Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Red's Meadow, Mile 900, Jun 15

At a friend's condo in Mammoth - It was good to rest up in Cedar Grove, and we are really pleased that we were able to get our journal up-linked, but our stay there would not have been as enjoyable had it not been for the other PCT hikers who came through. Cedar Grove is not a usual re-supply choice for thru-hikers because it is on the west side of the crest, is not a town (it's a village area within King's Canyon National Park), and it is either a thirteen or fifteen mile hike off the trail depending on which route you take down. Most hikers opt to re-supply either in Lone Pine or Independence (both on the east side of the Sierras, on Hwy 395), or they choose to do a ten day stretch from Kennedy Meadows through to Vermilion Valley Resort. With that said, however, we would like to recommend Cedar Grove to anyone who is considering their re-supply options through this stretch of the trail, and here are our reasons why: we hiked Bubb's Creek Trail in both directions, and it was truly beautiful; the grade on the west side of the crest is much more gentle than that on the east side; and, it is well positioned between the two natural re-supplies of Kennedy Meadows and Red's Meadows. Because it's not a usual re-supply for most people, we were not expecting to see other hikers in Cedar Grove, so each time we did see hikers it was a treat. It was also interesting that none of the other hikers whom we saw had planned to go down there at all, but rather they had all encountered some type of problem on the trail and needed to rest up, obtain more equipment, or simply just take a break.

After we downloaded our emails and uploaded our journal, during the afternoon of our zero day (no trail mileage) in Cedar Grove, we sat around chatting with Josh and Naomi outside the snack bar and market. It seemed like the natural gathering place for people, so we stayed here hoping that our friend Lia would show up. As the afternoon wore into evening we began to realize that things weren't going to pan out with our reunion with Lia, so we gathered our belongings and headed back to our campsite and bed.

The next morning we lay in bed longer than usual, listening to the sound of the birds chirping in the trees above us. We didn't get moving until about 6 AM, because we figured that it would be pointless to try and hitch a ride back to Road's End much before 7 or 7:30. While it was a late start for us, it was obviously still early for most of the weekend campers in the sites around us, as nobody was moving until we were almost ready to go.

When we were moving around in the quiet of the morning, we were amused by the sight of Josh and Naomi sleeping on the ground with no tent or tarp over them - surrounded by RV's, cars, trucks and tent-trailers in other campsites. The contrast was striking and we tried to take a photo of them with the RV and other vehicles in the background. We pulled out Rachel's little camera, but the picture wouldn't take. The battery was just about dead. We managed to warm it up enough to take the photo, but it presented us with another problem: we needed to get a replacement before heading back onto the trail, and unfortunately it required a special, 6-volt lithium battery. We had no choice but to wait until the market opened at 8 AM, so we told Josh and Naomi that we were heading back to the Lodge to have breakfast and wait for the store to open.

We left the campground at about 7 AM and headed back to the Lodge, but when we got there we were dismayed to find that the snack bar didn't open until 8 AM, the same time as the store. We sat outside on at one of the picnic tables on the patio and waited. When the manager walked by, Rachel asked him if they sell lithium batteries in the market, and he informed her that they don't. This was not good news, as there was no other store around and we did not want to go into the next segment without a camera. We thought about using a disposable camera and figured that we would have to resort to that, but we were not happy about it, as we could not send a disposable into Clark Color Labs to get the prints done and put online.

Just before everything opened up at 8 AM, we began talking to three guys about our hike. We chatted until the doors opened and then we all filed inside to line up for breakfast. At that point Rachel happened to mention the problem that we were having with the battery and she, half jokingly, asked if they had an extra one. One of thee guys, Howard, said that he might and he rifled through his backpack and came out with two. What were the chances?! Trail karma was working for us again! We offered to purchase the battery from him, but he would hear nothing of it and he gave it to us! (Thanks Howard!)

We had a delicious sausage and egg breakfast, with Josh and Naomi and then prepared to return to the trail. We hiked out to the road and soon realized that there was very little traffic and we would be better off to start walking towards the trail head. We were about a quarter of a mile up the road when the first car came along. It was Howard and his two friends! They pulled over, opened the trunk, reorganized everything, and finally managed to squeeze us and our two packs into the car. It was a fun ride to Road's End in their Saab 900 (leather seats and sunroof). We jokingly asked them, "Please take us with you!" They dropped us off at the Road's End ranger station, where we checked-in briefly with the ranger, before beginning our long, 13-mile, 5000-foot hike back up to the PCT.

The trail starts out gently on a flat basin for the first two miles, and then it abruptly began a two-mile segment of switchbacks, up the canyon, before settling into the steady climb that would take us the rest of the way up. We took our time hiking up and rested often, knowing that we had all day to cover the 13 miles. As we climbed, we met a number of groups of hikers coming down from their weekend trips and we stopped to swap stories. We enjoyed the scenery going up Bubb's Creek more than we did on the way down, because we weren't in such a hurry and we enjoyed looking at the mountains before us, rather than having them behind us - as they were on our way down. Also, we saw lots of deer grazing in nearly every one of the meadows along the way and we stopped to watch some of them. At about 5 PM, we reached Vidette meadow, only minutes before the junction rejoining us with the PCT and the John Muir Trail. The meadow had a bear box, as well as a couple of deer grazing nearby, so we decided to call it a day and camp in that lovely spot. As we set up camp we watched as the deer grazed closer and closer to our site and the one male with antlers (the first we have seen) came really close, before something on the other side of the meadow spooked them all off. Some time later, the deer found their way back and by the time we went to sleep at about 8 PM, there was a small herd of them grazing in the meadow.

