Sierra Solo

My Williamson Motel and Base Camp in Independence, owned and operated by Strider standing next to me:  Love this place!
Mt Williamson Motel and Base Camp in Independence, owned and operated by Strider standing next to me: Love this place!
Glen Pass, looking up after I survived the descent
Glen Pass, looking up after I survived the descent
North side of Glen Pass, switchbacks are buried under snow, so I followed the boot pack set by previous hikers.  See the tiny humans on a patch of rocks?  They went up as I made it to the bottom, first people I saw in hours.
North side of Glen Pass, switchbacks are buried under snow, so I followed the boot pack set by previous hikers. See the tiny humans on a patch of rocks? They went up as I made it to the bottom, first people I saw in hours.
Muir Pass, only pass with snow on both sides
Muir Pass, only pass with snow on both sides
Muir Pass
Muir Pass
Fabulous new Big Agnes Copper Spur UL-1 just below McClure Meadow
Fabulous new Big Agnes Copper Spur UL-1 just below McClure Meadow
A blast of color next to the trail
A blast of color next to the trail
PCT sign near Red's Meadow
PCT sign near Red’s Meadow

June 8
PCT Mile 906
Red’s Meadow

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that I hiked 500 miles in the Sierra last summer, solo, basically hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) from north to south and then south (Horseshoe Meadows) to north.  I am pretty much at home in these mountains, I am respectful but utterly unafraid, I trust my experience and ability to assess risk and make “go, no-go” decisions.  Plus I have a satellite navigation device with an SOS panic button….

So that’s the Disclaimer.  I solo because I’m lazy and it’s easy, not because I don’t enjoy hiking with others, and camping with others, and in fact I am very happy I am part of this PCT migratory group and have comrades of all ages ahead, behind and with me.  Sometimes the freedom to hike as I please, camp when and where I want, never having to wait for someone to catch up or having to hustle faster to catch up to someone ahead of me, sometimes it makes me kind of complacent.

I got a FIRST this hike.  I was Strider’s first “Full Package” at her wonderful hiker -friendly Mt Williamson Motel in Independence.  I stayed there twice last year and loved the deal.  You get a ride to and from the Onion Valley trailhead, she holds your mailed resupply bucket, does a load of laundry, gives you a room and breakfast and greets you with a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale upon check-in.  Bonuses include getting to pet her dog Indy, tons of personal insights about the trail, and hugs.  I highly recommend this place to all JMT and PCT hikers!

Strider dropped me off and I hiked over Kearsarge Pass to join the PCT with Glen Pass a bit further on.  Glen was clear on the south facing ascent, but it was getting on to dinner time so I didn’t loiter at the top any longer than it took to slip the powder baskets on my sticks and the micro spikes over my trail runners.  The boot track traversed a bit and then headed straight down.  Through a dignified  combination of big stepping, glissading, and butt scooting, I managed to make it to the bottom with burning, shaking quads.  It was a long steep way down and I camped at the first Rae Lake I came to at about 7:15 pm.

The next morning, my legs were weak as I headed down to the Woods River suspension bridge and began the tedious climb to Pinchot Pass.  I was whipped, lethargic, and those 15 pounds of food in my pack made every step harder.  So I camped early, after just 11 miles and no pass.  Who was going to argue with me?  Felt like a touch of altitude sickness combined with too much descending, felt like I was a wimp.  Marathon John stopped to talk, then a couple hours later, Half Slow and Señor Whiskers, all OGs trucking up Pinchot.

Woke up feeling great and crossed Pinchot and Mather passes.  Post holing, talus tumbling and generally just heading straight down off Mather into the glory of the Palisades, I managed a 12 hour day and a perfect little stealth camp above the inlet to Lower Palisade lake where I fell asleep to the sounds of thousands of frogs croaking and woke to a thin sheen of condensation dripping down the rain fly.

