I opened my closet today to put away some clothes, but I was quickly distracted by my beaten-up backpack I carried across the country. For years my gear sat in my closet waiting to be used only to return to the same spot, now with stains and wear that have stories to tell. I stood and looked at my pack, thinking about all that it saw: the laughs, the cries, the beautiful sights. I really don't know how to describe the end of this adventure. My feet will heal, the tan lines will fade, but the memories I made and the experiences I had will last forever. A few of my takeaways from this experience are:
The world is a lot better than it looks. Go look for good, I promise you will find it.
You are stronger than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.
As cheesy as it sounds, never give up on your dreams.
Now sit back and enjoy the story of how it all ended.
Storms were forecasted for the next few days while the vortex of real food, beds, and showers tried to keep us in town a little longer. For Sale, Big Papa, and I had just loaded our packs with more gear for the Sierras. With heavier packs than usual, we reluctantly left town. There were about 300 miles of trail left to hike.
The whole day out of town was cold, rainy, and extremely windy. Similarly to when we left Kennedy Meadows South in June, the trail was ominously reminding us that the mountains are in charge. We hiked about 20 miles to camp putting a good dent into the next stretch of trail for a half day of hiking.
The next morning I checked my Garmin inReach to see that rain was forecasted for most of the day. The temperature was barely above 40 degrees making hiking a recipe for hypothermia. We packed up camp and began hiking, hoping to get as many miles in as possible before the rain began. As the morning went on the rain picked up and it even hailed after a while. We decided to stop and set up our tents to try to stay warm and dry while waiting out the storm. The storm continued for hours finally stopping around 6 pm. By this time it was so cold, and with soaking wet tents, we decided to stay put only having done 11 miles. Sometimes you have to choose safety over miles.
The following two days were much more dry and warm. The original plan was to make it from South Lake Tahoe to Kennedy Meadows North (70ish miles) in three days. We ended up being set back an extra day because of the rain. The Sierras were already getting tough, and worrying about the weather on top of more difficult terrain added an extra element we hadn't worried about for most of the trail. The next stretch of trail would be Kennedy Meadows North to Mammoth Lakes, California (110 miles). I had originally hoped to do this stretch in about four days, but after more difficult terrain and unpredictable weather, we opted for an extra day.
After a quick resupply at Kennedy Meadows North, buying food and charging electronics, we headed back out on trail. The terrain was getting difficult, but the beauty was making up for it. We entered Yosemite National Park the next day where we were rewarded with grand views in every direction. I found the trail through Yosemite to be the most difficult section on the entire trail. The climbs were extremely steep and exhausting with large steps made of rocks. At least there were rewarding views at the top.
The final stretch of trail would be from Mammoth Lakes, California to Bishop, California (where our northbound hike had ended back in June). I would be ending my hike at Kearsarge Pass while For Sale and Big Papa would continue on another day to Mount Whitney. I had hoped to convince myself to continue with them and do this stretch of trail that I had already done in June again, but I ultimately decided that I wanted to end at Kearsarge Pass.
We set off from Mammoth Lakes prepared for the High Sierra passes ahead. In June I had completed Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT), and exited the Sierra at Kearsarge Pass. A couple of passes that were still covered with snow at the time were considered "more difficult" than Forester Pass for various reasons. I had been pushed to my personal limits on Forester Pass and I didn't feel that continuing on to anything more difficult would be a good idea, accompanied with stress about crossing raging rivers. This time around the passes were almost entirely snow- free and the rivers were drastically lower than just a couple months before.
The first pass we crossed was Silver Pass. I felt this was a relatively easy and beautiful climb. Next was Selden Pass. This was a very gradual climb and very beautiful as well. Two passes and 30 miles was a lot for a day in the Sierras, but this is what all the training over the course of the whole trail was for.
The next day we had two major river crossings, along with one extremely long pass. The first river to cross was the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. Normally, you would cross this river on a bridge. After the insane levels of snow this past winter, the bridge was damaged and removed by the National Park Service to be replaced. An "official alternate" route was suggested by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, but as the hiking season went on many hikers found shorter alternates. By the time we reached this river the water levels had decreased enough that people had begun fording the river. Just downstream from where the bridge would have been was a wide and fairly calm area of the river. We crossed in this spot with water reaching upper thigh/crotch height. The current was definitely noticeable but not unmanageable. I had really been worried about crossing rivers prior to starting the trail. I always approached crossings with caution, but I could tell I had much more confidence in my abilities by this point.