It was cold the following morning when we were breaking camp. We had slept in until after 6 AM, because we knew that we had another pass to cross that morning and we wanted to let the sun soften up the snow a little bit before we found ourselves on the slopes. We had been forewarned by Sherry and Ardie, as well as Josh and Naomi, that the north side of Glen Pass was much worse than Forester, because it was significantly steeper and there were more rock outcrops preventing one from glissading. The thought of what was to come had given Rachel an uneasy night's sleep, as she fretted that it would be another repeat of the ordeal that we had had up on Forester Pass, but we were trying to learn from our previous experiences. We knew that we needed to get onto the pass before the afternoon so that the snow would still be firm enough to support our weight and prevent us from post-holing, but that it would be soft enough to allow us to kick steps in it if we needed to. All in all, we timed it so that we left camp by about 7:20 AM. The sun was not yet over the high mountains to the east of us and there was a thick layer of frost across the meadow.

We left camp all layered up, trying to keep warm in the below-freezing temperatures. Almost immediately, we began a steep climb up Bubb's Canyon, which helped to warm us up a bit, but our hands were still frozen, despite wearing our gloves. We climbed the 1200 feet to the trail junction with Kearsarge Pass and Charlotte Lake and then soon after, stopped for our breakfast in a patch of sunshine. We knew that we would be beginning the real ascent up to Glen Pass shortly and we thought that we had better fuel up.

The approach to Glen Pass was nothing like that to Forester. While we encountered snow patches that obstructed the trail, they were not so large that we lost sight of where the trail went and there was no large snow basin to cross before the switchbacks began. We passed by a couple of frozen lakes and then began our true ascent. The climb was steep and we had many a switchback, some of which were snowed over, so we had to scale up the scree, to where we could meet up with the path again. Even so, the going was relatively easy, other than the steepness of the climb. At last, we reached the summit and we had managed to do it without getting wet (ah, the difference it makes to hit the snow at the right time), but looking down the north side of the pass, we could see why other hikers had found this pass difficult. Unlike Forester, Glen Pass did not drop into a nicely rounded bowl, but the trail headed straight down to rock outcrops and a number of lakes below (including the beautiful Rae Lakes). Fortunately for us, there had been enough hikers to provide a route in front of us. The footsteps headed off, away from the summit, on a traversing descent across the mountainside.

As we started our descent, we noticed the hill was so steep, we could reach out our uphill hand and easily touch the ground. Scott gingerly tested the snow and found that it was firm, yet soft enough to allow him to get a good foot hold, so he continued on down the hill. Rachel followed, in the well-worn footsteps of others and we slowly made our way down the backside. Every now and then the footsteps in the snow would turn more downhill, rather than the gentle descending traverse, and it was then that the going got a little sketchy. With each step into the pre-existing foot hole, our feet would slip further down the hill and sometimes, we would find ourselves sliding out of the steps! Using caution (and a lot of faith in our trekking poles), we made it past each such section. At last, we made it to the rock outcrop and were able to pick up the switch-backing trail for little bits at a time. We were slowly making our way toward Rae Lakes. The further down we hiked, the more visible the trail became, but that didn't mean that we could use it. Once again, much of the trail had become a river of melt-water.

At last, we reached Rae Lakes and we stopped for a quick lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, cheese, and Oreo cookies, before we headed on down the hill. Then we began a long 6.3-mile descent to the crossing of Wood's Creek and the other trail to Cedar Grove. The trail dropped over 2000-feet from where we had had lunch, much of the way we felt like we were walking along an obstacle course. Where the snow melt hadn't made the trail a virtual river, it was either marshy, muddy, or covered in rocks that required careful foot navigation. By the time we reached roaring Wood's Creek, we were exhausted and it was just after 4 PM.

We crossed the creek via the wood-slat suspension bridge and then we immediately began to climb. We were heading up the North Fork of the Woods Creek toward our next pass: Pinchot Pass. while we knew that we would not make it the seven mile to the pass, we wanted to get ourselves in a good position to attack it first thing in the morning (to insure firm footing in the snow). We were happy to be on an uphill grade, after going downhill for so long and the first bit of the climb passed very easily. It wasn't until we reached a couple of tributaries to Woods Creek that our progress began to slow.

It was now quite late in the afternoon and the creeks were swollen, after a day of sunshine on the snow-packed mountains. The first couple of creeks we managed to cross by jumping from boulder to boulder without too much difficulty. The next creek, however, did not present such and easy crossing. Scott climbed upstream, in search of a good place to cross and eventually managed to find one, but Rachel decided to try out a series of smaller rocks nearby. The first rock she stepped on, rolled under her foot and she found herself standing in the ankle deep water. At that point she made a break for it and quickly dashed across the remainder of the creek. Miraculously, by the time she reached the other side, her feet were only mildly wet. A couple hundred yards later, we reached another swollen creek. This time, Rachel decided to follow Scott upstream in search of a dry crossing, but after a little bushwhacking, Scott determined that we were going to have to ford the creek. We returned to the trail crossing, exchanging our shoes and socks for sandals, then making the icy cold crossing of the creek.

Once safely on the other side, we stopped for a quick break and decided that it was time to start looking for a place to camp. We had not made as much headway up the trail as we had hoped, but we were eager to find a suitable camp, as we had seen nothing suitable to that point. It was about 5:45 PM and the sun was soon to drop behind the ridge, high above us, so we decided that we would take the first site we found. A short way further, we found ourselves in a little meadow with a flat spot underneath a couple of tall pines - an ideal spot. We dropped our packs and set up the tent. We had come only about 14 miles that day, but we were tired and it had felt like so much more, as the snow travel really slowed us down and it's hard work.

