PCT Update 7: Down Time

Posted on Categories Pacific Crest Trail

We were out of food and toilet paper, our extra batteries were all dead and our phones running on their last drops. Twelve straight days through the High Sierra had completely depleted our resources and our bodies, we were in need of some downtime.

   

Vacation Within a Vacation

Vermilion Valley Resort is a small, rustic retreat in the middle of the Sierra Nevada. The nearest town is 3 hours away along a dirt road wide enough for only one car at a time. Between it and the Pacific Crest Trail is the large Edison Lake, and the resort runs a ferry to pick up and drop off hikers.

   
Civilization: coming soon. Sort of.

VVR, as it is frequently called, served as a pivotal stop for Dennis and I. It was the closest thing to civilization we had seen in nearly two weeks.

   
Enjoying beer and burgers in the middle of wilderness.

It proved to be one of the best stops on the trail. The food was delicious, the ferry captain was super friendly, and all around the place was just a great place to relax. We spent half a day of rest there before getting back to the trail. VVR was just a quick break, our real recharge would come a couple days later at the major ski town of Mammoth Lakes.

   
We also gained a new companion to our hiking group. A little monkey sent from my girlfriend!

Unfortunately we hit the town during a huge dirt bike event. There were almost no hotels to choose from and the ones that had vacancy had jacked the prices wayyyyyy up. We ended up paying $160 for a two star motel!

By five o’clock Dennis had passed out sitting upright in a chair in said motel. He remained like that for a couple hours before stirring and making his way to the bed. He laid down sideways, his feet and head hanging off the edges. I later woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and he was still like that. The adrenaline from the high intensity trek had worn off and we were exhausted.

   
Our most scenic camp site yet.

Yosemite: A Beautiful Place to Talk on the Phone

We spent a couple of days resting up and letting our bodies recover. After filling our bellies with as much food as we could handle, we were ready to get back to the hiking.

   
The morning light flows over the Sierra forests and rivers.

After another handful of days we made our way to Tuolumne Meadows and Highway 120. This was a big deal, as it was the first road to cross the actual trail in nearly 250 miles. We took this opportunity to hitchhike into Yosemite National Park.

   
Dramatic views abound.

Most people go to national parks as a way to connect with nature and get away from technology. While we certainly went to enjoy the views, we also went for the promise of hot showers, freshly cooked meals, and a nice dose of cell phone coverage.

   
After a 2 hour hitch hike, we arrived at Yosemite Valley.

To our surprise, the scenery in Yosemite was quite different than that of what we had been hiking through. While all part of the Sierra Nevada range, the PCT portion was big on mountainous, jagged peaks. Yosemite on the other hand felt more like a canyon with it’s aesthetics having straight walls reaching into the heavens and topped with smooth domes instead of sharp jagged points.

   
The best part is there were bridges over all of the rivers, we didn’t have to walk through them!

After our sight seeing side trip, we made our way back to where we had left off. With the High Sierra behind us and all this downtime, we were ready to hit the trail at full throttle. It was only going to get easier from here. Or so we thought.

   
Why didn’t we just stay and enjoy the tranquility instead of hiking further?

Brutal Beauty

We didn’t know it at the time, but the section between Tuolumne Meadows and South Lake Tahoe, our next real town 8 days ahead of us, was considered by many to be the most physically challenging section of Pacific Crest Trail.

   
It’s very faint in the photo, but the the left of this waterfall is a rainbow created by it’s spray.

After the snow covered mountain passes that seemed to go straight up, we naively thought the hardest part was behind us. As we entered the next section, we found terrain that somehow went even more straight up than the previous ones did.

   
Soooo steep.

It wasn’t just the ups that were killer. The downs were just as steep and on a few occasions even steeper. I still remember one unrelenting section that left my toes throbbing from miles of downhill on an unforgiving grade.

   
Sometimes the trail was not only steep but also a waterfall.

On top of that, the river crossings became wider and wetter. It was rare that we could cross without getting our feet wet, and even if we did, there would often be miles of mud to trek through following the crossing.

   
Beginning the cross.

Day after day of steep inclines and declines combined with the constant wet feet began to wear on our morale. Some mornings we woke up freezing with the ground covered in frost. Even with all our layers on it wouldn’t be until the sun rose over the mountains that we would warm up.

