Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Soda Springs, Mile 1153, Jul 2

Roseville - When you spend the night in a trail town, you always get a late start on the trail. There is no way around it, it is just a fact. It doesn't help with the timing that there is this great compulsion to have a cooked breakfast in town, before heading out. There is nothing better than starting a hiking day on a tummy full of eggs, sausage, hash-browns, toast, coffee/tea, and maybe a little orange juice. These are all things that we enjoyed on the morning of June 25, before we left Kennedy Meadows Resort. Aside from just loving cooked breakfasts, we had a couple other reasons for staying to have breakfast: we needed to borrow a telephone line from the resort operators (so that we could upload our last journal segment), there was no point in heading out really early because there would be no traffic on the road, and we needed to hitch a ride 12 miles back up the road, to the trail.

Everything worked out just fine. Breakfast was great, the resort operators gave us use of a phone line and we got the journal off, and we were talking to a couple of other patrons in the restaurant, who agreed to give us a lift up to the trail. The two who gave us the ride had been up doing some trout fishing for the last few days. They had a Ford "Escort" and the trunk was filled with their stuff and they had a cooler full of trout on the back seat, but 'where there is a will there is a way' - we managed to squeeze into the back seat, with our fully loaded, bulky, external frame packs. It was a bit like the stunts that kids pull in college, seeing how many people they can fit into a car. Rachel had her pack jammed between her legs, turned sideways and pushed up against her chest. Scott had his pack laid across his lap and on top of the cooler between us. We were so crammed that we hardly had room to move our hands, but that little Ford Escort got us up the hill and back to the trail. (THANKS JIM!)

As we were pulling up to the summit of Sonora Pass, we saw John and Julie standing on the side of the road with their thumbs out. As it turned out, they had taken a wrong trail from of the trailhead parking lot and wound up hiking around, looking for the PCT trail, for about three hours, before they finally gave up. After all that effort, they decided that it just wasn't in the cards for them and that they were going to hitch-hike into Bridgeport and take the day off. After chatting a while, they got into the car that we just got out of and off they went, down the highway, headed towards a restful day off. We, on the other hand, walked across the highway and rejoined the PCT. It was 9:00 AM, not a bad start, considering.

Almost immediately after the highway, the trail began to climb. We weaved our way, in and out of a number of gullies and then began a traversing ascent, up the steep slopes, toward the jagged Sierra crest at 10,500 feet. Once up on the crest, we began a traverse along the east side, across a number of snow fields that covered steep slopes below us and then we gradually began our long, slow descent through Wolf Creek canyon. We finally dropped below 10,000 feet for the last time (the PCT won't reach that height again on it's weaving way to Canada).

Simon and Liz could been seen about a quarter mile ahead of us, (we had enjoyed breakfast with them that morning and then they had also managed to hitch a ride up to the trail, but in a two part deal - one ride took them the mile back to the highway, and another the 11 miles up the hill). As we rounded a bend, we encountered another hiker, "Blackhawk", whom we had not previously met, but had heard much about. Blackhawk's wife, "Strawberry Girl", was a little further ahead on the trail and we once the three of us caught up to her, we proceeded to hike as a group for a little ways. (They are from Memphis, TN)

We made our way along the trail, dropping into the Wolf Creek drainage and we began to lose the trail under larger and larger patches of snow. With a little cross-country hiking and route-finding, we were back on track again and we caught up with Simon and Liz when they were filling their water bags at a small creek. We spent the next five miles or so, hiking with either Simon and Liz, or Blackhawk and Strawberry Girl. It is quite unusual for us to spend so much time in the company of others, and we really enjoyed the conversations we had with both parties.

By about 1:30 PM, the benefits of a big cooked breakfast had worn off and it was time to stop for lunch. We ate with Blackhawk and Strawberry Girl and then as we were finishing up, Pete and Ed (Toronto, Canada) came crashing through the bushes (after enjoying their lunch "off-trail"). It was quite incredible; some days we go the whole day without seeing a soul, and here we were on that day, hiking in close proximity to three other couples. After lunch, we set off again with Strawberry Girl and Blackhawk, but a mile or so up the trail, we fell behind when we stopped for a pee break. From that point on, we didn't see anybody but Simon and Liz for the remainder of the day and even then, we just crossed paths a couple of times, while taking breaks.

Almost immediately after leaving our lunch spot, the trail began to climb out of Wolf Creek Canyon and up towards the Sierra crest. We then proceeded to undulate up and down, in and out, weaving along the crest. The trail was well laid out, but it was still hard going, because we were climbing and dropping constantly. The elevation gains and descents were not usually more than about 500 or 600 feet, but as the day progressed, it began to wear on us. Our pace slowed to little more than a crawl by the end of the day, but we were still moving forward.