We had planned to get up at 5 AM and be on the trail by 6 AM. We wanted to get an early crossing of Pinchot Pass and then cover the ten miles to Mather Pass and cross that too, before the snow softened up too much. We didn't wake up until 5:15 AM, which already had us behind schedule and then when we started to get moving, Scott's back began to bother him. He had tweaked it the day before when he bent over to unhook the fly from the tent. It seems crazy that something as simple as bending over can put do it, especially when any number of more strenuous activities, like crossing the pass or even putting on his pack, could have done it. Anyway, his back had been a little sore during the hike the previous day, but after the long night's sleep, he was really seized up and he was having a hard time moving around. We lay in the tent, contemplating our options: stay where we are for a day and rest his back; return to Cedar Grove via the Woods Creek Trail; or press on and hope that it doesn't go out completely. After popping a couple of Ibuprofens with codeine, we decided to press on. We were both very aware of the predicament that we would be in if we got another day along the trail and then his back went out, but we preferred not to think negatively.

By the time we finally got out on the trail, it was 6:30 AM. Scott was moving well, as the waist belt around his hips and lower back seemed to help provide support for his back. We began climbing up towards Pinchot Pass. At first, the trail passed through trees, but after a while, we rose above timberline and found ourselves making an approach across an open basin. The snow patches became more plentiful and larger. It wasn't long before we lost the trail. A quick look at the map to confirm which direction we needed to go in and then we began to blaze our own trail across the snow fields and rock outcrops.

We were making good headway across the rocky surface when we came up above a knoll and heard a little voice cry out a greeting. We looked over to our right and there we saw Josh crouched behind a boulder (doing his morning business). We all had a good laugh (afterwards) that of all the open space available, we just happened upon Josh during that "private moment".

As it turned out, we had found Josh and Naomi in much the same position that they had been in a few days previously (before the returned down to Cedar Grove): they were in the basin and they were unable to locate the trail. Scott pulled out our color map of the John Muir Trail (Tom Harrison JMT set of maps) and once again checked our reference points. With the location of the pass identified, the four of us headed up the hill in the general direction of the pass and after a while, we happened upon the trail again, sighted between snowfields. We followed the general direction of the trail, until we were at the foot of the switchbacks, which would take us up to the pass. Josh and Naomi were ahead of us, with what seemed like endless amounts of energy, as we labored up the slopes. At the end of each switchback, we would have to leave the trail and clamber up the rock to meet up with the switchback above, as the snow buried each turn. At last, we made it to the top and the four of us stopped for a couple of photos, before commencing our descent down the north side.

To our surprise, the north side of the pass was better than the south side. The snow on the descent was only patchy, leaving much of the trail exposed. Where the trail was covered with snow, it wasn't too steep and there was a well trodden path that made navigation easy. The four of us made our way down the series of switchbacks that took us down into the basin and then we headed towards the outlet stream of Lake Marjorie. By the time we got to the outlet, it was 10:30 AM - time to stop for breakfast (while Josh and Naomi had lunch).

After our break, we split up. Josh and Naomi cruised ahead of us, taking the trail in stride, while we shorter-legged people carefully chose our footing along the wet and rocky trail. We briefly met up again at a creek ford and we stood and watched as both Josh and Naomi attempted to boulder hop across - both of them got wet feet. After that, we decided to take the time to change into our sandals and ford the creek. That was the last of Josh and Naomi that we saw that day, as they disappeared into the trees on the other side of the creek.

We continued on with our descent for another 1.3-miles, making our way towards the South Fork of the Kings River. We passed another swollen creek along the way, but we had managed to cross it without changing our footwear. We were not so lucky, however, when we finally reached the Kings River and we had to ford the icy cold creek, much to the chagrin of Rachel (who can't stand cold water). With our feet dried off and our hiking shoes back on, we were heading north-east, toward Mather Pass. Once again, it felt good to be on an uphill tack and we were making good progress, until we came across a number of tributaries that needed to be crossed. While we were able to boulder hop across each of the streams, it did require time to explore upstream - to locate good crossing locations. Once more, we came to the South Fork King's River (a more junior version, being further upstream). It was running fast, however, and we, once again, scouted for a good crossing location, but we couldn't find one and had to ford it with our sandals on. Once safely on the other side, we stopped for lunch. We were still three miles away from Mather Pass and it was past 1 PM. Making it over Mather Pass was becoming questionable.

We set out after lunch, telling ourselves that we would attempt to cross the pass, but if it became too snowy or soft, we would backtrack and camp, waiting to cross until the next morning. Almost immediately after leaving the King's River, we left the trees behind and began our gentle approach up the basin towards the pass. We encountered some small patches of snow, obstructing the trail, but we were delighted to find that it was still relatively firm snow and would hold our weight without 'post holing'. We began to think that we would make it over the pass and we quickened our step. A little while later, we lost the trail under a large snowfield and we weren't able to pick it up again on the other side. We got out the map and surveyed it, trying to get our bearings. We could see the pass up ahead and we could even make out the switchbacks heading up the cliff-like face, but it was still a ways away. We set out cross-country, hoping to intersect the trail, but there were a couple more streams between us and where we needed to be. The day was passing and the sun was softening up the snow with each minute. At last, we found the trail again and we were close to the beginning of the switchbacks, but by now, we were sliding in the snow and beginning to punch through a little. We looked at the trail up ahead of us - how the switchbacks appeared to be completely covered with snow, how there was a cornice up on the ridge and we decided that the prudent thing to do would be to wait. We might very well have made it up the pass, but we had no idea how it looked on the other side and we did not relish the thought of finding ourselves in another predicament like we had been in on Forester Pass (late in the day, soft snow, wet and cold). We found ourselves a spot of sand, free of snow and boulders, and set up the tent. It was early to be stopping for the day, as it was just before 4 PM, but with the condition of the snow, we really felt that it would be unsafe to go much further. We would have to wait until the morning.

