Highway 80 – tent site 
19.4 miles.
3924ft up. 3871ft down.

I slept well but I woke up feeling rough. My ears were blocked and my head felt thick and heavy. I never remember to shut the curtains anywhere I stay, maybe it’s because I don’t have curtains at home, so I woke up with the light at around 6. But I stayed in bed until 7 before packing up my things and went downstairs to join Catwater and Cory who were already eating breakfast. Toast and fruit – I realised how much I have missed strawberries!

Then it was time to get in the car and head back to the trail. I had a weird anxiety knot in my stomach. This is a 9 day stretch with very little cell service and I was panicking about whether I had done everything I needed to do before Mammoth. I also was feeling a bit anxious about getting back on the trail. It’s a hard feeling to describe. I want to get back on the trail but I also have a feeling of dread about it. I watch everything rushing by out of the window. How fast everything moves. How easy it is to get from one place to another.

My pack is super heavy. Food weighs so much! Can’t we have a better way to get the nutrition we need without it being so heavy?! I pick up my bear canister in 5 days time. I’m really not looking forward to carrying that!

We hiked up the side trail by the I80 rest stop with Cory leading the way back to the trail. Once we hit the PCT we said goodbye and thank you to Cory for all his help and we were on our way again. As soon as I start walking the knots of anxiety disappear. It’s warm but pleasant and immediately we notice how beautiful the surroundings have become. The scenery is different even from yesterday, it’s like we have crossed the I80 and stepped into a different world. We are surrounded by huge rocks and boulders and the colours of autumn are glorious. It’s not long before we descend to Donner Pass, cross the road and begin the climb up the other side.

It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite season. They all offer something wonderful, but I do like autumn a lot.

I still feel rough. My ears are affecting my balance and I feel like I sort of have a headache but not really. I just carry on. It’s all I can do. My feet are hurting. It feels like the bones are being squashed.

I pass a few day hikers and go under some ski lifts – that would be the sensible way to get to the top! It’s a long slow climb to the top, up steep rocky switchbacks, then through the trees, but at the top the views were just spectacular. I sat on a rock and eat a cliff bar while I wait for Catwater, and stare out at the view. The colours really are something, but it’s a little hazy and the pictures just don’t do the colour justice.

We move on and make our way up the trail, across the ridge, heading towards Tinker Knob. The trail is quite exposed in places and the wind whips across, nearly taking my visor with it. But the good Patagonia design ensures it stays firmly on my head! I reach the junction to the Benson Hut. A piece of wood with 4 nails in. Not many people know the hut it there it seems. There is no sign, you can’t see it from the trail and there is no mention of it in the guide. I want to go and see it again, I had so much fun here last year with Growler. I leave my pack and climb up the steep little trail to get to the hut. It’s just as awesome as I remember it and the book still has our messages in from last year. I don’t stay long, but I add ‘Benson Hut in winter’ to my bucket list.

I want to live here, although nipping into town may prove to be a little tricky. All mail can be sent to Puff Puff, the Benson Hut, 4 nail wood, just off the PCT, near Squaw Valley, California, USA. (Not really, this is a joke).

I ran down the side trail, moving as if I was as light as a feather, which without my pack on is how I felt. I almost couldn’t stop myself. Now I had to catch up to Catwater. It was all uphill to Tinker Know and it was super super windy. The wind was almost pushing me over sometimes. I didn’t climb up to the top this time, I needed to keep moving and try and get out of the wind.

The trail continued to be beautiful despite the wind and I kept taking pictures at every turn. The trail was steep, exposed, rocky, golden, sunny, windy and just staggeringly beautiful. I was still feeling rough but I was trying to eat through it, I tried to eat to take the focus off my head. It worked a bit. But as the day went on my pack began to feel heavier and heavier and it was beginning to drag on my shoulders. The discomfort I was experiencing in my feet and now my ankles and knees I’m sure was from the weight of my pack. And the more I eat the less I have to carry.

After about 2 hours I eventually caught up to Catwater. It’s a good job I was walking behind her today because I have terrible wind. Not sure what has caused that but it’s hearty and frequent. We sat for a while and planned how far to go. 6 more miles to camp.

The first 3 miles were a climb up to the Squaw valley ski lifts, it was not a difficult climb because the views were a big distraction. And then we descended the other side into the Granite Chief Wilderness. I hated the climb through here last year because it was so hot and the flowers were stinky. But now the temperature is perfect and the flowers have been replaced with the reds and yellows and golds of autumn.

We stop 2 miles before camp to fill up with water as we will be dry camping, just after we see three hiker heading north, just out for a few days I imagine, but it’s nice to see some people out here. I’m still really windy and I stop half a mile before camp to drop off the kids, better to do it in a random spot in the forest than too close to camp. I thought it might help the wind. It didn’t.

We pitch our tents. Catwater has swapped out her super-light cuben fibre tent for a Big Agnes Copper Spur Ul1, the same as mine. Hers is gleaming and it shows up how used mine looks!

I eat tortilla with avocado, string cheese, Fritos and I tried to recreate the beans and rice by using a Knorr taco rice side. It was a bit of a failure as I added too much water and it was runny. And those thing aren’t rice, they are a mix of rice and these pasta noodly things, which is just a bit gross. But I shovelled it down anyway. I have three more portions of that to eat! I finish off the watery stuff by adding Fritos to soak the liquid up. I really wasn’t enjoying it much and enjoyed it even less when it was cold because I was taking so long to eat it.

It’s a little chilly tonight, but I’m toasty in my bag. The weather is definitely turning.


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