Tahoe to Halftime: Miles 1094-1334

The PCT trailhead out of Tahoe was at Echo Lake Resort, a charming, rustic place on a beautiful lake. We experienced the usual reluctance to leave and sat outside the resort for two hours, chatting with other hikers and enjoying last sodas. When we did start hiking, the trail was rocky, crowded with dayhikers, and beautiful. We entered the Desolation Wilderness and passed Aloha Lake, an amazingly beautiful lake surrounded by granite mountains and filled with tons of rock islands that you could lounge on.

The next few days were kind of a blur. The hiking was fairly easy and we were doing at least 25 miles a day, doing nothing but hiking, eating, and sleeping. It’s crazy how such a simple life can seem kind of rushed and even stressful sometimes when you’re trying to get enough miles in. There isn’t enough daylight for much else. Before Tahoe I had listened to Scott Jurek’s (famous ultrarunner) book Eat and Run on Phil’s iPod, and I was quickly lured into the magic of the book-on-tape and how much easier it makes hiking. Leaving Tahoe I started listening to Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, not exactly a literary masterpiece, but an entertaining and inspiring autobiography of a lawyer and former alcoholic who changes his life by doing crazy things like racing five Ironman triathlons in five days. As we hiked past the meadows, wildflowers, and creeks and through the snowless, bare summer hills of Squaw Valley and Donner ski resorts, I couldn’t help but be motivated as Rich Roll told me all about his trials and successes.

We crossed I-80 at Donner Pass, hiked through endless forest and across many logging roads, and then, finally, got to our next resupply stop of Sierra City. We took an alternate route into town on a dirt road that passed an incredible swimming hole – an unreal-looking deep blue pool surrounded by red rocks and a gushing waterfall. We swam in the pool and then walked the last mile into town along the road, the hot sun drying our wet hair and refreshed bodies. It felt like summer.

Sierra City is a tiny and quaint mining town that seems stuck in a different century. It has one store, a post office, a church, and a bar. After chips, soda, ice cream, and a HUGE burger (so healthy, I know), I washed my clothes in the sink of the public bathroom and we slept in the church parking lot. The next morning we actually managed to get out of town at a reasonable time, and started the long ascent out of the valley and back into the mountains. (Why do towns always have to be at the bottoms of valleys?) The trail was rugged and rocky, and the terrain looked like gold mining country, or at least what I imagine gold country would look like.

We hiked on towards Belden, our next stop. Little by little, the mountains seemed to be getting smaller and the trail more forested. When I looked out on a vista, it looked more like a series of green buttes than the tall, rugged mountains we’d gotten used to. I listened to Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, which completely consumed me. After three days and another huge descent, we got to Belden around 9pm one evening. Belden is a tiny place along the Feather River, surrounded on either side by giant hills/mountains. It is not really even a town, it’s just a weird “resort” where they apparently have raves on the weekend. Everything was closed when we got there, stickers advertising electronica bands were everywhere, and we both got this feeling like we were in a different country. It was strange. We walked down the highway to the Braaten’s house (trail angels), and laid out our sleeping bags on their deck. I took my first shower in 10 days! Between animal sounds and the train that went by every two hours, I barely slept.

Two days after leaving Belden (mile 1289), we reached the PCT halfway point at mile 1330ish. We were just a few miles outside of Lassen National Park and the trail was mostly in the forest, with lots of cows around and random outcroppings of lava here and there. When we got to Hwy 36 at mile 1334, we planned to get off the trail for five days. My grandparents both passed away in the past year, and my family had planned a memorial service/family reunion in Montana that I didn’t want to miss. We knew it would be in the middle of the hike and had planned for it, but didn’t realize it would fall exactly at the halfway point. Our plan was to hitch hike from the trailhead at Hwy 36 (near the tiny town of Chester) to San Francisco, where I was catching a flight to Kalispell, MT. Phil was staying in the Bay area with friends. We both had mixed feelings about taking five days off- we didn’t want to fall behind and lose momentum, but at the same time, we hadn’t had a break in days and were both feeling burnt out. As we got closer, I became more and more excited. The day we finally got to the highway, I couldn’t wait to get off the trail and be in civilization for a little while. We figured it would be easy to hitch to SF, but it proved much more difficult than expected.

Note: I can’t seem to add photo captions via the WordPress app on my phone, so I’m just going to write them like normal text. Sorry if it creates weird spacing issues!