Being in camp early wasn't so bad. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was warm in the sun, despite our high altitude. We set up the tent and then lounged around, relaxing in the sunshine. We rinsed out some socks and bathed, long before the sun set behind the mountains. We took the time to rest, as the next day was likely to be a long one. We were beginning to feel the pressure of time upon us. The going had been much slower than we had suspected that it would be and we were quickly falling behind schedule. The next pass, Muir Pass, was twenty miles north of Mather Pass. Our new goal was to try and cross both the next day, or barring that, at least to get into a good position to attack Muir Pass the day after.

We awoke at 5:30 AM, struggling to get motivated and climb out of our sleeping bags in the below-freezing temperatures. The realization that we were facing Mather Pass got us moving. We were out of camp by 6:30 AM and we climbed up to the trail where it began its long traverse at the base of the bowl. Initially, the trail was a mix of dirt and rock, but it wasn't long before we had to climb over our first little patch of snow. We hit a few other short, snowy patches as we made our way around the base of the bowl and approached the ascending switchbacks (completely covered under steep, deep snow). When we got to that point, we surveyed our options. We could try and scramble up the exposed bedrock and talus, or we could follow a single set of existing footprints straight up the bowl, through the snow. Of the two options, we chose the later, because we felt the firm snow was more stable than the loose talus, despite its steepness.

We began to climb up the snow, at a very steep angle. We were using pre-existing foot holds from other hikers who had come before us, but the steps were not well-formed - some sloped outward, some barely accommodated the ball of the foot, and some were at odd intervals. We concentrated on each foot movement, as we slowly made our way higher and higher up the bowl, one step at a time. We used our trekking poles to help provide balance, as we made our way up, but it was difficult, given the steepness. We made our way up the snow, going from one small outcrop of rocks, or a little lip of exposed switchback, to the next, but getting from the snow onto the rocks and then into a standing position was no easy task. As we climbed. we knew that one misstep would send us careening down the icy, snow-covered bowl onto the exposed rocks below. We would be lucky to walk away from such an accident. It was so steep that we couldn't look anywhere other than at the next step. To look up, or down, would make us dizzy (not a good feeling considering the circumstances). The only consolation was that realization that nobody had died on the pass yet this year (that we knew of). At last and after much effort and concentration, we made it up the last patch of snow and onto the final few, snow-free switchbacks, which we walked up easily, to the top of the pass. Once safely there, we were able to look back down at our path and marvel at how crazy we must be.

One of the decisions we made prior to leaving Kennedy Meadows was not to bring ice axes or crampons with us. Until we crossed Mather Pass it had been a non-issue, even on Forrester. We had encountered snow that was either so soft that we were not in any really jeopardy of falling far, or the passes we were crossing had just not required that type of equipment. Mather Pass, however, was different; we probably should have had ice axes with us for that approach. With that said, though, had we had our ice axes, but we would have been posed with a dilemma: do we use our trekking poles for stability or the ice axes for safety? Our poles were a huge help in stabilizing us, as we climbed up the bowl and they maybe even prevented us from falling once or twice, but they would have been of little use to us had we fallen and started sliding on the steep snow. On the other hand, a single ice axe wouldn't have stabilized us as well, while we were climbing, but it would have enabled us to cut better steps, reducing the need for stabilization. They also would have provided the ability to arrest a fall, had one occurred. Regardless, the argument is moot - we had trekking poles and that's what we used.

The north side of the pass was much better than the south side had been. While it had more snow on it, it had a much more gentle grade. We were able to switchback down the trail, making our way through the snow patches, to the clear segments of trail. We dropped down quite a ways and as we got around Paradise Lakes, we had to do more creative route finding (it seems as though the snow sticks around the longest on the flats).

After a while, we were finally making our way along the shore of the Paradise Lakes and we decided that it was time to stop for a little nourishment. We stopped when the trail reached the lakeshore and put down our packs, grabbed our oatmeal packets (we have taken to eating our oatmeal cold, with milk, and we have found that we like it quite a lot, plus it's so much easier than sparking up the stove to boil water) and sat down in the sunshine to enjoy our breakfast. Once we had finished eating, we sat a little longer soaking in the beautiful scenery and at one point Rachel looked over at Scott and screamed. Scott, unsure of what Rachel was screaming at, leaped up and glanced behind him, but he saw nothing. A minute later, after recovering from the fright that Rachel had given him when she screamed, the source of Rachel's scream returned. A marmot climbed up on a rock behind where Scott was sitting and as Rachel looked up, he dropped down to a lower rock only a few inches above Scott's head. The precocious little guy wasn't put off by us at all; within a couple of minutes he was checking us out, and posing for some great close-up photos. By then, he must have thought that he had earned our favor, so he climbed down onto the rock behind Scott's backpack, crawled to the edge so he could give it a good sniff, and then tried to knaw on it before Scott shouted and shooed him away. After that little episode, he was no longer our buddy and the novelty of having him so close had worn off, so we picked up our packs and made our way on down the trail.

