PCT Day 4: Stalked By A Madman

Sweaty last night, I had to shed layers. Though a step up from the previous night when I thought I might freeze to death, it wasn’t exactly restful slumber. I tossed and turned for at least an hour mid-way through. What was this pain on my left hip? A bruise from sleeping on the ground. Nice.

I was up by dawn and walked down to the river to get water for all. I might be slow, but at least I was helpful. I came back, delivered the water bags, ate breakfast and organized my food for the day. As usual, I took longer than the kids to get all packed up. Fish Nugget and Squarepants lounged on the ground, their packs on, chatting while they waited for me.

Was I crashing their party? I kind of felt like a third wheel.

They didn’t seem to be in any hurry as I shoved my clothes into my pack. They talked about music and meditation and farms they wwoofed on, along with gurus they liked and followed. I loved their background chatter. It reminded me of when I was young with friends, talking about everything, making new discoveries all the time.

We left camp together at 10:00. The plan today was for them to take me over pass. Then they would hike on and meet up with me later, right before the no-camp zone at the edge of Tuolumne Meadows.

We met lots of nice people going both ways. I asked for intel on the trail ahead, especially about the snow. This would be my first major pass with a fully loaded backpack, and I worried about the difficulty. But from what people were saying, it didn’t sound too bad, just a couple big patches here and there.

We passed a guy with a shovel taking a breather by the side of the trail.

I said, “Doing some trail work?” He said, “No, I just hike with a shovel.” Okaaay…

He seemed nice enough, but hiking with a full-sized garden shovel is just weird. We walked on, but so did he, at a distance. I hoped we’d leave him behind soon.

Waiting for Momma
The girls hang out, waiting for me to pack up. Squarepants reads a meditation to Fish Nugget.
Meadows Below Donahue Pass
Alpine meadows below Donahue Pass, green and gorgeous and full of life. See the fly in the sky?
Creepy Shovel Guy
Shovel Guy following us down the trail. Surely he would murder us all.

The alpine scenery was unbelievable, with beautiful little rocky streams, waterfalls, meadows, tiny trees, gorgeous granite—I wish I had better words to describe it. Every turn of the trail revealed some new beauty, some perfect little vignette, the kind of thing landscape designers aspire to mimic in upscale suburban backyards.

Shovel Guy was still back there, and it kind of creeped us out. We joked that maybe his trail name was Bash & Bury, because we felt like we were being stalked up the hill. When we stopped, he stopped. When we walked, he walked. I told the girls they could NOT leave me alone in the wilderness with that guy. They said they wouldn’t.

I zoomed in with my camera and took his picture for future evidence, in case we ended up raped and murdered.

Otherwise, it was a pleasant hike all the way to top of Donahue Pass. Yes, my feet, legs, hips, shoulders and back still hurt, I walked super slow, and I had to stop often to catch my breath. It was hard work, but oh, so pretty.

In the distance I spotted the pass to Gem Lake where I took Fish Nugget on her first backpacking trip when she was about six. There we’d met this amazing, 75 year-old lady and her dog, hiking up the mountain alone for a few days in the wilderness. I remembered telling Fish Nugget that I wanted to be like that when I was her age.

As we neared the top of the pass, we ran into more people.

Good, more witnesses for Shovel Guy, still following in the distance.

I reasoned that he was probably fine, that maybe he carries that shovel as some kind of cross to bear, then vaguely remembered a discussion in one of my Facebook groups about some woman hiking on the PCT being freaked out by a guy with a shovel and other people knowing who he was. But I wasn’t sure. I wished I could look it up.

The girls chatted all the way up the hill, not even winded. Separated 20 days during their PCT hike through the Sierra, they had lots to catch up on.

Looking Toward Gem Lake
Looking back toward Gem Lake Pass in Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Trail Up To Donahue
The trail up to Donahue Pass often took the form of a stairway.
Imitating Boy Bands
While I pause for air, the girls imitate boy bands of the nineties, I think.

We finally reached the top and found tons of people, almost like a party. I saw one of the PCT bloggers I follow, that cute blonde who draws pictures. She was sitting on a rock, working in her sketchbook. Like a true fangirl, I went over to say hi and tell her I loved her blog. She was embarrassed she’d gotten behind on postings. I told her I didn’t know how anybody did it, I could barely move at the end of the day, let alone write words.

Shovel Guy came up behind us, and two other guys said, “Hey, Shovel.”

Of course that’s his trail name. I guess he’s okay if he has trail friends.

We didn’t stay long at the top. The girls went ahead of me down the hill, gaining momentum across a big snowfield. I took my time, not wanting to fall. Some older guys behind me were going a bit faster, so I stepped aside near the bottom to let them pass. The trail didn’t reveal itself right way, so I tagged along because White-Haired Guy seemed to know the way.

“I’m gonna follow you guys,” I said, taking up the rear.

Beard Guy confessed, “I’m just following him.”

I chatted with them down the trail about their trips and equipment. Beard Guy was feeling bad, ready to go after four days in the backcountry. White-Haired Guy was doing some epic trip down to Yosemite Valley then back up to Mount Whitney, spending two months in the High Sierra. It sounded incredible.

