Date: Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Start: Camped by the trail at Mile 874.5, 9874 ft
Finish: Camped by the trail at Mile 896.4, 10098 ft
Daily Miles: 21.9 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 2217.1
Weather: Sunny and mild in the morning, mostly overcast in the afternoon with thunderstorms and hail.
Dinner: Rehydrated beef stroganoff with noodles
Aches: Nothing new
Highlight: After crossing Silver Pass (10748 ft), the trail climbs to cross a ridge at 10937 ft, and on the other side of the ridge was a relatively steep snowbank which the trail crossed. As I carefully descended, a mule train, consisting of three riders each leading two or three packhorses approached the bottom of the snowbank and waited for me to come down. When I reached the bottom, I stepped out of the way onto some rocks and waited for the mule train to pass by and go up the snow bank. With a lot of hollering and a bit of speed, the first rider got up the bank with his packhorses in tow. The second rider, the only female, got a few metres up the snow bank when the first packhorse she was leading decided it didn’t want to go and came floundering down the bank, not a million miles from where I stood with nowhere to go, with the following horse also breaking free. However, both horses stopped when they hit solid ground on the narrow trail, and with polite shouted encouragement from the girl, I retrieved the more docile horse and held it until she got down. Eventually, she got both packhorses up by literally running up the bank towing them one at a time. Not a bad effort at 11000 ft. The last rider made it up with his packhorses without incident.
Lowlight: Thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, accompanied by hail and rain made life a little miserable.
Pictures: Click here
There was more rain during the night, and I had to pack the tent up with a wet flysheet, before hitting the trail around 6:50am. It always seems to take longer to pack up when it’s cold and/or wet, and it was both this morning. The first mile of walking was beautiful on soft trail across a broad treed ridge, but then the trail began a steep switchbacking descent down the side of the mountain. It was not lost on me that I had camped at 9900 ft and would be crossing Silver Pass at 10900 ft in another ten miles, so each foot descended would have to be regained. In all it lost 2000 ft, so my climb became 3000 ft later on. One of the interesting things about these climbs and descents is the changing geology and vegetation, and I was surprised to find a copse of silver birches near the bottom. I wondered if they were a relic of earlier settlement in the valley.
The climb up to Silver Pass contained one particularly testing steep rocky and technical section, but was otherwise the usual mix of rocky climbs paralleling raging waterfalls and chutes, followed by high valleys with peaceful forest, meandering streams and grassy meadows. Even higher up there was a series of alpine lakes amidst rocky crags. There were a few snowbanks near the pass, and one of these caused some excitement with a mule train I encountered there (see above).
After the pass there was a descent during which I passed a few older hikers carrying remarkably little, and I presume they were being supported on their hike by the mule train passed earlier. Some more fords were also encountered, but I managed each easily without the need to remove my boots. I was hoping for continuing downhill, but scored a 1200 ft ascent during which some ominous clouds appeared and thunder could be heard. Soon, after crossing a ridge, I was hiking in my wet weather gear being peppered by hail as lightning flashed and thunder roared around me. Given I was heading down and was amongst trees, I didn’t bother taking shelter as I was keen to reach Duck Lake, my target for the day, and it was now after 5:00pm. The trail continued to be challenging, and I had lost time rigging for wet weather, so I wasn’t surprised it was almost dark, and after 7:30pm, when I reached the Duck Lake outlet where I needed to get water. Then in the gloom, I couldn’t see a campsite supposed to be close to the trail a little further on, so kept walking using my headlamp, as lightning lit the sky to my left, until I found a reasonably level bit of ground by the trail and quickly set up camp, just finishing before the rain began. It was tempting just to jump in the tent and settle down for the night, but I was conscious I needed to eat, so cooked and ate by headlamp under the limited shelter provided by a couple of pine trees. Then it was into bed without a wash.
I feel particularly grubby, and worry that anybody who gives me a lift into Mammoth Lakes tomorrow will be very aware of my grubbiness and odour. I have about 12 miles tomorrow to reach the Devils Postpile, a geological wonder where there is a tourist carpark, and from where I hope to be able to get a lift. I’m hoping to be in Mammoth Lakes in time for lunch, and am really looking forward to having Thursday off completely. This has been a very physically tough section of the PCT.