June 27, 2015
Tentsite before Benson Lake (971.0) to Tentsite before Dorothy Lakes Pass (992.1)
21.1 PCT miles today
1036.6 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 4,400 ft, – 4,332 ft
Once again, all of today’s hike was within Yosemite National Park, and it was all magnificent. We have hiked ourselves into yet another new ecosystem, and this one feels especially welcoming and inviting to Pickles and I.
I’ve always used the word “Sierras” as an all-encompassing name for the mountainous region of California. Though I grew up in Tahoe and did a little hiking and exploring in the Sierras throughout childhood, I really didn’t know all that the term referred to. I guess I still don’t know where all the boundary lines are drawn, but I do feel like this experience has made me intimately more familiar with the Sierras and all the various areas and habitats that they cross. This is actually my greatest purpose in hiking the PCT – to become intimately familiar with the entire length of the West Coast, and I feel that happening every day that we wake up and hike north.
When we first left Kennedy Meadows we were in the South Sierras. For Pickles and I, that area was mostly impressive in its stark contrast with the desert just 20 miles south. It felt like the forest and the desert were battling it out, and the forest had just barely won. There still wasn’t much water, there were still cacti and lizards, but the pine tree finally reigned supreme and the trail was more often covered in pine needles than not. From Crabtree Meadows (near Mt. Whitney) through Muir Pass, Pickles and I identified the area as the High Sierra. This was where all our major passes lay, and we barely dropped below 10,000 feet for almost a week. The scenery was grandiose, breathtaking, and stark. We spent most of the day staring at a bright blue sky, granite snow-rimmed peaks, and the occasional high-altitude meadow. The landscape left us speechless and in awe.
From there we dropped into what we’ve heard referred to as the Eastern Sierra. As far as we can tell that lasted from Seldon Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. The Eastern Sierra was more lush and green, and its star feature was its rivers rather than its mountains. The trail got dustier and we encountered more wildlife, and more life in general. And that brings us here. From Tuolumne Meadows on, the landscape has gone through yet another change. The mountain views have come back, but this time they are more like rounded granite hills speckled with pine trees. We have also been introduced to an astonishing number of wildflowers. I’ve counted over 15 different species displaying themselves in every color of the rainbow. We have dropped significantly in elevation, so much of our day is spent under a canopy of trees on an almost-swampy meadow floor. The air is warmer, muggy almost, and there are 10 times the amount and variety of insects. Our trail climbs up and over the many rocky undulations, usually rising and falling to the same elevation at least 3 times in 20 miles.
For all its mosquitos, pollen, and dust, these are the Sierras that I know and adore. I feel like a little kid when I’m out here – I want to explore every spur trail and swim in every lake. I love watching the huge granite formations grow in size as we hike closer, and the way they change color with the sunrise and sunset has to be seen to be believed.
Apparently when we cross Dorothy Pass tomorrow, the scenery will change yet again. That’s why I spent all of today taking it in the best I could. This is absolutely a place that Pickles and I will come back to in the years to come and also the place we hope to someday bring our children. For now, since we don’t have any big-picture maps to refer to, we’ll call this the Yosemite Sierras and we’ll add all these sights, sounds, and feelings into our ever-growing understanding of what the Sierras really are.