Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Cedar Grove, Mile 784, June 8

Cedar Grove - That first day in Kennedy Meadows was a nice one. Other than our parcel not arriving, it really seemed like our luck was changing: we had hooked up with our friends; gotten Rachel's new pack; and spent some time relaxing. The next day was equally good. When we got up in the morning we chatted with a number of the twenty other thru-hikers who were all camped in the area with us. We spoke to one group, who had had a friend come and join them the previous day, about maybe catching a ride down to Ridgecrest with her when she returned, if our re-supply package did not arrive. She said that it would be no problem, but then people started to bring us any extra food that they had. As we walked around the camp, we accumulated an armful of food, including a commercially freeze-dried dinner, a number of other home make dinners, and a bunch of odds and ends. Other hikers assured us that they had yet to go through their boxes and that they were sure they had extra supplies. We were also told to get back to the store because a hiker had put a bunch of good food in the hiker box (a box which hikers leave stuff that they don't want, so other hikers can pick through it - it can be an excellent resource) the previous afternoon. All of a sudden we were beginning to think that we would not need to hitch the forty or so miles into Ridgecrest and back, because we would be able to piece together enough supplies for our seven day leg with everything that people had given us and what was available at the General Store. The generosity of our fellow hikers, and the feeling of community that we got from being in this group was enough to make our perspective's a whole lot brighter if they hadn't already been revived.

We got down the General Store at about 9:30 AM. and started going through the hiker box. We were able to pull some good supplies out of the box and we were confident that we would make out okay. We looked around in the store to get an idea of what we would buy, but we were still waiting for the mail to be delivered that day before we bought anything. The hikers gradually convened upon the General Store until our numbers were up in the teens again and we sat around chatting while individuals attended to an assortment of chores. Finally at about 11:30 AM the postal truck showed up, filled to the brim with parcels. Rachel ran over to the postman to assist him in unloading the truck, and also to get an early peek to see if our parcel had arrived with him. As the two of them unloaded box after box, Rachel's spirits dropped as she did not see our box. When she thought that the truck was empty, the mailman grabbed one more box off the passenger seat, and low-and-behold, it was ours. Murphy's Law had come into play again, but we were glad to have our own food and supplies as it keeps us within our comfort zone.

We went back through the supplies that we had obtained from other sources, and those that we no longer needed we placed in the hiker box. From that point forth, we watched the hiker box more (we had never really paid it much attention before because we never really needed it) and we noticed that it really has a bit of a life of it's own. Stuff goes in, stuff gets taken out; it's constantly evolving, and we have been amazed at some of the expensive stuff that sometimes finds it's way in there (like full bottles of Aqua Mira - the chemical water treatment).

With our box in hand we spent the next hour or so going through our supplies. We had ordered a bear canister from Bearikade and it has arrived (prior to our food supplies) so we spent some time checking it out, figuring out how much food we could pack into it, and which foods are best to put in the canister and which are alright to leave in the Ursacks (ballistic nylon bear-resistant stuff sacks). Once we leave Kennedy Meadows we are really heading into bear country. While there had been bear sightings prior to Kennedy Meadows, the likelihood of encountering bears in the next 300 miles is probably about ten-fold. Some of the areas that we are going to be hiking through in the next couple of weeks require a bear canister and there is a hefty fine for non-compliance. We had wavered back and forth on whether or not we wanted to go to the expense of obtaining one, and then have to carry the extra weight, but then Scott found out about Bearikade online. We were able to rent a canister from them for a very reasonable price, and their cans are the lightest on the market (by a significant margin). Finally we decided that it would be better to be safe than sorry, so we ordered the Expedition sized canister which is about 15 inches high and about 8 inches diameter. While it is a big canister, it is unfortunately not big enough to hold all of our food for seven days, so the Ursacks have been put to use as well.

With our food concerns taken care of, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, socializing,, and waiting for dinner and a movie. Dinner was at Grumpy Bear's Retreat and they drove to the General Store to pick us all up and drive us the three miles down the road, and then afterwards, they brought us back. Dinner was alright; we had our choice of three meat options, (pork chops with a white gravy, meatloaf, or ribs) served with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and salad, for $8. The food was alright, but we were a little disappointed with the small portions. We had been expecting a full ear of corn each, but had gotten only about a third of an ear, and the salads were pretty small. We think that they had had a lot more hungry hikers take them up on their dinner offer than they had anticipated so they had to cut the portions back a bit so that they had enough for everyone, (either that or they just have no idea how much food we hikers can consume after being on the trail for six weeks). After dinner they shuttled us back to the General Store were we waited for the eight o'clock viewing of "Meet The Parents" in the little amphitheater behind the store. Both of us had been looking forward to watching the movie because we figured that it was the epitome of relaxing, and we haven't had much of an opportunity to veg out in front of a TV or movie for a long time. It was an added bonus that neither of us had seen the video before either. The movie ended at about 10:15 and by the time we walked the 1.5 miles back to our camp along the dark road, it was almost 11 p.m.. We quickly brushed our teeth and then crawled into bed. It had been a long, but pleasant day.

