We had gotten into camp down on Bub Creek late the night before and were both physically and emotionally exhausted from our experience on Forester Pass. We had set up camp in the dark by headlamp. We decided to sleep in. So we didn't get going until about 11:15. We had the same plan as yesterday. Get to Glen Pass and if the weather looked bad, we would wait to cross it the next morning. While staking out the tent the night before I had felt my back twinge and it was hurting in the morning. I took some Ibuprofen but that is a diuretic and we'd need to pump more water so I wouldn't get dehydrated. Pumping water was not a fun chore anymore for either of us. But the Ibuprofen worked.
It was a long descent and another steep ascent to even get to the approach to Glen Pass. Such classic U-shaped glacial valleys. Beautiful but when you are climbing up the steep part of the U, there's some work involved. The sleep-in definitely was great. As we came closer to Glen Pass I started getting nervous again. I didn't slip into a panic attack though. This time I followed right on Maddie's heels and just focused on her shoes. That definitely helped. But I sacrificed the beautiful views going up and I miss those. Somehow we had both lost our lip balm and her lips were getting pretty cracked and chapped. She took this photo on the way up Glen Pass. She says it's her "climbing face" and her lips are too chapped to smile. You can see me in the background just focusing on the ground and not looking down.
Glen wasn't as exposed as Forester. Still, it was an effort to focus and not let my imagination run away and I was relieved to make it to the top. Somehow it's always easier going down. Maybe it's because the North faces of these passes are less steep than the south. We met some other PCT hikers lounging at the top. We are all pretty far back from the regular PCT pack by now. This group (Ballou, Happy Meal, Stitch, and Rembrandt) are from Corvallis Oregon and have purposely decided to go slow through this section.
Maddie and I talked about going slower, but hadn't done it. We really only had enough food to make it in the planned 9 days. We needed to do a pass a day. It's was very tiring though. The physical effort is not overwhelming, but it is relentless. Now I also have this psychological shit to deal with when crossing passes. I'd heard Benson pass is the scariest, steepest, and most exposed. I was already getting nervous about that. I stopped to ask a ranger and a few other folks if Pinchot Pass is very exposed. I don't know and not knowing is what was scaring me. But either folks didn't know, or they didn't know what I was asking about and I could get no real info.
There are quite a few more hikers on this section. Not just JMT hikers (John Muir Trail) but we are also seeing quite a few doing the Rae Lakes loop. Admittedly the Rae Lakes are amazing and we camp that night at Middle Rae Lake.
That night we meet a group from Ohio State University. There were 14 of them and they were out in the Sequoia/Kings for quite a long time, I forget how long, but weeks. They were being resupplied by pack train. It made me feel nostalgic for when I was an outdoor guide and instructor in the University of Nebraska - Lincoln outdoor program. So, I had to visit with them for a while and swap stories. I told them I met my wife 30 years ago on a University Grand Canyon hike and asked them if there were any budding romances on their trip? They laughed nervously and said nothing. So, I would guess the answer was yes. Lots of romances and weddings came out of our UNL trips. Some of our best friends we met or worked with on those trips. So, it was a very nostalgic meeting for me.
Another day, another pass. We were tired and not sure we could make it over Pinchot pass and to a decent camp that day. Typically the day starts descending, then you meet a connecting U-shapped valley. Typically a hanging valley so you have to climb up the U of your valley to get into the connecting valley. We knew we'd be at Wood Creek about lunchtime so we put off any decisions until we got there. I was popping ibuprofen again and my back was hurting. So far, not getting any better.
