Friday, Aug 11th, 2023, 1330-1835
Etna Hwy to Bingham Lake
13 miles, Gain 2980′, Loss 2100′, elevation 6870′
I could leave first thing in the morning, pretending I didn’t even visit town, just as I had planned. Or, I could do a proper town stop by lingering and eating lots of food. Which do you think I did? For starters, I found an extra shower token, so I woke up to a hot shower. While rummaging through the hiker box, I also found a bag of spare earbud gummies, which were the perfect replacement for one I lost. I also found a like-new pair of sun gloves, made from the fancy Outdoor Research glacier material that’s cooling when wet. I couldn’t believe someone left them! They were a size small, too, just what I needed. My buff sun gloves were full of holes and practically falling off my hands. The trail provides… this was already a great and productive town stop.
I went to the dollar store to get some extra lunch items and then a cafe, for a breakfast burrito and unlimited refills on coffee. There I had a nice chat with 2 hikers, Tuatara and Facial Recognition. I walked outside and could see hikers everywhere. I was finally ready for a ride back to the trail, so I joined forces with a large group. We tried texting all the different shuttle drivers but everyone was either out of town or sick. After awhile, a guy painting a house across the street decided to make some extra money on his lunch break. He managed to fit 8 hikers and their packs in the back of his suburban while I pulled rank\most elder hiker and grabbed the front seat. I tried to convince another woman to share the front seat with me but there was no need…she did fit her pack under my legs at least.
The driver was an interesting character, not so much in a good way. He waited until everyone was already crammed in the back, then demanded his payment of $10 per person. The poor hikers were dying back there from the heat while they tried to fish cash from their pockets. Some of the windows wouldn’t roll down and the AC wasn’t putting out much. I felt bad for being in the front, but later another hiker thanked me for being the one to talk to the driver and keep him focused on the road. He was saying some pretty misogynistic and racist stuff at first, so I steered him towards more neutral topics. It was definitely one of the poorer rides I’d ever gotten but at least I wasn’t alone.
Everyone piled out like from a clown car at the pass, thankful to get back to the trail. Only 3 of us were heading south, so I started hiking with Bag (short for Bad Ass Girl) and Big Poppa (of the bagged pickle genre). I met them at Brian’s place initially, learning that Big Poppa lived in St George Utah…a connection that could come in handy if I went back to do more of the Hayduke. They’d both started north from Campo the same day and had been hiking together since Warner Springs. They flipped to start from Canada after getting a taste of the Sierra to Kearsarge pass. They were some of the earliest heading south, definitely in the vanguard. They guessed that there were maybe only 10 others, both flip-floppers and SOBOs, that were ahead. As such, they were very fast hikers, well over halfway done and sprinting for the finish line in the Sierra.
I walked behind them and shortly found that they were smoking me up the hill, young fit 20 somethings that they were. I blamed my lagging on my heavy food bag and not so much on the fact that I was twice their age. It was also very hot and in the afternoon, when I’m more of a cool mornings type of person. Nor did I have the mountain miles on my legs like they did. Excuses. It was funny to be back in the competitive spirit of thru-hiking on the PCT. I already kind of missed the laid-back nature of the OCT.
I was relieved to catch my breath when a NOBO stopped to ask us our trail names. He was smiling head to toe, radiating positive energy. This was someone special, I thought. He told us his name, Schroomer, and suddenly I recognized him as a long-time ALDHA-West member and the emcee for the Triple Crown awards for many years. I’d just taken my picture with him at the ceremony back in September 2022. The other 2 continued on while I talked to Schroomer. I learned that he’s from the Bay area and was section hiking north to attend the Triple Crown ceremony near Mt Hood in September. I love that people in this community use long distance hiking as a means to travel to hiking events. Classic. We had a great chat but eventually both needed to make some miles. I’m sure I’ll bump into him again.
The trail switched back to the eastern slope and wound around through a marvelous granite wall in the Russian Wilderness. I remembered the granite and also the fact that I was surrounded by smoke, feeling like I was on an island of white. This day presented nothing but views, which really accentuated the grandness of the mountains. It looked a lot like the magnificent granite blocks of the Sierra. I caught up to Bug and Big Poppa again, as they stopped to talk to a famous YouTuber, Kyle Hates Hiking. I of course didn’t recognize him, being that I’m not very hip and with it. I’d at least seen a few of his videos, though. Far better to be out of the loop because I’m always outside hiking, rather than a prolific consumer of the catastrophe that is the Internet.
Since the trail had leveled off some, I was able to keep pace with the 2 speedsters. It was nice to hike with some others for a change. I hadn’t hiked with anybody since Mike and Slingblade on the beaches in Oregon. We chatted about various trails. Big Poppa was particularly interested in the Hayduke, being that he lived near the terminus. Eventually the trail began another ascent and I started to get pretty tired. I’d set my sights on a nice lake to end the day, breaking from my companions at the turn off. I knew they would want to hike for another few hours, well past where I was to leave the PCT for the Bigfoot trail the next day. I said farewell, fairly certain I wouldn’t see them again but you never know, I’d already caught up to them once.
I had to scramble steeply up a gully, over a lot of scree, to get to the lake. It was worth it, though. It was a perfect cirque lake, looking like a crater. There was a group with some screaming kids on the far side, but otherwise I was by myself near the outlet. I marveled that those were some hearty kids to make it 13 miles to the lake. But later I saw on my map that a jeep road went all the way to the ridge. They must have hiked in on the short trail from the road over the ridge. Interesting that it’s so easy to get to a wilderness area via a vehicle. Then again, I’d taken a ride up from Etna.
I did a creative pitch on top a granite block, overlooking the lake. It was one of those straight out of a magazine types of campsites, just so picturesque. I went for a swim, washing away all the sweat. I played with a newt…these lakes were full of them and they were rather slow, but oh so cute! They had flattened tails which they use to swim, like miniature Godzilla’s. I watched the glow of the sunset and later the stars. The crater framed the sky so perfectly, it was like being in a planetarium. A meteor shower was supposed to occur throughout the week, peaking the following night. I watched for a bit but all I saw were some planes and satellites. What a spot, though.