After having completed the desert together, Chelan and I parted ways at mile 702 in Kennedy Meadows, gateway to the Sierra. At the time, I had no idea where I’d skip to up north and she knew with little certainty if she’d be able to make it through the Sierras or end up jumping up north as well. Over 1,300 miles later, our respective plans, though vastly different, have both been successful.
While Chelan waited in Kennedy Meadows to assemble her team, I headed out to do the snow-free 50 miles with a friend I met in the desert who would be getting off trail permanently thereafter. The stark difference from the desert amazed us. We camped at the first alpine lake in 752 miles and dreamt of the day we’d be back.
After this taste of the Sierra, I sat in Lone Pine with Mount Whitney looming above and sketched out my plan. I knew there was a lot of snow up in northern California and particularly in Oregon. If I flipped too far north I’d get to Oregon too soon and I’d have to wait for snow to melt. If I went too far south I would risk wasting my time making slow miles in snowbound forests. I decided to wait out the heat wave that was going on in California all the while gathering intel from other hikers who had flipped up and started hiking at various points in northern California.
I shared my plan with a friend I made in the desert, Tai, and the next day we took a bus to South Lake Tahoe. We spent eight days eating, swimming in the lake and hiking some of the Tahoe Rim Trail while staying with wonderful trail angels there. We later met another friend from the desert, Rori, and together became team Girl Power. At the end of our trail-cation, we decided to start on Bucks Lake Summit, a PCT access point near the town of Quincy. We resumed hiking on July 1, poetically on Canada’s National Day.
Many thru hikers complain of the monotony and lack of views in northern California. I, however, having come from the Mohave, 20-mile water carries, and Joshua trees as the only shade, marveled at the pine forests, streams, lakes, lush forest, and snowcapped Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta the background.
Many days of flat mosquito-ridden forest walking was punctuated by gems like Crater Lake, Three Sisters Wilderness and day-walking around the base of Mount Hood. We hiked through Oregon in just 20 days and jumped for joy when we crossed the Bridge of the Gods — the entrance into Washington (but that gets its own article).
We never hit snow that slowed us down through California, Oregon or Washington. But there was fire. A lot of fire.
I spent a few days at Crater Lake with my boyfriend hiking the rim and the haze from a nearby fire clouded many of the views. A few days after hiking out, I learned a new fire started, closing the PCT and Rim Trail. Another fire in mid-Oregon closed 40 miles of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, and yet another in northern Oregon sent smoky haze over most of Mount Hood.
In the end, I had to skip 40 miles due to fire closures around Three Finger Jack and Mount Jefferson Wilderness in Oregon — a fire that has since expanded the closure to twice that size. The closure highlights how every year on the PCT is different. Whether you’re one day or 400 miles apart, ours hikes have varied depending on weather, smoke and sections of trail that open or close.
In Washington, we encountered smoke that obscured our views and was downright hazardous near Mount Rainier, a day out of Snoqualmie, the first two days out of Stevens pass and the last two days into Canada. Since then, fires have started or grown behind me that have impacted Chelan and many thru hikers behind her are having to skip hundreds of miles and hike entirely in smoke. We both feel grateful to be safe in spite of all the uncertainly surrounding the fires and we feel for our friends further South.
Currently, we are headed back to Quincy, Calif., to start hiking the final 520 miles southbound. We anticipate summiting Mount Whitney the first week of October, marking the end of our 2,660-mile journey.