Monday, September 20, 2010

Sonora Pass: The Last 10,000 Footer!

Sonora Pass goes no higher than 9624 feet,
but the PCT will soon cross over the
last 10,000-foot pass! Woo-who!
July 6: I woke up, perfectly positioned to catch the very first morning rays. I'm always pleased with myself when that works so perfectly because it sure helps get me moving in the morning when it's not so cold that I'd rather just stay in my nice, warm sleeping bag.

I hiked a couple of miles to Sonora Pass where I found a note suggesting that trail magic could be found in the parking area just ahead, compliments of The Owl. So I hoofed it up to the parking area where there was a vehicle with the trunk open and a spread of food, drinks, and newspapers on the picnic table, and an older guy crouched over a stove who introduced himself as The Owl. He seemed surprised to see me so early in the morning--it wasn't quite 7:00 yet--and apologized that the 'cafe' wasn't open yet. He hadn't even had any breakfast himself yet.

But he welcomed me into his little makeshift camp, and I ate some cookies, a banana, and a strawberry flavored drink. He offered to take any trash I carried, which I happily obliged. He also gave me a rundown of the hikers who passed through the day before so I had a better idea of who was ahead of me or might have hitched down into Bridgeport. (Sonora Pass is a common place for hikers to hitch into Bridgeport to resupply, but I intended to hike through. Bridgeport was about 30 miles off the trail and I didn't want to hitch so far off the trail.)

Nearing the top of the last 10,000-foot pass!
But I had miles to do, and after about ten minutes, continued on my way once again--this time to head up and over the last 10,000-foot pass of the entire trail. I knew it wasn't going to represent the end of the snow, but it was a major landmark. I could finally put the High Sierras behind me. All of it. Once and for all. And as the average elevation of the trail continued to get lower and lower, the snow was becoming less and less of a problem. I was anxious to get that last 10,000-foot pass behind me.

On the climb up, I caught sight of hiker ahead of me, but I couldn't quite identify who it was. I was surprised to see a hiker at all--The Owl said that I was the first to cross his path that day, and he didn't hint that there were any other hikers so close on the trail.

The climb up the pass wasn't too bad--it was a south-facing slope and held little snow. At the top of the pass, I took pictures and celebrated with a loud, "Woo-who!" Then I waved goodbye to the High Sierras, turned around, and started down the snow-covered, north-facing slope.

The trail has to be around here
I quickly lost the trail in the snow--a regular occurrence now that didn't disturb me in the least, but was still just as annoying as ever. On the downhill side of the pass, I caught up with the mysterious hiker ahead of me. I saw her just ahead of me at one point, walking along the left side of a creek at the bottom of a valley. I walked a bit further out from the creek thinking the trail was located there rather than immediately alongside the creek, then among the trees, I apparently passed the hiker without even realizing it. The snow had finally stopped covering the ground, but I had yet to locate the trail again, and given the bushwacking the hiker was giving to bushes, neither had the mysterious hiker.

But somewhere in the trees and bushes, I somehow got around the hiker and didn't realize it until I heard something very large behind me. A bear? A deer? No, just a thru-hiker, walking through another bush. =)

I'd never met this one before, and she introduced herself as Duff. We banded together in search of the trail, which we knew was somewhere on the left side of the creek. I kept pushing us further and further away from the river--our topo maps showed the trail near the creek, but a good hundred feet or more feet above it. Definitely not at the creek. So we told each other our war stories from the trail as we searched for the elusive thing that we were supposed to be hiking.

This is Duff. Hello, Duff!
It took the better part of a half hour before we finally found the trail--a remarkably long time given that the area we were hiking wasn't covered in snow so the trail was fully exposed. The land tended to push us closer and closer to the river, which naturally felt like that's where the trail should be located, but I'd point at the topo map and say, "The trail has to be out there. We've been to the river, and the trail is definitely not between us and river. It has to be out there." Probably not even very far away.

But we finally found the long-lost trail and our speed immediately increased.