After our late night we weren't up and moving to get onto the trail at our usual early time. We didn't wake until about 5:30 and with all of the last minute sorting of our supplies and saying of good-byes that we had to do before leaving, it was about 6:45 before we were actually on the trail. While it felt like we were getting a really late start to the day, we were not the only ones. There was about 11 of us who pulled out of Kennedy Meadows that day and we all left about the same time. Now that we are entering into the High Sierra segment of the hike, the push to get an early start is lessened by the cooling of the temperatures. We still get moving early compared to most people living a normal life, but it is a little more relaxed now.

We hiked the mile or so back, to where we had been dropped off in the Kennedy Meadows Campground a couple of days before, and then we began onto to the trail. We dropped down and hiked along the side of the South Fork of the Kern River, with Anne and Lee, for a couple of miles, before crossing a bridge and then making our way into a side canyon. The other eight hikers who had left that same morning were seen at different points along the way as we all stopped for short breaks. We were climbing slowly through the pine trees, until we finally came out into Beck Meadow, the largest alpine meadow in the Sierra. We meandered our way around the outskirts of the meadow and then climbed up the hills on the east side. We traversed around the hills for a while, gradually making our way north and then we crossed over a ridge top and dropped down to cross the South Fork of the Kern River, which was snaking its way easily through the meadows.

As we came into view of the bridge across the river, we looked down and saw a group of eight hikers all lounging in the grass on the north side of the river. They made a very pictorial scene and it reminded us of a scene out of a movie set in the Victorian era. We crossed the bridge and dropped down onto the grassland to join the group and to eat our lunch. We spent about forty-five minutes resting in the grass before the group slowly started to disperse as people headed out onto the trail again. As we were the last two to arrive, we were naturally the last two to leave, but we did so rather hastily as dark clouds were forming above us and it appeared as though there was rain in the valley to the east of us.

We started out onto the trail as a few swollen drops began to hit the ground around us. We had put our down sleeping bags inside their waterproof stuff sacks before leaving the river, but we hadn't yet put ponchos over our packs. As we walked, the frequency of drops slowly increased until they were often enough that you could see them darkening the air around you. Before we were more than a half a mile up the trail, we heard the great clapping of thunder in the valley behind us and we hastened our steps a little more to try and stay ahead of the downpour. Every now and then, amid claps of thunder, we would stop to look behind us and we could see the rain coming down in sheets, back where we had just come from. The swollen drops continued to fall around us as we made our way along the foothills and into Cow Canyon. We had briefly considered the idea of stopping and putting up the tent, waiting for the storm to pass, but it never came upon us that hard and shortly thereafter we were entering Cow Canyon, and the sky had dried up.

We started our 2300-foot climb up Cow Canyon, hopping back and forth across the dried-up creek bed. It had been a long day, and the climb was wearing us out, so when the rain started up again and it appeared as though it was going to settle in for the remainder of the evening, we found a level place to put the tent up and we climbed inside. Once inside our cozy little shelter, we sat there and listen to the raindrops pitter-patter on the tent fly, but within a few minutes we realized that they were letting up. Another couple of minutes later, the rain had stopped, and when we peeked out of the vestibules to look up at the sky, we noticed that the clouds had cleared away and we were looking at blue sky.

It was about five-thirty, so Scott got out of the tent, walked about twenty yards away, and began to cook dinner. While he was doing that, Rachel packed up the gear that we had just taken out, in preparation of moving on a little bit further, after we had eaten. Being that we are now in bear country, eating before the final resting destination of the day will become the norm, so as not to attract the bears to our campsite by the aroma of good cooking.

Once we were finished dinner, we put away the last of our gear and then proceeded to continue climbing up Cow Canyon. We were soon joined by three more hikers who had left Kennedy Meadows later that day and the five of us continued to labor up the hill. At last, we came to a small creek crossing, the first one with enough water in it to fill our water bottles, so we all stopped to tank up for the night. Jon and Julie (two hikers from the Seattle area) were camped right by the creek, so we chatted with them briefly, before we moved on. Another three-quarters of a mile further, we came across two more hikers who had set up camp and it was here that the other three, who had come up behind us, decided to stop as well. We bid our goodnights to the lot and kept on with the steady climb, trying to put a little bit more of the hill behind us before we called it a night. At last, we traversed around a little glen and we saw a leveling of the ridge, a little off to the right of us. We hopped across the creek and make our way the hundred yards or so over to the saddle and we were treated to wonderful views of Beck Meadows far below and a level spot to camp. We had come eighteen miles, with a late start, so we decided that that was as far as we were going. As we set up our tent and enjoyed the views below, we declared that we were in the best camp spot that we have had on the trail to-date. As we had already eaten dinner, we didn't have much left to do in camp, but have our sponge baths and then watch the sun set over the hill tops, while enjoying a hot beverage. Once the sun set behind the hills, it was time to retire to our beds, for a well deserved nights sleep.

