PCT miles 935.6 to 914.6 – Lyell Canyon to Agnew Meadows – Total PCT miles 1602.2
When we woke up this frosty mid-August morning in Yosemite’s Lyell Canyon we had no idea that we’d end up in the town of Mammoth Lakes on the deck of the Davison Street Guest House this evening. But here we are!
One day on the trail can feel as full as multiple days in non-trail life.
As we headed up the canyon this morning the high ridge of Kuna Crest still shaded the trail. Frost etched the grass and wild flowers with silver crystals. Even while walking briskly our bodies did not warm up. This morning felt more like autumn than summer.
The Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne moved sluggishly on its undulating course, waiting for the sun to rise above the canyon for light, energy, warmth, motivation. Hikers often do the same. Climbing out of the canyon, we at last felt the warmth of sunshine on our backs and knew in our bones it was still summer. We ascended amazingly crafted granite stairways leading up to alpine meadows. Our route winded gently upward to the top of 11,000 foot Donohue Pass, gateway to the High Sierra.
To the south we entered Ansel Adams Wilderness-a landscape of granite basins with meandering creeks, copses of mountain hemlock and lakes sparkling in sunlight. This place felt big and grand-similar to our impression of the Sierras just north of Whitney. Only the Whitney area had been a snow-filled world with few other hikers-most of whom we knew. Now we were hiking in the thick of John Muir Trail season and hikers abounded at the pass, at lakes in the distance, and on the trail. We politely passed these JMTers who were on a more meandering schedule then us dutifully seeking Kearsarge Pass.
Yet we had to linger a bit, inspired by the spectacular beauty of Banner Peak and the Minarets. Yes, this would be a place to come back to but in September when fewer hikers crowded the landscape. That’s what we got for being here in mid-August instead of late-June. And for sticking to trailed country.
While marveling at Thousand Island Lake with its granite islands scattered amid diamond dusted water we made the decision to take the PCT vs the JMT at the junction where the trails divide for approximately 15 miles.
This would be a very good decision, though we didn’t know it at the time we opted for the less occupied path. As we meandered on the PCT through wildflower gardens, aspen groves and sagebrush flats, my attention shifted from the landscape to my feet. With every step they throbbed and asked me to give them a break. We needed to keep on the move, not stop. I did not want to listen, nor acknowledge these complaints from my feet.
My shoes some 500 miles old, felt broken down and beaten up. In fact just yesterday, Justin (who we saw a few miles north of Glen Aulin) could hardly believe they were the same shoes he’d seen brand new, 500 miles earlier. That had been only a few weeks ago, but these shoes and my feet had taken a beating.
After discussing our options, Gabriel and I agreed that it wasn’t worth trying to push another 120 miles and six days out of these shoes. At least not when our trail would be going by points where we could readily get to Mammoth Lakes. We conjured scenarios of catching the first tourist shuttle bus in the morning, taking public transit into town and finding a gear shop. If all went well, we could be back on the trail in the early afternoon.
As we got closer to Agnes Meadows and our mile 1600 of the trail, we heard the sounds of buses. We were that close! We’d just missed the last bus of the day. We headed down the trail figuring we’d scout out where we needed to go to catch the bus in the morning. We walked the road passed horse stables when all of a sudden a trail runner came jogging up from behind. He was running to catch the last bus of the day, which always comes after the bus we’d heard. We could still get to Mammoth Lakes tonight!
We followed the trail runner, Chris, to the bus stop and in about a minute’s time we were on the bus to Mammoth Lakes. Things happen ed so quickly! So much for camping out as we thought we’d do a few minutes ago!
It felt exhilarating to be going into town, unplanned and on a Friday night. We chatted with Chris and he offered us a ride to a gear shop. On the ride down we asked him what had brought him to Mammoth. He’d planned to stay for just one ski season. But the quality of life: close to mountains, little traffic and vast surroundings of conserved lands made Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra particularly attractive to him. Hearing him state his reasons for living here brought back the thrill and purpose I so often feel for work in land conservation.
Chris dropped us off in front of Footloose Sports, the only gear shop still open at 7:50 on Friday night. I went in to quickly assess and purchase a pair of shoes. Gabriel got on his smart phone and started figuring out where we’d stay for the night. I came out in 10 minutes with a new pair of shoes. During that time Gabriel had learned that every room-from dive spot to 5 star suite-was booked for the weekend. We were wondering if we’d be heading back to the trail tonight or camped somewhere along the road. And then one of the sales people suggested we contact the Davison Street Guest House. Gabriel was able to get through and secure two spots on the deck.
The manager of Footloose Sports then offered us a ride to the hostel. She’d be able to take us just after she finished closing. Amazing! We’d been offered two rides, caught a bus at the end of our hiking day and bought a pair of shoes all within an hour, no trail time or miles lost. On the ride to the hostel, we asked the store manager what had brought her to Mammoth. Similar to Chris the trail runner: a year of ski bumming, the trails, the fact that you can mountain bike before heading into the office. She also LOVED her job and the lifestyle it let her have: Work to Live. Not Live to Work. Her enthusiasm and energy were catching.
Our evening got even better as we made our way into the guest house. We’d shown up on the one night in the month when the neighbors host a potluck. We’d arrived to a table of salads, meats, chips, salsa, fresh fruit and multiple desserts. So much for rationing out instant mashed potatoes. Tonight we feasted!
Amid the other hostel guests was a familiar face. Lauren who I’d met in the UW Climbing Club. She’d come down from Seattle to hike a section of the JMT with a friend. There were also two other PCT alums in the mix of guests. We ate and talked with these folks, while Andy the hostel manager went out of his way to make sure we were comfortably settled on the deck. He built a nest of chairs, gave us his extra sleeping pads and genuinely made us feel welcome.
Showered, well fed, excited by the unexpected night in town, happy to have new shoes and inspired by conversations with others, now it’s time to go to bed. Gabriel is already asleep.
So one last plug in appreciation of Andy and the Davison Street Guest House. If you’re a PCTer coming through Mammoth Lakes, this is a great place to stay. Reasonable rates (unless you cram in 8 people to a Motel 6 room), good atmosphere, kitchen to cook in, a place to chill out it. A fine view through the pines off the main deck.