Near lunchtime, I caught up with a few other hikers: Epic, Tangent, and Fully Loaded. I passed them by at a lunch break as the first sounds of thunder could be heard in the distance.

Thunderstorms worry me. There's not a lot of protection in the woods from lightning. And admittedly, I've been a bit more leery than normal over it after hearing Tradja's description of being struck by lightning. The chances of being struck by lightning are small, but I actually know someone it happened to! A small chance of being struck by lightning didn't seem good enough anymore.

There's the trail! (To be honest,
this photo was taken a couple of hours
after we had already found the trail.)
Throughout the day, the clouds got progressively worse, and now I could hear the faint but unmistakable sound of thunder in the distance. I hoped it would blow over quickly. I wanted to get over a couple of more mountain passes before the lightning arrived here, where I was hiking. So I kept going, leaving the other hikers behind, trying to outrun a lightning storm. =)

A few miles on, I was hiking along quickly when a voice called out to me. "Hey there!"

It was Magellan and his nephew, Noah. I hadn't met either of them before either--all sorts of new hikers I hadn't met before today!--and stopped for a few minutes to chat. While chatting, however, the first drops of rain started to fall. Drats. The storm had finally caught up with me.

Magellan and Noah had already set up camp for the day. It was very early by thru-hiker standards, but Magellan was only section hiking (albeit a very large section from Mexico to Sierra City), and Noah had just joined him a couple of days before. Noah couldn't do the big miles. Not yet, at least. So they had already set up camp and sought protection under their tarp when the rain started.

I hoped to ride out the storm. The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, but it should taper off if I wait around long enough. I pulled out my own tarp and threw it over me. Kind of like throwing a white sheet over oneself and pretending to be a ghost, except that I was a green ghost. I could wait an hour and see how the weather fared. I pulled out a book to read in the meantime--Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. The thunder continued to grow louder, and finally flashes of lightning were visible, and I cringed with every single flash and the crack of thunder. The rained turned into hail and snow flurries, and I just kept under my tarp and continued to read.

Storm clouds are blowing in!
The thunder and lightning eventually started to fade off into the distance again, but a steady drizzle continued. This was only the second time on the trail it actually rained on me. I wasn't thrilled about the rain, but it seemed almost like a pleasant phenomena. Rain? What is this strange substance? Why does it fall out of the sky?

I hoped that the rain would at least help melt the snow still on the trail. If it did that much, I'd be happy.

Eventually, though, I decided enough was enough. I had to continue on. I had a schedule to keep--I planned to get into South Lake Tahoe on June 9th, three days away, and I couldn't stop here for the night. I needed to get in more miles before I stopped for the day.

So I committed myself to getting wet, putting my tarp away, and set off in the sprinkling of rain. I didn't realize it at first, but the rain had actually stopped and the drops of water falling was just what was left dripping off of the trees. I didn't realize that the rain had actually stopped until I reached a small clearing in a meadow and no more water dripped on me.

The rain has mostly stopped by now, but the
trail is now wet and muddy--at least the parts
not covered in snow.
And wonderfully, the little water that did fall on me largely dried out before I reached camp. I didn't have to take off wet clothes, and I wouldn't have to put on wet clothes in the morning. My gear was dry!

I pulled off 26.4 miles, stopping to camp at the trail junction for Asa Lake. I set up my tarp, not so much worried about it raining overnight (although the forecast did call for a "slight" chance of rain), but rather because drops of water would still fall from the trees. I had to protect myself from the trees.

And anyhow, my tarp was soaking wet from when I threw it over myself earlier in the afternoon like a sheet. If I set it up, it might be dry again by morning.


Anonymous said...

Being struck by lightning is so rare it makes me wonder what the odds are of being struck by lightning just after meeting someone who has also been struck by lightning.
Then again, if you're participating in the same activities...

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

The lack of bad weather really made your hike much easier than if it rained, hailed and snowed every day.

But the lightning is still scary. I think the odds are greater for those who place themselves in exposed mountain tops. :P

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers