Waking up that chilly morning at Heart Lake, I noticed the beautiful alpenglow along the mountain canyon I was camping in. I acknowledged it and immediately had to use the restroom. As I was doing the deed, the goat backpackers walked up on me. Whoops! I was slightly embarrassed, but shit happens!
I got by breakfast in order and filtered some water, even though my hands were freezing, and I was struggling with my stove. Eventually, I ate, I packed up my damp gear, and began to depart down the canyon toward Sallie Keyes Lakes.
On the way down, I looked for Kendall and Greg, to no avail. Oh well. Maybe I’d see them at Muir Trail Ranch, my next destination! The day was all downhill, and I admired the morning sun that kissed the beautiful forested lake landscape around Sallie Keyes Lakes. I passed by a professional photographer, we exchanged pleasantries, and I carried on.
Continuing through the forest, I noticed that my feet were hurting quite a bit. Not good! I think I descended a few thousand feet that day into Muir Trail Ranch. By the time I broke out of the forest, to the steep switchbacks into the valley of the ranch, I was struggling quite a bit. The PCT hikers going the other way told me they would much rather be going downhill, than uphill. That’s nice, for them, but my struggle is my struggle!
Amidst the struggle, I was able to admire the beauty of the awesome peaks jutting up from the valley floor. At least I had that going for me! Soon enough, I had reached the cutoff trail to the ranch.
The trail into the ranch was much steeper than most of the JMT, which was especially tough for me. I passed by a couple who looked like they weren’t struggling at all coming uphill. Good for them! Turns out, they worked at the ranch, and were taking their dog for a day hike.
Eventually, I reached the ranch. It was like an oasis! I got there late morning / early afternoon. First things first, I got my resupply. Greg and Kendall were there! Apparently, they had camped just below Heart Lake. My plan was to take a zero day, and they were continuing on, so I said farewell. It was interesting how quickly people came and went on the trail.
They said they had seen the girls and guys I was trying to catch up with; that they were taking a zero day at the ranch. Awesome! I did it! I caught up to them 😃
After getting my resupply, exchanging stuff with other hikers, and raiding the hiker bins, I headed off site to find the campsite by the river and hot springs. Upon arriving, there were some people there, but I felt loneliness setting in.
I set up my tent, wrote in my journal, washed my socks and dried them on a rock. I chatted with a few people, and then struck up a conversation of substance with a couple guys from the deep south. I believe they were headed northbound.
We had dinner, chatted, and then saw a couple other guys who illegally set up a campfire. I wasn’t going to turn down a good time, so I joined them. They offered me whiskey, which I kindly turned down and explained my sobriety. They didn’t push the issue, and we had a good time.
The guys who made the fire seemed a little off the wall. Like they were permanently high on something. We discussed what we dropped off and took from the hiker bins, and then the guys pushed a whole, bowed log into the fire. This was going to end well! The fire died down, and me and the guys from the deep south decided to go to bed.
The next morning, I woke up, figuring I’d stick around to rest my feet and raid the hiker bins again. Plus, I wanted to see the girls! I left camp set up, and headed to the ranch. It was quite a walk, but not terrible.
Upon arriving, I saw the girls getting ready to leave. Damn! But we made pleasant conversation, and we went our separate ways. To supplement my food, I got a fresh apple and peanut butter from the hiker bin. The peanut butter had been opened, but it should be good, right? (Premonition for a very bad next day).
As the day grew on, more hikers rolled through, including a bunch of PCT hikers. How cool! We talked about hiker hunger, and then this lady brought food from her resupply that was like gold to me. She was giving away powdered butter, shelled pistachios, and cashews! This was awesome, because I was tired of my homemade turkey jerky and pumpkin seeds. Other people loved my stuff, so I gave it away.
I felt like I really connected with the PCT hikers that day. I let my guard down, and they walked into my life. Neat! Then, Bobby and the kids showed up. Even cooler!
They were helping a distressed woman find a way to help her son who was injured on the pass. She had to privately hire a lake shuttle and was inconsolable. It was quite a site to see, but the situation eventually got handled.
After that, I escorted Bobby and the boys to the campsite. Jim and the couple I met before Reds Meadow followed along. The hike was quite long for Bobby, especially with his heavy resupplies, but we made it!
They set up camp, and started making dinner, I did the same. Before that, though, I decided to go socialize with the PCT hikers by the river. People from my age group! Some of them tried crossing the river to get to the hot spring, but I wasn’t up for it since the river was raging.
We all went back up to camp, and after dinner, I decided to join the PCT hikers around the campfire. I felt guilty for not hanging out with Bobby, but I think he understood.
Songs were sang, the stars were admired, and there were a couple girls that were pretty cute. One guy even carried along a mini-guitar, which was neat 😃 It must have been 10 or 11 pm before we went to bed, but it was really worth it to immerse myself in the PCT culture. It was that night that I realized that I was Hiker Trash, and definitely wanted to hike the PCT in my lifetime. Once again, I opened up to the people around me, and I formed some pretty cool bonds.
The next morning, everything seemed pretty good. The girls from the PCT group said they might need a ride from Lone Pine to LA when they got done, so I told them to hit me up if I was done in time. I said my goodbyes to the rest of the group, and then stomach issues set in.
I had to dig 4 or 5 catholes before I realized that I should probably take another zero day to let things settle down. Thinking now, it was probably the opened peanut butter that spoiled my stomach! Damn!
I asked the PCT hikers for their advice, figuring they were the experts being 800 miles in, and they told me to take imodium as needed. I found it very endearing that I could approach these people about anything!
Heading back to my campsite, Bobby suggested I look into getting a cabin for the night, sleep on a real bed, and get a real meal. It was $300 a night, but I guess it was worth it!
I joined him and the kids, going back to the ranch to see if there were any openings. As luck would have it, there were! So I booked the cabin next to theirs and embraced the luxury. First things first, I dropped my stuff off, changed into my underwear, and went to the hot spring bath. It was amazing! There was a rock pool, a wooden ledge, a cup and Dr. Bronner’s soap to wash off with. Through the slats in the outdoor “room” you could see the ranch and magnificent hillside surrounding the ranch. Beautiful!
I lounged in the pool for about 20 minutes, got out, and went to hand wash my laundry with the arm-driven tumble washer. It felt neat to be out roughing it like this, all while getting my clothes clean! After the wash, I hung the clothes on a clothes line, talked with a fellow hiker, and went off to take a nap.
The nap was glorious! I had my own bathroom, my own bed, and my own cabin! This day was shaping up to be just what the doctor ordered! After my nap, I updated the outside world on Facebook from the ranch computer, hung out with Bobby and the boys, grabbed a delectable steak and mashed potato dinner, and socialized with the other hikers. Some of the employees didn’t seem too social, but I guess if you’re living on a ranch away from society, social interaction may not be a top priority!
We hung out for a bit longer before going to sleep. My stomach issues cleared up, and I felt well rested. Part of me felt like I was cheating for staying a night in a cabin, but self-care is better than operating according to the purist’s view of a thru-hike!
Thanks for following along with my journey! This marks the halfway point, mileage wise, and my last resupply before I complete the trail. More fun stories to come!
Remember, take a hike and spice up your life!