Gawking at the ever-amazing scenery, I rolled my right ankle and fell on the trail.

So embarrassing, I felt like an idiot. But they were cool, stopping to make sure I was okay. I got up slowly, totally unhurt.

White-Haired Guy said, “Don’t worry, we all do it. It doesn’t count if there’s no blood.”

Okay, didn’t count then. We continued down the trail, but I started dropping behind because I didn’t want to fall again. They spotted me over a tricky creek crossing, then I got into a conversation with a lady coming up the trail about what to expect ahead, so they moved on.

More Shenanigans
More shenanigans, not sure what’s happening here, some kind of dance moves.
The Top of Donahue Pass
The top of Donahue Pass looking toward Lyell Canyon and my first real Sierra pass, woo-hoo!
Crossing the Snowfield
The girls ahead of me crossing the snowfield, the last I’d see of them for a while.

It was so beautiful coming down the mountain, surrounded by alpine lakes, trees, meadows and granite. I kept stopping to take pictures.

When I reached the Lyell River ford, I worried. It looked big and deep. Why hadn’t the girls waited? I’d asked them to wait for me at scary river crossings. Then I realized one of my sun gloves was missing—crap!

These gloves had been an amazing last-minute purchase. They kept my hands from burning, blisters from forming and mosquitoes from bleeding me dry. The Hubby had complained about the $30 price tag, but I can tell you right now, they were soooo worth it!

I remembered removing the glove to take a picture, so I walked back to look for it.

Backtracking was painful, but necessary. Luckily I ran into Retro Hiker Guy, who spotted the glove. Dressed head-to-toe in sage green Eddie Bauer activewear with a color coordinated, old-school, external frame pack, he looked magazine perfect. A dapper old gentleman, tidy and neat, he’d been out eight days, hiking from Happy Isles to Clover Meadow to Red’s Meadow to here.

I was impressed with myself for knowing where all those places actually were. Years of map-gazing and trail-dreaming had taught me well.

Back at the river crossing, I filtered water, watching others do the scary ford.

Retro Hiker Guy took off his boots, put on some river sandals, rolled up his pants and waded through upstream a ways. Artist Blogger Chick hopped across the rocks on the edge of the mini-falls like a dainty little fairy. Her sidekick put on flip-flops, rolled up his pants and waded through the middle, water coming up to his crotch at one point. Yikes, not doing that!

I chose the fairy route but used some of the underwater rocks close to the surface. I went slowly, one step at time, testing each foothold. My feet got wet, but it wasn’t so horrible as the shoes and pants were made for that.

Two Guys on Trail
These are the two guys I walked with for a while.
Upper High Mountain Lake
A beautiful high mountain lake on the way down from Donahue Pass into Yosemite.
Lyell Creek Headwaters
Looking down at the beginnings of Lyell Creek. Glad to have trekking poles coming down, total knee-savers.

Shovel came by and said the girls I was hiking with were waiting for me at the upper lake we’d passed. I didn’t believe him at first and said no way, the girls are ahead of me. Then he described them, piercings and silver umbrella. Wow, thanks! Turns out, Shovel was totally cool.

I had no idea how they’d gotten behind me, but I decided to wait.

I put up my hammock between two perfect trees next to the river, rinsed my socks and undies and laid everything out to dry. I snacked, checked the map and lounged in the hammock, watching hikers come, stay and go. I hung around (haha) for about an hour, but they never showed up.

Since I’d only done 3.5 miles so far and needed to do another six, I decided to move on. I was sure the girls would catch up soon.

The beautiful scenery continued, along with perfectly pleasant weather, so much nicer than the sweltering Caribbean heat I usually walk in. The trail kept going down, often on those giant, rocky, granite steps built for pack animals, which were hard to walk on. My feet hurt, but I was grateful not to be climbing up this thing. One woman I encountered could barely speak. I don’t know how people did it. The trail dropped something like 2000 feet.

There were more hikers now that we were in Yosemite, all nice people—families, couples, friends. By mid-afternoon the girls still hadn’t caught up, so I sent a message up the hiker chain, first with a mother-daughter team and later with a couple of off-duty rangers, just to let them know I was fine and not to worry, I’d meet them at the no-camp boundary.

Piercings and the umbrella made them easy to identify, yay for individualism.

A ton of people passed me on the trail that day. There was this old Asian guy I leapfrogged with for a while, which made me feel like maybe I wasn’t the slowest person out there. I think we spurred each other on. I only stopped for minor rests, though, wanting to get closer to the endpoint before taking a serious break.

Where the heck were the kids?

Looking to Donahue Pass
Looking up toward Donahue Pass, so beautiful up here!
Waterfall in Trail
Waterfall in the trail, but I managed to keep my feet dry. That didn’t last long.
Near Lyell Creek Crossing
Where I lost my glove on the approach to the Lyell Creek crossing, which looks easy from here, but wasn’t.

