Dave told me about his plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) more than a year ago. I said I’d like to join him for a week or so. Dave lives north of Sydney, Australia, so this communication, and those that followed, was by e-mail or Skype call. I was serious about joining him and read Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles to get an idea of which sections of the trail I might like (I’d already read Wild).
By the time Dave set off from the Mexican border on April 24th this year, I was leaning toward Washington in September. But hiking the PCT does not permit firm itineraries, and Dave was always going to be a moving target. Sure enough, in June, Dave found the High Sierra blocked with lingering snow and swollen streams. He skipped it, planning to return in late summer. Between June and the last day of August, Dave hiked from northern California to Canada.
By early August, I was confident enough of Dave’s Sierra schedule to book flights and time off. We targeted meeting at South Lake Tahoe and hiking together to Donner Pass. Even so, it was touch and go until the last minute whether Dave’s schedule and mine would coincide. Just before I left home, Dave called to say he’d run into the first snowfalls of the season and might be delayed.
In the end, on Sunday, September 24th, I drove my rental car to Echo Summit and started hiking south. After about a mile, I met Dave hiking north. Dave took a “zero day” in South Lake Tahoe on Monday and I set out on the PCT. Monday and Tuesday, I hiked alone—18.5 PCT miles. On Tuesday, Dave covered those miles in one day to catch me up at Fontanillis Lake.
DATES: Monday-Friday, September 25-29.
START: PCT Mile 1090, Echo Summit, south of South Lake Tahoe.
FINISH: PCT Mile 1153, Donner Pass, west of Truckee.
ROUTE: PCT north, plus an unintended—but rewarding—excursion to Half Moon Lake.
MONDAY: Echo Summit to Heather Lake—10.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Heather Lake to Fontanillis Lake—8.0 miles (plus unintended side-trip).
WEDNESDAY: Fontanillis Lake to Mile 1127—18.5 miles.
THURSDAY: Mile 1127 to Mile 1144—17.0 miles.
FRIDAY: Mile 1144 to Donner Pass—9.0 miles.
TIME: 9 a.m. Monday to about midday Friday.
TERRAIN: The only real difficulties were some rubbly sections of trail, and a few long ascents (made tougher by the 7,000-9,400 feet of elevation). Otherwise, the PCT was rarely steep (lots of switchbacks) and nearly always dry. In places, it was a near perfect trail. Just one stream involved wet feet.
MAPS: Downloaded and printed from Halfmile’s PCT Maps (California Section K).
WEATHER: Sunny until the very last miles; temperatures from upper 20s to maybe lower 60s.
WILDLIFE: Around South Lake Tahoe, before the hike, several coyotes. On the trail, a mule deer and very little else. On Friday, we saw scat, possibly mountain lion.
CAMPSITES: All good, but the first was the best—right on the shore of Heather Lake.
MEALS: Freeze-dried meals for supper, cold stuff otherwise. Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala was the best.
UPS: So many, but Monday’s and Tuesday’s Desolation Wilderness scenery was spectacular.
DOWNS: Nothing really, but I was very tired on Thursday evening.
KIT: Pleased to have the right stuff to deal with some blisters that had developed by Thursday.
COMPANY: Dave, with whom conversation and silences were equally comfortable. The PCT, particularly in Desolation Wilderness, provided just about the right amount of company, neither empty not crowded.