. Despite having visited Yosemite many, many times, I’ve never been in this section of the park before. Northern Yosemite is big and beautiful—and practically empty of people. The trail goes up and down and up and down, and there are streams that the Young Dude Hikers bound across like long-jump hopscotch while we take off our socks and shoes and ford. Better to intentionally get my feet wet than to take an unplanned swim.

The mosquito swarms are getting intense in the evenings—we break out the headnets and cover every inch of skin with rain gear and gloves in order to set up camp at night. Going over Benson Pass on Day 78, we meet Beezlebub’s army of mosquitoes at the top and I have to slather DEET all over myself to be able to keep hiking without losing my mind.

The landscape is still covered in recognizably Yosemite granite, but it’s chunkier, with fewer big smooth faces or granite domes.

We meet Lisa the Yosemite Backcountry PCT Ranger, who is very friendly, even while making sure we’re carrying our required bear cans. She doesn’t have any official word on the supposed fire closure up near Sonora Pass, so for now the rumors are still just rumors.

The hiking here is challenging—steep, frequent up and downs and a trail surface that’s like cobblestone even on inclines so that I find myself edging down small, round, closely spaced rocks. It’s slow going.

Day 79 is filled with riots of wildflowers and swarms of mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are so bad that we rig up the net tent in the middle of the day and crawl inside it to eat lunch. Old license plates from the 1940s and 50s stick out of trees far above our heads, marking the route for cross-country skiing in winter. We pass Dorothy Lake and the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park at sunset, but the mosquitoes are too dense to pause to enjoy any of it. In the net tent at the end of the day I lie down and watch the mosquitoes swarm outside and taunt them for being unable to bite me. We are camped at Mile 999.

Day 74, June 20: 13.5 miles, 0.3 to PCT + Mile 906.7 to 919.9
Day 75, June 21: 16 miles, Mile 919.9 to 935.9, Vogelsang Junction
Day 76, June 22: 12.6 miles, Mile 935.9 to 948.5, Glen Aulin Camp
Day 77, June 23: 17.5 miles, Mile 948.5 to 966, Wilson Creek
Day 78, June 24: 14.3 miles, Mile 966 to 980.3, Kerrick Creek
Day 79, June 25: 18.7 miles, Mile 980.3 to 999

Photos: PCT Days 69-73

PCT Days 69-71: Mile 845.9 to 874.4, Vermillion Valley Resort

PCT Days 72-73: Mile 878.7 to 906.5, Red’s Meadow

(All photos are on Flickr)

PCT Days 69-73: The Rest of the 800s

Day 69 took us through our last, beautiful stretch of Kings Canyon, along a rocky river chasm where we hiked past huge cedars and stands of aspen.


On Day 70 we went over Selden Pass—a less dramatic climb, but the view on the north side was breathtaking.


We took the Bear Ridge Trail from the PCT down to Lake Edison, where we walked across the dam above the almost empty lake to get to Vermilion Valley Resort.


We’d stayed at VVR as JMT hikers three years ago, so it was nice to be back at another familiar spot. We spent a zero day at VVR, racking up a tab in the restaurant, and learning from a guidebook that the huge tadpoles we’d seen in a lake on way to Muir Pass could have been 4 years old.


We hiked out of VVR on Day 72, taking the trail around the west side of Lake Edison to maintain our continuous footpath from Mexico—rather than taking the small “ferry” boat across the lake to the north side of the dry lakebed.


We had our second permit check of the trip at Mile 878—our first was four days earlier on the hike up to Muir Pass. After carrying that piece of paper for over 800 miles, it’s nice to be able to show it off.

Next up was Silver Pass, which I had no memory of from the JMT hike but which was very pretty. On the hike down from the pass we hit the 1/3 mark of the trip: 883.36 miles.


I’m not sure if it’s time of the year or the location or some combination, but the mosquitoes have become truly terrible near any form of water… or in the woods… or in a meadow… anywhere, really. Setting up camp has become a frantic, flailing race to get the tarp and net tent up before being eaten alive.

On Day 73 we met up on the trail with Fancypants’ friend Peter and his friend Rich, who had come out for a long weekend of hiking. It was nice to have company—and new conversation—as we made our way to Red’s Meadow, a resort slightly off the trail where there’s a restaurant and a campground. We passed the 900 mile marker on the way.

Day 69, June 15: 18 miles, 845.9 to 863.9, Sallie Keyes Lakes overlook
Day 70, June 16: 18 miles, PCT Mile 863.9 to 874.4 + 7.5 miles on Bear Ridge Trail to VVR
Day 71, June 17: Zero miles!
Day 72, June 18: 14.5 miles, 6 miles around Lake Edison + PCT Mile 878.7 to 887.2
Day 73, June 19: 19.8 miles, Mile 887.2 to 906.5 + 0.5 miles to Red’s Meadow Campground

Photos: PCT Days 61-68

PCT Days 61-65: Independence + PCT Miles 789.4 to 794.5; Kearsarge and Glen Passes

PCT Day 66: Mile 794.5 to 809, including Pinchot Pass

PCT Day 67: Mile Mile 809 to 827.3, including Mather Pass

PCT Day 68: Mile 827.3 to 845.9, including Muir Pass

(Many more Day 68 photos and all other photos are on Flickr)

PCT Day 68: Muir Pass, or Why You Should Hike Kings Canyon NP

Kings Canyon is the best national park that you’ve never been to—maybe never even heard of. Yosemite has stunning landmarks, all easily accessible by roads; Glacier has (had?) ice fields and rugged peaks, also easy to access; Yellowstone has a giant supervolcano that will one day kill us all. But Kings Canyon is kinda out of the way, is kinda hard to get to, and doesn’t have a lot of roads and visitor centers and gift shops. The road it does have is stunning—a drive through the eponymous canyon, which in some places is actually deeper than the Grand Canyon.

But the real treasure of Kings Canyon is the backcountry. Green valleys filled with wildflowers and bordered by jagged peaks. Raging rivers pouring down rocky cascades. It’s the Sierra Nevada at its most dramatic. And all of it only accessible by trail.

The PCT enters Kings Canyon at the top of Forester Pass and continues through the park for about 75 miles, over four more passes. It’s all beautiful country, but the ten miles leading up to Muir Pass from the south are outrageously, epically stunning. It was easily the most beautiful hiking of the trip so far—quite possibly of my life.


When we got to Helen Lake and paused for pictures, our friends Dilly, Dally, Sarge, and Stump caught up to us—the first time we’d seen them since Kennedy Meadows, 140 miles earlier. They of course beat us to the pass—the last two miles to the top were brutal—but it was great to see everyone again.

The hike down was more gorgeousness. Sloshing straight down the mountain through snowfields; walking along the edge of Lake Wanda with its teal water, tinkling ice, and frogs(!); Evolution Lake in the evening light.

And we wrapped it all up with good friends and a campfire. Great success.

Day 68, June 14: 18.6 miles, Mile 827.3 to 845.9