This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.[typography font=”Permanent Marker” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Day 2[/typography]
Overnight was surprisingly warm and we woke up to a gorgeous view of Peeler Lake. The lake is just at the boundary of Yosemite and we would spend the rest of our trip inside the boundaries of the park. As we hiked out, we noticed this waterfall along the path and kicked ourselves for not finding it – and an opportunity to shower – the night before.
Day 2 was a lotta down. Like a LOT. Which sounds nice – and it is – but hiking downhill all day long has its own challenges. Regardless, I always take lots of photos of breaktime, especially when we get to take the packs off and stick our feet in the river.
A few miles in, we met up with the Pacific Crest Trail. Officially!
We were still losing elevation once we hit the PCT, and since it’s much easier to talk when you’re not burning your lungs hiking uphill – we chatted and got to know Ross a little better. At some point, the conversation turned to the Sierra weather and the animals at our elevation — and he rattled off a statistic about the demographic most commonly bitten by snakes (18-24 year old males) and the area of the body most commonly bitten (hands and arms), and as if on cue — we spotted a snake. Isn’t he a cute little thing?
A few minor passes through the hills and some more down-hiking, and we arrived at Benson Lake — which looks like someone dropped a sandy beach right in the middle of the mountains.
The lake is nestled between two ridges, and countless years of wind and water patterns have formed a real-live beach. We found a spot to camp at the far end of the water line, “next door” to a family on a pack-supported trip. We didn’t formally meet them, but from what we could see the family was at least three generations including a few kids and a few guides/mule-handlers. We could see a few tails and ears through the trees where the horses and mules were having dinner, but we couldn’t be certain how many there were. I would have guessed no more than five, even with the extensive gear we could see from our camp next door.
Above is our modest little camp. I wish I’d taken a photo of their setup, and you could see how different life is when you have mules and horses to carry everything from card tables to a fiddle for after-dinner entertainment.
Throughout our dinner of backcountry mac & cheese (with walnuts, extra cheese, veggies, and probably something else) we kept hearing the family next door fuss at the youngest kid, Caroline. We kept hearing, “knock it off, Caroline!” “Come eat, Caroline!” “CAROLINE! Stop that!” Poor Caroline.
We had already talked about our itinerary for the next day — which would include a climb to over 10,000 feet — and we knew we’d need the rest so we turned in early. Even with hours of daylight left, we laid down to rest our bodies, knowing sleep wouldn’t come immediately.
But about 8pm, we heard some movement with the mules in the treeline. Jeff raised his head up off the ground and could see out the window of the tent as we started to hear the noise of hooves pounding the ground. In a SECOND, Jeff yelled, “it looks like the damn Kentucky Derby comin’ at us!” and he was outta the tent and ready to jump out of the way. What we thought had been a handful of mules, was easily a dozen. And they were stampeding right toward our tent! (They were actually stampeding toward the beach — as it turns out — but when a thundering group of horses and mules is running your direction – you don’t make assumptions.)
On top of the racket they were making just by running around, one of them had a cowbell tied around its neck and the bell ringing echoed through the beach and across the lake. We were grateful they didn’t ALL have bells. After thoroughly milking his “near death” experience, Jeff calmed down enough to head back to bed.
[typography font=”Permanent Marker” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Day 2 – Bonus Footage[/typography]
After settling down following the evening stampede, we were counting on a solid night’s sleep. Day 3 promised to be a hard day and we knew we’d need the rest.
Yet! At 2am! We were all wide awake because the folks next door decided 2am would be a golden time to let the horses and mules RUN FREE all over the beach. And remember the bell? We just thought it echoed through the place at 8pm… At 2am, I thought I would lose my mind. For two solid hours, all we could hear was that damn bell. The next morning, we learned – after pseudo-politely telling our neighbors how uncool their 2am playdate was – that it’s called a bell mare. And – no joke – they put the bell on a mare so the rest of the pack will follow her around. Poor thing has to wear a bell AND get chased by boys.[typography font=”Permanent Marker” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#8c0510″]Day 3[/typography]
I have very few photos of Day 3 because it was one of the hardest days of hiking I’ve ever done – I was focused on staying upright and making it over Benson Pass, and my photog skills suffered a bit. We started at camp, around 7600 feet, and we’d end up over 10,000 feet by mid-afternoon.
And to kick off The Hardest Day of Hiking of My Life, a water crossing! My nemesis!
Plan A was to walk, one foot in front of the other, right across that fallen tree. Ross and Jeff make it look easy, and my legs just never cooperate…
But even after trying it without a pack, it was time for Plan B.
There’s no shame in Plan B, my friends. There are dirty pants and unflattering photographs — but no shame. Plan B got me across the stream and on with our day.
I even got a chance to redeem myself — several more times that day. This photo is not staged, I actually got all the way across by myself – with pack! (You can’t really tell there’s mostly mud rather than rushing water beneath me — I’m sure that helped.)
It was during this, The Hardest Day of Hiking of My Life, Jeff and I started doing the math with regard to our hike. We’d seen an 8-day hike on the guide website and only could be gone long enough for a 6-day hike, so we scheduled a custom itinerary – no big deal. Except! As long day upon long day were beginning to make us doubt our hiking experience, we asked Ross about our itinerary and we were more or less doing the 8-day route — in 6 days! AND. We’d looked at the map on Day 1 and when we factored in campsites and routes and elevation — we’d already decided to do it in 5 days instead. We are backpacking geniuses… 8-day itinerary in 5 days. Sheesh.
But we pressed on. The weather was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the mountains were calling.
One of our favorite parts of this trip was meeting thru-hikers of the PCT. Thru-hikers are the ones planning to do the entire route — over 2000 miles. Most of them start in Mexico and hike south-to-north, and since we were hiking north-to-south on our route we crossed paths with several characters and a few stopped to chat about weather conditions, trail conditions, water availability, and tell us a bit about themselves. Sometimes we’d pass a hiker who was clearly in the zone and we’d exchange little more than a “where you comin’ from? where ya headed?”
PCT thru-hikers use trail nicknames and are usually forthcoming with the story behind their trail names. This guy – One-Eleven – recognized the Razorback on Jeff’s hat and told us he was from Texas before introducing us to his trail mascot, Tito (tiny dinosaur skeleton on his left shoulder). His trail name was the result of a card game early in his hike.
We stopped for lunch and water filtering at Smedberg Lake, before making the final climb over Benson Pass.
I wish I had video of that thing getting INTO the tree – it was… not graceful. That’s a grouse – backcountry chicken.
Up and up and up and up. Switchbacks and switchbacks and more switchbacks. It was incredibly steep, and though the weather was ideal – it was the hottest part of the day. We did very little chatting as we got closer to the pass, and somehow Ross still had energy enough to do THIS.
We dropped the packs for a timer photo and grabbed a quick snack, then headed on down the other side – eager to get to camp and rest. Switchbacks up typically means switchbacks back down, but we were glad to be over the pass.
Camp! We made camp at Matterhorn – over 11 miles for the day and a 10,000ft pass. And officially The Hardest Day of Hiking of My Life.
This post is part of a series, click here for the full story.