More than one month after leaving the Pacific Crest Trail, we’re sitting down to recount our last few days in the backcountry during the 2015 season.
July 8 (continued)
Start location: Bishop Pass Trailhead
End location: ~1-2 miles west of Bishop Pass, on the Bishop Pass Trail
Miles hiked: 6-7 miles (on the Bishop Pass Trail)
Our last entry left off with us in the lobby of the Creekside Inn of Bishop, catching up on our blog posts and preparing to do other chores around town before returning to the Bishop Pass Trailhead. After we finished our errands, we started hitchhiking in front of the post office, where it took us about 30 minutes to get a ride. Our driver was a local criminal defense lawyer in a beat-up old car that had plastic wrap and tape in place of a rear windshield. One of our most talkative rides to date, he told us all about his trouble recovering from drug addiction, his children from his previous marriage and from his current girlfriend, and about the town of Bishop in general.
As the three of us headed up into the mountains, the temperature dropped and the rain lashed down, making Erica (in the backseat) wish that we’d been picked up by someone with a more intact car. Fortunately, the weather was not as bad when we arrived at the trailhead, so we gathered up our things, thanked our driver, and headed back up the trail toward Bishop Pass.
Although it was late afternoon by the time we started walking, we wanted to summit Bishop Pass and drop down in elevation before setting up camp for the night. Other than occasional bursts of rain, the hike up to the pass was unremarkable and we didn’t bother taking many pictures. Once we reached the pass, however, the weather worsened. We found ourselves directly under a menacing cloud that pelted us with sheets of hail as we hiked down the west side of the pass. The hail followed us until we had descended ~1000 feet below the pass, where we got a long enough reprieve to make camp in a boulder field on the side of the trail. The evening air was cold, cold, cold, and we spent the rest of the night in our sleeping bags in the tent, hoping for better weather the following morning.
Start location: ~6-7 miles west of the Bishop Pass Trailhead, on the Bishop Pass Trail
End location: Roughly the same as the start location
Miles hiked: ~4-5 miles
After going to bed in threatening weather the previous night, we woke up beneath the same cold, dark clouds. Because of the finger-numbing temperatures, we hurried through breakfast and breaking camp in the hope that hiking would warm us up. As we headed downhill toward the intersection of the Bishop Pass Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, it started snowing–at first lightly and then heavily. The weather was definitely not going to be on our side this day.
Fewer than two miles before intersecting the Pacific Crest Trail, Erica, hustling too quickly for the sake of keeping warm, turned her left ankle on a rock–turned it hard. The pain was immediate and intense and given her history of left ankle sprains, it was clear that she wouldn’t be getting back on the PCT that day, if at all.
After taking a big dose of ibuprofen and wrapping the ankle in a compression bandage, we decided that the best option was to backtrack over the Bishop Pass Trail rather than moving forward. Continuing on to the PCT would have meant several days of hiking to our next resupply point at the Vermillion Valley Resort, and with Erica’s ankle already swollen and difficult to walk on, that seemed like a poor choice compared to the ~8-mile hike back to the Bishop Pass trailhead. And so, disheartened and still cold, we started back up the way we had come.
It was not long, however, before the snow became too heavy to walk through. With Erica’s ankle severely compromised and Rick having to carry her pack, we did something we had never done before: We set up our tent in the middle of the day to wait out the weather. Fortunately, we found a nearby stealth camping site in a small grove of pine trees that afforded us some shelter as we hastily set up the tent. We both crawled into Rick’s sleeping bag for warmth and dozed off while the snow continued to fall outside.
Finally, after an hour or two, the snow stopped and we emerged from our tent to find that two section hikers on their way down to the PCT had chosen some rocks nearby on which to take their own break. The sun had started to come out by that time and the rocks were warmer than our tent site, so we moved ourselves and our things over there to dry.
As we sat on the rocks having lunch and talking to the section hikers, a man on horseback leading a group of at least six supply horses passed by on his way to the PCT. Had he been going the other way, up to Bishop Pass, we might have asked him for a ride, but he explained that he was delivering supplies to a trail crew working somewhere in the valley. Once the horses passed, we packed up our things and continued east on the Bishop Pass Trail, with Rick still carrying Erica’s pack.
Our progress was slow for the rest of the afternoon–not surprising, given Erica’s ankle–but we did somehow manage to outpace a foursome of section hikers on our way uphill. By early evening we found ourselves a nice campsite not far from where we had slept the previous night, meaning that we had more or less hiked in a circle. Disheartening for sure, but it could have been worse; At least we were self-evacuating and not waiting on a helicopter ride back to town…
The weather this night was even colder than the last. We ate dinner in the tent, bundled in our sleeping bags, preferring the chance of a bear encounter over the certainty of freezing our fingers off outside. It got so cold that we woke in the middle of the night to a frost-crusted tent; Dew from outside and condensation from within had frozen solid to create a thin, sparkling shell all around us–an oddly pretty sight that we had never seen before. We went back to sleep hoping for a sunny morning.
