Monday, August 12, 2019

Hiking the PCT--THE FINAL STRETCH! Trail Pass to Crabtree Meadow

I slogged upward, all enthusiasm gone. Why was this so hard? It was just hiking. Then I realized: yes, I was hiking, but at 11,500 feet. It was supposed to feel hard. The various John Muir Trail hikers seemed to agree. Because it's so hard to get a southbound JMT permit, many of them were starting from Horseshoe Meadows like I was. Swathed in head nets, enormous packs with stuff hanging off everywhere, sun hats with flaps, a family approached. "The bugs are TERRIBLE!"  they exclaimed.

"I'll just walk fast," I said. "Well, good luck," the dad said, not believing me for a second. When I passed by the spot they had said was so bad, the mosquitoes were almost non-existent. It's all a matter of perspective.

I had just 22 miles left of the PCT, but it would end up being 45, because I had to do an out and back, plus climb up and down a couple of bonus passes from the parking lot. Due to plane snafus (our plane went for a test flight and never came back), I had arrived at Horseshoe Meadows a full 24 hours later than I had planned, which meant the leisurely stroll of my dreams had vanished. But it was somehow fitting. The PCT has never made it easy, and why start now?

Some nice ponds at mile 755. A JMTer insisted these were called Soldier Lakes. Um, no.
The Sierra will always be one of my favorites, and I hiked through soaring towers of rocks and fresh green meadows. "The scenery on this section isn't that great," a JMT hiker complained, and I could hardly believe it, because to me it was spectacular. As I descended into Rock Creek and back up again, all I could think was I was so glad I had bailed out of this section in June. It would have been incredibly dangerous.

Ha ha ha, this gate is not protecting the wilderness.
Not today, though. I selected a camp high above Crabtree Meadow, with a solid 22 miles in for the day. Defeated-looking JMTers trickled past, intent on camping near water. I had forgotten how most backpackers always choose water camps, when in truth you get less bugs, less condensation, and less people at dry camps. It really is simple to carry enough water, and it gives you so much more options.

Crabtreee Meadow. So gorgeous, so full of people.
In the morning, I only had one and a half miles to tag my terminus--the junction of the JMT and PCT. I had been here in 2011 with my surly hiking companions, and never dreamed that this many years later I would return, having hiked 2,650 miles. There was nobody around, it being early, and I tried to take a few selfies, but the sign was short. Luckily two thru-hikers came by. My people! They took my photo, but at the time I didn't even think to pose artistically. What you get is a boring photo.

Ugh. Oh well.
As I was hiking back the way I had come, a sudden wave of emotion caught me by surprise and I found myself fighting back tears. I had done a really, really hard thing. I had stuck to it even when there were troubles with logistics, hiking partners who hadn't clicked, long stretches of monotonous desert, all of it. I had done something big.

I rolled into Chicken Spring Lake, having hiked 18 miles, most of it uphill. The lake was packed with weekenders, noisily clanking their bear cans. One man arrived and pitched his tent right next to the lake, ignoring the regulation of 100 feet distance. He climbed out in nasty red boxers and proceeded to pee right there in full view. People. How I hate them sometimes. I try not to, and then one of them pulls something like this. Come on, folks.

Last light at Chicken Spring.

As I headed down Cottonwood Pass I felt...empty. I didn't feel done. I felt like nothing had really happened. Probably it will sink in later. I think? Probably because I wasn't at a terminus, it didn't feel real. On the way home, plane snafus meant I was stranded in LA for a night. I looked around at all the people partying it up in the hotel. I had never felt so alien, so different. I wanted to be back with my people. That feeling has subsided, a little. But I long to get back on a trail.
Cookie, my friends' cat, celebrated with me.


  1. Followed all the way; admired the vistas, commiserated with the hard times, celebrate the finish. I will never do the PCT but you took us along...and it was a awesome trip.

    1. Thanks for following. It was a fun adventure.

  2. Northco says it beautifully. Yes you have completed a really hard thing in a really hard way. I had to laugh at how the PCT didn't let you go easily.

    1. I told Flash, who has experienced so many setbacks with me on the PCT. She totally got it. I guess if it were easy I would not appreciate it? Or something.

  3. It all really is perspective and enjoying everything!!!

  4. You picked an amazing section to end your PCT journey. Huge congrats for doing something I'll probably never attempt!

  5. R E S P E C T

    So much respect for your principles and dedication. It takes so much and more to succeed as a section hiker.

    Congrats again!

  6. The anti-climactic end seems fitting. Onto the next encompassing adventure. Congrats again.


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