July 6, 2017
Mile 1203.48 – Mile 1221.48
This morning’s hike was amazing. We saw a really cool sunrise from camp as we were heading out, and the trail was beautiful. It was dry, with no major elevation changes, and the views were incredible. It wasn’t long into the day before we stumbled upon more trail magic! That’s three times in four days! We’re getting totally spoiled in this section. I also found myself drinking a beer before 7am for the second time in a short few days. All the trail magic recently has involved beer, which I am totally okay with. We took them to go this time and continued hiking while drinking. I almost hoped a day hiker would come by, just to witness us in all our hiker trash glory, trekking along at 7 in the morning drinking dirty cans of PBR.
A lot of thru-hikers tend to start burning out in Northern California. After coming down off the high of the Sierra, the trail here may start to feel monotonous, and hitting the halfway point and realizing you’re still in California has been described as demoralizing. Our experience is obviously a bit different, since we skipped the bulk of the Sierra proper and the section we did do was so incredibly challenging that the (mostly) dry and winding trail of Northern California has been quite a welcome change. Plus, the scenery (at least to my eyes) is still mind-blowingly beautiful. I have been absolutely loving NorCal so far.
The trail stayed mostly dry for quite a while. There was the occasional patch of snow, but they were almost all walked over with ease. We stopped for a long breakfast break above a beautiful mountain lake. As it got later into the morning, the snow patches started becoming more and more frequent, until we finally had to pull out our ice axes and microspikes to cross a steep snow field. It wasn’t too difficult of a crossing, but a fall would have been disastrous (ie. probably result in instant death), so we got the gear out to stay on the safe side. After this, there was a brief bit of dry trail, but we were soon plunged into snow-clogged forest for the rest of the morning. This kind of snow hiking isn’t particularly dangerous or even difficult, but it’s just mentally and physically draining. There’s also something that just feels fundamentally wrong about struggling through the heat while hiking on snow. It’s been hot the past few days, and my brain just doesn’t want to reconcile the fact that I’m almost sweating to death while also struggling to keep my balance on slippery snow. It’s just not right.
Once the snow subsided a bit, we stopped for lunch in the shade of a tree. After lunch, we got dry trail for most of the afternoon, which was amazing. The scenery was beautiful. The trail was lined with wildflowers dotting the hillside with purples, yellows, and reds, and there were expansive views of lakes, grassy hills, and rocky ridges speckled with snow. We dipped down into the forest, winding through the tall lichen-covered conifers. We saw Manuel (the hiker I bought the tent for way back in Agua Dulce) at a water source, and he showed us pictures of a bear he had seen just a few miles back! Knowing it was so close to us is exciting and a bit freaky. A lot of hikers have started having bear sightings, and I really want to see one at some point.
After we left the water source, we had a long climb, and it was at the top where shit started to go south. We came up on a steep wall of snow, so we got our snow gear out and pressed on. Everything was going fine, until we decided to cut off a switchback and just go up and over the top of the ridge to hopefully avoid some steep snow. We did avoid the snow, but ended up having to scramble down some extremely steep rocks, brush, and scree before we could get back to the trail. It was definitely slower, and probably more dangerous than if we had just stuck with the snow.
When we finally got back down onto the trail, it decided to play its usual mind games with us. It would tease us with dry trail for a bit, and then suddenly be covered with steep snow fields as far as the eye could see. We were only a couple miles from where we had decided we would camp at this point, so we were tired, hungry, and ready to be done with the day. We ended up having to cross over what I determined to be remnants of old avalanches, which would have been cool if they weren’t so annoying. There were trees knocked over and tossed about like toothpicks, and giant rocks sitting on top of the snow. There really wasn’t anything particularly difficult or scary about the snow, it was just incredibly frustrating and mentally taxing, especially at the end of the day.
The snow finally came to an end, and we got a tiny bit of dry trail down into camp, which allowed us to decompress at least a little bit from the avalanche of frustration (ha) that had come down on us. We reached the west branch of Nelson Creek, found a flat spot, and pitched the tent. I washed most of the filth off my body in the creek, and it felt so good to be relatively clean before putting on my sleeping clothes. On the way into camp, we had been discussing how the trail magic from this morning would have been better suited to the present moment, when the hiker who we hitched a ride into Truckee with walked up and said he had an extra bag of baby carrots and peppers, and asked us if we wanted it. We both jumped at the chance to eat some fresh veggies, and it definitely made our dinner much more exciting. After we had filled our bellies with food and were feeling much better, we crawled into bed, ready for a good sleep after an exhausting day.