PCT Day 8: Creatures of the Night

Tucked inside my sleeping bag last night, I heard the sounds of little critters rustling around outside. I pushed my earplugs further in, rolled over and fluffed my bag around me, pining for my mattress back home. I’d left nothing outside to be concerned about. Ignorance is bliss.

“Something ate my shoelaces,” exclaimed Squarepants the next morning. She held up her right shoe, and indeed, one of the laces had been half eaten off.

I asked her if she needed some cord because I had extra, but she figured out a way to jerry-rig the remaining lace to keep her shoe securely on her foot.

She took it all in stride, even laughed about it.

Personally, I would have been upset if were my shoe because they were brand new and cost more than any shoe really should. Plus, the laces that came with them were these cute, skinny, coral-striped things that I’d have no idea where to get replacements.

Squarepants had scored big with her shoes, a pair of Altra Lone Peaks that she found in a hiker box somewhere in the desert. Someone had thrown them out after wearing down the tread pretty hard, but they still had some life left and were better than her previous shoes, so she snapped them right up. Maybe that’s partly why she didn’t fret about the lace. It was just a thing that could be replaced.

Miller Lake Beach
The little beach at Miller Lake, a great place to soak your feet before or after a long day on the trail.
Rodent Village
My little camp spot next to the rodent village hidden in the tree roots on the upper left.
Matterhorn Approach
Approaching the rim of Matterhorn Canyon, can’t wait to see the view!
Above Matterhorn
Looking down into Matterhorn Canyon, it was a long, long, long way down.

Still reeling from yesterday’s 12-mile schlep, we took our time getting ready. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, washed my socks and undies, soaked and taped my feet, took a Handi Wipes bath and dried out my sleeping gear. We headed out at about 10:30 with an 8-mile trek to Smedberg Lake planned.

The trail started off easy with a lovely alpine walk to ridge of Matterhorn Canyon, where we found gorgeous granite mountain views. As usual, I kept up with the girls for a bit, but when I stopped for pictures, they went on ahead.

Then the path turned downward for a long descent through dense forest. A new pain developed across top of my right foot, so I stepped on ball of my foot to compensate. It seemed to be a downhill problem only. I hoped my body would find a way to work it out.

With every step forward we ventured deeper into the middle of nowhere.

I met the girls at the bottom of Matterhorn Canyon. For a while we enjoyed nice, level walking through a mini-Yosemite Valley, with dramatic granite cliffs towering over verdant forests, green meadows and a gently flowing river. It seemed like perfect bear and deer habitat, but we didn’t see any.

Then the trail turned up following a river notch, a scenic, gradual climb all the way to Benson Pass. I had to slow way down due to the altitude as I plodded ever upward.

Crossing Matterhorn Creek
Crossing Matterhorn Creek, our strategy for any water crossing was generally to walk on through.
Leaving Matterhorn Canyon
Climbing out of Matterhorn Canyon, the beginning of long, scenic hike up to Benson Pass.
Approaching Benson Pass
Getting closer to Benson Pass, the terrain looking a lot like Sonora Pass.
Looking Backwards
Looking back to where we came from, toward Wilson Creek. Matterhorn Canyon is down and to the right.

A few weeks back, when Fish Nugget got separated from Squarepants in the High Sierra, she ended up facing Forester Pass alone. This is the highest pass on the trail with a sketchy snow chute in the early season that strikes fear into the heart of many a PCT thru-hiker. She was terrified approaching it, fighting with herself to stay calm.

Camping at the base, she met an older guy named Solo Hiker who helped her through. He told her to go slow and to make sure her breathing never got to an overexerted gasping point. He said to take a break for a bit at every switchback, even if she wasn’t tired, to assess her body in how it was feeling going a little higher. He told her to pay special attention to drinking water on the way up to. Following his counsel, she felt steady, capable and safe. She made it.

Wherever you are, Solo Hiker, thank you for helping my baby girl!