Unfortunately our sleep was not as good as we would have liked. When we went to bed, the sky was clear and there was very little breeze. We had put up the tent, but opted to sleep without the fly, so that we could appreciate the stars above. Well, it was fine for a while, but then sometime in the middle of the night the wind picked up and it howled through our mesh tent, making us very cold. We were camped at about 10,000 feet, so it was cool enough to begin with, but the wind made it quite unpleasant. We could have gotten up and put the fly on, but we were too chilled to even think about getting out of our sleeping bags, even though in the long run we would have been better off for it.

After an uncomfortable night's sleep, we got up in the cold of the morning. The wind was still howling through our camp, so we were wearing sweaters, jackets and gloves, as we packed up our camp. We headed out on the trail at about 6:30 in the morning and at last, we were able to warm up, as we attacked the remaining 500 feet of our climb. We climbed up and around Olancha Peak and finally came up on the ridge to the west, where we got wonderful views of Mt. Whitney and the other mountains to the north. The view was so beautiful that we decided to stop and view it while we ate our breakfast.

After breakfast we were moving down the trail. We were now traversing the north-western face of Olancha Peak and then we finally reached a saddle where Jon, Julie, Bob, Smokey, Mark, Flutterby and Fancy were taking a break. As we arrived, they were preparing to begin the long descent down into Gomez Meadow, so we filed in behind them. It was the first time that we had hiked in a large group and it was fun to march down the trail in procession, nine hikers all in a line. The conversations were varied and animated, and on one occasion, we stopped for a group photo with lovely views of Mt. Whitney in the background. As we continued on, we spilt into smaller groups, but we reconvened again at the crossing of Gomez Meadow (a lovely spot where everyone wanted to get a photo) and then again at a creek ford a little further on. The creek was at the mouth of Death Canyon and at the beginning of a long, five-mile, 20000-foot climb up to the ridge. It seemed like a natural place to stop for lunch, so that we could fuel up before tackling the climb. We all sat about on the rocks eating, chatting, and trying to avoid thinking about what was to come.

Soon it could be put off no longer and we all started to gather our things and move out onto the trail. The two of us set out ahead of most of the group and we set a comfortable pace up the hill. The guidebook had indicated that it would be a steep climb with twenty-two switchbacks and numerous turns before we reached the top. While we counted significantly more than twenty-two switchbacks and a couple of false summits, the grade was relatively comfortable the whole way up. We stopped for a break half-way, but unlike some other climbs, it wasn't because we were out of breath.

After 3.5 miles we were rewarded with wonderful views far below, to the desert. We looked down over the rim and saw the dried up lake bed of Owens Lake, with its red coloration caused by the algae and bacteria. It was a neat sight for us, because we had driven down Hwy 395 with Rachel's parents, on the way to Campo, and we had driven by that lake and commented on the color of the soil. Now we have seen the same lake bed again, but from a very different angle this time.

Pushing on again, we tackled the remaining 300 feet of our climb, before beginning a half mile traverse with a minor descent to a saddle. We continued along the traverse, passing a couple more saddles along the way. We were up between 10,000 and 10,500 feet, so the vegetation primarily consisted of foxtail pines loosely scattered around the hilltops.

At last we came upon the rest of the group, all preparing their dinners at a trail junction. Water could be had 0.2 miles down the spur trail, so everyone had decided that it was a good place to eat, as people might want to camp soon afterwards. While we were not quite ready to eat dinner, we were in need of water, so we headed down the trail to the meadow below and found Ann and Lee (hikers from Bellingham, WA - who we met in Kennedy Meadows) pumping water out of a shallow pool with their filters. Everyone at the junction had told us that without a filter we would be unable to get water out of the spring because it was too shallow and had too much algae, but when we got there we managed to get a few liters worth by straining the water through our bandanas. We hiked back up to the junction and then we headed out on the trail with Ann and Lee, who also wanted to put in another couple of miles before eating.

We hiked with Ann and Lee for about three miles before we stopped to eat. Both Ann and Lee are geology graduates from W.W.U.(Western Washington University), so Scott really enjoyed talking with them about the geology program there and Rachel just enjoyed the company and conversations. We chatted away happily while preparing and eating our meals and then prepared to move on again, just before 6 PM. While we had been sitting there, all of the other hikers had meandered past, stopping briefly to say hello again. It wasn't much more than a quarter of a mile down the trail, before we came across Flutterby, Fancy, Mark, Smokey and Bob all setting up camp and then a little ways further we found Jon and Julie all settled in. The four of us, however, kept on going, but Ann and Lee stopped within another half mile and we finally picked out a camp spot a half mile past them.

Still at about 10,000 feet, we decided that tonight we would sleep with the fly on the tent, just in case it got cold or the wind picked up again. We were camped on a broad crest line and being so high, there was very little vegetation other than a few sparse foxtail pines to provide us with any shelter. As it turned out, it was a good thing that we put the fly on, because just the same as the night before, the wind picked up after dark and it cooled things right down (with the fly on, however, we were still quite comfortable).