Start location: ~2 miles west of Bishop Pass, on the Bishop Pass Trail
End location: Motel 6 in Mammoth Lakes, by way of Bishop
Miles hiked: ~7 miles on the Bishop Pass Trail
We woke to the first bit of sunshine and blue sky that we had seen since leaving Bishop. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to thaw our tent and other gear before we packed up and hit the trail.
Thanks to the compression wrap and loads of ibuprofen, Erica’s ankle was less acutely painful than it was the previous day, although Rick still (valiantly) carried her pack to make the going easier. We made our way slowly up Bishop Pass and down the other side again, passing many day and section hikers in the process. We were also passed by the team of supply horses that we had seen the previous day. When we explained to the team’s leader that Erica had sprained her ankle, he offered to give us a ride down to the trailhead (still some 5 miles away), but we declined, remembering that neither of us is particularly good on horseback.
The rest of the hike was fairly unremarkable, except for the large number of other hikers we encountered on our way. The Bishop Pass Trail, while longer than most side trails that a thru-hiker would take into town, is very popular with section hikers. It possess the distinctive beauty you expect from the High Sierras, while still being easily accessible as a weekend trip. Lucky for us, the abundance of short-distance hikers meant that we did not have a hard time getting a ride back into Bishop. As soon as we got to the trailhead, we got a ride with a trio of car campers who had come to the area to fish. They were nice enough to drop us off at the McDonald’s in town so we could have something to eat while figuring out our next move.
After weighing our options, and considering that Erica would have to take another extended break from the trail, if not give up on it entirely, we decided to head to Mammoth Lakes to retrieve some packages from the post office there before making our way back home
Our hitchhike up to Mammoth Lakes was from a middle-age woman employed by CalTrans as a sort of realtor. She was on her way home to Mammoth from Bishop (where she works) and took us to the Motel 6 in Mammoth, where we ended up staying the night. The Motel 6 was pricey and very crowded with a mixture of international tourists and hikers. Both Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail hikers were represented, although we didn’t do much socializing. Getting off trail for an injury always elicits a certain amount of thinly veiled pity, which generally isn’t fun to be the subject of. So we kept to our room and talked about our options, agreeing that we would hitchhike to Irvine together the following day and then take things from there.
Little did we know that that would be our last day on the trail together for the season.
Start location: Mammoth Lakes
End location: Irvine
Miles hiked: 0
Miles hitchhiked: Over 330 miles
The trek back home was a long one, but we were lucky to find rides in a reasonable amount of time, making it from Mammoth Lakes back to Irvine (a ~330-mile drive) within 12 hours.
Our first ride–from a man on vacation with his family–took us from the main street of Mammoth to the closest 395 on-ramp, where we got our second ride from a pair of Europeans road-tripping the West Coast in a rental car. Our drivers, one German man and one Scandinavian man, were roughly our age or a few years older, very friendly, and very into techno music, which they blasted the whole way into town. They took us as far as Lone Pine, where the four of us had lunch together at a Carl’s Jr. (In their quest to find the best American fast food burger, they decided that Carl’s was definitely in the lead.)
Next, we got a ride from one end of Lone Pine to the other. This third hitchhike came from a young Belgian couple also road-tripping the West Coast, just like our last ride. The couple was our age and, unlike the our last ride, they had bought an old van once they got to the States and outfitted it with a mattress and camping gear. In a few days, the girlfriend would go back home while the boyfriend started hiking the John Muir Trail. It’s a pity we couldn’t ride with this couple longer; we probably would have had a good deal in common with them.
Once we got to the south side of Lone Pine, dropped off in front of a local gas/convenience store, we started our longest hitchhike wait of the day–of the whole hike, in fact. It took roughly three hours of sitting/standing on the roadside with our thumbs out, waving signs, hiding from the mid-afternoon desert sun before we finally got a ride. A few people stopped to talk to us in the meantime, including a pair of road-tripping girls from Georgia who offered us money (which we declined), but it wasn’t until after 5 pm that a station wagon pulled over to offer us our fourth ride of the day.
The driver was a software engineer working at Disney Studios and was on his way back to LA after a section hike in the Sierras. We rode with him all the way to Venice Beach, where one of Rick’s former co-workers had generously offered to drive us the rest of the way down to Irvine. Tired and stinky when we arrived in Venice Beach after 10 pm, we had a couple of drinks with Rick’s co-worker before embarking on the final leg of our journey. It wasn’t until after midnight that we finally crawled into bed, exhausted and thankful to be home
Thanks to everyone who gave us rides that day!