After rounding the north end of the lower Palisade Lake, we began our steep descent along the "Golden Staircase", which rapidly dropped us down abut 2,000-feet through the Palisade Creek gorge and down into the meadows below. While the trail through that section was a spectacular example of great trail construction, it did leave us with our knees knocking before it was done. It was a steep two-mile descent, but the meadows below provided us with an opportunity to recoup and enjoy some level ground for a while.

It was while walking through the meadows that we came across one of the creek fords of the day. Changing out of our shoes and socks, into our sandals, is a time consuming task, so fording a stream is usually a last choice. We generally look up and down the creek for a suitable crossing, either by rocks or fallen trees first. In this particular circumstance, we found a good crossing location right near the trail. Scott, who had been walking in the lead, tried the crossing first. He gingerly stepped on the cluster of small logs, inched his foot across a little and promptly slipped on the wet surface.. He wound us sitting on the log with his left foot hanging in the water. He got up and stepped back onto the land to rethink his approach, but then in his frustration, he decided, "Screw it. My one foot is already wet, so the other one might as well get wet too". He marched straight into the creek, splashed through it and out the other side. Once standing there, he looked back at Rachel, who wasn't prepared to take the same approach, so she sat down and changed her footwear so she could wade across.

Three miles later, Scott still with damp feet, we arrived at the Middle Fork King's River, where we stopped for a lunch of cheese, peanut-butter sandwiches, and a bunch of Oreo cookies. As we sat and ate by the shore of the mighty river junction between the Middle Fork and the Palisade Creek, Scott noticed a small brown trout swimming in the shallows. He picked out a tiny bit of cheese and tossed it in the water to him. Sure enough, he gobbled it up. With the cheese all gone, Scott started to toss him little bits of chewed-up beef jerky and he ate those as well. By the time we were ready to leave, that little brown trout was the best fed trout in the whole river and Scott had made himself a real buddy.

From the river junction, we began our climb up to the next pass - Muir Pass. It was 10.5 miles, uphill all the way there and we had it in mind to, once again, position ourselves at the base of the pass for an early morning approach. Muir Pass is renowned for being one of the worst passes for snow. Unlike the other passes that have a steep approach and descent, Muir Pass is more of a rounded hump with a gentle grade on either side and the snow clings to it. We didn't know how bad it was going to be though, so we headed up the hill from the river junction with a quick step. As strange as it sounds, it was nice to be going up for a change.

A little way up the trail, we encountered our first John Muir Trail hikers headed southbound. We stopped and chatted with them for a little while, each of us looking to glean some information from the other about the upcoming passes and their conditions. We then moved on, bidding them good luck with their descent down the south side of Mather Pass. We were hiking up the Middle Fork King's River drainage and the grade was relatively gentle. We passed by a number of lush meadows and saw a couple of deer grazing on the rich grasses. High above us, the walls of the canyon were closing in as we gradually made our way closer and closer to the next pass.

We were aiming to reach Helen Lake, just below the pass, that evening, so that we would be in a good position to hit the pass early the next day. As we got nearer, however, the grade began to steepen and we found ourselves climbing up huge exfoliated granite tiers and tiring quickly. It had been a long day; Mather Pass had been a tough climb that morning and we had put in almost twenty miles since. We climbed up higher and higher, stopping every now and then to guzzle a quart of water and throw some food into our mouths before tackling another few hundred feet of the climb. We were emotionally and physically ready to reach Helen Lake. Each ridge that we came upon, we were hoping to find it there waiting for us, but it kept eluding us. Finally we crossed a stream and we looked at the map to see if we could determine where we were, and we realized that we still had a mile or so to go before we would reach the lake. We followed the ridge up another 100 yards or so and there sat Josh (this time we came across him he was not in the middle of his duties). He and Naomi had set up camp on the edge of a lake which they reported to us was, in fact, Helen Lake. Exhausted and eager to find an excuse not to push on further, we decided to camp too. Josh and Naomi were mistaken about the lake, we were still a mile short of Helen Lake, but it was a good thing that we stopped when we did, as the snow was starting to become plentiful and was getting very soft. In hindsight, there was no suitable camping at Helen Lake anyway, because of snow-cover.

The next morning, the four of us set out to conquer Muir Pass. Almost immediately out of camp, we encountered snow. It was with us from our first few steps around the unnamed lake by which we had camped, the 2.5-miles to summit of the pass and then another five miles down the other side. (7.5 miles of solid snow-hiking!!) Route-finding was difficult, at first, because we made our way up and over the ridges and ledges between us and the pass, but after a while the approach became an open, massive, field of snow and route-finding became simply a matter of following footsteps of those intrepid souls who came before us. Muir Pass had been described to us as a "football field of snow" and we could now see what an apt description that was. We followed existing foot prints up and along until, at last, we came upon the final ridge and we found ourselves standing at a stone hut. With a whooping cheer, we all dropped our packs and went about taking photos, exploring the shelter, and eating a cold oatmeal breakfast.

The north side of the hill was similarly a football field of snow. The snow continued down for about five miles, past Wanda and Sapphire Lakes, all the way to the inlet of Evolution Lake. Fortunately, the snow was still hard enough to allow us to walk on it without post-holing too much, but the 'snow cups' had been becoming deeper over the last couple of days, which made walking still difficult. (Snow cups are divots in the snow that are caused by differential melting. They can get as deep as a foot and a half and are about six to eight inches across. They are too deep and narrow to put our feet into, so we have to walk across the narrow ridges between them.) The further we got down off the pass, the more snowmelt we were dealing with. The snow itself, was becoming softer and the patches of trail (where exposed) were more like minor creeks. At last, we reached a ford to the inlet to Evolution Lake and we were on the east side of the lake which gets more sun exposure and the snow was not as bad. We hiked around the side of the lake, being thankful to be out of the snow again and then began our way down into Evolution Valley.