The next morning we were up at our new, usual time: 5:30 AM, and on the trail by 6:30 AM. We immediately began to climb again and we eventually made our way back up to 10,500 feet and the trail junction at Trail Pass. Here we met up with Flutterby, Fancy, Mark and Bob, all of whom were heading down the side trail in order to re-supply at Lone Pine. Mark was kind enough to offer to take our garbage off our hands and dispose of it in town, so we gave him our two small Ziploc bags and bid them farewell. We enjoyed our breakfast of cold cereal, before moving up the trail to climb higher and higher.

As we were hiking up the trail, we were greeted by a male grouse in the middle of the path. He was making a threatening call as we approached and he marched down the trail towards us. At first we thought it was very amusing, but when he kept on approaching we began to get a little wary. Scott, who was in the lead, stuck his poles out in front of him to ward off the bird and he said "I'm sorry, but I've been attacked by a rooster before". The grouse didn't seem to be put off by the trekking poles sticking out towards him, and he kept crying out and trying to get past the poles towards us. After a minute, Rachel stuck her pole out as well, and held the grouse off to the side so that we could walk past up the path. As we walked, so did he. We walked faster, he broke into a run. We thought it was funny for a minute and asked the grouse how far he was going, but when he didn't let up it ceased to be so amusing. Pretty soon we were almost running up the trail and the grouse was close on our heals. It w as by a narrow margin that we finally escaped and left him behind to go after the next hiker to come along. (We found out later on that day that the grouse had, in fact, gone after every hiker that we know to have passed his way. He attacked Brant's backpack when he put it down in front of him. and he also attacked Julie's skirt and wouldn't let go as she tried to pass. All in all, we were glad to have gotten by without having suffered any injuries.)

We stopped once again, to get water from a little creek and then we pushed on to make it to Chicken Spring Lake, our first lake! We hiked up to Chicken Spring Lake, at an elevation of 11,235 feet, and we decided that as it was our first lake, it would make a good spot for a break. We lounged in the sun, rinsed a few pairs of socks, Scott washed his hair and he even enjoyed a Coors Light which some kind soul had left on the beach (too bad that we now have to pack out the empty can). A swim would have been in order, but after Lee tested the water we all determined that it was too cold. We are really hopeful that one day soon we will find a lake that is warm enough to swim in, because we don't get too many showers out here and a nightly sponge bath can only get you so clean.

We left the lake after lounging around for the better part of an hour and we climbed up to the ridge surrounding the lake and then began a long traverse at timberline. We were hiking on a very sandy surface that sustained little vegetation. Far below us, we were able to see lovely meadows spreading across the valleys, but up where we were, there was little but a few foxtail pines, sunshine, rocks and sand. After a few miles we came across a small sign indicating that we were now entering Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. We had been looking forward to that marker as we felt like entering Sequoia N.P. was somewhat of an indicator that we are truly in the High t Sierras. When we finally got there, we were disappointed that the sign was not a large wooden one, but rather it was no larger than any of the other trail markers along the way. Nonetheless, it was still a momentous moment for us so we stopped to take a photo and then have a little lunch with Ann and Lee.

After lunch, we began a prolonged descent down towards Rock Creek. There were many areas where we hardly felt like we were descending at all as we were crossing open plains with foxtail pines providing us with some shade from the hot sun. It was a pleasant walk through the meadows and along the traverses, but then we started to descend in earnest down towards the creek. We dropped via switchbacks down into the canyon and we heard the roar of water long before we saw it. When we finally made it down onto the shelf alongside the creek and as we walked the remaining mile towards the Rock Creek Camp, we saw a deer off on the side of the trail. He was standing about 20 feet away from us and he was returning our gaze before he finally wandered off into the bushes. He was the first deer that we have seen at a descent distance and for more than a fleeting moment, so it was a real thrill to see him up so close.

When we made it to the campground we found Jon and Julie, Ann and Lee, and Linda (another hiker we had met in Kennedy Meadows) and her friend Mike (who had joined her for a segment hike) all camped there. It was only about 5 PM so it was relatively early for us to be making camp and it felt like a real treat. We put up the tent and then bathed (Scott in the icy cold creek and Rachel choosing the pot method) before thinking about making dinner. We lounged around for a while and then after dinner, we all convened at Jon and Julie's site, as they had lit a fire. Julie commented that it was the first fire that they had had on the trail, (same with us) as there is not usually enough time for such luxuries. Typically when we get into camp we eat, bathe and go to sleep, but tonight was different as we made camp so early. It was really nice for a change.

The next morning we were up ahead of the rest of the group because we were going to summit Mt. Whitney. We were camped about 6 miles and a 1500 foot climb away from the turnoff to Whitney and then the hike up Whitney was another 8.6 miles to the summit and 4.8 miles back down to where we were going to camp. All that mileage in addition to the climb up to the 13,560 foot summit was going to make for a very long day. We got up at 5 AM and were on the trail by 6 AM, after we said our good-byes to Jon, Julie, Ann and Lee who were bypassing the summit quest and moving on along the trail.

The first 1500 foot climb out of camp was a tough one. It was early in the morning, our muscles hadn't had a chance to warm up yet, and it was steep. We were huffing and puffing long before we made it to the ridge and it had us wondering if we had the stuff to make it all the way up to the summit of Mt. Whitney. At last, we made it to the ridgeline and we recovered from the climb quickly, as we made our way along Guyot Flats.

At last, we reached the turn off for the climb up toward Mt. Whitney and we left the PCT behind us as we went off in pursuit of our goal. As we neared Whitney Creek we met another hiker, Brian (from Scotland - we met Brian at Kennedy Meadows), heading back towards us. He told us that he was headed back to Trail Pass and out to Lone Pine to meet a friend and that he had summited Mt. Whitney the previous day. We quizzed him as to what the trail conditions were like and he told us that it was very do-able, but that above Guitar Lake it was easy to lose the trail because of snow. We thanked him for the warning and then eagerly made our way across the creek and up the 3.9 miles of trail to Guitar lake, where we would leave our packs to make the final push to the summit.

As we made our way up the trail towards Guitar Lake, we passed through Crabtree Meadows. Here in the meadows we saw a bunch of deer grazing. They were aware of our presence and watched with interest as we made our way along the trail. Further on, we arrived at Timberline Lake and then we made the final push up to Guitar Lake, above tree-line at about 11,500 feet. Here we picked out a campsite for when we returned from the summit and we dropped off our packs. We had heard horror stories about the marmots in the area, chewing through pack straps to get the salt, so we took the appropriate precautions. We lay our packs on their backs against a boulder, and then we piled more rocks around and on top of our packs so that they couldn't get at the straps, nor could they really get into the packs. Feeling confident with that, we stuffed our pockets with munchies, grabbed a water bag and our fleeces, and headed out to follow the trail up to the summit.

A quarter of a mile past Guitar Lake, we had climbed to the next bluff and we came across a large tarn where we filled up with water for our summit quest. After that we climbed another couple hundred feet onto the next plateau and then we ran into problems. We lost the trail under snow cover, but we managed to pick it up again after crossing a short snow field. We continued on for a little while further traveling alternatively on snowfields and trail until finally we couldn't find the trail anymore. The snowfields were becoming larger and more regular, and the terrain was exposed granite that did not show a trail well. We kept going, figuring that we would come across the trail again soon and that we were headed in the right direction, so we would eventually find it as it began its switchbacks up the mountain, but we couldn't see it anywhere. We hiked all around, searching for any sign of the trail and at last we saw a large stone 'duck' (vertical pile of rock) off on one part of the exposed granite . We crossed another snowfield to get to the duck and when we were standing beside it we still couldn't see any sign of the trail. We searched the plateau and hillside for another duck, but none was to be seen. We scanned the surrounding basin trying to figure out where the trail would attack the formidable cliffs, but we couldn't see any switchbacks. We hiked over towards the frozen Hitchcock Lakes because Brian had mentioned them while telling us about his summit quest, but still we could see any sign of the trail. At last, we gave up. With our heads hanging low and our moods somber, we returned to Guitar Lake and our packs.

It was a long way back down to the lake. We must have hiked at least two miles away and scoured all around looking for the trail, but at last we were coming up on our selected campsite. As we approached the rocks in which we had left our packs, we saw a marmot sitting on a boulder and then he ran down the side and scurried away. We came a little closer and another one ran off and then we realized that they had been around our packs and as we closed in the last couple of feet another one ran off. We got to the packs and found that somehow they had managed to penetrate the rocks surrounding them. They had gotten into a little food that had been accessible and they had managed to find a couple of little openings so that they could dig under our packs. We were standing right by our packs examining the surface mess that they had caused, when Rachel saw a marmot still underneath and between our packs. We had obviously come up on him unaware and he had not had a chance to escape. Scott pulled one pack aw ay a little just as the marmot jumped out of his hiding spot and clambered across our packs to make his getaway. Scott jabbed at him a couple of times with the trekking pole, but he got away virtually unscathed. With all of the marmots scared off, we cleared away the rocks and picked up our packs to examine the damage. We were worried that they might have chewed through our shoulder straps or something, rendering our packs unusable, but fortunately, other than dirty paw prints all over the tops of the packs and a missing roll of toilet paper (thank God we had two between the two of us) our packs appeared to be undamaged.

With the failed attempt to summit Mt. Whitney, and then the marmot attack on our packs, we were feeling pretty low. We sat in the camp spot for some time, too bummed to talk much, pondering our options. We poured over a good map and getting a feeling for where we needed to narrow our search and then thought about camping the night where we were and attempting to make the summit again the next day, but then we were worried about leaving our packs to the mercy of the marmots for a second time. We then considered hiking 2.7 miles back down to Crabtree Meadows to camp, leaving our packs there before we tried to summit again the next day, but that just seem like so far to backtrack only to come back and do it all again the next day. Finally we decided that we had had our crack at the summit and that it just hadn't worked out for us so we would try it again some other time from the eastern approach. We then hauled on our packs and began our descent back down to Crabtree Meadows and the continuation of the P CT which then joined up with the John Muir Trail.

Halfway down to Crabtree Meadows we bumped into Brant on his way up. He was planning on leaving the trail the following day, to return home to the Spokane area for a couple of weeks, via the Whitney Portal. When we told him of our difficulties in finding the trail he got a little worried as that is his way out. Brant hiked the John Muir Trail last summer and finished at the Portal, so with his previous experience and a good look at the map he will hopefully make it. We will miss his positive attitude and kind spirit on the trail over these next few weeks, but we are hopeful that our paths will cross again as he plans to rejoin the hike again north of Donner Pass.

We made our way further down the trail and eventually reached the junction where the PCT and the John Muir Trail join. We hiked north along the trail for about another half mile before we crossed a small creek. We were tired and a little depressed after our disappointing day, so we decided to scope out the area for a possible campsite. Just below the trail, we found a lovely spot beside the creek at the edge of Big Sandy Meadow. It was still early, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine, bath, wash a few pairs of socks, and have a leisurely dinner before heading to bed. As relaxing as it was to sleep by the creek, Rachel woke up about three times in the middle of the night and thought that it was raining because she was hearing the sound of the water. Each time it would take her a minute to realize that she wasn't hearing the tapping of the rain on the tent fly so it was just the sound of the nearby creek.

The next morning we were up and on the trail at the usual time, 6:30 AM. We hiked up the nearby ridge and soon dropped down to Wallace Creek and our first real fording of a stream. We hadn't been hiking more than forty minutes and we were having to stop to take off our shoes and put on our sandals. The creek was only about 20 feet wide, but the water was rushing down it and there was nowhere to cross without getting wet. Linda and Mike, who had camped at Wallace Creek, joined us and prepared to cross, but as neither of them travel with a second set of shoes, they had to make the ford bare-foot. The water was cold, fast and came half-way up our calves. We each made it across the ford without incident. We stopped on the other side of the creek to dry off our feet and put our shoes and socks back on before hiking the mile down the trail to Wright Creek where we had to do it all over again. The novelty of creek fording wore off quickly after we had to cross two creeks in such quick succession. We had gone almost two months without any creeks that had to be really forded, and then all of a sudden, we had two within half an hour of each other. Wright Creek was a faster moving creek than Wallace Creek had been, and somehow the water seemed colder too, but same as before, we made it across without any real issues.

After Wright Creek we got a little reprieve from the fording for a while. We hiked 3.5 miles up and over Big Horned Plateau. We were right about timberline and the plateau was wide open with expansive views of the surrounding snow covered mountains and frozen lakes and turns and we even came across a herd of deer grazing in one of the meadows. We stopped numerous times to take pictures of the breathtaking scenery and then we finally stopped for breakfast on the plateau. After enjoying our breakfast of cold oatmeal we hauled on our packs again and headed down the trail, off the plateau, towards Tyndall Creek. About fifteen minutes after we had started on down the trail, Scott wanted to take another photo and it was then that we realized that he had left his camera on the log, where we had had breakfast. Off he went, running back up the hill to find his camera. It was during that run back that he first appreciated how well conditioned all of this hiking is making us: he was running uphill at 10,000 feet, and he wasn't even winded.

With his camera back in his hand and the photo taken, that had prompted the realization that he was missing it, we were moving forward again, heading down towards Tyndall Creek and the last creek fording before we began our approach to Forester Pass. Tyndall Creek made the other two creeks look like trickles. We heard the water roaring long before we came anywhere near the creek. We took a few minutes to search up and down the creek for a good crossing spot, but soon realized that right where the trail approached was the least turbulent. For the third time that morning, we took off our shoes and socks, put on our sandals, and waded into the frigid water. With the crossing of Tyndall Creek behind us, the next obstacle of the day was crossing Forester Pass.

By most measures, 2002 has turned out to be a "low snow year". Drought conditions seem to lessen the further north we travel, and we would imagine that somewhere north of Forester Pass, precipitation levels approach "normal".

The drought has caused us little problems, so far. Having Trail Angels drop off water has been a big reason for our good fortune. We've also been able to eek out water from a variety of natural sources. Leaving Campo early (April 15th) also helped. The lack of precipitation has also meant less snow to contend with. The "normal" departure date from Kennedy Meadows, the gateway into the High Sierra, has been around June 15th (the date that you can head into the Sierra and be confident that snow conditions will not greatly impede travel). We left Kennedy Meadows on June 2nd. While we had purchased ice-axes and crampons, we decided not to take them. All reports indicated no snow below 9,000 feet, and all mountain passes "open".

Today was our first big pass - Forester Pass - the highest point on the entire PCT - 13,180 feet. When we awoke that morning beside Sandy Meadow, we knew that we would be doing some stream fording and some mid-day climbing, but we had no idea how much snow we would encounter.

