Monday, August 10, 2015

Hiking thte Pacific Crest Trail, Northern Sierra, Day 4: All Aboard the Struggle Bus

Day 4, Lake Aloha to Showers Lake, 16.44 miles (plus one backtracking mile and one "misplaced" mile)

We woke to a blustery day. Lake Aloha was whipped into whitecaps and a bitter breeze worried the trees. It didn't matter: it was resupply day! We were down to our last granola bars, so we packed quickly and headed for the Echo Lake Resort, passing tents and sleeping occupants. How can people sleep so late in the woods? It's a mystery.

Though we only had seven miles to resupply, it quickly became the most demoralizing walk of all time. The culprit? Rolling rocks on a steep descent, slowing our progress to one mile an hour. Then there was an endless lake to circumnavigate. We arrived at the bustling Echo Lake Resort at 9, when another obstacle appeared.

Despite what the store owner had told Flash in the spring, we absolutely could not get our packages until 11. Also, we could not loiter at the store and were banished to a picnic table. Looking around at the mass of humanity, I couldn't really blame the employees, who wore weary looks of resignation as they were bombarded with questions and requests. We settled in for a long wait, accompanied by a couple of thru-hikers and some section hikers.

At the stroke of 11, we grabbed our packages and either tossed, traded or accepted the contents. My heart sank at the massive pile of jellybeans. What had I been thinking? Luckily, there were thru-hikers who were happy to take our cast-offs. It's always hard to anticipate what you are going to want to eat several weeks down the road. (Most people overestimate their hunger and pack too much)

Finally we were off. Hiking through a parched forest, I thought fearfully of the upcoming Highway 50 crossing. Allegedly, it was dangerous, hikers having to sprint madly between RVs and cars at high speed. Once again, it proved to be a PCT myth and we crossed safely, only to be stymied by the non-signage for southbound hikers. Half a mile up the trail, we realized we were no longer on the PCT and had to backtrack.

I wouldn't want to be the person who cut this one out.
On one of my other section hikes, my companions studied the elevation profile with intent, and I always knew what was coming up. I actually prefer not to know; let the trail surprise me. The afternoon was definitely a surprise. It was a long steep climb, punctuated by high stone steps manufactured by tall people. My momentum from the day before failed me, and I crawled unhappily skyward.

Smoky view from the switchbacks
"It's only a mile to the lake!" some happy northbounders chirped. It was obviously more than a mile. My feet throbbed. I felt a tiredness beyond which I have not often reached.

More smoke.
Why was I doing this? I could be at home with my kitten and my husband, swimming happily in the lake, hiking short distances, eating food that didn't just require boiling water added to a bag. For the first time ever on the PCT (except the mosquito hell of White Pass), I considered quitting  the whole endeavor. What point was it to finish the whole PCT? To get the finisher medal? To say I did it? Nobody really cared but me. Wasn't a thousand miles enough?

The lake is way over by those cliffs. Does that look like a mile to you?
Then tragedy struck. I realized with horror that I had lost my bandanna! This was truly drastic, as a bandanna is an indispensable item. It replces a heacy camp towel. It can be used to mop up water in your tent if you set it up in the rain. It is for sweat and nose blowing. You can use it to clean up your dirty legs and feet. I hesitated. To go back to the last spot where we stopped was at least half a mile back. But I had to check. Shedding my pack, I ran back, all the while thinking about the expenditure of energy this was causing. And it wasn't there. Sullenly I retraced my steps.

It didn't help that Showers Lake was a windhole. A pretty lake nonetheless, it was whipped by  a savage gale that made swimming impossible. A section hiker came to sit with us, telling us she had started in Yosemite two weeks ago. Two weeks? We had to be done in a week. It was really difficult, she confided. Some days she only went ten miles.

Not comforted by this, I wrapped up in my quilt for another sleepless night. The relentless push for miles was wearing me down. Was this really what I wanted to be doing? Across the lake, the wind howled. I could only hope for a better day tomorrow.

to be continued...


  1. A low-point day for sure. Thanks for the tip about bandannas...I have lots but often neglect to take them along. Looking forward to day 5 and sending good retroactive) thoughts for a better day.

  2. It's always hard to climb back mentally after a tough day. I admire your goal of section hiking the PCT. Sorry about your bandana. I have tons and always carry at least one on every hike.

    1. A random guy on the trail heard I had lost mine and offered me his! I didn't take it, but I thought that was sweet.

  3. Just found your blog and am enjoying the reading! Looking forward to the rest of the trail's tales! (Noble Lake/BCHC'er)

    1. Hi Karen! You're up on the next post!


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