August 28 (~07:25 – ~13:40)
Boulder Creek – Sonora Pass (14.1 mi / Total: 1016.3 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2338.7
Weather: Warm, but with a nice cooler wind. Lots of clouds.
The thunder and rain roar for several hours, but it steadies later in the evening and blows over during the night. I go to sleep quite early, around 9, and by the time I’m ready to get up in the morning, Red Feather has long gone.
I follow the trail, still at high elevation, and manoeuvre into the new light of day, with impressive mountains all around and the sun a haze, warm and light. Everything is perfect, and pass some beautiful tentsites I missed out on.
The trail takes me through the rest of the rock-littered forest, down to Carson River and then the big ascend begins, up to the unnamed pass which sits higher than I’ve ever been before on the PCT, around 10,500 feet, and I’m looking at some 2500 feet elevation gain.
Luckily I feel all right. Getting more and more sleep has helped me not only feel less tired, but my muscles also feel less strained. I’m still not particularly fast, though. I do have something else to worry about today – clouds are gathering once again, white and grey and moving fast, thickening and melting together. I keep an eye on them as I climb up the spectacular landscape, towards the plateau I believe is the high point – until I realise it isn’t.
I’m already celebrating reaching my new high point when I spot a huge pile of red rocks just around the corner, and I follow it as it turns into a giant jagged staircase that overlook a surprise lake and the mountains on the other side. When I reach the top it’s all bare and exposed, black and dark brown rock and I sidle above everything to the mountainside that looks like another pass. It’s like a portal that will lead me down to Sonora Pass, and once I’m on the other side everything looks different again.
I pass a group of older hikers taking their time just as I move into this new landscape, a country of trolls, with the wart-like rock formations drooping everywhere, erected high or hanging down. It’s a crazy sight, and so different from everything else, and it’s also the beginning of the downhill towards Sonora Pass, where I planned to hitch into the resort of Kennedy Meadows North (which by the way has no relation to the Kennedy Meadows at the southern foot of the Sierras, which is my end point for the PCT) for the rest of the afternoon.
When I reach the road at Sonora Pass it’s almost 2 pm, and Kennedy Meadows North is about 8 miles to the west – the resort being a campground with a store and restaurant another mile from the road, and I position myself next to the highway to hitch, and wait.
It doesn’t take long to realise this is a tricky hitch. There are simply no cars, and I’m lucky when a man stops and is happy to take me all the way to the store. The car drive down is magnificent, but Kennedy Meadows North unfortunately, isn’t. It’s one of those places all the hikers rave about, but clearly they’ve just been deprived for too long.
I do find a PCT area in the back which is always great, an open tent with chairs and tables, a hiker box and charging points. There are several hikers, more people! It’s nice to be surrounded by more PCT hikers, it’s been so long. Red Feather is there, and she tells me she left before 4 am that morning, which is (putting it eloquently) just crazy. She already told me she’s a slow hiker, and she just walks really long days, and now I get what she meant. The others are mostly northbounders, and then there’s another southbounder called Corey, who’s been cherry picking sections to hike and is now finishing with the Sierras. He’s taking even more time than me to do it – swimming in all the lakes and doing only 15 miles a day. He tells me was right at the exposed pass when the thunder hit yesterday, with lightning everywhere around him. He was desperately hoping to see another hiker but he never did. He found cover in the end, and hearing his story, I’m so happy I didn’t continue on.
One of the northbounders knows the weather forecast as well – a thunderstorm is supposed to pass between 11 am and 5 pm today, but luckily the clouds that followed me this morning didn’t turn to the anticipated storms and evidently it’s all blowing over – it’s sunny and hot right now. The rest of the week is supposed to have great weather. Phew.
I do my resupply but options are poor, so I’ll have 3.5 days to daydream about better food. It’s okay, I knew this would happen, and I know my options are limited anyways because I can’t shove my beloved loafs of bread into a bear can – it’s just not big enough to hold such bulky food. So I have to adjust anyways. When I’m done it’s almost 3 – the resort operates a hiker shuttle back to the trailhead that currently only goes at 3 pm every day, and all the northbounders are getting ready to get on it. I can’t quite decide what to do – I wanted to eat some food at the restaurant here first, and relax, and I don’t have the required $10 in cash for the shuttle.
At the last moment I decide to stay and eat a chicken burger at the restaurant which is decidedly subpar, get served by a distinctly unhappy waitress, which makes me wonder how little a tip I can get away with giving. I regret eating here, but if I hadn’t, I know I’d be thinking about it for days. I stay until 5 pm and chat with Corey and then decide it’s time to hitch back. Corey and Red Feather are both staying at the resort but I’d rather be back on trail, camp close to Sonora Pass and get a timely start in the morning. I walk the mile back to the road, and then stand next to the highway, which sports even less cars than earlier today. This isn’t looking good.
The sun is just about to disappear behind the mountain and I begin to wonder how long I should give this, or if I’ll end up camping in the trees next to the road. I understand why the resort runs a shuttle back to the trail now. The road is empty. The few cars I see either drive into the other direction or don’t care to take along a hitchhiker. I watch as a car stops further down the road, the driver stepping out to take pictures of the surroundings before getting back in and continuing his way. There’s no way anyone will stop for me tonight. Just a few minutes later the same car comes back and parks next to me – and the driver comes out and says, I want to help you, and I’m so relieved because this guy just seems like the nicest person ever.
He’s originally from the Philippines and on a long road trip all the way from Jersey. He wasn’t going to stop and pick up a hitchhiker, but not too long ago he got lost hiking himself and a local called Nigel helped him as it was getting dark, and he wanted to pay it forward. So he passed me and initially thought all those things you’d think when you consider inviting a stranger into your car, I don’t trust her, she’s a girl but she’s tall, but then he realised I was hiking and it was getting dark, so he came back. It ends up being one of the most relaxed hitches ever because he is someone I would actually befriend in real life, and I’m also just so happy I didn’t get picked up by yet another old local dude.
Once I’m back on the trail I continue south and take the path up. I have no intention of walking any distance so I find a spot in the trees, overlooking the highway below. It’s the perfect spot to start hiking in the morning, and I’m happy I didn’t stay at the resort but came back here. I even have phone signal which I didn’t have at the resort. I’m ready for another day.