PCT 2019: Day 125, Tentsite near Volunteer Peak to Tentsite at Mile 951.1

Up and down, and in the end, it's only round 'n round

I knew hiking the Sierra would include many long climbs and descents, and the climbs would frequently go steeply above 10,000 feet.

Honestly, though, I didn't also expect for there to be long sections of flat or gradually-changing trail. A few of those were interspersed along the way today, and I was grateful for them. The easy stretches helped me make up time lost in the difficult sections.

DateSunday, September 8, 2019
WeatherClear sky with a high temperature in the low 60s
Trail ConditionsRocky climbs and descents, separated by easy sections through meadows
Today's Miles19.5
Trip Miles1872.8

The temperature turned chilly overnight. I suppose because we were camping at 8,721 feet in September, that should not have been a surprise.

The morning started cold enough that this was the first day in a long time I needed an insulation layer as I began walking.

After walking for about 90 minutes, Volunteer Peak was still a part of my morning view.

The trail continued the climb it started yesterday, then it took a wide bend around the mountain before descending on the mountain's slope toward Smedberg Lake.

When I stopped to remove my extra layer of clothing, I was surprised to see a familiar hiker walking toward me. He was also going southbound, only much faster than me. It was Bird, the hiker I camped with one night near Walupt Lake.

He was still hiking at the same fast pace he was doing when I saw him in Washington, if not a little faster. In the 45 days since then, he has hiked nearly 1,300 miles. That's an average of roughly 29 miles a day.

On the drop to Smedberg Lake, the trail was rocky and sometimes crossed large rock slabs. These made the descent a little tricky and confusing for short distances. There wasn't always a discernible footpath over the rocks.

The lake at the bottom of the descent was named for William Renwick Smedberg, Jr., a second lieutenant in the 4th United States Cavalry when that contingent was in charge of protecting Yosemite National Park.

Smedberg later rose to the rank of brigadier general during a lifetime of military service and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His son and grandson are also buried there. His father fought at Gettysburg.

Soon after Yosemite was established as a national park in 1890, soldiers from the California detachment of the 4th Calvary were assigned to be park guardians. Their job was mostly limited to kicking out game poachers, timber thieves, and sheepherders. They didn't have the authority to make arrests.

A unit of African-American soldiers with Company H, 24th Infantry, known as Buffalo Soldiers, was assigned to the park in 1899. These soldiers not only served as the park's rangers but constructed roads, trails, and other facilities in Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now called Kings Canyon) national parks.

The National Park Service was not established until 1916.

After leaving the shore of Smedberg Lake, the next mile of the trail was mostly smooth, sometimes traversing over more bare rock and sometimes over a flat meadow.

The trail's character immediately changed after that, as it began a steep and rocky climb. A portion of this climb went up 725 feet in nine-tenths of a mile, making it the fourth-steepest trail section on the PCT.

The trail crested the climb at Benson Pass, which was at 10,107 feet. It then went one mile down to Wilson Creek at 9,469 feet.

Although not always next to Wilson Creek, the trail followed it downstream for the next 2.4 miles, where it flowed into Matterhorn Creek.

The trail crossed Matterhorn Creek twice. I stopped at one of these crossings to eat lunch and let my quilt dry out in the sun.

When I resumed hiking, the trail didn't continue up Matterhorn Creek far before reaching Burro Pass. From there, it took a hard right turn to begin another climb.

Within the first mile was a fence with a broken-down gate. I'm unsure what purpose it was supposed to have, but it couldn't have been effective.

This climb was also steep, going up 1,200 feet in 1.9 miles.

The top of the climb was at 9,635 feet. Less than a mile on the other side was Miller Lake. I arrived there at 2:30 p.m. and was feeling a little worn down. A quick snack revived me enough to make a couple more short climbs before the trail began another long descent.

Getting to the bottom of the descent at McCabe Creek took nearly two hours, though the distance was only 3.6 miles. At that speed and with another big climb ahead, I was beginning to wonder if I would reach our planned campsite before dark. It was still five miles away.

After collecting some water, I decided to set a goal for myself. I wanted to reach the junction of McCabe Lake Trail by 5:15, a distance of nine-tenths of a mile. This was just a motivational challenge to help me get up the 580-foot climb.

I reached the sign for the trail junction two minutes early. Our campsite was four miles away, and now I knew I could get there before sunset, which was in two more hours.

What I didn't count on was how easy the rest of the trail was. I completed the remaining four miles in only 1.5 hours. The trail followed a long meadow in Cold Canyon for most of the way.

I passed a couple who told me a coyote was just up ahead, but I never got an opportunity to see it. Though I did see a deer, I think the coyote was more interested in a dinner of prairie dogs, which lived in the meadow.

Our campsite was on a rocky hill in the canyon. When I arrived there, Bluejay told me she also saw the coyote I had missed.

As we ate dinner, we sat on a log and watched the alpenglow colors on Cathedral Peak. It was the perfect end to another rewarding day.

Up (up, up, up, up)
And down (down, down, down, down)
And in the end, it's only round 'n round (round, round, round)
Haven't you heard it's a battle of words,
The poster bearer cried?
"Listen, son," said the man with the gun
There's room for you inside

From "Us and Them" by Richard Wright and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)


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