Ireland Creek greeted me with a skinny, scary log crossing. I looked for an easier option but didn’t see any, so I just went for it. Deep breath, eyes down, arms out, focus, focus, focus. Whew, made it across.

After filtering water and taking a potty break, I sat on a log, debating whether to stay or go one more mile to the edge of no-camp zone. It was getting late. We hadn’t planned exactly where to camp and wouldn’t even know what the options were until we saw them for ourselves.

I looked up, and there were the girls, at last, about to cross the river. We were so happy to see each other.

Fish Nugget had been freaking out. She thought I was lost. They had gone off the snowfield to the right and gotten way off trail. There they ran into some other guy who was even further off trail, so they helped him get back. They thought I’d done the same thing and walked around the mountain for an hour-and-a-half looking for me, calling my name. They waited by the upper lake for a while, then reasoned through the situation and hiked on. Fish Nugget said she felt like a parent with a lost child.

Then they got my trail messages, first from the mom and daughter on the hill, then the ranger chicks in Lyell Canyon. Fish Nugget was so relieved to hear I was alive. What would she tell Daddy if she couldn’t find me?

Awww, how sweet. And, serves you right for leaving me alone out there, though I kept that last thought to myself.

While we were sitting there, another PCT hiker, Lara Croft from Germany, came up. She had lost her group. We debated going to Tuolumne meadows versus camping on the trail. Trail camping won. We invited Lara to join us.

Lunch in Hammock
Hanging around at lunchtime, waiting for the girls. My poor feet so happy to be doing nothing for a change.
Hammock View at Lyell
The view from my hammock at the Lyell Creek crossing, which seemed more like a river to me.
Looking Into Lyell Canyon
It was a long way down into Lyell Canyon, but I’m sure it’s a hundred times worse climbing up.

We walked ahead another half mile and found a big spot a little too close to the trail. But other people were there, and it was obviously an established site, so I picked a spot as far away from the footpath as I possibly could.

I chatted with Lara while setting up. She was taking a year off to travel after college. She started in Trinidad and Tobago because the airfare was cheap, then went on to Venezuela. Knowing about the hyperinflation and food shortages there, I said, are you kidding, were you scared? She said at first she was. Then she met some nice locals and went on a guided trip to the plateau mountains, a bucket list must-do.

Meanwhile, her friend hiking the PCT kept posting amazing pictures.

So after Venezuela, she arranged to join him at Walker Pass and planned to hike as far as South Lake Tahoe. From there she’d go on to Whistler, BC. When I asked how she was doing keeping up with her friends, she said she likes to go slow, but they like to go fast. We bonded over that and the last-minute nature of our partial PCT hikes.

Naturally everybody was done setting up camp long before I was. I started to envy their little popup tents that didn’t require pounding 8-16 stakes into the ground.

Lara’s friends soon arrived, a happy reunion. They set up all around me, placing their communal kitchen right at the food of my tent, oh well. The girls had cleverly set up along the edges and thrown on their rainflies for privacy, where they hid out all evening. Okay, live and learn, next time I’ll camp along the edges too.

It wasn’t so bad except for that one guy smoking right out back. Thankfully, it was just one cigarette.

Beautiful Lyell Canyon
Beautiful Lyell Canyon, an easy, level walk all the way to Tuolumne Meadows.
Together Again
Ah, together again. Poor Fish Nugget can’t stop worrying about her wayward momma.
Tent Selfie
Mmmm, I smell like dirty laundry!

I have to admit, it was fun overhearing bits of their conversation. Mostly European with one American girl, they talked about the trail, hikers they knew and other trips they’d taken. More people came later, even after dark, so there I was in my first hiker village. Mostly people were cool. The kids told me the Europeans tended to be more polite than the Americans, which was hardly surprising.

As always, my feet were killing me and other parts too.

I didn’t take a lot of notes about pain because I didn’t want to dwell on it. It was just there. Like, all the time. Someone said make friends with pain, and you’ll never be alone. Well, it was a real pain party.

Tomorrow we’d arrive in Tuolumne Meadows for resupply. I thought about a bunch of little hiking problems I needed to solve, like the swinging drink holder, the busted pen, the useless extra panties, gloves and sunglasses, the broken water bottle top, another notebook, a better sleep hat, the floppy rim issue, another warm layer either in the form of clothing or a sleeping bag liner, and possibly the need for more clips. I wrote it all down in my too small notebook with my too big Sharpie, the only pen I had left. Then I set everything aside.

Despite all my doubts, I was going to make it. And I wanted to keep going.

But I still worried about holding the girls back. So I told them they could totally hike ahead, if they wanted to split and hoof it to Canada.

It would be okay, I’d understand.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 4: July 6, mile 936.5
Baby Food Breakfast
Baby food for breakfast, and check out those sun gloves, a must-have out on the trail.

PCT Day 4: Stalked By A Madman—Staying Alert on the PCT
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PCT Day 4: Stalked By A Madman—Staying Alert on the PCT
In 2016 I hiked with my daughter through the Northern Sierra on the PCT. For a while, we thought we were being stalked by a guy with a shovel. Here's how we dealt with it.
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