June 17, 2015
Onion Valley Trailhead – Lone Pine (7.5 on Alternate) to Tentsite near Woods Creek (801.7)
7.5 Alternate miles (Kearsage Pass), 12.3 PCT miles
845.8 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown
We may not be earning money this summer, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re not getting paid. Today’s work was extra taxing, but the bonuses (in the form of epic mountain views, crystal clear lakes, and cascading waterfalls) made every step absolutely worth it.
This morning was made extra special by our special guest hiker. Mama Bear decided that she would hike about 3 miles up Kearsage Pass from the Onion Valley Campground with us to a beautiful lake that we had passed on our way down yesterday morning. We made a real treat out of it by carrying up McDonalds and eating it picnic-style when we got to our destination. She did a great job and it was fun to have her see a bit more of what our days are looking like. After breakfast she headed back to the car and Pickles and I continued back over Kearsage Pass, and back to the PCT.
Within 2 miles of rejoining the trail, we were at the top of Glen Pass, the most technical pass on the PCT in the Sierras. We felt great going up and took our time eating lunch in the sunshine at the top. We only needed to get in another 11.5 miles for the day (8.5 down and 3 up toward Pinchot Pass) so we figured the day would fly by. As it turns out, not only is Glen Pass technical, but the whole length of trail between Glen and Pinchot is covered in sharp, loose rock and steep granite steps. This slowed our progress significantly and actually had us feeling more weary and more in pain than we have yet experienced in the Sierras. Since my shoes didn’t arrive in time to Independence, I came back out on trail in the same Altra trail runners that now have about 800 miles on them. Not the shoe you want to be wearing when the trail becomes sharp rock. The tough trail could have made for a “hard day at the office” if we weren’t compensated for it with a whole valley of perfect high-alpine lakes.
I’m not sure how I made it to 30 years old without anyone telling me about the magnificence that is Rae Lakes. We knew there were some alpine lakes coming up, but we had no idea just how stunning they’d be. We took our time staring at the teal waters from every angle possible while gradually making our way down hill.
By evening, we reached the Paradise Valley trail junction to find about 8 to 10 tents set up near a rushing river and the smell of campfire luring us in. We figure that portion of trail must be quite accessible and popular with the overnighting crowd. We can’t blame them. The area is complete with a brand new wooden suspension bridge, views of peaks all around, and even a natural “water slide” where the river flows down a length of slick flat granite. For us, it was also the location of our 800-mile mark…a good reminder that every step is getting us closer to Canada.
We managed to put in an extra hour of “work” at the end of the day and hike up a steep grade for about 2 miles before choosing a campsite. We had to be quick setting up the tent because the mosquitos were out in hoards, but now that we’re safe inside, we can cash in on our final payment of the day, the sun’s magical display as it colors the river, trees and mountains all around us in a whole spectrum of colors from yellow to gold to red and finally violet. It may not be currency we can spend, but it still makes us feel like millionaires.