Three weeks ago I was chasing a burnt orange sunset over Sonora Pass with my friend Andrew, trail name Sunshine. Sonora Pass marks the northern terminus of the High Sierra mountain range and mile 1017 on the Pacific Crest Trail. We had spent the evening anxiously looking up at thunderheads, and now we were looking up at the stars intermittently so as to not trip over rocks in the darkness. When we laid out our sleeping pads at 10:30 that night I had finished hiking over 400 miles since hopping on the PCT 27 days prior. Sunshine had hiked over 1050.
For those unfamiliar with the PCT, it runs 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through the mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. Among the highlights are the High Sierras in California and the North Cascades in Washington. Every spring, hundreds of hikers begin in Campo, CA to attempt what is typically a 4-5 month thru hike of the PCT (the unsupported record is 57 days, completed by Anish in 2013). In early April my good friend and cross-country teammate Andrew Muhn began his thru hike, and I was fortunate enough to join him for a month. I met Sunshine at Walker Pass on May 16th (here is an overview map of the California PCT so you can follow along). The timing couldn’t have been better, as I joined Sunshine just a few days before entering the High Sierra.
I’ve chosen and captioned some of my favorite photos from my month on trail in attempt to share our adventure and capture a sliver of the Sierra’s humbling purity. This was my first time exploring the High Sierra, and it would be an understatement to say I spent every day in awe of my surroundings. This trip was also my first time backpacking in the “ultra light” style. Carrying a 20lb pack was enlightening and invigorating to say the least. I look forward to writing more about this aspect of the trip in a separate post. Now, without further ado…
I found Sunshine late in the afternoon at Walker Pass campground with a sunburnt face, pink flip flops, and sparkly blue toenails. It was late in the afternoon by the time we said goodbye to my parents and started hiking. Eventually we settled into a rhythm, and soon enough the miles began flying by.
From the road we were directed to a picnic area by mysterious signage advertising “The Sonora Pass Cafe–open 2-3 days a year.” We were curious as to the signs’ meaning, but being rather tired we didn’t give it much thought. The following morning we were woken up far too early by a car pulling into the spot in front of us. A man got out of the car and walked about, to and from a nearby picnic table. Sunshine told me he thought the man had given us a stink eye. The picnic area did have “no overnight camping” signs, but we had been told to come here! Whatever, I thought. I was too tired to care. We fell asleep again and didn’t wake until the sun was directly shining us. Wiping the crust from out eyes we noticed the man was still at the picnic table beside us. We also noticed the picnic table was set full of fresh fruit and coffee mugs. We offered him a friendly “good morning!” and he responded in kind, walking towards us and starting a conversation.
“I can tell you guys are thru hikers because of your tiny packs, Tyvek ground sheets and the fact you’re sleeping on a pile of rocks. Welcome to the Sonora Pass Cafe! My name is The Owl, and I’ll be your host. Would you like Coffee or Tea?”
For a moment we were lost for words, but then we remembered our manners–“Yes, coffee please!” We proceeded to feast upon fresh strawberries, grapes, cherries, chocolate cake(!?)…you get the idea.
After saying a last farewell and thank you to The Owl we hitched a ride to Kennedy Meadows North with a very friendly man named Chris. The next day I rode with Chris to Modesto, CA, where I hopped on a Greyhound bus and cruised back to Portland. I snagged a window seat and watched the sun sink into the Pacific as we passed San Francisco. I thought of the sunset we saw on my last night while hiking over Sonora Pass, and I thought of Sunshine hiking north without me. I missed the trail already, but I was comforted by the words of our friend and trail companion Herro:
The trail never truly ends. You just get sucked into town to resupply for longer periods of time.
Tired of lugging around your old and bulky pump-style water filter? Do yourself a favor and pick up a Sawyer Squeeze MINI Water Filtration System. Light (2oz), compact, fast, durable, and inexpensive, it’s the choice filter of thru-hikers everywhere. (Pro tip: pick up a bottle of Smart Water and screw the Sawyer Filter directly onto the bottle for a truly ultra light hydration system).