From Drakesbad Guest Ranch to Burney Falls (Mile 1423.5)

 

This next section was a short one. We planned to do a quick stop at Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen Volcanic National Park to pick up our resupply package, grab a quick lunch, and hopefully nab a shower before hitting the trail again. The folks there didn’t seem enthused about us eating in the lodge amidst their other guests in all our “hiker trash” glory but they (seemingly reluctantly) allowed us use of their facilities which we gladly accepted (and paid for), begrudgingly given or not. We’d had a full week without a shower in the midst of a heat wave, so we happily hit the showers before the buffet line. We were just finishing up lunch when my stomach staged a revolt. Maybe it wasn’t used to all the fresh delicious food I threw at it. At any rate, I was in no condition to hike on so we lazed around the ranch for a while which they didn’t seem to mind. We ended up hitting just another 3 miles for the day once I finally felt up to it, which we knew meant we’d have to make up for it with big mileage in the next couple days.

Boiling Lake - Lassen Volcanic National Park. You can actually hear this lake boiling from a good distance.

Boiling Lake – Lassen Volcanic National Park. You can actually hear this lake boiling from a good distance.

I mentioned in the last post that we were booking it to make it to Burney by Saturday, but I failed to mention that it was because we were getting a visit from my mom, stepdad, and little brother! Oh, we were ecstatic. We’ve had some truly wonderful family visits so far on this trip – my dad and stepmom rented an awesome little cabin near Big Bear about two weeks in and we got to spend two nights with them PLUS see all of our families for a barbeque. My grandparents made an amazing surprise visit in Wrightwood. And Edwin’s mom came up for an absolutely lovely overnight visit after Agua Dulce when she shuttled us up to Tehachapi. We’ve been spoiled, is what I’m saying. But we hadn’t seen anyone for about a month and a half, and we were dying for some family time. Knowing this trip was coming up kept us moving when the miles got tough. To say we were excited is an understatement. But we still had 80 miles to go and time was slipping by.

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Me and my love at Lower Twin Lake

The next day had us running 26 miles  through the small town of Old Station and ending the night at the Subway Cave, a small distance from the trail but well worth seeing (and also the last water before heading across a 30 mile waterless stretch). The Subway Cave is a lava tube you can walk through. It was a short walk and such a cool thing to see.  I’d love to show you pictures, but it’s pitch black in there and we had to walk it with headlamps. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area.

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Awesome sky view approaching Hat Creek Rim

The next day was one of the most boring and brutal days to date on the trail. We’d reached the Hat Creek Rim area – a very flat, very hot, very … blah section. It’s waterless for 30 miles with just a trail angel-maintained water cache 20 miles in. We knew we’d have to carry lots of water and planned to knock the whole 30 miles out in one day. But we didn’t anticipate how bored we’d be. The flat terrain provided little in the way of a challenge, but it didn’t provide any distractions, either. I complain about steep inclines and descents but the truth is that they make for a much more interesting hike. Time passed agonizingly slowly as we made our way to the water cache where we planned to rest for lunch. We were enjoying the company of a couple other hikers at the water cache (“Cache 22″) when up walked Aloha, another trail angel, arms loaded down with chips, Gatorades, sodas, and beers he had bought to stock the cache with. What good timing on our part! It was awesome to hang out with Aloha and some hiker buddies while enjoying some cold drinks. We learned that the temperature had topped 100 degrees, which explained some of our misery on Hat Creek Rim. We weren’t ecstatic about hiking another 10 miles after leaving the cache, but our sights were set on Burney. We got the last few miles done by 8:30 that night – a long day topped off with a nice night of camping near our buddy Mark, a thru-hiker from the UK.

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Cache 22

We woke the next morning with just 12 miles to go to Burney State Park but aches and pains everywhere from the previous day. We started zipping through the miles, powered by thoughts of the impending family visit and three nights of rest. Just after crossing over the highway, we stumbled across the “Wild Bird Cache” or “the motherlode” as Mark called it when we walked up to find him there. There were coolers loaded with sodas, candy bars, and waters. There were bins filled with snacks – Top Ramen, Cracker Jacks, all kinds of goodies. There were awesome lounge chairs to kick back in under the shade of some nice trees. All of it provided by some generous trail angels in the area. It was magical. We stopped for a quick break with our buddy, not wanting to waste time getting to Burney but unable to pass such an amazing place by without enjoying it. The people who go out of their way to do nice things for hikers on this trail … they amaze me. And two days of trail magic in a row? We’re getting spoiled.

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Sodas downed and mini candy bars consumed, we were ready for the last couple miles. We made it to the state park (after first trying unsuccessfully to hitchhike from the highway for more than an hour – one friendly motorist even pretended he was going to run us over. Here’s a tip: Burney – not an easy place to hitchhike.) and waited for the faces we’d been so anxious to see. And then they were there, not recognizing the skinny bearded man with a full head of hair waving at them (Edwin had to say, “Becky! It’s Edwin!” as she was walking towards him), and we spent the next couple days in an absolutely blissful state catching up, lounging, and laughing so much my abs are sore. We took a short hike to the stunningly beautiful Burney Falls, spent an afternoon relaxing on a boat on Lake Britton, and a full day tooling around Lake Shasta where Edwin and I tried unsuccessfully to wake board and my little brother totally showed us up. He made it look easy – it was not. Our arms are so sore today we’re having picking things up and opening doors, but we desperately needed all that family fun we had. Sore arms = ridiculously small price to pay for all the love we felt this weekend. They left this morning at our insistence – they had a 10 hour drive back home and we didn’t want to spend time doing resupply tasks while they were here, so we left all our business for this morning. I cried my eyes out when they left, but all the more reason to keep hiking on – can’t wait to see those faces again, along with all the other ones we’ve been missing so much.IMG_1524IMG_1525IMG_1527IMG_1508IMG_1537IMG_1549IMG_1548IMG_1538IMG_1560IMG_1581IMG_1597IMG_1591

From Sierra City to Drakesbad Guest Ranch (Mile 1354)

This stretch got off to a rough start. We laid over in Sierra City waiting for the post office to open at 10 AM and when it did it was quickly evident that I’d goofed. Where there should have been two large resupply boxes containing all the food we’d need for the next 7+ day section, there was just one from home (along with an awesome package from my oldest sister – surprise care package for the win!). Somehow, I’d mistakenly logged on my master spreadsheet that we needed to send ourselves just 4 days of food for the section beginning in Sierra City – for a total of more than 150 miles. Oops. I had previously had us resupplying sooner but when we got word that the post office in Belden had closed, I moved our resupply down the road to Chester and, though I updated the master with the new address, failed to update the supplies needed as well.

