South Lake Tahoe -> Sierra City: the start of NorCal

(Pictures at the bottom!)

Well here I am. The year is 2017, the month is March, and I’ve been off the trail for longer than I was ever on it. I’ve thought a lot about how I need to finish off this blog but was never sure how to approach it. I’ve decided to just jump in where I left off.

This section began at South Lake Tahoe, which proved to be really hard to get a hitch out of. I was feeling much better after dealing with the pain of my hip raspberry (remember that?!) for over a week already, and we had nero zero neroed at the hostel in town while I let it heal and made sure it didn’t get infected. After getting creative with hitchiking signs, we finally caught a hitch and Smiles and I arrived where we had left off at. We had a super late start and it got dark as we hiked around Echo Lake, admiring the cute little cabins that dot the sides of the lake as we hiked. Even though it was July I met some local snow bums who were hiking out with snowboards and apparently knew of a patch of snow on a mountain nearby. We camped at a small lake called Tamarack Lake that was a little off trail about 5 miles into the day. We got there when it was dark and thought we were the only ones there, but were very surprised to see a tent nearby when we woke up in the morning! Which is funny because I had gone pee right near it the night before without noticing, and Smiles had been throwing rocks my way to try to make me think there was a bear. So we we made a huge ruckus- if you’re reading this I’m sorry for screaming next to your tent!

The next day’s hike was through Desolation Wilderness, a beautiful wilderness area despite the name right near Lake Tahoe that is full of lakes, boy scout troops, and lots of mosquitoes. Smiles was ahead of me most of the day per usual but we met up about an hour in at breathtaking Aloha Lake and took some pictures. There was one medium sized climb that day over a pass where we met up again for lunch. The lakes were amazing and there were a lot of intersections with other trails. It’s 8 months later as I’m writing this and I can still remember all of the podcasts I listened to that day haha. Smiles and I met up for camp at a crowded campsite at Richardson Lake where Presente and her boyfriend David Foster Wallace, and The Brothers Zuke and He-Man were. We ended up seeing these four all the time throughout NorCal. Also there was a whole boyscout troop practicing their tarp tent skills. Smiles and I had packed out fancy food for once- brats wrapped in crescent roll dough that we cooked over a fire that night.

Day three of this section started out not too interesting for the first 6 miles as it went over mostly flat terrain in the trees. Then I saw a big cinnamon colored bear running off in the distance, downhill from the trail and only about 1/4th mile past a super busy trailhead with a group of seniors about to take a nature walk. Never a dull day on the PCT! I said hello to the sweetest old couple right near where I saw the bear- they had to be about 90 years old- in hiking boots and smelling and identifying every flower along the way. I love that the PCT has SO many different types of people that benefit from it, not just thru hikers. I later had lunch by myself on some big rocks overlooking Lake Tahoe.

That afternoon I had the craziest encounter with animals I had on the whole PCT. There was a creek after an 8 mile waterless stretch as the trail followed the crest of the mountains where a bunch of hikers had stopped. I hadn’t prepared for that long of a waterless stretch because I hadn’t had one that long since probably before the Sierras, so I was thirsty when I reached the creek, and a bunch of hikers were taking a break there and drinking and filtering including Presente, David Foster Wallace, and the Brothers He-man and Zuke. I talked with them for a bit then crossed the creek and continued. A couple hundred feet later I hear this loud commotion in the dense bushes next to me paired with a screeching noise and I froze as I watched the bushes move around a bunch directly to my right. Eventually I saw a very panicked looking young deer dart out across the trail in front of me, through some more bushes, and into the water, followed by another. In my panicked brain I thought- what kind of animal hunts deer? And then I was like MOUNTAIN LION and then attempted to back up. Then, out pops a coyote! I was so relieved to see a coyote pop out of the bushes, and not a mountain lion! It continued to chase the deer around for a little while, then saw me and took off the other direction- I saved those deer that day. Then Zuke and He-Man come around the corner and I told them all about it and they were jealous. They were around earlier in the day when I had seen a bear, and also the last time I had seen a bear too, and hadn’t seen a bear yet (they later saw a massive bear right near their camp). Anyways, I had some major adrenaline rushing through me and was a bit freaked out the rest of the day. I had cell service for once and caught up with a friend as I finished out the last few miles of the day, and camped under a ski lift at Squaw Valley ski resort where I met back up with Smiles.

Day four of this section there was an incredibly beautiful ridge walk with views on either side, overlooking mountains and bright blue Lake Tahoe. I hiked with Smiles most of the day and we had lunch with some other hikers at a nice viewpoint. We crossed Donner Pass, a highway that leads into Truckee and also where the Donner Party famously got stranded. We hung out at a dusty parking lot there for a bit and got some free sodas as trail magic. Then we crossed the highway, walked through a cool climbing area and meandered down the trail for a few more miles before crossing under highway 80. Eventually we made it to the Peter Grubb hut, one of very few shelters along the PCT where we made some new friends as well as stayed with the Brothers, Presente, and David Foster Wallace.

Day five wasn’t too eventful. The water sources were far between and the hike was remote and mostly through forests with bright green moss on the trees, and there was one nice ridge walk. The mountains of Northern California are much smaller than the ones in the Sierras, so there are less water sources. About 23 miles in there was a small road crossing with a campground just down the road, and at the last water source Smiles, the Brothers, Presente and David Foster Wallace had decided we should all meet up there and check it out. Mostly, it was the end of a long, hot day and the big lake the campground was on sounded really nice. The brothers had talked to some people at the campground and found out that their friends were supposed to come but bailed last minute, so there was an open campsite they let us take! We all went for a swim in the warm lake as the sun was going down. I was too shy to go up to random strangers and see if they would take me wakeboarding or waterskiing, which was one of my bucket list items for the PCT I never accomplished. That would’ve been my chance!

We all skipped rocks on the lake- Smiles is super good at it, then we went back up to our campsite and were greeted with some steaks some fancy campers had left over that they gave us. Score! I swear that was the best steak I had ever eaten- teriyaki with pineapple- but maybe that was my hiker hunger speaking. Americans know how to camp in luxury! We split those between us then wereinvited over to another campsite where an older couple was cooking burgers and had homemade cookies. They had made friends with some other PCT hikers who eventually came over too- and that was my first encounter with the gypsy crew. This crew didn’t actually hike much- they yellow-blazed (hitchhiked town to town) and caused a lot of ruckus in towns, making a lot of other hikers mad. But for a few minutes they were funny, and the fact that they had taken a zero there and convinced people to take them waterskiing was pretty mind blowing.

Anyways, I was super thankful for the steaks, burgers, cookies, and the company, and loved the luxury of having a bathroom with flush toilets for a night. Most hikers didn’t wander down the road to that campground but I was super glad I did- free food is a real morale booster.

The next morning I ran into Travis right when I got back to the trail! Remember Travis from the first 100 miles? It was super cool to see an old friend from the very beginning of the hike- I think the last time I had seen him was Bishop. It’s funny how you never know when you’re going to see someone again or if you will see them again, since so many people get off trail. Smiles and I loved hiking with him for a bit and catching up. There was a big descent that day and change in vegetation with it, and next thing we knew we were in Sierra City (JK the last few miles into towns always take FOREVER because you’re so hungry).

Sierra City is tiny- population ~200 but it has a nice little swimming hole, the little church lets you camp on it’s little lawn for free, and it has the BEST burgers in their convenience store/burger shop. This was one of my favorite towns because it was small so everyone was together and a bunch of my friends were there at the same time as me, hanging out on the porch until late. There was also a cute little diner where I had breakfast the next morning before hitting the trail again.

 

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