Down the Golden Staircase, through the down flats along the river till I turned up and began the long approach to Muir Pass.  There were deer everywhere, no fawns yet though.  A cool thing about hiking this section is the memories that pop up associated with a particular spot on the trail. The bear I flushed out of a ferny creek that ran and ran way up into the granite, the mama grouse and her 3 enormous fledglings, the campsites Tarcey Jayne and I enjoyed on the JMT in 2013 at Dollar Lake, the north side of Muir Pass and the secret spot south of Selden Pass.  I went up Muir Pass early enough that the snow was firm, although down to Wanda Lake and beyond was pretty mushy.  I was through the snow by 1:30, although it was windy and cool clear down to McClure Meadow where I wanted to camp so as to ford Evolution Creek early in the morning so  my shoes would have the rest of the day to dry.  More deer, no hikers and I found a 1977 quarter (you find quarters at campsites because they’re used to open some brands of bear canisters) which made me review what significance the year 1977 had in my life.  Oh yeah, Juneau, Fairbanks, “the year I finally grew up.”

The following was a long day, I crossed Selden Pass, finishing at 6:45 just seconds before hail piled up around my tent.  I peeked out at clouds and mist, lightening to the east and the moon struggling to be seen in the opposite sky.  Since I’d taken a sick day on trail, I was short of food to make it all the way to Red’s, so I decided to hike to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) off trail for a night, not many hours away.  I had a leisurely morning letting the sun melt the ice off my tent, and enjoying the views of the mountains ringing my oasis until 8 am.  I had wet feet all day from the numerous fords of “rollicking Bear Creek.”  Just before turning off the PCT for VVR, Lone Wolf Expedition, a 1977 thru-hiker, pulled out a gallon ziploc and gave me a $2 bill (“weighs less than two 1’s”), to buy a treat in town on him.  How cool is that?  1977 again.

VVR was a trip.  Made it into the lodge just as another thunder shower opened up.  It took a few minutes, but I knew the 2 people inside:  Julia used to work at Tioga Pass Resort, and Everest had materialized out of the woods last summer, like Captain Kirk on the surface of an unknown planet, to talk with me, Joan, Jim and Tom.  Everest, 51, continues his long distance adventuring roam in the Sierra, a unique quest having to do with love and enlightenment.  At dinner, a bunch more PCT’rs gathered for real food.

Up and over stunning Silver Pass to camp in yet another hail storm at Lake Virginia with Cool Breeze, Growler and Puff Puff.  My last night before Mammoth, my beloved Thermarest NeoAir XTherm let me down after 1400 miles of cushy warmth.  I insulated myself from the cold, hard ground somewhat with my pack, clothes bag and rain gear underneath.  Sleep walked into Red’s, met by Jim, and transported to his Aunt Vel’s in Mammoth for a Mission IPA and homemade hummus.  And then a really delicious dinner at Mammoth Brewing Company accompanied by Jack White on the sound system.  I love Mammoth, I really do.

5 thoughts on “Sierra Solo

  1. Alison, I loved your description of your last few days and nights, for sure I don’t think I could do what you are doing, although I enjoy a several night backpack. I know you must be comfortable doing this leg of your journey, almost like home. Hugs to you and Jim, his aunt, hope we meet up on the trail someday.
    MickeyDC

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  2. Had dinner outside tonite, & while I was reading your post out loud to Tom : :: : a nice summer rain fell for ten mins, helping us remember our 1977 revelries. When you cross over hwy 108, you’ll be close to where I was in July of ’77 when this crazy band of Jesus people hijacked our Y-camp & changed my life forever. (The ‘Y’ has yet to recover from dismay & their decidedly anti-Jesus rash subsequently broke out). West of there is the BEST of the 2 Kennedy Meadows, & my beloved Dardanelles stomping grounds. . . Ahh. 1977.
    Keep those feet dry and ankles strong. LOVED THIS POST.

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  3. Great narrative Alison, full of insight re solo hiking, challenging terrain and weather, the migratory pack and spectacular country. keep it up along with photos – I really enjoy your style.

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