Up until then, we had only seen patches of snow. The trail to Cottonwood Pass (11,160 feet) was nearly clear of snow and nothing we had seen on the PCT since (save for the Whitney Portal approach) posed any difficulty. So we trundled off that morning,, excited about fording our first stream and climbing Forrester Pass. As we left the trees, on our approach to Forrester Pass, it wasn't surprising to see larger patches of snow. On the warm and sunny day, there was much melting and the trail, in places, was more of a stream than a trail. Still, we climbed. When we passed the 12,000 foot level, patches of snow blanketed the trail, but we could skirt them on the rocks, sometimes traveling a bit out of our way to avoid the soft, wet snow. As we came closer to the Forester Pass switchbacks (we could see them, unlike the Whitney Portal switchbacks - of course, having a map helped!) we could no longer avoid the snow. There were some footprints, from earlier hikers, so we followed those; not enough prints, however, to warrant calling it a "trail" and some prints went off in scattered directions as previous hikers looked for the shortest route between rock outcrops. It was impossible to follow the "official PCT trail" and it became a free-for-all, each group seeking a "best route".

We ran into another PCT hiker, "Grasshopper", who was much in the same position as we were the previous day. Without a map, he had no idea of the pass location and he had spent a great deal of time hiking across snow and rock, all in the wrong location. He had gotten stuck in the snow on a couple of occasions and finally he decided to wait until other hikers came along. He had backtracked and was pleased to see our group (Linda and Mike had been following our lead all morning, especially across the snow fields) as we made our way towards the pass.

We made it to the base of the switchbacks, but several of them were buried under the snow. We took a vertical tack, climbing the rock scree, hoping to intersect a higher switchback (hopefully free of snow). The tactic worked: the fifth or sixth switchback was completely free of snow. Huffing and puffing, we ascended this marvel of a pass. Very near the summit, we had to cross a very narrow avalanche chute, which was choked with snow. Because it was late afternoon (about 3 PM), the snow was soft and easy to cross. It made for an impressive photo opportunity, however!

The summit at last! What views! The five of us took time for photos and a bite to eat and at 4 PM, we set down the snow-choked north descent. The snow covered the trail and the switchbacks were soon buried (only the uppermost turn was exposed). An earlier group had struck out across he snow in the general direction of the trail, so we followed those tracks.

The going was slow, arduous, and cold! The earlier group must have crossed around mid-morning, when the snow was more stiff and would support their weight better. For us, it was soft ice granules. We post-holed often and at times, past our hips. Several members sunk in so deeply that feet were cemented in place and they had to be dug out by others. Progress across the top of the large bowl was slow, our feet, legs and hands were wet, cold and numb.

We thought about sliding down to the lake, some 1200 feet below the pass, but rock cliffs seemed to prevent that option. Finally, we could make no more headway along the quasi-official route as the snow was becoming too deep and soft. Our morale was declining and it appeared that the group ahead of us experienced the same thing as foot steps headed down toward what appeared to be a rock outcrop and snow chute. Walking was impossible, so we slid, using our packs like a toboggan, towards the rock outcrop. It was nearing 5:30 PM and the sun was setting behind the ridge. As cold, tired as we were, we all needed to get down off the mountain as soon as possible.

Following in the footsteps of the previous group, we convened at the rock outcrop to plan our next step. We were still several hundred feet above the lake. Below us, the exposed rock became vertical - not an option. The snow chute was choked with exposed rock and would be dangerous to slide through. Across the snow chute, more exposed rock and a possible route down, but being tired with numb, cold feet, we weren't in the best position to "Billy-goat" it down. We opted to hike down the exposed rock, past the boulder choked portion of the snow chute, and glissade down from there. The chute was steep, and there wasn't much of a run-out. We dropped - "Geronimo!", "Wahoo!"... We each went careening down, fortunately stopping well short of the lake. After a short snow walk along the edge of the lake, we found the trail again, buried by snow up-slope, and not yet used this season. Wet, cold and exhausted, we opted to camp right at the lake, finding a few flat spots among the rocks, free of snow.

We were not completely out of the snow yet. It appeared that more awaited us on the descent down into Center Creek Basin, but all that mattered right then was that we were all safe and warming up in our tents. Tomorrow was another day and we would face it when the time came. We had a dinner of hot soup, noodles and two hot beverages each before we lost the light and we settled in for a well deserved rest. We had not hiked all that far that day, but it had been our toughest one yet.

The next morning we lay in bed longer than usual allowing the sun time to warm things up a little. It was about 5:30 before we started to move out of our sleeping bags pack up our camp. Linda and Mike were up and moving also, anxious to continue on down the mountain with us rather than face it alone. We had to light the stove and run our frozen shoes above it a few times in order to thaw them out enough to get them on, and the rest of our clothes were still a little damp from the previous day's adventure. At last, we were all ready to go and we started to move on down the trail by about 7 AM.

While we were out of the worst of it, we still had snow to contend with. The cold night had frozen the snow surface so at least we were able to make some headway along it's icy crust without post-holing through every other step. It made for much easier and swifter travel, however we all agreed that we were glad we did not have to navigate the steeper flanks of the mountain on the hard frozen surface.

