PCT Day 2: OMG I’m Gonna Die!

To repent for my lagging pace yesterday, I got up early to hike ahead of the girls, knowing they’d catch up. I threw off my sleeping bag at 6:52 and by 8:30 was all packed up, ready to go. Stop laughing, I know, that’s waaay too long. Real thru-hikers get it done in a half hour or less.

My day started beautifully. The trail climbed up a minor canyon, across a gorgeous meadow and up to a stunning ridge, undulating up and down in a fairly level-ish way. It was a forgiving stretch of trail, and I felt pretty good for the first five miles.

A day hiker I encountered in Agnew Meadows thought I was the real deal. She said, “Are you a PCT hiker?”

I said, “Yeah, with my daughters to Truckee.” I was too lazy to explain that Squarepants was a friend, so from there on out, she was officially adopted.

“Love your Lone Peaks,” said the girl, looking down at my shoes. Altra Lone Peaks were the PCT shoe of the season. She must be a fangirl, too.

“Thanks,” I said, continuing on my way, a smile spreading across my face.

It’s stupid, I know, but I felt like a celebrity wearing all the right stuff. I was a PCT hiker now, yeah, baby!

The views from the top of the ridge were absolutely stunning. I saw granite cliffs, waterfalls and lakes in the distance, aspens, meadows and wildflowers up close. With so many beautiful things to look at, I had a hard time remembering to watch my step. I was ecstatic to be on the trail and kept stopping to take pictures. And rest, too, because it was super tiring. Let’s not forget about that 30+ pounds on my back.

Agnew Meadows
Coming into Agnew Meadows. I’ll be climbing halfway up that mountain in the background soon.
Entering Ansel Adams Wilderness
Entering Ansel Adams Wilderness. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad as long as I kept moving.
The view toward Rosalie Lake.
The view toward Rosalie Lake, I was thrilled to be on such a gorgeous stretch of trail.

Fish Nugget passed by, and we leapfrogged for a bit around noon. The girls liked hiking alone during the day, which felt odd to me, because usually when I backpack with people, we walk together. But Fish Nugget had warned me this was their way, so I promised to adapt.

We planned to meet at Thousand Island Lake, a more than 10-mile day, depending on where we camped. I hoped I’d make it.

As the afternoon wore on, so did my fatigue. I worried I’d get too far behind, but I had to stop and rest. I found a nice hammock spot with a big view and lay there for a while, finishing off my morning snacks. I was too tired to dig more out of the bear can.

I realized I wasn’t that organized and needed to think through my systems. For example, I hadn’t thought about pulling out snacks for the whole day. The rest were deep inside my bear can, buried in the middle of my pack. I also had this idea that I’d take a two-hour hammock lunch at some gorgeous stream, where I’d rehydrate my dinner, brush my teeth, rinse my socks, and take a nap, but that didn’t work out either. Water sources, mosquitoes, trees and timing never lined up to make it possible.

I didn’t see Fish Nugget again that afternoon, and I never once saw Squarepants, so I wasn’t quite sure where everyone was.

I felt kind of deserted and had to remind myself that this was their way and to just get used to it.

Meanwhile, my feet, legs, shoulders and hips were killing me, all at once. I stopped more often to catch my breath. I developed a low-grade headache and worried about dehydration. I finally remembered that I’d brought electrolyte tablets, thankfully not buried in the dang bear can. I started using them. I drank tons of water and ate some cola candies my friend had given me from Peru, but they didn’t seem to do anything.

Amazing views ahead.
The views were amazing like this for most of the day.
Adorable Aspen Glen
Occasionally the trail passed through a shady aspen glen. I love the sound of their little leaves in the wind.
High Mountain Trail
Look at this incredible scenery, so glad to be here in July while everything is green.

I stopped for water at every other stream, loving on my Sawyer filter. I was so glad to have upgraded from my old-style pump to this lighter weight, gravity-based filtration system. Totally worth the money!

As the afternoon wore on, I slowed down. Going uphill hurt. It was so hot, so painful. Thank God for amazing scenery because that’s literally the only thing that kept me going. Occasionally, real PCT hikers would pass me, and I wondered, how the heck do they walk so fast?