Our food for this section. More typical hiker food than usual. Ignore the third bottle of Nutella in this picture, we didn't carry three bottles out with us ... we only took two. And the beer was for lunch, not for the trail.

Oh, I was a mess. I felt awful. It’s the kind of mistake I had nightmares about making before we left and I just couldn’t believe I’d done something so dumb. Lately I’ve been a bit of an emotional wreck in towns anyway because it’s when I find myself feeling the most homesick, so between missing family and feeling terrible about my mix-up, Edwin had a weepy mess on his hands. Luckily, Sierra City has a fairly well-stocked general store so aside from our wallets feeling a pinch from trying to feed two hungry, hungry hikers for 3 extra days at the premium prices charged by all small town general stores, it all worked out fine. Plus, we got to try out some typical hiker staples that we hadn’t yet touched out here – Pop Tarts, Knorr Sides, Top Ramen … I’m happy to report that our food is better, though the Top Ramen was embarrassingly well-received.

Sign that I found both hilarious and disheartening. But why must I walk 8 miles to see "A Tree?" There's one right here!

The hike out from Sierra City was a 3000 foot climb right off the bat, so we decided to wait until late afternoon to escape the heat. In town at the Red Moose, I’d traded my new-ish but problematic shoes (they were crushing my toes and causing me so much pain it was waking me up at night) for a too-large pair of men’s hiking shoes which immediately felt better than mine when I tried them on at the inn aside the hiker box. So roomy! So cushiony! Surely too big is better than too small, right? Sadly, not necessarily. Three miles into the climb, I was channeling my inner Gob Bluth – “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I could feel hot spots all over my feet, blisters threatening to form, and sharp pains at the pad of my right foot and inner heel. Still, I thought, at least my feet aren’t being crushed. We ended that night 7.5 miles from where we started, less than a mile from the top, along an old abandoned road along with a few other hikers. By the end of the next day, I literally limped into camp in tears and things didn’t improve over the next few days. Edwin was incredibly understanding as he went through similarly blistered and excruciating foot pain back in the desert. I found myself thinking I should have been have a better nurse back then – I don’t think I at all understood what he was putting up with.

Such a handsome bearded fellow.

Tending to what proved to be a constant source of pain and frustration this section. Also, beautiful little watering hole.

Still, there was nothing to be done – the miles weren’t going to walk themselves. We had several days of slow progress but still pulled out roughly 25 miles days each day. We were gunning to make it to Burney by the following Saturday and knew we had to pull big days to keep on schedule. The terrain had seemed to mellow out somewhat, but one day in this section still found us climbing a total of 7500 feet up, so it wasn’t as if we were slouching.

Highlights of this section include the beautiful Middle Fork of the Feather River, which we hit at about 6 PM a few nights in. We had done 20 miles by the time we got there and had planned to have a quick swim and head on for a few more miles, but once at the river our will to hike on crumbled. It was just far too pretty. We spent the rest of the evening swimming, doing some camp laundry, and just enjoying the awesome campsite.

Beautiful Middle Fork of the Feather River

He's never sad when there's a swimming hole around.

Two days later, we found ourselves walking surreally through the tiny trail town of Belden, CA. The descent down into Belden was a bit rough – a 5000 foot drop, 4000 occurring over a quick 6 miles. But we were hungry and determined – we’d read that there was a small restaurant at which we could grab lunch, which we planned to do on our afternoon break to escape the heat. We were getting back down to lower elevations just in time for a heat wave (Belden sits at 2000 feet, by far the lowest we’d been in ages). So we made our way straight down the steep switchbacks, powered on by dreams of burgers and fries. As we descended into Belden, we began to hear music. Loud, thumping, repetitive music. When we emerged onto the main street that runs through town, we encountered swarms of people – some sweaty, some oddly dressed, some clearly over-served. Nope, these weren’t hikers. We’d stumbled into Belden in the middle of a big rave, a weekend festival that Burney is apparently quite famous for – this one celebrating electronic music. It was madness. There were people everywhere, sleeping at the bar, noisily arguing in the streets – combined with the loud thumping music, it was total sensory overload for a couple of hikers who’d spent the majority of the last two months in quiet solitude in nature. We got our burgers, but we weren’t sad to settle up the check and hit the trail again.

The normally quiet and sleepy town of Belden, descended on by many, many music enthusiasts and partiers. We were ... overwhelmed.

That is, of course, until we realized that it was still more than 100 degrees at 5 PM. That lovely little 5000 drop into Belden had an equal and only slightly less grueling climb back out, and we were headed up the burned-out slope (read: mostly shadeless) in excruciating heat. There were a few other hikers headed out at the same time as us, and we all sort of inched forward, making small steps before scurrying for some semblance of shade and protection from heat exhaustion. Eventually, we made camp 5 miles up, some 2500 vertical feet from the top, and decided to do the rest in the morning. We were headed towards the halfway point, which we reached just over a day later, the morning before our next resupply and the end of this section. Some fun facts as of the midway point:

midpoint

- 73 days of hiking

- 7 zero days

- 10 nights spent in a bed (including a night on a bunk bed with a plastic mattress and a night in a ski hut on a makeshift bunk bed – but we had to share that room with a rat)

- 13 showers (to be fair, this is 13 locations at which we showered … some locations brought multiple showers, but we didn’t count multiples as they were back-to-back or on zero days)

- 50 pounds plus down for “Kudu”

- 30 pounds plus down for “Alphabet Soup”

Can’t wait to see what the next half brings!

From Echo Lake to Sierra City (Mile 1197.5)

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Overlooking the ridge from the Jon Benson Ski Hut

*Ed. note from Stephanie – we don’t have access to a computer here and can’t get to any of the photos from our camera, so these shoddy cell camera pics will have to do. My phone is being tempermental, so apologies for typos or errors. When we have a computer at our disposal, I will update with more pictures. It was a truly beautiful section.*

Edwin here, again.

Echo Lake to Sierra City – 103 miles.

Over a hundred miles on foot and it is a “short section.” What is happening to us?

Well we arrived in Echo Lake, and immediately knew we wanted to go into South Lake Tahoe where there were more hotels and stores. We needed a shower badly because we had just gotten off a long stretch without one. A cool dude named Aloha (a trail name) gave us a ride into the town and back to the trail again 2 days later. We enjoyed the visit to South Lake a lot, and will be coming back some time to explore the area more.

Once back at Echo Lake, we hit the trail around 2:30 pm. It is a beautiful area. The trail starts off around lower and upper Echo Lake and then we started the climb. The plan was to do the section in 4.5 days so we had to do a good amount of miles each day. I think we ended up doing about 12 miles the first day, stopping for the night at Gilmore Lake right before Dick’s Pass. We didn’t want to hike up to the pass and find nowhere to camp and then have to hike down the pass in the dark so we stopped early.

The 2nd day we set out and had a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe all day long. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) and PCT were intersecting in this section. The TRT is a 160 mile trail around Lake Tahoe. The trail was on a ridge for the most day dropping down into a valley every 8 miles or so. It was a great day if you want to get some experience climbing – a lot of up and down. We finally made it to a creek with the coldest, best testing water and stopped for the night.

Hey, look – another ridge line to hike the next day. Nothing new at this point. That night we camped at the Jon Benson Ski Cabin, a public use cabin built and maintained by the Sierra Club. We were happy to get there and sleep inside on a bunk out of the cold. That is, until we started falling asleep and heard movement on the floor. We turned on our headlamps and saw the biggest rat we’ve ever seen. It was as big as a small dog running around inside the cabin. The one night we slept inside we had trouble with rodents, and all the time outside not a single one has bothered us.

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Jon Benson Ski Hut

On the 4th morning, we woke up finding ourselves with 48 miles left to go before we get to Sierra City. We knew we had two long days of hiking ahead of us. We just started hiking and were already tired. We stopped for breaks frequently and struggled to get 24 miles in before the sun went down.

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Our cozy set-up inside the Ski Hut. Not pictured: huge rat.

The final morning we still had 24 miles to the exit for Sierra City with an extra 1.75 miles road walk to town once we got there. We kicked into gear and we did the first 7.5 miles in two hours. We looked at the timing to make it to town before the post office closes and – yay! – realized we could make it before 4 pm. After a long day of fast hiking we got to town at 3:45 pm, with 45 minutes to spare before the Post office closes. Wrong! Post office changed their times and closed at 2 pm.

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Overlooking the river behind the Red Moose Inn

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At the Red Moose Inn

Oh well, we were still happy to get to town and enjoy a few beers and food. We camped behind The Red Moose Inn, a hiker friendly motel. We will be picking up our package today, July 17, buying some extra food, and getting back on trail around noon. We’ve got another long section coming up (about 7 days) so we’ll update when we can.

- Edwin/Kudu

From Tuolumne Meadows to Echo Lake (Mile 1094.5)

*Alternate title: Everything Out Here is Trying to Eat Us*

OK, before I say anything else, can we pause real quick and note that we’re almost at mile 1100? It’s true that we skipped forward 200 miles that we have to go back and complete, but even keeping that in mind, we’ve still walked nearly 900 miles since May 13th. I’m getting nerdily proud up in here. But let’s move on, because we’re still not even halfway.

E's shoes ... he put some miles on the ones on the left, huh? The right is how they look new.

E’s shoes … he put some miles on the ones on the left, huh? The right is how they look new.

Tuolumne River

Tuolumne River

It’s usually sort of hard for us to leave the comforts of “town” and hit the trail again, but neither of us were charmed by Tuolumne Meadows or felt any need to spend much time there. We were ready to hike away from Tuolumne, but leaving our resupply without the usual feeling of rest and without the aroma of clean-ish laundry and freshly showered bodies was disheartening. We knew we had a rough stretch coming up due to the length – more than 7 days without a resupply, our longest yet. No showers or laundry in Tuolumne meant the hiker funk that so often follows us these days was to follow us for a lot longer. Dark moods and hiker stench hung in the air for the first day out, though the former were lifted when we hiked the Glen Aulin portion of the trail. We hiked past the most gorgeous waterfalls and ponds, straight down to an amazing little campsite at the base of the waterfall. We considered stopping early and spending the night there, but decided to save our low-mileage day for the next day, the fourth of July.

Taking it all in

Taking it all in

We’d both been feeling really homesick with the holiday approaching, lamenting the fact that we couldn’t beam home to celebrate with our families and then beam back to the trail – where is this teleportation technology we’ve been awaiting for so long? We don’t usually pack any alcohol out with us because it’s really not worth the weight – we’d rather use the space for food – but anticipating the 4th, we bought a small bottle (first mistake, should have bought two) of Fireball in Tuolumne before we hiked out. Celebrating America with Canadian whiskey … close enough, eh? On the 4th, we had few goals … get up and over Benson Pass (elev. 10,124 ft), try desperately to contact family at the top to let them know we were thinking of them (spoiler alert: not a strong enough signal which made for a very sad Stephanie), and find an awesome spot to set up camp early and do some swimming and sip some whiskey. We spotted an elk relaxing in the shade as we made our way down from the pass. He let us snap a few photos before getting annoyed with the paparazzi and moving on. We made it down to Smedberg Lake where the mosquitos were blissfully few in existence.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!

Just an elk, doing what elk (elks?) do ...

Just an elk, doing what elk (elks?) do …

Smedberg Lake - our camp site and swimming hole for the Fourth

Smedberg Lake – our camp site and swimming hole for the Fourth

I made him take so many pictures before we finally got this one. He was not pleased.

I made him take so many pictures before we finally got this one. He was not pleased.

