PCT 2019: Day 115, I-80 Rest Area to Five Lakes Creek

Watch out boy, she'll chew you up

The highest point of the PCT in Washington and Oregon was 7,560 feet in elevation. Starting today, the trail will frequently climb above 8,000 feet, and before long, it will go thousands of feet higher.

DateFriday, August 30, 2019
WeatherMostly clear sky, sometimes breezy with gusts up to 20 mph, high temperature near 70
Trail ConditionsSometimes rocky with long climbs
Today's Miles21.7
Trip Miles1688.0

Before beginning our attempt to hike the Sierra section of the PCT, Bluejay, Sunkist, and I started with a good breakfast. Just a block away from our hostel was Jax at the Tracks, a diner that had been featured on Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” program.

We arrived there so early, we had to wait a few minutes before the restaurant opened.

Getting to the trailhead required a nine-mile Uber ride up Interstate 80. The trail passed directly by a rest area on the highway, so that was a convenient — if not scenic — place to begin our hike.

Because we were starting here, I now knew where I would end my thru-hike, assuming of course that I finish. After we reach the end of the Sierra and then flip back up to Ashland, we will hike south. I will have hiked the whole trail when I reach this spot again.

We began walking at 9:30 a.m. A short side trail from the rest area took us to the PCT. From there, the trail looped around the rest area before crossing under the interstate highway.

As soon as the trail crossed under the road through a tunnel, we began seeing day hikers. Most of them had parked at a hiker parking lot on the south side of the highway. There were several trails in this area.

Among the day hikers we passed was a couple from Ashland. They gave us their phone number and offered to help us when we returned to Ashland. When I referred to them as trail angels, they said they had never heard of that term.

The trail soon showed us what it would be like for most of the day. There would be long stretches of exposed trail, often with rocks, and extended ups and downs.

From a distance, I could see what appeared to be a concrete conduit along the side of the mountain. This was a 40-mile-long railroad snowshed, which was constructed to protect tracks from heavy snowfall and avalanches.

An average of 34 feet of snow falls in this area each winter.

The snowshed replaced a series of tunnels dug by Chinese laborers in the 1860s and used for 125 years. The tunnels still exist, but the trail didn't pass near enough to them for me to see one.

As the trail climbed the side of Mt. Stephens, I began to see Donner Lake below the trail. A road from that direction led up Donner Pass to Donner Summit.

Yes, this area was named for that Donner family, the infamous group of settlers heading to California who became trapped by an early winter storm. Only 45 of the 81 settlers survived, and some of them were forced to resort to cannibalism.

The trail crossed the road at Donner Summit. I found some shade on the other side, so I stopped there for a short break.

Soon after, I caught up to Sunkist. We walked more-or-less together for the rest of the morning, then stopped to eat lunch together.

The trail climbed the side of Mt. Judah, going up nearly 2,200 feet in 7.6 miles. Some parts were rugged, but it wasn't a difficult climb.

The area around Donner Lake and Donner Summit was popular for more than just hikers. It was also attracted boaters, snow skiers, and mountain bikers.

The trail passed under ski lifts that were part of the Sugar Bowl Resort.

It then followed a long ridge without many trees, which was dotted with occasional patches of wildflowers. They included the waxy checkermallow, a plant that is primarily native to the Sierra in California.

After Sunkist and I stopped for lunch, she picked up her pace and before long had left me behind.

Bluejay was must have been feeling strong today. We never saw her after the first mile or two.

Mule ears were seen on many of the ridges. The plant's wide leaves resemble a mule's ear.

Yellow flowers sometimes appeared on the plants, though this may have been late in their season because I didn't see many.

A wildflower that appeared with greater frequency was wild buckwheat. There are many varieties of this plant, with yellow, red, or white flowers.

Despite its name, wild buckwheat is not related to the plant used in the making of buckwheat flour. The wildflower also goes by the name black-bindweed.

After following the top of a ridge for about 7.5 miles and passing a peak called Tinker Knob, the trail dropped steeply into a valley.

On the other side, the trail regained the lost elevation before reaching another mountain ridge. This one was formed by 9,010-foot high Granite Chief Mountain and was where the famous ski resort Squaw Valley was located.

Before getting there, though, I stopped to refill my water bottles at a creek. There hadn't been any opportunity to do that in the last 11 miles.

Squaw Valley was the location of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games. The trail passed some ski lifts and across the ridge.

In the distance, I could see Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. This was the first of many times I would see the lake over the next couple of days.

For the most part, the trail stayed within the boundary of Granite Chief Wilderness. In all, the PCT crossed 21 miles of the wilderness-designated land.

The time was now past 7 p.m. Sunset would be coming in about 30 minutes but I still had roughly four miles to go before reaching the campsite we had chosen.

I paused to take photos of one more wildflower, the purple mountain heath, but after that, I decided I needed to focus on getting to the campsite.

The light was fading fast as I completed the last descent of the day. Just as it was getting dark, Sunkist sent me a text message to my Garmin InReach. She said Bluejay had stopped about 1.8 miles before our campsite because she was too tired to go farther. There was no water there, and Sunkist said she was continuing to our planned campsite.

When I passed by the area where Bluejay had stopped, I failed to see her tent and kept walking.

By the time I reached Five Lakes Creek, the sky was completely dark and I needed my headlamp to see. I knew I was near the campsite but didn't see Sunkist's tent right away.

Continuing down the trail, I started looking back and forth on both sides of the trail to find where Sunkist was camped. Suddenly, my headlamp caught the silhouette of a large animal, though I couldn't make out what kind of animal.

Seeing me, the animal passed me about 25 feet away. As it bounded over a downed tree to flee, it turned its head. Its eyes flashed a green-yellow when they caught the light of my headlamp.

This could have been a mountain lion, or at least that's the thought that flashed in my mind when I got only a glimpse of the animal's size and shape. Honestly, though, I cannot say for sure it was a mountain lion. It moved too quickly in the dark.

And thankfully, the animal was apparently startled by my headlamp because it didn't choose to make me a late evening dinner.

She'll only come out at nights
The lean and hungry type
Nothing is new, I've seen her here before
Watching and waiting
Ooh, she's sitting with you but her eyes are on the door
So many have paid to see
What you think you're getting for free
The woman is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar
Money's the matter
If you're in it for love
You ain't gonna get too far

Watch out boy, she'll chew you up
(Oh, here she comes)
She's a maneater
(Oh, here she comes)
Watch out boy, she'll chew you up
(Oh, here she comes)
She's a maneater

From "Maneater" by Sara Allen, Daryl Hall and John Oates (Hall & Oates)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.