As the afternoon wore on, the clouds started to fill in more and more of the sky. At first they were light and puffy in appearance, but back behind us they looked a little more ominous. We had seen this before - the second day out of Tuolumne Meadows - so we were confident that the threatening clouds would keep their distance, but as time went on, they came closer and closer. The light started to fade and things took on a much darker appearance as the clouds moved in around us. We looked over to the eastern horizon and it appeared that there was a torrential storm breaking. We hiked on, trying not to notice the changing atmosphere. Then, we heard the rumble of thunder off in the distance and with each mile that we hiked, it sounded closer and closer. Each time we heard it rumble, our pace would quicken a little, thinking that we would be able to outrun the rain, should it decide to break upon us. A tiny drop would hit our hands as we worked our trekking poles, but it was so isolated that we told ourselves that it was just condensation dropping off a tree, but then another and a minute later, another one still. As we hiked, we looked at the trail below us and we notice a few circles of moisture darkening the dusty trail. Finally we had to admit it to ourselves, that it was raining - but only just. We hiked on, still listening to the thunder crack, closer now than it had been twenty minutes previously. We crossed another meadow and climbed to another crest saddle, and there, just below us, we saw a patch of trees. As we dropped down into the grove, we found a flat spot, free of snow, that was sheltered from the increasing wind and seemed like it would provide good cover from an electrical storm. We decided to camp. We pitched the tent, put up the fly and then as we were climbing inside, blue sky appeared over the crest and the storm dissipated.

It was almost 7 PM by the time we were set up in camp. We had managed to do just over 18 miles, which we considered to be quite good, considering the late start and the hilly terrain. We prepared a tasty dinner of tuna-casserole and then we watched the sun set. With the break-up of the storm, we were left with a beautiful sunset. The light turned orange, as the sky below the now white clouds was a stunning pink, while above them, it had turned a deep royal blue. It was a very pleasant evening as we relaxed and went about our usual routine before preparing for bed and another day of hiking.

The next morning we awoke slowly. It had been a warm and quiet night and we had both slept so well that neither of us wanted to get moving. Finally it was Scott who cracked the whip (as usual) and cajoled Rachel out of her sleeping bag and into her clothes and hiking shoes. It was almost 5:45 AM before she was up, but once we did get moving, we managed to get out of camp in good time. 6:20 AM and we were on the trail, thinking that we would soon catch up to the other three parties ahead of us, as they were still breaking down their camps (none of the three other sets of hikers are real morning people ... maybe Rachel should defect?!).

The trail continued with more of it's undulating up and down as we hiked along the crest, dropping in and out of drainages. After about 4 miles, we stopped at a creek crossing to enjoy some breakfast and we noted that we had not passed any of the other three parties. We were surprised to have not seen Simon and Liz, as we had gotten the impression that they were not going to venture much further than we did the previous day, but as for Ed and Pete, and Blackhawk and Strawberry Girl, we had no idea how far they had gotten, as both groups are known for getting slow starts but hiking until quite late. As it turned out, we went the whole day without running into any of them (however, from a viewpoint above Ebbet's Pass, we did see Strawberry Girl and Blackhawk sitting on the edge of Highway 4 waiting for their friend to pick them up and take them into Markleeville, their re-supply town). It just goes to show how, in one day, we can be surrounded by fellow hikers, and the next, be totally alone.

About six miles into the day, we began a longer and steeper climb. We gained 800 feet and topped out at Sheffield Pass (9,330 feet) where we stopped for a short break and then began our descent down into Noble Canyon and Ebbett's Pass. As is often the case, the north side of Sheffield Pass had significantly more snow on it that the south. We made our way along the trail, cursing the snow and wondering when (or if) we will ever see the end of it. It seemed for a little while there, that when we weren't on snow we were either crossing a marshy meadow or we were trying to avoid the snow and then having to navigate our way across loose rock or soil that easily gave way underfoot. We slipped often, usually managing to stay upright, and eventually made our way down to where we could follow the trail more often than not.

As we were making our descent, we passed a couple of day hikers coming up in the other direction. At first we were very shocked to see a day hiker, as we were thinking that we were two days into a four day leg, but when we stopped and chatted with the second hiker for a while, we realized that we were only a few miles from reaching Ebbett's Pass on Highway 2. From that point forth, we saw a number of other day and southbound section hikers. As a matter of fact, there were so many that we did not have the feeling of being deep in the wilderness for the rest of the day (sometimes this is a nice feeling, other times it is a drag; we aren't really sure how we felt about it that day).

We had a late lunch at an overlook on the north side of Highway 4, before pressing on to finish out our day. The remaining 6.5 miles that we did that day were absolutely spectacular. Right when we left the highway we began a little climb, up and around granite boulders and past a number of lakes and ponds. A little further on, however, we dropped down into a meadow area and the truly impressive, saw-toothed Sierra crest was displayed in front of us. We walked through the meadows, across ridges, around points and over saddles, all the time having awesome views of the rugged and serrated crest. Through that portion of the trail, the crest is made up of volcanic rocks that weather and erode much faster than granite. The erosion has left a crest line that towered over us with it's sharp, finger-like pinnacles, steep cliffs, narrow gaps and clefts. With every few steps, our perspective was changing and there was always something new and impressive to admire. The remaining miles passed with relative ease, as we drank in the scenery around us.

At last, we arrived at Pennsylvania Creek and decided to camp. We had dropped down into a drainage, shrouded by trees and the crest was behind us. We had hiked a little over twenty miles and we were beginning to get tired and with the knowledge that we had a 500 foot climb ahead of us, with limited camping possibilities, it was an easy decision to make. We scouted out a relatively level spot for the tent and then went about our usual nightly routine.

