PCT SoBo - CA Section I - Sonora Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
I got a late start in the afternoon when I headed south of Sonora Pass The trail quickly ascends to get up on the crest of the mountains and stays there for the next 10 miles. There were excellent views of the country around the highway and the Emigrant Wilderness once I got to the top. Perfect for viewing the peaks at sunset but I found myself hiking in the dark for a few hours to reach land good enough to camp in. High winds and a summer cold snap made me put my jacket on early but the beauty of the surrounding landscape kept me in good spirits.
I had good fortune that I was able to get through most of the high points before nightfall. There was still snow clinging to the north face of the ridge in a number of spots. Most of the snow had already been tread on heavily, leaving pockets for me to step in. Still, it is always good to take your time when crossing snow, especially without crampons.
After traversing the ridge, the trail drops down into the Hoover Wilderness, passing by a few alpine creeks and high elevation forests. Deer stared in bewilderment at my flashlight as I passed through the trees. I ended up choosing a sandy and granite filled area to camp in. I ate a quick meal and strapped my hammock to some white pines and quickly fell to sleep.
It was a chilly morning. I slept in a couple of hours after sunrise and then hit the trail again. I was about 10 miles from the northern entrance to Yosemite's Wilderness. The terrain was even heavily forested and marshy. Mosquitoes weren't as bad as I thought they would be but they came often enough I kept my repellent in my pack's front side pocket. I passed by the 1000 mile marker that hikers had laid out of stone. For northbound hikers, this is an achievement. For me, it reminded me I still had a long way to go to Mexico.
By the afternoon, I had reached Dorothy Pass and the boundary to the national park. A hour or so into the park, I spotted my first bear of the PCT this season. He was about 30 yards from the trail, poking around in the underbrush for food. I quickly passed by and looked back to see a pair of ears popping out of a bush. The trail continues along Falls Creek for several miles. I camped in an outcropping of boulders beside a meadow the creek meanders through.
The morning greeted me with frosty dew. Thankfully, it was not cold enough to freeze any of my water supply. I kept my long underwear and jacket on until the morning sun was causing me to sweat. After a quick dip in the creek, I felt ready to tackle the next 15 miles I had planned to cover in the day.
I saw a pattern start to emerge in the wilderness. Pass over a solid granite ridge for about 2000 ft and then descend into a glacial valley with a pristine creek running through the middle of it. The next few days would be spent covering this terrain until I reached Tuolumne Meadows. It was tough going. The constant elevation change meant I was only covering 15 miles in a day instead of my usual 18-20 miles. I saw another large bear heading down to an alpine lake on my third day. It seems like this wet winter has sparked all wildlife into action.
I covered a good amount of miles on my fourth day, zipping past Benson Lake and Benson Pass. I saw signs for countless trails to alpine lakes and mountain passes. I got as close as 14 miles to Hetch Hetchy. I could spend weeks just exploring the backcountry in Yosemite.
I had to cover 18 miles on the final day to make it Tuolumne. I was on my final packet of instant mashed potatoes and out of butane to boil water with. It was mostly flat or downhill so I was confident I would be able to make it well before sundow. As I reached Glen Aulin waterfalls, it started to resemble the Yosemite I knew. I passed by more day hikers in 30 minutes than I saw people during my whole time in the wilderness.