I thought about his advice to Fish Nugget as I trudged up the mountain. Hills just kill me, I don’t know why. My mom was slow hiking up hills, too. Maybe it’s genetic.

Between scenic appreciation moments, I fell into rhythmic breathing, counting steps to eight then starting over again. I could see why music might be nice. A good beat, a distraction, anything to keep the mind from dwelling on the pain, fatigue, sweat and discomfort. I stopped often to rest and drank lots of water.

Going down the other side into a whole new watershed, we saw glorious alpine views, amazing rocks, streams, meadows, flowers and those little trees I love. As always, the last few miles seemed to take forever, but we finally made it to Smedberg Lake.

Conquering Benson Pass
Squarepants and Fish Nugget mug for the camera at the top of Benson Pass, note the funky shoelace.
Volunteer Peak
Coming down from Benson Pass, I think that’s Volunteer Peak straight ahead, a beautiful stretch of trail.
Meadow Rocks
Another gorgeous meadow view.
Green Acres
More high country meadow views beneath Benson Pass. This was a magical bit of trail.

Of course, Fish Nugget wanted to camp at the first little peninsula she saw on the water, but I said no way, there’s gotta be something more legal on the other side. I didn’t care that Halfmile put the campsite symbol right there on the map. I used the excuse of too many mosquitoes, which she really couldn’t argue with.

We did find some nice spots on the other side, unfortunately with just as many mosquitoes. The girls camped closer to the water in some established sites, and I chose a well-used spot further back to alleviate my permit guilt.

The lake was exquisite, a treasure in the wilderness.

The girls had their tents up in no time and dove right in. They loved their little tents, viewing them like private sanctuaries. They slept, changed, cooked, ate, meditated and stored their belongings there, except for the bear cans. Those went outside.

As a mom, I wasn’t a fan of the eating and cooking inside, due to the risk of attracting bears with lingering scents, not to mention that possibility of burning down the tent. But these were habits formed in the desert that had so far served them well. After a comment here and there, I just let it go.

Tired and sore, I went to the lake in full mosquito gear to wash my feet and socks. The cold water felt heavenly. I ate a rehydrated quinoa salad sitting on a rock in the sun with my head net half on, then stowed the bear can and crawled into my tent to lay down and enjoy the last warm rays of warmth. Everything ached.

Meadow Benson Pass
Another lovely meadow between Benson Pass and Smedberg Lake.
Meadow Path
Are we there yet? Getting closer to Smedberg Lake, there were tons of mosquitoes out. Thank God for Deet!
Walking By Smedberg Lake
Arriving at Smedberg Lake, ready to collapse, we camped at the far end in the middle of the picture.
Smedberg Lake
The view from our side of Smedberg Lake in Yosemite National Park, a lovely spot to rinse my feet.

A few hikers camped nearby, including a couple a little further away. Around dusk I heard distressed breathing, like maybe the girl was having an asthma attack or something. I remained on alert, wondering if I should go over and offer to help—not that I knew what to do or had anything of use to them other than Fish Nugget’s Delorme, which could be used to call for rescue.

We were three days from anywhere. This was the worst place ever to have a medical emergency. If she’s a hiker with asthma, she’s gotta have an inhaler, right? I listened anxiously, trying not to let my fears go wild. Her wheezing subsided after a while, as they seemed to get the situation under control. Thank goodness.

Sky darkening, I fell asleep in my little tent world, earplugs firmly inserted. In the wee morning hours, I felt vibrations on the ground, like footsteps. Was it a bear?

I did not remove my earplugs to find out.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 8: July 10, mile 968
Taping Foot
Taping my pinky toe blister after a foot bath. Those tiny scissors are what Fish Nugget used to cut my hair.

PCT Day 8: Creatures of the Night—Dealing With Fear on the Trail
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PCT Day 8: Creatures of the Night—Dealing With Fear on the Trail
In 2016 I hiked for 30 days on the PCT from Mammoth to Truckee. Four days from anywhere, deep in northern Yosemite, I heard frightening sounds in the night. Here's how I dealt with it.
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