Some of you may have noticed that our nightly routine has not included stopping before we camp to have our dinner. While it is suggested that this practice be implemented through bear country, it was not something that we ever really got in the habit of. We tried it the first few nights out of Kennedy Meadows (the first one, at the gateway to the Sierra, not the resort at Sonora Pass), but then when we entered into Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks we were able to camp with bear boxes and not worry about it so much. After re-supplying in King's Canyon it seemed that our camps were typically dictated by the passes and we were often above timberline, or at least high enough that very few self-respecting bears would stick around, so we didn't worry about it then either. The same applied as we approached Tuolumne, as we were still camping at high elevations (usually around or above 10,000 feet) we didn't worry too much about bears. After leaving Tuolumne, we encountered mosquito problems and there was no way that we were going to sit out for the better part of an hour - cooking, eating, and cleaning up from our dinner, while we were being eaten alive, so we cooked from the protection of our mosquito netting tent with our hand sticking out through the bottom of the door. Now that we are north of Sonora Pass, we are so engrained in our regular routine that it is a hard habit to break (plus, bears should be much less of a problem north of Sonora). We were going to mail our "Bearikade" bear canister back from Sonora Pass even, but wound up having to keep it for another leg, as we didn't have the return shipping address with us. It's probably just as well, because having it has given us piece of mind that if a bear did come into camp, he wouldn't get the good food, which we keep in the canister.

Anyway, we had a pleasant evening in our camp at Pennsylvania Creek and we slept so well that Scott had a hard time getting Rachel moving the next morning. It was a warmer morning, at 5 degrees C, and we packed up and got out onto the trail relatively quickly (hiking by 6:10 AM) despite Rachel's reluctance to get up. We confronted the 500 foot climb out of Pennsylvania Canyon right off the bat and we were sweating before we had finished that first mile. The route took us on a another roller coaster ride, climbing and descending what seemed like every ridge in sight. By the time we had hiked 2.5 miles, we were already worn out and ready to stop for breakfast.

We ate on top of a ridge, perched on a rock, as the sun rose higher behind us. The wind was blowing gently and it was making the thousands of wild flowers dance. Being that we have been hiking on a lot of volcanic rock, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the terrain has been very barren, but to our surprise, it has not been anywhere near as barren as it looks from afar. There have been plenty of meadows, kept moist (if not soggy) from the snow run-off, but even up on the ridges there has been enough wildflowers to provide a feast for our eyes. One of the most prolific has been a yellow daisy-like plant with large, broad, velvety leaves - called "Mule's Ears". Each plant grows as a clump with multiple flowers showing their sunny faces above the leaves and they have literally covered many a hillside. In addition to those daisy like flowers, there has been a lot of Indian Paintbrushes of the usual orange, as well as bright magenta or pink varieties. Heather has also covered the slopes, and we have timed it right so that it is all in bloom with little purple flowers. Lupines, of course, have been interspersed amongst the flowers, along with many others of which we do not know the name. On that third day out of Sonora Pass, we even saw a few wild irises. The flowers have been such an unexpected delight that they have made this segment of the trail very enjoyable. The aromas have been as rich to the nose, as the flowers have been to the sight. As we walk along, we are inhaling the sweet scented perfume, some of it very intoxicating. The only difficulty is that there are so many different plants on the hillsides that it is difficult to determine which ones are giving off the scents. There was one plant, however, by our camp in Pennsylvania Creek, that smelt like chocolate mint when the leaves were rubbed. It reminded us of the after-dinner mints "After Eights", and we thought it was a shame that we couldn't eat the leaves and taste them.

The route continued to take us up and down the many ridges and drainages near the crest, and at last, we arrived at Blue Lakes Road. As we approached, we saw a dusty dirt road that we assumed would be very quiet on a Thursday morning, but within minutes or getting there, we had seen two cars and a cyclist pass by, each stirring up a cloud of dust. We decided to cross the road and stop for lunch a hundred yards up the trail, out of the path of the dust. Sitting there in the cover of trees, but twenty yards from the road, we might as well have been invisible. We watched as there was a steady stream of traffic along the road, people obviously on their way to or from some type of recreational activity.

In the middle of our hard days hike, it was difficult for Rachel to sit there and watch all of the cars go by. Seeing all that traffic, she couldn't help but think that we were just a short hitch-hike back into civilization and then maybe a short bus ride to Scott's parent's place were we could cool our heels for a few days. Finally Scott had to ask Rachel if that was what she really wanted to do, as she was talking about it with each passing car, but when it came down to it, her answer was "no" (although it did take some thought). It must have just been the lure of the road and the traffic, because as soon as we were up from our lunch and out of sight of that dusty road there were no more thoughts of hitching into town.

We actually ended up following the road for a number of miles, but our route took us up and over a few saddles, past a couple of peaks, and along a couple of ridges before we finally left the road behind and re-entered Mokelumne Wilderness. While we had passed through some beautiful country during that portion of the trail, it was a relief to get away from the areas that had road access as the dusty tracks seemed to leave scars across the landscape that we have gotten used to not seeing. As we climbed the ridge towards "The Nipple", and then traversed around it, we looked down the slopes at Upper and Lower Blue Lakes and were distressed to see a dirt road running around the edges of them and then we noted that the lakes were dammed. Once again we were made aware of how spoiled we have become and how pristine the scenery has been.

