Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 5, Back to the Postpile via the PCT

Garnet Lake was one windy cold place, and then the sun set and it was beyond lovely. We had actually been warned by other hikers that it had been so windy the night before it had been hard to sleep, thankfully that was not our experience. No wind and no frozen water, and then a beautiful sunrise. The start to a good day, hopefully. Anna and Diana had agreed that getting as close as we could back to the trail head was ideal. Snow was supposed to roll in on our last day and the closer to the car the better. Our plan was to head towards Thousand Island Lake, catch the PCT and make it back to the Devil's Postpile/Red's Meadow area which would only put us 6 miles from the car. The only tricky part, this would need to be a 16-18 mile day. However the topo showed mostly downhill easy terrain so I was crossing my fingers.

Past Ruby Lake, one of my favorites
Thousand Island
I hiked with Anna for the the next little bit chatting about all things thruhiking, shes debating hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer and we were having a great time. The folks back home get sick of trail talk so its always fun to find people who aren't sick of one of your favorite subjects.
The trouble happened unfortunately soon. Lets start with basics. Since I was a little kid hiking with groups I've had one rule drilled into my head, when you hike in groups you stop at intersections. This is a really big safety thing and just isn't negotiable with groups. After Thousand Island Lakes there were three intersections each about 0.5 miles apart. We found Diana waiting at the first one where she sped ahead as soon as we arrived. That was fine, I knew exactly where we were going. The next intersection found Anna and I alone. I didn't think much of it as it was so close but I did get a little irritated that Diana hadn't waited. The next intersection found Anna and I alone again, okay what the heck? There was one more close intersection and then nothing for over 5 miles, I figured we should just keep going and check the close intersection. Maybe 5 minutes later we startled a herd of deer. Alarm bells started ringing, we shouldn't have startled a darn thing because Diana should have been only 5 or 10 minutes ahead of us max. I quickly started searching the ground, watching people's footprints had become a habit of mine on the PCT and after 5 days of hiking with her I knew Diana's shoe's and they weren't there. Anna was in no shape to be traipsing around in circles and I had the only map. We went the 0.7 to the next intersection in hopes that I just hadn't seen her footprints but no Diana. What then commenced was over an hour of me cursing and running back and forth and calling out into the woods. I finally heard someone calling back and Diana appeared back at the intersection right before the deer. She was looking upset and saying where had we gone, she was on the PCT. No my dear you were not, I know this silly trail and you most definitely were not. We headed back up the trail to where Anna was waiting (next to a PCT sign I might add). After a lot of nervous energy we decided with a big storm rolling in the group would walk 100% together for the rest of the day. I was amped up and angry, Diana was pissed and Anna was the calm force trying to hold us all down. Have I mentioned my next big trip is solo? Because despite the good times I was over this group thing.
Okay big deep breath, the hiking was spectacular along the ridgeline. Gorgeous vistas, golden aspen everywhere and way more water than I expected at the end of the season.

trail or creek?

looking across at the Shadow Lake Outlet, crazy we were there just yesterday

Then it was down towards Agnew Meadows and our bear box picnic table. We were getting closer but Anna was starting to look tired...

We then followed the river for what felt like ages but was actually only 5 miles.

Only 0.4 miles to the monument!
 Originally we had the best intentions, skirt the monument sticking to forest service and the legally open trails. But it was late, Anna looked wrecked and we decided to take the bridge to the road rather than cross countrying across a meadow just to avoid a park we had seen a ton of people in earlier that week.

never saw the postpile up close but the rocks are still pretty darn similar
It's probably less than a quarter mile from the bridge to the road, but right as we crossed into the parking lot we heard a truck backing up, and then we were face to face with a ranger. Panic, utter panic flitted through me, I am not a good rule breaker. In unison a quick look pathetic memo seemed to be telegraphed across our faces. We muttered something about being out for a week and just cutting through to the road because we were worried about the weather and my friends feet. The very nice ranger than asked if we knew that snow was coming and that the road we were on went all the way to Mammoth, and lastly did we have a ride. After nervously mumbling we knew about the snow and that we had a car we went on our way. Thankfully no more tickets had to blacken this trips memories.

Then it was down the road, and finally to Red's Meadow Campground and one last set of hot springs. I had remembered these from my PCT hike and helped use them to spur on my cold weary crew.

We had made it about 18 miles, and it had been no where near smooth sailing but we had made it. The plan was to set out super early and hopefully beat the snow to Mammoth. The skies were darkening and with no desire to hike or drive in heavy snow I was plenty motivated to set my alarm.

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