Jacob Leistra / "Game Boy" / PCT 2019

Days 56 - 59: Pinchot, (Falling After) Mather, Muir, Evolution, Selden, Silver

Day 56: Mile 802.6 -> Mile 814.7

In terms of number of miles, this was one of the easiest days of my whole hike. In terms of everything else, it was one of the hardest.

We were up at 4:00 AM again to chase Pinchot Pass. With a little under 5 miles of hiking to do before the pass, we had a lot of (likely) snowy ground to cover. When hiking in the Sierra, whether it be snow fields, icy ascents, or water crossings, the morning is almost always the time to do it. It’s just easier in the morning. But it’s also cold as hell and hard to get body heat without hiking hard.

So that’s what we did. We started out early and kept moving to stay warm. It took us a long, long time to get up to Pinchot, and the descending wasn’t too great either. It was a hard and long day, and one I will probably remember only because of its difficulty. Of course the sights were amazing, but they’re always amazing in the Sierra.

We had several water crossings today. The best strategy for some we’re to go straight through at the trail. Some required going a bit up or downstream to find a more suitable crossing, while one suggested going 3 miles off trail to avoid two crossings of the South Fork Kings River. I got about 1.2 miles off trail before seeing a good spot to cross, so I zigged back to the trail while everyone else was zagging. It caused some confusion later one, but I was glad to have walked on the trail instead of scrambling through the back country.

I originally wanted to do Mather Pass today as well, but our last hour of hiking was stumbling through slushy snow and postholing every few steps. We found a flat rocky area to nestle into and decided to do the 2+ miles to Mather early in the morning.

Day 57: Mile 814.7 -> Mile 835.0

I got to go rock climbing today. Well, rock scrambling at least. We were told to get up Mather Pass using a class 3/4 rock scrambling route, rather than taking the existing switchbacks in the snow. Apparently an avalanche last week destroyed the established steps in the snow, so going up the snow route was dicey.

We took the left side in this photo to reach the pass in the center:

I had a ton of fun. It was great maneuvering rock again. Climbing is one of the biggest things I miss right now. It was definitely different scrambling up loose boulders and shards of brown granite with microspikes and a pack on. Overall it went well.

Until I got to the other side and slipped on the way down. I made a stupid mistake of resting on my right foot and extending my left foot to reach a lower rock. My left foot slipped and I went careening forward on my left shin and knee. My already torn wind pants were now super torn. I pulled up the left leg to see the damage as I cursed at the top of my lungs. Anyone who knows me will know I don’t do well with blood and guts, and the sight before me about made me pass out. A 3-4” gash on my shin was white and lightly bleeding. It looked like bone. I instantly panicked and thought my hike was over. I would have to get off at the next pass and get medical help. If it was really bad, I might need to be evacuated off the mountain.

I started to go into shock as Toucan came by to see what was up. He helped me get my things out of my way while I laid down and elevated my feet. I was full on panicking before Hot Take and another hiker came by. Hot Take was my savior as he provided bandages, cooling strips, and other first aid gear. The other hiker gave a look and told me with confidence it wasn’t bone, it was the fatty strip above the muscle. This made sense, since the gash went across my shin bone, but was uniform in color.

I bandaged myself up and came to. My hike wasn’t over, I wasn’t in much pain, and I had people around me that could help. It was a close call, but alas, just a flesh wound.

I continued the rest of the day in an incredibly tough but gorgeous section.

Day 58: Mile 835.0 -> Mile 855.7

We overslept our alarms. In my my case, I just forgot to set an alarm. I know sleeping is good and all that, but getting up late makes the whole day harder. The snow softens in the light, which slows down your pace as you posthole more frequently. Hiking in the early morning ensures the snow is crunchy and manueverable. Early mornings require headlamps and layers, and they’re not exactly easy to stick to when you are cold and didn’t get a great night’s rest.

We got out of camp after 5:30 AM and began the long slog up the Muir Pass, famous for the Muir stone shelter at the top. It’s really a cool building.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get enough respect. It’s a shame that people (maybe PCTers, maybe JMTers, maybe others) treat public spaces on trail poorly. There were carvings in various spots inside, and the entire place smelled like it was hotboxed the night before. On the mantle there was a forgotten weed pipe in the shape of a hammerhead shark. The ground had a couple pieces of small trash. I hate to see cool landmarks treated poorly by fellow hikers. It cost us nothing to clean after ourselves, or at least treat spaces with the care they need. It requires someone to actually go out of their way to carrve their initials somewhere, or leave trash someplace.

Oh well. We were off though some more snow and then downhill the rest of the day. We walked past the gorgeous Evolution Lake and Evolution Creek, and eventually crossed Evolution Meadow, instead of crossing the creek at its current high level. It was sludgey and muddy and absolutely gorgeous.

You can’t see me, but the background after Evolution Meadow is the money shot anyway:

We crossed the San Joaquin River a few times before hitting camp. Fun fact: the San Joaquin River flows all the way from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Lodi, CA. We’re camped right at the edge of the river, nestled into some trees reaching 30 ft. or so.

Another long day, but we have Vermilion Valley Resort to look forward to the day after tomorrow. We don’t really need food or supplies, but it will be nice to have a hot meal, a cold beer, and recharge our electronics before getting into Mammoth Lakes a couple days after.

Day 58: Mile 855.7 -> Mile 876.3

At about 10 miles away from Selden Pass, which is just under 11,000 ft., I had a lot of ground to cover before getting into snow. I got up a little bit earlier before the others because I wanted to get the snow portion of the day over with. Walking through slushy snow is probably the worst part of the Sierra, at least to me.

I hit the top of Selden shortly after 9 AM. On the way there I passed Heart and Sallie Keyes Lakes, a collection of still somewhat frozen lakes. The trail skirted around them. Being alone, I felt really at peace despite the past few days being tough.

I’ve been relistening to Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie And Lowell the past few days. It’s probably the perfect album for me to listen to in the Sierra. It’s a sonically gorgeous album about somber subjects. A couple times, in combination with tough trail and beautiful surroundings, I’ve been crying listening to the album on my hike. And not because of something sad, either. It’s just a lot to experience and contemplate out here. When you have a lot of time to think and relive memories, you go through all of your regrets, missed opportunities, etc. But you also remember everything you’re thankful for and miss (or can’t wait to get back to). It’s kind of amazing how reducing the stimuli of daily “normal” life allows me to circle back to thoughts and memories I haven’t touched in years. This particular Sufjan Stevens album brings me back to 2014 after moving back to Sacramento (from a year stint in Washington D.C.). I’ve changed so much since then. But I’m also very much the same in all the basic ways.

Anyway, back to today. We crossed Bear Creek, one of the more notorious water crossings, on a giant log. Thankfully we didn’t have to brave the waist deep rapids. Now we’re camped in a mosquito-infested tentsite with a gorgeous view. Tomorrow we’ll take a brief detour off trail to kick back and drink a beer (and we hear the first one is free!).

Day 59: Mile 873.6 -> Mile 901.0

The plan to go to Vermilion Valley Resort fizzled out, and we decided to push close Red’s Meadow. We’ll have an easy morning into Mammoth Lakes, where I’ll stay the night. The rest of the group is going back to Bishop for a zero. As much as it sucks, this may be where I split from the group. I want to get into NorCal and Oregon and starting busting out big miles, like we did today.

Today was a tough, long day. But in Sierra fashion, it was gorgeous. We went through Mono Creek, over Silver Pass, past Virginia and Purple Lakes, and skirted a ridge staring at the middle range of the Sierra. I’ll let the photos close out today’s post.

Main Photo: The view from Mather Pass after the rock scramble on July 5.