Let’s talk about mosquitoes. They’d been plaguing us since about a day before Vermillion Valley Resort, so we’d grown sort of used to slapping them off every time we paused for a few seconds. At night, immediately upon getting to our camp spot we’d put on long sleeves, long pants, and DEET to cover any remaining exposed flesh.  But then they started to get worse. No longer content to simply buzz around annoyingly as we hiked, they got more aggressive and started biting us as we walked. No amount of DEET deterred them. There were sections where the mosquitoes were so thick we actually RAN through them (and if you know me, you know running is not something I usually do willingly,  particularly with a 40 pound pack on my back). Don’t get me started about having to try and do your business with mosquitoes angrily landing everywhere. All I’m saying is spraying DEET on our, ahem, posteriors has not been my favorite part of this experience. Between the mosquitoes, horseflies (just like houseflies, but bigger and they bite! Yay!), and sweat bees, we feel like a veritable buffet dinner for the bugs out here. The mosquitoes seem to have calmed down the last few days, but I’m given to understand that they will continue to worsen as we move north, so wish us luck (and send DEET!).

Modeling our mosquito nets. I can just hear my older brother sarcastically saying, "Well luckily you look super cool!" Function trumps fashion.

Modeling our mosquito nets. I can just hear my older brother sarcastically saying, “Well luckily you look super cool!” Function trumps fashion.

The day after the 4th of July was my favorite day. We were just coming down a descent near Tilden Lake with Edwin in the lead when I saw him stop, motion for me to be quiet, and beckon me closer. He was pointing to a bear cub, frozen in fright about 50 feet away from us. My first thought was a panicked one … “Where’s Mama Bear?” I looked wildly around but couldn’t spot her. Knowing we were in a precarious position possibly between a mother and her cub but not able to resist the temptation, E got off a couple great shots of the cub while we pondered what to do. Make noise so it runs off? Back away and hope it runs off? Move slowly towards it on the trail,  hoping not to spook it or Mama Bear? While we were pondering,  we heard something descending the hill we just came down and the panic returned momentarily,  but it was another thru-hiker we’d passed a short time before. He got to see the cub as well before we all moved forward together, slowly but noisily to warn of our coming. The bear bolted off, away from the trail and away from us. All the same,  E and I postponed our break for “second breakfast” for another couple of miles.

Bear cub!

Bear cub!

We reached Echo Lake on Wednesday afternoon, picked up our package, hitched into South Lake Tahoe, and immediately began eating our way through the town. Feeling full, rested, and finally clean, we’ll be hitting the trail again this morning and heading towards Sierra City. I hope to be able to update from there early next week. Enjoy the weekend!

I ... did not know he took this picture. He does not know I'm posting it. Win.

I … did not know he took this picture. He does not know I’m posting it. Win.

From Vermillion Valley Resort to Tuolumne Meadows (Mile 941.5)

This was a short section and since Stephanie is slacking off on her blogging, I have been pulled into helping out on the updating of the blog.

I have no idea what she has written on the blog before now, and since I am not going to read it either I am just going to start from Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) and go from there.

Lake Edison

Lake Edison

VVR is not remotely what you think about when you hear the word “Resort”.  It is more like a campground with a tiny little store, with a small restaurant/ diner.

Well we arrived at VVR on Friday around 4 pm after a long day of hiking, actually we almost ran to the resort, because we heard stories of the good food and that your first beer is in the house. We arrived to find out all the rumors were true. First beer was on the house and we had a great dinner. For dinner we ordered 3 meals between the two of us: a dinner salad which we split, fish tacos, and smoked tri-tip with baked beans and mashed potatoes. Oh buddy, was the food good. It was a nice place to stop over because we were able to hang out with other hikers, swap some stories and get clean. We had more great food for breakfast and lunch, and we were very tempted to stay another night because the food they were smoking for dinner looked so good. But we forced ourselves to get out of the vortex and back on the trail.

On the "ferry" (read: tiny fishing boat) leaving Lake Edison

On the “ferry” (read: tiny fishing boat) leaving Lake Edison

OK, so to get back on the trail we had to get on a little fishing boat. Needless to say we weren’t really in the mood to hike after only a morning off the trail. We ended up hiking only a couple of miles until we found a great camping spot halfway up Silver Pass  on a rocky section of the mountain with a fantastic view of the valley below. It was too pretty to just hike by so we spent the last 2 hours before sunset taking in the view and reading.

Fun camping spot halfway up Silver Pass.

Fun camping spot halfway up Silver Pass.

As usual we got up later then we wanted to and started hiking. We stopped at Lake Virginia when we saw some of our trail friends hanging out at the lake. It was a great spot for lunch because we were able to sit down without every bug climbing all over us, we swam, and had a great view.

Mile marker 900! Please excuse my pasty legs.

Mile marker 900! Please excuse my pasty legs.

On the third day of this section we headed into Red’s Meadow, which is a third of the way to Canada. This is also where Devil’s Post-pile is, which was just a short side trip from the PCT. It was a cool little section of trail.

Devil's Post Pile

Devil’s Post Pile

 

Distant shot of Devil's Post Pile

Distant shot of Devil’s Post Pile

Then it was the last day push into Tuolumne. We were excited to get into town to shower, do laundry, and eat some good food, but we had to cover 19 miles before 4 pm to get our parcel from the post office.

Near Donahue Pass

Near Donahue Pass

The long rush to town started. We passed a lot of John Muir Trail hikers, and had a few words with them. It was nice to pass them because we were able to see the difference in our hiking fitness. They were like we were in the beginning – slow and breathing hard on the way up to Donahue Pass. It was just good to see the progress we have made.

We just got to the top of the pass when the clouds started to move in, and they were coming in fast. We made sure to get down fast because we started to hear thunder and we knew we would be in for a wet afternoon. We nearly got down to the meadow about 14 miles from town when it started to rain.

On the way into Tuolumne ... the rains made the creeks swell a bit.

On the way into Tuolumne … the rains made the creeks swell a bit.

Since we were going into town and thought we could do laundry and get our new shoes we would just cover up our packs and go for it. At first it was fun and refreshing to walking in the little bit of rain, until it started to hail. After about an hour of rain the trail turned into a river and we were soaked to the bone. We did the 14 miles in about 4.5 hours with only the last hour without rain. Our clothing was dry by the time we got to Tuolumne Meadows, but we were looking forward to the warmth of a hot shower.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

Much to our disappointment there we no showers in “town” or laundry, not really any of the comforts we were looking forward too. There is just a small store and a place to get a burger. We ended up finding a backpackers campsite and walked back to the store to get supplies for the next leg of the trip. We wanted to leave first thing in the morning but we wanted to at least rinse out some clothing before we headed out. We got back on the trail around 2 pm on the 3rd of July.

- Edwin

From Independence to Vermillion Valley Resort/Lake Edison (Mile 877)

We’re not dead! Apologies for the length of time since the last update, but trekking through the Sierras took us through some remote areas and the resupply locations at which we stopped were lacking in reliable cell and internet signals so staying connected was difficult. We’ll be updating all three sections that we’ve covered since Independence, so if you’re not subscribed to receive posts by email, be sure to check out all three new posts.

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Leaving Independence (or rather Bishop, as we’d taken a bus there, 30 miles away from Independence, in order to take advantage of the bigger town and additional services available there) was difficult not only because we’d literally lain like sloths in a hotel room for a day and a half,  but because the hitchhike back to the trailhead at Onion Valley Road (13 miles from Independence, about 45 miles from where we were staying) was a hard one – there’s nothing out on that road aside from the trailhead and a campground so it can be difficult to find someone headed out that way unless you get lucky enough to hook up with a dayhiker. We were standing thumbs out on Highway 395 at the worst possible time (late Sunday afternoon) when the likelihood of anyone going that far out was small. We caught a ride in the back of a covered pick-up truck to Big Pine, about 15 miles closer to our goal, and started the humbling process of trying to entice someone into picking us up all over again.  We were beginning to think we might have to be content with simply making it back to Independence that night and try for a ride out to the trailhead again first thing in the morning when along came our hero. He passed us originally, but something convinced him to take pity on us and turn around.  Though it was more than 30 miles out of his way, he happily took us all the way out the Onion Valley trailhead and wouldn’t accept a dime for his time. The kindness of strangers out here … it never ceases to blow my mind.

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Matlock Lake

Back at the trailhead to lead us up Kearsarge Pass, we still had 7.5 miles to hike before we were back on the PCT. There were nasty storm clouds rolling in on top of the pass that we weren’t at all sure we wanted to hike up into, so we hiked in just 2.5 miles before setting up for the night at Matlock Lake. The next morning we were up early and set to tackle the weather and two mountain passes back to back. Sure enough, right as we were nearing the top of Kearsarge Pass, we realized snow had started to fall and, alternating with bouts of rain and hail, continued to do so through our descent and then our next climb up Glen Pass. It wasn’t cold enough to stick, but being snowed on at the end of June was an odd experience.

Atop Kearsarge Pass

Atop Kearsarge Pass

Cool suspension bridge before Pinchot Pass. I spy an Eddie!

Cool suspension bridge before Pinchot Pass. I spy an Eddie!

Mile marker 800! He can barely contain his excitement.

Mile marker 800! He can barely contain his excitement.

Pinchot Pass

Pinchot Pass

Simply stunning

Simply stunning

Fortunately, that was our only day of wildly tempermental weather that mountain ranges are so famous for – at least for the time being. The next few days had us scrambling over mountain pass after mountain pass … Pinchot, Mather, and Muir, all over 11,000 elevation, all murder on the legs and lungs but so incredibly worth it when we stood at the top, battered by wind, and took in the sights for miles and miles. This stretch of wilderness (where the PCT intersects with the John Muir Trail) is often referred to as one of the most beautiful trails in the world, and it is easy to see why. The beauty we’re seeing on a daily basis out here is staggering. Kind of a shame we’re dirtying it up with our hiker aroma! ;)

Muir Pass

Muir Pass

Dorky smiles after a challenging but awesome climb up Muir Pass

Dorky smiles after a challenging but awesome climb up Muir Pass

The ceiling of the stone hut atop Muir Pass - E's such a photog.

The ceiling of the stone hut atop Muir Pass – E’s such a photog.

Gorgeous Sapphire Lake

Gorgeous Sapphire Lake

 

From Kennedy Meadows to Independence (Mile 790)

So, I’m going to get to a quick run down of all the hiking in this last section, but first …

You guys.

We’re engaged!!

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Newly engaged! Can’t hide those smiles.

We summited Mt. Whitney on Wednesday morning ( 5 minutes after sunrise, but it was still ridiculously beautiful) and got engaged the same day. So really, best day ever.

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Almost sunrise atop Mt. Whitney

We have lots of photos of the summit and tons of stories to tell from the last section, but I am currently updating this from my cell phone in a coffee bar because the local library and internet cafe apparently don’t have normal weekend hours. I didn’t imagine we’d have this much trouble getting access to a computer along the trail. I need a sherpa to carry my laptop. And while he’s at it, he can carry our packs, too. :) My phone seems incapable of playing nicely with this blog, but we’ll see what we can do.

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Amazing view from Mt. Whitney

Its amazing what a difference getting to the Sierras made. We went from sleeping in shorts and a tank top with our bags half zipped to literally wearing every layer we own at night including pulling the bag over our faces to keep from freezing solid. The elevation certainly contributes to this, but even at one of our lowest camps (Bubbs Creek, under 10,000 feet), the still ponds froze overnight. So you won’t hear us complaining about the heat for a while!

The climbs have been killer (which we were expecting) but the views have been incredibly rewarding. The morning we summited Mt. Whitney we woke up at a little after 2 am. We had only slept for about 4 hours so we nearly scrapped the sunrise idea but decided to soldier on. We left our camp at Guitar Lake at 2:45 and started the climb. It was strange hiking by headlamp but I think it helped – you couldn’t see far enough in front of you to know what kind of torture was coming. About 2/3 of the way up, the wind began to blow in earnest. It was so cold we couldn’t stop to rest without starting to freeze. When we reached the summit at 5:30, we managed to take a couple photos and one quick video before calling uncle. There is a small shelter at the summit that was fortunately open, so we quickly found ourselves in there trying desperately to get warm. We made use of an emergency blanket and some foam padding left there by previous hikers who presumably tried to vamp at the summit and insulated ourselves the best that we could. I’m sure I’ve been that cold at another point in my life but I really can’t remember when.
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Before too long, we were joined by another two thru-hikers also seeking shelter. They mentioned that there was another girl headed up who was in pretty poor shape who would be need to be warmed up pretty quickly. By that point, we’d shrugged off the emergency blanket and were both thawing out, so it was all set for her. When she hadn’t shown up within the next 10 minutes, the other two went back to make sure she was OK. They found her laying on the trail in her sleeping bag, having decided that she couldn’t make it to the top and that it would be best to wait and warm up. She was definitely in the initial stages of hypothermia, so once they got her into the shelter, there were jackets, aleeping bags, and the emergency blanket all employed to warm her up. She is totally fine now, and lucky she had hiking buddies who knew something was wrong when she hadn’t arrived. We ended up spending several hours in the shelter waiting for the wind to lie down a bit and for the sun to fully rise. It was miserably cold but ended up being a fun bonding experience with yhe other hikers in the same boat as us. All part of the adventure I guess! At any rate, the weather put a damper on E’s plans to propose at the summit, but he popped the question back at base camp and it was perfect. I am a lucky, lucky girl.
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Since then, we’ve been enjoying the amazing scenery around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Kings Canyon is Edwin’s favorite and it’s easy to see why – it is absolutely stunning in a way I can’t begin to describe. I will have a lot more pictures as soon as I can get our camera hooked up to a computer. I’m hoping for better luck at Vermillion Valley Resort in about 4 days. We’re wrapping up two nights of rest and celebrating with yummy champagne, wine, and sweets mailed to us by our amazing parents. We’re moving a little sluggishly on out way back to the trail today but we’ll get there! :) Thanks for reading and putting up with the limited pictures and typos. Fingers crossed for better computer access soon!
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From Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (Mile 703)

* For some reason, I am not having any luck getting ANY photos to upload on this computer, so I will have to go back and add photos to this post at our next stop late next week. Sorry for anyone who is mostly here for the pictures – “what’s with all the words?!” Thanks to everyone for reading – to say we’ve had a spotty internet connection is putting it generously, so we haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone, but we are so excited to have people following along!*

After enjoying a restful “zero day” (no PCT miles hiked) in Tehachapi, we set out at about 4 in the afternoon when Edwin’s mom dropped us off at the trailhead. We made it about a mile in, decided it was still way too hot to hike (our phone reported a temperature of 105 degrees), and took another half hour break under a Joshua tree. The heat was oppressive and the Mojave Desert landscape offered little shade. We knew we had a few very long stretches between water sources coming up in the next couple of days, so we were a bit worried about how we were going to get the miles done. Several hikers through this section do primarily night hiking, but the idea of hiking through the night and trying to sleep through the brutal heat of the day didn’t sound all that appealing to us. We made it a little over 7 miles the first afternoon before setting up camp for the night, deciding we’d do the remaining 9 miles to the first water early the next morning.

That system ended up being the one we employed for most of this section. We’d get to a water source by about 10 am and then just post up there for the better part of the afternoon when it finally felt cool enough to move again. Then we’d do about 10 miles before knocking off for the day, trying not to leave more than 9 miles or so to water for the next morning.

Our longest stretch without water had the possibility of being 44 miles. We go through about a liter every 5 miles (not including water for overnight or cooking) so this was a bit problematic. At one point, Edwin was carrying 10 liters of water (20 pounds!) and I was carrying 7 (14 pounds). The most we’d carried prior to that was 6 liters each, so we really felt the extra weight. Luckily, each of the possible sources that we’d been told not to count on ended up having water, so we “cameled up” at each source and made it through just fine. We are extremely excited to have made it to the Sierras, though – it will be so nice to see water more frequently than at 20+ mile intervals! The extra weight out of our packs will not be missed.

We passed both the 600 and 700 mile markers in this section, the latter being just 3 miles before we rolled into Kennedy Meadows. We hadn’t originally planned to make it to Kennedy Meadows on Thursday night. We woke up Thursday morning with 30 miles to go, made a light remark about possibly just pushing all the way in that day, and both looked at each other and laughed. Our biggest mileage day to that point had been 26 miles and we felt every inch of those miles the next day. But then we hiked our first 6 miles in less than 2 hours and started to run into more hikers all pushing to make it into Kennedy Meadows that day as well. What started as a joke became a sort of obsession – we were pounding the miles, knowing we wouldn’t make it before the General Store closed for the evening but determined to wake up in town the next morning.

We limped into Kennedy Meadows at about 9:45 pm Thursday night, so just under 14 miles from when we started that morning. Every step of the last few miles was tough, but when we heard a bear roaring nearby just after the 700 mile marker, it made us extra motivated to get those last 3 miles done. We threw on the headlamps, cranked up the music, and finally found ourselves at Tom’s Place. Tom is the owner of the Kennedy Meadows General Store and has set up an amazing oasis for hikers on his property. He allows hikers to pitch their tents there, does food runs to the local restaurant, shows nightly movies in a makeshift amphitheater, and just generally makes everyone feel welcome and rested before they head back out on the trail. It’s easy to see why many thru-hikers get held up here for multiple zero days, but we’re heading back out this afternoon after just one.

We’ll be climbing Mt. Whitney before we hit our next resupply location of Independence, so we should have some pretty amazing photos in the next update. We’re planning to hike up there in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise – fingers crossed we don’t oversleep!

From Wrightwood to Agua Dulce (Mile 454.5)

We knew coming out here that not every day was going to be fun. That some days would be just putting one foot in front of the other and getting it done. This section was our first taste of that.

Heading out of Wrightwood

Heading out of Wrightwood

Only 2277 miles to go!

Only 2277 miles to go!

Getting out of Wrightwood proved to be more difficult than we had expected. Our sore feet and swollen knees just didn’t seem to want to budge. A few other hikers had shown up at the Methodist Camp where we stayed the night before, and staying to enjoy their company and a few beers was an enticing idea. But we eventually got ourselves around, figuring that even if we only made it a couple miles out of town that afternoon, at least when we woke the next morning we’d already be on the trail and wouldn’t have the possibility of a delicious cafe breakfast to delay our hiking. We got a ride to the trailhead at about 5:30 pm but then stood around chatting with the couple who drove us out for about a half hour. We ended the day with a total of four miles hiked but at least we were back out on the trail.