Once we re-entered the wilderness area, we made a sweeping descent, switch-backing down past a series of little lakes, before beginning our long, sustained climb up and over Elephant's Back ridge. As we were dropping past the lakes, we looked at the ridge ahead of us and saw the trail switch-backing across the sagebrush covered slopes and we groaned at the knowledge that we were going to be climbing up it in another twenty minutes. Once we began the climb, we slowed down to pace ourselves. We figured that it wouldn't be too bad at all, as long as we took it slowly, and it wasn't, until we realized that the ridge we were standing on was a false summit. We had another mile ahead of us, switch-backing up towards the true crest. During the last portion of that climb, we had a few more snow fields to cross and a couple of them were very steep. There was one in particular where we commented to each other that it would have been nice to have our ice axes with us. Slowly and steadily we made our way a cross each of those last few remaining patches until we were finally standing on the true crest of Elephant's Back.

We began our descent down off of the Back and towards Frog Lake and Highway 88 at Carson Pass. We made a couple of quick winding switchbacks and before too long, we were standing at a junction to Frog Lake. We were then confronted with a decision: should we press on and hope to find a suitable camp spot on the other side of Carson Pass, or should we camp at Frog Lake? A quick look at the guidebook did not give any indication of good camp spots within a mile of the north side of the pass, so we decided that Frog Lake it would be. We began our traverse around the lake and just as we were beginning to think that we were going to be out of luck, we found a well established camp in the trees. This camp was so well established, that it even had drowned wood collected and positioned in such a way as to provide a wind screen (it was a good thing too as the wind was blowing pretty hard when we got there), and there were wood coals scattered around in the opening, although there was no fire ring. Normally we try to avoid these types of spots because they are more likely to be hit by bears than a stealth spot somewhere off in the woods, but considering our options, we took it. We set up the tent as close to the wind screen as possible and then Scott went off to dunk in the lake and wash his hair (brrrr ... too cold for Rachel). When it came time, we tied the Ursacks to a tree, placed the bear canister in the middle of the opening, gathered a few rocks (to chuck at bears, should they show up) and then crawled into our sleeping bags to get some sleep.

Again we had no visits by bears. We have been really lucky so far this trip. We have broken some of the cardinal rules (like cooking at your sleeping camp and camping in established locations), but still, we have not had any nocturnal visitors (actually, that's not entirely true... the other morning we noticed that something had gnawed at Rachel's hydration hose nozzle... we just hope that it wasn't carrying Hanta virus, whatever it was). What we did get that night was an awesome night's sleep. Both of us slept really well and we felt refreshed upon getting up at 5:35 AM.

On the trail again, we headed down the remaining mile to Carson Pass, crossed it (and were amazed at how much traffic there was on it, despite the fact that it was still before 7 AM) and then began our climb away from the pass on the north side. We had about 16 miles to Echo Lake Resort and we were eager to get there at a decent hour, so that we could enjoy a refreshment, re-supply our lunch goodies, and then put a few more miles in on the trail.

After leaving Carson Pass, we climbed up and over a ridge and then dropped down into the valley behind. We descended along the very junior Upper Truckee River and found ourselves walking through a lovely meadow complete with a cabin and barn in the middle. We made our way along, through the serene meadows and then finally stopped for breakfast before beginning our approach to Showers Lake. After breakfast, we climbed up and over a ridge and then dropped down towards the lake, which had a meadow to the west, with the crest behind, and a treed shoreline on the east with numerous great looking campsites to choose from. Unfortunately we were not in a position to be able to stay the night, as it was only mid morning so we 'moseyed' on.

The next hour was spent traversing along the crest or through meadows. When not navigating our way through the sometimes soggy meadows, the trail was often under thick tree cover, which provided us with a little shade and kept us cooler, but it offered little in the way of views. We were coming up on the Lake Tahoe area and we were longing for an open vista of the lake.

At last, we began our descent down toward Benwood Meadow, and Hwy 50 beyond. The trail was steep and rocky, a bad combination on our knees, but we took it slow and gradually made our way down the hill. We passed a boy scout troop on the way up the hill for a weekend backpacking expedition, but when we asked the youngsters what their destination was, none of them were able to enlighten us. The adults of the group were trailing behind, huffing and puffing their way up the hill as the youngsters raced on ahead. After passing by Benwood meadows, we found ourselves on a ski run. We descended down the ski run for a little ways as we dropped down to the ski resort parking lot and then made our way to the Highway which we followed for another .7-mile. Once we crossed the highway we had the longest 1.3 mile hike up that we have encountered in a long time. We were eager to get to the resort, so that climb up and over the hill separating the highway from Echo Lake seemed to go on forever. We were hungry, tired and thankful to finally arrive at the resort.

The resort wasn't what we expected it to be. We had imagined that we would arrive, purchase the few lunch groceries that we needed to get us through the next three days (bread, cheese, peanut butter and cookies) get a meal at the cafe and hang out with other hikers on some patio drinking beer, until it was time to put in a few remaining miles before the end of the day. Well, we managed to buy the groceries, but to our dismay, there was not much of a restaurant, where we could make ourselves comfortable for a few hours relaxation. We grabbed a six pack of beer at the store and made our way out back of the lodge to a small deck (which we later found out was for employees only ... oops) where we ate our regular trail lunch washed down with a few beers. After we had eaten, there wasn't much else to do around the resort, so we decided to venture on. At 4 PM, we hit the trail again.