As we walked along the lake shore and started down into the valley, there was quite a notable change in the topography ahead of us. The basin below opened up and the mountains above were no longer as steep, jagged, and formidable as they had previously appeared. It was evident that we were leaving the high peaks behind and that we would be hiking through lesser passes and valleys from here on in. As we were starting down the switchbacks into the Valley, Scott turned around to congratulate Rachel for making it through the "high" part of the High Sierra and then Rachel promptly burst into tears. One might think that she crying because she was sorry to be leaving the High Sierra behind, the part of the PCT that everyone looks forward to, but they weren't tears of sorrow. They were tears of relief. While the scenery was beautiful, the going had been hard. The snow had made for slow and difficult travel and our days seemed to be planned around the snow and passes.

Rachel had her cry, and then we dropped about 2000 feet from Evolution Lake down into Evolution Valley and we made our way through forested areas with plenty of lush meadows around us. About 7.5 miles later, we reached a ford of the now-wide Evolution Creek, which was more like a good river and we prepared to ford it. As we were getting ready, Josh and Naomi came up behind us. While the creek was the widest and deepest that we had to cross to-date, the current was relatively gentle and we were able to make it across without any real problems - other than getting our shorts a little bit wet. Once on the other side of the creek, we all talked about what our plans were for the remainder of the day, how much mileage we expected to make, and where we wanted to camp. Josh and Naomi were hoping to make it to Vermilion Valley Resort re-supply location (another 28 miles away) the next day and we were hoping to get out to Red's Meadows (57 miles) within two more day. With that decided, we determined that we all wanted to make at least another 8 miles before the day was done and that it would be nice to camp together if we could work it that way. Josh and Naomi ventured on ahead, while we stopped to have our lunch. It was 2:30 PM already, so we didn't delay long and we pushed on down the trail.

After lunch, we dropped away from Evolution Creek, down a steep series of switchbacks, towards San Joaquin River, which we crossed twice on bridges. We followed the river along for another five miles, before we took a turn north and began our climb up towards Selden Pass. We were passing through an area forested with Aspen and mosquitoes were swarming around us. We couldn't stop walking for more than a second without having at least a dozen land on us. We quickened our pace, but they still managed to land on us. At one point, Scott had about 18 mosquitoes on the backside of his legs, all trying to relieve him of some blood. Rachel, who hikes in short sleeves, was particularly bothered by them, but we rationed out a little bug spray and kept on moving.

As we started to make our way up the hill, the day's mileage was starting to get to us. We were feeling tired and worn out and found ourselves hoping that we would come across Josh and Naomi sooner, rather than later. A quick look at the map, however, told us that we were not going to be crossing any more good water sources for another three miles or so. (Who would have thought that water would all of a sudden be an issue for us again, as we had been dealing with so much of it, but normally three miles wouldn't be a bid deal, unless it is uphill when we have already hiked twenty miles.) Sure enough, we went about a mile up the hill and we encountered Josh and Naomi, waiting for us in a small clearing in the Manzanita bushes. The first thing we asked them was whether or not there was water nearby, to which they responded that there wasn't. We sat down to discuss whether we wanted to go on or not, and eventually decided that we did not have enough water left to make for a comfortable night's camp and even though we were dog tired, we had to push on. Making the decision to move on until we found a water source was hard, as we knew that it might be as much as a 1500-foot, 3-mile climb before we got there, but once we got moving, we told ourselves that it was the right thing to do.

A couple of switchbacks and a quarter of a mile later, we came across a small creek passing across the trail. We looked at it and determined that it would meet our needs for the night, so we walked back 50 yards to a clearing, where we could camp and we dumped our packs. While Scott went and filled our water bottles, Rachel set up camp and called down the hill to Josh and Naomi, informing them of the find. A little while later they came trudging up the hill, happy to have their thirst quenched. The four of us camped together again that night and had a good time being social, before retiring to our beds for another well deserved sleep.

The next morning we were up and moving before Josh and Naomi and we headed up the hill towards our next pass. We climbed the remaining three miles of switchbacks to where we crossed Senger Creek, and then shortly after our grade lessened as we walked along the ridgeline towards Sally Keyes Lakes. With five miles behind us already, we stopped on the shore of the pristine lakes and enjoyed our breakfast (we are at the end of our breakfast supplies so we had to make do with one package of cold oatmeal each and then crunchy granola bars smothered in peanut butter). With our hunger abated for a while, we made the final two-mile push up Selden Pass.

As we considered ourselves to now be out of the "High" Sierra, we hadn't given much thought to the two passes that were still between us and Red's Meadows. While neither of these two passes broke the 11,000 foot mark (both Selden and Silver Passes were 10,900 feet) they still had a fair amount of snow on them.

The approach up Selden Pass was quite steep, up a series of switchbacks built into a little drainage, but as we have found, sometimes the steeper passes are easier, as the snow does not stay on them so well. We made it up the pass without any difficulties and amazingly little snow pack to cross, but as soon as we got to the summit we saw that there was much more snow to contend with on the north side. Fortunately, however, the route down the north side of the pass was pretty much a straight shot down to Marie Lake, below, and we were able to follow other hikers tracks much of the way. Once we were past Marie Lake, we continued our 1000-foot descent past Rosemarie Meadows and on to our ford of West Fork Bear Creek.