Descending from the ridge, I finally had to sit down again for another half hour. Too tired to dig for more food, put up the hammock or even spread out the Z Rest, I laid on the bare ground with my feet on my pack, just like I’d seen the girls do, dirt be damned.

So. Much. Pain. I thought about making camp early.

No, can’t do that, the kids would worry. I had to push on.

The ridge gave way to forest, the trail heading down for a bit, then back up. I made progress, and it was still pretty, but the last few miles up seem to drag on forever. It got to the point where I was going so slow, it felt like I was hardly moving. I was out of breath, had a minor headache, every step painful, shoulders aching, arches hurting—I thought, maybe I’m too old for this. I felt bad dragging the girls down.

Mountains in Distance
Zooming in on the craggy peaks as I pass. If I had a better topo map I’d look up what they’re called.
Nearing the end of the ridge walk.
Nearing the end of the ridge walk, I think it was late afternoon by this point. I was dead tired, but I had to go on.
Heading into the forest
Heading into the forest. The trail became more dull, so I stopped taking pictures. I was tired and cranky anyway.

Finally, I made it to the little lake before the big lake. Fish Nugget was there, waiting for me, crouched in the grass. She was worried, like freaked-out worried. She had been thinking of going back down the trail to look for me, like some little lost kid, and was so relieved to see me. Talk about role reversal!

She told me she waited 101 minutes. Jeez, she was counting?

Thrilled to see her and pleased that she cared—still, I wanted to die. I tumbled into a fluffy tuft of grass for a few moments of rest. We had another mile to go before we could camp, past the water outlet exclusion zone. It was getting late.

A couple swimming nearby had seen me collapse into the grass.

“I know how you feel,” called the man. “I felt exactly the same way yesterday.” He said he recognized my body language. We laughed.

We trudged on. The scenery was stunning, the kind of alpine, rocky wonderland that brings me into the Sierra again and again. How could anyone put up with this kind of pain through an ugly desert? I don’t know how the kids survived hiking the Mojave.

Fish Nugget hadn’t seen Squarepants all day and was trying to figure out what could have happened to her. Was she behind? Did she decide to camp somewhere else alone?

I moved like a turtle. Everything hurt. Fish Nugget couldn’t even believe how slow I walked.

But she was patient and kind. She remembered her first days on the trail. She said I was doing well, especially considering the altitude. She said I should be proud. She coached me onward.

Talking distracted me, so I blabbered between breaths about stuff I don’t even remember now. Except I do remember noticing the trail approach to the lake was especially well-crafted, and I thought I’d read somewhere that it had been paid for as part of the filming permit for that one Star Trek movie they shot here. She didn’t know anything about it. Was it just a rumor? I wished I could google it. I missed google.

High Mountain Alpine Tundra
I love all these little pygmy trees and rocks and grass with the craggy mountains above.
Little Lake Before Big Lake
This was the little lake where I found Fish Nugget waiting, with a fisherman in the background.
OMG Still Not There
OMG, we’re still not there yet? Where’s the dang lake? But look at those incredible peaks!

We lumbered over one more little hill to finally reach Thousand Island Lake. And there was Squarepants, sitting on a rock, enjoying the view. How the hell did she pass us? Neither one of us knew. Whatever, thank God we found her.

Fish Nugget joined her on the rock, looking out onto a glorious vista. I thought about joining them, but I was afraid if I sat down, I’d never be able to get back up again.

I was too miserable to stay long. All I could think about was finding camp so that I could set up my tent and collapse for the night. Everything hurt. I paused just long enough to take a couple pictures, but then I got whiny and had to move on. The girls understood my sorry state and pressed ahead, finding a lovely lake view campsite big enough for all of us, just beyond the no-camp zone. The mosquitoes were the least of my concerns.

So tired, must crawl in tent and die.

It was harder to pitch my tent that night due to compacted earth and sheer exhaustion. I never did brush my teeth that day, wash my face or use that mini-stick of deodorant I’d dissected from the dispenser. I ate snacks again for dinner, along with a few spoonfuls of Justin’s Maple Almond Butter, because I never managed to hydrate a real meal. I laid down in my tent, feet up, pain everywhere, my head throbbing.