The other interesting thing about Echo Lake Resort was that we saw a number of other PCT hikers there, but only one who we had ever met before. Usually when we meet other PCT hikers there is a great deal of conversation and comradeship, but it was very strange to find ourselves in the middle of so many other hikers, whom we did not know. We closed up within ourselves and wanted very little interaction with the others. Perhaps a part of us felt out of place, we aren't sure. When we see faces that we know, we feel reassured; when we see faces that we don't know, we feel a little uncomfortable. When we finally did meet a couple of young guys and they told us that they had left Campo a full three weeks behind us, it reinforced the weird feeling we had, especially when they told us that they had been reading about our ice storm ordeal (outside of Idyllwild) before they even left home! We were hesitant to get to know others because we didn't want to find out how much slower we are than everybody else. There is a strange sense of competitiveness out here on the trail, and the difficulty is, that we are in front of the main pack that started at the PCT Kickoff, so we only have the fast people to compare ourselves to. Perhaps that is why we feel so reassured when we see familiar faces, because if we see the same people more than once it means we are keeping about the same pace as them.

Those of you who have never done the PCT or other long distance hike are probably sitting at home reading this journal thinking that we are being silly for worrying about how we are doing in comparison to others, but if you have done something like this, we are sure that you understand. First of all, it is human nature to be a little competitive, and being out here on the trail is no different. There are a lot of hikers who wear their daily mileage like a badge of honor and it became all about how far, how fast and how light. While we try not to get all consumed in that, we will admit that a little of it does rub off (not the light part though). Secondly, when your body aches and groans as much as ours do at times and then you find out that some young kid is doing half as much again, it magnifies those aches and groans, can chip away at your resolve and confidence in your physical abilities and takes a little wind out of your sails. We know that this hike is not a race, but sometimes it is hard not to get caught up in it. We finally left Echo Lake Resort at about 4 PM and we were feeling fresh and revived after our couple of hours rest. We hit the trail and were cruising along when we came up behind a local cabin owner making the hike back to his cabin from the resort. As we walked behind him, he told us all about how his father had built the cabin many years ago, and about how things have changed, and then he invited us back to have a look at his place. While we were wanting to put as many miles in as we could, we decided to take him up on his offer, because, after all, how often is it that we get invited to someone's cabin? We followed him down the trail to his cabin which was very quaint. We got the grand tour, had a glass of water, chatted for a few more minutes, and then we excused ourselves as we had more miles to put in.

Back on the trail, we continued around the lake shore, looking at all of the other cabins along the way. At last we reached the end of the lake and began a rocky climb up and over the end of the lake. From there we made our way through a maze of intersecting trails, leading off to one lake or another. We had to stop every half mile or so to check the map and make sure that we were heading the right direction. In addition to a multitude of trails, there was a multitude of people. The area was the Desolation Wilderness, but to us it seemed to be anything but desolated. We gather that the area is a very popular hiker destination, as there are so many trails an lakes for people to venture off to. Not only does the area bring PCT Hikers through, but also the Tahoe Rim Trail hikers as well as all of the other day and weekend hikers. It was busy!

As we made our way near Lake Aloha, the biggest of the area lakes, we began to look for a camping spot. It was nearing 7 PM and we had hiked about 7 miles since leaving the resort. As we hiked along the granite bedrock, keeping our eyes open for any possible spot, we began to get a little discouraged that every level place that wasn't bedrock was already occupied. We walked farther and farther along the lake shore, until we were almost at the end of the lake and we finally found a small patch, just off the trail. While we weren't too thrilled about being so close to the trail in such a heavily populated area, we figured that it was late enough and we would be moving again early enough, that the amount of traffic walking by would be minimal.

The following morning we woke up to virtually balmy temperatures. It was 10 degrees C in our tent! What a change that was from the near freezing temperatures that we usually have. We packed up quickly and were on the trail by 6:15 AM. As we made our way along the remainder of the lake shore and then up and over to the next lake, we were somewhat surprised to see so many other camps still established with no sign of life coming from them yet. These camps were obviously not occupied by thru-hikers and we found ourselves a little envious of the slower pace of life that weekend, or short-haul hikers, can afford to take.

We made our way past another few lakes before we began a climb up towards Dick's Pass (9380 feet). We climbed through the Lodgepole forest, up past the mountain hemlocks, western white pines and up near the timberline. The grade wasn't too bad as we were just switch-backing up, but then as we neared the top, we hit a patch of snow, a bad sign of what was to come on the north side of the pass. Sure enough, we had snow to contend with on our descent down from the summit. We made a sweeping traverse along the relatively steep slopes and finally began some switchbacks down. We got to the point where we were no longer on a long field of snow, but we were having to cross small patches that overlaid the trail every fifty yards or so. We would take the couple steps up onto the snow patch, cross over it in a dozen or so, and then take the few steps down the other side of it back to the trail. We were hiking over one such patch of snow when Rachel slipped. She leaned back, as a natural reaction to the slip and tweaked her back a little. Then, in response to tweaking her back, she slipped further and fell, scrapping the heal of her hand on jagged granite rocks, sticking out of the snow. With her wrist all scraped up and her frustration with snow now renewed, we made our way down the rest of the pass.

Once the pass was behind us and we were out of the snow once again, we made our way past another series of lakes. We were no longer seeing the same number or camps beside the trail, or as many other hikers as we had crossed over a pass, but we did bump into a few who are doing the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, or parts of the

Tahoe Rim Trail.

