Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Tuolumne Meadows, Mile 936, June 19

With friends in Oakhurst - Wow, we have made it to Tuolumne Meadows and our next day off. While it has only been a two day leg, it has been tough going. In some respects, we think that it has been harder because it has only been a two day leg. Leaving trail towns (especially ones with good friends) and heading out on the trail can be hard. Your packs are heavy again and you know that you are leaving all of the comforts of civilization. Then, the day or so before you get to the next trail town are tough too, because knowing that all of those comforts and luxuries are getting closer again puts them in the forefront of your mind and you start longing for them. Well, two day leg has consequently been a bit of a double whammy for us. We had a hard time leaving, and then we never got back into the stride of trail life before we were looking forward to being off the trail again.

But, lets get back to where we left off in Mammoth Lakes, having just got our journal updated (no email came out to you all notifying you of the update because we ran out of time). We headed to the sports store to get our selves new shoes and we only left with a pair for Rachel. Unfortunately they did not have a pair of the New Balance trail runners in Scott's size, but Jamie, (a friend of Amy's) did a couple of minor repairs to his old ones to keep them going for another little while. Rachel, on the other hand, got a new pair of Lowa Tempest Lo shoes, but he custom fit a shim of foam that was glued to the inside of the tongue to take up some of the volume in the boot. So far, 35 miles down the trail, they seem to fit really well - no new blisters.

Back at Amy's place, we were treated to another great dinner, and then we all flaked out in front of the Television. It was the first time in over two months that we have watched any TV and we loved it. While we had all seen Mrs. Doubtfire before, we enjoyed watching it again. After the movie we retired to bed for another good nights sleep before starting our day back onto the trail again.

Monday morning came, and we were not in the usual hurry to get out on the trail as we had to wait for the Post Office to open. Amy had received notification that there was a package at the P.O., but she had not been able to get to there before it closed on Friday. She said that she nobody sends her packages so it was probably for us. The Post Office didn't open until 8:30 AM so while we were waiting we went to Carl's Jr. for the breakfast special. We ate our plates of eggs, sausage and hash-browns, and then being true to our hiker appetites, we decided that we could do it again, so we ordered a second breakfast each and then headed over to the Post Office.

At the Post Office, we patiently waited in the line up and then Amy was handed a box by the postal worker. We took one look at the box and when we saw the words "Perishable" written on the side, we knew that Amy had been right and that the box was for us. Sure enough, two of our readers had sent us a big batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, complete with a card cheering us on. They wrote in the card that they could tell that we had been having a touch time lately and they wanted to do something to lift our morale. Well, they sure succeeded in doing that. Thank you Tom and Sheila!!! The cookies were delicious, and they really did make our day.

With the cookies loaded into our packs and our float box mailed ahead a couple of stops, we had nothing left to do but get back onto the trail. We piled into Amy's car and began the 15 mile drive up to Red's Meadows Resort. As we were entering into the National Forrest Lands we were stopped by forest service workers who wanted to charge us $5 each for access onto the lands. We explained to them that Amy was just coming in to drop us off and that we both already had our permit to be on the PCT and that we shouldn't have to pay anymore. The supervisor came out and talked to us and told us that Amy could drop us off to avoid paying the fee, and then we could walk the remaining 7 miles to the resort and still pay the $5 each. We thought that was outrageous. The fee structure has supposedly been implemented for upkeep on the road, and as a deterrent to people bringing their private vehicles into the National Forrest when a free shuttle is provided (which wasn't going to be running until the following week ). All of the other National Forests that we know of charge a flat rate per vehicle, not per occupant, so we thought that $15 just to drop us off, when we already had permits, was outrageous. Eventually the supervisor compromised a little and allowed us a "once in a lifetime" exemption, and she only charged us $5 for vehicle and driver. While we were still unhappy about that, we realized that it was as good as we were going to get so we paid the $5 and continued on to Red's Meadows Resort and our resumption of the PCT. Since then we have talked to other hikers who had similar problems, and we really feel that some letters need to be sent to address this issue.

At last we were back at Red's Meadows and it was time to put our packs on and head out on the trail. It was 10:30, a late start for us, but it had been a good morning and a nice visit with Amy. We said our good-byes to Amy, thanked her for her wonderful hospitality and then we started walking. Within a mile of our hike we were at a trail junction and we were able to take an alternate route into Devil's Postpile National Monument. We took the detour and climbed up onto of the postpile to look at the glacially polished surface of the columnar joining. The hexagonal shaped rocks gave the impression of an oversized soccer ball and we walked around on it for awhile along the with all the other tourists.

Further along the trail we had to navigate our way through a maze of other trails going to this waterfall, that meadow, or another pass. We found had to stop and check with the map every hundred yards or so to make sure that we were on the right trail. After a while we ended up at river ford of Minaret Falls creek. We searched up and down the creek for a crossing locations that would not require us getting our feet wet, but after a little while it became evident that there was no alternative but to ford the stream. We had a choice of crossing either through the rapids or where the water would be calmer, but up above our waists. We eventually found a spot in the rapids where the water would not be much over our thighs, so we changed our footwear (Scott into his sandals and Rachel into her old shoes) while fighting off the swarming mosquitoes.

