11 May 2021
Shoulder of Olancha Peak to Horseshoe Meadows
PCT Mile 722.2 to 744.5
Phoenix and I both slept great last night! It stayed above freezing and this morning we had a nice little climb to warm us up.
The goal today: make it to Horseshoe Meadows in time to hitch a ride to Lone Pine! We hoped to reach Mulkey Pass by 4pm to give ourselves a chance to get to the hiker parking area by 5pm. And then all we needed was a hiker coming back to their car at the end of the day who would be willing to give us a lift!
In no time we reached the shoulder of Olancha Peak where we had great views of the Sierra Crest. And then it was down, down to Gomez Meadow.
The big challenge was a mid-day 1700 foot climb back up to 10,700 feet. It was very slow, but Phoenix and I each played our own music to power up the slope.
Towards the top we started to get views of Lake Owens and we entered a lovely grove of foxtail pines where we stopped for lunch.
After lunch we started a long, shallow descent. I practically ran parts of it, but at the halfway point Phoenix and I regrouped and his knee was tweaky, so we took the second half at a more reasonable pace. We also spent time chatting, which helped divert us a bit.
The descent ended at about the 20 mile mark and we started climbing again. Phoenix and I were both pretty tired, but we decided to go for it. And then over the course of the next hour, we had this incredibly deep discussion about a book I might write about my experience on the PCT. It unearthed some pretty powerful emotions in me.
In spite of all the time I have spent thinking about why I am doing this, it is clear there are still some unanswered questions. One in particular that I struggle with is the worry that I am just doing this to achieve some kind of status title. Debate champion, peace corps volunteer, doctor, professor, author…. Is “thru-hiker” just another title I’m collecting to impress other people? Am I really doing this for myself? Is there some kind of pain that I am trying to heal? Is it enough to just spend a day in the woods without purpose?
I don’t know.
But Phoenix did inspire me to think about what the narrative of this journey would be. And he helped me see how healing that process could be.
Near the top of the climb Breeze caught up with us and decided to follow us down to Horseshoe Meadows. He seemed quite distraught because he didn’t know where his friend Paul was and had no way to communicate with him.
Horseshoe Meadows was way more beautiful than I ever remember it. In the past it was always a beginning, or a place to park the car. Today it was a destination in its own right, and the feeling was magical.
We climbed up to the parking area and found…. no one! There were about 6 cars, total. We sat down to wait on someone possibly returning, but sunset was just two hours away, so it didn’t look good. We had no cell service there, which also limited our options. We might have to wait until morning.
Breeze had a full blown meltdown for about five minutes because he didn’t know what to do about Paul. I recognized it — it seemed close to what I must have looked like at Tylerhorse Canyon when I was ready to quit the trail. Phoenix and I tried to sooth him, letting him know we would help and saying he should sit and eat something. He calmed down.
Then we figured out that I could use my Garmin to try and text his friend Paul. If Paul was already in Lone Pine he would get the message and respond. If he didn’t respond, he was probably behind us and we just needed to wait for him.
Paul did respond that Regi, the trail angel he was hoping to get a ride with, was on his way to get Breeze (and, hopefully, Phoenix and me). Yay!
And Regi did show up.
But Regi thought he was supposed to pick up someone else! Two hikers and a dog, to be exact.
So we waited.
Two more cars arrived, but they were people starting trips, not ending them.
And we waited some more.
Finally, Regi suggested that he drive us to a point 3 miles down the road where we could call his ranch to see if the people we were waiting for had already gotten a ride. It took a while to find the right curve in the road, but we eventually did get service.
I called the ranch and handed the phone to Regi.
Sure enough, the others had already gotten a ride. Regi muttered “I’m gonna kick their butts!”
But thankfully, that meant we continued down the road, a half hour to Lone Pine.
Regi is a former Los Angeles sheriff, and while he drove he told stories about the riots he had to work there. He also pointed out features of the Owens Valley and then drove us through the Alabama Hills where several movies have been filmed.
But my favorite story he told is about the Artesian well on his property, and his effort to sell it to a San Francisco company who can sell it for 12 dollars a gallon. Wow!
When we got to Lone Pine we offered him money but he demurred. Then I handed him twenty dollars and just said “for your Artesian well project!” He laughed and accepted.
Thank you so much Regi!
And thank you Phoenix. Even though you are headed to your car and then home to your beloved wife, I know we’ll hike together some time!
Hitching to Lone Pine
The trail does provide
But sometimes you need patience
And a little luck