Amazing swimming hole outside Sierra City


Middle Fork of the Feather River, around mile 1250. One of the clearest, cleanest, most beautiful rivers I’ve ever seen. It was impossible to leave and we ended up staying 4 hours.


Moon rising over Lookout Point, 30 miles outside Belden.


Right outside Belden, above the river valley



PCT halfway point!!



The ups and downs of Northern Yosemite: Miles 943-1094

We spent the next full day in Yosemite Village. In the morning we walked the paved pathways around in circles searching for Housekeeping Camp, where we could do our laundry and take showers. The granite cliffs rose above us everywhere we looked. We sat on the sandy beach by the Merced River and watched families and children play, amazed at the number of people we were suddenly surrounded by.

The next morning, we caught a ride back up to Tuolumne Meadows with a girl and guy on a road trip in a huge white van with an inflated boat where the passenger seats should be. Sprawled amid the boat and a sea of suitcases, clothes, and other possessions,  Phil immediately fell asleep. I spent the 90-minute drive crouched under the boat, straining to look out the window and keep from getting carsick on the windy road while Jimi Hendrix blared.

Rejuvenated from our break, we set out that afternoon for the 150-mile journey to South Lake Tahoe, our next resupply stop. We’d heard from a few sources that this stretch was often thought to be one of the hardest on the trail, both because of its constant and unforgiving elevation changes and its mosquitoes, and I found this to be true. The trail wound through a remote part of Yosemite and was full of steep, rocky climbs to the tops of ridges, only to suddenly drop down the other side into a mosquito-infested forest. Each forest seemed to be followed by another rocky ridge that, inevitably, you knew you would climb. They just kept coming. On the second day, we passed a sign for Benson Lake and decided to check it out for a short break. After following a short, forested trail, we were spit out into the most idyllic setting. The lake was crystal blue, surrounded on all sides by granite mountains except for where it met a perfect sandy beach. Best of all, it was, magically, free of mosquitoes. We ended up spending five hours there. A downfall of this respite was that we both got the worst sunburns known to man.

After three days of elevation chaos, we came to Dorothy Lake Pass, the official end of Yosemite. As we left the park, it was amazing how the scenery seemed to change immediately, the rocky crags behind us and strange bare, red mountains ahead. We crossed Sonora Pass, an amazingly beautiful stretch of trail that winds along a ridge of bare, austere cliffs and lava rock. It looked like we could be on the moon. Behind us were our last views of the high Sierra, and ahead were endless rows of mountains.

Over the next two and a half days, we seemed to hike nonstop. We entered a forested cow pasture-like area, the terrain became much easier, and we upped our mileage, sometimes hiking until 10 or 11 pm. The day before the Fourth of July, we finally arrived in South Lake Tahoe. We had sent our resupply box to Echo Lake, a quaint lodge right outside of town, and practically ran the remaining 17 miles that day to get to the tiny post office before they closed at 2 pm.

South Lake is quite a destination for the Fourth. The town was full of people, and looked more like a Cancun party scene than a quiet town in the mountains. We stayed at a Super 8 motel, the pool and courtyard overrun with hoards of college boys drinking as much Coors Lite as possible and hosting dance parties in the grass outside. Once again, it was strange to be among so many people, especially after being in such remote wilderness for the last six days.

We spent much of the Fourth walking all over South Lake, trying to get our various errands done. Since we often don’t really have a place to go while in towns, we’ve mastered the art of loitering in public places and have developed a keen eye for outlets. We sat outside of Safeway for a long time after shopping there, then Radio Shack, then Denny’s. Surprisingly, as this journey continues, I’m gaining more and more respect for the homeless population and realizing how hard it would be to be truly homeless. I sometimes feel so displaced when we arrive in a town, always on foot and dirty, backpacks on our backs. We have phones and debit cards and our status as “homeless” is relatively temporary, but for some, it is their daily existence. Where do you go? Where do you sleep? It has been eye-opening for me to experience even a tiny sliver of this life.

That evening, we joined a gaggle of other hikers to watch the fireworks show on the beach. Having not booked a motel for a second night, we disappeared into the woods behind the middle school to sleep that night. I tossed and turned, the orange glow of the school lights a constant companion, and the next morning we hitch hiked back to the trail.


The view leaving Tuolumne Meadows





Benson Lake



Sonora Pass







Fourth of July on Lake Tahoe