PCT Day 3: Breaking Dawn

I awoke the next morning, the sun on my tent, alive. Thank God. After yesterday’s horror, I resolved to reward myself with a leisurely morning. But one thing was certain–no way I could hike another big day today, no matter what the girls decided to do.

Fish Nugget would probably stick by me given that The Hubby had lectured her to “take care of Mommy; she doesn’t know what she’s doing out there.” I just hoped Squarepants would understand. I worried about derailing their hiking mojo.

I started rustling around. Fish Nugget returned to her tent to sleep in. My headache was gone, but my feet still ached. The first few steps were the worst, so painful, but as muscles loosened up, walking became easier.

I gathered up my sleeping bag and picked my way down the hill, spreading the bag and liner out on a big sunny rock to dry.

It was a new day. Maybe I could keep going, after all.

I sat down on the rock for a proper breakfast: granola and powdered milk in a Ziploc baggie. While messing with my phone trying to get a picture, I spilled some of the milk, but I didn’t cry, hahaha. And I saw my first marmot!

Breakfast in a baggie at Thousand Island Lake
Breakfast in a baggie with a glorious lake view, not crying over the spilled milk.
Thousand Island Lake
Down at the lake getting water for everybody, this was my view.
Soaking feet in Thousand Island Lake
Early morning foot therapy. So far no blisters, thanks to the wonders of Leukotape, just lots and lots of pain.

After breakfast, I walked down to the shoreline. I washed my feet, face and hands, and rinsed yesterday’s socks and underwear. I could not take my eyes off the scenery. Thousand Island Lake was truly dazzling, for sure in my top ten. Right up there with Lady Lake, McCabe Lake and that one in Ansel Adams with all the mini frogs.

I rehydrated a meal for later that night, organized my snacks for the day, changed my clothes, collapsed my tent and laid it out to dry. I finally brushed my teeth, which felt fantastic. I started to feel human again.

The girls were still sleeping, so I pulled out the maps to see what lay ahead.

Since I couldn’t possibly do another 10-mile day, especially one with a big pass at the end, I looked for the best option for camping right below the pass. This would set us up the following day to go over the pass in the morning and get through Lyell Canyon for a spot just outside the Tuolumne Meadows no-camp zone.

Though it meant going only 4.5 miles, which was super lightweight, it would give me a chance to recover and gear up for 9.5 miles the following day, with five miles after that into Tuolumne Meadows. Then, if the girls wanted to go on without me, I’d totally understand. It seemed like a good plan, if they agreed.

Finally they started to stir. Squarepants had also been cold in the wee hours of the morning. Sheepishly, I gave her back her liner with heartfelt thanks. I checked in with Fish Nugget.

She was feeling better, I was feeling better, we could do this.

The girls packed up, taking their time. Despite my starting earlier, I was still the last to finish. But they seemed chill about it, like there was no hurry. So different from my real life, where The Hubby always pushes me to move along.

I confessed to them both that I didn’t think I could do another big day. I shared the maps and proposed my plan. Fish Nugget worried about not having enough food, but Squarepants and I had extra. We decided to aim for the bottom of the pass and see how it went from there. Everybody was cool about it, no drama, which was kind of amazing.

Not wanting to lose me again today, they let me set the pace and walked behind.

I said, are you sure? I go grandma slow. They said, grandma slow was fine and that it was a nice change from the make-miles pace they’d been pushing before. I found it a little hard to believe, but okay. We hiked down the trail.

Hiking Above Thousand Island Lake
Bye, bye, beautiful Thousand Island Lake. That green ridge in the background is where I hiked yesterday.
Resting on the trail
Squarepants chilling on the trail. It was a cool, sunny day, perfect for hiking.
Stream crossing
One of many streams we crossed, great to see so much water in California!

Surrounded by stunning alpine scenery, we saw more marmots, lots of ground squirrels, many lakes and those little trees I love amidst high-drama granite peaks. There were fewer people on the trail today though still regular sightings, mostly multi-day backpackers, JMT hikers and some PCTers.

We passed a huge Asian tour group, maybe 15 people including kids. Naturally the kids were in front, waiting for their poor parents to catch up. But it was cool to see them all out there, enjoying the wilderness.

We stopped at the Rush Creek junction for lunch. The girls had been debating taking a side trip to see if they could find the frog lake but decided to stay on trail. We ate and chilled by the creek.

I strung up the hammock, while they napped on the ground.

Camp checkout time had been 11:00 am. We lunched at about 1:30, maybe for an hour or more, after three easy miles mostly downhill. We still weren’t sure about tackling the pass that day. The Asian tour group passed by, time to go.

The trail turned uphill in the afternoon. Pass, no pass? We still didn’t know. There were fast flowing streams nearby, some with log crossings, one of them kind of scary for me but no big deal for the girls. We hiked up in shade, the trail gentle.

As the afternoon progressed, we climbed to a gorgeous alpine lake area, with boulders, meadows, pygmy trees and towering rocks above. Squarepants suggested camping for the night. She thought it was too late to do the pass. No argument here.

