Date: Saturday, 09 September 2017
Start: Camped by the trail at Mile 818.8, 10981 ft
Finish: Camped Wanda Lake at Mile 840.5, 11444 ft
Daily Miles: 21.7 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 2161.2
Weather: After a cold start, mild and sunny until late afternoon when it clouded over and there was a thunderstorm with sleet and rain
Aches: Underside of forefeet still sore. I will try blister pads tomorrow.
Highlight: It didn’t really seem like it at the time, but getting caught in a thunderstorm with sleet and rain as I neared the top of the climb to Muir Pass (11973 ft) was a memorable experience. There wasn’t that much lightning, and none of it seemed close, so I kept soldiering on. I did make a stop to add a rainpants, another top layer and gloves, in the bitterly cold conditions, but once I got those on, I felt comfortable enough and enjoyed the alpine weather blasting the spectacular alpine scenery, as it must on many occasions when nobody gets to see it. At the pass there is a stone emergency shelter, and inside, huddled in an emergency bivvy bag trying to get warm, was an ultralight hiker who had passed me an hour earlier. Ultralight hikers definitely take chances.
Lowlight: Very tired all day, though somehow the body just keeps going.
Pictures: Click here
I was hiking by 6:20am, when there was just enough light to see the trail, in the hope of covering more miles today, even though I knew that I would be climbing nearly 4000 ft to reach Muir Pass (11973 ft) for most of the afternoon, which was bound to be slow.
The morning was spent descending past the beautiful Pallisade Lakes and then following the roaring Pallisade Creek downstream until it met the Middle Fork Kings River. After the Lakes, there was a steep technical switchbacking descent that seemed to go on forever, and in the back of my mind was the thought that every foot I descended, I would have to regain in the afternoon. Later, although the descent continued, with occasional steep rocky sections, there was also some beautiful forest, and I saw some deer at close quarters on several occasions.
The point at which the trail met the Kings River, was the point at which the ascent to Muir Pass began. The journey for the first few hours was a series of steps. There would be a section of steep rocky climbing to reach a small valley with beautiful woods and sometimes meadows, followed by another steep climb to reach the next valley. The sound of the river was a constant, generally roaring down chutes, rapids and over waterfalls, but sometimes meandering through meadows. Eventually the trail climbed above the treeline to a bleak rocky landscape with icy-looking lakes and patches of snow. Around this time, the weather deteriorated and I was caught in a storm which brought sleet and rain (see above) and added to the bleakness. In some places the trail was over snow and in others on such rocky terrain it was hard to follow. I reached the pass about 6:40pm, a little later than intended because of the weather, and was tempted to spend the night in the emergency shelter there, where another hiker was escaping the weather. But it seemed a cold dark and dank place, and as the storm had cleared, I decided to keep going another two miles to where there was supposed to be a tentsite. It meant that I was hiking until it was virtually dark, and it was a very cold and exposed location to camp, but I was happy to find it and quickly set up the tent and jumped in. No wash again tonight, and no hot dinner either.
I spent a lot of time today wondering how my running clubmates were going managing the hundred mile trail race I have organised for the past 13 years. Based on the time difference, I could imagine what people would be doing and how they would be feeling. For the first time, a bushfire has closed part of the course, so that would have added to the stress for the organisers. Hope it went well.
Unrelated (because, although happy to continue to organise the above race, it has become more of a chore recently), I also spent a lot of time wishing I was finished the trail. Despite the fantastic High Sierra scenery, and the experience of crossing the famous passes, I’m ready for my PCT hike to be over. As a possible treat, I may stop in at the remote Muir Trail Ranch, which is a mile or so off the trail, tomorrow afternoon to see if they have any accommodation available tomorrow night. It’s a long shot, given the number of John Muir Trail hikers passing by, but would allow a good meal and a much-needed shower.