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  • Emily Hayes

PCT May Update: Entering The Sierra

First published in Botley Bridge July Magazine, a village magazine in Hampshire, UK.

The month of May has flown by on the trail, completing the last miles of the Southern California desert section was a rewarding accomplishment. After 700 miles of desert I was happy to arrive at Kennedy Meadows for a few days rest. Kennedy Meadows is a very small town catering mainly for hikers. It's a gateway to the mountains where hikers will resupply and rest. During this time my friends and I planned for the next section of trail, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This section requires strategic planning and more technical skills to traverse over a snowy mountain pass every day. From here I needed to carry micro spikes for traction on hard snow and an ice axe to assist snowy ascents and descents. There is also a requirement to carry a bear cannister for all consumable items as a prevention against the black bears known to be in this area. My backpack was getting very heavy and I hadn't decided on what food I would carry yet!

We checked the weather forecast and found that a storm was due, which meant it would be very uncomfortable and perhaps dangerous to attempt to ascend Mount Whitney later that week. We adjusted our plan to include a visit to Lone Pine, a desert town below the Sierra Nevadas where we could enjoy some calories and better weather while the storm passed through the mountains.

Once back on trail we made our way to Mount Whitney base camp. Although the Pacific Crest Trail does not pass directly over this mountain most hikers plan a day extra to summit the highest mountain in the contiguous USA as it is so close to the trail. Waking up at midnight we climbed over 4,000 feet from basecamp to reach the 14,500 foot summit for sunrise. This has been one of the most spectacular experiences on trail for me. The challenge of walking and climbing at altitude was rewarded with the stunning scenery of snowy mountains glowing in the sunrise.

As I am now 9 weeks into the trail and writing this article from my tent using satellite internet I have walked nearly 900 miles. I am halfway through the Sierras and finding that every day I am hiking at altitude, above 10,000 feet is very challenging for me, particularly with such a heavy pack. It is harder to breathe and the body has to work harder. Nonetheless I feel rewarding by the wonderful scenery of being surrounded by huge mountains and alpine lakes with new friends that are sharing the challenges and rewards of hiking this section.

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