August 21 (~06:40 – ~20:20)
Before Painted Rock trail junction – Phipps Creek (30.9 mi / Total: 1112.7 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2254.9
Weather: Warm but the sky is shrouded with hazy clouds, so now and again it’s overcast and a little chillier.
I wake up in my perfectly quiet spot and try to start my day as quickly as possible. I was only able to walk 25 miles yesterday, which means I’m left having to try and do 35 today. This will leave me with just 15 miles left for tomorrow, which is ideal because I’ll be able to get into town early and get the most out of my two zeros. The morning quickly creeps up on me though – the light always sneaks in so sudden and so fast, but I’m happy I still I get going before 7.
The morning is splendid. The views are just so big, there are mountains everywhere, with forests and rocks and everything in between. I’m headed into the Granite Chief Wilderness, but later today I will enter the Desolation Wilderness, for which I bought an overnight permit – which I never managed to print. This, apparently, could be a problem. So during a period of signal climbing up the first mountains in the morning, I try to call the ranger stations in the area but my calls continuously fail to go through. When I finally reach someone, the woman tells me my PCT permit does cover my entry into the park, which is not what the Guthook app has been telling me. It appears I didn’t need to book anything after all, and I never needed to pay for an overnight stay. The woman tells me she gets calls like these from PCT hikers all the time – clearly something is being miscommunicated. Either way, I’m relieved I have nothing to worry about anymore. It also means I can camp in an area other than the one I booked the permit for. My original location is quite far away since I didn’t manage 30 miles yesterday, and I might not actually make it all the way.
Meanwhile there are quite a few backpackers around – people enjoying slightly longer trips and day hikers exploring for the day. I get ahead of all of them and chase the happy sun as it brightens the white rocks and green trees and then I get high enough to see the lake, THE lake, Lake Tahoe a fading blue in the distance, everything hazy and romantic in view.
I follow the ridge line along the mountains, panoramas in all directions, craggy rocks everywhere. This is a ski area during winter, and I pass all the ski lifts and ski slopes and winter signage along the way. I have my first break with a view onto Lake Tahoe in the distance, and then, as the PCT joins the Tahoe Rim Trail, I slowly descend towards Barker Pass trailhead, and then into the forest.
The trail spends the rest of the day going steadily up, and I soon find myself in a state of moderate exhaustion. Even the slightest uphills almost kill me. It’s not just my legs and feet that need a rest from all the exercise, I’ve been sleeping less than six hours every night for weeks now, and I’m so tired I feel like I’m swaying down the trail.
I take another break – I’m about 25 miles into my day now, and I try to eat some things that will give me energy. It doesn’t help much, but what does seem to help is the fact that it’s slowly getting dark, and that I’ve almost run out of water, and all the streams are dry. The next reliable water source is in another 6 miles, which will take me to a campsite which apparently has a big black bear living close by, so I hope I can find some water sooner. Since it’s so late already, reaching those coveted 35 miles seems impossible as I’m not willing to hike in the dark here – these forests would be much too spooky. My remaining options make me feel like I’m stuck in a Catch 22 situation. I could try and camp sooner, but I’ll have a longer day of hiking tomorrow and less time in town. But if I do continue walking as long as I can and get to town a few hours earlier, I’d be exhausted for the rest of the day. And that would render my additional time in South Lake Tahoe a little useless.
I keep on moving and decide to just see where the trail takes me. Surprisingly, the walk in the disappearing light goes fast. I pass into the Desolation Wilderness and some miles later I walk by a pool of stagnant water and I take some – it still tastes delicious. With my bottles filled I run along the trail, my headlight now on, hoping to find somewhere a little more exposed instead of these tree covered areas I’m currently moving through. Just before the bear-happy water source I was originally aiming for, I find an open rocky area with ample space for camping. Better yet, I spot a tent further up, which is great in case that giant bear does decide to show up. I set up my tent surrounded by mosquitoes, and then I climb into my little haven. Twenty miles left for tomorrow.