PCT Day 145 : A Thunderous Sierra Welcome

August 27 (~08:40 – ~17:00)
After Ebbetts Pass – Boulder Creek (16.0 mi / Total: 1030.8 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2324.6
Weather: Warm, partly overcast. Thunder in the afternoon.

I wake up when it’s already light outside, and I decide to sleep in. There’s no use sleepwalking another day, so I rest as much as I can, loosen up the muscles in my legs and leave late.

Once I’m off I do feel better. I’m less tired, and although all the muscles in my legs still feel every step I take, it’s not as impossible as it felt yesterday. I follow the trail up through all the rocky constellations I saw yesterday, and climb up towards Noble Lake, which lies unexpectedly and splendidly in a large meadow, and it’s so serene and beautiful I feel a surge of melancholy.

The trail climbs towards a saddle, and on the other side it’s a pretty mixture of forest and meadow and rocks and I can hear the jingle of cow bells like a Tibetan Buddhist temple. Just as I begin the descend on the other side through a forest I hear a cumulative crashing and when I look back, an entire tree is falling down the slope above the trail. There are no animals nearby, no bear that could’ve helped push down the tree, it just fell. Knowing how fast it happened, it’s a little worrying.

I break a little further down and as I sit on the side of the trail I meet Red Feather. I can’t believe it – another PCT hiker! A true southbounder! She tells me she did this section a few years ago and also remembers this stretch between Carson Pass and Sonora Pass to be quite challenging, and I’m surprised because I thought it was just me struggling, but I’m relieved to hear this trail is demanding to others as well.

She tells me another hiker called Marmot is also nearby, and I’ve met her in passing several times – she was storming through Northern California and I can’t believe she’s already catching up despite my flips down. It’s her first thruhike as well, and clearly she’s a strong walker. I’m excited about these women suddenly being nearby, although my leisurely non-thruhiker pace for the Sierras may mean I don’t get to see too much of them. But who knows, unexpected things happen on the trail. At the least I’ll see Red Feather in Kennedy Meadows North tomorrow.

When I continue the sky has mostly gone overcast with grey and white clouds. The good thing is that the accompanying cooler temperatures are refreshing, I even feel my muscles ache less, but I’m also very aware of what is happening in the sky, and darker clouds are forming over the valleys and mountains in different directions.

The trail takes me around all of the valleys and the cows that freely roam throughout, making me feel like I’m walking in the Alps, and then the skies begin to thunder. I’m not worried, despite being at such high altitude today, over 9000 feet. When I cross over to another mountainside into a land of fairytale rock with impressive peaks all around me, all I think about is that I can’t wait to get closer to them as I head further into the Sierras.

I descend with views of the darkening storm clouds gathering over the mountains ahead of me. I’m happy to resume my way until I see a lightening strike above the tallest mountains, but I still think I’m okay, I’m moving away from the most intense clouds, until of course the trail curves and begins to head straight for the thunder. Yikes. That’s not what I was hoping for. I realise it’s 5 pm in the afternoon as well, and although I’ve hardly gone 16 miles all day, tomorrow is only a half day to my first resupply point at Kennedy Meadows North and I could easily do less today and add those miles to tomorrow.

I’m still headed downhill but soon the trail will begin to ascend again, towards Sonora Pass. With the thunderstorm, I’d rather stay as low as possible, and below treeline. There’s a tentsite near a creek at a low point coming up and I decide not to head further into the storm and call it a day.

When I reach the tentsite, Red Feather is already set up and I’m happy to find someone else there, as thunderstorms are terrifying when you’re in a tent. She tells me these storm don’t usually happen until later in the season, but two years ago she was in the Sierras and had them every afternoon, and I hope this doesn’t mean that’ll happen this year as well – I know I couldn’t deal with three weeks of thunderstorms. More importantly though, my schedule doesn’t quite take into account adverse weather conditions, so I try and have faith this is just an odd one-off. I set up my tent in between tall trees and get inside, and then it begins to rain.

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