Feet in Hammock
Propping up my poor little feet at Rush creek, so much pain, so happy to rest.
Waltzing across a log
Fish Nugget strolling across some log. I had to put my arms out, stare hard and focus on the other side.
Hiking Friends
Squarepants and Fish Nugget, hiking friends forever after 926 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

We struggled some to find a site. Fish Nugget wanted to camp right next to an adorable little lake because it was so pretty. I said, did even read your permit? It’s illegal to camp within 100 feet of the water. She kept pushing for it because there was an established campsite. I said fine, you do it. I’m not doing it. Squarepants sagely stayed out of our little mother-daughter drama.

Even though we hadn’t hiked that many miles, I was still tired and sore from the day before. But I took the lead on this campsite issue. After several false starts tromping around in bushes, I finally found a nice, grassy, high spot big enough for all of us. We weren’t supposed to camp on anything green, either, but it was the least evil choice.

I waited for the girls to pick their tent sites, then set mine up in a big flat area, with the rain fly on this time for added warmth. I had just enough tent stakes, using all 16 of them. The ground was softer for an easier pitch. I did it tighter this time, too.

I was getting better at this.

The girls cooked and ate dinner in their tents. Seriously? With bears in the hood and the risk of lighting tents on fire? But they’d been doing this for months, who was I to judge? I threw everything in my tent like they did. Except the bear can.

Deet sprayed, jacket on and head net applied, I opened the bear can and picked out snacks, dinner and toppings for tomorrow. So together now, yay me. I dug out the olive oil to add to my dehydrated quinoa salad, which would be my dinner for the evening. I called everything salads now to not feel cheated by my cold-food, no-cook strategy.

Prior to the trip, Fish Nugget had dehydrated a bunch of organic produce and grown sick of it along the way. She gifted bags of it to me. I added quinoa, parmesan and herb salt, along with extra virgin olive oil, the secret ingredient that made it real. After all day in double Ziploc bags, the meal rehydrated perfectly, a total success.

OMG, so good, like some expensive Whole Foods salad, except it cost almost nothing. Thank you, Fish Nugget.

Little successes gave me confidence. The girls continued to be supportive and understanding. After last night’s utter devastation, I went from planning my hasty retreat to thinking maybe I could do this, at least to Tuolumne Meadows.

Eating out of a baggie may sound gross, but the upside is huge: no dishes to wash, just lick and wipe the spoon clean. I put my trash away, organized my bear can and hid it behind some rocks away from camp.

Goofball selfie
Keeping spirits up with a goofball selfie. Note the mosquito netting, a must-have piece of equipment.
Another alpine lake
Another magnificent alpine lake view, this is what I endure all the pain for.
Evening camp
The view from my tent as the sun goes down. Hopefully I won’t almost freeze to death again tonight.

Tired, chilly and dogged by mosquitoes, I dove into the tent to organize my heaping mess of stuff. I cleaned up with a wet wipe and rubbed baby powder in some places. I also rubbed it into my hair to mitigate the grease situation. Hair kept falling out, ugh.

What now? So much tent time.

I laid down on my sleeping bag around 7:00. Still light, it was quiet outside, with lower density bird-song than what you hear in the suburbs, just water flowing in the distance and the occasional jet above. I wrote notes for days 1-2 of the hike, so I that wouldn’t forget what happened. But I was too tired to write about day three. Mañana.

I checked the battery on my phone, still well-charged thanks to airplane mode. What the heck do all those apps do in the background to suck power anyway? Such a waste. I looked at pictures from the past few days. There were so many. I deleted the worst, laughing at some I had taken of the girls. Most had bad lighting. My Samsung Galaxy III used to be amazing. Now it was just old.

I fell asleep to the sound of rushing water in the background, snowmelt gone wild.

When I woke up, it was still light. Everything felt sore. More tent time, no internet, no entertainment. What should I be doing? It didn’t matter, I decided, just go with it. There’d be plenty of time to wake up in the middle of the night and still get enough sleep. The girls and I chatted, each from our tents, I forget about what.

I woke again in the middle of the night. Pee, don’t pee? I debated this in my head for 45 minutes. Then I got too hot and shed layers, that menopause thing. I figured I might as well pee, stretch my legs and get some air. It hurt to get back on my feet. Pain was a constant.

The stars outside were glorious. It was cold, but no mosquitoes, YES. I crawled back into my tent, with lots of shifting around trying to get comfortable, always adjusting and yes, finally, some real sleep. It had been good day.

A break for the girls, a godsend for me.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 3: July 5, mile 927.5

PCT Day 3: Breaking Dawn—Recovering After a Rough Day Hiking
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PCT Day 3: Breaking Dawn—Recovering After a Rough Day Hiking
In 2016, I hiked the Northern Sierra section of the PCT with my daughter. After a rough day and night where I almost gave up, a new day brought new hope. Here's how it happened.
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