Day 56: Bishop to overlooking Bullfrog Lake (c. 8 miles hike, but still off trail mile 789)
Day 57: 789 to Woods Creek (800)
Day 58: 800 to Road’s End and hitch to Fresno
Day 59: Drive to Donner Pass (1153)
Highlights: Saw a bear; experienced some amazing human kindness.
Lowlights: Sketchy times on Glen Pass; kind of deflating to bail north, even though it was the right thing to do; four busy days and only 11 PCT miles.
Up over Glen Pass
I’ll probably keep this post more concise because I’ve procrastinated in writing it and now I need to head out on the trail shortly.
My group hitched out of Bishop after breakfast on Day 56 up to Onion Valley, for a 9 mile hike back over Kearsarge Pass to the PCT. We camped just about a mile away from the PCT, on a slope overlooking beautiful Bullfrog Lake.
The next morning, we left camp at around 5:30 am to get over Glen Pass, a bit later than we had planned, but maybe hadn’t fully communicated with the rest of the group. By the time we got to the top of the pass, it was probably 7:30, and the sun had been shining on the snow-covered north face for a couple of hours, making the snow a bit slick.
Then two things happened which made this the sketchiest experience I’ve had on trail so far (and I really hope that will remain the case when I’m done):
1. Looking from the top, there were bootprints going in several directions. One member of our group, Shea, took one of them, ended up on some loose rock, and shouted back at us what appeared to be the best route down: a fairly short rock scramble to a deep boot path through the snow. Based on what he saw, that was definitely the right call, but it was definitely not the right way down. The rocks were mostly loose, so in order to avoid sliding down a steep rocky slope, I went slightly to the side to down-climb some steeper but firmer rocks. The trouble was that many of these rocks weren’t sturdy either, so I had to move very slowly to ensure that my footholds and handholds were sturdy. Keep in mind that I had a heavy backpack on the entire time. I made it down without incident, but the adrenaline was pumping pretty hard for several minutes. Jordan and Machine were ahead of me on the same route, while the rest of the group ignored the route advice and went directly down snow, which in retrospect was the right way.
2. I’m really glad I didn’t witness this because I was already shaken up by (1), but Sebastian, our German, decided to glissade down the slope, ostensibly because he felt pressured by another hiker coming up quickly behind him. He lost control of his glissade and began violently barrel-rolling down the mountain. He came to a stop short of some rocks and was lucky enough to only scrape up his face, lose a couple layers of skin on thumbs, and bruise a rib. Those who watched this happen feared for his life. Fortunately by the time I knew anything was amiss, the danger had already passed.
We sat at the bottom of Glen Pass for the next hour or so helping out Sebastian physically and emotionally and trying to move on from the situation. I was also pretty shaken up by my own experience on the loose rocks, but mostly had to deal with that internally because (1) no one watched it; and (2) nothing actually went wrong.
Some Kings Canyon Rangers were heading out south over Glen Pass. In retrospect, we really should have encouraged Sebastian to go out with them, but in his indefatigable positivity, he really wanted to continue north, so we kept hiking.
Throughout the day, these wake up calls really sat with me and Jordan, and with more difficult passes coming up that may be more challenging than Glen Pass (namely Mather Pass), neither of us felt that our hearts were in it for more challenges, especially hiking with someone who had already taken a serious fall and was lucky to escape more serious injury.
We decided to bail out on the Woods Creek trail out to the west towards Fresno, and convinced Sebastian that he should do the same.
On Day 58, the three of us packed up camp and began to head away from the PCT. We were visited by an adolescent bear as we packed up, seemingly interested in our food and uninterested in our attempts to scare it away.
It was a 15 mile hike out to Road’s End, with some nice waterfalls and canyon-type things along the way.
It took us four hitches and probably four hours to make it down to the Valley. The last woman who picked us up had done a lot of hiking and invited us to stay in her house, just outside Fresno. She wasn’t even going to be there that night but said that she trusted other hikers. That was a really touching display of faith in humanity that she would leave three strangers alone in her house overnight.
The next day, we went to the airport, rented a car, and drove north. We dropped Sebastian off in Sacramento – he got an overnight train to Dunsmuir in Shasta County, where he will hike south – while Jordan and I drove up to Truckee to return the car, and will hike south back into the high Sierras, but with a bit more of the snow melted. I think it will be safer the second time around with better information from passing northbound PCT hikers.
I’ve had my heart set on hiking from Mexico to Canada in an unbroken fashion for a long time, and it’s disappointing to deviate from that, but when I actually think it through rationally, this was absolutely the right decision. And in 3-4 weeks time, I’ll repeat the Woods Creek trail, hitch to Fresno, and drive back to Truckee/Donner and continue north as if nothing had happened, and maybe even overlap with friends who didn’t skip ahead.