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