At Wood Creek we had lunch and decided my back wouldn't get better if I had to keep carrying the pack and not resting it. We also talked about both of us having lost our enthusiasm and the daily grind was getting to us. We knew by now we wouldn't complete the trail this season. We talked about cherry picking a few sections and/or doing some hiking with Mrs. Weasley and Kona. It was sad realizing we weren't going to make it. We talked to a few hikers who were doing the Rae Lakes Loop and it was clear we could walk out from here to the west and take a few more days off to let my back rest up. Once we realized that was an option the temptation to take that option became overwhelming for me, and I think for Maddie as well. We hadn't been eating very much. All PCT hikers are hungry all the time but we weren't even eating our meager rations. A bit of altitude, a bit of exertion, a lot of revulsion toward our cold re-hydrated food, and we never really ate our full rations for the day. Ironically, slowing down would have made us feel better and eat better. But we didn't have enough food to slow down and take shorter days. We'd run out of food before hitting VVR. I guess that was not the best planning. Originally I had hoped it would keep us closer on track to finish. But, our hypothetical daily distance to finish was 22 miles a day. Our longest day was 21 miles and we were super tired at the end. The only thing we looked forward to on long days was not food, but bed.
So, exiting and resting up, and eating real food, sounded so good that it became an irresistible option. And to be honest it gave me a sense of relief that I didn't have to face another pass that day. All we had to do was go 14 miles, down Woods Creek, down Paradise Valley to the trailhead. Hitch a ride to Fresno. Eat food. Sleep in a bed. Ahhh. So, we decided to exit - stage left. It was about mid-day and first we had to cross the suspension bridge over Woods Creek. Looked super strong and stable. But, when we were going across we noticed the bolts that were missing or half-way unscrewed, the cross-boards that were cracked, split, or missing, and the overall condition of the bridge seemed a bit sketchy.
Since it was mid-day, and we wanted a ride when we got to the trailhead, we decided not to do the 14 miles all the way out. We could have. But, we would have gotten in at night and the likelihood of a ride was minimal. So we camped that night at Middle Paradise Valley campground and provided a feast for the Mosquitoes also camping out there. We had some mosquitoes at camp for awhile, but this was truly crazy. I pumped water and getting to the river I stirred up several hundred who buzzed my head-net the whole time I filled up our water. Maddie washed off her DEET before bed and was consumed while she made it back to the tent.
The next day we continued, down the south fork of the Kings River, and met Trief and Harry. We told them we were heading out for a few days and they offered us a ride which we gladly accepted. It turns out they were going to San Jose and could give us a ride to Gilroy, where Mrs. Weasley was staying. We though that sounded better than a couple of nights in a Fresno hotel so we decided to go to Gilroy. Susan (Mrs. Weasley) was delighted she didn't have to drive to get us. She had been tracking our SPOT and noticed when we veered off of the PCT.
We came out and Trief and Harry graciously gave us a ride to Gilroy. Thanks guys!
So, then off to Gilroy. Originally we had planned only a few nights to rest my back. But, we had grown tired of how relentless the trail was. We knew we weren't going to finish the trail this season. Maddie thought any of our "consolation" hikes would just waste time for her when she needed to be looking for a job. I was relieved not to have to worry about crossing "death-defying" passes. I wanted to work on Wanderfeast and if I couldn't make enough progress on that, look for a job as well. Neither of us wanted to keep going on our own. We lost momentum day by day as we continued to debate what to do. Soon it became clear that we felt done with the PCT, that neither of us wanted to continue. We went to visit another friend close by. Where we decided that our adventure was truly over and that we should just head to Florida so we could retrieve Maddie's car from storage and move her things back to the Northwest. Sigh. Our adventure was coming to an abrupt and unforeseen end. I'd heard and read how psychological the PCT was. It was different reading about it and experiencing it first hand.
So, back to the self-loathing I referred to in an earlier post. That's an exaggeration to be sure, I just liked the title for the blog. But, it's definitely somewhat depressing that we've come to this decision. I'm glad to be done, miss it, and sad we didn't continue. I'm sure we'll both be processing this decision and the whole experience for some time. One benefit is that I'll be able to work more on Wanderfeast much earlier than I'd previously planned. I'm sure I'll have another PCT focused post when some more time and thinking has gone by. Best of luck to all those who remain on the trail.