PCT Section 10 – Independence to Mammoth. A week of fire and ice

Taking a Zero

Bishop was a great town to relax and take a zero mile day at. We ended up staying at the hostel California, which was a lovely place with lots of space to relax. They even had bikes, which made getting to the shops very easy. For our zero day we ended up watching the Incredibles 2 in the cinema. This was a great idea as it forced us to stay still for a few hours (something we don’t normally do on a zero as we have so many jobs).

The next day it was time to hit the trail. The actual PCT was over 40 miles away so this meant we needed to do a number of hitches to get back to the trail. Luckily for us the hitches all came within 10 minutes of sticking out a thumb. The first family that picked us up we’re in a campervan and had an adorable son called Peanut and a lovely dog. They were super kind and even sent us on our way with cashews, a banana and some apple juice! We then got a ride in a pickup truck for a further 5 miles, before a final ride took us to the trail head.

It was then an 8 mile walk back to trail. The Sierras are really hard to stock up in, which is why we’ve had to put more planning into where we were going to get in and out. What we hadn’t accounted for was that Bishop was at 4000 feet of elevation and we were going over a pass that afternoon which was 12000 feet. The result was that both of us felt super tired this day. On the plus side we did see our first horse on trail. From speaking to the owner it sounds much more challenging, as logistics like food and shelter are more difficult.

Passes and canyons

Our next section was pretty up and down, as we went from mountain top to valley as we made our way north. Our first pass was Glen Pass. This had a bit of snow but not as much as Forrester. On the other side of the mountain was Rae Lakes. These were stunning to see and even better to camp at. As we arrived on trail at a different time to everyone else in our group we’ve ended up camping alone for a lot of this section. Whilst less sociable it is amazing to hear all the sounds of nature.

The next day was hard. We went over Pinchot Pass which, whilst not as high as Forrester, felt harder due to the 4000 feet of constant up. Joal also postholed (fell through the snow) up to his hip in the snow on the way up which was scary as you don’t know what is underneath you until you come to a stop. The way down was also tricky as we ended up having to go off trail to avoid a lot of snow. This meant clambering over rocks whilst navigating using our GPS. We did get to glisade again though which was fun.

Following a scenic campsite by another lake we woke up to do it all over again (another climb followed by a decent). We started by crossing the south fork of the Kings River which was humbling as this river took Strawberry’s life last year. Rather than scramble over rocks and trees in an effort to keep our feet dry, we just waded through. This is typically the safest way to cross a river as you have the most control.

We then summited Mather Pass which wasn’t all that difficult in comparison with the others we’d done. That said there was a lot of rock scrambling as the path was completely covered and we didn’t know how strong the snow would be as we were crossing in the afternoon.

From here the scenery turned even more magical. We had lunch with our trail family by a glacial lake and we even went swimming, although not for very long as there was ice on the water.

We then descended further into Kings Canyon for even more spectacular views. We’ve heard this canyon described as Yosemite without the tourists and it certainly lives up to that claim. There are grassy meadows flanked with stunning mountains and raging rivers through the middle.

We were then on to the hardest climb of the trail, John Muir Pass. This pass, whilst not as high as Forrester had much more snow, for a total of about 5 miles. We had to do a lot more orienteering as the whole pass was snow covered so we couldn’t see the trail. The scariest bit for us was crossing a sheet of ice and snow that had a strong river below it. You could hear he water rushing, and every step sunk in so you didn’t know when it would give. Every day the ice melts a bit more so there is a real chance that you may fall through to the river. We ended up grouping together with about 10 other people to get to the top. This felt much safer and meant help was on hand should someone sink in the snow (this happened a lot!).

It took us 3 hours to do the final 2 miles of the pass but at the top we were overwhelmed with a great sense of accomplishment and pride. To celebrate we had makeshift snowcones made from squash concentrate and the snow cover.

At the top we also saw the Jon Muir cabin along with some fantastic views. After 4 more miles we ended up camping in a spot overlooking Evolution Lake.

At this point our trail family was pretty split up. Some of us had pushed ahead to get food whilst others were relaxing and enjoying the Sierras more. We were definitely in the latter camp. This also meant that Porsche, a Thai guy who set off from Mexico on the same day as us, caught up with another hiker called Woody. It’s been really nice catching up again and we’re glad to see familiar faces with new stories. Porsche and Joal have also been reminiscing about Thailand including talking about the Paradox band, mama noodles and speaking some of the Thai Joal still remembers.

Over the next couple of days we passed yet more amazing views of mountains, lakes and meadows. Our feet are also getting used to the pace making climbing over thousands of feet every day easier.

These last few weeks have been amazing and we’ve honestly felt the happiest we’ve been. With great company, scenery and a sense of achievement everyday the walk has been good soul food. We have also consciously slowed down making the walk more social and relaxed.

The following day we followed Evolution River downstream through another canyon. Here we crossed evolution river which in previous years has been a challenging affair that has come up to hikers’ stomachs. For us it was knee to hip height so crossing was easy.

The next few days involved hiking to VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort). This campsite was awesome and welcomed us with a free beer and camping. We also got lucky with the hiker box as someone was giving away free food making our resupply very cheap (we only really bought a pack of ramen noodles). At this point the trail family all came back together and we even met Porsche’s wife who had brought a special treat, pork mama noodles from Thailand! These were amazingly tasty and nostalgic for both of us as Jenny used to eat these when she worked in a bar during her gap year in Thailand.

The next morning we caught a ferry back to the trail and hiked up Silver Pass. One thing we’ve done for this section is downloaded some music onto our phones. At first we just listened to podcasts, but music has been such a mood lifter, especially on the big climbs. Having not heard music for 2 months listening to this in headphones was an incredible experience! That said we’ve only using music sparingly as it is nicer to chat to people on trail and hear nature.

We then headed over Silver Pass for more beautiful views but from here the mosquitoes got really bad. Even though we are using loads of deet we are still getting bitten like crazy. This has been hard as it puts you in a bad mood as you can’t sit down for very long.

As we hit the pass we also spotted a smoke plume up in the distance. We used our satellite phone to find out what was going on and found out there was a forest fire up ahead. This made the next few days very smokey as we had to walk towards the fire to get off trail. Luckily the fire had been contained but we still woke up with ash on our tent and had to wear our buffs in order to help our breathing.

After 7 days on trail we made it to Mammoth. Here we are going to stop and celebrate Blueberry’s birthday with our trail family. We’re now at 900 miles and over some of the hardest climbs of the trail!

4 thoughts on “PCT Section 10 – Independence to Mammoth. A week of fire and ice

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  1. Well done you two! It’s amazing to read but sounds very scary in parts. I’m relieved you’ve done some of the hardest climbs now and I can’t wait for the next post. Wow, 900 miles, soon be at 1000. That will be exciting. Your photos are fantastic! xxx

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  2. 900 miles, all down to guts and determination, very proud of the both of you and 3 hours to cover 2 miles at one point, tremendous. Horse on the trail, child called peanut, and more lovely people, not to mention a snow cone as a treat and pork mamma noodles for Jenny. No more sinking up to your hips in snow Joal and some of the hardest climbs behind you. Love the photos of you both and the views are so magical. Jenny and Joal you are an inspiration to G and G XX

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  3. Are you nearly there? I’m running out of superlatives to describe the photos, the blog, your experiences, the challenging environment and the lovely people you meet. No matter what you encounter you keep ploughing on. Surprisingly you’re still enjoying yourselves after 900 miles. Slowing down, more social and relaxed, soul food, what’s in those mama noodles? Fantastic, keep heading north.

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