With the creek crossing behind us, we were making our way along the trail again towards Agnew Meadows. We arrived at Agnew Meadows parking lot at about 2:30 in the afternoon. We were a little concerned that we had only hiked about six miles and we needed to do about another ten in order to put ourselves in reasonable reach of Tuolumne Meadows for 6 PM the following day. At the parking lot we met up with a number of other hikers who had also left Mammoth Lakes that morning and as we were pulling out, Mark (a.k.a.. Bushwacker) joined up with us.

We made our way up on the High Trail, following the river drainage far below. After a while vistas unfolded in front of us and we were able to look across the canyon at the Ritter Range as we traversed our way along the ridge and gradually headed towards Thousand Island Lake and the remaining two passes in this next leg of our journey. By 7 PM we were finally reaching Thousand Island Lake and we decided to camp. We found a little creek near a level area and we set up camp and when through our evening routine. We bathed and then prepared our dinner, and Mark joined us in the tent (for warmth) while we dined on Shepherds Pie and cookies (Yum!).

It was just above freezing as we began to break camp the next morning. We got up at 5:30 and were on the trail by 6:20, eager to make good headway and put the two passes behind us before the snow got too soft. The first of the two passes, Island Pass, was a non-issue. It was 10,200 feet (only 450 feet higher than we had camped) and had very little snow. The north side of the pass didn't even descend much as we made our way along the ridge towards Donohue Pass at 11,056 feet. As we approached Donohue we noted that the tree line has been getting noticeably lower as we head further north, and the snow level is dropping in elevation too.

We began to make our way across the basin below Donohue Pass, and as always, the snow patches got larger and the melt streams larger. At one point we had to cross a stream but the crossing location was quite a jump. Scott went first. He stood on the one edge and leaped across. He made it to the other side, but as he stood there he battled to gain his balance. A second later, he lost the battle and fell back into the creek. The water was up to his mid-thighs and he stood there for a second or to laughing. Mark and Rachel, who followed behind, learned from Scott's mistake and took the jump from a running start. Rachel caught her toe on the lip of the far side and almost went toppling forward, but Mark made the jump clean across.

Heading further up the trail with Scott clothes dripping wet, we began to make the real climb up towards the pass. The wind was picking up and we knew that it would be cold on top, but as we were climbing we were working up a sweat. The trail was through boulders and it was a rocky and snowy approach, but as usual, we eventually lost the trail under the snow and we were unable to determine where it came out. At that point we stared scrambling up the rocks, choosing a more direct path to the pass. We came out on top of the rocks and looked down to see where the signs indicated the summit and the trail apparently continued on from there.

The north side of the path was similarly covered in snow, but there were small patches of exposed trail. We followed the trail down walking on the snow as little as possible, even if it meant taking a long way around. At last we had dropped the 800 feet, down the ridge and past a large tarn, before we crossed Lyell Fork creek and found ourselves largely out of the snow. Another 700-foot drop brought us down to the southern end Tuolumne Meadows. As we were making our way down the hill, we were able to look below and see the meadows reaching our as far as the eye could see, down the valley, with Lyell Fork snaking its way through the marshy grass.

We had been looking forward to making it into the meadows as the remaining ten miles into camp would be a gentle descending walk, but for some reason we were already pooped. We had only done 10 miles, and sixteen the day before, but our bodies must still not have recovered from the hard push through the High Sierras and the previous section. While the walk through the meadows was lovely, we did not enjoy it as much as we should have. We were consumed with thoughts of fatigue, accentuated by the knowledge that in a few long miles we would be in town, meeting up with Scott's childhood buddy, and having another day off. We met lots of John Muir Trail hikers heading in the opposite direction with big smiles on their faces as they were just setting out. We envied all of their enthusiasm, but knowing what they still had to face, we were not envious of the journey they were embarking on.

Slowly, our weary feet carried us into Tuolumne Meadows, already over run with tourists and day hikers exploring the couple miles of trail around the lodge. While the season is still young and the masses have not yet descended upon Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows, we commented that we had seen more people in a two minute time period than we had seen in the last two days put together. We pasted the lodge and the throngs of people as we continued on towards Highway 120 and the end of Section H. We reached the highway and walked the remaining few hundred yards to the store, post office and cafe where we finally put our packs down and we waited for Doug to come and pick us up.

While waiting outside the store, we saw a couple of other hikers who we have not seen for a while. We met up with Linda (who we hiked across Forrester Pass with) and she looked every bit as worn out as we felt. In talking to the other hikers, it is obvious that most of us are glad to be done with the High Sierras, the snow, and the tall passes. The last couple of weeks have taken a big toll on all of us, physically as well as emotionally. We have all lost weight, (some of us in excess of twenty pounds) and our bodies are tired. We met up with a few hikers in Mammoth Lakes, some of whom are taking as many as four days off, and the others are taking more time off in Tuolumne before pushing on. We undoubtedly have a few more passes ahead of us, and there will definitely be more snow, but right now, we are all consider ourselves to be through the worst of it.