August 31 (~07:10 – ~20:00)
Seavey Pass – McCabe Lake Trail Junction (20.6 mi / Total: 955.1 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2399.9
Weather: Sunny and hot but the uphills are too distracting to notice.
After two days of leisurely mornings, it’s time to get started a little earlier again. I don’t want to keep on walking until nightfall every day, so I’m ready to go just after 7. Today promises to be a tough day with lots of elevation change, so I need to keep moving.
Unfortunately, the Sierras have different ideas. I camped at Seavey Pass, which is a little different from other passes. The high point is really a long stretch with several lakes, and they’re all gorgeous and quite photogenic. It’s a beautifully calming start of the day. The descend after is equally picturesque – a meandering trail through little hedges and green trees, huge boulders lining the path and occupying the backdrop. But they have their downside: before I know it, I’ve been walking for almost two hours and I haven’t even progressed three miles. All I’ve done is take pictures.
When I reach the bottom of the descend I cross a shallow river where I meet my first ranger. He asks to see my permit and bear can, and later, when I see him again on the steep uphill, I have a little chat with him. Soon after I pass another hiker, a woman moving very slow, but I keep leapfrogging with her because of all the chatting, and all the picture taking. It’s an odd day.
I’ve started the long climb up to Benson Pass, which is tough as nails. It’s like a giant staircase of rocks, and every step is painful. I’m already depleted of energy and hardly moving at all when I meet Boomerang, another PCT hiker who’s been flipflopping like me and is currently northbounding the Sierras before finishing off in Washington. We chat for some time – quite some time actually. He’s showing me pictures of the side trip he did in Yosemite Valley, and is telling me I should consider the same. He’s talking about a two-day trip from Tuolumne Meadows, which I’ll pass tomorrow. The pictures are gorgeous, but realistically I don’t have the time or the energy to add any more walking to the PCT. I don’t even know if I’ll summit Mt Whitney at the end of this stretch.
In the meantime the ranger’s caught up again. This time he asks Boomerang for his permit and bear can, who subsequently gets a little chagrined by actually having to produce all this stuff, especially when the ranger takes out a pen and dates his permit. He’s already run into quite a few rangers who never actually needed to see his permit. Then Boomerang tells me our permit only allows us access to the Sierras for three weeks, something I’ve never heard before. But having my permit dated would make it more obvious if I overstay – and I worry I might. (This isn’t true, actually. We get 30 days to complete the Sierra section, but I don’t know that when I’m talking to Boomerang.)
By the time we continue our own way, we’ve been talking for at least 40 minutes, and when I finally manage to crawl to the end of this steep climb, it’s close to midday – and I’ve only gone some 7 miles. Instantly I’m frustrated. So much for trying to leave on time today. The one difficult day, and now I’m losing time by talking to strangers.
Instantly I’m rushed again, and in my haste I can’t take all the pictures I want when I reach Smedberg Lake, which sits gloriously in the midst of layers of almost white rock, a heavenly sight. I have a short break at the edge of the water and start charging my headlamp, knowing I might be walking in the dark again tonight, the one thing I didn’t want. I continue to Benson Pass, first through a surprise level meadow, then the last steep section up. When I finally make it, it’s after 13:30 and I’ve gone 10 miles.
The way down is varied. First, a green oasis ending with a small creek, then, another rocky ascend with mind boggling views of yet more rock – always rock. There’s a level section through forests and meadows, such a relief after all the hard surfaces and sharp ascends. There are quite a few river crossing as well – crossings that were terrifying just a few months ago, and I’m happy to find the water low, and I can rock over over most of them. I couldn’t imagine these rivers being torrents in different times.
I meet more chatty people. Two men of whom one has hiked the PCT and the other is planning on doing it next year. We talk about the impact of the record high snow this year on the trail and hiking community and when we part ways I know that despite the nice chat I’ve lost more time, and I watch more and more hikers pass by.
I’m torn between trying to keep up with these strangers and just letting the day unfold and taking it all in. I’m surrounding by the most stunning views and I fall in love with the distant rock faces. I almost can’t believe I’m here.
The next uphill goes through a forest, and I’m happy to find less rocks and more dirt path, something bouncy to walk on. It’s so much easier, even though I struggle all the same. I spot several deer on the way, eyeing me from next to the trail, big ears of innocence fluttering like butterflies. One even has a young fawn with her. At the top I find Miller Lake, another gorgeous sight and I sit down and eat some dehydrated rice from a ziplock bag. Then I go down again and I see two other thruhikers going north – they’re walking so fast and I try to do the same, I should be walking fast like that, but it just doesn’t really work for me anymore.
Now I just have one last uphill left. After two river crossings I dive back into a forest, a thick one this time, and continue up. The light has almost gone once I reach the top, where it levels out. I hoped to walk a few more miles here, but it’s all forest, and I’m not a fan of night hiking through a forest. I decide to stay put instead, and find a pretty level spot close to the trail. I didn’t do the miles I wanted, the miles I needed, but considering the time I lost talking to people and taking pictures and struggling to get up all the mountains, I guess didn’t do too bad. I put my pack down and set up in the dark, once again.