Such a roomy home we're rocking these days

Such a roomy home we’re rocking these days

Quick stop for breakfast on the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell

Quick stop for breakfast on the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell

The next day brought an early morning summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, the highest point of elevation we’ve seen so far (9399 feet). It was beautiful and a perfect time to make the climb, before the heat got out of hand. We spent the rest of the day up and down in elevation, stopping at Little Jimmy Spring for lunch where we parked right on the trail in the only shade we could find. While chowing down, I thought I heard a rattle from behind me but it was gone quickly and I didn’t spot anything behind me so I dismissed it. I thought I heard it again but once again let it go, thinking maybe it was my imagination or the cicadas we hear out here from time to time. A few minutes later, Edwin’s eyes widened a bit while looking beyond me. “Sh-t, there’s a rattlesnake behind you.” But he failed to mention how far. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so fast. Turns out it was about three feet behind me, headed across the trail and not the least bit interested in us. It just didn’t want to be stepped on. But I think Edwin may resort to using that same tactic to get me moving quicker in the morning from now on.

Edwin at the Mt. Baden-Powell summit monument

Edwin at the Mt. Baden-Powell summit monument

Before our rattlesnake encounter at Little Jimmy Spring

Before our rattlesnake encounter at Little Jimmy Spring

Taking a turn for a road-walk stint as part of an official Endangered Species Detour, we ran into a group of runners we had seen earlier on the trail, now recovering in the parking lot. We learned that they are ultra-marathoners who were out training for a 100-mile race coming up in a few months. And they thought we were crazy for what we’re trying to do. If I tried to run 10 miles at a time, I’d probably die, let along 100. They gave us each a beer and we spent a while swapping stories and laughing there in the parking lot. We hiked away happy and refreshed and ended up sharing a campsite with a fellow thru-hiker at a nearby campground complete with soap! trashcans! and water! Perfect end to a long day.

Truthfully, we're probably all a little crazy

Truthfully, we’re probably all a little crazy

Water break at Cooper Canyon

Water break at Cooper Canyon

We passed mile marker 400!

We passed mile marker 400!

The next day had less fun in store. Ever heard of Poodle Dog Bush? It’s only found in Southern California, and only pretty recently cropped up, so not a lot of people have. It’s a very pretty, very nasty plant that can cause severe oozing sores after coming into contact with it – like poison oak, only worse. We learned about Poodle Dog Bush before we hit the trail and knew that we would see some of it along the Southern California desert as it’s found in recent burn areas and unfortunately this area has a lot of them. What we didn’t expect was just how much we would encounter literally lining the trails, in many areas impossible to avoid. For two days we cursed and sweated in our long sleeves and long pants, playing the world’s least fun game of High-Stakes-Twister as we tried to avoid contact as much as possible. We found ourselves dangling off of cliff edges, jumping from rock to rock, and carrying our packs on our shoulders at times (to be honest, Edwin did that with his and then had to come back and do mine) to keep from getting it all over our skin, clothes, and bags. There weren’t a lot of fun moments to be had, and both of us were about at the end of our rope. When, on the second day, the trail intersected with a Jeep road that was closed to traffic, we finally decided we’d had it and decided to make a detour to further up the trail in the hopes that there was less Poodle Dog Bush to be found there. On our road walk, we came upon a monument honoring two fireman who lost their lives in the Station Fire of 2009.

See that pretty purple flowering bush to the right? That's Poodle Dog Bush in full bloom. So pretty. So hurt-y. And this got much, much closer to the trail as it went on.

See that pretty purple flowering bush to the right? That’s Poodle Dog Bush in full bloom. So pretty. So hurt-y. And this got much, much closer to the trail as it went on.

Still some pretty killer views, Poodle Dog Bush or no

Still some pretty killer views, Poodle Dog Bush or no

 

The Station Fire monument. I lost it here. Trying to hike while sniffling and softly sobbing is not a good combo.

The Station Fire monument. I lost it here. Trying to hike while sniffling and softly sobbing is not a good combo.

Perspective. That’s what I’d been missing. These two men gave their lives attempting to put that fire out, and there I was whining about being inconvenienced by the resulting insurgence of a plant that may or may not give us a bad rash. I won’t say I found the Poodle Dog Bush any more charming when we hit the trail again, but I tried to remember why it was there. I figure it’s the earth’s way of saying, “Please stop setting me on fire.”

The last day our trip into Agua Dulce more than made up for any frustration we felt the previous days. About 8 miles into the day, we came upon an RV campground who offered up the use of their shower and pool for free. We only had 10 miles left to go before hitting Hiker Heaven (the home of well-known trail angels in Agua Dulce), but we couldn’t pass up the chance to pass a few hours in the pool. We convinced another hiker to hang out there as well, and all agreed it was one of the best stops on the trail so far. Leaving there, we got to hike through the incredibly cool Vasquez Rocks area. We made it into Agua Dulce at about 7 pm that night – it was great to sleep in a bed, hang out with the other hikers holed up there, and just be off the trail for a bit.

Amazing rock formations at Vasquez Rocks

Amazing rock formations at Vasquez Rocks

All smiles after pool time on our hike through Vasquez Rocks

All smiles after pool time on our hike through Vasquez Rocks

 

Enjoying some company at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce

Enjoying some company at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce

The Powerhouse fire near San Francisquito Canyon is still burning, and a large section of the PCT is closed between Agua Dulce and Tehachapi which was to be our next leg. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is re-routing hikers through the Mojave Desert along the LA Aqueduct but we’ve decided to skip forward to Tehachapi and come back and do the 104 miles from Agua Dulce to Tehachapi once the trail is reopened and safe to travel on (after we’ve made it back from Canada). Neither of us are particularly interested in the detour – we want to see the trail. And completing it at a later date has the added bonus of allowing us to do it when the temperatures are cooler. If we didn’t live so close, we would likely have no choice but to do the detour, but thanks again to both of us having very patient parents (all sets of whom have spent several hours driving to various locations along the trail for drop-offs, pick-ups, or both), we have been shuttled forward to Tehachapi and spent the last 24 hours or so being bumps on a hotel room bed, lazily resting our feet and spending several lovely hours visiting with Edwin’s mom. We’re headed out this afternoon to begin a very hot and dry section – our last in the desert for now before hitting the southernmost point of the Sierras sometime late next week. Wish us luck!

