170906 – Climbing back into the High Sierras

Day:  136
Date:  Wednesday, 06 September 2017
Start: Onion Valley Trailhead, 7.4 miles from Mile 789.1, 9196 ft
Finish:  Camped beside the trail at Mile 792.6, 10715 ft
Daily Miles:  3.5 PCT plus 7.4 from Onion Valley Trailhead to the PCT
Total PCT Miles:  2113.3
Weather:  Mostly overcast and cool with a couple of thunderstorms in the afternoon accompanied by rain.
Accommodation:  Tent
     Breakfast:  Sandwiches and chocolate
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Rehydrated chicken noodle casserole
Aches:  Calluses (plantar warts?) under front forefoot of both feet very sore and slowing me down.  I have new boots and new hiking socks so some or all may be the culprit.  I’ll try some moleskin tomorrow and a thicker pair of inner socks.
Highlight:  It actually felt good to get back on the trail for this last leg, though I struggled all day.
Lowlight:  Sore feet (see above)
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map

The day didn’t start too well when I found the local bakery, whose website advertised coffee and pastries from 6:30am, didn’t open til 8:00am.  I had to resort to the town service station for some sandwiches, as I had had to do last night when my bus was late and no cafes were open.

I started hitch-hiking on the road to the Onion Valley Trailhead around 8:00am, suspecting it might take a while to get a lift since the road went nowhere else.  My backup plan was to go back to the motel and take up the friendly proprietress’s offer of a lift if I needed one, but not until after 9:00am (because that’s when she got up).  Anyway, I didn’t need to, because a kind hiker, who had climbed Mt Whitney yesterday, spotted me as he drove through town (having got his coffee and pastry at the bakery!) and detoured to pick me up and drive me, and two other hikers to the trailhead.  I was hiking by soon after 9:00am.

My expectations for distance for the day were low.  I’ve just had a tooth extracted, am still on antibiotics, am back above 10000 ft for the first time in months, had a very heavy pack, and was breaking in new boots.  All good reasons.

The first task was to get back to the PCT, 7.4 miles away, by climbing over Kearsarge Pass (11771 ft), a 4.5 mile 2600 ft ascent.  I just plodded along on the reasonable quality trail, trying to remember where the snow was when I descended here in mid-June.  I was going exceptionally slowly, but was still catching many other hikers headed for the Pass.  The views were great and I stopped frequently for a second or two to take them in and catch my breath, but that didn’t account for the three hours the climb took.  I later realised that I should probably plan for no more than 1.5 miles an hour in the Sierras until I adjust to the altitude and my pack lightens. 

Down the other side the views were also good, with mountains and lakes near and far, but there was rain about and you could see it falling in various places in the distance.  The trail wasn’t too bad, but my feet were sore (see above), and my pace remained slow.  My pack is the heaviest it has been since I was last in the Sierras, and it’s taking me a little while to adjust my balance.  Consequently, I was moving slowly and purposefully for much of the day, particularly where the trail was technical, to ensure no falls.

In the afternoon, the PCT ascended Glen Pass (11974 ft) on a very challenging path with lots of loose rock and big step-ups.  I was exhausted and again took it very slowly.  A thunderstorm accompanied by freezing rain added to the climb’s enjoyment.  I kept thinking I wouldn’t have been much slower making the climb in snow back in June, but in my heart I know I would not have enjoyed it then and have no regrets.  There were no trees through the pass, just myriads of rocks, and a couple of small lakes.  It was a forlorn place.  Nature in the raw.

My pace was no faster down the other side and I began thinking a relatively early night would be a good idea,  especially as there were temporarily clear skies.  I found a small spot overlooking one of the Rae Lakes around 6:00pm and managed to get set up and eat whilst staying dry.  Despite my low expectations, I was surprised how few miles I did today.  Of course, there were reasons, and I kept telling myself that today was going to be the most challenging of those remaining, but it was still a little disappointing.  Hopefully, my efforts will yield more tomorrow.

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