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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.