West Fork Bear Creek was another wide and deep river that, without a doubt, required changing into our sandals and zipping off our pant legs. We waded out into the cold, fast moving water at what we thought would be the shallowest spot, but even so, the water came up to our bums as we reached the mid point. We kept moving and safely made our way to the other side, just as Josh and Naomi, and two other hikers, appeared on the far bank. As we were drying our feet and putting our shoes back on again, we watched as the four other hikers prepared for their crossings. The first two guys to come across (Two Joes, from Huntington Beach) made it with no problems, and then Josh followed shortly behind, but when Naomi was making her way across she ran into a little trouble. The river was thigh deep most of the way across until we made it to the center where all of a sudden, within one step, it was up around your hips. She must have hit that spot in a particularly bad spot because it came up the water came up around her waist and she looked like she was going to go down. She called out for help and as Josh was making his way back into the river to assist her, she found her footing again and managed to get the rest of the way across.

Once we were all safely on the north side of the creek, we chatted for a bit while drying off and preparing to move on. Being that we were the first to arrive, we were the first to leave and we picked up our packs and headed out onto the trail. We were about a quarter of a mile along when the mosquitoes started to swarm around us again. Scott went to reach for his bandana to put it around his neck for protection when he realized that he had left it at the creek crossing. Not bothering to turn around for it, figuring that he could get another one in Red's Meadows, we pushed on. A hundred yards later, he realized that he had forgotten his sandals back at the creek ford as well, so this time we decided to head back. We dropped our packs and Scott began to walk back as Rachel stood by and was swarmed by mosquitoes. They were so bad that she thought about putting on her long sleeved shirt for protection. She unclipped her sandals from across her pack and was beginning to rummage through the clothing compartment of her pack when she decided to stay in short sleeves, but to apply a little DEET to her exposed arms instead. As she was finishing up with that, Scott came walking back up the trail with the Two Joes. Apparently Josh had picked up Scott's belongings and was bringing them along. A few minutes later, Josh came walking down the trail and handed Scott his stuff before charging off, in a hurry to cover the last 10 miles to Vermilion Valley Resort, before the last boat shuttle left across Lake Edison at 4:30 PM. With Scott's belongings back in hand, we were likewise in a hurry to head off down the trail as we wanted to cover another 15 miles before the day was done, wanting to position ourselves to make it out to Red's Meadow the following day. It wasn't until we were about four miles further along the trail and we stopped for lunch, that Rachel looked down at her pack, noticed the unclipped strap and asked, "Where are my Chaco sandals?" While we had gotten back Scott's $7 sandals, we had lost Rachel's $100 pair!

We seriously considered the option of Rachel going back to get her sandals, but when we realized that it was four miles back, almost a four hour round trip, and we still had so much headway to make, we finally decided to leave them. We wrote a "Lost" note and left it on the trail, hoping that somebody would find them and return them to us. A little further on we stopped again to leave another note, this one for anybody hiking in a southbound direction, asking them to keep their eyes open for them and if they find them to leave them in a conspicuous location for a north-bounder with an address of where they should be mailed to. With that done, we were left to hope for no more river fords between there and Red's Meadows and that Trail Karma would come through for us again. (To most people reading this, it probably sounds like a crazy thing that we didn't go back for the sandals (and maybe it was), but considering our frame of mind at the time, our fatigue, the desire to be done with this section, and the fact that an eight mile round trip seemed like a huge amount of walking, we made the decision we made. Hopefully it was the right one.)

Back on the trail again, we climbed another few hundred feet before finally leveling off on top of Bear Ridge. We enjoyed a level trail for a little under a mile, before we began our long, four-mile, 2200-foot, 53 switchback descent down to Mono Creek and the Vermilion Valley Resort turnoff. The descent was punishing in that it was so long and drawn out, and unfortunately we were in trees much of the way so we got very few views. All we saw were glimpses of the ridge on the other side of the canyon. Once we finally reached Mono Creek and crossed it on a bridge, we stopped for a little refreshment break at the trail junction for Vermilion Valley Resort. It was about 5 PM and we still wanted to get another five miles in before the day was done. We wolfed down a chocolate bar each and then headed out on the trail again.

As we were walking along the trail, in the thick cover of pine trees, Scott was busy trying to flick pine cones out of the path with his trekking poles. As each cone went flying through the air and crashing into the bushes around us it was making a fair amount of noise. All of a sudden Rachel saw some movement up ahead, that wasn't a flying cone, and soon realized that Scott had obviously alerted a brown bear to our approach. The bear darted across the trail about forty feet ahead of us and then climbed up onto the hill above where he stopped and looked down at us while we stopped to look up at him. He was of an impressive size and while we felt we were at a relatively safe distance, we were still close enough to see detailing in his face and coat. Once we moved on we commented over and over to ourselves that we had just seen a bear, and it was a real confirmation to us that we are in bear country and need to be careful with food storage at night.

Shortly after seeing the bear, we encountered our first crossing of North Fork Mono Creek. We were able to make it across on a fallen tree and then we began our ascent up the creek drainage. Despite having already hiked twenty miles that day, we were still going quite strong and we felt confident that we would get at least another few miles in. We climbed up alongside the creek, sometimes on a steep grade, stopping periodically to guzzle a quart of water before moving on. After a three miles, we encountered our second crossing of North Fork Mono Creek, but this one was not so easily navigated. We searched up the creek and found that we entered more of a canyon where the river rushed faster and more turbulently, and then we searched down the creek. After back tracking about two-tenths of a mile, we reached a spot where the river had broken into two branches separated by an island with a fallen tree going over to it. We crossed to the island and then searched around for a crossing over the second half of the river. Once we made it across we had to find our way back up to the trail, but there was a steep rock wall separating us from it. We scrambled up and over the rock and finally met up with the trail again, as it switch-backed its way up the canyon wall. Our steep climbing obviously wasn't over yet. We climbed some more and then found ourselves confronted with one more creek crossing, this one described as "difficult in early season, and it is at the head of a fatally high cascade".

