It’s Day 43 on the trail. The last day coming into Mammoth Lakes, I passed the 900-mile marker. Every hundred miles on the PCT, the trail is decorated with stones forming the hundred-mile markers so that the PCT hikers can incrementally measure their progress on the trail.
This section from Kennedy Meadows to Mammoth Lakes was the hardest section yet. The 700-mile desert section had its challenges (e.g. heat and snakes) but this was the High Sierra. This 200-mile mountain section was difficult due to the drastic elevation climbs, fast-moving river and stream crossings, snow crossings, and yes, the aggressive mosquitos that thrive near the many alpine-tundra lakes. Despite the exhaustion and mental toll, I must admit that I was having the time of my life!
The daily mileages of 25-30 miles per day that we were used to in the Mojave shrunk down to an average of 22 miles per day in the High Sierra as demanding elevation climbs were made. In addition to the drastic change in terrain, a bear canister was also required to store the food. The BV400 bear can, weighing in at 2lbs 4oz, contained my calorie-dense meals.
Getting through the Sierras requires a hiker to cross over a number of mountain passes. These mountain passes involve a lot of steeply-graded switchbacks up one side of the mountain that a hiker ascends up to a saddle where two mountains meet. At this point, the hiker then crosses over the saddle and descends down a series of other switchbacks down the mountain. In many cases, these high-altitude switchbacks were blocked by icy snow (a.k.a. Sierra Cement); therefore, to descend the mountain, the hiker could “marmot-blaze” (cut switchbacks above 10,000 ft.) or glissade (slide down the mountain on your backsides like a kid). I chose to marmot-blaze!
There were a series of these snow-blocked mountain passes, often one right after another. After side-tripping up Mount Whitney on Day 36, we chose to tackle Forester Pass that same evening. Since Rabbit and I decided not to have our ice axes and microspikes sent out due to the relatively low snow year, we became slightly concerned when we saw just how much snow and ice was left on both sides of the pass. Despite this, we managed to get through it just fine with only a few clumsy spills. Oftentimes, we’d use our trecking poles as probes to ensure safe snow conditions in front of us.
One cautious step at a time, we made it over to the other side of Forester Pass. The day after getting over Forester, we blue-blazed 9 miles over Kearsarge Pass (11,709 ft) into the desert town of Independence. This broke up the Sierra section in a more manageable way in terms of resupplying. While in this one stoplight town, I showered in the back of a Chevron station, ordered food from a taco truck, and somehow resupplied groceries from a Shell fueling station.
Forester was the first of many mountain passes a thru-hiker must pass over to get through the High Sierra. Subsequent passes included Glenn Pass (11,948 ft), Pinchot Pass (12,107 ft), Mather Pass (12,094 ft), Muir Pass (11,969 ft), Seldon Pass (10,913 ft), and finally Silver Pass (10,779 ft).
We finally made it to the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes where we zeroed, staying at the Sierra Lodge. This was only the second bed I had slept on since commencing the trail 43 days ago and was a rejuvenating town stop for a weary hiker like myself.