Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail: Day 58
After taking a day zero in Kennedy Meadows (KM) to recharge our batteries before we headed out into the Sierras. There are several resupply stops once you enter the mountains but we felt like we were prepared for an 11 day stretch without resupplying. From KM our next resupply stop would be the Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR). Carrying 11 days worth of food is no joke and needless to say our packs were gigantic weighting at 46lb for Serge and 38lb for me, that’s without any water. To our pleasure, Sierras are very abundant in water, filled with numerous creeks and rivers that run off from the mountains. We never had to carry more than 1 liter of water each (in comparison to the desert, where we often had to carry 3-4 liters of water at a time).
On the second night of being in the mountains, camping at 11,000ft elevation, it looked like a big storm was rolling in on the horizon toward the evening. The sky was dark purple and moving fast towards our direction.
As soon as we got in our tent the rain began. Lightning and thunder were so strong that it felt like someone was turning on & off a light switch all night long. I have never heard such loud thunder in my life. We were surrounded by mountains and when the lightning would strike it sounded like a metal rod rattling against a metal fence, but much louder and coming from the walls of the mountains. It was surreal.
In the morning when I opened my eyes through the open cracks of our tent I saw snow laying on the ground. I woke Serge up and we both noticed how the ceiling of our tent was hanging down from the heavy weight of snow. We peaked outside and ground was covered in snow and the sun was shining. Just overnight everything got snowed in and this is how we encountered our first snow in the Sierras.
Around noon that day, grey clouds moved in and some heavy precipitation began again. The storm was not over. As we were traversing through the mountainous terrain that day at 9,000ft elevation it rained, at 10,000ft it hailed and at 11,000 it snowed. In the past 1.5mo in the desert it rained only once and here we were experiencing it all.
In our 11 day haul we planned for a side day trip to summit Mt. Whitney. It is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states (besides Alaska & Hawaii), standing at 14,504 ft tall. We are in the best shapes of our lives and our legs feel the strongest, we could not miss such opportunity. That evening, we got to the Mt. Whitney base camp and the storm started to finally clear up. Walking cold & wet all day, with a few up to your knees river crossings I was sure that we were going to get sick. Luckily our immune systems was just strong as our legs.
The following morning, we somehow managed to put our feet back into our overnight frozen wet shoes and began the beautiful Mt. Whitney ascent which was covered completely in snow. We left all of our gear back at the base camp and went up very light weight, bringing only the minimum. As we were gaining altitude the air started to get more thin. There were several hikers who had to turn around because high altitude was making them too sick.
At the top, the view was phenomenal. There are 2 types of views that you get here in the Sierras. The Mt Whitney view – you are standing on top of the world. And a grand large scale view of getting really close up to the mountains. While Mt. Whitney was a very cool hike, we still love the grand scale view the most. It makes you feel like a tiny ant surrounded by the peaks of stone giants.
Hiking in Sierras comes with new challenges – hunger and hiking over mountain passes. While in the dessert we were thirsty, in Sierras we became hungry. Because of such difficult terrain that we have to cross every day, our daily mileage not only dropped, but the amount of calories that our bodies burn have increased.
The food that we had with us was not enough to feed our bodies. Every day we would burn around 5,000+ calories and our intake was only around 3,500 per day from the food that we had. That’s including eating 4 times a day, and adding calorie boosters such as coconut and olive oil into our meals. We were hungry all day every day. We simply could not fit any more food into our packs for this 11 day stretch. And we also underestimated the challenging terrain which is very different from what we have been hiking in the dessert. Many people put on additional weight before hiking the PCT so that your body has a cushion of fat to work with in the beginning. But once all the fat is gone, and you don’t eat enough food, your body begins to eat it’s muscle weight.
A mountain pass is the lowest point between two peaks which is the most favorable place to cross a mountain ridge. So imagine two tall peaks between each other that form a “V” and the lowest point of that is called a pass. In the Sierras we have to cross passes every day. I would say that one pass crossing per day is a good solid day of hiking. It is steep and HARD to go up/down mountain passes because they are higher in elevation and most of the time snowed in. It’s difficult to walk in the snow, and depending on time of the day it could either be too icy (early morning) or too slushy (late afternoon).
Despite our lack of food and the tiredness, we found a lot of joy and happiness while hiking through such surreal and untouched beauty. The feeling of adventure, the cravings to explore, would overpower any struggles and motivate us to keep moving forward.
On day 8 we were coming close to a small Ranch which is a resupply point for many hikers, but because it cost $70 to pick up your package we chose to skip that resupply and not mail ourselves any food there. However, with every resupply location comes a Hiker Box. It’s a box where hikers can drop off any extra food/gear that they sent themselves that they no longer need or don’t want to carry. We decided to take a small side trip to the Ranch to check out the hiker box in hopes of scoring an extra trail mix. When we got to the ranch, to our surprise, there was so much food in the hiker box that we were able to get enough food not only to eat for the next few days until we get into VVR but also for 2 additional days which would take us into Mammoth Lakes, putting us at 13 days all together in the wilderness. That day we were so happy that all we did all day long was stop & eat food.
A few days later, we have finally reached Reds Meadows. After taking a shuttle bus to Mammoth Lakes, we checked in to our hostel and went directly to a restaurant and eat as much food as we possibly could! And I mean literally, double lunch/dinner portions, appetizers, dessert and beer!