About ten miles into our day, we stopped for lunch at Middle Velma Lake. We indulged with our usual peanut-butter on bread, Gatorade, wedge of cheese, and then cookies (Oreos for a change) and then did something usual - we lounged for a while, enjoying the serenity and relaxing. As we sat there leaned up against our respective rocks, we heard two hikers coming down the trail, and as they came around the trees we realized that they were Lee and Anne, whom we had not seen since the morning that we left Rock Creek Camp to go and summit Mt. Whitney. We were thrilled to see them again, as we had expected that they were about three days ahead of us and we had been commenting to ourselves that we hoped that we would catch up to them sometime in the future. Well, as it turned out, they had taken a few days off once they got to South Lake Tahoe and they had camped within half a mile of us the previous night at Lake Aloha. They sat and joined us for a while, before we eventually got up and started hiking down the trail again, now as a foursome. Anne and Rachel were particularly happy to be reunited into a group again, each of them commenting that when there are other people around, it does a lot to keep the self-confidence and morale up and the tears flow much less often. A little while later, Anne and Lee stopped to eat lunch, but our paths continued to cross for the rest of the day and we wound up camping together for the next two nights.

That afternoon, the trail regained the Sierra Crest again and we did a little walking along the ridgelines, through forested areas. It was a pleasant afternoon's walk and we made our way past a few lakes and ponds, generally in the shade of large pine trees. As we neared the end of the day, we found that we were back in mosquito country. They weren't as bad as they had been on the south side of Sonora Pass, but they were bad enough that we were having to be a little selective of a camp site. At last we had hiked about 24 miles and we were getting tired, so the four of us set our sights on a camping location near a dirt road. The guidebook warned that the location was accessible to car campers, but when we pulled up, there was only one family there with and RV and they seemed to be relatively quiet. Too tired to think about going much further anyway, we headed over to the far side of the open area and pitched our tents. We then went about our evening routines of before getting ready to settle down for the night.

Just as we were about to go to sleep, the RV's generator kicked on. We groaned and hoped that it would shut off soon, but after it had been running for about ten minutes straight be reached for our earplugs to try and drown out the noise. The earplugs seemed to muffle out the worst of the drone as we managed to fall asleep in due time. Then, sometime a couple of hours later, we each woke up in the dark of the night and realized that the generator has shut off so out came our earplugs and we went back to sleep, only to be woken up again, an hour or so later as it kicked on again. This time the generator stayed on for the rest of the night. Being that we were in that half asleep state, neither of us reached for our earplugs to drown out the noise again, so instead we suffered through a restless sleep for the remaining five or so hours of the night. When the four of us got up and moving at about 5:30 AM we thought about crossing the field to the RV and making an equal amount of noise to wake up the sleeping occupants, but somehow we managed to restrain ourselves.

It was a cold and chilly morning as we headed out on the trail. it was near freezing and our hands were freezing as we hiked along. Our bodies warmed up quickly as we immediately started a 500 foot climb, but our hands were slow to follow as we clutched our trekking poles and thought about stopping to dig our gloves out of our packs.

The 500 foot climb took us up to Barker Pass (a junction with a dirt road and PCT Trailhead) and the crest again. We then proceeded to undulate up and down another couple of drainages for a few miles before we found ourselves walking along the crest for a 4 mile segment. All of the undulating was made worthwhile by the wonderful scenery on either side of us. To the east we were getting views of the massive Lake Tahoe below us, and to the west we were seeing more beautiful valleys and basins. The crest walk was made even more beautiful as the slopes below and around us were covered with wildflowers gently blowing in the breeze and filling the air with aromatic scents. We hiked along and could see the multitude of ski resorts covering the surround peaks, and we stopped for a snack just behind the lift to the top of Alpine Meadows.

After the four mile crest walk we dropped back down into Five Lakes drainage and then began our climb back up to the crest along the Whiskey Creek drainage. We bumped into a couple of forestry service workers who were heading out to repair a signpost, and we chatted with them briefly before moving on. One of the workers told us that he had previously worked up in Montana and that when he came down to this region he was really surprised to see how comparably low the human impact has been on the land despite that the amount of traffic through the National Forests is much higher. They thanked us for practicing "leave no trace" camping techniques and then moved on.

As we made our climb back up to the crest in the hot afternoon heat, we hiked along many traverses that took us across fields and fields of wild flowers. Some of these fields were in the fifty to sixty acre range and they were just covered with Mules Ears blowing in the wind, showing of their bright yellow faces to the world. We eventually made our way back up and onto the crest again, but this time we on the ridge behind Squaw Valley Ski Resort.

The four of us sat at the top of the ridge and looked across the bowl to where the terminus of the Squaw Valley tram. It looked as though there was some type of party or festival going on over on the plateau and we could hear some faint music wafting over towards where we sat. It looked as though there was some kind of lodge over there and we all fantasized that it sold beer and food. We briefly considered going over to check it out, but without knowing exactly what was available and until what time the mile up and over, and then the mile back seemed like a huge expenditure of energy for unsure rewards. We finally decided to venture on down the trail and find a camp about four miles further.