The second river crossing of the day was Evolution Creek. This is a calm crossing even early in the season, although it can be extremely deep (chest deep) in high snow years. When we crossed it was about knee high, quite drastic from earlier in the season. Where does all that water go!?
The high point of the day (figuratively and literally) was Muir Pass. This Pass was long and gradual with lakes and large boulders all the way to the top. The pass is named after the famous conservationist John Muir and has a stone shelter at the top donated by the Sierra Club (founded by John Muir). This was my favorite pass as I found the views breathtaking.
We had one more full day on trail as a full gang. This day we had two passes again. The first was Mather Pass. Like every pass so far, this was a beautiful pass (there really isn't an "ugly" section of the Sierras). I found this to be one of the more difficult passes due to the steeper switchbacks. We also started climbing this pass first thing in the morning which is when I feel the most sluggish. The second pass of the day was Pinchot Pass. This pass wasn't as hard as Mather Pass in my opinion, although it was harder than the previous passes from the days before.
I hiked the descent from Pinchot Pass alone while For Sale and Big Papa took a snack break at the top. I enjoyed the time alone on my last evening on trail. I took the time to reflect on everything, hiking slower than normal and thinking. Eventually, we all got to camp and ate dinner together one last time. We would be up early the next morning for my. last day.
My alarm went off on my final day. I opened my eyes feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't wishing for this adventure to end. I was excited that it was coming to an end because that meant that I was really achieving my biggest dream. I was really doing what younger me had always dreamed of.
We began hiking around 5:15 am. Avalanche debris from the winter slowed us down creating an obstacle course that left us puzzled. We finally got out of the debris and were able to cover some ground. We had Glen Pass to do in the morning and then I would leave the trail at a side trail to Kearsarge Pass while For Sale and Big Papa continued on to Forester Pass. Glen Pass was special to me. I want to say it was my favorite, but I don't know if that's just because it was my last pass on the PCT before finishing the trail (so I will stick with Muir Pass as my favorite). The trail weaved between lakes and along meadows before getting steeper as it led up to the pass. My eyes filled with water as I hiked this morning. I had really done it, and I was so proud. At the top of the pass, only three miles remained.
The final few miles went quickly. I began to recognize the area, even though it was covered in snow the last time I was there. We finally rounded a corner and I saw the valley I had slogged through in June after Forester Pass before reaching the side trail to Kearsarge Pass. All the emotions hit me. This was the end. I had walked across the country.
It wasn't a grand ending. It wasn't a monument or an International Border. It was every step and everything in between. It wasn't about where, it was about the journey to get there.
The gang celebrated and said our goodbyes. It was an emotional moment, with joy and celebration, but also with sadness.
I think that this adventure became more for me along the way than it was at the start. It was always a dream of mine, but as time went on it was a constant battle between the part of me that questions what I can do and the part of me that says "watch me". They say everyone has a "why" for why they choose to hike the trail. Maybe it's to find themselves or to get away from work for a few months. For me, it was always because I always had a dream as a little girl, but I had never thought about why.
I got the trail name "BAG" on the Colorado Trail and you can read more about that here bag.html if you don't know the story. I always felt a little silly introducing myself as this on the trail. People would always immediately look at my backpack assuming the name came from that, or they would ask a silly question like "BAG? Is that short for baguette?" I would tell the story of how I got my name, often cringing thinking I sounded arrogant calling myself a "Bad Ass Girl".
I think over time my why became proving to myself that I was BAG.
The truth is I have always been BAG. Younger me that had a crazy dream. Younger me that dove in head first, fearless and determined to achieve this dream no matter what it took. Younger me that worked hard through school to graduate early to have the time to achieve this dream. Younger me was always BAG, even if she didn't know it.
Throughout the trail, I often thought that younger me was braver, stronger, tougher, and more determined than older me was. It was really tough sometimes. Physically or mentally, there was always something in the back of my mind even on the good days and I doubted myself often., I wondered a lot why younger me had to be so damn determined.
When I finished the trail I felt an overwhelming feeling of joy. I had never been more proud of myself. I proved to myself that I am braver, stronger, tougher, and more determined than I ever thought I could be. I proved to myself that I am BAG
I wish I could go back in time to share this joy with the younger version of me. There's really no feeling quite like accomplishing the biggest dream your younger self had.
Pacific Crest Trail 2650+ miles
Younger me, you did it.