Day Seventy One

Today's miles: 11
Total miles: 1018

We were excited when we woke up this morning: only eleven miles to Sonora Pass! We had been counting down the miles for days, and we were glad we were almost there. No one wanted to be out of mosquito country more than Katie and me this week.

We left our shelter of trees early and climbed up a very steep mountain. It was a good thing we hadn't done it last night, for the trail was very open, exposed, and covered in slick scree. The switchbacks wound upwards away from us in a long, serpentine motion. Slowly we plodded along the trail, leaving the valley and trees far below us.

Once up on the ridgeline, we were met with two wonderful changes: first, the jagged, granite peaks came back into view, soaring all around us, and second, there were no mosquitoes. We were above 10,000 feet for the first time in days, and the cold and the breeze was enough to completely demolish any sign of bugs. We were so happy we could have cried. I couldn't remember the last time I saw the world from outside a mesh bug net. We took our first snack break in relative comfort, relishing the fact that we weren't swatting bugs while shoveling down food.

The rest of the day was spent traversing mountain sides. I quickly discovered how difficult scree is to walk through: the loose shale moved under my feet like water, making my steps slide back and forth as though I weren't moving forward. It made progress slow and unstable, and wearied the muscles in my feet. Even trickier was the new arrival of frozen hail and snow on the trail from last night's storm. We had several large patches of snow to cross and each step seemed more unstable than the last. The open, rocky landscape was so drastically different from the lush green valleys and rivers we had been walking through lately.

Before descending Sonora Pass, we needed to cross several washed out areas of the trail. The narrow trail only barely clung to each mountain face, and one wrong step could send us slipping down a very loose, rocky slope. The washed out areas tested my fear of heights to its very limit, for I had to place my feet very carefully and had nothing to hold onto for stability. My heart was hammering the whole time, and all I wanted was to be down off the mountain and with Tanner.

We made it through safely and were able to enjoy some amazing views down the valley as we descended. We were in good spirits, being so close, and hurried down the trail toward the highway. We met several dayhikers coming up the pass who informed us that there was some trail magic happening below. This made us move even more quickly. We hit the bottom of the pass by early afternoon and found ourselves in a picnic ground where a man who called himself Owl was serving fresh fruit, drinks, cookies, and cake. He even had a banner tied to a tree that read: "Hey, mom, I just hiked 1,000 miles on the PCT!"

Katie and I relaxed at the table, a bit surprised that there weren't any other hikers here. But TwoBadDogs showed up soon after, and we had fun talking and eating sweets. I called Tanner and learned that he was still a few hours away, so we had some time to kill. As usual, our 2:00 storm began rolling in so Katie and I set up our tent and took naps inside for the afternoon.

Shortly after we were awakened by the arrival of some thru-hikers we hadn't met yet. One was from South Africa and the other two were southbounders who discovered that the snow in Washington was still too high to cross, so they had flip-flopped and started hiking northbound a few days ago. Shortly after they arrived we saw someone else walking into the picnic area. His blue backpack and white hat were strangely familiar....

"FOCUS!!" we yelled, running across the grass to meet him with big hugs.
"Honey Bunny! Bramble!" he cried.
"We thought you were ahead of us!"
"I took a zero with Dance Party in Yosemite Valley to climb Half Dome," he said. "I've been pulling 23 mile days to here, though."
"Twenty three!" we were shocked. The terrain from Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora Pass had some very steep ascents and descents, and often our pace of 15-18 miles per day was exhausting enough. I couldn't imagine doing twenty three.
Focus joined TwoBadDogs, the new hikers and us at the table to enjoy treats before going to the nearby town of Bridgeport to resupply and stay the night. I gave him a big hug goodbye since I knew I wouldn't be seeing him for a while.

At 5:30 Tanner arrived in his truck to pick us up. We were ecstatic to see him, and more than happy to leave trail to join civilization for a while. We drove down some very windy roads to get back to the highway (a downside of thru-hiking is that riding in cars tends to make you very carsick...) and then to Lake Tahoe, where we met up with some of Katie's good friends who have a house there. We spent the evening taking showers, talking about the trail, and eating plates of food until we were practically sick. Katie planned to stay with them for a few days more, then hike a little to the Desolation Wilderness with her boyfriend Bryan when he came to visit next week. Tanner and I would be leaving tomorrow to visit some of my family in town, then drive home to Portland so I could fly to Geneva next week and begin my circumnavigation of Mt. Blanc from the town of Chamonix, France. Once I returned, I would be joining Katie back on trail in Northern California to finish my trek north.

And so this is a crossroads for so many people on the PCT, but certainly not the end of the journey...