Our optimistic smiles don't reveal how we breathlessly hiked to this point with full packs after driving that morning from sea-level to 9,655 feet and climbing to 10,500 feet. Despite our physical struggles, we were so happy to be back on the trail, basking in sweeping views of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness and looking forward to hiking through the watersheds of Ancient Lake Lahontan (Carson and Truckee Rivers) and the American River. Water, in all its forms, defined this trip: snowfields, stream crossings, lakes thunderstorms and hail, along with long waterless stretches. For those who love maps, I've included one that shows our entire trip at the end of this photo essay.
The incredible snowfall we had last winter guaranteed that even in mid-August, below 10,000 feet, we encountered a lot of snow. I wasn't super excited to cross this snowbridge that, if it failed, would drop me 4 feet down to a rushing stream full of rocks. Thankfully it held.
The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is a volcanic landscape and you see evidence of it everywhere (left). And then you see unusual formations like the one on the right that looked like some giant creature left huge claw marks on the ridge (my geology friends say this these are likely sedimentary rocks, quartzite beds).
We crossed a lot of unpaved and paved roads on this trip, reminding us that we weren't far from the developed world. Shortly after crossing Ebbets Pass (Highway 4), we came to Sherrold Lake with Ebbets Peak behind it. If you look at the top of Ebbets Peak, you'll see a flag (I've enlarged it in the inset box). I liked how the flag was flying backwards - perhaps a symbol of the direction our country is going in right now?
Getting to pretty Noble Lake (right) involved walking across the snowfield on the left. Thankfully the snow wasn't too slippery - I really didn't want to end up in that mud pond.
We walked up, along and down ridges for much of the trip. When we were atop the ridges, we were treated to vast views: we could see the ridges we had climbed and the ones ahead of us. It gave us a real sense of accomplishment to see how far we had come each day.
On day 5 of our trip, we awoke at Lost Lake. We like to get on the trail early (by 6:30 am) so sometimes we get to see a beautiful sunrise, like this one at Lost Lakes. Ironically, this lake is on a 4WD road from Blue Lakes Resort and the night before this sunrise, a caravan of 4 tricked-out vehicles full of teenagers sped up the road with radios blasting. They stopped and got out of their 4WDs, climbed the peak above the lake, drank and hollered, came down and sped off again, leaving us to have a peaceful night in the semi-wilderness.
I gave up mountaineering 25 years ago because I was tired of hanging off the side of a mountain, scared half to death - despite my best efforts, I never got over my fear of heights and my fear of falling. The sight of this snowfield filled me with dread - it was a long traverse across a 20-40 degree slope with a nasty run-out of boulders. It turned out to be quite tame (and wearing my microspikes helped) and soon after we reached Carson Pass.
Trail Magic is one of those wonderful things that people called Trail Angels do for PCT hikers. I got to experience my first trail magic at the Visitor Information Hut on Carson Pass. The Forest Service volunteers there had cold sodas, fresh watermelon and snacks for PCT thru- and section-hikers; they rock!
The wildflowers were at their peak during our hike. We walked through shoulder-high fields of lupine. Loved the flying-saucer shaped lenticular clouds too - a sign of the unstable weather we had during the trip.
On Day 7 we had lunch at Lake Aloha. While I was soaking my feet and looking at the topo map for the lake, I noticed a spillway near the lake. Wait! I thought this was a lake, not a reservoir. The snags and dead trees (upper and lower right) were a clue, even without the map, that this area wasn't always flooded. The map discovery prompted a scouting mission for the dam, actually dams (bottom left) and got me curious about the history which I researched when we got back home. I found these facts: Lake Aloha is a shallow reservoir, constructed originally in 1865 as a source of water for mining. It was enlarged in 1876 (or maybe 1917? sources conflict) and consists of one main dam and 11 auxiliary dams constructed from native rock. Now operated by PG&E to provide hydroelectric power to Sacramento. When the Desolation Wilderness was created in 1969, PG&E secured a non-wilderness right-of-way for its dam. Usually during July & August, water levels are drawn down by about 15 feet to transfer the water to reservoirs closer to Sacramento.
Dicks Pass at 9,377 feet was our last big pass for the trip. This is the view looking back towards Susie Lake (where we camped the night before) and Lake Aloha. There was still a large snowfield at the top of the pass but otherwise the trail was free of snow.
This was our last campsite of the trip on pretty Five Lakes Creek near Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. It was also one of the last water sources for the remaining 21.5 miles of trail; there was one more stream 7 miles ahead, followed by a 14-mile waterless stretch.
The PCT touches the boundary of Alpine Meadows and traverses right under the Granite Chief Lift in Palisades Tahoe (was named Squaw Valley at the time). It was a strange feeling to be hiking through areas I had only ever traveled on skis before. And stranger yet to see campsites with campfire rings in the runs off of the Granite Chief Chair. Who knew those were there in the winter? They are all covered in snow!
The snow was melting fast during the 10-days of our trip. I loved how this snowfield in Palisades Tahoe, named Squaw Valley at the time of this trip, (with a very hazy Lake Tahoe in the background) really showed the melting edge and the rivulets of water running off.
The last day of our trip was literally on the ridgeline (or crest) of the Tahoe Sierra, living up to the name of the Pacific Crest Trail. The views were spectacular but all I wanted was to be off that ridge because thunderclouds were forming above us early in the day. By 5 pm, we were surrounded by thunderstorms, but none directly above us. I set a new personal record for most miles in a day: 21.5 miles with 4,059 feet up and 4,297 feet down. I could barely walk by the time we reached the car but I made it.
Our original backpacking trip plan had us ending on August 21st, the day of the solar eclipse, and we thought we'd observe the partial eclipse from the Sierra. A couple of weeks before we left for our trip, Rob's brother and sister-in-law invited us to join them at a campsite they had reserved near Salem, OR, and we realized that if we could shave at least a day off our trip, we could make it. We ended up finishing 3-days early which allowed us to spend a night in Reno to take baths, do laundry and buy food and then spend a night in Bend, catching up with friends and and a night at the Sublimity Festival Grounds near Salem where we got to see the total eclipse the next day. I now understand why people become eclipse chasers - it was a very worthwhile experience.
Photos: campers and tents at Sublimity Festival Grounds (top). L-R: Rob's brother and friend looking at the partial eclipse wearing special eclipse glasses, the total eclipse (taken by my iPhone), the traffic-apocalypse on I-5 south taken from a frontage road on our way home.
Miles 1017 - 1157 of the Pacific Crest Trail. We started from the Sonora Pass trailhead off of Highway 108 and ended at a parking area off of Highway 80 near Donner Pass. We hiked 140 miles in 10 days for a total of 24,361 feet of elevation gain and 26,777 feet of elevation loss (elevation statistics courtesy of the Halfmile app).