We made our way down the mountain by surveying the map and trying to determine where the trail would be if it was not covered by many feet of snow. We looked at the landmarks and then chose our route down around the shores of a couple of lakes, and through a couple of gaps. Gradually, as we dropped further and further down the mountain, the trail became more and more visible until we were crossing gradually smaller and smaller patches of snow between trail parts. Again we were dealing with a trail that was more of a steam as all of the snow melt followed the lowest route down the mountain, but unlike the previous day, we were able to keep our feet dry for the most part (other than that they were in wet shoes).

At last we were back in the trees and the snow patches were but a minor inconvenience that had to be climbed over. It felt so good to be back on solid trail and not have to scan the surrounding areas for its continuation. The four of us made our way down the trail until we arrived at Center Creek Basin, the camp that we had been trying to make the day before. Shortly after the camp we encountered a tributary to Bubb's Creek, and it required fording. We all groaned as we were just starting to feel good about our progress and our feet were warming up in our wet boots, but off came the shoes and socks and across we went. Anther couple of miles further down, we encountered a second swollen creek. This time, Rachel managed to clamber across on rocks and a fallen tree (but she very nearly fell in the raging water) while Scott went through the process of taking off his shoes and socks again.

Linda and Mike eventually fell behind as we pressed on towards our re-supply point. We reached the junction to Cedar Grove at about 11:30 AM and immediately began our long, 5000 foot, 13 mile descent to the National Park village. This section of the trail is so remote that a thirteen mile hike off trail to re-supply is one of the few options. Other people had opted to carry ten days worth of food over the height mountain passes to Vermilion Valley Resort, but we decided to break it up and take the side trip into Kings Canyon National Park (it seemed like a good idea during the planning stages, but as we hiked down and down and down, knowing that we had to go back up again within a day or so, we began to question the wisdom of our decision.)

The Bubb's Creek trail into Cedar Grove was very beautiful, but it was long and steeper than we had expected it to be. We were traveling fast, motivated to make it down to the base by the thought of a beer, a burger and getting to the ranger station before it closed, so we didn't stop for a break until we had gone about eight miles. As we were dropping down, we encountered Civilian Conservation Crews working on the trail and we asked each group how far we had to go. The first guy told us that we had about six miles to go before we reached Road's End, and then a mile further down the trail another group gave us the same response. We hike and hiked and with each person we asked, it seemed that we weren't making any progress at all. Finally we stopped, exhausted, and stuffed a candy bar and a couple of pieces of beef jerky in our mouths before moving on. At last we reached the bridge over the raging Bubb's Creek, which indicated that we had 4.1 miles left to go before Road's End. Those last four miles , however, were the worst. We had two miles of steep switchbacks down the last portion of the canyon, and then we had a seemingly endless two miles hike along the canyon floor before we finally arrived at the parking lot. It had been a long day; nineteen miles and about 7000 feet of elevation loss.

We stumbled into the parking lot and approached a couple to ask them for direction towards Cedar Grove Campground, and they offered to give us a lift the four miles down the road. As we pulled into the parking lot outside of the village center, we saw Sherry and Ardie walking towards the store. We flagged them down and then got out of the car, thanking our rides very much. Sherry and Ardie had pulled into Cedar Grove via the Woods Creek Trail, the day before after Sherry had tweaked her knee post-holing down the north side of Glen Pass (the next pass along the PCT). They invited us to share their site with them in the campground, so we took them up on their offer after first having a hot shower and that burger and beer we had been dreaming of.

As we were all preparing to leave the snack bar and head back to the campground, we encountered Grasshopper. He had made his way down the remainder of Forrester Pass ahead of us, and had been on his way to Glen Pass when he came up blind. He had not had any sunglasses with him and he had burned his eyes the previous day on Forrester Pass so he decided to turn back and head down to Cedar Grove for to allow his eyes to recover before attacking the next pass. He joined us back at the campground and the five of us spent much of the evening comparing news about Forrester Pass and hearing from Sherry and Ardie about what we had ahead of us at Glen Pass. We have a decision to make: do we head back out the way that we came down and attack Glen Pass, or do we take the Woods Creek Trail back out which will join the PCT / John Muir Trail on the north side of the pass. It is a decision that we still have to make and much of it will depend on whether or not we meet up with our friend, Lia, here in Cedar Grove (Lia did the PCT in 1999 and has been planning to meet up with us and here, although we have had difficulties making contact with her). If we meet up, we will probably go back via Bubb's Creek, but if she doesn't, the decision is entirely our own.

We have spent the day, today, catching up on our journal, writing postcards, doing laundry, and going through our re-supply box. We have just been joined by Josh (another hiker we met at Kennedy Meadows) and his sister, who have just come down the Woods Creek Trail. Sherry, Ardie and Grasshopper all left to return to the trail this morning so it is nice to have some company again. The four of us will share a camp site tonight and we will likely spend much time comparing stories and snow reports. Now, however, we are going to try and get these last two journal sections up-linked to the internet as the resort manager has agreed to let us use a telephone line for that purpose. Tomorrow we will return to the trail, whether it be via Bubb's or Woods Creek we do not yet know, but our itinerary has us arriving in Red's Meadows in one week. So until then...