Friday, August 12, 2011

Day Three On the Pacific Crest Trail

Note to Readers: I am remiss. If you have taken the time to drop by, thanks for your interest. And if you feel moved to follow this blog, all the better. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

As for my omission, some of you may have been wondering about the weather on our trek. The forecast just prior to our departure hinted at a chance of thunder showers off and on through most of the week. Instead, the weather has been nearly perfect---not a drop of rain (as of Day Three), which will end up holding true all the way to the end. A few clouds formed in the distance on the second afternoon but didn't produce anything where we were.

The temps all week have been in the high-70s or low 80s during the day, with virtually no clouds. A slight breeze materialized from time to time to cool us down and keep the mosquitos at bay. Overnight, the temps have been in the low 40s except for the last night when the overnight low dipped into the mid-30s. So, overall, we couldn't have asked for better weather.

DAY THREE: Monday, August 1

At 8:30 a.m. we are pulling out of our camp just shy of the PCT intersection with the Genevieve Trail. The three-mile hike en route to Richardson Lake is a steady but easy "up" and then "down" as we approach the lake. Although the mosquitos are swarming while we are breaking camp, they don't seem as troublesome first thing this morning. Maybe mosquitos take a while to wake up as well. As we get into our daily hike toward Richardson Lake, the mosquitos seem to have evaporated all together.

The climb out of camp is steady but we are keeping a good pace---maybe close to 2 mph, which is good time in backpacking terms. En route, Miller Creek and North Fork present challenges as we have to cross them on logs over fast flowing water. Nothing quite like a wiggly log over a "background" of water in motion to keep you on your toes. For those of you who know me, you might attest I am not a great fan anything where my footing is not secure. These crossings are ample fun and excitement for me.

During the remaining hike to the lake, we are seeing some snow patches but nothing that is slowing us down. Along the way we are seeing the first signs of true spring in the High Sierra with wild flowers (lupens, mule ear, sheep's ear, cats paws and a host of other flowers) just starting to make their appearance. This is definitely a weird year for weather effects.

At lakeside, we pump water to top off all our bottles and camelbacks. It could be a long, dry stretch before our next water stop. While there, we take advantage of an information swap with three hikers (two men and a woman) who have just come from where we are heading. Likewise, we share our recent experience having come from Echo Lake, where they are bound. They tell us of a clear trail ahead with the heaviest snow patches mostly beyond Barker Pass. As for water on the trail, we had hoped for at least small streams forming from snow melt, which the hikers confirmed will be the case. On that basis, we now feel confident that the dry stretches will likely be short-lived.

The climb out toward Barker Pass is grueling. Several large patches of snow on the north facing slopes slow our pace dramatically. And even on the clear, south facing slopes, the uphill is a challenge. During the last mile or so before Barker Pass, wide meadows of mule ear and sheep's ear stretch on both sides of the trail. The pictures just won't do these scenes visual justice.

With excellent reception at Barker Pass, I got a call out to my wife to let her know we are pretty much on schedule and are doing well. Besides the great cell phone reception, Barker Pass has picnic tables and a vault toilet---what more could one ask for than two types of comfortable seating---and no mosquitos. All of us are enjoying the break and are gobbling down some much needed calories---I must admit, it will likely be a while after finishing this trek before I will dig into a GORP bag with the zeal I had the first day.

With such inviting accommodations as the Pass has to offer, our break is seriously eating into our remaining hiking time for the day. Time to get socks, shoes and packs back on before rigor mortis sets in. We still have about 2.5 miles to go before we sleep. So, it's time to saddle up and get to our stopping point for the night.

Almost immediately snow fields are slowing our pace and we realize those last 2.5 miles to way point WACS1129 will not be easy. Even the last few hundred meters to the campsite take us over steep, rugged terrain almost completely covered by deep snow under a dense forest canopy. Punctuating the day is one last stream crossing with dubious snow bridges separating us from our camp. By the time we land on terra ferma , it is 5:30 and we are ready to stop and recharge while there is still some daylight left.

Within minutes, our packs are off, tents are up and we are pumping water to refill our reserves before getting dinner underway. We even have enough daylight left to do some exploring around camp. Who knew we would have that much energy? Without a doubt walking uphill without a pack is way cool. From the top of the ridge above camp, the views of Lake Tahoe in the distance are spectacular.

What a great way to end the day, after 11 challenging miles. Although we are already anticipating the hard uphill climb out of camp in the morning, we are optimistic that the trail will be mostly on south facing slopes, clear of snow.