We began the steep descent off of the ridge and when we made it about a quarter of a mile down the hill we encountered two guys hiking up. We stopped and asked them what the deal was and they informed us that there was in fact a Brazilian Festival going on at the tram summit. We asked them if there was beer and food to which they responded that there was. They told us that we would be able to get in for free because people had to pay for the tram ride up the mountain, but as we were already on top there would be no charge. As they continued on up the hill to make it over to the festival the four of us were left standing there deciding whether we wanted to follow. Nobody seemed to want to make the decision, each of us wavering a little until finally Rachel said "let's go; how often do we get the chance to something like this?". That was it, the decision was made. We all turned around and started back up the hill. Quickly we were amazed at how far down the hill we had already traveled as we huffed back up. At last we reached a point where we could look over at the tram plateau and then we saw that there was a snow field between us and the festival. Almost instantly our paced slowed to a stop. We were only about half way back up to the ridge, and then we would have to hike over to the other ridge, over it and then descend back down to the plateau across that snow field. Did we really want to do this, we began questioning again. For the second time in minutes we were all at a standstill batting the decision back and forth. A few minutes later inertia had set in and we managed to talk ourselves out of it: "if only it had been a little earlier...", "if only we had more information about what we would find when we got there...." and so on. Back down the hill we went, retracing our steps or the second time, and once again we were amazed at how far we had come.

As we continued on down the mountain, fatigue began to set in quickly. We were past the 20 mile mark for the day and we were feeling it. We were shooting for a camp four miles down from the ridgeline, but the descent was rocky and steep, the worst kind. We shuffled along, watching every step and feeling ourselves get more and more tired. Lee and Anne were ahead of us and as we made our way down the trail we found ourselves praying that they were feeling just as bad and that they would stop at the first of two possible camps. As it turned out, we were in luck. We came around a corner to find Lee sitting on the side of the trail as Anne was off checking out the camp location to determine if it was suitable. She was on her way back to the trail as we arrived and she reported that it was a nice spot. We all eagerly agreed that we had gone far enough and we ventured in to set up camp.

As compensation for not going to the Brazilian Festival up on top of Squaw Valley Lee cracked open the Southern Comfort that he had been carrying and we added a little to our hot chocolate, tea or coffee while we sat around preparing our dinners. we didn't quite match the atmosphere of a "festival", but it was a nice treat. An hour or so later we were joined by Brian, "the ancient Brit" who had been hiking in close proximity to us for the last couple of days, so by the time we called it a night there were three tents and five people in the camp, a large group compared to usual.

The following morning, Scott didn't have any problems getting Rachel up and moving. All he had to say was "town" and she was out of her sleeping bag and packing up. (We were going into the Sacramento area to visit with Scott's cousin and family for a rest day, but as we had been able to shave a day off our itinerary in this last section they were going to be away camping until the following day and we were going to have to get our own way into town.) We left camp at the usual time (6:15 AM) and began the hike towards the highway. As usual, we began with a climb (1000 foot) up. This time we were climbing up around Tinker Knob, back to the crest. It was a steep climb, but once we got there we were rewarded with more beautiful ridge walking. As we made our way along the crest views of Lake Tahoe and Truckee Valley opened up below us and eventually we were seeing down towards Donner Lake and the I-80. We spent about four miles on the crest before passing behind Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and dropping down, into the trees as we began our descent towards Old Highway 40 and then Interstate 80. Once we began our descent we began running into lots of day hikers climbing up to the ridge and we stopped to talk with many of them along our way.

At last we came off the trail and found ourselves standing on a narrow private road, cluttered with the vehicles of all of the day hikers we had just passed. From there we had a short walk (0.2 mile) to Old Highway 40 where we were confronted with making the final decision about whether we should try and hitch into town from there or to go on another 4 miles to the I-80. We had been asking all of the locals that we saw which of the two highways would be the best one to hitch a ride into Sacramento from, and there seemed to be very little consensus. The difficulty was that Old Highway 40 has very little traffic on it which I-80 tends to have too much and our guidebook section only made mention of a rest area for eastbound traffic so we weren't even sure if there was a nearby rest area for Sacramento bound vehicles. At last we decided that we would try to hitch from Old Highway 40, but when we got there we were left to standing on the road for about five minutes and not one car drove by westbound. At t hat point we quickly decided t continue on the remaining 4 miles to Interstate 80.

While those last few miles only meant that we were up to about 12 miles for the day, they may have well been miles 20-24. No matter what the mileage is for the day, it is always the last few miles that are the worst. So much of the hike is psychological that your body tells you that you are done whether you are doing 12 miles or 24. Aside from the mental battle that we were fighting, it was noon and the sun was scorching hot. We had dropped down off the crest and had lost the cool of the breeze so we were frying. It was also a frustrating section of trail. We could see the Interstate as we had been dropping down towards Hwy 40 so we knew that it wasn't much more than a mile north, but the trail didn't take a direct route at all. It weaved in and out, up and down for another three miles, taking us close to the interstate and then doubling back south towards Hwy 40. We were being teased. With a little perseverance, and a lot of grumbling, we finally made it to the pedestrian underpass of Inter state 80 end of guidebook Section K,

When we came out of the tunnel on the north side of the highway we were really relieved to see a road sign indicating that the off ramp to the rest area was right above us. We scrambled through the bushes, across a small creek and climbed up the embankment onto the shoulder of the highway just where the exit was beginning. We walked up into the parking lot of the rest area and we were amazed at how much traffic was coming and going. We weren't used the hustle and bustle of it all and it made us a little uneasy for a couple of minutes. We walked to the far side of the rest area to the beginning of the onramp, put our packs down and stuck out our thumbs. We stood there as all of these cars and RV drove by us, the occupants doing their best not to make eye contact with us. We were beginning to get discouraged after about 15 minutes when this guy in a jeep pulled over and squeezed us in. When we say squeezed us in, we mean it. He was on a weeks leave from the military in Colorado and he was heading home to the San Francisco area. He had his golf club and pack sac in the vehicle already, but we managed to move stuff around so that we all fit in, even if it meant that Scott had to hold Rachel's pack on his lap in the front seat for the hour drive down the interstate.