It was after 7 PM. We were tired and now we were confronted with this crossing. We stood there and looked at the possible ways of handling it: we could wade across the trail, but the there was no way of telling how deep the water was, and it was rushing fast; or, we could try and boulder hop across, knowing that while we would get wet from the waterfall, if we slipped and fell, the trail was just below us to arrest our fall. We opted for option number two. We made it across without any difficulties, but we both wound up getting quite wet (fortunately our gear stayed pretty dry) and when we were safely on the other side, we looked back and marveled at what we had just done. A little further on, we reached the top of the ridge and found ourselves a level place to camp for the night. We quickly set up the tent, boiled some water for a hot drink, bathed, ate, and promptly fell asleep.

The following morning we woke up to the sound of the alarm clock going off. We had set it for 4:30 AM as we wanted to get and early start on the trail, as we still had 26 miles to cover before reaching Red's Meadow. It was still dark out, as we began to pack up our gear, but by the time we were ready to leave, it was full daylight. Bundled up in our warm wear (the first time either of us have started hiking with our polypropylene tops on) we started out on the trail, heading towards the last pass between us and Red's Meadow. Now that we were already on top of the canyon wall, the remainder of the ascent was relatively gradual. We encountered more snow fields and had to do a little route finding, but by 6 AM, we were standing on top of Silver Pass, looking down.

What we saw on the north side of the slope was not what we were hoping to see. More snow. And, not only that, but the trail was hard to pick out. The sun cups were so deep and plentiful that they masked any clear trail made by other hikers before us and the map in the guidebook was split right at the pass so it made it difficult to pick out the route. At last, after much debate about where we should strike out, we just started walking down the hill, because after all, it had to go down. Within a few paces, we came across some foot prints in the snow and we were able to follow them much of the way. We lost the trail a couple of times, but by then we were low enough that we were able to determine where the trail should be and head in that general direction.

While Silver Pass was one of our lower ones, the snow on the north side stayed with us for quite some time. We were hiking down in the valley a thousand feet below and we were still encountering some snow patches, which made for slow hiking. Eventually, we passed through it and found ourselves at a junction with the Cascade Valley Trail. At that point we had a choice to make: we could hike an easier, mostly downhill, 19.4 miles along that trail, or we could stick to the PCT and hike 19 more difficult, up-and-down miles. We chose to stick to the PCT.

We left the junction and immediately began a three-mile climb out of Cascade Valley, via Tully's Hole and up to Lake Virginia. We dropped down another 200 feet to the lake only to climb another couple hundred up before dropping down to Purple Lake. Pooped, we stopped for an early lunch (11:00 AM) at Purple Lake before climbing another couple hundred feet back up onto the ridge. Once we were finally on that ridge, however, the going got easier. From there on it was basically a gentle grade the remaining 13.5 miles to Red's Meadows.

On that first climb away from the Cascade Valley Trail junction, Rachel felt a slight soreness in her right heel. It felt like she had strained her Achilles tendon slightly and it was a little sore as she propelled off her foot on the uphill portions of the trail. The pain was not too bad, so she slowed down a little and took it easier on the up hills. The next fourteen miles or so were not too bad, but by the time we reached Upper Crater Meadow, with only four miles left to go, her ankle was hurting badly. The pain had intensified and it was hurting with every step - up, down or on level ground. With only four miles to go before reaching Red's Meadow and a rest day, there was little discussion about what to do; we pushed on. With each step, Scott could hear a whimper coming from Rachel, who was hiking behind him, but we pressed on. At last, we arrived at Red's Meadow Resort and Rachel was limping badly. We dumped our packs outside the cafe and went inside to order a soda. Scott called his friend, Amy, in Mammoth Lakes and we waited for her to come and pick us up. (At this point, we still don't know how bad Rachel's ankle is. Having rested it, even for the half hour we were waiting for Amy, seems to have helped a lot. It is not hurting her right now, as we rest at Amy's house, but she hasn't put the pack back on and gone more than ten feet. As things stand right now, we are planning to leave Red's Meadows according to plan and we will hope that she is alright for the next 36-mile segment to Tuolumne Meadows).

We arrived in Red's Meadow at about 5 PM and within forty minutes, Amy pulled up in her Honda Accord to pick us up and take us to civilization. She climbed out of her car with a Zip-loc back of homemade chocolate chip cookies, baked fresh just for us. Wow!! What a treat. Despite all of our hints, those were the first homemade chocolate chip cookies we have received so far. Needless to say, the bag was almost empty by the time we arrived back at her place 40 minutes later. Back at the apartment we showered up and got ready for dinner. Amy treated us to king sized barbequed T-bone steaks, with "full ears of corn" and asparagus. We ate until we could almost eat no more and we enjoyed our share of beer too. We spent the evening chatting away with Amy and her two friends and then finally retired to bed at about midnight (a very long day considering we had been up since 4:30 AM)

There has not been a re-supply point yet that we have wanted as badly as we have wanted this one (except maybe Kennedy Meadows). It was a tough section from Cedar Grove to Red's Meadow and we are really glad to be finished with it. Now that we are done with the journal and have it posted, we are off to go and buy ourselves new hiking shoes. Scott's New Balance 804's have lost their cushioning and Rachel's Lowa Tempest Lo's have not only blown out another seam, but are loosing their sole support too. Let's just hope that new shoes don't give us new blisters in the up coming segments.