From Big Bear (Mile 278) to Wrightwood (Mile 369)*

It’s been a pretty amazing week.

We were picked up last Saturday at the campground in Idyllwild and whisked away to Green Valley Lake (near Big Bear) for a  ridiculously fun and refreshing weekend of hanging out with family and stuffing our faces. We were treated to all sorts of goodies – treats to take with us on the trail, new pieces of gear to replace ones that weren’t working properly, showers (with real soap and razors!), laundry, and a very comfortable bed for two nights, but by far the best part was getting in so much family time. It had only been two weeks since we’d seen them but having everyone make the trip up to come hang out meant so much to us. Sadly, I don’t have ANY photos from the weekend on my camera, so I don’t have any to post here right now, but trust me when I saw we were all smiles.

View of Big Bear Lake while hiking away

View of Big Bear Lake while hiking away

Eddie filling up at Holcomb Creek

Eddie filling up at Holcomb Creek

 

Hiking away from Big Bear when we were dropped off at the trail on Monday afternoon seemed harder than when we originally left, because this time felt as though we were hiking away from family with the next date we’d see anyone still uncertain. It was also harder because we’d stuffed ourselves thoroughly and being back out on the trail and not on the comfort of a couch was a bit of a shock to our systems. But the terrain leaving Big Bear was pretty easy – relatively flat with little elevation change and cooler temps than we had seen on the way into Idyllwild. The second day of this leg was the favorite, with a nice stop at the how-did-we-not-know-this-place-existed-so-close-to-home Deep Creek Hot Springs. It’s clothing-optional but we both opted for clothing and (much to Edwin’s disappointment, I’m sure) so did all but one of the females there. We didn’t snap too many photos so as not to catch any of those more free-spirited than us unaware, but it gives a little glimpse of how pretty this place was. If every trail section had a natural hot springs in it, we’d probably be moving through the miles a little quicker.

Passing trail mile 300 (our 200th mile). I told him to give me an excited face - this was his best effort of two takes.

Passing trail mile 300 (our 200th mile). I told him to give me an excited face – this was his best effort of two takes.

Deep Creek Hot Springs - hidden gem

Deep Creek Hot Springs – hidden gem

Relatively clean after a dip in the hot springs - nice change of pace

Relatively clean after a dip in the hot springs – nice change of pace

The next day ended at Silverwood Lake which was a tease since the lake is a reservoir and doesn’t allow for swimming, but it was still a wonderful place to (probably illegally) camp in their picnic area. The terrain remained pretty easy through the next day’s descent towards the Cajon Pass, where we happened upon the most exciting sign we’ve seen so far on the PCT. One guess as to which direction we went. I’ve never in my adult life been so excited by the prospect of McDonald’s food, and likely never will again. But it provided the fuel we needed to sluggishly begin the climb towards Wrightwood.

Silverwood Lake - all that water but no swimming for two perpetually dirty hikers

Silverwood Lake – all that water but no swimming for two perpetually dirty hikers

A better attempt at an excited face. We hiked 18 miles the previous day. Knowing there was a McDonald's coming up, we hiked 14 miles before lunch on this day. It's easy to see what motivates us.

A better attempt at an excited face. We hiked 18 miles the previous day. Knowing there was a McDonald’s coming up, we hiked 14 miles before lunch on this day. It’s easy to see what motivates us.

At 24 miles for the day, we were exhausted and in desperate need of a flat spot to set up our tent. When we came upon a Jeep road at the top of a ridge, we set up camp quickly in the dark despite the possibility of a sleepless night if the wind picked up while we were in such an exposed location. When we woke yesterday morning, though, we were treated to one of the most amazing views from a campsite that we’ve had this whole trip.

Beautiful view from our hastily made camp

Beautiful view from our hastily made camp

It was a good start to our last day, but we quickly grew a bit cranky during the last 18 mile stretch into town. We were running low on quick food options (a hungry hiker is an angry hiker), the temperature had risen again, and despite the climb seeming much easier than the one into Idyllwild, we were still climbing fairly quickly. We dragged ourselves through the last few miles, managed a quick hitch into town when the trail crossed Highway 2, and were making for our resupply package at the post office when I spotted some familiar faces.

Mountain High looks a little different without all the snow.

Mountain High looks a little different without all the snow.

 

I was smelly and so dirty, but they didn't care. :)

I was smelly and so dirty, but they didn’t care. :)

Knowing we were expecting to make it to town that day, my grandparents came to surprise us – and you should have seen the smiles on our faces when they did. We hadn’t been sure when we would next see family, and to be surprised with a visit was a pretty incredible thing. After some visiting, a good meal, and lots of hugs, we felt like we could have hiked on for another 20 miles. We didn’t, of course. With some information we had received from the PCT directory at the hardware store, we got set up with the Wrightwood Methodist Church Camp who allows PCT hikers to stay at their lodge for free. Bunk beds and hot showers – we were sold. We’re hunkering down in town right now hiding from the heat but plan to hike out this afternoon and do about 12 miles towards our next stop in Agua Dulce.

*Keep in mind that we skipped 100 miles from Idyllwild from Big Bear and will be doing them at the end. For uniformity and so as not to confuse anyone following along with the maps, we will still be using the actual mile markers from the trail info, but our total mileage will be 100 miles behind until we go back and do that section. For example, right now we have hiked to mile 369 but our actual mileage is 269.

One last thing – we have heard word about a PCT closure up the road – miles 466 through 518 are currently closed due to the Powerhouse Fire near San Francisquito Canyon. I understand that there is a detour along the LA Aqueduct, but we don’t know the specifics at this point and we’ve got 100 miles to go before we have to worry about it anyway. We will find out more information when we get to Agua Dulce and update everyone then.