PCT DAY 70: Mile 1139 – Mile 1159.2
Wednesday June 22: 20.2 miles (32.3km)
We woke up this morning excited to hit the trail and see what the day will bring.
Today was super exciting as we were going to hike through Donner Pass and a section of the PCT where six years ago we did a day hike and started to dream about maybe doing the whole thing one day. We were going back to where it all began.
We left our campsite with about a mile of uphill hiking to reach the top of the Squaw Valley ski area. The view of Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe beyond were splendid this morning. Everything seemed to shimmer in the morning light. We discovered we had phone reception from our high vantage point so we took the opportunity to check on messages and post updates while enjoying the view.
The descent from our high lookout to Squaw Valley Creek was really difficult. It was steep, snow covered and icy. Even with microspikes on our shoes it was a very slow process to get to the creek. Maybe a little slower for me then for Hammer. I don’t want to underestimate any of the snowy patches we still have to traverse, so I take my time. You can get hurt falling here just as badly as on any of the High Sierra passes.
At Squaw Valley Creek we filtered water to carry for the next 16 mile dry stretch. The irony of needing to carry a lot more water while surrounded by so much snow was not lost on us. As it turned out the dry stretch was much shorter as this early in the season quite a few creeks between Squaw Valley Creek and Tinker Knob were flowing.
While waiting for Hammer to finish filtering I looked around. We were surrounded by granite peaks, pine trees and snow, all sparkling in the morning sunshine. It was a beautiful scene set against an aqua blue sky.
Loaded down with water we continued our descent on some more snow toward the Painted Rock Trail junction where the snow ran out. From here we began a gruelling ascent around Tinker Knob. This was just head down, tail up hard slog around one switchback after another. It helped that it was warm with a cool breeze blowing and the mountain slopes were covered in sweet smelling spring blooms.
As we neared the summit the wind got stronger. Thoughts of last week’s similar ascent of the Elephants Back on snow and freezing cold wind came to mind and today’s climb did not seem so bad by comparison. The sun was shining and it was warm.
We stopped for lunch just below the summit with great views over Truckee and Mary Lake. We had phone reception here and Hammer caught up on the news from home and of course the football results. Parker, with whom we hiked yesterday, passed us here. We caught up with him a bit further along the trail. He stopped to give us some advice on the best way across a tricky snow traverse. We hiked together for the rest of the afternoon.
Hiking along the summit from Tinker Knob was quite special. We had terrific views of Truckee and surrounds to the east and dense green valleys with eroded mountain peaks to the west. We are continually impressed by the amazing trail work on the PCT. We often stop and wonder how the trail builders managed to construct and then maintain some sections. This section looked particularly difficult.
As we neared Donner Pass there were more day hikers about. It was wonderful to see people out and about enjoying a great summers day. The sound of zooming traffic on the I-80 was getting stronger. Just before we got there we met two day hikers heading in the opposite direction. We stopped to chat and it turns out they are followers of the blog. Light Feather walked the PCT in 2015 and Larry was her support crew. So amazing to meet people who are following our hike. Light Feather is a fellow trail runner and is off to do the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc later this year. I hope Larry will keep us informed of her progress as we will still be on our way north to Canada when the race is on.
We crossed the I-80 through an underpass and said goodbye to Parker who stopped there for the day. We hiked on and began to recognize the trail we day hiked way back in 2010. So much has happened to us since. And at one stage it looked like the dream would never be realised.
We are so happy to be back to where it all began. After 1,150 miles we are still loving the trail and are grateful for everyday we get to spend on it.