While it was a relief to have gotten a ride, our problems were not over yet. We had only been to Scott's cousins once before and we couldn't remember exactly how to get there. We knew that they lived within a couple miles of the interstate, but we didn't know which exit to take. We drove down the highway, looking at all of the street names, but none of them sounded familiar so we kept on going. Finally our ride pulled into a gas station and we unloaded our gear and went inside to ask for directions. We found out that we had overshot the exit by a few miles and that it would be about a ten minute highway drive to get us back to where we needed to be. We were about to call a cab when the guy who had given us the lift walked into the gas station to pay for his gas and get a drink so Scott asked him if he would mind taking us back. He was such a nice guy that he said no problem. Here he was at the end of a long journey himself and he was prepared to turn around and drive us back to where we needed to b e, 10 miles back in the opposite direction. We loaded our stuff back into the jeep and headed back down the highway. we found the exit we needed and then he dropped us off at the first possible place, outside of a shopping center, which happened to be less than a quarter mile from Scott's cousin's place. As we figured that we were going to be on our own for the evening we decided to go into the Safeway and get some beer and munchies so we purchased a couple of cases of beer and two big bags of potato chips before heading out across the field to our destination.

We arrived at the house praying to God that they had remembered to program the temporary code into the garage door opener panel. We walked up to it, flipped it open and then breathed a sigh of relief when we found a note inside. We punched in the code we had been given and then waited with baited breath to see if the door opened , but nothing happened. Then, Scott saw the enter button. Phew! The door opened and we walked into the garage. Once inside we found another note telling us to make ourselves at home and that there was frozen pizza in the garage fridge. Yeah!! Just what we had been craving. We unloaded the beer from our packs and piled it into the fridge and then entered he house. Right as we walked in we were greeted by Abby, the dog, and then right on her tail came Did. As it turned out, she had hurt her back a while ago and it was giving her trouble so she decided to stay home from the camping trip.

We quickly got settled in and cleaned up. We each took a long shower and waited until the water ran clean off our bodies, which took quite a while. Once we were clean we sat and chatted, drank some ice cold beers and then Did cooked up the frozen pizzas and we pigged out. After dinner we flaked out in-front of the TV and watched a video (Oceans Eleven - very good) while Did made a couple batches of chocolate chip cookies (do you think that people are getting the hint that they are our favorite?) What a life -- lounging on a sofa, watching a good movie, eating fresh baked cookies -- we could get used to that. Once the movie was over we were ready to retire to bed, but it was so warm down here in the valley that we had a hard time sleeping. We are used to being up at around 8000 feet where the night time temperatures are quite cool, so last night we tossed and turned in the heat before we finally drifted of to sleep.

This morning Didi made us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and sausage before we ventured out to attend to some of our shopping needs. We started by going to the local REI so that Scott could get a new pair of New Balance 805 trail runners (can you believe that his first pair did him until now, that's 1153 miles when most people are on their second or their pair by now) and Rachel could return the her old broken pack that she had had replaced at the first Kennedy Meadows. We had a very successful shop at REI as we got everything that we needed, including a reimbursement of the $26 overnight shipping charge on the backpack. We had called Kelty from the store to see if they would reimburse us the money as we didn't feel that we should have had to pay for it as it was due to a defective product, but they refused stating that if we had dealt directly with them rather than purchasing another one through REI they would have covered the shipping fees, but that they were not prepared to cover another companies shipping charges. We explained to them that we had hiked two day to get access to a telephone and that by that time Kelty was closed, but they still remained steadfast in their decision. After talking to Kelty, the REI store manager came up to us and informed us that he would give us a $26 in store credit to cover our expenses and he apologized for his company not having waved the fee in the first place. Now that was service!

After REI we returned back to the house for lunch and to see John and the kids (Nick and Kelly) who had just returned from the camping trip. After lunch we headed back out to do the rest of our shopping. We had thought that we would have to do a little running around to a few different stores to get everything we needed, but we stopped at Wal-Mart first and managed to get everything we needed at the one place: groceries, toiletry items, new sandals for Scott, and so on. Another successful shopping expedition.

Now that we are back at the house again and the journal is ready to be updated, it is time to do some more relaxing and socializing. Tomorrow will come all too soon and it will already be time to head back to the trail and our twenty mile a day regiment. Our next leg is going to be about 175 miles of hot hiking before we pull out again at Highway 36, (just west of Chester) and head back to Scott's parents place for a slightly longer rest period. That will be the half way mark for us and are thinking that we will take at least three days off, if not more. We figure that by then we will have earned the respite.