Date: Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Start: Camped by the trail at Mile 1006.8, 9511 ft
Finish: Sonora Pass where the PCT crosses Hwy 108 at Mile 1016.9, 9655 ft
Daily Miles: 10.1 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 2337.6
Weather: Very cold and mostly overcast with strong winds
Accommodation: Cabin at Kennedy Meadows Resort
Lunch: Chilli cheesburger & fries
Dinner: Soup, salad & ravioli, icecream and berry pie.
Aches: Nothing new
Highlight: Finally getting a lift (from a couple who had just finished their John Muir Trail hike yesterday) from Sonora Pass where I had been hitchhiking for nearly two hours in bitterly cold and windy conditions to Kennedy Meadows Resort.
Lowlight: Having what would have been an excellent high altitude (~ 10500 ft) walk in reasonable conditions spoiled by a bitterly cold strong wind that brought me to a standstill on some occasions, and blew me around like a piece of straw on others. One side of my face was frozen, as were my fingers, despite wearing gloves.
Pictures: Click here
I woke several times during the night to the sound of wind roaring in the treetops and knew that my hike to Sonora Pass, which involved 10 miles of mostly high altitude exposed walking was going to be a challenge. I started hiking at 6:30am in the predawn gloom, firstly tackling the 1000 ft two-mile climb to the top of the ridge above me via a steadily graded path through a treeless pebbly desert. During the climb the sun made a brief appearance over the horizon before disappearing behind a growing cloudmass that seemed in keeping with the howling wind, even on the “protected” side of the ridge.
At the top, I was fully exposed to the fantastic views in most directions as well as the full force of the wind. There was no shelter anywhere, and I just kept plodding along, to keep warm as much as anything. The trail followed a broad bare ridge northwards, near its top at 10500 ft, occasionally switching from one side to the other. The wind was at its worst where it funnelled through gaps or saddles, and I was in genuine fear of being blown over on several occasions, and always taking particular care when near a steep drop-off. To add to the challenge, there were large snow patches to be negotiated on some northern slopes, and I took even more care there. I am determined to finish this hike without another fall.
There was never any place to take a break until I was almost at Sonora Pass (9655 ft) so I walked the 10 miles without stopping apart from taking a few photos. When I reached Highway 108 at Sonora Pass, around 11:00am, I began hitch-hiking straight away, but there was little traffic, and most of that tourists. It’s usually the locals who pick you up, but there’s not too many locals around Sonora Pass. Time went by and I got colder and colder and added another layer as I hopefully thumbed each passing vehicle, but it was nearly 1:00pm by the time a couple of hikers who had just completed the John Muir Trail stopped and picked me up.
They kindly took me the mile off the highway to reach the Kennedy Meadows Resort (10 miles west of Sonora Pass), which seems to attract hunters, trailriders, fishermen and hikers. They had a small cabin available for the night so I took that in preference to a bed in the bunkhouse, and they also had the parcel of food for the next four days that I had mailed to myself here. There is a laundry they let you use for $5, as well as a basic restaurant where I have enjoyed lunch and dinner. Bear canisters are not required by law north of Yosemite National Park (although, of course, there are stil bears), and I have taken up the resort’s offer of mailing it somewhere for $20, to slightly lessen my load.
A storm is supposed to hit tonight and tomorrow with an indeterminate amount of snow down to 7000 ft (I’m going to be hiking above 10000 ft for some of the day) and snowploughs have already been deployed at Sonora Pass in preparation. It’s already cold and raining here. I feel cut-off, with no phone, internet, TV or radio access to weather forecasts. I’ll still plan on leaving tomorrow morning after breakfast, but will see what the situation is then. If the highway is closed, or it is pouring with rain down here (meaning snow up at the Pass), then I won’t be going anywhere and will try to stay here a second night, though I’m told my cabin has now been booked by someone else. Although it will put me a day behind schedule for meeting my friend, Rob, at South Lake Tahoe in four days time, he will understand that I don’t want to be hiking in blizzard conditions if it can be avoided.
When I checked in at the resort, a girl in the lobby sprang to her feet to welcome me like a long-lost friend. It was a girl I had seen a number of times on the trail in northern California who had abandoned her hike after injuring her back sliding down a snow slope approaching Crater Lake, which is where I last saw her. She is supporting an Asian PCT hiker whose trail name is “No English”, and who is also at the resort and also now injured.