   
Frozen frosty trees.

The worst of it all wasn’t the pain of the hiking or the discomfort of the cold. No, it was when we entered mosquito hell.

   
HELP

When I say there were clouds of them, or that they came by the thousands, I am not exaggerating. We could see in the distance literal gray clouds hovering on the trail. Our choices were walk through the clouds or go off the trail into a swamp. There were times when the swamp walk was preferred.

   
Every one of those white dots is a mosquito, and those are just the ones the sunlight is hitting.

In this hell we would look down at each arm to see seven mosquitoes on each. Another 15 on our legs, a handful more on our chests and faces. These are just the ones we could see. We’d swat them and they’d be replaced in seconds.

   
RUN

One of the nights I counted the number of mosquitoes sitting on the outside of my tent as I sat safely on the inside. 64 of them, and there were many, many more flying about. Poor Dennis had his zipper on his tent fail just as we entered this section. He got to sleep with the mosquitoes.

   
It looks like a pretty forest, but I was probably running and cursing when I took this.

For all it’s grandeur, the Sierra has been extraordinarily difficult. We are glad for our experiences here, but it is about time we head down from them. The Sierras are beautiful but man are they brutal.

   
The morning was the best time to hike, we would have a couple hours before the mosquitoes woke up.

Extended Visitor

We continued for several days, eventually breaking free of mosquito hell. Our goal was South Lake Tahoe and the glory of All-You-Can-Eat casino buffets.

   
We could finally enjoy the forests without the mosquitoes!

The terrain, while still steep, began to let up a bit and we were able to make some high mile days. We even stopped part way at an awesome little resort ranch and got some hot food and a bed to sleep on.

   
A ranch resort wouldn’t be complete without a handful of horses.

As we got closer and closer to our destination, we could see the end of the Sierra. The granite peaks made way for more subtle, rolling mountains covered in green. I reflected on the journey so far and the thought that came to me is the idea that being out here, hiking for months on end, brings me to be one with nature. I, and those on similar adventures, are not one with nature. That notion is a myth.

   
The smaller mountains we will be heading to were a very inviting sight.

I walk a man-made trail that I really can’t deviate from. I sleep in a tent engineered out of the lightest weight materials. I eat food that has been farmed and processed for maximum hiking convenience. I am not one with nature, I am merely an extended visitor. An observer to all it’s beauty and power.

   

6 thoughts on “PCT Update 7: Down Time”

  1. Hey Kyle, you guys are definitely looking like the men out of the Osarks.. Serious mountain couture! These pics and your last post are just spectacular. I can’t even imagine that mosquito hell. Oh who am I kidding, I can’t imagine any part of any of this in person. If Disneyland has a ride and I can go through, that would be my idea of roughing it. Anyway, stay safe and enjoy it all!

  2. Kyle, I think this might be my favorite blog of yours yet! And no, it’s not because you FINALLY included a close-up pic of yourself! (or is it?) You look great 🙂 these photographs are so mindblowing-ly gorgeous and your writing suits the beauty in the photos themselves. Your “one with nature” revelation resonated with me and I think it holds a lot of weight. Very interesting to think about… perhapsyou can brainstorm ways to become more “one with nature” throughout the duration of the second half of your journey on the PCT! It would be fascinating to see what you come up with, as what you’re doing right now is as “one with nature” as most people think it gets! Love you so much and miss you. OH! and I LOVE the monkey from Jessie! So adorable, just like her!

  3. Baby this is my favorite of your blogs so far!!! Your pictures are fantastic (that close-up of the mosquitoes is an incredible shot, though frightening). You are such a talented photographer.

  4. Hey Kyle. Just read your blog it sounds great and tiring all at once. I am in Yellowstone currently and can relate to the pics and environment. It is harsh and unforgiving to humans. However for us to consider being one with nature it is mankind’s intelligence that allows us to do what we need to survive in it, so in a sense you are. You have adapted in a way we know and can. But I know what you mean we are inherintly a weak species without our intelligence! Keep at it !

  5. Love this blog and the angst you capture in your reflections. You found vulnerability in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s hard to be one with the mosquito and you can’t live like a tree … but you used your mind to survive in your human way. There is no utopia … only fleeting emotions. Better ones will come. Stay the course; the clouds will clear! Love you!

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