What was wrong with me? Altitude sickness? We were camped above 9800 feet, less high than I’d hiked around Mammoth without trouble. Dehydrated? I’d been drinking water and peeing clear all day long, so that didn’t make sense, either. I was tempted to take Ibuprofen but didn’t because I wanted to monitor my symptoms. Perhaps it was just overexertion. I hoped rest would take care of it.

The lake was unbelievably gorgeous.

I asked the girls to rank it against all they’d seen so far in the Sierra. They rated it right up near the top, though Squarepants thought the Palisade Lakes might be just a hair prettier. I’d have to check those out someday.

It barely registered that today was the Fourth of July, and I was missing all the fireworks. Happy Birthday, America. Our founding fathers would die seeing what’s become of this country. I was just happy to be away from the crowds. I wondered what people were posting on Facebook and dozed off while it was still light.

Meadows Near Thousand Island Lake
Approaching Thousand Island Lake, so many lovely meadows. These pictures don’t even do them justice.
Sitting By The Lake
Squarepants and Fish Nugget sitting by the lake, catching up after hiking separately all day.
Thousand Island Lake
The area near our campsite at Thousand Island Lake, taken the next morning. My feet, legs, shoulders, back and hips were screaming so hard at me the night before, I was unable to muster the strength to take another picture.

I couldn’t quite get warm in my sleeping bag that night, even with all my layers on and the silk liner that Squarepants let me borrow. I woke up with major condensation everywhere. The tent was drippy wet, I was dealing with cold spots, and my head still hurt, even after a few hours of sleep.

I hadn’t taken the time to air my bag out yesterday, so stupid. And I should have used my tent fly for more warmth this close to a lake. Let the beatings begin…

I was ill-prepared, out of shape, without the right equipment. How could I possibly have altitude issues after a trouble-free week in Mammoth? What if I couldn’t make it over the pass? How awful that I’m holding back the girls. I should turn back. This is an epic fail.

Maybe I’m just not cut out for this dream.

I repeatedly fluffed my failing bag, tossed and turned on the hard, cold ground, adjusted multiple layers of clothing and drifted back to sleep.

Deep in the night, I woke up cold. This was serious. I dug out the emergency blanket, spreading it over my down bag. It slowly warmed me up, but condensation collected on the bottom of the blanket, dampening the bag, which would surely cause it to lose more loft. When I took the blanket off, I was too cold. When I put it on, too wet. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How could I be so stupid, depending on a 20 year-old bag?

I started shivering. This was bad. Fearing hypothermia, I thought about going over to Fish Nugget’s tent to climb in for warmth. She had a really good 15-degree bag and tended to sleep warm. My thoughts went from fearing I wouldn’t make it through the day tomorrow to fearing I wouldn’t make it through the night.

What the hell was I doing out here? I curled up into the fetal position with the blanket on. It was gonna be a long night. I couldn’t wait for sun. I dozed off.

I heard a voice in my head. I sprung up, startled awake.

Fish Nugget was at my door. She said she felt dizzy and nervous. I said get your bag and come in. She was dealing with a scary bout of anxiety. I was dealing with a scary degree of cold. I said, let’s help each other out.

We talked. I told her my fears about not being able to make it, suggesting I should maybe quit and hike back out so that they could go on. She was encouraging. She said it was tough on them, too, at first, and described their pain. She said that she and Squarepants didn’t mind going slower after pushing so hard through the Sierra the last few weeks. They just wanted to hike and enjoy the trail for a while. I told her I couldn’t do a 10-mile day tomorrow with a big pass at the end. My body was shot. She said, don’t worry, we’d figure something out. Then it was my turn to listen and encourage.

After a while, we fell asleep. It was definitely warmer with my baby girl there, and I was thankful for my double-wide tent. The sun shone early on our campsite the following morning, its tender rays bringing precious warmth.

We made it through the night.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 2: July 4, mile 923
Our campsite in the morning.
Good morning, Fish Nugget. Little did we know what was in store for us later that day.


PCT Day 2: OMG I'm Gonna Die—Altitude Sickness on the Trail
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PCT Day 2: OMG I'm Gonna Die—Altitude Sickness on the Trail
In 2016, I hiked through the Northern Sierra on the PCT with my daughter. After a really rough day hiking on the trail, I had a scary, awful night. This is how I got through it.
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